THIS IS A STORY ABOUT GOLF…BUT IT’S REALLY A STORY ABOUT GROWING UP.
DEDICATED TO ALL THE CADDIES AND ALL THE GOLF KIDS AND ALL THE CLUB PROS…
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE…AND ESPECIALLY TO:
PATRICK STOLTZ, PGA PROFESSIONAL
The Early Years
I started playing golf when I was 10 years old. My father had just died and I was wandering around a lost soul so the neighbors across the street grabbed me up and took me to the golf course.
They were members at one of the nicer clubs in NE Ohio, Pine Ridge Country Club. I tagged along carrying a light Sunday bag with borrowed clubs, hit a few shots here and there and that was the start. The neighbors talked to the caddy master…when I reached 12 years old I was old enough to caddy…it was 1955. Arnold Palmer, U.S. Coast Guard, when he was stationed in Cleveland circa 1954.
Pine Ridge CC was where Arnold Palmer played a lot of his amateur golf when he was serving at the US Coast Guard Station, Lake Erie, in Cleveland in the 1950s. Palmer’s early money backers were Pine Ridge members: Art Brooks, Bill Wehnes, club pro Laurie Purola and others …Arnie played a lot of money games and “customer golf” at Pine Ridge. Being the new caddy kid, too scrawny and way too young, I never got in on the Palmer action at Pine Ridge…our paths would cross later on.
The clubhouse at Pine Ridge CC, Wickliffe, Ohio. It looks the same today as it did when I started caddying there in 1955.
The caddy master at Pine Ridge was Rocco Stillisanno, Rocky or “The Rock”…a short, stocky little guy, he had a gravelly voice and a gruff personality and basically ignored me. He barely knew my name, calling me “Sandy” half the time.
One of Rocky’s “side jobs”was selling golf balls. His rule was any balls us caddies found on the course we had to turn over to him. In other words, those were Rocky’s golf balls.
“You caddies…anything you find is mine…hand them over when you come in and don’t forget to clean those clubs.”
Translation: do what I tell you and I will give you the good loops. Piss me off and you are in the doghouse! Rocky would even frisk us for balls when we came in. We hid them in our socks but he got wise and checked down there. Eventually we go too smart for old Rock…we stuffed the two or three best golf balls in our underwear…we knew he wasn’t going there! Or we would stash them on the course and pick them up on our way home. After all, new Titleist DTs, Spalding Dots and Red Maxflis were worth 50 cents each!
Being new and young I was last on the totem pole for loops. The older, more experienced caddies got the better players and the better tippers. Most of the time I was the last kid to get picked and got the worst players and all the cheapskates. I would kill time playing “kick golf” in the caddy yard. We had an old, hacked up golf ball and dug holes here and there. We would kick-putt with the side of our tennis shoes and bet nickels or dimes or Moon-Pies or Nip-Chee Crackers. I got pretty good at it.
Monday was our big day…it was Caddy Day! The caddies got to play “real golf”. We got out early and stayed late. We would imitate the better members’ swings and try not to swing like the hackers. One of the Pine Ridge members was Severino P. Severino, a medical writer for the Cleveland Press daily newspaper, five handicap and a friend of our family. ”Sevy” gave me my first real set of clubs; Kroydon irons, a Macgregor 3 wood and a hickory shaft Rob Roy putter…I was ready!
On caddy day, I learned how to do two things…play fast and gamble. We played fast because we only had one day a week to play and we were going to play as many holes as we could. There were many Mondays we played 54 holes…daylight to dark…walking up and down the hilly course carrying our bags. This was before gas or electric golf carts; and pull carts were for sissies.
To this day I have no trouble walking just about anywhere.
Some of the scenes from the movie Caddyshack were not too far from the truth!
We would bet on everything…every shot, every putt, low score, double on birdies, skipping balls across the lake…you get the picture. I liked golf and, even though it was hard work, I enjoyed caddying. It took me away from my troubles and gave me something to do. I laid out a little 9 hole pitch/chip course in our yard. My goal was to beat 18 strokes for nine holes…a two on every hole and an ace every now and then. For a twelve year old kid, I got pretty good at it. To this day those short shots just come natural to me.
