A Golfer’s Divine Comedy

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

A Golfer’s Divine Comedy[1]

The Inferno

The time was Good Friday in the first full week of April, the month which the God of Adventure has ordained for the glories of Augusta and its Azaleas. Intent upon viewing the Masters (almost commercial free thanks to Hootie and Billy), “the boys” and I set out early at Golden Eagle Country Club, the pride of Fazio.

Midway through the round I found myself lost within a dark wood. My ball had mysteriously gone awry from its intended path. The wood in which I was now entrapped was strange and harsh with savage briers, prickly palmettos, cutting gorse, and trees as dense as winter rye.

Upon finding my ball (and many more besides), I whacked, whacked and whacked again, but my mightiest swing availed me naught. Near the point of settling for my double bogey maximum, above the wooded abyss I spied every golfer’s dream, the Nineteenth Hole.

When I began my climb towards this Paradise, though, a monstrous moccasin, a golf yard Doberman, and a giant goose did block my path, the three entwined in viciously threatening conspiracy. As I made my retreat to nether lands, before my eyes did one appear, one whose voice was hoarse from long silence.

In a condition easily given to fear, I yelled, “Have pity on me, whatever thing thou art, whether shade or man, ghost or living.” The spirit answered, “Man, I once was, a Georgian, Atlanta born, pre-Jack and Tiger, living through an unfortunate time of temperance and prohibition. A golfer was I, but decidedly not a pro, a proud amateur whose slam has been called ‘Grand.’ But you, why are you running into deep darkness? Why aren’t you scampering onward to that Storehouse of Whiskey which is the source and cause of every joy?”

“Ah,” I responded, “You are then that Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., called Bobby and, later, Bob, who battled the ‘pros’ and ‘Old Man Par.’ You are the master, my idol, the one after whom I seek that sweet smooth swing the game honors most. Behold the beasts that block my ascent. Do you know another path that leads from this hated wood to the Bar of Joy?”

Bobby responded, “I think it best that you follow me. I’ll be your guide away from these beasts who have many golfers claimed. This other way, though, is not short or easy. While it leads to the Summum Bonum, many sufferings lie along the path.”

“Why,” I asked as we began our journey, “was I so fortunate to merit so great a guide to lead me from this darkness into light.”

“Ah,” said he, “worthy souls summoned me forth, the boys, calling for cigars, lighters, and humorous barbs, wondering why the bottle of Crown was yet untapped.”

Though “the boys” seemed less than concerned when I stumbled down into my dark wood, they had, at last, missed me.

By this time my guide and I had come to a deep ravine, and in its midst a massive gate unveiled. “HELL: ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE!!!” When I became hesitant, Bobby explained, “Despair and horrors lie beside our path, but none shall touch us on the road.” “Mr. Jones” opened the screeching gate, and quickly there arose sounds of agony, torment, lamentation, and desolation, sounds even far more horrible than those emoted after missed putts. Through this hellish gate we did trek, and only a sand wedge into our pass, a sign announced the course which lay ahead.

 

Beelzebub:
A Nine Hole Eternity
Yardage: 666,666
Par: Don’t Worry About it!
No Beverage Carts Available!
No Escape!

A few yards further, we came upon the “Driving Range,” and there we saw gleeful faces on practitioners who were whaling away on fiery red balls. The golfers practicing in this upper region of hell had not committed too grave a sin; otherwise, they would be at a deeper and more torturous level. When I asked why those who were practicing appeared so happy, my guide asked me to look closely at their targets. Then I beheld the flagsticks, located at various distances, lashed with animated souls. When I inquired as to the identity of these piteous creatures pegged into the ground, my guide informed me that the targets were greenkeepers notorious for placing pins in difficult positions.

Upon closer examination, I saw one poor man not only lashed to a flagpole, but also immersed up to his mouth in a pool of water caused by a constantly oscillating sprinkler. Struggling for breath, head bobbing, here was William of the Fjord drowning in the afterlife as he drowned his course during his earthly life.

