I started playing golf in 1958, at the tender age of 8 years old. Like all my sport beginnings, I was taught by my father. To get started in golf, he cut down an old set, that was made in the 1930’s. He made a pull cart from an aluminum downspout, and wheels and a handle from a grocery cart. I played with those clubs for two years, and then for Christmas, I got my first “real” set, for juniors, with a golf bag. The set had 8 clubs, including the putter. It came with a book, called Play It Pro, Golf, from Beginner to Winner. My Dad and I read that book many times from cover to cover. It was about the history of the game, and had instruction about each phase of the game. The driver chapter was written by Sam Snead, the iron chapter Ernie Vossler, short game by Tommy Jacobs, and putting by Cary Middlecoff. I was fortunate to find this book in a used book store, about 30 years ago and still have the copy. It’s funny, what I remember about those years. I do not remember playing that much, in particular, but I remember my first 9 hole round score, of 118. A week later I improved to 99 for 9 holes. To this day, the biggest improvement I have ever had, from one round, to the next. The golf course that my Dad and I played, 95% of the time, was a 9 hole course about 5 miles north of Martins Ferry, Ohio, named Vine Cliff, and later was purchased by Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and became Mazeroski Golf Course. It was a very popular course, because it was very flat, which was unusual for our area. Now let me introduce you to the wild times of golf in the 1960’s.
First of all, there were no tee times, any time, or any where. It was a first come first serve atmosphere, that could get pretty testy at times. When I was very young, and I had to solely rely on my father to take me golfing, and we only played on the weekends. The strategy was to go very early, between 6:30 and 7, or late morning around 11:00. If you paid for 18 holes, in other words, you were going around the 9 hole course twice, you would get a ticket, with the date on it, and when you got done with 9 holes, you gave this ticket to the gentleman on the first tee. Today we call him a starter. Back then, he was more like a referee. This meant, since you were going to play another nine, and paid in advance, that you got to tee off right after the group on the tee, no matter how many people were waiting to hit. When people saw that I was going in front of them, all 4 foot 6 of me, the grumbling would start right away. First tee pressure came at an early age, for yours truly. Most of the time I would hit a pretty good drive, and my Dad, who was a good player in his own right, would hit a great drive, and the grumbling would stop. There would be some good natured comments, like, I wish I could hit it as good as that kid. There will always be one first tee experience, I will never forget.
I was about 12 years old, and this was one our late morning arrivals. When we pulled into the parking lot, the place was packed. My dad was just going to turn around and head back home. Since you could walk to the edge of the parking lot, and looked down at the first tee, I begged him to at least, just look at the first tee. When we looked down, it was a mob scene, at least 50 to 60 people. My Dad just looked at me, and said ” It’s time to go home”. We were just starting to turn back to the car, when a guy ran up to us and said ” Is it just the two of you?”. My Dad said we were, and he explained, that he and his brother were just two, and they had nobody to join them up with, and if we hurried, we could go out right away. Well, instead of walking back to car, we ran, changed our shoes, and ran to the clubhouse with our bags in tow, paid, and ran to the first tee. When people us saw walk right down to the first tee, and immediately go to the tee box, the grumbling began. There are two facts that need to be told, at this point. They were remodeling the restaurant that was just beyond the parking lot, above and to the right of the first tee. Second, what the guy that approached us failed to say, was this was his brothers first round of golf in his life. They wanted us to hit first and when my Dad and I hit good drives this calmed the crowd down somewhat. The guy hit and did ok. Then his brother got up, to hit the first golf shot of his life, in front of about 50 disgruntled golfers. My Dad and I, still did not know this. He stood up to the ball ok, with a reasonable grip on the club. But then, he brought the club straight up over his head, where his head was right between his arms, as some kind of God knows what, pre shot routine. He did this not once, not twice, but three times, very slowly. Then he took a mighty swing at the ball, and made contact, but the ball went high and to the right, disappearing into the center of a cement mixer, that was behind the restaurant. I thought there might be a riot. He went back to his bag got another ball and after doing the same pre shot routine, managed to dribble the ball off the first tee. By the time all this took place, the group in front of us was off the green, a par 4. As soon as he hit a few more grounders, my Dad took charge, so to speak, and started to help the guy. Of course, the first thing he eliminated was that pre shot routine. We struggled mightily along the first hole, but because the course was so crowded, when we got to the second hole, a par 3, the group in front of us, were still putting. With my Dad’s help, the guy started to hit the ball better, and we never really fell behind. When my Dad was alive, we always referred to this as the cement mixer shot. More stories coming soon.