Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Driving Courses

Days Remaining to Next Beer: 334

Golf. Beer. Two great things that go great together. Someone said that my first time out on a course, and I would have to say, all things considered, couldn’t agree more.

My first experiences with golf started in Eugene, Oregon.

My upstairs neighbours Glenn & Katzuyo were avid golfers. I believe the game had actually brought them together, the universal appear bridging cultural and linguistic barriers after they met as company folk for one of the Big Yen corporations in Japan aka Nippon. Both taller than me, the form of their swings and described arcs of their follow throughs were something splendid to behold, grace and animation key frame through line perfection, enunciated by their tall, slender frames, particularly Katzuyo’s. Glenn always had that extra ease with his swing, something a touch comedic, and occasionally brazen, a mix of the “Na na na na…” Chevy Chase rapid fire putting scene in Caddy Shack seasoned with sprinkles of Bill Murray decapitating flowers, same film.

Katzuyo had whiplash precision clubs with names I could read or pronounce correctly. Glenn’s clubs were often second hand, garage sale specials, and he had multiple irons in his toolbag for many of the enumerations, as they all had a personality for him, and no two 5 irons sing the same sweet song when swung by his samurai spirit.

My partner at the time, a tomboy and in some ways the son her father had wanted instead of the son he had. She’d been golfing and frequenting the driving range with her father since she could stand up with the assistance of a putter. After Glenn and Katzuyo had sparked my curiousity, she and Glenn took me out to the driving range for some driving 101, and after about 80 attempts I finally hit a ball in a forward direction for further than 3 meters. 8D8 said she’d never seen a man work up a sweat swinging at balls in a driving range before, something about “tee-sin gwailo” and then smacked a ball three times further than my best. Nothing like having someone a third your weight put a tiny sphere into orbit before your very eyes.

A friend of mine used to drive one of the golf cart ball vacuums as part of his high school caddy career, and used to laugh about how it seemed like all the people at the driving range were aiming for his vehicle. He was right, nailing that thing is totally validating for a newbie golfer.

After a few sessions at the driving range I got to where I could keep both feet more or less touching the ground through the full swing, and got about every third ball out past the blue flag, whatever that meant, farther away than the green flag anyway.

And for the next couple years I enjoyed the driving range, going with 8D8 or tagging along with Glenn and Katzuyo or all four of us going after work to wail on some balls until dusk drew the mosquitoes up out of the overly saturated, swampy grass below the driving knoll, a black haze of insects intent on treating our ankles like pincushions. The most memorable bit of driving from that twilight knoll had to be when I hit the ball and watched as the head of my club went further than the chipped ball did, rolling awkwardly to a stop just in front of the ball collecting golf cart. What a racket that made! And then we ran away.
After I moved to Vancouver I didn’t get out for the driving range as much, a few times at the driving range out in Richmond while I was in film school, couple times after, then the clubs went into the closet and didn’t come out again until Jerry decided to get married and invited my best man David and Alex’s father Dave and myself along for a full 18. Most I’d ever played had been 9, and even that had been mostly an excuse to walk and talk while watching Glenn and Katsuyo effortlessly make the course’s par seem far too lenient.

I should point out that Glenn had been a pro of sorts during his youth, and Katsuyo used to compete in the women’s events in Japan. They had that strange sort of confidence that seemed relaxed and care free yet you could tell they were making notes, keeping score. Sort of like how Mike Rowe interacts with his camera men and producers on Dirty Jobs, casual because they’re proficient, experts can seem offhand, and what they mention as blown or oops is painful only because they’re mistakes tended to be better than my best attempts.

Love being around people like that, people to inspire, to learn from, that don’t need to tell or convince you how good they are because they actually are that great and comfortably, casually  confident.

And Jerry, and both Davids, well, they’re also that good, that proficient, and I sincerely think I was along for the day to drive a cart and provide comic relief. When I pulled out my mascot and started taking pictures with him as they tee’d off, I could hear chuckles and cat calls. Important thing, when I shat the mat, I simply bowed out of the hole, or worked my way along and caught back up, rather than slow them down, or bar anyone trying to play through from behind us. Seemed to work, though did mean I finished 16 to their 18 for the day, oh well.

Something I really like about golf is the walk, the hike, and while riding in and driving the cart is certainly a hoot, the hike gets my blood flowing, and since I can’t hit very far, to work my way to a 400 meter hole, I probably get to hit like 16 times if no one is running up behind us, gives the lads a chance to gab and have a cigar or beer or what have you. Every course is different, from threadbare public grounds to the opulence of Pebble Beach including that tiny tree out on the rock stack that cameos in films all the time as an iconic image of California coastline celebrity credibility.  From the high plains desert rocky aspects of the 18 plus courses catering to Microsoft retirees in Bend, Oregon (home of delicious Deschutes Brewery), to rolling slopes and island sand traps of the courses in Hawaii. From pitch and putt in the park between softball diamonds to putt-putt on a medieval themed concrete and Astroturf course in Johnson City, Tennessee.
And I like the differences of what constitutes “rough” for different courses in different locales. Hawaii has reeds, twisted island trees, curious white birds, and a sandy underbrush laden with shells and coral bits. Eugene had a lot of ragtop shaggy bushes, some low and fusing into a hedgerow, others standing tall and alone looking similar to bursts of 50 calibre strafing water splashes like you might see in a war movie, frozen in time and green like hell. Vancouver has evergreens and real timber, trees that look relieved to have taken root where no lumberjacks can clear cut them. Bend has cacti. Scotland has rocks and bluffs and fenceless fall hazards. Germany has Germans.

