The most casual of classrooms

Published 7:06 pm Saturday, September 26, 2009

In reality I guess it’s more a function of having to wait for the buses, but in practice, one of the best scenes in the high school sports year takes place each September at, in this year’s case, Sleepy Hole Golf Course.

During each day of the district golf tournament, the best golfers in the field, generally the top one or two golfers for each school, finish up their rounds around 1-2 p.m. The 60 or so golfers in the tournament come down the 18th hole over the next three or four hours to what amounts to a sizeable, knowledgeable and relaxed gallery.

Add in parents, coaches, tournament organizers, some more family members and siblings and a few newspaper people, and 150-200 folks are gathered around the 18th green as the final few groups finish up.

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This is an interesting occasion for a couple reasons. At least there are a couple that strike me, there are very likely a few more that escape me.

First, only an elite few of these young golfers have played or will go on to play golf in front of an audience of any size.

Of course, one of the appealing things about golf is, unlike most sports, golfers can keep playing and even improve into their 60s, 70s and 80s.

For most of the kids though, the season ends at this tournament and, for seniors, so does continuing to play tournament golf.

All-in-all, 25 golfers advance to the Eastern Region Tournament. A few will go onto the state tournament. A few will get to play collegiately. Perhaps, although the odds don’t even suggest this, one or two golfers currently at the Suffolk and Chesapeake schools will play professionally.

Even if No. 18 doesn’t go well in front of the gallery, and even excellent golfers usually find trouble on Sleepy Hole’s final hole, it has to be a good lesson in sportsmanship and composure.

Tournament golf is a learning experience. Golf, even at its most casual, is humbling since there’s no one else to blame.

So in some part because of golf’s natural nervousness, the relaxed, fun mood around the 18th hole, scoreboard and clubhouse is also an interesting note every year.

Sure, everyone’s in good spirits because it’s a Tuesday and Wednesday and there’s golf and no school, and those going on to regionals have earned a couple more days off in a couple weeks. But, successfully completing, or just completing, a competitive round of golf is not all that unlike finishing a chemistry test. There’s usually a big, long deep breath to go along with shaking hands on the 18th green.

The release of the nervous energy in hot dogs bought in the clubhouse, playing the now forever-popular Tiger Woods/soccer-juggling/sand wedge game, and seeing kids from opposing schools chatting with each one another for most of an afternoon, with only a little texting included, is pretty obvious.

Science, English and math are all far more important than golf or any sport, but trading a couple days’ worth of classes for what the Southeastern District Golf Tournament is is by no means a bad trade.