MOVIN’ ON UP
When I turned thirteen, somebody told me about a better place to caddy…bigger than Pine Ridge, nicer golf course, 450 members, better caddy program, better pay. I made the move to Acacia Country Club, corner of Richmond and Cedar Rds., Lyndhurst, Ohio. In the 1950s, Acacia was booming. An old, classic Donald Ross layout built in 1921, it was steep hills for the first five holes, then it mellowed out to a flatter layout. They had an organized caddy program headed by a school teacher caddy master by the name of Dave Paulas.
Dave was the opposite of Rocky…he was fair, honest…and above all, he was not racist. He couldn’t afford to be. At Acacia we had over 100 caddies…about half black and half white. The white kids all came from the “ burbs”…Cleveland Heights, Lyndhurst, Mayfield, etc. The black kids came from “downtown”…Woodland, Kinsman, Wade Park.
At Acacia, black and white was equal. Rufus, Mr. Boone (four-leaf clover champ), the Chinchar brothers (twins), J. (for James)Wright, C. (for Clarence) Wright, Bobby Dunn, Ephriam Dunn, Jessie, Leon Burris, Paxton (Golden Gloves boxer), Doug Landgraf, Steve Haic, Eddie Stankus…we all caddied together, played on Mondays together and gambled together. The three popular gambling games were pitching pennies, shooting dice or playing Tonk (five card rummy), with a few knife games like mumbly-peg thrown in. I wasn’t very good at dice or Tonk but I held my own pitching pennies…a “leaner” paid double!
When you shot dice with Clarence Wright, Paxton and the boys you learned a new language…”skip a crap” meant don’t throw snake eyes (two) or boxcars (12) when trying to make a point. “Seesix and waterbound” meant you were trying to make a six. “Little Joe from Kokomo” was a four…”Big Ben” was a ten. There were many days when I caddied all day carrying doubles for two loops (36 holes) making twelve dollars for my efforts, then went downstairs and shot dice to lose it all in ten minutes and hitchhiked home broke. You learn a lot as a caddy!
It was at Acacia that I learned the color of your skin didn’t have much to do with what kind of person you were. I worked my way up the caddy ranks as a skinny teenager. It’s amazing but I can still remember names and faces after all these years.
I didn’t realize it at the time but my Acacia years would become one of the most meaningful periods of my life.
One thing Dave the caddy master was serious about was Ladies Day. Every Tuesday the ladies got together for golf. Actually, it was mostly a fashion show featuring lots of chit-chat with a little golf mixed in. Most of the caddies hated Ladies Day because most of the gals were terrible golfers and didn’t tip. I didn’t mind it. It was pretty easy duty…just hand her the driver for the tee shot, then 3 wood, 3 wood, 5 wood, pitching wedge, putter and on to the next hole.
They couldn’t hit it far enough to get in much trouble…just dribble, dribble, dribble…down the fairway till we got to the green!
The ladies spoke a special language: “peek-a-boo” when they topped a shot…”oooh pretty one” when they hit a nice shot, mixed in with an occasional “Geez Louise”. Most of them did a little “squat” move before they hit because they took lessons and the pro told them to bend at the knees.
But the real reason I liked Ladies Day was because of Mrs. Donald Volk.
She was a dark haired beauty…about 5’5” with jet black hair, sun-tanned skin and a body that any hot-blooded teenage boy would admire. Elizabeth Taylor in golf shoes. She wore tight golf shorts with a blouse that she kept open at least four buttons down exposing her ample, generous breasts that seemed like works of art to me. When she addressed the ball she would squeeze those beauties together forming cleavage that made me squirm, then she took the club back real slow and came down on the ball with a soft grunt. Her perfume had the faint smell of lilacs. I was in heaven. Mrs. Donald Volk liked me. Every Tuesday she would request me…ask the caddy master if she could “have” me.
Of course he said yes…and of course I never missed a Ladies Day.
You saw a lot and learned a lot as a caddy. On Thursdays a group of men would have a money game in the afternoon. They would roll into the club for lunch and the word would go out if there was going to be a game. The caddy master would give us the word to “stick around, there’s a game today”. Each member had his favorite caddy. My guy was John Skinner. Big John liked me. He was a good player with a funky swing. He had kind of a wristy, flip move. He hit a lot of hooks. He also won a lot of money. I still remember the other guys in the game like it was yesterday…Ted Weager, Gene Flagstad with the big red and black leather golf bag, Al Golaba (he smoked rum-soaked crook cigars)…Marty White with the short backswing and the custom made Kenneth Smith golf clubs (“Hand Made In Kansas City”), Paul and Fritz Heiser (the brother act), Bill Heckman with his Spalding Top Flite Tournament irons. These guys would eat lunch at the club, have a few martinis and tee it up after they got “the edges all smoothed out”. The games were fun for us caddies…if our guy won some dough we got a nice tip.
