Free Golf

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 10: Indictments and Alligators

“Tiger is out of it!” shouted Charlie Pendyke.

“You’re full of shit,” replied Al Harper. “I’ve got twenty dollars that says he’s in the final pairing on Sunday.”

“You’re on’” responded Charlie.

“It will be Tiger and Els,” suggested Paul as he returned to their table with his fresh cup of coffee.

Their arguing lasted most of the morning with news junkie Fred chiming in from time to time as I worked behind the counter of the pro shop. I was still feeling the effects from the night before at the Hangar and their shouting wasn’t helping. As I continued working, I heard their discussion move from the British Open to something more thought provoking.

Al put forth the theory that the guy who invented soft-spikes was a partner in one of the largest golf course management corporations in the country. He believed that this mystery executive by day and inventor by night was able to start the trend of outlawing metal spikes in order to sell more of his product.

“It’s the truth,” Al continued. “I read it on the internet.”

“Well, I read that soft spikes were invented by a greens keeper who was tired of repairing spike marks,” countered Charlie.

“You don’t get enough traction with those damn plastic spikes,” commented Al.

“Well, you’re not supposed to spin in your shoes,” replied Charlie.

Paul took a much more romantic approach to the advances in golf footwear accessories. “I miss the sound that metal spikes made,” he stated. “All the good sounds in golf are gone. No longer do we hear the tapping of metal spikes in the clubhouse or on a pathway. No more do we hear the clicking of the old sprinklers. They’ve been replaced with modern smooth and silent sprinklers. Instead of the crack of hitting a persimmon wood on the screws, we get the metallic ting of duffers with oversized watermelons. And worst of all, ‘nice shot,’ has been replaced with ‘you the man.’”

“My favorite golf sound is the opening of a fresh can of beer,” added Charlie.

“They haven’t taken that from us yet,” I shouted over to the guys from the pro shop.

“They’re trying to with those plastic bottles,” shouted back Paul. “Who ever heard of bottles of beer on a golf course?” he asked.

Plastic bottles did take up too much room in a cooler. Paul had a point I thought to myself as I worked. I did like the sound of the old sprinklers and metal spikes. But soft spikes were much more comfortable to wear.

By the time it was noon, things were starting to slow down. Paul had gone home to feed his cat and I was on the computer in the pro-shop.

That was when I heard Fred’s breaking news alert.

“They’ve indicted Hugh Cunningham,” he shouted.

“Hot damn!” exclaimed Al Harper.

“Turn it up,” added Charlie as we all rushed to gather around the TV.

Lisa darted from behind the grill and Harley came running from the back room. There before all our eyes was a County Prosecutor speaking into a cluster of microphones reading the indictment. It was the biggest news the county had seen in years.

“The wicked witch is dead,” I proclaimed.

“Ding Dong,” replied Harley.

The indictment read like the story of our lives. It highlighted the frustrating hell we had all put up with for years. “Numerous malfeasance in public office, improper awarding of government contracts, misuse of public property and funds, as well as bribery.” There were details of Cunningham using kickbacks from the bottled water contract to bribe the health commissioner into declaring the White Lake drinking fountains unsafe.

The phone was ringing in the pro shop, but I just ignored it as I listened to the prosecutor continue. He detailed Cunningham giving sweetheart contracts to his wife and brother-in-law. He also presented charges that we were unaware of. Apparently, Cunningham had the greens crew from Heather Valley, the nicest county owned course, maintain his own yard and landscaping. Then of course the prosecutor mentioned several tawdry night golf tournaments with details too lurid to convey on television.

The news conference eventually came to an end, but the talk of Cunningham’s indictment had just begun. Andy, Mark and John all stopped down in-between lessons to hear about the media coverage and news junkie Fred was eager to recount every second of it. Even old Paul had called from home to make sure we had seen the announcement. He was on his way down to the golf course. He said he was coming to help answer the phone, but I had a feeling he was looking for some more airtime on the news.

Paul arrived in a change of clothes and dressed a bit more dapper than normal. He had on one of his best Polo golf shirts and neatly pressed pants. His silver hair was slicked back and he even smelled of cologne. As soon he walked in the clubhouse he greeted everyone and then quickly began surveying the outside through the windows.

“There’s no one from the media here,” I said to him. “Oh, I’m just looking to see how crowded the course is,” he replied. “I’d like to get out for a round of golf before they shut the whole place down.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” I said. “I haven’t played in a while myself.”

“It’s only supposed to get up to 87 degrees today,” announced Fred.

It had been a while since the high was below 90 degrees I thought to myself. While I was certain they would never close White Lake, there were sure to be some changes coming. It would be nice to get in a few rounds of golf while we still had it so good.

Paul finally sat down with Al and Charlie while I went back to work for a while. It hadn’t been too busy, but I didn’t tell that to anyone who called. I wanted to keep it that way so the course would be wide open for us to play.

Paul and I weren’t the only ones with the idea to play that day. Nate Boylan soon showed up with his golf bag over his shoulder. He was likely trying to get in some golf before any changes might occur that would preclude him from playing for free in the future. He did have several complaints registered against him as a starter on file with the County. If any of us would get cut, he would no doubt be the first to go.

“They finally nailed good old Hugh Cunningham, eh boys?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s been a long time coming,” I replied.

“And Pauly, I hear we have you to thank,” said Nate.

“Just doing my due diligence as a concerned citizen,” Paul replied.

“Don’t be modest,” said Nate. “You’re a TV star now. If you need representation, I’m available.”

“I’m sure you are,” answered Paul.

Nate asked if I wanted to play when I got off and I told him that Paul and I both did. He challenged Paul to a little putting match on the practice green to get ready and they both headed outside. Even Al and Charlie followed them out to provide commentary. Of course, Fred stayed right in front of the television. After all, he only had an hour or so of news watching left before the golf tournament came on and we made him change the channel.

