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Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Battle of Star Fort

Larry Parnell, Waiting at the Bar,
Ready to Join Either
The Loyalists or the Patriots
Each year I join in the commemoration of The Battle of Star Fort, an event that is little known and of dubious military significance.  While not a re-enactment in the technical sense,  this commemoration offers a moment when everyone who participates pauses to reflect on how in the world a golf match can possibly take on the aura of a military battle.  But once you understand the military battle, then it all makes sense.

The Historical Event
For 28 days in May & June, 1781, rather late in the Revolutionary War, Major General Nathanael Greene led 1,000 patriot troops in a siege of a star-shaped, earthen fortification held by 500 Loyalists troops near the village of Ninety Six, South Carolina.  Neither the small village nor the earthenworks fort was of any military significance.  Greene was unable to take the village because he used all his troops to sustain the siege, and he failed to capture the earthenworks fort because the reinforcements he had anticipated from commanders Thomas Sumpter and Francie Marion did not arrive.   Sumpter and Marion delayed their march to the village of Ninety Six for reasons lost to the historical record, but what is known is that the two commanders subsequently accused Greene of failing to cut off the water supply to the fort and thereby dooming the siege from the outset.  In the end, Greene withdrew his troops and the siege was lifted when Lord Rawdon marched on the earthen fortification with additional loyalists troops.

In other words, nothing much was accomplished by either the Patriots or the Loyalists at the Battle of Star Fort, which was relegated to a footnote in histories of the American Revolution's Southern Theater, which is, itself, a bit of a footnote.  The earthen fort was forgotten for almost 200 years, then excavated in the mid-1970s, somewhat restored, and became the site of an annual local re-enactment of the Battle and a nice place for family picnics.

The Golf Match
My home course, The Golf Club at Star Fort, isn't far from the site of the original battle, as the crow flies, and so it just makes sense that we'd find a way to capitalize on the original battle to advance our love of the Game of Golf.  The entire club annually plays a 2-day match play tournament called The Battle of Star Fort.

I've never understood why we play The Battle of Star Fort in the fall rather than the spring, when the actual battle occurred, but that's an historical inconsistency that doesn't seem to matter to anyone else and certainly doesn't dampen club-wide enthusiasm for the weekend melee!

We begin each year with a presentation of the colors.  Flags are carried by Reenactors, who march from the cart barn to the leaderboard through 2 rows of competitors in red (representing the Loyalists) and blue (representing the Patriots) shirts.  (Some years we also have red and blue golf caps to complete our team unis.)  A cannon, dragged to the golf course just for this event, is fired across the practice green.

Betty Bates & Cheryl Readett,
Thoroughly Enjoying their Victory!
For reasons that are known only to the Reenactors, there was a bit of a problem with the cannon this year.  The firing was delayed, apparently by a fuse that wouldn't light, and so to compensate for the delay the cannon was fired three times.  The first volley came as the Golden Retriever who lives in the house on the 11th fairway and who steals balls off greens and towels that are left lying around came loping up from one of the ponds, muddy and dripping wet, headed for the cannon.  Poor terrified dog!

There are no stately bagpipers at Star Fort.  After the 3rd firing of the cannon, with the Goldie racing about among the carts, we did our best to avoid a muddy canine encounter and began the first match, a 4-ball scramble, no handicaps.

Barb and I, assigned to the Red Team, were paired and we played against our friends Betty Bates and Cheryl Readett.   Barb couldn't putt and I couldn't get out of the sand and although we should have won the 4-ball match several times, we didn't.  As these things often do, it all came down to 1 putt on the 18th hole.  

I missed my flop shot onto the 18th green (too little fluffy grass for the shot) and ended up in the rough behind the green, looking at another chip onto a downward sloping green and running the ball to the cup that was on the very front edge.  Barb was much better positioned, about 10 feet from the cup, but probably still needing 2 putts since she wasn't putting at all well.  Betty was at the back of the green and she's a casual putter, and Cheryl, who's handicap runs about 40, was about 6 feet away from the cup with a putt that was going to run downhill and break left.  Betty, Barb and I were all lying 3 at that point and Cheryl was lying 4.  I was fairly certain that Cheryl would 3-putt and Betty just isn't that accurate with her flat stick. so either Barb or I needed to sink the ball in 2 shots to halve the match and save our dignity.

I was out and sent a gentle little chip across the rough and onto the green, where it began it's downhill run, picking up speed as it headed straight to the cup.  Barb and I held our breath.  The fickle ball veered right just before it dropped, continued its run, and rolled to a stop in the 2nd cut on the other side of the green.  Betty went next and the same thing happened.  We were both still 2 shots from the cup and lying 4.  Barb putted, got close, then missed her 2nd putt and was now lying 5.  Cheryl putted.  The ball crept toward the cup, began its break, crept some more, rolled to the edge of the cup, and dropped. So much for that 3-putt.  One point to the Blue Team.

We paused for lunch.  Fortunately, other Red Teams were winning and Red was ahead by 2 points after the 4-ball scramble.  With rain threatening (it was already raining in Atlanta and the pros were playing in a downpour at the FedEx) we played a 9-hole alternate shots match.  Barb and I love playing alternate shots together.  We play that format well.  Generally we're hard to beat.  Sometimes it feels like magic when we play alternate shots.  This time was a little different.

We played Betty and Cheryl to a tie, but we struggled.  My drives were worthless, Barb was still struggling with her putts, I had sand problems, we spent more time flirting with trees than was desirable.  Basically, Barb summed it up nicely:

Wben we play the hole correctly, they can't beat us.  With one Whoops we're in trouble and headed for halving the hole.  With two Whoopses we've lost the hole.  We just had too many double Whoopses!

Sunday Singles Matches Preparation
Sunday we play singles matches at the Battle of Star Fort.  Everybody takes these matches very seriously.  In the hour before tee time the driving range is packed.  The practice green is crowded.  The intensity is palpable.

I took all necessary steps to load my match against Cheryl in my favor.  I wore my lucky red and khaki Utah golf cap that my granddaughter, Reilly, gave me.  I wore my favorite red coral earrings that I got in Costa Rica.  I ate bacon.  I wore my lucky lavender panties that nobody could see.  And I played my heart out.  Barb played her heart out.  I got out of the sand.  Barb's balls dropped.  And we both won our matches, handily!

When all the matches were up on the leaderboard Sunday afternoon the Red Team had won the 2013 Battle of Star Fort by 2 points.  Then we ate tacos, told each other about our best and most memorable shots, and bragged on our competitors.  A golf match isn't much fun unless the win requires some struggle and involves a challenge of skill and stamina.  After all, we'll probably be teammates next week in some other event, and in the Game of Golf the friendships forged among competitors resonate with respect and reciprocity.