SNAKES ALIVE!

SNAKES ALIVE!

From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

Snakes Alive!

Golf is temporary insanity practiced in a pasture.

Dave Kindred

Dave Harris, my roommate and golfing partner in college, was almost a scratch golfer. He would have been invited to play on the university team except for one frailty; he was an incorrigible practical joker. Sometimes it was the duck call he blew during somebody’s back-swing, but mostly it came from the collection of rubber snakes in his golf bag. One afternoon, a burly freshman from Spokane lined up a putt on the 6th hole, but backed off when, out of the corner of his eye, he spied a nasty-looking articulated python lying on the green. “Harris, ” he said, “you pull this stuff again and I’ll part that blond crew cut with a 5-iron and reduce your fat frame to blubber!” So Dave laid off for a while, but one afternoon while playing as a twosome at Green Hill Country Club, he caused a big black snake with yellow stripes to appear suddenly at my feet just as I was about to tee off.

Then in the spring of 1947, Dave and I parted company. I took a job with the Montana State Highway Department, but he stuck around at the University of Washington to go for his masters; I ended up on a sizable construction job working out of Shelby in northern Montana. Shelby’s major claim to fame was having been the scene of the infamous Dempsey/Gibbons prize fight in 1923; a gigantic billboard on the road into town told the passing world about it. Its other notable feature was that it was one of the few prairie towns up along the High-Line to sport a real municipal golf course.

The course was singularly spartan in its configuration. The locals had simply mowed down a few acres of buffalograss for fairways, set the mower as low as it would go to make greens, dragged in an old granary for a starter’s shack, and voila!—instant golf course. But they had to dig the cups about two feet deep so the wind wouldn’t blow the flagsticks over, and most short putts were conceded because nobody relished the idea of reaching up to the elbow into those dark recesses for a ball. Also, a lot of the mowing and some of the fertilizing was accomplished by allowing a local rancher to graze a few scrawny old cows on the place. I had tried playing the course twice but gave up in disgust both times, once after nicking the dickens out of a brand-new 8-iron on a rock and the other because the tumbleweeds, running before a Wild West wind, sailed across my line of sight every time I set up to swing. But there was no waiting, since the course was always completely deserted until the weekends, when one of the cattle owner’s kids kicked the cows out to another pasture and then opened up the starter’s shack and accepted two-dollar green fees from a few hardy souls.

Dave and I had kept in touch, and one evening he called saying he was working at Glacier Park for the summer and invited me up for a round of golf whenever I was free. “Davey, ” I said, “I’d love to, but we’re working seven-day weeks right now. But, heck, we’ve got a perfectly good course right here in Shelby; I can take off a little early one day and we can play some twilight golf. After all, it doesn’t get dark up here until about ten during July, and you’re only a two-hour drive away.”

“Great! How about this Wednesday? Thursday’s my day off.”

“Fine. See you then, ol’ buddy.”

First I reserved a room for Dave at the hotel, then made a small purchase in the novelty section of the drugstore and dropped in for a short chat with Tom, proprietor of Tommy’s Bar and Grill. Then I located Jimmy, the kid who insisted on riding shotgun whenever I went out of town because he loved to watch heavy equipment move earth.

“Jimmy, ” I said, “do you think you could find a couple of snakes somewhere by Wednesday afternoon? Any kind, as long as they are good-sized and not rattlers.”

“Sure. How about gopher snakes? There’s a bunch of ’em living under our chicken house.”

“Beautiful, ” I said, and handed him a piece of paper with instructions along with a dollar bill. “And there’s another buck in it if you do a good job.”

Dave showed up at the hotel right on time, and on the way to the golf course he said, “Bob, I know I used to give you strokes back in Seattle, but here you have all the local knowledge, so how about playing this round even-steven and just for a couple of beers?”

