Growing up, I had a complicated relationship with the game of golf.
In this case, “complicated” can be translated as “I hated it.” My dad always enjoyed the game and taught my brother and me the basics – stance, grip, and so forth. But I wasn’t very good at it. And I didn’t have the desire to work to get better, not like I did with other sports.
Over the years, golf and I have reconciled a bit – and I’d put my dad right at the heart of it.
My father, Mike, lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Believe it or not, I’m a native Tar Heel myself, but I consider Texas to be home, since I made a beeline here to the Lone Star State, with a layover in my Mom’s homeland of Wisconsin, by age 4.) For the past several autumns, Dad has taken a trip to Texas to visit, seeking out quality time with his kids and grandkids. He spends part of his visit with me and my family and part with my brother Denbigh and his brood. They live in Fentress, near San Marcos.
Dad’s only request is that we each schedule a tee time while he’s here. Since he delights in playing golf, I’m happy to oblige.
This past week we managed to squeeze in a pair of rounds. That’s no small feat during football season, when the sportswriter tends to be, shall we say, a little busy. (It’s kind of like squeezing a 42-inch waist into a pair of 38-inch jeans. Or so I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know.)
Last Wednesday, Dad and I made the short jaunt north to White Bluff Resort in Whitney. You may have read in Art Stricklin’s golf column in the Trib that White Bluff recently re-opened after a two-year hiatus following an ownership change and renovations. Well, I can vouch for the fact that the course looks great. And club director Mike Hicks and his staff couldn’t have been more friendly or accommodating.
We played the New Course – the Old Course was still three days from opening – and the gentleman at the front desk offered a foreboding warning: “It’s a hard course.” He wasn’t kidding, but they’re all hard to me.
Lake Whitney is nearby, so White Bluff’s designers decided to give golfers a little taste of the lake. Water hazards lurk on 16 of the 18 holes on the New Course. My driver actually doubled as a divining rod, as it consistently located liquid throughout the day. I bet I deposited a box of balls to the good folks at White Bluff.
However, somewhere on the back nine, I exacted my revenge. Both Dad and I sliced our approach shots into a small pond off the right side of the fairway. The balls came to a rest just on the edge of the water. Dad’s got one of those nifty ball retrieval tools, so I immediately started to climb down when he said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. You don’t go after a ball like that.”
Being an (occasionally) rebellious child, I waited until he went for his bag to grab a new ball, then I made my break for the water. Not only did I rescue his Callaway and my MaxFlite, but on my hike around the reservoir I happened upon a ball jackpot. I plucked about eight more from the abyss, chucking each of the goop-covered treasures up onto the fairway. “Haha!” I bellowed. “Take that!” The mission was worth the muddy shoes. At least I felt like I broke even.
I don’t play military golf (left-right, left-right) as much as I play Facebook comment section golf. That is, I’ll yank one Bernie Sanders left, followed by another that’s Ben Shapiro right, interspersed with the occasional blip of sanity squarely down the middle.
Dad, meanwhile, plays regularly and is much more consistent than me. Like a lot of senior golfers, he’s also an early bird. In fact, by the time we teed off at White Bluff at 10:30 a.m., he normally would have been back at the clubhouse. He said that he and his regular golfing buddy in Winston-Salem are among the “dew sweepers,” hitting their course when the sun is still cresting over the horizon.
At any rate, we hit some good ones and some not-so-good ones, but we had fun.
Then, two days later, we were back at it. This time, we played at Waco’s Cottonwood Creek Golf Course. I was scheduled to play with the Trib’s Chad Conine, Tommy Witherspoon and Steve Boggs as part of our foursome in the MCC Foundation Tournament. Since that event coincided with Dad’s visit, I brought him along. (Much thanks to MCC’s Shawn Trochim, Vince Clark and the rest of the crew for procuring an extra cart for our sudden fivesome.)
Here’s the thing about golf that both tantalizes and frustrates. At least this is true for a hacker like me. Perhaps some of you can relate. I’ll hit just enough decent shots to think that maybe I know what I’m doing. And then I’ll chili-dip one 40 yards off the tee.
That’s where it pays to be in a scramble. Less pressure. Hopefully, one of your partners will pick you up. If I liked eggs, I think I’d order them scrambled.
Fortunately, I did contribute some shots to Team Trib’s effort. We all did. (We also shared plenty of belly laughs, but I won’t spill the tea, as I adhere to my “What happens in Vegas”-type solidarity.) Unfortunately, none of us were really locked in with the flat stick, so we didn’t exactly putt for dough. The birdies weren’t nearly as plentiful as Waco’s grackle population, put it that way. We finished with a 67, and though none of us stuck around to check (Friday night’s lights called) I don’t think that was good enough to put us near the top of the standings.
But, again, we had a good time. Every once in a while, one of us would smoke a drive that rearranged the dimples on the ball, or we’d scoop a supermodel-gorgeous chip onto the green for a (seemingly) makeable birdie try. The guys chuckled at my pantomiming of lobbing a rock onto the green before I chipped, but whatever works, right? (News flash: It didn’t always work.)
Best of all, Dad was in his element. Grumbling when he didn’t catch his tee shot fat, uncurling a small smirk whenever he did. But all in all, happy as an ice cube drenched in Dr Pepper.
I don’t hate golf anymore. I’d probably stop short of saying I love it. It’s more of a conditional affection. With my own son, I’m more likely to play disc golf or basketball, while my daughter and I share different passions, like theater productions and Chick-fil-A. Most of the year, my clubs stay tucked away in the garage, and that’s OK.
But it’s something to do with Dad, and that’s good enough for me.