Three years ago I took my mom, Shu-Jen, to the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. "This is the best course in the world," I said. Mom nodded blankly and suggested I practice tai chi to improve my circulation.
I don't blame her for not embracing Pebble Beach, because it's such a departure from the type of course she has known since taking up the game as a sprightly 60-year-old. My mother, bless her frugal heart, works the muni circuit in Long Beach, Calif., with a simple strategy: Find the best deal possible. By her logic, there's no reason to spend $27 to play 18 holes when the twilight rate is $11 less. When she discovered that some munis offered an even cheaper rate—super twilight for $10!—Mom was hooked, and super twilight golf is now a mandatory family affair in the Yen household.
Through my job I have played on some of the best courses in the U.S., but I'm sure my pleasure on those occasions can't match my mom's when she'd score a freebie at her favorite course, El Dorado. For a while Mom had the run of the place, having befriended a college kid named Dave who worked in the pro shop. She brought him Chinese fortune cookies and shamelessly promised that I'd write about him when he turned pro. When Dave left El Dorado to try the mini-tours last year, Mom left too, decamping for Recreation Park, across town. (Poor Dave is still waiting for me to call.) Rec Park is a better, tougher layout, not that my mom cares. What matters is that its super twilight rate is only $8.
Playing super twilight golf with Mom at Rec Park is positively nutty. Because of the course's first-come, first-served policy, she bolts from the car and scurries across the parking lot to secure our place in line. Once on the course Mom forces us to hurry from hole to hole in a race against time. She will sometimes splurge for a cart (an extra $8). She doesn't do it as a luxury. "With a cart, we can get in more holes," she says. Plus, if there is a backup on the 2nd or 3rd hole, Mom likes to race back to the 1st tee and replay the opening holes. Often we reach the 9th hole in total darkness, but Mom is not one to pack it in. She insists that we use striped balls on the last hole in case we lose them in the dark, which we invariably do. Trudging to the parking lot last December my older brother, Yi-Fang, groaned, "I've played this course so many times, and I have no idea what the back nine looks like."
My brother has only himself to blame. He's the one who introduced Mom to golf and bought her a set of clubs for Christmas. In 1999 Yi-Fang moved home for a year and spent every weekend playing super twilight golf with Mom. "My handicap doubled from an eight to a 16," he says, "and Mom said, 'Good for you. That means you're getting your money's worth.' "