I was in my first-ever golf tournament yesterday. This was also my first-ever round of 18 holes, since Roy and I usually play at the nearby 9-hole course. And it was my first-ever time playing golf with someone other than Roy.
All of this took a lot of Mental Preparation, since – despite my profound enjoyment of the sport – I basically suck at golf. My putting is atrocious AND I’m a short-hitter. Even in the ultra-mellow environment of my local driving ranges, my max personal range for a drive is about 150 yards. I don’t know what the problem is. I just can’t see to hit the ball any further than that.
The one thing I have working in my favor is that – for the most part – my drives are straight. So are my pitches. As long as I take the extra minute to check that everything is lined up and pointed where it oughtta be, and I take the second extra minute to concentrate and keep my grip on the club nice and light, and I don’t pick my head up, my drives go pretty much where I want them to…as long as that point is within 150 yards. It doesn’t seem to matter which club I use, either. I can clock the ball 150 yards just as far with my 8-iron as I can with my 3-wood or my driver. It’s clear that there’s a golf lesson in my future on this one, because it’s starting to drive me nuts.
Fortunately, this golf tournament was a scramble, which means that the entire foursome tees off, and whichever ball winds up in the best position, everyone plays from that point. This is essential for this kind of tournament, which had everyone from hard-hitting financial services professionals who do a lot of business on the golf course, and are thus extremely good at golf, to dedicated amateurs, to me, to a huge swarm of people who were just learning how to hold a club. If you insist that everyone play the ball they hit, the game will never finish by dark, and you’ll wind up with 16 carts piled up at the same hole waiting for the person who is moving the ball down the fairway 10 yards at a time.
Even more fortunately, I was not at any point the person who was moving the ball down the fairway 10 yards at a time. This, alone, came as a pleasant surprise. The other members of my foursome were vastly more skilled than I am and – more to the point – capable of actually clocking the ball down to the green in one stroke on a par 3. One of the guys in my foursome was sufficiently Hard Core that he was golfing without any woods at all. This dude was driving with a two iron. I’ve never even seen a two iron. And to beat that, he even had a ONE IRON in his bag, and actually used it a few times. Anyone who golfs understands what I’m saying here. People who don’t golf won’t just get it, but for you people, this is approximately like saying the guy built an entire motorcycle in his garage on his spare time from his job as an accountant, and built it out of spare parts he found just lying around, AND he now uses that scrap bike and WINS races on the weekend. Or it’s like saying that he picked up a pair of branches that fell down from the backyard tree after a storm, and whittled a pair of skis out of them, and then used the home-made skis to win a world-cup slalom race. It’s not just hardcore, it’s exotic and a little weird. It’s awe-inspiringly hardcore. Like a saddling up a woolly mammoth and having a rodeo. Like eating a steak from the dinosaur you shot yourself. It’s intense.
Anyway, those guys kept the ball moving along, and our group finished 3 over par. Everyone at the end was, of course, asking everyone else how the game had gone, and my partners were cheerful yet humble. “Not bad” they said. “OK” they said. While I? I was jumping around and doing the Happy Dance, because WOW!! ONLY THREE OVER PAR!!!!
And. And. AND. This is the best thing yet. I only lost one ball in the entire game.
This is a Colossal Personal Achievement. To put it into perspective, when Roy and I play, we “keep score” by keeping count of the number of balls we have lost. I don’t mean the number of balls that rolled off the fairway or went into the rough or wound up under a tree. I mean lost. Permanently, completely, irrevocably gone.
To date, our Record Low Score (because in golf, low=good) so far is five (5). One game, we only lost five (5) balls. In nine (9) holes. We were thrilled. Only lost 5 balls? Hot diggity dog!!! Only 5 balls!!!
I know that balls are technically sold in “sleeves” that consist of, I don’t know, 3-5 balls, somewhere in there. And I know that people can buy cute balls, ones that have colors, or fun designs, or monograms and stuff. My grasp of all of this is a bit vague, because due to the implications of “keeping score” by counting how many balls are permanently lost in 9 holes of golf, and the record being five (5), it is not within my grasp to contemplate buying Fancy Balls. Not when I’m guaranteed to lose all of them within 9 holes or fewer. No. When I buy golf balls, I buy them in huge net sacks, and preferably, they’re recycled (i.e., some Golf Ball Finding professional has scavenged them out of the woods and off the bottom of the water hazards, and packaged them up for resale). This is the most sensible approach for me and Roy. Cheap, easy-come, easy-go.
I dream of the day when it’s worth my while to get fun golf balls.
So you can imagine my surprise, shock, and thrill when I discovered, halfway through the 18-hole game, that I was still playing with the same ball I’d started the game with. I was so elated that when I finally did lose the ball – on a hole with a wicked water hazard where everyone in my foursome lost at least one ball – my teammates actually tried to fish it back out of the water for me. It was a very touching gesture. They wanted me to have the spectacular thrill of completing an entire game with the same ball.
My consolation, other than having teammates who were tremendously supportive, was in hearing all about that hole when we got back to the 19th hole. Apparently, that pond ate enough balls yesterday to supply my next two Big Sack O’ Recycled Ball purchases.
I’d like to interpret this all as meaning that my days of scoring by lost balls are over, but the other effect that golfing this course had for me was to illustrate just how deadly my regular 9-hole course is. Hey. We don’t know a lot about golf, me and Roy, and the course is down the street – on the way to Huey’s barn, no less – and it’s 9 holes, and it’s pretty compact, and it’s not super-expensive, that’s where we go.
It’s also freaking lethal. Sure, the fairways aren’t super long like they are in some places. But they make up for this by being hilly and narrow. And other design features…the par-5 on this course was designed by Scarlet Fiends From The Deepest Pits of Hell. One one side, from tee to green, it’s a solid and impenetrable thicket. If a ball goes even one foot into that, it’s lost forever. On the other side, from tee to green, the fairway is flanked by a 20-foot wide actively running brook. Ball goes in there, it’s 30 yards downstream before you even get the club back into your bag. This combination is bad enough, but there is another water hazard, another brook that cuts directly across the fairway about three-quarters the way down. That’s three major ways (thicket, two brooks) to permanently lose a ball.
And the green? It sits atop a volcano-shaped pimple and has bunkers – sand-traps – on three sides of it. So if you don’t hit your ball such that it drops onto the green and doesn’t roll…at a minimum, you’ll find yourself searching for your Sand Wedge. The alternative is that the ball is Gone Forever. Usually, we can count on losing four balls minimum when we get to this hole on our usual course.
Then there’s another hole where the green is pretty close to the tee – not close enough to pitch onto it, you still have to drive the ball, but there’s a whacking huge pond directly in front of the green, and bunkers behind. There, too, if you don’t hit the ball exactly right, you either lose it, or get ready to visit the beach.
This course I played on yesterday, on the other hand, had very long fairways, but they were wide. And only two holes had water hazards. And there were trees, but it was all wide open under them, so if you ball went in there, you could get it out. It was a Kinder Gentler course than I’m used to. But it did make me grateful for the hardships of my usual place. After that, just about anything is going to look approachable. I can hardly wait to play in another tournament.
Now, if I can only get the ball to carry more than 150 yards…