ONEONTA – Once upon a time, I played on the Norwich High School golf team. My freshman through junior years, we played our matches in the spring until eventually moving to fall golf my senior year where we joined the rest of the Southern Tier Athletic Conference schools.
Those first three years, we played as an independent team against other spring golf teams such as Oxford, Sidney, Afton, and Oneonta. That last team was the only like-sized school we faced in the spring, and we had yearly home and home matches with the Yellowjackets. My last match against Oneonta was in 1984, and that was also the last time I played Oneonta Country Club.
Thirty years later, I returned to OCC as the final part of our summer golf series. After a one-week hiatus, Mike McCormack rejoined us, and Mike invited two other NHS grads – neither of whom played on the golf team with me – Kevin Perez and John Williams.
Three decades is a long time, and I remembered little of the course except the signature hole, the 580-yard 17th hole, that is a continuous dogleg right in the shape of a horseshoe. I also vaguely remembered the 18th hole, one that has two greens options. The more forgiving 18th green is a straight shot from the tee. The other presents an uphill dogleg right with out of bounds to the left of the green, and a lateral hazard to the right the entire length of the hole.
Those holes notwithstanding, my most vivid memory of Oneonta Country Club had nothing to do with any particular hole. And it’s an embarrassing memory, for sure.
Playing spring golf in upstate New York, there isn’t much practice – or actual rounds – before commencing the match season. Before my freshman golf season, my parents bought me a starter set – junior clubs because I was so small. I had played golf for just two years, and had a collection of six or seven mismatched clubs. The junior set – a 3-, 5-, 7-, and 9-iron, driver, three-wood, and putter – complemented an old pitching wedge and maybe an eight-iron to round out my set. The mismatched clubs I owned were also 3- 5-, and 7-irons, so I pulled them out of the bag in favor of the shiny new ones.
I don’t have specific recall of when it happened, but I lost one of my clubs about one-third of the way through my match. No, I didn’t actually “lose” the club, and I’ll elucidate on the details in the next paragraph.
After hitting my drive, I pulled my junior 7-iron for my approach to the green. Or, maybe it was a third shot to the hole. Regardless, I took my swing, and at the moment of impact, the clubhead snapped off and flew boomerang style up the fairway. I’m not sure, but I think the clubhead and my ball were neck-and-neck for a while.
In my brief golfing career, the 7-iron had been my favorite club. Now, it was gone and beyond repair. Too, I had to quickly explain to my playing partners that, “no, I didn’t hit a rock or badly mishit the club.” The club wasn’t cheaply made, either, it just wasn’t made for a high school freshman. Upon reflection, I’m sure the outside of the box said something to effect: For ages 7 to 12.
Yes, as a 15-year-old freshman, I was as small as a 12-year-old, and I’m still not much bigger. But I was definitely too strong from elementary school-type golf clubs.
I played Oneonta Country Club six times those first three years of golf team – three times in golf matches, and three times for the 18-hole golf sectionals. I broke 90 just once in those three years of sectionals, and I’m not sure if I shot less than 44 in any of the nine-hole golf matches. Now a well-seasoned adult – just like my playing partners – I aimed to do better...