Golf Memoir No. 3: the short course.
Three years ago, I was invited to golf with my friend John, who lives up in the soft hills of the San Andreas fault line, hills that geologists at cocktail parties like to call "Hell's zipper." The local Elks Lodge maintains a golf club of remarkably token effort up there, and it's one of those "3-par" courses, where each green can be driven with a high-iron tee shot (usually a 60º sand wedge, in most applications) and two-putted. I hadn't been out on the links in a while and hastily accepted the invitation. Not knowing it was a 3-par, I brought my full bag and spikes.
I woke up at my customary quarter-of-seven, put a mile or two on the old legs and, shortly thereafter, still bright and early, I rolled into John's driveway, happy to find him sitting on his front steps with a five-iron and a bottle of Sierra Nevada. I supposed he'd been out knocking pine cones across his lawn, and had comically filled an old beer bottle with his morning coffee. I have known John a great many years, and have always considered him a person who would put nearly anything into a used container.
The course was just a short walk from his abode, so I took my bag out of the trunk and slipped out my spikes.
"You won't need those," he said, pointing at my golf shoes.
"Yeah," I replied, knowingly. "That's a thing now, isn't it? Those courses that don't allow metal spikes?"
"Let's put these in there instead," he suggested, procuring a curiously cold case of Sierra Nevada from the trunk of his BMW and slipping bottles one-by-one into my shoe compartment. "Good call with the bag," he said. "Ready to go?"
He carried his five-iron, his hand in the middle of the shaft, and made off down the driveway. The outline of a single golf ball could be seen in his shorts pocket. His flip-flops flapped pleasantly as he moved.
Before you get the wrong idea about John, I should point out that he majored in something called "Mathematics and Computational Science" at Stanford, can solve equations that seem to have pictures of pasta in the middle, and holds down a job that routinely requires him to travel around the world putting the screws to hard-line Internet nerds. When he's not bitch-slapping some poor eyebrow-pierced Welsh network engineer with a Cisco manual, he tries to relax with a little golf. I'm only too happy to be a part of the healing.
"I have a story about the time I actually penetrated a Glaswegian SysAdmin with the SCE-4500 2U faceplate," I pretend he tells me, as we stroll down a beautifully lit, densely foliaged and canopied mountain lane. Deep gullies run down either side of the worn asphalt street, golden sunlight beams through the arcs and sprays of heavily established blackberry vines, and brown oak leaves crunch beneath our feet. I open a Sierra Nevada with my divot repair tool and do as the Romans.
After a pleasant, lightly beery walk among the timeless climbers and kudzu, we arrive at the tiny course pro shop, where it seems we have virtually no competition for a tee time. The cheery little old lady, who does not literally have a maraschino cherry stuck into her head with a tiny plastic cocktail sword, tells us that we can take scorecards and pencils if we want. We smile and decline, put a few dollars into some sort of container, and walk back out of the shop as she mentions to a glove display that she once rode on an aircraft carrier.
We get to the first tee and I immediately sense the miniaturized scale of the course. How could I have been so blind? I'm just John's mule for cold beer and the occasional putter! Thirty-yard fairways isn't golf, it's...waste of a morning...bad for the swing...John pulls out another round of Sierra Nevadas, we toast, and we're off. It's not hard to hit a green that you could essentially throw the ball to, and we perform magnificently. His sole club, his five-iron, is one of those brand new high-tech numbers with perimeter weighting, carbon-fiber honeycomb shaft, and peanut allergies, so his shots are given and precise, despite the fact that his swing resembles a man beheading a gopher with an adze. I do all right, managing to work a little more backspin into my lob shots in that sexy, magical way the pros do, where the ball lands, spins furiously in place for a moment, and then starts to roll back toward you, as though in search of revenge.
By the fifth or sixth hole we were doing all the usual stuff they edit out of PGA coverage: peeing while walking sideways down the fairway, aiming at houses, yelling at cats, and flicking coins at each other in mid-swing. Also: teeing off empty bottles of Sierra Nevada, making plans to go pistol shopping together, and promising to open a calzone restaurant together ("...and why the hell not!"). I can't remember if we played all nine holes, or if we just wandered back to his place at a convenient break in the fence. We may have played 23 holes and gone dancing with the old lady; we may actually be Elks now and several years behind on dues. It's hard for me to say. I do remember being at his place later and watching Fargo on his new television set, which was the size of a delivery van (it was delivered using a larger delivery van, and required one wall of his house to be temporarily knocked out, which is not a falsehood borne of the desire to entertain). It is strange but not entirely unpleasant to see Frances McDormand's head blown up so large that you could dance with it (you would hold onto the ears, I suppose).
I have a few other short course stories in me, but not today. That is all the golf I will describe at this sitting. On my "to write" list for the coming months: a treatise on golf course cuisine, golfing with the Hawaiians, golfing with the Germans, bearing the standard for Faldo and Azinger at Pebble Beach, and a youthful descent into crime and sexual madness, as set in motion by golf.