Attempting to characterize the game of golf isn’t easy. And trying to describe what playing golf is like to someone who hasn’t been around it is even harder.

It’s where the great outdoors meets a math final in your senior year – where the natural and the cerebral meet head-on.

It’s like a walk in the park interrupted by undesirable phone calls every two minutes.

The contrasting combinations that make up playing golf are numerous. It’s about fun and frustration, physical exercise and mental taxation. Doing it well certainly requires elements of knowledge and skill but also involves an absolute necessity of luck.

You can’t “just golf.” While it is possible to simply whack the ball, go to where it ended up and do the same thing again, that’s not really golf.

There’s so much to consider. Like wind velocity and direction, variance in topographic features, bright or flat lighting, grain, break, angle, temperature, moisture and so much more. And the whole time, you have to battle the most difficult opponent anyone could face in any sport or competition: youself.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

The bottom line is, to avoid being eaten alive by the game, when you play it you have to – at least temporarily – become a golfer. In essence, that means paying attention to the myriad of possible influencing factors and not letting your brain get in the way.

I used to be a golfer on an extremely regular basis.

Just to do a little name-dropping, my high school team’s home course was Sahalee (east of Seattle, where Vijay Singh won the PGA Tournament). I played Torrey Pines when it was set up for the 2008 U.S. Open (don’t ask – it was brutal). I attended the 2001 PGA Tournament at the Atlanta Athletic Club (won by David Toms, but when Shingo Katayama became famous thanks to some amazing shots and a silly hat) and the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 (won by New Zealand’s Michael Campbell thanks to a trifecta of rounds in the 80s posted by front-runners Retief Goosen, Olin Browne and Jason Gore).

I’ve played in nine states (Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Missouri) and one Canadian province (British Columbia). I’ve played courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Fred Couples, to name a few. I can’t really remember how many courses I’ve teed it up on, but my best estimate is in the neighborhood of 75.

Basically, I’ve kind of been around the golfing block. I don’t regret for a minute that my life now involves many other activities and I don’t play as often as I used to.

But at the same time, it was a pleasure swinging some Taylor Mades and smacking a Bridgestone around a little last week at Oakwood Golf Club near Houston, especially being in the company of a golf man like the facility’s owner/general manager Bud Evans.

His golf background is substantially more extensive than mine, what with Pebble Beach and TPC Sawgrass on his played-there list and Ben Hogan and Tom Watson on his shook-hands-with list. Watching his fluid swing motion was captivating and reminded me of how I still need to work on hitting “down” on my mid and long iron shots.

But to finally check out Oakwood was neat, because it renewed my perspective of small-time, out-of-the-way golf courses. While the ball doesn’t sit up on the fairways the way it does at Torrey, the tee boxes aren’t as manicured as they are at Whistler, B.C., and the sand isn’t as fluffy as it is at Pinehurst’s Tobacco Road, one thing stands above all that: the place has plenty of golf to offer.

Courses like Oakwood may not have all the amenities that the big ones have, but no matter how you slice it (love that pun), the game is still the game.

But I don’t mean to make it sound like Oakwood deserves more pity than respect. What Bud showed me as he described each hole we played in detail is how the links-style track has a unique and definite personality – one that makes it interesting from first tee to final green.

It’s the kind of course where big bombers don’t necessarily have a decided advantage right off the bat. Length never hurts, but the way the place is set up is such that a long drive might just land right where the trouble is, and discretion is often a better idea than sheer power. And thanks to some cleverly grown deep rough, blasting the ball crooked and then hoping for a decent wedge shot is surely not a good idea on most holes.

Links courses can never be expected to have inviting, super-smooth outer edges, and Oakwood is no exception. But if you keep your ball out of the deep stuff and out of the ditches and ponds, you’ll soon find yourself putting on relatively level greens with very true roll. But don’t under-club yourself on your approach; every green is elevated and most are mounted on a turtle back, so if you come up short you’ll be practicing little, uphill chip shots all day (I ought to know…).

And if a north wind is blowing, which it often is (either hard or harder), you’re probably going to need to plan your third shot carefully on the par-5s.

Someone once said that a bad day golfing is better than a good day doing a lot of other things.

I don’t know who that was, but it might as well have been anyone who plays a course like Oakwood Golf Club.

Doug Davison is a writer, copy editor and advertising representative for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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