Playing the game of life.
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After leaving the town of Gullane in the East Lothian section of Scotland, you turn left into a small farm lane. There is no street name. There are no signs of any kind. Looking down the lane, you see nothing at the end. There are hayfields to the right. To the left oaks and maples, some overgrowing the narrow road. There are also clusters of fir trees, and in one spot they form a roof over the lane and, if the sun is out, cast a black pool across the road, so that you have the feeling—at least I do—of passing into another world as you slide through the shadows. There are also on the left side a few weathered wooden fences and an occasional small house tucked into its own cul-de-sac. Toward the end of the lane, you make a left turn and come unexpectedly, as if in a dream, upon a massive set of finely wrought, iron gates. You have arrived at Bruntsfield, the oldest and noblest of all the golf clubs, officially known as the Ancient Society of Archers and Golfers, chartered in 1736. I have driven down this lane perhaps a hundred times, and it is as thrilling as ever. This year there was one small difference.
Bruntsfield’s’s secretary, Stuart McGiwan, had forgotten to email me the code I would need to open the gates. I knew Stuart quite well. Quite well, considering I was an Overseas Member who rarely spent more than a week a year at Bruntsfield. We had lunched together on occasion; once played golf. Few things help smooth the path into the inner chambers of an elite Scots club than having the support of the Secretary.
So it was with a slight feeling of having been neglected by Stuart that I was forced to stop in front of the massive iron gates, get out of the car, open the small section of the gates which allowed individuals through and go looking for George Smilley, the Club starter. All this to get the code Stuart should have emailed me before I had left New York City. At the same time I was aware I should not be taking this too seriously. The weekend of the competition, held every year on the third weekend in September, was a busy one with twenty-five Overseas Members from eight different countries coming to play three foursomes matches over two days against twenty-five Home Members. Stuart could not be expected to see to every small request. There were practice rounds Friday afternoon; there was a black tie dinner Saturday night along with an auction for the teams on the final Sunday competition. Even though Bruntsfield regularly held the British Open Championship and a host of other major championships, the Overseas vs. Home tournament had become an important a fixture at the Club.
I looked in the window of the starter’s office, part of a small white-washed stucco cottage east of the main gate. It was empty. I found George near the first tee talking to some players. He was large and ruddy-faced and had an embracing personality, and you would expect to see on his face a welcoming smile, but George had attained a position of some power at Bruntsfield and with power came care and worry. He was in charge of who would play when and where; he had, in other words, the power of life and death over Bruntsfield golfers.
I greeted George heartily. We had established a joking relationship over the last three years. We liked to tease each other, but he seemed—at first—not to recognize me.
He turned his head quickly in my direction. “Excuse me, you're a member? Afraid your name has skipped my mind.”
“George it’s me, Charlie MacPherson. Overseas Member. Charlie, you know, from last year’s tournament. Me, Charlie.”
“Oh, well, it’s been a busy… you’ve no idea.”
I was surprised to put it mildly, but I realized he had been in the midst of a dispute about which group was to tee-off first and that I had interrupted him. Under the circumstances, he could be forgiven for not recognizing me.
I punched in the code he gave me with a feeling of disquiet. I watched the gates swing open, drove into the circle, dropped my club and bags near the main clubhouse, returned the car to the car park. My visit, which my recently retired self had been looking forward to all year, had not started smoothly. The secretary had failed to email me, and George hadn’t known who I was. There were good explanations for these minor omissions, but they made me feel unwelcome. I knew I was being oversensitive, yet couldn’t get over the feeling something was wrong. The fact that I had flown into Edinburgh from New York City that morning and was now badly jet-lagged no doubt played its part in my feelings… a good night’s sleep in one of the dormy rooms, and I’d be my old self the next day.
