Wednesday, January 04, 2006

THE INIMITABLE FARCQHUARSON

“A great deal of unnecessarily bad golf is played in this world.” – Harry Vardon, English golfer (1870-1937).



SUMMER, to me, means not acres of freckled beach flesh, the stupefying spectacle of Test cricket, or the sorry sight of leftover Yuletide glace fruits sweating it out in their tray, but my annual game of golf with my friend Farcquarson.

I love playing golf with Farcquarson. Not just because he has never beaten me, but that in the space of 18-holes he can produce golf of such spectacular, eye-popping awfulness that the stories can be dined out on for years.

There was the time when Farcquarson required an urgent lavatory stop mid-round on Ladies’ Day… but that’s another story.

Then there’s his golfing apparel. When the American columnist Roger Simon wrote, “The reason most people play golf is to wear clothes they would not be caught dead in otherwise,” he had Farcquarson in mind. My golf buddy is one of those men you see occasionally in university corridors or on quiz shows who is partial to an obscenely bright bow tie when the mood suits.

That Farcquarson once sported a genuine handlebar moustache that he shaped and sharpened with imported Clubman Pinaud wax probably tells you all you need to know about him. (Walking with him once in a city street, a child stopped in front of him, pointed at the abominable facial growth, and loudly exclaimed: “Stick!”)

It is not unusual, then, to see him turn up at a golf course rigged out in pantaloon-style plus fours with polka dot socks and a silk shirt that would not look out of place on the back of a jockey.

My mother has described Farcquarson as a Human Christmas Cracker. If you pulled at him from both ends, you never know what surprise might explode from within. I have never had a desire to pull at both ends of Farcquarson, or any end for that matter, but I know what she means.

What I do know is that Farcquarson is a dedicated recreational golfer, or hacker, as I am, and that he brings his enormous passion for life to our annual game. It is why we meet religiously each summer. And besides, it’s strangely enjoyable saying “Farcquarson” for a whole day.

We were once regular golfers when we both lived in Sydney, and as golfers we had many things in common. We had both started playing the game in our early teens, experienced a long, golf-less void in the middle, and returned to it more than a quarter of a century later with blissful ignorance and calcified skills. Golf is not a game you just pick up when you feel inclined.

That great golf writer P.G.Wodehouse also knew this, as he wrote in his novel A Mixed Threesome: “Golf, like the measles, should be caught young, for, if postponed to riper years, the results may be serious. “

In Brisbane in the 1960s and early 70s, our family lived in a then newish suburb curiously called The Gap.

We lived off Payne Road. This seemed appropriate at the time, for a doctor lived at the top of it, and there was a golf course at the bottom. This was the Ashgrove Golf Club, a hilly, heavily treed and beautiful little course that spread like a rash across the toe of one of the hills that formed one half of The Gap.

Some of my earliest memories are of my father returning from the club on a Friday night, or after a round on Saturday, his neck pink after a sunny eighteen holes, and bringing back golf-related stories just as he brought back grass-stained golf balls and wooden tees in his royal blue imitation leather golf bag.

From our front veranda you could see - down the hill, through the crowns of gum trees and stands of whiskery bamboo - a few of the early holes of that golf course. I remember watching groups of players, small as coloured ants, inching over that manicured landscape, and always wondering – is that Dad?

What he brought home after a round, in those early years, were countless golfing yarns, and anecdotes about human nature, that have stayed with me all my life and were, in a way, as powerful as nursery rhymes.

Golf is a cradle of suburban myths and legends, and to this day I can still see clearly in my mind, as my father had told me, the old man that dropped dead on the 17th or 18th green at Ashgrove, and one of the members’ vehicles left in the nearby car park without its handbrake on one Friday evening which plunged into the course’s little creek, and the tale of an enraged wife who, tired of the number of hours her husband clocked up at the club, set fire to his golf bag on their front lawn.

I have always had a lifelong tradition, too, of inheriting my father’s old clubs whenever he moved on to a new set.

Now, I would never consider buying a new set of golf clubs for myself, for it would break a custom that I cherish. Being bestowed my father’s old clubs connects me to him in essential and poignant ways. I can pull a club from the bag with its worn rubber grip and know that my father’s hands have been responsible for the wear and tear. I can study the little chips and scratches on the club heads and wonder what trouble he had found himself in, and how he had gotten out of it.

Often, in the bag, I can find pencil nubs and forgotten tees, and all of it is a part of a small map of my father.

Farcquarson, on the other hand, is not a difficult map to read. With him, what you see is what you get, and taking into account the lucky dip that is Farcquarson, it could be anything from a moustache that belonged beneath the nose of Lord Kitchener to a shirt covered in lime green hibiscus as big as trumpets.

That easy-going quality is, however, imperative for an enjoyable game of golf, and is the Araldite between us as golfers, even though we are older now and live in different States and lead different lives.

What a game it is, to offer this platform to two friends. A game so riddled with history and lore, as is life. Everyone who plays it is somehow loosely connected to the great, sprawling family tree of golf that has its roots on the east coast of Scotland where it all began more than five centuries ago.

And how romantic and sentimental golf can make you.

I have only recently learned that in the 15th Century golf was often pronounced “gowf”. I must tell Farcquarson when he arrives this year because, funnily, it’s exactly the way we both pronounce the word after several beers at the 19th hole.

A game of gowf with Farcquarson. Breaking 100 strokes for the round. An ale on the club verandah and instantly mythologizing the game just played.

Now that’s a Queensland summer.

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