Earnest Words

My First Game of Golf

Written in


In our first complete round of golf, my best friend and I scored twice par – that’s twice the score of a very good golfer. But we were outside, we were together, and we didn’t take any mulligans1, even if we did play all our holes from the kiddie tees2.

After a restless night, during which I had several “I’m-a-golf-prodigy!” dreams, I met my friend very early at the luxurious confines of the Emerald Isle Golf Course in Oceanside, California. Eager to test our skill at the “Most Challenging Executive Course in North County,” we disdained practice on course’s driving range and strolled into the clubhouse to pay our greens fee.

From my dream. Original from wikipedia.

There was no one inside. As we approached the counter, a portly, thirty-something man with a goatee and a slightly glazed look manifested out of a back room and greeted us.

“What can I do for you dudes?” he coughed. There was a strange smell about him, like sulfurous leaves.

“We’d like to play a round of golf!” Chason3 said in his most winsome voice.

“You want a cart?” The Portly Man asked.

“Nae!” I screamed4. And that was that.

We paid $19 each for the greens fee5. Apparently, this is not an exorbitant price, but at the time I felt ripped off. $19 for what, exactly?

“This is the best part of the day,” Chason said, once he left the office. Proud of my restraint, I was inclined to agree with him, even if it was 7 on a foggy Sunday morning.

“Aye. Tha’ office reeked.”

“I was talking about anticipation. Anticipating a game of golf is the best thing in the world.”

Chason was right.

All went well – for a given value of well – until the third hole.

In a stunning display of beginner’s luck, we both managed to double bogey and bogey6 the first two holes, which I considered quite the accomplishment, since on the second hole I hit my ball into dense brush, then into mud, and then into a tree.

Chason, who tends to be more successful than I at games of patience and skill, was lamenting our mutual accomplishment.

“I got PAR last time.” What a jerk.

Then we arrive at the 3rd hole. There was a lake in between the tee and the green.

We hit several balls into that lake.

At the time, we did not know that hitting a ball into a lake meant you were allowed to place the ball on the other side of the lake without penalty. Well, you do take a stroke penalty for hitting the ball into the lake, but you don’t lose five golf balls. When you are poor like we are, losing golf balls is more a penalty than some stupid number that you write on a card.

Escaping from the trees, a la Seve.

Escaping from the trees, a la Seve. Screen capture from here.

Before starting the sixth hole, Chason and I agreed to take a break in order to practice chipping onto the green. It was an agreement borne of desperation and frustration and my secret desire to play from the ice plant, which I had discovered to be a spectacular lie on the fourth hole. The little pieces explode everywhere!.

“Are you guys practicing?”

This was during my backswing on a difficult 25-foot play over a bunker, a small stream, a footpath, and some mud (the cart path). Not only did this idiotic question ruin my Jim Nantz7 impression (“Earnest, for double eagle.”), but it also caused me to miss my swing. I watched forlornly as my ball soared far and away – completely missing the ice plant. Goodbye, ball…

Then I realized we had been spoken to and cowered in fear. I was sure the ice plant was out of bounds or meticulously maintained.

“It’s our first time playing, so we thought we’d take a couple practice swings.” Chason is very good at diffusing tension with innocuous statements. “We’re novices.”

Chason was speaking to a gigantic toad-man with a moustache, who was sprawled over a golf cart’s front bench.

Toad with a moustache

The man in the golf cart: Mr. Toad. Original from wikipedia.

“You want to get moving. The three guys behind you are playing pretty quick.” In case we hadn’t taken his meaning, he added, “You want to start playing this hole.”

Chason and I looked at each other and shrugged.

“We’ll let them play through if they catch up,” I suggested, with a smile. I picked up my bag of clubs (which had fallen over) and began climbing the short hill to the teeing ground at six.

“Can’t do that! There’s a single behind them and another threesome behind him. And more behind them! If you let them all play through you’ll be here all day!”

With that, he drove off.

I am sure his sudden appearance affected our shots. Chason led. In a reversal of his usual technique, he drove the ball much further than he intended – out of our field of vision8. I, in reversal of my usual technique9, reached the green in one stroke!

