Last Winter, when the Knights of the Lost Order of Infuriated Frenchmen scheduled their annual Golf Tournament at Valley Heights Country Club, Snoot Dockery, the longtime Pro, was first to run up a warning flag. "I told Margie (Marjorie Wilburite, VHCC Business Manager/Wife of Traylor County Sheriff Orville Wilburite) we had to make a few extra rules for these folks. But, we just never got around to it. And, now, we see the result."
The "result" was an 18-hole Charity Tournament that started Monday at 1 p.m. and finished Tuesday evening at 6. It was 29 hours that included several arrests and finger-pointing all around. The event left competitors, organizers and the staff at Valley Heights totally exhausted.
To get a perspective into the goings-on, this Reporter decided to interview each of the principals involved. The interviews were conducted separately because, in some instances, restraining orders are now in force.
I started at the offices of the group which sponsored the tournament: The Knights of the Lost Order of Infuriated Frenchmen. I met with Guy DeChamois, Historian for the group.
The Quebec, Canada native greeted me with a hearty "Bon jour," a kiss on both cheeks and a book entitled "History of the British Open Golf Championship" opened to page 561. There, I saw a picture of Jean Van de Velde, the Frenchman who is best remembered for his "Tin Cup" performance on the final hole in 1999. Needing only a double bogey to win, he threw away shots willy-nilly and lost the championship in a playoff.
"Personally," said DeChamois, "I never liked Golf and didn't follow it. I was content with my life of being surly in restaurants and yelling obscenities at Anglos from behind the wheel of my Citroen." He grabbed the book from me and snapped it closed. "But, when the great Van de Velde put the corkscrew in the collective heart of every French-blooded Frenchman, we became even more infuriated."
"I don't understand." I said, simply.
The Historian threw the book at me. It sailed past my ear, bounced off the wall and fell to the floor, open to page 561. "Why? You have to ask, why? Because, don't you see? He has given every Frenchman a bad taste in my mouth. And, as a group we are best known for having the good taste, don't you know?”
"Let me rephrase," I said. "What does Jean Van de Velde have to do with a Golf tournament that lasts 29 hours?"
"Heures," he corrected. "It was because of the lesson of Van de Velde, that we determined never to take action until we had considered every option. This makes each player in our group take up to 20 minutes to decide on the proper shot."
"So, you're saying-"
"-What I am saying is that the tournament took 29 heures to play because we did not want to look foolish!"
I had my answer. I stood to leave. DeChamois followed me to the door. "Be sure to mention in the story the filet mignon was overcooked."
The door slammed behind me, hitting me in the hiney. VHCC Chef Bif Stewart was next on my list. He was in the County Jail, after being arrested for swinging a meat cleaver in the direction of DeChamois. But, when I got there, Sheriff Orville Wilburite told me the Chef couldn't have visitors. He was on suicide watch.
The Sheriff explained. "He's despondent. No one ever complained about his cooking. Ever!"
While he wasn't directly involved in the Golf part of this story, the Sheriff was involved in it's finale. So, I asked Wilburite for his take on the elongated tournament.
He sat down behind his desk, slid out a drawer to act as a footrest, leaned back in his chair and puffed on his pipe. "Any damn sporting event that takes more than three hours to play - except the Super Bowl, o' course, is a waste of everybody's time."
"Truth is, when it got to be dark, I got worried about my wife. She should have been home and she wasn't. So, I took the next logical step, started treating the whole deal as a hostage situation and put a call in to my S.W.A.T. Team."
As it turned out, most of the County's S.W.A.T. Team was in the Golf Tournament. That meant only two Team members showed up in their gear. And, that meant a slower response time. The Sheriff explained. "Each member of the S.W.A.T. Team has a specific job on their way to a crime scene. June Ann Lovecrest drives the truck, Billy Dee rides shotgun and loads 'em, too. The other 12 guys help each other put on their body armor in the back of the truck. But, because of the unusual circumstances, we didn't have nobody who knew how to drive the truck or load, shotguns. But, we DID have two guys who knew how to get dressed. Actually, we couldn't drive the truck, because June Ann had the keys...and she was in the Tournament."
"So, what did you do?"
