John Montague was for a time the most talked about golfer in America, despite never having competed outside of his club championship. He was a member of a club in L.A. during the Great Depression where he hobnobbed with the likes of Howard Hughes, Oliver Hardy, and Bing Crosby. It was said he rarely shot above 70, and drove the ball over 300 yards using the equipment of his time. He could lift Oliver Hardy over the club’s bar with one hand, and he defeated Bing Crosby who was scratch using a baseball bat, a shovel, and a garden rake. The first hole at Lakeside was a par four which Bing reached in two and two putted using golf clubs. Montague tossed the ball and batted it over 340 yards to the greenside bunker, shoveled on, and using the garden rake as a pool cue, curled in a 12 footer for birdie, whereupon Bing cried uncle. Turns out, Montague was hiding a secret past that erupted when a member at his club, a prominent sports writer, broke the news of this phenom that avoided publicity, who on the verge of breaking the course record at Pebble Beach, picked up the ball to avoid the ensuing publicity. You can read about him in the book The Mysterious Montague by Leigh Montville (Random House).
The overwhelming conclusion that I reach from reading the book is that Montague was a golfist who reveled in the pure joy of being on the links, of the fellowship it afforded him, and the ecstasy of tracing that perfectly hit ball.
I took a lesson with Mr. William Rose, emeritus golf professional of Wakonda Club. He is a walking treasury of golf. He once spent two hours at Bobby Jones’ residence where they had a fascinating conversation about everything but golf. Mr. Rose has that knack for distilling golf knowledge into the simple facts. Thirty minutes on the range with him resulted in untwisting of that nasty duck hook and introduction to a controlled power fade, which I always thought was the better shot to have if you plan on trying to pinpoint your shots. With a slight adjustment, I still had my draw which I hammered out against the far fence on Fleur Drive. What I enjoyed immensely was the time spent with Mr. Rose who is a one degree separation from the deep roots of golf. Through him, I am only two degrees of separation from Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and Gene Sarazen (through Bobby Jones). He personally trained club pros that went on to staff many of the elite clubs throughout the nation. And above all, he is a great human being.
My first dream in the Voice cycle occurred over 23 years ago. I cannot publish the particulars of that dream in this blog, and I find it painful and frightening to remember, but the declaration of the voice was “We are the society of Darwin, and we will get you.” Needless to say, the world at large is this society, our society, that bustles about with no knowledge of the truths in golf. It is industrialized grazing and predation, where the machines take over the role of natural forces and cycles. It bloats people and finds many ways to keep them away from golf. There is no more nature unbound and we must now find it within whether on a private fairway or in a virtual golf pavilion. The paths I carve, on the fair ways I tread, I see a perfect circle, and nothing do I dread.
We all come to face the beast at some point in our lives, whether figurative or literal. There is the Blue Monster at Doral. Every course has a long par five to tempt the lengthy. My second dream from 18 years ago starts as a struggle to climb a cliff to reach a vista over a vasty plain. I am aided in this struggle by several able companions. We reach the plateau, and climbing up, we see a giant beast, four-legged with a slug-like sheen, corpulent and supported by timbers which restrain it. It had a stout neck and a maw that was wide like a hammerhead but rounded and meatier. It’s mouth gaped passively. There were towers, numbering five, each ending in a diving platform. Thousands if not millions of men and women queued in valley below, each rising up one of the towers and jumping into the mouth of the beast. One of my companions turned to me and said in that otherworldly voice, “who can resist the beast?” My other companions made the decision to descend and join those endless lines. Small mobs dressed like Roman soldiers roved the valley finding people who hadn’t made up their minds and dragging them into one of the lines. I stood on the precipice with a choice.
This is the question when faced with a seemingly insuperable opposing force. To join the crowd, to resist, or to flee (to fight another day). Golf offers an infinite variety of responses to this question. Pride, desire for glory, these trick you into one of the lines.
