Tag Archives: humor

Talk Is [Usually] Cheap

My friend Beth, who lives on the 6th hole of a golf course in metro Richmond, recently posted about the futility of talking to a golf ball. She is correct, of course. If your ball starts right, is SLICING to the right, and is being windblown to the right, no plea of “GET LEFT!” is going bring it back unless it either strikes a tree or Sasquatch appears and bats it back into the fairway. That ball will no more listen to you than a spouse trying to get their mate’s attention inside the two minute warning of a tight football game or during the final scene of Gray’s Anatomy,

None of this matters to most golfers. Of course, there are expressions that are absolutely required regardless of the hopelessness of the situation – and some that sometimes work, all logic put aside.

For example … “Get a kick” is a good, all-purpose plea, useful when your ball needs to bounce a certain direction to avoid a hazard (excuse me . . . “penalty area” is the preferred nomenclature, thanks to the Great [Mostly] White Fathers of the USGA) or, worse yet, going out of bounds. Said “kick” can come from a mound, a tree, or for that matter, another golfer who didn’t hear you scream “Fore!”

Note that in this example, we don’t specify a direction; we are merely begging the ball to stay away from harm. The minute one commands a particular re-routing, all bets are off and the golf will either sigh or swear, and then either re-load or take a penalty drop.

“Get legs!” and its corollary, “Hit a house!” (the former when a putt is hit too softly; the latter when it charges past the hole) are generally futile pleas. “Get in the bunker” is generally delivered sarcastically upon striking a misdirected shot – although, if said bunker borders a body of water, the sarcastic tone changes to one of imploring, as it’s much easier to hit out of sand than water.

“Skip!” is a rather tricky proposition, typically uttered when a golfer hits a low screamer over water that will most certainly not clear, but hopes that the ball will act like a skipping stone. My favorite recollection of a skipping ball occurred back in 2010; when playing in a two day tournament in Chase City, VA, my partner John (The Frenchman) Bennett on consecutive days skipped a shot across the same pond on the same hole to help us to a third place finish, a fact recorded in the Mecklenburg Country Sun, complete with photograph.

To this day, The Frenchman has no idea how he pulled that off.

Talking to your playing partners ball can be fraught with danger, no matter how well intentioned. For some, “early calling” a shot – for example, exclaiming “good putt” to your buddy’s effort, only to have it lip out – is an unforgivable sin. My old friend, the late, inimitable Mike (Squeaky) Calhoun (whose vocabulary on the course consisted of two words that rhyme with “trucker”) once threatened to cut someone’s heart out for early calling one of his putts. “Keep your motherf*cking, c*cksucking mouth off of my ball,” Squeaky squawked at the unsuspecting soul, who didn’t utter a word for the rest of the round.

So . . . I make no judgement as to whether a golfer should talk to his ball or not. But he needs to understand the risks, as well as the consequences.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Poppy at Crail

The 14th at Crail

I have weighed in on the past on the topic of golfing couples. But some marriages/relationships are able to embrace the “he/she golfs, I don’t” situation. Doing so requires a lot of negotiation and compromise (that is, if the relationship is to thrive or, at best, survive), not to mention having shared interests that supersede golf.

It’s interesting how this gets handled. In some instances, the golfer simply leaves the events of his round at the course with his buddies, arrives home, and resumes normal domestic duties. Some – my father comes to mind – return home and describe their entire round in excruciating detail, including what club was used on each shot, course conditions and wind directions. And of course, there are those who are so disgusted or depressed by the events of the round that they either over-imbibe or over-emote. In either case, the latter is not a particularly healthy response.

I like to believe that most non-golfing spouses indulge their mate’s passion for the game; however, there are certain events that a golfer experiences that may, shall we say, go underappreciated.

Take my friend Dave, for example. This past weekend, after over 30 years of play, he made his first hole in one. We were all happy for him – and for ourselves, as it’s a tradition that he who holes out also buys the drinks at the end of the round – and he immediately called his wife with the news. Her initial reaction was, “Hey that’s great!” Then she thought about it for a moment and asked, “Geez, why didn’t you do that in a tournament so you could have won a car?”

A number of years ago I had split up with the former Mrs Golf Nerd and had been laid off from my job after 19 years of service. Golf was very therapeutic at this time. I also was dating a woman (we’ll call her Sonia) who was a terrific tennis player and had something of a passing interest in golf.

During this particular period, my iron play improved dramatically, and one happy coincidence was that I managed to hole out from the fairway three times in a two week period. The first time was in a tournament; I nailed a 5-iron perfectly from 175 yards to make an eagle. I called Sonia after the round to share my good fortune, and she seemed quite happy for me.

