In the early summer of 1969, Dad took the reins of Polvadero Country Club, an emaciated crispy nine-holer located in the dry and dusty Kettleman Hills near Coalinga, California. Destined to be the Head Pro, GM, GCS, and Bartender--that last one was kind of tough for a non-drinker--he took immediate action.
First, Dad evaluated the staff, which consisted of Fernando, age 35, who also worked close by at a cotton farm; in addition, there was 14 year-old me, a fairly useless, easily distracted oaf. A truly skeletal crew. Next, the clubhouse, possibly a replica of Herman Munster's place and we never did find the remains of the maintenance barn.
With Mom and younger brother Mike still in Fresno, an hour away, it was just me and Dad and Fernando. After a hasty inspection, Dad left to procure supplies and two breakers to get the pump station up and running . . . and there was an important golf tournament he had to see to up in Livermore.
Promising to return in three days, Dad left Fernando to mow stuff and instructions for me to run the clubhouse. In my spare time, I was to drain, clean, sand and paint the extremely nasty, slimy swimming pool. Dad hinted that sparkling clean pools attracted lots of beautiful girls, so I got right to work.
After a terrible night in the old trailer beside #1 Tee, I stepped forth into the hottest day in recorded history to drain the pool. It was a stinking, gurgling gaseous swamp of putridity that instantly induced greenish projectile vomiting, but only until I was empty. I was down to dry heaving when Fernando rolled up on his Five-Gang and yelled, "Hey, Compadre, Norm is just foolin' you, there's no girls around here." He pulled his big straw cowboy hat down over his eyebrows and rolled away, leaving me with bad vibes and weak motivation.
When I saw two golfers approaching from the parking lot, I leaped out of the swamp pool and ran to open the clubhouse. I made coffee just in time to cheerfully greet my first customers, two old fellows wearing faded bucket hats and shorts that looked more like boxers than bermudas.
"That'll be a nickel each," I said, giving them my best customer service smile. The first old man peered at me through filthy glasses and yelled "A nickel? For coffee?"
Before I could explain supply and demand, the second old man finished his cup and growled "Coffee is free here, you greedy little b*&^$+d!"
For the next three days, those two old buzzards were the only golfers I saw. On the second day, they somehow got inside the clubhouse before I even opened up, and made their own coffee.
When Dad finally returned, I was no longer the same happy-go-lucky kid. After four nights alone in a raggedy old single-wide, rocking back and forth in the incessant howling wind, while listening to tumbleweeds scratching at the door and coyotes yipping under the trailer, I was officially deranged.
The heads popped up and down like metal prairie dogs until the lines were pressurized. I loved it.
Dad installed the pump station breakers and sent me out to throw water on the dormant hardpan. The system consisted of quick-couplers everywhere except the greens, which had four old Hunter heads operated by an iron gate valve. Fernando showed me how to open the green valve at the highest point on the course in order to keep the pipes from exploding out of the ground. That was a thrill, air screaming and shrieking through the nozzles with a sound like a surface-to-air missile. The heads popped up and down like metal prairie dogs until the lines were fully pressurized. I loved it.
I ran hither and yon, plugging in big quick-couplers on tees and fairways, earning my 75 cents an hour and bringing the green back to Polvadero. Expecting to be congratulated, I was surprised when the Old Buzzards threatened to give me a good thrashing for contaminating the fine dormant hardpan with grass.
Apparently the Old Buzzards could crush the ball nearly 200 yards on dormant hardpan, but on irrigated fairways, a drive could barely reach 75 yards. To further complicate matters, the mowers so expertly operated by Fernando were incapable of mowing actual grass. The old Toro walkers could not withstand the added pressure of mowing greens more than once a month and the Five-Gang took all day to mow a fairway covered in grass, as opposed to hardpan.
Then, one afternoon, I discovered the new breakers had vanished from the pumphouse. Dad interrogated Fernando, but soon the suspicion fell upon me. Yet I had the truth on my side, plus ten years of watching Perry Mason, for I was gifted with the ability to determine the guilty party within 30 minutes. Dad set a trap by spreading the rumor that we had already installed another set of breakers.
The next morning, I watched from concealment as the Old Buzzards took turns stealthily entering the pump station and searching. (It was smaller than a typical portable toilet.) Even with that proof, Dad ruled that all we had was circumstantial evidence, inadmissible in a court of board members. (Also, they were on the board.) Sadly, we knew they would escape justice.
I was frustrated, but after an entire summer of Skeletal Golf Theory, I had matured. I had learned to let go and forgive, to avoid holding a grudge. One morning, I even made coffee for the Old Buzzards before I went out to pick the range.
I was at peace with myself, because I had learned patience and understanding and how to make coffee with large amounts of chocolate flavored laxatives . . . and while it's true that Polvadero had no on-course facilities, the Old Buzzards did have bucket hats.