By way of introduction, I’ve tried to figure how our game got its tendrils into me and weaselled away until I was under her spell. It all happened a long time ago, I know that, but it’s hard to peg the actual moment.
Maybe there wasn’t one pivotal scene, a heroic shot on the last for someone to say, ‘that’ll bring you back.’ I think our affair was a slow burn, falling gently at first, but hard nonetheless.
My grandparents are definitely in the credits. She was the Lady Captain at Metropolitan, he was the Treasurer. Pop would take us for games there before we knew it was anything but a golf course. There’s a pine on the right side of the 1st hole that was like a magnet to us as kids. It’s funny going back there now, because I’ll be damned if it’s more than 50 metres up the fairway. Back then, to reach it was the longest shot in golf.
Dad, a right hander with a left handed grip was a charger. He’d rush us through rounds to keep us out of the way of real golfers and has credit for the contempt I hold for ruthlessly slow players. Mum, like her mum, had tins of boiled lollies that would come out at just the right time.
Gon and Pop, the Lady Pres and the Treasurer would holiday at Peninsula Golf Club, around the corner and along a bit from where we grew up in Mt Eliza. Occasionally we’d play with them, but couldn’t wait for night time, when we’d cobble two golf buggies together and ride them down the hill from the pro shop to the 18th green.
I reckon that green’s gone, now. And I don’t know how we didn’t knobble ourselves on those buggies. I still remember stealing into people’s bags and borrowing balls to hit into the darkness as the olds’ ate. If ever there was a way to get your kids to ‘suffer’ through dinner with the grandparents, this was surely it.
By the time I was 18 or 19, I’d spare a Sunday or two a month to have lunch with Pop and two of his mates before heading out to Metro with clubs he’d procured from the ‘Dead Man’s Cupboard,’ or whatever that place was called where clubs lived on after the owner had passed away. They were blades, the sand iron – “The Howitzer” – had the grooves enlarged, making it even more illegal than the R&A would later decide it was, because it ‘enabled extraordinary recoveries to be made from bunkers and the rough without much skill or effort.’ When I moved on from the irons to cavity backed Cobra’s, The Howitzer came with me.
I suspect it was these lunches (like the one pictured above, that’s Pop on the right) where the bug really took hold. Pop, Mac and a rotating third taught the true value of ten cents per side, where the jokes never changed but somehow got funnier.
As the shots improved, the equipment demon took hold. The flawed theory goes something like: “If you can hit a great shot like that with this crappy club, imagine what you could manage with something new and shiny.” So I went from dull blades to shiny nearly blades to Callaway’s Great Big Bertha’s, and they really were the bomb.
"Dad and I played the other day with an 81-year-old who was still using a set he’d bought in 1996, including the two iron, a club I still covet but cannot find. He had the original grips, too. Had never changed them despite playing twice a week. He didn’t care, so I didn’t either."
And that might be the thing about golf, in fact, maybe that is the thing. There’s a million variations on how to play it. Of course good grips make a difference, but then, not to old Jim who’s still competitive. New clubs are great, but how good is it to be able to hit impressive shots against a shiny bloke when you’ve got the old stuff? What joy to out-bomb a bomber with a 10-year-old driver, to sink long putts with something resembling a branding iron from the ‘70s?
Simple pleasures, right?
The best though, is to be part of something. To know that you can love a game so thoroughly and so honestly and be safe in the knowledge there are others all over the world who’ll share your passion. They’re at your club, they’re in your street and they’re next to you at the traffic lights while you practice your putting grip on your steering wheel.
Ours is a great game. I look forward to sharing it with you in these pages and constantly asking, ‘how good is golf?’