Blue Fairways: Three Months, Sixty Courses, No Mulligans [NOOK Book]

Overview



A duffer's odyssey on the public links from Maine to Key West.

A golfing everyman takes us on a pilgrimage, playing public golf courses along Route 1 down the east coast of the United States. From his first round with French-Canadian partners amidst the potato fields of northern Maine to his final round against a setting tropical sun in Key West, Charlie Slack chronicles the best and worst of the public-golf experience. Each round introduces...
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Blue Fairways: Three Months, Sixty Courses, No Mulligans

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Overview



A duffer's odyssey on the public links from Maine to Key West.

A golfing everyman takes us on a pilgrimage, playing public golf courses along Route 1 down the east coast of the United States. From his first round with French-Canadian partners amidst the potato fields of northern Maine to his final round against a setting tropical sun in Key West, Charlie Slack chronicles the best and worst of the public-golf experience. Each round introduces a new set of partners and opens a window onto a new locale, whether it's the manicured suburbs of Connecticut, the worn-down urban centers of the Northeast Corridor, or the sun-drenched golfing havens of the South. Here in the land of new beginnings, Charlie Slack lives out every golfer's fantasy, a fresh start and a pristine fairway each and every morning. An utterly charming tale of a quintessentially American journey of discovery.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Slack, a former business reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and feature writer for many national magazines, takes us on a journey along Route 1 down the east coast of the United States, playing public golf courses from Maine to Key West. The author lives out every duffer's fantasy: a fresh start and an untarnished fairway each day. From his first round in northern Maine to his final round in Florida, he recounts the best and worst of his experiences on his three-month odyssey, introducing a new set of partners with each stop. As Slack hacks his way through the suburbs and urban centers of the Northeast on his way to the sun-drenched golfing havens of the South, the journey becomes one of discovery as well. More than just one man's account of a golfing junket, this is an absorbing tale about America. Recommended for all public libraries.--Peter Ward, Smithtown Lib., NY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A golfer's three-month trip playing on 60 courses along the East Coast becomes a journey of discovery in this gently good-humored, easy read. Richmond, Va., newspaper reporter Slack had a personal fantasy: He wanted to shave ten strokes off his game, playing on different public courses, partnering with as many golfers as he could. The book—and the trip—is divided into four regions: New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the South, and Florida's Gold Coast, with the trip going down Route 1, from Maine to Florida. Slack comments on each course's history, design, and ambience, noting similarities (player etiquette or, in some cases, the lack thereof), unique characteristics (an alligator lying in wait on a Florida course), and, at times, social significance (Boston's Franklin Park was saved in the 1970s by a group of black golfers). Slack assesses his own play, relishing the fact that he has the opportunity to reinvent himself at each new golf course. He also goes through self-revelations when he revisits his hometown and when he thinks about his family (his wife was expecting their second child). But most enjoyable are Slack's accounts of the personalities—young and old, rich and middle-class, male and female—he meets along the way. As one golfer puts it, "I love the challenge, I love the courses. But the best thing is the people you meet." Slack's anecdotes and observations give the reader a flavor of the different regions. And through it all, the game of golf, including the experience and camaraderie that come from playing, is celebrated. Golfers and nongolfers will appreciate Slack's personal journey. All readers will probably fantasize about embarking on a similarvoyage to test the truth of the statement spoken by a long time golfer: "Golf is a great game. It's a tough game. It's the second-toughest game there is. The first toughest game is life itself."
From the Publisher
"An utterly engaging chronicle of a golf trip to end all golf trips. If he ever decides to do it again, I hope he takes me along." —David Owen, author of My Usual Game

"A wonderfully entertaining and instructive book...by an attentive and wry observer."—Robert Coles

"It is an axiom of sports literature that the smaller the ball, the better the writing. Blue Fairways holds true to form, and that, above all, is what makes the book a pleasure."—The Denver Post

"Blue Fairways will have you laughing out loud in identification, envy and delight."—Travel & Leisure

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429933674
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 724,037
  • File size: 337 KB

Meet the Author



Charles Slack is a former business reporter and feature writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and has contributed articles to many prominent national magazines. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
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Read an Excerpt


