Sunday, July 3, 2011

Zen and the Art of Silent Golf

Golf presents me with a dilemma. I really should retire from "competitive" sports like basketball and even softball, since the serious injury question is not "if" but "when and how bad". The problem with golf is that I play pretty poorly and haven't improved much in the last 20 years. I can forgive myself somewhat, having only started to play in my 30's, and also because improving at golf takes learning the fundamentals and then practice and playing, and all of these take TIME.

I can't really play golf instead of working, and I don't want to regularly spend 5-7 hours on a weekend away from family and personal commitments. The only way to play more is to expand my day.

For me, this translates to "Back nine at Forest Park".

Some background about golf is in order (Note - If you are a golfer, you probably know most of these things. If you are not, please think of this as an anthropological study of a culture containing unique customs and rituals, existing right in your midst)

There are public courses and private courses. I am not a member of a country club, so I play at public courses. I have played at private courses as a guest, and at golf outings. Private courses are nicer.....everything is better groomed, the players are aware of courtesy and etiquette, and you don't have to wait around too much because everyone has some idea how to play the game. Just like in regular life.

A lot of people don't know this, but there are twelve public golf courses in the City of New York. I'm not talking miniature golf here, these are all 18 hole REAL golf courses. There are four in Queens (Forest Park, Kissena, Douglaston and Clearview), two in Brooklyn (Marine Park and Dycker), three in the Bronx (Pelham, Split Rock, and Van Cortlandt) and three in Staten Island (Silver Lake, La Tourette and South Shore). I have played all of these except Split Rock (I heard it had a lot of mosquitoes, so why take a chance).

On private courses they require you to use a motorized cart. These are provided as part of your membership. You hit your ball, you drive to it, you hit it again. The cart carries your bag of clubs, and your drinks and your snacks and other stuff. Sometimes they have a special GPS for golf. The GPS has the course layout, and can tell you how far from the hole you are, what hazards lie ahead, etc. (I know, you think I'm kidding, but it's true). Fancier private clubs require you to use a caddy (a person who carries your bag of clubs and gives you golf advice). Like in Caddyshack.

On public courses you can use a cart, and many people do. You pay extra for this, and it's not expensive ($20 - $30 for a round, and you usually split it with someone). You can also use a pull cart (you can rent these for about $5, but people who use them usually have their own). I have my own pull cart. You can also simply carry your own bag, which some people do.

All the public courses now have pretty good reservation systems. You can call, or make reservations online. Golfers go around the course in groups of four. However, it is very common for people to have a group of two or three, or to arrive as a single. When you do this, the "starter" turns the various groups into foursomes. I have no problem going as a single, and getting matched with a threesome (or a twosome plus another single). Sometimes it's one of the nicest things about golf. You meet some strangers, walk and play the course together, and talk while you play. Over the years I have played the NYC public courses with all kinds of nice people. I have played with firemen, retirees (male and female), fathers and sons, schoolteachers, lawyers who I didn't know, teenagers, and every racial/ethnic group.

A playing option I like is playing the "back nine only". To do this you show up early in the morning, and you can start on hole #10, and play holes 10 - 18. This is first come, first serve, but at 6 AM it's not usually crowded. The cut-off time for this is 8 AM (the time when the earliest golfers who are playing 18 holes would get to #10). It's busier for the back nine between 7 and 8, and you risk being shut out, so I like to go early. Playing when it's not crowded, one can play nine holes in two to two 1/2 hours. Starting at 6 has me done by 8:30. It feels good to get home at 9 AM, having already done something I really enjoy. The price is not bad either. I paid $19.25 to walk the back nine at Forest Park, plus $2.75 for parking.

My recent Forest Park back nine experiences have been a little different. I still go as a single, but I do not play with the variety of folks I used to. Now the answer to the question "Who did you play with today?" is always the same. "Three Koreans".

Last Fall, one morning after I had paid and walked over to the starter on the 10th hole, he said to me, "I hope you like silent golf". When I asked what he meant, he said "You see the people waiting to play? They won't be talking to you. I hope you can handle that". I looked at the people waiting and saw they were all Asian. I hadn't noticed before. I asked the starter if he was serious. He assured me he was, and I said I was there to play, so send me out.

I did not care for silent golf the first time I experienced it. It's not that my playing partners didn't speak, they just didn't speak to ME. They talked quite a lot, to each other, in Korean. Sometimes they also did this while I was getting ready to hit the ball, or to putt, which is a big breach of etiquette. A few times I stopped and stared when they did this, and they got the message. I made a few jokes to myself as I walked and played, but as that first morning of silent golf wore on, I must admit, I became upset. At the last hole, when the last putt dropped, I did what one is supposed to do, I shook hands with each member of the foursome. This is universal, and they were doing it too. Usually you say something like "Nice playing with you, or thanks for the round, or whatever......"All I could think to say was "Thanks for nothing". Not surprisingly, there was no reaction to my comment. After that day I didn't play for quite awhile.

Yesterday I really wanted to play. So I decided to try another Forest Park back nine, and if it turned out to be silent, so be it. I went one mental step further. While I did not assume it would be silent golf, if it turned out to be, I was going to enjoy it.

