The call on my cellphone was from a golfing buddy in Denver. My greeting to him was one for the ages.
“Larry, I can’t talk right now,” I half-whispered into the phone. “I’m at the ninth tee at Pinehurst, and I’m up next.”
“Well, don’t let me keep you,” he said bitterly, adding, “Mr. Showoff,” before hanging up.
It was true and it wasn’t. I was indeed in Pinehurst, N.C., but I wasn’t playing at Pinehurst, the resort with the fabled championship course known as No. 2, the “home of American golf,” costing $370 for 18 holes in August.
Instead, we were banging balls in typical zigzag patterns around the fairways of Talamore Golf Resort, famous not for championship golf but because it once used llamas as caddies. We paid $69 and joyfully took just as many divots as we would have at Pinehurst a few miles away. The llamas are still there, by the way, but they don’t caddie anymore.
In fact, the eight of us in our golfing party would be playing two more courses over the next two days, with the total green fees of $200 paid months ahead of time, leaving us feeling flush enough with our current cash to be profligate with the beverage carts and small wagers on the rounds.
Add to that the cost of the insanely golf-centric cottage we rented in the middle of the Village of Pinehurst — $750 for three nights split eight ways — and you have a low-budget/high-laughs four-day golf weekend. It’s an annual affair for us.
After driving to Dulles Airport to pick up one member of our party who flies in from Manchester, England, we load the golf clubs and duffel bags into the Suburban and the four of us head to Richmond, where we pick up another friend; we get on the highway after a quick lunch of pulled pork at Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue on the industrial side of Richmond.
Others in the party come in from Pittsburgh and Charlotte, and well before sunset they meet us at Arundel Garden Cottage, where we catch up on the patio over icy gin and tonics.
The 1920 three-bed, two-bath house sleeps 10 and is decorated in a superbly tasteful golf motif. Golf is everywhere the eye falls, from the coasters on the side tables to the books on the shelf to the vintage wall hangings to the curtain rods, which, I noticed a few years ago, are actually antique golf clubs.
The owner, a lovely woman who lives next door, checks on us now and again to see whether we need anything, and we never do. The house is self-catering, and with most of us veterans of Outer Banks beach weeks together, we’re pretty good at looking out for ourselves.
We cook meals in the kitchen and have running jokes about whatever oddball dishes I’ve decided we’re having with our grilled steaks. One year it was sauteed dandelion greens (everybody asked for seconds), one year it was cauliflower puree (another unlikely hit), once it was Asian pancakes and soy dipping sauce (the favorite, I think).
Golf day starts with an early morning breakfast of eggs, sausage and grits at the Pinehurst Harness Racetrack a few hundred yards outside the village proper. I should keep this place secret, but this down-home establishment is rarely full and always satisfying. You can get a hot, homemade breakfast for less than $5.
Then we drive to the links of the day, and every year the three courses are different. There are 43 golf courses within a 15-mile radius of Pinehurst, according to the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Which means that we still have roughly 10 more years of playing three different courses a year until we have no choice but to pony up for Pinehurst No. 2.
Tobacco Road, Longleaf, Deercroft — we’ve lost balls in the water, in the barrancas, under the pine straw and even in the middle of the fairway (who knows where they went?) as we’ve played our best bogey golf, taking the sport seriously, respecting the game, caring for the courses, keeping up the pace (despite looking for those lost balls) but also having lighthearted fun. Hand wedges are not unheard of.
As my friend Rick, who puts the outings together for us, says, “We’ve never been thrown off any courses, but we’ve gotten some dirty looks.”
After recounting the match at the 19th hole — and trying to determine who put the Baby Ruth candy bar in the cup at 16, an old joke — we head back to the cottage for foosball games while dinner cooks, then walk the few short blocks in the pleasant night air to the local taverns. Maxie’s, the Tater Barn and Dugan’s Pub are favorites, largely because they’re closest.
But then there was the night we ventured to the Pinehurst Resort, where the high-rollers flying in on their private jets live it up. We took up places on benches on the big front porch, beverages in hand, with Mark, our friend from England, watching a couple dancing furiously on the porch to the brassy music coming from inside.
The man with the shaved head spun his comely partner in time to the tune and dipped her to the floor in a thrilling finale. The dance over, the woman fell back onto the bench next to Mark to catch her breath and said, “I love to shag.”
Mark didn’t move.
“I belong to a shagging club,” she said proudly. “Do you shag?”
Mark slowly turned to me in disbelief, to see if I had an appropriate answer to her audacious question.
“Shagging,” of course, means something different in England than in the American South, where it’s a type of swing dancing. By now, though, the rest of us were doubled over with laughter.
McClain is the rugby columnist for NBC-Universal Sports and editor of the print and online publication “Selling to Seniors.”