Blue Fairways
Part OneNew England1Speed Skating Through Jell-OMy tires crunched to a stop in the gravel parking lot of the Fort Kent Golf Club, a nine-hole course on a hillside three miles west of Fort Kent, Maine."On parle français ici," a sign in the neat, white clubhouse read."American or Canadian money?" asked the young woman behind the lunch/green fees counter."American," I said. "Will you take a credit card?""Oh oui," she said.The greens fee was $10.There were a few groups already on the course but nobody waiting to tee off, and nobody in the clubhouse. I now could understand the manager's casual "yes" when I had phoned the day before asking if they might squeeze in a single the next morning.Fort Kent, population 2,100, marks the northern terminus of Route 1, near the northernmost tip of the continental United States. This section of Maine lies a couple of hundred miles inland from the rocky coast and is rounded by a sort of camel's hump defined by the St. John River. The river runs north from Fort Kent for a few miles before turning south on its long run tothe Atlantic Ocean. Route 1 pushes north with the river, peaks at a town called Madawaska, then plunges south for 2,200 miles to Key West, Florida.I arrived in Fort Kent on a cool, bright Sunday morning in June, just as the local Catholic churches--not quaint, cozy New England churches of lore, but tall, austere, European-looking structures with pointed arches--were letting out. I inched my car through throngs of parishioners exchanging hugs and playing with their children on roadside fields strewn with wildflowers. The golf course lies along Route 161, which is actually an extension of Route 1. Follow 161 for about thirty more miles and you would pass the tiny outpost towns of Allagash and Dickey, and then come quite literally to the end of the road, the last paved frontier before the start of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the interminable forests of northern Maine.I headed to the first tee box alone. An urban golfer in such a setting is like a starving man who continues to hoard food after the famine is over. I hurried out to the tee box without even lacing up my golf shoes, as if at any moment some assistant manager might appear with the news that there had been a mistake, I must actually wait for a couple of slow foursomes to tee off in front of me. When it was clear this would not happen, I slowed down.I stood for a moment on the tee box, staring up the fairway, not wanting to smudge the crisp, virgin canvas of my adventure. So far, my scorecard read even par. You can't avoid getting old, but if you play golf you know what it feels like to have life begin all over again with each new round. You have a shot at redemption, a chance to correct past mistakes, erase regrets; all is forgiven. Today will be different. There is the smell of wet grass, the crisp cardboard of an unbent scorecard, a sharp pencil, a new ball still cool and slightly sticky to the touch. It's the moment of infinite possibility, when all drives will land in the fairway, wedge shots will float like angels to welcoming greens, and putts will roll true. And here I was on the cusp of not just one round but an entire summer's worth of golf, the road trip of a lifetime.The idea had first come to me one summer evening about a year earlier as I drove home after a round of golf near my home in Richmond, Virginia. Some great old rock song, "Mony Mony," "Louie Louie," something like that, blared from the radio. A fresh breeze rushed through my opened windows. I had played well; well enough, that is, to be thinking about the next time I could golf instead of thinking about throwing my clubs into the nearest body of water. A thought popped into my head. What if I just kept driving? What if I extended this sublime moment, and, instead of going home to prepare for another workweek, I just kept driving, with my only destination being the next golf course down the line?I stowed the idea with the thousand other harmless fantasies of the sort that get you through your chicken salad on wheat toast at the lunch place around the corner from the office. But over the next several months this particular fantasy returned at odd times, such as the middle of the night or the middle of some phone call at work. Unlike, say, the fantasy involving the copra schooner and forgotten coral atolls in the South Seas, this one seemed just doable enough to unsettle me. Finally, I broached the subject with Barbara, my wife, assuming (hoping?) that her incredulous reaction would jolt me into forgetting about the idea. Surprisingly, she seemed positive, after raising a few basic questions, such as how we would pay our mortgage and feed ourselves and our daughter. Women are so practical.Perhaps Barbara sensed, as I did, that I had reached a point in my career and my life that demanded some sort of action, or at least an elaborate gesture. At thirty-five, I had been reporting for the same newspaper in Richmond for a decade, first as a general assignment feature writer, then as a business reporter on the transportation beat. I had arrived at the paper in 1986 as an eager twenty-five-year-old cub. Richmond was going to be a two-year stop. Then we'd move to Boston, Washington, New York. But somehow the years slipped by. We bought a house, had a daughter, started worrying about taxes and school districts. Rootssprouted despite our stubborn protestations that we'd be moving on at any moment. I was no longer the youth of twenty-five. I had morphed into a veteran, a reliable pro, a solid member of the team--all those double-edged plaudits guaranteed to fuel the quiet desperation Thoreau wrote about.Lately, I'd found it harder and harder to jump-start my professional engines over airline strikes, trucking regulations, highway construction contracts. I'd been around long enough by now to see the same stories, the same conflicts and characters, disappear and come around again like carousel ponies. The crush of daily deadlines, amid the barely controlled chaos of the newsroom, no longer gave me that terrifying thrill. More and more it felt like speed skating through Jell-O--a furious expense of energy in order to wind up more or less where I had started."So, what is this, some kind of midlife crisis?" a fellow reporter demanded, after I'd wangled a six-month leave of absence from my job.I hadn't thought of it that way. I didn't know I was old enough to qualify for a midlife crisis. But what the hell. These days you qualified for senior citizen discounts in your fifties. Perhaps they were offering midlife crises to thirty-five-year-olds. Crisis, burnout, call it what you will. Staring at that ever-shrinking buffer zone between Someday and Today, I could tell it was time to do ... something."I didn't know you were a big-time golfer," another reporter said, as if I were a source who'd been withholding key information all these years."I'm not," I said. And that was true. Not if "big-time" meant highly skilled.But I loved the game. I'd hacked around the local course near my home in Boston as a teenager, but I didn't start golfing in earnest until thirty. With predictable