Golf In My Favorite Gangsome

Artwork by Dave Baysden

“Well boys, I managed to get away for a few hours. Glad to be with you again. Hopefully, Tom won’t stick me in damn a fivesome. I need to get home at a decent hour.”

That’s a variation of the regular lines I deliver to my friends upon arrival at my golf club. I utter these words or something similar while my group warms up for another round together. The routine rarely varies. The range is always packed as we prepare for our regular game on the old home course. I walk up just in time to hear our teams for the day.

“Ok guys, we’ve got fifteen players. Three teams today.”

I shake my head as Tom shouts out the names of the teams. We gather round to listen for our playing partners and snicker when we are dealt a bad hand. Tom has the unfortunate duty of arranging the squads each weekend, but for some reason he loves it. I guess everyone needs a shtick even if it’s the only job more thankless than being the club president. Each week the gang gathers near the first tee in anticipation of knowing who they’ll blame the loss of twenty dollars on later that afternoon. All eyes on Tom.

The group plays at 10:30am each Saturday and Sunday. The dew sweeping super-seniors go off early, but the middle of the day is reserved for us. We like to occupy the course during the hours set aside for guys whose wives detest their golfing habits the most. When you play from 10:30am to 2:30pm you wipe away the hopes your wife had for any kind of spousal productivity that day.

I’m in the camp that can’t get away with two days of golf in a weekend anymore, but many of these guys still pull it off somehow. These days I’m more of a once a month participant in our habitual outing. This is good for my marriage but my frequent absences further reduce the weight of my arguments against Tom’s proclivity for fivesomes.

Many of my weekends get filled with the honey-do lists and other matters of husbandry, but sometimes I still hit the marital lottery. When I get a free pass to play with the guys I try to make the most of it.

I’m a want-to-be golf purist, but I still like to wallow in the spoils of a Saturday at the country club. I’ll argue against five players in a group and I always walk, but I still like a few frothy beers, some first tee smack talk, and a generous gimmie or two on the greens. This gangsome offers those attributes in spades.

We indulge in a bit of gentle gambling as well. Our game is a twenty dollar buy-in and there are four bets in play. We have the best one ball from the team on the front and back nine, the best two balls from the team on all eighteen, and a simple skins game as well. These bets are just big enough to trigger some emotion on the course, but most outbursts are incited by pride. Chest thumping the real tender of exchange among friends.

Throughout the hours of our battle, the screams of both frustration and achievement echo across our fields of play.

“Yaaaaddddiiiii”

“Son of a bitch!”

“Booooom”

The sounds of joy and sorrow are born from moments like an unexpected putt being holed or perhaps a hurried chip being flubbed. These most human of reactions create shrieking hymns that ring through the hills of our club like the bells of Rome.

When we march around the grounds of the club it’s easy to sense how the teams are playing. There are always signs to indicate the mood. If things are progressing as planned there will be the talk of strategy and chuckles of amusement between fist bumps and high fives. However, when the scoring gets sideways it’s more like being on the Bataan Death March with men whose mounting disappointment is only offered a reprieve from an oncoming cart girl. If you play with us long enough, you’ll get plenty of time to sample this full range of impassioned reactions on display.

Every time I make it out to play it’s like seeing another installment of my favorite sitcom. Each game is a singular episode in a long-running syndication that features the various mixtures of our golfing personas. Some guys pair well and others don’t, but no matter the arrangement there is side-splitting comedy produced from this four-hour affair. Pick any name from our regular roster and you’ll find a reliable source for a post-round story.

Once we finish playing, the settling of our wagers makes for a separate and equally unique variety of theatre. The action occurs on a table of draft beer and chicken wings and on this stage, we hash out who owes what over a chorus of heckling voices.

“I told you that back nine was a winner!”

“Thank god you made that putt on four!”

“Y’all shot what!?”

Drama builds when each troupe arrives in the grill to discover the fate of their fortunes. Some teammates are all smiles while preparing to soak themselves in raining cash. Others who were dealt a losing hand by Tom’s team making sulk into the sofa while clinging to some fading hope that the elusive birdie they made will hold up for a skin.

A sad voice from the back of the room utters, “Anybody birdie eight?”

