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story.lead_photo.caption Karen Martin

The golf clubs, clustered in a faded red bag, are in a corner of a bedroom that's used as a library. They're elegant Lady Cobras, in fine condition, that were put to use at a golf course or practice range every weekend for a couple of years.

That's how long it took for me to figure out that I have neither the patience nor the personality for the game.

It was the mid-1990s. An elderly uncle died, leaving me enough of an inheritance to buy a Subaru Impreza (nicknamed Scoop) and sets of decent name-brand clubs for me and my husband.

This came about because Philip often talked about how he'd played golf since he was a kid, and got to be pretty good at it. He also mentioned a talent for basketball and baseball. I took all these statements as examples of enhanced teenage glory days (see: Bruce Springsteen). Hey, I rode horses when I was a kid and won a couple of show ribbons in beginner's equitation, but I wasn't running all over Europe on the steeplechase circuit.

So, being recently married, we were looking for a pastime that would give us something to do together. Golf appeared to be a reasonable choice--physical, outdoorsy, competitive, social. Equipment, at least at this point, wasn't outrageously expensive: Thanks to the deceased uncle, the clubs were covered, as were a few boxes of balls. Throw in shoes (spikeless), a glove, sunscreen and sunglasses, and I was ready to commence smacking balls around a mowed green space near our house.

What could go wrong?

The problem, I soon discovered, is that Philip wasn't kidding about being pretty good. Within a few outings on War Memorial and Rebsamen Park golf courses he regained his teenage chops and was shooting par. Even on a super-long hole, like some at Eagle Hill (before it was redesigned to be easier to play) his drive would soar straight ahead through the air and disappear from my field of (poor) vision, although he could easily see where it landed. A very few shots later, it was in the hole.

Being fairly athletic, I figured I'd catch on quickly. Nope. Chipping and putting went well enough. But for no clear reason, I had trouble hitting down on the ball, instead topping it so it stayed close to the ground after being struck. My drives went nowhere.

Thinking it was because my only instruction was coming from my husband (just because someone is good at something doesn't mean they're the best choice to teach someone else how to do it), I took some lessons from Petey King, an inductee of the Arkansas State Golf Hall of Fame and possibly the most patient man alive.

The lessons were exhilarating. Secure in my belief that I was cured, I took on the pleasant little nine-hole Emerald Park Golf Course at Fort Roots (it closed in 2014). The topping plague returned. Immediately.

Being inept didn't deter me. The most fun aspect of my short-lived golf career was playing courses around the country. I recall a lively and interesting round at Alisal in Solvang, Calif., where we were paired with Al Gianfriddo, a former MLB player known for having robbed Joe DiMaggio of an extra-base hit in Game 6 of the 1947 World Series. He was charming and encouraging, which somehow led me to play decently that day. And baseball-stats geek Philip was practically beside himself, getting to spend hours talking to a rock star of the game.

Other outings took us to Las Vegas National, where an experienced instructor seemed baffled as to how to help my topping troubles. The weather and scenery were stunning at Black Butte Ranch in Oregon, one of the few resorts I could find that offered golf along with horseback riding.

It was fun to play little Ridgewood in the heart of suburban Parma, Ohio, near where I grew up (long before any thought of playing golf entered my head).

Plus there were trips to exotic courses that I had no business trying to play, like Harbour Town at Hilton Head, Doral near Miami (well before it was acquired by its present owner), Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Torrey Pines near San Diego, and Kapalua in Maui.

Although I quickly saw the folly in forking over pricey greens fees to frustrate myself at these courses, Philip happily played them. Thanks to the glamorous locations, I had no shortage of things to do.

After a while, the idea of spending four hours every Saturday trying to improve my game was replaced with interests in cooking (homemade

gnocchi), bicycling, learning French, and spending time with friends. And when the airlines started charging a pile of money for checked baggage, we both lost interest in visiting out-of-state courses.

But the clubs are still here. I thought about trying to sell them, but I'm told they aren't worth much, what with club head and face design advancements, which are touted as surefire cures for a lackluster game (good luck with that). So I keep them, dust-free and tidy, in their designated corner space--not because of sentimentality, or laziness, or necessity.

It's because I'm just not ready to let them go. Who knows, I might start swinging them some day.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

kmartin@arkansasonline.com

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