I was 6 years old when I heard my first golf joke:
Question:Why do golfers wear two pairs of socks?
Answer: In case they get a hole in one.
At the time, I thought it was hilarious. I told it to nearly everyone I knew--and earned a lot of blank stares for my trouble. But I did get a few smiles here and there, and a genuine chuckle from my dad. Forty years later, it occurs to me that earning that laugh from my father is perhaps what launched me on a lifetime fof golf and comedy.
Lately, it seems as if people don't tell jokes much anymore. Perhaps we're all working too hard. Or perhaps so much of what's going on in the world just isn't funny. When was the last time you heard a new golf joke? Is the golf joke dead? I intended to find out: I embarked upon a quest to track down the world's best ones. It seemed like the perfect way to unite my parallel obsessions. I've played golf most of my life, and I've told countless jokes in comedy clubs and at golf tournaments, where I sometimes emceed for the dean of comedy himself, Bob Hope.
Hope had a database of more than 85,000 pages of jokes he'd heard or told during his nine decades in show business. I don't know how many were golf-related, but there might be more jokes about this game than about any other subject. The tradition of telling jokes while waiting to hit a shot is as old as the game itself. The very first golf joke probably involved a Scotsman sculling a feathery with his baffy and knocking some poor sheep senseless.<
"Laddie," his playing partner might have said. "Yer problem is ye stand too close to the ball--after you've hit it!"
Growing up in small-town Texas, I found the best jokes were always told by the most colorful characters. Once I caddied in a group with a hustler, a preacher and a rancher sporting cowboy boots with golf spikes, who was the first of many over the years to tell me this classic:
__*"Bad day at the course," a guy tells his wife. "Charlie had a heart attack on the third hole."
"That's terrible!" she says.
"You're telling me. All day long, it was hit the ball, drag Charlie."
If I remember correctly, the rest of the group recited the punch line in unison.
__BIG LAUGHS ON THE BIG ISLAND
__My quest began with books. A quick search of Amazon.com revealed an astounding 16 books of golf jokes--each one with pretty much the same collection of laughers and groaners, like the tale of Old Eagle Eye:
__*After being reassured that his 80-year-old caddie has perfect eyesight, the golfer hits his first tee shot deep in the right rough.
"Did you see it?" the golfer asks as they walk off the tee.
"Yep!" Old Eagle Eye replies with confidence.
"Well, where is it?"
"I can't remember."
Or the one about the terrible slice:
__*A golfer hits a huge slice off the first tee. The ball soars over a fence and onto a highway, where it hits a car, which promptly crashes into a tree.
The stunned golfer rushes into the golf shop and shouts, "Help! Help! I just hit a terrible slice off the first tee and hit a car and it crashed. What should I do?"
And the pro says, "Try a slightly stronger grip."
Like any joke, these wear a little thin after 30 or 40 tellings--or hearings. That's why I figured I'd better find some new material, the real stuff, the kind of jokes failed-comics-turned-caddies find lost in the woods and sell in back alleys for five bucks a dozen. To score jokes like that, I'd have to get my hands dirty, to search out the funniest golfers no matter where they might be: Hawaii, Pebble Beach, Los Angeles, Palm Springs.
"Are you sure this is work?" my wife asked suspiciously, which of course reminded me of another golf joke:
__*On the phone with a golf buddy who has asked him to play, a guy says: "I am the master of my home and can play golf whenever I want. But hold on a minute while I find out if I want to."
Like any knight in search of virgin humor, I began by seeking the advice of my elders, which in this case meant the members of the Champions Tour.
On the Big Island of Hawaii, with the sun shining on the snow-capped peak of Mauna Kea, I found the guys warming up for a new season. Lining the practice tee, 30 of America's finest senior golfers were hitting balls practically out of sight. I could hardly contain my excitement at the thought of all the jokes they'd heard and told in their 30 lifetimes of golf.
Alas, I soon discovered that not everyone on tour is funny. Working my way down the practice tee, I explained the nature of my quest and was greeted by the same kind of blank stares I'd earned so many years ago with that first golf joke.
"I can't remember jokes," big John Jacobs told me. Bruce Lietzke's caddie, Brian Lietzke, just shook his head when I asked if Bruce had the mettle to crack us all up.