No one is getting rich from our game, but the braggadocios nature of the scorecard roundup can make us feel like kings if only for half an hour. The room fills up for a feast of fools and the mixture of laughter and bullshit makes for a soundtrack that only good friends can produce. The topics of conversation may differ but the voices around the table don’t change much. These are the rituals that keep us coming back.

After the bets are paid and small bills are exchanged I start looking at my watch while checking for “time to come home” texts from my wife. Our beloved bartender knows the batting order for who has to leave first. He can write up your ticket based on where the clock hands are positioned. He looks at his timepiece and then back at me signaling that I’ve hit my limit.

I polish off the last drops of golden draft beer and start patting my pockets in search of my wallet. The chicken wings have been reduced to a platter of bone and the conversation around me turns to who is playing tomorrow. I may be leaving, but the meeting can’t be adjourned until the next day’s roster is shaped. This is when Marcus starts his call for an emergency nine holes.

“Hey boy, you stick around for the birdie game. Just a quick nine holes. Maybe eleven.”

I’m rising from my chair and collecting my items, but he persists.

“Tell her you’ll be home soon. Just a birdie game. $2 per pop. You got this. Let’s hit it.”

The vagaries of the grill Room make for predictable conclusions to each week’s follies, but regardless of the happenings of the day, the final outcomes remain the same. Usually, I linger a bit too long and scratch my head as I fork over the rest of my cash. On the way out of the door, I tell the boys “I’ll hope to see them next month” before I make a final remark to Tom about the teams he made that day. Meanwhile, the die-hards who have long since achieved endless golf freedoms through sheer will or divorce buckle in their bags for one more turn around the course.

When I walk towards the parking lot, I hear Marcus shout to me, “Ain’t too late to join boy! You better get home and be good for your girls though!”

He knows I’d love to put my spikes back on, but my time is typically up. I climb into my car and when I pull away, I see draft beer spilling from a cup holder as his cart bounces down the path to playing more golf. Some things never change.

I take comfort in knowing that when I’m granted permission from home, I can find and participate in this golfing circus on any given weekend. This gangsome plays across every season. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries or weather all be damned, there is always a group on the tee at 10:30 waiting for a playing assignment from Tom. The unmatched hilarity of it all makes for my favorite manner of amusement. Hopefully, I can make it out to play in the group again soon.

Saved by the Only Caddie on the Course

A good caddie never stops believing in his player. I brought a caddie to my club championship and even though he was 16 years old he taught me a lesson.

My country club doesn’t have a caddie program, but occasionally I like to find a friend to carry for me in some of our annual tournaments. Usually, that means employing the services of a player from the local high school golf team.

For our recent club championship, I secured the services of a young local golfer named Mason. We struck up a quick friendship over a chat about golf and made a deal for him to caddie for me in the tournament.

Mason met me at the driving range before our first round tee time and the wisecracks from my golf buddies immediately ensued. These guys roll their eyes at me a lot and the smack talk is in keeping with the true spirit of our club. Besides the enjoyment of walking my home golf course with a caddie, part of me wanted to do it just to give everyone a stir.

“Oh here comes the tour pro with his caddie” and  “I sure hope he’s paying you well for this misery” were the kind of things Mason heard as we walked to the first tee. I was feeling pretty good despite not playing much of late, but our first tee is right next to the practice facility. Each player in the tournament started their round amid the glaring stares and snickering comments of their fellow competitors who were warming up to play. It’s a difficult theater to perform in.

The first tee jitters are real at our club, but I can usually handle it just fine. Not so much this go round. I would love to know what Mason was thinking as I made a hefty swing with my three wood and sent the ball rocketing straight up in the air. I hit a dreaded first tee sky ball and it quickly made for a few chuckles in the peanut gallery. I looked down at the fresh dummy mark on the club head and handed it back to Mason with a nervous smile. The game was on and it was ugly front the start.

I managed to keep things somewhat respectable for a bit by making a couple redeeming swings and a few pars to balance out the early onslaught of bogeys. Mason was full of encouragement even though the bad breaks were starting to mount against us. I could really feel the wheels getting shaky as I had to line up my third putt on the sixth hole. The golf gods were calling my number and not in a good way.