On a table in the hallway of the annex building, below a copy of the famous portrait of the royal Stuart children in golfing garb with little clubs in their hands, was a card in a holder which listed the occupants of the six rooms. It was considered a special privilege to stay there; if golfers asked you where you stayed when you played Bruntsfield, and you said “at the club” you attained with those three words a lofty status. I put my clubs in the entrance way, and placed my bag on the first carpeted stair leading up to the second floor. I picked up the card and holder and found that my name was not on the list. There were five names for rooms 2-6 and no name for room 1. For a moment I felt unsteady on my feet. I opened the door from the annex into the dining room in order to find the cashier and sort out this mistake. Upset as I was, I had to stand still for a moment and admire the room. I felt a surge of pride. There was no place like it in the world. Some of the members, it may be true, preferred the smoking room with its panorama windows of the golf course, but the dining room had what few other rooms have: drama. The height of the room's ceiling with its wooden beams was castle-like. The walls were of carved pinewood, hung with portraits of the Captains in their red jackets. There was a full-length copy of a portrait of John Rattray, the Club’s first Captain, holding an antique golf club; the original hung in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. There were glass cases filled with silver trophies from all over the world, including the first golf trophy, a silver club presented by the Edinburgh Town Council on March 7, 1736 to John Rattray for winning the first country-wide competition. Long polished communal tables—members were not to sit apart—glowed with linen napkins, placemats, silver, glasses, vases of flowers, silver wine coasters. Being in this room, corny as it sounded, made you proud to be a member of the Club. At one end of the room was a bar, at the other end a large window overlooking the course: fairways, bunkers, windswept clouds, fescue tall as hay; golfers carrying their clubs, pulling their clubs on “trolleys,” golfers with their dogs, larks swooping, cargo ships idling in the Firth of Forth and, across the Firth, the coast of the Kingdom of Fife, the view that sent the hearts of the members of the Ancient Society soaring. The day I arrived was particularly clear, and I could make out, thirty miles away across the Firth, the seaside holes at Elie.
There were a few white-haired, ruddy-faced members with their Bruntsfield ties still eating lunch at 2.30pm. Half-finished bottles of wine in front of them on the table, and they would have a Whiskey Mac before venturing out for their second round. The Steward, James, was having words with one of the waitresses. There was a new lady—officially the cashier—at the cashier’s desk in a corner of the dining room near the bar, which served as the center of operations for the entire club: pro shop, payment center, guest play, settling bets, buying golf balls, bar bill, lunch and room reservations. Cecile was her name, which I had noted down from the Secretary’s recent email announcement for just such an occasion. Important to be on her good side. She was low in the hierarchy of the help at the club but if you were on good terms with her, she would do you little favors. It also helped for other members to see you being chummy with a member of the staff. “Charlie MacPherson is just the kind of Overseas Member we want,” they would think.
Cecile was thin-faced, with a nose like a beak, dark hair, sharp intelligent eyes. I mentioned my name, and she said: “Oh, hello, Mr. MacPherson, so nice to meet you.”
I asked her when she had started and, before she could answer, added: “Do you ever see Maggie? She was wonderful. Got to know each other quite well. How’s she doing?” I decided it was a good idea to show her how well-connected I was at the Club.
“I see her every so often. She’s fine. Happily retired, I think.”
We went into the business of the room. I said I had reserved about two months ago and had gotten an email confirmation. Very surprised my name wasn’t on the list. She seemed a little flummoxed and explained they had installed a new software program and the computers had got a “bit mixed up.” Not to worry, however, I was given room #1. They hadn’t put my name on the list because….
It was all strange and worrisome. I felt I was being put into a special category: Members about whom there are open questions. Members we would like to find a way of eliminating. Members who rank at the bottom of the list and for whom services can be curtailed. I was too tired to pursue it further. There would be a simple explanation. That's how most misunderstandings turn out. We dramatize them in our mind; we entertain the worst possible scenarios, and the resolution is so simple and straightforward we never think of it. I needed sleep. I could straighten things out with Joanna tomorrow in the back office. Joanna and I got along nicely. Members can go into the office anytime and shoot the breeze. In many ways Bruntsfield was a friendly place.
