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On Second Thought

My round of golf in pandemic times veered only slightly off-course

Golf courses in Massachusetts have been reopened since May 7.
Golf courses in Massachusetts have been reopened since May 7.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The only thing more embarrassing than my golf game is writing about it for people to read.

But here goes. Turn away if you must. I fully understand.

After more than three months of rarely venturing farther than the end of the driveway, I tossed the clubs in the car the other day and drove all of 4 miles to play nine holes for the first time this season. My son came, too. That was great . Futility is a vastly underrated bonding opportunity.

It was great to get out of the house and experience real life, though it felt slightly disorienting at first not to prop my laptop on the dashboard to fix the right camera level to Zoom the momentous occasion.

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The pandemic has trained me to think Zoom-first with nearly everything, which is worrisome, though I suppose really no more worrisome than thinking golf in any way mirrors real life. If we ever get on the right side of COVID-19, I hope Zoom is relegated to can-of-Spam status, tucked in the back of the cabinet and used only if we’re starved again of all other forms of social or career sustenance.

Start to finish, my game was as bad as ever, in fact worse than usual for the first time out. I kept lifting my head, skulled countless shots, drilled two or three bulletlike hooks into the woods, and picked up on the fifth hole out of frustration (anyone ever surrendered in glee?).

In other words, it was my standard outing, 1 or 2 over on every hole, minus the pickup on No. 5. Did I mention blowing a 4-footer for a par-3 and finishing there with a 5? Almost forgot that in all the excitement.

In my lifetime journey with golf, my game started bad, plateaued within about a week, and has remained dreadful for decades. I haven’t kept score in more than 30 years, because I’m not out there to compete, realize it will never be below 100, and why would I ever want that kind of incriminating evidence available to anyone? “Oh look, here’s the day I burned up Ponky with a 105!” Frankly, I wouldn’t do that if I carded a 75 (in … my … dreams).

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All that boasting aside, the pandemic made for a somewhat different experience worth noting.

First, of course, no handshakes.

My son and I were partnered into a foursome with another father-son pairing. Very nice folks, and smart, solid players. Normally the drill would be to pull off hat, exchange pleasantries, smiles, hometowns, best wishes for a good round, comment on the fine weather, and … the handshakes.

Never gave the handshake ritual much thought before now. But with germs everywhere, and especially now that I am in the higher-risk senior category, no thanks. We all maintained the minimum 6 feet apart, offered quick and polite waves of hand and nods of head. My bet: handshakes are gone for good.

No one wore a mask. The exception was in the clubhouse, be it for signing in at the pro shop or grabbing something at the snack bar. In those instances, all course employees wore masks, as did most players — save for a group on the patio of 8-10 seniors, who sat around a small table, traded jokes, and drank beer as though Ike were still in office. A patio, comfy chairs, and booze have a way of mitigating most concerns.

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We walked the nine holes. I always prefer to walk. Other than the handful of decent shots I might make for the day, at least I know I’ll leave feeling OK about the exercise. But, yes, there were carts available ($25 for 18 holes), and no COVID-related restrictions governing their use.

No rakes in the bunkers. Standard procedure now in pandemic times, designed to eliminate the risk of germs being traded among those who must clean up after their shots in the sand. As one well-accustomed to beach protocol, it was odd at first not to see the rake, often my most proficient club.

To compensate for the rough terrain, we allowed ourselves preferred lies and desirable placements in sand. Heck, keep the rakes back at the maintenance barn. I all but propped my ball on a tee before taking my hacks in there. Bonus.

Like the rake handles, the pins are not supposed to be touched, be it for removal on a putt, or after a ball is drained (rarely an issue here). To facilitate pulling balls out, a gizmo was attached to the bottom of each pole, the ball popping out with a tug of the putter’s head on the hooked portion of the gizmo. It worked OK, though often took more than one tug.

Save for the handshake, rake, and flag protocol, as well as the absence of ball washers, everything else was the same. Golf in COVID times really isn’t much different, provided you keep your hands to yourself (always wise).

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We teed off at 6:50 p.m., by far the latest I’ve ever started, and it was a warm, beautiful evening with a stunning sunset splashed across a cloud-dotted sky. That part was truly perfect, an unexpected gift from the royals and ancients.

After three months of rarely leaving the driveway, it seemed plants were more lush, colors more vivid, the familiar chirping of robins a virtual symphony to the ear. A good walk made magnificent, even amid all the rancid shots and scalped turf.

Our final hole, a torturous par-5, had us teeing off at 8:55, sunlight all but gone and mosquitoes out for war. My game, something that shouldn’t be seen in public, wrapped up with three shots taken literally in the dark. It took a pandemic, but my game was truly home.


Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.