Mason kept rooting me on,  but the problems persisted. A hard hooked hybrid at the eighth hole made for a double bogey and I soon matched it with another thanks to a fried egg lie on the eleventh. Twelve was a disaster and I lipped out another par on fourteen. I then bogeyed the easiest par five in America and followed it up with a triple-bogey 6 on the seventeenth where I missed my tap in for a double.

I limped home to an earth-shattering 86 in round one. My score was so bad that it probably won’t even count for my handicap. Mason walked with me from the scoring table to the parking lot and somehow was all smiles. When he loaded my clubs in the car he looked at me and said, “Maybe we will flip that number around tomorrow. 68 sounds like a winner.” The pep talk was much needed.

I wasn’t angry or embarrassed about my poor play, but like anyone who cares about competing, I was disappointed. My caddie made sure I didn’t sulk though. He tells me, “I shot an 86 in a tournament a few weeks back. No big deal. Tomorrow is a new day.” Mason still believed.

I don’t get to play golf on back to back days much anymore. My wife and young child don’t yield that kind of time for me. Quite frankly, I was lucky to be playing in the club championship at all so for me to let one bad day bring me down is just dumb. When I pulled up to the course on Sunday I kept that in mind. I arrived with a smile and a sense of joy derived from the wisdom of a teenager. It was indeed a new day and I was going for a walk on my favorite course.

The golf didn’t start much better for the final round as I made a double bogey straight out of the gate. I shrugged it off and told Mason, “Not my hole, but the next one may be.” My swing started to settle after the first hour and things gradually improved as we walked our way around the course. I made some good swings that day and as the round progressed I earned a couple of solid fist pounds from Mason. A few birdie putts even burned the edge of the cup and he reminded me that things were looking up.

When you shoot a big score in your club championship its easy to get down on yourself and a bad attitude will make you miss out on how wonderful it is to be able to play at all. I’ve got an awful lot to be grateful for and there was something about having Mason walking with me that reminded me of that. I suppose youthful optimism can rub off on you when you listen to your caddy.

Mason was upbeat and he had a positive attitude from start to finish. During our Sunday walk, we talked about all things in life and golf. I kept looking for birdies and we both had a bunch of laughs listening to jokes from my over-served playing partners. We were a mile behind the leaders, but I’m thinking our group had the most fun.

By the time we made it to our final hole I was much improved from the first day, but still without a birdie for the tournament. We walked up the steep hill on the eighteenth hole and found my ball in a great place to attack the pin from. Mason looked at me with a grin and said, “Let’s get one for the road.” I liked what he was thinking.

Despite all the missed shots and messed up bounces Mason was there to make sure I powered through. I’m not much for quitting and we both wanted a birdie to finish. “I think you’ve got about eighty-five yards here and you are straight into the gas” he said. “Let’s stuff that sand-wedge,” he told me as he handed over the club. After a long weekend of bad swings, I finally flushed it.

We crawled up to the green to find that I had an uphill ten footer for birdie. I called him in for the read and made sure to give the putt my purest roll all weekend. A smooth stroke landed the ball in the back of the cup and a raised putter and fist pump soon followed. Mason’s smile grew across his face and with a firm handshake, I thanked him for sticking with me.

The birdie didn’t help my position on the leader-board much, but it damn sure made lunch taste better. My game was in shambles most of the weekend, but I had a great walk with some good company. Most people saw me bringing my own caddie as a cheesy gimmick, but it turned out to be my saving grace. Mason reminded me about the many reasons why golf is the best game there is. His adolescent optimism even made me feel better about the future of our country. When the whole world is still ahead of you shooting an 86 doesn’t seem to matter so much.

There were many reasons for me to give up over the course of the club championship, but Mason kept me in the game. I could have quit, but his persistent support kept me in it. He was the only caddie on the course and luckily he had my bag on his shoulder. Mark Twain’s famous line was that “Golf is a good walk spoiled”, but with Mason’s help, I didn’t let bad golf ruin a great walk.

Like Mason said, “Maybe we’ll get’em next time.”

Until then friends swing, walk, and repeat.

-J