Thursday, July 18, 2019

"Greenkeeper", chapter 4 (hole 4)

The first job I ever did as an entry level greenskeeper was weedeat drainage swales and pond banks. It’s a shit job to say the least, but necessary in order to keep the water hazards aesthetically pleasing and functional.
The following weeks a weedeater became an extension of my body basically becoming a third arm.  Along with weedeating drainage swales and pond banks, I trimmed around bunker edges, ball washers, tee signs, fences, and trees, pretty much hacking grass anywhere a riding mower couldn’t reach.  And for those of you wondering, there are numerous areas that require the light touch of a weedeater because not all grass can be cut using a riding mower on a golf course. 
Operating a weedeater is tough and grueling work, and it wasn’t long before I began envying the equipment operators.  Their tendency to park a mower under a tree I was weedeating was annoyingly uncanny. I’d be ripping that weedeater tough, and they would pull up into the shade of a tree I was working around, shut off the mower, smile at me, take a long pull from their igloo thermos, then cruise off with what seemed to me, a patronizing wave of the hand.  It fucking killed me.  
The heat was unbearable at times. Sweat would roll into your eyes unmercifully,  and everytime you attempted to wipe away the sweat, it just made things worse. All the shit that was caked to your body would create this sort of Jackson Pollock masterpiece on your face, painted with nature’s own colors of dirt and grass.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t solely grass and dirt that covered your skin, and soon to be wrecked t-shirt, shorts and kicks.  
Wildlife tends to thrive on the diverse ecosystem of a golf course, and we all know that wildlife couldn’t care less where they drop a load.  Animals seem particularly fond of relieving themselves by the watering hole so while weedeating around a pond, it’s not unfathomable to whack through the feces of squirrels, deer, foxes, rabbits, and the worse defecating culprit in the history of golf course turf maintenance-geese.  

And even worse than getting lambasted by animal turds while running a weedwacker around a pond is clipping a dimwitted frog.  It’s a total mindfuck, because you’re racked with guilt for killing a living thing, but pissed due to their remains being splattered all over you.  It also creates a truly interesting moral dilemma in your head, questioning whether a frog should have died in order for a golfer to be penalized a stroke so his or her ball could roll more easily into a well manicured water hazard.  Although I felt bad for killing countless toads in the name of greenkeeping, I justified the act realizing some other animal would eat its remains, shit it out, and I would end up weedwacking through it again.
As my weeks progressed as an entry level greenkeeper, I kept getting assigned the craptacular jobs, like weedeating, hand picking crabgrass out of putting surfaces, skimming algae off the top of ponds, filling divots, and pulling weeds from the clubhouse flower beds.  Basically, I was accomplishing all the tasks that didn’t require the expertise of sitting on one’s ass while operating a riding piece of equipment, and in all honesty, it was extremely frustrating.  
I seriously began to question whether I had the mettle to withstand this type of work.  It was tough waking up at the ass crack every morning, particularly since I was so used to working restaurant hours.  And coming home every afternoon smelling like stale grass and goose shit certainly did nothing to help matters. My patience was running thin, and I seriously considered hitting up the brew pub to see if that apprentice brewer gig was still an option.
Despite my reservations, I realized the importance of doing these loathsome tasks well in order to gain Jim’s respect, and although it seemed like forever, it really wasn’t that long before I was trained to operate a riding mower.  And this is when all the uncertainties about whether I had the fortitude to become a greenkeeper vanished. Placing my ass on one of the many different machines used to precisely cut grass in a golf course setting was definitive turning point in my career, and to this day, I still thoroughly enjoy it.  
There is something very zen like about operating a mower on a golf course. More often than not, you’re heading out just as the sun is beginning to peak on the horizon casting its beautiful shades of oranges, golds, and purples all over the landscape.  Birds are in full on morning mode, endlessly chirping their songs, while gentle breezes rustle the leaves orchestrating this magnificent soundtrack of nature.  
Witnessing deer sprint away from you in fear, or a red tail hawk swooping in on a careless field mouse are priceless scenes that are truly unforgettable.  The crisp smell of morning, along with the vast expanse of green sucker punch your senses, inspiring one to think that there clearly is a God. In fact, I challenge any atheist to work as greenkeeper for at least a week, and if at the end of your seven day stint you’re still questioning the existence of a higher power, then I don’t know what to tell you.   
Along with your senses being overloaded by the brilliance of nature,  mowing is a task where you accomplish a lot of thoughts. It’s like being on your own personal think tank where ideas, good and bad, flow pretty tough.  Thoughts of girls, overdue bills, fishing, how the fucking Philadelphia Eagles will blow it, dumb shit you did in your past, dumb shit you’re going to do in the future, God, Satan, angels, demons, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, David Koresh.  Wondering if a black man, woman, gay person, tranny or God forbid, Donald Trump will ever become president of the United States? How on earth did I hold in this poop for so long? Man I’ve got to piss.  
The places your mind goes while cutting grass are endless, and almost enlightening in a way.  But perhaps my favorite thing to do while operating a mower is make up songs about people. It’s one of my unique talents, a learned skill from back in the day where my older brother and I would use lyrics from a popular song, and change them into deprecating words to rip on one another.  Most of my greatest hits have been created while operating a mower. Here a few examples.

