Wednesday, August 4, 2010

a cruel and incontinent punishment

If I did not know it for the broken crock of shit it almost certainly is, I might hazard that my game is cursed.

For some time now, my son has been fond of golf. 

What began simply enough as idle simulation on a games console quickly gravitated to genuine curiosity on the green. Junior clubs were procured and for several months now he has been honing his skills on municipal courses.

Now. Golf is all very well - even old stooges have a weakness for it, I realize - and while its modern form may have originated here in Scotland, I for one have never truly graduated beyond a passing fancy for park life pitch and putt.

Shepherds knocking stones down rabbit holes on the site of the old course at Saint Andrews ? Sounds suspiciously like fallacy through the wrong end of the looking glass.

Anyway. Having previously demonstrated no fear on both the front nine and a driving range, last Sunday I ferried my son by bus to break his 18 hole cherry.

Since kids get in for free I could hardly argue. And since adults similarly enjoy a waiving of fees, providing they are merely there to escort a minor round said sprawl of urban wilderness, I settled on merely caddying. Besides, years of bad posture have taken their toll.

My back is not up to swinging a shortened stick.

As a family, I feel I must add, we also possess a forty year old set picked up in a thrift store, but these are "Ladies Clubs" - each one has this failing branded into the iron like a caution, even the woods - and while I concede there is no real justification for me to turn up my nose, one has to draw a line in the sand somewhere.

I would sooner desist from doing so with a ladies' wedge.

Well. The boy done good. He hit some more than decent balls. He did not tire, or peak too soon, he did not whinge. Nor did I cajole.

So. A good neighbour of ours caught us slouching home, weary but jubilant, and promptly made a gift of a set of full-size clubs. It was an offer I could not refuse, or accept on loan, he knocked on my door and insisted I take them.

For all my reservations, I was delighted. If nothing else, I could do with the excuse to get out there and burn off the bloat, as much as the shriveler's block.

He is a good egg, this neighbour.

Almost but not quite a novice then, I struck out alone to get in some practice.

On the first tee, I sliced my drive into the rough. I recovered with a shot straight into the bunker guarding the green. There ensued several woeful attempts to clear the ball. More buckloads of sand than Dylan on the beach. When I did at last make good contact, the ball sailed respectably aloft and onto the front of the green. My putting was adequate.

Close to exceeding my stroke limit, I did not bother writing up the scorecard.

The next two or three holes went by void of drama. And no spectators to witness me make amends.

On the sixth, a steep incline on a fairly short par three, the wind picked up. Once again I was fighting from the rough. I made the shot. My bag toppled over on the fairway behind me, spilling clubs like Pick Up Sticks.

I righted it and immediately saw that the vintage putter - a Fred Letters' Silver Swan, no less - had sheared clean through at the foot of the shaft. I have no idea why this might have occurred, unless there were some inherent weakness to it when it was cast. Still. It had clearly lasted decades without incident.

I soldiered on.

Somewhere between the seventh and the ninth I lost the vinyl cover to the No. 10 Driver. I retraced my steps half-heartedly but there was no sign of it in all that sea of green. I was glad my neighbour seemed entirely plausible in his largesse. I had no stomach to dwell on, less report, this second loss.

With every subsequent drive, my game deteriorated rapidly.

I made it to the 12th playing the same ball that I began with. At least there was that. Some teenagers appeared over the brow of a hill. Making off with the flag. Whooping drunkly like a tribe of native americans sold down the river for beads.

The green was pocked with litter and plastic bottles. I still made the putt in two.

There I stood on the 13th. "The Wave". A small pond choked with weeds. Farther on, an undulating sculpted feature right across the fairway.

I pressed in the tee and balanced the dimpled ball on it.

My arms and shoulders were aching now, my face and neck awash with sweat. On the 17th, to my left, a father and his two young sons were busy making inroads with a couple of well judged pitches. A pin-seeking chip. The youngest son cavorted cheerfully on the lip of the green while his dad remonstrated without much feeling.

I lit a cigarette and smoked it down to the butt before settling into the drive. Two afternoons previousy, my own boy had struggled with this one. It was a psychological thing. He fluffed two or three attempts before I stepped up to the plate and smacked it high up in the air, a good ten yards or so beyond the undulating horizon.

It felt good. Showing him how to rein in that fluttering dread.

I drew back on the stick and let fly with it. Ping! It smacked down in the water with an almighty splash. The six-year-old on the 17th stopped cavorting and silently watched me fish a second ball out of my trouser pocket. No matter. I was justifiably piqued, seeing as I had made it this far with the ball I started out with, but it was a minor gripe. Sploosh! The second ball fell dead in the water in the exact same spot. This time I could feel the second kid watching me. His father too.

I fidgeted my shoulders and lined up a third ball. Not counting that first ball, I had another five in the zippered pocket of my golfing trolley. What the fuck. I could make it on home with enough balls to spare.

Plop! went the third. The fourth. Now I was seriously pissed and sweating worse than before.

The father and his sons drifted away to tee off on the 18th - "Past Caring" - a little too hesitantly for my liking. I dug out the fifth ball and noticed there was no sixth. Between that distant first fairway and this one, I must have lost one somewhere in the deep grass. I did not remember, but I knew I set out with six.

That Sunday drive could not have been a fluke. 

