I first played Cypress Point in the winter of 1947, as a boy of twelve, carrying some of the same wooden-shaft clubs with which my father had played the same course in the summer of 1929 in a practice round with Bobby Jones. The occasion qualified as a rite of passage. My father and grandfather didn't draw much of a distinction between the Monterey Peninsula and the Garden of Eden, and for as long as I could remember I had listened to them tell travelers' tales about the unsurpassed beauty of the landscape improved by a menagerie of scenic animals (kindly deer, rare hawks, majestic whales), every foursome gambling for courageous stakes, artists on the beach at Carmel as plentiful as driftwood, riotous living and Roman decadence at the old Hotel Del Monte, where drunken movie stars sometimes were to be seen falling, as if from heaven, into the rosebushes or the pool.
Here then was a paradise to which any God-fearing young American would hope to be admitted, and on the drive south from San Francisco on a Saturday morning in March, my grandfather had proposed a bet--fifty dollars if I broke a hundred against five dollars (a month's allowance) if I did not; strict USGA rules, no putts conceded, the scorecard attested by Frank Archdeacon, the caddie better known as Turk, in whom my grandfather reposed the trust that other men assigned to J. P. Morgan or the Pope. My father advised me to refuse the proposition. A sucker bet, he said, and one that I was sure to lose before I reached the ocean and the last four famous holes. Yes, once or twice (in San Francisco), I had posted scores in the mid-eighties but not at Cypress Point, where error never went unpunished and the barking of the sea lions could be understood as mockery.
My grandfather waved away the word of caution as if striking at a fly. How else was I supposed to learn the game if not against the odds?Caution was what one expected of shabby lawyers and niggling accountants, not something that one would wish to teach a son. An impulsive man then in his early sixties, his round, red face made more vivid by a fierce shock of white hair, Roger Lapham seldom came across a bet he didn't take. He was a shipowner well known in San Francisco for his recklessness at the card table and his opposition to the waterfront unions. Elected mayor of the city during the Second World War on the promise to serve only one term in office (the better to throw the rascals out), he never failed to provide the newspapers with lively copy; quick to express a blunt opinion, fond of jokes and spectacles, known to every bartender in
Chinatown. His eldest son, Lewis, was a man of markedly different character and temperament. He was taller than the mayor, more graceful in his movements and his turn of mind sardonic, not yet forty and recently named president of the family shipping business very much against his will. His ambitions had been literary, and he was happier talking about the Earl of Rochester or the Elizabethan poets than about dock strikes or the tonnage moving through the Panama Canal.
Balanced against the freight of their many differences, my father and grandfather held in common their devotion to the game of golf and their particular delight in Cypress Point. Each of them took a proprietary interest in the course, my grandfather as one of its founders in 1925, my father because in the summer of 1927 he had added to the sum of its design. The course was being laid out by the British golf architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie, who was still uncertain about the placing of some of the tees. My father at the age of eighteen could drive the ball a long way, at least what was considered a long way in 1927, and the doctor engaged him to hit a succession of tee shots into various undifferentiated wastes of grass and sand. By measuring the distances of my father's better drives, Mackenzie refined his estimates of where to begin the fairway, how far to extend a bunker, what was the most intimidating approach to a not yet fully imagined green.
The terms of the bet having been settled somewhere in the vicinity of Gilroy, my father and grandfather spent the next two hours in the car remembering friends or acquaintances who had come to grief in one or another of the cul-de-sacs at Cypress Point. Most of the stories I had heard before, not once but often, and quite a few of them I had by heart, like the Shakespearean speeches that I was obliged to memorize once a week at school: my uncle Roger at the age of fourteen, needing nine strokes to cross the dune at the eighth hole; the white-flanneled Walter Hagen falling afoul of the ice plant behind the thirteenth green; Bing Crosby humming to himself (in a grim and minor key) as he flailed helplessly at the ball in the sand at number seven; my cousin Harry throwing his clubs into the Pacific Ocean after failing, repeatedly, to make the carry at the implacable sixteenth. All the stories ended with the moral about pride going before a fall, the lesson recalled by Turk when grandfather presented me to him early that afternoon on the first tee. He took the driver out of my hand before I had a chance to swing it even once. "Not a club that we'll be needing," he said, "not if we mean to win the mayor's money."
My memory plays tricks with the events of that first round, and I cannot now remember whether the sky was blue or gray, when or if I heard the sea lions barking on their rocks, how I missed the three cypress trees in the middle of the fairway on number seventeen. I know that there couldn't have been much wind, and I remember my father, very careful not to offer any golfing instruction, pointing out the differences among several species of seagoing birds. Under the terms of the bet, I was allowed to heed the advice of Turk, and never questioning his slightest word, I played for even fives--hitting a three-wood off the tees, aiming the approach shots at the front of the greens, recovering from the heavier rough with no club other than a sand wedge. Together with quite a few double and triple bogeys, I managed three pars. I lost only one ball, and a score of ninety-seven was good enough to win the bet. My grandfather chided me for going the long way around to the green at the sixteenth, but when he introduced me to the bartender in the clubhouse as "my grandson, the artful dodger," insisting that I drink a double shot of scotch, I understood that I had been found deserving of the family name. At dinner later that evening, my father entertained my mother and younger brother with a mock-heroic account of the day's round, and I was surprised to discover that he remembered every shot.