Golf Buddies

By Joe Rector

I started playing golf after I married Amy. Her Poppa played and wanted me to go with him. I enjoyed the time with him, but my game was filled with hacks at the ball and worm burners that rolled along the fairways. At other times, the dangerous slice that I had hit houses, screened-in porches, and trees. Still, I liked being with my father-in-law.

During my teaching career, I taught a 7:00 a.m. class, which allowed me to leave early. On many days, I made my way to the golf course to play at least nine holes. I have played in dangerously hot summers and frigid winters. I’ve even teed off as snow flurries turned into huge flakes. The bug had certainly bitten me, and I was hopelessly hooked on playing golf.

For about 30 years, I’ve swung the clubs with little success in becoming a better player. Two different times I took lessons from pros, and although some improvement came, my scores lowered only a couple of strokes. The person who has the worst score on a hole tees off last, and it’s only because my brother Jim likes to go last that I am not permanently stuck in that position.

The upside to playing golf has always been the people with whom I’ve been paired. For several years, I played with Jim and two other men who worked with him at the course. Little John and Andy were older than we were, but they beat us like red-headed stepchildren every round. We were a solid foursome who laughed and joked and tried not to take the game too seriously. John has cut back his playing time in recent years, and Andy contracted melanoma and passed from the cancer a few years back.

Two other men I play with are Joe Dooley and David Ingram. I worked with Joe at Karns High School for 25 years and subbed with him for five years. David and Joe were basketball refs for years. The three of us have played at least one hundred rounds together. Until last year, we traveled to Marion, Virginia, each year to play in a tournament that benefitted Project Crossroads. I think I am correct in saying that we came in last place every time. Still, we had good times there. Joe and David were witness to the only hole-in-one I ever had.

One more group that I’ve played with is just as special. Jim called me to ask if I wanted to play with his foursome a few years back. The other two players were Dwight Christian and Pete Stafford. Dwight was a band director in Knoxville for years. His bands were always some of the best in the area and won their shares of competitions in Knoxville and in other places in the area. Dwight played for years as a professional musician, and although I never heard him play, stories are that he was a magician with his instrument. Pete Stafford coached high school football in Knoxville for years. He is a legendary coach whose teams always were top-notch. Pete later became a principal in the school system. I imagine every student dreaded having to make the walk to his office. Pete seldom raises his voice, but his very presence is enough to make students in trouble feel nervous.

My buddies are in their 80s now, and playing golf is difficult. Jim offered to get them and let them chip and putt a round or two. We just gathered the other day. Now, we meet for lunch at Cheddar’s. The talk is filled with truths and a tall tale or two. We keep up with each other’s health and family. Pete likes to fish, as does Jim, so they spend time discussing their latest catches. No, we don’t play golf; the only exercise comes from lifting forks to our mouths. The sharing of a meal and just being together is good enough for us. We are friends who have grown close, at first on the golf course and now as older guys with plenty of aches and pains.

As I said earlier, I play “at” golf. My game is mediocre, and with more stiff joints and deep aches in my legs and knees, I doubt that it will get much better. The good thing is that my cost per stroke is lower than most everyone else’s. I’m thankful for the game and the good friends that it has brought into my life.