Off to the side were sand bunkers filled with more greenkeepers. These keepers were held in a crawling position with knees and feet clamped to metal sheets that were equipped with rake-toothed undersides. As they pulled themselves along by their arms and hands, attempting to evade incoming balls, they left behind the most purely raked sand one has ever seen. Should they attempt to crawl out of the bunker, however, an electrified barrier sent them right back in. Having neglected the sand in life, they had no choice but to rake it in their afterlife.

A few yards further in the upper regions, we passed the practice green and found some of hell’s golfers hitting putts. The balls, upon contact, started out rather slowly but dramatically increased, within an extremely short distance, to nearly the speed of a bullet. When they neared their target, the balls quickly slowed to a halt. Many of the bullets were popping the feet of one pitiable soul who was unwittingly mowing the green. With his arms eternally fixed to a mower attached to his rear, he was chasing after a dollar that dangled, in front of his eyes, from a thin rod attached to his hat. Upon second look, I recognized this wretch, B.B. Byers, whose pursuit of a dollar in life prevented him from maintaining an acceptable speed for his greens. Now, his love for a dollar requires him to mow the grass low.

We proceeded past the practice area and came upon a sign labeled “Hole 1.”

“Hole 1”

All the grass was black as cloudy night, but the fires of burning trees and bolts of lightning lit our way. “In this kind of weather,” I informed my guide, “Ricky Bobby would not play.” To our side, sharp flashes struck those who stood upon the tee. Tremendous thunder quickly followed. Though crispy and fallen, to my dismay, these creatures rose up again, hoping still to play. Then, without even a swallow, these wretched and pitiable souls found themselves alit again.

When I inquired into their plight, I learned that, in life, these souls had refused to leave the course, during even the most threatening of thunderstorms. When the next strike occurred, I recognized, despite his blackened condition, one of the victims, a certain real estate broker, who, when hit by the lightning, yelled, “hammer back!,” and rose to play again. The popping and cracking continued all the way to the green, and when the victims came close to finishing the hole, a lightning bolt simply knocked them back to the tee.

At the end of our path, passing the first green, we came upon the top of what appeared to be a giant tee stuck into the earth. Following my guide, I climbed over the rim of the tee and observed its hollowed out nature. Mr. Jones and I slide down the inner void of the tee to a deeper level, and, there, a few yards up a newfound path, lay the second hole.

“Hole 2”

The second hole consisted of almost nothing but a great lake that was ablaze with flames. Thin ribbons of land, like a maze, wound their way through the lake and around to a green, and while the slivers of land were lined with masses of desperate souls scurrying about with little rods, no one was playing the game.

Bobby explained. “This burning lake, my wayward golfing friend, is Acheron, and these hapless captives spend their eternity as you see them, stretching forth their ball retrievers, hoping, in vain to recover a whitened sphere fit for the game. Without a ball they cannot play.”

I saw Hooha amongst those eyeing the lake for a ball. I also spotted Robert and Howie, whose last names are shared.

As I was looking to see if I recognized any others, a hoary old man with beastly hair paddled his way toward shore and cried, “Woe to you, you ball-less hoard, cursed to fish a lake that coughs up not its treasures. Part a path. I come for Jones and his misaligned companion.”

My guide and I passed through the forest of ball retrievers. The boatman identified himself as Charon and cautioned me to step lightly as the living weigh more than the dead. We boarded Charon’s boat; and, not a chip away from shore, a whirlpool washed us to level three.

“Hole 3“

A sight not yet seen in this bewildering realm caught my eye: golf carts, burnt orange in color and decorated with yellow upright flames. The carts, however, did hardly move.

Bobby explained that this hole was reserved for those players who could not, in life, control their carts. Smashing trees, turning flips, swimming in lakes, rolling through bunkers, banging into all manner of things, animate and not, these drivers were a danger to all. Operating with reckless speed while alive, these drivers are now bound to wheels that move at the blazing rate of one inch per hour, and should the drivers steer toward danger, the carts slow to nothing. I saw Tequila Bill (the original man down), Man of USA, and a certain Destructo Spoon who found windshields and wheels as dispensable as stop signs.

