Nantucket Essays

Golf in the Kingdom

-by Robert P. Barsanti-

June comes with velocity. The momentum tips in March, with a few polite e-mail and a gentle phone call; “Could you find someone to paint the house?” Hidden under the calendar, the deadlines ride a dark current until the warmth of May dries out the island and, far out on the sand bars, that gentle and polite e-mail has built into a wave. Then, week after week, day after day, lawn after lawn, the deadline looms twenty yards off shore with threat, menace, and the first of July.

June has late nights and early mornings. The island is too much with us, late and soon. The punch list has built to two pages long and threatens to reach a third. In addition, the Beth’s coming back for her thirtieth birthday party, Ellen is pregnant, and Jack needs to stay in the basement so he can work some and get back on his feet. You can tick off the items and prepare, but the grass will still grow, the guests will still arrive, and the waves continue to build.

So on the last weekend before the waves crash, we went on a retreat. We come from a time when you couldn’t lock the phone in a drawer and run off. The e-mail needs to be answered, the phone calls made, and the grass mowed; then, in the brief moment before the lawn goes wild again, the four of us slipped away for Father’s Day.

The four of us travel off island for golf. Not often. Family, duty, and inertia hold our feet to the sand. We stand in the center of spinning circles of expectations and pride. You tell the Connecticut people that the house will be painted by July first, and you don’t want to be the guy who looks in the mirror and says he can’t get it done. The jeep needs to be repaired, the boat needs to go in the water, and new mulch should be put down; but you need to be in the center, making the circles spin.

After the boat passes beyond the jetties, the circles still spin without you. Without those circles telling you who you are, you are left in the quiet noise of the mainland to find what remains.

And I remain a bad golfer. Time has taken away many things, but not my slice. It remains as faithful as ever. It bends my drive with the patience of character until the ball hits ancient pines with a Newtonian thump. To stand on the tee and wait for a fortuitous bounce, is to stand on the scale and hope the Diet Coke took off a few pounds or to look in the mirror and look for your hair to regrow. Miracles are for other people. Instead, I stand in the ferns and brush, looking for an opening.

We are in full retreat. In the cooling evening, we motor from ball to ball in the thick fairway of Templewood Golf Course. Central Massachusetts had its summer visitors a century ago, and then they left. We stood on the ninth tee, drinking the last of the beer that the golf pro sold us (Right under a sign that said “Absolutely, positively no alcohol on the course.”) and we missed putts in the fading sunlight. In the distance, the sunset washed up the side of Mount Wachusett. Afterwards, a note on the darkened door asked us to leave the keys in the carts. We were the only car remaining in the parking lot.

Good golfers remember their scores: Bad golfers remember their shots. We forget about the losses and memorialize the wins. A chip shot followed all of its instructions like an Honors Student until it sits nicely in a cup. The drive that soars like a good son, then bounces down the hill three hundred yards from the tee and ten yards in front of the three others. We take the victories when they come our way, two dollars at a time.

That evening, we ate steak tips and pot roast at the Crossroads under the over-amplified performance of the eight track classics: “Fire and Rain” fell into the “Folsom County Blues” before stumbling along “Mustang Sally” then finishing with the Passive Aggressive Anthem “Please Come to Boston.” Blues and Country sink deep into Farce in Central Massachusetts. No one, save us, appreciated our singing.

Time slips the dollars out of our wallets. We wake to pills and coffee for breakfast. We move with creaks and groans. The drives and shots of the past remain there, locked in the cement of youth. We choose clubs that match our age, we no longer try to carry the pond in two, nor do we try to sky it over the pine trees. Trees stay younger than we do; they catch balls better than ever.
And for all that has left us, much remains. Golf doesn’t reward the vigorous young as much as it does the regretful old. I remember my losses well. I line up a putt as if I will never do it again, then send it on its careful way to the neighborhood of the cup. We stand on the green as we always have, dancing in the custom of the game and the brutality of our friendship. Concentration breaks like the wind. In the moment, the years fold and refold over each other, obscuring course after course, but leaving us alone in the center.

Standing on the fifteenth tee, with the match in the balance, we were what we have always been; four men washing down the river of time, united by mutual affection, bad golf, and fart jokes. In the late afternoon, the fully mature forest stands beside us, lined by a stone wall. Someone had built that wall. Someone got paid for his hours hauling boulders behind a draft horse. Someone, back at the revolution, put it off until he couldn’t anymore and, in June, completed it and ticked it off his punch list. Here it stands.

Someone won. Someone lost. Beer cans emptied, golf shoes got traded out for sneakers, and time washed forward, even on our retreat. We still had time for steak, bourbon, and strawberry rhubarb cobbler. There was still time for birch logs in a Weber grill and Fireball under the stars.

The noon boat waits for no man. Nor does grass. it continues to grow, ticking like a metronome in the mid-day sun. The waves advance on the beach, as they always have, and we return to them.

Articles by Date from 2012