Without the friends, the trip is thinner, less memorable, lonelier, more singular. I’ve been on solo golf trips (Cape Cod in 2013), plenty of dual trips (always on edge, as there is no buffer) and my other Michigan trip, back in 2007, was a to-NOT-do list of the missteps that a triple trip can bring about. On this junket, we were four, and well matched. Guys ranging in age from X to X+15, give or take. One teacher, one accountant, one CFO and one machinist. All with a shared love for the open fairway and the receptive green. Along the way, we coined a new phrase, the USSIE, for a photo that’s not just of one person’s self…wait, what do you mean Ussie has been around since 2013? Rats.
Back to the friends. These are the people with whom you bunk, break bread, partner in impromptu matches, kick back in bare feet after 36 holes, and drive down broken, shady, sometimes-closed roadways, with barely any cell service. Bonding occurs through snoring decibel levels, abandoned charge cables and other accoutrements, reminders to call (or not call) spouses, girlfriends, children, parole officers…have I made myself clear? The friends are often the best part of the trip. The golf, especially if new to everyone in the group, is marvelous, but it’s the reactions and interactions that define the journey. One example of this is: the nickname. Each day, round, meal, whatever, should be a near-constant christening-by-nickname. On one trip to North Carolina’s sand hills, my neighbor hit an explosion shot out of a deep bunker … with a pine cone. Yup, to this day, I yell across the street “Hey, Pine Cone, up for a beer?” Sometimes the coronation doesn’t stick, but that’s a risk you take, in the name of camaraderie.
Within our bale, we have one golfer who prides himself on his green-reading ability. It’s rivaled by two thing. The first is a constant desire for experimentation. He’s the guy who will look for backboards, sideboards, high and low spots on a green, and attempt to putt, chip or pitch the ball, the way a NASCAR driver moves high or low, into an embankment. He sees things that others do not. Doesn’t mean they exist, but he sees them! The same control does not define his long game, which makes the short game that much more important. Anyhooo, said golfer stood on a green this trip, a green at a spectacular and non-public course, somewhere in the great kingdom of Michigan. In our presence was an expert in the game. Our hero waved his magic wand at a portion of the green, ‘twixt his ball and the hole, and asked-assured “somewhere over there?!” Said expert paused, blinked, considered, and tersely replied “What?” The rest of us fell down. For the remaining days, we recalled that incredulous reaction with mirth and (hopefully) shared enthusiasm.
The teacher revealed that he never knows what students think. He’s not privy to their true interpretations, opinions, or reactions. They arrive at his classroom, all smiles and “Hello, Mister”; they laugh at his jokes and smile at his pantomimes. Such is the path of the writer. I’m certain that the trio of companions had their own conversations when I was not around. Certainly they questioned my penchant for picking up golf balls when the going got rough. I also have a tendency to vent a bit, about the others not in my presence. Woe to the person who shares my golf cart. We’re not about vitriol here, just a need to expel these petty frustrations. No one need fear being fired or jailed, as I don’t wield much power in any parts. I attend to personal hygiene, smile often, tell a joke or two, and laugh at what others intend to be funny. I’m a decent playing partner and companion, but I’m certain that much can be said about my deportment. Alas, this is our lot in life.
We had one heroic soldier along on the trip. About 3 months ago, he crashed on his bike and broke his ankle. Plate, screws, the works. He wasn’t certain that he would be able to make the trip. I began plans to replace his vehicle, as he provided the luxurious, capacious truck in which we traveled from here to there, and back again. 2 weeks out, his doctor gave him the OK to travel and golf. Fortunately for us, there were no Bandons on the docket, no walking-only layouts that would have been impossible to negotiate on said bum limb. Total Transparency: three sets of eyes watched him constantly. We knew that he knew his limits, but that never stops you. You treat your children that way, and you do the same with elderly relatives. He is neither, but his case still fit somewhere between those two goal posts. We weren’t trying to patronize, simply watch out. When he descended that steep incline, we knew he had to ascend. If the wooden walkway or steps were at all out of sorts, we shouted warnings to each other. Fortunately for us, he allowed us to do all these things. Weakness is counterbalanced by concern and affection.
I returned home from this venture, to say goodbye to a cat who had lived 18 years with us. It took forever to figure out how long she had been with us, but we found data to confirm this fact. 18 years. That’s an incredible time for an animal to decide she loves a family enough to spend a lifetime with them. I’m not certain how long I’ve had, nor for how long I will have, these friends. What I do know is, I would gladly travel near and far, wide and narrow, with them. For the golf, for the WHAT, for the times.