Golfing, shooting, fishing in Caribbean about the process, not the results
Posted: Monday August 30, 2004 12:01PM; Updated: Monday August 30, 2004 12:01PM
If you haven't noticed, SI sent a planeload of writers to Athens so they could watch and report on the Olympics. I didn't get that invite, so I decided to stage my own Olympics.
So late Thursday night I grabbed my bag and headed to the Casa De Campo resort in the Dominican Republic, which is widely recognized as one of the best sports and activities resorts in the Caribbean, if not the world. My friend Heath came along, and we each brought our wives so they could hang out together while we ignored them.
I wanted to challenge myself, to push my limits, to achieve dizzying new heights. And that's something I definitely did.
The starter asked me my handicap, and I told him it was zero, which is technically true because I'm not good enough to even carry a handicap. I love playing, I'm just not very good at it, and living in Manhattan provides few opportunities to improve. Heath and I figured a caddy would help us, settle our nerves a little and find all the balls we were sure to lose. Luis introduced himself with a smile and shook our hands, immediately setting us at ease before we faced down the Dog together.
The course started off challenging but not overly difficult, with doglegs left and right and a couple of teasing bunkers to deal with. Distance was called for, but accuracy was muy importante.
The Teeth drew blood when we reached the fifth tee, situated on a precipice above the Atlantic Ocean, which rhythmically pounded the rock face below. Holes five through eight ran perpendicular to the sea, and though they're rated fairly easy -- pars are 3, 4, 3 and 4 -- you try hitting four straight tee shots over the ocean. I scored 5, 4, 6 and 7, and felt thrilled to escape those four holes only 8-over.
At the par-5 11th hole, I faced an uphill 210-yard drive to the green. As I looked for my three iron, Luis sauntered over and said, "About 200, 210 yards ... I think six, maybe five iron. Maybe six, yes." Who did he think I was, John Daly? I asked if he was sure about a six iron. "Why not?" he said. "You the man!"
I began to feel a little suspicious of Luis, because he seemed to consistently overestimate my ability. Whenever I faced a shot from the fairway, Luis would suggest one club higher than I was planning to play, so either he thought I could hit it farther than I thought I could, or he was just stroking my ego. Having him around helped, to be sure, as I shot a 109 (including penalty strokes, which, yes, I counted) on a tough course. He was a Dominican Dr. Phil, using psychology to push Heath and I to higher levels in our crappy golf games.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
The big man handed me a Beretta 636 shotgun just after sunrise, and I held it awkwardly in front of me, as if it were an extra limb or a dead animal. Taking a cue from the look on my face, the big man asked me if I'd ever shot a gun before. Just once, I informed him, when I was in college and a few of us got bored and visited a shooting range. But that was a wimpy revolver. This was a shotgun, a long, masculine-looking thing that stretched from my shoulder to my knees and glimmered in the amber Dominican sun.
A bear of a man with tattoos on his arms and a jaunty British accent, Shaun Snell strikes an imposing figure as the shooting director at Casa De Campo. He handed me a shooting vest with a leather patch on the right shoulder while his assistant, Herman, filled my pockets with shells. They taught me how to load the shotgun and press it against my right shoulder, to position my feet and stare down the barrel. I knew that I at least looked cool, you know, with my Oakleys on and all that.
We shot what are called sporting clays, which simulate hunting animals, except instead of actually shooting animals you shoot clay discs. There were over 200 shooting positions in the shooting center, so we spent two hours shooting at targets coming in sideways, at diagonals, flying directly over our heads. I hoped to discover that I was a natural shot, but after I missed my first eight attempts I knew that was a bit ambitious.
Shaun pulled me aside and, using two earplugs as a visual aid, explained how I wasn't leading the clays enough, how I needed to concentrate more on the shots going right to left. He also told me some jokes I won't repeat; because those are the things manly men do while shooting and doing manly things.
My best stretch came when I hit four straight targets in a simulated rabbit hunting area. Heath turned out to be a natural, hitting at least 60 percent of the targets. I told Heath that if we were ever stranded in the woods, he could handle the hunting. I'd just write about it.
A few hours later, Heath and I showed up at the Equestrian Center. We were introduced to Guadeloupe, an ebullient man no taller than five feet, who happily assigned us goofy-looking riding caps and had us sign waivers.
