Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 29, 2018

One More Round For Three Friends

On a sunny July Friday the seasonal promise of heat and humidity was apparent even as the three golf bags were being loaded into the back of the car at half past seven in the morning. The drive from New Hampshire’s seacoast to the course south of Boston passed in an uneventful two hours. Like the more well-known twin 18s at nearby Pinehills, Waverly Oaks is an upscale daily fee layout in Plymouth, Massachusetts, not far from the site commemorating the first Puritan settlements in North America. Not that upscale is a requirement for this golfing threesome. Over the years most of this group’s play has been at a handful of public links in New Hampshire.

The three have been friends for well over four decades, since their first encounters on the third floor of a Dartmouth College dormitory. Even as life took them in different directions, they remained in touch and against all odds, eventually wound up back in New Hampshire, one near the capital city in the central part of the state, one in Nashua along the Massachusetts border, and one on the seacoast. The first of golfing excursions too numerous to count soon followed.

While the three took their games to various courses, for many years the favored eighteen was a place called Candia Woods. It was and remains a well maintained if somewhat bland layout, but offered the clear advantage of a central location, nearly equidistant from all three golfers. More recently, moves by two of the three have brought all the group’s members to the seacoast, and most rounds were played at venerable Sagamore in North Hampton, or the newer and tougher Breakfast Hill in Greenland.

When options abound within a short drive, the decision to travel ninety miles through the heart of downtown Boston during the morning rush might seem strange. But several years ago, one member of the group ventured south looking for a round in very early spring, before the local eighteens had opened. He found and enjoyed Waverly Oaks and presented the other two with gift cards the following Christmas. Now those certificates must be used with some urgency, not just because their expiration date approaches but also because one member of the threesome is just days away from a profound life change. During their usual winter stay in Florida he and his wife decided to make St. Augustine Beach their permanent home, purchasing a beautiful newly built bungalow on a quiet side street, just four blocks from the sand and sea. Now the Hampton house is sold, the packing is nearly complete, and the first page of a new chapter is waiting to be written.

The bags are loaded onto two golf carts with surprisingly plush seating and built-in GPS systems, sure signs that this is not the kind of track the threesome typically plays. After some time on the range and a few minutes on the putting green, the round gets underway with all three players finding the fairway on the opening downhill par-4. There are no pars on the 1st, but three respectable bogeys get things off to a good start. After all, these are three weekend golfers in their sixties. While one of them once held a single-digit handicap, those days are now in the distant past; his only real connection to that bygone time is that he still pays the annual fee to maintain an official index, and religiously posts every score.

Besides, the simple truth is that every round the three have played together over the years has been only partly about the shots made or missed and the numbers recorded on the scorecard. Each time together on the links has been as much or more about reaffirming the decades-old friendships, proving through every slice and three-putt that bonds formed in youth remain resolute in late middle age. So it is that as in every round, while there is praise for shots well struck and commiseration for holes gone awry, the conversation also wanders freely, from current happenings in each of their lives to events that were shared decades ago.

One member who has promoted play at a local short course the last two seasons proves the value of that practice. He plays the four par-3 holes in just one over par. His tee shot on the 14th nearly goes in on the fly. When the trio reaches the green, he repairs a pitch mark scarcely a foot from the cup. A second player recovers from a shaky three-hole stretch in the middle of the round with, appropriately enough, a great recovery shot. He drives poorly on the par-4 12th, his tee ball flying short and left into heavy rough. But from a difficult downhill lie he lofts a magnificent iron shot high into the sky. The ball lands safely on the distant green, setting up a two-putt par. Having hit a fine drive and solid second on the same hole, the third golfer has no choice but to sink his birdie putt to avoid being upstaged.

Seventeen holes and three hot dogs later, the threesome stands on the final tee. Up a gentle slope in the distance is the 18th green, with the big clubhouse sitting off to its left. What the friends do not know is that while their outing will end magnificently, first it must descend into farce.

Halfway up the hole, one golfer readies his approach shot from a gnarly lie in the right hand rough. Perhaps the tough grass twists the clubface. Perhaps it’s just a bad swing. Whatever the cause, his shot launches like a rocket, but far left of the desired line. The cry is not “fore,” but “clubhouse!” A moment later the ball can be heard bouncing around the wooden structure before being spit back out onto the nearby grass. Fortunately, no glass is shattered, and the afternoon has become sufficiently humid that the chairs on the clubhouse porch are all unoccupied.

Once the cackling stops and the three regain a semblance of composure, the one who struck the shot offers to let the other two proceed up the hill first, and then to deny knowing him. But over the years the threesome has certainly seen more dire circumstances, and so they continue together. Once there the errant ball is found, but it is immediately dumped into a greenside bunker with the golfer’s next shot.

Then, just when the round appears reduced to low comedy, golf is played. From the apron in front of the green a chip with an 8-iron runs up some sixty feet or more, stopping just left of the hole for a tap-in par. From a position on the putting surface, but only slightly closer, another player calmly lags close to the hole for a solid two-putt. And a swing from the sand pops the third ball onto the green, where it bounces once and begins to roll toward the cup.

“Go in,” commands one of the three while the ball is still a dozen feet away. With six feet to go the order is repeated, “go in.” The edict is issued a third and final time, “GO IN!” and the ball responds as it must by disappearing into the hole.

The golf bags are stowed, and the trip north on Route 3 begins. The maelstrom of Boston rush hour traffic awaits, and on its other side, a clear run up I-95 to New Hampshire. When it’s over, the three friends separate, saying not “goodbye,” but “see you later.” The sentiment is honest, though after so many rounds together, when this threesome will tee it up again cannot be foretold.

Half a century ago, just a couple of years before the three friends first met, a Canadian songstress wrote one of her best-known numbers. While it was first popularized by Judy Collins, “Both Sides, Now” is Joni Mitchell’s property, as shown here in an especially heartfelt performance. The song reminds us that life’s events can be seen through very different lenses, so a change that is cause for celebration is also reason to lament. The blessing and the curse is described in the aching words of the song’s last verse, “but something’s lost, but something’s gained, in living every day.”  Safe travels, my friends.

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