I’ve belonged to a number of golf clubs in my time (I hate the phrase “country club” – I don’t play tennis or hang out at the pool or dine wearing my Ralph Lauren attire with Buffy in the formal dining room). Currently I play out of what is augustly referred to as The Sports Club at the Four Seasons, which has two courses, both of tournament caliber (it’s the current home of The Byron Nelson Classic, which used be held on both courses but is now confined the TPC course, which the Golf Nerd Goddess (GNG) loves; me not so much) and both in fine fettle this season despite the torrid Texas heat.
The hardest part about joining a new club, quite frankly, is getting a game. Fortunately, the GNG hooked me up with some good fellows to play with at The Sports Club, which is another reason why I love her. But in most cases, unless you know someone who is already a member, it can be a daunting experience to break in.
The one exception I found was a course in the Richmond, Virginia area, “south of the rivah” as the locals like to say (the James River is almost as much of a cultural demarcation point in Richmond as the Mason-Dixon line is to the rest of the South). In its formative years it was called The Highlands Golfers Club; in 2006 it went private and the name was changed to the more stuffy Country Club at the Highlands. I’ll always refer to it by its “maiden name;” there’s no tennis, no pool, and any attempts by the 2% or so of the members there to impose some sort of country club decorum get quickly squashed.
Like a lot of modern courses, The Highlands is routed through a real estate development, but the land is heavily forested and there’s elevation change and wildlife galore. From the tips, it plays just under 6600 yards, but with a stroke rating of 72.5 and a slope of 142, it’s no pushover. There are several fun risk/reward par-5’s and a finishing hole that ranks among the toughest in the state.
The most distinguishing feature of The Highlands is its Men’s Golf Association. Back in its pre-private club incarnation, the MGA was formed mainly because the head pro in those days was more interested in drinking than in running tournaments. The golfers there took it upon themselves to arrange their own competitions and tournaments. Over the years its ranks grew from 20 to 50 to now over 100 strong.
What makes The Highlands MGA so special is its philosophy of inclusion. A member can join the organization for the princely sum of $30; doing so allows him to sign up for a (virtually) guaranteed tee time with 3 other MGA members. The current club professional staff typically reserves a block of tee times on the weekends that will accommodate 40 to 50 members, which is almost always filled. The point is that a new member can immediately get a game.
The MGA does not discriminate by handicap. The two unofficial rules of the organization are 1) Keep up the pace of play, and 2) don’t be a jerk. Now, boys will be boys, but generally speaking, these rules are followed (officially, there are By-laws for the MGA, but I’m told they are followed less and less as the years go by). After most weekend rounds, the guys gather in what has lovingly been dubbed “The Dungeon,” a relatively make-shift basement bar that was created out of necessity after other members complained of too much cursing in the Grill Room. Bets are settled, payouts are made, and drinks flow.
While the members of the MGA are very welcoming, a new member (typically referred to as the NFG, or “New Friggin Guy” – this is a family post) knows he’s really made it when he’s been bequeathed with a nickname. This tradition was started by former longtime MGA President Russ (“Spice Daddy”) Spicer, who was the type of benevolent dictator required to ride herd over a colorful group of characters. Spice Daddy had a booming voice that generally could be heard from the parking lot to the practice range and beyond, already making bets and hilariously abusing the rest of us. His sobriquets normally fell in the following categories:
Military: “The General (who actually was a retired 3 star general),” “The Colonel (who wasn’t)”
Sartorial Faux Pas: “Pajama Man,” “Hot Pants”
Semi-Work Related: “The Trashman” (the member in question was a salesman for Waste Management)
Mildly Ethnic: “White Chocolate,” “The Frenchman (who wasn’t,)” “Five-O”
Physical Resemblance: “Charles Manson,” “The Godfather,”“Osama Bin Laden”
Physical Traits: “Old Slewfoot,” “FB1 (short for Fat Boy 1)”, “Assman,” “Squeaky,” “The Wee Guy”
Alliterative: “Sudden Sam,” “Boston Bob,” “Tournament Tom”
Russ dubbed me “Big Poppy,” a tribute, I suppose, to my Red Sox fandom and David Ortiz in particular. He also told me that I was in possession of the World’s Largest Head, which he would illustrate by removing whatever headgear I was wearing that particular day and spinning around his head. I’m sure if I saw him tomorrow, he’d do the same thing.
One of his most inspired naming efforts came at the expense of an otherwise mild mannered gentleman named Bill Furr, whose surname bore enough of a similarity to that of MASH actor Jamie Farr to have Russ start calling him “Klinger.” Bill naturally objected to this, which of course ensured that the name would forever live on. Finally, he sneered, “That will never stick.”
Fast forward a few years. Bill is boarding a flight in Atlanta with a group of friends returning from a golf trip. The General spies him from the back of the aircraft and yells, “Hey, Klinger!” Bill was stunned, turned around, spotted The General, smiled broadly and acknowledged him. Meanwhile, his friends all looked at each other, mouthing “Klinger?”
I’m proud to say that after Spice Daddy retired and moved to Hilton Head, I served as MGA President for three years after another member held the position for a bit (you never want to succeed a legend, you want to succeed the guy who succeeded the guy who succeeded the legend). While I was not particularly good at nicknames, I did get a drink named after me called The Big Poppy, which was essentially Patron, fresh lime juice, ice, and nothing else. And new members could still get a game, which is really all that matters.