Free Golf

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Chapter 4: Playing Through

I walked over to the Grill to grab a hotdog and a Mountain Dew. The guys from the skins game were gathered around a few tables playing cards and Fred was in his spot right in front of the TV. I thanked Lisa and threw a buck in her tip jar.

As I was walking back through the tables, Fred turned and shouted, “Hey, Clinton fell down and broke his leg at Greg Norman’s house in Florida.”

He turned up the sound on the TV as everyone turned to listen. As I was listening, Oscar walked inside and stopped next to me to hear the update. When it was over, I turned to Oscar and asked him how things were this morning.

“Guy comes here with his wife and says she don’t play,” began Oscar. “Just wants to watch. Wants to know what we can do. Leave her ass at home, that’s what you can do. Let her do some cleaning. Women all over the place now. They’re on the golf course, they’re on TV. Every time you turn on the TV, there’s a woman telling you what the news is for the day. I wake up at five in the morning and turn the TV on, there she is talking away. I want to know how she gets up that early. I go to bed at night and there’s a different one telling me the same damn news. Didn’t used to be that women were all over the TV talking. Doesn’t matter what it is, you can pick anything and there’s a woman on some channel talkin’ about it on the TV. They make news out of everything. Telling us if the president pisses and whether it’s straight or not.”

Me and few others in earshot couldn’t help but laugh at Oscar’s commentary. He certainly had some strong opinions.

“The guy falls down the steps at Norman’s house and they’re in his bedroom telling us this and that,” Oscar continued. “The doctor says this. Here’s his X-ray. It’s all women just talking about bullshit. I wake up at two in the morning and there’s a lady selling pots and pans on the TV. I turn that shit off. They’re selling the hell out of stuff on TV and women are buying it right up.”

I got a chuckle out of Oscar, but I still didn’t know how crowded the course was. I walked back over to the pro-shop and Mark was still looking for those missing Dry-Joys. I wished him luck and walked outside. Once on the patio, I picked up my clubs from the rack and headed toward the tee. Harley had a cart and was waiting in line at the tee. He was warming up and talking to Hank. He had three clubs in his hands and was swinging them from side to side like a baseball player. He went through the same routine every time he got ready to play. There was just a threesome ahead of us.

“Doesn’t look like it will be too bad out there,” I said as I strapped my bag on the cart.

“No, looks like you guys will get right around,” said Hank.

“Good. Alice is going to need balls at the range again later,” said Harley.

Just then, I noticed that one of the guys in the threesome ahead of us was wearing what looked like a brand new pair of shoes. I couldn’t believe my eyes. No one would be stupid enough to stick around wearing the shoes they just stole.

“Guys, I think that guy just stole a pair of shoes from the pro shop.”

“How do you know?” he asked.

“Because Mark found a pair of used shoes stuffed in a box and the new shoes were missing.”

“Ooh, stealing is bad,” said Harley.

“Now, I’ve heard everything,” said Hank.

I walked up next to the threesome and began using the ball washer by the tee to get a better look. It was obvious the guy was wearing a new pair of Foot Joys. He looked like he was about fifty years old. He had some K-Mart golf bag and a set of generic clubs. I was pretty certain that this was the guy. I ran inside to tell Mark. By this time, Andy was in the pro shop with Mark giving him a hard time.

“I bet you were so busy on the phone with Ashley that you weren’t paying any attention,” said Andy.

“No, I wasn’t” Mark tried to explain, but Andy cut him off.

“I’m surprised we didn’t lose the whole shop the way you talk to her.”

“Guys, I found our man,” I interrupted.

“Where?” asked Andy.

“He’s out there about to tee off,” I said.

“Are you sure?” asked Mark.

“Yeah, this guy doesn’t look like he would buy Foot Joys,” I replied. “Especially, not Dry-Joys. He has K-Mart written all over him.”

“Mark, you call the police. Brian, show me where this guy is,” said Andy.

As Mark turned to the phone it rang before he could pick it up. I could tell by the way he stopped his greeting short that it was Ashley.

“Sweetie, I can’t talk now,” I could hear him say. “I have to call the police…No I’m fine, I’ll explain later.”

Obviously Ashley was just more alarmed by that statement. He would just never learn to not say things like that to her.

“I’ll call you back in a moment. Well, just go with whichever one you like the best,” he said in as he hung up the phone.

“The pre-wedding bliss,” commented Andy as we hustled out the door.

Andy and I made our way toward the tee. The threesome was still waiting for the group in front of them to hit their second shots. I pointed out the guy I suspected to Andy and we approached him. He was standing on the side of the tee box watching his friend make practice swings and providing analysis. It was obvious that he was wearing new shoes. Andy walked right up and confronted him.

“Excuse me sir, but we seem to have a little confusion here. I think you left your golf shoes inside,” said Andy.

“What are you talking about?” said the man. “Are those size 11?” asked Andy.

“Yeah, they are. So what?” he asked.

“So you took them from my pro-shop,” answered Andy.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but you’re getting on my nerves,” said the guy.

“OK,” replied Andy.

I couldn’t believe he was going to let that joker get away with stealing a pair of shoes.

“What are you doing? Those are the same style. They have to be the shoes,” I said.

“They are. But I’m gonna wait until the police get here,” he replied. “He had his chance to come clean.”

Andy and I walked back inside the clubhouse and told Mark what happened.

“Well, the cops ought to be here soon,” said Mark. “I called 911.”

“We gotta nail these guys. They’re serious chops,” I said.

“I know. Look at this guy’s swing,” said Mark looking out the window.

The first golfer had teed up his ball and was making fast and furious practice swings. It was quite a sight.

We all were staring out the window. Harley and Hank kept glancing back at us to see what Andy was going to do. We watched the first golfer top his ball and roll it about 30 yards. Then he stood their and started making very slow swings apparently trying figure out what he did wrong.

“You jumped out of your shoes!” shouted Mark. The door was closed so the golfers could not hear him.

The golfer finally walked off of the tee and allowed the second guy to give it a try.

“Look at this guy’s stance,” said Andy.

The guy had a terrible stance. He bent his knees so much that it looked like he was sitting on a toilet.