At the end of the hole, Bob sat in the driver’s seat of an empty cart and invited me to join him. This cart, however, moved rapidly, and I became extremely concerned as Bob drove us over the rim of a chasm similar to the coffin bunker at St. Andrews. As we dived to the bottom of the bunker, the sand parted to reveal a path, and we soon arrived at the fourth.

“Hole 4“

Disembarked and walking forward, I heard an eerie moaning. The reason for the moaning soon became clear when I realized that the mouths of the mass of souls gathered on this level were plugged with corks that were clamped in by steel restraints. The muffled denizens would hit their shots and then proceed to moan. I needed help unraveling this enigma.

Mr. Jones explained, “While living, these souls could never shut their mouths, regaling and boring anyone they could find with every detail about the shots they hit. They explained what went wrong with every blow, why each ball behaved as it did, pretending actually to have control over their strokes. They daily discovered the secret of the game and felt compelled to share that secret. They knew everyone’s swing flaws and broadcasted the easy solutions. Now, however, these obnoxious souls can say nothing. All they can do is moan.”

At the end of the moaners’ hole, we stepped onto the back of a massive putter head, the attached shaft of which began a steady, guided descent to level five.

“Hole 5”

The commotion that met us at the fifth contrasted sharply with the moaning of the previous hole and far surpassed the point of distraction. Cheerful yells, vile curses, and raucous belly laughs overwhelmed a duller but steadier roar of ringing cell phones, cart radios, and conspicuous whispers. This hole, Bob informed me, is reserved for those who failed to observe golf’s quiet decorum. As they play, these souls are victimized by the same disturbing and deafening sounds they inflicted upon others. As we walked the hole, I heard high above the horde one who has a voice like Ed McMahon, another whose favorite number is One, and the King of the Hammer (who has mysteriously appeared on several levels of this golfer’s hell).

Eager to escape this ear slaughtering barrage, Bob rapidly led us to the exit, an elevator fashioned after a ball washer. The hollowed out plunger took us to level six.

“Hole 6”

When the door to the plunger-elevator opened, a hideously chewed up hole lay before us. Steep and overly abundant were the divots and ball marks that sprigged the fairway and green. Golfers in the fairway chopped away but were unable to liberate their balls from the quarry-like divots. Golfers on the green furiously whisked their putters back and forth but were unable to advance their balls due to the gargantuan marks peppering the green. Balls for both groups bounded up and down, round and round, and then back again from whence they came. I did not need my guide for commentary here. These souls are those who never bothered to repair their divots or ball marks. They never dropped sand or wielded a repair tool. They must now endure the hardships that they forced upon others.

Beyond the uneven ground, an enormous flagstick rose from an equally large hole. Mr. Jones walked over to the stick, flung himself on the pole, and slid down to the next hole. Like a fireman, I did follow.

“Hole 7”

After our descent, we came to a hole that consisted of nothing but a giant dark sand trap with a high marble topped green. The putting surface undulated like ocean waves and featured a constantly moving hole.

Bob once more explained. “This hole holds those who manicured not the bunkers. Confined for eternity in this rake-less desert, they flail at fiery red balls that fall back again and again into their own footprints. These souls must now suffer the pains and heartaches they inflicted on others.”

Near the green, we came upon the top of what appeared to be a kind of Ferris wheel. The carriages, however, looked like humungous sand scoops. Bob and I climbed into one of the scoops, and the turning wheel took us down to the next level.

“Hole 8“

The tee at the eighth was strangely quiet, and there were racks and racks of clubs: putters, drivers, irons, metals, and even hybrids galore. My guide informed me that this hole was reserved for the deliberators.

Thousands of players were amassed on the hole, and each appeared to contemplate a different shot.

As the players chose their clubs, a process lasting quite a while,
The landscape before them would beguile.

Compelled to choose another weapon for their attack,
Players found the landscape different yet again when they turned back.

