Open For Business

The alarm goes off. I don’t.

My roommate, who also has to be up at the crack of dawn, bangs on my door like the apartment is on fire.  I don’t do so much as grunt acknowledgement.

“Get your ass uuuuuuup,” she yells, banging again like a drunk on the door of a closed pub. But she’s a morning person and there is sweet laughter in her voice.

Me?  I am Midnight at the Oasis.

I roll over like an out-of-practice possum and slap the cheap Panasonic with a flailing hand, wishing it was a Bose. The time is 6:22; the sun is still at the Tiki bar having a beer, and I’m wondering why the hell I set my clock for this ungodly hour.

And then I remember, funny how you remember.

 I never had a real job in my life, so I guess it was easy to forget this one.

As I sit up on my arms, I remember.  I’m going to be a caddy, and today is my first day. At Augusta National, of all places.  Me, the recent college grad with a degree in English and minors in Philosophy and Psychology, gonna be a caddy.  A rookie caddy.  AKA bag toter, grass smasher, bull.

I roll over again. But only to push my body in position to get out of the waterbed, a Christmas present I begged and pleaded for, only to find that I needed to put a tablet under my tongue in order to sleep through the night.  Don’t even think about having sex on the damn thing unless you’re on leave from the Cirque de Soleil.

OK, I’m up. The sun isn’t, but I am.

I shower quickly, blow-dry the hair, slap on some gel to style the straight locks and I’m off. Breakfast is an afterthought—seems way too early to ingest something. The Trans Am fires up like a champ, and I pull her out of the confines of Brookside Hell and onto Berckmans Road for my two minute drive.

Yes, I am that close. My apartment, hellhole that it is, backs up to Augusta National, and I think to myself that’s pretty cool, even at 6:30 in the morning.

I turn onto Washington Road. Before I can accelerate beyond 30 I hit my blinker and take a slow right turn.
Augusta National Golf Club.

Just like that I am inside the hallowed gates. I wave at Magnum, the old guard I’ve known since I was a 13 year old punk kid coming in the gates with Mom to get dropped off for a round during Closing Week. Magnum doesn’t wave back but responds with a pounding fist on the trunk as I go straight down Magnolia Lane and not down Caddy Lane, the gravel road that runs behind the practice tee. I slam on the brakes. Had I hit one of the magnolias?

I won’t repeat his words that made me quickly realize I had not clipped a magnolia.

I back up with the tailpipe between my legs and turn hard right. A hundred yards later I’m in the caddy parking lot, although it’s not really a lot—just a portion of Gate 10 the caddies use during the season to park their cars. There are no white lines, no arrows pointing which way to go. Just park behind the guy in front of you.

My black Trans Am sticks out like a prom dress at a hoe down.

Not many caddies have wheels, yet there must be twenty cars parked in the caddy lot, with every car toting two caddies or more. I make my way to the caddy shack, wondering if this was such a good idea after all.

I walk through the open green door, feeling like the kid in Weird Science, when he walks into the Candy Bar and everything stops. I half wave, half smile, look desperately for a place to hide.

There isn’t one.

Not that I’m Joe Popular, but it’s rare for me to walk into a room and not know a soul. Truth be told, and I hope this comes out right, but it’s rare for me to walk into a room and not own it.  Not because I’m Mr. Gregarious, but because I usually know enough people to get the energy going, the jokes going, the mood changing.

Here, the only mood changing is mine.

After the initial freeze frame, most of the caddies go about their business, except for one who looks awfully familiar, but for the life of me I cannot remember his name. But he caddied for me once during Closing Week, and he sure remembers mine.

“Little Doc,” he yells out.  “Ol’ Little Doc. What you doing here?”

Damn good question.

Trying my best to feel out of place, I want to say. But instead I tell him the truth.

“I’m here to caddy.”

“Say what?”

“Yeah, I know. Crazy.”  I shrug my shoulders.  “I needed a job and Freddie gave me one, so here I am. Ready to walk those fairways, hike those hills.”  I look away, realizing how stupid that sounds.

“But you a college man.  On the golf team.  Damn good golf team.  Ain’t you going pro?”

“No,” I say, “Not good enough.”

“Little Doc, you can golf your ball.”

“Don’t want to waste Big Doc’s money,” I say. “May need to tap him later.” I fake a smile.

