The Oldest Member
(A tribute to P.G. Wodehouse's "A Golf Omnibus")
by David Kirkpatrick
The Oldest Member sat on the terrace, well, rather he dozed on the terrace, and well, technically he wasn't a member because it was a municipal course. A quite nice muni, but no membership required. At any rate the Oldest Member dozed on a terrace just off the ninth green and was startled awake by the cleats of a young golfer clearly in some sort of distress.
"What's the matter old chap, if I may ask?" said the sage.
The youngster replied, "My game's all off."
"Have you been playing much lately?" the white whiskered one asked.
"Plenty. The problem is it's been mostly wii golf," answered the young man.
"Oui? Like the magazine?'
"No, no - wii, the videogame console from Nintendo. I play that darned thing all the time and it's totally put my real game right off. Couldn't hit a fairway wood, or chip, all day," said the troubled one.
"Ah yes," began the Oldest Member, "The brassie and niblick. I remember my playing days and both clubs gave me fits on occasion …"
"Huh?" said the youngster.
"And those Oui's. I can see how that could be distracting. Reminds me of old Finnegan McHoots and the burlesque queen.."
At this point the youngster, who actually wasn't all that young being well into his thirties - the Oldest Member considered anyone who didn't require the use of a cane and ear horn a youngster - remembered the Oldest Member was known for trapping unsuspecting casual golfers with long-winded stories about days gone past full of references to clubs no longer used and players long forgotten. He immediately began to rise and said, "Oh dear, I may be late for an important meeting …"
And with this the Oldest Member deftly snagged the man's arm with the crook of a cane held him in the adjacent chair and once again said, "Yep, reminds right on about the story of Finnegan McHoots and the burlesque queen."
Here the man knew he was trapped and the Oldest Member began his story …
You see (began the Oldest Member), old Finnegan was a scratch golfer and was coming off a narrow tournament loss to the great George Duncan and all the boys took him to a burlesque show to ease the pain. It was there he met Charlotte. I'll have to admit her sobriquet had a rhyming addendum, but I'll leave that to your imagination. As the night wore on this Charlotte captured every bit of McHoots attention and later his fancy. He even visited the very same show the following night and even one more evening. You could fairly say the boy was smitten beyond belief.
It just so happened his play against Duncan in that open tournament caught the eye of a tycoon of industry who, although he wasn't a bad golfer, was still a solid ten handicapper. To the delight of local scratch men, he thought of himself as more of the five and would wager a round with them taking only those five strokes. The scratch men worked it out amongst themselves to throw the odd game or two to keep the cigar-and-belly man interested and pooled the winnings evenly. Those who were forced to toss the round were chosen by drawing a short straw at a monthly business meeting and earnings disbursal.
Of course as a true golfer, Finnegan McHoots never deigned to join this group as it just would not do for an honorable man of the links to play less than his top game every time out. The other scratch men had approached him more than once hoping to draw some new blood into the racket, but McHoots just snorted and turned away every time.
McHoots problems arose because of the aforementioned Charlotte. Finnegan found himself in a tough way after the third trip to the specialty revue and really couldn't justify the monetary outlay to return once again. At the same time the siren's call beckoned to him day and night. He finally broke down and approached the group of scratch men to see what it was really all about. All he knew up to this point was all honorable golfers and men among men looked down on the entire operation. As a matter of fact, several threatened to expose the whole operation - I was amongst this group - but were gently dissuaded.
The group happily took McHoots' call and eagerly explained the process to him. "All it takes," they said, "Is we trade off playing the captain of industry around two rounds a week giving five stokes. We all play for the same figure and pool the winnings to be disbursed monthly. We also maintain a bank so each member has the wager on hand in the rare occurrence one of us takes a loss on the day. And of course the short man takes the losing wager from the bank."
McHoots asked about the losing wager and "short man." He knew rounds were thrown, but he didn't understand the whole game. The group further explained, "Well, we make the businessman's patsy a random act of drawing straws at the disbursal meeting. The scratch man with the short straw loses his round that month. If the tycoon wants extra rounds for some reason, we draw for two short men and the first is left out of that pool to avoid suspicion and so no reputations are too sullied by losing to this character."
Finnegan thought it over, didn't like the concept, but he did like the figure offered up at the monthly disbursal. With this game, he thought, he could keep things as they were and have this tidy little sum of additional money to help him dote on his Charlotte. Little did he know the true cost of his burlesque queen and abandoning his days as an honorable golfer and man on the links.