As if that bad enough, he was too far away from the ball. His arms were completely straight. They were also at such an angle that they were in line with the shaft.

“Looks like he’s ready to chop down a tree,” said Mark. “He’ll be lucky to make contact,” added Andy.

“If he does, it will go high and right,” said Mark.

Sure enough, the guy made wild baseball swing, and the ball went flying high and way right. Swinging so much around his body, he practically fell on his face.

“Good call,” I said.

At that point, the jerk with the stolen shoes was ready to hit. He had a similarly awful looking stance. As he began to address the ball, a police car pulled into the parking lot. A lot of the precinct’s cops played at White Lake, and we took good care of them. That ensured prompt service the few times that we had to call them.

“It’s big Jack. We got him now,” said Andy.

He picked up the box with the old shoes and walked toward the front door facing the parking lot. Jack was one of the officers who played White Lake the most. We always let him play for free, so he was definitely willing to help. He was also big enough to intimidate anyone. Andy met him outside the clubhouse and they began walking around back together.

The thief on the tee finally took a swing and sliced the ball toward the third tee.

“Must have been the shoes,” I said to Mark.

“Maybe it was the guilty conscience,” he replied.

He naturally teed up another ball. By this time, Andy and big Jack were approaching the tee. He hit his second ball high and to the right.

As the guy walked back to his cart, Jack stopped him. It was obvious he was playing dumb, but Jack was pretty persistent. Before I knew it, he had the guy sitting on a bench taking off the shoes and trying on the old ones. I was reminded of O.J. Simpson trying on the gloves. However, in this case the shoes fit. I decided to walk outside to hear what was going on. As I approached the tee, it was obvious to everyone that the guy stole the shoes.

“Mr. Long, there is no doubt in my mind that you took these shoes out of the pro shop,” said Jack. “That’s shoplifing.”

“Honest, I wasn’t trying to cheat you,” the guy said to Andy in a sudden change of attitude.

I leaned toward Hank and whispered that the guy must have just wanted to try them out.

“You stole ’em god damn it!” yelled Andy.

“Mr. Pader, would you like to press charges?” asked Jack.

“Well, that’s up to Mr. Long here,” said Andy.

“What do you mean?” the guy asked.

“Well, I might be inclined not to if you bought the shoes and a few dozen balls,” said Andy.

“What! That’s extortion,” said the guy.

“It sounds fair to me,” said Jack.

Once the guy realized that it was his only way out, he began quite a shopping spree. I think he really just wanted to save himself from any further embarrassment. He ended up buying the shoes, two-dozen balls, and a towel, all for about $210. I guess it was better than going to jail.

Since the golf shoe ordeal seemed to be resolved and no one appeared to be making the turn, Harley and I headed over to the tenth tee in our cart. We didn’t want to be anywhere near those three guys.

I got out my G3 and began taking a few practice swings. Harley went through his traditional warm-up routine all over again.

“What are we playing for?” I asked.

Harley, who loved to gamble, began thinking.

“How about I give you two strokes at a dollar a hole. Double for birdies. Best dancer gets a beer,” said Harley.

“Yeah, OK,” I agreed.

Best dancer meant least putts. I liked playing something for the least putts, because it gives you some incentive to stay together if your drives are off that day.

“Alright, Brian my boy, watch my belly button knock the ball out there,” said Harley.

He addressed the ball, made a few waggles, and swung. It was a real loopy baseball type swing. The ball went flying straight down the middle of the par five. It was weird. His bellybutton really was pointing toward the target before the club made impact. It hurt my back just thinking about it.

“Not bad,” I said.

“Yeah. I was just being physical.”

Harley was always talking about the difference between being physical and being social. It was an amusing contradiction, because he talked so much about not being social.

I stepped onto the tee and addressed the ball. I tried to focus on what Mark had told me the day before. I picked a spot in the fairway and imagined my ball landing there. I took a swing with that thought in my head. I struck the ball pretty well, but it had a bit of a hook on it. The ball landed in the left rough.

“That will play well enough,” said Harley.

“Yeah. I’ve been in a lot worse places on this hole,” I answered.

We started driving down the fairway toward our balls. I really did prefer walking, but it was too tempting to ride being able to do it for free. I guess that I was spoiled. I hated walking at White Lake when we were crowded. If I got stuck behind a slow group, I wanted to be able to skip over to an open hole or come in to the clubhouse. I know that’s not what golf is all about, but neither is the way we would cram people onto the course like a factory.

Harley and I played out the hole with relative ease. We both made par. As we walked off the green, Harley stopped and looked in toward the clubhouse. I could tell that he was thinking deeply about something.

“Brian, that stealing is screwed up. I bet that guy wasn’t very physical as a kid. I bet he didn’t play many sports. He probably sat around drinking beer and smoking dope as a kid.”

“I don’t know, Harley. It’s always the real quiet clean-cut guy that kills everyone,” I said.

“Yeah. I bet he was a real social person. Yak, yak, yak,” he continued. Harley was in his own little world. Anything bad was the result of being social. As we parked near the eleventh tee, Harley continued talking about why people should talk less. The irony was really quite amusing.

When we stepped onto the tee, I noticed that it was in pretty bad shape. There were scars and divots all over the tee. I could see about ten fresh divots, but only one that was repaired. It was a shame, but many of the people who played White Lake didn’t know how to treat a golf course. Even though White Lake wasn’t a spectacular course, it still deserved the same respect given to any golf course.

Andy had this unwritten ideal for his employees that whenever we played, we left the course in better shape than we found it.

“It blows me away that people can treat a golf course like this, Harley,” I said as I grabbed a scoop of divot patch from the wood box beside the tee.

“It’s a failure to act physically, Brian, my boy. People get so caught up jabber jawing that they don’t even think about the damage they imposed on the golf course. That’s what being social will get you.”

I gave Harley a slight laugh, even though there really was some truth to what he had said. As I filled the numerous divots with mixture of sand, seed and fertilizer, Harley again began to swing his driver back and forth like a batter warming up.

“Yep, my old back has tightened up already,” he said.

