The first time I played golf, I shot over 100—for just nine holes. That’s what happens when you’re a 9-year-old, left-handed golfer and somebody plops a set of right-handed clubs in your hands.
I played my first round of golf at the Island Country Club, a quaint and quirky par-33 nine-hole course on Deer Isle, where a couple of other campers and I were taken on a golf outing from a nearby summer camp we attended. The course opened in 1928 with just five holes, with the remaining four holes opening four years later.
Being the timid sort I was, I didn’t speak up and tell anybody I thought I was a lefty golfer—after all, I batted lefty in Little League—when they gave me the right-handed clubs. Instead, I simply joined the others without a word and went to the first tee.
Even if I had spoken up, it wouldn’t have mattered. The golf club wouldn’t have had left-handed clubs. I was a lefty in a right-handed world.
I remember missing the ball completely on my first few swings—Whiff! Whiff! Whiff!—as I stood awkwardly holding a club in an unnatural way. Put yourself in my position and imagine how you would feel if you were a right-handed golfer, like 90 percent of the population is, and had to hit with left-handed clubs.
When I miraculously did hit the ball that day, it went left and right, into the woods and onto adjacent fairways. The few shots that went straight dribbled pitifully 10 or 20 yards in front of me. It was not a good day.
But for some reason, that first golfing experience 51 years ago didn’t stop me from coming back. I figured out that indeed I was a lefty (d’oh!) and began going to the driving range and hitting with left-handed drivers they have on hand for customers. When I played on a course, I rented left-handed sets in the clubhouse, if they had them.
I bought my first of clubs, a vintage set from around the 1960s, for $10 at a garage sale. The driver and 3-wood had heads made of wood and were about one-fifth the size of modern clubs. The canvas golf bag had a huge rip in it, through which golf balls often fell out of the ball pouch onto the course while I lugged the bag around. I kept those clubs for years until one day, while at a driving range, the club head of my driver broke off and flew nearly 100 yards as I walloped a ball.
I’ve never gotten good at golf; I’m a hack and I always will be. But that’s okay because I always enjoy playing. Even when I’m hitting badly, it’s a good day when I’m walking or driving a cart around the course in the outdoors where pretty much everybody wears a smile.
Twice I’ve scored two under par, an “eagle” in golfing parlance. The first time, I was two under par after the first three holes on a round, only to finish at over 100. I’ve come within a few inches of a hole-in-one on two or three occasions. I once holed out from 150 yards. All it takes is one good shot to bring me back to the course again. And given the number of swings I take each round, I always manage to have at least one good shot when I play.
The best thing about golf, though, isn’t being in the outdoors or hitting a good shot or the camaraderie with friends I play with—although those are all good things. The best thing about golf is playing with my son.
I introduced my son, Eli, to golf around a decade ago, when he was 9 or 10. He took lessons at Val Halla Golf Course in Cumberland Center and then started joining me on the course. Like me, he’s a lefty golfer; when we’re paired up with other golfers on courses, we get a lot of like-father-like-son comments.
Playing with Eli has meant being together for hours at a time—sometimes all day if we golfed Sugarloaf, Sunday River or other courses that require a long drive. Eli likes to razz me on the course, telling me he’s going to beat me and pointing out the shortcomings of my game. The second time I hit an eagle it was in front of his eyes, and he called it lucky rather than “Good hole, Dad.”
The time eventually came when Eli could beat me in a golf round. He has a killer short game that I envy. And he doesn’t mind reminding me that he can beat me on any given day.
We don’t golf as much as we used to now that he’s in college and busy with other things. But when we do play, it brings me back to when he was younger and there was nothing better to do than to shoot a round of golf together.
Here’s hoping that when Eli has a son of his own, he takes him out on the course and enjoys it as much as I’ve enjoyed playing with him.
And here’s my second hope: that my grandson is a lefty.
Clarke Canfield is a longtime journalist, writer and editor who likes to be active. He is the communications director at Southern Maine Community College.