I jerked awake at 5pm because of the noise the crows were making outside my window. It was 10am New York time. I pulled aside the curtain to the room’s one small window. Below me was the club’s garbage area with the cans all in a long row. Another blow: they had given me the worst room, the one no other member wanted to have. Across the road at the back of the club were two enormous black fir trees, which may have been on the property of the Greywalls Hotel. I could see half-hidden in the branches an army of crows. My head felt thick with the lack of sleep, and my eyes were sore. The crows had a difficult time getting airborne. Once in the sky they flew aimlessly about, making their terrific noises, before settling back into the trees. Every morning and evening, like clockwork. No point trying to get more sleep. Room like a prison cell. A touch of claustrophobia. Small bed, no table to work at, one uncomfortable wicker chair, a sink, a bureau, a closet. Bathroom at the end of the hall. Crappy rooms at the most important golf club in the world because the Scots, living up to the widely held assumption about their national character, were tremendously cheap and tremendously proud of it.
I went down to the locker room to see if my two friends from The Country Club, Peter and Rusty, had arrived. Their lockers were empty. The locker room pressed in on me as my bedroom had. I hurried out. I would have dinner by myself. I picked The Old Clubhouse Pub in Gullane because it had decent wi-fi. The wi-fi in the rooms wasn’t working. It had had a spotty record since being installed because, as someone pointed out, “the Club bought the cheapest device on the market.” Of course.
The Pub was well known for its cask conditioned ales and choice of malt whiskeys. I ordered a double GlenDronach and found a table in the corner. It was early and quiet and there were only a few people at the bar. Didn’t mind having dinner by myself. Nothing to be ashamed of. Didn't mean you didn't have a friend or loved one to eat with. Makes some people nervous. They can’t stand to be alone. I ordered fish and chips. I set up my laptop and sent an email to my wife telling her I had arrived safely. “So far all is fine,” I lied. I mentioned the loudness of the crows and their monstrous size. I told her I would try to record their sounds and send them to her and the grandchildren via voice memo. I didn’t tell her I wanted to be home. I didn’t tell her that I felt more than loneliness but a kind of… well, it sounds overdramatic… but what I felt was… terror.
I slept late, was not woken by the crows, went down to the breakfast room at 9am. There were five around the table. “Hello, all,” I said in an assertive voice, “Are we ready to do battle with the Home Team?” I hoped for a fresh start.
They all looked at me in silence. I recognized the Goose (David Angus, former Senator from Montreal), the captain of the Overseas Team, a fleshy, dark-faced man with a nasty smile and so big a stomach he had trouble turning about in his seat to look at me.
Had I said what I intended, I wondered, or had the words come out another way?
I could hear the Goose’s deep, raspy breath. He spoke, finally, like someone trying to keep saliva from dribbling out of his mouth. “You, who are you, might I ask? You weren’t here last year. But welcome. We need all the help we can get. Are you going to win for us or just cave in like another pussy?”
“I was here last year. This is my fourth year. Won one of my matches, which wasn’t so bad considering the final score.”
“Have to win both this time, absolutely must. Last year was a disgrace. I was bedridden for months. Your name?”
“You know me, MacPherson, Charlie MacPherson.”
The Goose said something to the others in French but it obviously had nothing to do with me. I was shocked at his rudeness but didn't let on. If you don't like another person, you keep it to yourself. You show some vestige of humanity, especially, I would add, if you are a member of The Ancient Society. One of the expectations of belonging to Bruntsfield was that you would be treated with politeness and consideration. I introduced myself to the two Frenchmen, both from Golf de Morfontaine near Paris, Edouard de Pourtales and Alec de Lezardiere, then Iain Gray, a handsome, very thin older man from Toronto, and a French Canadian with whom I had had an altercation the year before, Jean Pierre Ouellet. I had overheard him saying to the Goose after our match, “That Charlie guy you paired me with was not helpful. On the first hole he hit my drive into the deep fescue and we lost the ball and the hole. We never really recovered.” I did in fact lose his ball, but for the most part played better than he did, and we came close to winning because of me. I almost confronted him and said something, but took a deep breath, and decided that a confrontation, even if justified, would do no good for my standing in the club. The sight of his face at breakfast made me angry all over again, but he seemed to have no memory of me at all. I looked carefully into his eyes. Not a flicker of recognition. I was too late to join them for breakfast, so I asked if there were going to be some practice matches tomorrow, Friday, the day before the tournament. I was hoping they would include me in their group.
