‘Beavers,’ Mountain Dew and friendly cheating: An ode to high school golf

High school golf

The author's 15-year-old nephew hits a tee shot.

Nick Piastowski

Dearest Mason — 

What’s up, dude? I thought I’d keyboard a quick note to you, my 15-year-old nephew, after your high school golf match a few days ago. Heady stuff for a freshman to be playing with the varsity reserve big boys. Thanks for being OK with letting me watch ya. Your mom (my sister) told me not to embarrass you, and I tried not to. I didn’t even say anything when that woman ran out of her house, right? I’ll get to that in a sec. 

But it was a fun afternoon. So I wanted us to remember it. Maybe this will go up on an overhead at your wedding someday. But this will be more than a keepsake, though. I think I mentioned that I, your unathletic, unhip uncle, in an era long gone, played high school golf, too. And your round had me thinking back. To Todd, Tim, Jason, Steve, Gavin, Paul and Alfredo. To beavers. To Mountain Dew. You’ve maybe got three more years of this, so I thought I’d also give you a peek of what’s ahead.  

Thing is, though, your round and your day were not so much different than mine. 

Papa’s winning bet 

You didn’t see this. But I told you about it afterward, and you loved it, mainly because Uncle Nick was getting corrected. Anyway, when you were on the first green, I noticed that you kinda straddled your putt in, instead of making a clean stroke. So, a couple of holes ahead, I whispered to ya to be careful. But a dad saw me talking. And we talked. The conversation started friendly. I introduced myself. Asked him whom he was there for. And I got this:

“You can’t talk to the kids. They’ll disqualify him.”


But I started reminiscing about my dad, your papa. He played just two rounds of golf his entire life. The first was also my first, and we may or may not have driven a cart onto the 1st green, but that’s a story for another day.   

Round two came during the end-of-the-year, father-son, nine-hole scramble. To set this story up, all you must understand is that Papa, while not much of a golfer, was very much a gambler. And we were paired up with a buddy and his dad — who was a member at the country club that once hosted a Tour event. We played eight holes. They beat us on eight holes. But Papa had a thought on the ninth:

The author’s 15-year-old nephew hits a putt. Nick Piastowski

“Loser buys drinks.”

They were in. Of course they were. Then, I kid you not, Papa smoked a drive. Two-hundred-and-seventy-five yards. Which was maybe two-hundred-and-seventy-four more than he had hit all day. It gets better. After we dumped our approach into a greenside bunker, and with the other dad and son not in sight, Papa went hand wedge. You knew that was coming. It gets better. I hit my sand shot closer, though. And Papa made the par putt. And they somehow bogeyed. 

And the man playing his second-ever round of golf got a beer. 

That lady was MAD 

I don’t think you saw this one, either, but I rode in a cart with one of your coaches for half of a hole. Nice man. Said he used to coach gymnastics. You told me afterward that he once did a backflip for you guys. My coach taught science. After we bogeyed a hole (or worse), his words of wisdom to us were: “Just birdie the next couple.” Gotcha, Coach!  

Anyway, me and your coach were talking about how, unlike most other high school sports, the honor system is in play. There aren’t refs. And at one point, this frustrated you. You could have sworn one of the guys in your group made a seven — only for him to say five. Eventually, you guys split it down the middle. Six. Seems fair-ish.

But that had nothing on the last hole. One of your playing partners hooked it left. He was out of bounds. The stakes said so. He was also in a backyard. The sign that read: “DO NOT HIT FROM THE YARD” said so. But he looked around. Saw just me. Figured I wouldn’t write about it a week later on a golf website. And addressed his ball. At which point, a woman came out screaming some English that we can’t publish here. 

The author’s 15-year-old nephew hits a tee shot. Nick Piastowski

So I started thinking about some more rules relaxation. My junior year, a group of seniors I was playing against said I could play winter rules, as long as they could. (Whispers: I took ’em up on it. But I have said 10 Hail Jack Nicklauses in penance.) My sophomore year, during tryouts, in an effort to make the team, two of my playing partners had their scorecards filled out — at the first tee box. One did make the team — and his average somehow jumped 17 strokes in a week. 

But he did get free golf.  

‘Can my friend have a ride?’

You bet. You asked me this, and I drove your buddy home. Anyway, here’s where the memories came flooding back. 

I remembered my rides. We bused to and from the courses. Big yellow one, for just 10 of us. Two stories here. First, high score had to buy two 24-packs of Mountain Dew for the next match. It may not have been healthy, but it was living right.  

And then there beavers on the bus. OK, so this is hazing. It wasn’t good. You shouldn’t do it. But at some point in the year, the newbies to the team were pummeled by a move in which the giver takes the base of their palm and repeatedly pushes up against the back of the recipient’s head. It burned. I got one. Coach drove the bus. I lived. Everyone laughed. 

I also thought of my matches. Of beating the big, private school. Of how me and a friend drove around afterward shouting up and down one of the busiest streets in town. As far as we knew, we had always lost to them. But there was more. That team was a bunch of butts. (I’ll use dirtier language when you’re older, promise.) Though, on the day we won, my opponent gave me one of the better lines of trash talk I’ve heard on a golf course: “You play baseball, don’t you?” It took me a second, because I did. Of course, here, I was trying to swing a golf club, and he was, in fact, jabbing me. So yes, the win felt good. 

I thought of senior prom. That day, we drove two hours to a match, played, drove back, got dressed, took pictures with our dates, went to prom, danced awkwardly, went to post-prom and stayed up for 26 straight hours. (If you’re reading this Nicole, I’m sorry I was such a bad date.) I also thought of hitting golf balls into the lake behind the clubhouse of where we played our home matches. I thought of Todd, Tim, Jason, Steve, Gavin, Paul and Alfredo. They were some of my teammates. Most of us keep in touch. I’m going on a golf trip this summer with Todd. Paul is a college basketball ref. Wild. 

And then we dropped your buddy off. And your mom made us burgers and brats for dinner. 

OK, OK. So there’s a bigger point here. A lesson. A takeaway. And it’s easy, like your swing, buddy. 

You won’t forget these days.

Shoot, you may even write about them.  



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