Almost as much fun as Mrs. Donald Volk but not quite!
There are always going to be cheaters…in golf and in life. I pretty much saw every form of cheating while I was a caddy…in cards, in dice and on the golf course. Golf does funny things to people. I’ve seen grown men stoop so low I didn’t know whether to laugh or get sick. Lying about their scores…fluffing the ball in the rough…making bad drops…fudging their ball marker on the green…kicking the ball in bounds…illegally improving their lie…falsifying score cards…the whole works. And it might surprise you to learn that even certain tour pros would not hesitate to cheat if they thought they could get away with it.
During my caddy days, it was well known that one very famous “Major” winner was known to cheat…more than once. His favorite trick was if he had a bad lie in the rough with grass behind the ball, he would pull a three wood…sole the club behind the ball to press down the grass…the replace the three wood with the seven iron that the 160 yard shot called for!
Today, when I play casual golf or even tournament golf and I see a cheater it makes me sick to my stomach. It says a lot about the kind of person they really are.
A CLOSE CALL
Caddying could be unpredictable…I saw broken clubs, tirades, tantrums, meltdowns…one day a guy got so enraged he grabbed his bag and threw the whole thing in the lake! The weather in the Midwest could be wild. One day my pal Leon Burris and I were carrying double 18 for a foursome of Acacia members. The weather started to roll in on the back nine…it got darker and darker…the temperature started dropping…thunder, lightning, rain in the distance and closing fast…we got to the eighteenth tee and there was a rain shelter. The members decided not to stop and tried to play in.
They all hit their drives.
The eighteenth hole at Acacia was a straightaway par four back to the clubhouse with thick woods on the left. After everybody hit, I took the lead and started booking it down the fairway at warp speed with Leon and the members in hot pursuit. I was humping it as fast as my skinny legs would carry me…thunder and lightning was crashing all around us. I could see the clubhouse in the distance and all of a sudden KABOOM!
I heard a crash and a clatter and I turned around. There was Leon laying on the ground in the fairway. Both golf bags were laying there next to him with clubs scattered everywhere. The members were bent over Leon poking and jabbing him. I dropped my bags and ran over to Leon. He looked pale as a ghost which was hard to do for Leon since he was black as the ace of spades.
“Leon, Leon…are you OK?”…he stirred a little and staggered to his feet.
“Man, I think you got hit by lightning!”
“Really? Oh man…let’s get the hell outta here.”
And so we did…we made it in ok.
That was a close call with lightning I never want to have again.
The 18th hole at Acacia CC headed back to the clubhouse (they play it as the 9th hole today). This is pretty close to the spot where Leon got knocked down by lightning. The woods is off to the left out of the picture. This is one of the last photos taken of this hole before the course will be shut down to make way for a park
THE PGA TOUR
I worked my way up the caddy ladder…from “B” caddy (blue caddy cards) to “A” caddy (yellow caddy cards). “A” caddy rates were $2.50 for 18 holes, single bag…$4.00 for double 18 (two bags). We handed the card to the member at the end of the round and they signed it and turned it in…there were rating boxes on the card for the member to check: Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor. Points were totaled up and the caddy rankings were posted on a bulletin board in the caddy yard each week. By the time I was 16 I had reached the Top Ten on the “A” caddy list.
I was ready for the big time.
Every year the PGA Tour would come through NE Ohio. The area was a hot-bed for golf, boasting some of the best courses and top players in the US. Arnold Palmer cut his amateur teeth there…Jack Nicklaus from down the road in Columbus was a regular…Tom Weiskopf was a local…Mark McCormack lived there and played in all the amateur tournaments before he got rich starting IMG and signing Arnold Palmer. IMG bascially invented the concept of big-money sports endorsement advertising deals.
