Today should have been one of the best days of my life. It was my first day playing golf as a member of Riveredge Country Club, one of New Jersey’s oldest and most exclusive golf clubs. Me, a nobody raised by a single mother in a two bedroom cape cod would now be hob-knobbing with people whose money was so old and their blood so blue their names ended in Roman numerals III and IV.
Having lived in the area all the twenty-six years of my life, I knew Riveredge existed, but it wasn’t until my girlfriend, Bobbie, took me to the club as her guest that I realized the true nature of the club. It wasn’t only a place where rich people could avoid mixing with the hoi-polloi on a public golf course. It was connections to investment bankers, lawyers, CEOs of large companies, people who made things happen in the business world.
I had been standing on the practice range shagging balls when Norman Wescott III approached me.
“David, welcome to the club.”
“Do you have a game?”
“We need a fourth. You want to join Quentin, Chic and me?”
“You realize I’m a beginner,” I said.
“No problem. We’ll give you two strokes a hole.”
Flattered that class A players asked me to join their group, I beamed a huge, “Okay.”
I didn’t know the other two personally, although I knew who they were and that they were good golfers, but I knew Norman. He was one of the nicer Roman numeral guys. Through Bobbie’s introduction, I had installed an alarm system in his house. Then through his recommendations I got more business from Riveredge’s members. It was one of Norm’s friends that introduced me to a banker who gave me the loan that allowed me to buy the largest security company in central New Jersey.
See what I meant about people who made things happen. Without that initial contact at Riveredge I would still be a struggling alarm salesman and would never have made enough money to pay the $45,000.00 initiation and the $35,000.00 a year it costs to belong to the club.
By the end of the fourth hole, my delirium from Norm’s invitation had turned into something more in the way you might feel on a cold drizzly winter’s day. But this early June morning wasn’t overcast and dank. The temperature hovered in the mid seventies, the sky beamed bright blue and the aroma of the ocean from the tidal river that bordered five of the club’s holes floated in on a gentle breeze.
The problem wasn’t with the way I was hitting the ball. I had only been playing golf on weekends for a couple of years, and my score averaged between a hundred and a hundred and ten which was about where I was headed today. The only reason I took up golf was because Bobbie liked the game. Since I worked twelve hour days, sometimes six days a week, playing golf was one way I could spend more time with her.
The cause of my dejection rested squarely with my playing partners. They barely said a dozen words to me in the past hour. Maybe my hitting two or three shots to every one of theirs caused their distemper. Or maybe they got ticked off because I wouldn’t play for a $200.00 Nassau even with the two strokes a hole handicap they gave me. A complete wipe out could cost me $2000 or more―a $200.00 bet on each nine, another on the match, doubling down when your team is behind and of course the extras for birdies, eagles and closest to the hole on the par threes. My money came too hard to risk it gambling.
Or maybe it was the difference in our ages. They were all in their upper fifties. Whatever their reason for ignoring me, the frost that came from the three of them was cold enough to freeze the freaking Amazon river.
The team in front of us had slowed down. They had barely left the fifth tee as we came off the fourth green. We parked our carts and waited. The delay offered a perfect opportunity to lighten the mood. I thought if I started the conversation, maybe someone would join in. It certainly couldn’t make things worse.
“Gorgeous day for golf, isn’t it?” I asked Norm. He was my partner in this foursome.
“Uh huh,” Norm mumbled.
“Nice party last night, wasn’t it?”
“It was okay.”
“Did you take the hayride?”
Okay, those questions didn’t work. Maybe some man talk would loosen him up. I asked, with a chuckle, “Chic’s date was something, wasn’t she?”
Norm glared at me so hard I thought venom was going to shoot from his mouth. “David, I never met her before last night. I don’t want to talk about her. Don’t bring her up again.”
I drew back, said, “Sor ree,” and stared down the hole wondering if I should dump these three and walk off the course. I decided that no matter how bad this game was turning out, I had to stick with it. I didn’t want to get the reputation of a quitter on my first day.
Quentin Dennis and Chic Belding were the other two in our foursome. Chic had brought the blond bimbo who added the extra touch of excitement to last night’s affair. Where Chic dug up his babes was the question frothing off everyone’s lips including mine and Bobbie’s. He always brought hot numbers at least thirty years younger than himself to the club’s parties.
The theme was a barn dance. Club members wore designer jeans and denim shirts with logos on the breast pocket. The most flamboyant wore expensive cowboy boots. Chic’s date came dressed as Daisy Mae. Her denim cut-offs barely covered the cheeks of her ass and she wore no bra. Her small breasts didn’t need the support, but she kept her plaid shirt unbuttoned with the tails tied above her belly button and flashed what she had at everyone she danced with. And did she love to dance. She pulled partners onto the floor, gyrated them into a sweaty exhaustion then deposited them back in their chairs like lumps of clay. Norm was one of those lumps.
Quentin’s, “Let’s go,” jolted me out of my thoughts.
I looked down the fairway at this killer of a hole. Huge trees and undergrowth flanked the narrow fairway and sliver of rough. Hook it or slice it and you lost your ball. You didn’t dare venture into the bramble bushes. The briars would rip your skin and tear your pants to shreds.
