Awww hell. I’m getting a much later start on my “writing” day than I would have preferred. After 90 holes over the last 2 days, and 54 yesterday, the offer of a mixed drink at Mulligan’s Pub at Green Valley Municipal Golf Course for twice my score was quite appealing. Thankfully I cleaned up my game on the back, shooting a 38 to go with that heinous 46 on the front. Otherwise I’m not sure I would have been able to afford my drink. Anyhow, having the entire day today free, I had a few more drinks whilst chatting with the bartender and a couple locals. It was league night, and the camaraderie between the members of the league and the course staff was endearing. If I wasn’t so opposed to regimentation, I would think about joining a league. I like my golf spontaneous though. After all, of my 43 rounds thus far, I’ve only made tee times for 8 of them. Of course, that’s largely a function of both playing in sparsely populated areas, and playing primarily on weekdays. Still though, it’s always preferable to me to call ahead, confirm that the course is wide open, and head over at my whimsy. Just a hint to anyone else thinking of doing what I am doing / have done, the course is always wide open at 1:00 on a Tuesday afternoon.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten that this is a, at least partially, golf blog. Sure, it’s about travel, and life, and the dry wittiness which I bring to all things, but it is, ostensibly, about golf. How disappointed I am, in myself then, that I haven’t really written about golf since my round in Oklahoma (see: Oh You’re a Damn Fine Player…). In case you had forgotten, I had just prevailed over my arch nemesis, the reverse McKernan, and shot a 74 at Prairie West Golf Course in Weatherford. I was playing some decent golf.
This entry, you may have figured out by now, will ostensibly (twice in two paragraphs? Diversify your word choice, kid!) be about golf. In the last few weeks, I have played rounds in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa. That’s a full third of my trip, golf wise. My results varied over the 17 rounds, from a low of 77 to a high of 89, with a staggering amount of rounds between 81-83. If you really hate golf, or really hate me, I guess you can stop reading now, and wait for a later entry concerning my travels. However, it should be obvious to you by now that while this is a “golf” entry, there will be significant portions of this babbling which have little if anything to do about golf. For my new readers, just trust that I’m not lying to you. I am very honest. Read on, whether you like golf or not; I’m sure you’ll enjoy what you will find.
So yes, I had played a round in Oklahoma, and was feeling pretty okay about the way I was hitting the ball. My round in Texas the next day sort of killed my golfing buzz. First, it was a Saturday, and getting on at my first choice of course wasn’t a guarantee. Second, I didn’t play very well. You ought to know then, that my first concern was resolved, relatively painlessly. The only explanation I have for getting on so easily on a Saturday morning is that golf just isn’t that popular in North Texas. Amarillo is a city with a population of roughly 200,000. There are 2 municipal golf complexes (Ross Rogers and Comanche Trail), a private club, and a course to the south in a town called Canyon. The 2 muni’s each have 36 holes, however, meaning that there were 5 courses open to the public in the area. 5 courses for 200,000 people. I didn’t really like my odds. Astoundingly, a quick call to Comanche Trail confirmed that I really only need show up, and I would get one, somewhere, with somebody.
So I showed up, and got on immediately. I paid me greens fees, threw my clubs on the cart, and was about to pull up to the tee when I was greeted by a friendly old man. “Larry Capicola!” he said as he shook my hand. To be honest, I do not remember the fella’s last name, but it was Italian, and started with a C. Capicola fits, right? Anyhow, I introduced myself and we were off. He was in his upper 60’s, and had no business playing with me from the blue tees, but was more than happy to join me back there. I told him a few times he could move up to whatever tees he wanted to play from, but he trooped onwards from the blues.
As we were standing on the 1st tee, a loudspeaker called out “Capicola!” Thinking I had just been transmogrified and was now in a deli somewhere, I licked my lips in anticipation of a delicious Italian sandwich. Seconds later, my brain forced my stomach to remain sedate, as “Capicola! You are being joined by someone – please wait!” Another straggler was thrown in with us, and we had ourselves a motley threesome. The third member of our group also introduced himself via given and surname, “Cam (I forget, but think ‘Dotson’).”
