Coach's Corner

Coach is playing some serious golf on vacation. Why is it, though they change partners every day, his team always loses?

Your average municipal golfer will probably never get closer to a Robert Trent Jones golf course than his couch. (For one thing, the refined southerner likely frowned upon the spectacle of public urination: a god-granted right of the muni-golfer.) In any case, late in the famous golf course designer's life, he apparently suffered a moment of populist weakness, allowing persuasive Alabama politicians to convince him to design a trail of municipal courses throughout the state for you and me: the unwashed masses. The idea was to attract tourists to a place not normally featured in Conde Nest.

For Paul, Joe, and myself this is our first experience on one of these boys-golf-outings type things, but not for John, who seems to do this once or twice a month. With all that experience, John plays the role of Dad -- admirably organizing all the details and explaining at great (and tedious) length the exotic, fantastically complicated betting games he has planned. None of us kids understands one word in five, except that, as kids in backseats have understood from time immemorial, in the end, Dad will win. Indeed, this proved to be the case again.

There's one minor car rebellion when Dad dispenses handicaps. We might be the kids, but we're still golfers (in a manner of speaking) and as such we instinctively grasp that we're probably being cheated. Successful Titans of Commerce and Industry will whine and grovel for an extra stroke, as the blind baby bear will search out the illusive teat of his momma. We're no different. The grousing is starting to get a bit personal when Dad tells us all to "shut the fuck up." He is fair and wise and benevolent.

At this moment, the Legends Lodge came into view, and this was a good thing. Before we began bickering about handicaps there was a serious (and I thought somewhat overly optimistic) discussion about which winsome foursome of ladies would be fortunate enough to make our acquaintance at The Lodge. The consensus is that a group of refined (but bored) horse breeders' wives from Kentucky will invite us over for mint juleps, dinner, four days of golf, and whatnot.

The harsh realities in the dining room -- the Dickensonian Ye Oak Tavern, a small, dark room, with seven or eight tables circling a horseshoe bar -- produce a savage jolt. The clamorous din of wasted, portly municipal golfers laughing, pounding tables with tankards of ale, and no doubt farting, is discernible at a considerable distance. The ladies from Louisville were not there. Nor, in fact, were there any woman at all. The Lodge is, in essence, a fraternity house for male golfers eligible for admission at precious few country clubs.

This is for the best. As potential issues of journalistic integrity don't have to be measured vis-a-vis the sanctity of marriage, our focus is golf. Our first day established an unfortunate, persistent trend. I'm paired with Dad today -- so far so good. Paul and Joe proceed to play 18 holes of really ugly golf... even by muni standards. From the first tee ("No out-of- bounds heayh boys," the elderly Alabamaian starter drawls, " play everything as a lateral hazard and see if y'all can finish up in sumtin under five hours, if y'all don't mind.") with both their balls in a distant lake, until the end, they individually and collectively shank tee shots, snap twisting hooks into the deep woods, deep grass, and sadistically deep, plentiful sand traps. They're consistently dreadful. Meanwhile, Dad and I play relatively well all day long. Still, somehow, we lose money.

One hole sets the day in microcosm. Paul's already lost three balls in the woods. He's out of the hole. Joe skulls his tee shot 50 yards, then yanks the next ball over a distant hill. His "recovery" shot imbeds itself in deep, thick grass, six feet above a nasty sand-trap; Joe is standing in the sand trying to glimpse his hidden ball, two yards above his feet. Meanwhile, John and I are waiting patiently on the green, happily adding up all the carries we're about to win. Joe, 150 yards out, violently (blindly!) lashes his 5-iron into the gorse. The ball rockets out of the grass, flies 140 yards through the air, landing softly between my astonished partner and myself, resting, finally, two feet from the pin. This is a shot that the world's best players wouldn't even attempt. Eight times out of ten Joe whiffs on it. It was ridiculous. It was heartbreaking. With annoying smugness Joe earns his team a push. Broken and demoralized, we lose the next hole and all the carries, most of them earned with shots only slightly less improbable than Joe's.

Whoever is my partner will play his worst golf of our outing, often the worst of his life. Paul -- a good golfer at his soft, cushy Austin muni courses -- plays like a rank beginner as my partner. Joe, maybe worse. So, though I play admirably each day, coming in an unlikely second in total strokes (the one category John didn't have a prize for!) I lose money to everybody. Grimly accepting the truth, I sullenly dole out cash to everybody who let me down.

The race of life, I try to think calmly, isn't always to the swift and the true of heart.

Blind, idiot's luck is a seriously underrated commodity in a cold, heartless world.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

golf, Robert Trent Jones

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