The shots in life they so long delayed,
Never in this golfers’ hell will be played.

Among these painfully thoughtful souls, I spied Los Angeles, the Bennett of Mud, the Whooping Crane, and a certain five-man Wolf group.

The green featured a massive hole, into which never a ball had fallen, and Mr. Jones beckoned me to follow his descent into the cup. Another slide zipped us to the final level of this golfers’ hell.

“Hole 9 “

At the bottom of the slide, the most overwhelming stench violated my nose, and Bob informed me that the ninth was reserved for cheaters, the worst of golf’s sinners.

Playing on the hole’s periphery, those who maintained their handicap too high were teamed up with those who maintained their handicap too low. Perfectly paired and matched, neither team was able to conquer the other. The eternal tie merely sent the players back to the tee again. I saw Larry of the Fort, Willie of the Fast Play, and Michael the Italian.

In a rounded hollow, around which the hole split into two fairways, were arrayed the vast and wicked lot of those who betrayed the ancient and royal game: those who noodled their balls, those who took overly liberal drops, those who grounded their clubs in hazards, those who took unrighteous putts, and all those who otherwise lied about their scores.

Those who had noodled their golf balls were having their procreative balls noodled in a not so friendly manner. Those who took overly liberal drops were being dropped to the ground at a level commensurate with the error of their drops. Those who grounded their clubs in hazards were themselves being grounded, nay buried, in hazards. Those who took unrighteous putts were raked by an instrument with teeth as long as the putts they gave themselves. Here they were ensnared in eternal torment.

The entire hollow and all those it contained were surrounded by a burning ring of fire comprised of huge golf tees that let out ferocious gasses. The flames wound their way, like serpents, among the crowd to assure that each abhorrent turncoat was equally scorched. It was this singeing of dead flesh that caused the stench permeating the bottom of hell.

There in the midst of this traitorous gang stood a giant with golden hair, his size having more to do with his notorious reputation than to his earthly height. He had six arms that were busied by six hands. The hand of one arm released a ball that emerged from the bottom of the giant’s slacks; another hand twisted fairway grass into a tee; another dropped ants from a baggie hidden in his pants pocket; yet another dropped a ball onto the green even though the green was surrounded by yellow stakes; another placed a ball two feet closer to the pin than where it was originally marked; and the sixth welded a putter that raked a four-foot putt into the hole. One of his feet kicked into the ground to create a tee, and the other kicked a ball into a better lie. From his mouth issued scores he never actually shot. All the vile cheaters sang his praise, “Noel, Noel, Noel!”

Climbing over the hairy flank of the giant traitor, my guide and I shifted our tilt and began an ascent to the surface of the earth. From a dank, dark tunnel we emerged at dawn of Moving Day, just in time to see the stars.

Purgatory

A few steps before us another gate appeared, “PURGATORY PRACTICE FACILITY: THE PENITENT, WITH THE GRACE OF GOD, SHALL OVERCOME.” Through the gate a steep high mount led us through seven ascending circular levels where golfers paid penance for the sins they committed in life. There was a sign at the entry to each level, indicating the sin for which penitents paid the price, and the sins were those which have been labeled “deadly”: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. I will not dwell upon our journey through Purgatory, but rather mention only a few notable sights.

Upon the level where one atones for pride, a young John McDermott could be seen swimming after a ferry that was shaped like the lead car of a train. With immense curiosity, I watched as the youngest U.S. Open champion swam frantically and caught the train-like ferry. As soon as he had climbed on board, though, the ferry was jarred by a large tanker, and John was knocked back into the water. His mental faculties apparently now intact, John set off swimming yet again. “Soon,” Bob told me, “the tanker will quite knocking John off.”[2]

Just up the hill from McDermott, we found the Hawk trying to hit balls. The balls, though, were contained in a drop machine, and Hogan was compelled to sign his autograph before the next ball would fall. Bob commented, “As soon as offering his autograph means as much to him as hitting a ball, Ben can jump up to the next level.”

