GRAND JUNCTION, CO - October 7, 2011 -Seven days into October, the Colorado mornings were already turning cold. The grass of the first fairway of Tiara Rado Golf Course, a municipal course outside of Grand Junction, Colorado is subtly muted by a frost. Each blade of grass, wrapped in delicate crystals of ice, huddle together to reflect the morning sunlight as they stretch out like a carpet of green velvet covered in diamonds.
The whisper of a crescent moon hangs just above the red sandstone of The Colorado National Monument; a vast series of canyons, where millions of years ago, dinosaurs took residency. And this is where the beauty stops.
While the ethereal frost and epic ladnscape is aesthetically pleasing, it is no friend to a golf course, says my golfing partner Larry. Hard plastic-coated balls careening down at high velocity and smashing into the fragile blue grass can do a lot of damage to a course, Larry explains.
Because of this fact, the day’s tee times are delayed, causing at bottleneck of eager golfers practicing their swing and rubbing their hands to stay warm. Being the proud owners of the day’s first tee time, this bottleneck offers us a peanut gallery of cigar chomping 60 year olds present to watch us tee off when the frost finally surrenders to the sun.
Being the novice golfer that I am, I’d prefer that they weren’t there. The only thing worse than starting a four-day golf adventure with a bad drive is to accompany it with a collective sigh. The only thing worse than that is a drive so bad that it slams into the peanut gallery creating a collective blood-curdling scream.
This is the first tee box of the first hole on the first course of a six-course journey, which will span a hundred miles. My partner Larry Berle is a seasoned golfer and has been writing about golf for years. He has played every course on Golf Digest’s top 100 courses and written a book entitled A Golfer’s Dream about the experience. Words like “handicap” and phrases like “hold the line” are part of his daily vernacular.
Also included in his vernacular is the phrase “played from the tips.” Assuming that when he said “tips” he was referring to some sort of ancient golf wisdom, I said yes. Moments later I realize that “the tips” means the back tees which would add somewhere between 10 and 25 yards to a hole. With this new tidbit of golf slang, my pensive “yes” became an resolute “no.”
Nights leading up to my trip I studied golf books like a law student studying for the bar. Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book offered sage-like advice, or the more technical but equally revered Five Lessons by Ben Hogan offered swing tips and diagrams. A collection of short fiction called simply Golf, with works from writers such as John Updike and F. Scott Fitzgerald offered a broader understanding of the passion so many have for the game.
To brush up on my knowledge of contemporary golf, I read Golf Digest and Moments of Glory, a book by John Feinstein, which chronicles two young golfers, Jim Furyk and Mike Weir from their first days of the sport to historic their showdown at Augusta. While my golf game itself wouldn’t be particularly spectacular, I hoped at least, because of my research, that I would be able to hold my own in conversation with Larry over our next four days together.
While we wait, I learn that Tiara Rado, which vaguely means Red Crown, was opened in 1971 and designed by Tom Kolacny. It was once voted the best golf course in Colorado. Challenging for the seasoned golfer but manageable to the novice, the front nine is relatively flat, rolling through a neighborhood of modest homes. While it is relatively easy to shoot well on the front nine, the back nine is significantly different.
Lined with fewer and larger homes, the second half of the course tacks back and forth, featuring a lot of water with several carry over shots including 13, a challenging par 3. Several holes have elevated tees and most are well trapped. Tiara Rado’s signature hole is the 18th, is a par four that features an elevated tee with a view of The Monument as well as an elevated green.
While I am eager to play the rest of the course, my primary concern is the task ahead of me. It isn’t to score well on 18 holes. It isn’t to get a single par or a birdie or anything. It is simply to make sure that when I hit my drive, that I do not smash it into the group of cigar smoking golfers waiting in the bottleneck.
It is time to tee up. Larry goes first. He doesn’t seem to care a bit about injuring one of the twenty gentlemen taking practice swings. This, of course is a man who putted out at the 18th of Pebble Beach under the watchful eye of tourists golf enthusiasts alike as the dine at The Lodge, on of Pebble’s prime restaurants. He has done this long enough to know he won’t kill anyone. I am not so certain.
He strikes the ball well. It rolls down the damp fairway just on the edge of the rough. The cigar chewers turn their attention to me. A man of thirty-three playing golf at 9am on a Tuesday should be able to drop it at least 250 yards down the fairway. Especially dressed in fancy new golf pants and a slick new blue long sleeve golf shirt. I had to look the part.
My gloved hand slides the tee into the moist ground, my ball sitting on top of it. I stand up straight and gaze down the fairway. In ten seconds, I am either going to look like either a fraud and/or potentially a killer or I’ll have my very own pre-affair Tiger Woods hero moment when the drop my ball just shy of the green.
I stand over the ball. I can see my breath. Beauty everywhere. Beauty and fear so intense, I think perhaps it might manifest itself in some sort of winged golf demon that will grab me in its golf talons and drop me in the canyons of The Monument, leaving me to die. Armed only with a driver, I have to fight that demon. And so I fight.
As the club screams forward for what seems to take far too long, I finally hear the sound of a ball well hit. Glowing embers of the cigar cherries move from my direction to the direction of my now airborne ball. It sails thankfully up and up. As it flies, I notice for the first time, homes lining the right side of the fairway. I’m not out of the danger zone yet.
I watch it, waiting for it to turn right. Waiting for the thud of a roof or the crack of shattering glass but it never comes. My ball stays straight… “Holds its line,” to use the proper golf term. Finally it lands just past Larry’s ball in the rough. Despite my ball’s new home deep in the rough, I am elated.
I wait for applause from the peanut gallery but it doesn’t come. Instead they return to their practice swings. I wonder if they knew how close they’d been to witnessing death. Or if they even really watched me at all.
I turn to Larry, elated to have hit my first drive well, by my standards. He looks at me matter-of-factly as he slides his driver into his golf bag. “We’re off,” he says.
As we ride in our cart past the peanut gallery towards our balls on the fairway, on the edge of winter, and on the edge of a sport I know I am going to love, I think, we certainly are.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.