Midsummer Madness

By David Owen Illustrations by Celia Johnson
July 26, 2012

On the second-longest day of the year, eight friends and I agreed to meet on the first tee at 5 a.m. to celebrate the summer solstice by playing golf until it was too dark to see. (The actual solstice fell on Ladies' Day--problematic for golf maximization.) The first player to arrive was Robert, a guest of mine, whom I met through my blog (myusualgame.com). He lives more than an hour away and, to join us, had to get up at 3:30 and endure critical comments from his wife. The last to arrive was me. I pulled into the parking lot at 4:58 and heard tee shots being struck as I humped my bag to the tee.


My course is a good one for a golf marathon, because, although it's hilly, it's quite compact: nine holes squeezed into 40 acres, a 5,535-yard, par-71 layout if you go around twice, from two sets of markers. It ordinarily gets so little play on weekdays that Connor, who works in the golf shop part-time, was thrilled when we asked him to make score sheets for us using a Sharpie to draw straight lines on some pieces of poster board that I'd brought from home. Our game was devised by Hacker (real name): a ringer tournament, five bucks a man, winner take all. In a ringer, your total score consists of your best net score on each of the 18 holes--a format that Hacker thought would give an appropriate advantage to those who played the most holes. After our first 18, we ate scrambled-egg burritos at the coffee shop next to the post office, and after 45 holes we grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in the parking lot behind the clubhouse. (One of my club's best features is that it doesn't have a restaurant.) Other than that, we just played golf. For dinner, I had trail mix, granola bars and Diet Coke.

Robert had to leave after 27 holes because he had a conflicting appointment to play golf somewhere else--a rare instance of golf causing someone to play less golf than he would have otherwise. Doug, who's an English teacher, had to quit for a few hours to play 18 holes with some kids on our course. (Hacker said he could count those holes.) Dr. Mike, a veterinarian, had to neuter a couple of cats in the middle of the morning, but he came back. Everyone else stuck around all day, and we even had a few drop-ins, among them Stanley, who organizes our senior competitions.

A golfer at our enemy club, on the other side of town, started at the same time we did. He ended up playing more than 300 holes (and raising money for charity), but he used a cart and he played by himself. Cart golf isn't real golf, and the whole point of having friends is thinking of interesting things to do with them. The group at my club was determined to play on foot, if possible, and to enjoy an ordinary day of golf that just happened to be 15½ hours long.

When we began, we weren't overly concerned about hole count. After 54, however, David W., Addison and I realized that the three of us were on pace to break 100 before dark, as long as we didn't goof off too much: no practice swings, no fussing over yardages. We began our final 18 at 6 p.m. and--after replaying the first and 18th holes to take us over the top--putted out on our 101st hole of the day at 8:27. (David W. birdied it to go to 16 under par and win by one stroke, over me.) We had averaged less than three hours a round for the entire day, and we'd never touched a cart.

The only player who didn't walk the whole way, other than Stanley, was Hacker, who is 67. He carried his bag for the first 54 holes but then developed a mild case of the shanks and got a cart--a decision he regretted later. "I realized I'd squandered an opportunity to walk-and-carry my age," he told me the next day. So as soon as he catches his breath, he's going to go back and play 67 more holes, on foot.