results. Regardless of how badly the adult mind wishes to master the game, the adult body hates to learn golf. Golf demands all sorts of strange grips, postures and motions that are utterly useless in the rest of life.Learning to golf means ignoring those marquee muscles (biceps, pecs and so forth) that one has spent a lifetime training, preening, fretting over in the bathroom mirror. Instead, you demand precise movements from an odd assortment of B-list muscles that have lain around forgotten for years, like an old casserole in the back of the freezer.I started with a weekly trip to a driving range, mainly to let off steam after work. Then my father-in-law offered to lend me an old set of clubs. I joined a group from work for the occasional round. I took a lesson here and there, studied some tapes and books. Progress came slowly, fitfully. For months I straddled a fence, unsure why I kept playing, whether I was enjoying myself or just wasting time.Then one afternoon at a tough, pond-filled course near my home in Richmond, I played the par-four sixth hole, the hardest hole, to perfection. I waggled my driver, brought my arms back in a slow, steady motion, rotated my hips, shifted my weight and swung. The ball sailed straight, missed an outcropping branch on the left side by a foot, crossed the dogleg and rolled to a stop on the right side of the fairway, about 260 yards away. For my approach, I hit a graceful, arcing eight-iron that landed three feet from the cup. I calmly sank my putt for a birdie. On the next hole, of course, I brought my arms back slowly, rotated my hips and all the rest. The ball whizzed through the grass in front of the tee for a few ugly yards and stopped. The spell was broken, I was average again. But that sixth hole! Any professional golfer in the world would love to play that hole just the way I had played it. The memory sustained me for weeks. Without consciously knowing it, I had been initiated into the mysterious brotherhood of golf fanatics. So much of life encourages the prosaic, the mundane, the cynical. Golf appeals to a better, more youthful side of our nature, eternally hopeful and expectant, as if something fine and noble is certain to happen soon, if only we give it a chance. Here's the thing: In that moment I had come close to achieving perfection. I wanted to do it again. Lord help me, I was hooked.My goals for the journey were relatively simple. I wanted to shave at least ten strokes off my game. Although I had never bothered to establish a formal handicap, my scores had wallowed far too long in the dreary mid- to high-nineties (with plenty of forays into triple digits). I just didn't get to play enough to build any consistency. I felt certain that if I could lower my scores to the mid- to high-80s I could be satisfied, and just have fun. Also, I established a goal of breaking 80 on at least one round. Nobody breaks 80 by a fluke; do so even once and you may justly say that you know how to play the game.Beyond improving my own ability, the trip would allow me to meet other American golfers on public courses in large cities and small towns, to find out if they shared my joys and frustrations. Why only public courses? For one thing, I wanted the flexibility to choose courses on the spur of the moment as I traveled, something that would have been impossible while trying to arrange rounds at private clubs. More important, though, is the fact that public courses, with their crabgrassed fairways and sun-baked greens, are where the vast majority of America's twenty million golfers play out their dreams. The lush, carpeted fairways and silky greens of Augusta National or Spyglass Hill are as remote to the average golfer as a date with a movie star. When public courses are celebrated at all, they are usually lauded for the degree to which they do not seem to be public. The more they resemble a private club, the better their reviews. But it is the very openness of public courses that has always appealed to me. I like being able to show up, pay cash, and not have anyone know who I am, if I so choose. A public course, like a great city, offers anonymity when you want it. I like knowing I can play a particular course once, or five times, or never again, without entangling myself in obligations to a membership committee. Don't get me wrong. I've enjoyed rounds as a guest at private courses. My parents even joined one (after I left home, or I'd be a better golfer). Assuming I have the money I might even join one myself one day, when some final, unruly mob at a starter's stand, or some jerkleaving divots in the green finally pushes me over the edge. But there's something given up in exchange for the comfort of a private club, where behavior is governed by a rules committee and members go out of their way not to offend. Public golf courses possess a certain raw vitality that comes from constantly swapping genes with whoever happens to show up. There's an excitement, a randomness about public golf that ties into the great traditions of America, forever churning, struggling, reinventing itself. Public courses lay themselves out for general inspection, flaws and all. In return they are endlessly forgiving of a golfer's flaws. To borrow from Robert Frost's definition of home, a public course is a place where, if you have to play there, they have to let you play.As the idea for my trip grew, I naturally began to ponder what route I should follow. One day as I sat poring over maps and golf guides, Route 1 practically leaped out at me. This fabled old road runs the entire length of the East Coast, from the tip of northern Maine to the last sandy outpost on the Florida Keys. I traced its path with a forefinger and noticed it bisects such hallowed golfing grounds as Pinehurst, North Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia, and the entire sun-splashed Gold Coast of Florida.The road slices through the heart of America's most densely populated cities, the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington: meaning city golf and city people in New York, Philadelphia, Newark and Baltimore. But Route 1 also runs through long stretches of rural America, from the potato fields of Maine to the cotton fields of Georgia. Route 1 has long since ceded to Interstate 95 its function as a convenient way to travel any great distances. But for the traveler with a little time on his hands, it offers the incomparable advantage of forcing you to travel at the speed of your surroundings. For a golfer, Route 1 is almost heaven. It's not just the countless courses on or just off the highway. The road is a mobile support system for all a golfer's worldly needs. Need work on those long iron shots? Don't worry, there is a driving range just around the next bend. Snapped your putter infrustration? That strip mall on the left is bound to have a golf outlet store. Route 1 isn't America's prettiest strip of tar, but it may be its most functional. Cheap lodgings and fast food abound, and some zoning law seems to have ordered there to be a doughnut shop every half mile. Assuming homesickness and expenses didn't get the best of him, a man could cruise its 2,200 miles