This weekend I took another walk around the Richland Park Greenway Trail and, knowing what to expect this time, I stopped to watch the players on the McCabe Golf Course. The trail goes all around the golf course, which seems like an odd choice for a walking trail, although I guess maintaining a wooded area provides a buffer for the surrounding houses so they’re less likely to get hit by stray golf balls.
My freshman year of high school my parents decided I should take part in some school sport and, not having played anything else aside from a brief baseball career in first grade, I went for the golf team. I don’t remember how I found the golf coach but I do remember that he was approximately eight feet tall and bore a striking resemblance to Boris Karloff. But he gave me a short reassuring speech about how the golf team had enough players already but that if I didn’t mind riding in the back of the truck I could come along on Wednesday’s practice.
Wednesday I dragged my bag of golf clubs to school and confirmed with the coach that we’d meet up in the lobby after the last class. When I got to the lobby it was empty. I went out to the parking lot and looked around. There were a few compacts in the parking lot—for some reason none of the school’s principals drove full size cars. After waiting in the lobby for another fifteen minutes I checked the other two parking lots, which were empty.
The next day I dropped by the golf coach’s classroom.
“Well, where were you?” he yelled at me. “We waited and waited for you, Derek even went to the lobby and looked for you!”
With the benefit of a few decades of hindsight I realize this was bullshit. They forgot I was coming and left me stuck at school without a way home.
The next Wednesday was a repeat.
The third Wednesday I rode in the back of the truck for what seemed like an hour and a half—Google Maps tells me it’s about twenty minutes from my school to McCabe—but at least it was a sunny day and pretty warm even for September.
At the course I realized the other guys had fancy padded golf bags with shiny new clubs. I had a hand-me-down set in a peeling leather bag. They were also dressed like, well, golfers—green and red Izod shirts, blinding white slacks, yellow visors, shoes with spikes. I was still wearing my school clothes: button down shirt, jeans, sneakers.
In unison they stepped up to the tees and made perfect swings. I stepped up, selected a club, put my head down, concentrated.
“Hit the ball, Chris! Play fast, you’ve gotta play fast!” the coach yelled at me.
I jerked and hit the ball and it went an impressive six feet.
The rest of the practice went downhill, even when we were going uphill. Surprisingly the other guys were nice—or maybe they just felt sorry for me, and a few times they gave me tips or offered to let me try one of their clubs before the coach came and yelled at us for not going fast enough. I’ve never thought of golf as a speed game but the coach had his own idea of how to spoil a good walk.
I never returned to the golf team after that, and, in fact, forgot they even existed until my senior year when my friend Travis joked that he was going to try out to be a cheerleader. There was a hierarchy of cheerleaders with the best ones cheering for the football team, the second string working basketball, then baseball, and so on down the line.
When I asked Travis how the tryouts had gone he said “I’m a golf team cheerleader!” And I thought, hey, maybe I should join the team again.