Still on the ascending level of pride, we found Ray Ainsley thrashing away in a creek, trying in vain to maneuver his ball onto a nearby green. Bob said, “Once he learns that he cannot hit that shot and decides to take a drop, Ray can move on.”[3]

On the level where one atones for wrath, I encountered a myriad of recognizable characters. In one section of this level, the penitents were compelled to handle, in a most gentle manner, a variety of clubs, the shafts and heads of which were apparently very brittle. Penitents were compelled to shield, coddle, and cushion the fragile clubs against bombardments of rocks, tee markers, and little trees. Instead of clubs hitting trees and rocks, trees and rocks were flying at clubs. The bombardments seemed to lighten for those who sacrificed themselves with wild abandon to keep their clubs intact. But those who took no care for their clubs were pummeled and pulverized with intensity.

Upon the level where one atones for sloth were those who did not make the most of their golfing gifts, those who wasted their talents. In their earthly life, they lay on couches drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and flirting with girls rather than working to hone their skills. Each derelict had his/her own means of penance. Bob, pointing to one soul who looked very much like J.D., said, “he has to hit a streak of a hundred drives into that twenty-yard wide fairway before he can advance.”

On the level where one atones for lust, I witnessed an instrument of atonement being prepared. Bob told me it was being readied for a big cat with vertical black stripes. The instrument, which appeared to be unusually complex, was to involve beautiful women, the measurement of erotic arousal, a black SUV, a nine iron, a fire hydrant, and a tree. If the penitent is aroused when a beautiful woman walks by, the woman will swing at him with a nine iron. As he attempts to make his escape in the black SUV, he will ram into a tree and fire hydrant. Bob indicated that this scenario will repeat itself until the penitent learns how not to start the fire.

Alas, after climbing the circle where souls atone for lust, Bob and I arrived atop Mount Purgatory and gazed upward into the heavens. It was dawn of Master’s Sunday, and never brighter were the stars.

Paradise

As Bob and I enjoyed the beauty of the stars, a glorious gate appeared, a gate with a set of doors not unlike those sculpted by Ghiberti. Unlike Dante’s unredeemed guide, Bob continued the journey with me. He grabbed me by the arm and told me to step up. We climbed a mystical set of stairs that led up to the gate. Above the opening doors, inscribed in gold, I read the following.

Paradise Golf Club:
A 33 Hole Masterpiece
Yardage: 333,333,333
Par: Don’t Worry About it!
Weather: Always Sunny, Calm, and Warm
Enjoy!

Every hole sang a signature melody. The layout featured the best of Augusta, The Old Course, Pebble, Medina, Kingsbarns, Black Diamond, Dornoch, The Straits, all the great courses of the world. I will not describe all the glories I beheld or all the champions I encountered, but I must relay my experience on the uppermost hole.

As we rounded the tee, in the most pleasant of weather, we found Robertson, Locke, Hagan, and Ouimet. Slammin’ Sam and Lord Byron were talking to a well-dressed Stewart. Caddies, ready with bags but waiting patiently, wore the names of Sifford, Trevino, Floyd, Elder, Irwin, Dent, and Player. The Babe and Berg led a ladies’ contingent, and caddies, ready with bags, wore the names of Suggs, Wright, Whitworth, and “Big Mamma.”

On the green, standing near the flag and awaiting our arrival, was the Great Triumvirate. When I arrived at the hole and greeted Vardon, Taylor, and Braid, I was overwhelmed by a light of an extraordinarily permeating nature, a light that flowed through all things, impelled all things, rolled through all things. This light was interfused not only with this universe, but with all those beyond. It was a light whose expression knew no beginning nor end, no boundaries nor diminutions. It was a light that expressed beauty, goodness, and love with a unified expressive variety of color, a harmony of patterned contrasts, a rainbow. I longed to grasp the nature of this Adventurous Light, but I seemed not equipped for such ken. Yet, as I yearned, its purpose came to me, cleaving to my mind in a flash. Here, though, my powers of conveyance fail, and I must save the unfolding of such wisdom for another tale.