After repairing the divots, I grabbed my driver and teed up a ball. As I addressed the ball, I started to think that I might be standing to close to it. Once this thought had entered my mind, I couldn’t help but think the grip was too close to my body. I then began considering the effect of this position on my swing. I started to think about how I should adjust my swing. I had only been standing there a few seconds, but my mind was going a mile a minute. As I looked down the fairway to check my alignment, I suddenly lost confidence in where I was aiming. Now, I was not only tense, but I doubted my stance and alignment.

Although I knew that the smart thing to do would be to back off and start over, I couldn’t. Something really stupid and stubborn inside of me would not let me back off. I was intent on hitting the ball no matter how uncomfortable I was. So, I took the club back consciously attempting to guide it. My thoughts turned to directing the club head in order to compensate for my poor stance. By the time my club hit the ball, I knew the result would not be pretty. I didn’t even have to watch the flight of the ball. It sliced way right and headed toward the jungle.

“Whoa…Nelly,” shouted Harley.

“Sit damn it!” I shouted.

Luckily, the ball held up before entering the brush and weeds of the jungle. It was ugly, but not as bad as a lost ball.

“That’ll play, Bri,” said Harley as he stepped onto the tee. He addressed the ball, made a few waggles, and swung.

Again, he made a real loopy baseball type swing and again, his ball sailed an average distance down the middle of the fairway.

“Nice shot, Harley,” I said.

“Thanks, my boy,” he replied with his usual sense of camaraderie.

We got in the cart and headed down the path. Harley stopped even with my ball. My ball was in some thick rough, but it was sitting up. I had about 185 yards to the center of the green. Allowing for the rough, I grabbed my three-iron. Harley sat in the cart and lit up a cigarette.

I was only four feet from the start of the dense brush. As I surveyed the situation, I heard some loud rustling just inside the jungle. The sounds of movement definitely indicated some type of animal.

“Did you hear that?” I asked.

“Yep. Sounds like Vader lurking back there,” replied

Harley.

“Great,” I said as I lined up my shot.

I didn’t really think that an alligator was crawling through the brush, but I didn’t have an urge to find out. I addressed the ball quickly. Without thinking, I swung my three-iron and struck the ball well. My ball flew toward the green. It bounced in front and then rolled onto the front left side of the green.

“Good out,” commented Harley.

“Let’s get out of here,” I replied.

I quickly jumped into the cart while still holding my 3 iron. We then drove on to Harley’s ball and he quickly hit it to the back of the green. We rode up the path and parked even with the green.

As I approached my ball, I could see a foursome of men standing on and around 14 green down the hill to my left. I wasn’t paying much attention to them until I heard them start to shout. I looked down at them to see what was going on and I noticed that there were five balls on the green. I watched them for a minute to try to figure out what they were shouting about and another ball landed on the green. I looked down to 14 fairway to see where it came from. There was a foursome of guys hitting onto the green from about 120 yards out.

The foursome on the green was shouting and flipping them off. This was so bizarre that I just stood there watching them. Harley’s ball had apparently rolled onto the fringe, so he went ahead and putted it with the pin in while I was looking away. I turned when I heard him putt and saw him walking toward his ball, which was now just a few feet from the hole.

“Harley,” I said. “Come check this out.”

Harley came closer and I turned back to check out the action. The foursome from the fairway had hit three balls onto the green and one over. They were now walking onto the green screaming at the other foursome. Harley was now standing next to me.

“What the hell are they yelling about down there?” asked Harley.

“I think the one group just hit into the group on the green and they’re both pretty pissed at each other.”

After a raised putter and barrage of curses, I witnessed the strangest thing I had ever seen on a golf course. An all-out fistfight ensued. These guys actually brawled on the 14th green in the middle of the day. All eight of them were swinging away. They weren’t just pushing each other around; they were really going at it.

Harley and I just stood there speechless. As we watched them fight, it looked as though the foursome that had been putting was moving in slow motion. It became obvious after a few moments that these guys were really drunk.

The other foursome that had hit onto the green kept backing off. They were trying to get out of the confrontation, but the drunkards kept coming after them. After several minutes of scuffling, three of the four guys in the drunken foursome were lying on their backs. The other was leaning against a cart still swearing at the sober foursome who was just standing around laughing.

It was then that Andy and Mark pulled up to the scene in the ranger cart. They got out and talked to the eight guys for a few minutes. After a brief exchange, the foursome that was standing began to putt out.

Andy and Mark got back in their cart and headed back towards the clubhouse. The golfers continued onto the next hole like nothing had happened. The four drunkards started to get up and staggered to their respective balls.

“Look at those goofs,” said Harley. “They’re drunk, and it’s not even noon yet.”

“Yeah, only at White Lake,” I said.

The incident was the most extreme case of hitting into a group that I had ever witnessed. However, it wasn’t the most outrageous case I had ever heard of. Willie’s brother, Nate Boylan, hit into a group of old guys once and then proceeded to get in a shouting match with them on the green. No punches were thrown, but one of the old guys was so worked up that when he reached the parking lot, he had a heart attack and died. It was awful.

Slow play was probably the biggest drawback to White Lake. You couldn’t pay me to play a round there on a weekend between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. People get so worked up about golf sometimes; I’m surprised more alter- cations didn’t occur.

Harley and I finished our nine holes without any further incidents. I think that we were both shaken by the experience because we each bogied the rest of the holes on the backside.

As I pulled my bag off the cart, I could see Mark coming through the clubhouse doors. He walked out and met me on the patio with a big grin on his face.

“Did you guys see that out there,” he asked.

“Yeah, what the hell happened out there?” I asked. “We had all kinds of complaints about slow play coming into the clubhouse,” Mark said. At least five different people called from their cell phones, so Andy and I decided to go check on it since Leo was nowhere to be found.”

“Naturally,” I responded as Harley joined us.

“It turned out that those guys were too drunk to hit the ball,” he continued. “They were playing so slowly that there were four open holes in front of them. The group behind them had been trying to play through for three holes. Apparently, they just got so pissed off that they finally decided to hit into them. I can’t say that I blame them.”

“They beat the shit out of those guys,” I said. “What did Andy say to them?”

