Nine Holes Remembered From Long Ago

A Glimpse Into the Past
September 21, 2016
A Tale of Two Nines
October 7, 2016

Nine Holes Remembered From Long Ago

This past Sunday, September 25, a great golfer and a great American passed away.  Arnold Palmer was 87.  The BLOG post below is a reprint of a golf ezine story I wrote several years ago… I offer it now as a tribute to “Arnie”.


As I get older my recollection of the astounding events of a long ago winter day seem to get more and more vague.  Each year, as the end of the golf season approaches, I wonder if what I remember actually happened.  Given that it has been more than fifty years, I’ve decided that I’d better put it in writing.

The events, you see, took place December 24, 1958 – I was twelve years old.

The story actually begins on a Sunday afternoon, April 6th to be exact, of that same year.  My Father (an avid golfer) and I were watching the final day’s play of The Masters Golf Tournament on our new RCA-Victor television set.  Arnold Palmer, the most exciting golfer I’d ever seen, held the three round tournament lead… but he was struggling through the first twelve holes of the final day.

I anguished with his every shot, and wanted so much for him to pull out his first win in a major championship.  On the thirteenth hole, the famous Augusta National dogleg left par five, he made his move.  Arnie belted a long drive; he then hit a spectacular second shot to 18 feet, made the putt for an Eagle three and went on to win his first of four Masters.  It was great!

I immediately fell in love with the game of golf; I wanted to be just like “Big Arnie”.

I practiced and played throughout the spring, summer and early fall of that year.  And, as the traditionally cold New England winter began an early approach, I continued to find ways to work on my game.  I read instruction books, golf magazines and, as winter weather set in, set up a backyard net which allowed me to hit golf balls off the frozen ground.

If the winter weather were to break, even a little, I had vowed to beg my parents to take me to the golf course for one last round.

Cold and snow in late November and early December of 1958 made it impossible for me to get back out to the course.  As the calendar moved past the middle of the year’s last month however, the temperature began to moderate and large patches of bare ground were becoming exposed.  My holiday vacation was about to begin, and as I walked home from school on the afternoon of December 23rd I hoped that I might have a chance to play that one last round.

That night I set my alarm to awaken me early the next morning.

It was well before seven when I tuned that big old RCA-Victor television set to WBZ channel four to watch Don Kent’s weather report.  As soon as I heard his forecast I knew that this had to be the day.

Overcast with temperatures in the low forties; snow developing by afternoon; becoming heavy with accumulations of ten to twelve inches.

During breakfast I asked my parents if one of them would take me to the golf course… I was overjoyed when they said OK.  At about 11 o’clock my Mother dropped me off with instructions to be waiting for my Father at 1PM sharp.  She didn’t want me out, or him driving, in the impending snowstorm.

I quickly agreed, grabbed my clubs and headed for the first tee.  I only had time for nine holes but, although somewhat eerie, it was exhilarating.

Not one car in the parking lot, the clubhouse and pro shop were closed, and the green keeper had replaced the standard pins with short three foot flags.  Nonetheless, I was out playing golf, and I could not have been happier.

I finished the first hole and, as I walked to the second tee, was shocked to see what appeared to bescreen-shot-2016-09-27-at-9-57-43-am golfers approaching #4 green.  Upon closer inspection I could see that it was actually a single player with a caddie.

But… How could this possibly be? There were no cars in the parking lot and everything was closed.  I decided to pick up my pace and join up with that single.

From a distance I could see that the golfer playing ahead of me swung with an abandoned fury, but each of his shots flew with what looked like laser precision.  He charged down the fairway with a furious gait, and he had a familiar hitch of his pants as he readied to hit each shot.  If I hadn’t known better I’d have sworn it was “Big Arnie”!

When I got to the sixth, and hadn’t closed any of the gap between us.  I decided to give up the chase.

I slowed down my pace and refocused on my swing.  I soon lost sight, and then completely forgot about the single player and his caddie just two holes ahead.  My play was smooth and I was really enjoying my last game of the year.  Before I knew it I was putting out on number 8.

As I headed to the ninth the predicted snow started to fall.  I walked quickly with my eyes to the ground and, when I finally looked up, was startled to see the single with his caddie still standing on the tee box.

The player appeared larger than life!

He was wearing a black cardigan sweater over a white polo shirt, the collar of his shirt turned up. He had on a pair of dark green slacks with a western style pocket like I’d never seen, and his shoes were black flapped with an incredible shine.

I stood at the base of the tee and stared as he waggled his driver – the new Wilson 300 with that Newman wrap grip that only the best players could handle.  He didn’t look up, but I clearly heard his greeting: “son – would you like to join me?”

