While in high school, my first part-time job ushered me into golf, which has been ever since a joyful pursuit. You needed so-called "Working Papers" at the age of 14 to caddy, so I had to go to a town administrator and secure them. Then I went through an apprenticeship training at the Country Club of Buffalo, near Williamsville to learn how to do the job properly. There were lessons, taught by a well-loved caddymaster, Bill O'Brien, who took me under his wing. Among the principles of efficient caddying, we learned how to flag a hole properly, never stand in line of a player's putt, how to line up a shot with a tree to find an errant ball, and go ahead on wooded holes to keep an eye on drives. When I emerged from training, I was certified as a "B" caddy, versus the experienced "A" variety. As a result, I made 85 cents a round and sometimes would get a dime or quarter tip. Later, as an "A" caddy, the fee shot up to a dollar and then, during the war, became three dollars when you carried doubles. And usually you did carry two bags, at a time when a lot of young men were called into military service and the ubiquitous and obnoxious golf cart had not yet taken jobs away from boys to put money in the pockets of manufacturers and club owners. That was good money at the time. And there was a special deal, whereby if you rushed out on your bike after school and picked up a member at the seventh hole, you still received full pay for the round. There was a handful of members who would also tip up to fifty cents, so the total was a lot of cash for the times.

Caddying years - Early 40's Country Club of Buffalo
(Click to enlarge)

As I got along in the higher grades, I worked for the club pro, Charley Bemish, cleaning clubs and doing odd jobs. Charley called me "Joe" because he thought I looked like baseball star Joe DiMaggio and seemed to like my swing. He encouraged me to seek a career in golf, but I thought I had better plans. He and caddymaster, Bill O'Brien, both took a fancy to me. Sometimes, especially after coming in soaked from caddying in a shower, they would have me towel off, bundle me up, take off for a local bar, and buy me hot soup while they had highballs or a couple of beers. Bill was a cool guy and funny. With his typically Irish face, customary white cap, sweaters matching his merry blue eyes and full, pink cheeks, he would suddenly partially expell his false teeth. And if that didn't get enough response, he would suck in his protruding tummy and his pants would drop a few inches and he would grab his belt just in time. His favorite expression was "suffering sailors."

Bill was intrigued with a short putter I fashioned by cutting down a shaft on an old, castoff club, installing a piece of scrubby wooden lathe behind it, and wrapping the whole thing with friction tape. Bill would hustle me and my 18-inch high putter to the area of the first tee to show me and my club off to members.

His wife, Mary, would usually show up late in the day in their mid-'30s big green Chrysler and chauffeur him home. One time, I caddied for him in a nine-hole match with Charley, the professional, and Bill won, shooting a two under par 34 on a difficult course. I was really impressed and though I liked Charley, I was pulling for Bill all the way.

Caddies were permitted to play the beautifully-manicured country club course on Mondays and that, and observing members techniques, is how I learned the game. Golfing has brought much pleasure into my life, and not only because of scores. It has opened up and helped me retain friendships and comraderie that would never had been possible otherwise, and in several countries and states.

I have played in India's Calcutta, where I walked past foul-smelling vultures feeding on some kind of animal carcass. I was tested on a course, set by British colonialists in the tea gardens of Sylhet in what is now Bangladesh. At the Dhaka club in that territory, I had to hire a caddy and also an "augie wallah," who dashed ahead on each hole to keep crows from swooping down and flying off with balls Sometimes, during the monsoon rains, we would take shelter in a Hindu village near its temple, situated like the golf course in the middle of a circular horse racing track, where scrawny ponies would vie for small purses.

Indian Kashmir, with its noble snow-capped mountains, and thousands of goats grazing on hills around the course, was a unique sight. On another occasion, my wife, a daughter and I had to play out of a single bag, referred to locally as a "kit," with a handful of dated "sticks." While playing at that military base course in Ranikhet, in the high foothills of the Himalayas, my ball was supplied by a friendly Indian military officer. He recognized my plight in trying to master a course dotted with tamped-down sand greens, and taking swipes at a wornout ball, blackened and cut by previous players. The colonel's sportsmanship was even more appreciated, considering the regulations that proscribed Indian military contacts with Americans and other foreigners, due to an Indian government fear of Western spies.

Many rounds were played at the Indian capital's Delhi Club, where former members of Muslim royalty and concubines are interred in regal, sun and monsoon-weathered tombs. These elaborate structures tower amid the flat, graceful fairways and putting surfaces and the green jungles, into which caddies would not venture because of kraits and cobras. On the proverbial 19th hole in the clubhouse, you could hobnob with your American or Indian friends, compare notes on your round, discuss politics or play darts, imbibe Indian beer and consume various types of delicious Indian curries or other cuisine. I have worn a tee-shirt that proclaimed this gospel: "Life is a game, but golf is serious." Even if the twist is reversed, to me golf is far more than just a challenge or the great fun of a game with friends, sons or sons-in-law. It's a heady experience that emphasizes the beauty of nature.

While playing, I have lost concentration in admiring the alluring vision of my wife or another female athlete, framed in golden sunlight and attired in colorful shorts and stylish hat, making a graceful swing. I have savored the special fragrance of freshly-cut grass, and riveted my gaze on the beauty of landscapes, lakes, rivers and hills--even the magnificent sight of a glacier-clad Rocky Mountain peak from Buffalo Hills Club in Kalispell, Montana. My eyes have delighted in the colorful splashes of tree leaves in the fall; turtles taking the sun on lakeside rocks; stately blue herons on fishing expdeitions; ducks and cormorants cavorting on streams and the precise flapping spearhead of Canadian geese cutting across a blue sky (One day, my bemused wife gazed admiringly at a high-altitude gaggle and raised an issue that had long puzzled me, "I wonder how they decide who to choose for a leader?"). On the other hand, I have been chilled by a sudden powerful lightning storm, while far from the clubhouse, or coming across a gliding snake or warnings of alligators lurking in water hazards just off fairways.

An enjoyable part of the game is reveling in the shots of other players. As a case in point, here is an accoumt of exploits of Gus Langford, who always seemed to outgun me during two years of rounds on Dhaka courses:

Boro Sahib Langford

One of his sports days we'll never forget,
How with skill and grace a new mark he set.
In '67 December, the East Bengal tournament,
He chalked up a score that shook the firmament.
In with 80 at Dhaka Club, his chances looked poor;
His game was not up and he was most dour.
Then the tough Kirmatola course finally lost out
As he conquered its trees in a second-round rout.
He drove like a cannon, pounded out his irons,
Approached with the touch of the Nelsons' Byron.
Had rupees been prizes he would have rated a crore,
For he licked Kirmatola with a seventy-four.
He's the greatest, you see, with a nine-iron shot.
When the woods and putts go, then he's really hot.
He lays that ball up with judgement and loft;
It floats down on the green, powerpuff-soft...
So we'll wish him the best, a wide-open door
To the future, a prayer, glowing health and more;
We thank him for being our golf buddy and friend
And good neighbor down at Road Ek's end.

Despite advancing years and ailing knees, golf continues to provide challenge, exercise, companionship and communing with nature. The backswing is shorter and so are the drives off the tee. But my hope is for many more years of studying the art and science of this archaic and intriguing sport and flailing away at that balky little white sphere.


This golfing history would be incomplete without a few reflections into personal golf experiencesand incidents, which illustrate the humor and incongruities of the game:

--the startled expression and louder-than-normal impact when an unsuspecting fellow golfer made contact with a trick explosive ball that had been substituted on the sly.

--my brother-in-law, Fred Naedele, tells of another kind of shrapnel ball: while playing in a snowstorm in the Buffalo area, the bad news was his ball went flying off in two directions, splitting after a swing in the below-freezing cold (near which half do you drop a fresh ball?). The good news was simplified assessment of the putting line after the "away" fellow golfer traced the line with his ball on the snow-flecked green.

--a sports buddy in my group on an Adirondack Mountains course, dropping suddenly to one knee as if he was genuflecting in a Catholic church. He quickly sprang up and forged ahead with a slight weave and a puzzled expression after an errant eight-iron shot from behind peppered the top of his head.

--feeling sorry for a partner who putted up a sharply-inclined green in Alabama, only to have the ball stop and roll back near the original lie three times before he got it right.

--after years of outscoring son Jeff, succumbing to his round during a Georgia contest--a result that occurs nearly always now--only too aware that wife Nancy and his wife, Charlene, intent spectators, had been literally praying for his victory. I might have been able to beat Jeff once in awhile but certainly not God!

--Jeff's huge fairway blow on a long hole at a Callaway Gardens course in Pine Mountain, Georgia when his second shot smacked onto a cart path and took several huge bounces as if it had eyes, adding perhaps 75 yards to the distance and taking his ball past the green.

--playing the Niagara-Orleans course rough along the Erie Canal near Gasport, New York where on several holes my shots struck newly-planted saplings about two inches in diameter for losses against par.

--searching over the green for a ball on a par four hole at the Buffalo Country Club in Williamsville, New York after a second shot, elated to find it in the cup for a temporary eagle, which faded when a grin from a fellow caddy playing ahead made me realize he had surreptitiously slipped my ball in as a prank.

--Conversely, I scrounged green edges similarly at a course in Milford, Delaware on another much longer hole, only to find my two hundred yard shot, on a slightly topped, low flight ran into the cup for a legitimate eagle.