"Leaky's just not that funny," Brian said of his sweet-swinging brother.
At the next station, Dana Quigley, or DQ as they call him, had my first real lead. "Ask Ed Dougherty," he suggested, "Doc is the funny one."
At the end of the line, Dougherty's bushy eyebrows furrowed down on his doughy face when I told him DQ and others had singled him out as a one-man standup.
"Me?" he said. "If they think I'm funny, they must be on something. Besides ibuprofen, I mean."
And with that I learned the first valuable lesson of my quest: Dougherty is like most people who are funny--his humor doesn't come from telling jokes. He's just ... funny.
I headed for the beachside bar, ordered a tall, cool beverage and pondered how in the heck I was going to find the very best jokes about golf when no one seemed to know any.
An hour later, I heard someone call my name and turned to see Tom Kite waving me over. A friend from back home in Austin, Kite invited me to experience first-hand the cushy life of a tour pro. All around us a lavish buffet had been set for the pros and their pro-am partners: jumbo shrimp, crab, roast beef and half a mile of desserts.
I sat between Kite and George Archer, who had won the event a couple of years before. Because Archer is also too tall for the game, he was one of my childhood heroes, though I never expected him to have a sense of humor. But as we sat beneath the stars, Archer surprised me with the following tale of marital bliss:
*__A guy's wife asks him, "If I were to die, would you get married again and share our bed with your new wife?"
And he says, "I guess I might."
"What about my car?" she asks. "Would you give that to her?"
And he says, "Perhaps."
"Would you give my golf clubs to her, too?" his wife asks.
"Why not?" asks the wife.
Even Archer's wife laughed, but I'm not sure whether that was because of the strength of the joke or their marriage.
Not to be outdone, Kite launched into a dead-on impersonation of Sam Snead telling his famous pussy-willow joke, which involves Mother Nature, who is furious at a golfer whose wild swings have destroyed her precious buttercups. This is a family magazine, so we can't repeat the joke here, but it's sure to be somewhere online--or in one of those 16 golf-joke books.
As if to prove that laughter really is the best medicine, Kite went out the next morning and shot an opening-round 63. (He would win the tournament by six strokes.)
In search of Kite after that round, I convinced the locker-room guard that I really did belong inside, and soon found myself in the company of one of the best tellers of golf's tall tales, Lee Trevino. It was Trevino, you will remember, who tossed a rubber snake at Jack Nicklaus before the playoff for the 1971 U.S. Open (of course, Trevino won).
Years ago, I played a round with Trevino and Willie Nelson at Willie's course in Austin. After missing a relatively easy eagle putt with which I'd hoped to impress Trevino, I resorted to some cheap schtick and began juggling my driver, a tee and a ball.
"That's pretty good," Trevino deadpanned. "You learn to putt and you'll really have something."
When I found Trevino holding court in the locker room, he remembered that round. "Willie Nelson, wow!" he said. "After I stood downwind from Willie, I hit the ball 350 yards!"
Trevino is one of those rare souls who carries the whole bag of golf comedy: one-liners, jokes, stories. He's like the Energizer Bunny of golf humor--he just keeps going and going, leading the laughs, as they say in the business, by cracking up at his own lines:
__*"How long have you been wearing that girdle?" a reporter asked me.
"Since my wife found it in the glove compartment of my car."
On a roll, he throws out an old nugget:
__*There's an amazing golf ball that comes equipped with beeps and lights so that it simply can't be lost.
"That's fantastic!" another golfer says. "Where'd you get that ball?"
"Oh, I found it."
(Trevino's telling of this clunker illustrated another truth about humor: What you do with the material--the way you tell it--is always more important than the material itself. Trevino could read the Rules of Golf and make them funny.)
His laugh has hardly faded before he's launching into a story about an aging golfer on his deathbed:
__*With his last moments on earth, an old man is replaying his favorite rounds of golf in his head. He remembers when he was first married, how he came home from the course one day to the most wonderful chocolate-chip cookies. It'd been years since his wife baked them for him, but as he lay there, gasping for each breath, he was sure he could smell those cookies. Crawling out of bed, he dragged himself down the stairs and into the kitchen where he finds--oh, joy!--his wife with a big platter of his favorite, freshly baked cookies.