This rap is about a housemate I lived with who was a chef. (Sir Mix A Lot style):

His name, Mark McKinney
Used to be fat and now he’s skinny
Had a job at the Mirage
Slinging that fucking garbage
Got a job at the Iron Hill
Oh, Oh so he could pay them bills.
Then he got a little bit of knowledge
Got himself a job at Swarthmore college
But it didn’t give him no thrill
Went back to the Iron Hill
Cookin’ up steaks real mean
Eatin’ potato chips fried in Olean
Cause that dude’s gotta stay skinny
And that’s the story of Mark McKinney

This jam is about a golf pro I used to work with (Done to the song baby face):
He’s the whiniest pro in history
He can’t even fucking look at me
Baby E
I tell him cart path only and he goes and cries like a bitch
That baby EEEEEE
He’s the whiniest pro in all of history
I stimp the greens they’re nine
He doesn’t think that that’s fine
That goddamn baby EEEEEEEE!

And this tasty nugget made up about a member (done to Lynyrd Skynyrd That Smell)
Ooh Ooh Fat Rob
Duh down nowwww
Here comes Fat Rob
Duh down nowwww
Ooh Ooh Fat Rob
Duh down nowwww
Three hot dogs at the turn yeahhh!

I agree that making up song parodies isn’t all that enlightening, but I can honestly say, the act of operating a mower has produced some of my greatest thoughts.  How do you think I came up with the idea to write this stupid book? It didn’t come to me after blowing fifty thousand bong hits, that’s for sure. To put it simply, my love for greenkeeping flourished while I was ripping around the golf course on a mower thinking the day away.   
The hours did remain long, and I still came home smelling like hot garbage, but another awesome part about working on the golf course was the cast of characters I met while working on that piece.
There was this dude, Mike who was tall , athletically built, sporting All American good looks, and was a true master with the ladies.  He partied tough back in those days, and his stories of hard drinking, random bouts of fisticuffs, and the countless ladies he picked up always kept the crew in stitches.   Mike worked as hard as he partied, and if you were paired up with him to do a job, you had better come correct. It didn’t matter if he had been out the night before on an epic bender because the effects of booze and the extracurriculars had no bearing on the quality of his work.  He was a full on freak of nature.  
Broads might have considered Mike a pretty boy, but the true pretty boy of our crew was this guy, Brian. He prided himself on his neat appearance, and was the only person I knew who looked nearly perfect at five thirty in the morning. Brian’s pristine white t-shirt was always tucked in neatly to his wrinkle free khakis, and his locker was as clean and organized as a church vestibule. His dainty mannerisms and dislike for doing any job that might involve getting dirty earned him the nickname, “Peter Pan” by the mechanic which we all agreed, including Brian, was spot on.
As for the mechanic, his name was, Dave. Straight out of eighties hessian mode, imagine a dude wearing a Molly Hatchet tee with the sleeves cut off, ripped Wranglers,  and steel toed Diehards. That was our mechanic in a nutshell, and although his Hatchet concert tee has been retired for the more age appropriate Hanes Beefy T, the sleeves still remain cut off. Dave had been a staple of The College Town Golf Club since the mid eighties, and always by Dave’s side when he wasn’t out working on the course was Curt.
Curt had his own grass cutting business and worked with us on a part time basis. He was totally Hessian like Dave, but in a different sort of Hessian way. Where Dave sported a bushy goatee, Curt was clean shaven with the sharpest mustache I might’ve ever seen on a dude. Fucking Clark Gable style. I’m not a huge fan of the stache, but I can honestly say that Curt was one of the few people I’ve met who looked strikingly handsome rocking a mustache. 

