The Greening of Cowtown

I don’t know what was going through John Schroeder’s mind as 20,000 spectators watched him line up a putt worth $18,000 on the final hole of the final day of Colonial Country Club’s annual golf tournament, but I was thinking about my old Granny. The 25-foot putt would enable Schroeder to tie for first place and force a sudden death play-off with Ben Crenshaw. It was easily the most important putt in Schroeder’s eight years on the professional tour: although Schroeder’s yearly earnings have climbed as high as $67,000, he is considered an unknown. In contrast, Crenshaw, the young Austin High and University of Texas graduate, has won more than $500,000 since turning pro in 1973 and is considered the Jack Nicklaus of his generation. I knew what my old Granny would be thinking as Schroeder drew back his putter. She would be thinking: Miss it, turkey . And he did, by a fraction of an inch.   

Granny used to think that golf was a cream-puff game redeemed only by the fact that it occupied the weekends of men who would otherwise be foreclosing on small farms and roping widows and orphans (Granny was both) to railroad trestles. Then about 1960, television introduced her to Arnold Palmer. Palmer reminded sportswriters, and by extension my Granny, of a blacksmith hammering out his trade on an anvil, and on that image the masses rose up and swallowed the game as mindlessly as they would have swallowed a new brand of shrimp-flavored almonds. 

Golf had its good guys and its bad guys — Granny never cared much for Gary Player because he dressed in black and was a foreigner (from South Africa), and it took her a spell to adjust to the news that Jack Nicklaus had once been a fraternity boy at Ohio State. Golf was both childishly simple and vicariously egalitarian, so long as it was exercised, as Granny exercised it, in front of a seventeen-inch TV screen. It was a remarkable sight to walk into Granny’s tiny living room, cluttered with yellowing photographs of catfish she had caught and relics preserved from the 1936 Texas Centennial, there to find the old lady playing out her remaining weekends perched in front of her Montgomery Ward (“Monkey Ward” she called it) black-and-white set, dipping Garrett snuff and pontificating such wisdom as, “Arnie was making a run on the field till he chilidipped that wedge on fourteen.”  

Granny lived all of her life in or around Fort Worth but never saw a Colonial, except on TV. When I was a sportswriter, I offered to take her, but I might as well have asked her to put on her best housedress and come meet the Queen of England. “What would I do out there with all them high-muckety-mucks?” she wanted to know. Granny wasn’t a social climber: her idea of high rolling was taking a city bus to Leonard’s Department Store’s free parking lot, catching the private subway that connected to the store’s huge basement, purchasing a spool of No. 1 thread, dining on fried perch and peach cobbler at the Leonard’s cafeteria, and returning home in time to watch Arnold Palmer’s Tips on Golf , which preceded the tournament of the week. 

Once, when we were driving through Forest Park, I turned off impulsively on Colonial Parkway, which skirts the rosebush-laced fences of the golf course and circles in front of the country club’s faintly antebellum red-brick clubhouse. “You’re fixin’ to get us arrested,” Granny warned. I told her that Colonial Parkway was a public thoroughfare, the same as her own modest street. If that was so, she asked, then why did a high-muckety-muck like Marvin Leonard, the department store mogul and founder of Colonial, live there? I said that Marvin didn’t actually live at Colonial. It was true that he built Colonial and supervised its rebuilding after a series of fires and floods, but now he had built a second country club, Shady Oaks, and it was my understanding that he made his home somewhere in that neighborhood. Shady Oaks was now the club in Fort Worth. I asked if she was interested in seeing Shady Oaks, but Granny’s old eyes had wandered through the stately oaks and elms and out to the perfectly manicured 17th fairway where a group of men in Banlon shirts and straw hats were preparing to hit their drives. “It’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw,” she said.   

As I watched John Schroeder miss the most important putt of his life, my heart sank in a small, permanent way. Granny had hexed him from the grave. Arnie and Jack weren’t even in the field, but I knew Granny would already have taken Ben Crenshaw to heart with the same unwavering zeal that she felt back in the twenties the first time she watched the Fighting Texas Aggie Band parade through Fort Worth. Crenshaw had that special zing. If Palmer was a blacksmith, Crenshaw was a sculptor. Twenty thousand groaned as Schroeder missed his big putt, but later, when everyone was drunk and mellowed out on a hard week of socializing and name playing, all you heard was what a great finish for a great tournament . 

Poor Schroeder. I guess second place wasn’t so bad, seeing as how he won $22,800 and got to appear on national TV in the shadow of Ben Crenshaw.

Poor Schroeder.   

 

Inching along with the tournament traffic on Colonial Parkway early in May, I observed residents hawking parking spaces on their front lawns for $5. A few hundred yards from the clubhouse was a barricade guarded by a policeman who rerouted all motorists not possessing Super Saints badges. All other categories — the ordinary Angels, Patrons, club members, and plain folks with $15 tickets — were directed to the TCU Stadium parking lot where buses waited to ferry them to the golf course. There are 1600 members of Colonial, and a waiting list of

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