With his last bit of strength, he is slowly reaching out for one when she slaps his hand.
"Don't touch those!" she orders. "They're for the funeral!"
__KINGS OF COMEDY
__Back in Texas, I got in a round of golf with three of the funniest guys I know, Texas musicians all: Willie Nelson, Steve Fromholz and Ray Benson.
Willie had just published a book called, The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes, which begins with the following: "They say writing the first line of a book is the hardest part. Thank God that's over."
Before long, the jokes were coming thick and fast, with Willie taking the pole position:
__*A couple has played golf every day for 50 years. One day the wife says, "Honey, to celebrate five decades of golf and marriage, let's start off with a clean slate and confess all our past wrongs."
"OK," the husband says. "Do you remember that blond secretary who worked for me 20 years ago? Well, I had an affair with her."
And the wife says, "That's nothing. Before we met, I had a sex change."
And the husband says, "Why you dang cheat! All this time you've been hitting from the red tees!"
Then someone offered up this one:
__*Two guys are playing golf behind two really slow women. Finally, one guy offers to speed things up and walks down the fairway to tell the women to get a move on. But halfway to the women, he turns around and comes back to his buddy.
"I couldn't say anything," he explains. "One was my wife and the other was my mistress."
"No problem, I'll handle it," his pal says. But after going halfway down the fairway toward the women, he, too, stops. He comes back and says to his buddy: "Small world, isn't it?"
*__When I got back home, my wife barely mentioned that I was late, which reminded me of one of the classics:
__*A golfer comes home to find his wife waiting on the front porch with steam coming out of her ears.
"Where the hell were you?" she demands. "Our guests came over, but the yard wasn't mowed, there was no barbecue and you were missing. I've never been so humiliated!"
"I'm sorry," the husband says. "Let me explain. We played golf this morning, but on the way back to town we stopped at a strip joint. I met one of the dancers, and she was so beautiful, and one thing led to another, so I took her to a hotel room for several hours of wild passion. Then I had a quick shower and rushed straight home."
"Don't you lie to me," his wife says. "You played another 18, didn't you?"
*__In case you haven't noticed, there is no shortage of golf jokes about husbands and wives. A few years ago, I made the pilgrimage to St. Andrews with my wife and 6-month-old baby in tow, plus my golf buddy David Wood, at the time a fellow comedian. When David and I weren't playing golf, we were often sitting in pubs telling golf jokes. To make matters worse, it turned out that babies are not allowed in Scottish pubs, so my wife and daughter were usually on their own. One night when I returned late to the hotel, my wife told me the following joke:
__*A guy gets up at dawn on a Saturday morning and heads for the golf course as usual. But it's cold and raining, so halfway to the club, he gives up and returns home, where he takes off his clothes, climbs back into bed and snuggles up against his wife. "It's freezing out there," he says.
"Yeah," his wife answers sleepily. "Can you believe my stupid husband is playing golf?"
Taking her hint, I bowed out of the game the next day, dropping David at Carnoustie while we headed off to look at a load of moldy castles. I was thinking about Carnoustie all day and couldn't help but tell my wife the joke about a guy who makes a hole-in-one.
__*A genie appears and offers him three wishes:
"The only catch," says the genie, "is that whatever you wish for, your wife will receive 10 times over."
"OK," the guy says. "I want to be the best golfer in the world." The genie blinks and suddenly the guy can feel a new golf swing--the grip, the takeaway, the power. "You can now crush every golfer in the world," the genie says, "except your wife, who's gonna beat you like a drum."
The guy is a little bummed about that, so for his second wish he asks to be the world's richest man.
"It's done," says the genie. "But don't forget that your wife can now buy and sell you 10 times over. One wish left."
"OK," the guy says. "For my last wish, I'd like to have a mild heart attack."
*__My wife didn't laugh.
__GOLF BUMS AND BARTENDERs
__My search took me next to the watering holes and driving ranges of the world's entertainment capital, Hollywood.
Before I stood down from the world of standup comedy, I spent a number of years in Los Angeles, where the best perk was to play in celebrity pro-ams in exchange for emceeing an evening show. (Of course, the downside of that was whenever I'd show up on the first tee, the other guys in my foursome would ask, "Which celebrity do you think we'll get?")
