An hour north, the earth quit doing cartwheels—what passes for topography in the Texas panhandle could be squeezed between the pages of this magazine. But terrain didn't deter the flat-earthers at McLean Country Club, a nine-hole plot of cut-back cornfield where the greens are made of sand. When watered down, these dirt ovals will hold a high-flying wedge shot like Velcro. You hit your ball to a sand green, measure the distance from ball to hole with a string, then carry the ball over to a strip of fast-rolling Astroturf and putt from that distance. At least the price is right: $65 a year.
Going from such spartan surroundings to Tulsa's Hotel Ambassador was a high-voltage culture shock. Built for 1920s oil barons, this ten-story gem was base camp for two memorable rounds. Karsten Creek in nearby Stillwater was plain prairie before its stunning transformation by Tom Fazio. And Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa is a legend, a parkland paradise with enough history to make you weak in the knees, especially when you stand where I did—on the eighteenth green, facing the same putt that Retief Goosen missed to force a play-off at the 2001 U.S. Open. Alone with the large lump in my throat, I studied those three long feet . . . then gagged and missed.
The next day found me at the Arthur Hills-designed Golf Club at Pevely Farms, an hour from St. Louis, partnered with a pair of gym-shoe-wearing youths who giggled their way to 100-plus tallies. "This course is, like, hard," said the more articulate one. That evening I made room for corn dogs at Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, Illinois. Traffic may be slow on Route 66, but the road is a fast lane to the cardiac ward via delightfully deadly corn dogs, tacos, steaks, biscuits and gravy.
In rural Dwight, Illinois, a friendly sheriff stopped me for driving on the shoulder as I tried to get back to the highway. I couldn't find my license in the welter of scorecards and fast-food wrappers in the dash box, but he let me go. Turned out the lawman was a fellow 66er, a lover of the old road who proudly told me about the '67 Corvette in his garage, perched on a pile of bricks from Route 66 that he'd bought at auction. "Stay safe," he said, waving me on. The Hollywood gears in my head whirred: Ex-cop and golf bum reprise old TV series, tooling along in vintage 'Vette, doing good deeds . . .
By now I was running out of Route. For a last bit of humiliation I played from the tips at Dubsdread in Cog Hill, near Chicago. The 6,940-yard track, home of the PGA Tour's Western Open, played more like ten miles in pre-storm winds. Hours later, handicap a bit higher, I pulled into Chicago and stopped for a thick-crusted pie at Pizzeria Due. Sipping a couple of slow beers as the first rain of my journey fell outside the window, I crunched the numbers on a napkin: 162 holes in eleven days, 781 strokes, 2,834 miles on the odometer and a heap of new respect for all those souls who had made this trip without CD players and air-conditioning. Permit me one last lyric, with apologies to Bobby Troup: "Well, it winds from Chicago to L.A./More than 2,000 miles all the way/Bring your sticks . . . on Route 66."