A Nation Full of Playing Partners


My dream was always to be a club golfer. It would be so nice, I used to muse, to have a place of my own, a place where I know all the bounces, all the people, and what to order off the grill room menu.
And the dream came true. I'm at a nice but not pretentious club near my home in suburban Orlando. And even though my wife gets to play more than me (should I be worried that a bunch of guys court my bride, and her handicap strokes, for club competitions?), I love to go over and practice or squeeze in a quick round before work.
But private clubs are not the only golf versions of 'Cheers' -- you know, where everybody knows your name (and membership number). Public courses, often municipal tracks, have their regulars ('Norm!'). And although I love club life, I sometimes miss one of the joys of the public course player: making new friends on the golf course.
Traveling around the country as I do, I get lots of chances to remedy this. Just last week, I covered the U.S. Amateur Publinx Championship in Bremerton, Wash., across Puget Sound from Seattle. West coast events offer the best chance for me to play after work. If 'Golf Central' starts at 7 p.m. in the east, I need to satellite all my stuff by 4 p.m. Pacific time ' and it stays light forever in the northwest this time of year.
McCormick Woods Golf Club, a pine-lined gem with very nice greens, serves the Bremerton-Port Orchard area. It was raining when I started, but I didnt care; I dashed right out. Bad idea to head out without a warm-up: in the first four holes, I sent half a dozen balls into the pine forest and berry thickets.
I managed to calm myself down. The rain stopped, I got out of the rain suit, and began to enjoy the scenery. Now, there are times when I love to play golf alone. But other times, companions complete the scene. And right on cue, here were two.
Henry and Peter, two Korean gentlemen, waited on a tee for me to catch up. I yanked my drive ' I wasnt completely calmed down yet ' and Henry, the middle-aged one, said, Oh, I think thats in Peters house. He lives up there. We all laughed.
We had a good time learning about each other. Henry had just moved up from Los Angeles, and so far, so good, he said. Certainly easier to get a tee time. Peter, who looked to be about 30, said he liked the Bremerton-Tacoma area very much. But October to March, he said, shaking his head, well, you better like rain.
Peter suggested a sushi bar near my hotel in Tacoma. Henry surveyed the shaft in my 3-wood and we chatted about tip flexibility. We all at one time or another hit shots worthy of praise by the others. I left feeling a lot better about the last 14 holes than I did about the first four.
A couple nights later, after the Publinx had wrapped up, I played at Gold Mountain Golf Club, which is run by the city of Bremerton. But this is no overplayed muni ' Gold Mountain has 36 excellent holes, and one of the courses was good enough for the Publinx. I played the Cascades course with locals Rick, Mike, and Dennis, all mid-40s guys like me. In the cart with Rick was his 12-year daughter, Danielle.
It was good to go around Cascades with someone who knew where to hit it. They didnt mind that I walked as they rode. Rick and I discussed his irons and trajectory in general. Once you get out there, you realize how many students of the game there are in golf.
Danielle, eternally patient, seemed to delight in just riding along. She kept her Dads score and drove the cart, doing a brake-stand every time she needed to stop. After awhile, I got her to admit she likes soccer, but isnt much into golf, at least not playing it. So naturally, I made her hit my par putt on No. 7. She didnt miss by any more than I would have.

They take me back, these meetings with new golf friends. When I was learning the game in Pittsburgh at Oakmont East, the hilly public track near Oakmont Country Club, my happenstance companions ran the gamut from an old Japanese man (who invited me to his home for a beer in his perfectly manicured garden) to a pot-bellied fellow in a stained orange-shirt and a bucket-hat (whose habit it was, while others were putting, to raise himself up and down on his toes as he popped his entire ball into his mouth to clean it).
So many columns, mine included, are full of sentences that begin, The golf community should, as if we are picking on some shortcoming. But this is something golf does right. Public golf helps people make new friends, either formally (McCormick Woods has a weekday Nine and Dine golf-dinner event) or otherwise.
So even if youre in a club, branch out from time to time. You never know what sort of memorable characters youll meet.
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