I smiled and nodded like an idiot.
“Is it worth ten dollars an hour for me to take a few swings off your game?” he asked. Ten dollars was a princely sum in those days.
I smiled and shook my head like an idiot.
He then gifted me with a dozen golf balls and invited me to take my trade to his chief competitor. He must have truly despised the man.
That's as close as I ever came to a lesson.
Actually, I love the game. I love the fresh air. The pleasant walk in pleasant surroundings. A few hours spent with pleasant company.
Few of my golf-addicted friends ever asked me to accompany them. Shame, I'm certain, played a hand in their recalcitrance to be seen in my company on a golf course. Thus, I played with strangers, filling out many foursomes when a player became too ill to play due to, what I can only suspect, was a terminal illness. Surely no true golfer would miss a tee-time for any other excuse than a date with St. Peter.
I smiled and nodded like an idiot, and he turned and walked away muttering something indecipherable.
I have had countless such adventures and incidents on golf courses. Sadly, most players drive on through vying to reach each hole using the least number of strokes. Meanwhile, I tack up the course from the rough on one side to the other and back again like a sailboat beating against the wind, up a narrow channel, scraping its keel from time to time. Surely, I get my money's worth out of the game, if only from enjoying the vista from every vantage point.
Truly, I don't believe that anyone enjoys the game more than I. However, there is no thrill equal to making a hole-in-one, and a myriad of better golfers than I have never shared the accomplishment. You may be surprised to learn, so have I.
I was playing on the golf course at Barbers Point Naval Air Station while stationed with the Army in Hawaii. I was sent there after my tour of duty in Vietnam to be the Special Services Officer at Tripler Army Medical Center.
Please, do not confuse Special Services with Special Forces. The latter are among the best soldiers in America's Armed Forces. I merely provided “special services” to the patients at Tripler and the staff who served them. I ran the post theater and athletic facilities. I oversaw the craft shops and escorted the celebrities who visited the patients from time to time through the auspices of the USO. Every three months I organized a golf tournament for the hospital staff, principally the doctors and senior administrators. That's how I arrived at Barbers Point Naval Air Station.
The final foursome of the day was about to tee off when my NCOIC (Noncommissioned Officer In Charge of the event) approached and asked it I had brought my golf clubs with me. I had. They were in the trunk of my car. “Why don't you play a round with them?” he asked. “Everything's under control.”
It was. All the players had been sorted out into foursomes. Each player had been gifted with three free balls – top of the line. Enlisted men were steering electric golf carts around the course with bins full of ice and beer to revive anyone who might need refreshment. The trophy luncheon was in the capable hands of the clubhouse catering crew. So, I grabbed my clubs and entered the fray.
The other three members of my foursome included a bird colonel (full colonels wear an eagle as insignia of their rank; lieutenant colonels wear a silver oak leaf), a major who was kissing up to him, and a recently arrived intern, a captain. I was a mere lieutenant, hardly worth mentioning.
Inasmuch as I had been refreshing myself from the bins of beer on the golf carts before we got started, my game was much improved. I was relaxed. I believe I was well on my way to shooting in the seventies on the front nine. I had delusions of grandeur playing in my head that I might shoot in the one-twenties by the eighteenth hole. The colonel and I were getting along famously, much to the chagrin of the major who obviously was intent on politicking for some scheme or another while we played. However, I had an ample supply of beer in my golf bag chilled by ice stored in plastic hospital pillow cases. By the end of the front nine, the colonel and I were setting up my bag like a mortar, using two clubs to form a bi-pod, and pretending to launch rounds at the foursome ahead of us.
By the thirteenth hole, the major had had enough and was elbowing me aside to get some one-on-one time with the colonel. The colonel wasn't happy. It was that hole where it happened.
Five hundred and twenty yards and a dog leg to the right separated us from the hole. I was the last to tee off inasmuch as I always scored the worst on the preceding hole. I sliced. The ball sailed off to the right and dropped, lost from sight in chest high grass. The colonel sympathized. The major smiled. The captain stole a beer from my golf bag. (I replenished it every time one of my men drove by in a golf cart.)
Then, something strange happened. My ball reappeared. It looked as though someone hiding in the grass had picked it up, loaded it into a cannon, and fired it in the same direction it was headed when it disappeared. Our mouths dropped open at the mystery. Of course, there was no telling where the ball finally ended up. The tall grass obscured our view. I followed the others as they marched to where their balls had landed and took their second shots to approach the green. What else could I do?
I walked close to the rough on the right side of the course looking for my ball. There was some discussion as to where I should drop a ball and take a penalty, but I declined. I decided to take the maximum number of strokes for the hole.
Being the only person without a ball in play, it was only natural that I should tend the pin. That's when I found my ball. It was in the hole.
The others gathered around and gawked in amazement. The major suspected chicanery. He suggested that one of my men had dropped it there. However, as the colonel observed, my men were all on the other side of the course delivering beer and picking up slackers. The major persisted and was becoming belligerent when the captain called us over to the rough where I had left my golf bag. He had gone to relieve himself in the tall grass and pilfer another beer.
When we arrived at his side, the captain led us into the grass and pointed at the ground. The golf course had been built around an old airfield and the grass had grown up through cracks in an unused concrete runway. That explained the bounce, but it must have been a Menehune who provided the direction to give me a hole-in-one.
Menehune? That's the Hawaiian equivalent of a leprechaun.