“To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.” – P.G. Wodehouse. Especially in Minnesota December, I may add. Growing up in Egypt, I had never had a chance to play this elusive game of golf or even come close to being on a golf course. Golf is still an individualistic and disciplined game for someone who played and loved the soccer game’s proximity and improvisation game. Golf strives in a culture of abundance where each player brings his/her balls, bag, shoe, umbrella, raincoat, hats, cart, clubs, and caddy. Soccer thrives in a culture of scarce; all you need is to show up at the park, no grass, equipment needed, only one ball shared by all, one for all, and all for one. Golf is the establishment’s game, needs a conservative mindset and linear thinking. Soccer is a rebellious sport that requires maneuvering and a nonlinear mindset. Golf played mostly by men releasing their aggression on the course -as one golfer joked- GOLF, stands for Guys Only Ladies Forbidden, Ha ha ha don’t drop your beer. Golfing first to introduce me to American’s exceptionalism, abundance, , remoteness landscape, and excessiveness. I have met many strangers on the golf course, made unlikely friends, and heard lots of stories. As an Arab-American, On the golf course, I’m not a hyphenated American usually integrated with questions about the Middle East, terrorism, ISIS, or bad people with strange names. I started playing golf the same way I used to play Soccer. I drive to a golf course nearby and play with anyone available. I come and tag along with groups of friends and families who need a foursome to fill in and keep the golfing line up going. I became the companion for those who need a companion and a friend of those who needed a friend. The golf courses’ greens are the waterhole for golfers; after spending some time scattering over the fairways working hard, releasing their aggression hitting the balls. Golfers finally congregate at the green to calm down, admiring each other putts, sharing jokes and golf stories. I played with that disgruntled family member or spouse who was looking for someone to vent to. On the golf course, people open up for me; I’m the neutral guy, the golf course’s bartender, you tell him your dark secrets, knowing that you may never see him again. Golfers transcend race, color, and ethnicity; the only thing we see on the course is the color of the green. I need no cultural sensitivity or diversity training. I’m just another golfer – a bad golfer it may be, but not a bad Arab. I played with all kinds of people. I played with openly gay, and openly antisemitic golfers. I played with a Greek golfer, a Candrian professional Hockey player, an ex-preset who believed Christianity is behind all evils. I met them all, young and old, men and women, , liberals and conservatives; with the Trump supporters who invited for a drink after a round of golf full of asking about Islam, Hijab on Somali women.
_What is this rage on their heads.?
_ we call it hijab!
_ I call it a rag… laughing!
The golfing season in Minnesota has a narrow window; a few months, first snowfall golfers put their clubs and hope away, get ready for a loomed gray, cold winter. With the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the golf season was cut shorter; the pandemic hit in March, starting Golfing season, then we had the lockdown, self-quarantine, and social distancing. The beautiful golf course, the perfect green, all but abandoned, left alone with nobody to play.
The air was cleaner, but “we couldn’t breathe”! Not all golf course follows the same seasonal opening-closing policies or governor Walz’s CVIDE-19 executive orders for that matter. The further you go out of the Twin Cities, the more likely to find a golf course open late in the season; those folks have different biological clock, don’t worry too much about the weather or all regulations. True golfers don’t give up that easily; they are optimistic people; there is always that one more round of golf to play even in December. A few golf courses stayed open late; courses like Bluff Creek, Chaska, Shadow Brook, Lester Prairie, and Timber Creek Golf Course Located Just West of the Twin Cities Metro in Watertown, Minnesota. Golfing in December requires a strong well and a divine intervention. This winter, with the lockdown and self-isolation, everyone wanted to go out; golf courses were the safest places to escape COVID-19 blues. After many failed attempts to get a reservation, calling and online searchers went in vain. Timber Creek Golf Course came to the rescue; finally, I got a live person. Any opening for a single, I asked. “we are full all week, but we could put your name on the waiting list,” said John, the friendly manager, with the voice of someone wishing to win the lottery; yes, Please. The next day I got a call back from John, “we have a spot for you this Wednesday.. But “it is going to be a shotgun golfing,” he added. It is problematic for an Arab/Muslim; we stay away from anything that sounds like shots or guns. In Shotgun golfing, all golfers start and end at the same time on all 18 tees. I probably need a helmet for that, I wondered. With COVID-19 and the social distancing etiquettes, everyone must wear a mask and keep six feet abort, the length of