By Robert Bicknell

February 2008

Different stokes for different folks..

In the last 30 years of working overseas, I found a few things to be constant no matter where I was. Such as people’s love of good food, good friends and hoping for the best for their children and families.

They also share a love of golf for various reasons.

Some play golf for the exercise, others play it solely to relax and don’t bother to keep score, others just like to enjoy a long walk and others thrive on the competitive nature of the game with their friends.

Golf has always been one of the truest tests of character for a person because you cannot hide from yourself and, over 18 holes, your true nature will emerge for all to see.

Regardless of why they play, there are three general classifications of players: those who accept things as they are; those who lie about their handicap to make it easier to win; and those who lie about their handicap to convince people they are better than they actually are.

The first group are the salt of the earth. Wonderfully, well-balance people who know and their strengths and weaknesses and work to better themselves.

The second group is vermin who should be dragged behind a speeding bus over a field of broken glass. Sandbaggers are low-life vermin who believe that winning is everything, even if it means cheating. They manipulate their handicaps better than an inside trader on Wall Street, but be aware, if they cheat at golf, you can believe they cheat at everything else they do…including business.

The third group is what is known as "reverse sandbaggers". These people cannot accept the fact that they are not as good as they think they should be and only put in their good scores for handicap. To these poor deluded creatures, being on the top of the handicap board is more important than actually playing well. Identification of this type is surprisingly easy…they always have an "off" day when you play with them in a tournament.

The first group is the most fun…because having fun is their sole reason for playing. Win or lose, rain or shine, hot or cold, they are out there to have a good time and drink some beer with their friends.

When growing up, private clubs practically enshrined their club champions and the membership viewed single handicap players with a sense of awe. You could tell that they took the game and themselves a bit too seriously at times.

But the people who used to play golf at public courses were also serious and not because of a low handicap, but rather because they could get up and down from the ball washer and would bet on just about anything.

It’s these guys who are the most colorful and the most fun to be around. They also seemed to have some interesting nicknames and woe to anyone who was dumb enough to use someone’s given name as it was viewed as an insult.

When the play on the course got slow, that’s when these local legends would demonstrate why they earned that status. On the second hole, a trash can stood 5 yards away from the tee box and was the size of a hotel lobby ashtray.

They’d bet on who could drop a ball into there with pitching wedge and on the next hole someone would bet on a bank shot 7-iron off the bench and nail the ball washer right in the middle.

As the day wore on, the bets got more and more outrageous.

Just being around these guys was dangerous because if you were stupid enough to say something to yourself like "I can make this putt" when looking at a 30-footer, you could count on wallets flying at you from all directions.

One legendary bet was between two regulars at Ponkapoag GC in Stoughton, Massachusetts. The players at "Ponky" were notorious sharks and would bet on what time the sun came up.

To make a long story short, one player bet another that he could hit a pitching wedge off the concrete floor in the locker room, over the lockers and out the window, land on the practice green within tap-in distance of the hole.

Wallets flew at him from all over the locker room. Even people who didn’t know him launched a wallet.

He made the shot and tapped it in.

What I, and all the others, didn’t know was that he practiced that shot all winter and was waiting for the regulars to come back to spring it on them.

These guys, like those at ultra-private courses, had a deep love for the game, but approached it from different angles.

Different strokes for different folks, indeed.

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