Faiths of my Father (Fiction)

Another short golf story

January 2005
By RB Scott

Father had a weakness for golf like some men do for Scotch whisky, fast women, high stakes poker, and arbitrage. "We'd all be better off if he had an honest-to-goodness mistress," my mother once grumped to Aunt Helen, thinking I was out of earshot. "Believe me true, it wouldn't take half the time or an ounce of the energy."

  During my teenage years, increasingly I came to feel like an unwitting coconspirator, an abettor to his golf addiction. Early every Saturday morning, hours before less possessed human beings were stirring, he'd rap on my bedroom door and whisper loudly:  "Time for trekking Faith, love." He'd linger in the hallway, waiting to hear signs of life inside my room before retreating to the kitchen, where he would patiently nurse a cup of coffee while I dressed. Twenty minutes later we'd be off in the battered olive Buick station wagon for our weekly trek through Boston’s fashionable Back Bay. 

Despite the heft of his name, Yeats Isaac Pratt III was neither a particularly formal nor pretentious man. Yet, he always dressed for our outings in a grayish Harris tweed sport coat, charcoal gray slacks, starched white oxford cloth shirt with a button-down collar, and blue and red rep tie.

He was more relaxed about my clothing.  However, as my body adjusted to the hormones of adolescence, he subtly promoted suitable feminine attire, which he said was “more appropriate for a blossoming young woman” than the boy’s bluejeans, sweatshirts and Topsiders I wore everywhere. 

His gentle prodding began when I was twelve or so. Walking down Newbury Street one Saturday morning he steered me into Brooks Brothers, ostensibly to replenish his supply of white, button-down collar shirts. While he shopped, I browsed in the women's department. I lingered over a particularly sturdy, basically red paisley, long sleeved corduroy dress. Out of nowhere, it seemed, dad appeared.at my side. "It becomes you, Faith" he whispered in my ear as he summoned a clerk. 

To please him, I modeled it the next weekend. Thereafter, I always wore outfits he had purchased for me on a previous outing.  As my tastes evolved from proper girlish prep school pleated tartan skirts and jumpers to sleeker, more mature fashions, I began to hold out for the more stylish boutiques that line Newbury, taking care not to veer too far off our preappointed route.

Our Saturday meanders began promptly at seven with Eggs Benedict and freshly squeezed orange juice at The Ritz Hotel at the head of Newberry Street, across Arlington from the Public Garden.  When I was too young to contribute, he'd work The New York Times crossword, building my interest in word games by concocting easier clues:   "What's a three letter word for father?" he asked me one morning. I was eight or nine at the time.

I thought for a moment. "Pop," I blurted proudly.  He scowled disapprovingly, snugged his tie. "Pop? In less refined society, perhaps,” he sniffed disdainfully as if he’d caught me shoveling food into my mouth, elbows resting on the table.  “In our household dad, daddy or father will do quite nicely. Thank you, please!"

Actually, I hadn't forgotten my manners. I was simply answering the question with the first solution that popped into my mind. I had neither intended to offend nor needle. At an early age I had taken to heart a lecture I'd once heard him aim at my older brother about how pop was a derivative of Pope. As dad put it: "We Pratts never have been and never will be mind-numbed, weak-kneed, hand-trembling, perpetually genuflecting Papists. And, damn it, I'm no infallible voice on earth for the Lord God Almighty either." 

This too was true!

**

He was a self-described Snow Congregationalist, which is to say he sought out the white clapboard community church, just off the town green, only on those Sunday mornings when winter storms rendered the Autonomy and Ancient Golf and Field Club course unplayable. Otherwise, he did most of his praying over short, breaking putts.  As his acronymic nickname –YIPS (Yeats Isaac Pratt III) – portends to anyone familiar with the lexicon of golf, he suffered from a disease that regularly rendered 3-foot putts unsinkable, God or no God.

Formal religions troubled him to the extent that they demanded subservience. To him, Catholics had the worst deal of all followed by Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, all gather-by-the-river fundamentalists, and, most especially, devotees of the U.S. Golf Association.

Let me be clear about this: dad was no bigot. He had nothing against individual adherents per se.  He objected only to authoritarian organizations. If this differentiation is just a little too obscure and confusing, then perhaps you can understand the trouble his children had divining where legitimate intellectual criticism ended and prejudice set in. Ironically, nothing would be more likely to elicit a stern reprimand from him than for one of us to belittle a friend's religious beliefs or tell jokes that reinforced ethnic stereotypes.

