Photo courtesty of Chuck Koshiol*
One of the funniest lines in the movie Caddyshack, is when the head greenskeeper, Sandy, tells Bill Murray in a thick Scottish Brogue to go out and kill all the gophers on the golf course. Because of the accent, Murray thinks he’s being told to go out and kill all the golfers, to which he replies, “Check me if I’m wrong Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they’re gonna lock me up and throw away the key.”
Funny stuff. Takes me back to 1958 and the “Lil Pros” in my hometown of Paynesville, Minnesota. There were a lot of gophers around, which is why I continue to suffer from severe Caddyshack flashbacks.
My buddy Chuck Koshiol and I were ten at the time. We had to be two of the youngest players on the local circuit. Since nearly all our competition was older, we had little chance of winning anything. The league’s organizer, Ruth Yamamoto, apparently realized this, and handed out little trophies to nearly everybody, even though we were less than adequate at the game.
Our golf course back in those days, Koronis Hills, was nine glorious holes sitting on the edge of a woods that ran for several miles to the south, all the way to the shores of Lake Koronis. I was told, and have no reason not to believe it, that my grandfather, Herb Stinton, a depot agent for the Soo Line Railroad, was one of the town fathers that designed and then oversaw construction of the original course years before I came along. That was both good and bad. Good, because it made me feel connected to the land, giving me a sense of place. Bad, because when I decided to start golfing, my parents thought it might not last, so why spend all that money on a bag and golf clubs for a little kid when my grandfather had a perfectly good bag of clubs he had stashed away in his garage decades before? What clubs they were.
The head of the driver was falling off. I stuck it back onto its wood shaft with some black electrician’s tape. In addition to being embarrassingly unsightly, with hunks of tape hanging from the club, this made for certain difficulties on my drives, as the head would sometimes fly off the club, zooming down the fairway, endangering flying birds and errant gophers, the club head occasionally outdistancing the ball by ten to twenty yards.
Oh, the humiliation. That was another problem. Just a bunch of little kids, but we took it all so seriously. Even with the sand greens. They weren’t green, actually. They were heavily oiled sand. So they were brown. Brown greens. When you putted, your ball left a trail in the sandy surface so you could see just how pathetic your aim truly was, providing “line in the sand” proof of what a miserable golfer you truly were. Beware the brown greens.
After several players had “putted out,” there were ball marks and trails and shoeprints all over the place, so you or one of your fellow players had to pick up a big rake and rake the green, using a circular motion and starting from the inside moving out so that the surface would be smooth for the next group of golfers who came along to play in the oily sand – if they made it past the sand traps protecting the “green.” In fairness, the traps were loose sand, so they gave you a lot more trouble than the greens did, as they were a harder surface due to all the oil. Either way, there was plenty of trouble to go around.
So there we were, me and my friend Chuck, who was even shorter than I was at that point in our short lives, with all those older players towering above us. And me dealing with the humiliation of wondering whether my driver would fly apart on the next tee. I don’t know precisely how Chuck felt about it all, but he recently admitted that he played golf for just that one summer and never looked back. I wasn’t that smart. I stuck it out and wondered what was wrong as I kept getting hammered by those older players in our little group of “Lil Pros.”
I did eventually give up on the driver and move to my three-wood to tee off. Chances were I’d hit the ball just as far and there was no concern about the club head flying off and maybe killing somebody. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Chuck had an even bigger problem. He was a lefty, playing with right-handed clubs he had inherited from either his grandfather or his grandmother. He can’t remember which, just that he was a lefty with right-handed clubs. It’s no wonder he soured on the game.
Finally, after several years with Herbie’s old clubs, my folks went way out on a limb and bought me a whole new set. This helped, but not as much as you might suppose. I had been so brainwashed by playing with guys who were a foot taller and a couple of years older that there was no saving my game. I was doomed to be a duffer. Or so I thought, until I got to Baltimore and then California.
After the early 70’s, I didn’t pick up another club until moving to Maryland in 1982. For reasons I can’t explain, I missed the game. I bought a set of clubs at the Pine Ridge pro shop and started playing again regularly with my friend and colleague from WMAR-TV, Scott Garceau. Part of my motivation for getting back in the game was that I needed a diversion from the rigors of doing tv news for a living. And so I was back. Not a great golfer, but a fair one, I think, shooting in the low eighties usually, which is not great but respectable.
I got better as I recalled the advice of one of my buddies from “Lil Pro” days, Bill Haines. One of his relatives was a golf pro or semi-pro, or something such, who had told him to spend more time at the range, hitting a couple of buckets of balls on those days when he wasn’t playing a full round of golf and to hit a bucket of balls as a warm up prior to a regular game. It was advice I remembered, and it worked. Funny how some things stay with you.
In the 80’s, I got to California and decided to take the game seriously again, playing 18 to 36 holes a week and going out to the range on those days when I wasn’t playing a full round of golf. My golf buddies, Jerry and Bob, were both good golfers, which caused me to focus. And so it was, that I became a scratch golfer – provided the course was at least mildly forgiving. I was shooting par or breaking it, every time I went out. I was able to do it at will. But I really had to try. Like I said, this was now serious business.
I had conquered my shortcomings from the 1950’s, overcoming whatever demons were still there, lurking in my psyche. I had dragged those little bastards out and beaten them to death with my three wood, courtesy of Slammin’ Sammy Snead and personal lessons from Jack Nicklaus on his “Golf My Way” video tape. I had done what I had set out to do. There was no more to it, and so, once again, I gave up the game. For the third time.
And now my clubs sit in the basement, unused, unloved and under appreciated. Recently I thought I might take up the game again, but then thought twice. My personality is such that I need to do my best at whatever I do, and golf, if you wish to play it well, is simply too much work. Anyway, my Spaulding clubs are so old that I still have woods that are actually made out of wood. Imagine that? Woods made from wood? But I hit them well, so why would I buy a whole new set of clubs when what I have works just fine? I could, I suppose, buy one of those new giant headed metal drivers, so as to not feel humiliated while teeing off? Back to the driver again? Interesting, how things sometimes come full circle. Greens are now green, but woods are made of metal and I’m left wondering why I should buy a whole new set of clubs when what I have will work just fine?
In fairness, I should add that the old course back in Minnesota, now has 18 holes and real grass greens. No raking required. Hopefully, they’ve done something about the gophers as well, without blowing up the fairways ala Bill Murray in Caddyshack.
A few years ago I went back and tried playing the old course with my brother and nephew. My game fell to pieces as all the old demons came rushing back. I couldn’t even drive the hill on number six. Good God, what a game. I think this time maybe I’ll leave the clubs in the basement. For good this time. No really, I mean it. Probably.
*(front row: Bill Haines, Jamey Yamamoto, Chuck Koshiol, Ron Olsen)