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What is it about golf that makes grown men - and women - get out of bed before dawn on days they should spend sleeping, walk several miles in sweltering heat and basically totally lose their minds?
I'm not sure I know the answer - golf is a mysterious addiction with which I and millions of others around the world are afflicted. And I love it.
This past weekend I dusted off my clubs and threw them into the trunk of my car just before 6 on Saturday morning. Still bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation, I fumbled for my car keys and made my way to the nearest store that sold fresh-brewed coffee. I was about to embark on a near two-hour sojourn to upstate Red Hook, a rural town adjacent to Kingston, and the home of the Red Hook Country Club, an 18-hole oasis with which far too few people are familiar.
The trek started with a one-hour ride to my friend Greg's house in Yorktown Heights. Greg, whom I went to grammar school with here in Queens, has since high-tailed it to Westchester with wife and kids. Still, we get together like this every few weeks so we can torture one another.
Greg gets up every morning at 5 to be at work, so my arrival shortly after 7 a.m. found Greg in fine spirits. He was waiting in his car as I drove up, bounding out of his automobile to help me load my sticks into the back of his truck.
From there it was on to Red Hook to meet Greg's parents, who were joining us for a round of 18.
Along the way, Greg and I discussed everything from politics to music to everyday life, anything but golf. It was only after we arrived that my friend turned my way and said all that needed to be said, "A quarter a hole."
"Fine with me," I replied.
The stakes were set.
I had taken up golf about 10 years ago, while visiting my father in Boca Raton. My dad, a Queens native on permanent leave in south Florida, the sixth borough, had taken up the sport to help his career - you can't throw a rock in south Florida without hitting a golf course. He was bitten by the bug somewhere along the way and passed the disease on to me. I then passed it on to Greg.
So I have about a year or two of playing experience on my friend, though we are pretty even hackers.
As the four of us strode up to the first tee, as I dragged my clubs behind me, the feeling came over me that this seemed all very foreign. I had not played since last summer and the driver in my hand just felt unnatural. Still, when my turn came , I did not hesitate.
The dogleg par-4 first hole was wide open. The fairway was long, wide and downhill, giving even the worst duffers a chance to hit a decent shot with a good look at the green. But my drive, well, was hardly picture perfect. It was 280 yards if it was a foot; unfortunately it went about 200 yards straight and 80 yards hard right.
My first swing of the season was a slice that landed out of bounds.
"Mulligan," was about the only word I could utter. A mulligan, for the uninitiated, is a do-over with no penalty.
I teed it up again and hit a long, straight drive that put me in perfect position, which prompted me to tell the members of my foursome, "I think I'll play that one."
Penalty or not, I only managed an inglorious score of 8 on the first hole. Not a good way to start. Greg had won the opening round handily.
Still, I pressed on. The second hole, a medium par-3, was a little better, and the third, a long par-5, was better still. Back-to-back par-4s put us on the sixth hole, a 135-yard par-3. Greg and I were just about neck-and-neck at this point, but Greg had the honor and hit first, leaving his shot well short of the green.
"Use a 9-iron," he said. "Trust me."
Now when a golfer you're playing with for money offers you advice and says "trust me," well, you have to be a little skeptical. But a check of the yardage proved Greg right. I took out my 9-iron and let it rip. I felt nothing when I made contact on my downswing and the ball sailed high and straight.
I posed in my follow-through, tilting just a bit to the left for a little body English. The ball landed with a thud audible 405 feet away. My ball was 10 feet from the hole, pin high.
I parred the hole, my first of the new millennium, and I was sky high after that. The rest of the round passed by quickly. Though I missed more putts than I made and still hit the occasional bad shot, I was in heaven, even though I was really in Dutchess County.
Greg's game, however, disintegrated after nine holes. He was up one midway through the round, but after misplaying a shot on eight, basically threw in the towel. I cruised to a 7-stroke win.
As we drove down the Taconic Parkway back to Yorktown Heights, my back was killing me and I was exhausted, but the dollar he handed me after our round, and my memory of the feeling of the ball striking my 9-iron on the sixth hole, made all my ills disappear.
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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