“Nice shot,” Chason said grumpily.

Chason was in the mud on the cart path, but managed a spectacular chip onto the green (our abbreviated practice had helped!). For men of our (lack of) quality, this was a remarkable accomplishment. He rolled off the green after he chipped on to it but it’s the initial stroke that counts.

“Can you guys wait for a bit? Let them play through?” The toad-man had rematerialized. He paused and considered my shot. “Nice shot!”

“Thanks?” I asked. Hadn’t he just asked us to start playing?

“Can you guys mark your balls and let them play through?”

The repetitive toad streaked off before we could answer. Bemused, we marked our balls (I tried to make my mark extremely conspicuous) and the threesome behind us played through.

They were much better than we were at golf: they played from the big boy tees and they took shots without fifteen practice swings.

Each also scored par and looked unhappy with that score.

Despite their unhappiness, they were thankful for our yielding to them. I did not enjoy speaking to them because, despite my rather pointed attempts to indicate that the marker in the center of the green was mine – yes, that marker right there, just fifteen feet from the pin, yeah, got there in one stroke – they did not compliment me. At least Mr. Toad had complimented me.

Also, they had their golf bags in strollers and looked like women. So there.

After they passed us, we thought no more of them, except for the time that I was nearly knocked senseless by an errant drive. When the apologetic player came running after his ball, I politely told him that I had not stopped it from rolling down a very long hill.

Such, I believe, is golf.

I reverted to form on the green. It took me three putts to move a 1-inch diameter ball 15 feet10. I wish I could blame my inadequacy on the magic teleporting toad man but he waited until we finished the hole to reappear.

“Can you guys wait at the next tee for the single golfer to play through?” he gasped at us. He was driving his golf cart. I do not know why he was out of breath.

“Can you guys let him play through?”

Was this guy a broken record? Chason looked confused too, so I knew I wasn’t hearing things.

“Not a problem!” I said. Then Mr. Toad was very rude.

“How did you finish the hole?”

Women Walking

Also, they had their golf bags in strollers and looked like women.

We didn’t see Mr. Toad after that, which was good for his sake and ours.

Chason and I did follow his orders. We waited around the tee at the 7th hole for the single golfer.

We were intimidated; hole 7 is a par 4 and the longest hole on the course. We would both probably have to use … fairway woods. Or *gulp* drivers.

Allow me to explain:

The first time that Chason and I went to a driving range11, he had five clubs. Two were drivers and he told me that we would not begin our practice with them.

“Why not?” I asked.

“We just shouldn’t,” Chason responded lamely. “My dad said so.”

After thirty minutes of struggling with short and long irons, I gave up and decided to drive the ball. Chason, sufficiently encouraged by my vocal, whiney mediocrity, decided to join me. I picked a driver, put a ball on the range’s plastic tee, and swung out of my shoes.

My driver’s head whipped through the air. Molecules wailed as their bonds were broken and this club, this missile, this blade, pared electron from nucleus and atom from atom.

I felt the club connect but I wasn’t wasting time looking at the ball. I raised my eyes to admire the ball’s flight as it soared heavenward, rebel to gravity and an assault on the very throne of the Most High. It was a star returning to orbit, a rocket headed to the moon. I couldn’t see the ball, of course, but this was before I got my glasses. Also, I had hit it too far to see it.

Chason gasped. And then he gasped again and kept gasping. There was this strange sound, like laughter.

I looked down. The ball sat innocently on the tee. Chason was convulsing in hysterics. What had I hit, then?

I lined up my shot again and, with a more deliberate swing, drove the ball about 100 yards downrange and 100 yards to right. I put the driver down gingerly and returned to struggling with irons, with which I hit the ball consistent distance and consistently straight, for a given value of “distance” and “straight.”

After Chason’s first swing, when he almost hit me in the head with his drive, I felt better.

To make matters worse, the 7th hole played downhill, with a large pond to the left and a stock of trees to the right. If we hit it too far to the right, there was a major highway that could catch the ball. Unfortunately, the sign at the tee told us that the major highway was out of bounds. Since we both had terrible slices12, we were likely to lose more balls.

