Barbary Point Club was an exclusive enclave of expansive homes, expensive cars and some of the best golf holes on God’s green Earth. Tucked among the dunes lining the south fork of Long Island, its clubhouse and surrounding golf course rivaled the ocean’s grandeur, power and grace. It was there it all began.
Every year, the club champions from private clubs throughout Long Island convene and battle it out in the Barbary Cup. I was one of those champions in 2009.
It had been a rough year. My investment firm had taken a beating in the market, and I’d lost my house, my wife, and the life I’d known and grown somewhat accustomed to. A merciful friend, of which there were a shrinking number, was kind enough to rent me the old servants quarters over his garage in Port Washington overlooking the 11th green of our golf course at The Port Club.
Somehow, despite losing most of what I had, I managed to hang on to one precious thing throughout the ordeal: my Port Club membership. You can take my money. You can take my wife. But I’ll be damned if you’re going to take my golf away too. I clung to my membership despite my former financial advisor’s pleas and my wife’s attorney’s repeated attempts to pry it from my increasingly arthritic hands.
The Port Club had always been my shelter from the storm, the refuge I could retreat to and forget about my dwindling assets and growing liabilities. I’d been a member for 35 years, and knew these fairways and greens better than I knew my ex-wife.
I’d always had a hard time turning off my mind, but when I’d walk up to the first tee box at The Port Club, it was like hitting the pause button. I would lose myself in subtle draws, power fades, tall fescue and manicured greens. I lived for the moment the clubface made contact with the ball and it would springboard off the sweetspot, rocket through the sky, and reverberate through my body like a tuning fork playing a note too beautiful for human ears.
I could be losing millions at the office, and then escape to this sanctuary where a $5 Nassau carried the weight of the world. We would talk trash, regale in last night’s game, retell jokes we’d heard dozens of times before, but the course was sacrosanct. We did not talk business, or wives, or what the market was doing. There was an unspoken respect for the sanctity of the game. At The Port Club, I could find a small sliver of peace in an otherwise warring world.
And when I immersed myself in that peace, I was one with the game. I carried a plus 2 handicap, meaning I had to give the course two strokes. It was a tough par 71 from the tips, and I had to shoot 69 to play to my handicap. Which I did often enough in 2008 to secure the club championship. When the going gets tough, the tough play golf.
And I played religiously. Entertaining clients during the week. Competing in tournaments when the weekend approached. Sunday mornings I found God while walking those fairways to heaven. And Sunday afternoons I celebrated many a victory on the back porch of our clubhouse. Life was good at The Port Club. A welcome respite from the hell that surrounded me whenever I left its black iron gates.
The latest assault came from my board. After a heated meeting, they decided it was time for me to step aside as CEO of the company. I couldn’t blame them. Our portfolio of investments was in the shitter, and as I was the captain of the sinking ship. Hey, losing the buck stops here. I would take the hit with aplomb, and my soon to be ex-wife would take what little parachute the firm could afford to offer.
The upside was it gave me great freedom to play golf more often. What a Catch-22. All the time in the world to play. And nary enough cash to tip my caddy. I found myself walking and carrying my own clubs with increasing frequency. The exercise did my head and body a world of good.
The day I was let go as CEO there was, thankfully, some good news to go along with the bad. When I got back to my digs over the garage, I found a piece of mail between a stack of bills in my mailbox. The hand-wrought calligraphy on the envelope was a welcome counterpoint to the sterner fonts that adorned the empty bank statements and credit card delinquency notices.
It was my invitation to the Barbary Cup. I’d been waiting for this invitation all my life. The bills receded in the distance as a vision of the beckoning nirvana on the shore invaded my senses. I did what any golfoholic in his right mind would do. I went straight to my club to get a practice round in.
There would be many of those in the days and weeks leading up to the big event. And my game, which was in top shape already, seemed to elevate itself to another level at times, and that rarified zone propelled me to a personal best 59 the week before the tournament. My life was in ruins, but my golf game was peaking. I was ready for the Barbary Cup.
* * * * * * * * *
The drive to The BC was therapeutic. I commandeered Rusty, my ’69 Camaro convertible down the venerable club’s tree-lined entrance while the wind blew in off the ocean and filled the air with a salty blanket of sea air that washed away a mountain of cares.
That peace was shattered moments later when a kid working the bag drop said, “Hey mister, this could be a nice ride if you restored it.”
“Thanks, I’ll take that into account,” I said tossing him my keys and a couple of bucks.
“Wow, a two dollar bill. You don’t see many of those around here.”
I bet you don’t, I thought to myself. Most guys probably toss you five, ten or sometimes even twenty while stepping out of their late model luxury rides or mid-life crises sports cars. I relied on the deuces – the novelty of the two-dollar bill made it a better tip than a couple of singles. And it didn’t break the bank, which was growing more insolvent as each day passed.
My insolvency and I walked into the Barbary Point clubhouse, a hallowed seaside vault of moneyed members and rich traditions. I made a beeline for the sanctuary of the men’s locker room where I could hang my sportcoat and change into my golf shoes.
Over the locker I’d been assigned, there was a signed picture of Bob Hope along with this quote: “It’s wonderful how you can start out with three strangers in the morning, play 18 holes, and by the time the day is over, you have three solid enemies.”
I knew it was a joke, but it unnerved me with a tingle of foreboding.
I walked outside, took a deep breath of sea air and tried to shake off the bad mojo. Spread out before me was a panoramic view of sun-soaked fairways and greens nestled amid mountainous dunes and the thunder of surf. Puffy white clouds dotted the blue sky above where a breeze blew with gentle force exciting flags adorning pins. It was a picture-perfect golf day with more of the same in the forecast. What could possibly go wrong?
“Hey Chase, whaddya say?” I felt a hand on my shoulder and a waft of stogie fill the air as Jerry Reinhardt greeted me on my way to the driving range.