Cam and Larry were both very friendly, and we all got on well enough that front 9. By the end of the first hole, Larry made it known that he was a preacher for a Southern Baptist Church south of Amarillo. Pretty much the opposite of myself, someone who hasn’t been to church in years, and has no desire to ever go back. Having been raised in the North, I never had much experience with Southern Baptists other than televangelists and those Westboro freaks. My perception held that a Southern Baptist preacher would be friendly (preachers have to be friendly, if nothing else – how else can the herd be shepherded?), but would relatively quickly find out that my long haired, quick witted, foul mouthed, traveling Northern self was not a god-fearing young man, and may make for an uncomfortable round of golf. How would this round pan out? I was riding with Larry, while Cam rode by himself, so I was sure the conversation between Larry and I would inevitably get to religion. I wasn’t going to be the one to get it there, though, and instead led the conversation to stories of travel, to Larry’s background and life, and, of course, to golf.
Cam was a Texan by accent, and was very friendly. He was so enamored by my trip that he remarked that if I end up flying to Alaska, I’m to let him know so he can join me! Well Cam, if you are reading this – leave a comment or email me and I’ll be sure to contact you if and when I make the flight up to the great North. He was a formerly very good player, by his account a 6-7 handicap when he was in high school. It was obvious by his swing and approach to playing the game that he was probably even better than this, but wanted to remain humble. The opposite of my buddy from Alabama, who was, in his words, currently a 4 handicap, yet struggled to break 50 on the front 9 at Roundabout in Cowarts. I didn’t ask how old Cam was, but I imagine that he was roughly my age, possibly a few years older than I was. We shared conversation related to how, as we have each matured, our outlook on golf has changed. He was a very excitable player when he was younger; breaking clubs, swearing constantly, throwing temper tantrums on the course. He had stopped playing around the age of 20, and only picked up the clubs a few years ago when a friend had asked him to join him for a round. In the years in the interim, he had chosen not to focus on golf, but the other parts of life. Golf became for him what it should be for the vast majority of golfers: something fun to enjoy with friends and family, or as a solo venture of self-improvement. Long gone were the days of his rage. He was an even keel dude, and was clearly just out on the course to have a good time.
That’s not to say that he wasn’t clearly disappointed in bad shots, he just moved beyond them and lived to play the next shot. My demeanor on the course isn’t quite as level as Cam’s, but is significantly calmer than it has been in the past, much like Cam. I am a very excitable person. I have certainly calmed down a lot over my life on the links, but am still liable to subject playing partners to a string of expletives after a string of bad shots. At this point in my life, I’m comfortable with my on course demeanor though. Everyone deals with disappointment differently, and golf is the ultimate test of disappointment. While it was, particularly in my teenage years, commonplace for me to allow a single hole, or sometimes even a single shot, to ruin my round. I couldn’t let go. All that stuff I wrote in Golf; in a Few More Words about the ultimate beauty of golf existing in the constant opportunity for improvement, and for the next, was foreign to me a child.
As I have grown, and, even if only slightly, matured, I have of course adjusted my attitude about golf. I try hard to remain ever cognizant of the fact that, even on my worst days, I am a better than average player. On my best days, I’m still not even in the conversation for being called a great player. I am, currently, an 8.5 handicap. That’s better than most people will ever be, and far better than I ever thought I would be. I tell myself all that frequently.
Still though, I find tremendous value in swearing after bad shots, or bad strings of holes. Swearing is something that I became comfortable with at a young age, and something with which I have, at times, felt it my responsibility to defend. I’m not going to write as much as I could here, but the reason that swearing remains powerful is because the words are taboo. It’s a stress reliever just to say a bad word, for some people. The word itself, however, is necessary. Of course there is nothing objectively wrong with any word, but language having developed as it has, context has made certain words less favorable than others, some words simply verboten, and still others welcomed in some areas and frowned upon in others. I’ve always found heck, darn, shoot, frick, crap and any other pseudo-swear words I may have overlooked to be more offensive to me than hell, damn, shit, fuck and the real words.
What moves someone to swear is raw emotion; sometimes it’s disappointment, sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s joy. Raw emotion deserves raw reaction, and the tempered nature of heck, darn and the baby words is a complete hocker in the face of personal honesty. Swearing is verboten, and doing so releases anger, and stress, in large part because the word is forbidden. Read the Wikipedia article about profanity, and check out some of the references for more on this, I’ve got to get back to golf. Just for your reference though, know that my personal favorite after a particularly heinous shot is “cocksucking motherfucker.” It just rolls off the tongue.
