Friday, February 18, 2011

A good walk unspoiled

Mark Twain famously referred to golf as, "A good walk spoiled."  I couldn't agree more.  I tend to think of a golf course as, "A good forest spoiled."  I haven't played golf in nearly 20 years, a fact for which golf courses everywhere are thankful, but which golf ball manufacturers lament.

To me, nothing is more boring than someone else's old golf stories.  So I won't tell you someone else's old golf stores.  I will tell you a couple of my old golf stories.

My younger brother is a much better player than I was, which isn't surprising seeing as how he's much more talented than me in almost every respect.  We often played at a little par 3 muni course in the Mpls suburb of New Hope where we grew up.  The 7th or 8th is a short hole, just a pitching wedge over a pond and a sand trap to a slightly elevated green.  My brother hit a beautifully lofted shot that landed on the green and just rolled off the back edge.  I completely sculled my shot - instead of a high, arcing shot I sent a screaming line drive heading right for the middle of the pond.  The ball skipped on the surface of the water, still traveling at the speed of sound and heading for the sand trap, where instead of getting buried it hit the far lip of the trap and popped high up into the air.  Still going way too fast it was going to go sailing over the green - until it hit the flag stick and came to a stop 3 feet from the hole.  We both followed the shot with stunned disbelief, then we looked at each other.  I nonchalantly said, "I'll be putting after you take your chip shot."  At which point he - quite correctly - tried to wrap his pitching wedge around my neck.

Another time we coaxed my dad into playing with us while on vacation up north.  As usual I had sliced my tee shot into the woods.  Instead of wisely chipping the ball back onto the fairway I decided to try to thread a 3 iron through a tiny gap between two trees.  I know what you're thinking: if I was the kind of golfer who could make that shot, I wouldn't be in the woods in the first place. Oh ye of little faith!  I absolutely crushed that 3 iron, best one I ever hit.  It rocketed off my club face and headed right for that tiny gap... until it hooked slightly (I still contend it was pushed by a sudden gust of wind which I had not taken into account when doing my precise calculations).  It drilled the tree on the left - an oak of course - with a perfect 'Glock!' sound and went screaming out over the fairway, like a heat seaking missile, headed straight for my dad.  Headed straight for my dad's head, to be exact.  I have never seen the old man move so fast as when dove to the ground to avoid ritual decapitation. 

Having had a great deal of experience in this area of study (I could never hit a fairway but of course I could hit a 3" caliper tree at 200 yards without even trying), I can state unequivocally that golf balls richochet off of oak trees much farther than they do with any other tree species.

The best thing about not being a golfer is that walks can just be walks.  Yesterday I took a long walk over my lunch hour.  It was a foggy, melty day here in Northfield.  A week of thawing has diminished our snow drifts to a mere 5 feet in height, but have been good for the soul; yes, we'll get more snow and brutal weather, but a thaw like this breaks winter's death grip on the mind, and reminds us that no matter what else winter throws at us this year, it will end.  Eventually.  Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training, and tree planting season is coming soon.

I'm lucky to live in a place where - despite the absence (or, sadly, maybe because of the absence) of a city forester - many oaks were planted as boulevard trees to replace the elms lost in the late 1970s.  The presence of oaks in such variety gives my mind just enough to chew on and ponder while I wander... How come some of the swamp whites have persistent leaves, and others don't?  And what does Oaks of North America have to say on the subject? (Answer: Nothing - doesn't mention persistence under swamp white oak.)... Do I still think that favorite tree down the block is a Q. rubra x palustris hybrid?  (Yes, I do.)... What would the massive northern red oak on St. Olaf Ave have looked like in its prime, before losing a big chunk of its crown to lightening?  What is its diameter - 46 inches at least?  (Note to self for the 50th time - bring a dbh tape on your next walk.)

Pondering oaks is a whole lot more relaxing and enjoyable than pelting them with golf balls, and a much better way to spend a walk.  Which reminds me of the time I hit an errant 7 iron into the swimming pool & patio area of a nursering home...

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