“Good to see you, Jer. You playing in this shindig?” I asked knowing he was in my foursome today.
“Is the Pope a pedophile?” He asked in a voice that was as loud as the outfit he was wearing. “Your ass is cannabis, Balata.”
“I think you’ve been smoking too much of the stuff, Rhino.” I patted him on the back and continued on to the range. Jerry was one of Deepdale’s better players. Full of life, full of himself and full of shit if he thought he was going to beat me. I’d smoked him in a heated match earlier this year and had every intention of doing it again.
But it wasn’t just Jerry I needed to worry about. There was a field of 70 other contenders – 18 from Barbary Point, and rest from the top clubs on the Island. Lately, they’d begun to let some off-islanders play into the tourney, like Donald Trump who was also in my group.
Our fourth was the Barbary Point Club president, Hamilton White III. Like his father and grandfather before him, Ham had been weaned on the greens at Barbary and his money was older than the jokes that Jerry would be telling all day.
I loosened up with some stretching and as I was bending over with my head between my knees, I noticed a woman on the range behind me. I held my pose unwittingly, unable to take my eyes off her. One word reverberated in my mind: Ravishing.
Our eyes met and I realized how ridiculous I must look. She smirked and said, “It’s easier to hit the ball if you stand a bit more erect.”
“Thanks for the tip. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman whose first exchange with me included the word ‘erect,” I said while straightening up and walking over to her with an outstretched hand. “Chase Balata.”
“Athena Vitalis,” she said shaking my hand. “Forgive my cunning linguistics.”
I stood there at a loss for words with a shit-eating grin creeping across my face. “I forgive you, Athena Vitalis,” was all I could muster.
“You one of the players?” she asked.
“Yep. Your, uh, husband playing?” I probed, wondering if she was attached.
“Uh, no, is your wife?” She let me squirm for a few seconds before clarifying, “It may be more than your Neanderthal brain can process, but I’m actually playing in The BC.”
“Hey, don’t knock the Pleistocene. Those were the days.”
“Maybe so, but I can tell you haven’t evolved much. Look at you, you’re still walking around with a club in your hand.”
“Oh, you’re good,” I said. And easy on the eyes, I thought.
Athena went back to hitting balls, and I thought it best if I do the same. My first swing produced a nasty shank, and I heard her say, “Nice shot. You’ll go far in this tournament.”
“Shanks for the mammaries,” I sang, doing my best Sinatra, but sounding more like Bob Hope.
“Did you know Marilyn Monroe sang Thanks For The Memories to JFK right after her Happy Birthday, Mr. President performance?”
Athena asked breathily.
“I did not know that,” I confessed.
“Did you know your group is waving at you from the first tee?”
I’d gotten so caught up in this goddess I’d lost track of time. I could now hear Jerry shouting in the distance over the sound of my pounding heart and the pounding surf. I looked toward the first tee and Ham was waving me up. The Donald was scowling.
“Late for tee. Gotta run,” I said, gathering my clubs and my wits. “Break a leg today, Athena. Or better yet, break par.”
“You too, Chase. Don’t forget to stay erect.” Athena winked at me and I swear I floated all the way to the teebox.
Some long-forgotten feeling welled up inside me. I felt giddy. Alive. Reborn. It was like someone had lifted a weight off my shoulders and turned back the clock twenty years. As I walked up to the first tee, I noticed I actually was standing more erect and there was a spring in my step that wasn’t there an hour ago.
“I’m sorry Balata, are we interrupting your womanizing?” Jerry jabbed.
Hamilton was more gracious, greeting me with “Hello Chase, good to see you. Have you met Donald Trump?”
“Hi Ham, and hello Mr. Trump,” I said while peeling a glove off my hand and reaching out to shake theirs. “Donald,” he said. “Good to meet you.”
“Hello Pat,” I said to my caddy who grabbed my bag with one hand and shook my hand with the other. “Hello Mr. Balata,” he said and began cleaning my clubs and reorganizing them in my bag.
“Have you guys hit?” I asked taking the cover off my driver.
“No, we were waiting for you, Ace. Your name’s first on the card, which is the batting order on the first hole. Tee it up,” Ham said.
“Thanks, and good luck guys,” I said while taking the box.
“I’m playing a Nike with two black dots,” I said, placing it on a tee.
“I’ve got a ProV1 with a red dot,” Jerry said, showing it off.
“I’m also playing a ProV but it’s got my crest on it,” Trump said flashing his logo.
“TaylorMade, three black dots,” said Ham.
I teed up my Nike ball with two dots above the logo making a smiley face and felt that smile radiate through me at the thought of Athena. With that I unleashed a free-swinging drive that split the fairway 290 yards out.
“Nice shot, Balata,” said Trump.
“Very nice, Chase,” added Ham.
“Drive for show,” Rhino chimed in.
We all got off the tee in fine shape and began walking down the fairway with our caddies following close behind.
“Hey Don, you know the difference between a blowjob and a 20-foot downhill chipshot?” asked Jerry, wasting no time staking his claim to tasteless golf jokes.
“No, I don’t believe I do,” said Trump. “But I have a feeling you’re going to enlighten me.”
“When was the last time you stood over a blowjob and said, “Slow down you cocksucker, BITE! BITE!”?”
“Good one. If I ever do a Comedy Apprentice show, I’ll make sure to get you on it.”
“That’d be great,” Rhino said, missing the undercurrent of sarcasm in Trump’s statement. “Here’s my card in case you need my number.”
“Thanks,” the Donald said, handing it to his caddy. “Put that in a safe place.” The caddy shoved it in one of the deep pockets in Trump’s golf bag.
Hamilton White was away and had about 190 left to the pin. His caddy, who clearly knew his game, handed him his 4-iron and said, “Just left of the pin, keep it below the hole.”
