Friends and fairways coming soon - Beside the Point


My first trip to the golf course was Friday morning.

Granted, it was to pedal some ads and talk about the upcoming May 7th United Way golf outing at Sheaffer Memorial Golf Course.

When you make the turn onto 308th Avenue at the confluence of the 13th green, and the 14th and 18th tee boxes, the 'feels' start hopping.

Golf, for me, is a social game.

Whether I have a beer or not is usually determined by the first three holes. After the third hole I'm usually thinking, "boy, a beer sure would help relax the shoulders". That's usually code for, "I suck at this - might as well have a beer".

I have a decent set of clubs, but they are old. My reasoning for not upgrading is that I'm just not good enough for the investment. But I have the tools to go out and breathe fresh air, hang with friends and family, and work a shot or two per round that I can be proud of.

I was playing with Gary, Rob, and Sara Sandburg at an event about two years ago and holed one in from about 15 yards off the green. That's THE highlight of my golf career. And you know that's true because I can recall it clearly.

Most of my 'good shot' moments have come at Sheaffer's.

Playing with my brother and his "uncle-in-law" I once holed one in on No. 4 down below the green on the right side from about 45 yards - uhhh 65 yards - might have been 110, but who's counting. But as luck would have it, I was so far below the green that I just slapped it up there and hear "Uncle-in-law Bill" who was already standing proudly on the green shout over... "Nice shot, man."

I worked my way around the green to the cart and grabbed my putter. Removing my glove and walking to the green I didn't see my ball.

"D'you pick up my ball?"

"'s in the hole."

Didn't even get to see it.

Another ball strike I 'technically saw' happened on No. 3. Like an idiot, I was ball-hawking (that means looking for my golf ball), along the east timber and turned around to see where the rest of my foursome was.


I looked up to a black object against the blue skies, and twisted my head just in time to avoid taking a ball to the eye that former city councilman and cigar aficionado Brian Wright, had lofted with a 7-iron just about 150 yards out.

The dimples on a golf ball create an unmistakable hum as they cut through the wind at your face. Many of us in the golf fraternity have the pleasure of experiencing that first hand. I have twice. Years back, also at Sheaffer's, my nephew Hayden, a very young and energetic boy similar to a tightly wound and freshly released top, decided to practice his driving skills with a putter on a green and sent one cleanly passed my head just missing my ear. Vzzzzmmmmm.

He got an earful from dad. I just thanked the Lord in whisper as I walked calmly to the 18th tee box.

At Finkbine in Iowa City, former Bloodhound and Octagon fighter Tyler Blind, who knows about eight ways to bend you into a pretzel, was standing about 10 yards from me and navigating a punch shot around a tree. I was standing to his left, about 15 feet to the side and back, holding my club centered in front of me with the club head on the ground.

Tyler's ball came out clean, hit the tree square, and and came back at me in a place we don't talk about. My only reaction was to throw my hips directly back to avoid something that would have taken quite a few holes to laugh off. But the club saved me as the ball hit it directly, causing a carom sending his shot back into the fairway.

It took us about 20 minutes to recover from the laughter of that one and a superintendent had to move us along.

FORE is part of the game. We all know how to pull up our shoulders and cover our head. Everything else is sacrificed.

Sure, I've made some putts and wrote my name on placards at tourneys but rarely win anything. It's the exhale I play for. The rare golf shot is just icing for me. I laugh hard and smile a lot. I rib others about bad shots, when in reality almost everyone of those people take me to school. Because you're supposed to...then compliment like crazy when someone hits a good one.

"Good ball."

The conversations in the golf cart are where you learn about people, and they learn about you. I always ask for advice on my game and try never to give it, although that's against most people's natures.

But who cares. It's a slice of life... I just have more slice than most.

I still play the game trying to lift the ball with my swing, but the good one's say the club lifts the ball and you're supposed to swing down on the ball. With irons in most cases your club is to hit the ground just in front of where your ball was. And if you do it correctly, you get a nice peel of turf that flies up as your ball finds its track.

For some reason, that never, ever happens to me.

That's going to take time on the range that I don't have. So then you just rely on your mind to tell your body what it's supposed to do, but without the muscle memory. It's a crap shoot for me. I just try to stay away from the FOREs.

The reverse C finish that Roy McIlvoy tributes to Jack Nicklaus in "Tin Cup" is for those more serious about the game than me. I look at a good shot like, "that's what you're supposed to do", but repeating it is elusive.

I actually play better when I walk. And that makes sense to me because you can get to bad shots quicker in a cart so there's nothing punitive except embarrassment in the ride into the other fairway. You have to walk to a bad shot when you're carrying your bag. That's motivation enough for me to spend a little more time trying to keep it straight. I would guess that's the case for most.

You come around the 18th hole of the day and think about a hot dog and maybe another mug. More conversation about the game, or the kids, or just about anything is fine. It's about the exhale, and telling your wife you made a couple putts when she asks how the game went.

This year the golf outings put on by non-profits at local courses will mean twice as much. Plans are in full swing, if you will, for the Fort Madison Chamber's Florida of Iowa, the Fort Madison Community Hospital Foundation, football teams, baseball teams and on and on.

Give extra thought to playing this year in these events that will almost assuredly help a neighbor, friend, or family member at some point. Many budgets were hit hard by these events not happening during the pandemic and they need our help.

With vaccines more prevalent, public health officials easing restrictions, and a spring that's shaping up pretty well, it will be a good time to get back to those fun afternoons and charitable giving.

The laughs and smiles will certainly have more value.

Speaking of smiles. Taylor and I stopped in at Major Oak in downtown Fort Madison Friday afternoon. Taylor has a goal of traveling in Europe and my daughter was literally doing a happy dance as Tony Alexander described his Curry Soup offering for the day. Talk about dad feels.

She started to floss, (the dance - not clean her teeth) as his syrupie British dialect went through the roast and Yorkshire pudding dinner plans.

And there's more and more smiling and euphoria around the business openings on Avenue G. Owners and townspeople are excited about the possibilities of rail and boat tourists, sprinkled with the anticipated influx of boaters with a new marina. The economic curve looks pretty good - but That's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

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