By the time Hank relieved me in the pro shop, the crowd had grown outside at the practice green. I walked outside with a beer and a hot dog that Lisa gave me to see what was going on. Mark, John and Harley had joined Paul and Nate on the green and there were about ten one dollar bills lying by one of the cups. The competition had appar-ently gotten fierce.

I took a seat on the patio with Al and Charlie and joined in watching the spectacle. It appeared that Paul was winning and Nate was complaining a lot. Harley appeared very focused. He took his short game very seriously. Mark and John were bickering between themselves. I think Paul had psyched out the two professionals.

“Hurry up and finish your lunch, Brian,” shouted Mark. “The six of us are going to play.”

“Yeah OK,” I replied. We were all eager to get out and play to take our minds off all the bullshit at the golf course. There’d been so much attention on us lately that we couldn’t have any fun.

“A sixsome?” asked Charlie.

“Well, we’ll play as fast as a foursome,” I replied.

Indeed, we could play pretty quickly when we all got together. We had taken “ready golf” to the next level. There were times when we pushed twosomes playing as an eight- some. However, there had also been a few incidents over the years when our “ready golf” became a little dangerous. I personally had to dive out of the way of an errant shot more than once.

After I finished my lunch, I grabbed a cart and drove to the parking lot to get my clubs. I was amazed at how beautiful a day it a turned out to be and how empty the parking lot was. Perhaps the news stories had frightened golfers away or maybe the heat wave had lasted so long that they had gotten used to doing other things. Whatever the reason, we had a beautiful day and a wide-open golf course. It didn’t get much better than that.

I drove my cart back around behind the clubhouse and found everyone leaving the practice green. Nate and John had already put their clubs on a cart together and Paul had latched on to Mark’s cart. That left me riding with Harley and his famous golf ball.

Harley methodically strapped his bag on my cart. Not only did he use the normal cart strap, but he kept a bungee cord on his bag for added security. You’d never see his bag fall off the back of a cart.

John didn’t like to wait around and was standing on the first tee taking some practice swings. Nate quickly pulled his cart up next to the tee and began shouting back at the rest of us. Harley was busy washing his ball so I pulled our cart up behind Nate’s. Mark and Paul followed us.

“Two dollar skins, two-tie all-tie with carry-overs,” proclaimed Nate.

“Of course,” replied Mark.

“I’ll gladly take more money from you young whipper snappers,” said Paul.

“You may be a putting machine, but you still gotta get to the green,” responded John as he teed up his ball.

John took his usual long and graceful swing hitting the ball well over the crest of the hill and down the middle.

“You wuss,” I said. “Whatever,” replied John.

“You young guys still think length is what it’s all about,” said Paul.

“That’s what the girls keep telling me,” said Nate.

“Women, they’re too damn social,” proclaimed Harley.

Mark stepped onto the tee and went through his usual routine. He hit a high arching shot that just made it over the crest in the fairway.

“Age before beauty,” I said to Paul.

“I’m old and beautiful,” replied Paul as he walked onto the tee.

Paul was in his glory. He was dressed as dapper as ever and his silver mane was slicked back. He pulled his homemade 460cc Golfsmith driver out of his bag and smiled as he teed up his ball.

“Watch the old man kids,” said Paul.

He took his short but precise swing and knocked the ball right down the middle just short of the crest in the fairway.

“Where’d it go?” he asked sincerely. “It felt good.”

“It’s just short of the ladies’ tees,” answered Nate.

“It’s down the middle about 225,” said Mark.

Paul always seemed to lose sight of the ball when he hit it well. Every time he hit a good shot, he would say “where’d it go?” Sometimes I would think he did it on purpose in order to call attention to his good shots, but I couldn’t be certain.

“It’s actually more like 230,” suggested Harley. “The crest is 235.”

Harley was a stickler for accuracy. He also knew the course as well as anyone. He had finished polishing his ball and walked onto the tee with his driver. Going through his typical routine, he looked like a baseball player. He swung his driver back and forth even with his shoulders. He also stepped into his practice swings like a baseball player.

Harley finally lowered his club to the ball. He took a couple of actual waggles and then he swung aggressively. The ball flew low and straight but then kicked a little to the right of the crest in the fairway.

“Could have been worse,” stated Harley. He was the eternal optimist. I guess after cleaning out nuclear reactors, anything else seemed great. Nate practically shoved me out of the way to be the next one on the tee. However, when he got to the tee markers, he didn’t seem to have a tee.

“Anyone got a long tee I can borrow?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied John. “Borrowing equipment from someone else is a violation of the rules.”

“Rule four-dash-4a,” announced Paul.

“You guys suck,” replied Nate as he continued to search for a long tee.

“Nice to see you were prepared to hit since you were so eager to go ahead of me,” I said.

“Relax, I’m ready,” responded Nate as he teed up his ball on a broken tee. We all laughed as he struggled to get as much length out of the broken tee as possible. He was trying to just barely stick the end in the ground so that he would have as long a tee as possible, but the ball kept falling over. Finally, he balanced the ball on top of the tee and quickly addressed the ball with his cigar hanging from his lips.

It was a funny sight to see his ball teed up so low with such a big club head behind it. I was sure he was going to miss it. Then, he made his typical aggressive flat swing with the cigar still hanging from his mouth. The ball flew low and straight landing in front of the crest and bouncing over it.

John stepped toward Paul and me and whispered, “four-dash-four only applies to clubs, not balls and tees.”

“I know,” responded Paul.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I walked onto the tee with my Ping G2 and went through my routine. I stood behind the ball and lined it up with a target. Then I addressed the ball and took one last look at the target. The last time I had played I was cutting across and pulling the ball so I concentrated on correcting that. I focused on loosening up my grip with my right hand and keeping my right elbow loose so I could swing out.