 Father had an interfaith, as opposed to ecumenical, approach to God, which is to say he refused to modify his vaguely Episcopalian ("High WASP" or “Catholic Light” he often said mockingly), traditions in the interest of getting along with others. However, he was uprightly empathetic with all manner of quirky spiritual practices. 

His tolerance may have been rooted in self-preservation.  In the middle of World War II -- between semesters of their senior year -- he'd eloped with my mother, whom he met at a college mixer intended to introduce eligible young Harvard men to eager and equally young women next door at Radcliffe.  Apparently he was oblivious of her name and its ethnic and geographical roots -- Rachel Naomi Schwartz of Brooklyn.  Uncaring is more likely. Or stunned by the fact that such a lissome ebony-haired beauty with matching eyes, highly chiseled cheekbones that framed a distinctive sharp nose could also be extraordinarily kind and patient, as we shall see, and exceedingly bright, natively fluent in English, French, German and Yiddish.  Or, could love him so unconditionally.  

Grandmother Pratt, who never approved of mother, was bluntly patronizing about her oldest son’s vexing choice. "War and impending death propel young men to make curious compromises.”  As I came to fully recognize the malevolent side of my dear Yankee grandmother, I wasn't ever sure whether her spiteful barbs were directed at my mother's ethnicity or her New York City childhood. 

"Nonie presumed they were inherently commingled," mother said kindly, although by the time I came along toward the end of the war in 1945 she had assimilated quite nicely.  The vowels that rolled off her tongue were as broad and soft as those spoken by any born and bred Brahman I ever knew, including my own father and grandmother.

She was adamant about her preference for the bridle and breeches freedoms afforded by exurban Autonomy, even though doubtless she would have been more comfortable in the faster-paced, more ethnically mixed and urbane suburbs of Newton or Brookline. And, they were but a short Green Line trolley ride away from The Huntington Museum of Art where she worked full time, without pay, as there seemed to be enough family money around to support them and us in whatever endeavors they undertook -- visionary, revolutionary, entertaining, charitable or hair-brained.

That she chose Autonomy made perfect sense to me seeing how the Pratts had been fixtures there long before the town was incorporated. In about 1896, the estate of my father's grandfather had granted, by way of a four dollar two-hundred-year lease, the acreage that accommodated The Autonomy and Ancient Golf and Polo Club, which my father my transformed into a challenging and confounding track that most knowledgeable players assumed had been laid-out by the famous Scottish landscape architect Donald Ross or one of his protégés, which my father was in his own mind and in his uniquely slavishly devoted way. 

Mother didn't exactly advertise her heritage around town.  She went out of her way to blend in. In fact, until I was fifteen I assumed that she was a devout Congregationalist, which, now that I’ve written it, strikes me as something of an oxymoron if there ever was one.

It was the only logical explanation for why our family attended Sunday services at the quaint clapboard meetinghouse of First Parish of Autonomy, originally a Unitarian congregation that had morphed over the years into a Sunday magnet that attracted a divergent range of Christians excepting  Catholics, who were obliged to attend mass in nearby towns until the last half of the 20th century, and Anglicans, like most of the Pratts, Nonie especially, who worshipped in the fresh-scrubbed tidy white clapboard building on a slight knoll across across Church Street.  

Twice each year -- "to expose you to other important religions and cultures" -- my father insisted that we attend Passover and Yom Kippur services at Temple Kol Ami in Brookline. Neither he nor my mother ever hinted that there were special family reasons for attending as well. It was always passed off as a routine part of our interfaith upbringing.

"You have to get your attitudes on this religion business dead straight," dad said to me one day after he'd heard me mocking Theresa Santorini's claim that her recently lost virginity had been restored by confession and a few superficial acts of contrition. "Life is a lot like playing  the old A-and-A,” he said sternly. “You do the best you can with what you've got to avoid the hazards. It's not you against Theresa. It's both of you against the elements. You have to address the ball as it lays. If confession helps her play better than she would have otherwise, so be it. Like you, she will be accountable for herself. Her scorecard is in her mind."

**

The mind thing was important. Preeminent.  Dad was forever answering questions with the simple question: "What does that little mind of yours tell you?" If I didn't provide the answer he had anticipated, this question would always follow: "Why did your mind lead you to that conclusion?"

He imposed few explicit rules. The only hard and fast one was: "Think first," which, of course, led to many implicit, self-imposed restrictions. He may have been manipulative, but I surely cannot prove it. For instance, in high school I began to suspect that our Saturday morning routine was his subtle way of establishing a Friday night curfew without really imposing one. It worked. Not once did I arrive home from a date after eleven because I knew as surely as the sun would rise the next morning, dad would be knocking on my door at six whispering loudly "time to get shuffling." And there was no way I could resist.

Saturday's were just too special – just the two of us. No mom, no older brothers and no phone calls to interrupt us. After breakfast at the Ritz, we'd wander across Arlington stroll through the Public Garden before reversing directions andhead -up Newbury Street window shopping, perhaps detouring to the mausoleum of a public library in Copley Square, homing-in with each step on the contoured Astroturf putting green inside T. Rough's golf shop near the corner of Exeter and Newbury,

Dad was painfully ethical and polite about his obsession for T. Rough's practice green. We always made it a point to arrive early, when the store was relatively free of shoppers.  He always purchased something -- a sleeve of balls, a glove, an umbrella, or the latest gag device: exploding balls and ones weighted in ways that made even gimmees unsinkable. His favorites were trick clubs -- a wedge that would fold in half; a driver with head that would rotate on contact; or ones molded to produce scorching duck hooks or disheartening shanks.

YIPS was the consummate practical joker. And, he was a master in refining them for the intended victim.  One Saturday morning -- I was about seventeen at the time -- he handed me a photocopy of a story that, at first glance, seemed to have come from The New York Times.  It was a series of short reviews of new golf products, including one about a miraculous new ball -- the Koran TNT -- that tamed slices, the most common frailty of recreational players, and flew up to thirty yards further, no matter how badly it was miss-hit.

The article noted that other anti-slice balls had been created before.  In turn, each one had been declared illegal by the United States Golf Association, which imposes stringent manufacturing rules on everything from the shape, size and spacing of grooves on clubs to the internal components and dimple patterns of balls. The article claimed the Koran complied with all the guidelines -- much to the consternation of the high priests of the USGA -- and its patented core materials and the unique octagonal dimple pattern on its cover were said to create the aerodynamics conducive to straight shots and greater distance.

"Picking up a dozen this morning. Special order," he said, winking mischievously. Sure enough, when we arrived at T. Roughs the balls were waiting.

Sunday morning over breakfast before their weekly match, he began setting the stage, reeling in his pigeons word by word. "Read a piece in the Times about a new ball that absolutely, positively kills slices," he said excitedly, inadvertently spewing bagel crumbs onto the table.

"Have to be a bullet to help me," said Baldwin Casper (The Ghost) Endicott IV, a big hitter who routinely produced colossal slices that shaved seventy-five to a hundred yards off his towering drives. Were it not for this weakness, Ghost might be a six or seven handicapper instead of a fourteen. "Are they legal?" he asked, sincerely.

"So far.  But The Times says the blue blazers are snooping around as usual," dad said, sniping at the stuffy USGA, which he insisted was considerably more authoritarian than the Pope and The College of Cardinals.

"I should get a copy of that article,” mused Ghost, innocently, taking the bait.

Dad thought for a moment, gnawed at his bagel, then turned to me. "Faith, d'you stuff ‘em in my bag like I asked?" I nodded affirmatively feeling very much like his shill. "How about fetching a sleeve for Mr. Ghost here." Like the dutiful daughter and caddie that I was, I obliged.

"Funny I missed this," said Ghost, an inveterate Times reader himself. "Thirty yards further and straight? Hell I could damn near drive the greens on two and fourteen." Both were fairly short par fours, but with sharp right doglegs, greens hidden and behind awall of pines, the kind layout that that favors long hitters who can fade the ball or control a slice, but penalizes everyone else.

"Could, probably. See how much money I pick from your pockets today," dad goaded, nonchalantly. While my father needed no protection from slicing, he wasn't a particularly long hitter.  For accuracy's sake he usually used a two iron off the tee.  When he was playing very, very well he'd daringly switch to a one iron for tee shots on long, wide open par fours, reminding all within earshot that “only God can hit a one iron. Time to say a little prayer for me," as he selected the club he thought better left to deity.  I'm sure he intended no sacrilege.

