Coach's Corner

Coach's time at the Boulders proves far from Carefree.

The town of Carefree is located about an hour north of Phoenix, deep in the Sonoran Desert. Unlike most places with names like this -- towns believing a pastoral name will mask the fragrance of the fertilizer plant -- Carefree is carefree. Hardly anyone really lives in Carefree. Most of the majestic homes, built into mountains or on meticulously manicured golf courses, are empty much of the year. Which begs the question: What's plebian scum such as myself doing in Carefree, more specifically at the plush Boulders Resort and Spa? The Boulders is so refined, the staff employs a different language. For instance, I tried to arrange a massage for my wife. But Boulders jargon allows for nothing so profane as a massage. A Sonoran Rock treatment? Perhaps a Boulders Mud rub? No matter, the spa was totally booked. No rocks. No mud. But wait, a "therapist" could come to the "casita" if I so desired. Frankly, I had no idea what the spa person was talking about, but I took a stab. "Do you mean," I offered hopefully, "they'll come to the room?" "We don't have rooms, sir." This was followed by a lengthy, awkward silence. "These are casitas, sir, not rooms." Anyway ... my friends John and Valerie were celebrating John's 50th birthday and their 25th anniversary by taking a bunch of their friends out to the desert with them. In this typically roundabout and long-winded way, we've come to the grist of the matter. I had no intention of writing a travel brochure. This was to be about golf.

John's a rabid golfer, so each day's activities centered on and around golf. I met many of this highly competitive extended family I'd been hearing about for years. Golf handicaps were a source of incessant bickering. Cousin Tom, a municipal judge from New York (bewailing, at great length, the pitiful state of his game), came close to tears lamenting the lack of strokes his nephew allowed him, as he shamelessly shot par after par. The complex Hassidic debates over handicaps went on and on, day after day, night after night. Every male golfer told remarkably similar tales of woe and persecution. The only thing clear was that I would owe a number of people money when the day came to an end. Such is the unhappy lot of the high handicapper.

The Boulders was designed by a sadistic Nazi concentration commandant named Jay Morrish. An exaggeration, you think? One day the only golfer worse than me naively noted he was ready with 18 new balls. One for every hole, he laughed. Ha ha. By the 15th, our cart is littered with the debris of six empty Titleist boxes, caused by the one thing lousy golfers loathe above all: being forced to hit over stuff -- water, trees, ditches -- anything that might impede the roll of a severely topped ground ball.

At the Boulders, each tee shot requires the duffer to carry 50-100 yards of snake-infested, cactus-littered, no man's land. A veritable emotional and psychological nightmare to the 20-plus handicapper. All courses address these problems with a variety of teeing areas based on ability level. This is all quite sporting, except that these vicious bastards, content not a bit with depriving me a well-deserved stroke-a-hole, hound and humiliate me into playing on the so-called "men's" box. No end of unkind words are lobbed my way, concerning (but not restricted to) my virility, age, manhood, and the pink tint of my shirt. As I peered into the vastness of another 205-yard par 3, with only a few measly strokes per side, the idle passerby might well have thought the sobriquet, "You fucking pussy, where's your 3-wood?" was my name.

Bad golfers hit the ball straight only by accident ... and that's a problem here. Should you successfully carry the vast abyss, the ball (and all succeeding shots) damn well better be straight. A single foot off the fairway sends the hacker into what is gently called "a hostile plant environment." This means every growing thing has nasty half-inch-long thorns hidden amidst attractive, blooming flowers where your brand new ball lies in plain sight.

Each night I staggered back to the casita Christ-like -- bloody and gouged from punctures and scratches to my arms, face, ear, legs, and eyelids, all inflicted by the innocent quest for a lost ball. And yet even my generosity was mocked. My dejected partner had just lost the last of his new balls. Disheartened he was, in no mood to carry on. To buck him up, I hopped spryly from the cart, grabbed a 7-iron, and went to find his ball. "There it is," I cried out, ducking under a bush, quite pleased with myself. Presently I found myself hooked, a thorn gouged inside each nostril like a baited bear. A painful struggle ensued to disengage my bleeding snout from the damn bush. My partner, not at all grateful for my troubles, found this spectacle to be most amusing. He told and retold the Tale of the Bush repeatedly to the ever more drunken gathering of golfers and their wives over dinner that night.

Golfers are, in general, a most unsympathetic lot. You wouldn't want to have a heart attack on the tee box. You'd only slow down play and they still wouldn't give you any strokes. In your absence, they'd give you a triple bogey on every hole. Without question they'd request your widow to pay up at your funeral.

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