About 4 or 5 days later, I was faced with a 110 yard wedge shot, the third on a long par 4. This one landed about 5 feet to the right of the hole and spun in. Birdie! Again, I rang up Sonia; again, she was quite happy for me.

A few more days passed. I was on the par-5 14th hole at my old home course. My buddy Todd had planted his third shot close and was quite pleased with himself. I looked at him and said, half-jokingly, “I hate to break your heart, Todd.” And proceeded to knock a 130-yard nine iron into the hole.

This time after giving this news to Sonia, there was a bit of a pause at the other end of the line. “Well,” she replied, “you’re playing every day of the week.”

I started to explain that I had a better shot at winning Powerball than what had transpired over the past few rounds, but stopped myself. Things kind of went downhill from there.

Luckily, these days I have a loving partner, both at home and on the course. And I can’t wait to tell her about my first hole in one. For one thing, she’ll no longer have bragging rights in our house.

The Road to Pebble Beach

It was a beautiful weekend here in the Metroplex (sorry, friends up North), so the Golf Nerd Goddess and I hooked up with our respective gender golf groups on Saturday, and then played together with our friends Dianne and Susan on Sunday (we’re talking about golf here, you perverts). Yes, yes, I know that it was Valentines Day. Rest assured that we enjoyed a very romantic Saturday evening without having to resort to watching “50 Shades of Grey” (a title that could also describe Ben Hogan’s golf wardrobe).

In between our rounds, we checked in on the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (or as us curmudgeons will forever call it, The Crosby Clambake, in honor of its founder). The Crosby has always signaled the unofficial start of the professional golf season for me; partially for the field (generally strong), some for watching various celebrities and other members of the moneyed gentry embarrass themselves (or, in some rare instances, demonstrate surprisingly strong game), but almost always for the course. And at this year’s event, the weather was spectacular to the point of surreal – impossibly blue waters of various shades set against the native grasses that comprise Pebble Beach, all bathed by abundant sunshine and a sky that would put Carolina Blue to shame.

I have never played Pebble Beach. I did make it out to the Monterrey Peninsula once, having some spare time from a business trip and almost regret having done so, as the day I traveled there was much as I described above. I parked near the Lodge, made my way out towards the 18th green, gazed back along the Pacific shoreline that borders that iconic finishing hole, and felt tears welling – partially from the sensory overload, and maybe even more so from the fact that I didn’t have my clubs with me.

I emphasize the weather because it’s more unpredictable than John Daly’s love life (speaking of Mr. Daly, he managed to shoot an opening round 65 and still miss the cut). Over the years, the tournament has seen hail, severe thunderstorms and fog that would make Carl Sandburg swoon. The time of year does not seem to matter; when Tom Kite won the US Open there in June of 1992, the wind blew so hard that many players were hitting 5 or 6 iron into the 103 yard 7th hole,

All that aside, Pebble Beach is definitely on every golfer’s bucket list, although at $500 a round, the operators of the course and resort are doing their level best to keep out the riff-raff. Add in rounds at Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay plus accommodations, and you are not far from buying a decent late-model compact car.

So the GNG and I have an agreement by which the next time she shoots a personal best score, we’re going to Pebble. Both of our games have been suffering a bit lately, so it might be awhile before we get there – although she may have found a key to get us there this past weekend.

On Sunday, Sharon tried out a new driver, the Dunlap XXIO. It’s actually manufactured for senior men who have slower swing speeds (without getting into golf techie-talk, the weight difference between this driver and a “normal” driver is far more noticeable than, oh say, the PSI between a “properly” weighted football and what the Patriots are alleged to have done against the Colts), but it seemed to suit her quite nicely, and she smacked some really strong and straight drives. [NOTE: for the uninitiated, there are two clubs in a golfer’s bag with which he or she form symbiotic relationships; those being the driver and the putter. Well, in some cases it can be somewhat passionate – Ky Laffoon , a pro who played during the 1930’s and 1940’s, once was so disenchanted with his putter that he tied it to the back of his car and dragged it along the road for about 10 miles . . . and then shot it.]

Anyway, Diane, Susan, and I were all excited over the results that Sharon was achieving from the XXIO to the point that she should really consider buying it. We finished our round, and Sharon approached Kevin, the head professional at our club. Watching from a distance, her expression changed from one of hopeful promise to that of one having just learned that the new car she had just bought needed a complete transmission overhaul.

