Golfing With My Dad

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Summer’s a time for slowing down, kicking back, relaxing, and reminiscing. It’s for that reason, perhaps, I’ve been thinking a lot about summers past, and especially one of my favorite pastimes in summers past, golfing with my dad.

Though it’s been 19 years now since my dad died, the memories of our golf outings remain crystal clear.

They usually took place on Wednesdays, my regular day off from both of my parish assignments. And in the compulsive Tobin way of doing things, they quickly assumed a highly disciplined routine.

After morning Mass, breakfast, and a few errands around the parish I’d arrive home about 11:00. We had a quick lunch, then dad and I took off about 12:15 – every week. My mom didn’t mind getting us out of the house. It was quiet time for her and she had her own routine, especially as she prepared for dinner. If, however, we weren’t back by 4:00 there’d be lots of questions and worry. (“I thought something had happened!”)

We usually went to one of two public nine hole courses in the North Hills section of Pittsburgh – Green Valley or Franklin Park. Green Valley was a narrow little course arranged in such a way that on just about every hole you’d be driving into other golfers walking toward you. “Suicide alley” it was sometimes called. We didn’t go there very often.

Franklin Park was our home course. It was wide open and easy, not much more than a par three course. (Par was 32 I think.) No sand or water either. You could play that course, break 50 and feel pretty good about your game!

And dad and I needed all the help we could get. If you had a picture next to the word “hackers” in the dictionary it’d be us. But we had really good excuses for our ineptitude. We didn’t play very often after all. And I suspect that our clubs were deficient. My dad never did have a complete set, but just a starter set, and that with the brand name, “J.C. Higgins.” (Never heard of it? It was the Sears-Roebuck brand name for sporting goods. Since dad worked for Sears for almost 30 years, everything in our house came from Sears, except me I think.) My clubs weren’t much better, though I had a complete set with a mainline name. I still have and use a “J.C. Higgins” putter, by the way.

Despite the lack of championship caliber play, our games were as competitive as anything you’d find on the PGA tour. Winning meant bragging rights for a week. And we gambled big time, 10 cents a hole. If someone happened to win all nine holes, which I did a few times, we’d round it off to a dollar, though it pained my dad to do so.

The best days at Franklin Park were in the middle of summer, when it was ninety – “hazy, hot and humid” the weather reports said – and sane people stayed home, out of the sun and away from golf courses. On those days there were no crowds, and thankfully no twosomes or foursomes on the first tee watching us drive, muffling their giggles at the topped shots dribbling down the hill.

It was really nice when we had the whole course to ourselves. Though by that time of the year the fairways were dry and dusty, and the greens brown, it didn’t really matter. Undaunted we plodded up and down the hills of Franklin Park pulling our shaky golf carts (also from Sears) behind us. Life was good. I was with my dad and we were having fun.

I usually won our mini golf tournaments, and pocketed about 30 cents a week.

But not always. I remember at least one time that dad beat me. I handed over the dime reluctantly and pouted. He was so proud and happy it made me happy, though I didn’t admit it.

Then it was back home to repair to the front porch or back porch, whichever was in use that day, for a drink or two – gin and tonic for him, a martini or scotch for me – and some conversation between father and son while also describing our tournament to mom. After dinner it was a couple more hours of relaxing, visiting with neighbors, tracking the Pirates game on the radio, and listening to mom and dad read the newspaper to each other. They did that a lot. Then for me it was back to the rectory. In those days priests seldom had “overnights.” We always had to be at the Church for Mass the next morning.

After my dad passed away one of the hardest things I had to do was dispose of his golf clubs, a hand-me-down gift to one of my young nephews I think. The clubs weren’t worth much – a partial, old, worn set with that very funny name, “J.C. Higgins” – but they were priceless to me for the memories they inspired.

I don’t play golf very much anymore – a tight schedule and even tighter back conspire to make it difficult. And maybe that’s okay. Without my dad, golf isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be, though the memories of our time together still make me happy.

This column was previously published in the Rhode Island Catholic on July 26, 2007.