In the middle of April, four friends set out to pepper the fairways and greens at what might be considered to be Yamaguchi’s finest medley of championship golf holes – 27 to be exact, they played 18.
The clubhouse personnel invites the group into the locker room, treated as if they were in the second to final grouping on a Sunday afternoon, three shots off the pace. A half-witted joke is made about how Tiger is probably looming around somewhere putting on his Sunday Red.
“Here’s your locker, sir. Care for a towel?”
“Where are we?”
To the first tee box on the “Out” course, they ride – excited, perhaps a tad confused – making that nervous pre-match chatter, the two newcomers noticing the subtle nuances of golf in the Japanese countryside along the way.
“Really? If I hit my first shot out of bounds, I am laying 4 off the tee?”
“Yeah, but you can play a drop by those yellow markers up by the 150 mark there. And you can tee it up again if you want.”
“Interesting, me thinks. All right. Game on!”
Two of the first four tee shots land in the much-dreaded OB. Those two tee shots are by the newcomers.
“Well, this is for par,” jokes one of the slightly disgruntled, yet remaining positive newcomer as he chunks his second (read: fourth) shot fat and over the bunker-guarded green.
“Local rules. Fair is fair.”
“Man, is it ever awesome to be playing golf again!
“Wait, we’re still in Japan, eh?”
“You read that book, right?!”
“You know it. What was it again?”
“See it. Feel it. Trust it.”
“Paint the picture.”
And so they do.
The foursome escapes the front nine with nothing but a morning filled of laughs, new idioms in shared tongues, and a scorecard littered with crooked numbers too high to publish. But, nine more brilliant holes await, preceded by an hour-long luncheon in the clubhouse.
After four hats are cordially placed on the racks in the dining hall’s foyer, the foursome sits down to discuss the morning’s shots, mostly rekindling moments of fine approaches and should-have-been-would-have-been-could-have-been pars. The conversation quickly fades from golf into that of typical lunchtime topicality.
The newcomers order the hamburger set, while the veterans take a moment to bask in the stereo-type-come-true-isms of such placed order. Laughter is shared around the round table.
“We do not tee off for another hour, so please relax.”
“Would you like beer?”
The food arrives in due time and more pleasant conversation ensues – nothing off topic, mostly about the newcomer’s experience playing golf back home and how they typically grab a hotdog and a beer at the turn and keep playing.
Hats in tow, the foursome returns to the “In” course, bellies full, and sights set on another nine holes of magic.
At the Par 4 14th, the round finds the steadiest of rhythms and the four players trade off one-liners, pars, and honors, as if they had been playing together for decades.
“That ball flew a long time!”
“Lucky. Paint the picture, I guess.”
“Man, I knew you would sink that putt. And you got up-and-down from the bunker, no less. A helluva par, my friend! Scrappy. Fun to watch.”
“See it. Feel it. Trust it!”
“Shoulda hit the P.”
On the green of the Par 5 18th, the foursome stops for a second to take in the beauty of the sakura petals that have quietly accumulated around the putting surface. One member loses his ball marker amidst the contrast.
The final putts drop into the hole, hands shake, and the foursome drives off to the clubhouse with a renewed feeling for the game.
Golf is golf, and will always be golf.
One smooth stroke at a time.
Sometimes they fall.
Sometimes they don’t.
Besides, it is only the good shots we remember – newcomers, veterans or not.
A golfing photo gallery is here.