Trip to Ozarks ushers in spring


March is just around the corner and that means it’s time for what’s become an annual trek to the Ozarks for a week of golf, food, and basketball.
Several years ago, some really great guys invited me to go with them to shack up on the west shore of some lake in Missouri and, in the morning, eat Dan Fullenkamp’s wife’s coffee cake and head out to play golf. You haven’t had coffee cake, you really haven’t, until you eat this wonderment of cinnamon and butter.
We rotate players each day and I believe that is so everyone gets to see how truly horrible and funny I am playing this ridiculous game where you smack a ball around big stretches of bent grass with a beer and, occasionally a cigar, in your hand.
These guys have been friends of mine for a blink of an eye, and they know I play because of the social eclipse that shrouds everything else. It’s not about being good at the game for me. For others maybe, but not for me. It’s the anticipation that at any time, you can do something great.
I still have the score card for the first time I legitimately broke 100. I do. I kept it. It’s apropos that it sits right next to the framed ball of my only hole-in-one. It reminds me that the social golfer plays for the memories, while the good golfer plays for the score.
When it gets too dark to golf in the hills of the Ozarks, we usually find a restaurant or head back to a fridge full of cheese, chips, meat, crackers, dips, etc., all the things that I just don’t eat that much of anymore. And with these guys, you’re not always sure what the “meat” actually is.
But the laughter flows, there’s usually a basketball game on, and I usually fall asleep in a recliner only to wake up to more laughter. It’s funny that I don’t sleep very well anymore, but when I get to Missouri, I’m more rested when I come back than I am when I left. Most guys who go away for a week of golf DO NOT come back rested.
I think I secured my lifetime membership when I was golfing with Jay Baldwin, Gordy Fedler, and Dan at Sheaffer’s and we were on the 18th hole. I had not been playing well and I ripped my tee shot onto the road and into the adjacent west field. So I decided to surrender another golf ball to the agriculture gods and lined one up perpendicular to the tee box and into the field. I hit a perfect low drive that managed to find the concrete tee sign in front of me. The ball ricocheted with the same velocity right back at me, blowing up my ankle. I collapsed on the tee-box in pain, but the pain was overtaken with laughter at the stupidity of what just transpired.
I rolled over and saw all three of them cracking up in their golf carts. My ankle was immediately the size of a baseball and I was comfortable in the fact that I deserved it.
I hit a tee shot on one of the rolling courses of Kinderhook and it went almost straight up in the air and headed for this metal shed. I yelled out “Tin Rooof” and the ball came down right on top of the shed… “Rusted!”  The group busted out in laughter and this shed was nowhere near the fareway. But that shot was talked about for the rest of the day. Anyone can hit down the middle of the fairway. That’s boring. Finding trees and then finding your ball. Now that’s an adventure. Navigating snakes and deer and poison ivy – now that’s an adventure. And, regardless of the temperature, I wear shorts. If there isn’t snow on the ground, it’s Vuori shorts and a t-shirt under a long-sleeve pullover, baseball cap, and golf shoes. If my upper body is warm, it’s all good.
These week-long working vacations are usually propped up with really good conversation and getting to know other people a little better than I did before. There’s usually some work mixed in as well, but for the most part, it’s become an entryway to the spring. A welcome respite from an otherwise dark and cold winter.
Getting a golf ball to spin the right way and striving for consistency and perfection in the swing plane, not giving up the “V” that makes up your grip and forearms, striking the ball perfectly – it’s all exhausting. Most is muscle memory and takes vigorous repetition. I don’t have that kind of time.
So I slug away, patiently waiting for the rare, really good shot or sinking a lengthy putt. But, more importantly, waiting on something funny to be said, or something funny to happen, usually at my expense. But that’s my role. If you can’t play, you get to be the comic relief. Every now and then I get in a groove, I think I even won a best-ball day last year with another guy in the group. We just happened to take turns hitting decent shots and staying in the hunt. When we got back to review score cards we got a look of  "whatever”.
Most guys will tell you the golf is secondary to the Euchre or Hold ‘Em games that happen when the sun goes down. But it’s the stories of the day’s swings that are the color commentary to the play-by-play of the card games. Gordie’s the consistent golfer, the metronome, and he brings good snacks. Dan is the organizer and rule-setter. The rest of us get in line and do what we’re told. And the games are on.
I’m gonna try to play well when we go down in about four weeks, but I’m gonna try to play well for three holes a day. If it starts well, I can stay focused until I hit the implosion hole, which always happens. That’s the 10. Then I turn my attentions to other things. However, if the first three start bad, then it’s on. The rest of the day is up to the whims of nature and my humility. Nothing is off the table.
I think that may be why I keep getting invited back. In case you haven’t guessed yet, most of what I write is metaphoric of mood and life. It’s up to you to figure it out. Suffice it to say, if I’m comparing life to a golf game, you can be pretty sure I’ve shanked it – But that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Beside the Point, Sunday, editorial, opinion, commentary, Chuck Vandenberg, Pen City Current, golf, spring, vacation


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