Well, as is typical with amateur self-analysis I over corrected and pushed the ball right. It flew on a nice trajectory and straight as an arrow, but it started right and stayed right. My ball ended up just short of the crest and in the right rough not too far from the second green.

“Whoa Brian,” said Nate. “You gotta finish the first hole before you go for the second green.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I replied.

“At least you’re playing good cart golf,” commented Paul.

“Yeah, it is convenient,” I said trying to learn a little optimism from Harley.

We all saddled up in our carts and headed out on the war path. It felt good to get out with guys again after all the shit that had been going on around the golf course. If I had one more person ask about the scandal I was going to kill them.

Harley and I broke formation as we neared our balls. I parked our cart halfway between his ball and mine. Then, I succumbed to the temptation to rush to my ball and hit it quickly. I always felt self-conscious when I hit a bad shot and was the farthest away. It was as though I had to hurry and hit my ball quickly before I was left behind; when in reality I had plenty of time.

I hurriedly addressed my ball without going through my full routine and swung. The ball flew straight and landed just in front of the green bouncing to the edge of the apron. My five-iron still had a clump of mud and turf stuck to the clubface, but I slid it into my bag without wiping it off. I sat down in the cart and took a sip of my Bud Light.

“Nice shot,” yelled Mark from farther up in the fairway.

“Good recovery,” added Harley as he addressed his ball.

Perhaps the instinct to hurry actually had helped me on that shot. I didn’t give myself time to think and over analyze before I swung. As I thought about that to myself, Harley swung aggressively and knocked his ball onto the front of the green. I complimented him on his shot and pulled the cart up even with him. Harley diligently wiped off his six-iron, placed it into the appropriate slot in his bag and hopped in the cart.

By the time we were approaching the others; Paul was addressing his ball, and preparing to swing. I let my foot off of the gas pedal to stop the cart engine from running while he swung. Paul made his usual short swing with his five-wood and the ball rolled onto the center of the green.

“Nice shot, old man,” said Nate as Harley and I pulled even with the other two carts.

“It may take me more club these days, but I can still get the ball to the green,” replied Paul.

Nate jogged up to his ball and quickly lined up his shot. Anytime he was out driven by Mark, he would run to his ball to try to hit it before Mark could make any comments. He had time on his side, because Mark had to wait for Paul to get back in the cart before he could drive up to Nate’s ball. John sat in his cart back with us while Nate hurriedly addressed his ball.

“He’s going to push it right,” said John.

“It does look like he’s aimed right,” I replied.

“Yeah, he usually does aim right, but most times he’s able to pull across and still hit the ball straight,” added John. “But he’s in such a hurry; it looks like he’s going to “chicken wing” his right elbow and that means it’s going right.”

Sure enough, Nate’s ball flew right of the green and kicked even more right toward the second tee box. The five of us rode up to join Nate as he walked to Mark’s tee shot.

“You have to putt out before you tee off on number two,” Mark said to him.

Paul and John laughed. I was just glad they were picking on someone besides me for a change. Harley smiled as he lit a cigarette and wiped off his clubs with a towel.

Mark and John each hit their second shots onto the green without much fanfare. We just expected them to do so. After all, they were professionals. They each finished the hole with a birdie and the rest of us all managed to make pars. Even Nate was able to get up and down from over by the second tee.

The second hole was a short par three. It ran back toward the clubhouse and had a large oak tree on the left side of the green. The wind was slightly against us now having been helping us on the first hole. The sun was shining bright, but it wasn’t too hot for a change. It was a beautiful day on the golf course. The kind of day that really made me appreciate how good we had it there. At least we did for the time being.

“Savor the moment boys,” said John as we stood on the tee. “We all may be looking for jobs when they bring in some corporation to run these courses.”

“Corporate golf, that doesn’t sound like fun,” commented Harley.

“The fun days may be coming to an end,” replied Mark.

“You guys are too young to be so depressing,” said Paul.

“No shit,” said Nate. “Closest to the pin for a buck a man.”

We all agreed and began assessing the situation. Harley paced off the yardage from the concrete marker at the side of the tee box to where the blue tee markers were.

“One fifty-four,” he declared.

John grabbed his nine-iron and Mark his eight. The wind was still just straight against us with no side breeze. The pin was in the right center of the green, a pretty easy set up. John confidently made a nice and easy swing. His ball flew on lower than normal trajectory and landed softly a few feet past the hole and then sucked back.

“Don’t come back too far,” he shouted.

“Roll off the green,” shouted Nate.

The ball stopped about two feet in front of the pin. John turned and smiled at Nate. Then, Mark teed his ball up. He appeared to be concentrating over the ball a little more than normal. I sensed a bit of uncertainty as he stood over the ball thinking. When he swung, something seemed off. The ball flew on a nice high trajectory for an eight iron, but it appeared to be a bit of a pull. He just caught the left side of the green about pin high. For anyone else in the group it would have been a great shot, but it had to be a little disappointing for Mark.

“Good distance,” commented Paul as he walked onto the tee. He made a few sweeping practice swings with his seven-wood. His practice swings were longer than his normal swing, but still relatively short. I think Paul’s swing shortened over time with his loss of flexibility due to age and girth. He teed up his ball and made his address. Then, he took his short swing and hit the ball low and straight. It landed just in front of the green and rolled onto the center.

“Not bad for an old man,” said Nate.

“You sure know how to play your game,” said Mark.

“You’ve got to know yourself,” he replied.

“I know myself extremely well,” said Nate as he stepped forward to tee up his ball.

“I’ll bet you do,” I commented.

Mark and John both broke into laughter. We never missed a chance to rip on Nate and I was proud to have seized that moment.

“Screw you guys,” replied Nate as he lined up his shot.

“It’s ok, we won’t tell anyone how well you know yourself,” said Paul.

“That’s sick,” added Harley.

