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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

MMM Stories: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Golf)

by Max Power (bio)

Modern Mormon Manly Stories is a collection of some of my favorite stories. I like telling stories, and since all of these stories include at least one man, typically a Mormon one, and occur in the present (making them modern, by definition), I thought I'd share them here. All of these stories are true. (And by "true," I mean they are mainly accurate, with adjustments solely for purposes of improving the flow of the stories. For example, if I am telling a story about being chased by a cat, but that is just not flowing well, I may slightly adjust the facts so I am being chased by a brown bear. So, basically all true.) Most of these stories have been told (by me) before. So, stop me if you've already heard this one.

I seriously like golf a lot.

Before I moved to New York City and simplified my life (meaning, I do nothing but work, eat and occasionally sleep), I would play altogether too much, and as a result, I frequently would be fatally unprepared for finals, neglect my family, and have to structure deals with my wife to keep our marriage intact. At the same time, it is something I am really not very good at (best score ever is an 81), but it keeps me challenged and relaxed.

One Christmas, we headed down from Provo, Utah to Gilbert, Arizona, to visit my folks/sister/brothers and do a little golfing in the warm weather. Arizona was cold (again) for much of the trip, just as it was the year before when we Christmas'd in Scottsdale. I carry some weird curse that causes Arizona weather to be unusually cold in the winter when I am there. But that is a different story for a different time ...

I asked my brother, Jake, to schedule tee times for us at a couple of courses over the holiday. We headed to one of the courses the Saturday after Christmas to make our tee time, with two foursomes. Jake somehow didn't get the tee times scheduled, or the clubhouse somehow didn't get the tee times written down, and we were standing outside the clubhouse, on maybe the busiest golf day of the year, with no tee times and a gaggle of bummed golfers. But, actually, that is another story as well ...

THIS story is about golf clubs.

You see, my family can never do things the traditional way. We always have to employ some complicated scheme of coordinating people, equipment and venue for any of our outings. Take paintball, for example (last Christmas' main event). Not everyone has a gun, so people are borrowing and double-borrowing all over the place. Everyone forgets paintballs, so we are driving all over Scottsdale looking for one of eight stores that is actually open or still in business to buy them. Guns break, tanks end up not being full, and we spend about half a day just getting to the point where roughly half of us are even prepared to play.

The same thing always occurs when we go backpacking. We live all over the place, so we all travel ridiculous distances with all our gear and meet at a remote trailhead to start our trip. Inevitably someone forgets something important (one time, Booner forgot all his clothes and food (???)), and we never get started within even half a day of our scheduled departure. My mom calls us all (collectively) "Laurel and Hardy." I have another phrase, but it ends with a bad word (and starts with "half-".)

Back to golf. Not all of us have clubs (go figure), so we always have to borrow to have enough for everyone to play. This Christmas, Booner and Jake both were without clubs. My dad had an extra set he borrowed from my uncle, Ross, and Jake borrowed a set from his father-in-law, Paul. Finally, my brother-in-law Joe (seriously, these names aren't changed or anything--we all just have severely boring names) had an old set that he no longer uses. (You need to take some notes here -- this story gets complicated right ... now.)

So, Joe, my uncle and I would use our own clubs (we formed a unique minority in that regard), Dad would borrow Ross's second set, Jake would use Paul's borrowed set, and Booner would use Joe's extra set. Lost yet? You might be asking, "why doesn't everyone have their own clubs?" I have golfed with many starving law students. Every one of them has his own clubs, so clearly it isn't an issue of money. Jake actually DOES have his own set of clubs -- he just forgot to bring them (see Daniel, forgetting his clothes, supra.) This is just the way we roll.

Anyway, after finding out we didn't have a tee-time, we were all standing outside at the rack where you put your golf clubs while doing your business in the clubhouse. Ross called and indicated he wouldn't be playing. The clubhouse attendant worked something out where he could squeeze us on between two other groups.

Let's take a quick side trip here, because I have to get this off my chest ...

