When Thanksgiving comes around, you start thinking about the loved ones in your life. Family, friends, and unfortunately, those who are no longer with us. Little things spark memories. For me, the sight of a headcover brings back my earliest — and some of my fondest — memories of golf.
By the time I was born, my grandparents, Bernard (he went by Barney) and Eleanor Reilly, had already fled Long Island taxes and snow-covered winters for the sunshine state. Those days, for New York and New Jersey residents, it wasn’t a question of if you would retire in Florida, it was a question of when. For my grandparents, all those years of hard work and raising a family of six had culminated with some much-deserved fun in the sun for their twilight years.
When we’d visit, it was something straight out of a Seinfeld episode. A pastel color palette made up the home decor as well as both of my grandparents’ wardrobes. You wouldn’t know new programming existed based off what they watched on TV. If you slept on the sofa’s pullout bed, you’d wake up feeling like you took a crowbar to the back. Breakfast was before sunrise and dinner was longggg before the sun even thought about setting.
But one of the most vivid memories I have of those Florida visits stems from my grandfather’s golf bag. The front door of their home was merely for show. The real entry was through the garage. Near that door sat this leprechaun headcover. From a young age, my eyes were always drawn to it.
That’s the problem with youth. The moment is lost on you because you simply haven’t lived long enough to realize what’s worth cherishing.
You must remember — this was pre-Tiger. The trend of colorful headcovers hadn’t exploded yet and manufacturer-issued headcovers were mostly the norm. Wool headcovers that were just a step above socks were still common for the older Florida populace, which made this headcover all the more unique and intriguing. Plus, cooler. When it comes to getting a kid into the game, sometimes this is all it takes to get them hooked.
It worked for me.
My first memories of golf are of my dad watching it on TV and me patiently waiting for him to fall asleep on the couch so I could change the channel. It just didn’t do it for me. I lived and breathed baseball and basketball. In my eyes, golf was this old, stale game without enough action.
It wasn’t until I started to play golf that I grew to truly appreciate it, and eventually love it. My first time swinging a club was down in Florida while visiting my grandparents and uncle Brian. Initially, I was too young, so I’d have to wait around for my grandfather, uncle Brian, uncle Dennis and dad to get done before going to the driving range. I grew envious of what was going on out there without me.
Why’d they always come back so happy yet so frustrated?
My family went down to visit about twice a year throughout most of my childhood. And each time we were welcomed by that leprechaun headcover as soon as we pulled into the garage. There it sat, year after year, surrounded by canned goods with expiration dates that had long since passed.
As the years went by, I grew capable of holding my own on the course. My uncle purchased my first set from a garage sale. They were King Snakes, a King Cobra knockoff set that was about a foot too long. It didn’t matter — I was allowed to join them on the course now.
For better or worse, these were the men who taught me how to play the game. I was exposed to words and phrases I had never heard. I learned trees double as bathrooms. Aim at the range cart, wave at the bar cart. They sure did a lot of waving.
My grandfather had a slight hump in his stance. My father inherited that from his dad and I, unfortunately, did the same. When I see a video of myself swinging it’s the first thought that comes to mind. I think to myself, “Oh my, I’m turning into them.” And you know what? I’m OK with that. (But the day I start kicking my back foot around in my follow-through like my grandfather is when I know I have a real problem on my hands.)
These guys didn’t use scorecards. No one was working on a handicap. It was just about being together and escaping reality for a little while on a golf course. In hindsight, I probably took those rounds for granted. That’s the problem with youth. The moment is lost on you because you simply haven’t lived long enough to realize what’s worth cherishing.
Today, as I stare at this little leprechaun, I look back on it all fondly. Three generations out there together. Four-letter words after each topped shot, mulligans that led to the same result, admiring gators from a sometimes-safe distance, adding up beer cans instead of strokes and coming to the realization that my dad and my two uncles grew up to be like their father. I did, too. I didn’t realize it then, but I do now.
When my grandfather passed away, the only thing I wanted was that headcover. Now I feel very fortunate to have it in my possession. It has no real monetary value. It might not draw a single bid on eBay. Yet my eyes are still drawn to it each time I walk into a room where it resides, and the memories come flowing back. That’s invaluable.
I thought about putting it in my bag originally. This little lad is 30-plus years old though. It’s not exactly built to handle the modern driver. I decided it was best to keep at home. In my apartment, I have it on display on my mantle. Now and again I’ll put it over a bottle to add a little life to my bar.
I did, however, want to keep the tradition going, so I picked up a leprechaun headcover of my own. The same sentiment holds when I pull the big dog out of the bag and see my variation. I did it in my grandpa’s honor — my family’s honor, really — but man, I hope my game ages better than theirs.
Just a few weeks ago I played golf with my dad and uncle Dennis, a quick round at Middle Island Country Club on Long Island. My dad stepped through his swing in his follow-through. “You looked like Barney on that one,” my uncle said. It wasn’t meant as a compliment.
I covered the Masters from home this year. The leprechaun was within my sights. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d go from waiting for my dad to fall asleep so I can change the channel to watching the Masters on a half-dozen screens. To think, in a way, my perception of the game all started to change from this headcover.
I’m thankful for it, too. The memories the headcover was on-hand for back then, and the memories it brings back to me now. I hope it remains in my family for generations to come.
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