When I walked to the 10th hole at 6 AM, there were about ten people waiting. However, when the starter saw I was a single he said "A threesome is next, you can join them". I walked over to my three Korean playing partners and said "Good morning, I'm Barry". One said "I'm Choi". The other two were silent. Until I got ready to make my first shot, at which time they all started jabbering in Korean. I just laughed and hit my drive.

I saw that my playing partners were pretty good players. Actually, they were great off the tee, and all had the same swing. They probably all learned from the same pro, and probably spent hours at the driving range. They were not nearly as good on the short game and putting. I had plenty of time to analyze their games and talk to myself about it. They had an opportunity to observe my game too. I don't drive the ball very far, and I slice too much, but I am pretty good on the short game and putting. On the 14th hole I hit a drive that was not great, but better than I had done so far. At this point they all said "Guh-sha", which I know is Korenglish for "good shot". Of course, I also know that this really means "Good shot....for YOU." I just laughed and said thank you.

On the 16th hole, after my drive, Choi said to me "You slicey too much, should close stance to hit straighter". I said thank you, I'll try that. The last two holes my drives were better. I felt great after my rewarding nine holes of silent golf. I went home, had a great breakfast, and started thinking about my new stance.

Monday, May 23, 2011

College Selection Process

It's about time I dusted off the keyboard and got back to blogging. It's tempting to say that the "college selection process" absorbed so much of my mental energy that I could not blog. The process DID engender much thought, energy and emotion. Might as well break the ice by talking about it.

I want to make some observations about the process, knowing that every family dynamic is different and every student is unique. Here we go:

1. The process could turn into a "life and death" or "be all and end all" situation. It is the parents' job to make it NOT this way. In reality, it's a process that ends with a result....your child is going to the college that is the result of the process, and the result is you collectively make a great decision.

2. Taking trips to visit colleges, or taking trips to visit cities that have a lot of colleges (like Boston) can be a great time. It should be approached that way. Not only does it help the decision making process, but it makes for nice mini-vacations.

3. There is a vast amount of information available. This is good and bad. Avail yourself, but don't go insane about it. If you are new to the process, two sites we used a lot were and I admit that I did look at "rankings" in various publications, but unless "status" is what you're all about, these don't help much.

4. College is expensive, but there is a ton of financial aid available. I'm talking grants and aid here, not loans. Almost all schools use the "FAFSA," a long financial disclosure form. Many schools also use additional financial applications. These are really detailed, require backup info, and have deadlines. We used a professional person to assist us with this part of it. It turned out to be well worth the investment (of time and money) to do this part right.

5. There are several parts of the process that elicit family discussions on a mature level. This can be difficult at first, but I found that once we started having these discussions, new levels of mutual respect were attained. This was well worth the effort.

The most interesting of these discussions were about "affirmative action" and admissions criteria. Schools all emphasize how committed they are to "diversity." This flies in the face of the types of achievement most high school students have been pursuing. It is a shock to have high grades, high SAT scores, high AP scores and "extracurriculars" trumped by diversity.
Diversity does not mean simply "racial" diversity, though it becomes quite clear that some ethnic groups are evaluated by a different set of criteria regarding grades, SAT's and the like. It's one thing to learn about this in social studies, but feeling that you have lost a spot to a "less qualified" competitor is a real dose of real life. I didn't like it when it happened to me, and I said so, but I also pointed out that in the end, you go where you go and whether it works is up to YOU.

I think the other types of "diversity" bothered Rebecca more. The other diversity preferences are for athletes, foreign students, legacies, and geography. Bottom line -- being white, Jewish and from New York does not help.....unless you are applying outside the northeast. That may help for some, but if you want to be up here, you are in an uphill fight with the diversity boogie man. For what it's worth, I was accepted to (and attended) The University of Texas Law School back in the late 70's. It was, and still is, one of the best schools in the country, and at that time took only 10% from out of State. I didn't get into a bunch of comparable east coast law schools. How did I get into UT Law? Diversity.

Other maturity provoking discussions were about "what kind of career might you want," "what is important in a school," "what kind of college lifestyle do you prefer," and the like. This is a big step up the maturity ladder.

We also had discussions about family finances, something that had never been openly discussed before. As we were discussing this, we realized that when a child does not know or learn about finances, their maturity level will not develop as it should.

6. The process involves a lot of DECISIONS. What schools to apply to? What mix of "safe" and "target" and "reaches?" I can't speak for other families, but I can say that we had about 20 schools "in play" at various times. We made charts, and had talks about the schools. Schools were added, some were dropped, some came back on the list. At a certain point we got it down to 12, with a mixture of safes, targets and reaches.

7. Before the next round of decisions, there is something that some students have never faced before.....DISAPPOINTMENT. We had some of this; that's why some schools are "reaches." What can you say when a classmate who was not academically in your child's league (on any objective measure) gets into your child's first choice, for no other reason than "diversity." Well, you say "Fuck you, Brown" (Rebecca's quote, not mine, though I was proud of her for saying it), and you make your decision from the more worthy schools on your list.

8. When the smoke clears, you look at the acceptances, and DECIDE. This makes it sound like it happened quickly. For us, this was the hard part. We had it down to three. All were visited, all had strong points. We all researched, we all got input from many sources. We talked among ourselves. We contemplated on our own. Felicia and I agreed that while we would work together, ultimately Rebecca would make the decision.

It came down to Cornell, Wesleyan and Vassar.

I will never forget the process.

I am proud of her decision.

Wesleyan, Class of 2015