“Oh, everyone will play tomorrow. We all have our games,” announced the Goose in his loud authoritarian voice. And those games don’t include me, I thought.
“Well, I’m going to play a little today.”
“It’s visitors day, you can’t do that. All THOSE people around. WOMEN too. Probably be lesbians in the dining room.”
“Oh, I’ll go around while they’re all at lunch.”
“All I care about is winning. You have to win on Saturday. Remember that. Those are orders.”
Then I asked about dinner plans, and the Goose and Jean Pierre looked at their laps. One of the Frenchman, Edouard, I think, the one with the wild mop of orange hair, said they were going to The Golf Inn. I asked if I could join them. It embarrassed me to ask. I felt I was pushing myself on them out of desperation, which was not far from the truth. I wanted to blurt out: “I’m lonely, please have dinner with me!” What a joke! That I could even think of such a thing! Fortunately, they seemed enthusiastic and urged me to come, about 6.30, one said. Then the other: “Perhaps a little, you know, 7 o’clock, we will… meet, yes.” My spirits lifted at this. Maybe, I said to myself, we’ve turned a corner and I will be OK. And my friends will be here tomorrow.
I was again to be disappointed.
There were four of them at a table when I arrived, a little late, not wanting to be early and having to stand around by myself. Alec, who spoke almost no English, got up and gestured to the table, but there was not enough room to get another chair in. Edouard scrambled to his feet and went charging off muttering about a larger table. The Golf Inn’s pub was almost full and the one larger table available was reserved. So, I lied and said I was happy because I had invited another friend to come along and now the two of us could go to The Old Clubhouse pub which was just across the street. I felt they were concerned that they had not saved a spot for me, and I made every effort not to embarrass them.
I walked across the street to where I’d parked my car. It was nearly dark but boys were still playing golf on the small 4-hole course, yelling and laughing because it was so hard to see their balls. I stood and watched them until it became too dark.
The next day, I felt more comfortable at breakfast, although occasionally the Goose and Jean Pierre did not respond to my questions. “We’ve got a large crowd this year, don’t we? I’m amazed the tournament has gotten so popular.” They said nothing. Edouard vigorously nodded his head and Alec said: “Is it not indeed!”
On my way into the locker room to see if Peter and Rusty had arrived, I ran into Pat Burnett. Now, Pat and I had a very friendly relationship. It was only last year—we were playing together in a foursomes match—that he heard me say I’d never had the chance to play Gullane #2. He immediately offered to take me there for a game. Also in his seventies, he was still a tough competitor, with a square athletic build, big shoulders, strong hands. We both could hit the ball a good ways; we were about the same handicap, so we had a hard-fought match, down to the last hole, which I remember winning. We complimented each other on our games. He was so taken with the pleasure of playing with me that he invited me up to his house, at the top of Gullane Hill, for a drink that evening. You must be aware that to be invited to someone’s house in a foreign country is a rare privilege. I can hear him now proudly saying to his wife: “Here’s Charlie!” Just as an impresario would say: “And now, my main attraction!” His wife was lively and immediately charming, laying her hand on my arm, she said: “Anyone who can play 18 holes of golf with Pat needs a serious drink. What can I get you?”
This same friend, Pat Burnett, was about to pass by without speaking to me or perhaps recognizing me.
“Pat. Pat Burnett,” I said. “It’s Charlie!”
“Oh, yes, hello. Hello.”
“Are you playing in the tournament?”
“Oh, no, going fishing. Have a game now. You?”
“Yes. It was wonderful playing with you last year. That was fun, wasn’t it?”
“Last year? I think I know what you mean.”