indefinitely, secure in his own insulated biosphere of golf.The road has personal appeal to me as well. Though I'd never given Route 1 a lot of thought, it occurred to me now that the old highway forms a sort of charm bracelet of my life. Summers in Maine as a youth, winter visits to my grandparents' home in Florida, growing up near Boston, working in Richmond, marrying a girl from Norwalk, Connecticut--most of the defining moments and stages of my life have taken place a gimme putt from Route 1.A few months before I was scheduled to leave, we learned that a second child was on the way, and due at the end of the summer. Barbara and I had longed for this news for years; now it came unexpectedly, when we had begun to lose hope. Should I call the trip off? Barbara, bless her, said go ahead, get it out of your system. Not long after my thirty-sixth birthday I loaded up my seven-year-old Pontiac Grand Prix. I gave her new front tires and a new electronic cluster for the failing instrument panel, and hoped she'd make the long haul. I loaded a large cooler with bottles of spring water, various crackers and breakfast bars, and two large packs of sardines, each containing about eight cans. I hadn't eaten sardines in a decade, but somehow, with their neat little tear-away containers and ready-to-eat fishiness, they seemed like essential road food. I packed every stitch of underwear, sports socks, shorts and golf shirts that I owned, a cellular phone that failed me about five miles out of town, maps, notebooks, pens, a point-and-shoot camera, an address book, tape recorder and assorted other odds and ends.My irons were a brand-new set of Wilson Staffs, purchased out of the trunk of a man's car a few weeks before I left. The purchasewas necessitated when an airline the previous autumn "lost" my clubs on a nonstop flight from Richmond to Boston (quotation marks for the benefit of the baggage handler who is probably swinging my sweet Big Bertha at this very moment). The check from the airline had dwindled away on other expenses over the long winter, and now I needed some good, cheap clubs. Fast. I was browsing in a secondhand sports store in Richmond with my daughter, Natalie, when an unshaven man sidled up close and whispered hoarsely, "You don't want any of these.""I don't?"He shook his head. "I got a set of Wilson Staffs in the car I'll let you have cheap. Brand-new, too, not like this stuff. Come on out to the parking lot."I followed the man out to his beat-up old Buick sedan, certain that some vice squad would descend at any moment to arrest me in front of my five-year-old daughter. He popped the trunk, revealing at least three complete sets of irons, and lifted out the Wilsons."Why are you selling these?" I asked stupidly."My son gave them to me. I don't need 'em.""I see."He asked $250. They were good clubs. I offered $200. We settled on $225."Is he a nice man?" Natalie asked as we drove to a nearby cash machine, the man following close behind."I'm sure he's very nice."I counted out $225 in crisp bills from the cash machine. The man folded them into his breast pocket and smiled."You'll love them clubs. You won't ever get a better price than that, I guarantee." Then he drove off into the afternoon, in search of another customer for some more clubs given to him by his son.I completed the set with old steel MacPherson three- and five-woods, on loan from my father-in-law. These must have been among the first generation of nonwood woods, because theywere painted a guilty, apologetic black to make you think you were using a real wooden club. Nowadays, manufacturers paint their synthetic woods nuclear-fallout orange to emphasize the use of space-age materials. My driver was a Daiwa with a graphite shaft and a titanium head, a castoff from my father. A perfect length for my father's lanky, six-foot, four-inch frame, the driver was too long for my six feet, but on the rare occasion when I hit the sweet spot, the ball traveled a mile.I arranged these clubs in a nylon bag I'd bought at the Price Club for $49.95. The bag was a piece of junk, but it was light and stood on collapsible legs--crucial considerations since I planned to walk every round I could. I filled the bag with a couple of dozen new Maxfli X-outs I'd bought at a local sporting goods store, along with assorted other stray balls and about a thousand wooden tees, none of which I could locate when I needed them. I found myself buying bag after bag of replacement tees in pro shops all along the way. Strange thing about tees; they show up everywhere in a man's stuff--his change drawer, his lint, his dirty underwear pile. But try to find one when you're standing on the tee box with a ball in your hand and three partners waiting for you to hit.On the day I left, I kissed Natalie and Barbara good-bye and drove off feeling like a cad. The feeling lasted about four miles, then dissipated under the strains of a Tom Petty song from my tape player and the hum of my tires, not to mention the thought of my shiny new irons smacking a golf ball. I love motion, travel. I love airports and train stations. It was one reason I chose the transportation beat at my paper. Now I felt the restorative powers of the road.And that was how I came to be standing on the first tee at the Fort Kent Golf Club on a sweet Sunday morning in June. I saw the pin flag waving from a green 406 yards away. A wide fairway spread before me. I lifted my three-wood slowly out of my bag, almost trembling with the import of this, my first shot. I teed up a Maxfli X-out. I lined up my feet, waggled, took a nice, slowbackswing, and hit a mediocre shot into the right rough bordering the practice range. How quickly and brazenly reality intervenes on a reverie. On my second shot, a four-iron, my club face caught a clump of grass and dirt, and the ball skipped thirty or forty yards and came to rest back in the fairway. Next I hit a decent six-iron that landed just short of the green. I hit onto the green in four, then three-putted for a 7. Presto, I had started my grand adventure with a triple bogey.The first two holes (I bogeyed the second) at Fort Kent serve mainly to get you up a hill, where the personality of the course begins to assert itself. I breathed heavily after carrying my bag up the two inclined holes. But when I reached the third tee, fringed with blossoming apple trees rustling in a gentle breeze, and looked back down, it seemed that all of northern Maine had laid itself out for my approval. Far below, the clubhouse shimmered in the sun. Woodlands and farms rolled off in the distance across the valley. The hills beyond were covered with forests.On the third hole, a par three, I hit a seven-iron straight, but I aimed it badly, and the ball landed to the right of a bunker next to the green. I chipped over the bunker and two-putted for another bogey. I also bogeyed the fourth hole, a sharp dogleg to the right that led back down the hill aways. Again I had pushed my tee shot to the right but was able to place a nine-iron over some trees to land just short of the green.Two young guys had started behind me. When I had to wait for a slow foursome at the start of the fifth hole, I asked