2006: ‘Til golf do us part

Mesquite, Nev.

Couples golf.

For some lovebirds, that’s a loaded phrase. They’d rather operate under the “you play in your league, I’ll play in mine” mantra and meet at the 19th hole.

Others have spouses who don’t play at all and grumble about being left behind for hours on end week after week.

Twenty-five years ago, Ron Graham saw the writing on the wall. He laid it out for his wife, Sharon, in simple terms: “I came home and said, ‘If you don’t learn how to play golf, you’re going

to be a golf widow.’ I bought her a set of clubs for Christmas and now she takes me out to play.”

Which is how the Grahams, both online college instructors, ended up with 35 other teams this month at the first Mesquite Couples Golf Championship. Each vacation the Grahams have taken the past 15 years has centered around golf.

I ended up playing in the event when my colleague, Lance Ringler, asked me to fill in for his injured wife, Missy. Despite company retreats and a number of road trips covering tournaments, Lance and I had yet to play one round together. Mesquite would be our golfing fling.

Mesquite bills itself as a small town with big-city attractions. Four casinos, 3,000 hotel rooms and six golf courses built around one stop light. Vegas residents like to make the short drive from Sin City to –

you can’t make this stuff up – the Virgin Valley for a breather and some of the best pie west of the Mississippi at Oasis Casino’s Pizza Pub. It’s where events like the World Series of Beer Pong and the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship keep the town of 22,000 buzzing for weeks. It’s also one of the few places where you’ll find a female starter on the first tee and a middle-aged man driving the beverage cart.

Anytime a man and woman share the same tee time, it puts a whole new spin on the ball.

Golf with your buddies and golf with your better half are inherently different, but not necessarily in a bad way.

Here are a few memorable one-liners from Mesquite:

  • You’re drinkin’ already!

  • You two still speaking to each other?

  • There could’ve been death today.

  • I can’t watch.

On Day 1 at the Palms Course, Lance drove us out to No. 9 for the shotgun start. One problem: We were supposed to be on No. 18. Good thing we were Group B off the tee. Minutes later a black cat ran across the fairway shortly before my faux beau put a tee in the ground. It didn’t look promising.

Our day with playing partners Sue May and Larry McGovern, two USGA officials Lance referred to as “The Law,” turned out quite nicely. The modified Stableford scoring system was blessedly forgiving. Points were based on net scores, with anything higher than a bogey receiving zero points. Negative numbers would have been too negative for some teams. Some couples referred to the alternate-shot format

as “divorce court.”

Out of habit, I scouted the range following the first round to see who was putting in extra time. The U.S. Women’s Open this wasn’t. These players were pounding drinks, not range balls.

For Jackie Goupil and her husband, Dean, Mesquite marked their third team event since July. They also played in inaugural couples events in Hawaii and Arizona. Jackie says baby boomers are looking for things to do together, and golf fits the bill. The key to the Goupils’ success lies in what’s left unsaid.

“I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut unless I’m asked,” Dean said. “Any unsolicited advice is suicide.”

That philosophy was echoed by three other couples soaking up the sun on the porch outside the CasaBlanca clubhouse following the awards ceremony. They agreed that most couples “don’t mesh on the golf course.” And most of the time, it’s the man’s fault for one simple reason: Too much advice.

Cindy Clemens informs her husband, Jim, of her one swing thought before each round. That’s the only tip he can reinforce for the next four hours. The Clemens say his and hers instructors are a must.

Many of the women at Mesquite started playing golf so they wouldn’t be left behind every weekend. Char Carson, however, met her boyfriend of four months in an amateur league in Chicago. For Larry Featherstone, a 48-year-old electrical contractor, finding a woman who can keep up with him on the golf course has been a dream come true. He’s a 10; she’s a 12. Occasionally Char rips a 275-yard drive past Larry, and he’s proud as a peacock.

“I love it. I’ve always wanted to be able to go on trips with my significant other and play golf,” he said. “If she ever gets her short game down, I’m dead.”

They have a list of things they want to do: Take each other on in a one-club round; play golf in the Caribbean; caddie for each other in state events.

While golf served as the foundation for Char and Larry, it was simply the next step in life for Steve and Kathy Nichols. Couples golf cured a bad case of empty-nest syndrome for this California pair.

“Our kids are gone and we’re staring at each other like, ‘What do we do now?’ ” said Kathy. “Golf has replaced some of that.”

Kathy gushed at her experience in Mesquite, and for good reason. Organizers didn’t scrimp on the trimmings. A martini mixer, a four-course dinner featuring four wines, palate cleansers and fresh red roses.

Next year’s event falls over Valentine’s Day, and the Nichols already are making plans.

Kathy: “We’ll definitely be back.”

Steve: “Oh yeah, it’s just something to do.”

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification