Ben Wright: Short Shift

When Jack Nicklaus wrote The Greatest Game of All in 1969, he was in his prime and had not grown too old to compete at a level he, the ultimate perfectionist, could no longer accept. Alas, it happens to every golfer, each of us reaching a level of incompetence at which the greatest game of all is still enjoyable but more often just tolerable, especially when it comes to competitions.

Having become an old golfer, I am damnably unhappy with the way we as a group are treated by our younger, more limber-backed brethren. That treatment ranges from infuriating condescension to outright, often sneering, disdain. “You can go forward to the gold tees if you like,” they say with insufferable superiority, “but you will have to forfeit a few strokes.”

In recent years at the Nationwide Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am, I would perennially make my pilgrimage to the tournament chairman to plead that I needed to move to a forward tee, since I had passed the age of 70. After all, Janet Jones-Gretzky won BMW Z4 Roadsters in consecutive years from the red tees with a generous handicap. And I am led to believe she has a short game of which any tour pro would be proud!

“Would you wear a skirt if we allowed you to play off the red tees,” the boys would ask, tittering obscenely.

“Damned right I would,” I should have answered. “And there will be no underwear under my kilt,” since my late, beloved mother’s family hailed from Old Meldrum, a little town just outside Aberdeen, Scotland.

Instead I meekly tried my best off the white tees and sank without a trace these past three years. Throw in cart paths only, and it’s torture. The Marquis de Sade would be slavering with glee.

Par at the Cliffs at Walnut Cove, one of the courses for the pro-am last year, beautiful though it may be, must be more than 80 for those of us on the wrong side of 70, because several par 4s are out of our range. So one is constantly apologizing for one’s frailty and hoping to contribute very occasionally should one’s professional partner make a bogey or worse. At which juncture he would probably no longer be speaking to you anyhow.

For many years some of us old codgers who have been longtime members of the Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda have been trying to persuade the powers that be to recognize us at the Annual Invitational in November by creating an over-70, super senior flight.

Imagine my surprise when the invitation arrived this year and there we were, for the first time ever, under the heading of maximum handicap:

“Super Seniors 70 years and older—no limit*.”

Why the asterisk? In italics below came the sting in the tail:

“*If there is insufficient interest for us to structure a Super Seniors Section, we will contact the entrants who will have the option to either withdraw their entry or play in the Seniors event under the rules of that division.”

I am watching my mailbox in fear and dread!

My most recent tournament was played alongside a dear friend, John Nowobilski, the head professional at Tallwood Country Club in Hebron, Connecticut, a lovely rural layout at which only one home, a farmhouse, is visible on any of the 18 holes. The pro-am is a fundraiser to honor the memory of John’s late father, Harry. When I broached the subject of my pet peeve, a member of our group told me about a local golfer of 92, who became indignant when a man half his age asked, “I suppose you occasionally shoot your age?”

My new hero glared at the upstart and replied, “If I ever shoot as high as 92 I shall give up the game immediately!”

Clearly, he knows from which set of tees to play.