Our terrified contemplation was interrupted by shouted swearwords. The single golfer approached.

A pear-shaped man in a golf cart, the Single Golfer would drive twenty yards, alight from his cart, swing furiously at a golf ball, and swear as the ball sailed 30 yards. He even did this on the green. With his putter.

He stopped short when he saw us lounging around the 7th tee. He stared at us with his mouth open: two skinny, polo-shirted young men with strange-looking equipment and a certain, swaggering confidence. We stared, too, at Mr. Toad’s fatter younger brother.

“Don’t mind us,” Chason said, winsomely, “We’re complete novices.”

I pretended to cough and hid my smirk behind my hand.

Chason continued: “Why, I lost three balls into the water hazard on hole 3!”

“I know what you mean.” Mr. Toad’s brother said sadly. “All my practice yesterday was for nothing. I had to take four mulligans on that hole!”

Again, I smirked and coughed. I had practiced the previous day and my practice had paid off, because I was actually making contact with the ball. Also, we had lost five balls on hole 3, combined, and hadn’t taken any mulligans.

“Thanks for letting me play through, guys.”

“Not a problem.” Chason said. I nodded and busied myself with my golf bag, which had punctuated the converstaion with a large crash13.

Chason and Mr. Toad’s brother made small talk for a few brief moments while the man prepared his tee and selected a club. I had heard from one of my friends that driver sizes had increased in recent years, but that did not prepare me for the sight of this man’s driver. It was a football on a stick.

Mr. Toad’s brother waggled his prodigious bottom and took two abbreviated practice swings. Then, without ceremony or rhythm, he drove his ball 100 yards down the fairway and about as far to the left. It did not, to my disappointment, land in the lake.

Grumbling and swearing, Mr. Toad’s brother teed up another ball. Without an intervening practice swing, he drove his ball slightly farther down the fairway and slightly less to the left. With a satisfied huff, he sprang toward his cart, shouted his thanks, and whirred away. I think it was the fastest the man had moved in a month.

Chason and I waited until the guy was out of earshot before we burst into laughter. We were novices, true, but at least we weren’t as bad as that guy.

“Do you think we made him nervous?” I asked.

“Why, though?” Chason wondered. “I did say we were novices.”

We watched as Mr. Toad’s brother dawdled between cart and ball and we realized that we had not made him nervous, because he hit his second stroke into the lake. And we had other things to worry about.

It was our turn on hole 7. I had honor14. I took it in hand. I also took an antique golf club, a donation to my cause from Chason’s grandfather.

Apparently inspired by Mr. Toad’s brother, I swung at the ball and failed to connect solidly. The ball plopped off the tee and into the nearby ice plant. Since I had 200+ yards to the hole, I was not excited to wreak havoc for the grounds crew.

“You know, I think that ice plant is out of bounds,” I said. There was a loud gasping noise from behind me, like cruel laughter at a close friend’s humiliation. Fortunately, that sound abruptly ended with my next swing, which sent the ball straight and true and onto the green.

In the end, it did take me four putts to finish the hole, which is the essence of my golf game: inconsistent; poor to fair; needs improvement.

Chason, out of breath for whatever reason, selected a 3 iron from his bag. His shot, accompanied by good-looking practice swings, followed the path of Mr. Toad’s, downhill and to the left.

Since being gracious in competition is one of my finer qualities, I did point out that Chason had missed the water hazard.

Chason was much farther away than I was15, so he had the privilege of shooting again. He had a fairly good lie, too: the ball was cushioned on a bed of long grass. There was a tree about five feet in front of him, but it was spindly and not in the ball’s flight path. The green was open to him, like a large, mischievous pancake made of grass.

“Watch this,” Chason called. Knowing Chason’s penchant for consistency, I stood parallel to him on the fairway. And so I watched, as Chason carefully lined up his shot and smacked the ball into the tree.

The best part wasn’t that Chason hit the tree after taunting me. It wasn’t that he tried to watch the flight of the ball and that I could see the confusion on his face. Nor was it his acrobatic flinch away from the rebounding ball or that he threw himself to the ground in fear.

No, the best part was that Chason reacted two seconds after the ball bounced back toward him. It was at rest on the ground when he moved.

