Almanac Life: The Last Golf Game

Next month will mark thirty years since I last played golf. I was a little surprised by the impending three-decade anniversary because, even though I was never any good at the game, there was a time when I greatly enjoyed playing a round. If I were to wind the clock back a decade even further, I would find that this year is the fortieth anniversary of my initiation into the royal and ancient game; an initiation which, of course, took place at the Westgate Golf Club. Where else?!

 

When we were barely out of primary school, my mates and I variously scrounged, begged and borrowed a selection of old golf sets and buggies and lugged them to the North Williamstown station for the short jaunt to Spotswood. The club regulars would surely have cringed at the sight of these young novices hacking around their course, leaving craters on the fairways in their wake. Those early games were a mixture of fun, frustration, and a standard of play unfit even for a round of mini-golf. My personal highlight was once just missing out on a birdie on the first, which would have been a triumph of luck over skill.

 

But we developed some rituals. One person would be nominated the creek ball-fetcher, the glory of which would involve removing shoes and socks and wading into the industrial muck of Stony Creek to retrieve wayward balls. Rather than addressing the ball at the tee, at the eighth hole our mate Billy would start from a few metres behind the ball and ‘dance’ to it, in the manner of Kim Hughes dancing down the wicket to a spinner. More often than not the ball was duffed, but he once got onto one and unintentionally hooked the ball savagely into a passing Melbourne-bound train. When the game was done, it was essential that we grabbed a couple of take-away dim-sims for the return train ride.

 

Once we were licensed to drive, we ventured further afield, reasoning that it should not only be Westgate that bore witness to our lack of talent. There was the monstrous Yarra Bend, Sandringham the picturesque (fortunately for golfers like me who invariably took the long way home), and Albert Park – as nerve-racking a first tee as you could ever wish for, with dozens of awaiting players seemingly assembled just for the purpose of hoping to see you take an air swing. Naturally, I would occasionally oblige them. There were also journeys further afield, to Point Lonsdale (where we were rained upon mercilessly) and Anglesea (where the kangaroo droppings were another hazard to be avoided). Alas, my golf game never improved. In fact, my left-handed slice merely became more pronounced despite the lessons I took with the pro at Medway.

 

Reflecting on these golfing flaws, it is reasonable to question what moment of madness urged me to agree to a round of golf at the swank Oakmont Country Club, in Pennsylvania, USA. On an overseas backpacking holiday, I found myself in Pittsburgh visiting relatives who just happened to be keen golfers. As a treat, and before I could feign injury or illness, they revealed that they had arranged for me to play a round with them at their local course – which revealed itself to be Pittsburgh’s version of Royal Melbourne. In fact, Oakmont had, up until that point, hosted no less than six US Open Championships. On that glorious sunny morning, as we drove in through the gates and up to the guard-house, the air was so rarefied that I almost choked on it. “How did you go in your last round?” I was asked. “I think I shot mid-60’s at my local course, Royal Westgate,” I responded, neglecting to mention that score was for only 9 holes with a par of 32.

 

A pre-game aperitif was consumed in the ornate clubhouse, and it was decided (not by this cheapskate backpacker, I hasten to add) that to make things interesting the four of us would wager a few bucks per hole. Word had spread that an Australian golfer was in attendance, and a crowd larger than any I had witnessed at Albert Park soon gathered at the first tee to catch a glimpse of the man they had hoped might be the great Greg Norman. Unfortunately for them, I was just a hairy, scruffy hacker who unsurprisingly sliced his tee shot wide to the left. Whilst the gallery’s gasp was barely audible, the subsequent silence was deafening to my ears. I turned and theatrically doffed my cap to my fans.

 

Once I had regained some composure, my stroke play improved and – amazingly – my round proved adequate. The high point was smoking a three-wood down a fairway on which Els, Cabrera and Johnson would claim US Open titles years later. But my pocket did finish up quite a few greenbacks lighter, even before taking into account the unfavourable exchange rate. As the be-suited waiters served us beers in the nineteenth, and my mood improved and loosened, I gazed out at the meticulously manicured course which lay before me and decided that there must be more fulfilling pursuits than golf.