Showing he was coachable, Ham did just as his caddy asked and left himself about 12 feet for a birdie.
Jerry was next to hit, and hit it long just off the back of the green, leaving him – what else? – a 20-foot downhill chipshot.
Trump hit next, and taking a lesson from White, left his left and short of the hole just inside Ham’s ball.
“Guess I’ll be giving you the line,” The Hamilton said to The Donald.
“Appreciate that, Ham,” said Trump.
I was last to hit, with about 175 left to the hole. My caddy Pat offered a different approach, telling me that if I hit it just beyond the pin to the right, there was a good chance it would come back towards the hole. “There’s a slight breeze working against us, so don’t be afraid to swing at it.”
“Affirmative,” I said and grabbed my 6-iron. Even the mere mention of the word ‘firm’ tucked inside ‘affirmative’ was enough to get me thinking about Athena again. I stood over the ball and closed my eyes trying to picture the shot, but all I could see were her playful eyes, her upturned lips, and her shapely legs protruding from her turquoise golf shorts.
With that swing thought, I pureed my shot a bit further than I wanted, but it had enough backspin to reel it back in toward the hole for a two-footer.
“Pretty,” said Trump.
“SCHWEEEET!” bellowed Reinhardt, once again turning up the volume.
Pat took his towel to the face of my 6-iron and gave me a wink.
When we got to the green, Jerry hit his downhill chip, and true to form yelled at the ball to bite as it went gliding by the pin and came to rest just beyond Ham and Donald’s balls.
As he walked by me I said softly, “I believe you’re still away Rhino.”
“No fucking kidding,” he said staring me down. He didn’t waste much time looking at the putt and firmed it 15 feet back up the hill into the back of the cup.
“Game on, mothafuckahhh,” he said pumping his fist and giving me a hard glance.
“Do I sense some animosity?” I asked him with an upturned eyebrow? “After all, it’s a friendly game. Maybe a little wager would bring us closer.”
“Kumbaya. How ‘bout a c-note?”
Me and my big mouth. “You’re on.”
Ham left his putt just short of the hole, and Jerry retreated back to his comfort zone with another joke.
“Hey Ham, did you hear about the husband & wife playing in the annual couples tournament? She had a putt about that length, 4 or 5 inches, to win the tournament, and just as she was about to hit the ball, her husband blurted out, “Don’t leave it short!” She wound up ramming it four feet by the hole. “How could you miss that?!,” her husband yelled. “That was shorter than my dick!”
“Yeah, but it was a lot harder,” I said, stealing the punchline. Everyone laughed but Jerry, who clearly didn’t like my appropriation of his joke.
With that, Ham sunk his 4-incher and The Donald and I both made our birdie putts.
I spent the day walking down the fairways like they were clouds as I floated above the ground with my Athena high that got stronger as the day got longer.
But we were all playing lights out. After 12 holes, Trump and I were both 5 under, Jerry was a stroke behind, and Ham brought up the rear just two back.
The 13th hole at Barbary Point is a par 3 that was playing about 169 yards to a blind green. It runs parallel to the ocean, which you could hear pounding the shore on the other side of a mountain range of sand dunes. There was an extra-long pin protruding from the dunes in the distance indicating where the hole was. Its flag fluttered in the ocean breeze.
Trump took us out, as he was last to birdie a hole, and we all hit what appeared to be decent shots, though there was no way of knowing until we got through the dunes to the well-protected green.
“Closest to the pin for $20?” Jerry asked, and Trump shot back, “Why don’t we make it a hundred?”
Ham and I declined, but Jerry couldn’t back out, wanting to prove that he, too, was a big swinging dick. “You’re on.”
We walked down the sandy path to the Shangri-La that was the 13th green, an emerald oasis among a mountainous desert of straw colored dunes. There on the green lay three balls. Unfortunately, mine wasn’t one of them. And much to Jerry’s chagrin, he owed Trump a c-note.
We spent the next few minutes looking for my ball.
“What are you playing?” Trump asked. “I’ve got a Titleist 6 here.”
“No, it’s a Nike with a couple of black dots over the logo.”
“Coming up on 5 minutes,” Ham said, being the member, and thereby rules officiator, among our foursome.
If I didn’t find it soon, I’d have to go back and play another off the tee.
“You know the difference between a woman’s g-spot and a golf ball, don’t you?” Jerry spouted yet another of his tired golf jokes.
“Let me guess. A guy will spend 5 minutes looking for a golf ball,” I said losing hope.
“Bingo. Did you say a Nike with two black dots?” Jerry asked, bending over.
“Hallefuckinglujah,” I said walking over to the ball.
“In the nick of time,” Ham said.
I didn’t want to hold up the game any more than I already had, so I didn’t spend much time looking at the lie. It was sitting in sand in between grassy knolls about 10 feet off the back of the green. I took a fearsome swipe at the ball, but caught a bit too much sand, and while it made it to the green, I was still away.
I walked up to my ball and marked it, tossed it to Pat to clean, and then put it back down and took a quick look at my line while Pat went to tend the pin.
I can still make par, I thought to myself. Give it a chance.
I put a good strong putt on the ball and the line looked like it was dead on. As it made a beeline for the hole, Pat yanked the pin and out popped a ball that came to rest a few inches from the cup while my putt went in the hole.
“What the heck?” Jerry said.
“Where’d that come from?” Trump wondered.
“It looks like it’s a Nike,” said Ham picking up the mystery ball and examining it. “With two dots over the logo. Is this yours, Chase?”
I took the ball in my hand and saw the signature dots over the logo making a smiley face.
“What the hell?” I said dumbstruck. “This looks like my ball.”
“That’s going to cost you,” Jerry said with unveiled glee.
Pat grabbed the ball from the cup and handed it to me. Only moments ago it was my staunchest ally as it drained for par, but now I looked at it horrified.