"I got in my car and drove over to the Golf Course to see what the hell was going on. And, when I got there, I couldn't believe it." What I believe any impartial witness would describe as a "tear" welled up in Sheriff Wilburite's good eye. "In the dusk after sunset, I saw my wife on the practice green night-putting with her boss - that kid Wip Myazoff."
"Is that a euphemism for doing something else?"
The Sheriff practically yelled in my face. "No! But, I don't like anybody but me putting with my wife in the dark."
I leaned back. “So, what happened next?"
The Sheriff shrugged. "I whacked Myazoff a couple times, cuffed him and put him in the back of the patrol car. After that, Margie explained why she was still at work. That's when I figured out it wasn't her fault...or Mr. Myazoff's. It was the Frenchies."
I had to ask. "So, what happened to Wip Myazoff?"
"Well, technically, he didn't do nothin' wrong. Marge and him was putting at night - 'Cause they didn't have nothin' else to do."
"Passing the time." I added, helpfully.
Wilburite nodded. "But, while I was clubbin' him. He did resist some. You know, like he'd put his hands up in the way of his face and neck. And, I hate that. So, I hauled him in for resisting arrest. He's in the cell with the Cook (Chef Bif Stewart) from the Club."
"I thought you said the Chef was on suicide watch."
"He is. I got Myazoff watchin' him."
With the legal side of this story "put to bed," it was time for me to head out to the Golf Course and get the rest of the story from Head Pro Snoot Dockery. I found him, asleep in the Bag Room, on top of a pile of discarded Golf towels. I asked the obvious question.
"You sleep on a pile of dirty Golf towels?"
Dockery shrugged. "I like the aroma. It's grass and dirt and spit and chemicals and hope and despair and who knows what else ground into terry cloth. It's the smell of Golf, son." He held out a grass-stained towel with a Traylor County Bank and Trust logo on it. "Go on. Sniff it."
I changed the subject quickly. "Tell me about the K.L.O.I.F. Tournament," I said.
The old Pro threw the dirty Golf towel in my face. "It's the reason I'm sleeping on a pile of these filthy, stinking Golf towels.” He groaned, stood up and stretched. The sound of snapping bones, cartilage, muscles and sinew filled the room. "I didn't know why the Tournament Committee gave all the players two sleeves of those glow in the dark Golf balls. But, I sure found out - after the Sun went down. Before sunset, it was taking a little over an hour a hole. But, after it got dark, it was taking nearly two hours. Then, I guess, exhaustion set in. 'Cause we'd have people tee off, head out to the fairway to find their ball, and fall asleep while deciding on a club. At one point, we had six groups on the fourth hole...all of 'em sleeping." Dockery shook his head sadly. "If I wasn't already divorced from my third wife, this tournament woulda' done it."
"So, you and your staff stayed at the course throughout the night and the following day?" I tried not to sound incredulous, but I guess my amazement betrayed me.
Dockery yanked at a soiled Golf towel that had hooked itself to his belt buckle. "I know this sounds odd to the outside world. But, Golf is a service industry. And, we have to offer hospitality to our customers. It's our business. Stupid. But, true."
I nodded and jotted his quote. "But, why would you want to encourage this particular group to return - ever again?"
"Now, you sound like my Assistant Ty (Benderling). About 3 a.m., he started asking when he could go home. Home...with guests still all over the Golf Course. He wanted to go home." Dockery snorted, then spit something gooey into one of the old Golf towels before throwing it back on the pile in the corner of the Bag Room.
“What did you tell him?“
"Cop an attitude like that one more time, and you're fired! You wanna be in this business, you gotta put your personal life on hold. He knew that comin' in." He spit into a towel and reached down to shine his shoe. "Look, I didn't enjoy bein' here all day, all night and the entire following day - including for the Awards Ceremony and dinner 24 hours late. But, I was."
"Why? Why didn't you just go home?
"Well, for one thing I got a free meal." His smile faded. "But, I gotta tell you, the steak was overcooked."
Larry Caringer has been writing humor for broadcast for a long time. Now, he's writing it for you. The stories, here, are from a collection of short stories from his book "Golf Beat: A Year in the Life of Persimmon Pines."