The Dewsweepers: Seasons of Golf and Friendshipby James Dodson, Michael Kramer
In The Dewsweepers, New York Times bestselling author James Dodson tells the story of an eclectic, eccentric group of men: the "Dewsweepers." The first players off the tee every weekend morning, they literally sweep the dew from the course. Adopted by the Dewsweepers, Dodson joins them in their early morning games. In poignant and sometimes/i>/i>… See more details below
In The Dewsweepers, New York Times bestselling author James Dodson tells the story of an eclectic, eccentric group of men: the "Dewsweepers." The first players off the tee every weekend morning, they literally sweep the dew from the course. Adopted by the Dewsweepers, Dodson joins them in their early morning games. In poignant and sometimes hilarious tales Dodson chronicles one all-too-brief golf year among friends while examining his life and his own golf roots.
As the friendships deepen and each man's tale unfolds, Dodson's own life is tested, examined, and changed for the better. Through laughter and tears, he reveals intimate details, and finds that each Dewsweeper needs golf and friendship at the core of his life.
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Golf, and sometimes life, is full of new beginnings.
sore elbow and waited to tee up an unblemished Titleist on the twelfth morning of a brand new century at the Kings Crown member-guest golf tournament in the California desert, hoping this might be the year I found a new beginning to my old and ailing game.
the life I liked best, and I would even say I loved it because golf had taken me to places I never would have gone, introduced me to the most amazing sorts of people, and forged my deepest friendships. A man who stumbles upon the work he was meant to do, the poet Thomas Carlyle was supposed to have said, is destined to become a king of something. If I wasn't quite a king, I was at least a king of something.
find themselves pleasantly surprised at how well most things have turned out despite their youthful ambitions, I felt a vague dissatisfaction with one particular aspect of life. Fortunately, I didn't require the services of an expensive shrink or urologist to diagnose what was quietly ailing me. The nature of the problem was as black-and-white as the scribbled ciphers on my scorecard, as near as my seldom used golf clubs.
my golf game.
world where, as I write, polar continents are vanishing at alarming rates and two million children will sleep on the streets of America tonight and no less than eleven civil wars are raging and the Middle East is once again aflame with inscrutable ancient hostilities, moping about the sorry state of one's golf game, I'll grant you, seems a tad, well, shallow at bestlike whining about having too many dessert choices at the Ritz Sunday brunch or complaining that you didn't get the window seat you requested in your unexpected upgrade to first class.
on this troubled planet have it just to make ends meet or even just make it to the end of the day, an ailing golf game doesn't seem such a big deal after all.
had been my happily chosen profession for almost two decades, it follows that golf playing was an abiding passion long before I made this lucky matriculation, and from there it's only a short leap to appreciating that playing the game reasonably well had always been a modest little badge of personal distinction. For me at least, over the years and even decades of life, nothing I could think of had given me so much consistent pleasure and reliable companionship, such exquisite pain and private satisfaction on any number of levels, for so well and for so long, serving both man and boy, entertaining through lean years and lush, providing succor and safe harbor from any storm or turmoil, offering a polite means of ready escape and an endless stream of off-color jokes punctuated by occasional moments of high-minded inspiration ... than the simple act of playing golf.
simple about playing golf. Any fool with a five-iron knows that much.
from the fact that no game is harder to play and play well. Golf is a beguiling belle dame sans merci of a sport that will shamelessly consume your finances and eviscerate your emotions if you permit it to, provoking otherwise sane and socially responsible grown men to shamelessly abandon their families for extended periods of time, and women who are similarly afflicted to blithely ignore the obligations of career, home, and hearth, a curiously complicated Presbyterian pastime that can loft your soul to dizzying heights of spiritual nobility one minuteand wring you out like filthy floor mop the next.
woeful deterioration of one's real or imagined golfing skills that comes with the passage of time or a sudden shift of circumstance is a violently unpleasant thing to have to witness, particularly from the viewing bleachers inside one's own head.
to be. That was certainly true in my case. Ten years ago, according to the yellowing state golf association card I still carried nostalgically in my wallet (and slipped out to gaze upon with the private fondness of a long married man peeking at a dim provocative snapshot of his old college sweetheart) I was once a highly respectable two handicap, a good if not great stick, a friendly lug whose game was theoretically within lob wedge distance of attaining every hacker's dream of being scratch.
slipping rapidly down the sodden grassy bank toward confirmed mediocrity. On a good day, I broke 82. On a very good day I achieved my so-called official USGA handicap and felt giddy with gratitude.
