I don’t know how the father learned to play golf. I knew that when he was young, he had played baseball, basketball, and ran track, but these, I expect, came naturally out of schoolyard play. He surely did not learn golf from his father or mother; his parents showed no interest in any sport. There certainly was no money in their family for golf lessons or new sets of clubs. This was a working-class family where the father’s father sweated for his pay on a factory floor. I never heard the father talk about being a caddie, an activity through which many blue-collar kids learned to play golf. Still, even though I can’t really imagine how he learned it, my father knew golf.
He was quite good at it. Not great, but by my standards very good. Often when he left to play, he would say, “I’m going to break 80 today.” I don’t know how often he did, but it was not regularly. Still, his scores were usually in the low 80s. He didn’t keep a handicap, but my guess is it would have been a ten or twelve.
He could not afford the local country club even if he had been accepted there. He did not even play at the local public course that attracted some of the “best” people in town. Instead, he drove a half-hour to a tiny village to go to Quit-Qui-Oc, which, when he started playing there, was only a nine-hole golf course.
Although he knew some people at the golf course, he did not have golfing buddies. Instead, golf was a family affair. He had taught the mother to play golf, and she could hit a good ball. I think she enjoyed the game, but it was also her way of getting sun. On the holes far from the clubhouse where she assumed no one could see her, she often stripped off her blouse and played in a halter top.
At an early age the brother and I would go to the course, too. At the beginning, I did not play but walked along, for walk we did. There were no motorized golf carts, and when they started to be employed, the father voiced nothing but disdain for them. Golf meant walking.
There were no caddies, but the parents did not carry their clubs. Instead, they pulled little wheeled carts designed to hold a golf bag. (Until recently, I often played golf alone, and I walked pulling the same kind of cart my parents used. I still can feel the father’s influence. It is not really golf if you ride. A few years back at a golfing event, the pro announced that “real golf” was going to be played. I said to myself, “Oh, we are going to walk.” This seemed unlikely because we were sitting in motorized carts at the time. Instead, the pro meant that the players could not move the balls in the fairway to give a better lie. My first drive came to rest in a fairway divot. But I digress.)
I usually walked in the rough as the parents went from tee to green. I was looking for lost golf balls, and I felt a little excitement every time I found one. More than a half century later, I still get a little thrill in finding a ball in the rough that I can keep. The daughter and I used to do that, and she felt something similar. Maybe that’s why Easter egg hunts are such fun.
Soon, however, the father started to teach the brother and me to play the game. This was done in our backyard, which was quite large for our modest home, but it really did not have to be very large for our lessons. He gave us golf-ball sized whiffle balls to practice with. These objects with more holes than plastic did not travel far no matter how well struck. I don’t know how sophisticated the lessons might have become if I had stuck with the game, but at this point there were two goals: Keeping the head down so that I would not top (or even miss) the ball and swinging inside out so the ball went to the right. (I still struggle with both those things.) The father assured us that a real golf ball starting to the right after an inside-out swing would curve back to the left, and every golfer preferred a hook or a draw to a ball that sliced to the right.
(Concluded on April 9.)