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The sign out front that extols a soft drink also, as a concession, identifies the place as the HOMER "SNEAD" GOLF RANGE, leased and run by. painted, repaired and wired for electricity by, grass cut and pampered, cookie jars filled, machinery nursed along by, golf balls cleaned and striped by, golf lessons, advice and stern admonishments (throttling ball thieves and heaving them over the back fence) administered by Homer Charles Snead, who has a kid brother named Sam. Sam is famous, but Homer can hit a golf ball farther. Authorities on this are Welford (Pete) Snead, another of the Snead brothers, and Homer Snead. "When I get one on the screws," says Homer, "it's 15 yards past Sam on the fly. Straight as a string." Sam, on the other hand, does not encourage the comparison. "After all," he says, "Homer is 65 years old now."
The Homer "Snead" Golf Range (the quotes are the sign painter's) is five and a half acres of coral rock cushioned, barely, by diehard St. Augustine grass—a thin green drop cloth on a terrazzo floor—and located off the Palmetto bypass in Miami. It fronts on Coral Way, which is the beeline to the high-frippery shops of Coral Gables' Miracle Mile. On one side of the range is a new gas station; on the other, across a narrow road, are a Royal Castle hamburg emporium and a high school football stadium. It is, if you forget Homer for a moment, the epitome of America's 4,500 driving ranges, those right-by-the-concrete sport complexes where membership dues are zero, where no shot is out of bounds and where—very likely—more golf balls get hit than at all the private country clubs from Miami to Waikiki.
"And where more teaching gets done, too," says Homer Snead, "the real teaching." He says his head might be turned by the offer of a good club pro job but, as a rule, "there ain't nothing lower than a club pro. Worst job there is. I've tried it. There's always about four old ladies trying to tell you what to do." And for that matter, he says, only a handful of teaching pros know their four-iron from their forehead and some of the instructional gimmicks people fall for are "just ignorant, just plain ignorant." Homer Snead is not a man to let his opinions loll around in the shade.
On a recent Miami evening, Homer propped his elbows on the counter of the little white blockhouse that serves as office and catchall room, slid his straw hat down to his eyebrows and looked out over the tee line. All of the stalls were occupied, 20 rubber mats on a concrete strip, divided by red fences, shin-high. The vapor-mercury floodlights Homer had put up illuminated the progress and contorted faces of the dubbers, nubbers and missers, the common sufferers of hook-and-slice disease, and the driving-range jockeys who can hit a ball a mile—in any direction. The worriers were there, too, the respectable golfers and the near-to-its who tomorrow would be striving in crucial $2 Nassaus at Miami Springs or the Biltmore. And also the nonworriers, who do not care or appreciate that the little white rubber tube rising from the mat offers the equivalent of a tee shot and the little green scrub brush next to it approximates the fairway, because they only want to get up there and hit something, get it?
A driving range has this peculiar kindling effect on people's courage. They will try it, even when they discover the treachery involved in attempting to forcibly direct a stationary ball, and they come either steeled to the embarrassment that would ordinarily inhibit them or safe in the assurance that the big fellow on the next mat is going to hit a few grounders himself. They come in Bermudas, in tight skirts, sneakers, business suits, bathing suits, zoris and barefoot, in fashionable golf outfits, in shirtsleeves, in high heels, in Capri pants. Some come intoxicated. "I don't pay no attention," says Homer. Some are a menace with a club in their hands. But at the moment they were all keeping the ball in front of them and no one was violating Homer's "No Swinging Behind the Tee-Line" sign—he yells at them when they do—or his "No High Heels on the Putting Green" sign. So Homer was relaxed in the office.
He fished into the Lance cooky jar, the one he keeps operational with masking tape, and dug open a package of chocolate cookies. "What a bunch of hackers," he said, grinding down on the first syllable. It is his favorite noun, hacker, and he switch-hits with it—delivering it with scorn, and then again with affection. The catch is to know the difference. He sometimes refers to himself as "the world's worst hacker." That's affection.
"Watch that guy over there," he said, On the third mat a tall, lean young man in beach shoes and beltless chinos was demonstrating for his chubby girl friend. The girl wore a red bandanna blouse with a bare midriff. Her dungarees had a tight grip on her. The boy friend was telling the chubby girl to keep her arm rigid! rigid! and to hunch over like so, and Homer said, "Swing like that, and he won't know if it's going to stay in the state or go up his pants leg. Look, he's going to wrap it around his neck and choke himself to death. Damn. He couldn't hit Kate Smith in the fanny with a ton of rice." The lean young man dribbled one off to the right.
Homer shook his head sadly and bit down on his chocolate cooky. It grieves him to see the terrible things he has to see.
"You really 65 years old?" A boy in a University of Florida T shirt had been listening to the conversation, waiting for Homer to rent him some balls. Homer does not always drop everything when a customer arrives. This posture is sometimes mistaken for orneriness, but it is actually disdain. "I don't believe it," said the college boy. "Sixty-five? You don't look 65."
"Uh-uh. A dollar basket you wanted? Or a bucket? Buckets are $1.75." Homer wasn't listening, because he was about to tell a story. He is 65 and he looks 45; great, muscled, Alley Oop forearms; great, square, brick-red face; and eyes, hard eyes; great gnarled hands, with fingers like cucumbers, torn and ripped by things that had not yielded to his gentle touch—a nail, a balky fixture—and thus provoked his temper. When it comes to acquiring justice from inanimate objects, Homer does not overlook the value of temper. The newspaper machine in front of the Royal Castle, for example, is glass-enclosed, with a gate that trips open when a coin is inserted. It digested his dime two mornings straight without dispensing a paper. When it robbed him again the third morning Homer said in a loud voice, "To hell with it," and before the terrified eyes of a little man in a brown suit who had just invested a dime and was there wondering what to do next, Homer lifted the vending machine over his head and smashed it open on the sidewalk. Sensational. Homer then picked up one paper from those scattered around, and the little man grabbed up a dime that rolled to his feet and hurried away. The next day there was a new machine and a sign on it that asked unsatisfied customers to please call the following number before taking matters into their own hands.