them to join me. They were big, square-jawed French Canadians named Yves and Mario. Mario wore Laguna shorts, black socks and a Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey and looked as though he could join the roster as a defenseman. They were in their late twenties or early thirties. Yves had a goatee. They spoke almost no English, although I gathered from our halting sentences and sign language that Mario was from Clair, the little New Brunswick town just across the river. Yves, his brother-in-law, was visiting from Quebec.The French influence in northern Aroostook County dates to the earliest days of European settlement. The first European arrivals were French Acadians pushed out of New Brunswick by the British. They found a safe haven up the St. John, past non-navigable waterfalls, too high up to be touched by the long arm of the British navy. In 1840 Maine, New Brunswick and Britain (in support of the Canadians) all sent troops to settle a dispute over international boundaries and rights to the rich forests of white pine, cedar and spruce growing thick through the St. John Valley. It is one of the more obscure episodes in American military history, dubbed "the Bloodless Aroostook War." The lone casualty, according to local historians, was a cow felled by a stray warning shot. A treaty drawn up in 1842 established the current U.S.-Canada border.In a sense, the Bloodless Aroostook War is still being fought here in a battle of silence between the Mainers of English or Irish descent and the French-speaking Canadians, a silence as old and permanent as the ponderous wooden fort that was built during the crisis in 1840, gave the town its name, and still sits at the confluence of the St. John and Fish Rivers just off Route 1. They live within a couple of miles of one another and cross the border to shop, to eat, to play golf, yet quite literally are unable to give each other the time of day. Bilingual Mainers descended from those first Acadian settlers provide a sort of buffer. They dominate the culture in Fort Kent and in smaller communities with names such as Frenchville and Lille. Driving through town, I thought some wildly successful entrepreneur named Ouellette lived nearby. Half the business signs bore his name. The local phone book later revealed an entire page of Ouellettes.Before starting on my trip I had constructed a game plan that I felt would put me on a steady road toward improvement. I shortened my swing, replacing my erratic roundhouse with a moderate backswing that came back only about shoulder high. In the early days, at least, I would concentrate on keeping the ball in play, taking easy, relaxed swings, forgetting about distance. Iwould learn the game all over. I had all summer to improve; I did not need to be rash. I would play the white tees, not the blues, and on some far distant course in Georgia or Florida my game would come together.That was my plan, anyway. Then on our first hole together, Yves pulled out a driver the size of a street lamp, took a huge swing, and whacked the ball out of sight. Mario did the same. They grinned pleasantly at me. Your turn.How could I explain my carefully devised strategy to these smiling Canadians who didn't speak my language? Pull out a three-iron after their monster drives? They'd just think I was a wuss. I was suddenly faced with an international crisis, and my only diplomatic weapon was a stick of graphite topped with a titanium bulb.I moved to the back tee, reached into my bag, and withdrew my driver, a club that yielded a ratio of one long, straight drive for four or five slices. I drew the club back, hoping something good would happen. Please, golf gods, send down one of those 290-yarders . The golf gods can smell hope and fear and are generally intolerant of either. No sport is more pitiless to a pleading heart. My mighty swing clipped the top of the ball. It whizzed off to the left rough, a few yards short of the women's tee.One of the quainter customs in American public golf is the "dick out" rule, stipulating that a man whose drive fails to reach the women's tee must unzip his fly and play the remainder of the hole exposed to the world. I've never seen a golfer actually forced to whip it out, but the "Dick out!" howls from other members of the foursome are bad enough. I half expected Mario and Yves to yell "Deek out!" but either the custom hasn't crossed the border or they were too nice. They only uttered a sympathetic "Oh."I followed with a good five-wood that partially compensated for my dismal drive. "Nice shot," Mario and Yves called. My third shot went off to the right rough, near some trees. Mario, who was starting to feel sorry for me, called "Okay?" to see if I needed help. I stumbled through the rest of the hole for an 8.The seventh hole crests the hillside. As we marched along the fairway Mario pointed below and said something to Yves. I had been trying to understand snippets of their conversation, using the ragged remnants of my high school French. But the Canadian French sounded quick and clipped, nothing like the language imparted to me by Madame Meyer in twelfth grade. I asked Mario through hand gestures what he was pointing to."Clair," he said. The tops of white houses and churches glinted in the sun across the river in the valley.On the seventh green, Mario left his putt well short."Cheekin! Cheekin!" Yves cried.There comes a point in a bad round of golf when you pass the point of no return, the illusion of resurrection has been shattered, the bag begins to drag like a sack of wet sand, you are no longer playing golf but merely wandering futile fields banging an intransigent white rock. I was grateful that the ninth green was under repair and I didn't have to putt. I finished with 56 for nine holes. No room for anything but improvement. Mario and Yves wandered off with a smile and a wave. I grabbed a couple of hot dogs and an iced tea in the empty clubhouse, hit a bucket of range balls in a futile attempt to get some consistency, then got in my car and headed down the road.A high-pressure system had warmed Maine for days while states hundreds of miles south wallowed in cold rain. Roadside towns such as Frenchville and Grand Isle glinted like whitewashed stones in the sun. Residents, astonished by this meteorological gift so early in the season, played in their front yards, rocked on porches, fired up grills. Two teenage girls in bathing suits soaked up the sun on the hood of a car. Road signs for each hamlet said Bienvenue and Welcome.At Van Buren, the road diverges from the St. John River and cuts due south into the heart of Maine potato country. The hills rolling away in every direction for miles were scarred with the same distinctive furrows, as if some great beast had raked its claws over the earth. Farmers plant seed potatoes a couple of inchesinto the loamy soil of the ridges. The deep troughs on either side make for easier harvesting.The land in Aroostook County given over to potatoes has shrunk from 300,000 acres at midcentury to around 75,000. Even the Maine Potato Board (mascot: Spuddy) concedes that changing American tastes and competition from Idaho have made a