“Well, we pulled up and asked the only guys standing what happened,” Mark replied. “Once they told us the story, Andy just walked up to the drunken foursome as they lay on the ground and said, ‘Fellas, you have to let this foursome and any others play through.’”

After playing with Harley, it was time to start work. I always started a little early so I could milk some hours. I walked into the grill to grab something to eat. The food wasn’t great, but it was free. Old Paul was sitting at the table closest to the snack bar. He was flirting with Lisa when I walked up to the counter.

“What’s up, old man?” I said.

“Nothing at my age,” he replied. “How’d you do out there?”

“Oh, besides seeing a brawl on the backside, it was OK.”

“Yeah, Mark was telling me about that. Too bad Al Harper couldn’t have been involved in it,” he said.

“Al could probably have kept up with them beer for beer,” I said.

I noticed Lisa was busy unloading bottles of water from large boxes. The fancy new refrigerated display had been sitting empty for days. Nicole Cunningham showed up at the clubhouse the day before to inspect the set-up. She insisted that Lisa move the display two inches closer to the cash register. I realize that she had an MBA as well, but we weren’t running a Target. I grabbed one of the bottles and looked at the label.

“Filtered water?” I read aloud. “It’s not even spring water.”

“Exactly,” responded Lisa.

“We might as well drink tap water,” I said.

“Or from a drinking fountain,” chimed Paul.

Lisa laughed as she finished unloading the box. She quickly punched through the bottom of the box, collapsed it, and tossed it on top of a stack of others.

“What do you want for lunch today, Bri?” asked Lisa.

“I think I’ll go healthy today. How about a tossed salad and a ham and turkey on rye?”

“No problem,” she answered as she slid a salad in a plastic container across the counter.

“Thanks,” I replied as I reached over the counter to pour myself a Mountain Dew. Lisa started working on my sandwich, and I sat down next to Paul and ate my boxed salad. Paul was always good for conversation. Each of the guys was like a separate podcast and I learned what to expect from each.

“You know what I don’t understand, Brian?” asked Paul. “How could a group hold up another group for three holes, with four open holes in front of them, without the ranger seeing it?”

“That’s because Leo was too busy looking for lost balls next to number six,” I said.

“That figures,” replied Paul. “He isn’t worth a shit. He just rides around in a cart for a couple hours a week, finding some balls and getting his free golf.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing anyone really wants out of life is free golf,” I said.

Paul started laughing at my claim. The truth is, though, I was serious. After working at a public golf course for seven years, I had formed my own theory about golfers. I have divided golfers into two categories: those who play golf for free, and those who want to.

It’s not about how good you are. It is a simple distinction. It doesn’t matter what you do. You could be a golf pro, a greens keeper, a fireman, a pilot, or a caddie. If you have ever played golf for free, you might know what I’m talking about. It seems to me, that if you paid money to play or had to wait in line for 30 minutes to tee off, you probably missed some of the enjoyment.

“I can’t blame people for wanting to play,” I said. “But I can’t imagine a round of golf meaning so much that if you play poorly, you freak out. It’s not that I don’t think a round of golf is worth $50 or more, but the freedom of having an entire golf course at your disposal is priceless.”

“We do get spoiled,” said Paul. “We have 18 holes of green.”

“Yes we do,” I agreed.

On that note, I stood up and grabbed my sandwich from Lisa. I thanked her and headed over to the pro shop to start taking people’s money. The irony was amusing, but I didn’t feel guilty, just lucky.

As I walked behind the counter, I could tell Mark had something to tell me. He would get a funny look on his face whenever he had something to say. He was like a little kid.

“Well, Mort Stew called in sick. Oscar left already and Hank can’t stay. So, it looks like you’re gonna be starter today.”

“He’s sick?” I asked.

“He can’t find his teeth or something.”

“I thought it was his glasses that he can never find.”

“I think he can’t find his glasses to find his teeth,” said Mark.

“Sounds like Mort. That’s okay. It’s a nice day to be outside.”

I flipped my sunglasses on and headed outside to relieve old Hank. It was obvious that Hank had had enough. He dropped his clipboard on the table and took his nametag off as soon as he saw me. It gets kind of hectic at the starter’s station. It was tough on me, so I know that it was tough on the old guys.

I could see that there were two groups waiting on the first tee as well as a steady flow of 18 holers making the turn to the back. Not a bad time to make the switch.

“You ready to call it quits yet, Hank?” I asked.

“Yes, I will happily hand it over to you Brian,” he replied.

Hank showed me where we were on the tee sheet. We weren’t too far behind considering the slow-play incident. There was just one group of walk-ins waiting for a spot. I was prepared for the worst, however. Normally, we got a rush of walk-ins around 3:00. Since we were also booked solid with tee times, it wasn’t easy getting the walk-ins out. Although they’d have to wait longer than they’d like, I usually managed to cram everyone out there.

Just then, a foursome checked in with me. I punched their receipts and put them in line behind the walk-ins.

“What time does the group in front of us have?” asked one of the guys in the foursome.

“Well, what time do you have again?” I asked. “2:12”

“Well, they have the 2:04 time,” I said.

I loved being in control of the tee. I could tell people anything. Besides, it would be slow as hell, whether they went off in front of the walk-ins or not. People think they can play faster if they can get in front of even one group, but it just doesn’t work that way. Slow is slow. That was White Lake on a Sunday afternoon.

With a group leaving the first tee, I now had just two foursomes waiting. It was turning into a beautiful day. The sun was out, and the temperature was nearing 85 degrees. A twosome was walking over from the ninth green to make the turn. I checked their receipts and told them that if I got another twosome they might be paired up later. They said they understood and made their way over toward the tenth tee.

A few moments later, two older men came walking out of the clubhouse dragging pull carts. As they approached me, I greeted them the usual way.

“Hello, do you have a tee time?”

“No, we’re just a twosome looking to play nine holes,”one of them replied.

“Okay, I’ve got a twosome over on ten that you can go off with.”

“Oh! That’s a bunch of horse shit!” said the other old guy.

“Yeah. The hell with that!” the first one said.

They caught me so off guard that I didn’t know what to say.