“Can I get some fucking quiet please,” Nate demanded as he addressed his ball.

We all shut up out of courtesy and Nate made his usual aggressive swing. This time it was a little too aggressive. He nearly jumped out of his shoes as he swung through the ball.

Naturally, he caught the ball thin, but he also put some wicked spin on it. The ball flew low and sliced hard right well short of the green. He was practically in the first fairway.

“Hey, we already played that hole,” said John.

“Go to hell,” answered Nate as he walked off the tee.

I almost felt bad for him, but then I realized it was Nate I was dealing with. Within moments he would be back on top of his game and putting the rest of us down. It was the cycle of life played out in a few quick holes of golf. One moment your up, and the next you’re down. I tried to keep that thought as I made a few practice swings and waited for Harley to hit.

He stepped onto the tee, made a few baseball swings and then addressed his ball. Then, he quickly made his strong swing with his seven-iron and the ball flew high and straight.

“You’re going to like that one Harley,” said Mark.

“Be the one!” shouted John.

Harley’s ball stuck in the green right next to John’s ball. It’s didn’t bounce, kick or roll. It just stuck.

“Must be embedded,” I said.

“It’s going to be a close one, Harley,” said John. “Hope you’re not inside me.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll break the tie,” I said as I walked to the tee markers with my seven iron. I teed up my ball and stood behind it for a moment to line up my shot. Then, I took my stance and waggled the club a couple of times. Trying to think of nothing but the pin, I slowly began my back swing. As I took the club head back I tried to keep it low to the ground. I thought of the toe of the seven iron and tried point it straight up as I took the club back. I made an effort to try to stop at about the three-quarter mark to keep from going past parallel. Pausing at the top, I concentrated on keeping my swing smooth.

I started my down swing and struck the ball cleanly following through with poise. The swing felt great and the ball flew high and straight at the flag. I held my follow through pose in an effort to will the ball to the hole.

“The distance looks good,” said John.

“This could be really good,” added Mark.

“Hit the pin!” shouted Nate.

Sure enough, my ball smacked the pin about half- way up the pole. It took a hard kick and shot backwards, bounced on the fringe and ended up twenty yards short of the green.

“That’s a shame,” said Paul.

“Rub of the green,” added Harley.

I just stood there motionless for a few seconds. I couldn’t believe it. I hit the ball so well that it hits the pin and I wasn’t even on the green. Just as when I hit the weather vane earlier in the summer, a perfectly hit golf ball can easily go awry.

“Oh well,” I sighed as I turned to join the others as they walked back to the carts.

Nate ran to his cart. Obviously, he was in a hurry to get to his mishap and try to save par. John obliged Nate’s eagerness and walked quickly to their cart. As the rest of us made our way to our carts, John and Nate were headed down the path in a hurry. Nate hung out of the cart and screamed “bonsai” as they went by. Paul just shook his head as he and Mark got in their cart. As I sat down in my cart next to Harley he chuckled.

“That Nate sure is peculiar,” he commented.

It was interesting to hear Harley call someone else peculiar. Coming from someone who kept his golf ball cleaner than he kept himself, it was significant. Harley loved sports and the camaraderie of playing golf with friends, but at the same time he was socially inept. Obviously, it had a lot to do with his nervous breakdown while working at nuclear plants.

Harley and I tailed Mark and Paul in their cart up the path and parked on the left side of the green. As I was searching for my sand wedge and putter, Harley raced onto the green to see if he had gotten inside of John.

As I pulled my clubs out of my bag and began to jog back to my ball some 20 yards short of the green, Harley proclaimed John victorious. Paul walked up onto the green to see and Mark slipped behind the oak tree to relieve himself.

“He got me by two inches,” Harley said. “I better leave the balls there for John to see.”

“I think he’ll trust you saying he won,” I replied still hustling to my ball.

“I’m a witness,” said Paul. “You can mark your ball.”

“I guess you have to trust an ex-cop,” I shouted as I reached my ball.

Harley was very relieved that he could mark his ball, pick it up and begin to clean it. It would have killed him to wait for John before he cleaned his ball. It was an obsession of his.

Nate had reached his ball and just finished a few practice swings with his pitching wedge. He quickly addressed his ball and made a smooth but strong swing sending the ball soaring high into the air. I lost perspective on its trajectory as it peaked over my head. Then, his ball dropped a few feet from the flag striking John’s ball. John’s ball went scooting across the green stopping just short of the fringe. Nate’s ball rolled back about five feet short of the hole.

“Looks like I’m closest to the pin now,” stated Harley.

“What happened?” I could hear Mark ask from behind the oak tree.

“I think John gets to replace his ball,” I said as I lined up my pitch shot.

I heard Paul quoting rules to Harley as I addressed my ball. I closed the face of my sand wedge slightly and made a nice easy swing. My ball landed just past Nate’s, rolled a few feet toward the hole, and stopped about an inch short of the hole.

“Nice shot,” commented Harley as he scooped up my ball with his putter.

“I thought it was in,” added Paul.

“Me too,” I responded walking toward the green. “I’ll take par though.” It felt pretty good after getting screwed on my tee shot.

Harley tossed my ball to me, and Nate and John pulled up behind the other two carts. When Nate and John walked onto the green, they seemed a bit confused.

“Where’d my ball go?” asked Nate.

“It hit John’s ball and kicked back to the front of the green,” I explained.

“Is that my ball by the fringe?” asked John.

“Yeah,” replied Harley. “You had closest to the pin by an inch.”

“Had closest to the pin,” replied Nate. “He doesn’t have it anymore.”

“Bullshit,” responded John. “I get to replace my ball where it was.”

“Whatever,” answered Nate.

“Rule nineteen dash five,” announced Paul.

“Yeah, nineteen dash five,” added John.

“They’re right,” added Mark.

“Nineteen dash five sucks,” said Nate.