Acquiring this job and meeting these fellas was a decisive turning point for me.  The majority of my life was spent hanging out with the rebellious sort, so associating with people who were responsible, while taking great pride in their work, helped me immensely.  I admired Mike’s ability to work through the worst of hangovers. I got a kick out of Brian’s style of accomplishing dirty ass jobs while managing to look good. Dave was understanding and enjoyable to talk with, and Curt never hesitated with a useful tip or helping hand.  
I really liked these fellas, but just like any other job where you have to coexist with varying personalities, you tend to gravitate towards people similar to yourself.  And during my tenure at The College Town Golf Club, I developed a relationship with one of the all time characters on the golf scene. 
He was this tall, lanky dude, in his early forties that struck a stark resemblance to arguably the nastiest left handed pitcher of all time, Randy Johnson. He started at The College Town Golf Club just prior to my arrival, and had worked at a variety of courses throughout the region. He addressed everyone as, “kid” no matter if you were twenty or eighty, and had a shitload of knowledge about greenkeeping and the game of golf. His name was, Bob.
More so than anyone on the crew, Bob schooled me on the nuances of greenkeeping. Take cutting fairways for example.  Mowing a fairway, in my opinion, is perhaps the coolest task you can do on a golf course. It requires skill, particularly if the chosen method is striping
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive when people find out I’m a greenkeeper is how do you create those pretty lines or stripes on the grass.  It all starts with the type of mowers we use. 
In the precision based environment of golf course turf maintenance, we’re mowing a majority of our grass with reel type mowers.  They’re designed to cut turf at extremely low heights, sometimes as low as an eighth of an inch. A reel mower consists of eight to eleven blades attached to a cylinder about twenty inches wide, which rotates at a high speed motorized by  hydraulics. The cylinder of blades continuously move in a clockwise motion and, for lack of better terms, tickle what is called a bedknife. This friction between the blades and the bedknife precisely cuts the grass at the intended height of cut. 
Attached to the back of the reel unit is a solid roller, about the size of a rolling pin, and this is the contraption used to create those magical stripes.  The roller basically lays the grass down after it is cut , and that laid down turf gets reflected by the light of the sun. Turf that is cut towards the sun is a darker, more intense green color, while turf mowed away from the sun is lighter, almost even whitish in appearance.
Stripes give  fairways, greens and tees definition in an effort to showcase the defined targets of the game.  At The College Town Golf Club we mowed our fairways in a diagonal direction alternating between left to right or right to left angles depending on the given day.  This particular approach produced an almost madras or argyle appearance, so it required mowing the straightest lines possible to pull off this intended look.
When I began mowing fairways my striping was downright horrible.  I just couldn’t mow a goddamn straight line. I’d start off well enough, but as I neared the rough, the point where you need to lift the reel units,  my tendency was to drift off to either the far right or left (depending on the direction of the angles) creating this unsightly bend in my stripe. 
“For chrissakes, kid your fairways look like a bunch of bananas.  Who’s your sponsor? Chaquita”!
Bob would quip while slapping his knee.
“We can’t have fairway stripes like that, kid”.
It was frustrating, and sensing my frustration, Bob took me aside and gave me some pointers on how to avoid the dreaded banana stripe.
After getting schooled, I was striping fairways with the best of them, and Bob took notice.  He’d roll up on me as I finished a deadly accurate pass and comment,
“Frozen rope, kid, frozen rope. I like it, kid. Much better.”,
referring to the straight ass stripe I just mowed.
Bob was extremely skilled as a greenkeeper, but perhaps his number one skill was doing course set up, which consists of  moving tee markers and changing the hole locations on greens.
It was almost zen like watching, this grizzled veteran choose a hole location. He approached this task with a cacophony of measured steps which involved gliding across a putting surface searching for the perfect spot.  Once a location was chosen, Bob would ease that cup cutter (the tool used to create the golf hole) into the upper organic matter of the putting surface, then tenderly work the aluminum four inch in diameter cylinder down into the subsurface of the green with a series of twists. 
He knew the exact moment to pull the plug out due to his uncanny feel, and his cleanliness was unmatched.  Not a speck of soil remained. Leaners? No fucking way, and his hole locations were always fair, because, Bob wouldn’t allow his mood to spoil  the integrity of the game. In the two seasons we worked together, not once did I hear a complaint from the peanut gallery of hacks about a single hole he cut.  It was a truly amazing feat, bordering on the mystery of transfiguration.  
Awestruck by his mastery with the cup cutter, I remember asking, Bob why he was so obsessed with this particular job.

