Regular readers know that I don’t play a lot of golf. But a little while back I played 54 holes in the space of a few days. I probably should have given my body a little advance warning, as afterward I could hardly move. My back was sore, and my recently repaired and still bulbous knee sprouted a couple of new nodules, but it was worth it.
You’re going to hate me for this, but I had to play Pebble Beach and Cypress Point.
Hey, hey — somebody has to play there. I’ve played at Pebble dozens of times, and it’s always a treat, but I’d only been to Cypress Point once. In a nasty turn of events, I’d been forced to leave the course after only 14 holes to shoot a segment for the “Late Night Show” at the Lone Cypress with McCord. We needed a sunset shot, you know, something romantic like him and me holding hands, gazing out into the Pacific. I know — how the hell could you do a golf highlight show without a shot like that?
But, because of this meaningless rendezvous with the elderly congenital idiot in eelskin Prada cross-trainers (who showed up an hour late anyway), I didn’t get to play the 15th and 16th, the two most beautiful par-three holes on the planet. We had to wait for the damned moon to come up, by which time it was a miracle McCord wasn’t dangling from the Lone Cypress.
As I go about what I have the gall to call work, there is one question I’m asked with relentless, bran-like regularity. As sure as the top of Allen Iverson’s head looks like a blimp shot of Firestone Country Club, someone will inevitably ask me, “So, what’s your favorite golf course?”
I’m so accustomed to responding to this question, it’s like wrapping a finger around a ring and yanking a cord in the small of my back. After a short pause, and a cursory upward glance, I purse my lips as if there actually is some electromagnetic activity going on in my cranium. Then, I launch into what is essentially a taped segment of a person who, by virtue of the place of his birth, is in love with Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.
“But then again, I adore the Augusta National, too,” I say (like that’s a surprise). “But if push came to shove and I were only allowed to play one golf course for the rest of my life, I’d have to pick the Old Course at St. Andrews. It’s like playing in a graveyard, you see, and so different every time you play it. A hundred yards wide, but depending where the flagstick is, there’s always a 20-yard stripe you want to be in.” Then I go to commercial.
The thing is, I never included Cypress Point in my list because I’d never played the last four holes. I mean, how good could they be?
Little did I know it, but this time I was to go the distance at Cypress Point. Mad, windswept, and interesting young announcer that I am, from the Shark Shoot-out in Naples, Florida — our last show of the year — I made an impetuous cross-country dash to the Monterey Peninsula, playground of the corpulent guest.
Pebble Beach was the first of the three links that was to remind me why I quit competition. As always, as part of a group photo with my partners on the 18th tee, I was the one with his pants down. It’s part of a long-standing personal tradition of disgraceful behavior in famous places captured on celluloid. The collection includes images of trouser-shrouded ankles on the potty in the Royal Box at Covent Garden Opera House, and chilled kneecaps in the Road Hole bunker. It’s very artsy-fartsy.
My personal favorite was taken many years ago at the Blarney Stone, on a day so cold that an elderly German tourist who accidentally stumbled onto the scene shouted at me, “Young lady, you vill haff to put your panties back on!” I maintain to this day that his eyesight was dreadful, and incidentally, I wouldn’t kiss that damn thing if it had been swabbed with alcohol. Come to think of it, I’d think twice about kissing the Blarney Stone, too. Where was I? Oh yes, Cypress Point. We were originally scheduled to play Spyglass Hill, which would have been pretty darned nice, but the previous evening, I was in a full-blooded Super Tuscan stumble at Spanish Bay, when I caught up with an old friend of mine. I was gallantly searching for my room, armed only with one of those infernal unnumbered key cards. It was very important that I find the room because all my stuff was in there and the last time I’d seen it, it had been right on the end of this damned piece of plastic. It wasn’t much to go on, but I figured with a little trial and error, I’d get there.
Suddenly, Dr. Tom (a.k.a. “Total”) Loss, who is a well-known and highly suspected member of both Cypress Point and the USGA, was heading up the corridor toward me. He appeared to be tacking into a wind that only he could feel. I confronted him, but he didn’t know where I lived, either.
However, we did decide that it would probably be best to share whoever’s room we found first, and that I could be the outside spoon. After searching for at least another 15 seconds, we found ourselves back in the bar, where Total came up with the brilliant suggestion that after playing Poppy Hills the following morning, we should play Cypress rather than Spyglass.
