Golfing with Gators (with Hilton Ross-Munro)

Golfing with Gators. (Copyright Hilton and Glynis Ross-Munro: A Humorous view of life in Tampa Bay)

Getting old is not easy, but the American Dream provides a distraction from the pains of aging by linking it with a great consolation. Those who survive a life of honest work are rewarded with the right to move to Florida and play golf.

Golf is one of the most difficult and frustrating games to play. For some reason, it is much harder to hit a stationary golf ball than a baseball or tennis ball hurtling towards you at close to a hundred miles an hour. So when people reach the wisdom of maturity, they move to a place where sadistic golf course architects have built thousands of courses, placing an infinite number of hazards in diabolical ways, in a climate which is a natural sauna, and they have time to play these courses as many as seven times each week.

Floridians compete to see how long they can play golf for, so the courses are teeming with old people…and I mean really old people. They have little to do to fill their days except harass their financial advisors and annoy their spouses, so they take pleasure in spending as much time as possible on the golf course. They have given up worrying about pleasing others, so they enjoy the self-absorbed egotism of the true golf addict. They clog up the courses at peak hours, playing their way, in their own time, arthritically creaking out of their golf carts and limping slowly to the tee box. No matter how slowly they play, it is a matter of honor with Floridian golfers not to let the following four-ball play through.

Despite the recession, many Florida golfers are relatively affluent, but they hate losing golf balls, even more than they dislike letting other golfers play through. They are, naturally, fiercely protective of their Titleist Pro Vs, which they use for needle matches against anyone who thinks that their grandchildren are smarter, or go to better schools. But the golfers of the Sunshine State behave as if all golf balls are inlaid with diamonds, including the nameless Wal-Mart special that was a gift from their much-disliked brother-in-law.

When a ball is lost, the owner plunges into the abundant palmettos, determined to retrieve it, hunting amongst the sharp-barbed plants, while beating the ground with a golf club, in the mistaken belief that this will scare away the snakes.  Florida golfers all play in shorts, take blood thinners and have paper-thin skin, so their legs are always covered in intricate, purple-mottled designs, and partially-healed abrasions.

Casual observers with find their blood pressure rising as they watch the oldies at the water hazards; ball scoops in hand, walking unsteadily along the banks, peering for their little white balls at the bottom of the water. Nothing stops them in their quest for the holy grail of their lost ball.

Nothing, that is, until they meet up with another native of the Florida golf course, the alligator.

The ponds are packed with alligators. Big gators. Mother gators guarding their baby gators. Gators that look nice and sleepy, but which can bear down on their unsuspecting prey before there is time to blink, helping themselves to a bony old arm or leg.

Many Floridians will play a ball within a few yards of a gator, but this becomes even more likely if the golfer is older, and even less able to run away from the reptile. The odds of playing the ball increase if there is more needle than usual in the match, as the bet gets bigger, if there is a press, or if the ball lying next to the gator costs more than one-dollar.

The sight of a gator lying surrounded by golf balls is a strong temptation to Florida golfers. Other four-balls might want to play through, but this does not deter the intrepid old folk from trying to recover the golf balls around the gator. They know that foolish tourists might have obeyed the signs pointing out that it is against the laws of the State of Florida to disturb or feed alligators, and have left a Titleist ProV amongst the loot. It does not see to  occur to them that playing golf between a gator’s fore-claws might teach the beasts that there is an unlimited amount of snack food roaming around their habitat, in the form of slow-moving older golfers.

So do not fear aging. It is a delightful time of life, when your single-minded determination to rule the world changes to a single-minded determination to retrieve your golf ball (and even find another one, free) despite the snaggled-toothed glare of an ancient monster, and the trash-talking of that retired Marine colonel who thinks he knows everything.

Let your eyesight wane, or your driver’s license be revoked: you’ll still be out there on your golf cart, rocketing your way around the course, oblivious to oncoming traffic and walkers. The real American Dream isn’t swimming with dolphins – it’s golfing with gators.