“Excuse me?” I replied.

“We come down here for a relaxing round of golf, and you starters always ruin it by pairing us with someone else,” the second one said.

“Sir, I can’t promise you that you will enjoy playing with that other twosome, but I can promise you that it will be about two hours before you get off by yourselves,” I replied, keeping my cool.

“Well, that’s a load of crap! What the hell do we pay taxes for if we can’t play,” yelled the first old guy.

“I didn’t say you couldn’t play…”

“I don’t want to hear it,” the second one shouted.

By this time, a crowd had begun to watch the exchange. Leo and Joe, one of our other volunteer rangers, came over to see if they could help. They tried to explain the situation, but these two didn’t want to listen. They stormed back into the clubhouse shouting, “We’re gonna take this to the county commissioners.” Once they were inside, we smiled at each other and couldn’t resist laughing.

“They won’t get their money back will they?” asked Joe.

“No, the county won’t let us. We can only give rain checks,” I replied. “That should piss them off even more.”

“Shit. It’s not like you asked them to play with women or something,” said Leo.

“Careful, Leo,” I said. “We don’t need 60 Minutes down here doing a story on that subject.”

“Yeah. You can’t pair people up or talk about women these days. It will get your ass fired,” added Joe.

Meanwhile, I attempted to restore order to the tee. “Now does anybody else have a problem?” I asked sarcastically.

The group on the tee and the foursome waiting began to laugh. Things eventually calmed down. I got caught up on my tee times, and the two old farts left the clubhouse. I had only been working for 45 minutes, and I already had my blood pumping. I never claimed to be a saint, but I was fair with people. I was just a golfer. I was not about to attempt to pacify two people who were so blatantly rude to me right off the bat.

I headed inside to find out what happened. To my surprise, Andy had returned. My stomach tightened a little when I saw him because he always worked hard for good customer relations. I hoped I hadn’t upset him. After all, though, I was just doing my job.

When I walked in, Andy just smiled at me and said, “You just don’t get along with old guys, do you Bri?”

“I think they just don’t get along with me,” I said. I wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not.

“That’s OK. They would have held up half the course anyway,” he replied.

“That is a good way to weed out the assholes. If they won’t pair up, screw ’em,” said Mark.

That was pretty much the rule of thumb at White Lake. We just didn’t have any choice. It was ironic, though, because I wouldn’t want to be paired up if I were playing. Then again, I know better than to expect to go off by myself in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. There’s only so much daylight.

I walked over to the grill and grabbed a Mountain Dew. I sucked it down and walked back outside to face the golfers. The tee times were running pretty much on time. I was just sitting at the starter’s table taking it easy, when I saw old Wes heading toward me. It was like watching something in slow motion. First, he would put his walker out in front of him. The he would shuffle forward to meet it and repeat the process. He was moving so slowly that I wondered if I still had time to leave the table and avoid him, but I was too comfortable. I sat and watched him inch toward me.

Old Wes was a founding member of the Birdie Hunters. That was our men’s senior league; the oldest in the state and boy were they quick to remind you of that. He was the only founder still living. He hadn’t played in years, but his wife would drop him off from time to time to be around his friends. He was in his late 80s. He seemed to think that he knew what he was saying, but I never could follow him. I was enjoying the peace, but Wes had a good heart and was always good for a laugh. He sat down at the table next to me but never said hello or any other greeting. He just started talking as if he had been sitting with me all day.

“You know what I want to know?” he asked with his low and hoarse voice.

“What’s that?” I answered.

“What’s with these touring pros that can’t putt? Why don’t they practice?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it never occurred to them.”

“Well, I just think it’s crazy,” he said. “Look at those basketball players. That seven foot tall one is making 20 million dollars and the damn union still isn’t happy.”

“Yes sir.”

“It’s crazy,” he repeated.

“Yes sir.”

“And the football players aren’t any better. They’ve been playing on artificial turf since 1970. Now, all of a sudden, they keep getting hurt. I don’t think that they’re in shape. I think they need to exercise more.”

“I’ll tell them you said so.”

“Take that McGuire. His batting average is way down, and he keeps getting hurt.”

“Baseball?”

“Right,” he kept going. “Look at that one they got now. That long ball hitter.”

“Sammy Sosa?”

“No, the one that got suspended. You know, Pat Daly. He oughta hit an iron off the tee. He hits irons farther than those guys hit drivers.”

“John Daly,” I said.

“I think he just does it for show. I grew up near Oakmont. Now, that’s a course.”

“John Daly,” I repeated.

“Yeah. Go figure,” he said.

“Go figure,” I replied. “I just don’t get some shit.” He paused, stared at the clubhouse for a few seconds, and then he continued. “You all raise the prices every year.”

“Yeah, I needed a new car,” I answered.

“I used to shoot par,” he replied.

Luckily some customers coming out of the clubhouse saved me from this exchange. I sprang to my feet and walked over to greet them.

They were four women in their 50s or so. They each wore matching sweaters with the word “golf” embroidered into them. Some golf tees were sewn onto the sweaters as well. They almost looked like fishermen’s vests, as if they could just pull a tee right off their sweater if they needed one.

“Hello ladies. Are you playing nine or 18?”

The first lady answered quickly, “Oh, we just play nine. We just do it for our health.”

“We just like to walk on the grass,” said the second lady. “It’s easier on your knees than the sidewalks.”

I noticed that all four of them were wearing shiny white walking shoes.

“Really. That’s nice,” I replied while trying to keep a straight face.

“Are there assigned places to stand?” the first lady asked.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“I know that when we first hit, we stand up on that mound,” said the second lady. “But which colored balls do we hit from?”

“Ladies, if you haven’t played before, you might find that the par-three course is a better place to start.”

They looked at each other, and then one of the other ladies said, “No, we’ll get more exercise on the long course.”

“Yes, how long is the course?” asked the first one. “6,790 yards,” I answered.

“Is that riding or walking?” asked the second lady.

I just smiled as I tried to control myself.

“You’ll want to tee off from the red tee markers.”