I said okay, and while Dave surveyed the course from the 1st tee with a certain air of misgiving, I said, “Davey, you’re a city guy and this is a country course, so I think I owe you some pointers. First of all, I notice the cattle are grazing out here this evening, so I’d suggest you either take off or cover up that red shirt. Also, if your ball comes to rest on or within six inches of a cow it can be lifted without penalty. And I should point out that this is rattlesnake country, and they start coming out this time of day, so please watch your step; the nearest antivenom clinic is ninety miles away.”

So, although it was still about eighty degrees in the shade, Dave pulled a blue sweater out of his bag. Then, despite glancing over his shoulder at the cows every five seconds and scanning the grass for snakes, he managed to hit to within a couple feet off the green in three on the par-4 1st hole. He sank a twenty-foot chip. “Bobby, ” he said as he pulled out the pin, “I think I’ve already begun to figure out your little course.” But when he reached for the ball and his fingers encountered the cool coils of a big snake moving around looking for daylight, he flung his 6-iron away, tried to run but stumbled, fell on his behind and lay there gasping for breath. “Bob, ” he whispered, “I think there’s some kind of snake in there!”

I looked in the hole, reached down, grabbed the animal by the neck, turned him loose to the prairie and, as he slithered away, said, “Heck, Davey, he’s just an ol’ gopher snake. Wouldn’t hurt a soul. In fact, folks like to have ’em around because they eat mice and rats.”

On the next hole, another par-4, Dave regained composure, hit a lucky shot out of a clump of cactus and actually scored a birdie. Then on the 3rd, a 175-yard par-3, his tee shot landed in the only “sand trap” on the course, a natural alkali seep which had probably been there for a few thousand years, and Dave ended with a terrible lie. But he laid open a sand wedge, blasted out to within three feet of the pin, and was about to putt out when the handsome head of another gopher snake poked itself over the edge of the hole, stuck its tongue out at Dave, and then fell back. “Hey, Bob, ” he yelled, “there’s another one of your pet snakes trapped in here!”

I trotted up to the hole, peered in and said, “Davey, this one happens to be a rattlesnake with six rattles on his tail, and I don’t understand why he didn’t buzz at you. But if you had come any closer, we might have been on our way to the clinic in Great Falls. So for the rest of the round, why don’t we just concede any putts under four feet? And I hope that wasn’t a new ball.” Then while Dave shakily marked down the scores, I reminded myself to slip little Jimmy an extra buck. He had performed well.

After that, all the wheels came off Dave’s game, and at the end of nine holes he flung away his sweater, gazed at his new white shoes covered with cow dung and said, “Well, Bobby, I’ve had it with your damned country golf course, and the beer is on me.”

Later, sitting at the bar in Tommy’s Bar and Grill, Dave lifted his first mug of cold suds, hesitated, looked again into the glass and then reeled back in disgust. There in the bottom rested a little rubber snake, coiled and ready to strike.

After a couple of deep breaths, he looked around the room at all the quiet, expectant faces, reached into the mug with two fingers and extracted the snake. Then he drained the beer and said loudly, “Tommy, would you put a head on this? But you don’t need to be so fancy with the next one. I’ll just have it plain without a snake.” The regulars, primed ahead for this event, gave him an ovation. One anonymous patron must have been really impressed, because somebody picked up the dinner tab that night.

I said good-bye to Dave early while he was in deep conversation with Lucy, the waitress, because I had to get up at five in the morning. The next afternoon back at the hotel, Bill, the desk clerk/manager/owner, hailed me in the lobby and handed me a note from Dave:

“Dear ol’ buddy—I got to know little Lucy pretty well last night, and she ratted on you. It was all nicely orchestrated, but did you really need to get half the town involved? Anyhow, you made your point. Looking forward to another round on a course as far away as possible from yours.—Dave.”

I tucked the note in my shirt pocket and started for the room and a shower, but Bill stopped me and said, “By the way, your friend must be into novelties or toys or something.”

“Nope, ” I said. “He’s a dumb engineer like myself.”

“Well, it’s strange. He didn’t check out until just before noon, and when Hilda finally got in to make up his room, she came down all excited because he left a dozen rubber snakes in the wastebasket.”

Bob Brust

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