For a few years, my friend Jett and I were golf nuts. We were about 12-years-old and every few weeks we’d pester some parental unit until they promised to take us to one of our favorite courses, Z Boaz or Sycamore. I liked Sycamore in the summer because the trees were huge and the shade plentiful. Z Boaz was wide open, though, and No. 16 had a great little wooded area where you could cool off in the near 100-degree heat.
We didn’t have access to country clubs. We dreamed of playing Colonial, of course, but non-members were charged $10 to play back in our day. That was a fortune to us. Even though I had a paper route and worked at my grandparent’s trailer shop, there wasn’t enough scratch for golf at Colonial. Plus, we didn’t exactly have the sartorial excellence to pass muster at a country club. We were wearing cutoffs and Keds tennis shoes, not Izod shirts, plaid shorts and golf shoes. If I remember right, golf shoes were a requirement at country clubs at the time.
We did attend a few Colonial tournaments, snagging passes from more well-to-do or well-connected cousins (thanks Arthur!) and friends. But we didn’t let our lack of access to country clubs slow down our golf obsession. We made our own country club.
Behind my house was a wide-open swath of land that everyone in the neighborhood simply called “The Lot.”
“Meet you at The Lot, bring your football, mine’s flat.”
“I got my latest Texas Football mag, meet me at The Lot.”
Looking back, The Lot wasn’t that large, but it didn’t matter. It was a baseball field, football field, soccer pitch, running track, broom hockey rink and – in our hands – a golf course.
Our plan was sound – at least as sound as 12-year-olds’ plans can be. We would make a green, use fertilizer, water, grass seed, etc. to make it like a real putting green and then find nine different locations for each tee box, giving us a nine-hole course.
Our first error – or maybe it was genius, it’s hard to tell at 12 – was putting the green in the corner of The Lot. That corner happened to be next to a yard that had one of those glass greenhouses. Yeah, we were 12. But her yard also had some very tall, 6 feet or so, sunflower plants that both shaded the green and provided a barrier to any errant golf balls. So that was kind of genius, right? The woman who owned the greenhouse didn’t think so. She was visibly nervous even as we assured her we were fine, dependable golfers. She didn’t buy it for a minute.
So we began an intensive round of lawn care for our precious green. The green area was sort of bumpy, the better to make it more challenging. It was in an area where people had historically dumped trash, so as we’d dig the hole for our green, we’d inevitably run across discarded cans, cigarettes and other trash items. We used one of those big tomato cans for the hole and found a broken mop handle for our pin. An old rag my father used when he changed the oil was the flag.
I chose the locations for the tee boxes. Of course there were a few holes located on The Lot itself, but since The Lot was basically one flat bit of land, with a few trees on one side, there wasn’t much difference between any of the holes. So we began to expand our course. Mrs. Havers works all day, so if we tee off from her front yard, she’ll never know, right? And Mr. Miller sleeps all day because he works at night, so we can use his backyard, right? We’d ask others if it was OK if we teed off from their front yard if we used golf tees? Sure, they’d answer, with a little hesitation in their voice. Who could turn down two enthusiastic 12-year-olds wearing our ratty-Dickensian version of country club attire.
We were thrilled with our creation. We made logos for Lot Country Club and created our own scorecards. Our friends thought we were daft, but honestly, we took it seriously, asking people if they’d like to reserve a tee time. Plus, it was less trouble than a country club. If we wanted water, we didn’t ask “Jeeves” to bring a glass, we turned on the water hose and drank as much as we wanted.
Things went well – for a while. We didn’t make too many divots in people’s yards and we’d quickly replace them when we’d send topsoil flying.
Then we got a bit over-ambitious. We wanted a water hazard. There was a big depressed area right in front of our magical green where we had once had a big bonfire (another story) and that adventure left a crater in our precious Lot. It made for interesting adventures running routes playing football and a few stumbles trying field fly balls during baseball season. We filled the crater with water and it instantly disappeared in the dry, water-starved Texas earth. But hey, some guy was remodeling a house down the street, so we grabbed some old carpet, and lined the crater. It held water – for a few minutes. Then it left a wet, stinky pile of mushy, decaying carpet. So that’s what we had, instead of a water hazard, we had a stinky carpet hazard. It’s worse than any sand trap, let me tell you.
Like all 12-year-olds, though, we started to get bored with the same “nine” holes. So we decided to mix it up a little. Since I was basically the course designer, I added a par 5. The par 5 started about a block away. You had to hit your ball across the street, which functioned – virtually, anyway – as a water hazard. Then, in the Pennys’ backyard, you had a choice: thread a needle between several trees and a telephone pole and possibly make a birdie or fire a shot over the shack in my backyard and set up for par. The obvious choice is to hit a shot over the shack. From there, if you made it past those obstacles, it was a shot past our stinky carpet hazard to the green, assuming you didn’t overshoot the green and break a pane of glass in the greenhouse. It was our most challenging hole by far, our own No. 13 at Augusta.
One morning, though, it resulted in a shot the likes of which I will never see again. Jett was behind and this was the last hole. So he was attempting to thread the needle between the trees and the telephone poles for a shot at birdie. But he had to hit the ball hard because the trees were full of leaves and they could send the ball into the rocky sand if it didn’t make it through. So Jett hit it. Hard. And it hit the telephone pole really, really hard, zooming back right at us. Jett and I dove for cover. I lifted my head and saw the ball’s path – with horror.
At that exact moment, the parents of my friend Steve West were headed down Dickson Street (the water hazard) in their 1958 Chevrolet. I don’t remember if we screamed or were too stunned to scream. Jett’s ball headed straight for the front window where Steve’s mother sat, oblivious to the coming danger. I can still see it as clearly as if it happened five seconds ago. The ball hit the pillar between the car’s windshield and the front window, made a loud clanging sound and Steve’s mother opened her mouth and screamed. The ball was then bouncing back with such force that Jett and I ducked again.
Jett dropped his club, screamed and ran for my house. I followed, our 12-year-old hearts beating like two-stroke engines running wide open.
Finally, I went back outside and saw Steve’s parents standing in the street, looking at their car. I explained what had happened and they looked at us like we were crazy 12-year-olds, not the upwardly-mobile country club presidents we were. The car was undamaged. The ball had missed the window. A few inches either way and … I didn’t want to think. Thank God they made cars like Sherman tanks in the 1950s.
Steve’s dad, who ran the gas station down the street, looked at us with a wary eye. “Be more careful next time,” he said.
More careful? That was the greatest shot I had seen or ever will see. Nobody got hurt, unless you count the fact that Jett and I and Mrs. West almost had heart attacks. But yeah, he was right. Damn it. Growing up can be a real pain in the ass.
Our days as country club owners were over. I’m sorry you missed it. It was more fun than any country club I’ve been to since.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.