I wandered down to the edge of the pond and spotted a fat white globe caught in the reeds. I plucked it out of the water and dried it off on the sleeve of my shirt. Well, all right. Now I had a backup.

I squinted at the three of them disappearing over the hill towards the clubhouse and teed up the fifth. An affluent looking bastard in khaki had by now taken their place on the 17th green. I hadn't seen him coming.

The fifth and sixth balls went the same way as the rest. I was out of balls. Humiliated. Emasculated.

I was relieved, then, my son was not beside me to share in any of it.

I stashed the clubs away and heaved the bag up on my back. It felt heavy as lead. Heavier than an unsorted sack full of mail. I have worked for the Post Office, too, you know. I have tossed crates around for the odd paycheck between meals; here and there, this way or that, but never once freshly slaughtered slabs of meat.

Well. I lumbered off that golf course under my cross and carted those clubs the extra half mile or so to catch a bus.

On the way through the gates I stooped to pick up a single ball lost between the vege and chain link fence. I could not leave there empty-handed.

More circumspect men than me might have gone to pieces. As it was, I arrived home to a conveniently empty house and hooked up the hog to get it all down. For posterity. Austerity. An absence of silverware, winning smirks.

There is no home run, I find, in the long run home.


Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Can you take your son up on the roof of your building and hit balls into the sea?

ib said...

Well. We are far from the sea.

Except by those peculiar American estimates, where a trip to the shops might be a country away.

The door to our roof is always padlocked and chained. I've never set foot on it. Somebody with a seriously professional drive, I suppose, might land a ball in the river. With a roaring wind behind him.

He would find it a good deal easier to break the windows of the Sheriff Court. Or The Citizen's Theatre.

I had a friend, once, who swore he sometimes lobbed golf balls off a high rise in Clydebank. I believe him. I am too much of a slave to social convention to try that one.


I would have given anything to see the above travails...Ib in woolly knickers & a tam-o'-shanter.

ib said...

As I walked away I was 3'6" and shrinking.

There were not many top of the range saloons in the car park - it is not that kind of course - but as each hatchback rolled on by, I kept my eyes fixed on the road ahead.

Those kids were too polite to jeer or point, but I kept expecting to hear their "there he goes, dad!", regardless. All the while the pieces of that shattered putter rattling in my bag.

Well. My back is stiff, and the lactic acid has not receded. I can't wait to get out there again. Once I fail at anything so spectacularly, there is no holding me back.

david said...

Just want to say, off the subject, your site is the best!

ib said...

Thanks, man.

I continue to nurse myself back to health on the bleachers.

There are a lot of intriguing things going on at M4SK22. I am still reeling from "The Spindle of the Dowie Dens", and happy you have alerted me to its idiosyncrasies.

I don't get all of it, but that's as it should be.

You know. You could be right about "the primitive mask of global society".

HowMarvellous said...

splendid stuff, ib - I've no doubt your game will improve.
Pitch n putt off Southsea beach is my limit - balls so lifeless the regulars bring their own; tho' there is/was glorious walking to be had around some of the local courses. Goodwood, I remember as a kid, lots of chestnuts to roast upon returning home.

david said...

Thanks for checking it out!
I feel honoured, been lurking around this blog for a while now and your work has become the essential music etc magazine of the moment!

Moss O'Brien said...

I will send MP3 asap...cheers!

ib said...


My 'game' certainly can't get any worse. I went back out there with my son and stepson, and it took the three of us close to seven hours to get round the 18.

It is a hilly course with some pretty views over the city, but humping those clubs from hole to hole saps away much of my appreciation of it. I got quite envious watching those little trolleys on wheels but, fuck it, my body needs the additional punishment.

As with Goodwood there are trails snaking around and through it. A lot of parkland I have never visited.

ib said...


Looking forward to it.

jonder said...

A great post about "a good walk spoiled". Best I can do is the par 3 courses, which isn't much more strenuous than miniature golf! My dad, who is 68, played 18 holes last week in 95 degree heat. His grandfather emigrated from Scotland, but I think the golf gene may skip two generations again. Maybe it will resurface in my sons when their older.

ib said...

Yeah. Those Par 3s are dandy. Especially when your drive is as poor as mine.

A lot of the guys I see out there look like they have golf to thank for keeping them in good shape. My son observed I am too old to learn new tricks. He may be right. Next time around I plan on using a hip flask to lubricate that spoiled walk.

@eloh said...

The whole while I am reading... I'm thinking... now if that were me... the wheels will break off the bag at any moment.... then I realized... you had no wheels to begin with..... oh the woe.

ib said...

I attacked the first hole or two with the bag strapped jauntily over one shoulder. In deference to the whole 18, I only brought those clubs which seemed necessary; a few good irons never even left the house.

That bag got heavy fairly early into it. Glaring at me like a mortar on its stand when it wasn't lying flat out on the grass.

Between shots, I was rerunning footage of marine grunts in basic training. Dodging shrapnel with 80lbs or so of dead weight bouncing on their backs.

If things ever get really serious, I will miss the first few waves of conscription. Of course. That might not rule out my being sent out later in the day on hands and knees to clear the odd minefield.

The wheels have already fallen off. I may have to face the fact that I am not cut out for golf. Then again. I'm not calling uncle just yet.

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