A golf ball comes screaming by my ear,…
…rattles through a few tree branches, bangs off the barn, ricochets off a tire, then rolls to a stop beside the stock tank.
“Fore!” we hear after the ball has stopped, followed by hoots and howls from what looks like a band of pirates behind us.
We get up off the ground, spanking off the dust.
“It’s going to be tough to beat that,” my partner says.
We’re midway through the extreme back nine in a homespun golf tourney on a ranch deep in the southern Rockies. Idiots are all over the place, swinging madly with little skill but a whole lot of passion. Turf is flying everywhere.
Another ball comes howling by, narrowly missing a truck window, followed by more cheering and high-fiving.
“It’s getting more dangerous by the minute. I think we ought to bring out the helmets.”
This kind of backcountry golf match tends to break out now and again. I’ve hacked around the Prairie Dog Open in Angel Fire, the downhill course at Red River Ski Area, Colfax pasture golf outside Cimarron, Albert’s bachelor paraty debauch – all considered the majors to backwoods slashers.
The tournaments are fantastic, all having little structure, fewer rules. The courses are all famous for impossible conditions, lousy lies, engineered for challenge, manicured by Mother Nature. It’s a beautiful way to experience the mountains. And it’s best to borrow a set of golf clubs; the terrain can kill any part of a club.
The players, carefully recruited, have little or no idea of what they’re doing: they should be considered armed and dangerous and are wearing strange combinations of protective gear. Our head rules judge is hiding beneath a picnic table waving a white rag. For what’s normally a quiet game, this one sounds more like a rodeo.
The group ahead of us is discussing the more subtle aspects of the game: “It’s a driver. No, it’s a putter. A driver. A putter.”
One of them boldly selects a club, focuses intently, swings and misses wildly. Lots of applause followed by another wild swing, and it’s high and deep into left field. Foul ball and a herd of horses scatters. Animals of all kinds have been ducking for cover or heading for the hills, as if they’d be safe anywhere.
A pure swing or true shot are not optimal in this game. The wilder the better. An unexpected snap hook over the heads of competitors is far better judging by the howls from the gallery. Any shot shattering glass, generating dents, loud noises or injury is much more revered.
The match proceeds with spectacular feats of shanking, chile-dipping, worm-burning and skulling right through the bright sunset and into the night until we lose all our balls and are too beat up to continue.
Then it’s time for the Perpetual Awards and General Backslapping Ceremony where we bask in the glory of our greatness, sharing highlights of the day. We manage to stretch the awards on forever, honoring each other and our forefathers and their forefathers.
You’d think none of us had anything better to do; we had all kinds of things to do. After all, this is New Mexico and there’s never a shortage of things to do. But this pursuit seemed perfect, maybe even better. Guys who shouldn’t be allowed to even hold clubs, much less swing them, had all escaped serious injury. Of course we were all terrible. Like that mattered. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful place. Brilliant.
You just can’t beat the southern Rockies – nowhere, no how.
– Joe Haukebo, Publisher
This article appeared on page 6 of the 2001 print edition of HighCountry.