Cam had only joined us for the front 9, as he had some schoolwork to complete which was due the next day, allowing just Larry and I to ride around the first few holes of the back 9. I’ve already written about Cam, and wanted to get back to Larry; after all, I’m sure you all had your sights set on hearing about how I got on with a Southern Baptist Preacher. So yes, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and was aware of the possibility of having an uncomfortable round of golf. I always do my best, though, to go into any and every situation with a blank slate. Let people, places, and things stand on their own merits; and if I end up not finding someone, some place, or something to my liking, that’s okay; it has its own place and its own value (in most situations. Of course terrorists and baby-rapers truly are worthless). With this outlook, I came to find much to admire in Larry. He really was a remarkable guy. He grew up in central Illinois, and ended up joining the armed forces when he was a young guy. He was full of stories of debauchery, and told me that he was convinced that his and his friends raison d’etre was to drink all the beer in the world. As a young guy, he got drunk frequently, messed around with all types of girls (including a 13 year old when he was 20! He thought she was older, but when at dinner with her parents it was revealed that she was 13 – he left immediately and didn’t contact her again. I guess the times were different. I can’t imagine any parents of a 13 year old today allowing their daughter to bring home a 20 year old. He didn’t know that she was 13, but her parents did. They also presumably knew the guy was older. Fascinating story.), and ran around just doing the American thing.
He eventually got married, and ran around doing various jobs in various places until he finally earned his P&C license. I wouldn’t have known that P&C means Property & Casualty, and refers to a broad qualification to practice various functions in various types of insurance, had I not worked in that industry myself for a few years. But yeah, that’s what it means. This was in 1983. This was at the end of a 5 year bender, during which Larry, if not frequently, as least regularly used. Pot, obviously, coke, and meth. He was into it all in the late 70s and early 80s. It was beginning to ruin his life. In his words, his wife was ready to leave him, and later admitted to him that she had seen a divorce lawyer just before he had found the lord.
After a particularly wild bender, Larry says, he woke up in a room, unsure of where he was, of how he got there, and even if he was alive. It was then, he claims, that the lord spoke unto him. “Dude – you have to get yourself together.” A few months later, he was in seminary, and thirty years later, he’s still preaching at a Southern Baptist Church.
Always the skeptic, I had to step back and consider that this is just a manufactured story of “finding the lord.” It happens in all denominations, but it’s particularly common among Baptists, for these types of stories to come about. Apathetic young guy, gets caught up in drugs, sex and or rock ‘n roll, and sees his life flash before his eyes. Unsure of his continued existence, he finds the lord. Common story. Of course, it’s possible that Larry repurposed this common tale for his own benefit. However, there was an authenticity, a clarity, and a brutally open honesty about Larry, his story and stories which impressed upon me that this really was his life story. He had an answer for every question I had, and never had to take a minute to get it ready. Occam’s Razor, people. This dude lived the archetypal life of the reformed Baptist Preacher.
For people like him, religion is beautiful. Regardless of your thoughts on the legalization of drugs, it is or ought to be clear to anyone that harder drugs (basically anything equal to or harder than coke) are usually, if not nearly always, detrimental to users. While the problems of pot are largely as a result simply of the drug’s illegality (both alcohol and tobacco are more physically damaging than marijuana), the problems associated with cocaine, heroin, meth, and a variety of “harder” drugs are, in actuality, related to the drug itself, and not necessarily their status as illegal. There is an argument for the legalization, or decriminalization of drugs (one that will not take place here, largely due to time constraints), but to ignore the harm that these drugs will inevitably do their users is foolish. There’s a reason Bayer stopped marketing heroin in the early 20th century. Larry was in a place in his life where he suffered not only the physical and psychological effects of these drugs, but also lived under the specter of their illegality, and with the damage they were doing to his family. Religion was able to get him out of that place. Religion, for Larry, was very useful, and I understand the draw it has for him and others like him. Religion, purely as something pragmatic, can be a great thing.
But religion isn’t for everyone. I’ve come to recognize that over the years. Amazingly, Larry recognized that as well. As I feared was inevitable, he asked me what my religious background was. Not shying away from the truth, but also not responding as acerbically as I sometimes do when religion comes up, I told him that I was raised Methodist, and stopped going to church around age 12, youth group around 15, and believing sometime around 18. I told him it just wasn’t something that was important to me, and not something I felt I needed to be involved in. I threw him a bone, stating that maybe someday I would come back to religion, but was careful to clearly state that I didn’t think I would. His reaction? “I get that. I certainly hope you do come back to religion some day, but it’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself.” No preaching. No judging. No condescension. A minute later, we were back to talking golf. Really a good guy.
