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Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Rapid Play

The angry rasher of oaths made me open my eyes, but my head continued to rest on the cool, comfortable bar.

"Jeez, gimme a drink!" wailed one golfer as he shouldered his way to the wellspring of the Nineteenth Hole.

"Make mine a double!" bellowed his partner as he slammed the door.

"Never in my life. . ." said the first, interrupted by a huge gulp of a short drink. "Gimme another."

"Worse than the Bataan Death March," confirmed the second as he wiped his chin with the back of his hand, then signaled to the harried bartender.

Only shrugs and raised eyebrows responded to this. These were golfers hardened by their own travails; men who should have been home mowing the yard or pulling weeds or cleaning out rain gutters or changing spark plugs or replacing light bulbs. Instead, they loitered here, drinking, playing cards and telling lies. All with the knowledge that better men elsewhere were taking their wives shopping or minding the kids. These were men who had squandered a whole paycheck for a new set of clubs to take another 3 strokes off their handicaps but instead put three new balata balls into the water hazard on 18. So, no ordinary complaint would interrupt their drinking, nor would simple whining induce any sympathetic stranger to spring for a round.

"Six hours. I tell you, Six Hours, to play a round of golf!" as he turned to face his audience. "SIX HOURS, SIX Freaking Hours, Six Freaking, unholy H-o-o-o-o-o-o-u-r-s-s-ss!" he howled. This garnered him some restrained sympathy, but won him no hearts; we have all had slow rounds before.

"Six hours walking, in 100 degree heat with 90 percent humidity, SIX HOURS and always waiting, Waiting, WAITING." This was better, we would hear more. We waited, too.

"Six hours walking and waiting and standing and watching -- and THEN, the goddam marshal has the gall to tell us on Nine to hurry up, cause we're walking?"

"'Why you fathead,' we said, 'If you ever got out of the shadow of the clubhouse in your cart you would know we've been waiting on the foursome in front of us the whole time.' And then HE gets upset and on Ten says we weren't pushing the foursome in front of us -- Pushing the Foursome in Front of Us -- PUSHING the FOURSOME in FRONT of US! Well, we showed him," he chuckled and looked at his partner who chuckled; then they laughed together, "Yeah, we showed him."

Well, honest golfers receive such bombast as this less well than whining, so he lost part of their crowd there, but he continued on.

"Yeah, we drove into the foursome into the fairway, that hurried THEM up," but a few of the more conservative audience members murmured their disapproval. "Yeah, then we hit our approaches while they were still putting out, scattered 'em like bowling pins," and there they lost the moderates; the disapproval hung over the bar like black crepe at a funeral.

Sometimes, one must do something; noblesse oblige, I think it is called. "Perhaps, you gentlemen would join me," I said, raising my head from the bar. "Sorry to interrupt, but I think you will profit by what I have to say, and perhaps, you may observe the skills of the raconteur, which you so obviously  lack.

"Six hours IS a long round and the marshals can be overbearing, considering the unexalted state of their office, but still, one must always remember that Golf is the game apart, unlike the others. Because your primary opponent is yourself, courtesy must always be part of your game. That is, overcoming your own failings and frailties in the face of the implacable forces of Nature as they are manifest in Golf is an activity that transcends time and space, or the mortal accounting of scores between companions and Par.

"I can see by your puzzled expressions (some might liken them to stunned mullets) that you do not understand. Let me just say that it was wrong to drive into the foursome ahead of you, not because of the danger to them, but because of the weakness it showed: giving in to the wrath imposed on you by the course, the weather and the Marshal.

"I cannot condemn you, for I have fallen before, too. This is the story I have invited you to hear."


I do not always play here at the course where I am a member. Sometimes, I must have a change. One wife, one job, one house for a lifetime, I can understand; but occasionally, I must play a different course.

The foreign features of new sand traps and water hazards hold an unexplainable attraction for me. Unfamiliar undulations in strange greens entrance me. Blind landing areas where I have not been before cause my blood to race. Half-hidden pins I do not know beckon to me like the Sirens to Ulysses.

So we, my regular partner, J.D. and I, had gone to Cypresswood for a game. It was hot, like this, but we were riding, not walking, on the old course, not the new Creek course.

