A Father’s Day Golf Story and France

Dr. Michael Eades requires no introduction here, since the various goods and bads of my friendship with him goes back 12 years now when he was introducing his Sous Vide Supreme and there’re many posts on this blog over those years.

I’m an avid reader of his new endeavor, The Arrow. It’s a weekly newsletter by email he started close to six months ago—which is easy to know, since he just put out #24 last Thursday. I think it clocks in at close to 10k +/- words each time. Not for the faint of heart and if you run down the link rabbit holes, well, you’re in for a beating. It’s such a value I have taken to saving each issue myself.

What I truly adore about Mike is that he’s a lover of writing and the craft that goes into making it look easy. The hardest part about making it look easy is storytelling. So what sets Mike’s gig apart is that he’s always telling stories, making apt references, dropping names modestly—as I’m doing here—and engaging his readers. Even if you’re just dropping hard data and analysis, you can at least do it in a narrative prose that keeps some level of heightened curious engagement since it’s not Dragnet.

Not just the facts, ma’am.

In issue #22 a couple of weeks ago, Mike kicks off a golf story about one of his Sunday outings. I immediately had the urge to tap out a little story of my own to convey how I am the exact opposite when it comes to the links.

I don’t know how many of you play golf. But one of the arguments raging among golfers is what’s called pace of play. Many people want to get out, play quickly, finish and go home. Or to the bar. Or whatever. Others want to play slowly and unhurriedly and just enjoy themselves outside for a few hours. I’m a member of the former group. I like to play fast. And nothing bothers me more than standing around waiting for the group ahead of me to get off the fairway or green, so I can take my shot.

Back in 1989, I had just left 7th Fleet embarked on USS Blue Ridge in Yokosuka, Japan. In total, 4 1/2 years there, counting my first junior officer tour on USS Reeves beginning in ’84.

I was supposed to go to Department Head school and then head right back out to the fleet to be either Weps, Ops, or Eng: chief weapons officer, chief operations officer, or chief engineer.

I punted because something else more attractive and fun was offered to me by the “detailer” at CNO (chief of Naval operations in DC). I had done very well and I guess the data showed that if you give these top JOs a break, they do better, longer, in terms of Navy retention.

They suggested an exchange officer tour, where you go to a different Navy for two years, and you are actually under their command (you wear your own uniform). It’s highly sought after, everyone clamors for it, and it was being offered on a silver platter without even asking.

This is completely dependent on calendars. Being an exchange O with the Aussies was legendary—they will keep you drunk, and laid.

Because of dates, when my current tour was ending, and the need for language school or not, my choices were limited by when I would need to show up to relieve the last lucky fella.

I was offered the Dutch or French Navies. The former had no language requirement and it would only be later—when I took the train to Rotterdam to pick up the 1986 Corvette I had shipped over—I learned that a favorite pastime of the Dutch is to correct the English on their English (or an American, supposedly easier).

Since my ego was being massaged to the maximum at 28 years old, a Navy Lieutenant in 1989, I chose the French because leaning that language and being a navigator on their Navy ships seemed to be the most out of the blue fuck-you challenge ever, and so I received orders to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, at the Presidio, run by the Army. Six months of immersion French. I went on to be Le Chef Conduite du Navire (chief navigator) of FNS Colbert and then, FNS Duquesne. I thoroughly loved those 2 years perhaps more than any such short space of time in my life because they were so outlandish and ridiculous—in a fish out of water sense. Colbert was especially meaningful as it was the last of a breed of cruisers, but serendipitously, the charming relationship I developed with the captain, Yves de Kersauson, the brother of Olivier, first guy to circumnavigate the globe by sailboat. Yves was fluent in English, having been the French Navy Attaché in DC for some years. He liked my fuck-you attitude and told me many times how he wished French officers were of such warrior mentality.

I recall fondly when Colbert got the call to head out to The Gulf, 1990. We’re all in le carré des officiers and Yves shouts out to me: “Richard! Nous sommes en guerre!”

So what about golf?

It so happens that the US Navy has an institutional presence in Monterey as well, the Naval Postgraduate School (my late cousin George, an LCDR, was teaching physics there at the time). It also owned a short 18-hole golf course on arguably the most choice R/E in Monterey.

$40 per month, unlimited play, no tee-time required. The Army at Fort Ord just up the 101 had two PGA courses—Bayonet and Black Horse—that I played a half dozen times each (I dumped my dad off the side of a golf cart once on one of them in a high-g turn…another story) but I lived on Sand Hill Road and it was a 5-minute to the Navy course.

From May, 1989 to October, during the expansion toward the estival solstice and its retreat just as quickly, what it meant to me was that I could play at least 9 holes every day after school, sometimes 18. And for sure, 18 nearly every Saturday and Sunday.

I grew to love it as a perfect sort of thing for me. Part of it was that I had a neighbor on Sand Hill Rd who had been a fellow officer on USS Reeves way back—and we we had lived not 2 kilometers from each-other in Hayama, across the peninsula from Yokosuka—who was also at DLI, attending the Japanese course, 12 months verses my half dozen.

I grew to dislike rushers, those getting impatient that I wasn’t moving along at their pace instead of my own. This was far more pronounced on Saturdays and Sundays. And had I been less prone to antagonism at 29 years old, I might have just resigned to keep it to the late weekday afternoons where often enough, I had the course to myself or, along with my neighbor Mark.

Golf is many different things to many different people according to what it is that gets them there. It’s quite a silly thing if you’re being honest and could only be the province of the relatively rich. I love the challenge of it because it’s hard, plus easy to look absolutely ridiculous. I have a natural tendency toward anything that can strip away pretense like that.

…Several years later, I came back from France and though I played golf sometimes, I eventually took up something that takes a whole day, is hard, can make you look ridiculous, but, nobody pushes you off.

Hang gliding.

So there you have it. A story where the story prelude to the story is longer than the story, so it’s just one big story.

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  1. Daniel F on June 25, 2021 at 15:44

    For no other reason than that you did a post about golf:

    Jake is about to chip onto the green at his local golf course when a long funeral procession passes by. He stops in midswing, doffs his cap, closes his eyes and bows in prayer. His playing companion is deeply impressed. “That’s the most thoughtful and touching thing I’ve ever seen,” he says. Jake replies, “Yeah, well, we were married 35 years.”

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