I took up playing golf when I was fourteen years old. I had ruptured some ligaments in my knee while swinging too hard at one of Don Durham’s curve balls. I was looking for a fast ball, and had dug my spikes into the ground really deep at home plate. Don had a ferocious fast ball. However, I had always been able to make some contact with the bat against him, and usually ended up getting a hit. The slow curve ball totally fooled me, and as I over swung at it, my spikes hung up in the soft dirt, and I felt something pop in my knee. Pain shot through me from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes, and I grabbed my knee and fell to the ground writhing in agony. To beat it all, it was only strike one!
I ended up staying for three nights at the Trion Community Hospital, with my leg in traction. It wasn’t so bad, as the only thing I had to do was lay around and read comic books.
After about three weeks of recuperation, old Doc Clemens said I should start to get some exercise, and that walking would be good to build up my thigh muscles, and hopefully prevent that type of injury again. (It didn’t) My Dad had played golf when he was younger so he suggested we try that. He bought a used set of left-handed clubs for me, and we drove up to the Trion Golf Club.
It was early May, and as we rounded the big curve right before the entrance to the course I gazed out over the course with awe. The greens were a deep emerald color, with flag sticks that had bright red flags on top, flapping gently in the spring breeze. The Chattooga River flowed by the first hole, a deep sapphire color, not having been by the mill yet to pick up any contaminants.
The old log club house looked pristine, sitting dignified on a little rise overlooking the river. You could smell the sweet Bermuda grass as it was being cut, a pungent, lovely odor that lingered in the air like a kind of hypnotic perfume. Big tall pine trees whispered their spring symphony as the winds blew through their closely knit limbs. It was magnificent, and I fell in love with it at first glance. I still get the same feeling even now whenever I go to that familiar site. Goodbye Mickey, Roger, Yogi, and Whitey. Hello Arnold, Jack and Gary Player.
Some of the members of the club were teeing off when we pulled up, and I watched as they sailed those Titleist and Maxfli’s straight down the fairway toward the number one green. J.W. Greenwood was playing and saw us walking up, and referred back to the beginning of my little league career: “If you knock all your golf balls in the river HERE, you won’t be a hero.” He laughed. (referring to the time I had hit all the practice baseballs into the Chattooga river during my first little league practice)
“Looks pretty easy to me.” I exclaimed excitedly. I couldn’t wait to get up there and smack one of those little white balls straight down the fairway. It could not be any harder than hitting one of Camp’s fast balls.
We paid our green fees and my Dad teed up and went first. He took an easy swing, and sailed the ball about 200 yards down the middle. It was my turn now.
I teed up a new ball, took my stance, and did a little be-hind wiggle like I had seen the other guys do. I took a huge back swing, and uncoiled in an explosive and powerful movement which ended up with a beautiful follow through, looking down the fairway to see where my drive had gone.
“Nice swing,” coached my Dad. “You missed the ball, though.”
I looked down at the tee, and that little white, dimpled devil was still sitting there undisturbed.
I slowed my next swing down slightly, and this time made contact, and sent the ball bouncing down the fairway about fifty yards.
“Topped that one.” Advised my Dad.
I took an eight on that first hole. A quadruple bogey.
“This is not as easy as it looks.” I muttered
On hole number 2, which was a short par three, I took a seven iron out of the bag as my weapon of choice. As I stood over the ball, I looked out at the two creeks, and one swamp that the ball would have to cross before getting to the green, and bowed my head and prayed silently to God to please let me at least not lose all of my golf balls on this one hole. I exhaled, kept my eye on the ball, and took a smooth swing. The ball sailed over both creeks, and the swamp, bounced in front of the green once, and rolled gently onto the putting surface about six feet away from the hole.
“Nice shot, son.” I could barely hear my Dad say, over the pounding of my heart.
There was enough adrenaline flowing after that shot for me to have picked up an automobile.
Although I played another year of Pony league baseball, my High School athletic career goals had just changed. Goodbye Mick. Hello Arnie.
Anyone who has never played golf, can’t understand what motivates people to chase a little white ball around a large field, whacking it with a club. All it takes, however, to remain motivated is one great shot every once in a while. About the time you’ve topped three in a row, and are ready to throw your clubs in the creek, the good Lord, who I believe approves of the game, looks down and commands the next shot to be a humdinger.
“How ‘bout that shot I made on number four,” you reminisce as you write down your third bogey in a row on hole number eight. “Almost a hole in one!”
Steve Hammond and I were passing acquaintances before we both took up golfing. We went to the same church, and Steve’s brother Tommy was the same age as I was, and we were often in the same classes at school. Steve and I never got to be close friends until my freshman year in High School when I went out for the golf team.