 

As the years passed, and the clubs in my shed gathered ever more dust, I decided that Oakmont was a fine course on which to have my golfing epitaph written. Every year for the past three decades – without fail – I have received a Christmas card and letter from my Pittsburgh relatives. And scrawled at the bottom is the question: ‘When are you coming back for another round of golf?’

 

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About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Most frustrating game ever!

  2. Paul McNamara says

    Gold – Smoke. Williamstown’s own Great White Shark

  3. Gee Smoke your golf career is eerily similar to mine. Sans Oakmont of course.

    My last game was at Royal Yarrambat. Probably twenty five years ago. Can’t remember my card but probably low 100s.

    What pursuit replaced your golfing?

  4. Grand yarn Smoke. Golf is a drug not a sport – consuming vast amounts of time and money – but you’re helpless once addicted. It is now my drug of choice (much cheaper than horse racing) as the handicap system means I get 15 goals head start playing against the club champ.
    Oakmont is a pretty fair humble brag. Royal Melbourne is a stroll in the park by comparison. Saw most of the 2016 US Open won by Dustin Johnson on TV and it is just about the longest and most brutal test in golf. I doffs my lid to anyone who completes a round there with their sanity and a supply of golf balls intact. Guess you quit while you were ahead.
    Sorry to say Rory never won a US Open at Oakmont. He missed the half way cut and went home early – so you have something in common.

  5. That’s a fair stat Smoke!

  6. John Milton says

    Smokie
    A terrific read, thanks! This week I ventured back onto the fairways. My regular morning four-ball at Yarra Bend, would you believe, and then Wednesday’s comp at Anglesea. The kangaroo droppings are still there in abundance.
    Cheers.

  7. My bedside reading currently is the World Atlas of Golf. The Oakmont chapter is titled “The Toughest Golf Course in the World?” “Oakmont is torn in two by highway and railroad and scarred by nearly 200 bunkers. It can be a cruelly punishing course, boasting as it does such fearsome hazards as the mammoth Church Pews. bunker separating the vast 3rd and 4th fairways, For those who succeed off the tee, torment and anguish can be found on the lightning-fast greens.”
    Westgate to Oakmont is like going from a Moe maiden to a Melbourne Cup. Well played. Your friends must have a quid to afford membership there. Now it’s US $150K to get in and $US18,500 a year.

  8. I recall you mentioning in the thread of a post that you’d not played golf for thirty years Smokie and what a way to bow out. Brilliant. Waiters serving beers? Excellent!

    I imagine a few similarities between Oakmont and Bushwood.

    Top yarn.

  9. Daryl Schramm says

    Great story. I have turned to golf, mainly for exercise and now find any golf story interesting. Have you seen Oakmont on the telly since Darren? Does it bring back memories? I managed to get games in while on my jaunt last year. One at Ealing GC West London and a further couple of rounds at Greywolf, Panarama Mountain BC Canada. They are my only games outside SA except an annual sojourn to Coomealla for a few years. Can’t top Oakmont but any golfing readers are in Eastern BC do yourself a favour.
    Cheers

  10. Rulebook says

    Smokie love the part where you neglected to tell them re 9 holes not 18 well played

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    Very entertaining read Smokie.
    I played golf regularly as a late teen and into my early twenties, sadly very irregular since then. My cricket habit takes up so much time that adding a golf addiction would surely see me as a single man!

    I cannot imagine playing on a venue that has hosted a US Open, probably the right call to give it up after that, playing at the Westgate GC would have been hard work after Oakmont!

  12. Daryl Schramm says

    Your reference to your left handed slice Darren reminded me of another golfing observation. I went to Royal Adelaide on the Friday of the LGPA Aus Open and saw all 144 players go approach and complete the 14th and tee off the 15th. Not one left hander. Golfers and others why might this be so?

  13. bulldogboy says

    Wonderful retelling Smokie. As an absolute sporting hack, i find much more enjoyment out of these recollections than the stories of perfection.
    After having graced Royal Westgate, Altona Lakes etc, my clubs sit housing redbacks, unmoved in the corner of my shed for the last 15 years. Sigh..

  14. Chris Daley says

    Great yarn. Perfect respite from today’s weather and news.

  15. roger lowrey says

    Well played Smokie.

    And just think, you haven’t missed out on anything over the past few months while others have been – with apologies to Monty Python – pining for the fairways!

    RDL

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