Deft chipping and uncanny lag putting were his saviors. It usually took him two good hits to reach the apron of the green on a long par four. From there, he could control a wedge like Minnesota Fats did a pool cue. And, he almost always left putts longer than ten feet in gimmee territory (within the distance between the blade of the putter and the leather grip) or in the bottom of the cup. 

But, as I mentioned earlier, Yeats Isaac Pratt was afflicted with the yips, a golfer’s disease that presents itself as the frangible hover over short, easily make-able putts that lie just outside gimee range. Evidences of the affliction are shaky hands, twitchy eyelids and jerky tendons; short-circuiting synapses and aggravated by hobgoblins like barking dogs, gusts of wind, personal guilt and, no doubt, the devil himself.

"You dirty dog," Ghost grumped pleasantly. "Don't suppose before draining my life's savings you'd let me try one."

"Maybe," YIPS said coyly. Actually, I bought a sleeve for you. Thought your drives could use all the help they could get."

At the first tee, Dad handed Ghost a sleeve containing three Koran TNTs. "I'm playing the same ball -- but mine have my initials on them."   Ghost removed one from the package and examined it. Then he asked to see dad's ball.  I thought the Ghost was on to the gag. I was wrong. "Mighty thoughtful to have them inscribed," he said. Inscribed below the KORAN TNT label was G-H-O-S-T. Dad's bore a Y-I-P inscription. Otherwise, the balls seemed identical.

As luck would have it, Dad hit first. His two iron caught the Koran TNT square and it responded as though it truly was a ball designed to be driven farther and straighter. Ghost was impressed and inspired.  I’m certain I saw adrenaline engorge his arm and leg muscles as he took a couple of practice swings.  He waggled the club head behind the ball before taking the swing that counted.  The ball took off like a rifle shot as he finished his textbook perfect swing.  Just as the Koran reached its apogee, the point at which it usually would begin veering sharply right, it hesitated as if trying to decide which way to go.

If I hadn’t been there to witness the event, I’m sure I could have heard it live from any spot on the Autonomy and Ancient.  Residents nearest the course called the police to complain of a shotgun blast in the neighborhood. Golfers on adjoining fairways said the ball blew apart a like clay pigeon on the skeet range.  “Gawdamighty, you hit the holy hell out of that one,” said the astonished AOK-- Archibald Otis Kennison, the least serious and skilled player in the foursome.

Ghost stared in shock as pieces of his Koran TNT drifted to the turf a couple of hundred yards down the fairway. Realizing he’d been the goat of yet another Pratt prank, he turned to face my father.  “You crazy Yippy sunnuvagun,” he bellowed, “what if the damned thing had exploded when I hit it?”

“You’re complaining about finally hitting a long and straight one?  I should send you a bill,” dad deadpanned. If he had, the invoice would have revealed that prank cost dad about $500 up front.  And, as it permanently cured Ghost’s tendency to slice, dad continued to pay each time they played. This only intensified dad’s interest in the practice green at T. Rough’s for the only way he could be beat Ghost straight up was to putt very well.  And, as I said before, dad had more than a passing flirtation with the yips.

**

Having the dangedest time with my putter,” he’d grouse. “Been playing with a Bullseye since I as nineteen, but lately it feels like a sledgehammer.  Got anything a tad more sensitive?”

The clerk would solicitously offer one suggestion after another, and off we’d go worth a new putter in hand, hoping that it would salve the Snow Congregationalist troubled soul, heal his psychosis, calm his trembling hands and twitching eyes, give confidence in his considerable abilities, faith in himself. 

After an hour or so of practice, he’d return it to the clerk, discouraged.  “Well, I jusdunno,” he’d shrug.  “Maybe it’s just my old shaky hands.”  I could never decide  whether he was really in search of a new putter or not, but suffice it to say when he was playing for money I never saw him use anything but the aged Bullseye he’d owned since he was a teenager.

However, he did sell many borrowed clubs to other members his regular foursome, even to casual friends he met on the practice green.  I suspect he did this out of guilt, thereby justifying the hour each week we spent on the artificial putting green at T. Rough’s.

Justifying himself to me was another matter.  He just sort of assumed I understood, which I didn’t for many, many years.  Long before I was fully converted, I took lessons from the club pro, Win Witherspoon, and religiously played at least nine holes with dad every Sunday afternoon, after he’d finished a full eighteen with Ghost, AOK and Russell Bertrand. 