I felt a searing pain. Gulped. Tried to keep it from spreading. Went into the locker room and found my clubs. A chair nearby. Sat and thought. Sat and thought. Had to be about me, I thought. Something about me, not them. Too many weird coincidences… secretary… George… the room… now Pat. As if something was missing. How could I have changed so much… so insubstantial a person… vastly insignificant… but wait… there are likely a hundred other explanations. These are the kind of random self-pitying and self-critical thoughts that go shooting through one’s mind when one is troubled. Our perspectives are so necessarily narrow; we only see a fraction of what is going on. Behind appearances lurk hidden complexities and tangled motives, all unfathomable.
When I went out to the practice range, past the putting green, past the 10th tee which abutted the stone wall in front of the Greywalls Hotel, I saw—finally!—Rusty and Peter.
“You guys are always practicing,” I said. “I have orders from the Goose that we must win this year.”
“Oh, the Goose,” replied Peter. “He would say that. After last year. You weren’t here, but we lost badly last year. I played terribly. Terribly. I was so embarrassed. But I love it here. Isn’t it glorious? Who cares how one plays?”
I didn’t say, “I was here last year, what’s wrong with you?” It was easier not to try to explain. Peter knew who I was. He’d forgotten about last year. Of course it bothered me. I felt rotten. Nothing seemed to work—with anyone. To have made such an effort, participated in everything, gone out of my way to be congenial, helped win one of the matches… but what good would it do to… it would call attention to my predicament. Which was what exactly? That the opinion I had about myself wasn’t shared by anyone else? In the midst of a social gathering in which there was a near obligation to include everyone, I was being left out for no discernible reason?
Peter introduced me to his good friend, Rusty, from The Country Club. I had met Rusty the year before. Not only had I met him, but we had become… well, I won’t go so far as to say ‘friends’ but certainly close acquaintances. We had spent time together, played once together, eaten together. It’s true that Rusty had acted a little slow to pick up on things, but it had never occurred to me he was having memory problems until Peter’s elaborate introduction, which must have been intended to avoid embarrassing Rusty.
They only had three for golf after lunch, their fourth had dropped out, they said, and I said I was free. Peter said: “That works out. You can be our fourth.” My feelings of elation at this news struck me as childish and pathetic.
Peter thought I played at Round Hill, and I had to remind him it was Shinnecock. It was annoying explaining what he should have known. I wanted to say: "Peter, I am as important as you are. In reality you and Rusty are dull and have nothing to talk about except country clubs and golf. There’s a wider world out there in case you hadn’t noticed. It should be me who has forgotten you.” Then I thought, because I had three more days to get through, that I needed a couple of friends to pal around with so that I would appear ‘normal’ to others. Here we were, I reflected, out on a beautiful course on a beautiful day, at the most famous of all the clubs, and what are a few misunderstandings? You can't go through life getting upset at every trivial slight. There's such a thing as being too sensitive. The sky cleared as we played our second nine, and the golf course emerged from shadows. From several high points all 18 holes could be seen. The fairways in September were emerald green and the fescue golden. To the west, toward Edinburgh, high on a hill, was spread out the medieval town of Gullane and, farther on, you could make out the harbor at Leith and the new silver-threaded, wing-span bridge across the Firth. The red-tiled roofs of the Bruntsfield Clubhouse were burnished by the late afternoon sun and the chimneys of Greywalls glowed a pale yellow. Following Archerfield Woods with your eyes—the gnarled, knotted trees made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson—the Firth of Forth came into view, intensely blue and bitten by whitecaps. Across the Firth were Fife and St. Andrews.
“Isn’t it glorious out here?” said Peter. “Where would you rather be? Aren’t we the luckiest people alive to be members of Bruntsfield.”
The first day of the tournament I was paired with an Overseas member, Newcomb Cole, a husky, strong golfer, who played at Pine Valley, near Philadelphia. Our Home Team opponents were Malcolm Murray and Anthony Goodrich. We talked briefly together on the first tee. I thought Newcomb, being the longer hitter, should tee-off first. “I’m not always that straight,” he said, laughing, and I replied I had seen his swing on the practice tee and had no doubts about his ability. But he was right, and I was wrong. He wasn’t straight, and if I hadn’t sunk three or four putts of over twenty feet we never would have won our match.