We had courses like Acacia, Pine Ridge, Canterbury, Manakiki, Aurora, Shaker, Mayfield, Pepper Pike, Beechmont, Oakwood, The Country Club, Hawthorne Valley, Chagrin Valley, Kirtland… not to mention Firestone in Akron and Inverness in Toledo.
The Big Three on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and 1970s…Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus. Palmer and Nicklaus are both holding cigarettes trying to hide them from the camera!
The Cleveland District Golf Assoc. composed a large group of local member clubs. Every year when the PGA Tour came through town, each club would send their five best caddies to the PGA Tour for the tournament. When the pros checked in, they would draw a name from the hat and that would be their caddy for the week. This was the late 1950s, before the money got big…before the pros had their own jets…before they had their own caddies. In 1959, Acacia Country Club sent me to caddy in the Carling Open on the PGA Tour.
I was 16 years old.
When I checked in to the caddy station at Seneca CC for the Carling Open I found out who my pro was….big George Bayer…all six foot five, 250 pounds of him, had drawn my name. At the time, Bayer was the longest hitter in golf. He would routinely win the long drive contest held on Mondays on the PGA Tour, pounding it out there 305, 310, 325 yards using a wound golf ball and a persimmon-head driver. I was happy to have drawn a “name” pro. All the big names were there…Palmer, Billy Casper, Tommy Bolt, Julius Boros, Dow Finsterwald.
Some of my fellow caddies were not so lucky…my buddy Sal Forlani drew an amateur, Wade Wettlaufer…another drew Frank Stranahan who all the caddies hated.
Stranahan was an odd duck. Coming from big money, he really didn’t need to play golf for a living. His family owned the Champion Spark Plug Co. out of Toledo and he was loaded. He fancied himself as a ladies man and all-around stud. He wore silk shirts with several buttons undone showing off his chest hairs. He was a body builder and strutted around flexing his muscles in front of anyone who would look. He was vain and he was difficult. He was miserable to caddy for. You couldn’t hand him a club…you had to set the bag down and allow him to select it! You had to walk on eggshells for fear you would do something to piss off Stranahan.
A kid named Chuck C. was caddying for Stranahan. Chuck caddied at Oakwood CC in Cleveland Hts…most of the caddies at Oakwood came from the Murray Hill “Little Italy” neighborhood of Cleveland…nice kids, but don’t push them around.
During the Wednesday practice round Chuck had about enough of Mr. Stranahan and his shit show…he waited until they were way out on the course, then he dropped the bag and left it lay.
“That’s it, I’m done…carry your own bag you piece of garbage”…and he walked off the course. Stranahan was dumfounded. Needless to say all of the caddies got a big laugh and Chuckie was our hero!
Me and Sal Forlani at Golden Gate Country Club in Naples, Fl…thirty years after we caddied together in the Carling Open on the PGA Tour in 1959. Sal’s big brother, Danny, was the lesson pro at La Costa CC in Carlsbad, Ca. for over 30 years!
Bayer was pretty easy to caddy for but he hit it so fricking far I had to keep a close eye on the ball! He would hand me two sleeves of Macgregor Tourney balls at the beginning of the round, instructing me to give him a new ball every three holes. He would mash the ball so hard it had a flat spot! I threw the used balls in the shag bag. In fact, come to think about it, Bayer only said two things to me the entire week: “”how far we got?” and “gimme a new ball”. Bayer’s best friends on Tour were Julius Boros and his brother, Ernie.
When he was around the Boros brothers, he even smiled a little bit!
Me caddying for big George Bayer on the PGA Tour in 1959.
Wish I still had that caddy badge!
The second round of the Carling we were paired with Paul Harney. Harney was a skinny little guy from Massachusetts who had dark hair with a weird gray streak right up the middle. He hit it a ton. On some holes he was out there near Bayer. We’re going along and all of a sudden Harney is making everything…ten footers, twenty footers, thirty footers. On the back nine I ask his caddy, “what’s your guy shooting?” He says, “he’s eight under!” Paul Harney ends up shooting 63 that day to take the lead in the tournament. To this day, it is the lowest round I ever saw…and I was right there next to it on every hole.
