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Bag it, Tag it, and Seal it with a Kiss

I own the golf bag from hell. It’s roughly the size of a ’72 Lincoln Continental, weighs two tons, and was hand-stitched from more full-grain leather than you’d expect to find at a S&M convention in Vegas. The fur-lined, overstuffed TOUR-style staff bag was presented to me for winning a closest-to-the-pin contest in 1988, the same year I got married. And it led to me and my wife’s first marital spat.

I insisted “we” display the major prize in the center of our 600-sq.-ft. studio condominium, arguing it was much nicer than the second-hand furniture we had acquired as newlyweds. She finally relented, but only after I agreed to allow her to place a framed photo of her parents on the nightstand next to our bed. Admittedly, having my in-laws staring at me did save us a ton of money early on that would’ve otherwise gone toward birth control. 

“Perhaps worst of all was the stigma and humiliation caused by showing up at the course with a golf bag bigger than the one Al Czervic employed in ‘Caddyshack.’”

Since then, we’ve moved five times and the staff bag has followed us to each new home. I can’t recall the exact year I stopped using the bag. But I do remember some of the reasons why. To transport it back and forth to the golf course required me to purchase a beat-up, used Volvo station wagon. The bag simply wouldn’t fit into the trunk or backseat of our Ford Tempo no matter how I turned or twisted it. There was also the back brace I had to wear for six months. Playing as a solo one afternoon, the golf cart I had rented conked out mid-round and I had to fireman’s carry the bag a mile-and-a-half back to the pro shop. Perhaps worst of all was the stigma and humiliation caused by showing up at the course with a golf bag bigger than the one Al Czervic employed in ‘Caddyshack.’ “You must be a damn good golfer to have a bag like that,” folks would chide. And then I’d proceed, on cue, to slice or hook my first tee shot of the day deep into the woods.

Eventually I ditched the cello-sized carry-ALL for a more hip and manageable nylon stand bag. It was if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders… literally. I’ve owned many more bags since then, finding an excuse to purchase a newer model every few years — I no longer liked the color, a zipper had broke, or I was just too lazy to clean out the crushed beer cans, broken tees, candy bar wrappers, found xxx-out balls, and assorted other golf paraphernalia from the “old” one. Each time I would discard the bag, sometimes giving it to a friend or family member, other times donating it to a youth golf program, or occasionally just leaving it out for the garbage truck to collect. 

But the staff bag never suffered that fate. Much like my wife’s four boxes of wedding china, it somehow made it into the moving van each time… only to end up in a storage unit, the basement, an attic or out in the garage. Never mind that neither of the two would ever see the light of day.

Fast forward to the present. Our oldest son and his wife surprised us about a month ago with matching t-shirts. Screen printed across the front they read: “NC State Wolfpack Grandparent.” It will be our first grandkid. As soon as the news broke my wife’s brain started to whirl. A couple of years ago we left the “city” life behind and bought a 110-year-old Mill Executive Mansion — at least that’s what the real estate called it — in a small, rural town in North Carolina. We’ve spent countless hours renovating the old bird we affectionately call Key’s Folly. Sure, it has become a money pit, but we don’t care. It is our forever home. About the only real work left to be done is on the creepy third floor (it may be haunted, not sure) which, until now, we’ve used for storage.

“We’ll redo the entire top floor and turn it into a giant playroom for our grandchild,” my wife informed me, just minutes after the big announcement. “It will be so much fun.” I quickly calculated the cost and how much work would be required. “Can’t we just buy it a pony.”

A few days ago we began the arduous task of cleaning out more than three decades of accumulated “treasures” so the renovations can begin — old toys, unused furniture, our daughter’s roomful of softball trophies, holiday decorations, knickknacks, family heirlooms, and so much more. Some of it will be kept and moved to the basement (also scary and where I am convinced Freddy Kruger lives). The rest will be donated to a local thrift store or hauled to the county dump. At the top of the “must go” list is the staff bag we found sitting in the corner. 

“That monstrosity can go,” my wife scolded me. “I thought I told you to get rid of it three houses ago.” I could’ve said the same about the two heavy crates of commemorative teapots she had been hoarding.

And so the staff bag went… down three flights of stairs and out into the garage which has become our staging area for all things earmarked to be gotten rid of. Last night I went out there to inspect the pile and on top she sat — weathered, beaten and dusty. “I should at least check out the pockets and compartments,” I thought. “Never know what I may find — a couple of dollars, maybe Jimmy Hoffa’s body.” I went through the bag and here are just a few of the things I discovered: 

A ball marker from the 1999 US Open played at Pinehurst #2. Most golf aficionados will remember that was the year Payne Stewart rallied from one stroke back with three holes to play Sunday to beat Phil Mickelson. He would die tragically in an airplane accident a few months later. A friend of mine called me on Wednesday afternoon of that week. “Road trip” was all he said. He had gotten tickets for Thursday’s opening round. It didn’t matter there wasn’t a hotel room available within 200 miles. We ended up driving five hours and sleeping in his car that night in the tournament’s satellite parking lot. We were the first through the gate the next morning. We never saw Stewart. Or a young Tiger Woods. Instead, we got to meet John Daly who strolled to the first tee just after 7 a.m. with a Diet Coke in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He took a few practice swings, addressed the ball… and then backed away. “Hey guys, thanks for coming,” he told the only two spectators in the stands. We got out of our seats and followed him all 18 holes.

A chipped up pencil from the now abandoned Smithfield Downs Golf Club near Suffolk, VA. Jack, our son, was 7 or 8-years-old and had attended a youth golf camp and taken a few private lessons. For Christmas we got him his own clubs and a promise that I would take him to play his first “real” course as soon as the snow melted. That opportunity came a few days later… bright, sunny, and 28 degrees. We pulled up to the forward tees at No. 4, a very short par 3 played entirely over water. After watching him take at least six dozen strokes to complete the first three holes, I remember thinking two things: he has a better chance of becoming a lawyer when he grows up than a professional golfer. And second, there was no way he would ever clear that pond. I was both right and wrong. He’s now a very successful attorney in Fredericksburg, VA. But he did make it over the hazard. His tee shot landed way short, bounced four times off of solid ice, jumped to the other side and ended up two feet from the cup. It was his first-ever birdie and I wrote his score down for everyone to see.

An old scorecard from Queenstown Harbor Golf Links in Maryland with a final score “76” scribbled on it. On a hot summer afternoon in 1997, using a set of Cleveland Vas 792 irons (the ugly cavity-backed purple ones Corey Pavin made popular) and impersonating Freddy Couples’ upright hitched swing, I posted my career-best round. Playing with me that day was my dad. I’d trade that round and a million more for a chance to hit just one more shot with him alongside me. 

I ended up spending the rest of the evening going through the bag and finding so many memories. I also found myself cleaning it off with a rag and warm, soapy water. A little leather polish and it was as good as new. The bag, just like my wife, was as beautiful now as it was 34 years ago. 

You know, I think I will keep the old bag. Both of them.

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