Clear fairways

HE sports section of the Philadelphia Inquirer carried a picture in September 1949 of three bewildered young women under the headline: “UPSET.” The caption explained that if any of the three won her match in the first round of the Ladies National Amateur Golf Championship it would be The Upset of the tournament. I am one of the three. This is the crowning moment of my golfing life, my first appearance in what was then the big league of women’s golf.

I am 27 years old, 5 feet 2 inches tall, and dressed in a creased chambray dress, a relic of college days, having been told too late that shorts the basics of my golfing wardrobe are banned at the Amateur. My opponent the favorite is one of those long-legged, easy striding, golden Western women, wearing tailored light tan slacks that match her bag, which matches her shoes, which match her cap, which matches her blond locks and handsome, lightly tanned face. Her bag proclaims that it belongs to Dot Kielty, her cap says “DOT,” and the beaded belt around her (disgustingly slim) waist spells Out “DOTTIE.” We are called to the first tee. Dottie climbs over the rope; I after gauging the height wriggle under.

“Miss Buckley on tee,” roars the loudspeaker. Miss Buckley tees up, nervously, takes a practice swing, nervously, and is asked to step back, which she does, nervously. The television cameras must be positioned, and back in 1949 that takes some time. Miss Buckley obligingly swings for the camera crew.

“Clear fairways, Miss Buckley,” says the loudspeaker. Miss Bucklcy by now a near basket case–cranks up a mighty swing, and the ball rolls ever so slowly over the front edge of the tee, coming to rest on the tee’s downward slope, still within easy range of the cameras. Miss Buckley staggers off, making way for Miss Kielty, who slams her ball 250 yards right down the middle. Dottie picks up her tee, smirks at the crowd, pauses to say: “Miss Buckley, I never converse when I play tournament golf,” and strolls ten feet ahead to await my second shot.

So, you ask, how can I continue to love a game that constantly inflicts such almost gleeful humiliations on its votaries? The answer is: I have no choice. I can no more purge golf from my being that I could shuck amoebic dysentery, which, if you get it, you have it for life.

“Golf,” the Columbia Encyclopedia informs us, is a “game of hitting a small hard ball with specially made clubs on an outdoor course sometimes called links. The object is to deposit the ball in a specified number of cups, or holes, using as few strokes as possible.”

Which shows how much they know. That’s a description of what you do when you play golf, but that’s not golf Golf is a till-death-do-us-part situation, a blessing and a curse, both of Biblical proportions: it humbleth the proud and bringeth the mighty low, though it does not necessarily raise up the humble. Golf is aggravating, entrancing, baffling, amusing, exhilarating, frustrating, debilitating, joyous. It can sunder friendships; it has sundered marriages. It is expensive and time-consuming. But as any golfer will tell you, there is nothing quite like the exhilaration of a well-struck drive, of a crisp 6-iron to the green, or of that impossible putt that careens thirty feet on a slick and treacherous green to drop into the cup. There is nothing to beat stepping up to the first tee in a friendly but competitive foursome. Golf is one of the few sports where players of widely disparate talents can enjoy playing together because handicaps do indeed level the playing field. Golf is fun.

Golf is also an open sesame to friendship. Once the word gets around that you play golf, golfers gravitate toward you. Next thing you know you are booked for a round next Saturday and a whole new set of friends awaits in the wings.

The more seriously some golfers take the sport, the more laughs the others get. Half the fun is the stories they tell, sitting with a tall beer on the terrace overlooking the 18th green. Like the one about the woman in the Carolinas Women’s Championship, some years back, who held up the entire field (temp.: 98 degrees) by her insistence that her opponent plays the ball where it lay. The opponent refused to do so. The Tournament Committee was summoned, and it ruled that the opponent could replace her ball two clubs’ length from where it lay, which was against the scaly hide of an alligator sunning itself by a pond near the 10th fairway. Or, at that same tournament, the woman who enlivened the cocktail party that evening by recounting that twenty yards from the 18th hole her small black caddie had handed her a 3-wood. An older, more experienced caddie had whispered: “Man, why you give dat lady dat club?” To which the boy had replied: “Man, dat lady ain’t going to get on no green, nohow, with no club.”

“And he was perfectly right,” commented the lady, by that time well into her third Tom Collins.

Sad to relate, golfers can be picked out in a crowd by a certain glazed look in the eyes of their spouses, family, and intimate friends. It is the glaze of boredom, the visible mark of endless endured hours of listening to a golf round relived, hole by endless hole, stroke by endless stroke. No, no, not again, prays the unhappy wife; he’s not going to describe yet again that shot on the 16th hole of the Number 2 course in Pinehurst when…

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