Friday, October 17, 2014

The Last Round of the Year

We picked Thursday because it promised to be the warmest day of the week. A friend from Chicago, who had to be back in the city late afternoon, picked a park district course by Joliet neither of us had golfed before. It was easier for me to reach than him, though it was about halfway. He had to fight the morning traffic some. We were to meet at ten, tee off at eleven.

As I drove there, raindrops twice covered my windshield but only briefly. The sun we had hoped for was covered by thick gray clouds. It would not show itself until we were both home that evening. When I was getting my clubs out of the trunk a gust of cold wind chased me to my windbreaker in the back seat. Kind of wished I had brought something warmer.

In spite of the weather the place was crawling with old guys. Maybe they had been cooped up at home all week too. A very slight, seriously stooped gray haired man, hearing from the starter the course was “cart path only”, meaning we were not allowed to drive carts onto the fairway, came back into the pro shop asking for handicapped flags, bright blue pennants to clip onto your cart giving permission to cut ruts into the bent grass where ever you chose in order to drive right up to your ball. As I watched him walk away, briskly, I thought he walked pretty well, you know, for an old guy.

“Are we using the senior rate today?” the boy by the cash register asked as he rang up the cost of my round.

“How old do you have to be?” I asked.


“Then yes we are.”

Why do people use “we” as the subject of a sentence directed clearly at "you" anyway? Is it to create some kind of verbal camaraderie, as if we’re in something together, the something in this case being old age? The kid working the register couldn’t have been more than 35. Outside of the building we were both standing in, we weren’t in anything together.

I started golfing in high school with a buddy at Bluegrass Creek, a nice country course near Minier. No one I knew golfed except my older brother with whom I never played a round. My Dad talked about golfing in Chicago with an uncle I barely knew, Uncle Wick. We had a set of old clubs on the farm from somewhere. Each of the irons; 3,5,7,9 were of different makes. The three woods, 1,2,3 were all the same and made of real wood with brass plates and screws on the bottom. A simple thin blade putter completed the skinny blue bag. We were on our own, my friend and I, farm kids flailing away on summer afternoons with little idea what constituted a good swing. We had fun.

I didn’t golf again till the kids were born. Bought a set of knock off Callaway irons in the late 80’s and still have them, though I’ve used a bunch of different woods, now metal. Used to play a lot, every Saturday, and then the building of the shack soaked up my weekends. It’s easy to get away from good habits. I liked golf because it took my mind away from everything else. The guys I golfed with knew nothing about social work and rarely spoke of interpersonal problems. We talked about golf; the lie, the green, the clubs, the hazards, the next shot. And when it was over we had a few beers. It was simple. I miss it.

My Chicago friend and I set up a time to golf because it gave us a chance to be together for most of a day. He’s a good guy to be with. We have a lot in common. He plays golf better than I, used to be on a golf team, and has higher standards. I’m a hacker, thought I can occasionally put together a good round. Neither of us golfed that well Thursday. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was our stiff old backs and creaky joints. But we were out there, with the old guys, staying on the cart path for the most part, taking our swings and trying our best. Pretty much our best. Most of the time. It was a casual game. We didn’t keep score except in our heads.

I’ve never been on an ugly golf course, but this one was prettier than most. With the summer we had, and all the rain, the fairways and the greens were pristine green. The trees lining the fairway, some ancient, some recently planted, were brilliant with fall colors. We kept hoping for some sun to spike up the reds and yellows, a little brightness to make them pop. But that wasn’t to be. I took my windbreaker off for a few holes after warming up, but put it back on. We rolled a few balls under fallen leaves. Some we found and others we lost. We didn’t look long for the missing. But like always we found a few that others gave up on, so in the end we came out about even.

After a good lunch in the clubhouse we attacked the second nine by playing two man best ball, just to improve our chances. It buoyed our spirits. We found new hope in reaching the green in regulation, creating birdie tries, strategizing. It became a team game, playing against no one. Despite the weather we found ourselves enjoying a few laughs.

We also found ourselves straying from golf there on a few holes.

“Do you ever wonder just why our country has to constantly be at war? Our president won the Nobel Peace Prize and yet we almost demand of him, of every president, that they be quick to bomb recalcitrant nations, usually between Europe and Asia, and now we’re bombing two, Iraq and Syria, and not even them per se, but some group of militants. We just learned their name about a month before we started killing them, and no one can quite agree on that even.”

“We are convinced they threaten us I guess. We accept the fear and believe collectively, I suppose, given the lack of opposition, that we have no choice. It seems we always find a way to villainize someone, or some group, and as a result our military, now paid and professional, is constantly deployed, actively opposing one demon or another while the rest of us applaud service men and women at sports events and go on our merry way. We sleep without worry while the drones carry out their missions. And somehow we think the two things are connected, that our peace depends on someone else’s slaughter.”

“Yeah, I heard something the other day that seems so true. Globally we have 21st century weapons but 15th century peacemaking skills. We’re not getting anywhere.”

We found we agreed, us two old guys nearing 65 on a golf course in the fall of 2014. We are both of an age in which we escaped the Vietnam War, were never drafted, and are not sure others in our country care to listen to our views as they were heard in the sixties and seventies. We understood the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy and saw the impact of real participation in politics. We knew then that we were part of something, that we brought an early end to an unjust, senseless, and wasteful war, and that being involved could make a difference.

Now, forty five years later, we both vote, though we find no peace candidates for whom to cast ballots. We worry for our kids, that they will never have the opportunities we enjoyed, that they will lose interest and confidence in government, or have enough money to live as well as we feel we have, though neither of us live extravagantly. We both were able to live fulfilling lives in America, and we don’t know what the future will bring. We worry not for ourselves but for the next people taking our place. We go on though. We pay attention, we stay informed and try to understand, and sometimes we try to change things in our own small ways. But we see little to suggest that change is coming. I think neither of us can find a party, a place, or a platform of any kind to latch onto that would represent our concerns.

We’re probably like most of the old guys on the course, though we don’t like to admit it, even the guy with the handicapped flag on his cart. By the end of the round we were pooped. My feet hurt. I was reminded that I have to get better golf shoes.

And so it ended. We played the eighteenth hole (par), stashed our clubs back in our trunks, and said good bye in the parking lot.

“That will probably be my last golf of the year,” I said.

“I’m sure it will be for me,” my friend replied.

“I hope your winter is short and better than the last.”

“I think it has to be, for both of us.” We had agreed earlier, on the seventh hole if I remember that last winter was sheer hell.

“If you’re down our way let us know, we’ll get together.”

“You too if you get up to the city.”

We hugged each other and walked to our cars. It was great seeing my friend, but there is something sad about playing the last round of the year.

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