"Age of Reasons" and I suppose it's only natural that even Ia guy who regularly complains about people who complainhad my own little laundry list of perfectly good reasons why my golf game wasn't what it used to be. Assuming you're willing to sit and listen to a grown man whine, they included, in no particular order of significance: the necessity of making a living, watching too much cable news, keeping up with the relentless obligations of my twelve-year-old daughter's growing social life, dealing with increasingly cranky house pets, coming to grips with a mysteriously expanding waistline, too many unmatched socks in the laundry, a general worry about a killer asteroid flattening my house, youth hockey practice, pesky telemarketers who disturb domestic tranquility at meal time, a far-too-short gardening season, the Victoria's Secret catalog, a chronic biological need for eight hours of sleep, talking to my girlfriend Wendy on the phone, perpetually lost car keys, and heretofore uncomplaining body parts that recently announced they were fast approaching AARP eligibilitythese are just some of the obvious suspects to finger for blame. I could probably think of plenty more but who wants to hear that sort of thing?
"reason" I could assign this woeful golf attrition, the inescapable truth was that I'd taken to regularly jilting my standing Wednesday foursome at my club back home in Maine. Sid, Terry, and Tom had taken to making unflattering side bets about what particular day, month, or year I might actually show my face again at Brunswick Golf Club. And Chris Doyle, the club's otherwise taciturn head professional, once cruelly joked that my average golf rounds there were costing more than a day at Pebble Beach. Including caddie, lunch, and lost Nassau.
he's somehow lost his Vardon grip on the point of faith, it slowly began to penetrate my cranium that I wasn't just losing my ability to play my favorite game the way I once had. Something far more elusive and valuable than a once respectable golf swing was slipping away faster than the hairs on Gary McCord's head.
thought of all.
admit to oneself, there was finally the cautionary tale of my own "silent" mentor and literary god, Henry Longhurst, to consider.
my age, Longhurst wrote the same year I graduated from high school and wandered out to the Greater Greensboro Open aiming, absurdly as it turned out, to snag a job as a professional caddie for a "few months" before my first college term commenced and was delighted to encounter one of my literary heroes anchoring the corner of the bar at the old Sedgefield Inn, entertaining a small crowd of friends with rich anecdotes from his journey across the game's decades ... my golf fell away and it became less and less fun to do progressively more badly something that one had once done reasonably well. I had every reason to believe that I should turn out in middle age, and even later, to be an accurate and crafty player, always liable to beat an undergraduate, but it was not to be. My swing disintegrated and I became quite pathetically bad. I kept meaning to take myself in hand and go in for a fortnight's serious practice, which I knew was all that was needed, but somehow, with all the traveling about, I never got down to it.
Which, in a nutshell, explains what I was doing that morning at the beautiful Tradition Golf Club in La Quinta, California, bathed in the romantic desert light of the New Millennium, infused with the foolish optimism that always comes to hackers like me on the threshold of a brave new golf season.
Airlines had apparently seen fit to send my clubs on an extended tour of Fiji. But I told myself these were mere distractions on the path to recovery and regained golf fulfillment because the cagey golf gods, as either Homer or maybe Homero Blancas was alleged to have said, refuse to do for a man what he will not do for himself.
was either time for me to quietly toss in the game towel and go with the ceremonial dignity Father Longhurst had exhibited or else take my faltering game by the scruff of the neck and rededicate myself to the proposition that old golfers never diethey just piss and moan until they can't stand the sound of their own whining anymore and actually do something about their pathetic games before not even their golf partners will agree to play with them.
Kings Crown was a very fine stick named David Chapman, a slow-talking, sweet swinging scratch golfer and former North Carolina junior state champion who grew up to build the spectacular Tradition Golf Club. Lucky for me, he knew every inch of the challenging Palmer-Seay golf course there like the back of his own golf glove.
of the tournament, David and I had been unlucky enough to draw my recent employer, the tournament's namesake and the King of Golf himself, one Arnold Daniel Palmer, and his close friend, Cessna Aviation CEO Russ Meyers.
but curiously clad in bright ski parkas) huddled over their steaming coffee mugs on the adjacent terrace, attempting to ward off the desert's penetrating morning chill, Arnold teed up and drilled one of his patented "Big Mamoos" over the corner of the dangerous lake that borders the opening par-five hole, surgically reducing the difficult three-shotter to a long par-four he could easily reach in two. The pajamaed gallery oohed and aahed admiringly over their gourmet grinds.