As I say, the great thing of a new course is how you can compare it to courses you know well, contrasting the pro and cons of each. The first hole borders the driving range, as it does here, but on the other side, so J.D. had the unique experience of hunting his ball on the range after his big slice while I extricated myself from the copse on the left. My third shot landed in some water left of the green hidden from view by a mound, while J.D. caught the lip of the monster trap on the right. So we didn't get our pars. And what with hunting for balls on the range and flailing in the monster trap, we might have been a little slow.

But not so slow as to justify the rancor of the Marshal who bore down on us like an avenging angel, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he roared. "Why haven't you gone on to the next tee?"

"Well," I said, somewhat nonplussed, "I just thought I'd reclaim that new Titleist I put in the water here," while I de-telescoped my ball scoop.

"Well, you thought wrong!" he thundered. "When you finish a hole, you must proceed directly to the next tee. You must not mark your score on the green nor practice putting nor go fishing for balls," he said, like he was listing three of the Ten Commandments. "There's a foursome waiting on a twosome," he finished grandly, gesturing behind us. Now speed it up!" And he was off, like a Pony Express rider, presumably to harry foursomes ahead of us.

Now I commonly do not take well to such close supervision, but J.D., being more phlegmatic, simply said, "Come on, Cactus. Get in the cart and let's go." So we did.

After we hastily scruffed our way around the dogleg on the picturesque Second hole, the short par four Third and the tricky Fourth with huge loblolly pines guarding the right side of the fairway and a creek crossing the fairway in the landing area, it dawned on us that, truly, haste was making waste; that indeed, it was manufacturing the stuff in industrial quantities. So we decided to slow down.

Let me pause for a second to examine the other side of the proposition which we are met to consider here: i.e. that Golf is properly a game of leisurely studiousness, rather than a sprint handicapped by oversized batons. It is incongruous to suppose that one can pace hurriedly to the ball and then implement a measured backswing. How often does it occur that a foursome of anxious type-a heart attack candidates rushing through their game, plays through other groups with the kind of wretched golf which only has speed as a positive attribute? Every time, I would suggest. If speed was the only criteria, then the fairways would be made of concrete and the greens, of asphalt. Instead, Golf is played properly on carpet fairways and velvet greens, either in park-like forests or on windswept, sandy links, which fully manifest Nature's bounties and challenges to man. One can never fully appreciate nor overcome the essence of Golf at top speed.

If, in addition to the obstacles of Golf, the elements and the terrain, and the competitions against Par and partners, the player adds the merciless, implacable ticking of the clock, then he has denuded the experience of the enriching components that make it the supreme recreation and replaced it with a mechanized torture foreseen by Fritz Lang in his movie Metropolis. One foresees with foreboding this heinous concept gaining official imprimatur in tournaments, when penalty strokes are not enough and time limits are instituted, leading to endgame strategies similar to basketball and football.

Although we can all agree that slow play is an abomination, we must also concede that an unseemly haste is equally unwarranted.

The par three Fifth is all water carry to a large, sloping green with several sand-trap cut-outs, in other words, you can't just get up on the tee and flail away; you've got to check the pin position, wind direction and the actual length before you hit. So it only made sense for us to take a little time, especially after getting such poor results on the previous holes. We figured together that the pin was in the front left between the water and a sand-trap cutout, the wind quartered from right to left and the distance was 155 yards. J.D. cut a 7 iron pin-high on the green and I pushed a high draw past the pin to the middle of the green. He got a birdie and I got a par, so we were well satisfied that we were back on track.

J.D. was so satisfied that he jacked his drive through the dogleg on Six and I demonstrated my pleasure with a pull-hook into the woods on the left. I caromed a three iron shot from out of the trees around the punch-bowl mounds to the froghair of the green. J.D. bladed a ball down out of the woods, over the mounds and on to the green. I chipped straight uphill into the cup with my Texas wedge, while J.D. settled for two-putt par.

"Damn," I said, "if you could putt you'd be dangerous!"

"We better pick it up a little bit," said J.D. "or that bunghole Marshal will get on us again." Well, you know, it takes time to find balls in the woods and then to play shots out.

