Now we were getting somewhere.
Spring Green, Wisconsin
In the early 1940s, a man named Alex Jordan built a weekend retreat on a 60-foot-high chimney of sandstone here. Soon the house sprouted an addition, then another, until it began wandering this way and that, like Don King's syntax, over 40 acres of land. The interior is decorated in the swank '50s lounge style in which I imagine Dean Martin's place was turned out and is kept ridiculously dark, the better to obscure the escape routes when you learn that the entrance fee is $14-50.
It is worth every penny, for the House on the Rock is now a museum housing Jordan's astonishing collection of random junk: the world's largest merry-go-round, a menu from the Titanic, a series of old Burma-Shave billboards (HE LIT A MATCH/TO CHECK HIS TANK/ THAT'S WHY THEY CALL HIM/SKINLESS FRANK/BURMA-SHAVE). The best display by far, and the reason I had come, is the modest assembly of ancient sepia newspapers flaking on the walls.
Pasted in various corridors are sports pages from the 1930s and '40s with headlines such as BLAME CUB SLUMP ON SLIM SLAB CORPS. (Say it aloud. It's poetry.) The stories themselves are filled with pitchers who "hurled cypher jobs," batters who "collected clutch bingles," base runners who "expired at the cash register" and visiting pitchers who—I swear to God—"toed the alien humpback." There was a scribe in Pennsylvania who, describing the turning point of any contest, invariably wrote, "That's when Mr. Mo Mentum changed uniforms." This language is ridiculous and incomprehensible, of course, and I must say I love each and every word of it.
It seems to me a shame that it's now as dead as Latin.
According to a kindly woman who fielded my call at the National Golf Foundation, there were 15,390 golf courses in America. The average parcel of land devoted to each course—excluding clubhouses and parking lots and the like—was 120 acres. In other words, golf holes covered 1,846,800 acres of U.S. real estate. That's an area more than twice the size of Rhode Island, a state that exists expressly to be demeaned in comparisons such as this one.
When you throw in clubhouses, parking lots, golf-supply stores, the National Golf Foundation and touring pro Craig Stadler, golf surely consumes three times as much space as the Ocean State. As the U.S. turns away aspiring immigrants who wash up at its shores half dead on rafts, I wonder: Is this a defensible use of such landmass? The answer, I fear, depends on your handicap.
There is much to be said for a solitary round of golf. For starters, all of the footprints on the dew-soaked greens at Tarn O' Shanter Golf Course in Hermitage were mine; they looked like an Arthur Murray dance chart for something called the Four-Putt. Whenever I drove the ball to a heavily foliated corner of the course, which was often, a guy on a riding lawn mower tore off in pursuit of it and returned with a ball that was not even the color of the one I had hit—but that I graciously accepted as my own. Better yet, I rained golf-ball-sized hail on the many homes surrounding the course and felt bereft of self-consciousness in doing so.