Category Archives: Golf

The Thrill of Victory, and…

Standard

Memorial Day has passed, which means that here in sunny warm rainy cold highly variable New England, summertime is getting underway.  And summer getting underway means two things in this household: horseback riding, and golf. The Wonder Horse is still in a rehab program from the last time he bunged up his leg and went lame, that time as a direct consequence of getting all pissy because Some Other Horse was getting to Go Back Into The Barn first.  Before him.  And, as you may be able to guess, this is Simply Unacceptable and Complaints Will Be Made.  Unfortunately, as it turned out for him, Making Complaints by kicking the hell out of his paddock gate was not very effective at Making Changes Around Here, and meanwhile, he managed to injure his tendon sheath.  I’m torn between two platitudes from my youth:  It never rains but it pours, and My God, it just never ends.

When you see horse people making jokes about wanting to roll their horses up in bubble wrap to keep them from getting injured, this is the kind of thing they mean.  Huey usually settles for connective tissue damage that makes him lame, although he did take a brief excursion away from Leg Injury Land when he got into the Face-Biting Fight and got himself cellulitis this winter.  I think I’ll go with My God, it just never ends.

In any event, riding is more about physical therapy and less about the Waaa-Hooo! stuff that horse girls dream about when they’re little and not personally responsible for vet bills.

All the excitement in the house these days is coming from that most-hated of all sports, ever: Golf.

Roy and I got a bunch of lessons last year, and things are improving.  They’re improving at the same rate that glaciers get made, but progress – if you look carefully – is discernible. Roy is probably doing marginally better than I am, because he had fewer problems to start with.  Mostly, I think, he just needs to settle down and focus instead of panicking when he sees that tiny white pimpled orb laughing up at him from the grass.

I had one of the several Truly Devastating Golf Curses: short hitting.  Or, as I said, I can hit a ball 100 yards with any club in my bag.  Which was awesome, except that I couldn’t hit a ball more than 100 yards with any club in my bag.  Given that your par 5 holes on a course have a green that can be 400 yards away from the tee, this is a huge problem.

Also, it’s demoralizing to go to the driving range and be tinking one ball after another between the first and second flags, while everyone else, even the little kids, seems to be clocking them right out into the back of the range.  The person next to me could be 10 years old, an 85 year old granny, a middle-aged guy with plumber’s crack, a college girl out for the first time with her boyfriend trying to teach her to hit, or a giggling 6 year old with a kiddie club, and still, they’re hitting Wham Wham Wham Wham, and I’m hitting tink tink tink tink.

Tink.

My golf lessons haven’t been about hitting the ball farther, they’ve been about hitting the ball up in the air.  I do understand that whole thing with friction, and the effect that bouncing has on speed, and I do get it that hitting the ball farther requires it to be up in the air first.  I get that.  And things are progressing on that front.

Roy always tells me how “great” my swing looks.  I can’t tell you how much worse it makes it when I tink the ball 50 yards with my 5 iron and then have Roy yell over “But your swing looks great!!” from some nearby tee.  If my swing were great I wouldn’t be tinking the ball 50 yards.  I’d be sending that sucker into the next zip code.  I’m always at a loss how to respond to this.  I’m certainly not going to say “Thanks!” for an entirely bogus compliment.  I’m not one of your gold-star babies that needs praise for trying.  In my world, it’s do or do not – there is no “try”.  Nor does it seem quite the thing to snarl “SHUT UP YOU LYING DOG” through clenched teeth, which is usually my first impulse.  Nor can I just pretend I didn’t hear it, because then he’ll just say it again and louder, and what happens next is that he’s attracted the attention of the Golf Gods.

The last thing I want is the attention of the Golf Gods.  Lady Luck has nothing on the Golf Gods for capriciousness.  They are jealous, these Golf Gods, and respond very poorly to praise delivered to anyone but them on the golf course, and what they do when that happens is that they fling down a Golf Curse like a thunderbolt.  This isn’t the same kind of Golf Curse that can be heard being uttered on any hole with a significant water hazard.  While it is cursing, it’s not A Curse.  And Golf Curses are the worst.  Just ask Tiger Woods.  I don’t know what he did to anger the Golf Gods, but when he missed a 5-foot putt and lost his own golf tournament last winter, I knew.  Any golfer who saw the start to Tiger’s season this year knows.  He got a Golf Curse.  Probably made the hideous mistake of expressing satisfaction aloud over one of his own drives.  Or – because the Golf Gods are super capricious – it might not even have been him that angered them and got the Golf Curse.  It could have been a buddy of his who said something stupid like “Tiger, you’re going to have your best season ever!”  That kind of thing definitely gets the attention of the Golf Gods, and if there’s enough hubris in the statement, the Golf Curse could be something really bad.  And long term.  Like it obviously was for Tiger.