I walked over to see what the problem was. Sharon turned to me and said, “Kevin says this club costs $800.”

I looked at Kevin, a very amiable sort from England, and asked, “Are you serious?”

Afraid so, mate. That’s a Asian manufacturer, very expensive.”

So . . . we may have taken a slight detour on the road to Pebble Beach. Anyone know where we can find a used Dunlap XXIO?

What Makes You So Special?

A few posts ago, I recalled some words of wisdom from Chris Goff, a golfing friend in Connecticut, who, upon witnessing me three putt from about 8 feet, said to me, “Don’t worry, man, you ain’t the first and you won’t be the last” – his point, of course, being that not only is perfection on a golf course unobtainable, but it’s foolish to even contemplate it. In other words, shit happens.

I try to keep those words in mind when things go south for me in the course of a round, but every now and then I do wonder if the gods of golf are testing me. Take my round yesterday . . . please (sorry, Henny). The less said about it the better, although the entertainment value provided to my playing companions earned me a drink after the round, so there was that.   I did manage to play a greenside bunker shot from my knees on the 12th hole that somehow wound up on the 8th green (about 100 yards away, which is actually pretty impressive when you think about it). But the coup de grace occurred earlier in the round.

The second hole at Cottonwood Valley (one of the two courses at our club) is a par-3 three over a pond (a canal, really) that typically plays about 130 yards. It’s not a particularly scary shot; usually the biggest challenge comes from the wind, which typically quarters from right to left and slightly toward the tee box. The flag yesterday was located in the front right portion of the green, which is something of a “sucker pin” – if a player’s shot is even a little short, it will roll back down a small hill, sometime all the way to the water. The safe play is to the middle of the green.

Which is what I tried to do, except that the wind took the ball further left, leaving me on the green but with a 40 foot putt with about 10 feet of left-to-right break. I put a pretty good stroke on it; the ball took the break, hit the back of the cup, and popped out.

“Damn,” I grimaced.

Only it didn’t stop. It continued rolling toward the edge of the green, almost coming to a halt . . . but gravity kicked in, and the ball sauntered down the aforementioned hill, and gently plopped into the water.

Naturally, this was a great source of merriment to all concerned; even I had to laugh. There ensued some discussion of how I was to proceed, and without boring you with a lengthy discussion of hazard drop options, the rules allowed me to putt from the previous spot. I managed to keep the ball on the green this time; another two putts and I wound up with a six on a par-3 that I had hit in regulation, which is probably not a record but pretty damned close.

When I recounted this story in the Grill Room, it was greeted with the appropriate amount of amusement and sympathy. Someone reminded me that Tiger Woods once did the same thing at The Masters, which I’m sure will be the only time that he and I are mentioned in the same breath.

I can divulge this and other horrors that occur out on the links because – well, something like it happens to everyone who plays the game. An old friend of mine in Virginia, Martin, struck a drive off the toe of his club; the ball flew dead straight at what could best be described a 90 degree angle to where it should have, striking a condo whose owner probably bought with the thought that no one could ever possibly hit it. Then again, he never met Martin, whose swing at impact featured him actually falling away from the ball  – think of a Michael Jordan jump shot, sans elevation.

But there’s one incident I can describe that I like to think did not have precedent. This happened in a club tournament where the other competitors in my group consisted of Spice Daddy, Fat Boy #1, and Holmes, three of the more colorful members of ours (or any other) club. We had all hit decent drives on the par-5 3rd hole, but Fat Boy pulled his second shot into some thick rough. As we looked for his ball, Holmes (who was riding in my cart) found a baby blue robin’s egg that evidently fallen from its nest. Holmes picked it up, looked at me devilishly, and said, “Poppy, watch this – I’m going to slip this in Spice Daddy’s pocket.”

We finished out the third hole and went on to #4, a vexing par 4 that featured an approach to an elevated green having more turns than the track at Watkins Glen. We all reached the green (Holmes somehow keeping the egg intact, which I thought was remarkable), and putted out. Spice Daddy had made a big-breaking 8-footer to save his par, and an apparently sincere, appreciative Holmes put his arm around Spice, complimenting him on his putt.

We then proceeded to the 5th hole, and Spice reached into his pocket to get a tee – and pulled his hand out; egg yolk dripping off his hand. “What the –“, he exclaimed . . . and saw Holmes and me giggling over in our cart. Spice let out a series of expletives, but he was laughing, as well.

I’d like to think that Spice was the first – but after this story, he won’t be the last.

