Che vs. Fidel: A Mulligan for the Maximum Leader

          After Che Guevara beat him in a round of golf, Fidel Castro, a notoriously sore loser, converted a Cuban golf course into an art school and ordered a sports reporter fired.                                                                                                           

                                                                                                            The Wall Street Journal

HUMBERTO GONZALEZ:   It’s the final round of the Guiteres Sugar Mill Match Play Championship and let me tell you, Juan, you could cut the tension here with a machete.

JUAN MACHADO:  That’s right, Humberto.  Of course, you can cut anything with a machete­—that’s how they chop sugar cane processed at Guiteres Sugar Mill.  Guiteres—the sugar mill for you!

HUMBERTO:  Uh, I don’t think we do commercials.

JUAN:  We don’t?

HUMBERTO:  No, stupido.  We’re Communists.

JUAN:  My bad.

HUMBERTO:   As Maximum Leader Fidel Castro and his long-time military comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevera, approach the 18th tee, they are tied at four under par 65, but Glorious Leader of the Revolution Castro has struggled.

JUAN:  He’s had to blast his way out of sand traps with his revolutionary innovation in club design, the “hand wedge.”

HUMBERTO:  When he hit into the water hazard on 16 he was so mad he gave a three-hour speech to his younger brother and caddy Raúl blaming U.S. imperialism for his hook.

JUAN:  I’d love to be a tree frog to hear what these two great golfers are saying to each other . . .

HUMBERTO:  We can do that.

JUAN:  How?

HUMBERTO:  The CIA’s been listening to them for years.  Let’s go to the tee box.

CHE:  You want to make this interesting?

FIDEL:  Can the Comandante en Jefe hit his damn ball without a lot of stupid chatter?

CHE:  Whatever you say.  I was thinking maybe a little “Bingo Bango Bongo.”

FIDEL:  What’s that?

CHE:  First on the green is “bingo,” closest to the hole is “bango,” and first to hole out is “bongo.”  It gives a weaker player like you a chance to make some money.

FIDEL:  I am not a weaker player!  I am El Caballo—“The Horse”.

CHE:  Even horses get the yips.

FIDEL:  Silence!

CHE:  (Mutters)  I never should have agreed to a crummy five peso Nassau.

FIDEL:   Talk is cheap, my friend.

CHE:  While we’re young . . .

(audible groan)

FIDEL:  Dammit to hell!

CHE:  Pleasure doing business with you. 

(sound of worthless Cuban pesos changing hands)

CHE:  Can I buy you a drink?  It’s the least I could do.

FIDEL:  Where?

CHE:  Here—at the clubhouse.

FIDEL:  There is no clubhouse.  I hereby declare The Course at the Links at the Woods by Guantanamo Bay . . .

CHE:  Why do golf courses have such stupid names?

FIDEL:  It is a vestigial relic of the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Baptista.  Anyway, out with the fancy golf course, in with the Academia Socialista de las Artes.

CHE:  An art school?  Seriously?

FIDEL:  I am tired of drawing on my 50s TV screen with Mr. Learn-to-Draw, Jon Gnagy.

CHE:  Well, how about a cigar then?

FIDEL:  No, what I could really go for right about now is . . .

CHE:  Yes?

FIDEL:  Throwing a couple of poets into jail.

CHE:  Regular or symbolist?

FIDEL:  Actually, I was thinking a nice, fruity neo-Formalist.

CHE:  Too late.  They’re all in prison already.  Except for the dead ones.

FIDEL:   Mierda! 

CHE:  You could order a sports reporter fired.

FIDEL:  Yeah—that’s the ticket.

CHE:  How about one of those guys over there?

FIDEL:  Only one?

CHE:  If you fire them both, PEN International will be all over you like mole sauce on a tamale.

FIDEL:  They’re sports reporters–not real writers.

CHE:  Oh yeah?  You ever read the great Ring Lardner?

FIDEL:  All right—which one?

CHE:  I say the one with the double-knit plaid blazer.

Golf Tournament to End Golf a Hit With Real Sports Fans

PLAISTOW, New Hampshire.  It’s Monday, the day when golf courses are traditionally closed but available for charity golf tournaments, and the Dun Roamin course here is the scene of a recent entrant in a crowded field that fights ailments ranging from cancer to Osgood Schlatter’s Disease.  “We’re the new kid on the block,” says Tyler Nuzum, a left-handed pitcher with the local minor league baseball team, the Plaistow Road Kill.  “We’ve barely got our legs under us, but we’re gonna put on the Golf Tournament to End All Golf Tournaments.”

