The Game of Kings in God’s Country

Usually, when I tell people I’m from Elizabeth, they reply, “I bet you know how to roll a fucking joint.”

Less often, people will say to me “I bet you know how to swing a fucking golf club.”

The second retort will lead to a more animated response from me, despite the fact that my joint rolling skills are far superior to my golfing skills.

Elizabeth is a humble berg, the crown jewel of Colorado’s eastern plains.  The municipality sits 16 miles due east of the larger Castle Rock, and the wind just fucking howls.  I spent 6 magical years in the former stagecoach depot, and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I can’t remember a calm day.

So what do you do if you live in a sleepy town situated 8000 feet above sea level in Colorado’s rustic plains?

Drugs.

This may sound ill informed, callus, or specific to the group of losers I hung out with from 6-12th grade, but, if you get to know the town, you’ll get to know startling voids in both infrastructure resource when it comes to entertainment.

Most people just do drugs.

If you’re pressing, I suppose not everyone does drugs; my dad likes to shoot his bow, my mom has a ceramic studio, and humors my father by teaching the occasional archery lesson.  A group of dedicated marksmen travel through the city and test the accuracy of their guns on stop signs.  There are some weird girls who love horses, horses, horses and nothing but fucking horses, but to a degree, I feel like these girls exist in every town.

There’s also a golf course tucked into some unincorporated land in the town’s northwest corner.   7200 yards from the tips, the front nine is exactly what you would expect from a links superimposed on top of a barren wasteland.  Think McCarthy’s The Road meets Disney’s Brookline from The Greatest Game Ever Played.  The back nine gently meanders through a meadow that is chock full of cottonwood trees.  Think McCarthy’s The Road meets the collected stories of Mark Twain.

Despite the discrepancy in difficulty levels between the cupcake front nine, and the treacherous back nine, (I once went 31 53 for an 84,) Spring Valley is a good little track.  The course sees about 9000 rounds a day.

9000 is not an exaggeration.  Feel free to go to the course at high noon on a Tuesday and puzzle over the lack of a parking space.  Come back at 7:30 PM, and you’ll still be squeezing your truck into a haphazardly placed dirt lot that doubles as a cart pen after business hours.

So beyond the drugs, and the guns, and the horses, people in Elizabeth love to play golf.  And, as is often the case in a small town, the people who love to play golf LOVE to play golf.

Most of the courses 9000 daily rounds are notched into the course by a rotating cast of 100 or so dedicated hackers.  If you spend all of your free time knocking balls around a post apocalyptic landscape, where wind speeds graduate from cyclone to hurricane, you’re gonna pick up a thing or two.  Guys from Elizabeth can fucking play.

High shots, low shots, draws, fades, bunted wedges that never climb above your knees then one hop to a screeching halt.  Its all part of the arsenal when your ducking cottonwoods in a wind storm.  Last time I made the trip home I played with husky fellow in jeans and a pearl snap shirt.  He jawed my ear off the entire round, doubled the bets on 18, than smashed a towering 270-yard cut shot into a deafening prevailing wind.  Finding his ball on the right side of the hole, in the shaggy first cut of rough, he temporarily halted his oration and went to the driver again.

A gentle practice swing preceded a dizzying knock out blow that almost spun ME to the ground.  The swing produced another screaming slice that never went higher than my chest.  The shot easily covered the 330 yards to a pin nestled in the back right corner of the green.  When we squared up the emptying of my wallet didn’t feel as bad as the emptying of my soul.  I know that I’ll never hit the ball like that fat, noisy cattle rancher.

But that hasn’t stopped me from trying.

My father first put a golf club in my hands when I was 14.  It was a Louisville Slugger (not a metaphor) from the early 1900’s.  We hit the driving range a few times, but the sport never really grabbed me.  During summer vacation between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, my father took me to play nine holes at the Family Fun Center, a nine hole executive course an hour northwest of Elizabeth.

I don’t remember my score that day, I don’t remember making a par or even putting the ball in the cup.  I do remember absolutely puring my nickel thin, bladed eight iron on the eighth hole.  It was the only time all day that I got the ball airborne- I was 70 yards out and I hit the ball 50 yards through the green.  That pure shot might as well have been a heroin needle.

That summer I spent every waking moment on a golf course.  I bought a full set of clubs from the now defunct Gart Brothers, and just beat the shit out of them.  When fall came I relinquished my coveted spot on the football team and went out for golf.

Each fall our sadistic golf coach had the apparent pleasure of trimming the 100+ golf squad applicants into a 10-man team made up off 4 varsity and 6 junior varsity players.  My first tryout I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  With some divine intervention, I spent two dizzying days literally carving a score in the high 180’s out of the golf course.  When the dust settled I had played my way into the 6 spot on the junior varsity team.  My score was just one stroke lower than the score of my closest competitor.

High school golf is a pretty sweet gig.  Essentially, it was free greens fees for three years.  I got some quality instruction from the professionals at Spring Valley, and all the range balls I could bear to hit.  If I could go back I don’t think I would take it for granted.  As things were I graduated with a 2 handicap, two medalist trophies, what my golf coach called a great natural swing, admission into a PGM program, a few scholarship offers, and a bitter taste in my mouth from the high school golf team politics.

After issuing some trite no thank you’s to perspective collegiate coaches, I symbolically hung my sticks from the basement rafters and ended up focusing on serious things at the University of Colorado.  When I say serious, I’m talking about getting hammered drunk and rationalizing not talking to pretty girls, (not at the same time of course).  I didn’t have any direction in my life freshman year, and it got me into a lot of non-symbolic, actual, trouble.

Were it not for golf, I undoubtedly would not have been able to pull myself from the smoldering train wreck that became my life.  One weekend my father came to see me at school, and he brought along an unexpected visitor; my golf clubs.  Daddy took me to Flatirons, Boulder’s municipal track that makes no airs about being boring.  Think textbook Dick Phelps parkland meets Jefferson’s agrarian utopia.  You might as well go hack it around in an alfalfa field.

The old man absolutely skinned me.  He hadn’t been able touch any of my scores for a solid three years.  That day, I didn’t come within 10 strokes.  When he left I put my golf clubs in my dorm room and I started practicing again.  When summer came I landed a job at the tree farm in my hometown, and spent all of my free time at Spring Valley.

I wasn’t as good as I was in high school; I don’t think that I’ll ever be that good again.  It didn’t matter, because that was the summer I learned to love the game.  It wasn’t long until I could beat my father again, and just before I was slated to return to school, Spring Valley’s director of golf offered me a job as their third assistant golf professional.  I was honored, but if I had learned one thing that season it was that I loved my hobby too much to ever manipulate it into a career.

These days I spend 40 of my weekly hours shuffling paper in a cubicle.  I count myself lucky if I can squeeze in a round of golf on Sunday and hit 100 or so balls during the week.  My weekly 81 weighs heavy on my soul, but I’m starting to see it less as a waste of potential, and more as an opportunity to tell the story of where I’m from.

This week I’m going home to play golf with my dad…

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