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Fore! Play, страница 1


Fore! Play

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Fore! Play


  Copyright © 2001 by Bill Geist

  All rights reserved.

  Warner Books, Inc.

  Hachette Book Group

  237 Park Avenue

  New York, NY 10017

  Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com

  First eBook Edition: September 2009

  ISBN: 978-0-7595-2255-8




  Introduction: How Green Is My Fairway?

  1. A Life in the Rough

  2. Possibly the Last American Male Takes Up Golf

  3. Bogeyman Goes Public

  4. Do This, Don’t Do That: A Game of Rules and Etiquette

  5. Driving Ourselves to Drink

  6. Golf Wars Weaponry

  7. Tiger and Me: Different Strokes for Different Folks

  8. Golf 101

  9. Country Clubbed

  10. Mind If I Join You?

  11. Among My Own Kind

  12. The City Game

  13. SwingCam: Golf in the 21st Century

  14. Goat Hill Golf

  15. There’s the Fairway and Then There’s My Way

  16. What’s Your Handicap?

  17. Be the Ball

  18. Tips for Beginners

  19. Like Father, Like Son

  20. Big Bertha and Me

  21. It Takes Alotta Balls

  22. Cutting Your Losses

  23. A Few Modest Proposals

  24. The Bad Golfers Association National Tournament



  Thanks, as always and for everything, to Jody, Libby, and Willie, for playing along. Thanks to Tom Connor for getting me into another fine mess, and to Rick Wolff, a great editor and a bad golfer who understands. Special thanks to my partners, John McMeel, Pat Oliphant, and John O’Day of the Bad Golfers Association. Thanks to Liz Kloak, my teacher; to Val Ramsdell and others for putting their country club memberships on the line to take me golfing; to Brian, my brave caddy; to Dr. Phil Lee, my golf therapist; to Herb Sambol and Chip Bechert at Metedeconk National Golf Club; to Madeline Cassano at the Paramus Golf Course; to Jerry and Peg Brennan of Grandpa Brennan’s Previously Owned Golf Ball Emporium; to Reg Petersen, Golf Ball King; to all the folks at Goat Hill; to Jack Batman and Brad Fazzone at Chelsea Piers; to Rod Tomlinson, Andy Stewart, and Bob Andrews of the U.S. Blind Golf Association; Leslie Bennison; partners Bert Webbe, Billy Dunn, and Dave Councilor; officials and entrepreneurs at the PGA Golf Merchandise Show; Jim Duncalf, the genius behind the Ballistic Driver; and thanks as always to the good people at the AmEx billing department for their unrelenting monthly motivation.


  How Green Is My Fairway?

  “I was up and down, but she lipped out on me.”

  “Hit it dead, but no bite.”

  “Shanked it with Bertha.”

  “Chili-dipped the son-of-a-bitch, didn’t catch the apron, and rolled right into the pot bunker.”

  What are these people saying? I might as well be at a cocktail party in Kuala Lumpur with people speaking Bahasa.

  But we’re in suburban America, and they’re talking golf. I don’t understand the language, but lately sense I’d better learn it now that we’re living in an occupied nation of golfers. Berlitz needs to start offering Golf.

  It’s becoming a universal language (Esperanto had its chance) here on Planet Golf, where the game is now played and spoken everywhere. It’s not just for Republicans anymore. Commies play golf! I’ve seen the new bourgeois golf resort in Cuba (first new course since the revolution) and seen historic photographs of Castro and Che Guevara playing in their fatigues! I’ve watched Russians picnicking on the greens and fishing in the water hazards at the first country club in Moscow, thinking it was a park. I’ve seen sober Japanese golfers playing in the snow—and drunken Minnesotans, too.

  Is there golf as we know it elsewhere in the universe? Yes. In an attempt to avoid exorbitant greens fees here on earth, astronaut Alan Shepard smuggled a golf club and some balls aboard Apollo 14 and teed off on the moon. Wearing that bulky space suit caused him to whiff a couple of times, but on his third try the shot carried for “miles and miles and miles.”

