Here’s how one travel writer learned to embrace post-golf spa visits

October 13, 2019

In the Reagan-era ’80s, when I began my dalliance with this bedeviling game, real men were known for not doing many things. They did not cry or eat quiche or concede two-footers. And they did not retreat to quiet rooms after their rounds for 90-minute rubdowns in eucalyptus oil.  That was fine with me. I was young and limber and averse to any habits that might cast me as un-macho. Massage? Puh-lease. If my dogs ever barked or my back ever ached, it was nothing a few lagers and some Advil couldn’t cure.

But aging changes everything. It tightens your muscles and opens your mind. By the time the roaring ’90s rolled around, 36 holes were enough to leave me limping like a bandaged Ben Hogan. Within another decade, I could barely go 18 without my body calling out for a kinder corrective than booze and ibuprofen.

It’s a good thing golf resorts were maturing with me. A golden age was dawning for the “golfer’s massage.” Two memories stand out from the first one I signed up for, in the early aughts, at a fountain-fronted hideaway in Scottsdale: the self-consciousness I felt while stripping to my skivvies in a jasmine-scented room filled with sounds of whale song, and the liquid relaxation that oozed through me as my massage therapist went to work. Whatever she was doing to my deep tissue—releasing pressure points, aligning my chakras — it doubled as a gateway drug to spa addiction. I wanted more. And soon more was in the offing almost everywhere I turned.

On golf-resort spa menus, New Age–sounding terms were gaining mainstream standing: acupressure, reflexology, hydrotherapy, cupping. All are employed in the name of “connectedness” and “healing.” Restorative soaks and wraps became the rage. Spoken language also shifted. Simply booking a “massage” was no longer sufficient. You had to get specific. Swedish or shiatsu? Hot stone or hot oil? Even hot golf balls were being employed to achieve a sweet spot on the pleasure-pain continuum. Your grandpa’s favorite combo — a sauna and a steam — gave way to such pairings as hot-and-cold plunge pools. You could take a Vichy shower, then kick back in a gently perfumed inhalation room.

The old me might have scoffed. The new me celebrated. As the wellness people say, my life — and golf — fell into healthy balance. Where once I’d sprinted to the first tee in the morning and played till daylight fell or my strength faltered, I now sauntered to the spa in the afternoon.

Over the years, I’ve tried most everything and have enjoyed it all: kelp baths, cryotherapy and hyperbaric treatments, scalp rubs, body scrubs, mani-pedis, facials. Sunglasses feel good on my eyes, but so, I’ve discovered, do cucumber slices. A skeptic might suggest that my spa-love is a sign that I’ve been beaten down by time’s passage. But really, I’ve embraced the wisdom that comes with it. I’m happier, more relaxed, better as a man and as a golfer. I concede two-footers. And I’m okay with quiche and crying, too.

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