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Every Fairway is Crooked
I’m proud to be a caddie, and I’m anxious for my future. Hard work and perseverance brought me to the job, and hopefully to a scholarship. Yet, the nostalgia of the happy-go-lucky days seems to wipe away each time a man throws me a muddy Callaway for a quick scrub. The muddiness and the traces of old earth will bury inside the creases of the ball. I hope immaturity and childhood memories will continue to do the same.
For now, the rules are pretty simple: a few times per week, I wake up at around 6:15, throw on a uniform ugly enough to make Lady Gaga cry, and drive approximately 40 minutes to a beautiful country club that should remain anonymous. Groggy as the bumblebees from a smoked hive, the caddies cluster inside or around the tarnished shack, drinking black coffee and complaining about girlfriends or wives. Most of them are older men, and it’s important not to be intimidated, being a 17-year-old, brown-eyed girl. Most of them are also wonderful, talkative people. I am glad to work with many of these caddies for a few hours.
The job brings a wonderful feeling of freedom and brightens your eyes with fresh air and new possibilities. Often, the golfers are as chatty as I am, and they deserve my utmost respect. Yet, the course can also be my downfall.
On one particular day, I met a caddie named Mike. Mike is turning 54 this year, and still manages to hoist two, musty-smelling golf bags over his shoulders and walk 18 holes. Some facial features could relate him to Anthony Hopkins, but his smile will always provoke a chain reaction. It was Mike and I, each of us double-bagging that day. That early morning round introduced me to the rusty areas of becoming a caddie.
Starting off our parade was a senator, or a congressman, or some other job in politics. It didn’t matter what that job was because he was out on the first tee, as vulnerable to the savagery of the golf course as everyone else. After shanking his first shot onto the highway, the man transformed into a heated, livid locomotive as he stomped off the tee box, puffing cigar smoke into our faces. I tasted and scented the black tar that was slowly adhering to the inside of his lungs.
The next golfer was much younger, and I secretly thought he was pretty attractive. He looked in his late 20’s, and he wore a white, spotless Ralph Lauren polo. It hugged his muscles as he swung. His shot flew straight down the fairway, an easy target for me to reach. He seemed polite enough. Then I heard the conversation between himself and the smoker. I will not repeat what was said; only that it was an uncomfortable, infuriating experience that had to do with my gender. Like any gritty job, caddies often put up with the worst.
A simpler man, the next golfer reminded me of an old fishing captain with his floppy hat, sunglasses and the bit of white goop left on his nose from excess sunscreen. He hit his first shot with ease and then waltzed calmly off the tee box.
By this time, I felt as though I’d been introduced to all the contestants on a kind of warped game show. AAAAANNNNDDDD last but not least…
He came across as a real mama’s boy. His hair was made up of curly, red corkscrews that puffed high up into the sky. He possessed a pinched, doughy, freckled face that vaguely resembled a doughnut with sprinkles. The first shot flew into a long train of nasty, tall grass. Watching the landing of the ball required the eyes of a hawk.
Mike and I took off faster than a couple on a bad blind date. Soon, the red-haired doughnut caught up with me.
A few holes later, the cruel, hot sun was hoisted up above the clouds. It was a terribly humid morning, but it was still beautiful. Dragonflies and butterflies burst from plants that festooned the course. Usually in these moments, I felt elated.
Unfortunately, this was the day I despairingly discovered the arrogance I had been lucky enough to avoid thus far. The group’s progress was tedious and slow. Many shots forced Mike and I to grind our teeth together. Each individual became more and more irritable.
Suddenly, I witnessed the politician throw his club across the green. I witnessed this honorable man, who was usually so composed, revert to a horrible, ferocious ape. Any minute, I expected him to throw aside his banana, shriek, pound his chest and charge. His cigar blazed and polluted the nature I loved so dearly. I felt transported back to 8th grade English class reading Lord of the Flies. How could someone so rich and so well titled in life loath himself so much? Over a round of golf! Yes, probably a $250 round of golf…but it only took a difficult round of golf to bring out the worst in this man. The day continued on.
“It’s so incredibly humid out here,” I spoke to my golfer, my raspy voice sounding as if rocks scratched my windpipe. The sweat was beginning to pour down.
“Well,” the red doughnut puffed himself up. “When you’ve played golf for as long as I have, you learn to get used to the heat.”
“Oh really?” I had never given such a fake smile in my life.
“Well,” I continued, “last summer, I played in Florida during August. It was pretty hot there.”
“You play golf?” He sounded incredibly surprised. “Well, I’ve played in Hawaii a few times. Actually, more than a few times. I might even get a chance to play Pebble Beach someday. You know, in California.”
“Oh, I’d love to live in California someday,” I tried my best to stay pleasant. “I love Los Angelos and San Francisco.”
“Bah, San Francisco is an ok place to live. 45% of the population is gay though, so it takes away from the livability of the city.”
As he flounced away, I knew if I tried, I could simply put him behind me. But the poison had already sunk in. I knew many people who were gay. If I told that golfer I knew one gay man was worth ten of him, I didn’t know what would happen. As we were nearing the final few holes of the round, using many curses that don’t need to be rehashed, Mike began to talk to me.
“That kid was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Lily,” Mike said. “He probably thinks that he can do whatever he wants. He thinks that he doesn’t have to worry about college, about working hard, about anything.” I nodded, not sure how to respond yet. But Mike kept going.
“The truth is that his parent’s just set him up for disaster.” And I understood. I understood that unless he managed to respect others, he was never going to achieve anything worthwhile. He would probably end up like that politician, driving himself into the grave.
After the round, Mike gave me a hug and we went our separate ways. I began thinking about the man in the white polo, and the politician with the billowing cigar and the nasty temper, and the red-haired boy who was my age and the member of one of the most prestigious country clubs in America. And I felt very sorry for every one of them. Golf isn’t meant to be taken so seriously. Life itself isn’t meant to be taken so seriously. And at that point, I wondered what other things could set the politician off and force him to do other terrible things? I wondered if he was truly happy. I wondered if he finished up a round each day angry as a bull, plastered a smile onto his face, and transformed back into a cardboard cut-out of a person. And finally, I wondered about the red-haired boy and what Mike said.
Wealth and title in society don’t determine worth. Your character is determined by your perseverance and the respect you give others. And I could never fantasize playing the high-status Pebble Beach Golf Course alongside a group of individuals who didn’t respect their caddies as much as they respected each other.
That gotten off my chest, I still adore my job. Many golfers are smart, giving people that just so happen to have the privilege of belonging to a country club. So far, I haven’t seen those men again. But if our paths do cross once more, I’ll want to thank them for putting on an entertaining show and teaching me a lesson more valuable than a hole in one.