Traversing the Flats of Desperation

Traversing the Flats of Desperation

Deep underneath the limestone floors of Gussett Hall, the dungeon had for centuries lain in damp and darkness, until Uncle Dickie had it refurbished into a secret den, into which he occasionally retired to read in private. Inside the glass-fronted cabinet in a carefully controlled atmosphere, bound in gold-leaf and leather-spined volumes, lay the precious records of his family’s history, the ancient records of Gussett Hall, and Brother Dick’s original layout maps of Scrought’s Wood golf course. He reached up to one of the top shelves and pulled out one of the most decrepit-looking manuscripts.

“Ah, yes,” he muttered to himself as he undid the gold clasp, and the book creaked open where he placed it, on a magnificent walnut Chippendale desk. “The matches of 1650. The holy war.” Uncle Dickie sat down to read.

Throughout its checkered and often ghastly history, the walls of Gussett Hall had provided sanctuary for a wide variety of saints and scoundrels. The seventeenth century was of particular interest to Uncle Dickie, as in the spring of 1650, the first match had taken place between the members of the Woods and the McGregors. At the time, Oliver Cromwell had overthrown the reigning Stuarts and declared England a republic, and his men were scouring the countryside, searching for and often torturing and executing Roman Catholic priests, just for the hell of it. While Cromwell and his Ironsides were off laying waste to Ireland, the Lord of Gussett Hall, none other than Cardinal Egbert Gussett, had decided to take up temporary residence north of the border in Scotland, where the Royalists were still in charge, and had built himself a home away from home in the old gray town of St. Andrews. It wasn’t long before he felt the urge to play a little golf, but due to his abrasive personality and outspoken derision for their rules, he was blackballed by the small band of golfers at St. Andrews, and was forced to find an alternative venue to exercise his passion. He had heard of a band of wild and woolly clansmen who claimed to have invented a similar game on a tract of land along the Firth of Tay, so he and his small flock of monks packed up and headed for Dundee, and the lair of the McGregors.

The Cardinal had been no less keen a golfer than any other keeper of Gussett Hall. He had kept faithful records of both the development of Scrought’s Wood and their relationship with the rival Tay Club north of the border. Before Uncle Dickie lay the first known map of the McGregors’ three-hole golf course. Cardinal Egbert had plotted the position where each of his shots had landed during the famous first match between himself and the evil Hugh McGregor, a man as famous for his cruelty as he was for the legendary size of his genitals. According to McGregor lore, there was no sporran big enough for Hugh “Huge” McGregor.

Tracing a manicured finger across the parchment, Uncle Dickie noticed a vast, featureless area known as the “Desperation Flats,” in the middle of the second hole, which also had what appeared to be a deep cleft in the fairway just short of the green. The cleft sloped steeply downward to the shore and a rock formation known as “The Nostril,” beside which the Cardinal had inscribed a note: “Venture not.”

“Hmmm,” mumbled Uncle Dickie, “I’ll take the old boy’s word on that one.” On the next page, the Cardinal had written a full account of the events of the match that had started the rivalry between the two clubs. Uncle Dickie slipped a pair of half-moon reading glasses out of his breast pocket, pulled a bottle of Louis XIII cognac from his desk drawer, and poured himself a massive snifter. Then he settled himself in his chair and began to read about the historic morning upon which Huge McGregor had awakened to find a tall, imposing Roman Catholic clergyman dressed in full-length, ermine-trimmed red velvet and a great big pointy red helmet, banging the bejesus out of his front door with a ruby-and-diamond-encrusted crozier.

It was an hour before noon, when the heathen saw fit to emerge from his squalid den, and join me upon the teeing ground, which, like the rest of the foul pasture these savages call their “Links,” was festooned with the turds of sheep. Still, with his arrival, the already present stench did greatly increase. Much had I heard from his kinfolk, of the mighty size of his manhood, and indeed, as he swung his heavy driving wassock from side to side in preparation for the game, the magnitude of his unmentionables was clearly evident beneath the folds of his pagan vestments. Lest I had any doubt, before he took his first cut, he did raise the skirts of his dress, and proclaim loudly, that after the game he did intend to insert the vile organ into my holy personage, a claim so unseemly, that my holy quill does refuse to inscribe it herein. Verily, let it be sufficient to say, that all the holy water in Christendom would not have purified the mouth of such a godless, boorish, ill-bred son of a syphilitic cloven-footed goat buggerer. Forgive me, dear Lord, for I know not what I write.

