Lucille Ritacco tries to keep warm while watching
her golf partner, Frank Garito, tee off at The Palm Beach
Par 3 Golf Course Saturday afternoon. The temperatures
were in the 50s at the time with strong winds
out of the north. Photo by Tim Stepien
By Tim Norris
On the first tee box at Red Reef Park executive golf course one early winter day, looking to adventure ahead, a parade of humanity shows off its theme and variations.
On an unusually cool day, the parade has slowed. From behind the clubhouse counter, Jay Fischer of the city of Boca Raton Recreation Services saw only a few of a usually hardy weekly woman’s group. Still, he can watch and learn.
Tee pushed into ground, ball set on it in balance, club brandished from the bag, the enterprise and the effort reveal them. Thwack! Sculled. Thwack! Topped, Thw … missed. (Oh, the humanity). Mostly, thwick, thwock, tink, tonk, clean and airborne, looking to the wide uplift of green and the deep-throated rattle of dimpled ball finding bottom of cup.
Tempo, rhythm, bobbin and pendulum, arc and downswing, herk and jerk, on the first tee a game of almost infinite variety greets players of almost infinite variety. Encountering the course, the players meet the methods. Meet the gadgets. Meet the drills. Meet the sales pitches. In concept, golf is a game of numbers, of yardages, relation to par, handicaps, net scores, trajectories and angles.
In a player’s hands, though, Fischer acknowledges, it eludes prediction.
Light changes, wind changes, temperature and humidity play tricks; grass can be thin or thick, wet or dry. Do they look skyward to a particular deity or down and around to the gods of golf? Do they celebrate a solid shot registered in the bones and sinew, Decry a hook or slice and examine a misshapen divot? Pound a club to ground? Shrug or swagger? Quietly regain the cart or shoulder the bag and glide or soldier on?
Golf can seem like an exercise in paint (or putt)-by-numbers. It isn’t. Even among the greats, variety is the rule: the classic balance of Ben Hogan, the Barcalounger ease of Sam Snead, the lash-and-twist of Arnold Palmer, the leaning and head-bending after-look of Chi Chi Rodriguez, the forward hike of Jack Nicklaus, the explosive downswing of Tiger Woods, the strong grip of Patty Berg, the long-limbed torque of Michelle Wie.
That variety is part of the game’s mystery, harking to the alphabets once posted above grade-school blackboards. Nearly everyone learned to write by copying them, yet no two signatures are alike. Nearly everyone can read Hogan’s Five Lessons or Harvey Pennick’s Little Red Book, but no one will perfectly follow their blueprints.
If they did, a veteran of the game might say, wouldn’t that be dull?
Reaction is relative
In mid-morning, walking past people in coats and sweatshirts, a husband and wife show up for 18 holes in summer wear. The man steps to the first tee in shorts and shirtsleeves. Temperatures may seem absolute; reaction is relative. The couple is, Fischer learns, from Norway. The course set-up may be ironclad; golfers are clad, within the rules, in whatever suits them. Cold? Try a round on the Folgefonna Glacier!
As the day warms into afternoon, more players venture out.
Can they find the green 132 yards out, flirt with the flag? Can they avoid the sand traps? Can they get the ball in the air? Will they shank one into the long line of hedge skirting the tee box or bend a shot way off to the right and splash down across the Intracoastal canal near that yacht with “Sexy” amidships in shiny silver letters?
Regardless, they will parade their own stuff, and form does not always follow function. One gentleman shows a back-swing about two feet long and smacks the ball straight down the middle, just short of the green and its shimmer of seashore paspalum grass.
Satisfaction in sameness
In pausing to smell the flora, to take in the scene, they might find a worthier goal than chasing a number: finding satisfaction in sameness, like the distant view of an old-time assembly line swarmed with workers in matching coveralls, or of uniformed troops massed into rectangles. Taking comfort in difference. Achievers achieving or falling short. Relaxers relaxing just enough or too much.
New hybrids or old persimmons, the exact yardages of a GPS, iced tea or beer for a chaser, focus locus or focus pocus.
Every day, the guys in the Red Reef golf shop say, is a good day for a game. Ú
In Coasting Along, our writers occasionally stop to reflect on life along the shore.