Every course, except perhaps in Utah, has one unifying factor besides the game. Every course, except ones owned and operated by Mormons, has beer. And coffee.
Not long after the 18 hole bachelor’s party, which sounds risqué when described that way, Radical announced their annual golf tournament. Confidence bolstered not at all from a day with Jerry and the Davids, I signed up anyway and soon found myself teamed up with three people that knew how to play far better than I and appreciated my efforts to help them feel better about their scores. I also got the job of keeping score, go figure.

Have I mentioned the girls in the golf cart laden with food and beverages that comes by with fair regularity to shower us with concessions for only the price of money?

Let’s simply pause to acknowledge the invaluable service they provide to keep morale high among the troops, or at least, all the Racial artists, coders, designers, and production staff brave enough to endure the Vancouver rain to play through 18 holes of golf.
The day progressed quickly, and except for almost losing my kind IT partner when I pumped the brakes a bit hard along a turn and sent him flapping out of the cockpit like a barn door in the wind, though he kept a solid grip on the handle along the side of the windscreen and didn’t spill his beer, and we both had a good, relieved laugh thereafter. And then he insisted on driving the rest of the afternoon. Probably for the best as we lived to tell the tales.
My clubs went into storage after the Radical tournament, not for lack of interest, just wasn’t time or opportunity afterwards, since I’m not a regular, dedicated golfer nor live near any, or a course either. I do wish Vancouver would get rooftop driving ranges like the ones in Hong Kong. I would love to drive into a sunset off English Bay, chipping and slicing yellow balls into mesh netting on the top of some West End bunker condo tower.
When Lindz discovered an inexpensive, well reviewed cruise that would have stops in Mexico, Cayman Islands, and Jamaica that also fit into a window in our respective production schedules, we had no idea the cruise would include a roof top putt-putt course with bright primary color balls to whack at the infinite horizon to heart’s content.

There is something special about wacky turns and wild banks on the top of a ocean faring hotel.

Something magical about thwacking hollow balls standing in the shadow of a truly epic smoke stack exhaust tower, one dozens of tiny yellow birds roost insid the carapace of, waiting for night time when they can feed on the myriad bugs that chase the ships strings of running lights and leave slack jawed travellers wondering if those were birds or bats wheeling about overhead. By the way, never gawk at birds wheeling overhead, just inviting trouble. And should you ever elect to take a cruise, get an outside room with a balcony.

Bliss and contentment is sitting there outside your cozy room with a nightcap and a hand on your sweetheart’s hand after a long day of going ashore or enjoying the ship’s many amenities, watching as flying fish pop up and glide over the swells rolling away from the passing ship as it slices across the sea, seeing the lights from the ship glisten across their rippling fins before they bank sharply or fold their fins in and disappear with dexterity and nary a splash, something Olympic divers could envy.

We hadn’t ever thought, hey, wouldn’t a cruise be cool? Neither of us had ever been on one, and still seems surreal that we have done, and further, that we enjoyed the dickens out of it. Did help we knew that “Friends of Dorothy” is cruise ship nomenclature for “Gay and Lesbian friendly” and so we spent a few delightful evenings hanging out with wonderful folks in the piano bar, singing along, making requests, cheering, and chatting with folks. And helped we figured out where the general mobs went on the ship so we could steer clear, and find our own spots to lounge and relax, like the pool at the back of the ship with the retractable roof and a spacious bar counter where I did a lot of drawing. More about the cruise at some later date, though.
And the next round of golf for me didn’t happen until this past fall in Hawaii. Not only did I log my first non-dive class dives as a certified diver, I also joined Aeron and Jeremy for 18 holes on a delightful, expansive Hawaiian course, one with tall palm trees, luscious water hazards, beautiful birds of prey that followed our every move with keen eye.
Jeremy had recently had a motorcycle accident and still had the stiff leg to prove it, so he had a cart to himself, while I got to play Morgan Freeman for Aeron a bit so that on the more serious holes the boys could focus while I took detours to snap pix with my mascot doll in the rough, with the birds, in the water hazards, or wherever else seemed photogenic, which in Oahu, Hawaii, in the early fall, is pretty much everywhere.
I’d gotten the mascot a 1/6th scale grass skirt and sunset pattern Hawaiian shirt, the outfit I believe intended to dress up wine bottles or something, however worked like a charm, and I had a keen intent to not leave the day of golf without some desktop backgrounds in the can.
We played, enjoyed tasty pints at the 9th, and worked our way through to a zealous, exciting finish including some great photo ops. Sunscreen did its job and no one turned into a lobster, though lined up more bottle of water dead soldiers than cans of pilsner, serious sunshine on Oahu.
At one point we’d seemed to be playing towards the wind farm up on the nearby foothill across the 2 lane highway from the course at the edge of the Turtle Bay property, so for a short while I was struck with this since that we were playing grown-up putt-putt, that at some point we might have to hit our balls past whatever hazard those giant windmill blades might afford. I also had some Just Cause 2 flashbacks, thought I didn’t share those with the fellas, just not something they would have understood. That game needed golf, and our game needed paragliding and explosions. At least some waterline strafe water plume bushes, although the banyan and palm trees were pretty cool to play through and by.

And after our game, once we returned to the condo three families and one pair of grandparents were sharing, as I sat out on the back patio listening to the men folk regale there women with tales of drives gone perfectly and sometimes perfectly into sand traps, and I smiled at my wife bouncing my new son on her thigh and plugged my camera into my laptop to pull of the pictures so I could show my work for the whole class, and my pint of beer makes a glass sweat near at hand, I feel satisfied, all is right and well with the world, and that, no matter how over par I was, is really what makes golf so wonderful to me.

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