Number Seven is another par three with water carry and sloping green. For some reason, this is a double green shared with the Twelfth. In my case, that was a good thing, because I hooked my tee shot onto that side of the green, leaving me a nice little 150 foot birdie putt. J.D., trying to hit smooth and easy,  blocked his shot over by the barb wire fence that marks out of bounds.

I couldn't putt at the pin, because of a sandtrap cutout, so I just putted as close as I could as quickly as I could, so as to get out of the way of the approaching foursome; unfortunately, the slope of the green took hold and dragged my ball to the front of the green. J.D. had a restricted swing that caused him to chili dip into a trap. Then he blasted over the green into the rough while I left my next putt halfway short. J.D.'s chip onto the green couldn't bite and it rolled all the way down where mine had been. "Be sure you turn on that putt," I said, "it's a long way uphill." From there, he and I both three-putted for an easy six and seven.

"Well, that was fun," said J.D. walking back to the cart.

"Yeah, it gets any better, I'm going to give up sex," said I.

"God, I love this game," said J.D. and then caught his breath, for there was the Marshal, again, on the next tee, scowling down at us like Moses at Mount Arrarat.

"Now I can see why you have fallen behind," he said bitterly, standing feet apart, holding his clipboard clasped to his heart and the other fist on his hip, very aggressive body language, you know.

I grabbed my driver and climbed up the elevated tee, "Oh, shut up, you old fart, what do you know about it anyhow. We'll play reasonable golf, if you quit hassling us."

J.D. is, as I have said before, made of the right stuff, and it's nearly impossible to make him show irritation. He'll allow himself the luxury of an oath if he puts a ball in the water, but basically, people don't bother him. I could tell, though, he was getting ready to make an exception for this Marshal. Even so, he was going to calm me down. "You're up, Cactus. Take it out on the ball."

Under such inducement, I was able to fend the ball off the heel about 150 yards down the left hand side of the fairway, leaving me more than 350 from the green. J.D. boomed a big slice that ballooned up and right into the trees, out-of-bounds, but it kicked back out into the near rough, 175 yards out.

"Truly, you boys are awful. Don't get lost while you're wandering around."

I was searching my memory of the rule book for the penalty for assaulting a Marshal, figuring I could bear a couple of strokes. J.D. just gestured towards the cart and said, "Come on, Cactus."

What followed was an abysmal series of topped balls, fat hits, foozles and shanks. It was more like we were herding rowdy sheep than playing golf. A look back told us the Marshal was still at the tee, but he was still with us, like a bad odor in a closed room.

We struggled over the Ninth hole without covering ourselves in any glory, then went directly to the Tenth tee.

Now we had sometimes waited on the group ahead of us, and we had been in sight of them all day. Because they had stopped for refreshments at the halfway point, they were just leaving the tee when we got there.

I reckon nothing is as nerve-wracking as waiting to hit in golf when you're already ready. "J.D." I queried, "You reckon they'd let us play through?"

"Hmmm. That's a thought," replied J.D. "The Marshal couldn't very well bitch at us if we're passing people."

"This round is shot anyway; let's just get it over with."

"Ok," drawled J.D. and then he whistled at the foursome ahead of us. One cart was in the trees on the left, next to the Ninth fairway; the other, in the trees on the left, next to Sixteen. But they did not wave us through. "Oh well," sighed J.D., slumping in his seat with his feet upon the front of the cart, cigarette smoke curling indolently around his eyes.

When we finally could hit, we both landed in the fairway for maybe the first time all day. Then we waited some more while the group ahead putted. When we could hit, we both missed the green, chipped onto the green and two-putted for bogeys.

We caught the group ahead on the next tee, but again they ignored us. It was very much like the previous hole. Wait and hit. Wait and hit. Pitch, putt, putt and wait some more.

I reckoned I could take this pace, but J.D. was likely to run out of cigarettes, smoking one between each shot.

As the group ahead left the Twelfth green, a lone figure appeared on the mounds to the left, above the green. "It's that goddam marshal again," grumbled J.D. and he shanked his 8 iron into the wasteland right of the green.

