If you think golf is a country club sport for rich white men, you didn’t grow up in Claremont in the 1950s. It’s true that the golf course was at the “Claremont Country Club,” and that some of the town’s wealthier citizens were members. But golf in Claremont was a sport for everyone.
You didn’t have to be a member of the club in order to hike around that 9-hole billygoat course. Greens fees were cheap, and caddies could play for free on Mondays.
It has been many decades since I played that course, but I remember every hole. I even remember some of my better shots, while (mercifully) mostly forgetting the others.
The first tee looked downhill towards Maple Avenue, and if you hooked the ball it would either roll down the road, which was good if it rolled back onto the fairway, or land in someone’s backyard. If you sliced, it would land in the path of golfers coming up the 9th hole. With some exceptions, we didn’t have the luxury of fairways separated from each other.
The 5th hole was my nemesis. After walking through the woods, you got to the tee and looked out at the green. The problem was that there was a pond in between, a “water hazard.” I always used old golf balls on that hole. I even had a telescopic device to scoop out balls that were close to the water’s edge.
I never played golf with my father, but he had an old set of clubs in the basement. They had wooden shafts and obsolete names – “mashie,” “niblick,” “brassie,” and maybe some others. At least a putter was still a putter. I wish he and I had played a round together, but he wasn’t well. I never tried those clubs.
After I became a father, I stopped playing golf. I was working long hours during the week, and spending a full weekend day on a golf course didn’t seem like the smart thing to do. Besides, I wasn’t very good, so the sport wasn’t missing anything.
When my son became a teenager, he and I started to play together. I even traded in my steel-shaft clubs for a new set. I never hit a hole in one, but we got to spend time one-on-one on the links, which is what they used to call golf courses in Scotland (and may still do).
Eventually my son became a father and faced the same weekend dilemma, so we stopped golfing together. My clubs stayed in the closet, mostly unused. One time I played a round in Palm Desert, California, which was enough to persuade me to face facts. You can’t just pick up where you left off – especially if you left off fishing balls out of the water. I also learned that the price of playing 18 holes has gone up.
Every year I think to myself, “this is the year” I’ll get back out on the golf course.
The other day I went into the Pawn Shop of Keene to get a new watchband (really). And there I spotted a beautiful golf bag containing a set of hardly used clubs. The price was right, and the owner said I could return them if they didn’t work out. I’m not sure what he meant, but I don’t think he was referring to my score. So now they are in the garage, waiting to be swung.
I told my son about this impulsive purchase and asked if he might be up for a round. He said he would and suggested we ask my 21-year old grandson to join us. Apparently he can drive the ball a mile, but unfortunately, he’s working in Chicago this summer.
Maybe this year will be the year. That return offer can’t last forever. Meanwhile, my son and I are going fishing next week.