I know this.  I know this because I’ve recently had a visit from the Golf Gods, in spite of my best efforts to remain completely off their radar.  Two weeks ago, I went to the driving range, expecting to have yet another dispiriting session of tink. tink. tink. while the pre-teen on the next mat waled her entire bucket of balls into another time zone.

Unfortunately, at my last golf lesson, Roy spent at least five minutes telling me how great my swing looked, which attracted the attention of the Golf Gods, and they put a truly terrible Golf Curse on me.

When I got to the range and settled in with my basket of balls, I received the surprise of my life:  I could not hit a bad shot.  I wasn’t sending my balls into orbit, but every one of them was shooting out high and far and straight.  Every one.  Nine out of ten balls I hit were beautiful shots.  90% of my shots were – for me – great.

Now, any golfer reading this will be having the same response I did: Wait, 90%? What? That never happens!!!  That’s amazing.

And it was.

And a lot of golfers will be having the other response I did:  Oh, no.  Please, no.  tink tink tink was better than this.

Because I knew.  There is no way in hell that I was hitting 90% awesome shots, not without some kind of supernatural intervention.  The only other viable alternative is that I was using my entire quota of good shots for the seasonand wasting them all on the driving range.

I don’t know which alternative was worse.  I mean, I don’t want to use my entire quota of good shots all at once, and not on the driving range either.  But the worse option, I think, was that the Golf Gods were involved.

My stepson offered a third alternative later that evening:  maybe I’d had a breakthrough from the lessons.

Could be, I said.  Could be.

So I waited a day or two and went back to the driving range, and while it wasn’t 90% of the shots being awesome, it was definitely 80% of them.

So I thought, maybe, breakthrough.  That would rock.

I called Roy, who was out of town, and told him that I might possibly have had a breakthrough.  And shared with him my tremendous success rate at the range.  Foolishly, I was happy.

Several days later, it happened.  Roy and I went out to the range, and he said “We should play a round soon! You’re really going to be kicking the course now!”

And I knew.  I broke out in a cold sweat and told him to take that back.  RIGHT NOW, TAKE IT BACK.

Alas, it was too late, as I knew well it would be.

On that trip to the range, out of an entire small bucket of balls, I hit three (3) acceptable shots.  For a success rate of, what, 5%?  It was a disaster.  I couldn’t hit to save my life. I knew it wasn’t a good thing that I was suddenly able to hit great.

This is the worst Golf Curse I’ve ever received.  It would have been bad enough if I’d just been turned into a more mediocre version of my previous self.  That would have been torment.  But hitting like I had been was like drinking the nectar of the gods, it was like touching the gates of heaven.   The agony of being suddenly turned into a profoundly lousy hitter, instead of simply a mediocre one, was magnified exponentially for having seen the holy grail.  How much greater the anguish and woe of the fall from that pinnacle of glory than if I’d simply dropped down a single level.  It has been torture.

I’ve got another lesson lined up, and I know already when I relate this absolutely devastating course of events to the golf pro, he’s doing to peer out from the brim of his cap and say “Yep, that’s golf for you.”

Because it is.  You can run, but you cannot hide.  The Golf Gods will find you, and their wrath and vengeance will destroy you.  The only way to avoid it is not to play at all, and we can’t be having with that, can we?

 

The Wrath of the Golf Gods

Standard

So here we are in Bright and Beautiful New England, and it’s Fall.  The season, we are assured, that God Intended For Golfing.

I get that, too.  The bugs are (mostly) gone.  The weather (this year) is spectacular, with low humidity, and fine day after fine day.  The trees are bursting into flaming color, and the turf – for the first time since last October – is dry enough that you can play a round without soaking your golf shoes through.  Granted, the putting greens are…not at their best.  The ones at our usual course had major maintenance a few weeks ago, which seems to involve being driven over with a spike-covered steam-roller and having sand poured on top.

But there is no question, this is the finest time of (this) year for playing golf.

