Coach's Corner

"The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day." The Book of Joshua

Las Vegas: In the clamorous, jingle-jangle sensory overload of this Sodom/Disneyland in the central Nevada desert, 7:45am is a very early time indeed.

Nevertheless, here I stand, with 25 other shaky fellows, at Bally's Hotel & Casino, hands twitching spasmodically from two rapidly quaffed cups of coffee. With the cumulative effects of heavy drinking, heavy gambling, heavy eating, sightseeing, and showgoing, sleep deprivation is taking its toll.

I'm here on a businessman's junket, subsidized by a local radio station. Our hosts had arranged an early-morning golf outing, producing 35 undignified duffers, decked out in straw hats, Great White Hunter helmets, madras shorts, black socks (one golfer featuring bright, green scuba booties), shuffling through the lobby of this busy, luxury hotel, many with 50lbs of clanking golf clubs strapped on their backs like mutated camel humps.

We breathed the noxious fumes of 50 or so tour buses lined up in the hotel driveway until our transportation arrived. Our hosts arranged for a number of vans to transport us to the distant golf course. These vehicles may be okay to take a few kids to little league, but they're not intended to move seven grown men -- some too grown -- and seven sets of golf clubs anywhere, not even around the block.

Our journey was considerably longer than a block. We passed the time in the ageless guy way. There was some farting, a few belches, and a few too-early-in-the-morning attempts at filthy jokes. Once this de rigueur marking of the territory was completed, the lying began.

Hours before the first ball is struck, duffers are turning viciously on each other, calling handicaps into question. Accusations -- though, in fact, most of us had never seen each other before yesterday -- fill the airless cabin. Everyone's recovering from a terrible injury. Nobody has touched a club in six months. Nobody's ever sunk a putt of over three feet. It is, of course, a pack of lies, each and every word. We all understand this, as our caravan labors toward the distant links.

We arrive, at last, at Angel Park Country Club: it's 8:45am. Generally, with tournaments like this, each group tees off at different holes, at the same time, in a "shotgun start." This allows everyone to finish, more or less, at the same time. No such luck today. We will tee off one group at a time. With absolutely nothing to do for two hours, I wander over to the driving range where, out of utter boredom, I hit and putt myself into total exhaustion.

The first swing is taken by a youthful sports talk-show host whose physical condition, at this still early point in the day, looks as bad as mine, a man 20 years his senior. Though he was once All-American, time has ravaged his hand/eye coordination. He shanks his first shot, on a razor sharp 90deg. angle from the tee box, into the yawing canyon on the right. The tone is set for the day.

When it's finally time for our group to tee off, two members of our foursome are missing. The lost twosome is paged over the intercom; search carts are sent out to scour the grounds, the driving range, bathrooms, and restaurants. Forgetting we're in Las Vegas, nobody thought about the bar at this obscene hour of the morning.

A golf cart careens across the immaculate lawn. My teammates arrive, pickled stiff. As the driver staggers out of the cart, the passenger, our "A" player, is sprawled out across the width of the cart, retching pitifully onto the lush grass, his face a frightening mass of blotchy red patches, his complexion disturbingly pale.

We stagger along at a less than deliberate pace. Our leisurely speed is increasingly influenced by the effects of alcohol consumption, frequent bathroom stops, mid-course strategy discussions, and the relentless desert sun. It took three hours to reach the 9th hole. Three holes later, without a hat or sunscreen, I feel like I'd traversed the Sahara with Lawrence. At the 15th hole, a desert gale howling in our face, we turn due west. The huge, blazing ball in the sky is only inches from my pounding head. At 18, all desire and energy spent, I slash two 8 Irons into the only water within 200 miles. I'm done, finished, washed out. Our leader, who many hours before was vomiting into the pristine canyon -- subsisting quite well on a steady diet of beer -- sunk our only long putt of the day. It was over.

Except it wasn't. Though we'd been out on the course for six hours, we still have to wait for the groups behind us to finish, at least an hour, then have a ceremony of some kind. The pay phone is crowded with guys trying to explain to wives and girlfriends how a four hour round of golf, begun in the pre-dawn hours, lasted until past sundown. "Uh, well, sorry about that honey, maybe we can see Sigfreid & Roy next year."

At about 7:30pm, a good 12 hours after we departed, our vans deposited us back at Bally's. Shortly, we'd be facing friends and family, not in the least sympathetic to the trials and tribulations in the day of a golfer. We all steadied ourselves with the ancient golf proverb, "A bad day of golf is better than a good day of shopping," and set forth across the bustling casino.

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