Those introductory tours were more like rambles through the sprawling nature preserve that is the old A&A. Golf was incidental to the flora and fauna and wildlife we encountered, and dad’s short philosophical discourses on everything from, pond biota and to proper golf course design.

“Like responsible human beings, golf courses should peacefully coexist with nature – like they were part of God’s original design,” he said to me one Sunday afternoon.  Nothing would irritate him more than ill-conceived, out-of-place hazards, like the thin and shallow sand trap between the fairway and a pond on the right side of the fifteenth.  “Hackers Hollow,” he called it, for the trap began about 150 yards from the men’s tee and ended about 80 yards later at a gentle embankment, running the entire length of the usual landing area, which, in effect, saved many sliced balls from dribbling into the water.

“If that bunker wasn’t there, slicers would learn how to hit straight, damn fast,” he said, scornfully. “Instead of taking a few lessons from Win, they prevail upon the club to spend hard-earned money on a blasted unnatural sand trap – a couple thousand bucks to build it and countless thousands more to maintain it every season.  And for what? For an eyesore, that’s what!”

The natural sights we encountered, the changing seasons inspired a variety of impromptu lectures on why the muck lining the bottoms of ponds detaches itself and rises to the surface in hot weather; or the lung capacities of ducks; the defecating habits of Canada Geese; the strong forelegs of moles which enable them to burrow deep into the earth; the incessant mating habits of neighborhood dogs, which seemed to regard the hallowed ground of the old A&A as a desirable trysting ground.

“Ooh my golly, looks like the Chatelaine’s will be having Heinz puppies soon,” he said one day, spying Francie, the Chatelaine’s poodle beneath Flash, the O’Neal’s Irish Setter.  “You know Catholics – no birth control for them or their dogs.”  I was about thirteen at the time.  I’d seen dogs so occupied before, but until then I’d never drawn any connection between the position and the subsequent arrival of new puppies.”

“Is that how Catholics do it,” I asked innocently.  I was vaguely aware how two-legged Protestants did “it.”  

“Do what?” Dad asked guardedly.

“Make little babies,” I said, wondering if the dog way was the human way too, although I could scarcely imagine my mother hunkered down like Francie, or dad mounted on her back, pumping away like Flash.  Perhaps it was a position unique to Catholics and their dogs.

“What does that little mind of yours tell you?” he chided.

“I’m glad I’m not Catholic,” I answered.

Dad laughed, then presented a rather lucid (“lurid,” my mother said later)   description of what was going on.  He never did clear up whether Francie’s and Flash’s style was uniquely Catholic or not, although he implied rather strongly that I had been conceived much more conventionally.

After we became husband and wife, Sean O’Neal and I often made love like Flash and Francie had that day.  Sean says it’s his favorite position, which I guess is only natural seeing how he was raised Catholic, although he never goes to mass or confession and has been known to eat rib eye steak on Good Friday. Like my father, Sean’s preferred cathedral is the Autonomy and Ancient, which first admitted selected Catholics in 1952.

Six years earlier, shortly he returned home with his new bride and their darling daughter (that would be me), dad discovered an obscure provision in the bylaws of the Autonomy Golf and Field that permitted the landowner, him, to waive normal admission procedures for up to two new members each year. Soon Grandfather Schwartz, who lived in Austria and  didn’t play golf at all, was given a lifetime membership which entitled him, as it did all members, to a plot in the 19th Hole --  a wildflower meadow, well sequestered behind two rows of massive Douglas firs and a thick bramble of blueberry bushes near the 18th green. Balls hit beyond the pines were out of bounds and “No search” regulations transformed the meadow into a golf ball cache for me and carefully selected friends like Sean O’Neal.

Dad often said “there were but two reasons for visiting the 19th Hole: to pay one’s last respects to fallen comrade or to be buried oneself.” We visited the meadow officially in 1960 to pay our last respects to Grandfather Schwartz, a man we never saw in the flesh until he arrived from New York the day before his final internment.  His coffin rested overnight, lid open, on the massive oak table in our dining room.  The next day, my brothers and I loaded Grandfather into the back of the green Buick station wagon and, accompanied by the O’Neals and a rabbi from a synagogue in Brookline, carted him off to the 19th Hole.

