Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Member-Guest Preview

Are those pants Vittorio
Ricci or Ralph Lauren?
This is my favorite time of year and it has nothing to do with the NBA Playoffs, the Triple Crown or the fact that I am less than a week away from busting-out all of the white pants I accumulated back when my friends were getting married in the late 90's. (It's a fine line between country club casual and 80's South Beach cheesy). No, this is all about that time of year when I get to compete for a variety of crystal nut dishes, silver plated ice buckets and my favorite form of currency, pro shop credit, in what I like to call "Member-Guest Season" (pretty clever eh?). A series of events where you and a partner essentially check into a country club for three days of golf, spirits and more grab ass* than you can possibly imagine.

In a perfect world, I would play in four or five of these every year but my day job, the relative stability of my marriage and my desire not to have my children appear on an episode of Dr. Phil entitled Country Clubs Killed My Father dictate that I limit my participation to two.** The first is a local event this weekend and it might be my favorite because it's a two man stroke play format that really tests the foundation of your relationship with your partner.*** Kind of like asking your wife if she minds you going out to dinner with your old girlfriend.

The next one is three weeks later at Greenville Country Club in South Carolina. If you define north/south by the Mason-Dixon Line, then I'm technically southern, especially when you factor in my dad being from Richmond but I've learned the hard way that there is a difference between being technically southern and genuinely southern. It seems like every trip I make to the south ends with someone telling me that I have a "smart mouth" at which point I have to play the Richmond card to avoid getting my ass kicked. (I don't have the same problem up north because I saw what happened to Billy Batts when he refused to back-off Tommy DeVito and I'm not making the same mistake. It's just too easy to envision myself getting my brains kicked-in while Donovan croons Way dooowwwwnnnn below the ocean . . .Billy Batts Beatdown).

"Allow me to reconstruct this
story as I've heard it a number
of times." (The Magic Loogie)
But before we look forward, let's take a look back at some experiences from tournaments past. I figure I've played a little over twenty of these things on six different courses and I never stop looking forward to the next one like it's my first. The competition, camaraderie and total isolation from the outside world never gets old. The only problems anyone talks about have to do with pull hooks and putting and, the moment someone starts complaining about his job or his family, you know it's time to put him in a cab.

My top three member-guest experiences in reverse order:

3. "The Celebrity"

It's only fitting that we start with this one because it was at the home club of my two college roommates where I played my first member-guest and where I was essentially introduced to the country club atmosphere. It must also be noted that this club was (and still is) in eastern Long Island so the level of swagger amongst its members cannot be understated. Ball busting was the rule not the exception and the boundaries were wide with very few topics off limits. I was in heaven.        

The standard member-guest format divides the field into flights by handicap with six teams in each flight. You then play a series of nine hole matches over two days usually starting at the civilized hour of 9:00 a.m. The Long Island tournament is unique in that it is comprised of 8 team flights and you play full 18 hole matches in a survive and advance format. A byproduct of this format is that, to get all of the first round matches in on one day, the first tee time is literally the moment the sun clears the tree line when the starter says "you're setting the pace boys," with the clear implication being, "don't be reading your putts from the other side of the hole." Couple that 5:50 a.m. tee time with the fact that (a) you're coming off one hour of sleep because the New York bars don't close until 4:00 a.m. and (b) you had to warm-up in the dark, and you have the recipe for a very dicey two-putt on the first hole (or in my case that morning, a three putt).

"How in the hell am I supposed to
know where he is? It's 1995, no
one has their own cell phone yet."
The setting for this story, however, was the 6:00 a.m. tee time on the 10th tee (I still want to know who we pissed-off to keep drawing the early shift). We were squaring-off against a friend of ours who's partner was the guy who played Mikey in the classic Life cereal commercials (I'm not making that up and for those too young to remember, here you go - Hey Mikey!).  Mikey's partner didn't arrive for our 6:00 a.m. match until about 6:08 a.m. at which point he emerged from the bushes, walked to the halfway house without saying a word, grabbed a Budweiser, stuck a tee in the ground and hit his shot. It was on like Donkey Kong.

Fortunately it was more on for us than it was for them as we won the match on the 13th hole and then headed in for the traditional post-round cocktail. Of course due to the early tee time and the quick closeout, it was 9:00 a.m. but that didn't stop us from redlining it for about three hours as all of the other groups finished their rounds, each with a story to tell and, after our successful morning and a steady stream of rum cocktails, I was in the mood to listen to every one of them. We left around 1:00 p.m. and I remember going back to the house and passing-out for five hours before rebooting and ramping it up for a full night out in advance of another early morning tee time. (It would take a week to recalibrate my body clock). Suffice it to say that our dream died the next morning on the 17th hole where I gained a whole new respect for Roger Maltbie and his legendary ability to play hurt. 

