This week you get to read about golf because as I’m beginning this story, I’m sitting in our Phoenix house, waiting for another couple to get off the highways and join us for a golfing weekend in the heat.
I kinda’ grew up in a golf household. It’s the only sport my dad played, and boy was he good. He carried a zero handicap for quite a number of years. Don’t know what that is? It means that on average, he would shoot ‘par’ each time he golfed. That put him in the upper 1% of all golfers. Hey, I guess that means I grew up in a one percenter household! (So why did I have to buy my own underwear then?) (link)
Me? Well my index, (an official measure), is 14. I guess the apple fell quite a ways from the tree, huh. But don’t worry, this isn’t a story about all my amazing golf shots, (mostly because that would be a really short story). No, instead it’s just golf-related.
My dad was one of those kids you’d call a ‘course rat’. Grandma said that in the summer, he’d get up very early in the morning just so he could be the first person to get to the golf course every day. When he wasn’t caddying, he was either practicing putting or practicing on the driving range. That’s how much he loved to golf. Aunt Barbara, (dad’s sister), once told me that he had a partial scholarship offer from Purdue to golf. That must have been fairly unusual in the 50’s when he graduated high school. She said though that he joined the Marine Corps instead because “only pussies didn’t join the service”. That’s the environment he grew up in. Working in a factory all his life I think was at the core of his frustration. He swore he would not end up doing that, like his dad. He was wrong. He won a city championship one year. I think that was his claim to fame. Either that or something related to a couple of putting trophies I seem to remember seeing at the Goodman Ave house when I was a kid.
He was a good golfer, not only I guess because he had talent for it, but he practiced. I hate to practice. I’ll never be good and I accept that. His favorite practice spot was a little area that was across the street from a public golf course named Potters in Hamilton, Ohio. It’s pretty close to the place he dumped my pet cat (link). The area was known as Miami Woods, but it used to have an open grassy area right against the street and a pole that was stuck out in the ground maybe 80-100 yards away. It was a perfect free practice area.
When you go to a driving range to practice, you typically pay for a bucket of balls, go to your teeing area and then hit your balls out into the grass where later a person driving a lawn mower with a pooper-scooper attached to it collects all the balls. What does a person do though if he’s hitting balls in a free practice area? Solution – you round up your three children, you take them with you and then you promise them money for picking up the balls. You get to hit your balls and then you get to watch your little rug-rats scramble to collect them all.
Dad would announce – hey I’m going to go hit some balls. You kids want to go shagging? That’s what it was called, shagging. We were the shaggers. He hit the balls and we shagged them. Invariably it would be me, my friend Timmy and my two brothers, Steve and Mike. Mike was a little too young to shag so usually he was there because Mom made him take us with him.
These were the days of pop bottles and penny candy, so the shagging prize money was, (I’m sure), a heck of a lot cheaper than paying the caged lawn mower guy with the pooper-scooper. We were cheap labor. There was always a bounty for shagging the most balls. There were ‘special’ balls too that each had their own bounty. In his bucket of a hundred or so golf balls, there would be several that had a unique appearance. Perhaps only two were Pinnacle brands – those might be worth 3 cents each. Maybe there were only 4 with stripes on them, (no doubt practice range balls) – those might be worth 2 cents each. And on every shagging expedition, there would be a single ball that might be worth 10 cents, all by itself!
Dad would hit the balls towards the pole and we would follow those balls with our greedy little eyes like Wile E. Coyote watches the Roadrunner from the cliff top, hoping to get his next meal, (sans binoculars). When the bucket was at its last ball, we’d all be poised to take off flying down the grassy expanse. He’d announce that “this is the last one, get ready kids”. Then the sweet sound of a 60 degree iron striking the semi hard surface of a dimpled golf ball would announce the race. Even today, now that I too am a golfer, there is something deeply satisfying about swinging that club and striking the ball in the precise ‘sweet spot’. When it hits that spot, there is no twang, no golfer cursing; only the soft “thump” that every golfer recognizes as a perfect strike that signals – this ball is going the distance that it was meant to travel for this swing.
Our ‘scooping buckets’ were our tee shirts. Sometimes we’d take them off, tying off the arm and neck holes, and other times we’d leave them on, pulling the bottoms of the front of the shirt up towards our chests so that we had a nice little built-in bucket attached to our chests; a bucket capable of holding maybe 30 balls. The three mini scoopers, (4 on rare occasion Doug Hubbard was with us – I say rare because even as a kid, Doug didn’t like to run), would be skittering around, not only trying to collect as many balls as we could, but also trying to find those special ones that would ensure the penny candy sugar high that we kids craved.