A few years after Autonomy and Ancient acquired its first Hebrew, Father again used his preemptive founders’ rights to install Sean’s father, Seamus O’Neal, as the club’s first Catholic member. Father claimed that he was quite unaware the O’Neals were Catholic until Uncle Sandy complained:  “It was shock enough that you brought us one of The Tribe.  So, okay, it was family thing. I get it. But I thought you, of all people, would draw the line on idol worshippers.  What’s next?  Mormon polygamists?”

Shortly thereafter Dad persuaded the club to drop the formal policy that excluded Jews, Catholics and coloreds (a description that applied to Africans, Asians and native Americans) and include in its bylaws a line stating clearly that membership was open to all regardless of their heritage or religion. 

Sean, who was ten at the time, was too caught up in football and basketball to obsess about the sociological significance behind our parents actions.  He regarded golf as a game for old men, or boys unskilled at more conventional sports like football, baseball and basketball. And, girls like me. He came around to golf after his sophomore year at Yale, where as the star linebacker until he cracked the second cervical vertebra in his neck, the versatile C-2 spinal hinge worshippers use to lower their heads in prayer and, ironically, the one hangman’s ropes have been snapping for centuries, bringing death from asphyxiation to convicted traitors and patriots, murderers and soldiers, adulterers and witches, Jews, Christians and Muslims, and others deemed heretics and reprobates of one form or another. The list is long.

Warned that he would risk death or paralysis if he returned to football, Sean, a reasonably sensible fellow, applied his considerable athletic talents to golf.  Over time, he became quite good, but not good enough to regularly beat someone – even a woman -- who learned the game early in life and knew each and every subtle rub of the six thousand, seven hundred yard long Autonomy and Ancient.  

Sean said playing against me always was a lesson in humility. He laughed about it, but I could tell it bothered him that I could routinely beat him, straight up (no gimmees allowed) from the blue tees.  For Sean, golf was never a game of man against the elements.  It was man against man or, in his case, man against woman and, eventually, husband against wife.

He thrived on competition. That’s what attracted me. That’s why he asked me to marry him, long before he learned I preferred making babies like Catholics do.  Or, Mormons, which we became shortly after the Snow Congregationalist asked us to say a little prayer for him as he prepared to use a club reserved for Deity off the eighteenth tee at the Autonomy and Ancient. 

**

Rain began falling as we walked up the seventeenth fairway that day.   Prepared as always, dad pulled on the bright yellow foul weather gear he’d purchased from a boatright’s shop in Marblehead.  “Keeps you drier than more stylish golf rain wear and dry is the name of this game,” he’d tell friends, most of who preferred to sit out storms in the men’s grille nursing a whisky or two.

On the green, we could hear the thunder rolling toward us from the southwest as water began descending in sheets.  While neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night could keep Yeats Isaac Pratt from finishing his appointed golf round, lighting could. Always had.  He was a very sensible man.

Lying thirty feet from the pin, YIPS was putting for a Birdie, which, if he sunk it, would put him four under par.  Never in all of his thirty-plus years battling the unpredictable elements of the Autonomy and Ancient had he been two, even one under.  Now, with four under staring him straight in the face? He just couldn’t visualize it.  

In such conditions – drenching rain and a summer nor’easter – birdie would be absolutely spectacular; par perfectly acceptable. No matter how he putted, he would go to the eighteenth tee at least two or three strokes under. If he got lucky, maybe even four.  Ahead of him would lie the wide open finale, a mostly downhill 515 yard par five he knew especially well because he had redesigned it himself with Donald Ross in mind.  Now he could visualize every swale, sidehill and subtle bump in the fairway as it descended sharply from the tee box atop Pratt’s Ridge, the highest point on the course, indeed in all of Autonomy,  through a tunnel of trees that opened to a broad landing area beginning 125 yards out and, surrounded by deep fairway bunkers, runningdownhill for another 175 yard or so, flattening briefly before rising gently and steadily opening  to meet the two-tiered eighteenth green, notched into a hill that surrounded it like risers in a ancient Greek amphitheater.

