Poor Robert’s Ruminations with Rob Whittle: The greatest game

Poor Robert’s Ruminations with Rob Whittle: The greatest game
Rob Whittle (Courtesy Photo)

The game of golf is a cult. How else would you explain the photo in the local newspaper of my dad and his buddies playing in 25-degree weather? They played for dimes and quarters, but the biannual Ryder Cup matches have nothing on them in terms of competitiveness.

My wife used to call my golf buddies the “golf boyfriends.” It’s true that there’s a lot of bonding that goes on during golf trips. When a man returns from three or four days of golfing, his wife will always want to know what you talked about. If you’re honest, the answer is … “golf.” As in, “Nice shot.” “Was that a 4-iron there?” “What’d you shoot on number six?”

But you have to say something, so you search your brain and come up with some lame story that is not directly related to golf. That may not seem difficult, but it’s akin to explaining E=MC2.

On one trip, which I was hosting at my place on the Northern Neck, our friend Grady – incongruously – decided to bake a cake. This was weird. Usually, after a day on the course, all you want is a shower and several cocktails. But Grady baked his cake, though I don’t remember anyone eating it.

When I got home, my wife asked the usual question, “What did you do besides play golf?” This time I was ready. “Grady baked a cake.” It was so effective in startling her away from more questions, that I emailed the boyfriends this ingenious solution, which they each used in their own interrogations.

Golf is a betting game, predicated on the handicap system, which, theoretically, renders a bad golfer the equal of a good golfer. Theoretically, and I stress the theoretical nature of this, I could play a match against Tiger Woods, and receiving enough shots from him, we could have a competitive round.

Handicaps are established by posting your scores, which the computer calculates and spits out a number which is your index, which, translated to the difficulty, i.e. the rating and slope, of the course you’re playing, in turn translates to a handicap number. Simple, right? We have a guy, let’s call him John, who religiously tracks everyone’s handicap and presents a written memo on the first tee enumerating them all.

That enables the betting. A game will sound like this: “Playing a Nassau. Twodown automatic press; one-down automatic on nine and eighteen; turn-around bet after nine, losers get a new bet equal to half the number of holes they’re down after nine.” If you’re not careful, you could lose, say, $12. Don’t worry, only cultists understand this.

One year, we got to play the venerable St. Andrews in Scotland, the birthplace of golf. St. Andrews has three great holes: number one because, well, you’re at the great St. Andrews. Plus, the starter makes a big deal out of announcing your name. Number 17 is the famous Road Hole, and number 18 is great because, well, you’re finishing up at St. Andrews. On 17, I hit my drive onto the roof of the hotel that borders the hole. “What do I do now?” My partner Charles, without missing a beat, drawled in his North Carolina accent, “Well, take the elevator to the ninth floor and hit it from there.”

My favorite golf story was about Grady, the cake baker. Number nine at Belle Haven Country Club borders Fort Hunt Road. One day Grady hooked his drive onto the road and heard a crash. When he got to the green, a woman in the adjacent parking lot was waiting for him beside the smashed windshield of her Buick. She angrily confronted him. “You cracked my windshield! What are you going to do about it?”

Grady regarded her thoughtfully for a moment, and simulating his golf grip, calmly replied, “Well, if I move my left hand over just a smidge, that ought to cure it.”

In memory of “golf boyfriends” Grady Frank and Buff MacDonald.

Rob Whittle is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”