“You must be a hell of a lawyer,” I commented.

John picked his ball up and walked it back toward the hole. Harley began repairing the ball mark that was made when Nate’s ball hit the green. It wasn’t difficult to see where John’s ball was, but eagle eye Paul made sure they placed it precisely in the correct spot. Either way, John had won closest to the pin, and was now twenty-five dollars richer. The danger of having six balls going at the hole was there were bound to be collisions.

Nate putted first nearly saving par, but he ended up tapping in for bogie. Mark went next leaving his first putt a few inches short and easily making par. Paul, Harley and John each made birdie. We expected it from John, but it was a great hole for Paul and Harley. Paul was known for scoring well on par threes. He may have lost his distance over the years, but he still had a hell of a short game. Harley generally plugged along consistently with very few birdies, but even fewer blow up holes.

Having made par myself, the beautiful day had become even more enjoyable for me. We were all soaking in the pleasant sunny afternoon and a break from the heat wave. We played the next two holes pretty quickly. John and Mark both birdied number three, the par four soft dog- leg to the left. The rest of us made pars. Everyone made par on number four, a par four sharp dogleg right.

By the time we got to the fifth tee, we all had a couple more beers in us and were having a good time. We were all playing decently and had a wide-open golf course. Mark and John had a good game going between the two of them and Nate was trying to get a piece of the action every chance he got. He had John giving him a stroke on numbers three and five and Mark giving him a half a stroke on five. Harley, Paul and I were smart enough not to get involved in a hole by hole struggle. Playing total skins was enough for us.

The fifth hole was a par four slight dog leg right. The jungle bordered the left side of the hole and a wooded area guarded the right side. Vader’s creek ran along the left edge of the hole for about twenty yards right about where most drives landed. It was in play, but you really had to pull it.

John walked onto the tee with his driver in hand, while Nate scavenged the area in front of the tee markers for forgotten whole tees. The afternoon sun lit up the fifth hole like a portrait. The bright glare kept us from seeing all of the unrepaired divots that dotted the fairway. John lined up his shot and addressed the ball. After a few waggles he made his usual strong and smooth swing. The ball flew on a medium trajectory and faded around the bend a little.

“Nice job cutting the corner,” commented Paul.

“Thanks old man,” replied John.

Mark walked onto the tee next and was addressing his ball when a buzzing sound came from his cart.

“Oh Mark, I think the wicked witch is calling,” said Nate.

He ran from the tee to the cart faster than I had ever seen him move.

“Cell phones on the golf course,” commented Harley with disgust. “That’s social bullshit. Those damn women just want to yak yak yak.”

Mark picked up his phone and walked away from us for some privacy, but we could hear that he was using his cutesy voice. Nate walked onto the tee box and announced that he was going over the trees on the corner.

“Good luck with a broken tee,” I said to him.

“I think I’ll manage,” he replied as he pulled a pencil from his pocket. He stuck the pointed end of the pencil into the ground and attempted to balance his ball on the flat end.

“This ought to be good,” commented Paul.

Nate struggled for what felt like several minutes but was probably less than one. Finally, he somehow got the ball to rest on the end of a pencil, which ended up being a pretty long tee. He quickly set up to the ball and swung. His quick aggressive swing came in handy in such situations. The ball went soaring toward the tree line guarding the right corner and kept climbing as it cleared the trees.

“Hoochie coochie,” proclaimed Nate.

“Nice shot,” I said as I walked onto the tee.

“Yeah, I’m back in the game baby,” responded Nate.

The banter went back and forth as everyone both poked fun at and complimented Nate’s shot at the same time. I tried to concentrate as I went through my routine. As they all carried on, I stood behind my ball and attempted to block out their voices. Then, I walked around the ball, setting up with my feet together. Moving my right foot back in my stance I took care to ensure my feet and body were both lined up.

As I took the club back, numerous thoughts ran through my head. Keep your right elbow bent and your right hand loose. Keep the club head square. Did I pick up my sand wedge off of the last green? Don’t swing too hard.

Then, I commenced my down swing. I pulled down and across my body with my left arm too much and the ball flew low and left. It was headed toward Vader’s creek.

“Kick right,” shouted John. “Sit baby,” commanded Paul.

“Hit something,” I begged out loud.

Luckily, I didn’t catch the ball cleanly and it died well before the creek. It was one time that I was happy to have missed the ball. It wasn’t a long hole, so I wasn’t in terrible shape.

“Better short than in the creek,” said John.

“I hope not to follow my cart partner,” said Harley as he walked onto the tee. He had spent the last five minutes washing and drying his ball. He was like Barney Fife with his bullet. He kept it shiny and clean and always knew where it was. It really was amazing that he had played with the same ball all year. I think he was able to do it because White Lake is the only golf course he ever played. He knew every inch of the golf course and he had unlimited time to find his ball. Only once could I remember Harley having a problem finding his ball. He ended up letting his group play on and proceeded to let the next two foursomes play through him as he searched.

Harley teed up his ball and began making his usual baseball warm up swings. He swung his driver back and forth at chest level as he stepped up to the ball. Then, he bent over and waggled the driver lower to the ground settling in behind the ball. He made his aggressive swing but pulled the ball dead left.

“Oh shit,” said John.

“Sit ball!” I shouted, but it was to no avail. Harley’s ball was headed straight for Vader’s creek. His ball just continued on through the dogleg and toward the point where the creek bends in toward the rough.

“It could have made it over, but it looked like it went in,” said John.

“I think it’s in the creek,” said Paul.

“I thought you weren’t going to follow Brian?” asked Nate.

“I’m sure we’ll find it,” I suggested.

“Oh, we’ll find it,” answered Harley.

“I don’t know,” said Nate. “It could be plugged.”