Now, just as a refresher, because I haven’t written about golf since the beginning of the season, Roy and I suck.  We started out Totally Sucking.  Now, thanks to an extended series of private lessons with a Golf Pro (this is way less sexy than it sounds), we Mostly Suck.  The difference is heartening.

One thing I learned from playing golf in the Fall in New England is this:  usually, one loses a ball for good in a water feature or in the woods.  This sucks.  But in the Fall, it is perfectly common to lose a ball on the FAIRWAY.  Now, the mind rebels against this.  It’s the fairway.  The grass is nice and short, there aren’t any weird holes or bushes to hide the ball.  One should be able to see a bright white ball sitting atop a pillowy layer of bright green grass from quite a long distance.  One should NOT be able to lose a ball on a fairway.  And yet.  When the fairway is littered with fallen leaves, it turns out to be very easy to lose a ball, and to lose it permanently.  Oh, certainly, given enough time one would be able to turn over every leaf and find that wretched ball, but since Fall is Golf Season, there are hordes on every course at every time of day, and the one thing a player does not have is time to turn over every leaf in a 50-foot diameter circle, looking for a ball.  At least, anyone that wishes to have the privilege of playing that course again in the future does not have this amount of time.

I have taken a short poll of other golfers, and yes, it reinforces my belief in the Fundamental Wrongness of losing a ball on the fairway.  And it had happened to every single one of the golfers I talked to, too, and in their turn, each of them ground their teeth audibly while contemplating the Total Ignominy of losing that ball on the fairway.

So, there is a fly in the ointment.  Fortunately, Roy and I are accustomed to losing balls – although we do not lose them at the spectacular rate with which we lost them in earlier times – and so, while I still grind my teeth at the memory of losing the ball in the fairway, it’s not as though I play with the sort of balls that are sold in packages of four (4).  I play with balls that are sold by the sack.  I buy my golf balls 20 at a time, and I have to buy more than one of these sacks per season.  Just bought my second one of the season last week, as a matter of fact, having gone through one and one half of these so far.

So Roy and I have spent load of time sweating it out under the supervision of a Golf Pro down at the driving range all summer.   This was an investment with a HUGE return, even though we still suck.   I am assured (by the Pro) that “golf is a four-letter word”.  I am also assured (by popular media, including the heartening words of P.G. Wodehouse) that I will suck at golf until the day I turn up my toes and die.  I am resigned.  I would just like to suck less.  And the golf lessons did that.  I’m still a short hitting, but more of my balls go where I want them to, and – Roy swears it – I look better when I’m golfing.

Shallow? Possibly.  Important? Absolutely.  After all, if I’m going to suck at golf until I die, I should at least Look Good while I’m at it.  And I will say this, my swing has improved dramatically with the golf lessons.  Perhaps, next year, after a load more golf lessons, I’ll even be able to hit the ball more than 150 yards.

Today, we ventured out onto a new course.  New to us, that is.  It’s an 18 hole course, unlike our usual stomping grounds, Beaver Brook, which features nine holes of Watery Wonder.  We loaded up the cart, took the attendant’s advice to stick to the front 9 instead of the back 9, and off we went.

We promptly got lost, because this golf course doesn’t believe in Signage.  No, really.  Every other course I’ve played on, including the Uber-Rustic Olde-Schoole one out on the Cape, had signs next to the tee box with the number of the tee, yardage from each set of tees, and usually, a little drawing of the hole so you can see that there are water hazards or bunkers or dog-legs or other exciting features.

This course?  Had a big trash barrel next to each tee with the number of the tee painted on it.  That was it.  And the map on the score card involved a high degree of…abstraction.   The consequence of all this is that we immediately got lost.

I was driving the cart, and trying to figure out the map, and couldn’t see any signs for the tees, because I was looking for signs, not for decorated trash cans.

Roy was all for going back to the clubhouse to ask directions.  “No,” I said.  “If they could give good directions, we’d be able to use this blasted map.”

I will go ask for directions!” he said.

Right.  Roy is…Directionally Challenged.  This situation is compounded by the fact that he understands “get directions” from a socio-political perspective, rather than a goal-directed perspective.  Roy believes that people want to be needed and so he lets this belief guide his choice of person from whom to ask directions.  When Roy goes into a gas station to ask for directions, he finds the people Most Likely To Be Recent Immigrants, and asks them.  If he’s asking for directions on the street, he zeroes in on winos, junkies, and the kind of people who live on the street because the mental health and social services are so poor.  If I’d encouraged him to ask directions on the golf course, he’d have searched around until he found someone with a major hearing impairment, or a toddler who had escaped its parents’ custody.