The caddy laughs. I wish to hell I could remember his name. It’s on the tip of my tongue but at the bottom of my brain.

“Well, I heard that! Your Doc’s a good man. Damn good man. You got a good Daddy, L’il Doc.”

He’s right. Pop is a good man.

“Well, lemme know if I can do anything for you.  Hey, I gotta go. Gatorade Man got a group of 12 and we about to make us some money.  Real money.  Gonna walk our ass off to get it, though.”

And just like that he was gone. And just like that I was alone again. 

And just like that I smell butterbeans. It smells like a family reunion.

“Hey man—you hungry?”  A familiar voice calls out from behind a half open window that is the kitchen of the caddy house. The window is made of steel bars.  If you want to serve something to someone, you gotta bend down to do it.

“Hey Freddie,” I say, and then thinking about his question I say, “Sure, I’m always hungry.”

“How ‘bout some butterbeans and chicken?”

An odd choice for seven in the morning, but now that I’m awake I’m no doubt hungry.  I guess it’s not much different than eating leftover pizza.

“Sure,” I say, and three dollars and fifty cents later I’m sitting down on a long wooden bench—the kind you see outside a country church, trying not to spill a bowl of butterbeans big enough to feed the five thousand.

I forgot to get something to drink, so I go back to the counter and order a Coke.

“Grape Soda?” asks Horace, who I remember from my Closing Week days and Pop bringing me into the caddy house during the Masters. It comes out like one word.

“No,” I say. “Coke.  Please.”  

Horace scoops ice into a green Masters cup, pours in the liquid.

“Fifty cent.”
I slide him the money, looking deep into my Grape Soda.

Back on the bench I pull wax paper off my chicken sandwich and open it up. A leg and a thigh.  No wing. It’s my lucky day.

I ate many of these as a kid, the good ol’ bone sandwich, thanks to Pop’s connections and my friendship with Freddie. Augusta National was a different world back then. Once you got the hall pass, you always had the hall pass.

I take a bite of butterbeans.  I’m not surprised how good they are.  Freddie has cooked them long and slow, with just the right amount of salt, pepper and fatback.  Freddie can cook. Unlike most southern cooks, he knows grease doesn’t have to mean greasy.  Still, I can’t believe I’m eating butterbeans at seven in the morning. Better yet, I can’t believe I’m up at seven in the morning. And maybe I’m not, since I feel groggier than a re-entry astronaut, but suddenly my colon is wide awake. Blame it on my gastrointestinal surgeon father who once told me one of the worst cancers you can get is colon cancer, and one of the leading causes is not taking enough shits. So me, I take more shits than a soldier takes leave.

Man, I gotta go. Gotta go now.

I stand up and look around, trying not to seem lost or confused. No bathroom in sight. I walk from the bench to the middle of the room where I see what surely must be a bathroom, though there are no signs saying as much.  I don’t care.

I have to go so bad it doesn’t matter if it’s a closet full of brooms.

I push open the door.  Jackpot!

Or just pot. As in pots, crappers with no doors around them, newspapers scattered on the floor, urinals off to the left, a shower to the right. Not a door in sight. But I am about to ruin my day for good if I don’t sit down, so I do just that. In front of God and everybody I do my due diligence, and as I’m kicking it into third gear I hear my name called, like a bad third grade dream when the teacher calls your name at roll call in the middle of the summer and you with a big fish on the line.

“Yo—you Tripp, ain’tcha?”

“Yeah. I’m Tripp.”

He takes off his hat like we’re in a fancy restaurant. “It’s me—Tip Light.  Remember? We worked together.  On number 2. Loooong time ago—back when Ballesteros could still find a fairway.”

I put down the newspaper. “I remember you.  Of course.”   And of course I did, but I was still half naked and trying to take a shit.

“What you doing here?  It ain’t Closing Week.  You trying to caddy or something?”

What else can I say but the truth?

“I was looking for a job out of college and I talked to Doc and he said call Freddie, and you know Freddie so here I am.”

“Well, alright,” says Tip Light. “Now ain’t this something.  Little Doc, caddying at Augusta National.”

“Yeah, it’s something alright,” I say, looking around for toilet paper.