Arnold Palmer clowning around with Paul Harney
Dow Finsterwald won the tournament but I had a good week with George Bayer. We were paired with some decent pros that week: Harney, Julius Boros, Charlie Sifford, Billy Maxwell, Joe Campbell. Bayer made the cut but finished well down the money list and cashed a small check (plus his Long Drive prize money). I got paid $65 for the week…two practice rounds and four tournament rounds. I was flush! Charlie Sifford
FIRESTONE…A MAJOR STEP
The following year, in July, 1960, The PGA Championship was coming to Northeast Ohio. It was being held at a course well known by the pros and the public alike…The South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. It was the second Major of the year and the hottest pro in America was gonna win it…Arnold Palmer.
Arnie had won the Masters in April finishing 3,3,3 on the final three holes and was fresh off his dramatic U.S Open win at Cherry Hills in Denver, firing 65 on the last day to come charging home from seven strokes back to take the title. All the talk was all about Palmer and The Grand Slam. Arnie’s Army was in full combat mode.
One day in June at Acacia, Dave the caddy master gave me the good news: “Randy Brown, we’re sending you to Firestone”.
Wow..I will be caddying in a Major Championship at Firestone Country Club, with Hogan and Snead and Palmer, National TV, huge galleries…this was the big time.
I was seventeen years old.
A bunch of us caddies were staying at the Akron YMCA…plush! I got to the golf course to check in and find out who my pro was…Arnold Palmer?… nah, Arnie was a big star and had his own, personal caddy by now. Sam Snead?…hope not, Snead was cheap and a prick, none of the caddies wanted Snead. Hogan?…he was 47 years old and still hit it better than anybody…maybe Casper?…Doug Sanders?…Tommy Bolt?…all the caddies liked Bolt. Last year at the Carling, Tommy broke his seven iron in a practice round and gave the entire set to his caddy! And my old buddy George Bayer was also in the field. At the check-in table they handed me my pro’s name: Bob Frainey from Glen Oaks, NY.
Every year the PGA Championship reserves several spots for club pros. It is a tradition that holds true to this day. It is the PGA’s way of thanking all the hard working club pros that are in the pro shop and on the lesson tee every day putting in long hours. They hold sectional qualifiers all over the country and the top scores get to play in the PGA Championship. Bob Frainey was a pleasant young pro with a decent game. We played two practice rounds and the first two rounds of the Championship. We were paired with other club pros, none of the big names.
He shot 79-76 to miss the cut by four shots.
I remember the South Course being in immaculate condition that week. The grounds crew mowed the the tee boxes down to green speed and cut holes in the back of the teeing area so that the pros could practice putt during the practice rounds if they had to wait on the tee! I also remember some big time moaning and whining, most notably from Sam Snead, over the 16th hole. The pros thought the green was to shallow and too small for a long par five…plus at 625 yards they could not reach it in two shots! It was then and remains today, one of the most famous holes in golf.
The galleries that week were huge, with most of the people following Arnold Palmer…as usual, he drew the biggest crowds.
I got paid and was ready to head home. It was late Friday and I needed to catch a ride. I glanced over at the huge practice area down below the first tee at Firestone. It was around 5PM…cocktail hour…the golf was over for the day. There was one lone figure down there hitting balls.
It was Ben Hogan.
I thought, dang, there’s Hogan down there all by himself. I walked down the hill and sat down on the ground behind and a little to the side of Hogan. He was hitting long irons off the hard pan. Every iron was flush, crisp, on the button. His caddy barely moved out there shagging balls. Hogan glanced over at me…I still wore my caddy bib so I was allowed inside the ropes. He paid me no never mind…just went back to his business…the golf ball hissed like a snake when it left his clubface …time after time after time. I will never forget it as long as I live.
He had made the cut in a Major Championship at 47 years of age.
Looking back from the behind shallow green toward the fairway on the famous 16th hole at Firestone CC. Across the pond to the left in the trees is where Arnold Palmer met his doom when he hit it into the ditch during the third round of the 1960 PGA Championship
Arnold Palmer didn’t win that PGA that year…Jay Hebert did, and took home the $11,000 first prize money (in 2013, Jason Dufner took home $1,445,000 first prize money for winning the PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC in Rochester, NY).
Firestone’s famous 16th hole, the 625 yard long “Monster” did in Arnie on day three when he hit it in the ditch on the right and made a triple to shoot 75.
It was a fun week for me. I got to see the best golfers in the world close up… got to caddy in a Major Championship on a world famous golf course and came face-to-face with Ben Hogan.