They seemed satisfied now and made their way toward the tee. I was impressed that none of them were using pull carts. They each carried lightweight bags which looked relatively new. Two of them carried their bags with their hands like suitcases. The other two carried their bags on their shoulders, but the bags were facing backwards. I was trying not to watch them as they prepared to tee off, but one of the ladies came over to me.

“Excuse me?” she whispered. “I shouldn’t use my putter until I get to the green, right?”

“Right,” I whispered as nicely as I could with a smile.

I turned and walked toward the clubhouse. Old Wes was busy gawking at the group of women. It looked as though he would start drooling soon. It was all becoming too much for me. I tried to suppress all of the sexist stereotypes popping into my head. Maybe I ought to suppose that these four women had just escaped from an asylum. I knew that they were not representative of women golfers in general. Besides, they were very sweet ladies. Despite my reservations about furthering any stereotypes, I could not resist the urge to go inside and give an account of what had just transpired.

When I entered the clubhouse, I found Mark talking to Paul and Charlie in the pro shop. It seemed Paul, who was an amateur club maker, was showing off his latest gem. He had taken a Taylor Made midsize driver, stripped off the finish, added lead tape, and changed the shaft.

“This shaft is a hell of a lot better than the ten dollar job you got with it, Brian,” said Paul. The club was originally mine, but when I broke the shaft the year before, I sold it to Paul for thirty dollars.

I proceeded to tell them the story of the four women that I had just encountered. They got a few laughs out of it.

“Which colored balls do I hit from?” said Charlie sarcastically. “I guess I won’t be playing today.”

“Well, you won’t want to play on the front anyway,” I

said.

“People like that belong on the par three,” said Paul.

“I tried. I really did, but they wanted a lot of exercise,” I said.

“Mark, you’re the pro here. It’s your responsibility to make sure people know how to play.”

“Yeah, for 40 dollars a half hour,” Mark replied.

“What, they weren’t cute enough to qualify for one of your free lessons?” I asked.

“Don’t you have a job to do?” he responded. “Make sure they don’t hold anyone up.”

“Yeah, OK,” I laughed and walked out the door.

I watched the ladies tee off. To my surprise, they were actually quite quick and efficient about it. They didn’t waste any time gawking at each other’s shots. They teed up their balls and fired them off the tee one right after the other. Apparently, they really were out for the exercise, because they proceeded to power walk to their balls and quickly hit them again. They didn’t hit the ball far, but they sure progressed down the fairway at a good pace. That just goes to show that you don’t have to be good to play quickly. In fact, there are plenty of good golfers who are terribly slow.

Feeling a little guilty for assuming that they would be slow, I sat down in the chair at the starter’s table. I wasn’t sitting there more than two minutes, when a threesome of really odd looking grease balls came walking out of the clubhouse.

Two of the guys were wearing tank tops, and one of those mechanics’ shirts that had his name, “Ed,” on the pocket. The guy on his right was wearing a Styrofoam visor sort of thing that had wings on each side sticking out about six inches. It looked like something a kid would get at an amusement park. He had a bushy brown beard that seemed to almost hide the cigarette dangling from his mouth. The other fellow sporting a tank top was wearing cut-off denim shorts. He was bald on the top of his head, but the hair that he did have was down to his shoulders.

Ed was toting a bright yellow golf bag with white trim. He had a “Big Bruiser” driver and “877s” irons. He was a typical knock-off clown. Dumb and dumber each had a set of our rental clubs in one hand and a beer in the other.

“Hey there sport, can we hop on over to the back?”

asked Ed.

“Afraid not,” I replied. “I’ve gotta keep it open for people making the turn.”

There wouldn’t be anyone making the turn, but since the front was already going to be slow, I didn’t want to screw up the back too.

“You mean we gotta play behind those women.”

“I don’t think they’ll bother you. Just ask to play through if they hold you up,” I said knowing full well that it was unlikely the women would hold these guys up.

“They best not hold us up. We hit fast.”

“Wonderful,” I replied.

Ed, Dumb, and Dumber made their way to the tee. The ladies were nearing the green already. The three guys began doing their baseball warm up swings and their 12-ounce Budweiser curls. They talked about their planned 300 yard drives and punched each other in the shoulders. These were the types of guys that made me dream about working at a private club.

My entertainment was interrupted when a foursome came walking out of the clubhouse. It was a relief to see that they were wearing golf shoes and seemed to know what they were doing. I advised them to go off on the backside for obvious reasons. I checked their receipts and sent them on their way. They were very appreciative. It felt good to get some real golfers. I was starting to wonder if there were any left.

By this time, Ed, Dumb, and Dumber were hitting their second shots, some 20 to 30 yards off the tee. I sat there at my table and watched them zigzag back and forth across the fairway. A few other groups came out in the meantime, and I naturally sent them to the back nine. In fact, the first of the groups had made it to number ten green before Ed made it to the 150 marker.

It wasn’t long before a group coming off nine green shouted over to me. They were a twosome of very large men complaining that their golf cart had run out of gas on number five. They were sweating profusely and appeared to be on the verge of exhaustion from carrying their bags for the last four holes. Both of them were fuming and kept making reference to how it was unfair to make them walk because of their weight. They joked about their size and attacked us for bad golf carts all at the same time. I apologized and sent them in to talk to Mark and said that he would take care of them. After all, that’s what golf pros are for. You yell at them and you feel better.

A few moments later, the two guys came walking out of the clubhouse with large beers in their hands. I walked toward them to apologize again and they greeted me with big smiles.

“If I had known we were going to get free beer out of the deal, I wouldn’t have bitched at you kid,” one of the guys said to me.

I immediately knew that Mark had appealed to their soft spot and hooked them up with a couple of beers.

“Don’t worry about it,” I replied. “I hate to see a cart break down on anyone.”

“Well, for a cart voucher and two free beers, I’d say it was worth the walk,” the second guy said.

I laughed and smiled at them as they sat down on the patio to drink their beers. It wasn’t long after that when Harley came driving over in a maintenance cart from the practice range.

“I Hear you got a no account mule, Brian, my boy,” he said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A broken down cart,” he replied.

“Yeah. Mark called you?”

“Yep. Communication,” he replied with his usual dry tone.

