Driving into the Buckshire Golf and Country Club I know it’s getting late to start a “quick nine”. Luckily I have a membership and can avoid the clubhouse. The membership was a great deal that I got at a discount from an ad in the paper because the year’s more than half over. I get my shoes on and grab my bag, heading out to the back nine of the south course.
I’m almost at the 10th tee box when I notice the grounds keeper watching me. The old guy looks just as weather beaten as his old coveralls and floppy hat. He's looking at me intently, his eyes squinting like he’s thinking real hard.
I keep walking, and when I’m almost about to turn my gaze away, he says. “Little late for a round mister,” he’s a little hunched forward, his voice rough with an edge of concern.
“I know I’m pretty good, should be able to squeak one in,” I say back.
“Well you better do the front nine, or the other course.”
I am about to ask him what he's talking about and why he doesn't think I should play this particular nine holes when his voice gets real serious, “You ever hear of Gully’s legend?” I stop and look at him again, almost laughing, thinking there may be a connection between this so-called legend and his directing me to another course, but I decided to humour him. “No, what’s it all about,” I ask.
In short hushed bursts, with a lot of waving arms, he explained about the legend of Jack Gully.
Back in the day Jack Gully set a course record of 28 on the par 36 back nine. The legend says that anyone on the south course's back nine after the sun had set, who looked like they might threaten Jack Gully’s score, would have the round from hell that might end their golfing days.
I was in a hurry to get going and blew him off without a thought. Since the sun was starting to set, I thanked him for the history lesson and stepped up to the tee box.
I hit a great tee shot, 250 yards, and headed out on the round. A great approach shot gets me a shot at birdie. I’m feeling pretty good when that putt rattles into the cup.
The second hole is a par five, so I know I need a few good hits to get to the green. Walking down the fairway I get to thinking about that legend. The math says to make that 28 he must have birdied every hole but one. That’s a helluva round.
I launch another nice approach shot and a sink another putt, for two in a row.
None of this - my score, the legend, the course, any of it - would have mattered, except that as I headed to the 18th hole, the last of my nine, I was having the round of my life. I was connecting solid shots, using the right club and nailing my putts. I was sitting at 24. I had birdied every hole except this last one, if I did that, I’d break this legendary record.
Oh, but there’s the legend to be scared of, I kidded myself, actually surprised I was thinking about it, since I was on a high about my score.
Then as I walked through the trees to that last hole everything changed.
The wind began to pick up. Within a minute the tall trees were whipping back and forth. The leaves swirling in the air were so thick I had to shield my face with my arm, peering out beneath it to find my way. The wind was howling now, gusts overlapping and coming from every direction.
I tried looking behind me, almost thinking of turning back, but the branches of the bushes and trees had joined together to close the trail. They entwined, swirling menacingly.
I forge forward wherever the opportunity exists, as the trail in front seems to be closed as well. Nearly at the point of hysteria I punch out of the forest onto a fairway. Odd. There is the tee box and it says 18, but I don’t recognize it. I’ve played on both the south and north courses here numerous times, doing “quick nine’s” fronts and backs, and they don’t look anything like this.
Glancing back at the trees, I know I’m not going there. No chance. But it seems to me that the trees are closer than they were. Prickles rise on the back of my neck. I stare hard focusing on the ground and trees. The ground shrinking and the trees are creeping closer are alarming.
Luckily I don't freeze in fear. I confirm this when I realize I have back peddled ten steps from the forest without noticing, unfortunately the forest is keeping pace. Spinning, I turn and sprint to the tee box.
One hole. Well, let’s just get 'er done.
The hole looks okay, a par four. The fairway seems to rise slowly towards a raised green. The wind is still howling from everywhere and a quick look says the trees are still creeping closer. No pressure here.
With shaking hands I tee it up. Another nice drive, it looks to be 250 yards at least, but the wind may have held it up. I just need a good approach shot here and the record could be mine.
A branch grabs my shirt from behind, another snakes around my feet and starts to tighten around my ankle. Jumping forward, my shirt rips as I break free. A quick glance downwards shows that another branch has ripped my pants and sliced a bit of skin. The wall of forest is almost on me, the branches reaching out.
