Read Fore! Play Online

Authors: Bill Giest

Fore! Play


Copyright © 2001 by Bill Geist

All rights reserved.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

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New York, NY 10017

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First eBook Edition: September 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2255-8




Introduction: How Green Is My Fairway?

1. A Life in the Rough

2. Possibly the Last American Male Takes Up Golf

3. Bogeyman Goes Public

4. Do This, Don’t Do That: A Game of Rules and Etiquette

5. Driving Ourselves to Drink

6. Golf Wars Weaponry

7. Tiger and Me: Different Strokes for Different Folks

8. Golf 101

9. Country Clubbed

10. Mind If I Join You?

11. Among My Own Kind

12. The City Game

13. SwingCam: Golf in the 21st Century

14. Goat Hill Golf

15. There’s the Fairway and Then There’s My Way

16. What’s Your Handicap?

17. Be the Ball

18. Tips for Beginners

19. Like Father, Like Son

20. Big Bertha and Me

21. It Takes Alotta Balls

22. Cutting Your Losses

23. A Few Modest Proposals

24. The Bad Golfers Association National Tournament



hanks, as always and for everything, to Jody, Libby, and Willie, for playing along. Thanks to Tom Connor for getting me into
another fine mess, and to Rick Wolff, a great editor and a bad golfer who understands. Special thanks to my partners, John
McMeel, Pat Oliphant, and John O’Day of the Bad Golfers Association. Thanks to Liz Kloak, my teacher; to Val Ramsdell and
others for putting their country club memberships on the line to take me golfing; to Brian, my brave caddy; to Dr. Phil Lee,
my golf therapist; to Herb Sambol and Chip Bechert at Metedeconk National Golf Club; to Madeline Cassano at the Paramus Golf
Course; to Jerry and Peg Brennan of Grandpa Brennan’s Previously Owned Golf Ball Emporium; to Reg Petersen, Golf Ball King;
to all the folks at Goat Hill; to Jack Batman and Brad Fazzone at Chelsea Piers; to Rod Tomlinson, Andy Stewart, and Bob Andrews
of the U.S. Blind Golf Association; Leslie Bennison; partners Bert Webbe, Billy Dunn, and Dave Councilor; officials and entrepreneurs
at the PGA Golf Merchandise Show; Jim Duncalf, the genius behind the Ballistic Driver; and thanks as always to the good people
at the AmEx billing department for their unrelenting monthly motivation.


How Green Is My Fairway?

“I was up and down, but she lipped out on me.”

“Hit it dead, but no bite.”

“Shanked it with Bertha.”

“Chili-dipped the son-of-a-bitch, didn’t catch the apron, and rolled right into the pot bunker.”

hat are these people
I might as well be at a cocktail party in Kuala Lumpur with people speaking Bahasa.

But we’re in suburban America, and they’re talking golf. I don’t understand the language, but lately sense I’d better learn
it now that we’re living in an occupied nation of golfers. Berlitz needs to start offering Golf.

It’s becoming a universal language (Esperanto had its chance) here on Planet Golf, where the game is now played and spoken
everywhere. It’s not just for Republicans anymore.
play golf! I’ve seen the new bourgeois golf resort in Cuba (first new course since the revolution) and seen historic photographs
of Castro and Che Guevara playing in their fatigues! I’ve watched Russians picnicking on the greens and fishing in the water
hazards at the first country club in Moscow, thinking it was a park. I’ve seen sober Japanese golfers playing in the snow—and
drunken Minnesotans, too.

Is there golf as we know it elsewhere in the universe? Yes. In an attempt to avoid exorbitant greens fees here on earth, astronaut
Alan Shepard smuggled a golf club and some balls aboard Apollo 14 and teed off on the moon. Wearing that bulky space suit
caused him to whiff a couple of times, but on his third try the shot carried for “miles and miles and miles.”

“Hit the 7 fat on 8, the 9 thin on 10.”

“I skull my third, goes OB, take a drop, I’m lying 5.”

I know all these people discussing their skulling and chili-dipping and shanking. They never used to talk like this. We used
to tell jokes together, and talk about politics and celebrities and
Saturday Night Live
and what complete asses our kids’ coaches were. Lately, it’s like we’ve never known each other. They’ve been
by golf, like something out of
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
, Pod People in golf spikes.

Has someone programmed them not to speak of Other Things? Everything relates to golf: “Lung cancer, Jim? Hope it’s not affecting
your golf game.” They go on golf safaris to Kenya and all they have to say when they get back is that the greens were fast
and you got a free drop if you hit into a hippo track.

They drone on and on about their latest round (golfers who can barely come up with their children’s names can recall in detail
every shot they ever took), and for variety tell golf jokes: “So his partner says, ‘No, 65 isn’t my score, it’s my handicap!’
” Hahaha. Then they leave the party prematurely so they can get home and read
The Tao of Putting
and articles in
magazine (“Getting More Trunk Rotation”) before hitting the sack early to make that sunrise tee time. They like to play early
so they can get home in time to watch golf on TV all afternoon.

I am always left out on the periphery of these golfers’ party huddles, usually in about the third row, a wallflower. Eventually
I’ll wander away, over to the womenfolk, who could always be counted upon for interesting conversation in the old days when
men were going on and on about the stock market and their kids’ athletic prowess. No more. These days, women tend to be talking
about their golf lessons or the golf camp a dozen of them will be attending next week in North Carolina—talk that’s interesting
only when they describe the advances made by lesbian instructors.