My caddie Alan was extremely interested in my game. Most of the Overseas Members took caddies; none of the Home players did. Caddies were expensive. Alan had an odd-shaped face, the lower part being larger than the upper, his reddish-blonde hair stood almost straight up from his head like a cartoon character, his eyes darted around, and he constantly licked his lips. He was quite young, perhaps thirty, quivering with energy and clearly in charge.
“Noo sairrr,” he said before I hit my first shot, “Nae need tae slug thes. Ye want tae be oan th’ front ay th’ green. Yak’ mair club than ye need sae yoo’ll swin’ within yerself. That’s th’ trick.”
“What was that?” I asked.
“Ye main be a wee stoaner ay hearin’. I’ll spick looder.”
He began to offer advice on every shot I hit, which at first was irritating. I knew as much about golf as anyone else and more about my own game but, gradually, as his instructions proved to be right, I began to rely on what he said.
“May I ask you a question?” I said.
“Why are you taking such an interest in my game?”
“I’ve bunsens oan ye.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’ve bit fifty poonds oan ye tae win.”
“Fifty pounds? On me? That’s crazy! That’s as much as your caddie fee.”
He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and said with a twisted smile: “Nae if ye lae a generoos tip.”
This made me laugh. “True enough,” I said.
I played as hard as I could. Newcomb kept hitting his drives deep in the fescue. I kept sinking putts to bail us out. But how long could I keep doing that? About half-way through the match I noticed Newcomb talking intently to one of our opponents. Then the other joined in. This continued. What could they have to say to each other? It must have been a personal or private conversation for they made no attempt to include me. As my spirits sank, my golf game deteriorated, and Alan became concerned.
“What’s happened tae ye, sairrr? Ye hae gain aff yer game.” He told me I needed to pull myself together. Concentrate. “Pretend ‘at th’ baa is part ay yer body.”
I didn’t bother asking what that last phrase meant. I got the message.
“Have you noticed that the others are not speaking to me?” I asked.
Forget about that, he told me. He wanted me to concentrate on the upcoming shot, a very important one, one I needed to hit just a few feet to the right of the little stake left of the hill. He told me how to hit it.
I did what he said, and the ball ended up about five feet from the pin. “Great shot, Charlie,” yelled Newcombe, “What a partner you are!”
This time I whispered. “I want to know why the others don’t say much to me.”
“They’re in awe ay ye, at your age.”
“Why would they be in awe of me?”
“They feel overmatched. It’s yer bearin’. Despite yer advanced years, you’re a big, athletic bodie, and th’ Bruntsfield members ur oan th’ runty side. You need to forget all these ‘extraneoos thooghts’ and try to concentrate. We hae tois holes left an’ we need tae bear doon.”
I sank a 10-foot putt on the 17th, and we won the match 2 up. I told Alan he had been a big help, and he said: “Yer a guid listener, sairrr.”
In the afternoon I was partnered with Gill Broome. We were tied going into the 18th. Gill put my second shot into an awkwardly deep bunker left of the 18th hole, the same spot Ernie Els had been in at the conclusion of the 2005 Open Championship. Alan who was bundled up in a tight, soiled windbreaker that looked like a hand-me-down from his great-grandfather, said: “Keep yer reit hain relaxed durin’ th’ swin.’ ” He said he wanted to see my right hand fingers off the club on my “Follaw ben.”
“Follaw ben? What does that mean?”
“It means in yer finish.”
A splash of sand. The ball plopped out near the pin, just as Alan predicted. Gill sank the putt. We had won. We shook hands. I waited for Gill, for Malcolm, for Colin to say something more to me than ‘good match.’ I had clearly been the outstanding player of the group. I was waiting for a compliment: “You played well. Good show. Nicely done.” Nothing was forthcoming. We went to the locker room, changed into coats and ties, went to the smoking room. I was just some stranger having a drink with them after the match. Occasionally I was allowed a word or two, in return for which I received a nod of the head, a grunt, an “oh, yes.” I pictured myself as an old Labrador with gray hair around his muzzle sitting beside the table patiently waiting to gulp down a few scraps of food. So this is what people are really like, I thought, looking out to the course while they chatted about the handicap system. Just like the Goose and Jean Pierre. Most people have no idea how cruel they can be. All I was asking for was a smidgeon of kindness, a smile, a friendly clap on the back. Nothing more.
