Personal Musings

I’ll Let You Drive the Golf Cart

Seventeen years before leukemia did my dad in, I almost took him out of existence on the golf course

Aside from putt-putt on family vacation, the idea of playing golf never did much for me. That is, until my dad walked over to the basketball court where I was shooting jump shots one Saturday morning and asked, “Do you want to go with me to Hat Creek and play a round of golf? I’ll let you drive the golf cart.”

Step aside Jack Nicklaus, Darryl Earnhardt is warming up his right foot.

Hell yes, I do, I thought inside my head.

“Sure, I can go,” I said out loud.

Over the years, my dad tried various father-son bonding experiments with me. The problem was we had different interests. When he took me fishing on a boat in my grandfather’s pond, I drew back my reel and caught his eyelid with a barbed fishing hook. After we made it to shore, we drove to Old Well Grocery where my grandpa had to use a set of pliers to get the hook out.

When my dad took me hunting, I accidentally shot a small bird, felt terrible about it, and made him help me find it in the brush. Returning home, I made a nest for it in my tree house and stayed outside with it all night. The bird died and I never went hunting again.

We did make a dynamic duo when it came to go-kart racing. Back in the 1980s, there weren’t a lot of rules on go-kart tracks. It was every man, woman, and child for themselves.

“If he dies, he dies,” Ivan Drago once said of Apollo Creed in Rocky IV.

“I’ll hit ’em in the front. You clip their tail,” my dad said. “They’ll spin out in turn three if we time this right.”

The poor mom and her child had no idea what they were getting into when they strapped in on that Carolina go-kart track that hot summer evening in 1989.

Next up: golfing.

I’d ridden with my dad to Hat Creek in the past to hit a bucket of balls on the driving range. Not enough excitement for my young soul. Unlike baseball where someone throws a fast ball your way and there’s a fence to clock it over if you summon enough physical strength, hitting golf balls felt like a mostly static activity.

You place the ball down on a tee where it just sits there. Then you do your best to drive it as far as you can in an open field. Unlike golf ranges in the city, there’s no fence or net at Hat Creek. It’s straight field. I never felt like I was achieving a goal.

Whereas in basketball you sweat to death and breathe hard in shorts and a tank top, in golf the preferred attire is khaki pants and a polo. You can even drink lemonade before you tee off and not pant like a dog in July as you do so.

I know an avid golfer reading this thinks I’m missing the point of golfing. As an adult, I now understand the beauty golf aficionados find in the sport. When I was a kid, however, I found it mindnumbingly boring.

By introducing a golf cart into the equation, my dad spiced up the sport for me.

“This one looks good,” my dad said. With keys in hand, my dad cranked that bad boy up and put her in reverse. At the edge of the parking lot, we switched seats. I couldn’t reach the pedals sitting all the way back, so I scooted forward. Perfection.

While on the course, my dad showed me the proper mechanics of golfing: what clubs to use, how to swing, how to chip, and so on. He was really into it.

All I wanted to do was knock the spit off the ball so I could drive after it with the cart. I was trying to put in mileage on four wheels.

“Take your time,” my dad said. “Line it up.”


Off to the right like every hole before it.

Two hours into our golf game is when catastrophe came upon us. To get to our next tee, the golf cart track led down a hill between a wooded area. Not up the hill mind you. Down the hill. A water hazard sits to the right at the bottom of the hill, or as I like to call a water hazard: a pond.

The problem goes back to my lack of leg length and height at my then age. Not knowing a downward slope was approaching, I may have been going a touch too fast.

“Slow down,” my dad said. “Slow down!”

Too late.

It was like the scene in Jackass: The Movie when Johnny Knoxville and crew rent a pair of golf carts and act like, well: jackasses, behind the wheel. This is about the closest reenactment of that day my dad said to the wide-eyed me, “I’ll let you drive the golf cart.”

Jackass: The Movie. Golf cart scene

The only difference is we were hightailing it down a steep hill and instead of a grown man who could reach the pedals and change his trajectory if he so chooses, there was a child at the tender age of eight behind the wheel driving for the first time.

As we zipped down the hill, I slid too far forward in the seat. In my defense, the seats were vinyl so it was like trying to grip eel s—t. As I did so, my foot in turn pressed the golf cart’s pedal to the metal while the rest of my bodyweight smothered the steering wheel.

I know you’re not supposed to take the Lord’s name in vain, but my dad took the Lord’s name in vain right then and there — about five or six times as he mixed in some version of “Slow down” and “You’re going to get us killed.”

At one point, we ended up on two wheels. My dad, hunched over and half standing in the tiny cart, repositioned his body weight to level us back down to earth. While doing so, his head slammed the underside roof of the cart repeatedly.

Thankfully every hill has its end. It also helped that my dad yanked me backward into the seat, thus removing my lead foot from the floorboard so my too short legs could no longer reach the pedal.

This wasn’t the hill we were going to die on, nor would we drown in the water hazard, aptly named after all. Not today.

The rest of our golf outing was anti-climatic. We played one more hole before my dad called it a wrap. I felt very small as a human being and said very little for the rest of the evening. Not because my dad belittled me in any way — he didn’t — but because I almost caused us to meet our maker on a golf course of all places.

And here I thought the sport was boring.

I’d never had a near death experience playing baseball or basketball before — nor have I since. But golf, wow, what a game!

And that’s how, seventeen years before leukemia did my dad in, I almost took him out of existence with a machine of death known as a golf cart.

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