MULLIGAN: The Prologue
The Tears of Maroochy
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I thought we would play golf together even when we were old men, until that early Spring at Coolum when it all fell apart.
At the start of that final round at the resplendent Hyatt Regency course, fashioned by that terrible poet but wonderful golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Junior, we were, unwittingly, three Gatsby’s standing at the first tee. We couldn’t know that by the 18th hole, our regular golfing days as a trio of hackers were over. That all the years of it - the pleasures, agonies and intimacies – would be snatched away from us like a sudden and inexplicable death from, say, the Grippe.
We did not know, as Nick Carraway had known of Gatsby, that “it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”
By the time Farquarson had pulled up his mismatched socks, gone through his annoying pre-drive preamble, and invariably shanked his sparkling new K-Mart Slazenger B51 ball  off the first tee and into the bushes, he was already being borne ceaselessly into the past.
The same too with The Dude, all six foot three of him, shirt collar turned up, shorts creaseless, and each club in his bag happily wearing its own individual woollen hat, except for that of his Big Bertha (or Dog, as he called it) which, on that morning, he unleashed on that opening fairway with his usual gusto. This was the way of The Dude. He murdered language by simply exhausting it with the pace of his speech. He murdered alcohol with his unceasing velocity. He murdered car tyres, speedboat motors, go-kart tracks. The Dude was permanent motion, and all of life, including us, hung off the tail of his comet. That early morning at the Hyatt, he cracked his Precept and it launched from the tee as a bullet would spin out of the muzzle of a Glock, and issued his traditional first-hole mantra, made famous at the US Masters by Freddy Couples. “Oh yeahhhhh, baby,” said The Dude, lovingly caressing the words.
I, too, had no inkling that this was the end of something. I took the tattered grip of my three iron (having been frightened off the drivers more than two years earlier, and still unable to return to them, as a jilted lover may never be able to go back to the restaurants, bars and park benches – the plain geography – of his shattered romance), and teed off happily.
Nothing seemed amiss. Farquarson was his jaunty, diminutive self, pulling his cart and raggedy tartan golf bag up the manicured first fairway. He was as he always was, Farquarson, at the beginning of a round. He fizzed like a child-shaken soft drink bottle with the notion that this would be his day, the day of a personal best, and even the shank could not dampen his ebullient spirit. I liked that about Farqhuarson; with each round, he was a born-again golfer, fresh from the egg.
The Dude was The Dude, striding ahead to his beautifully positioned Precept, as if Farquarson and me did not exist. That we were there, simply, to witness his golfing prowess, and to verify remarkable shot play that would become a personal narrative, later. (“Tell him, Farquarson. You saw that second to the green on the par five, didn’t you? Tell him.”) We were The Dude’s Boswells.
But this day at Coolum, on the course which its father Mr Jones described as “not designed to punish champions, just to find out who they are”, it may have served us well to brush up on the history of the imposing Mount Coolum, at the base of which nestled Mr Jones’ cosy fairways and greens.
It would watch over us, intermittently, throughout the entire round, peering over stands of paperbark trees, or peeking at us around eucalypt forests, its bald, pitted, volcanic hulk, or parts of it thereof, always in sight.
Here in the Maroochy Shire, Maroochy, it turned out, was in Aboriginal legend a beautiful young woman who was stolen from her fiancé Coolum by one Ninderry. Coolum showed great courage and rescued his bride to be, but was pursued by Ninderry who threw a boomerang and decapitated his rival.
The head rolled into the sea, and became Mudjimba Island. The torso is represented by Mount Coolum. Poor Maroochy retreated inland and cried so much her tears became the Maroochy River.
So there was blood in the soil, and death, and great sorrow, beneath Mr Jones’ architecture. There was nothing that might provide us refuge. Not even Mr Jones’ spectacularly puerile epic ballads. (My particular favourite is a stanza from his 146-line poem Thanksgiving, which goes: “Our mother sang us so deep / We loved each other to sleep / U la u la la / Oh oh oh ah ahaaa.”)
