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Journey to the Garden of Youth

Northwood's history is sketchy. Mackenzie built it in 1928, the year before the stock market crash, but yellowed clippings and old photographs don't have much to say about the golf. A more certain history is written in tree rings and core samples, because Northwood goes snorkeling whenever the river climbs out of its banks, which is often. On January 9, 1995, floodwaters covered most of the course and crashed three feet deep through the doors of the Rio Theater, a mile up Highway 116 in Monte Rio.

Biography is history, too, and I wondered if Northwood's and my family's had crossed. My mother's people used to talk of a Scottish-Canadian relative who went by the name of Stuart X (pronounced "ex") because he believed himself to be the rightful heir to the throne of England. He never worked, I was told, but toured the world with a succession of rich widows. Another "fact" was known about him: He was a member of San Francisco's Bohemian Club, the group that in the 1870s started coming in for "Summer High Jinks." Was it possible Stuart X had teed it up with Alister Mackenzie?Still giddy from my enzyme bath, I thought it downright probable.

Northwood's head pro, Vern Ayres, giving me a guided tour in a golf cart, interrupted my reverie. "It's not an easy course," he said. "Roger Maltbie played here three years and couldn't break par." I looked at my scorecard and read the following numbers, adjusted for eighteen holes: par 72. rating, 67.7. slope, 113.

"Far out," I said.

The words came from some recess of memory that hadn't been visited in many years.

On the way home I drove across the Golden Gate, and my thoughts returned to that afternoon in '67 when a different life beckoned. For a moment I considered a detour to the Haight, to see what changes time had wrought. Just as quickly, I considered and dismissed a visit to the Olympic Club, where cypress trees and giant redwoods combine Mackenzie's Northwood vision and Graves's Sea Ranch naturalism on a grander scale.

I motored on. Both visits could wait until U.S. Open week.

I played a scene in my head, though. I saw myself in June, in San Francisco, trying to talk a few of my middle-aged friends into riding with me over the bridge--over some boundary they couldn't possibly be expected to see--for a round of golf.

"'Frisco's great, but I'm goin' north," I imagined myself saying. "Wanna come?"

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