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An Indian Princess Attempts to Golf, Amazing Things Ensue

I looked forward to being a pampered desert Indian princess that weekend.

Golf, from a distance, has always bored me. I used to drive by golf courses on the weekends and see players tooling around in carts and leaning on clubs in their fancy, colored pants and think, “I wonder what REAL athletes are doing today?”

As televised sports go, you have to admit, it’s a real snoozer. Where’s the thrilling, head-to-head match-up, the clash of brute force? How about a drop of sweat, even? Naturally, I thought, it can’t be much fun to play, either.

Well, I was wrong. And because I was so wrong, I have decided to go public with my confession:

In February, I was invited to La Quinta in the Coachella Valley to nest in a sumptuous, 3,400-square-foot villa inside the Residence Club at PGA West. The Cahuilla Indians were the first people known to have walked through the Coachella Valley and they called their desert home the "Land of Eternal Sun."

I looked forward to being a pampered desert Indian princess that weekend. Susan, my guest, simply came for the golf. She took up the sport a year ago and has been trying to sell it to me ever since.

“Lynn, it’s a great way to meet men!” But don’t men go golfing to escape women? I didn’t see her logic.

Anyway, back at the villa…arrangements were made for us to play 18 holes on the nearby Jack Nicklaus course. I don’t know ANYTHING about golf courses, but Susan said this was a good one.

Good and expensive. The moment we drove in, I knew I was out of my league. I’ve played softball and tennis all my life and never ONCE has a valet opened my car door at the field or the club. They gave me a loaner set of clubs at the pro shop. Calloways. I don’t know ANYTHING about clubs, but I assumed it was a decent set.

My first impression of golf? What a hassle! Even with the valet, there’s a lot of preparation: stuffing things into bags and carts, renting clubs, getting ice, worrying about the dress code and whether you’re going to be thrown out because you’re not wearing a collared shirt, and then waiting to start, anxiously wondering who you’ll be paired up with.

The starter, a German named Karl, said we’d be playing with two men who were considering memberships at the fancy club. I told Karl, “How exciting! I’ve never played before.”

Karl didn’t look well. “Oh . . .” was all he said. I think it was German for, “How the hell did you get in?”

Our teammates, the ones being wooed by this country club, were a father and son from Modesto. They own a bank, and lots of attitude. I got the feeling they weren’t happy to be paired up with two women, especially one who had never played before.

It certainly didn’t help matters when, after the older one told me he was a “seasoned golfer” and then hit a ball into the sand, I said, “You’ve been playing for 45 years and still hit it into the sand?”

Susan gave me an immediate crash course in golfer etiquette.

The love affair begins.

Around the 4th hole, after losing a few balls to bushes and lakes, a funny thing happened. My game started to improve. I have great hand/eye coordination (that softball/tennis thing), and coupled with Susan’s coaching, I started hitting amazing shots— a 100-yard approach shot and a 60-yard shot with an uneven lie (Susan’s words, not mine).

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Then, on the 8th hole, a putting miracle. Three balls were just a few feet from the pin. Mine, of course, was about 40 feet away. No problem. I’d been in this situation before at Bullwinkle’s Miniature Golf Course. I confidently tapped the ball with my putter and PLUNK! It went in!

Call it beginner’s luck, but I sank a 40-foot putt! But even more satisfying than performing this Tiger Woods-ish feat on my first time out was the look of surprised respect from the Modesto boys.

At that very moment, Susan and I became part of the golf gang. We were one of the guys. For the first time, the Native American in me looked around and noticed the towering San Jacinto mountains and the blue, cloudless sky, and I finally understood that primal connection between golf and the Great Outdoors: It’s raw, it’s rugged, it’s man versus the elements. And sometimes man (woman!) wins.

I immediately fell in love with this frustrating game

A Chance Encounter

They say the best part about golf is the people you meet. The following Saturday, still swooning over my newfound love of the sport, I went to hit a bucket of balls. Turns out, it was beginner’s luck in La Quinta. I had forgotten how to swing. I kept missing the ball. I was cussing...a lot. The guy next to me, who had a beautiful swing and an ear for trouble, felt compelled to help.

“You’re swinging at it like it’s a bat.”

“Probably because I played softball for 30 years,” I replied snidely.

“Me, too,” he said. “Professional ball.”

“Oh, really??” Another braggart. I feigned interest. “Who with?”

“The Oakland A’s.”

OK, now he had me. I grew up in Sacramento and they were our team. Sacramento didn’t have a professional ball club, so Oakland was the next best thing. Turns out, I was talking to John “Blue Moon” Odom, the left-handed pitcher from the curly-moustache-era of the three-time World Series champs. He gave me tips on my swing, we talked for a while, he let me try on his World Series ring.

It was a great day for golf.

Afterward, standing among a debris field of broken tees, having just met a baseball star from the Dream Team of my childhood, I suddenly had clarity.

Let’s see: I don’t have to sweat, there’s plenty of chit-chat (between holes, mind you), opportunities for chance encounters and, best of all, I get to go shopping for new clothes -- with collars, of course.

I’ll be darned. Golf is the perfect sport for me after all!

Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She has decided to spend the rest of her life doing penance on the green for her thought crimes against golf.