“Golf is a game of considerable passion, either of the explosive type, or that which burns inwardly and sears the soul.” Bobby Jones
I can’t seem to get golf courses out of my head. Golf layouts stick to my brain like gum on the underside of a school desk…out of sight but always there. The south wall of my office bears a framed certificate on fancy bond paper, framed and protected by glass, suggesting that I’m a college graduate. I must confess, however, that it was ill-earned. I cheated. The results of every college test I took were enhanced by using cheat sheets. At least it felt that way to me. Much of my test taking wasn’t really process learning so much as learning by rote. I didn’t use paper for my cheat sheet. I used the many golf courses I’d played along with their landmarks as a tablet upon which to etch the answers to any test-worthy lists or points of emphasis. This is how I earned an undergraduate and a masters degree. In a sense, I’m an academic fraud, with a photographic golf course memory. I remember just about every golf hole I’ve played and can place intangible lists upon these concrete images, laying the elusive alongside the immutable.
My earliest golf course memory was of a small neighboring town, a winding fifteen mile drive east on U.S. highway 60. My Dad loved to play and would bring me along with his friends and I’d stick a three-iron up through my arm and side with the grip extending vertically beyond my shoulder. I’d play along behind Dad’s foursome, bashing the ball down the fairway thirty yards a pop, then chasing it, rarely hitting it out of the fairway. That’s how I came to understand life through a ball, a bag of clubs and a hole in the ground, and that was my first impression of golf architecture, perhaps the bud of inspiration for the course that winds behind my house today.
Pencil Sketch of early Alister MacKenzie Design
In 1963, Nowata Country Club was a square plot of grass with nine holes, an old house served as the clubhouse, and there was a starters shelter just south of the first tee, supported by four weathered posts bearing a wood shingle roof. Green fees were purchased in the store across highway 60 north of tee box number one. Gnarled fence posts so crooked they were grumpy, stood as sentinels, strung with two-point galvanized wire providing an out-of-bounds judgment upon wayward shots to the right. The first three holes were bordered by roads north, south and west providing a stern test to a right-handed slicer. I learned to miss the ball left on that course. It wasn’t much, a few trees, a pond, mostly flat, you could see the entire layout in a sweeping panorama.
I never paid much attention to the town at the age of four. Driving through the town with my wife recently, the street scenes reminded me of the movie The Last Picture Show with Jeff Bridges and Cybil Shepherd. Although it wasn’t so much Cybil Shepherd that I thought of while driving through Nowata, though thinking of her would be much preferable, but rather a once vibrant downtown, an echo of it’s past, weathered brick with fogged plate-glass scripted with juvenile art and hobo wisdom. This place that fascinated my Father-in-law from New Jersey as he drove through it on visits to Oklahoma, this town to which my Dad brought me, because we didn’t have a public course to play in Bartlesville then, this place was the beginning of my life-long affliction, perhaps in it’s mild form a hobby, in it’s fuller sense, a virtuous obsession, with land and water and grass and trees and hills, how they flow and how we move along these pathways chasing a dimpled ball toward a small waving flag marking our target, a four and a quarter-inch hole in the ground.
Next: Part 3 The Spalding Dot Golf Ball and naming the course