- 30-
Eighteen Lessons

We’re high-tailing down 5 fairway when Freddie pulls a scorecard from his pocket.   He hands it over and I open it, curious of the score inside.  Course record, maybe?   
Freddie grabs the scorecard and flips it.  On the back of the card are the names of the holes of Augusta National Golf Club.

He begins a monologue for the ages.“Alright, man.  Hole Number 1.  Tea Olive.  Avoid the right hand bunker like the plague.  It’s deeper than a drunk philosopher.  Haven’t seen a four made outta there since Clinton was a boy.  It’s a half club longer than it looks, so make sure you account for it.  Tricky green, but they’re all tricky.  Just make sure you got this thought at the front of your brain.  You don’t read Augusta’s greens, you remember them. So pay close attention to everybody’s putt, even if your man can’t play dead.  Pay just as close attention to the other three cats in your group.  You might be thinking that every time you go out on the track you’ve got just one chance to learn.  Naw, man.  You got four chances.  And did I tell you to stay away from the pin when it’s cut left?  Chance of getting her close from there are slim to none, and pitch shots from the valley are for dead men.  Grain runs hard towards 8 green, so it’s a lot, and I mean a lot, faster than it looks.”

“Hole Number 2. Pink Dogwood. Your line off the tee is just left of those right hand bunkers.  That creek running down the left side?  It’s only good for one thing, and that’s eating Titleists.  You can make five from the right woods, but not the left.  If your man wants to go for the green, let him.  Nothing wrong with being in those greenside bunkers.  Easier pitch than being right in front of ‘em.  Grain runs towards that group of pines behind seven green.  That means there are a bunch of putts that will break uphill.  Good hole to earn your keep on, especially with first-timers.  They won’t believe you when you tell them it’s breaking right.”

“Hole Number 3.  Flowering Peach. No sense in taking driver here unless your man’s weak as a Shirley Temple and couldn’t reach those bunkers with a hurricane behind him.  Another one that’s half a club longer than she looks.  Lot better long than short.  Up and down from that front swale is rare as snow in April, pro or no.  Grain runs towards sixteen green, but if the scoreboard was up, I’d say it runs right at it.”

“Hole Number 4. Flowering Crab Apple. I’ll say it twice.  You don’t want your man in that front bunker.  He might never get out.  Long ain’t wrong here.  Grain’s running hard left, where they put the grandstands during the tournament.  Lot of ghost breaks here.  Fact, there may not be a straight putt on this green outside a one-footer.”

“Hole Number 5.  Magnolia. Makes sense to name it that seeing as your line off the tee are those three magnolias on the far side of the fairway. Those bunkers on the left?  Don’t even think about going over ‘em. I don’t care if your man is long as John Daly, it just ain’t worth it. If you do fly 'em, maybe you got half a club less in your hand.  But the risk ain’t worth the reward. If a bunker could take life and be rattlesnake mean that bunker would be it.  This green is a beast, let’s just leave it at that. You’ll need to learn this one firsthand, just make sure you account for that false front. Adds at least half a club, though I know it doesn’t look it. For the average Joe, 5 here is a pretty good score.

“Hole Number 6. Juniper.  Don’t let the valley fool you.  Play the yardage on the card, and when the pin is on that top right shelf, let it alone. Olazabal made 7 going after that pin one year and still almost won the whole shooting match.  And him with one of the best short games on Tour. Play for the middle of the green, take your 3 and run to the next box.”

“Hole Number 7.  Pampas.  As in the grass that’ll slice your ass to ribbons if you try to squat down in it.  Crazy ol’ Donahue found out the hard way.  Couldn’t hold it, so he ran into the pampas to take care of business but it took care of him first.  Lucky his ass didn’t bleed to death.  And I mean literally.  So if your man hits one in there, hand him another.  Don’t even discuss it. Tee shot here is key—no need to hit driver unless he hits it so straight you could hang your clothes on it. Grain runs hard at that pine on the back of the green. The one on the right.  This green gets a little tricky late in the day.  Doesn’t break as much as you think it would.”