I have had no luck impressing upon him that this assortment of individuals will not Take It Personally if he directs his question to someone who speaks English, appears to know the area, and is not on Planet Nine from intoxicants.  Not only will they not Take It Personally, but they will never know that he chose not to ask them.

Roy says he would know, and that’s why he can’t.

This issue is further complicated by the fact that Roy either can’t, or won’t, actually remember anything these people tell him.  Say he zeroes in, inadvertently, on a Foreign-Looking Person who actually turns out to be a local.  The FLP gives him a series of directions, like “turn left out of the parking lot, go one block, take a right on Washington Street, look for the Stop and Shop, and take the first right after that.”

Roy only ever remembers the first step in any sequence of directions.  So all he takes away from this interaction is “turn left out of the parking lot”. After that, it’s a blank for him.  He might possibly remember “a grocery store, or maybe a drugstore, or maybe a convenience store” but not “Stop and Shop”.  If you ask him, “what do you do after turning left out of the parking lot?” he’s likely to come back with something enraging like “oh, we’ll figure it out” or “I don’t know”.  And if you accost him, he pours gasoline on the roaring fire of irritation by saying something like “it’s all good!”

I love him, but honestly, sometimes…

So the upshot is that I never send him anywhere to get directions.  It wastes everyone’s time, and usually leads to Homicidal Thoughts.  What he takes away from this is that I’m unwilling to ask for directions.  This is not true.  It also leads him to believe, erroneously, that everyone else on the planet is drifting along in a non-directional Hippie Fog like he is.  This is also not true.

We had this whole discussion, for approximately the thirteen thousandth time, as we were trolling around the golf course looking for the first tee.  Finally, I saw some golfers with the appropriate Minority Gender element and instructed him to call over to them to get directions.  “Follow that path! Back that way!” they said.  “Path? What path?” I thought.  But at least they’d pointed, and I didn’t have to count on Roy to remember which direction they’d pointed in.  Fortunately, I saw it all for myself.

That’s when we discovered the Trash Barrel Tee Markings.

Fortunately, with most golf courses, once you find the tee you need, and you’ve accurately identified the hole belonging to that tee (and this is actually much more challenging than it sounds), you can get around pretty easily.  The tee for the next hole is usually pretty close to the last hole.  And so on.

I will say this for the golf lessons, they paid off.  They paid off even more for Roy than they paid off for me.  He’s always had a powerful stroke and been able to really send the ball…but thanks to the golf lessons, he’s sending it towards the hole instead of sending it onto an adjacent fairway or towards someone else’s hole.  Since we scramble all our games (that is, we both hit, and play the next ball from the spot of the better shot – this is vitally important in keeping the game moving along when you suck as much as we do), it is incredibly helpful to have someone on board who can move the ball, and move it in the right direction.  I can consistently move the ball in the right direction, but I suffer the Curse of the Short-Hitter, so my moving the ball in the right direction isn’t always terribly helpful.

After we’d gotten ourselves settled on the course and headed in the correct direction of increasing tee numbers, things were going really well for both of us.

Until, that is, Roy called down the Wrath of the Golf Gods on my head, by praising my shots unmercifully.

There are cultures where it’s considered the very height of insult to compliment someone’s baby, because to do so brings the Evil Eye, or the Anger of the Gods.

This is also the Culture of Golf.  The thing to remember about Golf is that it is 20% Personal Skill, 80% Golf Gods.  This is true even for Tiger Woods, as evidenced by fact that even though his Personal Skill is impeccable and highly refined, he still misses easy putts.  That’s where the Golf Gods come in to it.  If the Golf Gods smile upon you, your drives are 30 yards longer and 10 degrees straighter.  Your fairway strokes take lightly to the air, and drop neatly and quietly onto the green.  Your putts fly straight and at the optimum speed to fall into the cup.  If the Golf Gods are angry, your drives shoot off of your club at sharp angles, or burn off velocity by skipping along the ground, hitting every hummock and pebble on the way.  Your fairway strokes get topped, and skim 1/2 inch above the ground for a distance of 12 feet and then stop.  Your putts rocket across the green and fall off into the rough on the opposite side, or approach the cup and describe the smallest possible circuit around it before shooting off in another direction.  Balls are lost when the Golf Gods are angered.  Water hazards grow by 40%.  Sand bunkers develop strange magnetic forces.  “Par” becomes a hopelessly unattainable target, when the Golf Gods are angered.

