You Play a Lot of Golf There Young Fella? I Sure Do! (Part 1)

The best laid plans… I had intended on stopping into the next McDonald’s I saw down here in Southwest Virginia to suck down some tea and bang out a workmanlike entry concerning the last 54 holes of my trip.  I ended up having met “the mayor of Rural Retreat,” as I will remember him, in the process.

Say what you will about McDonald’s, but thus far, the mere existence of the chain has been nearly life sustaining.  I’ve only eaten at McDonald’s 3 or 4 times on the trip, but I have stopped in at countless McD’s to use their free Wi-Fi.  Always the best at everything, their Wi-Fi is, for the most part, reliable, strong and fast.  And this $1 large tea, sweetened or unsweetened, is tremendous.  Get a tea, sit here for two hours and write.  Seems a fair trade to me.

So yes, I was looking for those golden arches, and I found a pair to the left of 81 in what I have determined to be a small mountain town called Rural Retreat, Virginia.  You read that right, the name of the town is Rural Retreat.  I’m almost certain I’m downtown, as I’m in the McDonald’s next to the Shell station and the interstate.  If I needed any further convincing that I’m somewhat isolated right now, I just saw a man wearing a cap that was emblazoned with the bold statement that “JESUS IS MY BOSS.”  This is the ‘Murca we’ve all heard about.  I have arrived.

And it took no more than 5 minutes for me to feel welcome, included and perfectly fine being here.  I had gotten my tea and just sat down to begin writing when I felt the first shots of a massive war betwixt bowels and toilet.  A hard fought battle with many casualties later, I emerged victorious from the bathroom when I was greeted by a very elderly gentleman, who simply wanted to know “if you play a lot of golf, young fella?”  It should be mentioned here that I was wearing this shirt, courtesy of Truths and Lies Brand: Arsenal_Steel_Blue.jpg

Naturally, I responded that I did, and that began a lovely 5 minute conversation.  He wanted to know where I played, and I initially wasn’t sure how to answer.  The man was older than dirt, and had a heavy “southern Appalachian” accent.  Fuck it, I said, I’m telling the guy exactly what I’m doing.  His eyes lit up in excitement, and he began telling me of all the great courses he had played over the years, from Middletown, New York to Myrtle Beach and all points in between.  He reckoned (his words, not mine) that he’s been playing golf for 40 years, and he’s still as willing as ever to play.  “Whenever that phone rings, I answer right away!  I know it’s one of my friends who wants to go play some golf.”

He let me know that the course I was playing tomorrow, in Bristol, Virginia, is a nice one, but he warned that I may lose a few balls.  Then he looked me up and down once and decided that I was a player and took it back.  “You can handle it, I reckon,” he said.  He had been here with four elderly women, one of whom I presumed to be his wife, and it was time for him to leave.

A hand shake and wishes of safe and fun travel later, the dude was about to leave.  Then, I was treated to a spectacle which I kinda always hoped happened in small towns, but wasn’t quite sure of.  He walked around the McDonald’s, saying bye to everyone, shaking hands and patting backs before heading out for the night.  The man literally knew everyone in the place.  It’s a small world, and in an even smaller town, I suppose that’s bound to happen.  To see it in action though, to see the McDonald’s literally acting as the social lightning rod for a certain population, was beyond fascinating.

There’s no doubt about it; I’m in a different part of the world.  I have vacated the Northeast and have made my way into the south.

You’d never know it by the weather, though, as I seem to have traded the deadly heat for a refreshing cold front.  It got as low as 67 degrees during my jaunt south today, and the weather has broken nicely.  The humidity has dropped, and the temperatures should be topping out in the low 80s the next few days.  Should be marvelous for golf.

As for my last 54 holes, they went by faster than I would have preferred.  If the first 4 days of the trip, featuring 7 rounds of golf, wasn’t blurry enough, my whirlwind sprint through the Mid-Atlantic was particularly expedient.

After departing from Delaware on Friday, I had a pretty painless trip down to DC.  Once in DC though, I encountered the worst traffic of the trip.  395 was shut down, forcing me onto ground roads to eventually find my way to East Potomac Golf Course.  Upon arriving, I resigned myself to a dreadfully slow front 9, and checked in for my 3:40 tee time.  Yes, I had to make a tee time for a Friday afternoon.  Turns out that East Potomac is the 2nd busiest public course in the country (according to the guy in the pro-shop, but after taking a look around the course, I have no reason to doubt him), and it was very busy.

