JIM DODSON: Men Behaving Badly -- Part Two
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Second dates and sequels are always tough.
Consider presidential second terms. And does anyone remember "Caddy Shack II"?
Last year about this time, you may recall, assuming you didn't have anything better to do than read about grown men behaving badly in the final hours of a year racing down the rabbit hole, this space was dedicated to an account of a screwball afternoon golf adventure called The Ross Country Championship. It involved four teams of two players who golfed their balls over field and stream from the first tee at Pinehurst No. 2 to the final hole at Mid Pines Golf Club.
In case you missed it because you were (a) in someplace fun like Aruba or (b) in state prison or (c) simply couldn't have cared less, permit me to briefly recap the highlights of this Marx Brothers golf safari in 50 words or less: Young trees fell, innocent houses got whacked by errant shots, an elderly couple was nearly startled to death, lots of bad jokes and body-specific insults were exchanged, and a few fine golf shots actually resulted.
At the last moment, a team of chumps came from last to first on a holed bunker shot, and the inaugural event wound up in a tie -- which, as someone pointed out, is about as thrilling as kissing your sister on New Year's eve.
The only remedy for this unsatisfying outcome, we decided, was to wheedle hall passes from our wives and try again.
This year, though, featured a slightly altered format devised by Pilot Publisher David Woronoff and a different cast of players that included four Ross Cross rookies: CCNA Head Professional Jeff Dotson, Realtor Larry Demolet, banker Stan Bradshaw, and Woronoff's little brother, Frank.
Bureaucracy reared its ugly head on the very first tee.
"Here are the new rules for this year's Ross Country Championship," announced Tom Stewart, self-appointed Ross Cross Czar. He handed out a printed sheet that explained we would once more be playing pure alternate shot format, but this year all ties would be decided by a beer-drinking contest in the clubhouse after the match.
Also, instead of trekking across country in violation of nature and several town ordinances, an ad hoc committee composed of Stewart and partner Dr. Walter Morris -- both of whom were wearing neckties to prove their superiority -- had decided we would play nine of the Sandhills' most challenging holes and be transported to each course via a luxury guest van thoughtfully supplied by Kelly Miller and the Pine Needles Resort, once again ably driven by The Pilot's own sports guru, Hunter Chase. This was a definite step up from the unmarked newspaper van that carted us home from last year's event like rounded-up inmates who'd fled from the asylum.
"Last year, we didn't have any rules except to keep your own score truthfully," someone accurately pointed out to Czar Tommy.
"Exactly," he replied. "That's why this year we're having rules. A certain team was never seen after the first hole and possibly only recorded every other shot."
As he said this, Czar Tommy eyed the veteran duo of Woronoff and Dodson, who had startled the field last winter by leaping triumphantly from last to first place with the swing of a brass sand wedge on the final hole of play. Mystifyingly, both Chase and Sports Illustrated somehow failed to include this in their roundup of "Great Moments in Sports of 2006."
"I take serious exception to that," Boy Publisher David Woronoff testily informed the Ross Czar. "We're both English majors. Nobody said anything about us being able to count. We're strictly noun and verb men."
"Besides, you may have a necktie on, sir, but you're no Czar," I said, firing off my own neat salvo of verbs and nouns as I adjusted my handsome, berry-red Betty Ford Clinic cap. Newcomer Larry Demolet had given it to me to wear in honor of a fallen president, a true man of the people who endeared himself to a grateful nation by remarking, "I must be getting better at golf because I'm hitting fewer spectators."
"And I'm from Michigan and actually knew Gerald Ford," Stewart said in a swift comeback. "You're no Gerald Ford, sir."
A Great Moment
To add injury to insult, Czar Tommy announced that every hole would carry a $5 skin and leaders after each hole would be required to play with a hickory-shafted wooden driver in honor of founder Donald Ross, who probably didn't know Gerald Ford from Fritz Chrysler (Kreisler).
Hiking down the first hole of the event, CCNC's daunting par-five 12th on Dogwood, strictly in the spirit of journalistic inquiry, I asked pro Jeff Dotson and ringer Frank Woronoff how it felt to be playing in their first Ross Country Championship.
"This could be the greatest moment of my life," Jeff replied.
Rumors were circulating that first-timer Larry Demolet had shelled out 10 grand to get into the field. Missing from the previous outing were Pinehurst pro Matt Massey and his boss Pat Corso -- whose cell phone was called and voicemail harassed by certain parties en route to CCNC.
The younger Woronoff, a former standout University of Michigan athlete who flew in the evening before, put his feelings into a metaphor that former Wolverines center Jerry Ford would have appreciated: "Why, this is almost as exciting as running through the tunnel into the Big House on game day -- and tripping in front of 108,000 people."
Some things never changed, though. The heavily favored team of Kelly Miller and Dr. John "Mr. Sandhills Golf" Dempsey won the first hole and a skin with a par. On the short drive over to the 14th hole at Cardinal, they were made to drink two beers and called a lot of highly unflattering names. Corso, blithely snowshoeing somewhere in New Hampshire, was also phoned again and harassed for good measure.
"You boys take this thing pretty seriously," classy Stan Bradshaw was heard to remark.
"Not really," Czar Tommy said, attempting to soothe his concern. "The prizes aren't worth much. I know because I donated 'em."
