Yesterday I conveyed Dave Davis’ findings that golfing can be hazardous to your health. I don’t doubt him on this, exactly, though it does remind me of the line that saccharine, as it turns out, — so long maligned — is really only hazardous to your lab rat’s health.
Today I want to tell you the real reason I personally will never play golf again. My apologies to those of you who have already read this: it is lifted from My Vast Fortune. But it comes after the auto insurance reform section, so even if you have gone out and purchased the book (bless your heart), you may have it by your bedstand with a bookmark someplace between the fascinating details of failed auto insurance reform in Hawaii and the fascinating details of failed auto insurance reform in California or Massachusetts. You got bogged down, in other words, like a golfer in the rough.
Anyway, here’s the story. A couple of years ago, I was invited to go golfing with Warren Buffett. Sort of.
More accurately, I was golfing at the invitation of my discount broker. It was the first time in my life I had ever golfed, and the first time in anybody’s life that they’d gone golfing with a discount broker. But this was a special case, and I learned a few things.
The first thing I learned, I guess, was “never go golfing for the first time in your life.” Not that this hadn’t occurred to me in advance.
“I’m sorry,” I said when I was invited. “I’d really love to come, but I can’t.”
“Why not?” asked my host, marveling that I would turn down a chance to hobnob with Buffett and 98 other CEOs, senators, governors and the like.
“I don’t play golf,” I explained.
“Don’t worry! We’re all terrible,” he said.
He meant they had high handicaps, and this was for charity, the Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater, and all in good fun.
“You don’t understand,” I said. “I mean I have literally never played golf in my life. Well, a little miniature golf.”
I play Scrabble. (So does Warren Buffett. I have never played him directly, but for a while there we were both playing Monty, a computerized game, on which he managed to rack up a 687-point score. I know, because he sent me a Polaroid. To save time, he reported, he’d have his secretary keep starting new games until Monty dealt him a seven-letter word.)
“No problem,” my host assured me. And we went back and forth about five times, over a period of several weeks, until against my better judgment, and admittedly eager to make the trip, I gave in.
I could tell these were going to be a score of fearsome foursomes assembling in Omaha, in pedigree if not handicap. Some of them might be lousy golfers, but all, from the sound of it, promised to be heavy hitters. Discount brokers getting no respect, I was the heaviest hitter they could get.
“Buy me the most expensive pair of golf pants you can find,” I e-mailed my secretary. (Back then I had a secretary.)
“Who IS this?” she e-mailed back. (Little as I am known as a golfer, I am that much less well known to be a big spender. But now was not the time to send her rooting around the aisles of K-Mart for golf pants.)
“And a belt and a shirt,” I e-mailed back.
Never mind that these items came to $343.27. Green pants do not a golfer make. Though I sure look like a golfer, leaning on my club next to Warren. I hadn’t needed to buy golf shoes, because one of the little party favors everyone got was a brand new pair (which I now use to tenderize ostrich fillets). We also got our pictures taken. For anyone who still has never heard of Warren Buffett — amazingly, there still are such people — he’s frequently on the cover of business magazines. Stock in his company trades on the New York Stock Exchange around $45,000 a share. Buffett’s a genius, but I’ve always felt the stock’s been a little ahead of itself. I first advised people to buy Berkshire-Hathaway — but only after it fell back a bit — when the stock was $300 a share. It never fell back. I advised much the same thing at $3,000 and then at $30,000. Instead of owning, say, 25 shares I could have purchased for $7,500, and having now $1,075,000 worth, I have a collection of his brilliant annual reports, the Polaroid of his Scrabble game, and this framed photo of him and me leaning on our golf clubs.
During the 18 holes, I asked penetrating questions of my host, the then-president of Accutrade, my Omaha-based discount broker, such as: “Wouldn’t it be a lot easier and more efficient if there were just one bag of clubs on the cart for all four of us?” His eyes widened imperceptibly. “People,” he pointed out slowly, once he began to believe I wasn’t kidding, “come in different heights.”
Oh, I blushed, catching on.
He was stuck with me, because all this had been his bright idea. But the other two members of the foursome, a former senator and a real estate mogul, had a slightly harder time dealing with me, I think (though not nearly so hard a time as our caddie, who emerged from the afternoon scraped, muddy and exhausted), and I was feeling really lousy — until we hit on the idea of playing for money. For me, this made it fun, and improved my concentration. My host and I played “scrambler” — going to whichever of our shots was the better and playing the next one from there — to their “best ball.” If one of them shot a six and the other a five on a particular hole (am I saying this right?), they’d get credit for the five. But sometimes we did better, because usually we just went to my host’s ball, but every once in a while he blew one and I actually got us a little further in the right direction. We had them down $75 at one point.
The real saving grace was that, this event having taken over the entire course for the day, each foursome was quite separate from the others. The only witnesses to my shame were my partners — one of whose fault all this was in the first place — and the caddie. So it was bad, but it could have been worse.
Back in the clubhouse, where all the foursomes converged, everyone was jovially asking everyone else how they had played. The first couple of times I shuffled my feet and stammered something sheepish. Then, I figured, screw it.
“How’d you do, young fella?” some billionaire asked me.
“Best damn golf I ever played.”
“Really?” he said, a bit taken aback.
“Yep,” I said, firmly. “I played the best damn golf of my life today.”
Well, I did.
But this being the kind of line one can get away with only once, it was also the last damn game of golf I ever played.
[Adapted from My Vast Fortune, ©1997 Andrew Tobias.]