In the spring of '70, Norm, my pro golfer/supt father, was hired to operate, renovate and resuscitate a little 9-hole CC in Covington, Tennessee. This was before we discovered the small town, pseudo-country club business plan known as Hire In Spring--Fire Immediately After New Year's Party. (This happened four times before Dad caught on and switched to full-time superintendent, a process that required a difficult exorcism to remove golf pro thinking.)
When we arrived at CCC, we performed the usual Lazarus miracles. I drained, cleaned, sanded and painted the pool I would never be allowed to swim in. Small clubs of that era liked to allow the pool to convert to a slimy green swamp over the winter; this resulted in a substantial harvest of bullfrog legs for the deep fryer, a requirement for the June weddings. (Along with banjos.)
Momma cleaned the pro shop and evicted the rodents. She normally had to get F&B up and running, but at CCC, they had Will The Chef and Josh The Bartender, the only full-time club employees. Dad brought in a fleet (4) of Westinghouse golf carts to satisfy the doctors who wrote their own doctor's excuses as to why they could not walk.
Norm hired back the laid-off crew, Eddie and Blue Sky Willie, the human lightning rod, along with a couple of college women to lifeguard. Walker, a surly teenager like myself, was added when school let out. Lucius and Odell lasted just one week-- and were last seen being chased out the gate by Norm, who often reacted poorly to weekend no-shows.
My summer routine consisted of rolling out at sunup on a Massey-Ferguson tractor built sometime around the Battle of Hastings. I towed a trailer upon which rested a Toro walk mower, (which I still think is superior to all modern walk mowers) a cup-changer, (which was inferior to everything but a butter knife), a quick-coupler with hose, a steel rake and a bottle of soapy water for the ball-washers. I did not fill the drinking coolers, because in those days, golfers were still able to carry their own water and had not yet been spoiled like rotten little brats.
I will now confess--since Norm is gone--to bashing the ball-washers with a hammer and tossing the infuriating devices into the creek, while blaming "kids", because I hated them. Not the kids, the ball-washers. Well, actually I hated the local kids, too.
Back to the story: I mowed the green, changed the cup, raked the bunker and watered with the hose, if the green needed it, which I never recall happening. After lunch, while Walker welded stuff we had broken that morning, I hooked the MF up to a 5-gang and mowed tees, tee surrounds, fairways and green surrounds.
Fairway height was set at what we thought might be 3/4" and I hopped off the tractor every two holes to tighten down any free-spinning reels. I mowed what we called In-The-Gaps, meaning we were out there in afternoon play, to avoid mowing wet grass. Working gaps in play, sometimes we had to jump between holes, often mowing two holes at the same time. We had no cages for protection, but we did have the ability to see the ball in flight. If the member intentionally hit at us, we also had the ability to not see the ball, or hear the screaming, frantically waving member as we mulched his Black Titleist into wet rubber bands.
In those days, we mowed wall-to-wall. It made for a style of golf that was much more fun than today's narrow, rough-choked, striped-like-an-argyle-sock hallway. (We had no rough mowers, therefore, no rough.)
My uniform on those hot summer days was cut-off jeans, no shirt, a safari hat, mirrored sunglasses and a thick coating of cocoa butter and baby oil. I would have been irresistible to women except for the MF. It sported exhaust pipes that emptied directly into my face and I usually finished the day with an ebony raccoon-mask sheen on my face, diesel on my teeth and a smoker's cough.
Norm's secret for smooth 419 greens was sand, (more sand than was in the bunkers) and a hideous torture device known as a Top Dressing Rake, or a Tricep Builder as we named it. Two shovels of sand, one of peat, (no machines, just shovels) followed by hours of Tricep Building, ammonium nitrate and water. Then we did it again the next week.
On Fridays, I helped Blue Sky Willie load all the stinking, fermented greens clippings into the pre WWII dump truck, (no doors, rope seat belts, dumping mechanism didn't work) and we headed for the town dump. Norm demanded we haul the clippings off, because clippings left in the sun had the ability to create new life forms or simply burst into a toxic fire.
Once a month, Norm rented a propane tank on wheels, with a flame-thrower attached and I enthusiastically defoliated the snake-infested creek banks like some kind of madman from a B-grade Sci-Fi film. (String trimmers didn't exist yet and Dad had grown weary of my whining about sling blade elbow.)
On weekends and big tournaments, I was the Night Waterman and . . . I saw things. Not paranormal stuff, just drunk adults, adulterizing out on the course with the wrong spousal units. At first, I spiced up their nocturnal outdoor love-rasslin' with a carefully aimed QC head, but the blowback from that forced me to switch to anonymous phone tips to the sheriff.
Near the end of that idyllic summer, I saw the first indicator of dreaded change coming upon golf: A sales rep told me that I would soon be riding greensmowers, rather than chasing them. I was skeptical. When he claimed a machine existed that allowed riding in the bunkers, I scoffed and ridiculed him. That's the exact moment I became a Golf Futurist, or The Mad Golf Prophet.
The moral of my story: Simple golf was more fun, more relaxed back then, not only to play, but to work. I think it was more . . . sustainable. There. I said it.