Thankfully, they have 36 holes, and some of the newer players are ushered to the 9 hole executive or 9 hole pitch and putt courses rather than the flagship 18 hole blue course.  Once my time had come, I teed it up from the blues, and let ‘er rip.  A few painfully slow holes into the trip, and I had caught the threesome in front of me.  I was invited to join them, and while I had two friends coming to join me for the back 9, I wasn’t going anywhere for the front, so I decided to join.  Prince, Malthus and Marlon were the guys, and only Prince had a somewhat decent swing.  He was, however, a Cowboys fan, in DC.  Malthus and I made sure we gave him a good ribbing about the ‘Skins savage beating of the Boys twice last year, and I was looking forward to an enjoyable 6 holes with these guys.

Prince knew better though than to have me ride around with absolute duffers though, and made me play through after just 1 hole.  He didn’t want to slow me down, and while I appreciated that, I wouldn’t have minded finishing out the 9 with them.  As it was, however, I ended up joining another threesome for holes 7-9.

Mike, Tom and Brian were these fellows’ names, and they also had a ringleader (Mike) and two newer players.  Tom and Brian weren’t bad though for just picking up the game, and we finished out our 3 holes with relative ease.  These guys were all in awe of the trip, I could tell, and wished me luck as they moved on to the back 9.  I had mish mashed my way to a 41, alternating between blue and white tees depending on with whom I was playing, and was in eager anticipation of the back 9 with my buddies Carl and Andrew.

Within half an hour or so, they had both showed up, and we were off.  Andrew, by his own volition and without suggestion from anyone, decided to walk, while Carl gladly threw his clubs on my cart and rode around the back 9 with me.  Carl is a friend from Buffalo, while I had worked with Andrew at Hersheypark in our younger days.  It’s no surprise that they ended up in or around DC.  DC has so much to offer for anyone, but particularly for young people, that it has become one of the premier destinations for young and talented people, which Carl and Andrew both are.

After introductions, we let ‘er rip on 10.  Carl has been playing for most of his life, and while he doesn’t play nearly as much as he ought to, he has a powerful yet controlled swing, and is pretty decent at all elements of the game.  His first round in weeks, he parred the first hole he played.  Andrew, on the other hand, has really only been playing for about 2 years.  Of course, he has some lumps to go through, but he has all the fundamentals down, and will certainly be a good player within a few more years.

“A few more years.”  That is a big turn off from golf for a lot of people.  It takes years to become good.  Truthfully, most people never become good.  I’ve been playing 15 years, and as a 10 handicap, am really just a glorified hacker who is just a little more consistent than most of you.  I’m not going to get into another “love letter to golf,” (see Golf, In a Few More Words, for that) but the lifelong nature of learning about the game and developing ways to be better should serve as a draw for the game, not a slice away from it.  Hahaha.  Very punny.  Please forgive me.  Andrew’s got the patience to learn the game, and will be a good player.  That’s all I was really trying to say.

East Potomac is on an island between DC and Virginia, and is a part of DC.  An “out and back” course, the prevailing winds are out of the south, which just so happens to mean that holes 1-4 are straight into the wind, while 15-18 have the wind at your back.  Every hole is straight, as you can imagine given that the course is on a narrow island, and areas of the course are prone to flooding.  There were many unplayable areas.  Given the volume of play, the course was in good condition.  I won’t say anything further about the course’s maintenance.

The best part about playing there though, other than the fact that you can play with groups as diverse as those I did on the front 9, is that as you  begin your approach back to the clubhouse on 16-18, the Washington Monument serves as a backdrop.  It reminds you where you are, if the droning roar of jet engines every two minutes from Reagan didn’t already do that.


Carl blasting one towards the Washington Monument.

Critics of the noise, conditions of the course, amount of play, location and clientele can all go fuck themselves.  What I experienced at East Potomac was beautiful.  If you ever doubted that golf was an everyman’s game, you only need to go play 18 at East Potomac or any other urban course (for my WNY friends, I highly recommend Grover Cleveland GC).  Sure it will be a frustratingly slow round, but it will also remind you why the game is beautiful.  Everyone at East Potomac was there because they loved the game, not because they had to be there or needed to blow off steam, or wanted to be seen.

I ended up shooting a 39 on the back, for a nice solid 80.  I threw numerous strokes away with dumbness such as missing 2 foot putts and hooking drives in to water, but still came away quite pleased with the overall result of the round.

We were hungry, so we headed into downtown DC for a bite to eat.  Carl graciously offered to pick up my meal, and I raised little to no objection.  Carl is a Nationals fan, Andrew is a Braves fan and you all should know by now that I am a Phillies fan.  Made for some fun conversation at the bar as we munched down some sandwiches.  The Phils and Braves had won, while the Natties lost.  Poor Carl.  In all, a great experience in DC.