When it appeared that the scavenging had ended, Dad would call us back to him, sort of like calling back the bloodhounds after they’d hit the creek and lost the scent. We would each go running back, (careful not to drop any of our finds), and we’d each dump our bounty into a nice little pile where “Captain” (oops, I mean Dad), would count and sort through each then announce our payments.
Ok, it looks like Timmy was the big winner on this one. He’s got 20 cents coming. Robbie was next with 10 cents and Steve got a nickel. Ok, you kids can go back to playing in the creek and I’ll call you up when I get down to the special balls at the end of this next bucket.
At that, we’d scatter back to playing in the water, hoping to find a few crawdads to aggravate.
On one shagging expedition, play and shagging was interrupted. You see, my little brother Mike, (RIP – I wrote about Mike in this story), was three years younger than I so at most I’m thinking he was 4 years old at the time of this episode. Four year-olds need a lot more oversight from adults than we ‘big kids’ needed back in the sixties.
Like most creeks, there was an incline from the creek level to the ground level. A small bridge had been built on the road to drive across this particular creek so the incline there must have been maybe 4-6 feet. It wasn’t high enough for someone to commit suicide off of, (though I don’t claim it wasn’t ever tried by some crazy Hamiltuckian), but it was high enough for a little four year-old to lose his footing and stumble down, landing on his head against a rock. And that’s what happened to my little brother Mike. Timmy was the fastest runner so I asked him to run to my dad to tell him Mike was hurt while I helped him up.
It’s the only time I remember having a visual memory of my dad with a look of extreme concern on his face. He saw quite a lot of blood coming down off of little Mikey’s head. To avoid the car getting any blood on the seats, yours truly was nominated to remove his shirt so it could be held on Mike’s head. Steve sat up front in the car with Dad and me and Timmy sat with Mike in the rear, holding the makeshift bandage against his head while he cried. Dad ran over and quickly scooped up his golf clubs, leaving the balls behind, and threw the club’s into the back of he car. We were off like a bullet then to Fort Hamilton Hospital’s Emergency room. Mike was fine and I don’t recall any stitches needed.
And the Story resumes
Once Dad had hit 2-3 buckets of balls and had us shag them, he was ready to head back home to Goodman Avenue. Coming back from Miami Woods to Goodman, there was a street he liked to bring us on where invariably the car’s brakes would ‘go out’ on. We fell for this joke the first couple of times he did it, but we soon wizened up. The car was a standard shift so it had a manual clutch. We’d be coming down this hilly street and Dad would be pumping furiously on the clutch shouting
– oh no kids, the brakes are out..everybody better hold on because we’re going to crash into a tree.
There were no seat belts in those days so we all imagined little boy bodies flying all over the road, (before we had an opportunity to enjoy our last load of penny candy, no less). We all survived however and Dad would stop in front of Ben’s corner grocery store where he would then dole out the prize money. He’d usually give me a few extra nickels so I could buy Mike some candy because he was not old enough to walk home with us. If you’re following the stories, you might remember that I mentioned Ben’s was one of the stores that was just a little further away from our house. It was right on the way home from the practice range so it made a nice detour for us kids and was a convenient drop spot for Dad.
As a kid, we must have gone shagging for balls at least a couple dozen times. We never turned down the opportunity for the child labor because when we were kids, we didn’t get allowances and there really weren’t any household chores we were fit to perform for money. Our only source of money for penny candy in those days were pop bottles (written about in this story) and there were only just so many pop bottles lying around…I mean we weren’t the only kids around looking for those things.
In hindsight, as I’m sitting here in Arizona, reminiscing about those outings, I’m thinking that other than the nights my mom and dad played cards with their friends, they were the only times I recall where Dad was in a consistent good mood. He just loved golf. When he was practicing, we kids never got into trouble and never got yelled at. Sometimes I got to hear a good cuss word, (Dad could curse with the best), but they were never directed at us kids, only at himself, his car or his golf clubs. Dad swore he would never end up working his life in a factory, and he did. He was also, (maybe), good enough to take a shot at becoming a professional golfer, but he didn’t.
Life is just way too short for us all to fill ourselves with a lot of major personal regrets. I miss penny candy.