2. "The Wager"

"I'm going to %*#& J.S. Elliott up the #@& for $1,000 tomorrow morning!" That's how I was greeted by my opponent at dinner the evening before the first round of a tournament last year. (I'm greeted like that more than you might think . . . or not). Once we figured out what the hell he was talking about (a $1,000 wager), we all laughed it off until he repeated it (17 times with an ever increasing decibel level) at which time I grew weary and took a tour through the bar and assembled a group of investors to take on half the bet. I knew we were going to win the match but that size wager is frankly out of my league and I didn't want to be distracted by it.****

I was my typically
 humble self in victory.
The format was a nine hole match with a point being awarded to the team that won the hole, a half point for each team if you tie the hole and no points if you lose the hole. When we arrived at the first tee the next morning, we confirmed the bet and I'll be honest, I was nervous as hell due mostly to the fact that this was one of the last people on Earth I wanted to lose a match like that to (the sting of losing the bet fades but, as evidenced by my re-telling of this story, the legend of the loss lives on forever). Fortunately, my partner got us off to a good start, narrowly missing a 12 foot birdie putt to win the hole so we headed for the second tee all square. He parred that one for the win and did the same thing on No. 3. On the par-3 4th, I finally traded my pom poms for an 8-iron that stopped an inch from the hole for another win. My partner birdied No. 5 for a win, parred No. 6 with a stroke for a win and birdied No. 7 for another win. With the pressure long gone, I joined the party with birdies on 8 and 9.

By the time the dust settled, we had shot a 30 which was 3 better than any other team in the tournament. We did not get credit for our full 8 and 1/2 points because there was a blowout rule in place to protect the field that capped us at 7. This did, however, provide one more moment of satisfaction as the scorekeeper initially credited our opponents with 2 points assuming a final score of 7-2. I of course corrected him so, for the rest of the tournament, they had a slash through their score ("2") with a "1/2" next to it which made it really pop off the scoreboard . . . not that we were looking to rub it in.       

1. "The Hole in One"

"Geez, what's this guy's problem?"
This one happened on the first day of the stroke play event that I'm playing this weekend. My partner was the same guy from "The Wager". We teed off on No. 10 and had a solid back nine shooting 1 under gross with two birdies and a bogey. My partner birdied No. 1 and we played the next three holes even so that we were 2 under standing on the tee of the par 3 5th. I hit a dead straight six iron at the pin but you couldn't see the surface of the green so we didn't know that I had aced it until I checked the hole and, in a lame attempt to keep my composure, excitedly said, "my, my, my, my ball's in the hole." At that moment, I learned what an antelope feels like when his buddy says "hey, is that a cheetah?"

I think I drank two Budweisers on the way to the next tee in an effort to calm myself down as the hole in one had me completely rattled. The next hole was a short par 5 but there was out of bounds left and thick trees on the right. I made the mistake of telling my partner, "you better keep this in bounds because I'm not sure I can hit it" to which he replied, "thanks a lot" and then proceeded to spite me by hooking it right at the out of bounds stakes. We were sure it was dead so I went back for a 4-iron to lay-up and immediately blew it the other way towards the trees as someone said, "that's not the hole in one ball is it?" Of course it was.

"Anyone seen a bar around here?"
On rare occasions the golf gods look down and say, "he's suffered enough" and this was either one of those times or they just didn't give a crap because my ball ricocheted off a tree and my partner's ball stayed in bounds. We capitalized on those breaks by alternating horrendous shots which left us each 30 feet for par. (I don't know what my partner's excuse was but I was playing not to lose my ball). Fortunately, he buried his par putt and followed that up with two more pars and a bogey to get us safely back to the flight deck.

Lost in the drama of the first round was the fact that we had also shot 10 under net and were two shots out of the lead heading into the second day. That's when our luck ran out and I do mean "luck" because, despite shooting a respectable 65 the second day and posting 16 under which would have won the tournament any other year, we lost by an unbelievable 7 strokes. (I don't want to come across as a sore loser so that's all I'm going to say about that . . . but see below). We did, however, hold on to win the low gross trophy by a stroke which was pretty cool for a 6 and 7 handicap but hey, who's counting?  

Endnotes

Wait, who is this supposed
to represent again?
* The Urban Dictionary defines "grab ass" as "basically dicking around."

** It was really more like three if you count the Member-Member tournament I played last weekend but that was the golfing equivalent of a runaway train loaded with fireworks crashing into a chemical plant so we're going to pretend it never happened.

*** The difference between stroke play and match play is that in stroke play, you keep going until someone on your team puts the ball in the hole whereas in match play, you can pick-up your ball amidst a meltdown and you will only lose that hole. To put that into context for non-golfers, losing the 4th hole in matchplay is like giving-up a 32 yard field goal at the end of the first quarter while making a triple bogey in stroke play is like throwing a pick six when you were on the other teams 2 yard line.

**** The most reprintable definition of "F-ck You Money" from the Urban Dictionary goes like this: "Any amount of money allowing infinite perpetuation of wealth necessary to maintain a desired lifestyle without needing employment or assistance from anyone." ("F--- You Money"). I have what I like to call "F-ck Me Money" which I define as: "Just enough money to allow you to go broke hanging-out with people who have F-ck You Money."

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