Luck Be Damned

Well, the year is almost three-fourths over, and I’m working on my 61st consecutive season of never having made a hole-in-one. Granted, there have been some gaps in my golf career – I was pretty much out of action from ages 1 through 9 and 14 thru 31 – but a conservative estimate would put the number of rounds that I’ve played in my life at well over a thousand. And yet, nary an ace for the Golf Nerd.

Oh, I’ve come close plenty of times, and I’ve certainly witnessed my share, including one wonderful moment in August of 2013 when the Golf Nerd Goddess, on the second hole at TPC Las Colinas, holed out a perfectly struck 6-hybrid. It was a glorious shot, but I couldn’t help feeling a slight tinge of envy as she clicked a photo of the ball in the hole with her iPhone (this is now her screen-saver shot) and then stored it away for safe-keeping. The ball and scorecard from the round are enshrined in a plaque hanging on our barroom wall (and let the record show that despite a fierce hangover, yours truly sank a 12-foot putt on 18 to card an 89 – a very mediocre score, but it looks a whole lot better than a 90).

My father, a very good player in his day, never made one either, but he was a man of many idiosyncrasies and stated on more than one occasion that a hole in one was more a matter of good fortune than any degree of skill, and that he never wanted to make one. Once he and I were partners in a match, locked in mortal combat that only a $2 Nassau can produce against a couple of his friends. We reached one of the par-3’s on the back side, and I hit a high, lazy draw that appeared to be all over the flag.

“Go IN!” I urged.

“No, don’t go in!” my father implored.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I cried, stunned.

“If it goes in, it’s a lucky shot!” he responded.

“If it goes in, we win the hole!” I yelled.

He looked at me for a moment, then shook his head.

“You always have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

[Post script: I missed the ensuing short birdie put and we lost the match]

I’m not dismissing the luck factor – after all, getting a 1.68” diameter ball into a 4 ½ “ hole from 10 feet away with a putter is difficult enough for most of us, let alone doing so with an iron or wood from more that 100 yards away. A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently that her son aced a 297 yard par-4 hole. The only way I can hit a ball that far these days is with either a gale force wind in back of me or on an airport runway.

But some people have a knack for making them. The late Art Wall, winner of the 1959 Masters, has 45 officially (which means that the shot needs to be witnessed and has occurred in a stipulated round). Among fellows I know, the player who has the most is a retired coach – and that’s what we call him, Coach – who, at last count, had a total of 13. The Coach’s backswing barely reached his waist, but he was ridiculously accurate.

A few years back, about a hundred of us formed a pool where anytime someone made a hole in one, he would collect $10 from each pool member. At that time, Coach was sitting on 9 aces. He signed up for it, and for the first time in years, he did not make one. I believe there were 7 holes-in-one within our group that year, which meant Coach (and the rest of us) had to pay out $70. This did not sit well with him, as Coach has been described by his closest friend as the type of person who will rub two nickels together in hopes of producing a quarter.

So the following year, a fellow known as The Assman (long story there) made the first ace of the season, and promptly set out to collect his money from the group. Coach politely told Assman that he would not be participating in the pool that year, as he paid out too much money the previous year and felt that the odds were against him ever making a hole in one ever again. He then proceed to make three aces that season, costing himself nearly $3,000 in the process – a fact about which the Assman took great pleasure in reminding him.

But my favorite tale regarding a hole in one occurred a number of years ago during our Thursday night 9-hole league. Pac-Man and I were paired up in a match with the aforementioned Assman and Spice Daddy. The groups that night were sent out in a shotgun start, so our opening hole was number 11, a drop shot par-3 that was playing about 120 yards.

The Assman’s tee shot found the hazard fronting the green, but Spice Daddy hit a beauty, stopping no more than an inch from the cup. Never at a loss for words, Spice crowed over the result. I looked at my partner and half-seriously said, “Go ahead and knock this one in, Pac Man.”

“No way!” gushed Spiced Daddy. “I’ve got him blocked.”

Pac-Man stuck his peg in the ground on the far right side of the teeing area, lined himself up, and let it fly. The ball hit the front of the green, and then tracked toward the hole like a putt. It got by Spice Daddy’s ball – and fell in the cup.

Pac-Man and I laughed and high-fived, while Spice was silent for about 10 seconds – which constitutes an eternity for him – before blurting out, “YOU LITTLE PRICK!” Which only made us laugh harder.

