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A 468-Mile Dogleg

Now this is a long-drive contest: Every summer, in a single day, four buddies play three holes of golf in each of the six New England states, all the while busting each other's chops and sharing the kind of filthy jokes that put the ew back in New England.

Why? "Because three holes times six states equals 18," says Phil Levere, a 47-year-old father of two who had that epiphany four years ago. "It's perfect for golf."

You'll have to get up at 3:30 in the morning to join the Fab Fore! The Midnight Ride of Phil Levere begins in his driveway in West Hartford, Conn., at 4:30 a.m., when his foursome embarks in a rented Dodge Caravan for the drive 96.6 miles east to Harrisville, R.I., to play the first of six public courses that share a single, salutary design trait. "Proximity to the highway," says Levere.

For him, every course is breathtaking. Levere has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung-constricting ailment diagnosed 18 years ago. He has turned this trip--think of the Odyssey, but with Odyssey putters--into a modest fund-raiser for the American Lung Association of Connecticut.

On our first hole, number 10 at Country View Golf Club in Harrisville, Levere disproves the notion that he can't hit the broad side of a barn with his tee shot by doing precisely that.

On the second green Levere's vowel-deficient friend, Kenny Brychcy, lays his lit cigarette next to his ball before putting. "That," sighs Levere, "is what this event is all about."

"We're thinking of making that our logo for next year," adds Larry Levere, Phil's brother, of the Marlboro-and-Maxfli tableau.

Pease Golf Course in Portsmouth, N.H., 113.4 miles northeast of Harrisville, is laid out next to a bustling regional airport. There, Levere's brother-in-law Bob Clancy drives his first tee shot over a fence and onto an active taxiway, violating both PGA and FAA bylaws. Because there's a cool breeze at Pease, Phil stays in the Caravan with his oxygen tank and his bronchodilator. "I have a hard time breathing in cold weather," he says. "Which is why Bob has been blasting the air conditioner in the van."

Driving into Maine, we eat a packed lunch of shrimp and chips, a peculiar seafood-and-potato combination that I'll always think of as Surf 'n' Murph. We pass a sign for MARITIME ANTIQUES, which is evidently what New Englanders call Old Navy. A lob wedge away from the Cape Neddick Country Club in Ogonquit, a mere 19 miles north of Portsmouth, is the Cliff House Resort at Bald Head. Phil suggests I go in, remove my hat and ask for a discount.

Instead, we pull into Cape Neddick, parking next to another Caravan whose Maine plates read T-TIMES. "You guys do this every summer?" asks Jim Towle, the Cape Neddick ranger, with envy and incredulity. Told yes, he says, "The same idiots every year?" New England's other idiots are in evidence everywhere here: Phil has spotted the Maine plates DN3WON8, and if you don't get that, you're no Red Sox fan.

By 3 p.m., having driven 97 miles southwest, we're in Massachusetts playing The Woods of Westminster, which Phil braves despite its nearly 1,400-foot elevation. The 9th hole has a 200-foot descent, a plunge inversely proportional to the ascent of our golf score. We've gone from playing best ball, to least bad ball, to whichever ball's inbounds.

Phil calls this trip Links for Lungs, but he'd like a snazzier name. "What about Golfing the Gay Marriage States?" he says. "After all, any two of us could get married today just about anywhere on this trip." Considering that Kenny has just eaten a grape off the van floor, the prospect sounds unappealing at best.

It's after 5 p.m. when, having ridden 51.8 miles west, we reach our penultimate stop, Brattleboro Country Club in Vermont. With two hours off between every three holes, our swings, like our carts, are leaking oil. In the spirit of Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's--makers of Chunky Monkey and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough--I promptly chunk a chip shot.

It's almost 8 p.m. when, having traveled 90.7 miles south, we finally tee off at Rockledge Golf Club in West Hartford, where Manute Bol--the 7'7" former NBA star--is a clubhouse fixture. Using the shaft of a four-wood, Rockledge pro Rich Crowe once customized a seven-iron for Bol, whose swing path is just slightly longer than the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

When darkness falls at 8:50, so does our final putt. Our best-ball score is an abysmal one under. We've played an 824,560-yard course--468.5 miles--in 16 hours and 20 minutes, without a single slow-play warning. That's four hours of golf and 12 hours of driving: one part Byron Nelson, three parts Willie Nelson.

And though the sun has only just set, Phil's already in dreamland. "From the skinny part of Maryland," he says, consulting an atlas, "I'm pretty sure you can get to Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and D.C. in a day."

I ask Larry what he feels when his brother talks like that, and he exhales a single word: "Foreboding." ■

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Teeing off in six states in 16 hours: That's four hours of golf and 12 of driving--one part Byron Nelson, three parts Willie Nelson.