This is easily the most frustrating aspect of a poorly run golf course. Although it clearly benefited us this time, there is something seriously wrong with the course "squeezing" extra groups in. To be clear, groups of golfers cannot be "squeezed" in the typical sense of the word -- they are not really all that compressible. What they really are doing is screwing over every scheduled group that comes after you.

Golf is a lot like traffic. You can't just jump on ahead of a group and go really fast -- there is another group of people ahead of you. If that group has a mean age above 55, you are pretty much destined to spend the next six hours watching that group line up putts, take a million practice swings, and take second shots whenever the first is bad. And so, if we are honest, we have to say that "squeezing" really just means pushing back every subsequent group by at least 12 minutes. Squeezing on two groups = 24 minutes. Squeezing on two groups where one player is Jake? Easily 40 minutes.

My point is this: the golf course, in admittedly helping us out, just caused every poor sap behind us -- who actually HAD a tee time -- to lose 40 minutes of his day. What's 40 minutes? (You might ask.) Well, those who golf realize that the hobby is 20% actually playing the game and 80% scrapping and clawing with work, school, wife, etc., to find a five hour block of time in your life to play. I have rarely golfed where I wasn't sprinting from the last green to my car to make another engagement I was now late to.

If a golf course is going to accept tee times, please stop squeezing people on ...

Back to the real story ...

So, we are all standing outside the clubhouse waiting to be squeezed. As another side note, prior to being informed that a squeeze was even an option, we were all pretty mad. You can't exactly find another place to play on the Saturday after Christmas, as every heterosexual male on the planet is golfing that day. (And I mean everyone -- the quality of golfers on that day is amazingly low.) Jake had it worst, as none of us was quite sure whether the clubhouse messed up our tee time, or whether Jake somehow screwed up the simple process of placing a phone call and specifying a certain date and time. Jake was defensive, bristly, etc., and adamantly blames the attendant inside the clubhouse for the missing tee time. After railing on him for a few minutes, we realize the window behind Jake is opened into the clubhouse where said attendant is sitting, about four feet away (absorbing Jake's vitriol.) It was awkward, to say the least.

Anyway, so the attendant came out (picking up his dignity after Jake's unintentionally direct undressing) and informed us we needed to move quickly if we were to be squeezed on. Everyone grabbed "his" (using that term loosely) clubs and strapped them in the back of his cart. Jake realized that Dad is using Ross's second set, and since Dad's set (at least in Jake's mind) is far superior to Paul's (which Jake had borrowed -- I told you to take notes!), exclaimed, "I'm just going to use Dad's clubs -- Paul's suck." (If you are reading this, Paul, I apologize. However, as ungracious as it was for Jake to say so, your clubs truly do suck.)

Jake quickly grabbed my Dad's set and strapped them to his cart. Booner saw this exchange and decided, "Well, Joe's clubs REALLY suck -- I am going to use Paul's!" (which Jake had borrowed, but then decided not to use.) Booner grabbed the clubs and strapped them to our cart.

Everyone had "his" clubs, everyone was in a cart, off we went!

Golf was slow (6-plus hours) but fun, and all was going unusually well for a Power golf outing (no one ran out of balls, broke/lost a club, or violated any laws.) Paul's clubs weren't nearly as bad as Jake let on. He had a brand, spanking new Nike Sasquatch driver, Cobra irons, and Callaway Pro wedges. I noticed he also had an Odyssey White Steel putter, which I really like, and I remarked as much to Booner on one green. We all took a few swings with Paul's new driver from time to time to sample it. (I personally hate Nike drivers. They make a hideous sound, something like hitting a rock with a hollow pipe.)

We finished up at the last light of the day and gathered around our cars to load up all the clubs and head out. This is where things got REALLY fun.

Jake gave Dad's clubs back, and Booner having already returned Joe's old set to the trunk back before we started (replacing it with Paul's), was now headed over to Jake's car to turn over Paul's set to Jake to return. Here is the transcript of that moment:

Booner: (No speaking. He just starts piling Paul's clubs in Jake's trunk.)

Jake: (Annoyed) "What are you doing?"

Booner: (Annoyed) "Giving you Paul's clubs back."

Jake: (More annoyed) "What are you talking about? Those aren't Paul's clubs."

