Unplayable Lie

April 13, 2005
Filed under Travel

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The look of panic on my father’s face struck me as unusual. Normally, he’s very optimistic, saying things like, “Ah, nothing to worry about. The needle’s only half an inch below empty.” This time was different. His concern, I learned later, was justified. We were playing golf on a course that would have required a manicure to become as well-maintained as a cow pasture. I was 13 years old and just learning the game. I didn’t mind the rough-hewn nature of the course, since I’d never seen what a real course looked like. And skulls, duffs, slices and whiffs don’t have much to do with the quality of the fairways. So, when it started to rain, then quickly began to pour, I figured the weather just added to the adventure. My dad asked if I was OK, I nodded, and we soldiered on. Heck, I was wearing a hat anyway, so what was a little water gonna hurt? Then the lightning started. We had just finished the fourth hole on the nine-hole course, meaning we were as far away from the clubhouse as we could get. My dad said, “I think we’ve had enough,” then steered his pull-cart toward the clubhouse.

Thunder cracked and lightning bolts snaked and fractured toward the ground. We tried to negotiate the uneven, soggy terrain at speed. I looked at my dad and laughed at how waterlogged he looked. Then a giant, majestic oak absorbed a lightning bolt and, with a sharp crack, suddenly became less giant and majestic. That’s when I saw my dad’s look of panic. “Why don’t we leave the clubs here, son.” It wasn’t a question. I didn’t know why I had to ditch my garage-sale mismatched set, but I did, and we took off for the clubhouse at a sprint. Over Cokes, my dad explained that we had been pulling golf bags full of lightning rods, and he apologized for not abandoning the clubs instantly. We waited out the storm, then retrieved our clubs and finished the round. I hadn’t thought of this golfing adventure in years, but it came rushing back to me recently as I headed for Andersons Creek Golf Club on Prince Edward Island’s north shore.

As I pulled into the parking lot — the raindrops hitting the ground with such force that they bounced — I realized that golf was not a good idea that day. But … I checked in at the pro shop and learned that my playing partner had cancelled. I was the only one in the clubhouse that wasn’t being paid to be there. I thought, Here I am on Prince Edward Island, which has been declared by various sources to be Canada’s best golf destination, and the only chance I have to play one of its top-notch courses is a washout. But … I’d already checked out the nearby international sensation that is Anne of Green Gables. I’d gone deep-sea fishing. I’d compared numerous nearby RV parks, finding each of them to be quite nice. I’d wandered, perused, browsed, even oohed and ahhed a couple times. But what I really wanted to do was golf. I asked if I could go out. A raised eyebrow or two, the kind of look you gave to the kid who said he was gonna jump off the roof, and I was off.

Walking was fine, but a cart was out since it didn’t have pontoons. I stepped into my waterproof pants, pulled on a water-resistant cycling jacket and tugged my baseball cap down a notch. The Callaway clubs I borrowed were far better than mine, and the bag was adorned with a high-tech wonder, a GPS device that was keyed to the course, delivering advice on how to play each hole and the distance from the bag to the green. I looked out and didn’t see any lightning, so I was good to go. I flipped up my collar and sloshed my way to the first tee. My first drive was a whiff. One stroke, the ball not a single inch closer to the hole and water running down my neck — off to a grand start. My glasses were both fogged and dappled with raindrops. I was already cold. I didn’t have golf shoes, so my brand-new sneakers didn’t make it to my third shot before introducing my butt to the puddle my ball had landed in. This is going to be fun, I thought. And it
was.

It wasn’t golf, exactly. More like a free pass. I mean, how could I keep track of my strokes accurately when every other ball lay in casual water and my hands were numb? I’ve never played worse off the tee, hitting one duck hook after another, which seemed appropriate. But my putter was magic. Apparently, all I needed to master the greens a la Ben Crenshaw was to putt through lakes. On the third hole — a 443-yard breath-taker with the green so far below the tee that I swear I played through a waterfall — I waved to Jacques Cousteau. On the par-5 sixth hole, I lipped out a par putt, and Noah said, “Tough luck,” from his ark.

I was the only one on the course, so, when the wind started blowing the rain sideways and I walked backward to lessen the sting, resulting in me missing whatever turn I was supposed to make and, therefore, ending up lost — even with a GPS device on my golf bag — I couldn’t share the soggy irony with anyone. I hit the best six-iron of my life, only to watch the wind and the heavy air knock it down 15 yards short. I then stuck the best five-iron of my life eight feet from the pin. I made that putt and a 20-footer on number 17 for par. I finished up, then did the backstroke to the clubhouse. I loved the course, and I’ve never had so much fun playing golf. Next time I visit, I hope lightning strikes twice.

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