“You’re such an optimist,” said Paul as he stepped onto the tee with his driver in hand. He had an extra-long tee ready to go. There would be no pencil for Paul, although I have seen him hit his ball off of a pile of sand like in the old days.

Mark had finished kissing Ashley’s ass on the phone and now returned to a chorus of kissing sounds and other ridicule.

“Never talk to a woman right before you get ready to tee off,” stated Paul. “They’ll get you thinking about other things and their goes your swing.”

“Yeah, you’ll be too busy thinking about all the chores she’s got for you,” added Nate.

“Uh huh,” acknowledged Mark.

“Oh, you have a honey-do list,” said Paul with a laugh as he addressed his ball. He took is usual short swing, but knocked the ball high and just over the first few trees guarding the corner on the right of the hole. His ball managed to clear them and came down in the center of the fairway. It wasn’t a long hit, but he took the shortcut ended up in great position.

“Nice shot,” I commented.

Everyone else joined in with praise including Nate who for all his bullshit, never failed to sing the praises of a well hit golf shot.

“Damn, you’re a tough act to follow,” proclaimed Mark as he grabbed his driver out of his bag.

“Let’s go while we’re young,” complained John.

“I’m ready, I’m ready,” replied Mark. He hurriedly made his way on to the tee and looked for a spot to tee his ball up. He settled on the far-left side of the tee giving him as much room to cut the corner as possible. He actually had his feet outside of the tee marker, but his ball was just inside it.

Mark made a couple of waggles and took his normal fluid swing sending the ball on a rather high trajectory. The ball had plenty of height to carry the trees guarding the corner, but he seemed to have pulled it a little. He didn’t end up needing all that height as the ball flew straight down the middle of the fairway rather than cutting off the corner.

“It better sit,” said John.

“Kick right!” Mark shouted at his ball hoping it would listen.

“Kick right into the creek,” said Nate with a laugh.

“I think you’ll be ok,” suggested Paul.

Indeed, Mark’s ball did seem to settle pretty quickly. It must have been the high trajectory, because the ground was hard as a rock from the heat wave. The ball rolled through the fairway, but stopped just barely into the left rough. He was well past my ball and where Harley’s went into the creek, so he wasn’t in too bad of shape.

“Let’s saddle up,” proclaimed Nate loudly as we all walked to our carts.

The sound of beers popping open one after another filled the air.

“Music to my ears,” commented John.

He and Nate headed down the right sided of the fairway as the rest of us went down the left side. Mark and Paul split off to head to Paul’s ball in the middle of the fairway as Harley and I continued on toward Vader’s creek. We stopped at my ball which was well short of the creek and got out. I began determining what club to hit and Harley jogged up to the creek. He was on a mission to find his ball. It was definitely going to get ugly if we couldn’t find it. I settled on a six iron and glanced back at Paul who was still lining up his shot.

Harley walked down to the edge of the creek with his seven-iron in hand. He stepped onto some rocks out in the creek and began searching for his beloved ball. He prodded at the dark spots in the water feeling for his ball. He stared holes through the water hoping to see a white sphere somewhere.

I walked past my ball now that I knew where it was in an effort to aide Harley’s search. I knew how important his ball was to him and it’s proper etiquette to assist your fellow golfers anyway. I walked along the grass ridge looking down into the creek for anything white. I heard Paul hit his second shot and turned around to see it. His ball went sailing toward the green and stuck in the front right.

“Nice shot!” I yelled across the fairway.

Harley and I walked together further down the creek and farther from the fairway. He hopped from stone to stone in the middle of the creek and I paced along the ridge on the bank of the creek bed. It was one of those situations where you start to think that your search is hopeless. There were so many places for his ball to hide or even plug in the creek bed. Our search continued as Mark hit his second shot, but I didn’t bother looking over at it.

It was getting to the point that we really had to consider giving up. If it were anyone other than Harley, I would have told them to take a drop several minutes earlier, but these were uncharted waters. Harley’s ball had never been lost in such a dangerous location before. Searching in a field of tall grass is one thing. The ball has to be there somewhere, but a creek is a whole other matter. I was starting to think we were going to have to leave him behind when we both stopped at the same time as a white spot caught our eyes about 20 yards further down the creek.

“That could be a ball,” I suggested.

“Hot damn,” said Harley in excitement. “I hope that’s it,” I replied.

Harley walked toward the object and I followed. The closer we moved, the more obvious it appeared to be a golf ball. It was spherical and definitely shiny enough to be Harley’s ball.

“Did you find it?” shouted Mark from across the fair- way.

“I think so,” I replied assuming that it was Harley’s ball.

Harley had to straddle the water on two small stones in order to get close to the spot where the ball had come to rest. He reached forward with his seven-iron and attempted to scoop the ball toward himself, but he wasn’t quite close enough.

I had gotten to within ten yards and across from the ball as Harley stepped precariously forward onto another less stable stone. The stone wobbled a little as Harley steadied himself.

“Don’t fall in,” I said.

He stretched his seven-iron out toward the ball and almost had it when a splash of water shot into the air and the golf ball disappeared into a fuzzy dark green emptiness.

Harley stood motionless for a moment. As the splash subsided, the large head of an adult alligator stuck out of the water. Its nostrils pointed directly at Harley and then it snapped its head to the side as it swallowed Harley’s beloved Titleist.

“Holy shit, it’s Vader,” I whispered loudly to Harley trying to be heard, but not to startle the alligator.

Harley’s motionless state of shock quickly turned to panic and he jumped back several steps. I turned and started running toward our cart which was back by my ball.

Paul and Mark were headed toward me in their cart to help search for Harley’s ball.

“Run away! Run away!” I shouted instinctively quoting Monty Python as I sprinted. I reached our cart and jumped in.

“What’s going on? Where’s Harley going?” asked Mark as they pulled up.

“What do you mean?” I asked as I turned to look back.