One of my favorites was the Maurie Luxford Tournament at Lakeside Golf Club, the original home course to Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope and other stars.
"Golf's a hard game to figure," Hope would tell the audience at our after-dinner show. "One day you slice it, shank it, hit into all the traps and miss every green. And then the next day, you go out and for no reason at all you really stink."
Each year we watched Mr. Hope grow more and more frail, but whenever I introduced him, he'd transform instantly into the comic pro who never met an audience he didn't like. Once he was on stage, the old magic was there.
"Last week Arnold Palmer told me how I could cut eight strokes off my score," he'd say. "Skip one of the par 3s."
The laughter sounded like a bomb going off.
"My opponent said he'd give me a stroke on 14 if I'd give him a free throw. That sounded pretty good until we got to the green, and he picked up my ball and threw it into the pond."
I was no longer sure he could even hear the laughter, but Hope always knew exactly how long to wait before the next joke. This was another favorite:
__*"An old man came up to me this morning and asked if I wanted a caddie. I said, 'OK,' so he picks up my bag and my partner's bag and runs to the tee.
" 'How old are you?' I asked. And the guy says, 'I'm 94. But this is nothing, I'm getting married tomorrow.'
" 'Why would you want to get married at 94?' I asked.
" 'Who says I want to?' "
The guy with the most jokes might well be Nobby Orens, a Los Angeles travel-agency owner who, just six years after he took up the game, was named "Golf Nut of the Year" in 1999 by the Golf Nuts Society, a group of people who, like myself, obviously have way too much time on their hands.
Nobby's obsession with the game causes him to play more than 150 rounds a year. Once, he played three rounds of golf--in London, New York and Los Angeles--all in a single day. In Alaska, he once played 200 holes in a day.
Meeting at an L.A. driving range, Nobby pulled into the lot driving a car with a license-plate holder that read, "My other car is a golf cart."
"That's nothing," he tells me. "My wife bought me a doormat that reads, 'A golfer and a normal person live here.' "
Nobby's TV remote is shaped like a golf hole and makes a sound like a club hitting a ball whenever you change channels.
Though it's windy and raining with a rare temperature in the 40s, Nobby is in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. He has just come, of course, from a round of golf.
A competitive senior body-building champion and a veteran of Ironman Triathlons, Nobby has less body fat than a new Titleist. He also takes the subject of golf humor very seriously and is the author of a book titled, *Golf is a Funny Disease--The Official Guide to Golf Humor.
*"Official according to whom?" I ask.
"Me," he says with a smile. And then he tells me a joke:
__*A man is stranded for years on a desert island. One day he looks up to see a gorgeous blond in scuba gear wading out of the water.
"Want a cigarette?" she asks, opening a waterproof pocket on her right arm, pulling out a pack and lighting one for him.
"How about a sip of whiskey?" she asks next, opening a pocket on her left arm and removing a flask.
As the man puffs on the cigarette and sips the whiskey, she slowly begins to unzip the front of her wet suit.
"Want to play around?" she asks.
And he says, "Oh, Lord, don't tell me you've got a set of golf clubs in there, too."*__
On the theory that bartenders and golf bums are likely to know the best jokes, I spent an entire weekend driving around Southern California in search of some good snickers--to no avail. Golf jokes can be like opinions: Everybody's got one, and most of them stink. To misappropriate the words of Billy Wilder, when it comes to golf jokes, you have to learn to take the bitter with the sour.
I thought that old-fashioned Palm Springs might be loaded with old-fashioned storytellers, but I only found a lot of slick-looking young golfers, none of whom had told a joke in their life.
Heading back to L.A., I stopped in at an old stomping ground, the Los Feliz Golf Course, a quaint little par-3 track with a $5 green fee. Playing behind me was an intimidating-looking foursome with shaved heads, lots of tattoos and 120-mile-an-hour swing speeds on 120-yard holes.
I was putting on the second green when I noticed a waist-high rocket coming straight at my groin. Dropping my putter, my hands covered the important areas as I leapt into the air and narrowly avoided permanent damage.
