In 1989 on the first tee at the newly reopened Como Park golf course, after watching my grandfather’s drive slice across two fairways and bank off a tree, I learned that golf is as much educational as it is recreational.
“Grandpa, you missed,” I said, playfully jabbing at my hero.
“Yeah, but that’s alright,” he replied with a smile. “Hitting a tree is good luck for your next shot.”
“Oh!” I gleefully said, while altering my aim for a majestic birch 100 yards away.
“Wait,” my grandfather said while he corrected my stance. “It doesn’t work if you try to hit it. It’s like a lucky penny. You can’t put it down and then pick it up.” This made perfect sense to my eight-year-old brain.
I’d run mindlessly into the woods or jump into piles of mud after every errant ball, getting myself covered with dirt and scrapes in the process. After one of my shots plunked into a pond, I started removing my shoes, fully prepared for an underwater expedition.
“Hold on there, Mr. Spitz. Let that one go. It’s feeding Okee,” my grandfather said with a hand on my shoulder.
“Who’s Okee?” I asked with genuine intrigue.
“He’s an alligator, named after the Okefenokee swamps where your grandma is from. He loves to eat golf balls.” His straight face and nonchalant demeanor sold it.
“Wow, can I see him?”
“You can try.” The lovable jerk let me stare for a good five minutes.
“Where does he go in winter?”
“He roams from house to house, eating food when no one is looking. That’s what happened to an apple pie Grandma made last Christmas.” I could barely wait to share this inside information with Mom and Dad.
“Just wait,” the old man said. “On the next hole, you can see the supernatural monkeys.”
At the next tee box I became nearly uncontrollable, desperate to sprint ahead.
“Now, just you wait,” Grandpa said in a calming voice. “They won’t come out unless you’re golfing.”
I watched his drive hook drastically more than the slight dogleg to the left and disappear into the lush forest that bordered the hole.
“They’re mad at me,” he said with a fake frown.
“Who’s mad at you? The monkeys?” I had a million questions that needed answers.
“Take your shot first, Mr. Palmer.” Whack! The only good shot of the round landed 100 yards away in the middle of the fairway. Through a beaming grin, Grandpa said, “Those telepathic monkeys must really like you. They’re just around the bend here.”
Grandpa said, “Those telepathic monkeys must really like you. They’re just around the bend here.”
Off the left corner of the green, a few hundred yards away, was a visible portion of the zoo next to the golf course, including a large outdoor cage with three rhesus macaques bouncing around inside.
Fascinated, I asked, “What’s telepathic mean?”
“It means they can move things with their minds. They pull some shots into the woods to get them later.”
“What do they want golf balls for? Do they eat them too?”
“No, they use them. They play out here once everyone leaves.”
I was certain this was true. It was too incredible not to be. As soon as my grandfather entered the portable bathroom, I pulled my pitching wedge from the rental bag and flung it deep into the trees. I smiled and waved toward the monkeys, knowing they’d appreciate the gift.
At home, my grandfather’s internal rage at the $50 it would cost to replace the wedge was perfectly counteracted by my grandmother’s uproarious delight.
“Serves you proper,” she said.
Scott Bade is a Metropolitan State University English major graduate and, with his lovely wife, Erika, soon to welcome his first child into the world. They’re waiting until the child is born to know the gender. As long as he or she is a pro-golfer, he’ll be happy.