On golf

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Editor’s note: George Ostrom is still on the mend. He wanted you to read this piece from 1968...

My father-in-law, Bill Wilhelm, likes to golf, so once each year I borrow a set of clubs and play 10 or 20 holes with him. Last Friday was THE day for 1968. My brother-in-law from Billings made three. We got to the Whitefish course around 7:30, paid my green fees and teed off.

On the first hole, my tee shot went into some thick woods. I took a nine on the par 4 but was very happy because I found two extra balls and my father-in-law found one. As a result of childhood frustrations at never winning the annual Hog Heaven Easter Egg Hunt, I somehow derive far greater satisfaction from hunting for balls than I do from getting a low score. Probably a second reason for this is another childhood memory.

Back in 1934, when I was 6 years old, my family was temporarily living at Camas Prairie on the Flathead Indian Reservation and golf was not exactly the leading recreational activity during the Depression on the reservation. In fact, no one there could ever recall seeing somebody hit a golf ball.

Then it came to pass that an easterner visited one of the folks there at “the Prairie” and this dude not only was a golfer, but he actually had some clubs and balls with him. Most of this soon got around and it wasn’t long until public pressure mounted against this dude to stage a “golf ball hit.”

I can’t recall now if he sold tickets or not, but I do remember it was well attended. The place picked for “the hit” was near the Little Green Springs where the grasshoppers were doing some cleanup work on an alfalfa field recently mowed by 8 million Mormon crickets. Some folks got gussied up in their buryin’ clothes, but most of us just took a bath and put on clean overalls. There were lots of Indians there as well as all the white settlers who hadn’t quite starved out yet.

When you are seein’ or doin’ something for the first time, half the fun is the anticipation, so there was plenty of speculating and discussion going on as the crowd built up; and this dude played things to the hilt. He didn’t even show up until that crowd was almost crazy from expectation. You could hear all sorts of talk drifting among the wagons and old cars, “I hear some fellers hit them golf balls up to three quarters of a mile,”… “Betcha dollar he don’t hit it 200 feet,…” “You kids behave now. We came a long ways to see the man hit a golf ball and I don’t want you to miss it,”…

At last the moment came and this dude was somethin’ to see. He had on two-tone shoes, checkered socks and knickerbocker pants, and wore one of those soft caps with the little bill and button on top. Some of the ladies almost swooned. The men acted like they’d seen somebody dressed like that before and the Indians just grinned and whispered. The dude teed the ball up on a mound of alkali, tested the wind, examined the club, stared intently towards the distant mountains and prepared to swing. The crowd drew quiet, even the horses seemed to chew their bits with less vigor.

Then…a mighty swing … the swish … a click of lead and wood against the ball … a mighty roar as the little white dot climbed into the late afternoon sun … then it was over.

Some went to look for the ball, but it was never found. It probably came down in a spot where the alkali was soft as sifting flour. No bets were ever settled, but folks had somethin’ to talk about other than Hoover, FDR, Mormon crickets and the price of skinny Herefords. Somehow, the “golf ball hit” was also a successful thing because most of the people went home that night feeling their lives were a little wider, and I, like most of the kids there, just knew that someday I’d get me some two tone shoes, buy me a golf ball, and hit that son-of-a-gun a country mile. We needed some dreams in those days.

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