By Carrillee Collins Burke
The temperature was ninety-five degrees the day I was paired with a man named Kramer, a guy who appeared to have stepped out of a comic strip. He was boisterous, carried twenty clubs in his oversized bag, and was loaded down with a big cooler and all sorts of golf paraphernalia.
“Hope you don’t have too much stuff,” Kramer said.
“Just my bag,” I answered, offering my hand. “ I’m Sam.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said, ignoring my hand as he smeared white cream on his nose. Finished with his nose, he shoved his wavy, black toupee under a large floppy hat that tied under his chin, adjusted his navy shorts and pulled his green socks up his skinny legs.
“You ready to rumble, Sam?” Kramer asked. “I’ll drive, okay?”
Why not? He was already in the driver’s seat. I stuffed his canvas bag behind my legs and wondered aloud if we could trade it for the blanket in back.
“Oh craps, I forgot the blanket.” He stopped on the path, shook the blanket flat, folded it in half, then covered the seat with it. “That’s better,” he said. “After hours in this heat a seat can burn your butt real good.”
“We have a top over us.”
“I know, but we’re in Florida, not Ohio, New York, or wherever you come from, and that sun up there is one hot sucker from noon on.” Kramer looked skyward, then at me. “I can spot a tourist right off. So, where you from, anyway?”
“Michigan,” I answered.
“Lake Erie, huh? Went fishing there once, but never played golf.”
“Do you mean, Lake Michigan, or Huron?”
It was time to change the subject, so I asked what was in the canvas bag he’d moved to the back.
“Balls? How many?”
“Fifty, or so. What do you carry?”
“Nine or ten, maybe.”
“Good luck,” he said, and snickered.
At the first tee, I put two balls in my pant pocket, just in case I lost one, and added a couple tees. I watched Kramer load his pockets with balls.
“You go first, Sam.” He bowed and stepped back.
I checked the distance, pushed a long tee into the sandy ground, placed my ball on it, and made a good drive with my 3-wood.
“Wow! That must be 250 yards,” Kramer said. I agreed although, it was more like 160.
Then I watched the strangest performance of my life on a golf course. Although his pockets were crammed, Kramer searched his ball bag for one with his name in purple. “My lucky ball,” he said. Then he placed it on a tee, stepped back and made a few practice swings. When he stepped up to make his first shot, his ball fell off the tee.
When he bent over, a ball rolled from a pocket, others followed, then from another pocket, until there were balls everywhere. Unruffled, he gathered them up. Finally, he placed his “lucky ball” on the tee again, stood back and under pressure from the irate group behind us, he swung. The ball rolled 20 feet.
I never dealt with a mulligan before. He swung again by the time I answered. This time the ball traveled into deep rough. “I know what’s wrong,” he said. “Need my sunglasses.” He placed a pair of huge black glasses on his face; took another ball from his bag and finally hit a good one up the fairway.
With an 8-iron I drove my ball toward the green, slicing it right, into knee-high grass near the stream. I heard Kramer’s booming voice as I approached the water. “Don’t go there, Sam!” Then, I saw the sign: Water Moccasins play here.
Second hole I lost another ball to the snakes. On the third hole, a par five, I teed off a straight 250 yards with my Big Bertha. Kramer challenged me. He swung his Greater Big Bertha and missed the ball completely. The club slipped from his hands and sailed over my head. “Sorry about that,” he said, wiping his hands across his shorts. He swung again. The hole ended with Kramer getting a par and me a bogey.
The fifth hole had a slight dogleg to the right. I was fading right, so I figured I would do good here. But the ball went straight and high to the green, and dropped into a sand trap.
“You can chip it from there,” Kramer said.
“You have to be kidding me,” I said, when I saw a snarling alligator surrounded by golf balls, including mine. Another drop. More balls went into my pocket.
The sixth and seventh holes were easier, but I still lost a ball to the high rough where no man dared to tread. This course ran wild with a strange half-fox, half-squirrel animal that had no fear of man. On the ninth hole, one of those creatures grabbed my golf ball as it was heading straight to the hole for a birdie.
As the midday heat pressed down upon us, Kramer opened his cooler.
“Want something?” he asked with a mouth full of banana. I politely refused. He devoured a Dagwood sandwich between slurps of Gatorade; wiped the food from his mouth and the melted sunscreen running off his nose, onto his sleeve. “Wanna wave those whiners behind us on?” he asked.
Tired of the angry comments that followed us, I agreed. I took a drink of my bottled water and waited for him to finish the chocolate pudding he was eating with his fingers.
He wiped his nose again on his sleeve and teed off. His ball went high and plunked down in a lake. Distracted, and weary, I lost my ball in a clump of bushes. From the twelfth, through the fifteenth, I fared better. I still had a ball or two in my pocket.
Standing near the sixteenth green was a fawn. I was accustomed to deer on my home course, and I also knew to be watchful for the doe. Quietly, we teed off on this par three. Shot two took both of us to the green. Kramer had a long, unlikely putt, but when the ball meandered across the green, and directly into the hole, he let out a yelp one could have heard in Kalamazoo.
The fawn jumped to attention, and the buck we hadn’t expected, came on the attack. He plowed his antlers under my ball, and tossed it into the bushes. He killed his enemy and I was the loser. “This is insane,” I said, as we retreated to the safety of the cart.
“Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Kramer said, when he could catch his breath from laughing. So excited about the possibility of beating me now, he stomped on the accelerator, raced to the seventeenth tee, and jumped out without putting on the brake. As I stepped from the cart, it rolled backwards over my left foot, putting dirty tire marks on my new white FootJoys. The cart rolled down a steep grade causing my Big Bertha to flip from the bag and end up under the rear wheel. “Have no fear, I’ll get it,” Kramer yelled. He grabbed Big Bertha by her grip and pulled, decapitating her. “Sorry about that,” was his only comment as he handed me the headless club.
I was so infuriated with this guy and the situation I could have brained him, but I was determined to finish the round. Amazingly, I got par. If I birdied the last hole and Kramer made par or worse, I would beat him. That had now become all important to me.
We both hit in the fairway. Kramer’s second shot left him short in high rough. My second shot took me within 30 yards of the green. It was possible for me to get an eagle. With my 9-iron, I swung, connected, faded to the left near the flag, across the green, and down a slight hill to a pile of rocks. I found my ball in the coiled body of an angry rattler.
“Okay, big guy, you either move, or get hurt!” I yelled, and beat the ground with my club. Miraculously, the rattler took the warning and I chipped toward the flag for a coveted birdie.
I held my breath and waited as it rolled slowly in line with the hole. Suddenly, a sea gull swooped down, and snatched my ball. I reached for another one. My pocket was empty. I limped to the cart and checked my bag. It was empty too.
“Enough, is enough. I quit! You win, Kramer.”
Although, I lost the match, some of my equipment, and all of my patience, I did learn something: you have to have a lot of balls to play in Florida.