I gave Alan one hundred and twenty pounds and told him I would see him Sunday morning at 8.30. “I’m not good at these black-tie Bruntsfield dinners,” I said. “I tend to drink too much."
“Och aye, that's th’ key. Th’ haem team will be tremendoosly blooter’d. Fur ye: nae mair than a glass ur tois ay bucky.” Alan thought I would be a popular person to bet on at the dinner. Someone who has won both matches.
But Alan was wrong. The fact that I had won twice was not mentioned. Only one person bet on me and that was Peter. I sat next to Alistair Forbes, an Overseas member who had spoken to me and who I thought would enjoy a conversation, but one of the former Captains, in red cloth coat and gold buttons, pulled me out of my chair and took me down the table a few places and sat me next to a Home member, Tony Fasson. “Can’t have the Overseas sticking together. The point is to meet some of the locals.”
Tony was pleasant but hard to understand. He spoke with the toff British accent often referred to as “marbles in the mouth.” He was a handsome man with a full head of brown wavy hair but soft looking with sagging skin around his mouth and chin as if he had overindulged in mutton chops. It was clear he didn’t remember me, which I was almost getting used to. I guessed he was above that sort of thing. We’d been together at a couple of small dinner parties which had included mutual acquaintances. The flowing on of life about him, brushing his clothes as it went by, had no interest to him. He didn’t think in such terms as “have we met before?” He had his friends, and no one else could be fully alive for him. I was only a symbol of a man with limbs floating through the air like a feather.
There was another possibility, something I had thought about but was reluctant to confront. “Could everyone be right and I wrong? That what I remembered was not from last year but the year before? That I’d met Tony the year before, gotten into the altercation with Jean Pierre and the Goose, joked with George, played golf with Pat, gotten to know Peter and Rusty—all the year before. It was hard for me to imagine my memory was that bad, but it was possible I suppose. I was seventy-eight, but I was what many people called “good for my age.” “You’re seventy-eight!” they exclaimed. Even if I was wrong and it was the year before, people should still remember me. Yes, that’s the point! One year, two years. Little difference. “Of course, we remember,” they would say. “Sorry you missed last year. Glad to have you back. We need you.” I went over everything that had happened so far, went over that litany of rudeness and rebuffs. I tried to analyze all the information as dispassionately and logically as I could. I remained more convinced than ever I was here last year. I remembered my wife saying goodbye with the words: “I know you’ll play well. I know that last year was just an aberration. You’re good. I think you’ll win this year. I just have that feeling.”
The next day, I was paired with Jim Reinhart. We lost, neither of us playing particularly well, and our opponents, with their hangovers on parade, were on fire. Then lunch. Then the ceremony. The handing over of the giant silver bowl, the Jock Hutchinson trophy. A long self-congratulatory speech from the Goose. The Home vs. Overseas his idea. He had pestered the Bruntsfield Captains for years, had rounded up the Overseas Members, goaded them into coming, and now it was a great triumph, his triumph. He had done it all. His stomach appearing from under his black waistcoat jiggled with delight. Then it was over. All I wanted now was to get home as quickly as possible.
The caddies were still there after lunch, settling up their intricate bets. A few of them were going out in the afternoon. Alan was happy. He had won a good sum betting on me.
“Ye an’ Ah ur a guid team. Ye Listen weel. Yoo’re nae tay prood tae accept advice. ” He told me I lost on Sunday because I was tired from playing 36 holes the day before. “In yer present condition it’s tay much fur ye.” He suggested that next year I come over a “wee” bit early, “An’ play a coople ay 36 holes matches tae gie in shape.”
