Sibling Golf

Like golf, life can be unpredictable. In my case, it finds me living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, at least for a while.

For those not familiar, Steamboat Springs is located in the Yampa River Valley, which cuts through the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. While there is a large ski resort that operates here, Steamboat Springs stands apart from places like Vail and Aspen in that it has been a longtime cowboy and rancher town, and has an economy that is not totally reliant on skiing.

My youngest sister, Lisa (who I affectionately call “Mick”) first moved here shortly after graduating from college, and after years of chasing a management career in retail, wound up back here several years ago, taking a position as Executive Director for Mainstreet Steamboat, a non-profit organization that consults with the local restauranteurs and retailers on ways to improve their traffic and visibility. She and her boyfriend Chad, a local contractor, are firmly ensconced in all things Steamboat Springs.

Mick took up golf a few years ago, and has fallen hook, line, and sinker for the game to the point where she’ll have the Golf Channel on her TV for a good portion of the day. She’ll ask lots of questions, not just about the players, but the courses on which the tournaments are being played, strategies for playing, and many of the topics that have made me the Golf Nerd that I am.

So when I arrived here about 10 days ago, Mick excitedly told me, “I’m going to get us a tee time for next Friday!” I was, to be polite, skeptical. I had caught the tail end of a “bomb cyclone” en route to Steamboat, and as I drove past Haymaker, the town’s outstanding municipal course, there was not a patch of green or brown to be seen, much less flags on the greens.

You see, this is what the locals here refer to as “mud season.” Ski season has come to an end, but there’s plenty of snow on the mountain tops melting down to the valley, making for an inglorious stew of – well, of mud.

But this part of the world seems to have a plethora of microclimates. About 40 miles to the west of Steamboat Springs is a small industrial town called Craig, where the snow is completely gone and temperatures average about 5 – 10 degrees warmer than those of Steamboat. Mick had gone online and secured a tee time for us at the Yampa Valley Golf Course, a sporty little track that I had played years ago when I had first visited her.

Friday came and the day was glorious, with temperatures in the upper 60’s that felt even warmer due to the elevation and virtually no wind (in stark contrast to the springtime winds that blow through Texas). Mick, Chad, their friend Steve, and I loaded up our clubs, piled into Mick’s red Ford Flex and lit out for Craig.

Having lived south of the Mason-Dixon border for the past 20-odd years, I’ve grown used to (and spoiled by) year-round play, and had forgotten how exciting it was for folks up north to be able to tee it up for the first time in the spring. For Chad, a very athletic guy, it would be a chance to shake the rust off his game. Steve, on the other hand, was coming off of knee surgery and was anxious to see how his newly repaired joint would perform. Mick was just simply bubbling over the opportunity to get out on the course.

She’s 11 years younger than me. I can’t say that I raised her, but we did spend a lot of time together until I went off to college. There were a lot of kids my age in our neighborhood, which afforded plenty of opportunities for us to engage of pickup games of all sorts. So I would load Mick up in her stroller and walk her down to wherever we were playing. She’d sit and smile or laugh as we went about our business – there was one instance when she started crying during one of our pickup basketball games, which brought the proceedings to a complete halt; it was such an unusual occurrence. We all ran over to her to see what the problem was; she immediately stopped crying and starting giggling, as though she had planned the whole incident. Maybe she did.

I’d like to think that some of my interests rubbed off on her, be it music, travel, or politics, but her taking up golf really was a surprise. Apparently, she had approached our dad (a very fine player back in the day) to teach her how to play. Unfortunately for her, Dad had a less than enlightened attitude about women being on the golf course; plus, his one attempt at taking my other sister out on the course gave unprecedented gravitas to the term “unmitigated disaster.”

And I admit to some initial skepticism. Taking up the game later in life can be frustrating, particularly while holding down a highly visible position dealing with a volatile constituency. But she’s benefitted from supportive friends – particularly Chad – and a determination to do well.

We checked in at Yampa Valley Golf Course, which was humming with early spring golf fever activity. A quick check of the practice green showed that the putting surfaces had not weathered well over the winter; there were signs of snow mold and dead areas that made for extremely bumpy putting. But the fairways and rough had dried out surprisingly well. Maybe it wouldn’t be “mud golf” after all.

And all things considered, we all did pretty well, particularly Mick, who shot her best 18 score ever and was great company in the cart (truth be told, she’s great company regardless). I didn’t critique every swing of hers; if there was something obvious that I noticed I would gently mention it to her and she took it well.

The two best things about her game were her driving and her putting, the latter of which was fun to watch on the shorter putts. The new rule this year allowing for the flagstick to be left in the hole while putting suited her aggressive approach to short putting; she would step up confidently on 3 and 4 foot putts and bang them in off the pin and into the hole.

Like a lot of beginning players, she has some issues getting fairway shots airborne, but that should come with time. And there will be time – she already has her summer calendar blocked for late afternoon “meetings.” I’d like to take credit for her foresight, but she figured that one out on her own.

That’s my sister.

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