Man and Beast

Much of my decidedly ill-spent youth was spent on the golf course with a very special friend. Daly was my first golfing pooch. She was a stray German shepherd pup that I found almost frozen to death under a sheet of rusting corrugated metal behind the maintenance shed at Balmoral Golf Club in Belfast. I was the 18-year-old assistant pro to the 1947 British Open champion, Fred Daly, for whom my new companion was named.

She was emaciated, mangy, and had a ratlike, hairless tail. Come to think of it, in those days, she and I had a lot in common. She was so pitiful that I just had to take her home. I was driving my mom's car to and from work and on the way home that evening, the little dog looked balefully at me from the passenger seat and promptly barfed up the garbage she had been living on since God knows when.

My mom's car was never the same, but neither was our home because after a few months of love and care, the scabby little runt developed into a slender, graceful, and doe-eyed canine beauty queen, with a glorious, bushy tail. Never was a dog so loved.

Her intelligence was astounding, largely, I think, because she was "golf trained" from day one. My dad and I taught her to sit by the tee markers and wait until everyone in the group had hit. Only then was she permitted to take off like a bullet in the rough to flush out hares and rabbits. She would disappear for a while but was always present on the next tee, sitting sphinx-like, waiting patiently for play to begin once more.

In her later years, she even figured out when someone had hit it far enough off line that she should wait to see if he would play a provisional! I have never told anyone this for fear of ridicule, but I suspect she may also have, on occasion, driven my father home after a late night at the club (or at least navigated).

With these memories in mind, I set off some months ago to the pound with my 5-year-old son, Rory. I wanted my kids to grow up with a pup. After looking into about 100 cages, Rory picked out a bleary-eyed, parvo-infested, snot-nosed creature that looked like a cross between a gerbil that someone had inflated with a bicycle pump and a Bermuda divot. Oh, and judging by its tail, there might have been a squirrel scurrying 'round in its family tree. Rory was adamant that the pup should be called "Derek," but after some tough negotiations, we settled on "Wilfred." Hey, I tried, okay? Today, some 10 months and numerous vets' bills later, Wilfred is truly not exactly what you would call magnificent, but he is the only member of my family who is always pleased to see me.

I am fully convinced that the only creatures of the earth that are capable of unconditional love are parents and dogs. I now have Wilfred trained to such an extent that when I take him for his morning constitutional, as regular as clockwork he will heave his little Havana on our neighbor's lawn. "Good boy, Wilfred! Good boy!"

The other day, I decided it was time for his first golf lesson, so both he and I were quite upset when I was told that he could not accompany me onto the golf course. It was obvious that if Wilfie boy was to get the exercise that he needed, he would have to come running with me in the mornings.

So, I geared up for the experiment by buying one of those retractable leashes and the following morning, I slipped the handle into the pocket of my running shorts and away we trotted. We'd gone about 300 yards down the street when out of the blue Wilfie stopped stone-dead to examine an enemy land mine.

I was oblivious to his maneuver and ran on, regardless. When the leash reached its maximum length, I fell over, suddenly bare-assed on the sidewalk, my shorts around my ankles. Poor Wilfie, who had been nose down, lost in concentration, suffered a partially blocked left nostril and a badly sprained left ear. So much for that idea.

Dammit, I think you should be allowed to walk your woofer on the golf course. Dogs are a common sight on the courses of the British Isles, and they are also an extremely good excuse for coming home late. "Sorry, dear, but Spanky ran off and it took me forever to find him."

In my opinion, the 15th club in the bag should be the pooper scooper (if you play Pings or Callaways, their lob wedges work remarkably well). Properly trained dogs should have the right of way on the golf course.

After all, you probably spend so much time being miserable out there, wouldn't it be nice to have a companion that was filled with unbridled joy? Even if you're in a cart, there is no reason Muttley shouldn't ride along with you.

Of course, I'm a dog lover. It's not that I don't like cats, but more that I don't like it when they like me. If I visit a house with a resident feline, the darn thing normally ends up on my lap making a noise like a small-block V8 and tenderizing the flesh of my upper thighs with its claws. "Oh, don't mind Digby," the host bleats. "That's just his way of saying, 'Hello.' " Yeah, right. I know that if I try to remove Digby, however gently, there goes a good pair of slacks. If the window were open, Digby would discover my way of saying, "Good-bye."

During the Swiss Open some years ago, I had occasion to walk off the seventh tee at Crans sur Sierre, a golf course that doubles as a ski run in the winter. To get an erect stance, you have to wear one shoe on your right foot and the other on your left knee.

To my left, I noticed a cat playing with an unfortunate small rodent. It was a stoat, I believe, and for you who are rodentially challenged, a stoat is somewhat like a weasel, except that whereas a weasel is weasually recognized, a stoat is stoatally different. Ha ha ha! (I've waited since the fifth grade to see that line in print.)

But, wait! I've digressed and not for the first time, either.

Because I am a good Samaritan, I shooed away the cat, enabling the unfortunate little rodent to dart into its burrow, a few feet away. Feeling smug, I sauntered off down the fairway, only to hear the plaintive squeals of varmint torture once more a few seconds later. I spun around to see that the vile feline had indeed retrieved my furry little friend from his hole and was cat-boxing with the stoat's head-a right and a left, a left and a right, with claws extended.

When I could stand it no longer, I sized up a 10-yard shot up the hill, which I timed perfectly. I caught Tibbles clean in the catflap with the old Etonic instep and away she flew, yowling in a tight spiral straight into a hedge some 10 feet away. This cat did not, I repeat, did not land on its feet. It took off like a rocket, clearly none the worse for wear, but with a little less taste for stoat-bashing, I dare say.

(At this stage, my two playing partners were waiting for me on the green, presumably wondering what the hell I was doing. This story clearly helps explain why I am now a broadcaster instead of a rich, successful, championship player.)

Now, all cat lovers out there, calm down, please. Do not send the ASPCA out to harass my family or the editors of this magazine.

For the record, I am perfectly aware that the torture of small, defenseless animals is part of a cat's nature. The kicking of cats who are conducting such torture is part of my nature.

I have the attention span of a gnat, a creature which, unlike man's best friend, is frequently found on the golf course, despite considerably less acceptable behavior. I mean, when a dog is going to bite you, at least you can see it coming.

My Wilfie never bites; in fact, he would lick my face no matter what I might shoot. Can any of you say that about your regular golf partner? Don't answer that!

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