the right corner of the lake, the safe approach to the hole. There was another approving murmur of support from the terrace crowd.
a majestic swing and pushed his drive far into the desert rocks. The chorus fell respectfully silent, ducking heads safely back into their coffee mugs. "Sorry, boss," David apologized to me, looking sheepish but also clearly annoyed with himself.
breezily reply, the oldest chestnut in golf, confidently waggling my borrowed driver, massaging my aching elbow and suddenly, inexplicably, recalling the unsettling little dream that had been dogging me for months in which I show up at a world-famous club to play with my best friends only to discover I have brought neither clubs nor pants. Suddenly, as I realized David was now hitting his third shot and we were playing Arnold Palmer in a real-life golf tournament I felt about as lonely and exposed and ridiculous and terrified as I've ever felt on a golf course. Maybe the dream was some kind of premonitory warning that I had no business trying to play the game with such serious golfers.
During the three years I helped Arnold Palmer write his memoirs, we'd played perhaps ten or fifteen full rounds of golf together at Bay Hill and Latrobe Country Club, and even though I thoroughly enjoyed those rounds and played passingly well in spots, I confess that I never quite got over the incomparable thrilland silent terrorof knowing I was playing golf with the king of the game. My nervous unease, if that's the right word for it, had nothing to do with Arnold. He was the soul of hospitality and down-to-earth charm, quick to offer an encouraging word after a poor shot and a needling grin and affectionate barb for a good oneespecially those rare moments where I had the temerity to out-drive him from the tee. Whenever some adoring foot soldier from Arnie's vast army asked me what their hero Arnold Palmer was really like, I replied that he was exactly what he appeared to beonly better. After three years of close proximity to the man and the legend, the best thing I could say about Palmer was that I liked him even more than when, like twenty million kids, I knew and adored him only from afar. In public and private settings he was commendably the same man, a superstar so obviously comfortable in his own skin he had a genuine ability to make anyonedoorman or CEO, President of the United States or even a pesky fanfeel remarkably at ease. He made solid eye contact. He gripped your hand the way a blacksmith holds his hammer. He made you feel damn good about being in his army.
my mind on the positive aspects of the situation, telling myself this was only a meaningless golf club member-guest golf tournament, for Pete's sake, and not the bloody United States Open and, even though I was suddenly playing against Arnold Palmer instead of with him, with a little luck and a lot of positive concentration I might not miserably top the ball and thoroughly embarrass myself and anyone who happened to know me. I only wished I could get my hands to stop visibly shaking.
I think I may have even believed some of this mental drivelfor golfers are nothing if not a race of incurably cockeyed optimists who desperately cling to the ridiculous delusion that if only we remember to integrate a few of the basic swing principles we've known almost from infancy, keep our heads perfectly still and our grips pleasantly loose, make a smooth slow shoulder turn with our new forged Tour irons glinting in the sun at the precise moment the Dow achieves a new upward benchmark and the moon and planets mysteriously align themselves in the heavens, why wondrous things can and will surely happenworld peace, for example, or a lasting cure for the common cold, or at the very least the greatest golf year of our lives.
the annoying ache in my elbow. Anyway, I made a decent swing and watched my ball hook straight into the heart of the lake. It grew so quiet, David told me later over a beer, or something to that effect, you could hear a mouse pass gas in his pajamas.
of Golf said quietly to the horrified King of Something, chuckling in that engaging way where his chin slips down into his leathery bull neck and his massive blacksmith shoulders merrily hop.
too, wishing the desert ground would just yawn open so I could jump in and hide. No sport exposes your flaws of mind and body quite as ruthlessly as golf does, which is why the shot that follows a terrible one is often even more memorable.
Mamoo" out there where the king had placed his, and if I say so myself, I managed to lay an even finer golf swing upon that innocent thermoplastic sphere.
We were two down after three, three down after four, basically getting beaten like a Navajo war drum when David strolled over to have a word with one of his maintenance men who was planting rows of a beautiful heatherlike shrub on the border of the fifth tee. Arnold pulled out a cell phone and began chatting with Ely Callaway and Russ walked up to the tee to hit his next perfect drive whilst I slunk to the plastic cooler and drew a cup of ice water, wondering if it would appear unseemly for the guest of such a classy establishment to pry off the lid and politely soak his elbow and maybe his head for a while. My new century of rededicated golf had yielded a triple bogey followed by a pair of double bogeys followed by a bogey, my worst start since about the seventh grade, the year I first broke 100proof that I maybe should give all due consideration to following Longhurst into the sunset. Not only had I managed to disgrace myself in front of my childhood hero and his friends, but also a bunch of nice people in their designer pajamas.
golf courses (unless your name happens to be Arnold Palmer) and have long been on record as advocating the Iranian remedy of a severed dialing digit for such unholy trespasses into the realm of the sacred. In this case, I suddenly remembered that I'd stuck my own cell phone in one of the zippered side pockets of my borrowed clubs on the wildly improbable chance United Airlines might phone up to say they'd found the rest of my luggage and a set of golf clubs with my name on them as well, so I wouldn't have to go purchase an expensive sports jacket to wear to the tournament dinner where I fully expected to hide out behind the ice sculpture in order to avoid meeting anyone who might have watched me tee off that morning.
get virgin wool?"
not wildly upbeat.
Charles Grodin, and come to think of it, resembles him a bit, as well, including his smarty-pants smirk and naturally thinning topknot.
cheerfully. "I live vicariously through your work life, you know. And just in case you really care, it's twenty-two degrees and snowing again here in Syracuse."
match to Arnold Palmer," I said without a trace of irony or, I'm afraid, enthusiasm.
that I was indeed playing in a golf tournament against Arnold Palmer and, for what it was worth, field-testing a positive new mental approach for reviving my ailing golf skills, hoping to rediscover my old zest for the game in the new millennium.
same sorry golf swing and couldn't play worse if I had one arm and was blindfolded and am making a complete imbecile of myself, everything's fabulous. Just peachy."
or blue joke is on the way. He's like Charles Grodin that way, too.
to screw up a hole, hurl his club, and say, `I really hate this damn game. But it's the only fun I ever have.' Just remind yourself of that. Golf is supposed to be fun, Lumpy."
he really liked turned into a nickname, a true indication that he considered you his kind of guynot unlike the way Arnold barked at and needled friends who were closest to him. You're only young once, went the Sager golf mantra, but among golf buddies you can be immature forever.
years, Jon Sager had wanted to meet Arnold Palmer. But then, I suppose, so does roughly every other golfing male between the ages of thirty and ninety walking the planet. Even so, I'd promised Jon the day would come when I took him to meet his childhood hero. Perhaps a brief phone chat would suffice.
termination of a contract with our cleaning service whose apparent motto is `We never break a sweat' and whose idea of cleaning a bathroom is to leave out last Sunday's Times for toilet paper. By this time tomorrow we'll be lucky if pickets aren't up around the building and Hillary Clinton isn't out there standing on the roof of my car leading the protest with a bullhorn. You have no idea how speaking to Arnold Palmer would make my day! Put him on. Tell him I've got a great Dewsweeper joke for him ..."
for a large financial institution sound like a giddy six-year-old about to meet the real Santa Claus.
So I presented him my cell phone.
that meant he approved of Wendy.
dearly wishes to say hello."
like golf's Gary Cooper. "What the hell is a Dewsweeper anyway?"
handed me back the phone with a disapproving smirk that could have come straight from his unsympathetic Pap.
forgot to charge it up."
Something truly inexplicable happened after that. I still can't fully explain it. David and I won the fifth hole with a birdie putt. Oddly enough, mine.
unexpectedly, also mine.
and couldn't believe what I witnessed. It fell into the hole, too. David let out a little rebel yell and Arnold looked over at Russ as if we all must be hallucinating. Both our opponents missed their birdie putts and the match ended, officially halved.
out one of his huge paws for the customary shake. "You've obviously been playing way too much golf and ignoring your work, Shakespeare!"
Excerpted from The Dewsweepers by James Dodson. Copyright © 2001 by James Dodson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
James Dodson is the author of Final Rounds, the 1996 bestseller that was named the "Golf Book of the Year" by the International Network of Golf. He is also the author of Faithful Travelers and A Golfer's Life, a collaboration with Arnold Palmer that was a New York Times bestseller; a four-time winner of the prestigious Golf Writers of America Award for his column in Golf Magazine; and the recipient of the 1998 "Golf Reporter of the Year" Award by the International Network of Golf.
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