My father took up golf late in life and he wanted me to golf with him. I was 15 years old, which means he had to be about 38. He wanted me to golf right-handed, but I was a dominant southpaw and I refused to do it. Reluctantly, he got me a left-handed beginner’s set of clubs. I even took lessons—if memory serves, I took one lesson from Cary “Doc” Middlecoff at what was then called The Joe Kirkwood Jr. Golf Center . It was on Whitsett Ave., just North of Ventura Blvd. It’s now called Weddington Golf & Tennis. Read the second paragraph at their website’s home page for a little history on the site.
My golfing did not last long. At 15 I had started to surf, which seemed so much more challenging at the time. Besides, golf was for old men and surfing was a young person’s sport. I gave up golf, though I hung on to the left-handed beginner’s set of clubs the old man had purchased for me. I even used them once-in-a-while to hit a bucket o’ balls.
Fast forward 31 years. I had been working at Rocketdyne for maybe three years. My first year I was a “job shopper”—a temp—working on the FMEA/CIL* document for the Space Shuttle Main Engine program, in anticipation of a return to flight after the Challenger disaster. I then was hired in as a full-time employee, working in the Fight Ops team. I was fortunate enough to be in the Rocketdyne Operational Support Center (ROSC) when Discovery lifted off from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39 on September 29, 1988.
I had helped design the layout and overall configuration of the ROSC, and being there for that launch was my reward. I didn’t know enough about the operational parameters of our engines at that time to understand exactly what I was looking at that morning, but the room was filled with displays showing engine performance as Discovery lifted off and ascended on its approximately 525 second flight to LEO.
That evening a bunch of us went to celebrate the successful launch and our nation’s return to space flight. We were elated . . . to say the least. We went across Victory Blvd. to a restaurant called Yankee Doodles. Somehow, I got into a conversation with the person who turned out to be the Manager of the SSME’s Program Office and, once he found out what my role had been (and that I had a Juris Doctorate; a Law degree) he offered me a job. After some discussion with my current management, I decided to take it.
It wasn’t long before the team I was now on decided to have a golf tournament, and they of course wanted me to play. Not because they knew anything about my golf game (how could they?) but because they needed warm bodies to show up on the course, as well as pay for the round, prizes, and food. I was reluctant; after all it had been over 30 years since I’d actually played and, in fact, I don’t believe I had ever played on a full-size course.
I decided to give it a try. I don’t remember what I did for clubs because, by then, I had rid myself of that old beginner’s set. I remember going to Simi Hills Golf Course and hitting some balls. Honestly, I can’t quite remember where that first tournament was played, but I know I got hooked . . . bad. I had my uncle’s friend make me a set of golf clubs and I began practicing with a vengeance. I cobbled together a newsletter for the course, filling it with ridiculous and comedic stories. I showed it to the General Manager and told him I could do that for them every month.
He told me to go ahead and, shortly after, I was hitting as many balls as I wanted on the range and, a bit later, going out on the course with the GM and the Head Pro – getting tips and playing lessons for free. I eventually was able to play for free as well, as long as I didn’t try to abuse the privilege by playing during peak hours. Within a fairly short time I had my index (similar to handicap) down to 12. I was well on my way to becoming a single-digit handicapper, but it was not to be.
I started having back and hip pain and, even with going to a Chiropractor and seeing my doctor about it, nothing was helping. Little did I know what was coming. Just before New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1999, I had an attack of sciatica that had my wife calling 911 to have me transported to the nearest hospital. I was on crutches for a month, and a cane for two months after that. I still experience numbness/tenderness in my left foot and don’t expect it will ever entirely heal.
Fortunately, I eventually found Robin McKenzie’s wonderful book, “Treat Your Own Back” and, after religiously doing the stretching he recommends, for weeks, I was back on the course and healing rather nicely.
Now, I don’t remember if it was before or after my back problems, but I became good friends with one of the professional golfers at Simi Hills, and he was involved with a company called Golden Tee. They had opened up a practice facility at Moorpark College and were planning on building a new golf course in the hills just below the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library here in Simi Valley.
As you may surmise from the graphic I’m including in this post, I had a really sweet deal with Golden Tee. Unfortunately, the guy on the left of this picture (his first name was Paul; I don’t remember his last name, and I think he’s moved on to that 19th hole in the sky. Suffice it to say, things got real ugly. I found the record of a court case where Golden Tee sued the Ventura County Community College Board . . . and lost. Actually, I think it was right around this time I experienced my bout of sciatica and, shortly thereafter, decided (along with my wife, of course) to adopt our first child . . . but that’s another story.
* Failure Mode and Effects Analysis/Critical Items List