The second part of my knee-jerk reaction was to protest loudly in the direction of the tee. It didn't take long for the offending headbanger to walk my way, which he continued to do until he was just inches from me.
"Sorry, man," he said. "We don't have a problem, right?"
"No problem!" I told him. "Know any golf jokes?"
He looked at me like I was nuts, but on the next hole, he came back to me with the following:
__*A guy walks up to some slow golfers and hands them a card that says, "I am a deaf-mute. Can I play through?"
"Bug off," they tell him. "You can wait just the same as anybody else."
On the next hole, a ball flies at the group and hits one of the slow golfers hard. Doubled over in pain on the ground, the guy looks back at the tee and sees the deaf guy. He's got his driver in one hand, and the other hand is holding up four fingers.
You meet all kinds of interesting people in L.A. At Robinson Ranch golf course, I bumped into actor Richard Kind, who played the goofy press secretary on ABC's "Spin City." A dedicated golfer, Richard was quick with his favorite joke:
*__A rabbi and a minister are playing the slowest round of their lives, three hours on the front nine. At the turn they go in the golf shop to complain.
"I'm sorry," says the pro, "but don't you know that the foursome in front of you is blind?"
"Oh, please forgive us," the minister says. "There but for the grace of God go I."
And the rabbi says: "What, they couldn't play at night?"
Reminded of all those endless jokes that involve religion, I tracked down an authority on the subject, Rabbi Marc Gellman, who also happens to be another avid golfer. Gellman and Monsignor Tom Hartman make up the hilarious New York media duo known as the God Squad.
"Telling jokes is almost a dying art," Gellman tells me over the phone. "Comedians aren't joke tellers anymore. Since 'Seinfeld,' comics are all observational."
On stage and on the radio, Rabbi Gellman's tales are both observational and inspirational as he spreads the word of golf and God. "Golf teaches that both success and failure are temporary," he says. "But success is a lot more temporary."
Gellman delivers the holy trinity of jokes about Jesus and Moses playing golf together. (By their punch lines shall ye know them: "Look, are we gonna mess around, or are we gonna play golf?"; "I hate it when your Dad plays"; and of course, the old favorite, "No, he thinks he's Arnold Palmer"--look 'em up if you haven't heard 'em.) Then he goes swiftly into another classic golf-and-religion joke:
__*A priest on Easter (or a rabbi on Yom Kippur) sneaks out to play a round of solo golf, and makes an ace.
"How could you possibly reward him for playing golf on such a holy day?" an angel asks God. And God says: "Who's he gonna tell?"
To those who might be offended by the idea of making light of religion, Rabbi Gellman has a relevant observation.
"It's a frustrating sport," he says. "Without humor, you'd probably end up killing someone you play with. Then again, if you had a jury of golfers, you'd probably be acquitted."
__GOLF'S COMEDY CENTRAL
__Leaving L.A., I turned north and set my sights on the Valhalla of golf entertainment, the Crosby Clambake. OK, the official name is now the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Invitational Something or Other, but Bing's Clambake is still golf's greatest fun.
Started in 1937 at Rancho Santa Fe, the first tourney was won by Sam Snead who, just out of the mountains of Virginia, looked at the first-place check for $500 and said: "If you don't mind, Mr. Crosby, I'd rather have cash."
After World War II, the event resumed in 1947 at Pebble where celebs like Phil Harris and Crosby did their drinking and driving where it belongs, on the golf course. ("Why is your 14-year-old son driving the car?" a policeman asked an inebriated Crosby late one night when the boy was taking his dad home after the tournament. Trying to focus on the cop, Bing could only reply, "He's the best we got.")
These days, the kings of Pebble comedy are Bill Murray, Tommy Smothers, Ray Romano and the professional jokesters of golf, the no-holds-barred CBS tag team, Gary McCord and David Feherty.
Just before sunset, I wound my way past the wind-swept vistas of the world's most stunning roadway, 17-Mile Drive, and pulled into the Inn at Spanish Bay for the annual Northern California Golf Writers Association dinner.
Taking up a strategic position at the nearest bar, within 30 seconds I managed to snag tour veteran and NBC commentator, Roger Maltbie. His eyes lit up when I asked if he knew any golf jokes. But then I made the mistake of adding, "that are printable in Golf Digest."
