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Golf - Playing Best Ball By Sandy Coppendale
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Golf - Playing Best Ball
By Sandy Coppendale

Pasture pool is a derogatory term for the noble sport of golf, but anyone unable to see the humor is possibly also under-appreciating some of the best things about golf. Being outdoors, walking on smooth green grass, and concentrating on perfecting a physical skill. These are a few of my favorite things, and they began for me eons ago when I was a teenager with the best summer job in the world - assistant greenskeeper at the municipal golf course in my small Midwestern town.

Each morning, the head greenskeeper gave his crew any special instructions for the day - plugging the greens, moving the holes, raking the roughs - and by six o'clock we were at work, beginning every day by mowing the greens. I loved those cool mornings before the heat of the day descended. The smell of fresh-cut grass takes me straight back to that summer when I was young and the physical effort of a morning's hard work was just a warm-up to golfing a round at the end of the job.

By ten o'clock, the working crew was expected to be totally done and off the course. But if it wasn't crowded, and it never was, we could golf a round - another one of the many perks of the job. The greenskeeper's son, Billy, was too young to be on the staff but had a little side business of selling lost balls he found in and around the creek. He'd stop his work of stocking up on inventory and we would golf until it got too hot to breathe. Billy was only in 5th grade, but he was an excellent golfer even then, and that summer he taught me everything he knew.

Being coached by a 10 year old was the extent of my formal training, so I've never taken my game too seriously. It has always been purely a pleasure - except when my sister comes to town on a visit. She always wants to play a few rounds of golf, in part because outdoor recreation options are somewhat limited in the corn belt, and in part because she knows I enjoy golf. Judy thinks she's sharing my interest in the sport. But here's the thing, if you only golf once a year, you're always going to be a hack. That's a simple fact. Golfing with Judy was extremely painful until I learned about the game of 'best ball.' You've probably heard of it, and even played it. It saved my sanity.

Used to be, when Judy and I went to the course together, I spent most of my time standing around watching her swing and miss and swing and walk 50 feet to where the ball landed, leaving a divot in the ground behind her big enough to bury a Chihuahua. I gently told her that custom was that she didn't need to keep score after the 12th stroke on any given hole, in fact what the heck, let's not even keep score. Now, I don't like to complain, and I sure didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, so it took a while before the subject came up among some friends and one of them was given the opportunity to share some information that would change the course of events. A friend explained the basics of 'best ball.'

The quick description goes like this. From two to four people can play. Everyone involved tees off. Then the 'worst balls' get picked up on the way to where the 'best ball' landed. The owner of the 'best ball' takes the stroke, and marks the spot. In turn, the owners of the 'worst balls' drop them on the spot and take their swing. The 'best ball' among those gets played next, again picking up the 'worst balls' along the way. The owner of the 'best ball' goes first, of course. Repeat the process on down the fairway - hopefully only a small number of times - until a ball or balls land on the green. Putting doesn't use 'best ball' rules, except as a starting point for anyone who didn't have theirs land on the green.

Your 'best ball' score still wouldn't be something you'd want included in calculations for handicapping, or anything. It's still pretty slow, but it's much more fun for you and your guests. Besides, every now and then, the 'best ball' is Judy's. She lucks out and hits a good stroke. I enjoy the happy expression on her face, knowing exactly how fabulous it feels to hear the "thwok" of a perfect connection that sails the small white orb far and straight over an incredible distance and against the clear blue sky.

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