By the 14th or 15th hole, our round had ground to a halt: there were a few groups holding things up, and we were invited by the twosome in front of us to join up with them. Rationalizing that we would either be waiting with them or behind them, we decided to join them for the last few holes. In a reversal of tradition, it was the son, Jalen Smith, who was the master, while his father, Ron, was the beginner. Ron was quite a beginner. He struggled to get the ball off the ground, sliced it horribly when he did, and lacked touch around the green. His son, however, was a fantastic player. He had a silky smooth swing, hit the ball relatively straight, played smart golf, and was delicate around the greens. He’s 21, and his goal was to go pro. I wished him the best of luck, and truly meant it. The kid loved the game, was good at it, and was a pleasure to play with. I birdied 17 (Jalen only made a par – J), and was told by Jalen on the next tee that he expected me to birdie 18 as well. It was an honest, friendly, good hearted wish on his part. He easily figured out that I don’t have the game to go out there and play for a birdie, but am skilled enough to find birdies here and there. It was a small gesture, but one that a golfer of my skill level really appreciated. Here was a scratch (or better) golfer, expecting me to make a birdie. Of course he didn’t really expect that, but he was kind enough to say he did anyway. Best of luck to ya Jalen, if you make it, count me as your first fan.
My round in Texas was also noteworthy, as Cam had referred me to the Inn of the Mountain Gods golf course in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Once he told me I’d be going through Roswell to get there, my plans had been altered. As you found out in my numerous writings about New Mexico, I am very thankful for having run into Cam and deciding to see every corner of New Mexico.
After all of my great experiences in New Mexico, I did have to golf up there. It was a Monday when I was to golf in New Mexico, and I didn’t really have any concerns about getting on. Whereas my concern in Texas regarding ease of getting on the course was misguided, my lack of one in New Mexico was perhaps naïve. I was going to look for cheaper alternatives, but after reading accolade after accolade (including Golf Digest’s #1 municipal course in the nation in 1995 and 2002, and #4 municipal course in the nation in 2008 and 2009 according to Golfweek), my decision to go play Pinon Hills, in Farmingto, was sealed. I called them up, and was just the slightest bit perplexed when they told me that they had a tournament, but would try to get me on. A tournament, on a Monday? Of course, there are youth golf associations everywhere, and leagues at any and all times of the week. But generally, when you call a course and ask if it’s open, if it’s a junior event or a league, they’ll say it’s a junior event or a league. “Tournament” means duffers in groups of 4 scrambling around the course, drinkin’ beer and eating a steak at the conclusion. I love tournaments, and lament that I haven’t played in one this year. Marty / Paul – find us a tournament in Western New York in September. This is a mandation.
I showed up, and indeed, the course was accommodating to a single player on a tournament day. I was not the only walk up, and was paired with a foursome of teachers from Utah, who had come down for the day to play a round of golf. The course was very, very accommodating to us, and I will always remember that. They let us out, as a fivesome, in the middle of a tournament. The only concession we had to make was that we would be starting on hole 12. Fine by us.
The guys I played with were named Mike, Mike, Shane and Nathan, and taught subjects ranging from special ed to University mathematics. They warned me that they engaged in hijinks on the course, and hoped that they would not distract me if I were a serious player. I tried my hardest to find a fart in my bowels to let them know I was on their level, but was unable to do so, and had to vocally, rather than through my actions, let them know that I did not mind hijinks.
Nathan was a golf coach at his high school, and played to about a 12 handicap, shooting an 87 during our round. The other three scores were 94, 94 and 100. I don’t remember which score went with whom, but I do remember that Shane’s drives were majestic – long, high, straight. He even outdrove me on a couple holes! The dudes were very comfortable with each other, and whether or not they were putting on more aggressively because they were in the presence of an audience or not, I very much enjoyed watching them rag on each other during the round. Shane, as I mentioned, crushed his drives, but didn’t have the rest of his game going. He did, however, twirl his club like a pro after mashed drive after mashed drive. “You’ve got that twirl down!” “Yeah, too bad he can’t putt.” “Or hit his irons.” “Or chip.” It was a laugh factory. After one of the Mikes, the guy who scored 100 and was easily the least skilled golfer of the bunch, made the only birdie of their group for the day on our 17th hole, he developed a huge shit eating grin and let his buds know that they’d be hearing all about this one on the ride home. One of them pulled me aside and said something to the effect of “see what we have to deal with?” Feeling at this point in the round like I was one of the guys, I immediately piped up, and asked Mike “Hey Mike! Could you tell us all about that time you made that bride on 10 at Pinon Hills? How’d that go again?” Chuckles all around, and an even bigger smile on Mike’s face.
