There’s an old joke Jack Nicklaus used to tell when asked about the state of his golf game.
“Can’t complain,” he’d say. “My driving’s good, my putting’s OK — my only problem now is getting out of sand traps.”
“Really?” the puzzled listener would respond. “A man with all your experience? Can’t you just practice the proper technique?”
“Oh, I can get the BALL out, all right,” Jack would reply. “I just can’t get MYSELF out.”
I know the feeling. At 78, it’s a chore just walking, never mind wading into deep, sandy traps — and then back out. All that foot jiggling to find a comfortable stance is hard on the ankles, knees and thighs. A perfectly executed sand shot has a special muffled, thumping sound, and I’ve spent 50 years listening for it. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard it yet, but I HAVE heard my impatient golf partners say, “Just pick up ... it’s getting dark. I don’t even know if the club’s still open.”
I realize there are those who insist golf is for old men, but once you reach your late 70s, many have gone past “old” to ancient. Many of us have gone from smacking the ball well over 200 yards, to spanking it 150 yards. Arnold Palmer used to say, “You know you’re losing distance when you can hear the ball land.” Not only can I hear it land, I can hear it roll.
Funny thing is, every so often you hit the sweet spot and smoke it a mile. Half the time, your partners don’t even notice, which is probably just as well. Last week, after accidentally pounding the ball 165 yards, I was accused of taking steroids. Urine sample, anyone? There’s more than enough to go around.
I enjoy playing with younger guys, but the truth is, young golfers are reluctant to play with us. They think we’re too slow and that we’re sticklers for etiquette because we don’t have our baseball-style caps on backwards or, even worse, sideways. And they think we yawn too loud. These guys routinely crush the ball 260-plus yards, and we hackers can’t even follow it. Instead of marvelling at their power, the best we can offer is: “Sure sounded good. Where’d it go?”
Sometimes, it’s as if we don’t exist. My drives don’t go far, but at least they’re usually straight. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re more like an elephant’s behind: high and smelly. In other words, BORING.
So instead of politely watching me swing after they’ve teed off, the members in our foursome immediately stroll leisurely to their golf balls, leaving me stranded alone on the senior tees. As I prepare to swing, out of the corner of my eye, I’ll notice them 40 yards down the cart path, in dangerous territory. Forty yards is right in my wheelhouse. “Keep an eye out guys — just in case,” I yell. “Yeah, yeah,” I can picture them saying, “just hit the damn ball, old man.”
If you ask me, what’s needed are golf courses for members 78-plus years old. Call them assisted-living golf facilities. The courses would all be nine holes, and not longer than 2,000 yards. The terrain would be flat or, better still, all downhill. There would be no rough to trip in. Fences would surround all water hazards, preventing drownings by balance-challenged duffers like me, who hit the ball into the drink. There would be Lazy Boys at every tee, instead of those uncomfortable wooden slat benches. And Porta Potties everywhere.
A round should be played in under two hours — or three hours if a member gets lost in the woods looking for his ball — or someone needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Electric golf carts would have seat belts, navigation systems and rear-view cameras. And don’t forget walkers — for the short trek from cart to greens.
In fact, how about cart paths circling every green? Eat your heart out, Pete Dye.
There would be no handicaps because that would involve math. To speed up play, a golfer would pick up his ball after 10 wayward shots and move on to the next hole — if he can find it. That’s what the navigation system is for. There would be signs everywhere imploring golfers to keep their prostate stories, and other health issues, to themselves. And we northerners couldn’t care less about your condo in Florida, unless you’re inviting us down next winter (Covid restrictions permitting).
There would be no steep initiation fees and no long-range instalment plans. Members would give the club manager the names of their next of kin, just in case the expression “we’re on the back nine” suddenly becomes a reality.
The facilities would be on one expansive floor, thus no stairs to slip and fall down on. Members who wish to use the dining room must wear regular shoes, not slippers. Napping while waiting for your order would be frowned upon. Bibs would be provided on request. The menu would feature mostly broths, purées and steamed veggies; nothing chewy. Finally, much-loved coupons would be handed out for good behaviour.
The dining room would be used for all club dances. Instead of live entertainment, Lawrence Welk music would be piped in. Sing-a-longs and line dancing would be encouraged. As a safety precaution, members would be asked to provide the bartender with a list of their medications. Last call would be a strictly enforced 9 p.m.
Locker rooms would be included in members’ fees. If you forget your locker number, you would simply ask the attendant, who has it on file. He probably also knows where you can get Viagra at half price.
There would be a rubberized cushioned chair in each shower so members could sit and soak. Free Talcum powder and Polident would be dispensed, along with Dr. Scholl’s foot ointment.
Naturally, you would be asked to support your club by patronizing its pro shop. All golf-club sets would be lightweight and have oversized grips for those with arthritis. In other words, for just about every member. There would be periodic sales of back, knee and elbow braces. Advil and Motrin would be discreetly stored in a drawer out of sight, along with the Depends and hearing aids.
Finally, for those too frail to play golf, each club would provide an option: deck shuffleboard ... anyone?