It was a Nike with two black dots all right. But they were underneath the logo. Instead of a smiley face, a frowning one looked back up at me. My knees suddenly felt shaky.
“I played the wrong ball,” I confessed. “But I thought it was mine.”
“A likely story,” Jerry said like the good friend he wasn’t. “And to think – you had a hole in one – of your pockets!”
“If you happened to drop that other ball,” Trump pointed his finger at me. “That wouldn’t be good. It wouldn’t be good. Not good.”
Hamilton looked sternly at me and said, “I’m afraid that would be an egregious mistake.”
I didn’t even know what the hell egregious meant, but I knew I was being subtly accused of cheating. “Look, I had no idea that wasn’t my ball. And it’s not like I found it, Jerry did. Look here, it’s not even marked the same as my ball – these two dots are on the other side of the swoosh.”
“Well, even if it was an innocent mistake, playing the wrong ball is a two-stroke penalty,” Ham said, giving me the benefit of the doubt.
“But I’m afraid he hit the wrong ball twice,” Jerry chimed in. “Wouldn’t that be 4 strokes? Man, a 4-stroke penalty! That c-note is looking better all the time,” Jerry said sticking his face close to mine.
I was infuriated and hauled off and decked him. He went down hard and fast, his nose erupting blood.
“CHASE!” Ham yelled.
“My God, I went to a golf tournament and a boxing match broke out,” Trump said. I wanted to deck him too.
“I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to disqualify you,” Ham said sternly. “Unsportsmanlike conduct.”
“Very unsportsmanlike,” Trump repeated. “Very unsportsmanlike.”
Jerry’s caddy helped him up and gave him a wet towel for his nose. “I’ll take that c-note now,” he said with thinly veiled glee.
I took a hundred out of my wallet, crumpled it into a ball and tossed it to Jerry.
“Jerry, let’s get you something for that nosebleed. Chase, I’d suggest you grab anything you have in the locker room.”
I stood there unsteady waiting for the earth to stop moving under my Footjoys trying to process what had just happened.
I had a hole-in-one.
But instead of a cause for celebration, it was about to be my undoing as a golfer. Word would spread that Chase Balata was a hothead, and worse than that, a cheater. Any victories from the past would be suspect, and any tournaments in the future would be non-existent.
It didn’t matter that I’d made an honest mistake. I had one good thing left in my life and it was golf and now it was being yanked from my loving arms.
The group began walking to the next hole, but I remained anchored to the green, unable to move.
“It’ll be all right,” Pat tried to reassure me. “Here, take your hole-in-one ball for a keepsake.”
I gave him the bad Nike and he gave me the good one. “Here take this, too” I said, draining my wallet of a couple hundred. “I’ll catch up with you. I just need to a few minutes to myself.”
“Thanks Mr. Balata. It was a good ace,” he said walking off.
I climbed the dunes behind the green and could hear the angry surf as I crested the peak. The Atlantic came into view and it was like a magnet pulling me into its turbulent tides.
I walked toward it and didn’t stop.
The moon rose over a restless ocean and my spirit ebbed like the tides in their retreat out to sea and into the evening.
I lay there at the water’s edge for a good hour and wondered what unmitigated joy life had in store for me next. Would I be publicly called to the mat back at the clubhouse, or just quietly shown the door while my name is whispered between expletives in locker rooms across Long Island?
A wave fell on the beach punctuating that last thought and I longed the cold embrace of the undertow. Tentacles of oceanic foam reached for my toes. I stared out at the darkening horizon immersed in a black sea of dread.
”I heard you had a hole-in-one,” Athena said interrupting my self-pitying reverie. I hadn’t seen her coming.
She dangled a bottle of Macallan over my face which got my attention.
”What, no champagne?” I asked, sitting up in the sand.
”I pegged you as more of a single-malt type of guy,” she said uncorking the 18-year old scotch and filling a couple of plastic cups with generous pours.
”To your ace,” she toasted and tapped her cup against mine.
I felt the Macallan kindle a fire inside with its anesthetic flame. Looking over the edge of my cup I drank in Athena’s gaze like it was an oasis and I’d been lost in a desert for as long as I can remember.
Somewhere deep inside a small spark ignited.
”So what happened?” she asked, dousing the spark.
”I fucked up,” I said.
”I ran into Pat, and he’s in a bad way. He blames himself for not checking the cup. Maybe you two girls should share a good cry.”
”Golf is a harsh mistress,” I said and we both took healthy sips.
The scotch warmed the twilight.
”Why don’t we return to the scene of the crime and you can give me the play-by-play.”
We walked back over the dune to the 13th hole and the sad memory of playing the wrong ball. From it’s perch atop the extended pin, the flag flapped overhead in the gentle breeze that caressed the moonlight.
”As you know, it’s a blind shot from the 13th tee,” I began. ”All you can see is the top of the extra-long pin and flag waving above the dunes. I took dead aim at the pin, and hit what I thought was a good shot.”
”And so it was,” Athena commented.
”Yeah, too good. When we got to the green, there were three balls that we identified as Jerry’s, Hamilton’s and Trump’s. So we began searching in the surrounding dunes for my ball. I was nearly out of time when Rhino announced he’d found a Nike with two dots. Like an ass, I assumed it was mine and didn’t notice the two dots were on the other side of the swoosh until after my following shot.”
”You were probably rushing since you’d held up play as you searched for your ball.”
”No doubt. So I chipped onto the green, was still away, and putted the ball while Pat tended the pin. As my putt neared the hole, Pat pulled the pin and my original ball popped out of the cup.”
”A hole-in-one. And an honest mistake.”
”Yeah, what are the odds?”
”13,000 to one for the ace,” Athena said. ”And probably even higher for the Nike with two dots.”
”You may be right. I put my dots above the swoosh like eyes above a smile. This ball had them below the swoosh, turning it into a frown. Of course by the time I noticed that, the damage had been done.”