Having won the last hole, Quentin and Chic had the honors. Quentin stepped onto the tee. “Stupid grounds keepers,” he mumbled and snatched up the left tee marker. “Can’t they put these back where they belong after they cut the grass. They have the damn hole lined up into the woods.” He moved the marker four feet and jammed it back into the ground.
My mouth hung open, but I said nothing. I wasn’t about to add to the tension by objecting to Quentin’s infraction of the rules.
Teeing up his ball between the adjusted markers, Quentin whacked it, his “metal” wood sounding like a hammer hitting an anvil. The ball bounded into the right rough. Quentin was a great short player. Rarely did he take more than two to get down when he was within twenty feet of the green. But he wasn’t so great off the tee. He needed that tee marker adjustment or he might have hit it into the woods.
Chic Belding followed his partner. As he took his stance, a gust of wind blew his hair and he stepped back. I covered my mouth to hide my grin. So did Norm and Quentin. Chic had little hair on top, but plenty on the sides and back, kind of like Bozo-The-Clown. He let it grow long where he had it and combed it across his head. When the wind blew it off, it draped his shoulders. I guess he forgot to apply his glue today.
Having adjusted his coif, Chic re-set his stance, and swung. We didn’t have to look to see if it was a good shot. The perfect click of wood against ball heralded to all, Chic had caught it in the sweet spot. The ball bounded onto the fairway two hundred and fifty yards straight down the middle. Chic was a three handicap.
“Change the order,” I suggested to Norm. I had been hitting first and it wasn’t doing us any good. We had lost every hole. Was I glad I didn’t take that bet.
Norm took the tee, and promptly flubbed it. His club hit the ground behind the ball with a thud sending a clod of turf five yards and the ball barely a hundred. Was he ever off his game, three sixes and a seven, nine over par on the first four holes. Very unusual. Norm’s golf course nickname was Mr. Straight because he was always down the middle.
Norm slinked back to the cart mumbling to himself.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
I teed up and hovered my skinny six foot two inch body over the ball―knees slightly bent, back straight, head up, arms extended―and tried to concentrate on my swing, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Norm’s reaction to my mentioning of Chic’s date. Funny he had said, “I never met her before last night.” I didn’t ask if he knew her.
I couldn’t stand there all day, so I swung and hit it off the heel of my driver with a dull thud. My ball headed straight left and disappeared into the woods, bonking against three trees, again proving the point, the shortest distance between any two points on a golf course is a straight line that passes directly through the center of a large tree. My record was four bonks, and I never got lucky like some guys whose ball ricocheted back into the fairway.
“Let him hit a mulligan,” Norm said.
A mulligan in golf parlance was a free do-over. To me it meant maul it again. I headed for my bag to get another ball. I kept a good supply because with my game, golf balls were like eggs. They’re white, sold by the dozen and you needed to buy fresh ones each week.
“Let him drop one on the fairway for three,” Quentin said.
Suddenly, I liked Quentin’s interpretation of the rules. Shaking my head in disgust, I snatched my tee out of the ground and headed for the edge of the woods, hoping against hope my ball bounced out and we didn’t see it. There was as much chance of that happening as my winning the U.S. Open.
“Forget it,” Quentin said. “You’ll never find it.”
“I’ll give it a quick look.”
Norm said. “It’s gone. Hop in.”
Chic added, “It’s a waste of time. You’ll hold up the guys behind us.”
I jammed my driver into my golf bag and snatched a three iron. “I’ll give it a quick look. You guys go hit.”
“You’ll rip your pants on the thorn bushes,” Quentin said.
“I’m not going into the woods. I’ll just look along the edge.” I was also a stubborn guy who didn’t give up something until I was absolutely sure it was a hopeless cause.
“Suit yourself,” Quentin said and headed off. His cart bounced through the rough, irons clanging against each other in the golf bags strapped to the rear. Since Chic was in the middle of the fairway and would be the last to hit, he decided to walk.
After watching Quentin’s adjustment of the tee markers and now seeing him speed away by himself, I thought about something Mickey Mantle had said about golf. “The only sure rule in golf is, he who has the fastest cart never has to play a bad lie.” I never actually saw Quentin adjust his lie, and frankly I didn’t care. I wouldn’t be playing with him again.
Less than a minute later, Norm bellowed, “Son-of-a-bitch.”
Now what? I thought and turned to see what riled him.
Norm stood behind his cart stretching for a club from his bag, trying to avoid stepping in something.
“I can’t believe they didn’t clean up the horseshit,” he said.
I chuckled. The horses that pulled last night’s hay wagon had followed the dirt maintenance trails and turned around in the rough in front of the fifth tee where Norm’s ball had landed. The horses were probably ticked that they had to work last night and left us a present.
Walking along the edge of the rough where it joined the thicket I poked around with my three iron and spooked a couple of birds. A brown furry groundhog nearly scared me to death when it ran out of a tangle of bramble bushes. The only good thing about being anywhere near the woods was the sweet smell of the honeysuckle vines.
“Come on, David, it’s your shot,” Chic said.
“Give it up,” Norm added.
I waved off a bee. They loved honeysuckle too. “I’m coming.”
In frustration, I swiped the undergrowth one more time. My club caught in the thicket and I had to yank it to get it out. When I did, a mass of vines shifted. At first I thought I had uncovered a pile of straw. Then I realized I was staring at blond hair attached to an insect covered face out of which stared the dead blue eyes of Chic Belding’s date from last night.