It happens in late August. Until then the golfer has joyfully improved his game, shank by shank, through the fragrance of spring and the early warmth of summer, amid the emerald opulence of his home course. He has strolled over springy fairways, beneath sheltering old trees, across bridges spanning cool ponds and onto silken greens where putts have rolled uncapriciously true. It has not been easy, yet the pro's lessons are telling, and breaking 80 for the first time can hardly be more than one delirious round away. But suddenly it is August—hot, weary, overgolfed August. The driver is too heavy and tee shots are slipping off mysteriously to the right, disappearing into previously unnoticed thicket. Curiously, the three-wood has developed a hooked face. The two-iron has too much loft. The seven-iron has none. The pitching wedge has a maximum distance of eight feet. And the putter, grotesquely but incessantly, pulls everything to the left. Now the course itself has changed. The fairways are long, narrow trails to doom. Traps are deeper, ponds turn murky and spirits lie in wait in the brooding forests. In some monstrous fashion this once idyllic setting has come alive to conspire against the golfer and rout his dreams of conquest. The identity of the architect at left, who designed the bestial place, has become obvious. Starting with the view from the first tee, at right, Artist Robert Osborn shows what a golf course really looks like to the poor player in this month of August—a time when another flowering spring seems an eternity away.
The golfer's illusions are many, but none is more extravagant than the one he holds about his course before an unplayed round. It is a course abounding in space, one that is beckoning and dashed by sunlight. And yet the once inviting smile now has a subtly different tone. The golfer has only to place his first shot in the rough to be awakened to the torments ahead. It is an unfamiliar rough, no longer sown with the tender weeds through which a brassie has swept with the speed of a saber. This rough is matted, wiry, a merciless jungle. It bends the shaft of a violent four-iron, loosens the grip on a well-honed nine. Provided, of course, the ball can even be found. At right is the traditional birdie hole, where there once were but two small fir trees marking the edges of a fairway that was only a fraction narrower than Australia. That was before the demons came. Nourished by wild tee shots, staggering caddies, wind, sprinkler systems, mowers, pull carts and buggies, the demons grew. They became bloated and thorny. Then, further irritated by the lashing backswings of Ladies' Day, Mixed Foursome, Member-Guest, Father-Son, Blind Bogey, City Junior and Pro-Am, they marched forward in full protest, leaving only a glimpse of the green between them.
The water hole was never a bargain. Even on balmy days it took a firm four-iron. Always a dangerous shot. After all, this was where Bobby Cruickshank made an 8 to blow the '29 Sausage Memorial. But what madman moved the tee markers to the very back? Could this gale be the season's first hurricane? Incredible that a mere 161-yard par-3 hole could be a full driver shot away. Nothing to do but try. Might make it at that. We're going for it, son. Ball off the right heel, left hand over, shaft forward. Swing. A screamer under the wind. Ought to be perfect. Bring the monster to its knees. But now the ball is rising slowly, hanging. Sunk. Reach in the bag, son, and get that old Green Ray, the brown one with the cut. Shooting three. Ball off the right heel....
In the surrealistic hours of August, bunkers take on their most fearful shapes and sizes. And while the pros insist that exploding from sand is easy, they do not remember that exploding from sand on every hole is tiresome. Particularly when the shots are always out of either buried lies, heeled lies, wet lies, banked lies, thin lies, deep lies or very deep lies. Such traps imprison the golfer until, blinded and gasping, he declares the shot unplayable and limps to the green. There is a faster way to play out the hole from a lie like the one at right. Take a free lift, which is legal in August, and then, relying solely on the putter, play around the hill in short, unperilous strokes to a 20-foot gimme.
From a distance the green appears to be a haven, but it is merely hiding its own distinctive tortures. It is circled by cawing birds, surrounded by clanking mowers, infested with gnats that blur the putter's vision, alive with insects that squat on the ball and speckled with cleat marks over which a well-stroked putt hops like a cricket. It is a mountain range of cliffs, humps, creases, shadows and bad grass. It has unrepaired divots, brown scars, slick spots, damp spots, replaced cups, leaves, pebbles, worms, lumps of sand, cigarette butts, invisible grain and—clearly visible—the name of a high school skillfully burned into it by vandals. Thus it is able to inflict the day's final humiliations on the golfer, leaving him broken and bewildered, conquered once more by an unconquerable game. He crawls away silently, but it is easy to pick up his trail. Just follow the putter fragments into the clubhouse bar.