Gracefully Growing Older with Golf

Tired of watching his game decline, this golfer of a certain age found there’s still lots of golf life in the old boy yet

The author at Elie

A man’s relationship with his golf game is a lot like a marriage: When things are going well, you love the game with all your heart. The birdie putts that topple in, the trophies that appear as if by magic—they’re as endearing as a midnight kiss. You put the time into the relationship, you get the love in return.

Until, suddenly, you don’t. With age come the kinds of responsibilities that are kryptonite to a golf game. You know the list. And then there are the physical limitations. Arthritic hands are not one of the five keys to hitting it farther.

Every trip around the sun, your handicap goes up. That over-the-top lurch that used to belong to someone else has your name on it now. You’re collecting three-putts like they’re Krugerrands, while skulled chips, fatted pitches, and anemic tee shots have become your stock in trade. Before you know it, your formerly solid golf game is like an old girlfriend whose name you can remember but whose face now eludes you. The thrill is gone. You’re done.

Or are you?

I always thought I’d retire to a little bungalow on a golf course where every blade of grass knew my name. I’d practice every morning, play every afternoon, and shoot my age well before my time. But now…would the game let me move back in? Did I even want it to?

The author at the Abaco Club, Bahamas

Faced with a game that bore no resemblance to that of my young-gun days, I got mad as hell and decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I had a trip planned to Scotland and I was not going to play the Old Course like an old man. I determined that I needed to a) get fitter, b) take a lesson, and c) get a proper clubfitting. It was either do those things—fight to get my game back—or ask it for a divorce. 

Fitness advice proved easy to find. The Titleist Performance Institute website provides tons of good information, including an excellent 20-minute morning workout. Other videos cover topics like nutrition and flexibility. None of it was going to make me 20 again, but after a month of workouts, I didn’t feel like I was made of wood anymore, either.

Excellent golf instruction was just as easy to come by. One of the top teachers in New England, Shawn Hester, gives lessons at Charles River Country Club, just a drive and a wedge from my office. The hour I spent with Shawn was eye-opening. Watching the video of my swing, I couldn’t believe that people weren’t howling with laughter every time I teed it up. Shawn noted that I was standing too far from the ball and that my backswing was too much “arms and hands” and not enough “rib cage and abs.” He got me closer to the ball, had me make a more inside move—with the clubface more shut—and the result was more power and better shot height. My weak fades were replaced by much more powerful draws. 

older golf
The author and his son on the Swilcan Bridge, St. Andrews

The science of clubfitting has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last decade, and this was immediately apparent when I visited a nearby Club Champion studio. This premium clubfitting company offers 35,000 hittable clubhead, shaft, and grip combinations and a choice of clubfitting-session options with master fitters. My clubfitter, Alex, boasted 20 years’ experience in the trade. He added to that total by spending three hours with me going through irons, wedges, hybrids, woods, even putters. Using state-of-the-art shot-tracking hardware and software that measured distance, shot height, ball speed, clubhead speed, and smash factor, Alex showed me the difference each clubhead/shaft combination made and helped me identify the optimal new clubs for me. These specs were then sent to Club Champion’s assembly facility near Chicago, and within a couple weeks my new custom-made clubs with their SST PUREd shafts arrived. I was ready for Scotland.

How did things go? Well, even though we arrived to a heat wave, walking eight rounds in eight days was no problem. My new swing felt good, though it was anything but grooved. Under pressure, I could feel my old lunge trying to insinuate itself back into my life, but I did my best to keep it at bay. The new clubs felt great in my hands—especially the putter, which seemed like an extension of my body. But courses like Gleneagles’s King’s, Muirfield, Kingsbarns, and the two links beauties in Machrihanish don’t yield birdies and pars easily. No course records were threatened.

But my love for the game did return. The trip reminded me that golf isn’t just about birdies and pars. It’s about great friends sharing great adventures—none greater than our late-afternoon round on the Old Course. So for now, golf and I are still together. And we’re looking for that special golf course community to call our own. I have a feeling we might just find it somewhere in the pages of this magazine.