On the fourth hole, Roy lost his mind, forgot all of this, and praised my hitting to the skies, boundlessly, and with great pride.

And, in doing so, he angered the Golf Gods.  Because they are spiteful fiends when angered, they wreaked their vengeance not upon Roy and his Sin of Misplaced Pride, but upon me.  I could not drive, I could not chip, I could not putt. I lost a ball in the fairway among the leaves.

I grew wroth with Roy for putting the Curse on my head.  He scoffed at my Pagan Beliefs, and scorned the existence of the Golf Gods.  And, in doing so, he was the architect of his own Fall from Grace.

“No Golf Gods?” I said.  Thank heavens there wasn’t any electrical storm activity handy in the region. “No Golf Gods?” I said.  “I’ll show you.”

And while he took his practice swings at the fifth tee box, I spoke of his dramatic improvements in his swing, in his back swing, and in his follow through.  I assured him that his speed, distance, and straightness were without compare, and all of this, I said, due to his own personal efforts. How glorious he was, I said, to have mastered the techniques so consistently, as witness his strokes on the last four holes.  How magnificent the payoff to his investment in personal skill.  I blew a ton of sunshine in his direction.

And then I waited.

Because, you see, I know that it doesn’t matter if you believe in the Golf Gods, they exist.  And nothing makes them angrier than being denied.

Roy took his practice swing, which was gloriously smooth and relaxed.  He stepped up to address the ball.  He took a swing, gloriously smooth and relaxed.  And he knocked the ball off the tee by about 3 feet.

“I get to do that again,” he said.

I agreed.  We don’t keep score, we suck too much for that.  We get three mulligans per nine holes, just to make sure the game isn’t comprehensively frustrating.  I said “It was just a chance accident.  No Golf Gods there.”  He snarled “I don’t believe in the Golf Gods.”

The next ball went directly into the underbrush and disappeared forever.  The ball after that skittered 20 feet down and barely came to rest in the fairway.  The fairway shot rocketed off nearly at a ninety-degree angle and went directly into the water hazard.  The shot after that traveled drunkenly for thirty feet and came to rest in a ravine.

“No Golf Gods, eh?” I said.  He reluctantly agreed to the existence of the Golf Gods.  “Now you should apologize to me for cursing me in their eyes,” I said.  Because, I knew, he knew better.  He knew that the Golf Gods giveth, and the Golf Gods taketh away.  Mostly they taketh away.  He alienated the Golf Gods so badly at one point that he was in a three week slump, even in his golf lessons.

You’ve gotta respect the Golf Gods.

Fortunately, we have come to the Understanding that there shall be no Praising Of The Personal Skill while on the course.  There shall be no Complimenting Of The Shot, mine, his, or otherwise.  Nothing shall occur that raises the attention of the Golf Gods.  Since we don’t know how to invoke them so that they will smile upon us, we will not be invoking them at all.  That is the Understanding that exists now.  It remains to be seen whether it continues to exist the next time we hit the links.  Until then, may we find favor in their eyes by truly and profoundly condemning the value of our Personal Skill.  

Say it now, and say it loud: We suck at golf.

Leaves

Golfing It Old School

Standard

Roy and I played our first nine holes on Cape Cod this morning, and we did it at the oldest golf course on the Cape.  Which also has the distinction of being the only “links-style” golf course in the region.  The course website makes a fairly big deal out of the last, which led me to believe that I had no real idea what they were talking about.  As far as I knew, “links” was a slang term for a golf course, any golf course.  So why the big deal about the “links-style” course and rarity of same?

This, friends, is where Wikipedia shines.  Not, as I tell my students, in research for the classroom.  It’s too shallow, insufficiently reliable, and not the place I want my accounting majors to regard as Authoritative.  But for ad-hoc research like this, it’s invaluable.  Wikipedia revealed to me that yes, “links” is now a general term for a golf-course…but…it has a historical genesis in that the land originally used for golf courses back in the Old Country (Scotland) was the land between (linking the) the ocean and the farmlands.  Coastal sand dunes, called link lands from the Old English “hlinc” meaning “rising ground”.  Golf courses, on link-land, become “links”.   And that “link-style” means that the course is right at the ocean, that it’s sandy, that there aren’t many trees so it’s also windy, that the roughs – which on your not-links-style courses are just zones of longer grass – are truly “rough”, and that there’s an exceptional diversity to the terrain.

