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Friday, June 14, 2013

Thanks, Grandpa! I miss you!

You've all met my son, Wes, who slips in and out of my blog rather frequently.  In an earlier post, Back in the Game!, I wrote about how golf is entwined in our relationship and how Wes lured me back to the game of golf when I was well past 50.  As I began this blog, knowing that it was his grandfather who lured him back to the game of golf, I asked Wes to write a guest post about his golfing relationship with his grandfather.  Father's Day is the perfect moment to share his reflections with you.  That said, I proudly hand off the Father's Day post to Wes:

Wes Bethel,  The Links at Bodega Bay
In many father-child or grandfather-child relationships, the paternal figure will, in a mentor-like fashion, provide a thorough and loving introduction to some new skill or activity, such as, say, woodworking, car repair, or golf. That was not my experience, which might account for my colorful and sometimes rocky relationship with golf.

My father does not play golf, but my grandfather loved golf. He played for years, starting when he was a young man founding and running a major company in Oklahoma. He maintained a membership at Southern Hills Country Club for many years during his reign of that operation and golfed there frequently with business associates.  But my grandfather did not have a natural knack for interacting with small kids.  This powerful and enormously successful businessman who lived his public life on a big stage was, at home, quiet and taciturn.

Grandpa did not provide my introduction to golf as a child, though I'd be hard-pressed to conjure clear memories of how I came to have a club in my hands. My only real memory of golf and my younger years was sweltering in the sun watching the 1977 US Open at Southern Hills, where Grandpa was a Marshal.

My primary memories of golf with my grandfather are anchored in my college-age years. On a spring afternoon, hoping to get a free meal out of my visit, I was helping Grandpa clean out a shed, and as we worked together I noticed several sets of clubs. I said to him, "Hey, let's go play a round sometime!" thinking that it would be nice to play a round at Southern Hills, but worrying a bit about how well I'd do there, having not played at all since I was a kid.

He said, "Sure, let's go," and so we abandoned the shed project, loaded up the clubs and jumped in the car.

To my surprise, instead of heading into town and SHCC, Grandpa took me to the local airport. What the heck? I wondered as I looked out over a small, 9-hole course in Cleveland, OK, where the nine holes were laid out more or less along the perimeter of a small, un-towered landing strip used primarily by cropdusters.  This wasn't what I expected!

His instruction consisted of handing me a 1950s vintage MacGregor 2-iron blade on the first tee, a short-ish par 4, and saying "Give it a rip, boy!"

To his credit, he handed me handle of the club, not the business end.

OK, I thought, here we go. I wound up and gave it a rip.  The ball took off like a rocket and disappeared into a grove of  hickory trees.

His encouragement consisted of hollering "Goddamn, boy, look at that TORQUE!!"

I ripped into ball after ball and trudged around the course.  I didn't care where the balls went or how many got lost in the trees.  He had a ton of old crappy balls and I was outside with my grandpa.

These adventures continued over the years while I was in college. I'd drive out to Grandpa's, and we'd head over to the 9-hole at the airport and enjoy the sunshine together. He gave me the whole set of MacGregor blades and persimmon-wood driver and fairway woods. My relationship with golf began to rekindle, gradually shifting from frustration to enjoyment.  I even went out to that cow pasture of a course a few times by myself when he was out of town.

The years passed.  I moved to California and took on the mantel of adulthood.  Grandpa died.  Several years after he had passed away I was invited to give some lectures at the University of Tulsa, my alma mater.  I thought about SHCC and my Grandpa Golfing Adventures. With some effort, I managed to arrange a round at Southern Hills. During that round, I would periodically think back on those days of playing with my grandpa, and be overcome with emotion, and would try to not sniffle too loudly.  (Yes, big boys can and do cry.)  I wondered what it was like for him back when he entertained business guests there, what he must have thought about, and what he talked about while he played his rounds.  I reflected on how my own life as an adult was shaped by my time on the links with my Grandpa.
Maybe the reason the green fee
here is 8 bucks is because they
make all their money from the
two working oil wells!

Then I found my way back to that 9-hole course in Cleveland. Standing on the first tee, waves of nostalgia washed over me.  And as I made my way around the course, I discovered things I'd completely forgotten: the working oil well on a par 5; the robust red-ant hills; the potentially dangerous pathway between a couple of holes that went by the approach end of one of the runways -- you had to check and make sure there were no aircraft on final approach else you'd get a haircut. Yes, it was really that close!

Nice red anthill! These puppies
do bite, and bite hard!

While my grandfather didn't provide anything akin to golf "instruction" or "mentoring," what he did do was allow me to get to know him, as an adult, in a completely new way. And he introduced me to a wonderful world of adult interactions, bonding if you will, in a very enjoyable venue.

Thanks, Grandpa! I miss you!