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Down East With Dad And Donald Ross

The twelfth, an ascending, twisting, 537-yard monster, nicely sums up matters. Fairway and rough are nearly indistinguishable; there is hardly a flat spot to be found. A great slab of boulder just left ofthe green stands guard. Like the course, the hole is imposing, majestic, stern--an old heavyweight at the end of the bar. No doubt Cape Neddick will fare far better than such fighters in its comeback.

After eating tuna-fish sandwiches, we drag our pullcart--Maine is a pullcart kind of place--to the first tee of Biddeford-Saco Country Club. (Love the hyphen.) We're just off after our drives when Dad spots a solo player ready to pull in behind us and thoughtfully invites him aboard. It turns out the man cuts the greens on weekends in exchange for playing privileges, though he proves not as adept at reading putts as one might have hoped.

Biddeford-Saco is another Ross/Silva mélange. This time, the nines are halved: The front is Ross, and Silva's inward half was built using much of Ross's original design. Ross's side is mostly wide open and straight and, as usual, gives the impression of being somewhat easier than it is. Small ("Unreadable!") greens are its main defense. Wonderful details abound. Trees beyond a ravine on the par-five third appear to be some thirty yards closer than they are, a marvelous trompe l'oeil; the short-iron approach to the fourth must carry an enormous grassy swale or end up at its base. I sail along. Dad is unusually inaccurate and carps about having "too much room."

His wishes are answered on the tree-lined, serpentine back nine. Seeing the difference between the sides--some of which may be attributable to the land--one can understand some of the harrumphing of Donald Ross Society members re- garding additions or alterations to a Ross course, original plans or not. Yet if the aesthetics do not mirror each other, the back nine, for a layman, maintains a Ross-like naturalness and grace. And whether mimicry is the better way to honor one's influences than simply taking their lessons to heart is certainly debatable.

That night, my father and I discuss such matters, in our own fashion, on the spooky two-hour drive from Yarmouthto Bethel--Stephen King comes from Maine, I suddenly remember. Pitch-black back roads, not another (possessed) car anywhere; plenty of time and space to fill with menace of our own devising. I'll admit it is nice to have Dad riding shotgun. The Bethel Inn & Country Club--where we will stay for the remainder of our trip because of its central location to area golf--is a perfectly pleasant spot that dominates the quaint town of Bethel. Our room, however, is a touch too quaint: separate hot and cold faucets, for example, are about as functional as a duffer's one-iron, and the room is not roomy. I have the troubling sensation of being back in my freshman dorm, but with my father for a roommate. We might not have lasted a semester, but tonight we sleep like logs.

The golf course at the Bethel Inn & Country Club was originally built by the patients of Dr. John Gehring, who ran a clinic for the well-heeled "mentally malaised." They sound like avid golfers, and I would like to have seen their work in unadulterated form. However, Geoffrey Cornish has since modernized and expanded the original nine-hole design.

There is once again a bit of schizophrenia: a few pedestrian holes (one assumes designed by Gehring's gang) surrounded by some lovely, more challenging ones along therolling terrain. A two-tiered double green unites holes threeand eight, pleasingly old school. We are the first twosome off, following thedew line to the ball, and what we both lack in precision we make up for in speed--all the way around in three hours ("That's how it's supposed to be, Ebbalou!").

We thus arrive at nearby Lake Kezar Country Club--still another original Donald Ross front nine--with plenty of time for another eighteen. Pulling into the driveway, however, we are tempted to turn back. The place looks like the setting for a slasher film. The ramshackle clubhouse used to be a one-room schoolhouse, and the place hasn't sniffed a can of paint in a while. Like a fifty-nine-cent hamburger, the green fee--eighteen dollars--is so low as to be worrisome. At the end of the season, the course is a first-come, first-serve operation, and sure enough a foursome of beginners beats us to the tee by a whisker.

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