"Whoa!" said Maltbie. "You just threw in a big disqualifier. Funny or clean, which one do you want?"
"Both," I told him.
He thought about it a moment, then simply said, "No such thing."
As Maltbie made his escape, an eavesdropping bartender said he knew one that filled both bills:
*__A golfer hits a big slice on the first hole, and his ball ends up behind a small shed. He's about to chip out when the caddie says, "Wait! I'll open the window and the door, then you can hit a 3-wood right through the shed."
After the caddie opens the escape route, the golfer makes a big swing. The ball nearly makes it, but hits the windowsill, then bounces back and hits the golfer in the head.
The next thing the golfer knows, he's standing at the Pearly Gates. Saint Peter sees him with his 3-wood in hand and says, "I guess you think you're a pretty good golfer."
And the guy says, "Hey, I got here in two, didn't I?"
That evening at dinner, I was surrounded by some of the funniest men in golf or comedy. Smothers told me about a golf book he was writing called The 27 Most Important Things to Remember at Impact. Longtime Pebble Beach emcee Bob Murphy quipped that Smothers was "an embarrassment to the game." Not to be outdone, Smothers retorted that it "must be hard to know when you're finished talking if you don't have anything to say." Peter Jacobsen told some touching Jack Lemmon stories between hilarious video clips of Peter's dead-on impersonations of Craig Stadler, Paul Azinger and Tom Kite.
Seated at a table in the front, I was practically rubbing elbows with Irish golf pro turned golf announcer Feherty, who describes himself as "pompous, opinionated, and a born-again Texan."
"Jokes," echoed Feherty when I described my quest to him after dinner. "I haven't heard a new one in years. When people say, 'Stop me if you've heard this one,' I say, 'Stop!' because I've heard 'em all.
"There's not only less joke telling in the States now, there's also less conversation," Feherty said. "In Ireland, you go to the pub and you talk. It's a tilling of the soil; people explore each other through conversation. You get into this back and forth of telling funny stories. I don't see that kind of thing here. People with no sense of humor have no sense of proportion. If you can't find anything funny in life, you might as well be dead."
Feherty didn't have any golf jokes for me, but he did relate his dad's description of a tough rugby match between Ireland and France:
*__"It was terribly violent, son. In the break, the Irish skipper came off the field with a bruised testicle!"
"Oh, he must have been in such pain!"
"No, no. It belonged to one of the Frenchmen."
__THE PUNCH LINE
__The next day I was set up to exchange a few ditties with Ray Romano and with his own goofy self, Bill Murray. But the golf gods had other plans for me. For just as the tournament was starting, I received a phone call from Texas saying that my dad was in the hospital and that I should come fast. My quest was almost complete, but I no longer cared.
I made it home in time to find my father propped up in a hospital bed, a big smile on his face and the family gathered around to enjoy his miraculous recovery. We all had one great last day together; my dad and I even watched Bill Murray cutting up at Pebble on the tournament broadcast.
"That's a beautiful place," my father said.
When I left the hospital that evening, he was smiling.
Late that night, I pondered the cruel humor of having to write a story about golf jokes while my father was slipping away. I was half asleep when my dad's old golf buddy, the late Marshall Jones, popped into my head. I'd hardly thought of Marshall since the days when I caddied for him in my youth. But now he was clear in my mind as he descended to my father's hospital bed to tell one of the oldest and best golf jokes:
__*"There's good news and there's bad news," Marshall said.
"Good news first," my father replied.
"Well, it turns out there is golf in heaven. We've got a track just like Pebble Beach."
"That's great," my dad said with a smile. "So what's the bad news?"
"You and I are playing Hogan and Jesus at 8 a.m."
I laughed; I cried. And that's as good as it gets.
Play good, Dad.
And wear two pairs of socks ... in case you get a hole in one.
Turk Pipkin is the author of The Old Man and the Tee, which chronicles his one-year quest to take 10 strokes off his game in honor of his father.
(And if you've got any good golf jokes, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include "Golf Jokes" in the subject field. We'll publish the best ones on GolfDigest.com and also in a future issue of the magazine.)