My dentist plays five times a week except in the dead of winter. Five! At my June appointment, his assistant is cleaning my
teeth, when he breezes in, checks me over for about, oh, forty-five seconds, says, “You have a good-looking set of teeth there,”
and is out the door for the links.

“Wungee gar-ngh glff gnugs?” I ask the dental hygienist, who takes the equipment out of my mouth so I can repeat the question:
“Weren’t those
gloves he was wearing when he examined me?”

The dentist says he offers reduced rates on rainy days, and was far more attentive at my winter appointment when it was sleeting.
He took me into his office, which is something of a shrine to golf, his shelves lined with photographs of him and his family
at golf courses home and abroad, his walls covered with oil paintings of golf holes.

“This one is at Pine Valley,” he says reverently, referring to the New Jersey course that’s sacred ground to golfers, a reference
lost on me. “See that bunker there,” he says, pointing to a sand trap in the painting. “You know what they call that?” I do
not, unaware that sand traps are to be called bunkers and that they have proper names. “They call it ‘The Devil’s Asshole.’

He practices his swing there in the office between patients with a special club that’s weighted to build golf muscles and
shortened to prevent breaking lamps. On the way out, I tell his receptionist to please cancel any of my future appointments
after he’s had a bad round. Could there be anything worse than an angry golfer with a dentist drill?

Golf fever. It’s serious, it’s viral, it’s epidemic, and unlike West Nile no one is spraying for it. There are now 26.4 million
golfers in America playing on 16,743 courses and unable to stop. (The American Association of Retired Persons reports, however,
there are 67 million Americans over fifty and that fully 67 million of them play golf—which seems an underestimate when you
try to play a course in Florida or try to get into a Sizzler for the Early Bird Special at 4:00

It’s an addiction, “upper-middle-class crack,” says my friend Art, who’s become totally hooked. It can become problematic
when devotees ignore jobs and spouses, although many of the golfers I know are at points in their careers and have been married
so long that they can comfortably do both without any repercussions. You don’t see a lot of “golf widows” weeping on
most of them are glad to get their guy out of the house for a while.

Another friend, Mike, plays constantly, sometimes thirty-six holes a day. He plays in the rain, of course, but he also plays
in the snow, glueing colorful little tails to the balls so he can see them. But it’s worse than that. Mike has been known
to play at
with glow-in-the-dark golf balls.

The epidemic is not without historical precedent. This game, which goes back to Roman times and to Scottish shepherds hitting
stones into holes with sticks, was outlawed in 1457 by Scotland’s King James I because people were fooling around playing
golf when they should have been practicing their archery for the national defense. Way before the LPGA, Mary Queen of Scots
became so addicted that when in 1567 she was informed on the golf course of the murder of her husband she went ahead and finished
the round. That incident was cited as evidence of her coldheartedness when she was tried for treason and beheaded—to this
day the most severe golf penalty ever handed down. Most infractions still just cost you a stroke.

Another friend of mine spends a good deal of time these days designing golf holes on his computer—as a hobby. There are plastic
model kits of golf holes that grown men build. Some people we know have those oil paintings of golf holes, and little golfer
figurines, and display cases of golf balls hanging on their walls. Some subscribe to the twenty-four-hour Golf Channel. Some
go to the twenty-four-hour golf course on Long Island. There are folks in the area installing putting greens in their backyards.
Shaquille O’Neal has one in his front yard. Some people are installing entire golf courses in their yards, like the Internet
zillionaire near Palo Alto who bought three neighboring houses for $4.5 million and had a demolition party—where guests got
to drive the bulldozers!—to clear some room so he could build a golf course.

Although my golfing friends tend to be otherwise smart, successful people, they will buy anything any TV huckster suggests
will lower their handicaps. You think those people transfixed by Jerry Springer and ordering infomercial gadgets that scramble
eggs inside the shells are idiots? They are, of course, but how about guys with MBAs ordering herbal golf
to improve their games?

What is it about this sport?
it a sport? I mean are there teams? Uniforms? Stadiums? Coaches? Cheerleaders? Hot dogs and beer? Bench-clearing brawls?
Any of that stuff they have in real sports like baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer?

Golf is different, maybe more like genteel tennis, except in golf there isn’t even an
. And the ball doesn’t move. That would make it harder, if someone sort of rolled the ball at the golfer as he swung at it.
So golf doesn’t require that advanced degree of hand-eye coordination exactly. Nor strength, agility, speed, or quickness.
It’s more like Chinese checkers in that regard, and perhaps most akin to bowling—but no golfer wants to admit
. Bowling with landscaping.

It’s not a “Higher-Faster-Stronger” classic Olympic sport either. The Greeks never played golf. Golf isn’t in the Olympics
at a time when almost everything conceivable and inconceivable
. I mean ballroom dancing may be in the next Olympics. C’mon!

Now, my golfing bears a strong resemblance to the new, emerging sport of orienteering (also trying to get into the Olympics),
as I’m always walking around looking for my ball, lost in the woods, trying to figure out which way it might be to the green
and which fairway I’m currently on.

No other sport has par. Why is there par? And it’s the only one where low score wins. No other sport has so many different
implements—and caddies to carry them and follow players around making suggestions. What if Michael Jordan had a guy running
up and down the court with him, saying: “I’d use the crossover dribble here, and since you drove to the hoop last time, I’d
pull up and drain the three.”

And Michael certainly would have done a helluva lot better without anyone guarding him. Golf has no

Golf is the only sport where you have to bring your own ball, the only sport with etiquette primers, and the only one with
Let’s see, with that five-run handicap the Cubs win again! Better make it six.

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