I was on the verge of telling Alan I wouldn’t be coming over next year but hesitated. A year is a long time, and something could still happen that would make me feel better. Someone could congratulate me on my good play. Someone could ask me to have dinner on my last night. So all I said was, “That’s good advice. You’re the best caddie I’ve ever had Alan.”
“Weel sairr Ah was glad Ah maunt tae help ye it a wee haur an’ thaur.”
I assume Alan said something nice. We shook hands.
I had nothing to do that evening. Even Peter and Rusty had disappeared. The next morning I went into the dining room to see Cecile. I was all packed and ready to go, and asked Cecile for my bill. “I better settle up now, Cecile, so you don’t have to send me an invoice.”
“Oh, that's fine, Mr. MacPherson… we can do that. I’ll need your address.”
“But surely you have that?”
I noticed some confusion on her face as I had when we were talking about my name not being down for a room.
“We always like to make sure we have the right address, the one that is connected with your credit card. A precaution, that’s all.”
I should settle this now, I thought, once and for all. I should ask to go to the office and demand to look at the list of Overseas members. Of course I must be on it—there’s no real question about that—after all I got my bill last year. I looked around the room, up at the ceiling, out the windows to the green course. Maybe it hit me then. More likely, it was sometime during the night that I decided not to come back next year and maybe not even the year after. I couldn't stand it, really. It was torture, perhaps self-inflicted but torture nonetheless. I didn’t fit in. No one at the Club wanted me there, except Alan, the caddie, and if I’d not won him some money, he would have acted like the others. Nothing I said was interesting. I could hear myself. I came out with words that were meant to convey complexities of observation and humor but, when they emerged, were only dull, commonplace platitudes. I was astonished at the lack of confidence I had, at the temerity with which I conducted myself in the face of their unconcern. I didn't exist for them and, in a way, didn't exist for myself. That was how I felt, like a shadow. There was nothing I could do to rectify the situation because I didn’t have the energy. I didn't have a plan. Better to leave and not come back. Believe me, sneaking out with my tail between my legs would bring me nothing but happiness. Charging back to the office on some cringe-inducing idea of finding my name—or not!—on the membership list would only cause embarrassment to everyone.
I was happy to see my wife, and she happy to see me, and it felt good being home.
“I have good news,” she said. “Heather is applying to Amherst, and the school’s placement counselor thinks she has a good chance of getting in.”
“At least they give some weight to legacies.”
“And Tad is happy so far at Andover. That's what he told Caroline. Of course, it’s only been two weeks but he told her he has three friends already. So how was Scotland? How did you play? You have to get wheels for your next golf bag cover. Look at it. It must be so heavy to carry. At your age you shouldn’t be lugging stuff like that. I’ve told you that. Are you exhausted? With the jet lag? You look exhausted. Did you win… after last year?”
I told her that I had won both matches on Saturday, one of the very few to do so, which at my age was pretty decent when you think about it, and that I had decided to go out on top. I told her I had told the Goose that I wouldn’t be playing anymore, and he seemed relieved.
“He did? Why? Oh, I forgot. Tad liked the recording of the crow noises. He really did.”
The Goose wanted to get younger people involved, I said. Quite right too. Playing 36 holes in one day is really too much for guys my age. It’s certainly too much for Peter and Rusty. Rusty, by the way, is having memory problems. That’s sad, isn’t it? Didn’t know who I was at first. I had a good run. The tournament for four years at Bruntsfield. It’s become popular now, long waiting list to get a spot. I was on the winning team twice. Never played badly. Never had a serious melt-down. Most people would give an arm and a leg to be in my shoes, so I’m lucky. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones.
In 1980, Robert Macdonald and Herbert Warren Wind, the great golf writer for The New Yorker, began a book club for golfers called The Classics of Golf, which eventually produced 75 volumes, a few of which were created by Wind and Macdonald, and most of which were reproductions of the finest books on all aspects of golf written over the last 150 years. Golf, Herb Wind liked to point out, has the finest literature of any game in the world.
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