"Watch this," I said, then I bladed my 7 iron directly at the marshal. We watched him pirouette out of the way and my ball skip over the green into the lake on the backside.

"Hey, I didn't appreciate that!" cried the Marshal as we drove up.

"Well, that was an accident," I explained, "but we don't appreciate you crowding the green while we're trying hit approach shots, AND, we don't appreciate you haranguing us at every opportunity. Since you've been standing here since we passed by on Six, you know damn well that every group is haunch to paunch. If we'd been hitting any sooner, the group ahead could keep score for us."

"I don't think our score cards are large enough for the numbers you boys are putting up."

"Well, listen to this: we are both two-over here on the back nine to this point and that group ahead of us wouldn't let us play through, so you can just BACK OFF!" J.D. has mentioned in the past that I do tend to get carried away.

"You can't talk to me that way! You can't talk to me that way!" screamed the Marshal.

"I can and I will. Now, do you mind, we're trying to putt here."

"We'll see. "We'll see about THAT, mister." yelled the Marshal and he scuttled to his cart and took off for the clubhouse.

J.D. shrugged, impervious as ever, and holed out for another bogey. I had to settle for a triple bogey. As we waited, on the tee of the short Thirteenth, J.D. said, in a mild reproof, "I've never been kicked off a golf course before."

"Well, I have," I admitted, "It's no big deal -- inconvenient, of course, not to finish your round. Maybe we could play just a little faster."

"It's too late for that," said J.D.

"Well, then, we'll just have to play a lot faster," I soothed him. "You're up".

"But they're still in range," protested J.D.

"They're off the fairway again. Hit away," I commanded.

That hole sets up perfect for J.D. with a dogleg at the right distance for his normal big fade. But he was rushing a little bit and sliced it too much into the trees. It's wrong for me, hooker that I am, but by making my grip so weak I was practically hitting one-handed, I managed to block mine out in the same direction. "Now that's cart golf!" I declared.

The deleterious group ahead of us hardly noticed our advance till I was ready to hit, which was as soon as I reached my ball. Amidst their cries of "Hey!" and "Wait a minute, there", I hollered "Fore!" and whaled away, semi-skulling the ball towards the green, out of the trees. "Go ahead and hit J.D., you' won't reach the green from in here."

With very apparent misgivings, J.D. addressed the ball; his swing was half-hearted, but as sometimes happens, the solid half-swing works better than the mis-hit full swing. His ball hissed on a frozen rope toward the green four feet off the ground till it got to the trap in front of the green, where it ballooned straight up forty-five feet, landed softly and stuck.

Only J.D.'s amazed pleasure at such a miracle shot mitigated his embarrassment as the group on the green started and whirled at the sudden intrusion. They watched us roll up to my ball like the Jets eyeing the Sharks in West Side Story. Without any preliminaries except a wave of my club to warn them, I popped the sandwedge shot over the treacherous traps in front to near the hole, jumped back in the cart and wheeled over to the green.

Now I am sure that every duffer has gone through this cycle of torment. He arrives at the course intent on playing an intelligent, strategic game, THIS time, not like all those other times. THIS time, the duffer resolves, there won't be any underclubbing; THIS time, he will play within himself; THIS time, a carefully orchestrated routine will ensure that every swing is premeditated and correct. But the strategy falls apart quickly, and in desperation, on the back nine, the duffer tries to go back to his "natural" game, with no practice swings, no strategy, no doubts: "just grip it and rip it" he tells himself. And miracle of miracles, it works. For a while.

One way or another J.D. and I had arrived at this point. Where before, our haste had cost us strokes, now casual free swinging was an improvement.

I was past caring, but J.D., ever the conscientious gentleman, said, "Excuse us while we tap in these pars." The nonplussed foursome on the green made no objection.Then we made our graceful exit to the next tee, having passed two foursomes on one hole.

"Now THAT," said J.D. "is Rapid Play!"

We scurried on up to the tee of the par 3 Fourteenth, where one foursome waited on another. "Mind if we play through?" I breezed as I teed up my ball.

"You won't get anywhere," laconically replied one of the golfers, "We're waiting on them waiting on the group in front of them."