All of which was Completely True about the place we played today.  And it had the Added Bonus of a Real, Working Lighthouse!!  Right there in the middle of the golf course.  And a World War II Air Force Surveillance Station, and a medieval-style granite tower that was erected in honor of Jenny Lind.  It was like the best putt-putt course imaginable, only huge.

It was awesome.

This course roars straight through Old School and doesn’t even slow down until it gets to Primitive.  It’s Roots Golf.  Not because the grounds are unkempt.  They aren’t.  The fairways were in beautiful condition, and while the greens were not exactly “pristine” they were as nice as anyone could possibly hope for this early in the growing season.  In truth, I expected the conditions to be a lot more…iffy…since the course is proximate to some spectacular sand dunes and directly on the edge of the ocean.

No, it was Primitive because of the Golf.  The Rough was, well, dune grass.  Very durable dune grass, but dune grass nonetheless.  That is, where the Rough was not massive planations of beach plums and wild cranberries.  And rugosas. And one frightening mass of some kind of tree I thought only existed in animated Tim Burton films.   The fairways existed as narrow bowling lanes of green grass in between the terrifying expanses of Rough.  It doesn’t take the brain of a rocket scientist to realize that you had better hit the ball straight on this course, or it will be gone forever. 

I know that fans will be clamoring to know what our Team Score was, given our golfing history.  Here it is:  5.  We lost only five (5) balls on the entire nine holes.  This was our previous record low score, and while I would ordinarily not be impressed with racking up that kind of score – not after playing an entire eighteen (18) holes with only losing one (1) ball…on this course, it was Cause For Great Rejoicing.  When I sussed this course out initially, my mental estimate of the Permanently Lost Ball Score was in the double-digits.  Well into the double-digits.  So when you’re expecting to lose, say, twenty (20) balls forever, losing only five (5) is something to celebrate.  And all of those were Lost To The Terrifying Rough.

And – by the way – a couple of the extremely friendly course employees assured us that if we came back in another month or six weeks, the game would be even more exciting due to the Rough really Coming Into Its Own.  They made gestures at approximately mid-thigh-height to illustrate what this meant.  The mind boggles.

Back to the Primitive Golf.  Back In The Day, any dirt that got moved to make features on a golf course, or to even out terrain, got moved by shirtless muscle hunks with shovels and blisters. Not like today, where it’s all John Deere and Komatsu moving the earth for you.  Evidently, yer links-style (i.e., Authentic) course has features Made By God, Weather, and Tectonic Activity.  They put the tee boxes in the flattest spot they can find, they carve the fairway out with grass, and the greens, well, the greens are where the fairways end.  Wherever that is.

The “tips” provided by the course management involve keeping the drives low…because otherwise, the constant on- or off-shore winds will grab high-flyers and take them…wherever.  And hitting straight, yeah.  And expressing Deep Gratitude and Thanks any time you manage to come in anywhere near par.   They also involve words like “moor” and “heath” both of which I did see as we made our way around.

The second hole had a fairway that was twelve (12) yards wide.  That’s where the Terrifying Tim Burton Thicket was, too.  Roy lost two balls on that hole alone.

The third hole involved hitting the ball straight up.  Well, not exactly straight. Straight as the crow flies, maybe.  But there were three (3) small ravines as the grass located in the position that should be occupied by a fairway on a Civilized Golf Course dipped and ran in ways that magnetically attracted a short-hit ball.  Roy stood in the tee box, gazing skyward at the flag, and simply said “This is insane.”

And it was.  Or, we thought it was, until we arrived at a later hole to discover that  you couldn’t actually see the green from the tee.  This wasn’t your garden-variety hard-to-see-the-flag-because-of-a-dogleg.  No.  This was a totally lunatic impossible-to-see-the-green-because-of-a-horizon.  You had to hit the ball up and over a completely blind hill, hoping that the general shape of the fairway as it headed up the hill was some vague indicator of the direction in which you would find the green.

“No,” I said. “This is insane.”

We sent the balls over the top, like foot soldiers out of a battlefield trench.  Roy hiked forward while I pulled the cart up.  We found the balls, lying in the middle of the fairway, with another totally blind hill confronting us.  That’s right.  We took our second swings, still with no idea at all of where the green was.  

“Really insane” I said.

I was wrong.  What was really insane was that when we found our balls lying from the second swing, they were still out of sight of the green, still with another totally blind hill to send them over.