This reminded me of the story of the guy who stuck his hand in a vessel of silver strawberries and pulled out a gold one. I was in no mood to argue. Total was already fixed up with a game, so he called another friend, a gnarly Hogan crony and longtime Cypress member, Mr. Gary Laughlin.
Despite being awakened in the middle of the night by an insane dentist, Gary agreed to host my three friends and me at Cypress Point the following afternoon. Sports fans, it was a round that this cynical old pro will remember forever. At one o’clock I teed off with Gary and three Canadian pals, one of whom was Paul Coffey, the legendary 21-year NHL veteran, arguably the greatest skater of all time. It was his first time at Cypress Point and he was not to be disappointed.
Cypress Point starts by spreading its Mackenzian fingers through the dunes as if to grab a firm hold on dry land, so it can dangle its lower extremities into the Pacific with confidence. Because of the intensely private nature of the club and the overwhelming famousness of its photogenic finish, the first 14 holes are virtually unknown to the golfing public, which is a shame, because they, too, are gorgeous. Eight and nine, two sometimes-drivable par fours, might be considered too short and quirky by today’s standards, but only by those who don’t have fun playing golf.
Like most great short fours, licking of wounds and writing of sixes often follow licking of lips and anticipation of threes. Damn! I think I dropped a shot just writing that. Anyhoo, we played to the 14th green, all of us entranced by our surroundings, which included deer so secure it seemed as if they had been darted with Prozac.
As we walked down the seashell path toward the 15th tee, Gary produced a disposable camera. He’d done this before, I could tell. Coffey, the legendary defenseman, had hit a Toyota windshield on the previous hole, so we gave him the honor, and a two-minute minor for slashing. Well, to be grammatically accurate, the windshield had been on 17 Mile Drive, but I digress. The point is, it wasn’t the first time in his career he’d shattered the glass, but it was the first time that nobody had been mangled in the process.
I was utterly spellbound by the sight of the 15th. I’d seen so many photographs, but Ansel Adams couldn’t have prepared me for a vision so blissful. Verily, I was gobsmacked, and so was Coffey, whose gob, after 21 years in the NHL, I was thinking would be pretty much smack-proof by now.
The Pacific boiled on the rocks and tore at the kelp below, an otter lolled on his back in the shallows, a peregrine falcon hovered overhead, and the smell of the brine filled my nostrils. I sullied the moment by hitting a morbidly obese 7-iron, but it didn’t matter. The 16th was even better.
Coffey, a gentle, soft-spoken, and obviously very dangerous left-hander who resembles a large piece of granite with eyebrows, got up on the tee, and with a 3-wood hit the shot of a lifetime. His ball streaked across the bay like a bullet, straight at the flagstick, and came to rest 25 feet behind the hole. When he turned around to look at the rest of us, his expression was so radiant, and utterly devoid of self-consciousness, it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
Despite a two-decade highlight reel of a career, in which his sweat and blood had stained Lord Stanley’s cup four times, this moment and this place were special to him, and as I turned around to face Gary Laughlin, I noticed it obviously meant something to him, too. He was beaming — no, basking — in the glow of someone else’s pleasure. For Gary, this was one of the great aspects of being a member of Cypress Point. You get to give this kind of thing away.
It was a moment to remember, an example of why the game can become an obsession, and for the first time in years, I was dying for my turn to hit a golf ball. Me next, me next! I teed up my Strata, and silently made myself a wee promise. I would swing like it was the last swing of my life and savor the feeling no matter where the ball might fly, for who knew, I might never be back.
I remember the sound of the tide, the sweet hit, and the flight over the rocks, a gentle fade coming down on the green and settling 20 feet left of the hole, and an uplifting rush of gooseflesh as the shaft of my 3-wood recoiled on the follow-through and landed softly on my shoulder.
It was magic. I remember every step of the walk across that narrow, crooked, green finger that invites the violent, impossibly blue Pacific to do its worst. I stood on the edge of the green, like Kate Winslet on the prow of the Titanic, with my arms raised as the spray hit my face — and I felt like the King of the World, I did.
Gary lined the four of us up, took a photo, and then with a smile gave us the camera. I had one of the boys take one of him and me, for me, and never once did I feel the urge to drop my trousers.
This place is special, it must be, because it made me feel like playing golf again. Playing Cypress Point made me feel like a lucky, lucky man, and it is my favorite golf course.
Now, ask me one on music.