Golfers are forever reminiscing about monster courses they have braved and the famous holes that haunt them. I have never played the game, and probably never will, but I'll match the 8th at Bushey Hall near Watford against the 18th at Pebble Beach any day.
The Bushey Hall course was attached, as the fortunes of war would have it, to the area leased by the Eighth Fighter Command, to which I was attached as a WAC corporal, during World War II. The golf course, a few yards up a dirt road from headquarters, became the center of military activity for enlisted personnel. It was a gentle little course with none of the usual golfers' obstacles; that is, no sand traps, no water hazards and few trees. During the day sheep from a neighboring farm grazed on the fairways, keeping the grass nicely cropped and adding a pastoral note to a scene otherwise marred by the preparations of war.
Each hole developed its own personality for us and was liked or disliked, depending upon the use to which it was put. The 3rd, for example, was Boredom where once a month enlisted personnel were marched to hear a reading of the Riot Act. On a sunny day we would sit under a tree nibbling sweet blades of grass and staring at the sheep, who stared back.
Our target practice was at the 9th and ended in catastrophe. When, shortly after D-day, an order came through for WACs to be taught how to handle carbines, targets were erected along the edge of the course, guns were issued and a male first sergeant was detailed to teach us the intricate mechanism of the weapon. When he concluded, with no great enthusiasm, that this had been accomplished, we were marched out to the 9th. We were soon marched back. An accidental bullet had almost caught the hapless first sergeant as he was explaining the safety device, and the second bullet fired had imbedded itself in a sheep that had strayed into range. The Army paid damages to the enraged farmer and took away our guns.
July 17, 1966
The golf course was not always the scene of dull lectures and inadequate marksmanship. There was the 7th hole (two trees!), which came to be reserved for social life. Notes were left in the cup at the 7th, their privacy strictly honored. It was a mild sort of trysting place. Cases of true love, by unspoken agreement, took themselves to London or elsewhere. A group would gather at the 7th each evening. The boys brought beer, nursed in some cold, private preserve of their own. The girls brought whatever food could be cadged from the mess hall after supper. Spider, a long string-bean boy with a brooding face, brought his guitar. He seldom spoke, but he sang or strummed softly as we told stories or talked shop. More often than not he was in trouble with the authorities, and his military history was a series of summary court martials and restrictions. He never tried to explain his unsoldierly impulses.
"The trouble with Spider is that when he drinks he blacks out," his only close friend, the supply sergeant, told us. On one occasion Spider had carefully collected and distributed around the post a gunnysack full of stray cats. He was restricted to his barracks for two weeks. About midnight on the night of his release, headquarters received a complaint from the sheep farmer that one of his chickens had been stolen. A flickering light was soon spotted at the 8th green. When MPs investigated this serious violation of the blackout, they found a drunken Spider happily roasting the purloined chicken over a homemade pit, the cup having been enlarged to accommodate the fire.
In the world outside the golf course the war continued and Germany increased the flow of buzz bombs. It was the day Spider's restriction for the crime of the chicken ended that a bomb found its way into the town of Watford, a mile or so from the post. The supply sergeant had gone to town on Army business, taking Spider with him. Ordering Spider to wait in the jeep, the sergeant had gone up the street to the Army warehouse. He was still there when the bomb fell, demolishing, among other things, the jeep. Spider's body was not recovered. A few days later a memorial service was held at the 8th hole. There was much marching of lieutenant to captain to major, with salutes traded all around and a Purple Heart posthumously awarded to our comrade "fallen in the line of duty." No one noticed the lanky, disheveled figure in a soiled G.I. uniform, hanging in curious absorption over the fence until we were marched away. It was Spider, of course, unaware that he had just witnessed his own funeral. His story was simple. He had left the jeep to wait for his friend in the more comforting atmosphere of a pub down the street. After that? No one would ever know. Spider was charged with being AWOL and disgracing his uniform.
"The only time that uniform ain't in disgrace is when it's in the cleaners," said the supply sergeant. Our preoccupation with Spider was distracted when the golf course was suddenly put off limits and a special crew sent out to get it ready for—of all things—a game of golf. By Sunday morning flags fluttered from pins which had been excavated from the dim interior of a storeroom at headquarters and the farmer removed his mutton for a day. Those of us who were not on duty turned out to watch the three visiting generals play. Our own general made up the foursome, and we cheered his first three slices. He waved a club in salute. It was May 4, 1945. Three days later Germany surrendered.
Our camp broke up shortly after, with only a skeleton crew remaining. Some of us went to France, others to Belgium. Spider was sent home on a Section 8 (unable to adapt to me Army). The Army had certainly been unable to adapt to him. "It's mutual," said the supply sergeant.
As we pulled away in buses, I glanced back at the course. It looked slightly unkempt under a fine drizzle of rain. The leaves on the trees at the Social Seventh hung forlornly against the gray sky. A lone sheep lay against the pin at the first. I could not see the 3rd or the 8th. No, I am not impressed by the phobias aroused in golfers by the 7th at Pine Valley. Don't tell me about your memorable golf holes.