Neither rain, sleet, snow, nor questionable skill can keep retired Texas Monthly associate editor John Broders and his wife Lin Altman from playing golf with their buddies once a week. “We are not particularly good,” says John. “We don’t really practice, we just sort of go out and play.” But lack of practice doesn’t necessarily indicate lack of dedication. John and Lin have been playing golf with the same core group of friends every week for well over fifteen years. That’s a real commitment.
John and Lin are not lifelong golfers. They were introduced to the sport as 40-somethings, when John’s older brother picked up a serious golf habit at 47 and bought them each a set of clubs, insisting they play whenever he came to Austin for a visit. But it wasn’t long before John and Lin were playing even when big bro wasn’t around, joining Wyatt McSpadden, a friend of John’s through work, for weekend games at Roy Kizer Golf Course near McKinney Falls State Park. Other friends soon followed suit, including Wayne Hicks, Michael O’Brien, and Wyatt’s legendary border collie, Mack, whom John and Lin still think of as one of their favorite friends on the golf course, though he passed away some time ago. Soon, a cherished pastime was born.
This quintet of “muni rats,” as Lin calls them, have been playing together at municipal courses in the Austin area ever since. Both John and Lin credit the group with turning what would have been an occasional game with John’s brother into a regular hobby. “If this group hadn’t accidentally formed,” says Lin, “I don’t think we would have played.” John says their friends are “pretty much the only reason we play golf.”
A lot has changed since the group first got together. “We started playing together early in the mornings on the weekends, usually Sundays,” says John. Back then, early tee times were preferable. They allowed John and Lin to make it back to the house before their teenage son, Wit, woke up, which John jokes could have been as much as 18 hours after they left. Wit is grown now and has his own clubs, but John still laughs at the thought of Wit picking up a 6:15 a.m. tee time.
Sometimes the group would play on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, before, as John says, “we got so old we could only play one day a week.” Before the Internet made everything easier, weekend morning tee times often required players to head out to the course as early as 4 a.m. to claim their spot. But this was a sacrifice John, Lin, and their friends were happy to make. “When we were still working, it was such a pleasant distraction,” says John. “We really looked forward to playing every week.”
For John and Lin, golf gives them much to look forward to. Lin loves spending time outdoors. “Where we play, there aren’t many houses,” she says, “and Kizer is on a migratory pattern, so you get to see some cool birds.” They’ve seen pelicans and even once made friends with a duck. “She used to waddle up whenever she saw us,” says Lin.
Both of them appreciate that a round of golf can amount to a weekly five-mile hike, and their group only uses golf carts “every now and again when somebody’s meniscus acts up,” according to Lin. John adds, “It really is my only form of exercise. I’m becoming a bit of a homebody.”
Even for a self-proclaimed homebody, “it’s very much a social thing,” says John. “We get together, we hang out with each other, and we’re just happy to be playing golf when we’re hanging out.”
Lin loves the jokes. “Joking around is part of everyone’s golf game,” she says, “but our group tends to have more fun than most of them.” Razzing is a regular part of their sport, as are nicknames. Wayne Hicks, who John says is “the most even-keeled of the group,” tends to accumulate a lot of nicknames, such as “Sir-Shanks-a-lot,” “Pope,” and “Bobby Beige,” teasing everything from his skill to his clothing. The group’s best player is Michael O’Brien, and he takes his time with every shot, earning him the moniker “Michael Slow-Brien.”
“I’m a recipient of their humor,” says Lin. “It’s so much fun to listen while they make fun of everything and everybody, including naming the outhouse after John and me. They call it Lin’s loo and John’s john.”
But John says that everyone on the team is funny, including Lin, the only female spouse on the fairway. “I think for a lot of couples [golf is] a way for them to get away from each other, so I kind of blew that,” she says. “Sure did,” adds her husband of more than 40 years.
Though they say they’ll quit playing if their group ever breaks up, both John and Lin know that golf has enriched their lives. John says the sport has brought him much closer to his older brother, Compton, whom Lin calls “the golf guru.” Compton travels around the world for the sport. He’s played on courses in Ireland and Scotland, and has even managed to convince homebody John to join him once or twice. “He crosses the Atlantic the way I might cross the street, but with not nearly as much reluctance as I exhibit,” says John.
With Compton, John and Lin have traveled not only to Ireland and Scotland, but also to Oregon and Hawaii, to play some of the best courses in the world. In Hawaii, they could see whales while playing, a memory that outdoor enthusiast Lin still holds dear.
Even with all their travels, those weekend games on muni courses are still their favorite. “I think the only thing that would make us stop playing golf is if this group completely breaks up,” says Lin.
“I can skip one week and not really miss it,” adds John, “but I couldn’t give up golf now.”
This is a sentiment that the rest of the group appears to share, as they have continued to play together through many ups and downs. The group has seen each other through cancer scares, bad backs, and more. “Wyatt and I occasionally get mad at each other, and we’ve survived that,” says John, adding, “We’ve survived the loss of a dog, the loss of interest. It’s still the core group: Wayne, Wyatt, Michael, Lin, and myself.”
That’s what keeps John and Lin coming back to the fairway all these years later. According to John, they enjoy golf “because of the people who are involved.”
-Words by Emily McCullar, photo: Shutterstock/Olimpik