Taking the plunge: Moving from 9 holes to 18

By Cynthia Boal Janssens, Contributor

ESTERO, Fla. - The "season" is winding down here in Florida as most of the snowbirds prepare to head north for the summer. And at the end of every season is a closing event at the golf club.

Typically this is an 18-hole scramble, followed by a fashion show luncheon. All of the female golfers are encouraged to participate.

However, this innocuous event is viewed with great trepidation by a particular group of lady golfers: the nine-holers.

Just who are these ladies?

In the past few years, many women have taken up golf. Usually this happens when they retire or semi-retire and move into a golf community for the winter months.

For years, they have been promising their spouses that they will take up golf "someday," "when I have the time," or "after I retire." Or, they really have always wanted to do it and finally do have the time. So they bravely plunge into the game.

Now ladies are not like men. Men tend to take up golf with a vengeance. They go up to the tee and pound the ball and hack around the course with a certain glorious, if somewhat reckless, abandon. Men actually practice. They have the time, right, ladies? While you still have a household to run, they are free of most of their northern responsibilities. They are looking for things to do. Women never have to look for things to do. We are always busy. It is our nature.

But women approach learning to play golf quite differently. They take lessons, they attend clinics and they do practice some. They buy the right clothes and the right shoes. Most are smart enough not to spend a lot of money on clubs right off, until they know how to play better. But the clothes, well, it is important to look good even if you don't play so good.

Key to understanding the female golfer is to understand that women agonize over their play. They worry that everyone is watching and judging them. They worry that they will embarrass themselves.

So after a woman has learned enough about golf to begin to feel some confidence, she joins a nine-hole group. This can be either a league or just an informal group, but more than that it is a support system. It is a group of other women, all with high handicaps, who will not laugh at each other, who will always cry "Great shot!" and who will chuckle with you at your whiffs. Perhaps the greatest camaraderie in all of golf is found among women's nine-hole groups. I kid you not.

So when it is time to move up to the 18-holers, it is often difficult to make the leap. You know that it is time. Your game is finally good enough and you've developed the stamina. But there is this huge emotional reluctance.

So, at the ladies final event usually everyone plays together for 18 holes, an ABCD scramble, and you know you are going to be a D player. So you hang back.

Well, ladies, I'm here to tell you that when it's time to take that plunge you're going to find out that those 18-holers, a few of then anyway, were all nine-holers when they started out and they will be great to play with.

They will help you, they will support you and, trust me, your game will improve faster than ever when you play with women better than you are.

My handicap came down six strokes this winter. I attribute that improvement to my playing regularly with other women, always playing 18 holes and always playing fast and smart.

That's the key. Keep up the pace, which, basically means knowing when to pick up, and you can play with anyone.

Most women I know who have taken up the game in the past couple of years are thoroughly hooked on it now. They are putting together their own groups. Winning money from each other. And having a great time.

Sometimes we actually play golf with our husbands. They often aren't as much fun as the gals, but we have to give them a break, right?

Cynthia Boal Janssens is a former newspaper writer and editor turned freelance writer. She is the former travel editor and Sunday magazine editor of The Detroit News. In addition, she has worked for newspapers in California, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Ohio University.

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