On that first fairway, the entire round was set from our tee shots, just as in life we contain our patterns of DNA. The Dude opened beautifully, his game yet to be infected with yips, thoughts of greatness, and the notion that he could hit the longest drive in recorded history. This would come later. If the Coolum course was designed to derail anybody, it was The Dude, trying as Mr Jones attested to tickle the champion out of him. The Champion in The Dude was always almost there, like the tingling you feel before a sneeze.
Farqhuarson was already tail-up in an undergrowth of elephant ears, on his way to his traditional self-combustion on or around the 11th hole. He had not had time, thus far, to initiate his innumerable mulligans, the mulligans we never saw or would see. We always gave him at least two, but knew there were many of what we liked to call Farqhuarson’s “mulligan’s that dare not speak their name”. Namely, the invisible strokes that he masterfully embedded in his round. He was a mulligan magician.
I was rusty, but agreeably so, and always on the catch-up without the length of the woods of which I had grown fearful. (For a while, during my divorce from the The Woods, it was The Dude’s running joke that I could complete any round of hours with just a three iron and a putter. He was right, of course, but you never let The Dude know he was right. If you let The Dude know he was right, it released something within him, a flood of self-satisfaction. Funnily, it had a sound to me – the popping of a boy’s swollen finger from a dyke.)
But on that day, a second shot with my beloved three-iron came off the blade with that lovely, deep reverberation that happens so rarely when the club kisses the ball’s sweet spot, and flew towards the green.
“Shottttttt, Matty,” said The Dude, which was as good as a handshake from the Pope, and The Dude proceeded to lob his ball on the green with grace and ease.
Farqhuarson continued to forage like a bush turkey. “Fark, fark, fark,” said he, scratching amongst those lush green ears.
It was as it had always been. But Maroochy was weeping, and on that last day we simply did not hear her.
 Firstly, a footnote on the footnotes. They are the “mulligans” of literature, the opportunity for a free swing, a second chance, so they shall be employed forthwith. Secondly, having read The Great Gatsby more than two dozen times, it has only occurred to me now that by citing those rolling “dark fields of the republic”, Carraway may have been referring here to a golf course.
 It is perennially exciting – well, sort of - to witness what Farqhuarson pulls out of his ball bag. He is, by definition, a “scrounger”, a by-product of his substantial Scottish genes. He will happily delay play to wade into an artificial lake in search of a ball. Thus, his ball bag is a lucky dip of other hackers’ discards complete with company logos and personal flourishes. He once pulled out a 1940s Dunlop Federal, studied it with the care of a jeweller, breathed good luck on it, and teed away.
 Interestingly, in The Great Gatsby, Carraway’s love interest, Jordan Baker, is a professional golfer. In one scene in the film starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, Jordan Baker, played by the wonderful Lois Chiles, dislodges a ball half-buried in a sand trap. In the novel, she has a reputation for cheating: “At her first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers—a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal—then died away. A caddy retracted his statement, and the only other witness admitted that he might have been mistaken.” Jordan Baker, although sartorially more elegant, bears many similarities with Farqhuarson, as we shall soon see.
 Our poet, Jones Jr, was once quoted in an interview as saying: ``Both Bush (George W.) and his father like to play a fast round. Clinton likes his mulligans.'' It makes sense that Clinton would like “his mulligans”., just as he has liked cigars and women, for he is a man who loves life, and as the three of us often said – there’s life, and then there’s golf. I have always found it impossible to liken Clinton with Farqhuarson, another mulligan lover. The only genuinely amusing and self-admitted presidential hacker has been Gerald Ford, who once said: “I would like to deny all allegations by Bob Hope that during my last game of golf, I hit an eagle, a birdie, an elk and a moose.” Not side-splitting, but it beats the poetry of Robert Trent Jones Jr for brevity and pith.