My best golf day ever did not start out well, at least not in theory. I was facing a three-hour round trip to my daughter Sophie's camp to see her perform in a one-act play. I was expecting her to have been unfairly cast in an insignificant role yet again, despite her undeniable acting talent. I was undecided and a little trepidatious about possibly stopping in to see my wife's cousins, who live near the camp.
And most of all, I was worried that I would be hit with stagefright on the golf course, as I usually am when I play with people I don't know and always am when I play with good golfers, even if I know them well.
The drive was the least of my worries, other than the prospect of wasting the time if everything else went south. French Woods, the famed performance arts camp where Sophie goes every summer, is not far from our summer house on Lake Naomi, not as the crow flies (or as the horse flies, as I often like to say, quoting the Marx Borthers).
But the second half of the trip is off-highway, a choice between the Syclla of congested two-lane highways like U.S. 6, where you're likely to get stuck behind a truck or a Sunday driver, and the Charybdis of remote country roads that are usually clear but can be slow going and difficult to navigate.
This particular summer, Sophie was attending two sessions, so I had already had to a) drop her off at the start, b) take her back after an off-campus trip in the middle of the first session, and c) go for visiting weekend after first session to see the final performances for that session (that was the first big disappointment, when Sophie got an almost invisible ensemble role in Candide while a couple of her friends got major parts, not to mention what a long, drawn-out bore the musical version of Candide is).
By this time, I had abandoned the obvious two-lane highway options and was traversing some back roads so obscure that parts of them were unpaved and their bridges were single-lane. One of my passions in life is finding the shortest, fastest routes to where I'm going, even routes that no sane driver would ever consider.
So once the main highway gave out, I went a few miles over the crest of the ridge on U.S. 6 to Wayfair and made a left onto the first of a itinerant string of country roads, past the windmills on top of the ridge I just crossed, through cow country. When the farms gave out and forest took over, I located a quick short cut on a dirt road to the next back road heading north through nowhere land.
Finally emerging back onto the main road, PA 191, but only for a second before turning right in Equinunk onto a barely paved road that barely allowed for two cars to pass each other, down to the Delaware River and a virtually unknown one-lane bridge across to Lordville, on the New York side. Over the railroad tracks, jog to the left and then to the right past the broken down old hotel, three miles up to NY 97 -- didn't have to deal with the dog this time.
The dog: Actually, I'm surprised this never happened before to me or to anyone else I know. But going up the Lordsville road through seriously remote backcountry, past a lone house, a dog -- part lab, part who knows what all -- comes running down to the road, barking at the car. But unlike the proverbial dog that chases cars, this one confronts the car head on, not letting it pass. It's amazing the dog hasn't been run over, but I guess everyone who drives by is like me, stopping rather than mowing it down. But how to get by? The dog wouldn't move. I tried backing up a bit, so the dog went back toward the house in triumph. But as soon as I started forward again, he came at me again.
So much for short cuts. Stopped dead by a dog. Hence the origin of the word dogged -- he would not give up. And no one in the house was coming out to call him off. Luckily, he got bored of the game after a couple of minutes, and I got to drive on.
A few more miles south on 97, and French Woods is on the right. But I wasn't going to drive three hours just to see a one-act play, no matter how much I love my daughter and how much I support her aspirations to perform. So I did something I always wanted to do but never got a chance to do before -- I turned left instead into the French Woods Golf Course, right across the street from the camp.
The play was at 7:30, but here I was at 1:00, ready to play golf. I normally golf at Timber Trails, the short cozy little nine-hole course at Lake Naomi, where I am a Gold Member. I and my buddies there have been going to full-size 18-hole courses more frequently as we improve and look for more of a challenge. Here was a chance for me to try out a new course and more more of a day of it, make the drive worthwhile.
The course looked good online. The owner and designer was a local businessman who had run afoul of my wife's cousins when they were the architects of a hotel he built in town and he screwed them in some way (the details are hazy). Despite that, if the course was of the same quality as the hotel, it should at worst be fairly decent.
No such luck. My first clue should have been when I called up to book a tee time and was told that they don't take them -- first come, first serve. My second clue was when I showed up at the course and got a free hot dog with my greens fee, which I ate in the rustic clubhouse with a bunch of guys who looked like lumberjacks. Alright, not the high class country club I expected.
My luck held out in one key area -- there was practically no one playing the course at that time, so I got to go out my myself. That's key for me because I just melt down completely when I have to play with other people I'm not comfortable with. Somewhere between lack of confidence in my lack of consistency and my attempts to show off, to show that I'm as good as they are, I just fall apart, at an ever worsening rate as the round goes on.
