Originally created 04/08/01

Local golfing couples find love and links can fit to a tee



Francis Banker golfs with his best friend.

"People golf with their best friends, right?" the Augusta man said. "And she's my best friend. I love playing with my wife. She's great."

And in a response that could have been rehearsed, Suzy Banker says she golfs with her husband for the same reason: He's her best friend, and they want to spend time together.

The couple, members of The River Golf Club in North Augusta, have been golfing together for about five years. Mrs. Banker began taking lessons after going out to the course with her husband one day to see why he wanted to waste his time on something as boring as golf.

"She came out with me because she couldn't understand why I was even bothering with that stupid game," Mr. Banker said with a laugh. "I hit the drive down the fairway, and she decided she wanted to hit the ball. I was getting another ball, and she told me, `No, I want to hit yours.' And I said, `But that's the best drive I've ever had!"'

Many men don't want their wives on the course. A friend of Mr. Banker told him, "I stay out of her kitchen, and she stays off my course." Couples who do golf together theorize that there aren't more mixed pairs because women and men both see female golfers as poachers on a male preserve - interfering with the ever-popular "guy time."

"I don't think a lot of women know how to play golf, and a lot of men are playing golf to get away from their wives," Mrs. Banker said. "A lot of men are more experienced and don't have the patience to wait for women - who they always think are hackers."

The pair golfed with other couples all the time in Colorado, where they lived before moving to Augusta three years ago.

Joe Mele and Helga Waller, who play at Forest Hills Golf Club, also golf with another pair. But both couples say that it's unusual to see men and women golfing together in Augusta.

"I think maybe it's a little bit of a macho thing," Ms. Waller said with a small smile. "And maybe women think they just can't compete with men - I don't believe that at all."

It's important for couples who golf together to learn to play against the course rather than against each other - even if you're not playing as a team, both couples said. The point is to have fun instead of focusing solely on competition, they said.

"It took me a year and a half to learn that if I don't do well I don't do well," Mr. Mele said, laughing.

"We're competitive, but we'll also cheer each other on," Ms. Waller added.

"The difference is, you have to play for yourself," Mr. Mele said. "You play your game and focus on what works."

Ms. Waller began golfing in 1969 but stopped for about a decade before returning to the game. Mr. Mele - who had only golfed off and on - joined her. They play together once a week, usually on Sundays. Generally the only couples they see are the friends they play with.

That could change soon. More couples are showing up on the golf course, and the links are giving new meaning to the term. The American Singles Golf Association, with more than 50 chapters, plans to start a chapter in Augusta this month.

"Golf isn't like other types of singles activities - going to a bar or to the movies," said Jackie Daly, vice president of marketing for the Charlotte-based organization, which was begun in 1992. "It puts you together for four to eight hours, and you're focused on each other. You learn an awful lot about a person on the golf course - their personality, how they react to bad shots ... how they react when you hit a better shot than they do."

The singles groups usually have two golfing outings and one non-golf get-together each month. Some chapters have planned an event today to coincide with the final round of the Masters Tournament. Before playing a round of golf, each member will draw the name of a Masters competitor. The singles will get to add the final score of their Masters "partner" to their own at the end of the day. Afterward, the groups will adjourn to course clubhouses to socialize and watch the end of the tournament. Scores will be tallied to see who won.

The association is open to single golfers over 21, although most are 35 or older, Ms. Daly said. Over the past eight years, about 70 members have had to leave the organization because they got married.

"I think we're a safe place to meet people," Ms. Daly said. "When you get through with nine or 18 holes of golf, you pretty much know whether this is someone you want to give your phone number."

Swinging singles

For more information on the American Singles Golf Association, call (888) GOLF-MATE or visit the Web site at singlesgolf.com.

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.