The Highest Stakes

The Highest Stakes

Nine holes between a husband and wife for family supremacy

It was a three-glasses-of-wine September night, and my wife Kelly and I were in a heated debate: Who in the house played the best golf? We ruled out our two toddlers, as getting up-and-down for them was just me picking them up and setting them back into bed. It was down to us. 

Kelly played in college and had just won both of our women’s club championships at Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio. She makes her hay off the tee and maintains a strong 6 handicap. I play to a 12, mixing in enough hero shots and one-putts to offset an ever-lurking snap hook. 

I conceded that she was the better player when playing from her usual tee box, but everything changed when I announced that I could take her from the blues. As kind and giving as my wife is, her competitive side won’t let her back down from a challenge. It’s one of the many things that drew me to her, and now it had drawn us to the first tee at Kinsale for a nine-hole game of straight-up medal play from 3,400 yards for Rauch household supremacy. 

The mind games started early. The morning of the match, I alerted our golf community’s Facebook page of the titanic battle ahead. All’s fair in love and golf, so I pulled out all the stops to heap pressure onto her: asking the pro shop to rename our tee time “The Match,” setting us up with online score tracking and peppering her phone with inane texts all day in an effort to throw off her prep. 

Alas, I made three fatal flaws. My beloved blue-and-black striped shirt? The one she hates with a passion? I wore it to work rather than the course. Strike one. My “ice her out” strategy? Negated upon entering the pro shop, when we learned that we had to share a cart. Strike two. 

Strike three was more like strikes three through 13. Because that Facebook message that I had so carefully crafted to put her on tilt ended up bringing out 10 of her friends to follow us. Meanwhile, my so-called buddies just sent some texts: “Go get ’em, Tiger.” Thanks, guys. 

The match began exactly as I had predicted. Her 240-yard fairway finder waved its little checkered handkerchief as my heroic tee ball sailed happily past it and into the right rough. My two-putt par bested her bogey, and after a scrappy second and a halved third, I took a two-shot lead into the fourth. She clawed one back after dropping a dart from 200 yards with a hybrid. Then things escalated. 

She tied it up on six, and after my drive strayed left into the creek at No. 7, I was approached by a member of the Stanley Girls. My wife’s crew has two distinct segments: the Slow Blondes (a self-styled moniker stemming from when a rival group of brunettes accused them of slow play) and the Stanley Girls (so named for the Stanley Cup tumblers in which they tote cocktails). 

“What happened?” one of them asked. 

“I hit it in the creek,” I answered, quietly fuming. 

“Is that bad?” 

The Stanleys were always more interested in the contents of their tumblers than golf, but they knew how to twist the knife. 

I strode to the eighth tee one down, only to see the Slow Blondes’ cart ripping up No. 7 to rejoin us. They had run out of gas somewhere back on six, and during that 20-minute delay it appeared they had refueled more than just the E-Z-GO. 

A push at the eighth brought me to the final hole, a three-shot par-5, one stroke down. Kelly’s cheering section ringed the tee, reeking of seltzers and exhaust and unbridled partisanship. Our two sons sat at home with the babysitter, no doubt hanging on every online score update between bites of chicken nuggets. Eternal marital bragging rights would be claimed in the next 15 minutes. ’Til death do us part, indeed. 

So who won? I’d like to say we all did. The community came together. The club’s reputation soared. (I’m sure we’ll see a comped membership next year as a thank-you.) Our kids witnessed healthy conflict resolution. 

I suppose I must state for the record that Kelly ground out a par while I limped home with a double after trying to force an 8-iron to a tucked pin. Final tally: Kelly 39, Ryan 42. 

But they say history is written by the winners, and I don’t see her name on this byline.

Ryan Rauch is a director of operations for a private medical group in Columbus, Ohio. He’s been a Broken Tee Society member since 2022.