HYANNIS, Mass. The self-absorption of many amateur golfers is a phenomenon too widely-known to require comment, but Dan Norkrantz, a “serial entrepreneur” who has built and sold many businesses at a handsome profit, was unaware of his failing in this regard until he was served with divorce papers by his wife of twenty years. “I had no idea I bored her for two decades with stories about my toughest shots from sand traps, and I genuinely regret it,” he says as he shakes his head ruefully. “I mean, I had to write her one humongous check when she finally told me.”
But Norkrantz considered the criticisms that are now laid out in nauseating detail in family court records here, and took a long, hard look at the man he’d become. “I had to admit my failings,” he says with a tone that suggests he now lives with a clean conscience. “Other guys would spring for a platinum sponsorship at a charity tournament for $10,000, while I was down at the putting green level for $500.”
So Norkrantz began to take concrete steps to make himself less self-centered, and he decided to start, so to speak, at the first tee. “The two things I know are golf and business,” he says as he plants a wooden tee in the ground. “I came up with the idea of bringing the two together in a way that would help guys less fortunate than me.”
With a dragnet through the poorer sections of this Cape Cod community Norkrantz gathered three down-on-their-luck men to make a regular foursome that he says he will use to teach his “partners” how they can use golf to turn their current state of hopeless despair into successful business careers. “I had a heart-to-heart with each one of these guys,” he says as he nods at the other three men who wait their turn to tee off here at the Capeward Winds Country Club. “What they need are the habits of a good employee; show up on time, do your job, and if you really want to get ahead . . . play a lot of golf.”
After a shopping spree at the pro shop the three non-members are outfitted in the sort of brightly-colored clothes that wouldn’t look out of place on a pimp hustling a string of girls on Main Street of this town, where there are extremes of both wealth and poverty. “I like those hot pink psychedelic pants, they remind me of my days dealing drugs in San Francisco,” says a grizzled man who identifies himself only as “Mitch.” “Hope I don’t start having acid flashbacks,” he adds with a sly smile.
The players who are new to the game stroke their tee shots with varying degrees of success, and Norkrantz introduces them to the concept of a “mulligan”–a second opportunity to improve on a muffed first shot. “You don’t often get a second chance,” he says, adopting a didactic tone. “My goal is to give you guys a mulligan on life, so to speak, so don’t screw up next time.”
The three hard-luck duffers aren’t sure whether to take this aside as a joke or a sermon, and they laugh nervously as they hop into electric golf carts. “They say walking’s good exercise,” Norkrantz says, “but once you guys have been rehabilitated, you’ll realize that time is money and you can’t waste it just to stay in shape.”
“You want to make this interesting?” Norkrantz says as he lines up a three iron shot following a drive that barely traveled a hundred yards. “Five bucks says I’m on the green in two.”
“I haven’t got five bucks,” says a man known as “Bo Peep” whose hair is matted into a shape and texture that resembles a wasps’ next.
“I’ll front you a fin,” Norkrantz says, then, after a few practice swings, strokes an awkward shot that lands in a water hazard to the right of the second green. “You win,” he says, then hands the man $5. “See–golf has already helped you increase your income.”
After the foursome putts out and drives off the third tee, Norkrantz grows philosophical as he drives with a black man nicknamed “T-Bone” down the 290-yard par 5. “Golf is great for getting to know people,” Norkrantz says. “It helps you forget all those nagging little details you have to live with every day.”
“Like what?” T-Bone asks, since his last job in a chicken-processing plant ended nearly two decades earlier, and he is unaware of the drawbacks of life in the executive suite.
“Like your wife, if you’ve got one,” Norkrantz says as he lets up on the pedal and the cart rolls to a stop. “Also kids. You drop them off at the pool and they’re somebody else’s problem for the next four hours.”
The round ends with Norkrantz–a scratch golfer–the winner, but with each of his partners slightly to the good thanks to side bets he has charitably arranged in their favor. The four men head to the “19th hole” for refreshments, and over drinks the businessman hammers home his point about the importance of golf to success in commerce and life.
“You guys ought to come back out for our member-guest in June,” he says as he mops his brow with a cloth napkin bearing the club’s crest, a roseate tern being plunked on the head by an errant golf ball.
“What’s a member-guest?” Mitch asks.
“I’d hook up with one of you guys and we’d play eighteen holes against other teams,” Norkrantz replies. “Then there’d be a dinner-dance that night.”
“So just one of us could come?” T-Bone asks.
“That’s right, unless one of you joins the club, then you could invite the fourth.”
“How much does it cost to join?” Bo Peep asks, pulling out the $5 he won earlier as he enjoys a free beer on Norkrantz’s tab.
“Initiation fee is $250,000, so you’ll need to save up a lot of bottles and cans,” Norkrantz says, referring to the five cent deposit paid in this state.
“Where am I ever going to get that kind of money?” Mitch asks, dumbfounded at the cost of the moderate luxury he sees around him. “Rob a bank?”
Norkrantz is a bit taken aback, and at the same time disappointed that the three men haven’t grasped the life lesson he has tried to teach them. “Do like I did and play a lot of golf,” he says finally, with a note of annoyance in his voice. “You’ve got to spend money to make money.”