[Post Script – we smoked them in our match. I managed to shoot one-over par despite only hitting one green in regulation, getting up and down for par a ridiculous 7 times. It was fun taking their money – but I would have given anything to have switched roles in the match with Pac-Man. I’d rather be lucky than good any day]

Head Games


As Jack Nicklaus entered the final years of his playing career, he joked that he had become a “ceremonial golfer.” These days, he has fully realized that particular title, having become part of the triumvirate that fires off the opening shots at Augusta each year. The Golden Bear remained remarkably competitive well into his 50’s, particularly at the Masters, where he found himself on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday several times. But despite the relative longevity of career that golf affords, physical and mental wear and tear eventually catch up with even the best players – particularly the latter.


At the height of their powers, Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones (all of whom were the best of their respective eras) were incredibly focused at their craft, and were so mentally tough that oftentimes they could pull off a tournament win without having their best game. One of Jones’s most memorable quotes cites the most important 6 inches in the game of golf is the space between a golfer’s ears. It’s also instructive to know that Jones retired from competitive golf at the age of 28, explaining that “(championship golf) is something like a cage. First you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But of course, nobody can stay there.”


Hogan, of course, was ultimately done in by a combination of the aftereffects of a horrific automobile accident and a stupefying case of the putting yips. Woods’s is a story yet unfinished, but it’s pretty clear that since 2009, he’s fought an inward battle along with dealing with the physical ailments that have plagued him.


For most of us who play the game recreationally, if the word “tournament” is thrown into the mix, even on a course on which we regularly play, a nervousness [sometimes even a panic] sets in. Instead of the usual light-hearted banter and needling one generally hears on the practice range, there’s a grim silence punctuated only by shots of varying degree of quality and the occasional oath either muttered or bellowed. And this is just on the practice tee.


And then the round begins, and we are paired with guys with whom we are at least acquainted and oftentimes are good friends, but this is a tournament, dammit, we need to bear down! More often than not, this scenario results in shots that can only be defined as stupefying, turning otherwise decent, clear-thinking men or women into emotional mush.


I have to say that more often than not, I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve managed some decent tournament performances, and even have won a few, although I tend to think the reason for that was because the formats under which they were played were so convoluted that it was hard to know how I stood during the course of the completion, so I didn’t let that part of it enter my mind. Whereas in a straight-up stroke play competition, I was usually pretty much toast going into things.


The Golf Nerd Goddess has played in a number of two and four person team events, and has generally fared well. Recently, however, she decided (or was coerced, in her words) into our Women’s Golf Association’s Match Play event. The matches were seeded, with lower handicappers taking on higher handicappers in the first round. The GNG is in the latter group, so she wound up drawing the reigning Woman’s Club Champion in her first match, and was understandably concerned with this particular match-up.

I tried the usual pep talk – hey, you’re getting a lot of strokes; she’s going to be as nervous as you; it will be a good experience. Her circle of golf friends all told her “just go out and have fun” while also providing her with all sorts of advice on how to beat her opponent (which they all wanted her to do, as it would greatly improve their chances in the tournament). All of which did nothing to make her any less apprehensive. To make matters worse, her match was delayed a week due to heavy rains that came through the area.

We had gone out on the course a few times to prepare for the match, particularly from a mental aspect (those who know me would scoff at the thought of me playing the role of Sports Psychologist, and I would not blame them). Our main focus was to play one shot at a time and repeat the same routine each time. We seemed to be making some progress.

Match day arrived, and GNG was nervous (she had awakened me at about 2:30 AM that morning to tell me she couldn’t sleep and had mentally played all 18 holes. I had to laugh, as I’ve gone through that same ordeal). We went over to the club to warm up, and then met up with the WCC and her husband. At this point I should mention that all of us are friendly; we’ve play rounds and dined together previously. But this was a “tournament round.”

And it showed. Both ladies were nervous; I could tell that the GNG was playing much too quickly, but because of the “no advice” rule, I couldn’t really say anything to her about it. But she hit just enough really good shots (while the WCC hit just enough poor ones) so that they were even after nine holes.

Unfortunately, things unraveled for the GNG at the start of the back nine. Some bad shots, a (under any other circumstances) hilarious putting display by both players on 10, and a ball in the water on 12 suddenly put her three down. I felt horribly for her, figuring that she was broken.

I was wrong – a 50-foot putt on 13 halved that hole, and then another lengthy putt dropped for her on 14 to bring her back to two down with four holes to go. But a golden opportunity to close to within 1 went for naught, and the WCC closed her out on 16.

The ladies hugged and I kissed the GNG, who wore an expression somewhere between disappointment and relief. “You made her sweat,” I told her.