The Back of the Pack
Team Miller and Dempsey (insert yawn here) parred at the short 14th as well, and the van was soon carrying us through the handsome rustic gate of Forest Creek Golf Club. Owner Terry Brown had originally been scheduled to play in this sophomore(ic) edition of the Ross Cross Country but reportedly took his wife, Susan, on a last-minute second honeymoon to The Continent. We drank a New Year's toast to our missing host and phoned Corso again.
On the first hole of Forest Creek's spectacular North course, a light rain began to fall. As leader Doc Dempsey prepared to tee off with the ceremonial Ross club, Mr. Golf suavely remarked, "I'm good with wood, lads," occasioning a remark from the gallery that can't be printed here, and promptly topped his shot. The gods had intervened. Unaccountably out of nowhere, team Demolet-Woronoff tied teams Stewart-Morris and Dotson-Bradshaw for a win, leaving Miller-Dempsey and the poor Woronoff-Dodson pair foozling in a cold rain.
"How much did you practice for this beforehand?" I asked, taking the moment to grill upstart Realtor Demolet as the group trudged to the first hole of the neighboring South Course. "And is there any truth to the rumor that you paid 10 grand to play today?"
"None whatsoever," he replied. "Practicing, you see, only hurts my game. And for the record, I actually paid $20,000 to get into this stupid thing. Stewart's got the check in his hip pocket to prove it."
"I'm going to Florida immediately after the Ross Cross," Czar Tommy revealed. "My annual spiritual retreat to cleanse myself. I'll be staying at The Ritz this year. Don't try and find me."
Stan Bradshaw, for his part, had a flask in his hip pocket filled with very old and distinguished Reserve nectar from the Royal and Ancient's recent 250th birthday party. A wee nip from the game's homeland was just what I needed to get over my partner's choking of a three-foot putt, which would have given his team a par and a desperately needed win on the fourth hole of the competition. We were somewhere in the back of the pack and the asylum van.
Golf Gods Perverse
My partner the Boy Publisher saved his most curious shot for the next hole, however.
At National Golf Club, General Manager Ken Crow and Head Pro Tom Parsons were kind enough to have us officially escorted to the ninth tee by a pair of burly bag boys, the short par-3 by the lake, whereupon each team was required to play the lovely 130-yard hole using only the aforementioned wooden club (once used by Donald Ross to change a flat tire).
As he attempted to roll in a six-footer for a winning par from just off the putting surface, Brother Woronoff managed to double hit his ball with the antique wooden driver, a feat never seen anywhere in golf -- a wooden T.C. Chen! -- but, alas, incurred a costly two-stroke penalty under the rules of play. The evil axis of Miller-Dempsey and Stewart-Morris both made routine pars to once more (insert yawn here) seize the lead.
The laughter from this golden moment followed us to the spectacular ninth green of Mid South Club, where Stewart and Dodson both faced three-footers for a winning par, a half-dozen skins riding on the drama of the moment.
"Good-good?" the event's designated scribe proposed in the friendly spirit of Donald Ross and acute personal desperation. The putt, you see, was outside the leather but inside his throw-up zone.
Hunched over his ball, Czar Tommy had mysteriously gone deaf. The last time he missed a three-footer for par, his buddy Jerry Ford was president.
The golf gods, however, were in a contrary mood. Maybe their wives hadn't let them out of the house that day. In any case, Stewart missed. Dodson didn't. The golf universe gasped.
On the first hole at cozy Knollwood, in a drubbing rain, Stan Bradshaw brilliantly placed his tee shot two feet from the cup. Mounting a late charge, his partner Jeff Dotson -- who had revised his opinion of playing in the Ross Cross to "the most exciting moment of my life since I had a hot dog all the way at the club earlier today" -- smoothly rolled home the day's only birdie putt for a win.
It was thence to magical finishing holes of historic Mid Pines and Pine Needles, where homeboys Miller-Dempsey played like wily veterans and sawbones Walter Morris chipped brilliantly when it counted most -- providing Czar Tommy with a pair of 10-footers to win the holes and tie the leaders in the clubhouse.
He calmly drained both putts, leaving the Second Annual Ross Country Championship once again maddeningly tied. Miller-Dempsey: 44. Stewart-Morris: 44. Woronoff-Dodson: 47. Dotson-Bradshaw: 48. Demolet-Woronoff: 48.
During the playoff in the Pine Needles bar, over chili and nachos graciously provided by co-winner Miller, the future of the event was vigorously discussed and debated.
"We have to find a way for someone to actually win on the golf course," David Woronoff radically proposed -- then sharply demanded that our team be paid for the hard-earned skins back on the sixth hole. Amazingly, nobody reached for a wallet.
"How about next year we play with just three clubs per team on the same championship golf course?" suggested Dr. Dempsey, ever the big thinker. "That'll separate the whiny bag-carriers from the true champions." He glanced at my partner "T.C." Woronoff as he said this.
"Good idea," agreed Miller. "Pretty soon this thing will be as big as, say, the Fed-Ex Cup. Everyone will want into the field, including Tiger."
"As long as he brings his wife and I don't," someone who shall remain nameless for his own protection observed, "that's OK with me."
"Sponsors will come out of the woodwork," Czar Tommy Stewart predicted, perhaps already dreaming of the third Ross -- or maybe his Ritzy retreat with Demolet's entry fee.
Someone wondered, "Who would be a fitting title sponsor? The Third Ross Country Championship presented by?"
"Depends undergarments," Hunter Chase said, speaking up for the first time that day. Then he waved for another beer, having witnessed two years of tournament action that was every bit as exciting as kissing your sister on New Year's eve.
Contact Jim Dodson by e-mail at email@example.com.
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