J.W Greenwood was the golf coach, and when he saw me come walking up to the clubhouse on the day we were to play a round as a tryout he again ribbed me good naturedly:
“There comes ‘ol scatterarm.” He grinned. “This ain’t the baseball field Bowers,” he continued “It’s the golf course.”
“That’s O.K.,” I said “I’m here to try out for the golf team.”
I don’t think J.W. thought I was serious, but he got the idea when I teed off of number one, and put one straight down the middle.
“Dang boy, you must have been practicing.” Said J.
I had. Every day it didn’t rain since I had picked up my clubs. Many days me and my neighbor Mike Brown had taken our clubs and walked all the way from Eighth Street. I made the team, and so did Steve. We became practice partners, competitors, and teammates. We were golfing maniacs.
Every time we had a spare minute, it was up to the golf course. We practiced drives, putts, irons; you name it, and we did it. Swinging a golf club became such second nature we could do it in our sleep. We read Arnold Palmer’s book and studied Jack Nicklaus’ grip. Our record as a golf team reflected our practice. We won the region title in 1967 at Hogansville, which was Steve’s senior year. I had a chance to win as low medalist that year, but fate wouldn’t allow it.
I was in the lead by one stroke coming to the last hole. It was a dinky little par three, with no hazards whatsoever. Just a straight shot up a little hill. All I needed was bogey to win. I was confident, I was pumped up! I was stupid. I went with too strong an iron, and it sailed over the green by about twenty yards. I heard a loud ringing sound:
I didn’t have a clue where my ball went, because I’d never seen it land.
As I approached the green, J.W. was standing there shaking his head slowly from side to side in disgust. My ball had landed smack dab in the middle of the big thirty gallon barrel that was being used for a trash can. The rules for the tournament were very strict. You had to hit it from where it lay, no matter what. If you couldn’t do so, it was a stroke penalty for a drop. Not being able to crawl into the trash can for my shot, I had to drop the ball, and take a stroke penalty.
I could still win, all I had to do was to get up and down in two strokes. However, the combination of the trash can shot, and the crowd which surrounded the green, had also shot my nerves. I chipped the ball up and over the front of the green, eventually struggling to a six, for a triple bogey and third place. J.W. Greenwood never let me live down that shot in the subsequent 45 years I knew him. Every once in a while, he would still poke me about it:
“You remember that shot you made at Hogansville that year that went into the trash can?” He would ask.
Yes I remember, but luckily time has made it much less painful than it was on that day.
J.W. passed away not long ago, and he is a man I surely miss. Always willing to help children and budding athletes. Always giving his time to other people. He was a great man.
Steve and I even liked to keep our swing in sync during the winter.
One gray, cloudy, bitterly cold December day, we put on three sweaters and a scarf, and went up to the golf course to play nine. The weather prediction was for snow, but we figured if it started in snowing too bad, we would just get in Steve’s car and come back home. As luck would have it, we were excellent, and I mean EXCELLENT that afternoon. We were both one under par when we reached number four, and the flakes started to descend.
“Let’s see if we can finish.” Steve suggested “We’re playing too darn good to quit.”
I agreed and we kept on going. By the time we got to number six, we were beginning to have our doubts. The snow was coming down faster and faster, and had already accumulated to about two inches on the flat fairways. As we teed off on number seven, the only way we knew where the ball was at, was because of the furrow it dug in the newly fallen snow.
“Uh…I believe we had better go.” I suggested
“No way!” Steve hollered back over the howling wind.
Despite the semi-blizzard, he was still one under par.
We played on to number eight, and when I chipped my ball up onto the green, it gathered snow as it rolled, and ended up as almost a baseball size snowball.
“How in the heck am I going to putt that?” I thought
Suddenly we heard the blast of a car horn from behind us, and turned to see Steve’s Dad sitting in his work truck, with an incredulous look on his face. We were supposed to have left if it started snowing, and Steve’s Dad had visions of us off in a ditch somewhere in the blinding snowstorm.
“Are you idiots’ crazy??” He yelled.
This display of emotion from a man who normally never, ever raised his voice was alarming to me. However, it did not seem to bother Steve.
“C’mon Dad,” Steve shot back. “We’ve only got one more hole to go, and I’m one under par!”
Amazingly enough, Mr. Hammond waited on us and followed us home in his truck after we finished the round. Steve lost his ball in the snow on number nine, and I made him take a stroke penalty! Thus his splendid one under par round in the blinding snow was snuffed out. It was the most fun I ever had playing a round of golf, before or since! Wish I coulda’ played yesterday….