It was in California, 1968, during the peak of the Viet Nam war protests, that I first heard the mystical rhythmic pulse of a big impact sprinkler calling my name, luring me into a career of nocturnal irrigationism. If only I had known that the glorious era of the Night Waterman was almost over.
After several years in in the cold, wet mountains of Bavaria, we arrived in the sunny San Joaquin Valley where Dad took a job at Sunnyside, an exclusive country club.
At Sunnyside, I was allowed to play on Mondays, after 6 pm, about the time the Night Waterman began his front side cycle. Clubs were closed on Mondays in that long ago time and by 6 pm, the local pros were through playing and the peons, serfs, oafs, knaves and varlets were given the run of the course for two hours.
I failed to complete my first nine at Sunnyside, because I got distracted.
More like mesmerized, as I fell into a hypnotic trance watching the big sprinkler heads, backlit by the golden light of the late afternoon sun, throwing huge bursts of water, like a percussive hydro-powered metronome to distances of a hundred feet or more. The water impacted in big droplets at the sprinkler’s greatest range, while nearer the head, a thick mist drifted gently to the turf.
The Night Waterman inserted a quick-coupler, watched it to see if it was turning and zipped off to his next placement, scurrying like a nervous squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. It was pretty impressive to me. The course was lush and green, an oasis of cool, an English country garden hidden in a hot, almost desert environment.
But even though Sunnyside was an Eden of golf, I didn’t like playing the course. It wasn’t the Thurston Howell, III ambiance, it just did not fit my game. The place looked magnificent, but the playability was . . . unfriendly. The ball wouldn’t roll. It was the thick, soft grass.
The minute my Club Special touched down, it slammed on brakes like it had just landed in a tar pit.
I avoided Sunnyside and played at Airways, a hard and dry public course devoid of folks with numbers behind their names.
The following summer, Dad took over a course deep in the hot, dry Kettlemen Hills.
I think it was called Poverty-dero Country Club.
I became an enthusiastic Night Waterman, turning the course lush and green, performing an agronomic miracle sure to land me a place in club history. But, the miracle wasn’t at all popular with our customer base, the leathery old, lean-as-lizards senior golfers. Their tee balls, normally rolling out past 220 yards on the permanently dormant hardpan turf, were suddenly rendered impotent. In the thick grass, their most manly, manful drive barely reached 130 yards.
They cursed me.
They cursed my quick couplers and the grass and each other, but they mostly cursed me . . . and Dad, for raising the price of a cup of coffee from free to 5 cents. (With a name like Poverty-dero, we should have known.)
We escaped from California and settled in the Deep South, where I resisted NW duty, not wanting another incident like the ungrateful old #@$%s at Poverty-dero. I considered myself retired from active NW status until I learned that Dad was paying the current NW $2.50 an hour. Compared to my hourly 75 cents for services as cart boy, range picker, green mower, fairway mower, kitchen help, cup changer and worst of all . . . pro shop counter, $2.50 represented untold wealth.
Yet Dad would not commute my sentence as pro shop oaf–he stubbornly refused to bestow upon me the rightful title of Night Waterman. I was condemned to wander the daylight hours mowing, raking, washing carts and groveling at the feet of members for failing to shine their shoes properly or leaving grass stains upon their 8-irons.
I was desperate. In order to effect a transfer from pro shop oaf to NW status, it was necessary to create a Night Waterman opening. This was accomplished by playing upon various human phobias: Fear of the dark, monsters, ghosts, serial killers and wives. (Stories for another time.)
Over the next few years, I managed to create NW positions for myself at several golf courses, at least until those accursed automated systems appeared. But it wasn’t all peaches, spam and powdered milk, mind you.
I never got the $2.50.
Dad would go no further than $1.75, but in the long run, the experience served me well. Whenever I took over a really miserable, poorly maintained, neglected golf course–which, now that I think about it, describes every course I ever ran–defibrillating the irrigation system and getting it off life support wasn’t as overwhelming as it was for others. By others, I mean those guys that always had functioning systems, budgets and a crew.
The best part about being a Night Waterman? I never once encountered an angry golfer in the middle of the night. Sure, there was the occasional golfer’s ghost and a dismembered floating head or two, but no committees, inspectors, consultants or guys trying to sell me hand soap that purportedly smelled like citrus fruit but actually possessed the aroma of baked feet.
Here’s a trailer from my upcoming movie: