My late father Stewart Cudworth was an avid golfer. He passed along that love of the sport to his four sons, but it didn’t quite stick. We all played golf plenty of times over the years, and I still do on occasion. But mostly, we had fun on the course.
Like millions of others in this world, my father also loved the movie Caddyshack, especially the Rodney Dangerfield character. My father was never one to admire false pride, but he did love a good one-liner. Hence the appreciation for Dangerfield.
I was always more fascinated by the Chevy Chase character, whose confused virtues included moments of incredible talent but also a bad case of the yips. That’s golf, for you. So here goes: 20 true and funny golf stories to which I was either a direct witness or a willing audience.
- My sales associates at a newspaper where I worked loved to play golf every week. One of them called himself the Polish Prince. He was a buff, athletic type with a chiseled face and a set of beefcake photos that he hoped to leverage into modeling contracts. We all loved to mess with him and tease him about his golf game. One day his golf ball rested on the green when I walked up to tend the stick, so I gently stepped on the ball to press it into the green. When he putted, it shot straight up in the air and struck him in the forehead. I couldn’t have hoped for a better result.
- A player from the investment banking firm where I worked in one of my first jobs out of college had a terrible slice with his driver. The ball would bend in an incredible arc and wind up two fairways over to the right. So I told him to aim far to the left and the ball would curl around and land on the right fairway. So he turned at 45 degree angle, swung madly at the ball and hit is as straight as could be. It traveled over two fairways before coming to rest in a woods.
- At that same investment firm, the company held a golf outing for its employees. We all stood around our carts at the first tee when the President of the firm walked up to hit the first shot of the day. Unlike many of the employees at that firm who had been college athletes, the Prez was not an avid golfer. He swung and the back of his driver struck the top of the ball, sending it careening into the parking lot behind him where it ricocheted off several cars. “And that’s why I don’t like golf,” he turned to everyone and said.
- While playing with a work associate at a local up-and-back golf course in Sycamore, Illinois, I watched him duckhook every drive with incredible force. He’d been a Big Ten athlete and was powerful. On the fifth hole another player was standing next to our fairway because his shot had slid through the trees and wound up on our hole. My associate didn’t notice him and went ahead with his drive. The ball curved almost out of bounds to the right before curling back to strike the player facing us right in the collarbone. We hustled up to meet him on the cart and apologize. All he said was, “Well, you didn’t get much roll out of that one.”
- I was playing well on a course named Settlers Hill, a layout built on top of a landfill in Geneva, Illinois, when I hit a long drive on a par five and found my next shot resting on a downhill with a clear view of the green. Eager to put it near the cup with a chance for an eagle, I swung fast and hit the ground a full foot behind the ball. Frustrated at losing that shot to bad form, I swung again and hit even further behind the ball. My brother was standing in front of me watching the whole time. His retort: “Are you goin’ into farming?”
- While not strictly a story about playing golf, I spent many years doing running workouts on various golf courses. One evening at twilight I was doing interval training on a course and ran straight into a long rope held up by stakes to keep carts from entering a soft part of the course. The rope hit me at thigh length and flipped me into a somersault. I lay there stunned and bruised on the soft fairway, laughing at my stupidity.
- My college roommate related a story about a friend who came off the course during a club tournament perplexed by what a member of his foursome had told him when he asked what went wrong with his game during the round. “It’s your loft,” he was told. Wanting to know the details, the curious golfer approached his golf companion in the clubhouse and asked, “What do you mean by loft?” Without mercy, the guy told him, “Lack Of Fucking Talent.”
- Arriving at a golf outing late due to business appointments, I raced out to the assigned hole where our foursome was assigned to begin. When it came my turn to hit a drive, I sent the ball straight into the lake parallel to the fairway. Then another. And another. It took thirteen shots with penalties to finish the hole. Then I took a seven on the Par 3 to follow. Looking a 20 to start the day, I gathered my pride and got a par on the next hole. Waiting at the next tee, I stood back and bit and was approached by a guy that I knew was a serious golfer. He put a hand on my shoulder and said, “I give you credit. A lesser man would have lost it completely.”
- My former track and cross country coach loved golf and played quite frequently. But he also loved to drink on the course and decided one day to take the golf cart down a steeply inclined path at a breakneck speed. While he didn’t break his neck, he did separate a shoulder, collect quite a few bruises and have to quit the round that day.
- A college roommate and fellow cross country had a low handicap and had once placed in the state golf tournament in Iowa. We were playing a sweet little course in the hills north of Decorah, Iowa when one of his chip shots slipped off the back of the green and rolled down a hill onto a gravel path behind a stone wall. He pulled out his wedge and attempted to lift the ball off the path up on the green, but it caught the edge of the stone wall and ricocheted back to hit him the forehead. I tried not to laugh but even he tipped his cap back and said, “Will you look at that?” Nice red mark on his forehead.