“Hole Number 8.  Yellow Jasmine.  Named after the yellow flowering vines you see growing on those loblollies down the left side of the fairway. There’s something blooming out here year round, regardless of the season. Did I say that already?  Now those fairway bunkers, stay out of ‘em if you can help it. But if you do find your man in the sandbox, hand him a 7-iron.  He’ll still be able to get home in 3. If he’s got game, hand him the 5 iron. But nothing more than that.  As you can see, no bunkers guarding the green. Not many par fives out there hard as this one with no greenside bunkers.  The green is who wears the pants on this hole.  Anything longer than twenty feet, don’t try to make it.  Think three foot circle and hope for a two putt.”

“Hole Number 9.  Carolina Cherry.  Tee shot here is pretty straight forward, and the only flat spot on the fairway is Roberts’ Ridge.  If it looks a little out of place that’s because it is.  Mr. Roberts had it built because that’s where his drives always ended up and he couldn’t hit off a hanging lie.  True story.  Doesn’t affect the character of the hole because no pro ever hits it there. Ain’t but a couple hundred yards or so off the tee.  Now this green is nobody’s friend.  If the pin is on the front, shoot for the middle ‘cause if you come up short of the flag there’s a good chance she’s rolling back into the divot you just took.  Not that you want to miss a green, but if you miss this one make sure you miss it long.”

“Hole number 10.  Camellia.  Let me make it clear that those are bushes you want to admire from afar. You get up next to a camellia bush and you may as well hand your scorecard to the janitor. OK, I like the drive here right of center, the hill is steep and the kicks are sharper over there so she’ll run like a sewer rat if you land her with a draw.  The bunker at the bottom of the hill is way out of reach, really just for looks nowadays. Years ago that bunker guarded the green, but not so much since they moved it back. Speaking of bunkers, if the pin is cut right stay left; no getting up and down from right of the flag unless you hole a thirty- footer ‘cause that’s about as close as you’re gonna get from over there.  Like you saw earlier, grain runs hard down to 11 tee box, and down grain putts here are some kinda fast. No shame in a five on this hole, truth be told.”

“Hole number 11.  White Dogwood.  Good hole to earn your keep on. When your man putts out on ten, hand him the driver and send him downhill.  You keep walking to the fairway. They won’t be able to see you from down there, so if you want to give your man’s driver a little boost you can do it here. I wouldn’t kick it more than 20 yards or so. Also, you ain’t heard a word of this from me. OK, this fairway is wide enough to land a jet so down the middle suits just fine. Stay out of the left woods unless you want another six on your card.  Right woods you have a chance, left you have a chance, too.  It’s called no.  Hogan used to say if you ever saw him on 11 green in two that means he pulled it.  That just might be a true story. The pond on the left ain’t big as a minute, but it’s got more golf balls sitting on the bottom than Evel Knievel’s got pain pills. Grain runs at the pump house. Not too many ghost breaks here.

Hole number 12.  Golden Bell.  One of my favorite holes.  Remember what I said about the trees left of the Hogan Bridge.  Look there for your wind direction and nowhere else.  And if you see a caddy throwing grass in the air, slap it out of his hand. Club selection ain’t as mysterious here as folks make it out to be. Pin in the middle and the yardage you see is the yardage you get. Pin on the right, add a club, not that I would want you going for that pin anyway.  Pin on the left, drop back a club. Simple as that.  Nothing wrong with being in the front bunker, but the back ones are a couple of junkyard dogs. Twelve is the flattest green on the course. Lots of straight putts on this one, so keep your memory book handy. It’ll look like it just has to do something, but damned if it don’t break so much as a nose hair.

“Hole number 13.  Azalea.  Just like on number 10, these are also bushes you want no part of.  The creek running down the left side of the fairway is shallow as a prom queen, but you don’t want any part of that either. Houdini couldn’t make five from down there. The line off the tee is those Cypress trees on your right.  Fairway slopes left so it’ll kick ‘em back down to the middle. You can make five from the right woods, not the left.  And if there’s a flat lie on this fairway, I ain’t seen it. If you got a guy who can really boom it let him go for it in two if the itch is strong, but it’s a lot further than it looks, especially with the pin cut right. Trying to land a 3-wood on this green is like asking a Playboy Bunny out on a date. It might happen, but not very often.  Grain here is running back to the tee box, maybe a little left of it, so there are some putts here that can break uphill.  The pros don’t mind hitting over this green, but I do. It ain’t no picnic back there, man. I don’t care what you got in your basket.

