LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON HATED GOLF. Puredee hated it. Thought of it, not without reason in his era, as a rich man's game. Worse still, a Republican game. But Johnson wasn't one to let personal feelings get in the way when a fat cat needed cajoling or an esteemed senatorial colleague needed a little arm-twisting. So back when he was Senate majority leader, he might turn up on a golf course from time to time, if there was some business to do. Imagine an outsize Randy Quaid, only without Randy Quaid's game, walking slowly to the next tee, long arm draped around his partner's shoulder. Come, let us reason together.
So as not to embarrass himself, Johnson once even ventured out to the Austin Country Club to consult a young teaching pro named Harvey Penick. Decades later a friend of mine asked the revered golf philosopher what kind of swing his reluctant pupil had demonstrated. Mr. Penick, schooled never to say anything at all about a person if he couldn't say something good, just shook his head--sadly, emphatically, silently.
So it's a Texas-size irony that nobody did more to make it possible for his beloved Hill Country, the land of his birth, to become a modern-day golf mecca than Lyndon B. Johnson.
THE HILL COUNTRY LIES SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE of the state, bordered on the east by Austin, on the south by San Antonio, stretching west to the Frio River and north almost to San Saba, where Tommy Lee Jones has his ranch. As the song says, "[bum-bum-bum-bum] Deep in the heart / of Texas."
When nineteenth-century settlers, pushing west across the central-Texas plains, first set eyes on the Hill Country, they saw a land of staggering beauty: rolling hills covered with stirrup-high grass, punctuated by stands of live oak, everywhere threaded by streams. Those weary travelers must have thought they'd stumbled into paradise, a new Arcadia.