dent. Farmers have begun raising broccoli, the young move off to Bangor or Portland in search of better opportunities. But the potato still dominates the landscape. In July, these scarred fields erupt in white and pink blossoms and Aroostook County holds its annual Potato Festival and crowns a Potato Blossom Queen. Then in mid-September the serious work begins. Harvest time. Schools still let out for a month in the fall here. It's one reason high-school football is practically nonexistent north of Bangor. As I pulled in to the Presque Isle Country Club, "public welcome," a sign announced an annual tournament coming in late July: The Spudland Open.Presque Isle, with about twenty thousand residents, is the largest town in Aroostook County. If all you know about it is the name, you probably imagine a coastal town with rocky outcroppings jutting into the Atlantic. But Presque Isle is nowhere near the ocean. The name comes from a network of smaller rivers winding through the area, rendering the town "nearly an island." In the clubhouse, the starter immediately hooked me up with a threesome. Here, at a busy course on a summer Sunday afternoon, my Single Golfer Rule worked with reassuring ease. Unlike single diners, whom restaurants see as low-revenue space wasters, single golfers are nearly always welcome at a public course, even on the busiest days. For golf course managers, sending out a threesome or a twosome is the equivalent of flying an airliner with empty seats--lost revenue that won't ever come back. Single golfers, far from being a nuisance, are a beneficial organism in the golf course ecosystem, like those sucker fish who clean algae off the bellies of sharks. The Single Golfer Rule says you can show up alone, without a tee time, at virtually any public course and beguaranteed of playing golf within a short time, even on days when unannounced foursomes are being turned away. Presque Isle, busy but not jammed, was a good place to run the Single Golfer Rule through its paces. I'd be relying on the rule as I made my way down through the dense cities of the Northeast Corridor. But there is another component to the Single Golfer Rule, one that has less to do with practicality and more to do with the ease of making new friends on the course. Simply stated--the best way to make new friends on a golf course is to show up alone. Golfers who arrive in groups spend their entire round in the cocoon of their established friendship. The same holds true when two twosomes are put together. I've gone out with my father, or a friend, and spent five hours paired with another twosome, without exchanging anything beyond surface courtesies. But if you arrive alone, without ties, you will fit into any group. Threesomes will pity your solitude and take you under their wing. A single golfer is never threatening. Other single golfers will reach out. Show up alone, and you open yourself to the possibility of making friends.My partners on the first tee were Stacey Kelly, Larry Nadeau and his brother, Jason Nadeau. Jason, twenty-three, was a part-time student at the University of Maine's branch in Fort Kent. Larry, twenty-seven, worked for a company that made packaging materials.At thirty-four, Stacey Kelley was the unofficial leader of this trio: the oldest, the tallest, the most gregarious. The son and grandson of lumber men, Stacey lived in Allagash, a small outpost near the very end of the road in Maine, a few miles from Dickey, the last town on Route 161. His father retired after a falling tree cracked three of his vertebrae, leaving him unable to work but not paralyzed. Stacey had a wife and two young sons. Like other loggers (nobody in these parts uses the term lumberjacks), Stacey worked six months on, six months off. I was surprised to learn that the season stretches from autumn through the bitter Maine winter. But logging in the summer would mean building sturdy, expensive gravel roads deep in the heart of the forest, Stacey said.By late fall, even the most rudimentary roads are frozen hard enough to support the enormous weight of a logging truck. For most of his career Stacey was a skidder, operating a tractorlike machine with a winch, used to haul the freshly cut fir and spruce trees from the forest to the road, where they were de-limbed and loaded on trucks. But newer machines called "processors" could cut a tree down, strip its limbs and cut the trunk into uniform logs right on the spot. Canadian woodsmen, willing to work the Aroostook forests for a relatively low wage because of a favorable dollar exchange rate, were filling most of the remaining jobs, Stacey said. Stacey had just put a down payment on a truck. Lumber companies would always need trucks to haul the timber out, he figured. That is, as long as the timber itself holds. To a casual observer on Maine's highways the supply of trees seems endless. But Stacey said, "Most of the big wood is gone."During the long off-months, Stacey had picked up golf. He'd driven past the public course in Fort Kent for most of his life. One day in his twenties he'd decided to give it a try. Today Stacey Kelly may be the northernmost eleven handicapper in the continental United States. It was about four in the afternoon when we teed off, the sun hanging high over the potato fields. I was looking for improvement after my miserable showing that morning. Stacey hit a booming drive that screamed far left into another fairway. I hit a cautious three-iron that hugged the right rough. Then Stacey recovered with a shot to the green. It was both the best and worst time to be golfing in northern Maine. In early June, the weather was glorious. But the course was in spotty shape, with patches of winter kill on the fairways and greens. And the mosquitoes were so big and hungry that they almost made us forget about the blackflies. I swatted enough mosquitoes to fill a bushel basket, but still they came. My wife had given me a plastic jar of some stuff called Skin So Soft, which had a strong perfume smell that was supposed to keep the bugs away. The top leaked, and soon my entire golf bag smelled like Eva Gabor's boudoir. Not that the Skin So Soft did much good against the mosquitoes.They seemed to like it. I soon began to suspect that Skin So Soft was not the name of the product so much as a mantra being chanted by the mosquitoes:"Hey, fellas, check out this guy. His skin's so soft.""Yeah, smells nice, too."I started steady but deteriorated amid the heat and bugs and my own incompetence into a procession of sorry shots and still sorrier ones. My tee shots veered off to the woods like pine-seeking missiles. When Stacey, Larry and Jason asked what brought me all the way up to Presque Isle I told them about my trip and the book I planned to write about my travels. On the ninth hole I hit a perfect sand wedge--sky--high and sixty yards. Unfortunately, I was using my driver at the time and aiming 280 yards down the fairway. Stacey, ever cordial and polite, watched the ball, then turned to me and said, "I take it this isn't a golf instruction book you're writing."No, it wasn't. In fact, I was already having my own doubts about the whole affair. I never had any illusions