For close to 60 years I have been a golfer, yet I still use the same putter — a Walter Hagen blade model — that I used as a boy.
I’m not the world’s greatest putter, but I’m not bad either. I’m comfortable with the putter I have, so I keep using it. We’ve been through a long history together.
As a boy, I played golf with my folks and my brother with the original set of clubs. Fifty years later, long after the death of my father, I was still using the putter from that set in weekly rounds of golf with my 86-year-old mother.
“I looked forward to playing with you, to packing you a lunch,” she said of my visits. “I’m so happy you came up as often as you did. It was something I could do with my child besides sitting in the living room and talking.”
In between, as teenagers, a favorite cousin and I spent summers at each other’s homes and played golf. At my home course in Athol, we once went around six times in a day for a total of 54 holes. One summer I broke 40 for the first time, sinking the final putt with my Walter Hagen blade. I still have the scorecard.
“Yes, we once played 54 holes of golf,” my cousin confirmed years later. “Each time we played, your mom made us tuna sandwiches. She was wonderful to me, even if she may have thought I was a little bit of a hellion. Those were great times.”
My father, brother and I also played with a favorite uncle. It was always a treat for us youngsters, as he called us. He offered us little tips, but it was the good-natured kidding that made us look up to him. Small and wiry, he had a chronic smile on his face, a pipe clenched in his teeth. His eyes twinkled behind wire-rimmed glasses.
Dad himself was a wonderful athlete, a former college All-America soccer goalie and a semi-pro baseball All-Star, but he was not a good golfer. He was crafty around the greens, but he couldn’t shake his “baseball” swing off the tee and in the fairways. Still, as my mother often said, “He was the happiest man on the course.”
At my 45th high school reunion, a group of classmates reconnected and pledged to play on an annual basis, which we continue to do. In some ways, time can stand still. The personalities are the same. The same old memories are there. Time, in essence, has disappeared. We have our ups and downs, but an old teaching colleague once said, “There are three factors in a good round of golf — the weather, the company and the score. If two out of three are good, I’ve had a good day.”
Three Newburyport-area friends and I have also started playing on a weekly basis, including some rounds in Athol. In what was my first high school job, I had helped build the course putting green as a member of the grounds-keeping crew. So, for the past 50 years on my returns to this course, I have putted with the same putter on a practice green of my own making.
After one round, I took a little detour around the old neighborhood to show this group where I had grown up, to connect the present with the past. We swung by the pasture where as boys we used to pick blueberries. We passed the lake where we had fished and swum. I stopped to show them the old family homestead, and the now-developed field where we once had played the endless pick-up games of baseball and football until the dinner bell beckoned us home. In a life that is now faster paced, young children are no longer turned loose to roam the neighborhood as we once were.
“My daughters would never let their kids out on their own,” commented one of the friends, “but I was raised like you were.”
In bringing up my own family, golf took a back seat for a number of years. However, just this past Father’s Day weekend, my two sons and I played a round in Athol. They teamed up to win, to their great delight, but this was more about the father-son relationship than about the golf.
So the stories continue to pile up. Along the way, this putter has been a fellow traveler in the history. How could I ever replace it? I probably wouldn’t putt any better anyway.
And if I ever need a replacement, my brother in Florida still has his Walter Hagen, though he no longer uses it.
“If you ever toss yours into a pond,” he said, “I’ll send you mine.”
Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.