Even with two days of Golf Camp under our belts, even with our own (cheap starter sets of) golf clubs, even with three trips to the Driving Range…Roy and I are reluctant yet to hit the Real Course. I don’t think for either of us that the reluctance is based on a desire not to Look A Right Chump, because we both know that that is 100% inevitable. I’m not sure what the source of his reluctance is, and can only speak for myself:
I am worried that I will Go The Wrong Way at the course. I am worried that I will tee off in the wrong direction, or otherwise get lost. I am worried that I will putt the ball into the hole on the 8th, and I won’t be able to find the tee for the 9th.
We have lined up a tentative prospect for Our First Trip To The Links – and it’s a good one, too. A 9-hole non-country-club course that advertises Senior Citizen Specials and has a discount on the green-fees-plus-cart if you are willing to play at odd hours (we are). It’s located halfway between the house and the barn where Huey The Wonder Horse lives, so I’ve been able to get a pretty good look at it. I’m still not convinced that I won’t get lost, but with only 9 holes, the potential for damage is pretty limited.
Or, at least, the potential for a certain kind of damage is limited. At one of the wedding parties on the Vineyard last week, I heard what sounded like an Ultimate Urban Legend: that a golfer at this 9-hole course teed off and his drive hit a car on the adjacent road (the one I travel down to get to the barn) and that the ball bounced off the car and landed right in the cup…for a Vehicle-Mediated Hole-In-One.
Naturally, I thought this story was an absolute Whopper. A good whopper, but a whopper nonetheless. However, I was also pretty sure I knew which hole it was that featured in this Fish Tale, because yes, the flag for the hole is very close to the road. And then I did some research, and by God, it’s TRUE.
Now there’s something new to worry about. Doing $150 in damage in 1998 dollars to a passing vehicle. Or, more likely, having someone else inflict major damage to my vehicle as I make my Innocent Way out to see Huey.
Still, we’re not quite ready for the Prime Time of the Real Course.
So we decided to start small: with a Pitch And Putt.
I had never before heard of Pitch And Putt, but apparently, I’ve been living under a rock. The Driving Range is where you “work” on your “long game”. I say “work” because what happens is that you hit one good ball, and that gives you the urge to hit the next forty crappy balls in the hopes that you’ll hit another good one. It’s a little bit like a slot machine that dispenses crack cocaine, and is subject to Psychic Influence under certain undisclosed circumstances.
The Pitch And Putt is where you work on your “short game”. I don’t say “work” there, because putting, as far as I can tell, is a whole lot more subject to effort and concentration than driving, which is primarily subject to astrological influences. So at a Real Golf Course, it is approximately 4,250 feet from the tee to the cup and takes anywhere from three to five contact events between club and ball to get from the tee to the hole. At the Pitch And Putt, it is anywhere from 27 feet to 55 feet from the little rubber tee to the hole and takes three contact events to get there. Or, in my case, six or seven contact events. But who is counting?
There are a large number of golf courses in my area, a smaller number of driving ranges, and apparently one Pitch And Putt. My sister, who golfs, spoke at length about her Pitch And Putt up in Oregon. It’s owned by a big brewing concern, who feature it on their website as a “Pub Course”. Or, as my sister said, at all of the tees, there are cup-holders, and there are small beverage stands scattered about on the course.
I don’t think that My Game, such as it is, which is not much, would stand up to mass imbibing of beer along the way. I shudder to consider the consequences – pitching wedges lofting through the air while the golf ball trickles off the tee…that would be theleast of it.
A short spate of research on my Pitch And Putt, however, yielded a single review on Yelp. I reproduce it here in its entirety, because it’s really too good not to share:
“I swear I drove through some sort of tear in the time space continuum in order to get to [name of the Pitch And Putt].
The place is in [misspelled name of local town known for its remarkable artist colony and several excellent restaurants], which is literally in the middle of nowhere. The owner is cross eyed (possibly blind) and looks like some sort of demented hillbilly Santa Claus. Bringing your own alcohol onto the course is ENCOURAGED, which is a huge plus.
The clientelle [sic] are mostly rednecks from the area who take the chipping and putting way too seriously. You’ll see middle aged men with beer guts, rat tails and no shirts walking the course.
It only costs $8 to play and you’ll get your money’s worth. If you’re not into the golfing you’ll at least have a fun time drinking beers and watching the absurd patrons.”
I will say that the author of this dubious review gave the place 5 stars on Yelp.
I will also say that I was completely excited to go see this Nine-Days-Wonder of Hillbilly Redneckitude. Because, frankly, and I say this as someone who has lived in Texas and whose family is from Appalachia, this part of the country is Might Short on Hillbillies and Rednecks. The closest we have is Boston Southies and farmers who wear Amish beards and have degrees from prestigious liberal arts colleges. And UMass students, who from the accounts in our local paper, are comprised in equal parts of Soccer Hoodlums and Gang Warriors.
You will understand my disappointment to find that the Pitch And Putt shares a parking lot with one of the region’s finest artisanal coffee roasters, and appears to be a family concern. We got there in the evening, and three generations had settled down at a table in the “office” of the course, and I swear it – right in the middle of that table was an honest-to-God trifle in a trifle dish. Now, speaking again as someone whose “family tree don’t branch” as Jeff Foxworthy says, hillbillies and rednecks are not characterized by an Understanding Of Trifle. Nor, in my experience, are they acquainted with that kind of Specialty Culinary Ware. For heaven’s sake, I am a Cooking Fool, and I do not possess a trifle dish. Nor, to my tremendous disappointment, was there anyone around who might possibly fit the bill of “demented hillbilly Santa Claus”. The BYOB, however, was in full evidence, as every tee had a wastebasket, and many of those had empty beer cans. In honesty, there were as many Gatorade empties as Miller Lite empties, which makes one wonder under what circumstances our Course Critic above visited the premises.