”And Jerry’s the one who found that ball?” Athena asked. ”Are you and he friends?”
”Hardly,” I said. ”We’ve competed against each other twice before, and I think he resents that I beat him in both matches.”
”And as a result, he probably knew what kind of ball you played.”
”You aren’t implying that he might have set me up, are you?”
”Well, it sounds like he had motive – his pride wasn’t going to let you beat him again.”
”Seems a bit pre-meditated to me.”
”Right down to the frown.”
Athena’s words hung there in the salty air that was getting cooler and darker by the minute. She leaned closer and I was tempted to put my arm around her but thought better of it. I had made enough assumptions today.
”Keep the faith,” she whispered in my ear and planted a soft kiss on my cheek before rising to her feet. ”I’ve got to run.”
I looked up at her angelic silhouette and my regret over hitting the wrong ball became secondary to regretting her departure.
”Thanks for the scotch and company,” I said, getting to my feet.
”Anytime. Here, take care of this until we meet again,” she said, handing me the bottle.
”So how’d you do?” I said, remembeing she played in the event as well.
”Okay,” she said. ”Two under.”
”That’s great,” I said and meant it. We walked back toward the clubhouse together and the comforting soundtrack of waves on the beach receded behind us while moonlight illuminated the fairways and greens. Despite my hopeless situation, I felt somewhat hopeful walking beside her until the clubhouse loomed in front of us and my anxiety returned.
”I can’t go in there,” I said. “I should be getting home.”
”I understand,” she said. She brushed her lips against mine before turning toward the clubhouse. ”Good night.”
I stood there tongue-tied and electrified by the charge of her lips touching mine.
”We should play a round sometime,” I said to her and immediately regretted how it sounded. ”I meant golf.”
”Sure you did,” she said with a smile as she walked away. With a final look over her shoulder she said,”I’m game.”
* * * * * * * * *
Athena had a sneaking suspicion that something was amiss with the story she’d just heard. So instead of heading straight for the clubhouse, she made a detour to the room where the golf bags were stored.
While Reinhardt wasn’t a member, he was scheduled to play again in day 2 of the Barbary Cup. So there was a good chance his bag would be here.
Finding it turned out to be a piece of cake. It was a gawdy red and yellow tour bag with Jerry Reinhardt embroidered on it. She was about to go through the pockets when she heard the door open behind her. She scrambled silently looking for a place to hide.
From behind the adjoining row of bags she could see Reinhardt heading toward his clubs. ”Must have left his wallet or keys in there,” she thought to herself.
But she was mistaken. Jerry went fishing through the pockets of his bag and pulled out a handful of golf balls. After careful examination, he put two of them in his pants pockets, then zipped his golf bag back up and left the room.
”Damn!” Athena silently cursed. ”He’s made off with the evidence.”
She decided to rummage through his bag anyway and came across a black Sharpie that she promptly pocketed. But that was the only fruit her search bore.
She discreetly left the bag storage and made her way into the grill room where Reinhardt had rejoined the throng of players.
”That was some hole-in-one,” Trump said. ”I mean, even with a 4-shot penalty it was only a double. You can recover from a double bogey.”
”But it’s harder to recover from the innuendo of cheating,” Jerry said pouring gas on the flame. ”And when he threw that punch at me, well, that kind of sealed his deal, didn’t it?”
”Very unsportsmanlike,” Ham said. The sound of a helicopter landing outside interrupted the conversation and Trump said that was his cue to go.
As he was making his way out of the bar, he spotted Athena and introduced himself. ”Ever been in a chopper?” he asked her. ”You should see my cockpit.”
”I flew one in the Navy,” she said. ”No one could handle a stick better,” she said, fighting fire with rhetorical fire. Trump patted her on the ass and said, ”You can handle my stick anytime.” With that he walked off.
Jerry made his way over and yelled to Trump on his way out, ”Don’t forget about me when you do your comedy apprentice! You’ve got my card.” The Donald just waved as he exited the clubhouse.
”You going to be on TV?” Athena asked Rhino, who had sidled up to her like she was the bar.
”Maybe,” he said. ”Is your husband playing in this event?”
”No, I am. And there is no husband. You?”
”As single as they come,” he replied. ”And also a player. How about dinner?”
”I’m afraid I’m tied up,” she said. ”Or I’d like to be.” Athena let that last phrase dangle while pulling a ribbon loose from her hair that sent her raven hair cascading to her shoulders.
”Maybe we should go back to my cottage and have a drink,” Jerry suggested.
”You’re right here on campus?” Athena cooed, raising an eyebrow.
”Just a chip shot away,” Jerry said offering her his arm.
Together they walked out of the 19th hole and into the wild night.
* * * * * * * * *
I threw my clubs in the trunk and got behind the wheel. The top was still down, and my seat was damp from moisture blowing in off the Atlantic. I turned the key and then turned on the radio. One Is The Loneliest Number came on and it made me think of my ace, the hole-in-one I never got to enjoy. There would be no 1 on my card.
”At least I didn’t have to buy everyone drinks,” I said out loud, consoling myself. The drive back to Port Washington was a mix of elation and trepidation as I alternated between warm thoughts of Athena and the cold disappointment that I wouldn’t be competing in day 2 of the Barbary Cup. ”You didn’t have to hit him,” I continued the conversation with myself. But I wasn’t listening.
When I got back my apartment over the garage, there was an envelope with a letter from my ex-wife’s attorney about a delinquent alimony payment. I threw it in the trash and poured myself another glass of Macallan from the bottle Athena had left me.
”It’s getting better all the time,” I mumbled and sipped.
As the scotch warmed my innards, my thoughts turned to Athena and I broke into a different Beatles tune.
”She’s a woman who’ll understand. She’s a woman who’ll love a man.” I pictured her hitting balls on the range and marvelled at the recollection of her fluid swing and lithe body. ”And she plays golf, too. My kinda woman.”