I had thought Harley was right behind me the entire time, but apparently, he was going after his beloved golf ball. I could see him on the other side of the creek running toward the jungle.

“He’s chasing the gator,” I replied plainly.

“He’s chasing an alligator?” asked Mark.

“Apparently,” I replied out of breath and a bit shaken.

“He’s chasing Vader?” asked Paul. “What the hell for?”

“The bastard ate his ball,” I answered as I stepped on the accelerator of the golf cart and spun around.

“He’s nuts,” said Mark.

“Yeah, something like that,” I replied as I stomped on the accelerator again and headed after Harley.

“I’ll call Hank in the clubhouse and tell him to call someone,” I heard Mark say as I drove off. I could also hear Paul shouting across the fairway to Nate and John. As I approached the creek, I had to turn south and head to the maintenance bridge. It took me about 50 yards out of the way, but I wasn’t getting out of the cart to cross the creek on foot. The cart probably didn’t provide much protection, but I did feel safer in it than standing on the ground. I sped across the bridge and then turned back north and toward where I last saw Harley disappear into the jungle.

I couldn’t see or hear Harley and there really wasn’t a trail or path to follow. I drove in the general direction that I last saw him running knocking down tall grass as the cart moved forward. After driving through the tall grass for about

30 yards, I came to the start of the tall brush. I stopped the cart and stood up on the back of it for a better view.

“Harley!” I shouted.

There was no reply. Just the sound of golf carts behind me. The jungle as we called it was a vast expanse of tall grass, honeysuckles and locust trees densely inter-woven and all living off the marsh. It was so thick that you couldn’t see more than 20 or 30 yards into it. I shouted for Harley a few more times, but there was still no response. I had visions of him walking out of the jungle with his golf ball in one hand and alligator skin in the other just like Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone. However, that was a movie, a crocodile and an emerald worth much more than Harley’s golf ball.

It was then that Paul and Mark pulled up in their cart. I could hear John and Nate not far behind them.

“Where is he?” asked Paul.

“He’s out there somewhere,” I replied. “Should we help him?” I asked.

“Help him do what?” asked Mark. “Chase a fucking alligator through the brush to find a golf ball. I don’t think so.”

“Shouldn’t we see if he’s ok?” I replied.

Nate and John arrived in a skidding stop in front of Mark and Paul. We told them what we knew. John was genuinely concerned for Harley, but Nate began carrying on about it and laughing out loud.

“Old Vader exists after all,” said Nate. “Well, I’ll be damned. Did you all see him?”

“I did,” I answered. “He was big and a lot faster than I would have thought. It scared the shit out of me. That golf ball was gone in a flash and we never saw him lying in the creek.”

“He got Harley’s ball eh,” continued Nate laughing while he spoke. “Must have thought the thing was an egg.”

“He’s chasing after it,” I said.

“What the hell does he think he’s going to do when he catches it?” asked Paul.

Nate’s face was turning red as he tried to keep talking, but he was laughing too hard. His eyes were watering up as he tried to spit out a joke.

“He doesn’t need to chase the thing,” said Nate still barely controlling his laughter. “He just needs to start checking all the gator shit starting tomorrow. It will pass right through him.”

We all laughed a little at that. Mark’s cell phone rang. Hank called to let us know that the cops were on their way and animal control should be coming as well. John wanted to go in the jungle and look for Harley, but we were able to talk him out of it. He had his driver in one hand and towel in the other.

“That towel will come in handy when he rips your leg off,” said Paul. “You can make a tourniquet.”

Nate had me laughing about the situation now.

“What the hell were you going to do with the towel anyway?” I asked.

“Play matador?” asked Mark.

“I could throw it over his head and blind him,” answered John.

“You’d be better off throwing a full can of beer at him,” suggested Paul.

“Now that would be a sin,” said Nate as he opened the cooler in his cart.

We all followed his lead and began popping open fresh beers while we waited.

“A full swing with my driver might work if I could get the ball to hit him,” suggested John as he sipped on his beer.

“No, that would just piss him off,” I replied. “This guy was large.”

It was then that we began to hear a rustling in the brush. We all stopped talking and looked at each other. I slowly climbed back on top of the back of my cart and Mark did the same on his. Paul slid onto the seat of his cart and raised his legs up resting his feet on the console. John and Nate got back into their cart and they both had worried looks on their faces. Nate had gone from pure lunacy to pure fear.

The rustling was definitely getting closer and louder. As we heard twigs snap and leaves rustle, there were two thoughts running through my head. It was either Harley or Vader the gator.

Suddenly there was a loud crack followed by several quick footsteps just behind the tall weed trees. I looked over at Mark and he looked back with a glare of concern. I was prepared to hop on top of the roof of my golf cart at any moment.

“Shit! Damn tree,” said Harley has he stepped into view through the brush.

We all relaxed for a moment and then played off our fear as if it never happened.

“What the hell happened out there?” asked John. “That bastard can move,” said Harley breathing heavily. “I lost sight of him after only about 20 yards. After that, I was trying to follow the sounds of his movements, but he must have crawled down into a hole or into a den somewhere.”

“You could have been killed out there,” said John.

“He ate my golf ball,” replied Harley as if that obviously justified risking his life.

“You know that ball will come out of him eventually,” said Nate who was now making the same point in a more constructive way than earlier.

“Yeah, but how do you find gator shit?” asked Harley.

“Just follow your nose. It always knows,” I couldn’t help but suggest.

“Maybe there’s a dog that’s trained to follow the scent,” added Paul.

As our conversation about alligator excrement continued, the sounds of sirens were heard coming closer.

“You guys called the cops?” asked Harley.

“Hey, your best golf ball was stolen,” replied Mark.