In 1957, the chairman of the Tees and Greens Committee, that would be my father Yeats Issac Pratt, III himself, commanded that, in the interest of improving the drainage, that the sidehills should be remolded to feed excess water down to the fringe of the green where it would be quickly absorbed by a series of well-placed sand and gravel French drains buried beneath the top toil and sod surrounding the green.  Not only would this topological vortex channel water to the hidden drains, but it would funnel even poorly hit approach shots onto the green.  It was, some said,  further evidence of dad’s consummate humanity: reengineering an entire side hill and green to that it would give absolutely horrible golfers an opportunity to finish proudly in front of their friends, some of who would doubtless be lurking, drinks in hand, on the expansive clubhouse veranda above, ever ready to kibbutz and needle.  For low handicappers like dad, the eighteenth delivered a solid last chance for a inspiring birdie, or if the rub of the embankment and green was with them, a serious crack at an awesome Eagle

Foul weather notwithstanding, understandably the temptation that day was to play on was overwhelming, cautious man though dad usually was.  He knew Ghost would use the phone near the tee box to call the clubhouse with their usual drink and food order.  No doubt he would also whisper that YIPS was shooting the round of his life…was lying just two…three…possibly four under going into eighteen.

The word would spread quickly. The clubhouse would be abuzz. They’d be huddled five deep, cocktails in one hand, umbrellas in the other watching as Yeats Isaac Pratt III strode confidently up the gentle slope of the last hole (not counting the 19th), the first gross sub par round of his life securely in hand.  More amazingly, he’d done it from the championship Gold tees, not from those wimpy Whites played by most men his age.

It had been nearly ten years since the celebrated Koran TNT gag – a decade filled with losses to Ghost.  Taking one, perhaps two putts, even three on seventeen and, with the forgiving eighteenth ahead, he’d have at least a six stroke lead.  Insurmountable.  And, if he sunk the thirty-footer for birdie, it would be round for the record books. Had any member ever beaten the elusive and deceptive A&A by four strokes, or three, or even two?

Despite the ferocious skies and blinding rain, he took extra time studying the downhill, sloping left to right fall line his ball would have to trace if  was to come to rest within tap-in length of the cup, brimming with runoff from the storm.

The Bullseye struck firmly – way too firmly even for such squishy conditions, I thought – sending the ball across and down the soaked green, creating a rooster tail wake behind it as it rolled.  A deep puddle abruptly braked the ball’s descent, turned it toward to the high side of the cup, where a stiff torrent of water literally picked it up like a cork and floated it right into the hole, where it hesitated, as if stunned, before sinking to the bottom.

YIPS was ecstatic. Ghost and the others were astonished. “Tell us you allowed for the current in that creek,” Ghost teased.  “Absolutely,” dad said as he fairly raced to the eighteenth tee.

As we crossed the cart path Win Witherspoon rolled down the driver’s window of the huge Jeep Wagoneer, engine running, windshield wipers beating at high speed.  “How you hitting ‘em,” he inquired cheerfully.

“Four under,” father said seriously, studying the sky while he waited for the others to catch up.

“Four under?” Win paused.  “Net or gross.”

“Gross…just birdied seventeen.  Floated in a beauty of a thirty-footer.”

“In this weather? Your eyes had to be closed and golf gods took over,” he grinned.  “Too bad it’s gotta end here before you play your easy-peasy eighteenth.  I drove out to give you guys a lift in, before the really bad stuff hits.”

“How near is it,” father said, eyeing the darkening skies.

“Close and very low. The police just reported a direct hit on a stop sign in the near the fire station Middlefield – just blew it to all hell and gone,” he said.  The center of Mddlefield, two miles away, was also a couple of hundred feet nearer sea level than this promontory on Pratt’s Ridge.

“Really hate to pack it in now,” my father said, hesitating, thinking first, no doubt. While he pondered, Ghost, waited patiently.  Respectfully.  It was his call and his call alone.  He was low man.  He was the one with the spectacular round. Hell, for all intents and purposes, he owned the course. They weren’t about to abandon him unless…

“What d’ya say to being our caddy, Win?  We’ll load up our clubs, hit our shots.  You drive us down the cart path…”

“Is this the guy who dives barefoot into bunkers at the first sign of lightning?” Win kidded, knowing full well why dad wanted to finish this round, even if it meant taking a few modest, if uncharacteristic, risks. Without hesitating, he lifted the bag off my shoulder and ordered me inside the Jeep.  ‘For safety’s sake. Sean and the twins would never forgive me if you got fried out here, sweetie,” he grinned.  The other caddies – all half my age – quickly loaded their employers’ bags and in the cargo hold of the Jeep and climbed in.

Over the rear seat I saw dad pull an iron from his bag, determined almost fierce.  “So say a little prayer for me Faith dear,” he whispered as turned the club head so I could read the numeral one on its sole.  “It’s now or never.”