--Playing in a twosome at Garrisons Lake in Smyrna, Delaware with son Mike, I assured him he need not worry in teeing off about a lake 250 yards distant. He proceeded to rocket a drive right into the water, to my amazement and discomfiture.

--another time, son Tim, a beginning golfer who evidently seeks perfection in sports, stroked an excellent middle iron shot six feet past the flag. Upset with himself, he complained in all seriousness, "I hit it too far."

--rounding out a foursome in Sarnia, Ontario with son-in-law Andrew Nisbet, his dad and brother--all surveyors--using unfamiliar (at least to me) lingo to sight struck balls, like toward that "northeast tree" or by that "southwest ditch."

--playing at another Sarnia course with Andrew and daughter Tina, I holed a 50-yard sand shot. I was chagrined find this incomparable duo had been busy chatting with their backs to the green and didn't see the ball go in (much of the fun of a good shot, of course, is having other players observe one of your rare achievements).

--spending Father's Day with a special gift, a round with daughters Bonnie, Jody and Cherie all decked out in golfing togs, delighted as I was by their good scoring for non-regulars.

One Father's Day
A Golf Outing

--during a tournament at the Shawnee Club in Milford, Delaware, striking an eight-iron shot 165 yards with a following wind to within some 14 inches of the cup, only to miss the birdie putt.

--playing the same course in my 60's, carding a 71 and 73 during the same week for personal lowest scores before and after.

--half-running down the fairway of a course in Reston, Virginia to escape an upset mother bird, fearing for the safety of her nesting young, as she persisted in diving at my head with angry chirps and flapping wings.

--leaving clubs behind momentarily on an scenic course in Holland, New York to pluck a spray of lovely wildflowers for my spouse.

--Reverend Fred Naedele, a favorite golfing chum, and I joining up with another twosome, only to have one of them let mutter an expletive equivalent to "On no," upon learning he was a minister. (the language was genteel for the balance of the round)

--caddying at the Country Club of Buffalo for a Supreme Court Justice, who staggered to the tee on the short 12th hole, after downing a few drinks at the refreshment bar there. He took a mighty swing and moved the ball about a foot. Turning to his amused colleagues, and seemingly unembarrassed, he commented with a bleary-eyed smile, "I'm getting more distance this year."

--strolling not far off the tee at a Fair Hope, Alabama course and spotting a fairway plaque planted by some wag 350 yards from the green, which said, "Whatta dreamer." To conclude, here is a tribute to the game and son Jeff with whom I have competed while walking hundreds of holes on countless courses.

The Spell of the Links

In the cooler seasons
Or the summer's heat,
I have found riveting
Eyes that judge yards so well
And perceive where all balls fell;
The long-legged, easy stride
Down swelling fairways, the bag
Of clubs a faint burden;
Straps crossing strong shoulders;
The smooth, powerful swing
Sending balls with a sharp crack
To arch swiftly at distant targets,
Towering in flight;
Spinning softly to freeze
Near the red, blue or white banner
At the mercy of the breeze,
Fluttering or snapping
At the top of a stick capping
A lush carpet of velvet green.

Words don't always convey
But our spirits sync and seem to say:
"How perfect to play here,
"Indulging in what surrounds us:
"The white puffs of clouds
"Riding the blue sky;
"The gently rolling hills cradling
"Azure lakes and lazy creeks;
"The forests and pure air;
"The challenge of the game."

In Alabama we saw a crocodile
Hunkered down in low profile,
Like the tread of a large tire,
Dozing in weak sunlight near a brook;
Despite my hesitation
He insisted on a closer look.
He has been prone to notice
Great blue herons cart-wheeling
Away from intruding sportsmen
Toward more private dining
Where noises like gunshots
And strange airborne white dots
Don't suddenly arouse fear.
And we have spotted deer
And strolled past geese
And ducks and dark-shelled turtles,
Napping on rocks and fallen trees.

In our historic father-son matches,
Some capability I retain;
But time elapses and snatches
Skills; power tends to wane,
Eroding length from the tees;
Once pro-forma shots now tend
To veer in tangents, scattering
In hazards of bunkers or trees.
Now and then, I fend
Him off through a smattering
Of maintained expertise
And a few ingrained swing keys.
My victories were once assured;
That ended when he gained
A wife and mother who prayed
For his first narrow win
And it was answered, to my chagrin.
And now to my distress
His score invariably is best.
I still intensely seek a coup,
Macho-fevered, as players do.
But I sigh at realism's stab
When I peruse the final tab.
And so I envy his scoring binges
From mounds and gnarly rough
And sand and the fringes
Of the bulls eye where his radar touch
Propels putts from near and far
To make music in a metal jar.