I can’t stop and watch my shot. Those branches are way too close. Running, I scrambled up the mound towards where I think my ball is.
Impossible. How can there be a valley here? You don’t see it from the tee off.
My ball’s down there on the flat bottom. The encroaching forest pretty much pushes me off the top and down the steep slope, running towards my ball for the last hundred yards, my bag slung over my shoulder, banging against my hip at every stride.
The slope up out of the valley that was there when I started down, is now a steep wall of rock. It’s far enough away I should be able to get up over the top with a seven iron. I don’t waste any time sending the ball flying.
I’m learning. Grabbing my bag, I run to the wall and try to climb. I get up on a ledge about eight or nine feet off the ground and it seems impossible to go higher. The bag gets heavier with every step I take. The cuts on my legs break my focus.
I glance back and realize the forest has not come down the slope. Is it over?
I hear them coming before I see them, a pack, four large wolves. They come directly at me, following my scent. Fearless, they jump up at me, their claws scrabbling on the rock wall, their teeth flashing. They'll find a way up the side shortly and I'll have to fight.
Yeah, right. I grab the seven iron and the putter and stick them through my shirt. Turning, I start really climbing, handhold to handhold. I’m up just high enough as the first wolf pulls himself onto the ledge and starts attacking the golf bag, ripping and shredding. The bag goes over the side, and the ones below rip it apart. The lead wolf now is jumping up at me, but I’m sure he can’t follow, and I’m determined I'm not gonna fall.
The wind tries to pull me off the wall, then slams me against it. I manage to drag myself over the top scraped and bruised. It seems to have gotten dark out all of a sudden. I roll to my feet. Taking out my clubs, I run forward, looking for my ball.
It’s there, right in the middle of the fairway. From here I can see the green raised up ahead. It seems to run off the back, so I’ll chip it up in front.
All of a sudden the hairs on my neck start to prickle again. A quick look around shows the ground shrinking behind me as the cliff edge moves closer, leaving just a narrow fairway to the green.
Quickly I hit a real easy seven up to the green. I’m running before it even lands. The green is near dark and I have to walk around it to find both the ball and the hole. Without worrying about my score, I putt up to the hole and take another stroke to knock it in.
A five, a bogie, no record, but I’m still alive.
With my two clubs in hand, I walk around the outside of the green and head towards a light shining a ways off. In the dark it looks like there is water behind this green. Feeling a little relieved to be through whatever that was I just went through, I chuckled thinking of water. Like I need a hazard.
I turned at a sound. Just in time to see the wolf lunge at me. Only the thought of the water saved me. I let myself go limp as he hit, the force knocking us both flying, with me going backwards. We splashed down in the water and I let myself sink, taking time to drop one club and get a good hold of the other one.
Coming out of the water a few feet from the wolf, I’m swinging the club left and right. Water up to my waist means the wolf can’t touch bottom. His claws are connecting with my legs and my club is connecting with his head. He backs off and I’m left shaking and standing alone in the water in the pitch dark. Pulling myself from the water, I kneel on the bank gasping for air.
Following the light for a while, I come out of a line of trees and stumble across the old grounds keeper. He’s standing in the parking lot by my lone car holding a lantern above his head. He lowers it as I approach and checks me up and down with a knowing look. The ripped clothes, blood stained pants, putter in a death grip, held like a weapon says everything. He turns and walks away without a word.
“Honey here’s what I’ve been looking for,” George calls to his wife making breakfast in the kitchen. She walks up behind him, peering over his shoulder at the newspaper he’s holding, “Here’s an ad. Just like I hoped to find, look.”
MEMBERSHIP FOR SALE,
PRICED TO SELL, AVAILABLE IMMEDIATELY
BLACKSHIRE GOLF AND COUNRTY,
777 555 4242
At home, with my membership sold, my trusty putter resting in its new home on the mantle, I wonder which was worse, trying to get in the “Quick Nine”, or fooling with a legend.