But I digress. Nevertheless, the savage and I agreed to play under the originals, and before long, the true nature of his character was revealed. He is a man of great strength, this McGregor, but as I had expected, his skills are limited to the heavier bludgeons alone. Once around the sacred pit, his courage deserted him, and he was reduced to a timorous shivering wreck. On the first hole, he was on the grass of great shortness in four cuts less than my divine self, but so great was the frequency of his nudging, I found myself with the advantage as we began the second hole.

Great was McGregor’s anger with his kinfolk, many of whom scattered ahead, as we traversed the Flats of Desperation. Many unseen hazards did I visit there, and for the better part of the second hole, the foe did disappear from my view. Unknown to me was the Nostril that lies before the second grass of great shortness, and great misfortune did it bring. Woe betide the unwary in its presence, let ye be warned.

Uncle Dickie sat back in his chair, took a long sip of his brandy, and let out a long, thoughtful breath. “I’m going to have to investigate this place thoroughly,” he said to himself, pushing his spectacles back up his nose and leaning over the manuscript once more.

The third and final hole is the most arduous on the McGregors’ land, and if not for the grace of the Heavenly Father, one that I surely would have lost. The steams of the sea did envelope us, and upon the teeing ground it seemed as if the sky had fallen. It was a practice cut with my driving crozier I did make, that sent the McGregor Chieftain off the edge of the abyss. So thick was the mist, I did not see him, and at first I thought I had walloped one of the many faithful sheep that did follow him, but a flash of tartan cloth and his pendulous dangling wobblers I glimpsed, as I, by the purest of chance, did hit him one time more on my follow through. Then, as fate would have it, as I bludgeoned my tee shot in earnest, his ugly countenance did appear like a wraith once more in front of me. He had clambered up the cliff, and his nose did hit my speeding feathery a fearsome crack, causing me to lose my best feathery bollock. No, honest, I did. But hell had one more to burn, and t’was the will of God, no doubt.

Uncle Dickie raised his eyebrows. “Hmm, no doubt indeed,” he said as he closed the book and returned it to the shelf above. He pulled down a second volume, and began to flick through it. After the suspicious goings-on of the first match, the McGregor clan had engaged in frequent correspondence with the various masters of Gussett Hall. Throughout the ages, the letters gradually became more and more adversarial in nature, and as Uncle Dickie refreshed his memory of the history between the two sides, it became ever more obvious to him that a visit to the Tay Club was essential, if he were to be faithful to the memory of his ancestors. Back and forth, the insults had been flung, with one match every 50 years, and as Uncle Dickie read on, it occurred to him that he was looking at snapshots of the game’s evolution, alongside the development of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sport. The ancient parchments were filled with descriptions of the three-hole course, which, as Uncle Dickie had suspected, had not been altered in any way since the game was born. In some of the more recent manuscripts, there were even some grainy black-and-white photographs of grim-faced clansmen and members before battle had begun. Uncle Dickie recognized the face of Sir Basil Strangely-Smallpiece, staring at him from a photograph that had presumably been taken just a few hours before his untimely demise.

The one thing that was missing from his family’s history was a Gussett who had won on both battlegrounds. He looked around the dimly lit room, with its portraits of the ancient Gussetts and strange-looking golf artifacts on the wall. The eyes of each of his forbears seemed to be smiling at him, willing him on, and this filled him with a sense of righteous indignation. He stood up, pulled down his tweed waistcoat, jutted out his chin, and grabbed an ancient-looking hickory-shafted club from its mount on the wall.

“Ahh,” he gasped with glee. “An original Bungley backup wedge!”

He addressed an imaginary ball on the stone floor, and gave the club a couple of waggles.

“You shall come with me, my beauty, for your golfing days are not done just yet!”

From A NASTY BIT OF ROUGH Copyright(C) March 2002 by David Feherty. Reprinted by arrangement with Rugged Land Books.

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