Slightly teed off about golf

Some time ago, a scholar named Stephen Leacock joined Einstein, Galileo, Newton, Franklin, and a few other special experts when he announced: "Some men play golf, and some do not." This has proved as true as we need, and as Leacock's Law it seems to be true today. As one of the few who do not, I'm happy to be recognized.

My lady was twiddling the TV the other night, and in the sports capsule it said Jones, Smith, Brown, Black, Greene, MacTawney, and 27 others were tied for first place in the Terre Haute Classic Open, and play would continue tomorrow. I have never played golf. Nor do I tap-dance, buy lottery tickets, collect Burma-Shave signs, eat spinach, and so on.

I think I first took notice of golf when I was 14. The old-style wilderness vacation camps were still numerous, and we'd see the rich folks come with trunks and families to vacation in the beauty and serenity of the Maine woods and seacoast. It cost them a bundle to achieve what we regular downeasters had for nothing.

It was already a custom with me to rise when the sun pounded at my eastern exposure and go outdoors to see what was going on. There, in the dawn's early light, I'd admire the sun as a masterpiece, listen to the crows up in the pines and the warblers in the hedgerows, and other morning noises like Sam Estabrook pumping water for his cows. Morning is the best time of day and merits constant attention. But as I gave my all to this pleasant situation, I'd see these summercaters going to play golf which, I supposed, they had come up here from Philadelphia to get away from.

In those days, there was (still is) a lovely resort hotel at tidewater named Sebasco Estates. It'd been there since Maine summer vacations were in knee-pants, and it had a sweet little nine-hole golf links esteemed among golfers as the place to play. Now, it happened that a despicable thing came to pass.

As conveniences proliferated, some poles were set, power wires and telephone cables were strung, and utility circuits were placed to obstruct golfing. I forget what hole it was, but as golfers made their drives it was almost impossible to get through the power-company idiocy without hitting a wire or cable.

If the golfer did drive into a wire or cable, ground rules gave him a free stroke, and this went on year after absurd year and was accepted without a whimper as something a golfer simply had to put up with. It has always been the law in Maine that hanging power company executives is prohibited, no matter how much they deserve it.

Once I visited the St. Andrews golf course at Edinburgh, not to play but to admire the hazards. There I saw golfers from all over the world playing golf in kilts, something well worth the trip. They told me each new president of the St. Andrews Golf Society begins his term by driving off the first tee into the gorse and heather, and the caddy who recovers the ball becomes his caddy for the duration, a great honor.

So when King Eddie was crowned, he went at once to Edinburgh to become president of St. Andrews (a much greater achievement) and according to custom drove off the first tee to select his caddy. In its report, The Times said the waiting caddies "stood disrespectfully close."

A good friend played golf and repeatedly urged me to learn to play. He was left-handed and had left-handed clubs. He said I could use his clubs until I found out if I played left-handed. I never accepted his offer, but I did bat lefty when I played baseball. One time he made a hole in one, which means (he told me) his drive ended in the hole and he could start all over at the next one, sort of like hitting a first pitch for a circuit.

Then my friend got a free carton of Wheaties from the cereal people, which has long been a promotional gesture whenever a golfer slobs one in. This was back in 1944, I think, and my friend gave me a package when he opened the carton. I put it up on my bookcase alongside Roget's Thesaurus, and it has been there ever since. I thus have what may well be the oldest box of Wheaties in the world. And, of course, the only hole-in-one Wheaties in the hands of a non-golfer who always eats rolled oats and molasses.

There was a golf course upstate somewhere that had a swampy place between the 13th and 14th holes, and it detracted from the fun of going around. So they got Charlie Cummings to come with his one-horse lute, or scoop, and during the dry summer he dug the place out and groomed it so when the next rainstorm was over they had a beautiful pond. Golfers had to swat the pill so it carried over, or there'd be a kerplunk, and there goes another one! But the scenery was better, and you didn't muddy your high-priced golf shoes anymore.

Well, to make a short story long, time passed, the golfers became more numerous, and in a certain year it was decided the pond had filled with weeds and bulrushes. It was necessary to take cosmetic steps and restore the original beauty of the hazard.

All one summer the golfers didn't play that hole. And when a ditch was made to drain the pond, and the weeds and bulrushes were removed, Leslie Pulsifer took a garden rake and recovered 38 bushels of golf balls. He sold them to a flea-market man and put two kids through university. That's one thing that makes me wonder about golf. Fore!

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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