Regular readers of this space know that in recent Julys I have taken a buddies trip to Bandon Dunes to play in a fun, freewheeling event known as the Uncle Tony Invitational. Hanging with these two dozen treasured friends and immersing myself in the cutthroat competition is always a highlight of my year. The other day I got a call from trip organizer Matt Ginella with the thrilling news that in 2018 we would be heading to Pinehurst.
As Matt laid out the dreamy itinerary, my cheeks began to tire from smiling so broadly: rounds at Pine Needles, Mid Pines, Pinehurst No. 8, two spins around No. 2 and various merriment at the new Cradle short course. Then Matt said that the dates had been moved up, and our first round would be on May 31. I was flooded with the awful feeling of having missed a two-footer to lose all the bets because I knew that was the day of the eighth-grade graduation ceremony for my eldest child, Olivia. Since I live a couple of thousand miles from Pinehurst, it was a binary decision. Golf or graduation?
My first instinct will be familiar to many of you: Is this trip worth the family capital I'll have to expend? If you have a spouse, and especially if you have kids, every round of golf seems to come with a pang, because you could/should be spending that time with the family. Oh, they'll tell you they're happy you're getting time for yourself or with friends, but their hearts aren't in it. In this case, I also had to wonder, is eighth-grade graduation even a thing?
I decided to crowd-source these questions by posting about my predicament on Facebook. (I'm more of a Twitter guy, with a golf-intensive audience; I use Facebook only occasionally, and just for friends and family, who are largely apathetic about golf.) What followed was a rather extraordinary exchange of ideas about parenting, self-care, the role of golf in a family man's life and other weighty topics.
I went back and tabulated all the comments. It took a little bit of interpretation but I counted 51 folks who expressed a solid opinion: 34 percent voted for golf, 46 percent for graduation, and 20 percent said I should leave it up to Liv. The gender lines were not as clear as might be expected, as only 42 percent of dudes urged me to go to Pinehurst.
"You better whiff the trip. Your heart won't be in it anyway. First three-putt and you would be kicking yourself," wrote a golfing buddy. Another guy disagreed, saying, "Unless she is set to receive a special award, this is a no-brainer." A golf-historian friend offered this: "Barbara Nicklaus told other players' wives that the kids will be fine no matter what. Even great dads are entitled to live their lives, too." A cousin typed, "How many times will your kid have this event versus how often will you?"
My aunt also tugged at the heartstrings, saying, "Doesn't make any difference the grade level, children always look for their parent in the audience. Only reason to miss is hospitalization or jail!" A cousin who is in her twenties disagreed: "I barely remember my eighth-grade graduation. I'd say go on your trip and acknowledge the milestone some other way, like a nice dinner." My former editor intoned perhaps the most damning sentiment: "Four simple words: What would Phil do?"
In my heart of hearts I knew I'd never skip the graduation, no matter what my electronic friends said. But before I even had a chance to talk about it with Olivia, she caught wind of the post and demanded to see it. She read every single comment, which forced me to explain that I was only playing a role ("Beleaguered Dad") with my mock outrage that eighth-grade graduation is now, in fact, a very big deal. She gamely tried to talk me into going on the trip, but I knew she didn't really mean it. Our chat ended with a long, teary hug in which I assured Liv that being there for her (and her siblings) is by far the most important thing in my life.
And wouldn't you know it, the golf gods decided to smile on me: Due to other scheduling issues, the boys trip was pushed back a day, giving me just enough wiggle room to make it to North Carolina in time. Dontcha love a happy ending?