Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The weakest Links

In Omaha, we lived in the neighborhood called Spring Lake and our house was across the street from Spring Lake Park which was home to one of eight municipal golf courses throughout the city. Not being golfers, and knowing very little about the game, we didn't take advantage of the 9-hole course until one spring day when we found a complete set of men's golf clubs complete with a bag at a garage sale for ten dollars.  Neither of us had ever swung a club before, but this was a bargain!  Sold!

When we got it home, we opened all the pockets, pouches, zippers and compartments and emptied its contents to find it to be a complete outfit with woods, irons, tees, a variety of balls, a putter, and a new green fly swatter.

Stephen took out the flyswatter and set it aside.

"Oh, wait."  I stopped him.  "The flyswatter is for the 9th hole interlude when you're playing an 18 hole course." I said dismissively while quickly making up a story on the spot.

He paused and looked at me.  "HUH?"

I explained that I'd seen my dad play a dozen times with Norton Company guys, and the fellows always have flyswatters in their bags for the 9th hole--the half way point in the game.  They take out the flyswatters and swat each other on the fanny while they take a beer or scotch break. "It's some silly ritual that goes way back to Scotland-- like paddling at rush week in fraternities."  Stephen put the flyswatter back in the golf bag, obviously and rightfully skeptical.

Over the next several months we'd visited the Spring Lake course several times with Stephen's set of clubs.   The green fee was only three dollars if you didn't rent an electric golf cart, so it was an inexpensive pastime for us, close to home, and such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or early evening outside.  Eventually, we purchased a used ladies set in iridescent aqua green at a different garage sale for me, and I found a pair of fabulous ladies white patent-leather golf saddle shoes with one saddle in red and the other in blue.  They cost a dollar at the thrift store and I loved them.  They were fun, shiny, vivacious, my size, and, most importantly, my price. When I wore them on the green I felt like I was wearing Dorothy's ruby slippers.  Finally, we were both completely outfitted, and we started to enjoy playing regularly with the challenge of a 33 par game at Spring Lake and improving our game!

Stephen's boss, Ken,  heard that he was learning and playing the sport and invited him out to his club in West Omaha to spend a Saturday on his 18 hole private course.  Stephen accepted, and I reminded him about the fly-swatter--and stressed that you didn't want to be the LAST one to take out your swatter at the 9th hole, since then YOU would be the one everyone else got to swat!  Stephen was still skeptical, but left it in his bag.

Before the weekend tee time arrived, I called Ken at work and explained what I had told Stephen about my flyswatter gag, and asked Ken to play along at the 9th hole, asking Ken to be the first to whip out a flyswatter and start 'a-swatting'!  Surely, if Stephen saw his BOSS doing this silly ritual, my story would be validated, and Stephen would become part of the knowing few.

I wish the outcome had become fodder for a very amusing story of hilarity to be shared for years to come over beers at the club-room bar. Unfortunately, like other tests of character among people who have encountered us, Ken failed this one, and revealed to Stephen that it was just a gag long before their golf game even started.

Later, that summer, we'd been invited to visit my sister's family in Tennessee.  Unlike us, their entire clan is sports oriented, gifted, and superior in skill, but for once we now shared a common interest with our newly developing golf talents.  We'd been improving on the links, and we had all our own equipment so we brought them along for this visit.  Finally, a common bond between the husbands, and an opportunity for 'girl-time' out on the course.

My sister and her husband were members of The Country Club, complete with privileges to the outdoor swimming pool, club room, restaurant, and 18 hole golf course.  During our visit, we'd planned an afternoon of golf for the ladies and sitting poolside with beer for the fellows while all our kids splashed and played.

Judy got a golf cart (more luxury!) and we approached the first tee.  Judy wore a light-weight sporty golf short-set with the appropriate golf-themed logo on the shirt and coordinating soft-leather, sneaker-like, golf shoes.  Since the average July temperature in central Tennessee is 90 degrees with stultifying humidity, it was an appropriate wardrobe both for the weather and the country-club environment.  Suddenly, my flashy patent-leather, pointy-toed, golf shoes turned from magical empowering ruby slippers to two remnants from a vaudeville wardrobe chest, and my feet became heavy and clown-like causing me to self-consciously trip on the cleats at the first green creating a short rent in the turf.  Judy scolded me reminding me that they were the members there.  My madras thrift-store golfing "skort" suddenly changed from how I'd thought of it -- light-weight summer sportswear -- to a scratchy woolen kilt, fit for winter in the Scottish Highlands, sitting heavy on my hips in all its patches and gaudiness.  I looked at Judy then looked down at myself seeing what she saw, and it was just then that I realized that I was probably an embarrassment for her. 

Well, I'll show her.  I set up my ball, chose an arbitrary club from my faded plaid golf bag with its cracked leather straps and sent that first ball soaring down the par 4 green and sunk the ball in three.  She was impressed, and said as much out loud!  I was going to be okay, after all.

But my game steadily declined from there.  I was self-conscious, Judy was impatient. I was hot and sweaty, while Judy became more and more terse as my strokes increased, my balls went wayward, and other club members closed in on our slowing progress.  Having only played 9 holes before, by the time we were at the 18th hole I was exhausted, dehydrated, and humiliated.  Soon after the 11th hole, Judy played the remainder of the game in awkward silence and stopped keeping score.  When we finally finished what felt like torture right down to the last stroke at the 18th hole, she returned the cart, folded the score card into a very small square and pocketed it, and we joined the gang poolside.  Stephen stood to greet us, and saw my hot, sweaty, dejected face and Judy's obvious disappointment.  We didn't even get to shower.

I guess to some degree we all fail tests of character at some point in our lives. That was the last game of golf I've ever played.

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