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While April Fool’s got this month started, it didn’t take long for its first two weeks to make a memorable positive mark on the sports calendar. Major League Baseball began on a high note for fans of the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates; UConn and South Carolina proved without a doubt they are the best teams in college basketball, while the Masters and the scenic beauty of the Augusta Golf Course even filled local duffers with the anticipation of hitting the local links.

With its recorded history dating back to 1552, when the first round of golf was believed to have been played in St. Andrews, Scotland, the Masters and its Jim Nantz-invented phrase “a tradition like no other” give golf its greatest publicity in this country. Like the World Series and Super Bowl, the Masters attracts the attention of the casual fan to the sport.

My Mother, who I do not think ever played a round of golf in her life, was always glued to the TV on Masters weekend. Invariably, I would get a call each year from her reminding me the Masters was on TV and I should be watching.

Truth be told, I usually wasn’t. While I admire the talent of those who play the game, the sport has never been compatible with my skill set. The ball I preferred to hit was a baseball; that challenge of hitting a round ball thrown at you with a round bat was my thing.

I’ve never done the calculation, but I probably have never played more than a few dozen rounds in my lifetime and NEVER completed the task with less than 100 strokes. I found it very frustrating that hitting that little white dimpled ball just lying there on the grass was so difficult. Could be my swinging the club like a baseball bat had something to do with it, and that anxiety of hitting that first tee shot with eyes glued upon me was definitely not my element.

Friends have long ago stopped asking if I’d like to play a round. The last time I can recall swinging a club was during the lockdown of the pandemic when I tried smacking the ball around in a nearby field just to have something to do.

The zenith of my frustration with the 18-hole nemesis occurred during my years of employment with Grit Publishing Company. Days after being hired as the organization’s public relations director, my boss inquired about my golf game. Telling him I didn’t have any; he responded I’d better get a set of clubs and take up the game. Seems it must have been in the fine print of my job description, about which I was unaware.

We have all heard tales about ‘the business that takes place on the golf course.’ For me, it was akin to the experience some feel when asked to do public speaking — in a word — terrifying. Yes, it was part of my job to hit the links with clients and guests of the company, one that I was dreading.

After ‘one of those days of work golfing,’ I returned home frustrated as usual. Jean, sensing my usual demeanor after previous such outings, tried her best to placate the situation. After explaining how bad my game had been, she asked, “How many golf balls did you lose?”

“Two,” was my terse response.

She patiently responded, “Well, that wasn’t bad.”

No further response was forthcoming when I replied, “When your shots only travel fifty yards down the fairway, you aren’t going to lose many balls.”

Except for a round of golf at my son Doug’s bachelor party, that was the last time I hit the links, and the game of golf is better off for it. But fortunately for the game, I am not among its target market.

According to a survey released by the National Golf Foundation, roughly one in seven Americans played golf in 2022, resulting in $101.7 billion in direct economic impact, an increase of 20% from the $84.1 billion in economic impact in 2016. Even more important for the future of the game is its growing popularity among the young, with the interest of junior golfers indicating more than 7 million saying they are “very interested” in taking up the game.

Locally, South Williamsport sixth grader Logan McGinn has been playing and winning youth-aged golf tournaments since entering elementary school. His notoriety has carried him to the Augusta course and fueled his interest in pursuing his passion for the game.

As stated by the NGF, the industry has seen 10 straight years with more than 2 million beginners, with the past four years topping 3 million. Prior to the pandemic-boosted totals of recent years, the previous recorded high of 2.4 million was set in 2000, when Tiger Woods was at his height of popularity.

With Mom now watching from above, I would have loved to get that phone call this past weekend once again. In her memory, I even sneaked a peek at the proceedings. Lucky, for both the game and my sanity, those clubs are still tucked away in an upstairs closet where they can’t harm anyone.