But in my own in the middle of August when my game was pretty much together? Piece of cake! I had been consistently shooting mid- to high-40s on the par 34 Timber Trails course, high-90s to low-100s on longer courses (with the occassional mulligan). My score was still high-90s (without a single mulligan). But that was only because, as is often the case the first time on a new course, I wasn't familiar with the greens.
On the first hole, for example, I approached the green with my second shot -- an unusual happenstance in and of itself, as I don't normally have the length to do that. I was just off the tiny postage stamp surface, which I typically can make up for with my deadeye chipping. But the green was slower than I expected -- slower even than the snail-paced Timber Trails greens. So I lost a stroke there for that reason alone, a recurring story on the front nine especially.
My biggest coup on the front nine was the course's signature hole, number 7. The rest of the layout is pretty flat. But on 7, you drive the cart up the side of a hill to the tee box. Great view -- I could even see the windmills on the ridge over Wayfair a good 30 miles away. I smashed my tee shot onto the fairway 75 feet below and got a good run thanks to the slope.
By the back nine, I started to experience something I had never felt before. My tee shots and my long fairway shots were taking off. Literally taking off. Seemingly accelerating as they flew farther down the fairway, driving up into the air rather than falling and dying. And hardly a hint of my killer slice. It was exhilirating, and it carried over into my play for the rest of the summer.
My run of pleasant surprises wasn't over yet. Because the club didn't take reservations, and because I was expecting it to be utilized at least to the point where I was in a twosome waiting on groups ahead of me, I went fairly early. Playing alone with no one ahead of me, the round went quickly, and I had a couple of hours to kill before going across the street to the camp for Sophie's one-act.
I hadn't planned on seeing my wife's cousins, but with all that time on my hands, I decided to drive into town and get dinner at the restaurant they owned. Susan and Lauren had taken a liking to me in recent years. We now stayed at their house during visiting days at French Woods, and always ate at the Bluestone Grill when we were in Hancock. They in turn stayed with us when they came to the City.
One such visit was to go to a wine show at the Park Avenue Armory to place an order for the restaurant. They invited me along, and I had an excellent time sampling the wares. They were able to get me wholesale prices on a couple of vintages that I really liked -- a Bordeaux and a Chianti, my favorite wines. On a more recent visit, we went to Spice Market, along with two other cousins, Michael and Bruce (who also live in Hancock, right across the lake from French Woods, in fact), and had a fabulous Asian tasting menu. It pays to eat with a fine chef.
I usually want to remain confined within my own solitary world during a solo trip like this. But I made the bold move of going to the Bluestone Grill this time around. I was rewarded when Michael and Bruce showed up for dinner, to celebrate Michael's birthday. So it turned into a party! I had to leave early to go to the one-act festival, but the unexpected birthday dinner was an excellent addition to a day that already included one of my best rounds of golf ever.
The one-act play did not disappoint either. It would have been nice for Sophie to get a bigger role, like the one given to Merce, her Tada! ensemble mate (she would kill me if characterized him as a friend). But as much talent as Sophie has, she is just not going to get any plum roles until she gets her weight down. In this case, she played a telephone operator.
That might not sound too good, except that this play was "Sorry, Wrong Number," best known as a classic film noir vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck. The original one-act play the movie was based on all takes place on the phone. So the operator gets into the act enough to make it a worthwhile supporting role.
Indeed, the whole experience beyond Sophie's performance was interesting. This was not a visiting day when the audience is mostly made up of parents. This was in the middle of a session. Parents are allowed to sign in to see their kids perform, but only a handful of others had shown up. Otherwise, the audience was made up of enthusiastic campers, hooting and cheering on their friends. Sophie had her share of supporters, which was heartwarming for a parent to see.
Afterwards, I spent some time talking with Sophie and one of her best friends Caitlin at the canteen. Again, I was one of only a few adults there, so it was for me an unexpected peek inside the camp when the kids were in total control -- and it was not a Heisenbergian experience where my very presence changed the way things went. As a matter of fact, at one point one girl passed out a few feet away from us and we helped her get back on her feet -- she was just overworked, or so she said.
Unexpected. That was the word of the day, my best golfing day ever. One of my best rounds ever -- certainly my best away from Timber Trails -- despite the final score of 97. Welcomed without hesitation into Michael's birthday celebration at the Bluestone. And a good showing by Sophie at the one-act festival that included a sneak peak into life at the camp when parents are not around.
If only the rest of my golfing experiences were that good.