How good is that?
Arnie was nice enough to sign this for me
The summer of 1960 was a crossroads year for golf. Ben Hogan was on his way out, Arnold Palmer was at the peak of his powers, Jack Nicklaus was just getting warmed up.
And I was right there in the middle of it all.
PLAYING THE GAME
Tom Weiskopf as he looked in the early 1960s.
As I moved up the caddy ladder at Acacia Country Club…I also worked on my game a little. At the club, the caddies weren’t allowed to use the driving range but the pro, Jack Hubbard, let me sneak on there if nobody was around. He would give us kids a few tips and turn us loose. Acacia had a caddy team and on Mondays we would play caddy teams from the other clubs. That was how I met Tom Weiskopf.
Weiskopf caddied at Hawthorne Valley CC. one of the all Jewish clubs in NE Ohio. He was a hot stick in high school…6’2” with a long, fluid swing and a hot temper to go with it. Truth is, he was kind of a spoiled brat. But he could play and he trounced me pretty good. Funny thing is, even though Weiskopf was a good high school player there were other kids that were better. Shaker Hts. had Grant Kloppman and Earl Weiss and lots of other kids could really play. I managed to keep my homemade caddy swing under control for the most part, hitting low, running hooks, keeping it fairly straight, chipping and putting to bail me out. Of all the golf trophies I own, my favorite by far is my Second Place trophy I won on Acacia Caddy Day Championship, 1960.
I got nipped by a stroke by Leroy Johnson!
My last year in high school we had a good team…Metro League Champs! We never lost a match and place third in the District. Hey, we were good! My team mate George “Butch” Martin stayed with his game and went on to have a top amateur career, winning several big state tournaments.
My high school golf team…check out the black & white kicks…stylin!
My golf trophies from Ohio, Florida, California and Montana
After high school and my caddy days were over, I pretty much left golf behind for other pursuits. Not long after my final year of caddying, gas and electric carts came in and made my job obsolete. My brother was caddying at Acacia when the pro, Bernie Haas, broke the news…”you guys can go home, we don’t need you anymore”.
Caddy programs at golf courses all over the country disappeared. I became a walking dinosaur. I actually gave up golf for 15 years!
THE END OF AN ERA
View approaching the 4th hole (#13 today) at Acacia, one of the most dramatic holes you could want.. This is probably the last photo taken of this hole before it disappears forever.
Those long-ago summer days of my teens…a time in my life I naively thought would never end and would always be there…are gone forever.
The once 450 member strong Acacia Country Club…a place that brought so much happiness and adventure to so many…will be plowed under this year to make way for a park with walking and bike trails. Membership dwindled through the years…the old country club life style fell out of favor…golf became too time consuming, too expensive, too difficult for the “Gen Xers”. Acacia was finished.
The old #2 hole at Acacia CC…one of the best par threes ever…205 yards over a ravine to a large, steep green. I was caddying one day and replaced the pin after the members putted out…as I was walking off the green I heard a thump and a yell from the group behind me. I turned around to see the ball go in for a hole-in-one! This fine hole will disappear forever after this year when Acacia shuts down.
The third hole at Acacia (#12 today)…a wonderful short par four, 321 yards with a tiny elevated green surrounded by bunkers…Donald Ross at his best. Up to the right on the knoll near the cart path in that grove of trees is where we used to forecaddy, waiting for the members to hit their drives, hiding behind the trees, hoping not to get beaned! (of course, the cart paths weren’t there in those days). This is probably the last photo to be taken of this great hole before it vanishes into the landscape.
One of the last photographs to be taken of the old 16th hole, a par three of about 150 yards. I was caddying for Wally Stahl one day when he spun back a 9 iron into the hole for a one!
GONE WITH THE WIND
The Acacia clubhouse and pro shop are empty…only echoes of the past remain. The men’s and women’s locker rooms are abandoned…the chatter and laughter in the dining room and the tinkling of glasses in the grill room have gone silent.
The gin rummy tables are empty.
The caddy yard has long since vanished.
The concrete bunker where we shot dice and pitched pennies and played Tonk has cracked and crumbled.
Faced with bankruptcy, the remaining members sold the place to the city…or to an conservation group…or to a greenspace organization…or to somebody. Whoever bought it paid the members 14 million bucks. Almost 100 years of golf tradition and history wiped out for a price tag.
