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, or as those in the know call it, The BC. 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 own children.
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 and rocket through the sky and resonate through my body which reverberated 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 headed 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 in the BC, 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 put 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 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. C-note a side?”
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 but not see 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 fuck?” 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. Donald, why don’t we conclude our round in the morning, if you don’t mind? 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 back to the clubhouse, 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.