Someone, decades past, described this course as having “aboriginal hazards”.   No kidding.  The sixth hole is a short par 3, and looks easy until you realize that if you over-hit the ball, you could send it directly into the mass of tourists clustered on the observation deck overlooking the sandy cliffs. If a bunker is a Sand Trap, this hazard would have to qualify as a Tourist Trap.

Golfing this course was everything I’d hoped it would be.  Terrifying, intriguing, challenging, and fun.  And we only lost five balls!!

Not QUITE Arnold Palmer

Standard

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 seentwo 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.

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…

Schooner and Edgartown Light

The weather says “spring” but my mind says “SUMMER!” Only one week left in the term, then finals, then…

You Live In A Zoo, You Look Like A Monkey…

Standard

As much as I love Maine, there is one thing it doesn’t have in it.

Huey and Buster.  Buster, I know, is lounging around in his penthouse at the Cat Spa, drugged out of his mind on catnip, and getting more than his fair share of playing from the staff.  Huey, I’m sure, is at this moment digging into a pile of hay and wondering if I’m going to come in today and bring treats, or whether it’s going to be the better-but-more-challenging Emergency Backup Rider he usually gets when I’m away.  He’s thinking that he’s not sure if it’s better to have a baby rider like myself screwing things up while riding him, but he gets a soft and easy workout, or to have the better rider who doesn’t screw things up but makes him do more difficult stuff.  And he is not being sure.

I am, however, missing him like the dickens.  It’s easier to not miss Buster, because 1) he sleeps squarely on my feet or knees, and is functionally a 14 pound jelly-filled furry bowling ball when he does, which is less than comfortable for me, and 2) I know quite well that he’s going to blame me soundly for his wild week of wining and dining, and be a right proper little brat when I get home.  Huey doesn’t usually make messes for me, he just spends my money like it’s water.  I’d rather have my money spent like water than wake up every morning with a backache because I’ve been sleeping with a bowling ball.

Anyway, I started down this road because I woke up this morning, and could hear Huey’s voice in my mind saying This is being a very good birthday!! And it is!

We had a few difficulties yesterday, me and Roy.  They arose during a fabulous two-hour cruise that we took along the coast, wherein we saw more seals on Seal Rocks than I’ve ever seen there before, and a huge osprey nest right up close and the ospreys were at home.  And the morning cloud cover pulled off right at the very time I wanted it to the most, so I could take pictures of a nearby lighthouse.  And the weather was spanking perfect, just the right temperature, and no humidity.  And a good coffeeshop has opened up this year right on the waterfront.  And the bar on the cruise boat started dishing up Bloody Marys, two for eight bucks, and they were loaded with horseradish, just like I like them.

So, you say, where are these difficulties?

The boat picked up a few handfuls of people on the usual quay, and then motored across the harbor to make an unusual stop, where it picked up what seemed to be a couple hundred septuagenarians and octogenarians on a tour.  I could tell at once that many of these individuals were members of our Tribe, and doubly-lucky for Roy, they were Homies of a sort.  Every last one of them from Long Island.  Or, as they say there, “Longiiiiiiland.”  There are few things Roy loves more than a big mess of Old Folks From The Home Country.  He likes to bond with them.  And, regrettably, during the course of bonding with a pair of ancient women with improbably red hair and flashy clothes, he rounded up my age to the next year.  And when I pointed out that he had done so, he shrugged and said “It’s less than a day.”

A day is a day.  15 years and 364 days is not the same thing as 16 years.  That would be 15 years and 365 days, or even 366 if it’s a Leap Year.  Not that I am playing around with those numbers, but I don’t see the point in broadcasting that here.  Especially not after I said “WHAT?  I AM NOT [rounded up age].  My birthday is not until TOMORROW.”  It was good for a laugh from the old ladies, who either have long outgrown that perspective but remember it, or perhaps it is a perspective you never outgrow.  No way to tell, and I wasn’t going to ask.

It did net me a Consolation Prize of an early birthday present:  a golf shirt with a golfing Mickey Mouse, made from a truly royal purple, and out of technical fabric.  And in perfect timing, too, because we had a 5:00PM tee-time at the Links on the adjacent peninsula.

