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Barbarian at the Tee

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That self-satisfaction is given voice in Robert S. Macdonald’s introduction to The Maidstone Links, a history of the course published by the club in 1997. “We who are privileged to play the Maidstone Golf Course,” writes Macdonald, “ . . . have the ocean and the sandy dunes, the salt-sea air . . . the best kind of golf, the way the game was first played. . . . We play with the people we choose to play with, friends, family. We are not ‘put with’ anyone.”

Because the first tee is in the shadow of the clubhouse, and the second tee exposed, I’ve taken the liberty of beginning my round on hole number three. And because I assumed it would be the least in demand, I assigned myself a 12:30 tee time. An early-morning downpour, however, must have delayed several groups; as I struggle to get my bearings, there are golfers all around: a twosome a few hundred yards in front of me on the third green, and on an adjacent fairway, a pair of sixtysomething couples. A thick mist has blown in off the ocean, so they all waft in and out of focus. I feel like I have just been dropped behind enemy lines.

I’m particularly concerned about the golfers in front. If they spot me and wave me through, my lack of breeding might be detectable; if they invite me to join them, it would be obvious. Too agitated to think straight, I drop a ball and hit an easy seven-iron. It rolls just short of the golf cart parked on the left, and as I walk toward the ball, the twosome, maybe a father and son, walk back from the green and scoot off on their cart.

Finally, I have the presence of mind to stall. I chip on and spend ten minutes acclimating myself to a green twice as fast and true as one at a public course. By the time I leave the green, the twosome has vanished—and my strategy has crystallized. Since I know that the two holes behind me are empty, all I have to do to avoid trouble is stay off the heels of the pair in front.

But other difficulties present themselves. Until a few minutes ago, I’d never set foot on Maidstone or so much as glanced at a scorecard. Except for a rough sketch of the first three holes, rendered on a bar napkin by an acquaintance, I’m counting on logic and signage. But when I reach the next tee, there’s a complete absence of information crucial to an interloper. Lesser golf courses post wooden placards bearing the number of each hole and the yardage, but evidently the golfing committee at Maidstone doesn’t abide such crass displays. There are only red, white, and blue tees (noting the starting points for women, men, and championship players), and since it’s a double tee, they point toward two different holes. Although I’m quite sure my target is the green on the far side of the pond, the yardage is a guess.

The lack of numbers aside, the difference between this tee and one on a public course is comical. The dirt on a public tee is hard and baked, and what little grass still clings to it is sprinkled with busted tees and cigarette butts. A Maidstone tee looks like a just-vacuumed Persian carpet; the spongy turf is so moist that inserting a tee is a tender, consensual act. Discreetly tucked in one corner is an ice-filled Styrofoam chest in which dozens of Poland Spring bottles are chilling. I could happily hang here all day, but after estimating my distance at 165 yards and adding ten yards for the headwind, I hit a crisp four-iron out over the pond.

I pull my golf cart across a narrow bridge, and when I reach the fourth green I’m delighted to find my ball twenty feet right of the pin. I roll my first putt ten feet past, miss the comeback, and jot a bogey four on the back of my Montauk Taxi card.

As I walk to the next hole, I’ve got company again. Beside the fifth tee is another green, where a quartet of Brahmins and their caddies has just arrived, and as I tee up my three-wood, I flash a tense smile. One question posed by my visit is how the membership will react to a stranger in their midst. Will they sense anything amiss in my bearing or comportment or body odor? Will they find it suspicious that I’m towing a cheap plastic golf cart?

From my pink seersucker shorts to the black Tucker’s Point cap on my head, my attire has been carefully selected. But maybe they’ll see right through the camouflage. Maybe a white Polo shirt is no match for the chip on my shoulder the size of a cantaloupe. Last night, I tossed in bed, anticipating a variety of anxious interrogations— “Forgive me, but I don’t seem to recognize you,” “Out here all alone? Most unusual,” “You wouldn’t mind terribly sharing the name of your host, by any chance?”—and although I prepared responses, at this point none are needed.


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