“Well, let’s go,” I said. I hopped in the maintenance cart with him and we headed out onto the front nine.

“You know, if those people were physical, they would have pushed their cart in themselves,” said Harley.

“I don’t know Harley. If you pay for a cart, you shouldn’t have to push it in yourself,” I commented. “That’s bad business.”

“Business. That’s social,” he replied.

“No account Mule sitting in a haystack,” Harley began to sing. “No account mule, sitting in a haystack. No account mule, sitting in a haystack, all day long.”

We were riding down the cart path on number one to get out to where the broken down cart was stranded. As we drove past the first green, we could see Ed and his boys meandering around on the green. The two pull carts were parked on the apron. They had stuck the flagstick up side down in one of the bags on a pull cart so that it pointed into the air hanging over the green. Ed lay on his stomach as he apparently tried to read the break of his putt.

“What the hell is up with those goofs?” asked Harley.

“I don’t know man, but the phrase “inbred” keeps running through my mind,” I replied.

As we approached the fifth tee, we could see the cart sitting in the middle of the fairway about 200 yards out. It looked as though it was there on purpose, like a target at which people could aim. When we got to the cart, it was littered with beer cans. The engine cover was hot and the stench of burning motor oil was strong. It had obviously been run very hard.

“No wonder the thing died,” I said. “Those fat-ass, beer-drinking chops wore the thing out.”

Harley lifted up the engine cover and checked the gas. It still had a half a tank.

I hopped in the dead cart and Harley eased the maintenance cart up behind me. He slowly matched up the bumpers and began to push me forward. After we got up to the maximum speed, the dead cart that I was in began to run. The cart slowly began to pull away from Harley’s front bumper. It kept picking up speed as we went. I guess now that the tremendous weight was off the poor cart, it really wanted to move.

Harley and I roared down the path on number one. As I approached the first tee, my mood changed. I suddenly sunk into a depressed and angry state of mind as I saw the frightening scene before me. There were four couples walking around looking over the carts. They were holding cart keys and clubs. My worst nightmare had come true.

I couldn’t believe it. It was 7:15. It would take them two hours to play. There was no way that they would finish. I parked the cart and walked over to them. One of the men was much older than the others. He was probably in his sixties. They all appeared to be Asian. The other three appeared to either be sons of or work for the older man. The older man was carrying the large white PING staff bag that we displayed the Ping Irons in. It said, “Andy Pader, White Lake G.C.” on the side of it.

The other three men had PING stand bags that looked very familiar. When I met up with them, I noticed that the older man and two of the younger ones all had I5 irons. The other man had a set of Titleist 775s. If they weren’t just standing still, I would have thought that they were robbing the place.

“Can I help you folks?”

“Yes, we wish to play,” said the older man.

The wives stood directly behind each of their husbands holding their golf shoes. The older woman also had a large bag over her shoulder.

“OK, do you have your receipt?” I asked.

“Yes. Here it is,” said the older man.

He proceeded to pull out the longest cash register receipt I had ever been presented. These guys must have bought half the shop. It went something like this: four nine-hole greens fees, four carts, three sets of Ping irons, one set of Titleist irons, one staff bag, three stand bags, four-dozen Titleists, Four Foot Joy gloves, two pairs of Nike shoes, ten bags of tees, and one ball-mark repair tool. I guess only one of them planned on hitting a green. It was a grand total of $5,548.87.

“OK, well, uh…you can have at it I suppose,” I mumbled as I handed him back the receipt and pointed towards the first tee.

I stepped aside in amazement. The women each got in one of the carts and proceeded to pull them up to the first tee. The old man turned to me and said, “They will drive.”

“That’s…fine,” was the only thing that I could manage to say.

The men then walked up on to the first tee and began loosening up. I headed inside to have a little chat with Mark. I let him have it.

“What the hell is this?” I asked as I walked behind the counter.

“Hey man, I was ready to send them packing till I found out that they needed everything,” responded Mark.

“They didn’t want rental clubs?” I asked.

“I didn’t offer them any. When they asked to play at 7:00, I knew we were in trouble. There was no way I was going to let them take carts out this late. I thought that if I told them we didn’t have any rental clubs, they’d give up on the idea. Instead, they bought up everything in sight.”

“We’re going to be here a while tonight you know,” I said.

“Yeah, but it’s worth it,” he replied. I’ll have Andy eating out of my hand when he finds out how much I sold.”

We sat and discussed our Asian customers. Mark was so delighted to have sold them the works. I could see commission figures running through his head. I had to admit that it was a good sale.

After the excitement had worn off, I went out and started putting carts away. I was just pulling the last cart into the barn, when I heard a voice behind me.

“How am I supposed to play if you put all the carts away?” asked the voice.

At first I was frightened, thinking that we’d never get out of there, but then I recognized the voice.

“You get your lazy ass out there and carry your bag if you want to play,” I said as I turned and faced John.

“What’s going on, Bri?” asked John.

“Not much. The Toyota board of directors is out on the front with their wives.”

“Four carts?” he asked as he noticed them on number one.

“Don’t ask,” I responded.

With all the carts in except for the Asians’, I headed inside with John. The pro-shop lights were off and everything was covered in sheets. With Mark nowhere to be found, John and I headed into the grill. There we saw Mark behind the snack bar with Lisa.

“You guys need beers?” he yelled over to us.

“Oh yeah, I earned it,” said John.

“Yeah, me too,” I said.

We took our seats at a table by the window.

“I think I might have earned this beer a little more than you did today, John,” I said.

John took off his Ping cap and wiped his brow.

“No way,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe my last lesson.”

“I doubt it beats the board of directors and their four chauffeurs on the front,” I said.

“It’s probably close. It was a guy about fifty years old who had been playing for a long time. Anyway, we get out to the teaching area, and all of a sudden, he looks up at the sky. He says, no, the sun’s in the wrong spot. I said, excuse me? Then, he says, I need to be able to see my shadow in order to hit the ball.”

“His shadow?” I asked.

“Yeah, he had to see his shadow in front of him in order to swing. I had to take him out to the opposite end of the range and have him hit balls in toward the tees so that he could see his shadow.”

