Dave wasn’t really a betting man, but he had played plenty of rounds with friendly wagers. He used to golf weekly (before 2020, when everything changed) and typically broke even on bets over the course of a summer.

Business deals, though, felt too serious for the golf course. Especially one as serious as today. 

What kind of organization wants to discuss this kind of thing while golfing? 

Three weeks after getting the invitation in the mail (no return address, naturally), he still didn’t have an answer. But he knew he couldn’t turn down the offer. His family was depending on him to make this deal. 2022 had been their most difficult year together already, and these last few months had pushed them to a breaking point. This was his chance to ease at least one burden his family was facing. 

Besides hitting the range over the last three weeks, Dave had read as many “golf business deal” articles as he could find. Forbes, Golf Digest, Reader’s Digest … every minute from dinner until falling asleep at the computer was spent researching. Advice ranged from the practical to metaphorical. Lead with a good handshake. Buy a new glove for the round. Aggressive shots show a willingness to take risks. Consistency on the course tells your opponent you’re a consistent person. 

He arrived at the course, new glove already on, to find his opponent warming up on the practice green. They waved at each other in greeting, and Dave introduced himself. They would be walking with their own bags, per course policy, so he’d have to maximize facetime at the tee and on the green to make a good impression.

The anxiety set in early. Dave’s tee shot was modest — 210 or so, a few feet into the rough. He heard scribbling as soon as the ball hit the ground. Looking back, he saw his opponent taking notes in a small red notebook.

“Should I worry about what you’re writing?”

She glanced up. “This is your only reminder that you are not permitted to ask questions about the approval process.”

As if he had forgotten. Weeks of worried preparation, and he didn’t even know what he was being tested on. Was winning required? Or was his performance measured in some other way? The invitation had only listed the financial terms of the deal and stated it was dependent on the outcome of a round of golf. A few former colleagues had tried to do business with this same group, even a few successfully, but were prohibited from sharing any details.

Five holes later, Dave’s score was revealing his mental state. On 2, he decided to show his “willingness to take the risk” by shooting for a green-backed tightly against a pond. The ball rolled across and off the green, disappearing with a splash that Dave couldn’t hear over the sound of notetaking. Penalty. Scared off, his approaches on 3 and 4 were short by 40 yards, despite no water in sight. The notebook came out on both holes.

Eager to talk about anything besides his game, Dave asked his partner, anonymous behind her mask, how she became a golfer. She gave a few personal details but seemed friendly enough about the topic. When the question turned back to him, he recounted hitting balls with his grandfather’s old pitching wedge in a field behind their house. That turned into caddying, a brief stint on his high school team, and a renewed interest after college when it became a weekly date with his now-wife.

The stories flowed naturally, and with them came a thought Dave hadn’t considered all day — he enjoyed golf. The stress of the current round aside, here he was, walking a beautiful course and playing a game that stuck around through so many stages of his life.

Replaying those memories had calmed his nerves for the first time in weeks. He focused hard on the details of the stories and managed to ignore the notebook for a few shots at a time.

The rest of the round was unremarkable. Dave lost by a few strokes but felt he had played decently. Hearing the ball fall into the cup on 18 let the anxiety flood back in. The round, this audition, was over. Now, to see how his partner had rated his performance.                   

Out came the notebook, and she scanned over the day’s page. Finally, she delivered the verdict. 

“We’d be happy to invite you to our partnership. Your dues, as discussed, will be two bottles of hand sanitizer each month. You’ll receive three rolls of single-ply toilet paper on the first of each month in return. Deliveries will be made by an armored Amazon truck.”

He had done it. His family would finally have a steady supply of toilet paper. These regional Sanitation Clubs were the only consistent, secure source in the years after COVID-19 hit. Their prices were steep. But when the last remaining grocery stores boarded up, and with government shipments being constantly stolen, Dave didn’t know where else to turn. 

As rough as the previous years had been, he never would have guessed 2022 would look this way. At least the golf course stayed open, even if the bathrooms were locked. Maybe he’d do a few more holes before heading home. 

After all, he needed to practice for next week’s audition: An underground organization was moving yeast starter kits to a millennial community up north and needed runners. After a month, he could earn his own. 

To taste bread again … that was all the motivation Dave needed to shoulder his bag, hold his bladder and head back to the first tee.

Andrew Lynch

Andrew Lynch has been swinging a golf club since he learned how to walk — just like Tiger, minus the fame and skill. As a former caddie, his favorite type of golfer is one who uses a light bag with a proper strap. He lives in Michigan with his partner and cat.