I don’t recall if I answered. I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life, but I quickly responded screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-9-57-33-amby grabbing my driver and teeing up a ball.  My hands were shaking as I prepared to hit that drive; it took everything I had to make a slow swing, and keep my eye on the ball.  At the moment of contact I felt immediate relief. I knew I’d hit a good shot before even looking up.

I stood proudly and watched my wonderful drive, and then I shook at the knees when I heard a familiar voice say: “nice shot son”.

I don’t know why, but I’d made the presumption that he’d already hit his drive. I was surprised when he teed up a ball.

A hitch of the pants as he prepared to hit – then… back and through with a swash buckling blur; the crack of the ball off that Wilson 300 driver was like a cannon shot.

The ball took off on a flight like nothing I’d seen before – low at the start then rising up into the newly falling snow.  That tee shot just kept going and going down the center of the fairway.  But, as soon as he hit it he and his caddie charged forward.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Before I could move he was fifty yards up the fairway.  I put my bag on my shoulder and chased after my new found playing partner.

When I reached my ball my companion and caddie stood thirty yards ahead, but out of my line.  As he waited for me to play I could see he had out his club which looked like a wedge.

I was about 160 from the green and decided on a five iron to hit my shot. I again hit a good one and, even through the falling snow, I could see my ball on the green about thirty feet from the flag.

This time he said nothing to me.  I could see he was focused on playing his second.

I grabbed my bag and quickly moved forward.  I wanted to get as close as possible to watch him hit his next shot.

Just ten yards to his right as he hitched up his pants then addressed the ball with his wedge.  The shot came out so low it looked like he’d skulled it.  I immediately thought he’d be way over the green; maybe out-of-bounds.  But, although his ball landed well past the pin, to my astounding surprise, it spun back to the flag… he had left himself a four-footer for a birdie three!

I was seeing shots that I didn’t know were possible.

Before his ball came to a stop he’d taken his putter from the caddie and charged to the green.  I followed behind as fast as I could.

As I walked to the side of the green to lay down my bag I could see that the falling snow was now creating a film of faint white over the grass beneath.  I knew that there was limited time to putt.  I wasted no time walking to my ball and getting set.

As I watched my putt roll toward the hole I could see my ball leaving a mark in the snow.  It was easy to see the track of the line as my attempt at birdie just missed to the right.  But, I tapped in for par – my first of the day.

I stepped back to watch my new golf friend go for his bird.  He took his stance, close to the ball and knock kneed, then put down that heel shafted 8802… he stuffed it right in the center.

I was still looking at the line as he retrieved his ball from the cup. Unlike my ball, I was astonished to see that his appeared to leave no track in the snow.

His caddie replaced the short flag, and followed his player who was already walking briskly toward number ten tee.

I stood in amazement, surveying the green and only seeing one set of footprints in the newly fallen snow – they belonged to me.

I finally looked up to see him slow his walk and turn back:  “Son – I’m going to play the back are you going to continue, or are you done for the day?”

I looked to the sky and saw the increasing intensity of the snow; then checked my watch.  It was almost 1PM.

Even in a snow storm I so much wanted to play the back nine with this incredible golfer… he just had to be my idol “Big Arnie”.  But my Father would already be on his way to pick me up.

I hesitated for a moment; then waved and said that I had to leave.

The player did not respond.  He just turned and continued his march, with his caddie close behind, toward the tenth.

I was flustered, bewildered and confused.  What had just happened – was I in a dream?

I walked through heavily falling snow toward the parking lot.  Still not a car to be seen; the clubhouse and pro shop remained lifeless.

How did he get to the course?

How could he possibly play the back nine in a snow storm?

Who was he?

I saw my father’s car enter the driveway of the course. He had his windshield wipers running and his head lights on – the snow storm was beginning to rage.

My father pulled up close to where I was standing.  I put my clubs in the trunk, and jumped into the passenger seat in silence.

How was your game?  He asked.

I sat for a long time without responding. Finally I looked toward my Father and said: “I made par on my last hole”; to which he replied: “that’s great son”.

Although my story is fiction, I did take time to research the facts.  Moreover, a good deal of the
narrative is based on my own personal experiences.  For example, Arnold Palmer did make an eagle three on the thirteenth hole during the final round of the 1958 Masters, and on that Sunday (April 6, 1958) he went on to win his first major golf championship.  And, like many young golfers of the time… Arnold Palmer was my favorite golfer.  I wanted to be just like “Big Arnie”.

RIP Arnie, and thanks for being an inspiration to so many of us who, as you did, love the game of golf.

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