My putts and Chason’s tree shot non-withstanding, we were improving. It was probably the laughter.

The next hole Chason called “JM corner” because I managed to hit the green in one. I scored PAR and Chason did, too, even though he hit the ball into the woods (literally). We managed to avoid the lake again, on 9 and 10. Chason hit a ball out of bounds on 11 and I put a ball onto the roof of a nearby house but despite these mishaps, we were having success.

We weren’t good but we weren’t playing really, really poorly anymore. Just poorly. Holes 13 to 15 are a blur. We even managed not to lose a ball on 15, another hole over the water.

I was saving myself for 16.

16 is a beautiful little hole over a lake, 90 yards from tee to the center of the green. After our success on 15, 145 yards over water, I felt I could do no wrong. Since I had honor, I took the first shot. And so I punched16 that first shot into the lake.

My second tee shot lodged itself in some tree roots on the lakeside.

“Want to retee?” Jason asked. The ball was in the water hazard, technically.

“I am not Mr. Toad’s brother!” I shouted. Jason shrugged and hit his ball onto the green. Then he started waiting.

My first two swings dented the swollen, muddy tree roots that trapped my ball. The third swing bounced the ball off the tree and into the lake.

I dropped a ball on the edge of the water hazard and watched it roll into the hazard. Once I got the ball to stay put, I realized I was at the bottom of a large hill.

Eventually, I got on the green. After I putted the ball back down the hill a few times. Eventually, I got the ball in the hole with a score of 13 (I think). Chason scored a 4.

I was even jealous of him on 17 when he drove his ball into the sand trap. Part of it was because I had driven my ball into the large net on the right side of the course, which meant my drive had gone 20 yards; a larger part of it was that Chason was going to get to play out of sand. I was not. Instead, I chipped the ball very poorly onto the green and three-putted.

Chason, out of the sand!

Chason, playing out of the sand. Original by DeltaMike

“I’m getting tired,” Chason said after he holed his ball in one putt for another par. It was the 15th hole that he’d scored better than I had. On the next hole, 18, when I drove my tee shot 20 yards, I agreed with him. I was tired.

It was 12 pm, we’d been playing golf for 5 hours, and had very, very high scores17. My back was aching, I was sunburned, and the early morning was getting to me. We finished the hole and went to breakfast.

Where we planned out second round.

1 A mulligan is a do-over.

2 At most golf courses, there are several sets of colored markers on the teeing ground. Red markers are for women, white are for boys, the infirm, and the elderly, and blue are for men.

3 Chason is not his name. It has been changed to protect his identity.

4 We decided, ahead of time, it was in the true spirit of golf and the true spirit of our finances to carry our clubs. Since golf is from Scotland, I decided it was in the true spirit of golf to scream in an appropriate accent.

5 A greens fee is an admissions fee. At famous golf courses, it is hundreds to thousands of dollars.

6 A golf score primer: Each hole has a PAR score (PAR stands for ‘performance at regulation’ or ‘professional average rating’). PAR is usually a score of 3, 4, or 5; PAR is a very good score. Each swing you take is a ‘point’ (actually called a stroke). A bogey is an extra stroke (so, a score 4, 5, or 6); A double bogey is two extra strokes. Both bogey and double bogey are bad scores. Birdie and eagle are very good scores; you take one fewer stroke than the PAR score (a 2, 3, or 4).

7 Jim Nantz is a famous golf announcer.

8 Chason hits golf balls with the ferocity of an anemic infant, which is to say, not very hard.

9 After missing the ball several times, I usually hit the ball too far.

10 A PAR score presumes that you will take two putts once you reach the green.

11 Two weeks before this round of golf.

12 There are many terms for crappy golf shots. Slice is when the ball moves right from a right-handed hitter. It’s extremely common.

13 I think it might be narcoleptic.

14 For the unschooled and non-elite, honor is a fancy golf term that means you go first.

15 In golf, the player the farthest away plays first.

16 A ‘punch’ is a golf shot that drives the ball long and low. It’s useful in gusty conditions, when you’re in a forest, or – if you are Chason or I – all the time.

17 Remember: high scores bad.


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