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'Bagger Vance' explains why golf is the greatest game

By Steve Luse
Published on

CUMBERLAND, Md. -- In the movie "The Legend of Bagger Vance" the title character played by Will Smith says "You don't win golf. You play golf."

I sort of disagree. I think you win every time you step on a golf course. A wise man once said that a bad day on a golf course is better than any day at work. It's just you, the course and that little white ball. There are no teammates to blame, or refs to make bad calls.

Golf is a lifetime sport for players of all ages and abilities. I'm sure some golfing parents have a club in their son's or daughter's hands as soon as they can walk. And I know there are players over 100 years old still playing.

I started our grandson, Cohen Arbogast, hitting the ball when he was only 2 and he loves the game. My golfing buddy, the late Al Via, was still playing up to a year before he died at the age of 95.

Via's love for the game led him to starting the Vicki Via Dotson Celebrity Golf Tournament to fight leukemia, which took the life of his daughter. The former restaurant and motel owner in Frostburg directed this very successful event for 25 years, drawing close to 150 players in the early years at the Maplehurst Country Club and raising over a million dollars.

Al enjoyed going on golf trips with my wife Nancy and I, and playing on courses covered by the Golf Card International. When he got his own card and received the monthly bulletin he saw an item about Grasshopper clubs and a lightbulb lit in his head.

Looking for something new to do with golf, Al came to me and asked if I thought we could start a club here. I told him I would handle getting the word out in the newspaper and doing the publicity, but he would have to make it go.

We attracted over 30 players in the first year of what was then called the Western Maryland Grasshoppers and the hopping began. The local club quickly grew to be the largest in the country under the Golf Card International umbrella.

Now known as the Senior Grasshoppers, with numerous players from West Virginia, we have over 100 members with newcomers still joining. Mary McKenzie is doing an excellent job directing the group with help from assistants Sam Harman, Chip Hitchins and Mike Tipton.

The group plays on Tuesdays from April through November on over 30 different courses in a four-state area. It's all about fun.

I began playing golf when I was 12 years old as a caddy at the York (Pa.) Outdoor Country Club. I have never been very good, but I was quickly addicted.

I continued to play in the service and as a student at West Virginia University.

While serving in the U.S. Air Force I was probably one of a few golfers who could say they played in Texas, Mississippi, Germany and Pakistan.

Stationed in Peshawar near the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan as a radio operator, I had the opportunity to play a course built by the British in the newer part of the city when Great Britain ruled Pakistan. A true story I like to tell was having a king cobra raise up in the middle of the fairway about 25 yards in front of us. My caddy quickly grabbed my nine iron and got behind the snake and killed it for a valuable skin. I don't remember my score, but I will never forget that cobra.

When I arrived in Cumberland I played a few rounds at the old Coverwood Golf Course in LaVale before it was closed to build the Country Club Mall. I elected to only play once at the Cumberland Golf Club course known as the rock pile with its sand greens.

Nancy and I got heavily involved in tennis as I helped direct the Allegany County Open and Cancer Tournament along with overseeing the Cumberland Tennis League. Partly because of time and money the golf clubs stayed in the closet for most of the next 15 years. But I never lost my love of the game.

When my mother died in 1988 my brothers Gary and Brad decided to set up trips to different golf sites. I also found out that my neighbor Mike was going to Piney Run Course in Garrett, Pa., and I started going with him on my days off. Nancy got tired of me taking off for whole days and wanted to play. As a good athlete she had a natural swing and was quickly hooked. She is a much better woman golfer than I am a men's golfer and outdrives some of the men in our group.

The Legend of Bagger Vance ranks up there with Caddyshack as my favorite golf movies. Set during the Great Depression in Savannah, Ga., it is about Adele Invergordon (played by the beautiful Charlize Theron) staging an exhibition match to save the golf course built by her father.

The Savannah socialite convinced Legendary Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill) to play for the $10,000 prize. The town's people insisted that she would have to get someone representing Savannah to play in the event.

After several names were tossed around, a young boy Hardy Greaves (played by J. Michael Moncrief) suggested they try to get Captain Rannulph Junuh, sighting that he had won every tournament in the South and once had a tournament stop play to measure his drive. Hardy said he would go ask him

Junuh (played by Matt Damon) was a decorated war hero but had returned home a broken man, drinking hard and feeling sorry for himself. At first he told Hardy he wouldn't play because he had lost his swing, but then changed his mind.

In the second round of the two-day 72-hole match with the help of Bagger Vance, Junuh found his "authentic swing" to set up a very dramatic finish that I won't divulge for people who haven't seen the movie.

Near the end of the movie while talking to Capn' Junuh, Hardy delivers this great short soliloquy about golf.

"It's the greatest game there is. Ask anybody. It's fun. It's hard and you stand out there on that green, green grass, and it's just you and the ball and there ain't nobody to beat up on but yourself; just like Mister Newnan keeps hittin' himself with the golf club every time he gets angry. He's broken his toe three times on account of it. It's the only game I know that you can call a penalty on yourself, if you're honest, which most people are. There just ain't no other game like it."

I agree with Hardy that there is no other game like golf and I plan to play as long I can.

This article was from Cumberland Times-News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.