Last year, I went to a carnival. It had been eons since I had been on a “midway”, and I stopped at one of those toss the ping-pong-ball-in-the-fish-bowl games. You got 3 balls, and my first toss nearly went in. Toss 2 missed a bit more, toss 3 was atrocious. I paid for another 3 balls. They were worse. I did it again. Worse, now because I was more frustrated, because I started thinking about it ( you need to aim to the side, you need to brace your right hand with your left, toss it more slowly). Well, you get the picture.
My friends this is golf. It’s that feeling that the challenge you have in front of you is manageable, and then, you watch your effort sadly fall short, landing in the creek, the trees, or a puddle of carnival vomit. But, you gather yourself, take a deep breath, and order 3 more balls and carry on. Life lessons indeed.
Golf is a beautiful game. I’ve played a couple of rounds recently, and since it IS walking, and really, a delightful oft-urban amble, albeit one interrupted by periodic bouts of seering pain, it should be part of this series. Welcome to Hike 15.
My Dad played golf his whole life, and he wanted me to play, so he taught me the basics. Soon, it was off to the local public links, and there was a course just up the street, walking distance. At some point, it was even decided some lessons would be in order, and so they were arranged with the local golf pro. I should probably note at this point that the course was uhhh, not the finest course around, just the closest. The course was run and maintained by a group of old sun-seared drunks. At age 12, I would have to fish the golf pro out of the bar for my 10am lesson. I’m not sayin’ this happened, I just decided to include this photo here:
Of course, it is practice that makes one a better golfer, and what made this all the more convenient at our neighborhood course was that my Uncle Wimpy,(yes Wimpy) worked in the pro-shop. Wimpy was, I often thought, W.C. Fields long-lost brother. Like Mr. Fields, he manned the shop with a polite smile, and a friendly nod, quietly taking measure of the visitor or one of the inebriated grounds crew. Once out of earshot, the dry wit would come, making quick work of the departed as he would return to his throne surveying the grounds: sideways on a golf cart with the crossword puzzle.. And at this place, he had a lot to work with. Over time this became more fun than the golf. But I digress. The point was,each evening, I would show up with my buddy Frank, and he’d let us on the course for free. Together, we gradually learned the game of golf.
The only steady irrigation that took place at the course was inside the bar. In fact, Wimpy liked to say the only hole on the course that got watered was Number 19. (There are 18 holes for those who didn’t know). Thus, by July, it was like playing on concrete. Even a near whiff could find the ball 200 yards down the fairway. Yeah, it wasn’t the Ritz, but it was an easy course, it was free, and it was fun, even if we did have to keep an eye out for Bones, the pie-eyed lawn cutter. This is a close approximation:
As we got older, and feeling our oats, we began to explore other courses in the area. The first shock was , frankly, we had to pay. The second was that these courses could be, uhhh, difficult. And they were a bit nicer than we were used -I mean they watered the grass and dressed nice:
We tried to fit in, I am sure at one point I even owned a pair of these:
We did grow as golfers, but we were just as often humbled , sent packing from Snoottington Ridge Lawn and Tennis Club and the ilk; back to the warm embrace of our little duffer’s paradise. All in all, the memories there are treasured, culminating when my Dad and I won a golf tournament there. And, as Dad had hoped, I had become a pretty decent golfer. The game , for a few years , came pretty easy to me. The scores drifted from the 90’s, into the 80’s , and then even the 70’s.
But after graduating college, the frequency of play dropped. Growing up, I might play 4 or 5 times a week, but by the time I was in San Francisco, I might play twice a year. This pained my father, god rest his soul, because, as he said many a time, the joy of golf was that you could play it your whole life. I drifted even further from the game, and for the entire time I lived in Colorado, I did not play once, which was 4 years.
A few years ago, I decided to start to play again, not a lot, but at least once every couple of months. I mean, its crazy not to here, because the Bay Area is graced with so many lovely courses. Just in the last couple of months in fact, we’ve played 2 great public courses, the bucolic wonder of Tilden Park in Berkeley:
And little ole Lincoln Park in San Francisco. As it weaves in and around the Palace of Legion of Honor near the Golden Gate, surely there is not a humbler course in a more magnificent setting. I mean, I think I shanked a shot into this location at Lincoln Park:
So one of the great things about golf IS the setting. Lincoln Park is a poor man’s Pebble Beach. For the price of a movie for two, you can play the sport of kings, lifting that little sun-splashed ball towards its inevitable destination. I love this old post-card, it captures that idyllic moment of serenity. An extraordinary setting, you’ve just parred the hole, holding the flag, watching your friend putt, the smell of the sea; life is good.
But alas, that is fleeting. As I took up the game again, it of course no longer came as easy to me. I knew what I needed to do, or even how to do it, but , I couldn’t do it. Practice, practice, practice. And I suppose there are many like me out there. The last time out, I had several wonderful holes, crisp shots down the middle, even sinking a putt for a birdie. Then, inevitably, on the next tee, I would send a searing t-shot into the woods, pruning trees, scattering animals. The game, like the carnival game I mentioned at the top, brings you to your knees, because you know “I JUST DID THIS”, WHY CAN’T I DO IT AGAIN”? While I stop short of screaming at inanimate objects, some do not:
Sadly, sometimes the toll is greater:
This…., not so much.
Though ironically, on this day, my friend James hit a glorious chip shot into the hole that nobody saw. I believe I was talking to my 5-iron at the time; sad. I did realize when I started playing again that I would have to adjust my sight lower, that I wasn’t going to play as consistently. And those glimmers of glory would have to be what would keep me coming back, however many times they are followed by an episode where you are barefoot in a creek or turning over logs trying to retrieve a ball. (And think about that, you are paying money to dig through a swamp for a golf ball.). A humbling game.
I remember the last time out, after enough exasperation for one day, looking around and taking in the golden hills ablaze with late afternoon sun, the smell of the fir trees, and thinking yeah, life is good. And maybe there is a life lesson here, to enjoy the journey, and not to worry about life’s proverbial scorecard. Yeah I’m over par in life, so what! Yeah that was it, that’s the insight. With that, my eyes peacefully fell on the group ahead of us, and I watched as one of the group struck the ball. Up it went, majestically against the backdrop of the glorious spring sky, before beginning a long arc to the left, where it seared off a small branch of a tree before it left the grounds, its brief journey ending deep in the forest with the all too familiar sickly thunk of the ball meeting fate at the face of a tree. And then, I watched as said golfer launched his club, it soaring end over end up the fairway, beautiful in its own way I suppose, punctuated by a low guttural profanity. I was home.
Hike 15: 2 Rounds Of Golf- 10 Miles