“Now the truth is, that luxury produces much good” — Dr. Johnson
We took turns hitting. He hit; then I hit, and hit again; then he hit until he was finished. Then I hit and was done. The hitting was full of sound and fury; often, we hit awry. The hitting was done in the dark, under lights. We hit with sticks—some longer than others. Sometimes we hit hard; sometimes, we hit like old men, focusing on contact. Our contact determined direction; half an inch sent them wayward; full on fed them to flags. We approached those flags; we took them out, and we hit. He hit; then I hit; then I hit several times, finally, into the hole; then he hit into the hole, and we put the flag back in. We proceeded and continued, taking turns, hitting in various courses.
Just about south of McCarran Airport, there is a nine-hole par-three where me and a buddy ventured this past Black Friday, our deeds being dark, I suppose. It had been over two years since I’d played a round, and my hitting showed. Though, after an errant tee-shot, I did have a nice hit out of a bunker on hole one, leaving me with roughly twenty yards to the hole. This was followed up with a three-putt. But, I say, I was not out for record-breaking but for leisure. If golf is not played with an incredible amount of light-hearted joy, taking in the scenery, it will be played with no small amount of resentment. The minute one cares about his golf-score, his drive-distance, his iron-swinging, his sand-saves, and his putt-reads, he will have a miserable round both in mood and score. Indeed, golf is the very opposite of virtue or religion or love. And that is its great lesson: Some things we take seriously because they are inherently lovely and freeing; some things we take flippantly because they are inherently serious. Golf is the latter. And if played freely, it will woo us back like a lover or morals or religion.
We played in the dark. Flooded by both stars, moon, the strip, the airport, landing planes, streetlights, and, thankfully, floodlights. I think seeing less may actually be helpful in golf. You can play by feel and faith. “Ah, just hit the ball, see where she goes!” the faithful, care-free golfer says. And he swings away and watches the ball look like a shooting, then falling star until it lands on the green—or rough, sand, cart-path, driving-range, wrong-green, club-house, human-head—like a virgin snow-flake. At various times, I had to wait as planes flew over our heads, so close I felt my backswing would clip their wings. Wind was whipped up from their landing, and more waiting was necessary until one could hit. But golf is a game of waiting, patience, something modern Americans cannot do, and do not have.
Around hole four or five, we were entertained with picturesque scenes of the strip: Mandalay Bay, the Luxor, Excalibur were some that I particularly noted. What with the strip and the planes, and the birds-eye views of the street-lights lining Las Vegas, the Kansas boy in me felt as if he was on some inhabited moon and not planet earth. I find the views of the Las Vegas street-lights more enlightening and interesting than the strip and downtown. Often, you can see most of it lit up. It looks like the desert is on fire. Indeed, walking home from the park in the evenings, I can catch a glimpse of the streets and houses along the bottom of Frenchman Mountain. I never fail to think of these lights as little campfires. They don’t look much different than the Kansas fields from afar, when they undergo their annual burn.
It is only too obvious that Black Friday is the Devil’s day. Why else does one call it black, the color of our sins? And don’t pretend that the corporations are happy to get back into the black. When was a corporation happy? When has a CEO ever been thankful for his fruit? Do we see commercials praising profits? Pleading for people to stop purchasing their product? This product they never wanted, never needed, next year’s white-elephant gift. It’s a black thing indeed for a corporation to enter the black. Better fed to a great-white. Then they will stop nagging me. But I’ve digressed. And I merely wanted to say that Las Vegas may at first seem like the typical Black Friday town. Excess? Indeed! Frivolity? Yes! Vanity? We have that too. More for the sake of more? Absolutely! A man can hop in a helicopter and zoom around the starry sky; he can hop on a Ferris wheel an go round-and-round-and-round till he’s dizzy with glee; he can gamble a little, or a lot, or until he’s completely broke; he can jump off the Stratosphere, ropes-course through downtown, play a little night-golf, snowboard off of a mountain, sale a boat around an evaporating lake, visit the Sears Tower of river-dams—earn his doctorate—and still not have gone to the Strip where he can ice-skate in the desert after watching a volcano erupt.
But as I reflect on my golf game, a thought occurs to me that is a little less black. Perhaps in all the revelry that goes on here, there is a flicker of decency. Perhaps this notion that Las Vegas is one giant playground, full of toys like night-golfing or bungee-jumping, is a certain mindset one should have towards this world: we are to enjoy it. That is, we are not to try and swallow it hole like good, new-world gluttons, ripping up the earth with machines for the sole purpose of plenty. But, judiciously, patiently, and with tact, we should enjoy what we have. A walk down the street should be exciting enough. All things considered, it is just as dangerous as anything else one can do here. Indeed, it is more dangerous. For there are these metal boxes with humans in them. They’ve placed them on wheels. And they hurl themselves round-and-round-and-round, as fast they can possibly go.
My tee-shot went long, but I had enough green to work with.
“You want to land it about this area here,” my comrade commanded, pointing to a spot on the green. “Then, it will trickle down toward the hole.”
If the ball heads “toward the hole” I will be satisfied, I thought.
I took my customary practice swings, eyed the spot, a few more swings, and, as I swung, mentally thought, here goes. The ball, hit firmly, landed roughly where I was directed, and I watched it roll.
Moments in golf seem to slow down. Like poetry. They are intensified. The actual contact of club on ball is a tenth of a second yet determines everything. The green—I swear it—is a time-warp; everything on it creeps in this petty pace, as minute details send the ball toward or away from the hole, sucks it closer or keeps it at bay. So I observed in slow-motion, as my ball landed on the green. I watched my little, white, Top-Flite ball roll closer. Closer. Closer. To the cup.
Good night! I thought, She best hit the pin or she’ll roll into the dark, black gully beyond.
“Hit it!” my comrade yelled. I echoed. And, like a magnet the ball was wooed. Colliding with pin, it dropped into the hole. Birdie. And, thus, am I wooed to return to this game, whether my next tee-shot lands like an untainted snow-flake on the green, or careens through the night sky, heading towards a head like some errant asteroid.
Written at the Desert Schooner,
Las Vegas, Nevada
November, 28-December 2, 2015
Painting: "Golf Caddie on the North Inch, Perth"
By Charles Andrew Sellar,
Oil on board, n.d.