"Yes, son. Yes, it does." Suck.
Our golfing partnership began in a small, miniature way on vacations at Lake George, Nantucket, the Outer Banks and Myrtle Beach, which is probably the miniature golf capital of the world. You want your children to see that. The game was a lot of laughs, until he became a full-blown teenager, competitive and a little surly when he missed "crucial" shots.
The first nonminiature golf we played together was when he was about eight, on a par-3 course adjacent to a bed-and-breakfast in New Hampshire (or possibly that other one, in Vermont). I don't recall a whole lot about that game, but I do have disturbing flashbacks to hitting a mean slice into the side of a lovely Victorian farmhouse: THWACK! And I remember creeping up to the house and tiptoeing around on the porch looking for the ball, because we only had one ball each. I retrieved it from under a wicker chair.
Willie was naturally a little embarrassed but also highly amused. I remember laughing a lot during the ordeal and discovering that here I not only had this wonderful son but at the same time was growing a good friend, a kindred spirit with a great, albeit twisted, sense of humor.
He and I played a few times in Siasconset on Nantucket, which may sound a bit stuffy but was anything but. It was a public course in the pure sense, played by golfers in inappropriately awful attire, with golf games to match. This was back when Nantucket was still painfully unpretentious, when the smaller your whaler's cottage or the more rusted-out your jeep, the more prestigious it was. Now the public course is adjacent to a new private golf club that costs more than $200,000 to join and is played by golfers building Marriott-sized houses or coming in for the round by private jet.
Back then, a round of golf at that public course cost—what?—12 bucks, maybe, plus the cost of renting clubs. One did not own clubs at our level. We rented what always seemed to be the last set they had. The guy in the little shack where you paid your money would scrounge around in a closet to come up with what was more or less a set of clubs that was also painfully unpretentious. Prewar. Possibly the Great War, conceivably the Spanish-American. The putter was deeply scarred as if it might have been used to change truck tires. The driver was wooden, with screws sticking so far out of the bottom that if you swung properly they could dig into the turf and bring the club to a stop before it struck the ball. But all in all, the equipment was a pretty good match for our level of play.
We spent a lot on balls, however, usually buying the family 36-pack for nine holes. No sense in buying too many. Willie and I would walk outside and sit on the bench, waiting for the coast to clear. We refused to tee off if anyone was around. It didn't hurt our game, it hurt our feelings. I recall both of us diving back to the bench once when a car drove into the lot.
There was a sign over the bench reading NO NUISANCE GOLFERS. Willie and I would look at the sign, look at each other and shrug. I mean, we weren't intentionally nuisance golfers, and we weren't nuisance golfers 100% of the time.
Sometimes we'd sit on that bench for quite a while before garnering enough courage to step to the 1st tee to smack our wretched drives. We usually felt a lot better after watching a few others tee off ahead of us. One day a gentleman shanked one, hitting it to his right at an angle of about 45 degrees. His shot made it all the way to the green, a magnificent shot, except it was not on the 1st green but rather the 6th, I believe.
We laughed, and were immediately punished by the godless golf gods. The guy in the shack came out and said we had to play with two others. This would ruin our whole day—not to mention theirs. Yes, it takes pretty much the whole day for us to play nine holes. And a perfect little pair they were, too: a handsome, well-scrubbed husband and wife in their early 30s, tanned and fit, wearing nifty visors bearing the name of their country club back home—You'll-Never-Smell-It Hills, or something—dressed in coordinated tan and forest-green outfits, wielding shiny new clubs and sporting snazzy shoes made from some endangered species.