"Please excuse us," said J.D. as I clubbed my ball into the face of the elevated green. "We're sort of in a hurry," and blew his ball over the green.

By hustling to our cart and to the green, we got there before they were through putting. We leapt out of the cart, putters in hand, trotted to our balls and hit without preamble. J.D.'s ball rolled all the way from the back of the green down to five feet from the pin. "That's good, J.D., you've been making those all day." I hit mine fairly hard, even for a Texas wedge, so it would climb the steep slope of the elevated green. It flew off of that slope in a high arc, as good as any flop shot, and died four feet from the pin.

"That's good, Cactus. 'Preciate it guys!" boomed J.D. as we raced off the green. That foursome still stood as they had when we had arrived, as if frozen by the chill wind of our passing.

At the Fifteenth tee, we found the next foursome already in the fairway. "Hit or wait?" asked J.D. with some reserve of decorum I should have realized he possessed.

"Hit," I said, "We could pass three groups on this hole!"

So we hit and proceeded down the fairway, where again, unexpected, we weren't noticed right away. When the cart slid to a stop by my ball, their heads did turn, mouths open. I was too close to my ball to hit, but instead of moving the cart, I just grabbed my putter like drawing a rifle out of a scabbard and gave it a polo style whack.

"Cool," said J.D. admiring the natural draw my Bullseye putter put on the ball. "Let me try." He uses an oversized Nicklaus putter with a tongue on the back for picking up the ball without bending over, so it's good I was driving: he could never have hit his club left handed, where my putter is flat on both sides. Sure enough, he put a toe-hook on the ball with plenty of roll, without any delay, and we were able to roll off away from the foursome before they could do more than splutter their objections.

We were the Cypresswood Express, now, with no whistle stops; Top Priority; all others routed onto sidetracks while we roared through. The foursome in the fairway were just blurs to us, like the slack-jawed faces you glimpse in a filling station in a small town where you hardly slow down, much less stop.

We had the distance to go for the green in regulation, even though a creek runs in front. We got to mine first. I don't know if you have ever played golf cart polo; I never had before or since, but it seemed just to flow naturally out of the game that day. I slowed down, but didn't stop, judged the distance from cart to ball perfectly, deliberately hit the ball on the toe to deaden the ball, but kept the club face square, kept my hand behind the club head and hit down on the ball to give it height. This gave me a nice, soft shot that stopped dead on the front of the green. J.D. instead hit kind of a pitch and run that hit the slope of the elevated green and then climbed up onto the putting surface, almost pin-high.

"Yee Hiiiiiiiii," hollered J.D. as I swerved the cart on two wheels, skirting the edge of the creek, to get back to the cart path bridge. "Whoa, Nellie," he whooped as I skidded to a stop by the green.

The empty carts of the next foursome belied their presence. They must have been in the woods or the creek bottom; they were nowhere to be seen.

It was against our rules to stop and address the ball -- just an unstated evolution of the game to which we had tacitly agreed. As I strode to my ball, I saw the slope of the green, the subtle mounding in my putting line and the dull sheen of grain working against me; but I didn't THINK about these things, I just saw them. I gave the ball a one-handed stab at the cup in mid-stride, missing by a few inches. J.D. putted at almost the same time, with as little care, good for a birdie. He popped his ball out of the hole with the head of his club in one smooth motion, while it was still rattling in the cup, then nonchalantly turned, shovelled my ball up waist-high with his club to me in stride as we both walked back to the cart. "That's good for par," he said.

There was a foursome on the Sixteenth tee. "Heck," said J.D. just hit from here," dropping his ball in the prescribed manner from his seat in the cart. His club swooshed and the ball flew in a fine low fade to the front right corner of the green, perfect for that hole, a 160 yard par three. I gave mine a left handed hook to the same spot right away so we were treated to the sight of two balls trickling down the green incline toward the hole. The slope of that green is so resolute going down to the water that few people can hold that green, but we had played it perfectly. "Thanks a lot, boys." waved J.D. as we scooted around their carts, while they gaped, open-mouthed.

There was never any thought of danger to ourselves, most of those duffers couldn't hit a green in regulation in three tries on a bet. If a ball did hit us, it wouldn't hurt.