about being anything other than a weekend duffer. But a duffer was two or three leagues above the way I was playing on this, my first day out. The clubs felt like garden rakes in my hands. I might as well have snapped off a birch sapling and taken a few swings with that. And I'd spent enough time in the woods to have a good choice of saplings. Rotate my hips and bring my arms back smoothly? I might as well have commanded my body to skip across the stage with the New York City Ballet. I asked myself: I'm going to do this all the way to Florida? I'm going to write a book about golf? Just now it seemed that golf was writing a book about me, and the working title was "You Suck."Fortified with big, cold drinks, we pressed on to the back nine. Presque Isle proved to be a better and more interesting course on the back nine than the front. The opening holes had been fairly crowded, flat and open. But on the back nine the holes stretched out and meandered in unhurried isolation. Before long I had the feeling of being miles from the clubhouse, miles fromeverything. Much is made in golf of the fact that no two courses are alike. More mysterious and compelling to me is the way that no course is like itself through eighteen holes. A round is long enough and a course large enough that a round of golf rarely begins as it ends. You may start in darkness and end in light, or start in light and end in darkness. Heat gives way to a chill; flat ranges yield to hills, seascapes to forests, rains end or begin, fogs lift. You live a whole lifetime in a round of golf. The promise of youth on the first tee yields to the dreary, hard-earned lessons of middle age around the ninth or tenth, and, if you're lucky and persistent enough, perhaps you find a moment of redemption here and there before you're through. By the end of the round you try to recall the first shots of the day, but they seem to have taken place on a different day altogether, maybe even in a different year. Those first few holes seem as distant and naively optimistic as your smiling face in a high-school yearbook photo.The twelfth hole is a monster par 5, 629 yards from the championship tees, a still-long 525 yards for us from the white tees, with a dogleg left followed by another to the right. I hit a poor drive off to the left that left me in some nasty tall grass. Larry, standing near me when I found my ball buried in the grass, suggested I use a "foot wedge" to improve my lie. I resisted the temptation, hitting a five-wood that sailed straight but wound up in hillside rough to the right of the green. I felt as though I might begin to turn myself around here, but every promising development was quickly answered by failure. It took me two approach shots to reach the green, and I three-putted for a double bogey. Tired, sweaty, hungry and despondent, I was playing out the remainder of this course like a sentence.Then came an unexpected gift from nature. On the fifteenth hole, a dogleg to the right, I hit a passable tee shot to the right rough and walked down a gentle slope. When I reached the bottom a rush of cool air swept by me no higher than waist level, as though I were wading in a trout stream. The coming dusk had taken the edge off the heat, but this trough of air was too narrowand defined for that. I wondered at the source until I passed a stand of trees and found the right side of the fairway bounded by a large, freshly dug potato field. The exposed troughs were like the coils of nature's own air conditioner. Every time the wind blew over the field, it carried with it the stored-up coldness of the Maine winter. I pretended to tie my shoes and dropped to my knees to savor it.Darkness embraced us as we walked up the final fairway. The only light came from a dim street lamp and the pale dying halo of red and pink on the western horizon. All the other golfers were long gone; even the staff had closed shop. We were alone on the last green at the end of the earth."I love golf," Stacey said a little wistfully as we headed toward our cars. "I love the challenge, I love the courses. But the best thing is the people you meet."I took a picture of these newfound friends of mine whom I would probably never see again. We shook hands and said good-bye. I made my way back to Route 1 and retraced my steps to a motel I had passed in Caribou, just north of Presque Isle. The evening was dry, clear and cool. Perfect sleeping weather, except that somebody had left the thermostat in my room up around stifling. I was too tired for an encounter with the night manager, so I cranked the air conditioner--on the most beautiful night in the world I used an air conditioner to counteract the effects of a heater. I fished some crackers and breakfast bars and warm spring water out of my cooler and phoned home.Barbara asked me how my day had gone. She'd asked me that a thousand times before when I came home tired at the end of another workday. Only now, instead of railing at the intransigence of some assistant city editor in the newsroom, I spilled tales of hooks and slices and missed putts, and of cool breezes blowing off potato fields. She listened politely, offering vague reassurances and condolences, not sure what her responses were supposed to be now that my golf game had somehow been elevated to the level of a professional concern. I asked her about her day, searching hercheerful recitation of daily events for a sense of how things were really going on her end of my adventure. So far, so good.Natalie got on next. She asked me where I was and when I'd be home and accepted my explanation without comment, shifting the subject to whom she'd seen that day and the gifts she was making for my return. Her voice was indescribably sweet and made me wonder what I was doing a thousand miles away from her. It may sound disingenuous for a guy who has wangled the golf trip of a lifetime to question his good fortune, but I suddenly wished I were on a bona fide business trip, selling computer software or casualty insurance, something sober and sturdy and irreproachable, something commensurate with my wife's forbearance and my daughter's trusting voice. I hung up the phone and collapsed on the bed. Sleep came within minutes.Copyright © 1999 by Charles Slack
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments and Author's Note ix
Part 1 New England
Chapter 1 Speed Skating Through Jell-O 5
Chapter 2 I Am Tiger Woods 26
Chapter 3 Shank Happens 41
Chapter 4 I Love the United States of America 60
Chapter 5 Home Again 71
Chapter 6 Our Inalienable Right to Golf 84
Chapter 7 Never Give a Sucker a Stroke a Hole 96
Part 2 The Mid-Atlantic
Chapter 8 Bronx Cheers 111
Chapter 9 Did You Steal My Ball? 127
Chapter 10 O Youth! 139
Chapter 11 No Fear 152
Chapter 12 Home Again (Again) 164
Part 3 The South
Chapter 13 Mind If I Play Through? 183
Chapter 14 At Least He Can Afford to Play Here 191
Chapter 15 God Didn't Like the Pin Placement 205
Chapter 16 Cabbages and Kings 218
Chapter 17 Gator Bait 229
Part 4 Flavida's Gold Coast
Chapter 18 For the Snowbirds 247
Chapter 19 Papa Could Beat Anybody 262
Chapter 20 Land's End 278
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2000

