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Volume 40 Issue 17 • Aug. 26 - Sept 1, 2010
now in our 40th season

The Old Foursome

by Robert P.Barsanti

My golf clubs are still in my closet.  They have sunk beneath a blanket of “later” and a few cobwebs of “tomorrow,”  but they still glower at me from the dark.  At night, I hear them muttering and snickering, but they are well guarded by four alert dress shirts, two well armed blazers, and a burly snow shovel.   They clatter in frustration.

And I hear them.  For as agonizing and frustrating a set of friends that they can be, I remember, with advantages, the dozens of fine strokes and deep drives that they allowed me.  I have forgotten and forgiven their myriad mistakes, the hooks, the slices, the mortifying dribbles and duffs that staggered and fell ten yards into the grass.  In memory, every one of them was a hero and in reality, every one remains imprisoned in the closet.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I played golf almost every day.  Throughout five summers of graduate school in Vermont, the clubs and I stumbled and shambled around a steamy college course in the Champlain Valley.  Out on island, the clubs and I lost golf balls in some of the finest brush and high grass available.  One of the great pleasure of the late summer was walking Sconset Golf Course in search of the elusive birdie and the even more rare eagle that would have been legendary if only the drive had gone straight.

Unfortunately, this year I know where all of my golf balls are.

No one force imprisoned the clubs, but a whole set of circumstances locked them up.  On island, Golf has become a ridiculously expensive pastime.  If a round of miss-hit golf shots cost more than a dinner at some of the finer restaurants on India Street, my putter will never be as good as my fork.  Further, middle age took a hammer and knife to my right knee this winter, making bunkers and sand traps more painful and penalizing.  Finally, lack of practice begets a lack of success which begets a lack of will power.  If I felt that each time to the tee would result in a lovely, booming drive, I would go to the tee more often.  If it results in the repeated, painful humiliation of a drilled golf cart, I can find cheaper and less painful ways of embarrassing myself.  Like tango lessons.

Then there are the kids.  Golf tends to get played during the same hours that little boys like to go to the beach.  It takes certain well-developed callus to look at the young men and assure them that we can all go to the beach tomorrow, but today Daddy has to go out and try to break 100.  Fathers only have a small bag of tomorrows, and I don’t want to lose too many of them in the gorse and high grass.

So, my friends Shank, Dub, and the other golf clubs will have to wait for another summer.  The fairways and greens aren’t going anywhere, nor are the sand traps and out-of-bounds markers.  There will be other evenings in the golden twilight walking up to a beautiful bogie chip on the seventeenth hole and other mornings spent wandering knee deep in dew and coffee.

The rest of my friends, however, are also waiting.  They are in the clubhouse in Boothbay Harbor, at the turn at Middlebury, and on the putting green at Miacomet.  They wait as they always have, with nagging injuries, old clubs, and the sense to say the right thing in the middle of your backswing.  Like me, they are aging and hurting, like me, they can’t find enough time to practice. 

And, like me, they wait.

Golf, for all of its scoring and athleticism, is less about results and more about insults.  Very few people play golf with the idea of a pleasant walk and a vigorous competition against the landscape.  The rest of us play for a two dollar Nassau and bragging rights in the break room.  We take the scorecard, photocopy it, and tuck it into his windshield wiper.  We stick one thrown putter, a half dozen yips, and miraculous shot together, then we embed ourselves into that moment.   We carry those pieces of amber with us to the end.  All of us are proud of those quiet moments of fatherhood, of professional achievement, and of civic pride-but that moment when we sank the twenty footer to win the final hole and four crisp dollar bills has its own quiet place in the hall of fame.

Mind you, I may have picked up more on the golf course than character, the nobility of failure, and the first bar tab.  I am sure that I picked up some general points about being a husband, a father, and a man out among the thorns and ticks.  And now, away from the course and deep into my own woods, I look for that clarity of the fairway, the sureness of the yard markers, and the company of competition.

These other friends, the ones without metal heads and graphite shafts, know their value and their strength.  They can wait.  Children, family, and job come first these days. For now, the foursome will have to bide their time at the first tee.  They know that very few things are constant in this world. 

Children grow and leave home, careers ebb and flow, and rehab hurts for a few weeks, but they will remain.  The old friends, the true ones, pace you throughout life.  The foursome remains the same, year after year.  They come to weddings, funerals, graduations, and more funerals.  And then they come at three o’clock on Thursday for a quick round before the ladies’ league tees off.


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