We teed off at hole 1. I was happy to find that the tees were marked for the hole, and there was a big wooden sign with a number on it near each hole, and the flag inside the hole also had the number on. And there were little signs with arrows and hole numbers just in case you got lost. I was instantly happy about all of this, because it means 1) I wasn’t going to get lost, 2) I am obviously not the only one with that concern, and 3) the concern is well founded – otherwise, one or two markings per hole, instead of four, are what we’d see. So. I was Right to worry about getting lost.
Now, one of the (many) things I struggle with in Golf is How Hard To Hit The Ball. I rarely get this one right. And I blew it directly on Hole One at the Pitch And Putt. Roy teed off first, and hit a sweet pitch that dropped his ball right onto the green. I’m used to hitting the ball not-quite-hard-enough, so this time, I walloped it. And it shot through the air, arcing sweetly over the green, and continuing on past the hill where the green was located, and rolled into the distance.
We followed, and discovered that on the other side of the green was a line of soggy underbrush. As my ball was clearly on the other side of that line – being nowhere in evidence on this side of the line, Roy went to investigate. As he broke through the brush, our ears were visited with the happy tinkling of a little running brook.
Into which, presumably, my ball had dropped and Vanished Forever. Yes. I lost the ball into an invisible water hazard with my very first hit.
Roy, being the super champion spouse that he is, slogged back to the office to acquire a few extra balls. One of them, happily, was neon orange, which made my live a lot easier from then on. That, and the decision that it is better to hit the ball too softly and take an extra stroke than it is to overshoot the hole. Especially since half of the holes on the front nine involved hitting in the direction of the brook.
Valuable lesson, that.
Things went well for another few holes. Then, somewhere around Hole Four, I noticed that the manicured surface of the rough, the fringe, and even some of the greens was speckled with Items. Refuse-type items. Organic in nature. Solid Waste, as it were, of an Animal Source. Or, more accurately if more crudely, poop. droppings. turds.
I mean, bogs, sloughs, brooks, lakes, trees, bushes, and sand…those things Iexpected to see on a golf course.
Feces? Not so much.
Then again, these are the Wilds of Western Massachusetts. A state that has been remarkable successful at re-establishing a respectable density of wildlife, despite the density of human population. After all, every third edition of our newspaper in the spring contains articles about human-black bear encounters, and every edition is laden with firm instructions from the police and natural-resource managers to NOT FEED THE BEARS. And this Pitch And Putt, as I mentioned, is rural and edged on either side with forest and running water. Self, I said, likely there are deer in them thar woods.
Then I hit the Fourth Hole, where the density of poop on the grassy surfaces began to increase dramatically. One of the happiest shots I hit all evening was after a pitch landed my ball three inches behind another lump of solid waste, and I managed to chip the ball over it without any contact at all with the poop. Yet, it was increasingly important to watch where one put one’s feet while walking. Golf spikes collect some nastiness under the best of circumstances, but I had no love for the thought of cleaning crap out of them too.
Somewhere around Hole Seven, it became clear what the source of the – by then – impressive scope of defacatory action was.
As a horse owner, I have more than a passing familiarity with manure. As someone who has spent time on ranches in Texas, I have more than a passing familiarity with manure. Cows, as far as I can tell, are Manure Factories: their job is to eat green stuff and turn it into meat, milk, and poop. Horses eat a prodigious volume of green stuff – I think Huey The Wonder Horse eats 10, maybe 15 lbs of hay in a day – and turn it into a prodigious amount of poop. So I’ve seen some of the best Poop Factories at work…but I will stake my word that there is no creature on earth that makes more poop than a wild goose.
I’m assuming that the Pitch And Putt gets mowed on a daily, or every-other-daily basis, to keep it in shape. This is based on my experience with the place I lived in Houston, which was a property fronting onto a very popular golf course, and how often that got mowed. Grass here grows faster, because there’s more rain and less sun to burn the dickens out of it. I’m assuming that when it gets mowed, the Goose Poop gets displaced. So that what we saw was no more than 2 days worth of Goose Poop laid down by the flock of 12 or 15 geese floating on the beaver pond at the back of the Pitch And Putt course.
Now, I like geese. I like to watch them fly over me, I love watching them migrate, I like watching them interact.
I do not like them crapping all over my golf course.
And I really do not like them hovering in a great flotilla in the water next to the tee, honking derisively at my attempts to pitch, and mocking my putting.
They had great ringside seats, too. They could watch the pathetic efforts of golfers at fully half of the holes on the 18-hole course. And, of course, there was plenty of room for them to waddle aground and make another deposit on the three square inches of turf that hadn’t already been covered with guano.
I noticed that there was a fence around the beaver pond. And I all I can think is why? What is that keeping out? The geese? They fly. The beavers? They just go under it. Fish? Small children? Golfers?
I can, of course, understand the desire to follow the ball you just knocked into the beaver pond to get the blasted thing back. Because they’re so expensive, and all. Which they aren’t, not the kind of balls you use for this sort of thing. No. You have to follow the thing in and get it back because…because…well, I’m not sure why. But I do know it’s perfectly compulsive. The only reason I can see for the fence is to keep the golfers out of the beaver pond.
That says a lot about golf, and golfers. I don’t know that there’s anything I can add to that, so I’ll just stop with that thought.