Denise Kingsmill: Why I can't stand golf

Men can always tee off if they want to unwind, but for women it can take much trial and error to find an alternative to this most pointless of games.

by Denise Kingsmill
Last Updated: 21 Oct 2011

In the years when I was working full-time with two pre-school-age children, the only moments I had to myself were in the car on my way to and from work. I could think my own thoughts, turn the music up loud and sing along with Tina Turner or Stevie Winwood until I arrived at work/home and clients/babies filled my brain space with their needs and demands. It was the most relaxing time of day, better even than the post-bedtime-story glass of wine. But of course work/life balance had not been invented then. Like most working mothers, I had no time for hobbies, sport, clubs or even friendships, outside a close network of mutually supportive women who sustained each other at times of childcare crises.

The idea of a Saturday spent playing golf was, and still is, laughable. The actual mechanics of the game seem so peculiar - using a stick to hit a little ball into random holes set in miles of grass. As some wise person once said, playing golf spoils a good walk. It also takes up too much time. But maybe for some people (read men) that's the point, in that it gives them the perfect way to avoid domestic life.

I have been told that many big deals are done on the golf course and that the best networking and client bonding is done over a game of golf or in the clubhouse afterwards. Well it has passed me by, not just through a lack of inclination on my part but also because many golf clubs are not particularly welcoming to women. Indeed, many still ban women members altogether, including Augusta, the home of the Masters Tournament, in Georgia and the venerable Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews. Others place humiliating restrictions on when and where women may play. My favourite is the splendid rule that enables women members to tee off only after 4pm and only from 1 October until 1 March, ie they can only play in the dark.

I am at one with Paul Polman of Unilever who, in these pages, once proudly asserted: 'I have managed to make a decent career without ever once having played golf', although at least he had more of a choice in the matter than I did.

Nevertheless, I do recognise that although golf doesn't do it for me it is a good thing to have a weekend leisure option that doesn't just involve lazing around reading the papers. A change of focus can refresh and renew the spirit for the working week. Everyone should have a violon d'Ingres, meaning a skill beyond the one by which a person is mainly known. Music, art, or writing could be the answer for some, but require at least a modicum of talent or facility to provide a meaningful distraction from work.

I have tried out a few. There was what the family refer to as the 'Rose Cottage days', when we had a tiny house in the west country and every other weekend packed children, sundry pets and half of Waitrose into the car for a three-hour drive there and back so that we could all enjoy the recuperative effects of the countryside. All, that is, except for me for whom the joys of part-time rural living were somewhat diminished by the extra work involved in running two houses while doing a fairly demanding job. The end came, however, when the teenagers discovered the delights of London parties and clubbing, which certainly provided them with a distraction from their school week.

Then there was skiing, but injuries put paid to that. I still go when invited, as the scenery and the air are so lovely, but no more skiing for me. I prefer to join my friends for lunch and get vicarious pleasure listening to their exaggerated exploits on black runs while sunning myself and sipping the mulled wine.

Some businesspeople swear by running and going to the gym. However, they tend to be just as competitive in these activities as at work. This can be witnessed any day on a visit to the spinning classes in the gyms of Canary Wharf, where hundreds are to be found engaged in the essentially pointless task of cycling on the spot. Hardly the counterpoint to work that would be ideal.

I think, however, I may have found the answer, for me at least. Over the past few years, I have developed a passion for fly-fishing. It is physically demanding, requires enough technical skill to be absorbing and is usually undertaken in the loveliest places. It is also very exciting as each cast holds the promise of a fish, while there is nothing like the adrenaline thump when one 'takes'. I have fished for huge rainbow trout on the rivers of New Zealand, Atlantic salmon on the ever-changing Spey in Scotland and for Dolly Vardens in Alaska. It is always with reluctance that I leave the water at the end of the day.

I have a long list of exciting and beautiful places to catch fish which I plan to visit in the years to come. Fishing has the advantage that you tend to get better at it as you get older and you can do it for a long time. The Queen Mother was fishing well into her nineties. And there is always the chance that you will be taking home your supper.

- Baroness Kingsmill is a non-executive director of British, European and US boards. Lady Kingsmill can be contacted on editorial@managementtoday.com

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