I raised my glass and picked up the remote. The TV sprang to life and there was Donald Trump, reminding me of my golf nightmare. ”You’re fired,” he said.
I turned the TV back off and went to bed where I lay reliving the day again and again and again.
* * * * * * * * *
Meanwhile, back at the Barbary Club, Athena and Jerry walked into the cottage he was staying in.
”Nice place,” she said.
”Yeah, I love staying on property here. The bed is comfortable and the breakfast is off the charts. Martini?”
”Scotch if you have it.”
”One will do.”
He poured two scotches and raised his glass. ”To the Cup.”
They drank to the prize they were competing for.
”Think you have a chance?” Athena asked.
”It’s tight,” he said. ”But one less competitor with Balata out of the way.”
”Thank God for that,” she said. ”He wouldn’t leave me alone on the range earlier. And look what he did to your beautiful face.” With that, she caressed his bruised & bloodied nose.
Jerry put his hand on hers and leaned toward her to give her a kiss, but Athena pulled away and walked down the hall.
”What are the bedrooms like here? Are the mattresses firm?” she asked. Jerry followed her like a dog in heat.
Athena found a suitable boudior, took of her jacket and hung it on an iron bedpost. She then pulled a pair of handcuffs from a pocket of the coat.
”Where’d you get those?” Jerry asked, reaching across the bed for the cuffs. He could barely contain his excitement.
”My day job. I’m a detective.”
”Well, I hope I’m under arrest,” he said laying back on the pillows.
Athena straddled him and asked, ”Have you been a bad boy?”
”Well then put your hands up.”
He raised his arms and she cuffed him to a bedpost. With his free hand he reached for one of her breasts, but she deflected him and reached into her other coat pocket which contained another pair of handcuffs. ”First you must be punished.”
”You are cruel,” Jerry said, offering her his uncuffed wrist which she promptly cuffed to the other bedpost. Underneath her, she could feel him stirring.
After the cuffs were secure, she reached down to his crotch and he moaned. But she had no interest in his penis. Instead, she confirmed the presence of a pair of balls in his pocket. Shimmying her ass down his legs, she unbuckled his belt and then got off him so she could slide his pants off. As he lay there in his bulging white jockey shorts, she went through his pockets and pulled out two golf balls.
”What have we here?” she asked.
Examining the balls, she confirmed they were Nikes with two black dots under the logo. ”Looks like the ball Chase played on the 13th hole.”
She sat back down on his thighs, pinning him to the bed, and pulled the sharpie from her back pocket. Pointing it at Jerry, she asked, ”Don’t tell me you dropped one of these by the 13th green?”
”I told you I’d been a bad boy,” he said, squirming under her. ”Maybe you should give me a spanking.”
”Oh I have a better idea,” Athena said, taking the ribbon out of her hair. She leaned forward as if to kiss him and in one smooth move placed took one of the Nikes into his open mouth and then secured it with her ribbon, effectively gagging him.
”There you go. You comfortable?” she asked. Jerry nodded, unable to talk. Athena retrieved her jacket from the bedpost and pulled out her phone to take a picture Jerry gagged and tied to the bedposts in his underwear. Looking at the pic, she remarked, ”You’re going to look great on the cover of Golf Digest.”
Athena leaned closer and whispered in his ear, ”Jerry Reinhardt, you are hereby under house arrest for killing Chase Balata’s chances in this year’s Barbary Cup.”
An unsettled look settled in on Jerry and he tried to scream but it was no more than a muffled moan. He strained to get loose of the handcuffs, but they only tightened and dug into his wrists the more he struggled.
Athena left the bedroom while Jerry kicked his feet and rattled his cage. On her way out of the cottage, she grabbed the bottle of scotch and placed the DO NOT DISTURB hanger on the door.
With her jacket in one hand slung over her shoulder and the scotch in the other, she walked proudly through the night to her car.
Once there, she phoned me to see how I was doing. Needless to say, I wasn’t asleep.
”How you holding up?” she asked.
”All things considered, not bad,” I said. ”If it wasn’t for you, I might have walked into the Atlantic and kept on going. Thanks for the scotch and sympathy.”
”You’re very welcome,” Athena said. ”Hey, seeing as you’re not going to play tomorrow, would you consider caddying for me?”
”I’d carry your bag anywhere,” I said. ”Though I’m not sure how welcome I’d be at Barbary Point.”
”Screw ’em. You fall down, you get back up. You avoid them, it’s like admitting your guilt.”
”Point made. You’ve got yourself a new caddie.”
I showed up at the Barbary Club before Athena and had one of the college kids retrieve her bag from storage. I gave her clubs a good cleaning and reorganized them in the bag. Then I made a couple adjustments to the bag straps so it would be easier to carry. Lastly I emptied the contents of her pockets so I could better find whatever we needed during the round.
There were a half dozen ProV1s, two Burt’s Bees lip balms (one for each lip?), a beat up divot repair tool, a tube of Coppertone sunscreen, a Bushnell rangefinder, a Kate Lord windshirt, a Winged Foot visor, a Footjoy golf glove, a Golfoholics ballmarker, a Zino cigar, a Zippo lighter and a half-eaten Kind bar.
Fortunately there wasn’t a flask of Macallan, because I’d be tempted to drain it as I was painfully aware that I should be playing in this event, not schlepping someone else’s bag.
But that someone else was someone special. The mere thought of her brought back that warm feeling. I reloaded the contents of Athena’s bag and heard a familiar voice behind me.
”Snooping?” she asked.
I turned and drank her in. ”The Roman philosopher Seneca once said luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
”So you were just preparing to get lucky?”
I had to smile. She was quick.
”What do you say we get prepared by hitting the range?” I said.
”Well aren’t you the a conscientious caddie.”
”Just trying to earn my tip, ma’am.”