We had lunch, ran a few errands, and then settled in for the evening. We talked about the match over several glasses of wine; I stressed how proud I was of her for not quitting and that the experience would help her in the future. She had seemed to accept the outcome all right, and we decided to turn in early.

I turned on the TV; we climbed into bed – and suddenly she blurted out – “I could have won that match! She was nervous; she did not play her best! I SHOULD have won!”

I tried again to explain that this was a building block, that she’d be better prepared next time .

“I don’t care! I lost. I feel terrible. How can anybody think this is fun?”

For that, I had no answer. I’m sure Jack, Tiger, Ben and Bobby would be at a loss, as well.


Sand Hills Flashbacks

Say “Pinehurst” to a golfer and most likely, his first thoughts will be of the famed #2 course at the Pinehurst Resort, host of several US Opens and other important championships. There are 8 other courses under the Resort umbrella, most of them originally designed by the venerable Donald Ross, the most prolific course architect of the first half of the 20th century.

I’m more loose in my use of “Pinehurst;” for me, it references most of Moore County, which includes the village of Pinehurst and the towns of Southern Pines and Aberdeen. These locales comprise a socioeconomic area referred to as the Sand Hills, a name based on the geology of the area. The sandy soil and rolling terrain are ideal for golf, and Ross made the most of it; in addition to his work at the Resort, he built the charming Pine Needles and Mid-Pines courses, as well as the recently restored Southern Pines Golf Course, which the locals refer to as The Elks Club, due to its proximity to that Fraternal Order’s local headquarters.

[Ah, the locals . . . Pinehurst and Southern Pines are connected by a two mile highway, but they are as culturally different as Dallas and Ft Worth. Pinehurst is a true walking village, with a pristine town green and tony shops. Southern Pines is a bit more free wheeling – for one thing, it’s home to the only “gentlemen’s club” in the area – and has a slightly more funky feel to it. In any event, don’t mix them up with a local.]

In addition to the Ross courses, one can find work by the Maples (Ellis and Dan), the Nicklaus’s (Jack and Jackie), Mike Stranz, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, and others. In all, I believe there are about 35 or so courses dotted through the area. In addition to the aforementioned topography, courses in Pinehurst are also noted for – well, for their pine trees. This is not to be taken lightly – it’s much easier to find a wayward shot sitting on top of pine needles than in a pile of hardwood leaves or knee-deep rough.

Pinehurst is a relatively short drive from my old Richmond stomping grounds, maybe about 3 ½ hours or so. I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times and never tire of it; primarily because something unusual always seems to happen when I visit.

There was the impromptu all night jam session I found myself in at the Little River Resort, playing guitar and singing with a group of visiting Canadian musicians. Or on one early March sojourn, our group saw cars coming in the opposite direction with lit headlamps and snow-covered roofs – never a good sign when traveling to a golf destination. Or having a lengthy conversation on the Veranda overlooking #18 at Pinehurst with writer Jim Dodson. Or chipping balls into the fireplace in the lounge at the Pinecrest Inn.

Or this. I was invited by a fellow club member to play in something called the Dick’s Place Invitational (hence the invite), an annual event that has had several hosting venues. This particular year, it was centered around Talamore Golf Resort, located on the Pinehurst/Southern Pines connector. It features a nice Rees Jones designed course and plenty of accommodations for visiting golfers. The Invitational typically draws around 200 players from the Carolinas and Virginia; in addition to golf, the three tournament, the entry fee – generally less than $400 – includes room, two meals a day, and drinks (including alcohol).

The tournament is played on three different courses (the other two on this trip were Seven Lakes and Beacon Ridge). Based on handicap, 4-man teams are essentially pulled out of a hat ahead of time in an A-B-C-D format (“A” being the lowest handicap, “D” being the highest]. Each round you are partnered with a different team member and play what is called a “Texas Scramble.” Both players tee off, select the best drive, and then play their own ball in. The better score on each hole is recorded.

At the time, I was a fairly solid 8 handicap, so I was the designated “A” player on our team. I was scheduled to play with our “D” player in the first round. I found our cart, put my bag on the passenger side of the rack, and went off to practice. Upon returning, my partner (we’ll call him Pete) had not yet arrived, and it was getting close to tee time. Finally, a short, pudgy fellow woozily approached the cart with his clubs. Seeing that my clubs were loaded on the passenger side, he shook his head and drawled, “Man, I don’t know if you want me driving the cart. I could get picked up for DUI.”

I chuckled a bit and said, “I’m sure you’re fine, Pete. Anyway, I’m Gary.”

He eyed me suspiciously and replied, “Call me Booger.”

