In a small hospital room, I stand bedside with my hand grasping the relaxed knee of the man that brought me and siblings into this world. Strangely I returned in thought back to my youth and those moments that I and this man of 80 years shared together but apart at another small almost unaware golf course. Growing up in North Central Georgia, being a male meant your parental steering was toward those junior athletic sports most accepted within the peer pressure circles of the time. The little white ball with dimples was rarely seen especially if you did not have a town named after you or your dad was not able to take every Wednesday afternoon off from work. Looking into the face of the aged man lying there in the hospital bed, I fondly remember the one day that he felt a pressured urge to learn a game played on open fields of grasses while whaling swords with grips and taking aggression on a little round object that seems to have a mind of it own. It was then that he returned home that faithful afternoon for which I was anxiously awaiting his arrival by standing in the driveway my helmet and shoulder pads in hand in-order to take our routine trip up the road to a different open field of grass that would later become a mud pit. On this particular afternoon, my dad springs out of the car and from the trunk produces not one but two sets of Sears “Professionals” starter golf clubs. Each set had a small eight inch diameter leather bag with a “1” wood, “3” wood, and 3,5,7,9 irons and a two way putter with the red painted bulls-eye on either side of the face. Being of somewhat smaller statue than my dad, I thought it was cool, at first, that my set was the same “size” as his. I would later learn the negatives of learning the game with standard clubs. Getting over the initial excitement and bewilderment of getting golf clubs, we left for the grid-iron and I heard a brief explanation as to why dad spent some of the little hard earned monies he had to purchase the shiny components of steel with hard rubber grips. Never did I think on that afternoon that his purchase would become a lifelong love and obsession for me.
The argued purchased sets of clubs sat calmly but obvious in the garage for several weeks until my responsibilities on the grid-iron had been met. Then out of the blue, Senior decides one brisk but sunny Saturday morning that he and his only son will start the quest to master the game that seemingly was simple, with little rules, requiring no special body protection, plus the little round ball just laid there and you were not being tackled for holding it or was it being hurled at you from other people at vast speeds and curvatures. In our late 1950’s vehicle, this Father/Son took the 30 plus mile quest toward what I believed was the coolest place that maybe I had ever seen before. Named after the small creek that ran into some natural spring, “never really seen”, Clifton Springs Par 3 Golf Club and Water Park just outside of Atlanta was our destination to begin our golfing education. Now just pulling into the pillared gates of Clifton Springs Golf Club/Water Park was intimidating itself as you looked out over the rolling hills of grass seeing the front nine holes on your right and the tree lined back nine on your left. Once parked by the small but rugged Club House, you could look down the hill and see in amazement the painted all white “cement pond” with diving boards, life guard chairs, pavilions, and small sand “beach” area’s – all astounding and spellbinding for any youngster in the late 1960’s. Dad slinked his new set of clubs telling me to do the same and we bravely entered into what may have been my first introduction into what could have been described as a “smoke filled – historical site” complete with self-titled golf pro, dining counter, golf specific clothing and a couple of pair of those fancy 8 pound spiked golfing shoes. Having not been to a golf course club house before, I wondered if they all were this dark and the people inside acting as if we were interrupting their morning coffee and fat back & egg sandwich. My Dad being an aspiring new sales manager, immediately took control and promptly introduced himself (as if it mattered to the rough counter clerk), and then began looking at all the golfing materials being sold behind the darken glass counter. Balls, tee’s, half-finger gloves (left-hand), full finger gloves, spikes for those special golfing shoes, hats with company names on them like Spalding, Amana, Wilson, etc. and then over in the corner, these weird long handle wheeled contraptions were just stacked on top of one another. Dad, always looking for the best deal, inquired about the rate to play nine holes versus all of them and how much for the motorized golf cart. Yes, motorized! It seems that Clifton Springs had two maybe three center console drive-single front wheel-gas motor golf carts. Just like the ones we would see Bing Crosby or Bob Hope driving on the black and white back home. Once Senior was directed to the stain covered price list wedged between the glass counter and the corner of the cash register, he determined that nine holes was a good start and we could walk with our clubs but we would splurge and get two of those pull-carts. Just getting two of the pull-carts from the corner stack seemed an effort in itself; however, Senior directed one of the large handles in my direction and told me to load my bag on it. You had to go back down the several concrete steps leading from the opulent club house down through the parking lot then across the busy entrance road to reach the first tee concrete hitting station. Yes, Clifton Springs came equipped with raised concrete tee boxes having some green carpet like material on them and a rubber tube sticking up for you to tee your ball on. Beside the tee platforms was a dry ball washer with a little hole description just below announcing the distance from where you are now to the target green. Having zero experience or lessons of any sort, both Senior and I began our warm-up by trying to think and emulate what we had briefly seen on the television. Of course, with my ball experience, I firmly grasp the hard rubber grips much like a baseball bat and just pictured swinging as hard as possible.
Now before we get deep into the nine hole spectacle that was Senior’s and I first attempt at golf, I must spotlight a special treat that Dad had purchased inside the pro-shop without my knowing. They had in an old cigar box on top of the counter “better than new” golf balls with blue dots on them just like the pro’s use. Now it is good that Dad got the balls for me seeing that when I did go into each of the several pockets of the new leather bag, I only found three “plastic” balls that evidently came with the set. Now that we have all the gear, we are on the first tee “box”, and the course has provided a tee for me (did not have any in bag either), Senior elects to hit first. With a mighty swashbuckling slash – Senior catches his blue dot just above the equator and somewhere on the bottom of the club versus the face, he sent the first ever struck ball with his new clubs about 30 yards hard right and peeling further right. Although it barely missed some other golfers playing the parallel hole, Senior seemed un-phased even somewhat proud of getting the ball airborne. Now it’s my turn! Taking the much watched approach to the swing that my Dad had just demonstrated, I firmly grip the club and calmly hovered the hitting end above the perched ball and quickly coiled and then stepped aggressively into the hitting zone. Well it worked with baseball but not for golf. After several failed attempts, I shortened up on the bat and limited my back swing to finally dribble my blue dot off the front end of the concrete tee box and into the three inch plus weeds Clifton called fairway. A passion of the heart and mind is born!
Over the next few years, Senior and I would visit Clifton Springs about once a month during the summer and spring. I remember two holes at Clifton as being nemesis’s for me; number 4 and number 9. These two holes required long 1 wood drives and accurate approaches to raised platform greens. Both holes measured 185 yards and were uphill. Funny now is the length and perceived severity of those holes; oh but how they were monsters to this 10 year old beginner. I do remember Senior getting skilled enough to reach both with his three iron although he could never hold his tee shot on the postage stamp clay based greens.
I have stepped away from Dad’s hospital room and went into family waiting so to collect my thoughts and reminisce on those Father/Son times that we shared. Dad has never really taken to the game of golf except to critique my game through the years. Clifton Springs Golf Club & Water Park was our time and although he spent several of those hours shouting that I needed to do this or that while playing…for him that was his way of saying “I love you Son.
Thanks Dad for those days at the Springs.