A Short Story: Reflections on the Catechisms of Golf

June 19, 2015
By R.B. Scott

Many relatives and friends find meaning and purpose their Sunday routine -- trundling off to the local meetinghouse to absorb quaint homilies from one parochial dignitary of the week. 

However, I prefer golf.

Titillating photography -- enhanced by smoky filters, stop action and slow mo -- is supposed to race your engine and make you feel warm and fuzzy all over. Over the course of my life I've seen enough racy flicks and magazines to choke a ... well, forget that metaphor.

Golf arouses me. If you learn to play, here's how you may come to understand.

On a long par five take out a three wood for your second shot and launch one dead-on the flagstick.  If it leaves you lying a tap-in away for eagle, you will feel your inner engine race.  You feel warm and fuzzy and smitten for days. Weeks. Even years. Best of all,  you won't to have hide the font of this pleasure in your old socks drawer.

Sermons at church are supposed to lift your spirit, reveal new moral truths, generate more personal honesty and accountability. So to be honest, the last regular Sunday sermon I enjoyed as much as, say I would eagle on the closing hole at The Country Club in my great-grandfather's canyon was way back in 1960. 

Out on the golf course --especially when I am playing alone, which is my preference -- damn if I'm not encouraged to be more honest with myself. For instance, hackers like me are often known for our Mulligans, which is an engaging synonym for "do over.". To true believers like me, Mulligans are, in a word, "cheating."


The foreboding 18th hole at The Country Club at the mouth of Parley's Canyon in Salt Lake City where the author became familiar with the #1 iron.

Of course, if you're playing alone you can take as many Mulligans as you like. No one will notice or care. I used to think that fudging a little -taking a Mulligan here and there - made very little difference, even when playing in a group, for money or just for pride. "I shot an eighty-two," I boasted one Sunday, for this is truly was a nice score for a fourteen handicapper like me. My companion is dubious; he is remembering the Mulligans I took at critical points. "I'll bet you had the SATs memorized before you stopped retaking them," he chided.

No matter. I continued to take Mulligans all the time. From everywhere on the golf course. Everyone knew it.

And, then one Sunday on an uphill, one hundred and sixty-yard par three, I hit one of the worst six irons of my life. I was glad to be playing alone. The ball fairly screamed up the hill, about three feet above the ground. This kind of out-of-control shot is called a shank. It caught a ridge of long grass front the sloped green, bent right as it scooted at breakneck speed toward the flagstick, which it banged into dead center and fell into the hole. An unlikely ace. A blessed miracle it was. The first, and only, one of my life. The foursome on the tee ahead cheered.  A greenskeeper working nearby tipped his hat respectfully as if this had more do do with skill than luck..

When I told my friends about the accomplishment, one snipped: "was it your first shot off the tee or your second…or third." My Mulligan days were over. Nowadays I play every shot as it lies. Which is sort of the way God has us approach life, don't you think?

The game teaches other important eternal lessons. For instance, make the best out of what you have. Let us suppose that, like me, you are not physically capable of playing scratch (even par) golf. The game accounts for such deficiencies. This is the fair thing to do, I think. You can't help it if God didn't give you the stuff to be a golf champion. Maybe He had different mission in mind for you -- like teaching a Sunday School class. That's where handicaps come in. They level the playing field, as they say. Here's how it works.

Let's suppose you're only capable of playing bogey golf (one over par per hole). After playing a few rounds, you establish a handicap, which is figured based on what your scores reveal to be your golf deficiencies. As a result, you establish bogey as your par, which means that you are expected to take about eighteen more strokes more per round than a scratch golfer, one whose handicap is zero. Assuming the scratch golfer plays to his potential, all you have to do to beat him and the course is to play one stroke better than your potential.

See how fair and just and God-like golf is? The game also teaches you not to mess around too much with the mysteries and riddles life presents. For instance, it is accepted Golf doctrine that only God can hit a one iron. To avoid temptation, many weekend golfers refuse to carry a one iron in their bag.  Wiseguys and fools are the exceptions. Every once in a while you see one tempting fate. They rarely succeed.

As a caddie I was paid well and not infrequently to fetch an entire set of exquisite golf clubs out of the pond in front of the eighteenth hole at The Country Club (as in The One And Only) in Salt Lake City. On such occasions, my employer was Joe Bamberger, a mercurial young a scratch golfer whose pocketbook was as large as his temper. On this day he ignored my counsel (forgetting that he never used fairway woods, I recommended a three wood, then lamely a two-iron).

"Why not a one-iron?" he challenged boldly.

"You know what they say about one irons," I said meekly.

"It's Sunday and damned if God's not with me even if he's not with you," he teased, knowing that I had bolted Sunday School early to make his tee time. Joe was Jewish, so playing on Sunday was no special mishuggunah to him.

Unlike Jesus, also a Jew, Joe succumbed to temptation, which had its way with him that day as temptations almost always do with people who don't take them seriously. While Joe cursed the heavens and the gods of golf and other gods and demigods within earshot, there I was earning an extra twenty bucks, rescuing his bag and clubs from the water his ball had entered only moments before.

I was a very diligent caddy. I was also exceedingly kind. Not only did I find the ball he hit, but the bag and every single club...except the one iron. Truth be told, I stumbled across it too, but thinking his life and mine would be a lot saner if he never saw that blasted club again, I scrunched it deep into the mud with my bare feet.

Joe was a persistent man and, as I said, he was also quite generous. So, a few hours later he asked me to take another look, for another twenty bucks. Naturally, I obliged. Locating the iron with my feet, I pushed it deeper into the mucky bottom, where it probably lies mired to this day. Maybe it's a fossil by now. It was a long, long time ago.

"What am I going to do without my one iron," he wailed, as I waded out of the pond, empty-handed, smelling like a rotting carp.

"Try church," I said.