Upon my return to quasi normalcy, my guide pointed me toward a cloud and wished me well. Mr. Jones took his place next to Old and Young Tom, the latter of whom is now never parted from Margaret and an even younger Tom.[4] Close by were positions yet to be filled, one marked by the sign of a crown, another with the sign of a bear, and a third with the sign of a tiger.

The cloud, now, was positioned close by, and I took yet another mystical step. The cloud, with me afloat, drifted lightly yet rapidly downward and landed me gracefully on the ground next to the Bar of Joy. There were the boys, sitting on the porch, with cigars, whiskey, and jibes. The untapped Crown Royal was no longer so, and we all joined together to watch the great Tiger finish the last nine at Augusta and adorn, once again, his green jacket. The boys would never know neither the travails I witnessed nor the refreshing spirit that now dominated my being, having been inspired by that final home where beloved and devoted golfers do go. I chuckled within, took a draw and a sip, and gazed up into the stars.

 


[1] A golf adventure modeled after Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (1321).

[2] John J. McDermott Jr. (1891-1971) was the first and youngest U.S. born golfer to win the U.S. Open. He won at the Chicago Golf Club, in 1911, at the age of nineteen years, ten months and twelve days. He successfully defended the following year at the Country Club of Buffalo in New York. In 1913, after he handily defeated the Englishmen Ted Ray and Harry Vardon at the Shawnee Open in Pennsylvania, McDermott reportedly made some arrogant and disparaging comments about the prospects of the foreign contingent. One report quoted, “We hope our foreign visitors had a good time, but we don’t think they did, and we are sure they won’t win the National Open.” Another account related, “The Open champion, with a sneering twirl of his mouth, jumped on a chair and said the visiting English golfers may as well go back home, as their quest of the American championship honors will get them nowhere in particular.” In 1914, McDermott traveled to the United Kingdom with plans to compete in the Open Championship at Prestwick. He missed a ferry and a train and was unable to reach Prestwick in time for qualifying. Then, on his journey back to the U.S., his ship was hit by a grain tanker, and McDermott ended up in a life boat. Perhaps all of this, and some prior financial issues, was too much. Shortly after his return to the States, he fainted upon entering his clubhouse at the Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey. He retired from his job and from the game, and he would spend the next fifty-seven years of his life in mental hospitals, in rest homes, or living with members of his family.

[3] In the 1938 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado, Ray Ainsley recorded the highest single-hole score that has ever been registered in a professional golf championship. On the sixteenth hole, a par four, Ainsely found himself in a creek and attempted to hit it out. He reported nineteen strokes, most of them trying to hit his ball out of the creek.

[4] In September of 1875, Young Tom Morris, a four-time British Open champion, was playing with his gifted father, Old Tom, at North Berwick in Scotland. Young Tom’s expectant wife, Margaret, was at the couple’s home in St. Andrews, waiting to give birth. The Morrises won their match against Willie and Mungo Parks. When the match was nearly over, Old Tom received a telegram stating that Tommy should make his way “post haste” to St. Andrews because his wife was struggling with child. The journey by train would have been long and tedious, so one of the sponsors of the golf match loaned the Morrises his boat and crew to take them straight across the Firth of Forth to St. Andrews. Just after they left, another telegram arrived indicating that both mother and child, a son, had died. The Morrises did not learn of this until they arrived home at St. Andrews. Young Tom was inconsolable from then until his death sometime the following Christmas morning. Old Tom said, “I heard him get up on Christmas morning – when he wasn’t coming down I went to see, and there he was lying as peaceful as I’d seen him since Margaret had died. He was dead. Because of the suddenness of it, they did an autopsy at the cottage hospital. They said he had burst an artery in his lung. People say he died of a broken heart – but if that could really happen, then I wouldn’t be here either!” From David Joy, St. Andrews & The Open Championship: The Official History, St. Andrews: St. Andrews Press, 2000, pp. 36-37.

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

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