Forty-three years ago, I was shocked to learn my priorities for a newspaper didn’t necessarily jive with everyone else’s desires.
I was sports editor of The Watertown (NY) Daily Times when the newspaper decided to take a readers poll about what sections they read the most. Sports was way down on the final tally. I was shocked the sports section was not first or second. But of course, I spent my formative years in Lebanon, reading Fred Russell’s sports pages in The Nashville Banner first and the comics second.
With that in mind, I apologize to readers not locked on sports as something interesting to read. Sports are gain headlines this time of year. Major League baseball has extended its opening to March, ignoring the tradition of beginning the first Monday in April. College basketball’s March Madness has extended from the other end all the way into April.
And there is yet another sporting event looming called The Masters, the first of four “major” tournaments in the golf season, played in Augusta Georgia. It is the quintessential golf tournament in the heart of every golfer, whether a Southerner or some golf nut in the Southwest corner.
If you have read a few of these columns, you have probably realized I am a golf nut. In these columns, I have talked about learning the game at Hunter’s Point new course, even though my old mine had it about four years earlier than when it opened. Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, Jimmy Nokes, and I would regularly beat up the course.
To clarify my status as a golfer, I am not all that great. I am just below the norm in handicaps for average golfers. But I do love the game. It requires you to follow a code of conduct no longer a part of other competitive sports. It is out in nature, albeit nature scalloped and groomed to meet the requirements of a modern day course. Occasionally, I will hit a good shot. I have played lots of courses.
And I have hundreds of golf stories.
One of my favorite stories occurred here in the Southwest corner about 35 years ago. My friend Pete Toennies, his father-in-law, and I were going to play the Navy’s Admiral Baker Golf Course in Mission Valley. We were at the driving range, each hitting a bucket of balls, before our round.
Pete was on one end of the range and Ben and I were towards the middle. Pete was hitting away. This was long before Pete really got into the game and was not a very good golfer. But Pete was a big boy, an All-American swimmer at St. Johns, and an incredibly fit 6-5 Navy SEAL. So even though he wasn’t a good golfer, if he happened to hit one right it would take off.
As we were practicing our shots, the range cart with a protective cage was sweeping up balls from the range. The groundskeeper driving the cart noticed the 150 yard sign had fallen over. He got out of the cart and was straightening the sign when Pete caught one flush. It was a line drive that never got more than five feet off the ground before it hit the groundskeeper right in the stomach.
Pete looked quickly around and saw the others on the range were looking at the groundskeeper. Thinking if he just kept hitting, no one would know it was his shot that hit the fallen hero, he quickly teed up again, and swung mightily again.
The groundskeeper was just straightening up from the first blow when Pete’s second line drive hit him in the stomach again.
Unbelievably, the groundskeeper was not hurt although I am sure he had two beauties of bruises on his torso for several days afterward. Pete was contrite and apologized for both direct hits.
Pete and I lost contact when he was stationed in Korea and later on the East Coast. I told that story many times, but eventually decided my mind had played a trick on me, and was no longer sure the two-hit tale occurred.
Thirty years later, I received an invitation to Capt. Toennies retirement ceremony. At the reception, Pete and I were catching up when I asked him about the golf hits.
“Yep,” Pete mumbled embarrassed, “It happened, just like you said.”
I love golf.
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.