“Hole number 14. Chinese Fir.  Might just be the toughest green on the golf course. Stay away from anything left. Right of center is your line off the tee, and the right woods aren’t the end of the world. Like I said earlier, if the pin is left leave it alone like it’s got electricity running through it.  Those pines guarding the left side of the green are nobody’s friend, I promise you that.  No matter what the yardage says here, tell your man to think half a club further, maybe more depending on his skill level.  It’s a rare up-and-down from in front of this green.  From the back at least you have a chance.  Grain runs hard down 11 fairway, and she is fast. Good hole to show ‘em what you got. You might not believe it, but you’ll see more 40-footers drop here than just about anywhere else on the course.”

“Hole number 15.  Firethorn.  And yes, those mothers will stick your ass like a briar patch so stay away from the left side of the fairway.  You don’t want anything to do with those chocolate drops on the right, either.  Plenty of room to roam on this one.  No need to strain on the tee box.  From the members’ tees this one is reachable for a lot of players, especially when they get to their ball and see it’s all downhill from there. Nothing wrong with being in the bunker right of the green, nothing wrong with being long either. I won’t insult you by saying you don’t want to be short. Take the yardage as it comes. Even though your approach is straight downhill, it pretty much plays what it plays. If you do tell your man to lay up here, try to keep him a 100 yards out, or whatever distance he hits full.  It’s soft as a jelly doughnut down at the bottom of that hill. Closer ain’t better, if you get me. Grain runs hard towards the corner of the Sarazen Bridge.  Putts tracking that line are fast as Chuck Yeager.”

“Hole number 16.  Redbud.  Might not look like it but this is the easiest par three on the golf course. The pin placements are what make a 2 a tough row to hoe, but there ain’t no good reason why you shouldn’t make 3 here ninety percent of the time. Stay away from that top bunker. Unless you’re Gary Player, you ain’t making three from up there. Green is sloped like a mountain, so when the pin is on the bottom, just throw it into the hill and she’ll feed to the hole. The hill is your line when the pin’s down at the bottom, anyway. No sense risking that left bunker, forget the pond. Grain is running pretty much dead at us, so putts into the grain here are some of the slowest on the course. What you see is what you get for the yardage, but I ain’t got to tell you that.”

“Hole number 17.  Nandina.  See that big ol’ loblolly out there in the fairway?  That’s Ike’s Tree.  I’m surprised it’s still standing, many times as the old boy hit it.  He tried to get Mr. Roberts to cut it down—asked him exactly that during a board meeting.  Instead of having to say no to the President of the United States, Mr. Roberts just adjourned the meeting and that was the end of that. OK, still looking at Ike’s Tree think of your line as being about thirty yards right of it. You can fly it if you want but she’s taller than she looks. Not worth it, if you ask me. There’s lots of room on the right—you could land a plane over there if you had to. Yardage into the green is a little uphill, adding half a club won’t hurt anybody’s feelings. Short is a whole lot better than long, and the grain runs hard towards 14 green. There are some tricky putts on this one.  Not just ones breaking up the hill but up a side hill.”  Freddie tilts his hand at an angle and points to the sky.  “Now that’s some tricky shit, man.

“Hole number 18.   Holly.  Talk about your great finishing hole. If your man’s a player, tell him his line is the Clubhouse in the distance. If he can really play, ask him if he sees the three windows that are side by side, under the roofline. If he says yes, tell him to aim at the one in the middle! This is one of the few fairways at Augusta you gotta hit or you’ll be scrambling for your par. Right side is death, left side is close, unless you blow it past the bunkers.  Opens up a little over there.  On your approach shot add a club to whatever the green Bible says, and save yourself some heartache by making note of where the pin is when you’re making the turn. Nothing kills a tip worse than having your man knock down the flag only to find out it ain’t on the back, it’s on the front. Or vice versa, which is even worse. This green holds true to memory, so don’t forget the grain runs to the big oak below the green, the one between the two fairways.  And I mean dead at it. It’ll make a straight putt bend the other way every time.”

“Last thing.  If your man’s about to drop it and the member sees him, hand it back and tell him he must have dropped it by accident.  You get caught hustling tips and it’s a two week vacation. Get caught a second time and you’ll be wearing an Aerosmith T-shirt.”

“An Aerosmith T-shirt?”

“‘Cause your ass is on Permanent Vacation.”