I am in danger of missing the 8:30 a.m. shotgun start at Beachwood Golf Club, it having taken me approximately 40 minutes to hack my clubs out of the box in which they arrived. Actually, they are my mother's clubs. My sister's boyfriend had borrowed mine without permission, making it necessary for my father to ship my mother's clubs to my hotel. (Dad, thanks for handling that. For future reference, the third roll of duct tape was probably one too many.)
As club pro Wayne Weldon runs over some ground rules for us, I cop a covert look at the men of Flight 22, whose handicaps range from 23.3 through 24.9. A lot of gray hair here, and a lot of discordantly striped shirts stretched by formidable guts. By the end of the round I realize that every one of these guys is better than me.
The tournament, billed as the world's largest, costs $375 to enter and is composed of 4,007 players—3,656 men, 351 women—broken down into 24 flights for men, 13 for seniors and seven for women. After four rounds played on 52 different courses throughout the so-called Grand Strand, the golf course-rich country stretching the 60 miles from Georgetown, S.C., to Southport, N.C., the flight winners play a fifth 18 to determine the overall champion. This year the remnants of tropical storm Jerry have turned the Grand Strand into a grand sponge. The good news: The lift, clean and play rule is in effect today. The bad news: The rule applies only to balls that land in one's own fairway.
That would exclude my maiden tee shot, a gruesome slice that ends up in the short grass of an adjacent hole. My embarrassment upon uncorking this abomination is lessened by the drive of Don Snyder, bless his heart, who had gone first and fungoed his tee shot into some trees on the right. Snyder, a pilot from Naples, Fla., had a hip replaced three years ago. To minimize his discomfort, he spends the round puffing cigars, popping Naprosyn and pounding the Bud Lights he has stashed in a cooler in the cart. He is not the first WAHC contestant to drink and drive, as it were. Two years ago the tournament was won by retired Air Force major Jim Low, a 28 handicapper who blunted the pain of his chronic arthritis, tendinitis and prostate condition by downing nine beers and smoking seven cigars en route to a final-round net 66. This morning Snyder offers me a pop, but I demur, telling him I'll hold out till at least 9 a.m.
Foursomes are rejuggled daily. Today I share a cart with Terry Swanton, a restaurateur and raconteur from Aspen, Colo. Also in our group is Dave McIntyre, from Shelby, N.C., just 50 miles up the road, and John Stewart, one of 47 Australians to make the trip to Myrtle Beach for the tournament. In all there are 196 foreigners here from 20 countries, including France, the Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia, Spain and Saudi Arabia.
When McIntyre mentions that he brought his wife along, I ask if she is playing.
"She's playin' bulldog, settin' around and growlin' at me," he says. Later he explains their trade-off: While he tortures golf balls, she shops and hits the beach.
The good people of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, the consortium of Grand Strand courses and hotels that puts on this 12-year-old tournament, encourage such tradeoffs. An economic impact study calculated that during his stay in Myrtle Beach, Joe Hacker drops close to $200 a day on food, lodging, rental cars and entertainment, although under entertainment, the study presumably did not include cash spent on table dances at such upstanding local establishments as Derrieres and Thee Dollhouse, to which World Am contestants flocked in large numbers, SI has learned.