“It’s for a good cause.”

When he is asked whether that goal isn’t a stretch for a start-up organization, Nuzum hastens to make his meaning clear.  “I don’t mean we’re going to be the biggest or the best,” he says as he checks in a foursome sponsored by Al’s Tire & Battery.  “I mean we want to end golf before it destroys any more young lives.”

“Do I have to pitch to myself . . . again?”

As a boy Nuzum loved baseball but grew up without brothers to play with and a father who wanted to spend his weekends on the golf course.  “I didn’t want to play with my sisters because they threw like girls,” he recalls with a lump in his throat.  “They said it was because they were throwing left-handed but I didn’t care, they still threw like left-handed girls.”

Left alone to brood, Nuzum conceived an intense dislike for golf which inspired him to start the Good Walk Spoiled Foundation, which raises money to help “golf orphans,” the term used by pediatricians to refer to children abandoned by fathers or sometimes both parents in favor of a game that normally consumes the better part of a weekend day.

“C’mon kiddo–you’ll make it up on the back nine.”

“Golf orphans have difficulty forming stable relationships in later life,” according to Dr. Kent Shays, a specialist with a schedule so busy he will only treat children from families where both spouses have a five handicap or better.  “Their parents try to pacify them with pizza-flavored goldfish from country club bars, or worse, broken tees,” he says shaking his head.  “I just met with a mother who tried to buy her kid off with the maraschino cherries from her whiskey sours.”

“Well, I’d better get home and play with Tina and Gigi and what’s-his-name.”

Nuzum’s foundation, named after Mark Twain’s tongue-in-cheek definition of golf, arranges playdates for abandoned golf children, provides medical assistance to kids overcome by boredom watching the Buick Open, and in particularly egregious cases goes into court to remove children from homes where golf predominates over more important matters such as schoolwork, sugary breakfast cereals and Saturday morning cartoon shows.  “We’re not here to replace a crappy family life,” Nuzum says by way of reassurance to this reporter.  “We’re here to bring them a totally new crappy life, just without the golf.”

At the Pine-Woods Golf & Poetry Club

For most of the 20th century, the poetry world resembled a country club.

The New York Times Book Review


It was Sunday afternoon, and I just wanted to get out of the damn house. I decided to head over to the club, see if I could squeeze in a round before dinner. I threw the old sticks in the trunk and, as I drove into the parking lot at Pine-Woods, saw Lowell, Berryman and Roethke heading down to the starter’s hut. Lowell had on those god-awful madras pants of his. What a preppy doofus.

Robert Lowell

“Hey guys,” I yelled out to them. They were absorbed in a deep discussion-probably talking about the club By-Laws, which had been under revision since Allen Ginsburg walked on the putting green without a collared shirt.

Allen Ginsburg

I caught up to them as they were paying for their golf cart. The starter–a guy named Skip Derosiers–was giving them a hard time about driving on the fairways.

“Which one of you knuckleheads left the tracks on the seventh fairway the other day?

Theodore Roethke

“Not me,” said Roethke. Or course not–Mr. Nature Poet.

“It was me,” Lowell and Berryman said together. Figures–two confessional poets, two confessions.

John Berryman

“Do you guys mind if I make a fourth?” I asked.

“There’s a guy on the list ahead of you,” Derosiers said.

“Who?” Lowell demanded.

“The Old Man–Wallace Stevens.”

“Oh, God,” groaned Berryman.

“Can’t you do something?” I asked.

Wallace Stevens

“He’s one of the club’s founders.” He pointed to the left breast of his polo shirt, which featured a bantam rooster before a stand of pines.

“You know he’s going to walk the course, hit the ball thirty yards every time and compose poems between shots,” Roethke said. “The course will be backed up for a week.”

“No can do,” Derosiers said.

“Do you know who I am?” Lowell asked imperiously.

“Let me see if I remember,” he said, a sardonic gleam in his eye, and began to speak in a taunting, sing-song manner:

And this is good old Boston,

The home of the bean and the cod.

Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,

And the Cabots talk only to God.

“What’s your point?” Lowell asked, a bit defensively I thought.