Harley smiled at the fact that someone was finally recognizing his loss, even if it was in jest. The sirens stopped at the clubhouse, but a few moments later we could see flashing lights on two police cruisers coming down the left rough of hole number one. The two cruisers were following a ranger cart which was leading them out to us. As the caravan passed the first green, it proceeded up the left rough of number five. As it came closer, we could see that it was old Leo driving the ranger cart.

“Man, now you know it’s a big deal,” said Nate. “Leo woke up.”

“It must have been the sirens,” replied John.

Leo looked as proud as ever sitting up straight with a big smile on his face. He was enjoying the feeling of being useful and important for the first time in a long while. He held his walkie-talkie in one hand while he steered the cart with the other. His radio hadn’t worked in years, but that didn’t matter. He was having a moment of glory. The batteries in his radio hadn’t been replaced in 3 years. He never heard the thing, so it would have been a waste to replace the batteries.

“I hope he doesn’t try to lead them through the creek,” said John.

“I hope that he sees the creek,” replied Mark.

Thankfully Leo stopped just before the creek. The two police cars stopped as well. To our delight, Jack Kelly and Officer Ryan stepped out of the first car. The other two officers looked familiar. They must have played golf once in a while.

“So those stories about Vader the gator were true after all,” said Jack from the other side of the creek.

“Apparently so,” replied John.

The other two officers followed Jack and Officer Ryan as they walked toward the creek. There were enough big rocks in the area for them to easily make their way across. Leo, however wasn’t about to get out of his cart. He slowly turned and started heading back along the creek looking for a place to cross.

The four police officers traversed the creek by stepping from stone to stone. One by one they hopped from the last stone and onto the grassy plateau between the creek and the jungle.

“You guys going to hunt it down?” I asked.

“Hell no,” said Jack. “Only an idiot goes running into the brush and marsh chasing an alligator.”

We all smiled at each other and Harley’s face began to turn red. However, the moment quickly passed as Jack introduced us all to the other two officers as Officers Blake and Walters. They acknowledged that they played at White Lake occasionally and thanked us for the free golf we always gave them.

“What do you know about their biological functions?” asked Harley.

“I think they’re both pretty regular,” replied Jack with a funny look on his face.

“No, I meant the Alligator,” said Harley.

The rest of us couldn’t help but break out into laughter. Nate practically fell to the ground as he bent over clutching his stomach. I spit beer out I was laughing so hard.

“Why do you ask?” inquired Officer Ryan.

“The bastard swallowed my golf ball and I’m hoping to get it back,” answered Harley.

“It’s just a golf ball,” said Officer Blake.

We all cringed when he said that hoping it didn’t spark an outburst from Harley, but Harley just turned and stared into the jungle like a concerned parent.

“He’s very attached to that ball,” replied Mark.

“You can ask the Animal Control Officers when they arrive,” suggested Jack.

“Yeah, they can probably tell you all about gator crap,” added Nate.

“You guys hear that Cunningham was indicted?” asked Jack.

“Yeah, pretty good news,” replied John.

“The rumor is that his wife caught a flight to Mexico,” replied Officer Ryan.

“That sounds like her,” I replied.

“Not the type to stand by her man in times of trouble,” added Nate.

It was then that old Leo finally made his way to us. It had taken him a while to find a way across the creek. However, as soon as he arrived, John asked him to go back to the clubhouse and guide Animal Control out to us. He dutifully turned around and headed back toward the clubhouse with a smile on his face.

“Old Leo hasn’t had this much to do in years,” I proclaimed.

“Yeah, and he’s loving every minute of it,” said Mark.

We hung out talking about the Cunninghams long enough for an Animal Control squad to show up. There were 2 guys with a cage truck and a supervisor in a Jeep. They reminded me a little of Larry, Darrel and Darrel from the Newhart show. The questions we were asking them didn’t help things either.

“How often do they shit?” asked Harley.

“Does the male get on top of the female?” asked Nate.

The Darrels were too busy adjusting their extension poles with wire loops on the ends to even think about responding. Larry, the supervisor deferred answering our questions and got right to some questions for us.

“Where did you see it last?” he asked. “How big was it?”

“It was sitting down in the creek and it was just a standard 1.68 inches in diameter,” answered Harley. He immediately began giving a very detailed description of his poor golf ball. “It’s a Titleist Pro V1, number 3 with a blue Capital “H” written on it with a Sharpie.”

“I was asking about the alligator,” replied Larry the animal control guy.

The Animal Control guys didn’t seem as interested in the golf ball description as Harley thought that they should.

“Do they generally eat things like golf balls?” I asked.

“Alligators are nocturnal and feed primarily at night,” responded Larry. “He was likely sleeping and disturbed by your movement. Younger alligators eat bugs, rodents, small fish, tadpoles and frogs. Adult gators eat fish, birds, turtles, reptiles, and sometimes small dogs.”

“I guess a golf ball wouldn’t stand a chance against its big teeth?” asked Nate.

“They swallow their prey whole. Their teeth are used for catching their food, not chewing.”

“Even if you have to kill him, I’ll get my ball back, right?” asked Harley. “I mean, you’ll cut him open for me, won’t you?”

“We’re not going to kill him sir,” replied the Supervisor. “Well then, you have to save me all of his crap,” replied Harley. Nate turned toward the rest of us with disgust.

“This is all very interesting, but gentleman, we’re burning daylight,” he stated.

“The man has a point,” agreed John.

“It could take them hours to find that gator,” I added.

“Maybe days,” said Mark.

Paul was enthralled by the excitement and didn’t seem to want to continue playing. The rest of us weren’t about to waste any more time when there was golf to be played. It was shaping up to be one crazy summer at White Lake. We were finally rid of Hugh Cunningham and his BS.

I was just glad to be playing golf with no one in front of us. It didn’t matter how the opportunity presented itself, but a chance to play golf couldn’t be wasted. After all, that’s why we were all there. An alligator may eat your golf ball today, but you never know what might happen on the golf course tomorrow.

Continue Reading

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.