Until recently, we were members of a nice private golf club. We greatly enjoyed it, my wife especially. Over the years, her game developed nicely. She became a force in the women’s competitions. Just before we left, she won Player of the Year honors. Me? I didn’t play as much as I would have liked. I’ve often said that the worst thing for your golf game is to be in the golf industry. I was usually too busy promoting and selling golf clubs to actually use them.
We left because we felt the need to repurpose our financial resources. In normalspeak, that means we were spending too much at the club for the amount we used it. We have other things to save for, with college looming on the horizon.
But we still want to play, and we want our son to be able to play. For myself, I’m trying to play more regularly so that the little skill I have doesn’t have to be rebooted quite so substantially every time I tee it up with people watching.
So I am once again a public course golfer. Fortunately, we have in Orlando a real winner of an in-city course, Dubsdread in the Edgewater neighborhood, just west of downtown. The 89-year-old track is in good shape for essentially being operated like a municipal course. It has some interesting holes, and it’s not costly. Best of all, I can walk. I was never a fan of motorized carts. So when I play, I take a pull cart for my clubs and hoof it for the entire 18 holes, three and a half hours on my feet. (Most public courses in Florida insist that players use a motorized cart; that allows them to increase prices and generate more revenue. And in the midday heat in July, it’s almost necessary. I get around this by playing early on hot days.)
One of the advantages of private club life is that you know pretty much everyone and they know you. They’re there to play, and they keep up the pace. They dress well and they behave well (usually). On a public course, though, you never know what you’ll get. Slow, overly talky, making noise in your backswing, drunk and belligerent…you take a risk.
But just as often, you get a nice surprise. I hit the daily double in a recent round.
Sonja, who looked to be just past high school age, walked onto the putting green with her friend Katherine on the bag — and her father. I resumed practice putting and thought, “Oh jeez. Great. This guy is a scholarship hound, and he’s going to be stopping all over the course and giving her lessons, and berating her about bad shots. And she brought a caddie? To a muni? Seriously?” I prepared an extra helping of patience and put it in my mental oven to bake.
The starter introduced us. Well, they all seemed nice enough. We were playing different tees, so we didn’t get to talk much. But Sonja, her dad, and Katherine never did anything annoying. Instead, they chatted quietly when appropriate, perhaps discussing tee-ball strategy: “On this hole, maybe better to come in from the left?” That sort of thing. No egos. No tension. No taking anything or anyone too seriously.
Sonja could play, too. She had a quick move, like Nick Price. Drove the ball pretty well, and hit some great iron shots. When we were finally in the same place for a minute, I asked if she was getting ready for a tournament. She grinned and shrugged. I suggested she check out the Women’s Amateur qualifier dates. She already had a caddie, after all. Sonja’s Dad and Katherine smiled with pleasure.
We got around quickly. They endured my game, and when they left after nine holes, we all shook hands and smiled. I needed a couple emergency sleeves of balls (I butchered a few holes in the middle of the front nine), and when I got back out to the 10th tee, a pair of guys asked to join me. I wanted to speed around the back myself. But public course etiquette demands otherwise. I said certainly they could join.
Gary and J.T. were past 70. They played off-brand clubs, probably the same sets for 20 years, and their economic circumstances did not appear to promote high golf fashion. They began with apologies.
“We’re gonna tee off up there,” Gary said. “We’re short knockers.”
“Well, so am I,” I said from my perch on the back tees (oh be quiet; it’s only 6,100 yards total from the tips). “I’m just not very smart.” So we started the half-round with a shared laugh. That helped.
They were indeed short hitters, but they knew how to make good contact. These guys hit some nice shots. They kept up, they played promptly when it was their turn, and they didn’t drive their cart where they weren’t supposed to. Gary was a little on the chatty side, but I had some leftover patience from the supply I didn’t need to use on the front.
We stood on the 12th tee, a par 3, waiting for the green to clear. Gary was telling a story.
“You gents from around here?” I said.
“J.T.’s from Maryland,” Gary said. “I’m from western Pennsylvania.”
“Heard it in your voice,” I said, smiling. I grew up in Pittsburgh, I told him. Then it was off to the races, with between-shot chats about Pirate and Steeler greats of yesteryear, meeting Franco Harris in the Giant Eagle one day, the Penguins in the NHL playoffs, and how everyone not from Pittsburgh (J.T. excepted) risks being a jag-off.
I ordinarily don’t like to talk much during a round. But these guys were great. Instant pals; just add golf. I faltered on the last two holes — just plain tired — but we all smiled and played on and had a great time. At the end of it, hats off, handshakes, thanks, best wishes.
I may see Sonja, her Dad, Katherine, J.T. and Gary again. Or I may not. But thank goodness for people like them on the golf course. Because Mr. Slow Play Backswing-Sniffington, Esq. is out there. Ohhhh, he’s out there.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr