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The Longest Day

In the pantheon of great golfers, the name Luke Reese will be sadly missing. I learned my golf in the mid-nineties on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland, taught by locals for whom speed was of the essence. According to my Scottish tutors, at least one ball must always be in the air. Scots, who eat bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning and never darken the doors of health clubs, need golf to be aerobic.

But I eat marginally healthier than the average Scot, and I play slightly faster. One midsummer day in Finland I played forty-five holes, attended six hours of meetings, took two saunas and swam in the Baltic. I boastfully mentioned this to a friend, Neil Parker, during a quick eighteen-hole match in a stiff wind at Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland. Trumping me, Neil responded, "How about seventy-two holes in one day, no caddies, on a tough classic links?"

At first, I admit, I had concerns about carrying my own bag from dawn till dark on a windy, rainy English links in April. True, in earlier days I had run with the bulls at Pamplona (no gores, just scrapes), cycled the roads of the Tour de France (those guys are machines, not humans) and run the original marathon from Marathon to Athens (almost imitated the first guy to do it and dropped dead). Although that athletic résumé continues to impress my mom, these days my passions more likely materialize at the end of a corkscrew.

I was pushed over the edge in an offhanded sort of way by my soon-to-be ex-wife. An old law school classmate had told me, "You look great; you haven't changed at all." To which my soon-to-be-ex said, "You haven't seen him without his clothes on." In fact, neither had she for quite awhile, but that's another story.

I was in.

The format was pretty simple: seventy-two holes at England's Littlestone Golf Club. Carry your own clubs, hole every putt and do it all in one day. Low net wins.

Originally held over several courses, the 72 Hole Club has been around for thirty-one years. In 1980 the event was consolidated and moved to Littlestone, an Open qualifying links on the coast near Dover. With a naval flagpole guarding an old redbrick clubhouse, Littlestone gives a pervasive feeling of old-fashioned seaside golf. Designed by Laidlaw Purves, who is also credited with Royal St. George's, it was partially reworked by James Braid and then later by Alister MacKenzie, who put great strategic value into several holes.

The morning of the event, I awoke at 5:30 and breakfasted on eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, tea and Advil. The weather was fantastic: no wind to speak of, temperatures in the high fifties. My playing partner was my sister's husband, John Wallace, who had traveled with me from Chicago. Since both of us were five-handicaps, we decided to play a seventy-two-hole better-ball match in addition to the stroke-play event.

The first hole is a flat 300-yard par four with a drivable green protected by two deep bunkers. John and I hit good drives that ran like scalded dogs on the hard links ground, leaving about thirty yards to the hole. I made an easy par; John, however, took an eight. The round proceeded smoothly from there with both of us making our share of good and bad shots.

Then I doubled the sixteenth (a MacKenzie-doctored hole, about which more later). On seventeen, a 182-yard par three also devilishly designed by MacKenzie with bunkers all around, I hit my knockdown driver onto the green. Unfortunately, it rolled just over the putting surface into a clump of high grass. From there I chipped on and watched helplessly as the ball picked up speed on the downslope and rolled some twenty yards into a valley. My next chip was just short and came right back to me. Miraculously, I holed my third chip for a bogey. The round ended with both of us shooting in the low eighties, having gotten a few birds along with our double bogeys. We could walk all day!

The next five minutes saw us stop at our car to grab bottles of water and fistfuls of cookies. I changed socks, traded my windbreaker for a sleeveless version and headed back to the first tee. I was one-up on John, who noted he was "running out of holes."

Only fifty-four left.

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