I picked up her bag and we walked down to the driving range breathing in the ocean air that was tinged with the voltage of impending competition.
”Where do we stand?” I asked her.
”Two back,” she said. ”Trump’s our leader.”
”You can do this,” I said. As we neared the range, I saw Hamilton and Trump and wondered whether I could do this.
”Well if it isn’t our former competitor,” Trump greeted me without extending his hand. ”And the newest member of our foursome,” he said turning to Athena with a smile. ”I hope you don’t mind, I asked the tournament officials if you could replace Balata in our group.”
Oh no. We’ve got to play with these guys? My heart filled with dread. The thought of having to spend the next four hours listening to Jerry blow smoke up Trump’s ass made me want to vomit.
I looked over at her and the dread dissipated. She was the antidote. I tried to focus on the task at hand and put Athena’s bag down on the range a comfortable distance from Trump’s.
She finished making small talk with The Donald and then joined me.
Pulling a 7-iron out of her bag, Athena began to do some stretching. I admired her limberness. I noticed Trump doing the same thing.
She hit balls for 20 minutes with an enchanting rhythm and promising results. I noticed a trickle of sweat running down her nose as she hit her last practice ball and I’d be damned if it wasn’t one of the sexiest things I’d ever seen.
”Let’s hit a few putts,” she said as I shouldered her bag.
As we walked to the practice green I scanned the range, the back porch and the putting green, but didn’t see Rhinehardt anywhere.
Athena practiced putting and I retrieved her balls, usually from the bottom of the cup. This girl could play.
As our tee time neared, we made our way to the first teebox. Still no Jerry.
”Anyone seen Mr. Rhinehardt?” Hamilton asked. The starter said the pro shop had tried to call him but got voicemail.
”Guess we’ll have to tee of without him,” Trump declared.
”What a shame,” I said.
Ham and Trump both hit the fairway and we moved up a teebox for Athena’s drive. She hit an effortless draw that found the short grass 30 yards beyond the men.
”We’re off,” I said to her.
”Like the bride’s pajamas,” she replied, handing me her driver.
Athena proceeded to lead the pack for the first dozen holes and was two ahead of Trump as we were walking down the 9th fairway. Unless someone had gone really low this morning, the two of them were tied for the lead.
”I’ve got to make a quick phone call,” she said. ”Would you fish my phone out of the bag?”
”Just don’t let Ham see you,” I said handing her the phone. ”I’m sure they’re not allowed on the course.”
She stuck an earbud in dialed a number she’d pre-programmed into the phone.
”Hello housekeeping? I’m calling on behalf of Mr. Reinhardt. Could you deliver some fresh sheets to cottage #3 immediately?”
”What was that all about?” I asked.
”You’ll see,” was all she said.
I stashed her phone back in the bag and Athena hit her approach shot to 4 feet.
When she sunk her birdie putt, it put her 3-under for the 9. Trump answered with a birdie and they were tied for the lead going into the back 9.
Jerry’s cottage overlooked the 10th teebox, and there was some commotion there as the cleaning woman who had delivered the sheets came racing out yelling something in Spanish.
”I think she needs our help,” Athena said, and the four of us walked over to the cottage.
The housekeeper ushered us into a bedroom where Jerry lay handcuffed to the bedposts in his underwear. On his belly, someone had drawn a frowning Nike ball. And when Hamilton un-gagged him, he found a ball matching the one Chase had hit mistakenly the day before.
”SHE DID THIS,” Rhino yelled. ”CALL THE COPS!”
”I am the cops,” Athena said flashing a badge. ”And your are the bad guy.” She unlocked the handcuffs and Jerry got out of bed rubbing his bruised wrists.
”I found the evidence in his pockets and extracted a confession. Reinhardt admitted he was responsible for Chase playing the wrong ball yesterday.”
”You set me up?” I asked with a mix of fury and joy. I wanted to deck him again but in a very uncharacteristic move, Ham beat me to it.
”You are never permitted to set foot on the grounds of this club again, do you understand?” Ham said to Jerry, and we left him there nursing his bruised face and battered ego.
”I’m sorry Chase,” Ham said on the way back to the 10th tee. ”Consider yourself grandfathered in for next year’s Barbary Cup.”
”Thank you, Ham,” I said, and handed Athena her driver. ”And thank you, Athena.”
”All in the line of duty,” she said and striped one down the middle.
Athena and Trump battled it out over the next few holes remaining all square while Ham nipped at their heels at two shots back.
When we got to the 13th I got a little deja vu walking up to Athena’s teebox. Ham and Trump had both hit what appeared to be good tee shots, and now Athena fished the Nike that had spent the night in Jerry’s mouth out of her pocket and teed it up. Her swing was hypnotic with its perfect tempo and the frowning ball flew off the face of her 6-iron. I tried to watch it sail above the dunes but lost it in a puffy white cloud. And nearly drowned out by the pounding surf was a mettalic click that gave me a chill. Did she just hit the pin?
We hiked the sandy path through the dunes to the 13th green. The sun cast long shadows on the dunegrass that danced in the breeze, and I admired the source of Athena’s shadow as she walked before me. ”So what else do you do for fun?” I asked.
”You mean besides handcuffing dicks to the bedpost? I like to catch a wave now and then.”
”Surfer girl? You ever surfed Ditch Plains off Montauk?”
”No, but I’d love to. I hear the waves may be up tomorrow.”
”Im’ game – wow, nice shot!” As we got to the green I noticed Athena’s Nike sitting right next to the hole.
”Almost another hole-in-one,” Trump said. ”What are the odds?”
”About 13,000 to one,” Ham said and went to his ball just off the back of the green.
I pulled the pin and Athena tapped her ball in the hole for a birdie. Both Ham and Trump two-putted for par.
Up one with five to play. At least in our group. You never know who might be making a run ahead of us.
