Editor’s note: They’re not Pebble, Bandon, Kiawah, or Pinehurst. Common courses are the modest 9- and 18-hole munis and semi-private clubs that most golfers play. Following is the first installment of what I hope will be an occasional series.
LOCATED IN PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Desert Aire Golf Course is a flat, short, 9-hole public track with few distinguishing features besides the Joshua trees that are native to the area. It is not a difficult course. It is not a course anyone is dying to play. It is the course on which I learned to play golf.
For that reason alone, I love Desert Aire because it introduced me to the game. It was where I spent my summer days as a teen. And it was where I spent many hours playing alongside my dad, brother, friends and golf teammates.
I was a pretty good baseball player, but I gave up the national pastime at 12 to pick up a different kind of stick and hit a small white ball with dimples instead of one with laces. I made the high school golf team as a freshman. I was terrible. I fit right in. We finished eighth out of eight teams my freshman year. I got better. I played three more years in high school and on the local community college team. Because I fell in love with golf at Desert Aire and learned to play the game on my humble home course, I enjoyed the privilege of competing at private country clubs and public resort courses throughout California.
In my early golf days, I sometimes rode my bike three miles on sandy trails to Desert Aire with a small carry bag slung over my shoulder. I had a little shag bag of scuffed and cut golf balls that I hit to a lone practice green over and over and over again. I learned to hit off hardpan because lush grass was scarce. I pretended to be the pro golfers I watched on television.
I played on 110-degree days and I played a lot. One day I made five trips around Desert Aire, walking 45 holes. That was my record.
I never had a formal private golf lesson from our head pro “Red” Simmons or assistant pro Ron O’Connor. I did take group junior lessons, during which Ron refined my grip. And somewhere along the way—maybe while playing with him—Red gave me a tip about the shoulder turn. I still rely on that swing thought.
Wind was the one thing that turned Desert Aire into a little beast. The wind regularly blew 25 miles per hour at Desert Aire, with gusts up to 40. (If you wanted to play in calm conditions, you played in the morning, the earlier the better.) There was out of bounds along the perimeter of the course, and the strong winds would quickly turn a fade into a slice and a draw into a hook, blowing errant shots into the desert or the street, whether Ave. P or 40th St. East.
I remember one story about an unfortunate motorist on Ave. P. C.L., Red’s son, smashed a tee shot on No. 1 that hooked into the street and struck the windshield of an oncoming car. The driver parked his damaged vehicle in the gravel lot and stormed into the clubhouse where Ron, the assistant pro, was working behind the counter.
“Somebody just hit a golf ball into my car and broke my windshield!” shouted the man. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I’m going to tell C.L. to turn his left hand a little bit to the left to weaken his grip,” Ron replied.
−The Armchair Golfer