Trying to make conversation, I asked him where he was from. “Dinwiddie County,” he shot back. “Oh,” I replied, “We’re practically neighbors. I grew up in Massachusetts, but I live in Richmond.”

“Sheet,” he spat. “I ain’t never been north of the James River.”

I could see that this was going to be a challenge.

We somehow managed a gross 76 that day. I say “we,” because I believe we actually might have used one of Booger’s shots during the course of the round. He did, however, manage to back our cart into a bunker and make a few unscheduled stops to rid himself of excess tequila from the night before. On around the 6th hole, play had slowed; Booger and our two other playing companions engaged in a tee-box discussion about their favorite squirrel recipes. I wanted to chime in with my squirrel risotto recipe, but wasn’t sure if 1) I could keep a straight face, and 2) they actually had heard of risotto.

But somehow we made it to the finish. Our B and C players had posted a decent number, and we were right in the mix for our Calcutta flight. We bought our team, and when the dust settled on Sunday, we wound up in second and split $1,100 bucks. I handed out the cash to our teammates, finishing with our D player.

“Well done, Booger!” I exclaimed.

Once again he gave me the eye. “My name’s Pete,” he grunted, and walked off.

[Postscript: The Dick’s Place Invitational was moved to Myrtle Beach the following year. No truth to the rumor that the golf cart tire tracks found in the fairway bunker on number 4 forced this action.]

Weather Delay

Thunder and lightning outside. Everyone’s been called off the course and into the 19th hole. Time for a golf story . . .

Generally speaking, we had fairly mild winters in Richmond, VA during the 15 or so years I lived there. And, of course, having grown up in New England and attended college in Wisconsin, “mild” could have a different meaning than to those raised in the south. Most of the time, 40 degrees was my unofficial cutoff point as to whether or not to tee it up. We had a number of like-minded golfers at my club; enough to have fairly large weekend groups traipsing about the course. On days like that, it was highly beneficial to have some “warming fluid” or “bracer” or whatever other euphemism for spirits that one might use. Some of us carried flasks in our bags, and willingly shared our elixir with anyone else in our foursome feeling a bit of a chill.

As our course ran through a residential community, the yards of numerous homes bordered it, several of them belonging to members. Tacked on to some of the trees were birdhouses, which by and large were vacated during the winter months. One weekend morning, the word spread among those of us playing that we should check out the birdhouse coming off of number 6 green. Our group finished up there; I went over to inspect the birdhouse, and surely enough, a pint bottle (at that point nearly empty) of Jim Beam sat inside.

As you can imagine, this caused quite a sensation when we all gathered at the 19th Hole for out post-round libations. Our generous, forward-thinking member (for purposes of this story, we’ll call him Rich) was hailed as a genius. We quickly did an audit of the member/birdhouse matrix, and devised a plan to ensure that our players were well fortified during winter play.

This soon became an unofficial, year round feature at our club. Guests and new members were quietly introduced to our “secret” stashes. New birdhouses popped up, some having enough size to accommodate liter-sized decanters. One of our members took a different tact, using individually labeled jigger-sized bottles that were recycled. He even included tasting notes for the available spirits.

Of course, there were drawbacks to this, as popular as it was. The youth of the neighborhood soon learned of our stock, which forced the shutdown of some locations and the use of combination locks on others. This, however, was not the worst transgression to occur.

One early spring morning, a group of us were finishing up on the aforementioned 6th hole. I had just three-putted for bogey, which put me in a less-than-contented frame of mind. Thinking that a quick shot would improve that situation, I walked over to Rich’s birdhouse, opened it up . . . and found a bird’s nest inside.

Talk about adding insult to injury! I whipped out my cell phone and rang up Rich; when he answered, I immediately expressed my displeasure about this turn of events:

“A bird’s nest? A f*cking bird’s nest?” I bellowed into the phone, only half-joking.

Rich’s explanation was, in my mind, rather weak – he had been out of town on business travel, which was followed by a planned family vacation (one that he had been in the process of enjoying prior to my call), thus neglecting his duties to his mates at the club. But all things being equal, I had to let him off the hook – although going forward, he (and other tenders of the houses) would be required to advise us of all pending travel plans so that future incidents would be avoided.

Come to think of it – this should have been put into the club’s by-laws.

Looking For A Game?

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.

The Colonel, Big Poppy, someone way too lovely for this photo, and Squeaky.

The Colonel, Big Poppy, someone way too lovely for this photo, and Squeaky.

