Golf dates and match play

How playing a round can lead to romance

Golf is a classic business tool not only for customer schmoozing but also because player behavior provides deeper clues about the character of a potential vendor, collaborator, or employee. So why not use it to check out a potential romantic partner?

As an avid player, I can attest that golf is one of the best ways to get to know someone. It’s also one of the worst: too much time, too much money, terrifying for anyone who lacks confidence in his or her game.

Lack of confidence doesn’t necessarily refer to anxious female tyros trying to keep up with long and strong men. Most of the men I have golf-dated haven’t been able to get off the first tee with their first shot.

Swing, miss.

Swing, miss.

Swing, hit ball into pond.

Swing, drive ball 40 yards.

But it’s dry and playable; my turn to tee off.

The way the man on the tee deals with first-drive failure gives me a sense of who he is. My reaction (patience with humor) reveals portions of my personality, too.

I hereby offer three different formats for getting-to-know-you golf dates. They’re adaptable to other athletic activities ranging from tennis to trail-running to ax-throwing. Or anything involving a swimsuit, if you dare.

1. The Setup

This is basically a sneak attack: arranging a round with a new person who is potentially eligible, but “it’s just golf.” I’ve done this for others and for myself—indeed, involving the same man, in one case, though not at the same time. But you could do that, too, and let the best woman win.

The presence of four humans diffuses the tension of romantic evaluation, though when two are single and the rest are married, the agenda’s not exactly hidden, either. I first did this when married, hosting an early morning foursome that included a married male client, a single male lawyer who shared the client, and a single female engineer I knew through my golf league.

This setup didn’t stick. My female friend ran off the ninth green, claiming an urgent need to get to work and leaving married me having post-round coffee with the legal target. We had a fine time, and I later complained to a fellow yenta, Jeez, what’s wrong with Julie? If I weren’t married, I’d be interested in him.

Be careful what you wish for. Three years later I was widowed and setting up my own self with the still-single lawyer. We played golf several times, and followed the third round with a sunset-view patio dinner that was the most goddam romantic non-date I’d ever been on. The next time I suggested golf, he instead suggested cocktails at the swankiest bar in town. The rest is history.

Except it’s not. Despite our ironic meet-cute worthy of a Nora Ephron screenplay or a New York Times “Modern Romance” column, this particular prince did not rescue the maiden. It turned out he was only technically single and was emotionally cheating on his ex-girlfriend with me; within months the tower came crashing down on my fairy tale.

On this, I do not blame golf.

2. The Checkout

This is another form of sneak attack. If a romantic prospect invites you to play “couples golf,” you’re getting checked out by his or her friends.

My experience with this sort of inspection goes both ways. I have dear friends who routinely invite my swain of the moment to play so he can consider joining their country club. What they’re really doing, of course, is considering whether he should join me.

On the other side of the equation, the above lawyer asked married friends to play with us at his club. After they gave me enthusiastic post-round reviews, he signed up the four of us for a charity tournament six months later. By the day of the event, he and I had moved on to other partners—which was news to the married couple, since there I was, playing on the tournament team. Well, I’ve got my athletic priorities!

Couples golf has a follow-on purpose that’s more relaxed. As your relationship matures, playing golf with lover and friends, his and yours, is one way of integrating your current life together with your previous ones apart. Maintaining old relationships can be hard while you’re building a new one, and sports socializing is one practical way of doing so.

3. The Early-Stage Evaluation

No third parties needed here. Say you’ve had three or four coffees, lunches, and dinners that establish sufficient mutual interest; playing together can help you decide whether to take things to the next level.

The way someone behaves during a challenging physical activity is a true tell of temperament. The trick, with golf in particular, is to do it without falling prey to a fun-robbing case of nerves. Consider taking these precautions:

  • Don’t play 18 holes. Four or more hours together is too damn long unless your primary purpose is actually golf. Nine-and-dine is an excellent format for dating.
  • Don’t play an unfamiliar course. There’s enough unknown territory in your partner’s personality.
  • Don’t keep score. At least, don’t keep his score. Don’t announce yours, either; keep it between you and GHIN.
  • Don’t play for stakes, whether financial, prideful, or sexual.
  • Don’t talk too much while you play. Put a post-round meal on the agenda from the get-go.
  • Don’t misbehave. Don’t throw clubs, hit into the group ahead, drive your riding cart near the green, abuse the cart girl or caddie, use foul language (until your date does, too), or scold your companion because he forgot his wedge on the last green.

