By Stacia Erdos Littleton
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – “Golf isn’t a sport.”
“You actually watch golf on TV?”
“Why do men get to leave work early to go play golf and say it’s part of the job??”
“It’s a boys club – business deals are made on the golf course.”
“It’s too late to start now.”
“Golf = Gentleman Only, Ladies Forbidden!”
These were all thoughts I’d had over the years – until I began to work golf outings as part of my nonprofit career. Suddenly, golf looked kind of fun and I wanted to learn to play.
So it began two months ago with an invitation on Facebook from a friend of mine, Dionne Dowdy (the executive director of United Returning Citizens).
Her post was something to the effect, “Hey ladies – always wanted to learn to play golf? Free lessons on Tuesdays at 5:30 at Parto’s Golf Learning Center. No clubs needed.”
This was obviously a sign. I had always dismissed taking lessons because I thought you had to have your own set of clubs and it seemed ridiculously expensive.
Why would I spend hundreds of dollars not knowing if I even liked the game? Or if I could play?
Wonder if the clubs would just end up in the garage as a home for wayward spiders?
Enter the Elite Ladies Golf League of Youngstown – Ms. Brunilda Turner welcomed us and explained most members of the league were now in their 70s. The goal was to introduce younger women to golf to carry on. (I’m considered younger. So far, so good.)
I soon learned the league was celebrating 25 years as a nonprofit and had introduced hundreds of women to golf, focusing on fun and fair competition. In fact, the league was recently spotlighted in the African American Golfer’s Digest:
“What I am most proud of for Elite Ladies Golf League is that so many ladies of color really appreciated what we started out to do 25 years ago – by introducing golf to part of a segment of ladies who never thought this is a sport that they can learn to play,” says President Kusana Turner from her office in Dallas. “I’m also very proud of my sister, Brunilda Turner, who within one year of forming the league, she recruited more than 100 ladies to join ELGL.”
It was Brunilda (or Bru) who presented me with my first club – a 7 iron.
(I knew so little about golf. I wondered why I wasn’t starting with “1.”)
Randyll Floyd would be our instructor. This FirstEnergy retiree and avid golfer, who along with his wife, Margaret, I would come to learn, were true saints with unyielding patience.
As I began my golf journey on Tuesdays, I was often paired with Margaret, who is a lovely athletic golfer and whose swing I’ve tried to emulate – unsuccessfully. She and Randyll explained I would need to get a Sunday bag. This smaller golf bag would carry my few complementary beginner clubs.
So the next week I showed up with a brand-new bright red Sunday bag that literally dragged on the ground behind me as I lugged it around the 3-par course in the summer heat. I had to lay it down and pick it up every time I went to hit the ball. I would repeatedly trip over it as I wore it slung over my shoulder. I ended up just carrying it like a suitcase. (I would be returning it to Amazon.)
Today’s lesson learned: Buy a bag for someone 5’2” not 6’2” AND with legs to stand on.
When I went to play my first nine holes, I was told, “For time purposes, if you hit more than six strokes on the hole, we will stop counting and move on.” (We moved on a lot!)
“Which club do I use?” I would ask. “The 5 iron?”
“How far can you hit with that one?” Randyll would quiz me.
“Depends. Anywhere from 100 yards to one foot.” (Consistency wasn’t yet my strong point.)
Today’s Lesson learned: When I hit the ball really far, it usually slices to the right. When I hit it straight, it is usually a ground ball. Learn how to combine the two.
“How many strokes did you have back on Hole 5?” Randyll asked, as he was keeping a master list each week to see how we were progressing.
“I don’t know. I lost my pencil back on Hole 2 so haven’t been keeping track.”
Lesson learned: Wear golf shorts with a zipper pocket for your pencil.
“How many putts did you get on that last hole?”
“Am I supposed to count putts too?”
Randyll forces a smile, “You gotta keep track.”
Lesson learned: Remember to count my strokes.
As we made our way down the fairway, two balls sat in the rough. “Is this my ball or yours, Margaret?” I ask.
“What kind of balls are you hitting today? What do they look like?” Randyll responds.
“I don’t know. They’re white. You gave them to me. I’ve never bought a golf ball in my life.”
“You gotta know which balls are yours,” he says, shaking his head.
Lesson Learned… Write your initials on your golf balls.
On the day I triumphantly finished my first nine holes, my confidence turned to frustration as I realized I’d lost my car keys along the way. Randyll patiently said, “Get in,” and drove me in the golf cart. We began at Hole 9 and retraced my Spirograph-like journey around the course.
We looked EVERYWHERE – in the sand, by the lake, under pine trees, even in the woods (all places my golf swings had taken me) – only to find I had dropped them all the way back on the first hole.
Lesson reiterated – Wear golf shorts with a zipper pocket and keep your pencil AND keys in it.
I’ve now begun to watch YouTube videos to help with my form, even watching golf on TV. And now that golf has swung its way into the political spotlight, I’ve also become aware and quite disgusted by the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour that has lured so many former PGA players, especially in light of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi.
But as I wrap up this column, I am both excited and terrified to share with you that I will soon be playing in my first charity golf scramble. Because of my certain embarrassment to come, where and when shall not be disclosed.
This will be my first attempt at 18 holes and I will officially be playing as part of the Elite Women’s Golf League (although Bru and Randyll may be having second thoughts).
Final Lesson Learned: GOLF = Generous Opportunity, Learning and Friendships.
My free lesson for you: GOLF = Girl On Links – Flee!