Guadeloupe assigned me a huge horse named Paciencia, which translates into Patience. I asked if they perhaps had a horse named Molasses or Pokey. They didn't. I was just glad I didn't get one named Widowmaker.
Heath jumped on Negrita and away we went, following Guadeloupe onto a dirt trail that wound around the resort's expensive homes and villas. As we moved, Guadeloupe sang songs like Ai, yi-yi-yi and Guantanamera. And he never really looked back at us at all, probably because he sensed an inner cowboy in each of us.
When the horses walked, it was simple. And when they ran full speed, it wasn't too tough. But when they went into a trot, it was like trying to sit on a jackhammer. Guadeloupe warned us in his quizzical way that if we weren't careful we'd later be "sore in the middle." I was too proud to ask Guadeloupe for help, so I tried standing in the saddle, leaning forward or backward, but nothing much worked. I just kept getting pounded in the crotch. Now I understand why all those jockeys have such high voices.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
The wake-up call came at 7:30 a.m., and as I hung up the phone, I took an inventory of my body: My calves were tight, my groin muscles throbbed my butt was missing two layers of skin, which had apparently rubbed off during the horseback riding, my lower back muscles howled as I sat up, and my right shoulder sported an eggplant-colored bruise from where the shotgun had recoiled into it nearly 100 times. But I pressed on. Adversity is how champions are made.
One hour later, we climbed aboard a 30-foot boat to go deep-sea fishing. Captain Ernesto and his assistant started baiting hooks as soon as we got out of the marina, and before 9:00 a.m. we were trawling four lines.
An hour later, we hadn't even had a nibble. Just as I started to drift off, I heard a whirrrrrrrr!, as something took a bite of the bait. I jumped to my feet in time to see a dolphin fish, probably no more than five pounds, flop onto the deck. Its brilliant green-and-yellow coloring faded to a dull mossy hue after a few minutes. Maybe 10 minutes later we snagged a second small dolphin fish, and that would be all on this day. My hope for a bounty similar to what George Clooney and Marky Mark found at the Flemish Cap was over. Instead, we got two. Just two. Ernesto responded to the silence of the sea by turning on the radio. We didn't have fish, but for the rest of the morning we had salsa pouring through the speakers.
I refused to allow things to end on an unsuccessful note, so at 2:30 p.m., Heath and I climbed in a van and rode about five miles away to Dye Four, created by legendary golf course designer Pete Dye. As the van pulled to a stop, Luis arrived with our golf cart and clubs. He smiled, either happy to see us or mentally recalling our previous round.
Dye Four isn't along the shore, but it feels considerably longer (almost 7,000 total yards from the blue tees) and demands power to handle the sweeping hills. I stepped to the first tee and sliced one down the right side of the fairway and into the brush. Tiger has nothing on me.
I double-bogeyed the first two holes and had just tapped in a bogey four on the third when the skies opened up. Heath, Luis and I jumped in the cart and parked under a tree to wait it out. Despite the rain, the sun continued shining behind us, which it seems to do all the time in the Dominican Republic. In the distance ominous clouds were forming.
"Can you play tomorrow?" Luis asked, eyeing the clouds.
"No," I said, "we're flying out tonight. I've got to be at work back in New York tomorrow."
For some reason that cracked Luis up, which cracked us up. So we stood there, hunched over, the rain soaking us all to the bone, laughing and laughing. I thought about waiting it out, but physically I was at my breaking point. And so we quit. My Olympiad was over. Cue Dan Hicks and the histrionic video retrospectives.
Monday, August 30, 2004
As I sit to finish writing this, it's 3:30 a.m. and I'm on Jet Blue, flying somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, a lone iBook keyboard beaming on a darkened plane.
My wife, sleeping next to me, woke up and asked if I would want to go back. I thought back over all the bogeys and clay pigeons, about Luis and Guadeloupe and Shaun, about how I can't lift my arms over my head right now.
Still, I was sure of my answer, because I learned something important during my Olympics: It's not about the results, it's about the process. It's finding joy in the journey, making friends and enjoying yourself while competing. In three weeks, I won't remember what I shot on the sixth hole at Teeth of the Dog, but I'll never forget Heath, Luis and I shivering under the tree, our clothes dripping wet, unable to stop laughing.
So despite all the pain, I answered her, yes, I'd love to do that again. I just hope I don't need four years to recover.
Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at http://www.SLAMonline.com. The regular Links will return next week.