My grandfather, my father, and all of my father’s brothers belonged to the Derrick Club in Edmonton, Alberta, in the 1960’s. To me, it was where I took swimming lessons and watched curling matches, and where golf was played. There was a series of jackets to be won depending on how good you were at hitting the ball and keeping your score as low as possible. I don’t remember the jackets but I remember my grandfather and father competing to see who would get a gold jacket first. I don’t even know which of them won but I suspect it was my grandfather because he was just a little bit smarter, a little bit better, and a little bit more aggressive than my father ever was or could be.
Before I learned to play golf I got my first job at JF Kennedy Golf Course in Denver, Colorado, where our family had moved in 1968 after selling out of the oil business in Edmonton. My father was the groundskeeper and I was 14 when I started picking up balls on the driving range and putting them in buckets to sell to the golfers on the weekend. I earned a small amount for every bucket I assembled. I don’t remember the amount now, but I think it was around 50 cents a bucket. The golfers would pay for their bucket of balls, practice their swings, and then I would go back out and pick up the balls. I had a golf cart and a helmet and a long kind of tube made to reach out of the cart and scoop up the balls. Usually I would pick the balls up after hours, sometimes by hand instead of with the cart. But if the driving range was popular and we ran out of balls, I would go out in the cart with my helmet, dodging balls, and picking up the ones that had landed.
The next year I graduated to putting golf carts away at the end of every day and filling them with gas for the next day. I parked carts at both JF Kennedy and Wellshire Golf Courses before I learned to drive a car. It was the equivalent of my father at 12 learning to drive a tractor long before he was old enough to get a driver’s license.
I am grateful for both of these jobs, my first two paid employment opportunities obtained with connections through my family. After all this immersion in golf, at age 16 I thought I should learn how to play. My dad was working nights so I signed up for golf lessons in PE at my high school. The first thing I learned is that it’s very hard as a left-hander to learn golf from a right-hander. That’s why my father never seemed to have the patience or knowledge of how to teach me to play the game he loved so much. He got me left-handed clubs and, as it turned out, the instructor at school was left-handed so that worked out okay for me although I never warmed up to it. Ironically, the other kids in the class who were right-handed had trouble with the left-handed instructor. Eventually my dad came and helped the right-handed students when he had the time. It was a win-win situation. By then my dad was a golf pro and teaching golf on weekends. His scores were consistently under par and he was unhappy if he made par. I remember how happy he was when he beat “The Golden Bear”, Jack Nicklaus, playing in a tournament one time. Of course my dad had a handicap differential while Nicklaus was a scratch golfer, but it didn’t change the excitement of being able to say my dad beat Jack Nicklaus!
Golf never was my game. I didn’t continue playing past high school even though the incentives were there. I’ve never excelled at games where calculating trajectory was key, like pool, golf, or football. Looking back I think I missed an opportunity to connect with my dad on his terms. Would we have been closer if I had put more effort and interest into the game he loved, and still loves so much? My left-handed clubs are still somewhere in my parents’ garage, gathering dust. My father is now 86 years old, and I have never known him to miss a season of playing.