- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

Masochism is a Saturday morning tee time.

Your proposition sounded simple enough. After a five-year moratorium, you decided it was finally time to once again give weekend golf a chance. You secured a 9:56 a.m. starting time at Reston National, a quality local municipal, for the last Saturday in June. You then phoned up a few potential partners only to receive the John Merrick treatment.

Invitations to a handful of friends provoked the following responses, in order of descending subtlety:

1. “I’m really struggling with my driver right now. I don’t think I’m ready for prime-time.”

2. “I’d love to, but I think I have a wedding that weekend.”

3. “I’m really more of a Sunday guy. You can get a pretty decent weekend window Sunday morning when the righteous are doing their thing.”

4. “Been and done, man. I triedto play last Saturday at Fairfax National, and it took three hours just to play the front nine. I walked in after that and asked for a back-nine refund. I told the guy my life just wasn’t desperately insignificant enough yet for a six-hour round.”

5. “Saturday? Have you lost your mind? It’s supposed to be the first decent weekend of the season. Say hello to every chop in Washington for me, bro.”

So here you are on said Saturday, alone, willingly handing over $79 and resigning your pairing fate to the vagaries of the starter. You could literally get tagged with anybody, or anything.

The driving range is, of course, mats only, anathema to anyone who values feedback or the sanctity of the swing. So you stagger to the practice green, clinging to your cup of coffee like a life raft and mulling the gruesome possibilities of your pairing:

Will it be three Twice-a-Years in tank tops whose best shots will come at the expense of the beverage girl?

How about Newlyweds out for that infamous first playing lesson, a high-handicap husband imparting a stream of Golf Channel wisdom to his frustrated bride?

Or worse yet, how about a trio of Gold Chains? You know, the well-tanned types equipped with amateur skills but a professional facade. They usually pack cart-tipping black leather tour bags, goad you into wagering a week’s pay on the first tee and then spend the rest of the day showing you the slowest way to shoot 82.

It could be Dad with a pair of line-stomping, swing-chatting, pin-chucking youngsters.

It could be a couple of Creakers (see Havercamps, “Caddyshack”).

It could be a gaggle of Flailers, players with swings so grotesquely unconventional that it’s impossible to watch them play while maintaining your own tempo.

Or it could be a combo deal, an insufferable stew of the aforementioned.

As you’re standing over a 4-footer and pondering potential miseries, a range ball comes screaming across your line. You look up, and there he is, the incarnate icon of daily fee golf. Despite decades of public golf experiences, you never thought you would encounter such a tasteless Sasquatch. But here he is, T-shirt heralding the Nascar Truck Series, cutoff blue jeans and sandals, practicing 80-footers with range balls on a crowded putting green.

You gape in awe at the sight, wondering why the zookeeper at Rockingham has loosed one of his prized infield species on unsuspecting Reston, when the starter howls your name from his hut. You turn and sprint to the first tee, praying the Sasquatch doesn’t detect the sudden preppie movement and decide to follow and feed.

Before introducing you to your playing partners, the starter assigns you a cart, hands you the keys and forces you to sign for your wheels. This means one of two things: The occasional Reston National patron decides to swap his parking lot chariot for an EZ-GO, or carts are routinely returned in some obvious state of disrepair. This is the lowest common denominator element of which you are now considered a member.

As it turns out, your companions are remarkably benign. Your cart mate will be Siva, a twentysomething Indian who has been “playing seriously” for a year. And the two of you will be joined by a pair of fiftyish twins from Baltimore, Kathy and Karen, who took the game up together 15 years ago.

You hit your first shot at 10:14, chuckling at both your own needless foreboding and the misgivings of your traitorous friends.

A handful of pure muni moments take place over the first few holes. As you prepare to hit your drive on the second hole, an approach from an adjacent fairway thuds somewhere behind you on the teebox, making you regret not bringing a helmet.

Several strokes later on the par-5 hole, a player in the group behind you screams “fore” just as you begin the downstroke on a 10-footer for par. Predictably, his ball falls a good 60 yards short of the green, posing as slight a threat to your group as your spastic par putt does to the hole.

The only front-nine cringer provided by your own group comes at No.5, when Siva shanks a ball off the side of your cart, prompting you to spend the remainder of the round walking ahead, and well left, of your unpredictable companion.

The only manicuring issue arises on No.7, where a sloppy maintenance worker has run a gas-dripping mower across the green, giving the putting surface an unsightly equatorial brand. The rest of the layout is in laudable condition for any facility, public or private.

In fact, it’s apparent early that the day’s only real problem will be presented by the foursome immediately ahead — a nightmarishly slow collection of two Gold Chains, a Creaker and a tubby Flailer who swings as if the ball is sleeping with his wife.

This group repeats the same comical routine on each hole. They hit four errant drives, scatter into the bush and, without ever setting foot on the fairway, meet again on the green several lifetimes later. As you stand in the heat on the sixth tee at noon, marveling that the Nightmares even play par-3s in this fashion, a marshal drives up to inquire about the pace of play.

Actually, at Reston they’re called “Ambassadors,” which is a euphemism for marshals, which is a euphemism for course cops. Semantics aside, you rat out the group ahead to the ambassador, the twins doling out the bulk of the venom. And in typical fashion, he earnestly assures you he is aware of the problem and then drives off toward the fifth green, conveniently leaving both the miscreants and the moaning behind.

Incredibly, however, the Nightmares do miraculously pick up their pace. Perhaps the 85-degree heat gradually has lubricated the Creaker’s joints? Perhaps the Gold Chains have run out of balls? Perhaps the Flailer has finalized a divorce? In any case, you complete the front nine in just under three hours and then practically skip your way around the back side in just a shade over two hours.

Total time: 5:04. That’s certainly not ideal but it’s not interminable either.

Total muni moments: 5. All in the first seven holes and only two remotely life-threatening.

Total strokes: approximately 378. That’s guessing 100 for each of your companions.

Total experience: Solid. On the fun meter, we’ll rate it comfortably between tolerable and enjoyable.

Maybe masochism is Saturday suppression.

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