Watching the PGA championship from the favorite golf course of my youth, I think about the dead guy I encountered in the trees on the sixth hole and the family mutt buried off the 15th fairway.
In the early 1960s, during my high school years, I lived in Plainview, Long Island, about five miles from Bethpage State Park and its five courses: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow and Black.
I started playing Bethpage as a teenager and returned often in later years during visits to New York.
I retain vivid memories of the Black, especially the opening holes, with the cavernous bunker across the fairway on No. 4.
Which brings me to the snack bar – breakfast hotdogs – off the sixth tee and the shot I hooked into the trees on a steamy Fourth of July.
Looking for my ball, I saw an old guy sitting with his back against a tree trunk. He was obviously another golfer, wearing the requisite duds and spiked shoes.
I figured he was taking a break from the heat and fell asleep. Didn’t want to disturb him. Found my ball and played on.
When my foursome was on the 14th hole, we heard the ambulance sirens. After the round, in the clubhouse bar, we got the news that a golfer had been found dead on the front nine.
Over beers, I told my golf buddies about the gent in the woods, which, in short order, brought up the old joke about the guy whose golf partner drops dead on the second hole.
“What did you do?” he’s asked.
“Oh, it was awful,” he says. “For the next 16 holes, it was hit the ball, drag Harry.”
During another round on the Black, walking off the 15th tee with my dad, I pointed toward the road on our right and asked: “Didn’t you bury Buff around here?”
When I was a kid, all the family pets – first parakeets, then the dog – were named Buff, after a beautiful collie we met during a vacation trip to New England.
I never cared much for our dog. He was spoiled and disobedient – you’d tell him to come and he’d run away.
I was long gone from my parents’ home – they had moved to an apartment in Queens – when Buff died, so I’ve had to rely on family lore.
The way I heard it, Dad stashed the corpse and a shovel in the trunk of his latest big-ass Buick and drove thirty miles to the familiar woods of Bethpage State Park. My mother and sister came along for the internment on a dark and stormy day in the early ’70s.
As far as I know, nobody ever visited the gravesite – possibly because no one was sure exactly where it was.