“When you talk to me, you ain’t talkin’ to a Cabot–you’re talking to a God,” Skip said, as he clicked the remote to see who was on the leaderboard at the Buick Open.

I tried a different tack. “What if we made it worth your while?”

Derosiers looked us over, one by one. “Talk to me.”

We looked at each other. Thankfully, Berryman had brought a six-pack of Budweiser with him. He tore two cans off the plastic yoke and, after checking over his shoulder, handed them over the counter.

“You know, some golf industry publications say that bribing a starter can backfire,” Derosiers said as he handed us scorecards and pencils. “Don’t believe everything you read,” he added with a smile, as he waved us onto the course.

“What if old man Stevens catches up to us?” Roethke asked.

“Humor him,” Derosiers said as he popped the top off a twelve-ouncer. “He’s really quite whimsical.”

That didn’t sound good, but we forgot about it as we waited the standard six-minute interval for the foursome in front of us to clear the fairway.

“You want to make it interesting?” Lowell asked. “Five dollar Nassau?”

Easy for him to say with all that old money to burn.

“No automatic press on the back nine,” Berryman said. On his second beer, he was already beginning to slur his speech, but like his verse, he remained in technical control and rooted in the conventions of his time.

“Sure, John, sure,” Lowell said as he made his way to the back tee. “Okay, ladies and germs, hide and watch.”

“Grip it and rip it,” Roethke said, egging him on. I personally think trash-talk has no place in golf, but ever since Karl Shapiro said Marianne Moore was “never more beatable”, suddenly everybody’s doing it.

Marianne Moore throws out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium–I kid you not.

The big guy shuffled forward, tall, slightly stooped, ran his fingers back through his dishevelled grey hair and stuffed it under his cap. He took a few practice swings, set himself, and–scorched a worm-burner into the rough! I stifled a laugh.

“I call Mulligan,” Lowell said without even looking back, as he pulled another ball out of his pocket.

“No way,” Roethke said. “Mulligans are allowed only when expressly agreed upon by all partners in advance.”

“Too late, Bob,” I agreed. “We’ve all got skin in the game.”

I knew what was coming. A manic depressive temper tantrum.

“God damn it to hell!” Lowell screamed as he threw his driver into a water hazard and stormed off to look for his ball.

“Ooo,” Berryman said in a mocking tone. “Huffy Bobby hid the day, unappeasable.”

Roethke stepped up next. He’s a deliberate player–it took him ten years to write Open House, his first book of poems, fer Christ’s sake.

Walt Whitman:  “Hey–that’s my line!”

He plucked some leaves of grass and threw them up in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. He fiddled with his gloves, his visor and his left shirt sleeve. He took in the natural beauty of the course, with all its mystery, fierceness and sensuality; the ball washers, the spike cleaners, the liquid refreshment stand at the tenth tee.

“While we’re young, Teddy-boy,” Berryman said, shaking his head, “while we’re young.”

Contrary to popular belief, beer does not help one’s short game.


“I don’t have to take that from you, Mr. Yips,” Roethke said out of the side of his mouth. Always lyrical, I thought with admiration.

Finally he took his stance, wig-wagged his butt a bit, then weighed into the ball-a nice clean stroke, the solid thwock, if I maybe allowed just one little onomatopoeia.

His ball sailed down the fairway where a tall, austere man had wandered out of the rough. It was Stevens, and Roethke’s shot hit him square in the temple!

We jumped in the cart and tore off down the fairway, coming to a stop where Stevens lay on his back, apparently dazed.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Stevens,” Roethke said, distraught at the thought that he had nearly killed one of the major American poets of the 20th century. “Are you all right?”

The great man propped himself up on one elbow, shielded his eyes from the sun and began to speak, a big groggily at first.

Call the smoker of big cigars, Stevens began,

The muscular one, and bid him whip
In snack bar cups, concupiscent frozen custard.
Let the wenches dawdle in such pink culottes
As they are used to wear, and let the caddies
Bring the clubs to the bag drop. Let be be finale of seem.
The only captain is Walter Hagen, captain of the Ryder Cup Team.

Lowell dropped his ball alongside the fallen poet-”Winter rules,” he said after Stevens’ stanza was done. “He’s fine,” Lowell added as he took his four iron out of his bag.

Available in print and Kindle formats on as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

Government Gets Back to Basics: Golf!

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