Golf Goes On, by Lynne Hinkey
Around the clubhouse, the four men were known as “The Old Putters.” Each day, after their morning round of golf, they held court at the table under the fan on the veranda, drinking coffee, arguing about the day’s headlines, and gossiping. Everyone stopped by to pay their respects and chat.
The foursome were legend: the first mixed-race group to play at the Charleston Municipal Golf Course. Muni, as everyone referred to it, had the proud reputation as one of the first public golf courses in the south to desegregate. But while the golfers were willing to play on the same course and in the same tournaments, it took Robby and Marty, best friends since childhood, to break the last barrier, integrated partners. The Old Putters fame also extended to their unbroken record of play. They hadn’t missed a day in twenty years (except Sundays, of course; Robby was a good, God-fearing man).
When they realized they were on a roll for perfect attendance, they’d already been playing together for eight years. That’s when they adopted their motto: Golf Goes On. They had custom golf shirts and hats made with the logo Marty’s daughter designed for them: four crossed putters, reminiscent of the Three Musketeers’ crossed swords, with the words “Golf Goes On” arching over them.
Their daily round was inviolable. They even circumvented acts of God and the course manager to play. When Hurricane Hugo skimmed the Charleston coast nine years into their unbroken stretch, they snuck onto the back nine where the sixteenth and seventeenth holes had been spared the storm’s devastation. For eight days, they played those two holes over and over, nine times to get in their daily round, while work crews cleaned up the rest of the course.
After ten years, the other regulars kicked in and bought a plaque honoring the foursome’s achievement. Every year after that, the course manager added another engraved metal plate with the new record for continuous days of play achieved by the Old Putters.
The men were determined to earn their new plate each year, so in their thirteenth year, when Don had a stent put in, the four men played nine holes as the sun was rising, before taking him to the hospital. The next day, they waited until he was released to play. The doctor had forbid swinging a golf club, but had said nothing about putting. Don rode along in the golf cart and finished each hole.
They’d even played the morning Marty’s wife was buried. Marty scheduled the service for ten so they could get in nine holes beforehand.
When Marty died, the foursome became a threesome and it threw off their balance. “How are we gonna do this?” asked Robby.
“Golf goes on,” answered Don.
“I know that, you fool. I mean me and Marty always ride together. We’re the dynamic duo, Blackman and Robby, that’s how it’s always been. Who’m I gonna ride with now?”
“Why don’t we rotate? After each hole, everyone move one seat to the right,” Don proposed. “John moves to your cart, you move to the passenger seat of ours, I drive. Then, you drive our cart, I move to yours, and John rides in this one.”
Robby shrugged. “That sounds fair.”
John, the oldest in the group at eighty-seven, just smiled and nodded. He’d turned down his hearing aid that morning and forgot to turn it up again.
After the first hole, Don took John’s usual spot behind the cart’s steering wheel and Robby sat next to him. “What the hell are you doing?” John yelled.
They explained the procedure again, but louder this time, then debated if they should change after putting and before proceeding to the next hole, or at the next hole after teeing off. They decided on the former, changed places, and moved on to the second hole. Their reputation earned them sufficient respect around Muni that the group behind refrained from hitting into them during their discussion.
After four holes, all the darting back and forth like a Chinese fire drill, forgetting whose clubs were on which cart, proved too disruptive and they left Robby to ride alone.
“I hate to say it,” John said. Yelled, really. He still hadn’t turned up his hearing aid. “But we’re gonna have to find us another fourth.”
“Never be able to replace Marty,” Don said, but nodded in agreement.
“Marty’d want our golf to go on.” Robby sighed long and loud. “It just won’t never be the same.”
For weeks, they held auditions for Marty’s place in the group. John didn’t like the one who rushed him. He had a very precise pre-shot routine that couldn’t be interrupted. Don vetoed the recently retired doctor with the full head of dark hair who flirted with the lady who drove the drinks cart. Don’s ego could handle the declining distance of his tee shots, but not alienation of the young cart-girl’s attentions. Robby said no to the blasphemer who Goddammitted his way around the course. And so it went. No one could fill the hole Marty left. Still they played.
One Monday morning, Robby told them about the preacher’s sermon on Ezekiel raising the dead. “And I wondered, why can’t we do that for Marty?”
They thought about it; considered it; then discarded the idea. Still, their search for a fourth remained fruitless. They reconsidered Robby’s proposal and decided it was worth a try.
On Friday morning, while the mist was still wending its way through the live oaks and the ash-gray sky waited for the sun to rise, they scurried down the lane to Marty’s headstone and spoke the words from the Bible. “‘…I will put my Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it…”
Of course, where the passages referred to “Israelites” they substituted “Martin Gadsden.” Each in turn swore to God that, if he would let them have Marty back, they’d be a better person, go to church every Sunday, and all the other things people swear when asking God for personal favors.
“I’ll never doubt your existence again,” said John.
“I’ll quit runnin’ around on Maggie and go to church on Sundays,” promised Don.
Robby prayed: “I do believe all things are possible in God. I’ll do anything you ask, Lord, if you’ll please let us have Marty back. I miss my best friend. ”
They waited for the rattling of bones coming together, bone to bone, like the Bible described.
The sun and the temperature rose. The mosquitoes buzzed. The sounds of early morning traffic, muffled by humidity and Spanish moss, hummed through the cemetery, but no bones rattled.
“Well, that was a stupid idea,” muttered Robby. He kicked at a pebble and stormed back toward their cars.
Don followed, looking over the rows of headstones with their neatly tended flower patches. “You know, I lived here my whole life and never been in the negro cemetery before. Now I been here twice in one month. It’s kinda perty.”
“Eh?” shouted John. With his usual routine disrupted, he’d forgot to put in his hearing aid that morning.
“Let’s go!” Billy yelled into John’s ear.
“Yeah. Let’s golf.” John turned and hobbled toward the road with his gout-crooked gait: step-tilt-shuffle, step-tilt-shuffle.
The three didn’t mention their early morning adventure to anyone, not even to themselves. In the full light of day, the folly of their effort was clear. They came to the sober realization that they’d have to adapt and either play as three or allow someone who didn’t quite fit in to join their group.
That Monday morning, as the sun glittered off the dewy fairways and turned the Spanish moss into silver tinsel on the live oaks, their three cars pulled into the parking lot one after the other: Robby’s noisy pick-up, John’s ancient Ford Tempo, and Don’s classic ’68 Corvette.
The men nodded to one another, but no one spoke while they prepared their bags, changed their shoes, and loaded the carts.
A dark blue Lincoln pulled into the empty space alongside Robby and the men froze.
Don forced out a laugh. “Creepy, eh? Looks just like Marty’s car.”
“Gave me a start,” said Robby. He swiped his golf towel across his face.
“Hey! That looks like Marty’s car, doesn’t it?” John yelled, his voice carrying over the fairways.
The car door creaked open and a lanky black man unfolded himself from the driver’s seat. He held a hand up in a quick salute and popped open the trunk.
Robby looked at John who looked at Don who looked at Robby. All three wore the same slack-jawed, wide-eyed expression. Robby plopped down on his truck’s tailgate with a thud. Don and John shuffled closer together.
“Marty?” Robby’s voice creaked out in barely a whisper. The man nodded.
It looked like Marty, only better…fresher. Younger. The sun rising at his back gave him the same silver glow as the moss in the trees. The gray around his temples was gone, as was the cloud of cataracts over his eyes. Without a word, he secured his bag onto Robby’s cart and took his place in the passenger seat.
Robby rose and inched his way nearer. “Is that really you?”
Marty stared into his eyes and Robby knew this was no dream. This was his best friend. In the flesh.
Don stepped alongside the cart and gaped. He reached out one hesitant finger and pressed it into Marty’s cheek. “Holy shit. You’re real.”
Marty turned to him, his lips curling into a half smile, mysterious and sad.
“I mean, we didn’t really think….well, you was dead. But here you are. Here. With us.” He studied the new Marty, a dozen contradicting thoughts fighting their way through his brain. It can’t be, but it is. He’s dead, but he’s here in front of me. Finally, one thought pushed its way to the surface and suppressed all the others. “The Old Putters ride again!”
John limped to the passenger side of the cart and extended a hand to his formerly deceased friend. “What the hell, Marty?” he shouted.
When Marty clasped his hand, the ringing in John’s ears—a constant background noise in his life ever since the war—muted. John smiled. He remembered his promise to never doubt again, if God could return their friend to them. “It’s good to have you back,” he said in a low voice. When he released Marty’s hand, the ringing resumed.
“My God,” muttered Robby, inching as far away from his golf partner as the space of the cart allowed. “What have we done?”
“That’s right. Golf goes on!” shouted John. He trounced on the pedal and the cart leapt forward with a jerk. Don whooped with joy.
Robby shrugged. Good or bad, he’d worry about it later. For the moment, though, golf would go on.
Lynne Hinkey is a marine scientist by training, a writer by passion, and a curmudgeon by nature. Her first novel, Marina Melee, follows the misadventures of ne’er-do-well George as he searches for the easy life on a tropical-island. In her second novel, Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons, Jack Halliman is one of two murder suspects, the other is the chupacabra. Is the monster real or myth? Dog only knows, but no one is asking him. Both are published by Casperian Books. When not writing, Lynne swims, golfs, and runs agility with her dogs. Visit her at LynneHinkey.com
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Tags: friendship, loss, Lynne Hinkey