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A good walk ruined

Published June 15. 2013 09:02AM


"A good walk ruined."

That's how Mark Twain once described golf.

My parents had my brother and me relatively late in life, after the Great Depression and World War II were behind them. Mom may have been a bit over-protective. At any rate, I grew up a sissy. Pop was a bricklayer who worked from dawn until dusk in the warm months. Besides, he was 40 years older than me, so we didn't even play catch very often. He finally got me to join a Little League team a couple of years after my peers. Of course, they put me in right field. When a high pop-up bounced off my head, the Old Man pretended he didn't even know me.

With that illustrious athletic background, I won't surprise you if I say that golf was a disaster for me. I only tried it once. This was at the Mahoning Country Club, where my brother-in-law suckered me into a charity tournament. I walked away with the "most for the money" trophy, meaning I had the worst score (by far) of the entire field of players. Luckily, this newspaper identified me as John Castagnola.

When my son Marc decided to golf, I volunteered to drive the cart. At the White Birch Course they used to allow such things. Marc had his clubs, and I had my six-pack. We both enjoyed the 18 holes. Marc now lives in Germany and the clubs gather dust in our basement, next to the refrigerator where I chill my beer.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Open has been running all week at the Merion Golf Club, literally within walking distance - a good walk - from my front door. For $250 a day, you can walk the course as spectator. Given the mob you'd be among, I'd call this a bad walk made worse. But people I know - otherwise sensible, sane people - have bought these tickets. One colleague, himself an avid golfer, is skipping the event. "I went once. Walking the course was like being a rat in a pipe," he recalls.

A number of years ago, in a case brought against the PGA under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court ruled that a golfer who was unable to walk the course could ride a golf cart as a reasonable accommodation. In reaching that decision, the Justices dove deep into the history of golf to determine if walking the course was an essential part of the game. Old timers like Arnie Palmer contended that it was, since fatigue figured into the play. Finding that, back in the day, Mary Queen of Scots made it around St. Andrews on a horse, the Supremes came down in favor of the disabled plaintiff. At least a golf cart only emits fumes.

My barber informed me that Tiger Woods is staying at a local home. She told me he had a pool installed in time for his stay. I wish I had asked her if it was above or below ground. Either way, this illustrates the kind of money to be made from whacking a little ball and then pursuing it, whether on foot, in a cart or on horseback.

On pleasant evenings, I like to walk the perimeter of the Llanerch Country Club, which is even closer to my home. It's a good walk; about two miles from start to finish. There's no money in it. On the other hand, it's free.


I'm not "sporty." Well, let me qualify that statement by saying that I did ride horses for ten years, but that was due to my love of animals more than any innate sense of athleticism. I was just as happy inside the barn, grooming the horses, as I was actually riding one. And as far as competitiveness? I have none to speak of. That's why, when forced into a sporting activity, I always chose the solo act - horseback riding, track, cross-country, solitaire. I've never wanted to be on anyone's team, lest they realize I have absolutely no stake in winning.

I think I inherited this trait from my mom, who always let my brother and me win board games. Meanwhile, my dad huffed and puffed over her leniency taught me more than a couple of hard lessons about saying "UNO" before winning a hand. I learned to follow the rules to a tee, but I never acquired the lust for victory.

This can best be illustrated by my first (and only) high school cross-country race, during which I spent the entire three miles chatting with my friend, Sarah. We weren't the last ones to finish the race, but I will admit that we probably didn't put forward our best effort that day. Two weeks later, I had a stress fracture in my ankle and my running days were over. It turns out I didn't have the drive for it.

After all this, it should come as no surprise that I'm not terribly interested in golf. To me, golf registers one level above baseball and one level below football (and, for the record, football registers about ten levels below, say, soccer). At least with other sports you have tailgating, marching bands, and hot dogs. I would hazard to guess that anyone who dared to bring a flask to a golf tournament wouldn't need to be escorted off the green; they'd be shamed off it by the disapproving glares of all the genteel onlookers in sweater vests.

With golf, you're barely allowed to speak, in case your whispers drown out the commentary. You can't cheer, either - there's a reason it's called a "golf clap." Even my future father-in-law, who professes to love golf, falls asleep every time he watches it on television. I know, there's probably some aspect of the game I'm just not "getting." There are, after all, entire movies based on "The Greatest Game Ever Played." But if you've ever seen Robin Williams's "The History of Golf" standup routine, I think you get my point.

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