two golf clubs. I measured it. And, finally, don’t ever pick up other golfers’ balls or tees. I never golfed on Timber Creek Golf Course before; I never even entered that part of town. On a chilly winter morning, full of trepidations and hope. I got ready for December Golfing, a heavy hat, three layers of cloth, long underpants, loaded my golf clubs, hands sanitizer, a few masks, water; four Tangerines, two apples, two Bananas, and a few Baklava for the manager John, as an appreciation, the first responder. Go west, old man. According to my GPS, ‘s direction, Timber Creek golf course, straight west on HWY 7 to Co Rd92 and then west on Co Rd. 15, got it. The traffic was light, the air was cold and fresh, listening to the radio giving the weather report. As I got out of the Twin Cities, the road got narrower; the farmlands took over the landscape, post-harvest season, massive fresh bellowed empty cornfield, , no crops, no animals, green, or birds around all deserted Minnesota. In December, the only green or Birdy you can find is on the golf courses. Along the road were signs of Trump2020; and I’m a gift from God, anti apportion sign. Finally, I made it to the Timber Creek golf course; the place was festive; Valley fairs feel to it, the clubhouse’s narrow road overflown with parked cars, massive tailgating in the parking lot. Golfers, scattered everywhere, some practicing their swings, others away practicing social and physical distancing too. Some wearing masks, some are mask-less, others gathered in a small group, chatting with their tripes. Golf carts parked in tow long files across the golf course by the parking lot, some had plastic dividers for non-family members. “load your clubs on any cart, then will get you the key right before teatime explained one of the staff. I loaded my clubs on one cart and waited for further instructions. At about 11.20 am, somebody came from the clubhouse handed out cart keys; golfers start your engine, suddenly all dispersed to their designated tee, for the treasure hunting. I was lost going all over the golf course, trying to find my designated tee. But as they say, if you don’t know where you’re going, you will never get lost. I gave up, so I stopped at the nearest tee, where a group of four middle age golfers waiting to tee off. Can I join you guys, “it is OK with me” a golfer replied! How about the rest of the group, I asked. the “OK” vote was unanimous. Awkward moment, the discomfort of having to drop in a group of strangers. I kept a reasonable physical distancing, still unsure if spending the day with a group of strangers in COVID-19 time was a sound idea.
The air was thick; you could chew it, the ground was frozen, the first golfer brooks a few tees trying to get these tees in the ground. Another golfer rushed to his cart and brought a drill (not kidding) made a hole for the tee; we all laughed, and that was the drill that brooks the ice. Now we are a group of golfers bounding together on the golf course. Time
for the introductions, my name is Ed; a golfer introduced himself and other golfers: Jeff, Dan, Phillip, (not actual names) what is your name,? Ed asked, my name is Ahmed, then genuine attempts by everyone to say my name correctly produced a host of variations of my name I heard before…,; Achmad, Ahaamaad, Akmid, which I didn’t mind. The group consists of Two retirees, one IT guy, and a fourth in real-estate or construction. Three riders, a walker, who was lagging behind the group a chance for both to have a fairway conversation:
_Where are you from? He asked.
_ No, No.. where are you really really from!!
_ I was born in Egypt.,,
_ Egypt, wow, so what brought here…!?
_It was a long shot… a golf joke!! he didn’t laugh!
The group seems to know each other, which made social and physical distancing unmercenary. They were fun, friendly, carious, helpful, and of course, better golfers. They hit the ball into different Zip Codes, still managed to wait for my turn and even look for my lost ball. One group was very quiet, didn’t say much, continually smoking, his trail of smoke I used for the socially distancing needed. The course was challenging; the layout is generous, long hellish green fairways surrounded by lots of leafless trees, Sand bunkers hard-soled, and lakes, water was frozen you could walk on the, Thank You, Jesus. The golf ball bounced back to the fairways. The greens were hard and fast; your ball has to land like butterflies to have any chance of putting.
I didn’t get involved that much in their conversation or their inside jokes. I gave them the social/physical distancing needed. Their conversations were short and cordial, no politics. When a golfer joked if there was any Trumpeter in the group. “let’s not ruin the day here,” Dan quickly put out the fire. We weren’t on the golf course to judge or to argue and fight over politics. We were just a group of men fighting the golf course’s harsh terrain and cold winter, just having a good time away from it all. In the end, as we were reminiscing about this rare December Golfing in Minnesota, A golfer asked me what does “Ahmed” means.?” Being thankful, I explained, “I’m very Ahmed to play golf in December.’ He joked. December golfing brought the warmest of us all!! Golf Anyone!!
Ahmed Tharwat 12/13/20