Thursday, February 08, 2007

June 1994

During my high school days there wasn't a whole lot to do that didn't result in an undesirable update to one's criminal record. "Whaddya wanna do?" was asked so frequently that you think we could have created the answer that never existed.

Thankfully there were sports. Those weekends and summers consisted of tennis, backyard baseball, basketball, and mini golf. Epic battles, shots and hits that became part of our collective mythology. When we had conquered one game, we set out to work on another. Eventually the time came for us to try a new, more blue-blood pursuit.

Real golf.

I'm not sure who first sprang this idea. One of our clique used to amuse himself but whacking golf balls into the woods behind his house. It sounded like a fun enough diversion...the only problem was that it cost like 20 bucks to play a round at this little podunk course close to the house. A pretty good chunk of change. But we all came up with it.

So with one set of clubs for four guys, we headed out to the clubhouse. A handful of middle-aged guys in golf shirts and Titleist hats were spread out across to room, lounging, smoking cigarettes, and shooting the breeze. They looked up at as warily. The owner took our money and directed us toward our golf carts, instructing us firmly to "stay on the paths."

On the first tee we all took our cuts. My problem was purging the mechanics of my baseball swing from my mind, something I can't quite do even to this day. As a result I missed the ball completely 50% of the time, put wicked topspin on it 30%, or sliced/hooked it 15%. Do the math and you'll see why I found that I could just throw the ball and get much better results in shorter time to boot. The other guys weren't much better. The good thing was that once we got on the green we could hold our own thanks to our mini skills.

As you could probably guess we lost a lot of balls this way. Luckily for me one of my hobbies in earlier times was combing the cow fields and creeks that bordered another golf course for wayward balls. I made pretty respectable money selling them (back?) to the golfers as they passed by. But I couldn't sell them all, so I had tapped into my supply for this outing. The other guys didn't have such a reserve. They also didn't have the disposable income to buy new ones. Therein lay fate.

The other guys had found an elegant, albeit dishonest, way to circumvent their shortcoming. You could either pay $2.00 for a sleeve of three balls that would last maybe two holes if you were lucky or you could pay 75 cents for a small bucket of balls from the driving range. You can probably guess which one they chose.

So we played on. We had a blast thanks to the fact that we actually got better toward the end. I was still throwing the ball off the tee for the most part so I had about three balls left by the time we got back to the clubhouse to turn in our cart.

The atmosphere in the clubhouse this time had changed. It was as if all the air had been sucked out of the place. Any doubts we had about its origin were erased when we saw the owner standing there to meet us, face ruddy, eyes bulging.

"Have you boys been playing with range balls?"

Umm...uhhh...

His anger was increasing by the second.

"That's what I thought. I don't know why I even bother. You kids rip me off every chance you get. Why do you want to do things like that? Range balls are for the driving range! You don't play with range balls!"

The middle-aged men stood around us too, no longer lounging. Sullen and stern looks all. I guess they were there to catch us if we tried to make a run for it. We should have known he would have sent somebody out to spy on us. A gang of teenage boys given free reign over two golf carts and the whole golf course? Not a chance.

Then it was time to give each of us the treatment individually. He practically sprinted the six feet over to me when my time came. An indistinguishable rant into my face about my morals and motivations followed.

"I wasn't using range balls," I declared simply. "Oh yeah, you never do anything," came the sarcastic reply, as if he had known me all my life. "What's that in your pocket? Give me those!"

He had seen the bulge in my pocket where my remaining supply was. I complied as if in slow motion. He immediately took the balls over to the counter and dumped them into his "for sale" bucket.

So we left. That was the first and last time we played golf.

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