As it were, the night he met with the cabal of scratch men was the disbursal and straw-drawing night. He signed on with the group right then - with visions of Charlotte dancing in his head - and immediately drew the short straw. I don't know because I don't associate with the kind, but I've heard through various channels the gang conspired for McHoots to get the little reed.
At any rate, he drew the short straw and sighed. The group told him not to fret. They've all been there so he should, "Suck it up old chap." They also told him his first round with Vandersnatch, the tycoon, was the coming Tuesday at seven a.m. sharp at Marshy Maples, beginning on the front nine.
Now Finnegan's dreams were haunted by two goblins - visions of his Charlotte coupled with the dread and shame of his coming round, and loss, to Vandersnatch. He tossed and turned so much in the nights leading up to the match he feared he would lose outright from exhaustion alone. Of course as a golfer he kept up his daily 54 hole regime and proudly noticed he maintained his scratch game.
The fateful Tuesday arrived and McHoots was a good twenty minutes early to make sure he had time for the standard two scotches before his round began. At five 'til seven a large, but not fat, man with bountiful side whiskers and three caddies strode purposefully up to the first tee. "McHoots, I presume," said Vandersnatch with a booming voice that echoed in the early morning mist.
"Yes sir, Mr. Vandersnatch. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance," returned McHoots.
"Rot that Vandersnatch business my man. Call me Sidney, and I trust I may call you Finnegan? It is I who is pleased to make your acquaintance. I've been following your career for a good while and have long dreamt of this match."
"Sidney it is," croaked McHoots. "Funny you should mention that about the reveries of slumber. I've done some dreaming about this round as well."
With this the men tossed a coin for the honor and McHoots won. For the first three holes he couldn't contain his game and was playing one under. Vandersnatch, getting five over the entire eighteen was already up three. At this point Finnegan realized he didn't have any instructions on how to lose this match? Lose without the handicap added to Vandersnatch's score? He decided that wouldn't be possible, but he did begin to work to closely monitor the tycoon and make certain he was in the margin of losing after eighteen.
And then panic struck him. What if the old boy had say an eight on a three par? How could he make up that sort of difference without sticking out like a sore thumb. He also realized he neither sought, nor was given, any pointers on this whole game. Vandersnatch was a ten-handicapper - my heavens, thought McHoots - his game could be terrible and I have to match it stroke for stroke.
As fate would have it, the match did go as poorly as Finnegan feared it might. Vandersnatch fought the course mightily and ended up a solid twelve over. McHoots fought himself mightily and came in at ten over. Within the margin, but a scorecard that pained both heart and head.
The captain of industry didn't notice a thing, of course, and clapped Finnegan on the back over a glass of scotch and said, "Tough luck, old boy. I got you today, but I bet you come roaring back next time. Seems all scratch men have an off day here and there, but I never can get the best your whole lot."
With that the game was over. McHoots went home sick at heart. He hadn't shot a ten over since he began wearing plus fours on the links. He thought to himself, at least after the month of play is over I'll get my reward and go visit sweet, sweet, Charlotte. His dreams that night eased the pain a mighty bit and by the end of the month the game, Vandersnatch and his loss of honor was completely forgotten. After that horrid day he kept his card under par on every round of his customary 54 daily.
The night of the meeting of the scratch men cabal finally arrived, Finnegan eagerly went, collected his ill-begotten gains and drew a long straw this time. He rushed to the burlesque show to see his vision of beauty and grace, Charlotte. After the first hour there was neither hide nor hair of his angel. Finnegan finally went to the barman to enquire when she might appear. The barman looked confused until Finnegan provided a quick description of his beloved. It was then Finnegan's turn to be confused when the tender said, "Oh, that broad? She took off a couple of weeks ago and hasn't come back. Happens all the time around here buddy. You want another scotch?"
Finnegan went home broken-hearted. He had lost Charlotte and he had lost his golfing honor. He was a broken man. But he still had his game on the links, and it had been better than ever.
The next morning on the opening tee of his customary 54, McHoots teed up a four par, let rip with his driver and immediately sliced into a small group of trees. After getting out of that trouble with a niblick, he drew out his trusted brassie to get to the green. His swing topped the ball, which did a couple of little hops and landed about four feet closer to the pin.
The next hole went the same. And the next. And from that day forward poor Finnegan McHoots was never better than a ten-handicap man.