If I knew at 40 what I now know, at twice that age, I would have taken up golf! And I would now have less difficulty filling in my spare time. In fact I could look forward to a challenging old age playing with this little white ball, as long as I could walk and swing a club. Because, from what I can see, golf saves people from staring in the face that greatest enemy of old age …. Boredom.
I would also be one of more than a quarter of a million golfers in the country – with the “fellow feeling” that would give. Ireland is, after all, Europe’s Number One golfing nation… one in 15 of us plays the game. (What an extraordinary statistic). But I didn’t take it up at 40, or 50 or 60 even. I was too absorbed in my family and my career and never thought, for a moment, of the senior years.
For us non-golfers our friends’ total absorption with the game varies between annoyance and envy. Annoyance that we can’t take an active part in this area of their lives – and envy that anything should fascinate them so much in their declining years.
Their absorption is not just for the duration of the game itself ……their entire week hinges on it. They listen avidly to the weather forecast for the following five days to guage how they should dress or prepare for their game. Heavy rain or snow could mean the course is closed. Disaster! How then to occupy themselves indoors? For members of a golf club there is even an answer to that, because the social life is quite good. Many have bridge clubs, some run art groups and some even have choral groups. All have decent bars and (usually) good resident chefs. Members are encouraged to eat in the dining room and most will go to the bar after their game for either tea, coffee or a drink. And a chat.
A “round” of golf, I’m reliably told, takes five hours or more. Four hours for an 18 hole game, half an hour before and an extended time afterwards when the players discuss who did what at which hole. Multiply that by a minimum of three times a week …..
It is an eminently healthy game. According to a Swedish study of 600,000 people, those who golf live on average 5 years longer than non-golfers of the same age, sex and economic status. It is reckoned that walking at a reasonably fast pace for 6 to 7 kilometres, in company, is not only good for health but has positive social and psychological advantages. Certainly the friendships people make in golf clubs are extraordinarily strong.
But even for golfers a Plan B is necessary in later years. Though an 81 year old woman recently won the Captain’s Prize in a south Dublin golf club, on the law of averages the mid-80s for most people will see things slowing down…. sometimes as a result of illness or an accident golf three or four times a week may be no longer possible. Motorised buggies have helped things for some but even these have their limitations.
Men seem to stop playing earlier than women….mostly they cannot bear the fact that their game has deteriorated. Women are more philosophical, less proud, and ignore this for a while. But even they give up eventually. Which is when they need Plan B. So thank heavens for the indoor pursuits of the golf club …the art, bridge and music. Don’t ignore them now …..They will be needed later on.