Yesterday I played golf at the exclusive Dedham Polo and Country Club. I grew up in the Fairmount Projects in Hyde Park about five miles, as the crow flies, from the manicured lawns and sculpted grounds of the club. In Western Massachusetts, where I now reside, taking a five mile trip in any direction brings you, pretty much, to another friendly burg similar to your own. In Boston, five miles brings you to another world. We pulled in to the parking lot of the club at around 9:30 AM in my friend Hiroshi's 1998 Mercedes. Thank God we didn't take my Grand Cherokee or Chris's Explorer because they would have stuck out amongst the Jaguars, BMW's and Mercedes. I am sure the members thought we were roughing it in Hiroshi's decade old car, but assumed that his garage must be minding his late model Aston Martin, Porsche or Maserati.
One of my regular golf partners, Steve, (who happens to be my wife's second cousin, as well as her Scotch league partner) was able to gain us entry into this world of the privileged through his secretary, whose son is the course superintendent. As a child attending a private, catholic school I was one of the few indigent children in a world of the upper middle class. Throughout my life I have been able to shift seamlessly between social strata. I can morph into anybody from a CEO to a barfly. The key? Act like you belong. If you are there (country club or crackhouse), as long as you aren't dressed completely out of place (like wearing a suit in a dive bar(cop) or a "got milf?" t-shirt for drinks at The Ritz) then people assume you belong and will accept you as one of their own.
The attendant delivered our clubs to the driving range from our car and we spent 15 minutes hitting balls and shooting the shit. There was not another soul on the expansive range. We were greeted by the pro who told us to head to the first tee at our convenience and not to rush; there were no tee times for quite a while after us. It was a quintessential fall day in Eastern Massachusetts. The leaves were changing. The morning fog was burning off. The temperatures were in the low 60's and the course was dewy. It was a shame the course was empty, it seemed like such a waste. We teed off at 10 AM and started our way around the hilly track. The greens were fast and firm. On every hole there were groundskeepers working feverishly to trim the fairways and blow stray leaves off the greens. I was starting off slowly, struggling with muscle memory not having played for two weeks. Golf for me during the past few years has been bittersweet. Since my sons were born I can't play often enough to maintain my 8 handicap, but I occasionally regain my former swing just enough to play acceptably.
Midway through the front nine I was soaking in my surroundings. I admired the stone walls built along the roads bordering the grounds and gazed at the changing foliage. I then came upon a grounds keeper repairing a sand trap on the left side of the fairway, where my ball seemed to be slicing all day (I am a lefty). He was a dark skinned man of Hispanic decent. As I approached my ball next to the bunker I said "Hi". He smiled and looked down, avoiding eye contact. I speak fluent Spanish and I'm sure he understood "hi", but his body language spoke volumes. For the next few holes I was troubled. Why should this man have lowered his gaze? I am no better than him. I grew up in squalid, destitute surroundings no more than five miles from here. I felt out of place. The pretension and hubris of the place hovered over my walk down the tenth fairway.
My guilt was short lived having a $10 Nassau to contend with and the comforting fact that this man had a job; his prodigious mid section assured me that he wasn't starving. My game picked up knowing we lost the front and were four down on the overall with only eight holes to go. Hiroshi and I heroically won the back nine by one, only losing 10 dollars of the Nassau and four buck on other side bets. Upon completion of the round we thanked the pro for the round and made our way to the car. People at exclusive clubs (which I have been privy to quite a few in my golf travels) always look happy. Smiling faces and politeness are traits that are easy to come by in such beautiful surroundings. In stark contrast, at my blue collar course, f-bombs echo throughout the place. The drinking is heavy and the scowls are many. The parking lot at my club is filled with pick-up trucks, many with the logo of the plumber or builder's business who drives it. The "nineteenth hole" can be described as a place where golfers drink. My club has been described as a place where drinkers golf.
I won't pack my clubs away for the year, I never do, but this is probably my last "trip" of the year. I was a beautiful day, at a beautiful course and, for a day, I got to be one of the beautiful people.