Booner: (Confused) "What do you mean? These are Paul's clubs that I used."

Jake: (Confused/annoyed) "No, those are Paul's clubs." (Pointing in his trunk to a truly crappy set of clubs.)

Booner: (Blank stare)

I can totally imagine the stream of thoughts running through Booner's mind behind that blank stare.

Booner: (In his mind) "Huh? How is that possible? I grabbed Paul's clubs off the rack ... Wait a minute ... Paul's clubs were never on the rack? They were in Jake's trunk the whole time ... Whose clubs are these? Jake was fiddling with them outside the clubhouse ... Oh, no. Jake fiddles with everybody's stuff. These aren't Paul's clubs! THESE AREN'T PAUL'S CLUBS!!!"

Booner had the desperate look in his eyes of someone who has just realized that he is a criminal. He stole some poor, hapless Saturday-after-Christmas golfer's clubs and played a six-hour round of golf with them (all the while the owner was likely certain they were stolen, not to mention the fact he could no longer get his Christmas golf on.) After a moment's reflection Booner darted back to the rack by the clubhouse to return the clubs.

I began to realize that perhaps I was partly to blame. You see, Jake had already told me that Paul's clubs sucked. I had several opportunities to see that they clearly DIDN'T suck, and I should have been alerted much earlier to the fact Booner had ripped off some stranger's clubs. In fact, I was pretty confused by the club issue all day. At one point, I was thinking they were Dad's. After remarking how nice the putter was, I said, "That' a nice putter. Why did you buy him a new one for Christmas?" Booner responded, "This is Pa's putter." "I know," I replied. "Why did you buy him a new one?" Booner gets angry quickly these days. "PAUL'S putter!" he yells. "Oh, Paul's putter ..." I retreated. Sheesh. This is what you get when people are borrowing and re-borrowing clubs all day. It's not my job to keep everyone's clubs straight and prevent random theft.

Jake joked that this was "the Pantheon" of Boonerisms, better than forgetting all his clothes and food. When Booner returned, I asked him what he told the clubhouse. "Nothing," he responded. "I just put them back on the rack." In an effort to make the incident less of a felony, I convinced him to go notify the clubhouse on the off chance they would be able to locate the victim and return his clubs. Booner told the clubhouse attendant that he "found" the clubs outside. That had to be the greatest stretch of the truth possible in that situation. The attendant responded, "maybe those belong to that guy who got his stolen ..." Awesome.

Part of me laughed so hard it felt like I was passing a stone. Another part of me was sick inside. Some guy was stoked to go golfing that day. He got a brand new driver for Christmas -- just what he asked for. He was all set, his clubs set securely in the rack outside the clubhouse while he checked in, went to the bathroom, and bought a sleeve of new Pro V1s for the special day. Today would be awesome! Upon stepping outside and reaching to grab his bag, however, something was wrong ... Terribly wrong. It had happened. The thing we all think for a split second when dropping our clubs off had happened to him. Someone had actually stolen his golf clubs! He returned to the clubhouse, a combination of bewildered and angry. Where the %&*$ are my clubs??? Of course the clubhouse is no help -- they can't even keep track of tee times. "Sorry 'bout that," the smug clubhouse attendant concludes, as Paul (we'll call our unknown victim that, just for irony's sake) turns and leaves, shaking his head. Day ruined. Clubs gone. Personally violated.

In some limited sense, a man's golf clubs are an intimate part of his being. We don't like people to borrow them. We count on them to consistently provide the same results shot after shot. They are always there, numbered and conveniently corresponding to a comfortable distance to the pin. When we lose a wedge, or even a head cover, a pit forms in our stomachs as though a family member has left us. And that's what makes this whole fiasco all the worse.

To this day, "Paul" likely never returned to see if someone had returned his clubs. Why would he. Thieves rarely steal for just one round. The clubs probably sit in the clubhouse closet, still caked in mud from Booner's round. The course may even rent them out to out-of-town golfers. Paul probably claimed them on his homeowner's policy and has a shiny new set. No serious harm done, I suppose. At the same time, even as I write today part of me feels a little ill inside knowing that we stole someone's Christmas golf.

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