“It’s the final destination, kid!” he exclaimed. “Every golfer every day is going to this spot so it better be perfect or damn near”.

This lesson, was perhaps the best one I have ever learned as a greenkeeper, and to this day, I still consider course set up to be the most important task done in golf course turf maintenance.  
Bob and I became instant friends while working together at The College Town Golf Club, and along with his knowledge of greenkeeping, which fascinated the hell out of me, Bob’s wit and sense of humor kept me endlessly entertained.  Whether it was coming up with nicknames for the members (Fat Rob The College Town Walrus, Deadeye Dick, Lowside Lou, Doctor Golf, and our favorite, the Professor) or tales of hustling his golf buddies, the six figure men, for some extra spending dough, the dude always had me laughing.
Along with his vast knowledge of greenkeeping, coupled with a wicked sense of humor, Bob was a badass stick.  You would never guess by looking at him that this tall lanky dude sporting polyester khakis, dated polos, white Etonic sneaker style golf shoes, and unkempt graying hair bristling out of the top of a sweat stained Titleist visor, could thoroughly beat you down at the game of golf.
We began playing together quite often, pretty much everyday after finishing work, and on weekends when he wasn’t fleecing the six figure men.  And it was always an experience hitting the links with, Bob. I was amazed by how well he played, but what truly astounded me, and quite honestly, equally annoyed the hell out of me was the perception random golfers had of, Bob. 
I specifically remember a late summer round at the local muni (the course I grew up playing) where we got paired up with these two kooks who definitely did not fit the muni golfer stereotype.  They were your ordinary country club types, dressed to the nines in the latest golf garb, with flashy state of the art equipment to match. When the starter introduced us on the first tee, I could tell by the once over they gave, Bob, and their disinterested weak ass handshakes, they were not at all thrilled to be paired up with a pair of bums like us.
At this point in our friendship, I was pretty used to witnessing Bob tear it up, so his play that day didn’t really surprise me.  However, I’m sure the two posers in the other cart were fucking flabbergasted as Bob birdied the first hole, missed a ten footer for eagle on the par five second, but still secured a birdie.  Tapped in for another birdie on the third hole, parred the following three holes, birded the par five seventh, then parred out to finish the front nine four under par.
On the back nine, Bob cooled off a bit, parring the next five holes, then heated back up with a birdie on the par five fifteenth.  He secured routine pars on holes sixteen and seventeen, and as I checked the scorecard heading to the eighteenth tee I realized, Bob didn’t have a goddamn, “five” anywhere on the scorecard.   If he birdied eighteen, a par five, Bob would accomplish the feat of playing an entire round without posting a, “five”. I was about to open my big mouth, but thankfully I caught myself. God forbid, I jinx his chances.