One thing I love about New England roads in the summer is their…nomadic…character.  While you do see ordinary smallish cars carrying ordinary people about their ordinary business, you see almost quite as many Motorized Camels humping along with the entire household goods, or at least, a selection of them.   It’s one thing if you’re going to Boston, but if you’re in a position to drive to Boston, you certainly aren’t going to be doing so for pleasure, not at this time of the year, you aren’t.  No. There are much better places to be than Boston, in late summer.  Cape Cod.  Martha’s Vineyard.  Nantucket.  The North Coast. The Adirondacks. The Catskills. The Berkshires. The entire coast of Maine. The lakes of Maine. The Green Mountains. The White Mountains. The Pioneer Valley, where I live.

The thing to know about all of those destinations is that they involve, or can and do involve, truly vast quantities of specialized gear.

And people take it with them when they go.

This leads to, at the very simplest and most commonplace point, the family sedan with two bikes hanging on the trunk-mount bike rack, or an ancient four-door with bikes that cost three times what the car did mounted on the roof-rack (minus the front tires, which are stored in the backseat).

And, at the most ornate and complicated end of the spectrum, you have the family I saw on the way up here, driving an RV with three bikes mounted on the front of the hood, towing a sport ute that had more bikes on the back, and a canoe and a kayak on the roof rack.

And you do have every configuration in between, bikes, canoes, kayaks, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, campers, roof pods, canvas wrapped bundles tied anywhere that provides an attachment point.  And, of course, dogs.  I think there may be some kind of requirement to have dogs in New England.  The more, the bigger, the hairier, the better.  I think the only thing that has let me out of having dogs is having a horse.  The pressure is incredible.  And New Englanders take their dogs absolutely everywhere.  Kind of like the French do, only bigger and hairier.  For the love of pete, yesterday, our cruise boat passed a large yacht moored in the harbor, and even the yacht had dogs, and a couple of dirt bikes mounted on the back.

Anyway, this year, Roy and I decided to dispense with the bikes, because – with the very narrow, very windy, very hilly coastal roads that have no, read it: NO, shoulders whatsoever, it’s just too much like playing Russian Roulette when you go out on a bicycle.

No, this year, our Specialized Sporting Goods of choice to haul along on vacation were our golf clubs. This was Roy’s idea, by the way.  I’d be happy renting various watercraft and hiking.  But he’s been in New England longer than I have, and he’s clearly caught the regional need to take along the bulkiest special-use sporting goods possible.  And two full sets of golf clubs, plus bags, plus shoes, certainly count.  I, myself, am starting small.  I mostly feel the need to fill up the car with skis.  I’m having to work my way up to other stuff, like multiple kayaks, or a canoe that is twice as long as the car.

So here we are, with our clubs, looking for some links, and found them on the nearby peninsula.  I must say, it was the nicest golf outing I’ve ever had.  The weather, as I said, was perfect, and the course itself was much easier than our usual one.  There were water hazards on only two of the nine holes, not seven of nine like there are at home.  The fairways were wide, and not – for the most part – lined with impenetrable forested thickets and swamps. They were longer than usual, to make up for it.  But we got there at five, only had to let one other party play through, and scrambled our way to finishing nine holes in just under two hours, and lost only five balls.  A record, for us.  And we were treated, on the drive home, to a brilliantly colorful sunset of nuclear proportions.  I mean, I did not know that colors like that existed in Nature.  It looked like there was a terrifyingly toxic chemical reaction taking place inside the clouds.  Pink was the least of it. Thank heavens I did not have my camera, or there would have been a wreck.

I finished off the day with a grilled lobster served with drawn butter that had fennel seeds in it.  Grill + lobster +  fennel + butter = heaven.

Now I’m facing the question of what to do with today.  Roy had made it clear that I am Queen Of All I Survey…and one of the collateral benefits of making the trip out to the links yesterday is that we passed the equestrian bookstore.  I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “there is no way that there is an entire store full of Horse Books stowed away in the coastal Maine woods.  It must be that “equestrian” is someone’s name.  Or a word they thought was cool.”

But no.  Thirty seconds on the internet reveals that there is in fact an entire store full of Horse Books stowed away in the coastal Maine woods.  And it’s on the way to lunch.  Bwahahahah…Things like this make my decisions so much easier.  Fabulous hike. Letting Huey spend some more of my money like water, on books, from a distance.  Fresh fried fish for lunch.  Ice cream for dessert. Reading my new Horse Book(s) as I gaze out over the ocean.  Watching the sunset with a microbrew.  Five-star food at an Inn in town for dessert.

I could die happy at the end of this.  Or, probably, at any point while it’s going on.

Kayak