The Comeback Kid

November 22, 2004
Filed under Travel

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I read the green. The break appeared to be about 6 inches to the left. I took my pigeon-toed stance over the ball, sneaked another peek at the cup about 12 feet away, aligned the putter, held my breath and delivered a stroke so poetic and pure that I didn’t bother to watch the ball’s fateful arc. The clackety-clacking sound of the ball rattling the bottom of the cup proved that I was back. I had not played golf in four years. I had given up the sport and many others because I had sustained a freak bakery accident (I wish I was kidding). OK, “accident” is an overstatement (though I prefer “writer’s embellishment”); I had developed tendonitis in both wrists while producing lemon bars, pumpkin muffins and the world’s greatest peanut-butter cookies (go ahead and try to prove that’s not true) during my short stint as a budding entrepreneur.

So being able to read a green again, to hold a putter in my hands and try to conjure magic from it, to participate in the hallowed game of Hogan, Snead and Nicklaus, obviously felt tremendous after such a long layoff. On the first tee, I suspected my game would be rusted solid. But there I was on the ninth hole, sinking another birdie putt. The club felt completely natural in my hands. The sun was shining and the speed of play was quick. I was in the golfing mecca of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and my game had not abandoned me. In fact, I aced number 15. Then got another hole-in-one on 16. The Dragon’s Lair Fantasy Golf course was in exceptional shape. There were no divots on the fairways, and not even the jester spewing bad jokes could distract me from my main purpose: determining whether my wrists would hold up to the rigors of golf.

OK, so I wanted to ease back into the sport by hitting the links at a miniature golf course. I could see no reason to pull the big guns from the bag and try to drive the far net on the driving range if putting through a castle made me wince! After shooting par on the namesake Dragon’s Lair course, I moved on to the more difficult course, The Viking, a course that skirts the very-blue water that helps define the tourist lure that is Broadway at the Beach. With more than 100 specialty shops, plentiful themed restaurants and various family-fun attractions such as Carousel Park and Ripley’s Aquarium, Broadway at the Beach could throw a less-dedicated golfer off his game, but my powers of concentration were masterful, and The Viking proved no match for me. I shot four under par. Now I was ready — for a pitch-and-putt course. Midway Par 3, on South Kings Highway, demanded more than a putter. It also required a wedge.

I took a few practice cuts on the first tee and tried to remember how to grip a real club. Instead of an overlap or interlock grip, I went with an overlock, which I invented. It turned out to be just the grip if one’s purpose is to overshoot the green on each of the first five holes on the North course. I plodded through the first nine, missing putt after putt (apparently real grass impedes my stroke), shooting a dozen over par. However, on the newest addition to the Midway complex, the West course, I made like Ben Crenshaw on the greens and shaved three strokes off my score. But after a night at the family-owned RVing destination park Lakewood Camping Resort, it was time to test the rest of the clubs in my bag. Or, more accurately, in the rented bag. I drove south to Blackmoor Golf Club. Blackmoor is a real course, nothing like the municipal courses I used to play. Designed by golf legend Gary Player and laid out along the majestic Waccamaw River on an antebellum rice plantation, Blackmoor delivers a traditional parkland layout that wends through mature pine forests on the front nine, then evokes images of Scotland on the back.

After hitting a solid, straight drive off the first tee, down a tight, dew-wet, pine-lined fairway — without an excruciating wince from either wrist — I felt extreme relief. The first-tee jitters, magnified exponentially after a four-year hiatus, skipped me. I watched my three playing partners, smack high, long drives right down the middle. It felt great to be outside, attempting to prove my athletic mettle. I was once again among the country’s 26 million golfers. This was the first of many rounds I hope to play in Myrtle Beach. My comeback was complete. I hacked up that course like I was Lizzie Borden. I played more like a tabby than a Tiger. I sank a beautiful, twisting 22-foot putt on the first hole — for an eight! Then things turned ugly. When I wasn’t duck-hooking into the water, I was camping in the sand like a nomad. Had they not been rented clubs, I would have busted a couple over my knee.

The next day I played Prestwick Country Club. The course is significantly more impressive than Blackmoor — more difficult and, I thought, more beautiful. My game was just as ugly. The fact that the course is owned by the same group that owns the RV institution Ocean Lakes Family Campground — and, therefore, serves up tremendous deals for campers, especially during the summer — meant very little to me, not with my putts giving me Bronx cheers as they rolled past the cups. That night I headed to Pirateland Family Camping Resort. The place offers everything an RVer could want, and then some. The new clubhouse alone is worth a visit. But I was there with only one thing in mind. Early the next morning, I would take on the mini-golf course’s dips, drops, bizarre angles, bridges and bank shots. And I would do so under the patched eyes of pirates. Fore, matey!

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