  “Hit the 7 fat on 8, the 9 thin on 10.”

  “I skull my third, goes OB, take a drop, I’m lying 5.”

  I know all these people discussing their skulling and chili-dipping and shanking. They never used to talk like this. We used to tell jokes together, and talk about politics and celebrities and Saturday Night Live and what complete asses our kids’ coaches were. Lately, it’s like we’ve never known each other. They’ve been taken by golf, like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Pod People in golf spikes.

  Has someone programmed them not to speak of Other Things? Everything relates to golf: “Lung cancer, Jim? Hope it’s not affecting your golf game.” They go on golf safaris to Kenya and all they have to say when they get back is that the greens were fast and you got a free drop if you hit into a hippo track.

  They drone on and on about their latest round (golfers who can barely come up with their children’s names can recall in detail every shot they ever took), and for variety tell golf jokes: “So his partner says, ‘No, 65 isn’t my score, it’s my handicap!’ ” Hahaha. Then they leave the party prematurely so they can get home and read The Tao of Putting and articles in Golf magazine (“Getting More Trunk Rotation”) before hitting the sack early to make that sunrise tee time. They like to play early so they can get home in time to watch golf on TV all afternoon.

  I am always left out on the periphery of these golfers’ party huddles, usually in about the third row, a wallflower. Eventually I’ll wander away, over to the womenfolk, who could always be counted upon for interesting conversation in the old days when men were going on and on about the stock market and their kids’ athletic prowess. No more. These days, women tend to be talking about their golf lessons or the golf camp a dozen of them will be attending next week in North Carolina—talk that’s interesting only when they describe the advances made by lesbian instructors.

  My dentist plays five times a week except in the dead of winter. Five! At my June appointment, his assistant is cleaning my teeth, when he breezes in, checks me over for about, oh, forty-five seconds, says, “You have a good-looking set of teeth there,” and is out the door for the links.

  “Wungee gar-ngh glff gnugs?” I ask the dental hygienist, who takes the equipment out of my mouth so I can repeat the question: “Weren’t those golf gloves he was wearing when he examined me?”

  The dentist says he offers reduced rates on rainy days, and was far more attentive at my winter appointment when it was sleeting. He took me into his office, which is something of a shrine to golf, his shelves lined with photographs of him and his family at golf courses home and abroad, his walls covered with oil paintings of golf holes.

  “This one is at Pine Valley,” he says reverently, referring to the New Jersey course that’s sacred ground to golfers, a reference lost on me. “See that bunker there,” he says, pointing to a sand trap in the painting. “You know what they call that?” I do not, unaware that sand traps are to be called bunkers and that they have proper names. “They call it ‘The Devil’s Asshole.’ ”

  He practices his swing there in the office between patients with a special club that’s weighted to build golf muscles and shortened to prevent breaking lamps. On the way out, I tell his receptionist to please cancel any of my future appointments after he’s had a bad round. Could there be anything worse than an angry golfer with a dentist drill?

  Golf fever. It’s serious, it’s viral, it’s epidemic, and unlike West Nile no one is spraying for it. There are now 26.4 million golf
ers in America playing on 16,743 courses and unable to stop. (The American Association of Retired Persons reports, however, there are 67 million Americans over fifty and that fully 67 million of them play golf—which seems an underestimate when you try to play a course in Florida or try to get into a Sizzler for the Early Bird Special at 4:00 P.M.)

  It’s an addiction, “upper-middle-class crack,” says my friend Art, who’s become totally hooked. It can become problematic when devotees ignore jobs and spouses, although many of the golfers I know are at points in their careers and have been married so long that they can comfortably do both without any repercussions. You don’t see a lot of “golf widows” weeping on Oprah; most of them are glad to get their guy out of the house for a while.

  Another friend, Mike, plays constantly, sometimes thirty-six holes a day. He plays in the rain, of course, but he also plays in the snow, glueing colorful little tails to the balls so he can see them. But it’s worse than that. Mike has been known to play at night with glow-in-the-dark golf balls.

