While not all men golf and not all golfers are men, there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between golf and fathers. Golf and Father’s Day go together like peanut butter and jelly. Nothing illustrates this more than the fact that the US Open always concludes on Father’s day. It just seems natural, part of the landscape. As we look forward to this year’s tournament, with the indulgence of my friends at Green Woods CC, my thoughts go backwards, to my roots in Golf. To where my love of the game started, by my Dad.
That’s me and my little brother, looking like Ralphie and Randy from A Christmas Story. Growing up in Danbury in the 60’s, where can a working class father take his two young sons, in their worn out shorts, tee shirts and high top Chuck Taylor All-Stars and introduce them to the game of golf. Ridgewood Country Club is out of the question (though I would sneak on to play a few holes away from the clubhouse). Richter Park wasn’t built yet. Green Woods CC isn’t on the radar. Every once in a while we would play Candlewood Valley in New Milford, but that was a rare treat and the course has changed a lot since then. But Dad managed to find a couple of places that would let us on. It’s been a long time since I had been to them so I decided to take a road trip to see if they looked the same as I remember. One of the places we went most was Terra Haute Golf Club in Bethel. It was a scrubby little nine holer that was mown infrequently and had no clubhouse. You paid some guy who was working out of the trunk of his car. I really only remember one hole, a par 3 that you hiked up to the tee box and hit a shot straight down about 150 yards. Even as a little kid I only had to hit a wedge. Sadly, Terra Haute no longer exists as a course, but you can visit the property by hiking the Charles Ives Greenway.
We also went to Sunset Hill in Brookfield, which is now operated by friend of Green Woods , Gary Cilfone and his Daughter. The 9th hole runs adjacent to the parking lot and as you can see from the sign in the photo, a golf ball hitting a car was not unusual. One day my father hit his shot into the parking lot, heard the breaking of glass, lo and behold, he hit our car. I’m not sure if that was lucky or not. Back then there were two holes on every green, when you finished playing a hole you would place the flag in the hole you didn’t play to. I think the theory was that you would play to the other hole on the back nine, but I’m not sure it worked out that way, it would all depend on how many other groups were playing. Sometimes it felt like you needed a batting helmet to play there. If you notice the photo to the right, taken from the first tee, there is a screen protecting the 5th green from tee shots from number 1. There are trees separating the first fairway from the fifth, but back then they were not there. It was one fairway, with a hill in the middle, meaning you were hitting blind shots down #1, while somebody else was hitting blind shots coming up #5. When you heard someone yell “fore”, you paid attention or you would catch one right between the eyes. There were other dangerous spots. All the tees were mats and were pretty close to the previous green.
My last stop was to Vails Grove Golf Club at Peach Lake. We didn’t play here much but there is some family history. Also, there are some similarities with Green Woods CC. It is a Semi Private Club with members, the public being allowed to play after noon. It also has a driveway that bisects a fairway on your way to the clubhouse. Here is a picture of my Uncle Cy in front of the 5th green at Vail’s Grove taken some time in the 1950’s. He was a “piper”, very consistent, always down the middle. Maybe it runs in the family. A big surprise for me on the road trip was seeing his name on the list of Club Champions, winning in 1955.
When I became a Father I made a choice to let my kids follow their own paths, as it turns out, they don’t have the love of golf that I do. It’s probably just one of the things on a long list of choices that I made that were questionable, yet somehow they’ve turned out alright (should probably credit their Mother). Luckily for me, I will soon be able to fix that mistake with the impending arrival of my grand daughter, who you will see tagging along with me at Green Woods CC. I’m pretty sure she’ll be a “piper” and a future Club Champion.
Thanks for coming along on my road trip and Happy Father’s Day.
Ken Williams Jr.