We made it to greenside while those balls were still rolling. "Shoot, that looks good to me, J.D."

"Wait here, Cactus, and I'll get 'em." So, like in some old army picture J.D. hustled out onto the green with balls splooshing in the water and spiffing in the sand around him, scooped the balls up with his putter and came back to the cart.

Now that we were well rehearsed in our routine, we hesitated only slightly drawing up to the Seventeenth tee. I whipped the cart left of the cart path, ball washer, trash can and bench. J.D. gave the occupants a jaunty wave that spoke volumes: "Hello there. Pardon Us. Playing Through. Thanks a lot." We dropped balls beside the cart and flailed away, two low skimmers crossing in front of us like anti-aircraft tracer fire. Then we were off.

Seventeen is a short par 5 with water on the right, woods on the left and a creek in front of the green, none of which gave us any cause to pause. Our polo style shots were not long, but they were accurate. You know the cliche that even on a par 5, you could hit your 5 iron three times and reach the green, but you can't do it with a driver, 3 wood and 9 iron, because each shot is pressed. That's what we were doing. It turns out that you can reach almost any green in three, or four, hitting polo style putters from the cart.  Even a skulled hit from the cart went 150 yards. I weaved the cart from side to side of the fairway from ball to ball -- an excellent evasive action, by the way. The instinctive reaction of the other golfers was invariably to stop and wait till we had passed -- they were still in the mode of controlled effort, which requires sepulcher-like quiet -- but I reckoned that providing only a moving target was safer in case someone's irritation exceeded their decorum.

Without stopping, it goes without saying, I circled around the back of the green to our balls, where once again, we chipped with our Texas Wedges, then conceded each other's putt, and we were off.

There was only one foursome on Eighteen. We ignored them the way a confident golfer can ignore a water hazard. We teed off in short order and for short distances. A cart entered the cart path from beyond the green, coming towards us. We swatted our second shots in motion as the cart inexorably drew closer. Sure enough, the Marshal had caught up to us. "Get off the course. Get off the course!" he shouted as he passed us -- he was thinking we would pull up to talk to him, I guess, but we just kept going. I was on course to play my short third shot to the green, while J.D. had swivelled in his seat to look back at the Marshal, who was turning in pursuit, when he saw something else, beyond him. "Holy Moly!" he exclaimed.

Well, that put me off my stroke, and I couldn't make a play. "What, what!" I yelled as I cut a doughnut in the fairway, circling back to my ball.

"Look," said J.D., pointing, "A stampede."

Both of us pointing must have distracted the Marshal because he first turned his head, then his body, then his cart again, throwing up clumps of turf where he hit a boggy spot, "Oh, my God!" he shrieked as he sped off, away from us, to the larger problem.

You have probably decided that I have exaggerated our success with our "polo golf"; you may have even concluded that it is all a bald-faced golfer's lie. But the evidence I offer here is that every golfer we had passed that day had weighed the evidence of our triumph against their own feeble efforts, and changed their style accordingly. A whole herd of carts, a stampede, as J.D. had termed it, was rumbling down the Seventeenth fairway. The chaotic direction changes within the mass looked like a Sunday regatta at the Yacht Club, while balls were flying everywhere.

I grew up in a small town out in West Texas. There was only a short nine-hole, unlandscaped golf course where they played Winter Rules all year round. I would caddy for my daddy when he would play. Sometimes, on Friday, when the men would gather after work, to make sure everyone could get in his round, they would all play together, fifteen or twenty or twenty-five men at the same time. They called it a "rabbit hunt" because of the way they would wind up spread all over the fairway in a ragged line, but of course, it was much more dangerous than that, with all the shanks and heel-hits those duffers could produce off that sun-baked hardpan. The betting was really complicated, too.

Somehow, that is what I imagine had become at Cypresswood that day: a larger, more communal version of the extremely liberating experience J.D. and I had enjoyed. One had to feel some compassion for the Marshal and his fervor for his hopeless task, as his cart sped towards the mob.

But J.D. and I just circled around to our balls and finished our round. We drove the cart at breakneck speed out to our cars in the far parking lot and left it there. There was going to be hell to pay, for sure, and we were afraid our name was on the invoice.

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