Yesterday I visited the golf course that I worked at when I was first starting in the golf business. It was only the 2nd time I have returned in the past 20 years and the memories flooded me.
I was 19 years old at the time and answered an ad in the newspaper for ‘cart attendants needed.’ Back then the course was rough, to say the least, as previous owners had neglected to maintain the grass leaving the fairways full of weeds and areas worn to the dirt.
The new ownership planted new saplings, began a program to grow grass and generally started maintaining the property.
In the summer we opened for play at 6:00 am and it was not uncommon that I would play with the gambling group as the first group off the first tee and play until dark! It would only take 3 hours for a foursome to play 18 holes so we could get in 90 holes in one day; and often times we did!
We had an incredible cast of characters: Bones, Bill Whitman, Hobo, Black, Sidney, Bob M., Dibo, Del, Cluka, Randy, Ted, Stilapro, Doc, Preacher Man, T Beatty, Chief, Big Al and (for you old school wrestling fans) Wahoo McDaniels! So many friends, so many memories.
My fondest memories are of the old clubhouse, which was a simple old farmhouse that had a room added on just off of the living room that served as the golf shop. There was no heat so in the winter we had to load the wood burning stove resulting in everyone hanging around in the living room playing cards or a game called quarters.
There was always someone hanging around the shop. Regardless of the weather you could always find action! It could be 25 degrees outside and raining and there would be 5-10 regulars hanging around telling stories, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and laughing. Eventually a challenge would be issued, whether intentionally or by accident, and the game was on! Chipping balls down a hill, under a tree to the 18th green. Throwing balls over the clubhouse from the 9th hole to the 18th hole. Playing from the first tee to the 2nd green.
There was always some type of gambling; and for a young, 19-year old kid, I was getting an education of a lifetime.
To say we had fun in this old clubhouse would be an understatement. Many nights in the summer myself and others from the staff would spend betting dollars while we putted in the golf shop to a movable cup. We would chip balls from the back bedrooms, through the living room, into the golf shop then out the door to the 6th green; fewest strokes in the hole wins. I cannot tell you the number of window panes I paid to have replaced!
Being there yesterday was like visiting an old friend.
Now, many of the characters that played roles in that story have died and the old clubhouse has been torn down and replaced by a new shop in a different location.
The friends having passed and the old farmhouse being gone was bittersweet.
As I rode around the golf course I was flooded with images from the past. So much laughter, so much fun, so many great friendships and so many great memories.
I find myself getting emotional as I type this as I tend to appreciate nostalgia and yesterday was one of the deepest moments of nostalgia I have experienced in my life.
Part of me wished I could return to those days as the memories were so vivid it was as if I could reach out and touch them. I could still hear the laughter, I could hear my old friends, I could remember the advice; it truly was a special time in my life.
I recall one particular conversation with an old friend named Bill Whitman. Bill had played the PGA Tour back in the day and was a veteran of World War II. At that time Bill was 70+ years old and he offered me advice on life and golf to which I always listened and because of these conversations we became great friends.
He told me of the story of killing a German soldier in the war; a story which he said he had never spoke of to anyone else. But the conversation that sticks out in my mind happened on a hot day at the back of the driving range.
One afternoon while riding around the driving range, we parked in the shade of this old oak tree to steal a few moments of relief from the burning heat. I remember asking him what it felt like to be old. His answer I carry with me today and I will never forget: “Son, yesterday I fell asleep as a bright-eyed 20-year old and this morning I woke up and I”m 70. It happened that fast.”
I learned golf and I learned life.
That little “dog track” of a golf course was my sanctuary. I just didn’t realize it at the time.