There are five golfing towers of misfortune: lying to yourself, lying on your scorecard, lying about your handicap, rolling the ball to improve your lie, and giving yourself putts. Given 600 yards to the green, you can hit four 7-irons and good putt. Two putt it or miss the green and chip it close, and leave with a bogey, you can live to fight another day (or another hole).
Golf is about leaving the golf course with your integrity intact. It’s about being honest about your daily labors. It’s about giving yourself to the process knowing that the process is an enlightening one.
I had a dream several weeks ago. It was the third in a series of dreams I have had since sophomore year in college. The second one occurred in the year after graduating from college, and an 18 year interval has passed. This most recent dream placed me in a beach-side resort. I was helping my mother down to the beach from the tower we were at, and my family was on the beach already. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people on that beach. Then a cry came up and people started running. Some ran away from the water, others ran to the water. Three waterspouts arose, sucking up the people. I could clearly see their bodies and faces spinning like dust in one of those fancy cyclonic vacuums. I wondered if they could breath if their heads broke the water. A great sadness came over me. I heard a voice, not of this world, asking me a question, but I can’t remember it now. The first time I heard that voice over twenty years ago, it said “We are the society of Darwin (a firm declaration).” The second time it said, “Who can resist the beast? (asked rhetorically?)” This third time, it said something that left me sad, I woke weeping, and in those moments after I woke, when I remembered what was said, I wanted to do something, but now I can’t remember, because I fell back to sleep.
Looking back, I think that the three tempests represent the three things that trap people: desire or want, addiction or attachment, and finally pride or narcissism. These are the hazards that we face everyday.
What’s up for today? Life being a metaphor for golf, today is a 348 yard par 4 with a drive over water that edges the whole right side of the fairway, dogleg right with trees and sand on top of the turn’s knuckle, the whole outer curve being OB, being bounded by ancient temple ruins. Approach protected by a thousand year old baobab tree that will block anything lower than fifty feet. If you’re big enough, you can drive the green, but anything less than perfect, you’re taking a stroke.
As bad as I played yesterday, I went out to our practice facilities and chipped and putted, and hit a few balls. More than once, actually 6 times, my flops, chips, and sand shots hit the pin. My 30 footers lagged to inches. My drives faded on command, and drew on command, and there was even a straight shot on command. My seven iron hit the 150 yard target 6 out of 6 times. Makes me want to take up tennis.
Pictured here is Wakonda#1 with her fairways stripped. The rough we will keep, but the fairways and greens are going to be seeded with A1/A4 hybrid bent grass. Trees have been cut down to open a 8 hour window of sunshine to the grass. Can’t wait for May 2009. Googling A1/A4 hybrid bent grass, it comes up time again in relation to clubs renewing their greens because of encroaching old growth trees and climate change.
#1 is a par 4, but it really plays like a par 5. It doglegs to the left, but topography serves to effectively lengthen the hole -if you land in the center of the the flat landing area, you end up with a 170 yard approach. If you fade right, you are looking at 190 to 200 yards. Slice it, and you now have a downhill lie effectively eliminating long woods. The perfect drive is a draw over the tree on the left that pitches you forward into the flat that is about 120 yards out. Anything less than perfect leaves you in the woods, tangled in the tree and into a sidehill lie out of dense rough, or you stop on the upslope. The upslope leaves you with a 150 yards to the pin, but because the green in elevated by 30 feet, you will land short if you sky it, but will run it through if you land too hot as the green is canted front to back and left to right. You need to hit a high shot with backspin that will go about 160 yards from a steep uphill lie. If you pitch it right, you end up in a wooded pit that requires a blind pitch up 20 feet around and under trees. If you draw it, you end up on the space between #1 and #4 with a tree that guards the right front of the green. And the green tilts away from you. When I get a par here, I feel like I’ve birdied the hole. A bogey is a good score. But at no point on the course does it seem unfair, except when the leaves fall making your balls difficult to find (even on the green).