After baseball, my second boyhood love was miniature golf. Not putt-putt mind you, but miniature golf.
You see, anyone growing up as I did near the University of Maryland in College Park had a somewhat snobbish attitude about miniature golf, since we had what we believed to be the finest facility in the land -- a place called Monte's, two 18-hole courses just off campus. Oh, sure, Monte's had your basic windmill, loop, clown's nose and wooden pinball-machine holes, but the courses also required you to use a wedge on occasion, thus giving novices like me the false impression that somehow real golf was being played, as opposed to those par-2 courses that line the highways of your basic tourist-trap beach town.
At10 I would beg my father to take my friends and me to Monte's as often as possible, and we eventually established a routine of going virtually every Monday night in the summer, when we'd play 18 holes and then settle in for a post-golf snack of cheese crackers and soda.
As my friends and I got older, we visited Monte's without my father, and for other reasons than mere golf. You see, Monte's was quite often the chosen location of many a first date and some of the best-looking girls in town could be seen at the course. For a bunch of young Catholic school graduates, a quality night on the town would often involve a beer or two and a trip to Monte's.
Sound pathetic? You should know that fantasy is what quite often makes boys tick. There is no rejection in our fantasy leagues, where we sink the winning putt, hit the clinching home run, and then ride off in the sunset with the girl of our dreams. It's what gets us through the tedium of everyday life and things like furniture shopping, painting the basement or writing the mortgage check each month.
Well, sure enough, we all grew up and most of us got married, and I stopped visiting Monte's for a while until about 10 years ago. Then my friends and I set up a new ritual. Each year, on the July night of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, we would go to Monte's, play 18, and then retire to another famous College Park area establishment, Ledo's Restaurant, for beer, pizza and TV. This tradition worked quite well for several years until we learned that Monte's had been sold to the university, which planned to close it to make room for off-campus housing.
We all met at the course at the usual time on the usual day, only to discover that Monte's was not open that day. However, as fate would have it, several of my friends happened to have just what we needed -- putters, golf balls and, fittingly enough, beer. So we took a few scorecards from the front of the registration desk and went to play on the lower course, figuring we would be hard to spot from the main road. If someone noticed and objected to our presence, we could beg forgiveness and be on our way.
We had a great time that evening. Imagine having the last round on a course -- the course of your childhood dreams -- to yourself! We played until dusk and we were hungry, as were the mosquitoes, and it was time to go.
As I walked back to my car, I took one last look at Monte's. And for a moment, I could see myself as a boy of 10 with my dad, both of us happily killing time on a warm summer evening. I could see myself as an impish college boy, under an escort of King Bud and his many pards, ogling all the pretty sights.
My midsummer night's dream was broken by the voice of one of my friends, who said, "Get in the car, loser! You owe me!"
And with that, I got in my car and drove off in search of my next great memory.