My very first introduction to golf was at a lighted miniature course on South Broadway located just outside of Loop 323. It was old-fashioned miniature golf with dirt putting surfaces enhanced by sawdust or some such covering.
I do remember the trees carried the lights and my very first putt rolling directly into the cup for an ace! I made a hole in one on my very first hole of golf. I was hooked and that was almost 60 years ago.
Full disclosure — my mother always said to me, “you don’t have a bad memory but a convenient memory.”
Such thoughts came to mind Wednesday night as I participated in my second City Championship at Putt Putt Golf and Games next to Green Acres Bowl on the Loop, still owned by the Ken Dietz family since 1962. Katherine Dietz Adair is now the proprietor and the 2019 edition was the 25th annual event honoring her late father who was always the welcoming host back in my boyhood days when a lot of us would play for hours, perfecting the nuances of bounces off the wood to avoid hazards such as poles and water that dot the course. More on the water hazard later.
Back in the day, there were local greats at Tyler’s Putt Putt like Robert “Ace” Gallup, Floyd Betts, Tom Brown and many others who presently escape my memory. But the bond was there as we traversed the two courses, named Course 1 and Course 2. Not too imaginative, perhaps, but similar to such great American bastions of golf at Pinehurst in North Carolina, which hosts next week’s U.S. Amateur on Courses No. 2 and No. 4 and Medinah Country Club near Chicago where the pros will play next week at the BMW Championship on Course No. 3.
But my real pals at Putt Putt were the guys who lived close by on Rollingwood and other streets near Clarkston Elementary, primarily Howie Alexander and as he reminded me during the tourney this year, Mike Satterwhite. All of us played golf competitively later at Robert E. Lee High School.
Arriving at around 7:30 for the 8 p.m. start of the 54-hole competition, I noticed a guy in the distance wearing a Titleist golf cap which is a dead give away that this person is either a good golfer or wishes he was. A short time later, I met the man in the Titleist cap, another former Lee golfer, Kyle DeShazo. And he is definitely a good golfer and as I learned Wednesday night, a good putter with his ultra-modern “Spider” putter.
After a lengthy tutorial on keeping score correctly, we were off in foursomes that we later learned could be subdivided into twosomes for faster play and easier scorekeeping. I was glad to be paired with DeShazo, Alexander and a most likeable fourth member, Robert Sims of Tyler, who was a Putt Putt purist using the colored ball and standard issued putter.
Alexander had his own gallery with wife Rhonda on hand with their son Wes, who was also playing in the open division, and delightful granddaughters Ella and Ensley, who were also playing. Two years ago I won the senior division but not this year, lapped by the impressive performance of someone who roared out of the gate with rounds of 28 and 29 to easily outdistance our best player, DeShazo who had a 34 and 32 the first two rounds.
Despite muggy conditions, everyone was having a great time because there are no lost balls in Putt Putt. Oh, you may hit a funny shot here and there with the ball leaving the course but easily retrievable. It’s almost like you are playing flawless golf with birdie looks on every hole and pars coming relatively easily and bogeys seldom. The double bogey 4 is a rarity though I narrowly escaped one on a shaky second round but converted a five-foot putt left-handed because of an awkward stance caused by encroaching scorecard holding structure available on every hole. Did I mention scorekeeping is sacred in Putt Putt competition?
Part of the Putt Putt experience very similar to real golf is strategy and observing the good players. I did just that with a group of young and talented players just in front of us seemingly rolling in aces left and right. Ball placement on the mat can be critical I learned, duplicating an ace after closely watching one of the young guns roll it in with ease.
That moment caused a degree of cockiness that later led to the dreaded double bogey 4. Sadly I rinsed my putt into the only water hazard on the course, the diabolical 16th hole that requires a putt precariously close to the right portion of the dual pools of liquid on each side of a narrow path. The dunked putt delighted my entourage because the best response to such misfortune is laughter. I am proud to say I aced the 17th in Tiger Woods fashion of “erasing a bad hole.”
Alexander was adamant that Satterwhite preferred flirting with the left side of the ramp on the 16th but aces were rare on the water hole, Putt Putt’s version of the famous “island hole” at TPC Sawgrass in North Florida where The Players Championship is played each spring.
The third round was nearing completion and it was approaching 10:30 p.m. We were deep into the evening and past some our our normal bedtimes. There were many positive takeaways from this annual event — friendships old and new and a sense of skills not totally diminished.
“This is the best I have ever played,” Sims said afterwards. “I think it was because I was playing with you guys who are pretty good at this.”
Alexander and DeShazo marveled at their memories of the different holes and how each should be played. The marvel was that nothing has really changed in more than 50 years and that is a big part of the charm of Putt Putt.
I thought often of Ken Dietz, a most low-key personality that as I reflected, was somewhat of an intellectual or savant or what have you. Mostly I remember his pleasant demeanor that never varied. I think it is a wonderful continuity that his family still owns and operates the Putt Putt Golf and Games in Tyler.
And so for me that was the bottom line of playing Putt Putt with friends on a warm and balmy August evening in East Texas.
It was very pleasant.