I loved playing with those guys. The course itself was immaculate. From the blue tees from which we played, it measured 6746 yards, and had a course rating of 71.7 and a slope rating of 132. It was amazingly maintained, and featured a layout befitting of a private club. The designer made great use of the local terrain, as there was a nice variety of flat holes, holes with elevation change, and holes that were flat tee to green, but had severely sloped greens. The greens were fast but not ridiculous, and rolled very smoothly. Bunkers, water, and wasteland provided defenses, and every hole required thought and execution to do well.
Nathan analyzing his massively tough putt on the 6th green at Pinon Hills, in Farmington, New Mexico. Look at how beautiful this course is!
My last two rounds having been a 74 and an 89, I was capable of anything. And, I ended up proving it. I had doubled our first hole, a par 3, and was just a tad bit frustrated – another poor start! However, I recovered somewhat, and was sitting at +9 after our first 12 holes. Our 13th hole was a 198 yard par 3. However, we decided to go up to the black tees for this one, as the hole was absolutely gorgeous from up there. But my god, what a BEAST of a hole it was. 229 yards, most of it carry over wasteland, to a pin tucked in the tiniest portion of the green, the back right, just behind a bunker. We were elevated, the tees were slightly up, and there was a little wind at our back. I grumbled something about the difficulty of the pin placement for a right to left guy such as myself, and teed it up. I gripped and ripped a 6 iron, and nailed it. Couldn’t see the ball from the tee, but it was right at it. We get up there, and I’m sitting just 6 feet from the hole. “Yeah – tell us again how tough this pin spot was for your draw, Alex!” said Shane. I rolled the putt in, and moved to par the next hole. After 14, I was +8. Nice round going at a tough course, I was happy.
Then I made an 8 on hole 8. Duffing the ball around, hitting out of cactuses, it was heinous. It wasn’t all bad though, it was only a triple bogey. It couldn’t possibly get worse, right? Right? Wrong. I’m going to scare you the gory details, but I made an 11 on the next hole. An ELEVEN. Worst hole of the trip, and my worst hole in years. I made a few 10’s last season, and 1 earlier this year (a five putt at Terry Hills helped that one out), but hadn’t gotten into the 11 range for years. +8 after the first 14. +9 between 15 and 16. Round could have been over. Round really was over, for being included in my handicap, at least. It was time for pride to take over. I came back and parred 17, following a mashed drive, wedge and standard 2 putt. I needed only a par on 18 to save face and keep my round in the 80s. Our 18th hole, number 11, was a 397 yard par 4, with wasteland over to the right, and trees and moguls over to the left. I hooked on badly into the trees, but had a shot, and matriculated an iron up to about 50 yards. Ball was sitting down in rough, and I wasn’t too confident about getting it close. It ended up being a flyer, and left me a 15 foot downhill putt. I lined it up, and struck it ever so gently. I had misread the putt. I started out way too far to the right. In a sign of defeat, I looked away, resigning myself to my first round in the 90s since Maine. “Ooohhhs and Heeeyyys” from the boys forced my head back around just in time to see my ball miraculously slide in the side door! Redemption! The course gave me the putt – and my 89, while very disappointing, did have a silver lining. Beautiful course. Beautiful game. Beautiful putt.
Okay – I’m sitting in my hotel room and the wi-fi connection is spotty. I’m actually writing this in MS word right now. I’m going to go somewhere where I can upload it for your consumption. I’m going to keep writing into the wee hours, but honestly fear that if I continue now and save it all for one entry, it will be too much to digest at one sitting. Hopefully this entry itself isn’t too large as is. But if you are a new reader, and made it this far, just sit back and contemplate how honest I truly was. I told you this wouldn’t be just about golf, and guess what? It wasn’t.
Hope you enjoyed it – look for another entry, ostensibly golf related, later tonight. I’m going to start writing it shortly.