For a time a few years back, I wrote a column for Executive Golfer Magazine called “Unhappy Tales of a Rules Curmudgeon.” Shortly after I sent in my most recent column, I was informed that, due to the crash in the real estate market (the advertising from which paid for the magazine’s production), they could not carry my column any longer. Rats. Well, they must have found some loot someplace, because they ran the column in their most recent issue. Here it is.
The magazine is distributed free to every private golf club in North America, as well as to the airport lounges of the domestic carriers. Occasionally I get an email out of the blue from someone. Two weeks ago, I heard from a gentleman in Michigan – a retired executive who played football for Michigan State in the 1950’s.
It had been ages since Winston and I shared a round of golf.
After our last experience (shortly after he had been sued for beaning the teenager), Winston put his clubs in the closet. “One does not play the game to be humiliated, much less sued,” he said. “I’ve managed both.”
Honored Guests and Stroke Strategists
Eventually Winston’s insurer settled the case against him for a pittance, and the old golf bug bit him again. He invited me to join him in a one-day member-guest at Jungle Creek, the highly-touted ultra-exclusive private residential resort course designed by dot-com-mogul-turned-golf-course-architect, Takahashi Van Bibbi. In fact, we were in his foursome as the guests of the club’s Secretary and charter board member, Osmandias Putsch. It was apparently the thinking of Taki and Ossi that, with their combined handicaps totaling close to sixty, a couple of single digits like Winston and I would be a formidable compliment to their strategic stroke advantage.
Whatever. I am a sucker for a highly-touted new ultra-exclusive resort course, even if the rough hasn’t quite grown in to its fullest. The buffet lunch was sumptuous, the Sapphire tasted the same as at Shinnecock, and it was an altogether handsome and prosperous looking crew that teed off in the shotgun promptly at one. Of course, being with the club owner and Secretary gave us the exalted “1-A” tee slot, and after Taki and Ossi foozled their drives into the waist-high fescue directly in front of the tee box, Winston and I played ours into the fairway below, and we were off.
Such was the progress of the game, save for the occasional accident in which the shot of one host traveled in its intended direction. Winston’s game was a little rusty, but his verve was back, and as we progressed from hole to hole, the jovial old Limey emerged from its deep hibernation. I began to entertain the thought that the dark cloud of bad karma that had followed Winston all these years had finally taken leave.
And that was a grave mistake. No sooner did I perceive the monkey off the back of my continental friend than things went horribly wrong.
Buzzing With Injustice
By now we were on the adventurous eleventh, a monster par four with thick woods down the right side that Taki proudly informed us was the inspiration for the club’s name. Jungle Creek. Almost as though he wished to prove it, he sliced his tee shot hard to starboard and we heard it rattle and plonk off the wide oaks and lost sight of it when it dropped in shin-high weeds.
Taki responded with his humble titter. Then Winston stepped up and promptly followed suit. He did not titter, though.
“A little fast on the downstroke there, Winnie, just a bump in the road.”
Winston’s silence was eloquent.
After we’d traveled down the tree line, we discovered that one ball lay in the midst of a patch of poison ivy, the other at the mouth of a very active nest of yellow jackets.
“Gads, Van Bibbi, what sort of wilderness have you concocted,” Winston said, bending down to inspect the ball that, at the moment, was being investigated by a swarm of agitated bees. “Aha,” he said, “I’ve marked my ball with a blue triangle, and a good thing too. I am deathly allergic to poison ivy.” The look on Winston’s face confirmed the truth of his claim. He practically broke out at the mere mention of it.
“How do you feel about yellow jackets?”
“Don’t bother me in the least,” he said. “I was stung once as a child, and oddly, it seems to immunized me thenceforth. No worse than a mosquito bite.”
Just then Van Bibbi approached. “Hold on, Hinckley. What ball are you playing?”
“Meteor Super-gut VX, black-on-black number 8, with a blue triangle over the number.”
Taki gasped. “That’s impossible. I’ve got the same ball, marked in the same fashion.”
You’d have thought Taki had questioned Winston’s lineage.
“You can’t be serious.” Winston looked my way. “Well Charles, you’re the expert. What shall we do?”
How do I get in these positions?
“Well, I’m afraid that, unless the two of you can distinguish the two balls apart, they would both have to be declared lost.”
Stung by an Unpleasant Lie
Neither our host nor Winston cared to entertain this truth, so they struggled to reach consensus as to precisely where and how the marking had been applied. And that is when the matter began its death spiral.
For Taki Von Bibi insisted that the ball visiting the bees was his. This by itself would not have mattered, were it not for the fact that Winston was deathly allergic to poison ivy.
“Surely, Charles, under the conditions, we are both entitled to relief without penalty.”
“I’m afraid not, Winston. Taki here is entitled to relief. You are not.”
Thence the dark cloud appeared over Winnie’s head. “What sense does that make?” he asked, implying more that I was wrong than that he wished to understand. “They’re both dangerous conditions. In fact, I’d play from the bee’s nest without the drop! But if I so much as look at that poison ivy, I’ll be on steroids in a hospital bed in hours.” He turned to Taki. “Say Von Bibi, are you allergic to poison ivy?”
“Actually, I’m not. Could roll in it without consequence.”
“See?” he said, thinking that made some difference.
“I’m afraid that, if you’ve properly identified your balls, it won’t do to pretend otherwise, Winston. Under ordinary circumstances, neither lie would provide relief, but the Rule of Equity considers a bee nest to be a dangerous situation and poison ivy to be a mere unpleasant lie. The bee nest is ‘unrelated to conditions normally encountered on the course,’ but poison ivy is a common occurrence that the player must accept.”
Winston took this all in and glared at me for a lingering moment. “Thank you for that droll dissertation, counselor.” He turned to Van Bibi. “You’re away, Van Bibi.”
Taki took his free drop, addressed and waggled (a few too many times, in truth) and shanked his ball out of bounds. Winston left his ball where it was, took his two club lengths, dropped a fresh ball in the light rough and hit a majestic controlled slice around the tree line that landed on the green like a butterfly with sore feet.
“Lovely,” I said to him as we strolled greenward.
“Charles, I am enjoying myself, but I can’t say that the rules of golf are aiding me in that.”
“Ah, but they’re not meant to.”
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