I found golf especially useful for getting together during the height of Covid. These initial encounters weren’t quite first dates, because pandemic phone conversations provided a hefty runup to in-person meetings. All of my golf dates were enjoyable and not nerve-wracking—at least for me, since I got off the first tee just fine.

Moreover, one very special man proved his thoughtfulness by inviting me to play golf even though he hadn’t touched his clubs in years, because he had learned that I love the game. In his case, the rest IS history.

Yet here’s what can happen when you do it all wrong. One of my best friends agreed to play 18 holes, not nine, on a blind date. She flubbed her first drive, she kept score (and it was a high one), dumped her pushcart twice, then realized she had lost her car and house keys when doing so. So instead of having a relaxed post-round drink with the guy, she was scouring the course for her belongings.

Eventually the keys were found and the beers consumed. Within a year my friend was living with the guy, and now they’re married. So much for golf rules.

Five feminist reasons to have a man in your life

Men are optional extras for women anymore. We don’t need them for their traditional purposes—procreation, security, paychecks—and many of us don’t want them for their traditional pursuits—sex, war-making, lawnmowing.

Even for straight women, the thrill is gone from the one pastime that requires male cooperation: romance. It’s such a tangle of misinterpreted hints, missed cues, mysterious silences, inexplicable rejections… easier to opt out.

I’m a likely candidate for quitter after eight years of dating, yielding three intimate relationships that hit the wall hard enough to fracture my bliss. This follows four better-than-most decades with an eccentric wiseacre who greeted me each morning with Hey, Beautiful! and made me crack up at least twice daily until his final weeks. Wasn’t that a lifetime supply?

Apparently not. I still like men who like women, for friendship and more, and I’ve come up with at least five reasons to seek out the good ones.

1. Men are different from you.

Diversity has become a mainstream desirable, at least among those not culture-canceling in one ideological direction or another, and gender is one aspect of human diversity. Gender may be no longer binary, and of arguable significance and debatable importance, but it’s still here. Interacting socially with a variety of cultures, including male ones, flexes the brain.

2. Men are people too.

Not everyone worth knowing is female (nor is everyone female worth knowing). Many of the worthwhile people in this world are male. Most of them do not need simultaneous translation or manual exploration to value your company.

3. Men know stuff.

I’m not talking about stuff like how to jumpstart a car or chainsaw a tree. Some men partake of the stereotypical canon, some don’t. As for you, take a class.

I refer to your interests, and extending your circle to those who share them and happen to be men. With male companions, I’ve gone to symphony concerts, Broadway musicals, opera, amateur burlesque, charity balls, jazz clubs, and fancy dress boutiques. For that matter, I usually play golf, snowshoe, and go to basketball games with women. A lot of stuff in life is more attached to personal taste than gender.

4. Men talk differently.

Tricky this, but in I plunge. Conversations with men tend to focus on the external: sports, business, politics, the state of the world, the state of a sport. Yes, men get chided for avoiding the intimate, but the female hothouse of personal topics can tire, too. Sometimes it’s a relief to talk about uncomplicated things like carbon trading, virtual private networks, and exchange-traded funds.

Male conversation also is not as consensus-driven as female. Men argue and stay friends. Female sparring takes place on reality TV, not in real life. Groups of women often work much too hard to achieve consensus, when honing opposing positions would be a better use of intellect, and agreeing to disagree a better outcome.

There’s another angle here, of course: Some men think women who disagree with them are disagreeable. We all have a ways to go at learning how to do civil disobedience with each other, but it’ll never happen unless women talk to men instead of behind their backs.

 5. Men can make you feel good about yourself.

Men are much less likely to have problems with their own bodies or yours, as plenty of research studies confirm. You probably look better to them than to your own self, since there’s no woman in America without body-image issues. Even models fear that people like them only for their looks.

Male compliments don’t necessarily tie in to sexual preference or flirtatious intention—verbal chivalry can simply be a form of human civility. My late husband, who didn’t stray, nevertheless greeted female friends with “Howdy, gorgeous!” because he liked to set off a glow.

Bonus point: Sex.

This reason is meaningful only for straight and bi woman, and, as noted earlier, there are plenty of workarounds. But there’s nothing like communing with a nice warm male body that has an interesting brain attached—if it values the same in a female one.

So I suggest you consider the male of the species as neither a must-avoid nor a luxury item. Close friendship with a worthwhile man can enhance your social and intellectual life. If you find one who extends friendship to physical intimacy and romantic commitment, all the better and happy you.

In sum: Having a dick doesn’t necessarily make you one. Give a guy a chance.