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A Golfer's Memoir | T+L Golf

Martin O’Neill Illustration

Photo: Martin O’Neill

Johnny and I played together in the sun of late afternoon, and for me it was both nostalgic and unsettling. The second hole, which in 1919 could only be reached in two under the most favorable conditions, seemed to have shrunk, even though the sign at the tee still read, Hole No. 2: Par 4, 405 yards.

A diagram from the 1960s puts the hole at 360 yards. If there are other errors in Dad’s account of this round, I can’t correct them. My only clear memory of the afternoon is of the clubhouse bar, where Dad shared stories of old New Richmond with the bartender and a couple of his high school classmates. I sipped Cokes and listened, looking away only to watch the Hamm’s Beer commercials on the black-and-white television on the wall. The Hamm’s jingle, which played over the antics of a cartoon bear, featured Indian drums and the lyric, "From the land of sky-blue waters . . ."

I looked up the fence-lined fairway in total disbelief. The second hole held a special place in my memory, and over the years I could summon up just how the hole had played under varying conditions. Way back when, it was one of the longest par-four holes in Wisconsin. And one of the most difficult.

Forty years later, here was my old friend—not nearly as robust as I remembered.

Dad’s sentimentality was not restricted to golf holes; old movies and old songs also brought a tear to his eye. But he needn’t have worried about his boyhood golf ground. With the acquisition of another tract of land in the 1980s, the New Richmond Golf Club expanded to eighteen holes. The tree-lined, 6,726-yard par-seventy-one course is now one of the most challenging in Wisconsin, with a course rating of 72.7 and a slope of 133. Membership is semiprivate.

I have a faded newspaper clipping before me as I write. The headline reads, Fourteen Year Old Schoolboy Plays Long Second Hole in Three Under Bogey. The story continues: "an unheard of feat locally, and, we are told, a rarer achievement than a hole in one. The two strokes recorded here were pivotal and certainly a contributing factor in his well-earned victory in the All-County Tournament." (My two for the hole was not reported as an eagle because the term was not yet in vogue; or if it was, we had not heard of it. Nor of a birdie, either.)

There were no faded clippings among Dad’s effects. Either he quoted this article from memory­—he had a lawyer’s gift for detail and could rattle off passages by his favorite writers—or he made the story up. I’m disinclined to believe the latter, because when Dad embellished a tale it was always to make someone else look good or to entertain, not to brag.

They say as you get older your recollections get sharper. The people and events of yesteryear come alive in your garden of memories. As one in his seventy-fourth year, I feel qualified to speak. I do seem to recall with perfect clarity events of sixty years ago. If I have gotten a date wrong or neglected to mention some kindness shown me long ago, I am truly sorry. My intention was simply to provide an account of golf’s beginnings in St. Croix County.

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