The old 10th fairway, where I shagged balls for Arnold Palmer when he gave a clinic for the members in 1960, will be overgrown with crab grass and weeds. The slick, fast, creeping bent greens, where the putts would roll true and smooth forever without a bump…where I tended hundreds, maybe thousands of pins…saw hole-in ones and triple bogeys…watched hundreds maybe thousands of golfers try their luck with Bulls Eyes and Cash-Ins, Otey Crismans and Macgregors…where I caddied for Masters Champion Herman Keiser and US Open Champion Billy Burke, long-hitting Wally Stahl and the unforgettable Mrs. Donald Volk…those beautiful Donald Ross greens will slowly disappear forever and dissolve into the landscape.
They will be overgrown and taken over by myrtle or forsythias or spireas or honeysuckles…maybe thistles, goldenrod or wild grape…they will become ghosts of the past.
The majestic oak and maple and beech and shagbark hickory trees will watch over the old place. The birds will be chirping and the squirrels will be scurrying. The long summer days will slowly turn into autumn…another season will pass.
A winter chill will fill the Ohio air…
The wind off Lake Erie will rise, then fall, then go silent…
The walkers and bike riders will never know the difference…
They will wind their way through the old golf course walking their Golden Retrievers and Black Labs…pedaling their mountain bikes…talking on their I-phones….checking their portfolios.
They will be oblivious.
I still play golf. It allows me go back and relive the best days I ever had. And I am still walking the hills.
But it will never be the same.
Update: 2014…from the Cleveland Plain Dealer…
Cleveland Metro Parks acquires Acacia Country Club.
According to Park officials, “the loose plan is to erase all traces of golf and turn the land back to a heavily forested state.”
ACACIA REDUX…JUNE 2014…AFTER THE FALL
I paid a visit to the old place…to see how the walking park thing was going. Entering the old club house was spooky…the large, cavernous building was empty, rooms were dark, my foot steps echoed. All the lights were out except for a dim one near the old dining room. Behind a counter near the old pro shop a short, bald guy in a suit and tie stuck his head up.
“May I help you?”
“Well, yeah…I spent every summer here over 50 years ago and just came back for a visit.”
“Well, yes, just help yourself to a walk…do you have any pets?”
“No…I’m alone. I think I can find my way…thanks”
I made my way to the first tee…the crab grass and dandelions were taking over. I made my way down to the old caddy yard…the concrete bunker was gone but the old basketball court was still there…cracked and craven.
The old number one tee where we started our days.
Our old basketball court in the caddy yard. The bunker where we played cards and shot dice is long gone.
I walked down the first fairway and on to number two…the green was overgrown with weeds and the bunker filling up with flowered cheat grass. The old number two green.
Number two bunker.
Over to number three…the old forecaddy spot would now make a good pasture to graze goats.
Our old forecaddy spot on hole number three.
Number three sand trap being “filled in”.
I walked down number four fairway, across the creek and up the hill to the green. A family of five was skipping down the path going the wrong way…a husband, wife, teenage girl and two tykes. Ahead of them tugging on long leashes as hard as they could came a non-descript mutt and a pit bull cross, huffing and puffing and giving me a growl as I passed.
Behind number four green looking back toward the fairway.
Side view of number 4 green.
I worked my way over to number ten tee where I shagged balls for Arnold Palmer over 50 years ago. Two picnic tables were set up where Arnie had thrilled the crowd.
I wandered over to behind number 18 green where so many rounds finished up…some winners, some losers…all headed for the grill room, or the parking lot or a long hitch-hike home for us caddies.
The old swimming pool was gone…filled in and overgrown.
The pool is buried here in front of the old cabana.
The old poolside snack bar at Acacia CC.
I looked back up the eighteenth fairway. Way back in the woods…almost invisible with the passage of time, I saw it. It was still there. Rotting, caving and forgotten…the old rain shelter was still there. I walked through the trees…stopped… to take a picture. One click.
I felt powerless and weak-kneed.
The traffic out on Cedar Rd. buzzed by…the shoppers across the street at Beachwood Mall hustled and bustled. I hung my head…then lifted it to the blue Ohio sky.
Time to say goodbye forever.