Goat Hills is gone now. It was swallowed up almost four years ago by the bulldozers of progress, and in the end it was nice to learn that something could take a divot out of those hard fairways. But all of the regular players had left long before. We had grown up at last. Maybe it will be all right to talk about the place now, and about the people and the times we had. Maybe it will be therapeutic. At least it will help explain why I do not play golf so much anymore. I mean, I keep getting invited to Winged Head and Burning Foot and all those fancy clubs we sophisticated New Yorkers are supposed to frequent, places where, I hear, they have real flagsticks instead of broom handles. It sounds fine, but I usually beg off. I am, frankly, still overgolfed from all those years at Goat Hills in Texas. You would be too if.... Well, let me tell you some of it. Not all. I will try to be truthful and not too sentimental. But where shall I begin? With Cecil? Yeah, I think so. He was sort of a symbol in those days, and....
We called him Cecil the Parachute because he fell down a lot. He would attack the golf ball with a whining, leaping half turn—more of a calisthenic than a swing, really—and occasionally, in his spectacular struggles for extra distance, he would soar right off the end of elevated tees.
He was a slim, bony, red-faced little man who wore crepe-soled shoes and heavily starched shirts that crackled like crunched glass. When he was earthbound, Cecil drove a delivery truck for a cookie factory, Grandma's Cookies, and he always parked it—hid it, rather—behind a tall hedge near the clubhouse. When the truck was there, out of sight of passing cars (or of cookie-company dispatchers snooping on cookie-truck drivers), you could be pretty sure that not only was Cecil out on the course but so were Tiny, Easy Reid, Magoo, Foot the Free, Grease Repellent, Ernie, Spec, Matty, Rush, Little Joe, Weldon the Oath, Jerry, John the Band-Aid and Moron Tom.
There was also the very good chance that all of us would be in one hollering, protesting, club-slinging fifteensome. Anyhow, when Cecil the Parachute had the truck hidden, you knew for sure that the game was on.
The game was not the kind of golf that Gene Sarazen or any of his stodgy friends ever would have approved of. But it was, nevertheless, the kind we played for about 15 years, from the mid-'40s to the late '50s, at a windy, dusty, indifferently mowed, stone-hard, broomstick-flagged, practically treeless, residentially surrounded public course named Worth Hills in Fort Worth. Goat Hills, we called it, not too originally.
It was a gambling game that went on in some fashion or another, involving from two to 20 players, almost every day of every year. The game survived not just my own shaft-bending, divot-stomping presence, but heat, rain, snow, war, tornadoes, jobs, studies, illness, divorces, birth, death and considerations of infinity. If there were certain days when it seemed the game might help pay part of my tuition through Texas Christian University—a jumble of yellow-brick buildings across the street from the course—there were others when it seemed certain to guarantee a lifetime of indebtedness. Either way you were trapped, incessantly drawn to the Hills, like Durrell to Alexandria.
Most days at the Hills began the same way, with lazy conversations on the front porch of the small white clubhouse. We would be slouched in chairs, smoking, drinking coffee, complaining about worldly things, such as the Seventh Street Theater's not changing its movie in weeks. Say it was August. We would be looking across the putting green at the heat. In Texas in August you can see the heat. It looks like germs under a microscope. In fact, say it was the day of the Great Scooter Wreck.
We were lounging. Matty, who had a crew cut and wore glasses and looked collegiate (and grew up to be a doctor), was resting against a pillar on the porch, playing tunes on his front teeth with his fingernails. He could do that. Learned it in study hall. For money, he could even play Sixty Minute Man, or Rocket 88 or whatever happened to be No. 1 on the jukebox at Jack's Place on the Mansfield Highway, where most of us went at night to "hustle the pretties," as Moron Tom phrased it, and watch truck drivers fight to see who bought the beer. I was reading either The Best of S.J. Perelman or The Brothers Karamazov. Any kind of book would prompt needling whoops from Tiny, who was a railroad conductor, or Weldon the Oath, who was a postman, or Grease Repellent, who worked at the Texaco station three blocks away. ("Hey, Jenkins! What you gonna do with all them facts clangin' around in yer head?") Foot the Free, which was short for Big Foot the Freeloader, was there, practice-putting at a small, chipped-out crevice in the concrete of the porch, a spot that marked the finish of the finest one hole of golf I ever saw played—but more about that later. Magoo was around. And Little Joe. Presently John the Band-Aid showed up, striding grimly from the parking lot, clubs over his shoulder, ready to go. He had beaten a Turf King pinball machine somewhere on University Drive—had found the A, B and C lit, had lit the D, then hit the feature—and had some money.
"You and you and you and you and you, too," said John. "All of you two, two, two automatic one-down presses, whatever gets even on 9 and 18, and whipsaw ever'body 70 or better for five." John the Band-Aid had lost the day before.
We began tying our shoes. Magoo said, "I don't guess anybody's gonna let me play since I didn't drop but a young 50 yesterday."