Now I’m growing tired and still have an hour to go until I reach Bristol, TN for the night, so I’m going to be pretty brief regarding yesterday’s rounds.  As brief as I can be.  So it won’t be very brief.

Yesterday morning, Andrew made the trek out to Thurmont, Maryland to join me again, while some other buddies of mine, Willie and Milan, also joined me from Camp Hill, PA and DC, respectively.  I went to college with Harold Crawford “Willie” Gabler IV, and the greatest disappointment of my life is that I was unable to convince him to name is first son Harold Crawford V.  That being said, he picked “Henry.”  Still a pretty damn good choice.  I was the best man in Willie’s wedding, and will undoubtedly be friends with him for the rest of my life.

We would kill hours after morning classes at Shippensburg just sitting on the bench outside the dining hall, talking to passers by and each other.  The campus was bustling with activity, we were still with reflection.  There was a time when we had a “question of the day.”  Posing as ‘statistics majors.’ we would ask humorous questions such as “do you think it should be legal to own a midget as a pet?” and “do you think it is morally acceptable to shoot your friend in the face with a shotgun?”  The first question was proceeded by “A state senator has introduced legislation which would legalize the ownership by commonwealth residents of midgets as pets,” while the second came on the day following the Dick Cheney “hunting incident.”  It’s just one anecdote, but I trust that you get the gist of what Willie and I were all about during college.  It wasn’t just sitting on the bench though, we played a ton of golf.

January 2006 was particularly memorable, as south central Pennsylvania enjoyed a legendary heat wave, which enabled us to get out at least six or seven times during the month.  We ended up developing a few cool relationships with other folks in the local golf community, namely the club pro at the now defunct yet very nice Majestic Ridge Golf Club in Chambersburg, PA.  His agreement with us was simple: we fix 3 ball marks each per green, we play the course, walking of course, for free.  What a deal!  How easy would it have been to just play and ignore our end of the deal?  We never did though, and enjoyed many a free round at Majestic Ridge.  The pro knew me as “Philly,” owing to the ratty old Phils hat I always wore to the course, and was the first person to actually take the time to explain the handicap system to me.  What a dude.

Willie and I also knew this dude on campus only because we occasionally played golf with him.  His name was Cole, he was quiet, and he had the nastiest hook you’ve ever seen.  I’m pretty sure he never went to class or did anything else.  As far as I know, he only ever walked around campus looking for Willie and I to go golfing.  Every time we saw him, either he would ask us if we were golfing, or we’d ask him.  Many a quick 9 holes were spontaneously generated merely by running into him on campus.  He is also responsible for a long time joke of mine on the course.

Whenever I step up to a short par 5 or short par 4, the jokes about making an “Alabaster” begin immediately.  It was another typical round at Rocky Spring GC in Chambersburg, which is a 9 hole dog track on an old Army depot.  $5 to walk 9 when we started college, I think it had gone up to $7 by the time we graduated.  Not a bunch of Van Wilders, we got out in 4 years and all, but the course just sort of raised rates at the acceptable pace of the boom times of the middle 00’s, and my $2 twice a week was the victim.  Anyhow, either Willie or I had bombed our tee shot on one of the par 5’s, prompting Cole to suggest that whichever one of us had hit the ball had as “good a chance at making a… whaddya call it… Alabaster that I’ve ever seen.”  He was going for Albatross, but came up Alabaster.  Phenomenal.  I love malapropisms, and frequently use them intentionally myself, particulately in spoken English, but also occidentally in written English as well.  I also like portmanteaus.

Willie and I have long yearned to make an Alabaster, and I’m sure that if and when I ever make one, Willie will be the first person I notify.

So that’s Willie.

Milan, my other buddy who joined me for the round in Maryland, was kinda like the little brother I never had.  He graduated from high school a few years after I did, but we became good friends, and worked together for a few years before life began happening.  It seemed at times like the kid idolized me, like I was the older brother he never had.  I grew my hair out into a fro, he grew his hair out into a fro.  I bought a VW, he bought a VW.  When I first started hanging out with him, he was a dirty Braves fan.  Now he properly roots for the Fightins.  It follows then, that he became a golfer.

It has become evident to me that this entry may never end, and that I’ve already blown way past your attention span.  I’m going to put a stop break in here – and drive myself down to Bristol.  I will finish this entry either late this evening or early tomorrow morning.

Really though, read all of this.  It’s fascinating.  It’s not mere tooting of my own horn.  I was told by an old friend yesterday that my blog is “cocaine-ishly addicting.”  I consider that to be the best compliment yet.


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