- Nothing is more frustrating than losing a golf ball in open country and in plain sight. You drive your cart up to where the ball came to rest and…nothing. Looking around, you search the rough in case it’s hidden and still the ball is nowhere to be found. I was in that process when I peeked down the hole of a thirteen-lined ground squirrel to find my ball, personalized and all, perfectly wedged down the hole six inches below the ground. I took a drop. We didn’t bother trying to dig it out.
- Likewise, on that same golf course, I once lost a golf ball to a fox that ran out of the woods next to the course, snatched my ball in its teeth and ran back into the woods.
- I led a foursome on a charity golf outing and was happy to host some guests of a company that had sponsored a promotional program I developed. One of the players in their crew was the facilities construction manager for the restaurant chain. He quietly muttered to me, “I don’t play much.” And for the first eight holes he scattered shots everywhere, including one that soared into a neighborhood and struck a large plastic garbage can with a loud thud. “Come on,” he said, jumping in the cart. “Let’s get out of here.” The final hole of the front nine was a long carry over water to a par three elevated green. Before his drive, he settled in behind the ball, bent over to address it and said, “Hold your breath.” And sure enough, that shot went straight into the water with a giant splash.
- My father and I once participated in an outing to raise money for Special Olympics. We were partnered with a professional golfer named Charlie Rymer. A humorous Georgia boy, he had a comment for almost situation on the course. Went my father took a long divot out of a nice fairway, Charlie grinned while picking it up to hand it to my father. “Keep that thing. That’s a salad in California.”
- My brothers and I were extremely competitive on the course. Often our scores were quite close all the way through the round. Which is why my oldest brother was disgusted when I struck a six iron from 165 yards out, watched it land far to the left of the green, bounce off a sprinkler head and roll straight into cup for an eagle.
- Luck plays a huge role in golf on many occasions. I was playing with my father one Sunday afternoon and with two holes to go, I was losing to him by a couple strokes. From thirty yards out from the green, I chipped a wedge and it came in high and tight, landing directly in the cup where it bobbled around with a funny sound. “Holy crap!” my father chortled. The next hole I chipped in again for a second straight eagle. It was the only time I ever beat my father in a game of golf.
- Facing a water hole is always a golfer’s psychological challenge. More than once, I’ve watched terrible shots go low off the club and skim across the surface of a lake to wind up on the fairway or better yet, safely on the green. If one does not thank the Golf Gods after such a stroke of luck, it is certain that karma will catch up to you that same round.
- While playing a round of golf at a local resort, I was paired with a guy whose drives were notoriously short off the tee. I kept forgetting that he rarely hit the ball past 120 yards, and kept zipping past his ball on the cart. The problem only got worse as the day grew warm and I was concentrating hard on my own game. On the thirteenth hole or so, he turned to me as we zoomed past his ball and said, a little less patiently, “Turn around!” Without thinking, I spun the steering wheel to the left and he flew through the air off the right side of the cart. In mid-air, he called out, “You should have told me!”
- Cheating at golf isn’t that funny. But it can be darkly funny when everyone in the foursome realizes the tactics of a dishonest player. The Publisher of the newspaper where I worked in the early 90s was so proud and competitive toward his employees that he was always using a foot wedge to improve his lie or rescue an errant shot stuck behind a tree or fencepost. Then he’d claim a par or a mere bogey on a hole where we counted his strokes plus the penalties and knew he’d gotten an eight or a nine. But we learned to laugh at his secretive little antics and let him “win” because we all valued our jobs. But man, did we make fun of him behind his back.
- For some people, the pressures of the game are simply too much. They go into fits of rage, throwing clubs or cursing and swearing. One pro golfer famously (reportedly) threw his entire set of clubs into a water hazard after a terrible round. Marching toward the clubhouse, he suddenly stopped, turned around and waded down into the water to pull his bag out of the water. Then he removed his car keys, tossed the clubs back in the drink and left in a state of humbled rage. True or not, that’s one of the best and funniest golf stories I’ve ever heard.
Indeed, golf is a test of pride and purpose in this world. But learning to laugh at ourselves (and others sometimes) is one of its many lessons. Hope you enjoyed these (mostly) true golf stories. And don’t be too proud if you hit the links this summer. Humility is often the tool of better scores. Take a few less bold chances. Accept that penalty stroke. Chip of the woods rather than trying to hit through them. And don’t drive your golf carts on the greens. Only feckless Presidents do stuff like that. And it’s not funny.