This site is about the major sports, primarily, but there is so much more going on in Cleveland than baseball, basketball and football. Nowadays a lot of kids are playing tennis, a lot play soccer, and there are high school hockey teams galore out there (and trust that hockey players will always consider their sport to be major, even if the closest big league teams are over a hundred miles away).
When I was young, I played baseball and football - a lot. I was pretty good at both, and was lucky never to be injured playing football with no equipment, In fact my only sports injuries took place away from a football field. One injury came on a day when someone hit a ground ball down the first base line, the ball hit a rut in the dirt and made my nose's acquaintance. Ah but that was a bloody mess, and to this day my nose is a little crooked, although it looked a lot worse than it actually was.
The other injury was on a golf course.
The three of us - me, my dad and my mom - were playing at Briarwood, I was maybe 14 years old. I think we were on the thirteenth tee, which was hidden from the 12th fairway, when my dad heard a THWOCK, as if a ball had hit a bench on the tee, and hollered for mom and I to duck. At which I, always having a flair for the dramatic, planted myself on the very damp ground, surely getting mud on my clothes. My parents thought that this "duck" was a little over the top...until they realized that the THWOCK had been a sliced fairway wood from the 12th hole making direct contact with my forehead, and missing my temple by maybe three inches. Up I got after regaining consciousness, ready - not to fight against this indignity, but to continue playing. Much as they loved golf, my parents decided that skipping the last six holes might be prudent, and off to the hospital we went, me with the imprint of a Titleist or a Max-Fli on my noggin. Needless to say I made it through that alright, although to this day I can feel that riiiiiiiinnnnnnggggging sensation going through me as I went down.
The trauma of that day vanished quickly, but the love of the game, and especially of playing that game with my loved ones, lasted all through the years, even though I surely will never play another day with either of my parents. That is a story too involved to go into here; suffice it to say that with my back gone bad and my legs aching every time I walk any distance at all, my golfing days are probably over. But the memory of those days will always remain, and if you can relate, I hope that this little column will stir some happy memories, and push the nostalgia button in you, as writing it is doing for me.
My first memories of actually playing golf are two-fold: In the first memory I am at some park on the West Side hitting golf balls, and my dad is on the other side of a concrete path, telling me (in a marvelous mixed metaphor) that if I can get the ball over the path on the fly, it would be a home run. Babe Ruth never tried harder for a home run than I did on that day. Soon enough, I managed what seemed like a Herculean feat, and "cleared the fence".
The second memory has dad and I going to Big Met, down in "The Valley", as we called it, while it was still dark out, and then, at the first hint of dawn, beginning my first round, fog so thick that seeing where any shot went was only possible for me because of my inability to hit any shot more than 50 yards. How my dad even found his shots I will never know...but then, he was a fine player and off the tee, he was a pretty sure bet to find the fairway. Almost 50 years later, I remember my scores for the first three holes on the front nine: A 13, a 12, and then a 9. After that we either stopped keeping score, or I simply forgot what I shot in that glorious moment.
Over the years, I became pretty good at the game, although I was much too hard on myself, much too much a perfectionist who needed to track fairways hit, putts, sand saves, etc. I made bold pronouncements that I would break 80 before posting a 97 or something at Pleasant Valley or Ironwood. Even coming up short of my own harsh expectations, I got down to, I reckon, a 10- or a 12-handicap, although any handicap was unofficial.
Sometimes mom played with dad and I, sometimes she didn't, but she was also a pretty fine player. In fact, as far as I know, she is still the only woman to ever record a hole-in-one on the 14th hole at Pleasant Valley. As the years went on, though, she joined us less and less, and the last "regular" group I enjoyed was composed of me, my dad, and his friends Tom and Jimmy. Usually the four of us played the "B" Course at Seneca, although we also toured Valleaire quite often. And oh, we had some intense skins' games... a quarter a skin, and carry-overs when a hole was tied, plus two skins for a birdie. Never did winning a dollar off of three people feel so good, or the pressure of making a 10-foot putt seem more intense, than on those lazy weekday afternoons with Tom, Jimmy and Dad.
There are some beautiful golf courses in the Cleveland area. If you golf, try Berkshire Hills some time, or Manakiki if you have never played there. Hinckley Hills is pretty brutal to walk but it is a true challenge, and Ironwood is literally just down the road. In fact there are scores of wonderful places to play all around this jewel of a city that gets so much bad press, and if there is such a thing as a "bad golf course"...it is news to me and I would insist that no place that hosts this game could even be "bad".
There are so many days to remember, so many good times, so many nights of aching feet after walking 18 holes with a 50-pound bag on my shoulder. Aching in a good way though, if you know what I mean.
Now the sun has declined on my golfing, and the dew on the grass may never again bear my footprints in the early-morning light. The days of casually looking across a fairway and watching my dad hit an approach shot to a tree-shaded green are gone. Tom and Jimmy? I am not so sure how they are now, or whether they are still with us.
Now there is Tiger Woods and all of his drama, now there are rules which perplex those who have never played the game and which make perfect sense to those of us who have, rules which even Dustin Johnson has to acknowledge and accept gracefully when one is broken.
Those rules existed when I got started in the heady days of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and "Champagne Tony" Lema and Julius Boros and...and on, and on, and on.
But at the heart of everything, and the only thing that mattered then or now, was that my dad was there, and a lot of times my mom was there, and we were bonding in a way that few families take the time to do.
Do you remember golfing with a parent or other family member?
If you do remember, remember the good times. Not the scores necessarily, or the days when lightning marched down a nearby fairway and your dad stubbornly wanted to play on. Remember the closeness, remember the love of a game that was passed down to you through those people you loved. And if it is gone forever, do not long for the days to come back. They cannot come back. But the memories are inside of you always.
Hold those memories close.