Coach's Corner

Golf Wars: Coach barely survives a brutal midsummer struggle against Lions Muni Golf Course.

Pipo's Annual Mid-Summer Birthday Classic: a golf event not for everyone. The physically faint, for example, might find the traditional 2pm late July start a potentially catastrophic, life-threatening event. The still-rising mid-afternoon temperatures at Lions Municipal need little further comment. The fact they ran out of golf carts, that most of the water stations were bone dry, and that the pace of play was, let's say, leisurely, made this an event for the hale and hardy only. Dragging my pull-cart at the 16th hole, I found myself consumed with sundry thoughts, none golf-related: to get home, grab a cold beer out of the fridge, take a vicodin, put a cool washcloth over my hot head, turn on the whirlpool, and put the jets on my wretchedly twisted back and aching legs.

For those with any other plans after 2pm it would be best to phone in a happy birthday. It took 6.5 hours to stagger through the full 18 holes. One of the guys in our foursome abandoned us after nine, claiming to "have a date." Judging from his blotchy, pale pallor, I hope it wasn't a first date. In any case, we bade him a friendly farewell and held against him no grudge. Our "team" quest for winning anything had been abandoned some hours before.

Some issues concerning morality and language might arise for a practicing Baptist. The birthday party was quite large, taking up a half-dozen tee-times. So our group inched along the course like a caterpillar, each segment always in close contact with the others. As the afternoon wore on, obscene shouts, howls, and woeful lamentations toward a harsh and most unjust God became increasingly audible and vile. A God-fearing soul in the party's vortex would find himself surrounded on all sides by increasingly more frustrated, sotted duffers of wildly varying abilities. The sound of a ball hitting a tree juxtaposed with the very different sound of a golf club thrown against the side of a golf cart became very obvious as the afternoon progressed. By 5pm I found myself literally surrounded -- engulfed! -- by the sounds of filthy curses, thuds of clubs against inanimate objects, smells of the cannabis plant, and desperate shouts for the beer cart, all emanating from Pipo's guests. Though there were (no doubt) many staunch Republicans reveling at Pipo's birthday party, I doubt the GOP's standard bearer would have been caught dead anywhere near his golfing constituents.

And then there's the golf course itself: Lions Municipal, a course easy to underestimate. No less an expert than the Statesman's Del Lemons says he considers Lions the toughest muni in Central Texas. It's not a place to have a bad day. All woods are bad woods on a golf course, but Lions' woods are close by and omnipresent on every shot; and a thick and tangled woods they are. I'll regal you with one personal nightmare, quite typical of the 10-stroke war stories I heard at the post-party festivities.

The 14th hole is a 546-yard par five. I've taken far more 10s here than all other scores combined. Outwardly the hole appears benign. For me it requires a decent drive followed by a lay-up in front of a ball-sucking, gnat-infested "creek," about 100 yards from a dramatically raised green. Though I've rammed uncountable "safe" lay-ups right into the swamp, today all went according to plan. I had a clean look at the green 100 yards away: An easy shot ... but you better get the ball on the green. It's steeply banked on all sides. Shots short or wide tend to go to bad places. My pitching wedge is a little short, but the ball holds on the front bank. I'm safely over the ditch -- laying three -- 10 feet from the pin. A happy camper I am, but the nightmare is about to begin. I skull my chip and watch as the errant orb skitters quickly across the green, down the other side, bounces twice on the cart path, and comes to rest on the edge of the tangled wood. Not so bad. I'll bump it back up and settle for a six. Again, I blade the chip, the ball retracing its previous path, coming to rest exactly where it was moments ago. Up and down the hill I trudge. By this time my partners have finished the hole. The group behind is watching this fiasco, on the other side of the ditch, with their hands impatiently glued to their hips. I repeat this shot pattern again ... exactly. I want to kill myself.

Pipo's fight-to-the-last-man rules require the golfer to finish the hole. A rule was about to be broken. A friend scrambles down the hill -- where my ball first came to rest it seems like two hours ago -- and says, "Coach, no offense, but you've had enough." I'd still be there, on stroke No.165, stuck in a golfer's nightmare. Bless him.

As group after group staggered (like the wounded stragglers in the wake of a great battle) into the clubhouse, a festive atmosphere prevailed. There was food and drink and no apparent fatalities. A mood of gaiety and general good-natured bonhomie -- the type shared by survivors of a collective ordeal -- prevailed.

In a final stroke of Godlike justice, Pipo shot a rock-solid 80, winning his own birthday tournament.

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