Bob routinely found the eighteenth green in regulation, and had about a twenty footer for birdie.  Anxiously, I watched as he lined up his putt, and after a good hard look, Bob addressed his ball with his patina gold, Acushnet Bullseye blade putter giving it a firm strike.  As the ball rolled across the green everything seemed to stop. Birds ceased their chirping, the gentle hot summer breeze calmed, and the unbearable heat was no longer a bother.  From my vantage point I honestly thought it was buckets, but at the last second, Bob’s Titleist drifted ever so slightly to the low side, missing the, “final destination” by mere inches.  We both gasped with disappointment, then Bob gingerly strolled to his ball, and tapped in for perhaps the most loathsome par I have ever witnessed in my life.
Bob shot a sixty-seven that day and I was nine strokes worse with a seventy six. I was pretty damn proud of my round, but honestly was more stoked for, Bob.  Witnessing a player nearly finish an entire round without carding a, “five” was pretty awesome. I was genuinely stoked for him. 
As for team posh,  it seemed like they couldn’t have cared less about the sweet show of golf, Bob just displayed.  Throughout the round they barely spoke to us, and as we collectively exited the course after another round of horseshit wimpy handshakes, one would assume they would have given, Bob the props he deserved.  Unfortunately, they just rolled back to their car and peeled out of the local muni course parking lot without nary a compliment.  
As I sat on the golf cart while, Bob slipped off his white Etonics and placed them in the trunk of his ride I asked,
“Did you know you didn’t have a five on the scorecard going into eighteen?”
“Yeah, kid.  I realized it after I birdied fifteen.  Almost had it too. I honestly thought that putt on eighteen was going in but got lowsided, kid.” he replied in typical Bob fashion.
“Lowside Lou’d it.” I lamented.
“Yeah, the old Lowside Lou got me kid.  Oh well. It would’ve been something to pull off a round without a five on the scorecard, but you know I’ll get another chance.” Bob said with a laugh while slapping his knee.
“Still a hell of a round though.  Those guys we played with certainly didn’t seem too impressed.” I added.
“I know kid.  As you like to say, Joe, what a bunch of kooks, but we showed them what was up.  I’m sure they were pretty surprised by how well we played. You had a hell of round today too, kid.  Your game has come a long way since we started playing together.” Bob commented
“Thanks, Bob.”
“Aw you’re welcome, kid.”
It was nearly dusk as I exited the muni course parking lot, and I was barely able to contain all the positive thoughts racing through my mind. I was overwhelmed with joy that I did not succumb to the pressures of living some mundane life.  I was laying down frozen ropes on fairways, attempting to perfect the Bob method of course set up, digging holes the size of burial plots to repair irrigation leakes with my boy, Mike, taking pride in grooming bunkers with, Peter Pan, being taught how to operate burly ass tractors by, Dave, weedeating sharp edges with, Curt, while learning the intricacies of becoming a successful greenkeeper by my main man, Jim Kelly.  
This feeling was alien to me, because the majority of my adulthood has been so void of true happiness.  I felt that capturing some sort of meaning to my life was finally within reach, and realized all I needed to do was Charlie Hustle my ass into home plate with a head first slide to become a person I honestly believed did not exist.