  The epidemic is not without historical precedent. This game, which goes back to Roman times and to Scottish shepherds hitting stones into holes with sticks, was outlawed in 1457 by Scotland’s King James I because people were fooling around playing golf when they should have been practicing their archery for the national defense. Way before the LPGA, Mary Queen of Scots became so addicted that when in 1567 she was informed on the golf course of the murder of her husband she went ahead and finished the round. That incident was cited as evidence of her coldheartedness when she was tried for treason and beheaded—to this day the most severe golf penalty ever handed down. Most infractions still just cost you a stroke.

  Another friend of mine spends a good deal of time these days designing golf holes on his computer—as a hobby. There are plastic model kits of golf holes that grown men build. Some people we know have those oil paintings of golf holes, and little golfer figurines, and display cases of golf balls hanging on their walls. Some subscribe to the twenty-four-hour Golf Channel. Some go to the twenty-four-hour golf course on Long Island. There are folks in the area installing putting greens in their backyards. Shaquille O’Neal has one in his front yard. Some people are installing entire golf courses in their yards, like the Internet zillionaire near Palo Alto who bought three neighboring houses for $4.5 million and had a demolition party—where guests got to drive the bulldozers!—to clear some room so he could build a golf course.

  Although my golfing friends tend to be otherwise smart, successful people, they will buy anything any TV huckster suggests will lower their handicaps. You think those people transfixed by Jerry Springer and ordering infomercial gadgets that scramble eggs inside the shells are idiots? They are, of course, but how about guys with MBAs ordering herbal golf pills to improve their games?

  Why? What is it about this sport? Is it a sport? I mean are there teams? Uniforms? Stadiums? Coaches? Cheerleaders? Hot dogs and beer? Bench-clearing brawls? Any of that stuff they have in real sports like baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer?

  Golf is different, maybe more like genteel tennis, except in golf there isn’t even an opponent. And the ball doesn’t move. That would make it harder, if someone sort of rolled the ball at the golfer as he swung at it. So golf doesn’t require that advanced degree of hand-eye coordination exactly. Nor strength, agility, speed, or quickness. It’s more like Chinese checkers in that regard, and perhaps most akin to bowling—but no golfer wants to admit that. Bowling with landscaping.

  It’s not a “Higher-Faster-Stronger” classic Olympic sport either. The Greeks never played golf. Golf isn’t in the Olympics at a time when almost everything conceivable and inconceivable is. I mean ballroom dancing may be in the next Olympics. C’mon!

  Now, my golfing bears a strong resemblance to the new, emerging sport of orienteering (also trying to get into the Olympics), as I’m always walking around looking for my ball, lost in the woods, trying to figure out which way it might be to the green and which fairway I’m currently on.

  No other sport has par. Why is there par? And it’s the only one where low score wins. No other sport has so many different implements—and caddies to carry them and follow players around making suggestions. What if Michael Jordan had a guy running up and down the court with him, saying: “I’d use the crossover dribble here, and since you drove to the hoop last time, I’d pull up and drain the three.”

  And Michael certainly would have done a helluva lot better without anyone guarding him. Golf has no defense!

  Golf is the only sport where you have to bring your own ball, the only sport with etiquette primers, and the only one with handicaps! Let’s see, with that five-run handicap the Cubs win again! Better make it six.

  It’s the only one where the players keep their own scores. Imagine if quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning met at the fifty-yard line after a big football playoff game as a packed stadium tensely looked on:

  “What’s your scorecard look like, Kurt?”

  “Well, Peyton, I put myself down for a touchdown and extra point in the first quarter, another 7 in the second, 14 in the third, and 21 in the fourth for 49 points. But I did take a mulligan—five downs—on that last touchdown pass.”

  “Gee, Kurt, that’s okay. Counting that 15-yard gimmee field goal I have a 45, so it looks like you win.”

  And Rams fans go wild!

  In golf, fans don’t go wild. They have to be quiet most of the time. When something good happens there is polite applause, the kind you hear after the guest speaker on “Transplanting Delphiniums” at the garden club.