14 is a dogleg left par 4 that veers away from the ocean. Ham hit one straight down the fairway and was in good shape bout would have a long shot in. Trump decided to play a bit more aggressively but put a bit too much draw on the ball and it wound up in fescue left of the fairway. If Jerry had been here he’d remind us it’s called love grass, because if you wind up there you’re f*cked.
I almost missed the guy. Not.
Athena also took an aggressive swing at the ball, but because she was a box forward, she was able to carry the corner of the dogleg and wound up in perfect shape.
Ham hit first and it was a nice approach to the front of the green. Trump’s caddie seemed to be improving his lie but Trump declared they were just identifying the ball. He wound up hitting a gorgeous shot to the middle of the green.
”Not bad out of the love grass,” I said as we walked by him en route to Athena’s ball. She took no time lining up her shot and hit it stiff.
”Another kick-in birdie,” Trump said. ”Not bad for a lady.”
”Luck be a lady,” I sang, doing my best Sinatra.
”Don’t quit your day job,” Trump said.
”Fraid you’re too late with that advice.”
”Well, you can always enjoy a second career as a caddy,” Athena said putting a hand on my shoulder.
That electric charge ran through my body again with her touch.
Once again Trump and Ham two-putted for par, and once again Athena drained her short putt for birdie. ”Easy game,” she said.
She made it look that way on the next two holes with another birdie followed by a par. Trump also had a birdie and a par to remain two back. Ham parred them both and slipped another shot behind.
As we approached the par 5 18th, the prospect that Athena might actually win the Barbary Cup began to sink in. But Trump wasn’t giving up without a fight. He hit a power fade that skirted the edge of the massive water hazard to the left of the fairway and found himself on the short grass with a chance to get to the green in two. With that he turned to Athena and said, ”If you want to just call it a tie, we can head in now and share the spoils.”
”You’re tired,” she said, giving him a little of his own medicine.
Ham took a much less aggressive route, and wound up 30 yards short and right of Trump.
Athena wasn’t one to play safe though, and got up there with the aim of out-driving both of her opponents. She took an uncharacteristically hard swing and started the ball at the right side of the fairway with a draw. It might have been perfect if the wind hadn’t gusted turning her draw into a hook. It ballooned up in the air for an eternity before coming down on the downslope and trickling into the pond. You could see the ball sitting there a few inches below the surface.
”That’s going to be a challenging shot,” she said while untying her shoes.
”Wait a minute, what are you doing?”
”I’m going in after it.”
”But what if doesn’t come out?”
”Then I’ll try again.”
”But what if it’s unplayable?”
”You saying I should just pack it in?”
”No, I’m saying you should consider taking a drop. You’re two strokes ahead and you’ll be hitting your third shot into a par 5.”
”But Trump’s looking at a potential eagle.”
”Yeah, I heard he was also thinking of running for president. He stands a better chance with that. I say play smart.”
”You know, you’re going to make someone a great caddie someday.”
I retrieved her ball from the hazard and Athena measure off two club lengths and took her drop.
”You’ve still got 222 to get to the pin. What’s your favorite yardage for an approach?”
”Oh, maybe 3 feet,” she said. ”Gimme the 18º.
”You’re incorrigible,” I said handing her the hybrid. From the other side of the fairway,
Ham made his best shot of the day and hit a 230-yard 5-wood to the center of the green. Shouts erupted from the crowd gathered round the green.
Athena took a rhythmic practice swing and then hit a buttercut that looked like it might make the green, but again the wind hit it and knocked it down into the greenside bunker. The crowd moaned.
”You got that,” I said, picking up her bag. ”Up and down for par.”
Trump shot next and had 195 to the pin. His caddie handed him his 4-hybrid and after an abbreviated practice swing, The Donald roped a nice high draw that barely cleared the right bunker and came to rest pin-high right.
”The eagle has landed,” he declared, and tipped his MAKE AMERICA GOLF AGAIN hat at the cheering crowd gathered round the green.
The six of us walked up the fairway together while the sun sank behind us casting a warm orange glow on the clubhouse and green ahead.
”Athena, no matter what happens on this hole, believe me, you’re one-of-a-kind, kid. You’ve got game – and looks. If I was to do a Golf Apprentice, I would want you on it. I would want you on it.”
”Thank you, Mr. Trump, that’s very kind.” She gave me a sidelong look and rolled her eyes.
As we approached the green, Athena’s ball was off the green, but closer than Trump’s.
”Do you want to come on?” he asked her.
”I believe you’re away,” she replied.
With that, Trump stood over his putt and drained it for eagle. ”Did I mention the eagle has landed?” he said raising his putter over his head like Nicklaus. The crowd roared.
”Okay, up and down forces a playoff,” I said to Athena who was reaching for a wedge. ”I think you can putt this,” I said offering her the putter. She had about a sixteen footer from just off the green.
”Put it about a ball out on the right, keep your head still and listen for the ball to go in the hole.”
”Well listen to my Big. Shot. Caddie.” she said with a wink. I guess she was listening, though, because she firmed it up the hill and into the right side of the cup for a birdie. The crowd went berserk. Trump squinted and frowned before taking his hat off and coming over to shake her hand.
”Well done,” he said. ”Well done.”
As he turned to leave he made a circular motion with his right hand raised in the air, and his helicopter pilot fired up the chopper. Trump’s hair did a handstand on his head as he waved to the crowd and got in his big bird.
I stole a quick peck on Athena’s cheek and whispered in her ear, ”Nice going, champ.”
She turned her head brushing her lips against mine and that jolt was back, charging me to my core.
The event was memorialized with an awards ceremony punctuated with pink champagne that Athena drank from the Barbary Cup trophy itself.
She raised the trophy before drinking from it and said, ”I couldn’t have done it without my caddie, Chase Balata.” With that she drank, her eyes never leaving mine.
I prayed they never would.
©2018 Chase Balata