“How was he?” I asked.

“His shadow looked great, but he couldn’t hit the ball worth a damn.”

We could hear Mark say goodbye to Lisa and the outside door behind the snack bar open and close. Then, Mark appeared carrying three cups of beer.

“That’s all you got?” asked John.

“Relax, she left the taps on for us,” replied Mark.

“That’s good, our friends are just making their way to number two now,” I said.

“Well, we’re set for the long haul now,” said Mark.

The sound of golf shoes walking on pavement could be heard coming from around the corner. “No, you don’t have time for a quick nine holes,” said Mark in anticipation of what was to come.

When the door opened, it was someone carrying a bag of clubs, but it was not a customer. It was Nate Boylan, the 31-year-old attorney, volunteer starter, resident trouble- maker and brother of slick Willie.

“What, only three beers?” asked Nate. “You know where it is,” replied John.

“Good old Lisa took care of us again, how about that,” said Nate.

“So what brings you down here, Nathan?” I asked.

“John said he was going to play, but now I see he’s just gonna sit on his ass and drink beer all night,” said Nate.

“Play? It’s gonna be dark in an hour,” said Mark.

“It will be dark in an hour and twenty-seven minutes,” yelled Nate from behind the snack bar.

Nate Boylan was a stickler.

“Doesn’t she keep any Heineken back here?” He yelled.

“It’s locked in the back,” shouted John. “You might as well bring a pitcher of Bud Light with you.”

Mark lit up a cigarette and Nate returned struggling to carry two pitchers overflowing with Bud Light and a stack of cups.

“I guess you attorneys are good for something after all,” said John.

Nate set down the pitchers spilling a cup full onto the table. I got up from the table to go over to the pro shop to get a towel.

“You might as well bring back a stack of singles with you,” said Mark as he tossed Lisa’s deck of cards onto the table.

“This may not be a wasted trip down here after all,” said Nate.

“Yeah, well this is the only way you’re ever going to win money off of me,” said John.

“Like I said, if you give me three a side, I can take you,”

replied Nate.

“Three a side?” questioned John. “You’re a five handicap.”

“I’ve got another card that says I’m a ten.” “Typical lawyer,” said Mark.

I returned with fifty singles from the cash register and we began cashing in our money. We didn’t play cards that often, but we usually had a good time when we did. I placed two twenties and a ten on the corner of the table to payback the cash register.

“All right boys, it’s time for a little mule train,” said Nate as he grabbed the cards and began shuffling them. That was just Nate’s name for Texas Hold’em. I started out hot, winning the first three hands. I played with my heart and relied on luck for success.

My winning streak came to an end after a one on one bout with John. By this time we had gone through a couple of more pitchers and the conversation was whirling around like a tornado.

First, we were discussing our swings. Then, we moved on to golf in general. We eventually got off of the golf subject all together when Nate laid down his cards to take the hand and shouted “hoochie mamma!” The Seinfeld reference began an enthralling discussion recounting some of the funnier episodes that we had seen.

But before long the conversation unavoidably came back to golf as it always did. After a few minutes, the card games ceased and the next thing I knew Nate was holding his sand wedge trying to chip a ball off of the tile floor and land it into a beer pitcher about ten feet away. Needless to say he didn’t have a lot of luck. His ball kept rolling across the floor banging into tables.

“You’re not gonna be able to get it off the ground with it lying on the tile like that,” said John.

John proceeded to lay his ashtray on the floor to help tee up the ball. This seemed to help because now Nate’s balls were at least getting airborne. However, now they were getting a little too much air and were bouncing off the table tops.

By 9:00 we were deeply involved in a rotation of poker hands and chipping for beers. Our activities were becoming a little too much for the indoors and we were too wound up to sit and play cards. So with our cups of beer in hand, we took Nate’s Bertha, a couple of demo drivers and a shag bag out into the darkness. We walked over the patio, down the path and onto the first tee. I could just make out the fairway thanks to the glowing moonlight. The rest of the course was shrouded in darkness and a lone Cessna sputtered overhead on its way to Williams Field.

“All right guys, we each put up a dollar, if you hit the fairway you take your dollar back, if you miss, the dollar stays in,” said Nate as though he was making it up as he went along.

“What happens if everybody hits the fairway?” asked Mark.

“Just relax and we’ll see as we go,” said Nate in his drunken wisdom.

We began playing our little game. As best we could tell in the darkness, none of the balls had hit the fairway after two rotations through the batting order. Naturally, the degree of error was different for each of us.

My drives were slicing low and bouncing off trees and a few other things in the darkness. John and Mark were hitting pretty solid drives, but Nate and I had ruled them all just out of the fairway.

It was nearing 10:00 pm and we were having a good time beating balls and drinking our beers. We had made a few trips into the clubhouse to refresh our pitchers. There were 28 dollars in the pot when Nathan bunted a single up the middle to collect the winnings.

“I think the ball should have to go at least 150 yards,” said John.

“What the hell are you talking about? That was at least 200 yards,” yelled Nate.

“Bullshit,” said Mark. That was 130 at the most.”

“Brian, you get to decide. How far was it?” asked John.

I was transfixed by the sound of golf carts coming closer. “You guys hear golf carts?” I asked.

“Holy shit!” said Mark. “The Asians.”

There before our intoxicated eyes, were four white carts coming down number nine fairway. It appeared as though they were using flashlights to see what they were doing.

“Who the hell is that?” asked Nate.

“That’s our last four carts,” I said. “And it’s only 10:15.”

“An eightsome?” asked Nate.

“Not exactly,” said Mark.

Not wanting to alarm the customers, we gathered our gear together and headed back into the clubhouse. We let Nate keep the 28 dollars since he had thought up the game.

We sat on the patio and watched our friends try to putt in the dark. It was wild. Each of the wives was holding a flashlight so that their husband could see to putt.

After three hours and fifteen minutes on the course by themselves, they had finally finished nine holes. I admired their dedication.

They drove their carts out to their cars, unloaded and quickly returned them. They were very polite. Nate, Mark, and John helped me clean the trash out of their carts and put them away. It had been a long day, but just all part of the job for a golf course starter.

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