  Announcers whisper, like they’re broadcasting a church service or reference work at the library. They say that fans and announcers must be quiet because golfers have to concentrate. Yeah, like basketball players don’t have to concentrate to sink a fourth-quarter foul shot while hundreds of screaming fans wave colorful three-foot polystyrene weenies behind the basket.

  So golf seems less a sport than an activity, even though it borders a good deal of the time on inactivity. How does golf stack up against napping? Napping is preferred by many because there are no lessons, skills, frustrations, complex rules, outfits, expensive tools, fees, and special shoes—although it would not surprise me if Nike came out with $100 napping shoes.

  Moreover, golf is a noncontact, nonaerobic activity—although personally I get more exercise than most, hitting the ball nearly twice as many times as my partners and walking many more miles in my serpentine paths to the greens. Still, it requires much the same conditioning as stamp collecting. Running is not permitted on the golf course.

  It is also a game, a game of great skill and practice. One that frustrates great athletes like Michael Jordan and very good athletes like my son and formerly mediocre athletes like myself. It is written that two thirds of new golfers give it up after five years. Golf even frustrates Tiger. Watch him shake his head and mutter all day on his way to another championship.

  So what draws these hundreds of millions? What attracts Bill Clinton and Celine Dion and John Updike and Alice Cooper and Hootie and the Blowfish?

  Updike writes (Cooper does not): “As it moves through a golf match the human body, like Alice in Wonderland, experiences intoxicating relativity—huge in relation to the ball, tiny in relation to the course, exactly matched to that of the other players. From this relativity is struck a silent music that rings to the treetops and runs through a Wagnerian array of changes as each hole evokes its set of shots, dwindling down to the final putt. The clubs in their nice gradations suggest organ pipes.”

  Huh? So, as we were saying, what draws people to golf?

  Many things. It is the only sport with carts and cocktails. I’d still play basketball if you could use carts. When you’re young, you play baseball, basketball, soccer, and other games where the ball moves and so do you. As you get older you either play doubles tennis, where you don’t move, or golf, where the ball doesn’t. Or you watch others play these games on TV.
  I predict that sumo wrestling will become the next big sport for aging baby boomers, because it actually requires participants to be fat and it usually lasts about three seconds. Golf is currently the only sport in which fat, middle-aged chain-smokers can flat out kick your butt. It is also the only one that offers any hope of improvement to these out-of-shape athletes, if you will, over fifty.

  Another reason people play golf is what I shall call here the “Ice Fishing Factor,” which holds that men will do almost anything to get away from their loved ones for a while—to include sitting in a shed on a frozen lake all day drinking syrupy schnapps and looking at a hole in the ice.

  Another reason is that like trout fishing, golf takes place in beautiful places, many as lavishly landscaped as Japanese gardens; pastoral, serene enclaves offering a few hours of escape from the hustle and bustle, from traffic, from television, even from cell phones, which are banned at many clubs—reason enough to play golf.

  Golf confers a measure of class on its players, smacking of the idle rich. One must be of a certain station in life to take off four or five hours on a Tuesday afternoon to play golf. Not to mention joining an exclusive golf club. Show me the Winged Sphere National Bowling Club that costs $50,000 to join and where a single blackball can keep prospective members off the lanes.

  Golf is good for business, my friends tell me. But in my case it would probably be the medical business, the personal injury law business, the window replacement business—as well as golf ball sales.

  They proselytize, these golfers, worse than the Jehovah’s Witnesses. A friend came to the door to give me a golf magazine featuring an article on why everyone should take up golf and I felt like he’d handed me Lamp Unto My Feet.

  They always ask me to play with them, saying, incorrectly, that I couldn’t possibly be as bad as I claim to be. They say it doesn’t even matter if I’m bad, so long as I just keep hitting the ball and don’t hold them up.

  They speak of the fragrance of freshly mown grass, of the sparkle of the morning dew, of fawns scampering across the fairways, of the exhilaration of hitting even one fine shot, of relaxation and serenity, and, perhaps most of all, of the camaraderie.

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