May 2, 2007
It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.
There you are. You got that round, dimpled, little white ball teed-up not more than two club-lengths behind the markers on what, back in the day, was known as the first hole of the "Canyon Course." It’s shaping up to be another beautiful evening at "Wasatch."
The foothills above Midway have a way of struttin’ their shtick year-round, of course, but there’s something about spring and fall along the west bench of the Heber Valley — especially when the starter lets you out on your favorite nine-hole stretch after it’s been closed for early season maintenance.
For now, until someone who actually keeps the ball in play shows up in the rear-view mirror, the joint is yours. The game, as we play it, is nothing more than a sightseeing jaunt wherein wildlife is duly noted but score is seldom kept. Why would you ever want to detract from the Zen of the moment by attaching a number to it? Can rapture ever be truly quantified?
Not that we don’t keep count of the ever-accumulating strokes it takes to finally prod the ball into the hole. That particular ritual is followed with an almost religious fervor. It’s just that the result is never entered upon a scorecard. Why be reminded of a misspent past? As Tiger’s ex-caddy "Fluff" used to say, "let it go."
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Even the occasionally "whiffed" or "topped" ball is added on, as are fairway "mulligans" and each-and-every "foot-wedge" that is employed to improve the ball’s "lie." And, say, through absence of forethought, you were to move, bend or break growing vegetation, well, that’s another two-strokes added to the tally if not the scorecard.
Actually, the fact that once your ball is ultimately retrieved from the cup and you become awash in the awareness that, within the rules of the game, your score for the hole was somewhere in the mid-to-high teens, a sense of accomplishment often spreads across your overall sense of well being.
Then, without a moment’s pause, it’s off to the next tee box and further adventures in the zigzag of the sporting life. Before long it’s a snap hook and over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go. Real men play the rough and the scrub. Anyone can play on the short grass.
Strokes continue to mount. Lost balls and illegal drops and total refusals to return and replay shots from various scenes of the crime soon require a calculator to be fetched from the bag. One wouldn’t want to miscount, now would one? If they were going to "fudge," they might as well enter the deception on a scorecard — whatever that is.
Then there are those "out-of-bounds" markers that are put up to keep you honest on the "doglegs" but — when "padding" your score is the name of your game — only serve as a Siren’s call to cut the corner and accrue even more penalty strokes. Plus, the shortcut is mostly un-groomed "terra incognita" and thus alive with additional opportunities for unplayable lies and such.
An additional reward of wandering "beyond the stakes" — if you maintain any "hunter-gatherer" skills at all — is the location and acquisition of golf balls previously lost by other duffers negotiating a similar path. And when bushwhacking, there is always the possibility of the further adding to the stroke count by "innocently" playing the wrong ball. Hey, it’s a jungle out there!
Then there is "casual water." What an elegant term. It’s as if each and every hydrogen and oxygen molecule in question has undergone emotional stress therapy and holistic counseling. No doubt there is an "anxiety-free" reservoir on-property for the greens keeper to draw from when needed.
In that there are no penalty strokes worth accruing around gathering spots of nonchalant moisture, there is little reason to enter that aura. For similar reasons, distance is also normally kept from ground that’s been torn up in the name of healing.
It makes no difference whether or not your ball was well-intentioned when it chose to encounter the backhoe. There is no retribution, no matter how well deserved, within the rules of golf. Sorry! Those strokes will have to be picked up elsewhere. No one said golf was fair.
There is also no penalty for driving directly over your playing partner’s ball with a golf cart tire. Drat! What’s up with that? Where’s the love?
Speaking of which, there are always water hazards in the form of ponds that the golf ball must carry on the fly. These are habitats where strokes don’t require candlelight and Coltrane in order to go forth to multiply. It’s also where you tee-up the less attractive balls in the bag. That way, you can keep smacking them into the drink until you run out — each time adding two more strokes to the stew.
But don’t think you’re going to get any help acquiring penalty strokes by hitting your ball onto the wrong green. They’re on to us, there. They’ve seen us coming. Unless you’re looking for a free drop and a chance to clean your ball so as not to, inadvertently, hit a decent shot, you are out of luck.
Remember, however, that if your round is coming to a close and you find yourself standing on the final green in need of just a few more strokes to break the course record, there are always the "ball strikes unattended flagstick" and the "foot touches the ground on the line of your putt" infractions to draw upon.
Ah, yes, ’tis a glorious game, this golf. There are even a few rules that shouldn’t be flaunted. Like, uh, leave your Newfoundland at home, never bring blenders or other natural impediments onto the back nine after dark, and never, ever, for even an instant, think the cart girl is giving you the eye for any reason other than you forgot to tip her. Always look to score elsewhere.
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