    An All-American golfing roadtrip

    Charlie Slack's splendid three-month golfing odyssey for one is, ahem, a dream come true. He travels 2,200 miles down Route 1, from Maine to Florida, playing public courses with a cast of 'regular' guys, including, as he puts it: 'good golfers and bad, young, old, divot takers, club throwers, oath hurlers . . . [and] odd, lost, wandering hackers such as me.' Each adds something to his emerging portrait of America. Among my favorite rounds is one he plays in the Bronx, where he teems up with a wise-cracking duo in front of a group of beer-swilling thugs: 'We have rules on New York courses,' quips one partner. 'You're not allowed to bring bazookas.' At various timess, Slack encounters ball thieves, wild roosters, and monks scribbling messages in the sand traps. All become fodder for his velvet pen. His best tee shot arcs 'like a Greg Louganis swan dive.' Slack is a writer for whom the glass is never half empty, and his golfing episodes fill him--and the reader--with that sense of rejuvenation for which the great American roadtrip exists. Whether you're a golfer or not, you'll rejoice while reading this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2000

    Blue Fairways Scores Bogey

    For me Blue Fairways spent most of the time in the rough. I was looking for both a travel log and golfer's scorecard combined but went unfulfilled on both accounts. Mr. Slack gives us only a superficial look at the people he plays his golf with and does not get into the character of the courses at length either. Yes, there are some stops along his journey that he gives us a background on ie: Franklin Park in Massachusetts and if I remember the small course in Georgia, but he seemed more intent on getting his golf in and moving on to the next course and further down the road on his trip. I was interested in what scores he shot, what the par was for the course he was playing, the courses' layout and degree of difficulty, what he learned from and about the people he played along with. The idea was great the story wasn't. It did not make me, an avid golfer, want to take the same trip.

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