Spousal Golf (A Survival Guide)

Guys, you might have the best woman in the world (well, actually, I do, so it’s going to be a tie at best), but there are seven words that she might say to you that should at the very least give you pause:

“Would you teach me to play golf?”

Now, before the females in the audience start a “Tar and Feather Gary Popovich” Facebook page, I need to clarify something. Sharon (a/k/a “The Golf Nerd Goddess,” or “GNG” if you are into the brevity thing) is a golfer; we each have our own group that we play with on Saturdays, and then we play together on Sundays. We have fun when we play together – sometimes we’ll compete (with handicaps, of course), but we always enjoy each other’s good shots, commiserate on the not-so-good ones, and have lunch and a cocktail or two afterwards (or sometimes during, if things are not going particularly well). Golf is a major part of our life together, and we both embrace it.

The distinction, however, is that Sharon was an experienced golfer when we met; it was one of our mutual attractions.  She understands the rules and etiquette of the game; moreover, while she has her inconsistencies like just about everyone else who plays, she’s capable of pretty good golf. As a couple, we have a combined total of 1 hole-in-one’s; my contribution to that number is zero.

And I do not subscribe to my Neanderthal friends assertion that “golf” is an acronym for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.” There are plenty of women who can tan the hide of most of the guys I play with.

But back to “the question”.  If you are asked “the question”, the correct answer is “No.” That is not to say that you don’t want her to play golf. But if she’s truly interested in learning the game, you cannot be the primary vessel that transports her on that journey.

First of all: GET PROFESSIONAL HELP – as in a PGA Teaching Professional. In all likelihood, you haven’t a clue as to where to begin to teach a proper golf swing. In fact, unless you are a 5 handicap or less, you likely haven’t a clue about your own swing, and could probably stand a lesson yourself [NOTE: I am raising my own hand here].  MAYBE you can teach her to putt, but I wouldn’t impart any wisdom once you leave the green.  In any event, get her lessons, and talk with her instructor about what swing keys/thoughts are being discussed.  It will be helpful for you to remind her of these things, plus you might get some advice that’s applicable to your own game.

Secondly: THE DREADED “P” WORD – you probably already know that to become even a mediocre golfer requires a significant time investment and practice. Unless your wife has played another sport, she will probably not understand that, and you trying to explain that to her will be one of those arguments that you won’t win. Trust me on that one. But if it comes from her instructor, she might listen.

Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly): BEHAVE YOURSELF – beyond the technical aspects of the game, there’s understanding the etiquette and nuances of playing the game.  This, of course, is essential for any novice, but what you say to your male friend when he steps in your putting line (“Listen, [insert disgustingly explicit descriptor here], don’t step in my line”) will likely have you put on conjugal probation by the one you love.

My own attempts at dealing with Point the Third with both of my exes were like the brown acid at Woodstock; i.e.; not specifically too good. I recall an early round with Mrs. Golf Nerd #2 (a/k/a, She Who Will Seldom Be Mentioned Except for Illustrative Purposes) in which our respective shots wound up in the same general area. My ball was in the fairway; hers, unfortunately,found some nasty rough. When I helpfully pointed that out to her, she responded in accusatory fashion:

“How do you know that’s your ball and the other one is mine?”

“I’m playing a Titleist, honey. You’re playing a Top-Flite.”

“How do you know that?”

“I checked before we started.”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“Well, for one thing, your ball is pink.”

Ok, I did make up that last response. But much like man’s fundamental cluelessness regarding proper toilet seat maintenance, there are certain aspects of the game that may be intuitive to you but make no sense at all to your mate.  So you’ll probably want to curb your natural urge to be a smartass when explaining certain courtesies like not talking while another golfer is about to hit, or that the motorized golf cart is not an amphibious vehicle.

The good news in all of this is that there are more women playing than ever, and if your lady has friends who play, she might be able to have them be her collective golfing mentor. The GNG is particularly good at this; she has a group of women who are known as the “Klassy Beyothches” (a/k/a“The KBs”) who have a wide range of skill levels, from 8 handicap to rank beginners.  All they ask of the latter is that if one of them has reached 8 or 9 shots on a hole, then she should pick up and move on to the next hole.  The KBs have a lot of fun, move their way through the course at a reasonable pace, and definitely hold their own in the 19th hole.

In any event – the other thing to keep in mind is that you’ve might have been asked “the question” because she wants to spend more time with you. If that’s the case, then by all means, get her going on the game – but have a contingency plan just in case it’s not her cup of tea. And maybe write to Ann Landers. This is a golf column, not Advice for the Lovelorn.

Waiting to Tee Off At the Old Course