This event takes place in the previous millennium. It was back in my early “radio days.” Back then, I lived in the Coachella Valley, which is well-known for its beautiful winter weather.
One week each January, the Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournament would consume the attentions of locals and tourists alike, the latter of whom would swarm to the desert that week, bringing their tourist dollars to infuse the local economy.
Even though the tournament took place in the eastern end of the valley—in La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Bermuda Dunes—it was nationally known as being in Palm Springs. The image of the tournament taking place in Palm Springs was fortified by huge scoreboards being erected in the downtown area. Again, even though the tournament was being held on four golf courses some 20 miles to the east, in every place that was not the Coachella Valley, the area was known as Palm Springs and many tourists booked hotel rooms there and then drove the long, winding Hwy 111 to watch the tournament.
The tournament was also a big event on national television. Viewers in the snow-covered Midwest and East would tune in on Saturday to see TV and movie stars playing golf with top professionals. And, almost without exception, the weather was perfect. Those in the rest of the country would shiver while longingly dreaming of retiring in our desert. And many of them did.
Except, what those picture-perfect television images didn’t convey was the other edge of that sword. While the Southern California desert had gorgeous weather in the winter, in the summer, the temperatures would be approximately 2500° F. Okay. Maybe that is a slight exaggeration. But it was hot.
I remember one summer when, for about two consecutive weeks, the temps were 118° to 122°. I was in my back yard, vacuuming the swimming pool and one of my more recent wives was at my side, complaining about the temps and repeatedly asking “why we lived here.” I finally turned to her and said, “Do you remember the blizzard of ’96?”
She wrinkled her brow and said, “No…”
I said, “That’s why we live here.” The winter in ’96 saw just about everything east of the Rockies under 20-plus feet of snow. But our weather was chamber-of-commerce-perfect.
Though the summer heat could be grueling, we locals would take advantage of extremely low green fees and absence of other golfers on the courses. Those scorching days offered us hardened fairways and dry, crisp air. The ball would sail and roll farther and it felt like we had the course all to ourselves. It was our own golfing paradise.
Except, once again, it was hot.
And it was on one of those days that I experienced the gentle caress of Lady Karma.
I can’t recall the members of my foursome, other than my friend, Ron Henderson. In my mind, I can still picture the event as if it had happened yesterday. We’d just teed off on the third hole, hopped into our carts and pounced upon our respective accelerators. Ron’s cart was ahead of mine.
Now, when we played in the summer, one of the things with which we had to deal was daytime watering of the course. During the season, they watered the course after hours. But, with the intense heat of the summers, they also had to water during the day. Once in a while, before we could play our next shot, we had to wait for a row of sprinklers to finish their cycle and recede back into the turf. Sometimes while we waited, it was refreshing to experience a gentle breeze which would carry some of the droplets our way; each of us enjoying a tantalizing misting.
On this particular day, just as we were passing the regular tees (we were studs who played the Championship tees), one of these sprinklers popped up. Now, when I use the word sprinklers, you probably envision the dainty little circles of water which refresh your front or back lawn every few days. But you must realize that golf courses are huge and the sprinklers which popped from the ground were big Rainbird-type which propelled a stream of water a good 50 to 100 feet. They may as well have been referred to as water cannons.
So, just as Ron’s cart was passing, this cannon leaps from its resting place and blasts him right in the head. The timing had to be perfect and I have no doubt that we could play that golf course three times a day for the rest of our lives and the timing would never again be so perfectly exact. The water cannon sprang from the ground, as if it had been waiting all day to ambush Ron. Its powerful expulsion hit him so hard that it knocked off his glasses and nearly chucked him out of the cart. His legs flailed outward and his arm shot upwards to protect his head as he doubled over, gripping the steering wheel with his other hand to keep himself in the cart.
Thinking about it later, I felt that, had that stream of water hit Ron in the temple, it could have knocked him out, or worse. But I wasn’t thinking anything of the sort. I was doubled over in laughter. I was howling so vociferously that I could barely drive my cart and did have some difficulty timing my passage of the cannon so I would not be soaked. Again, these things were so huge that I couldn’t pass without getting somewhat wet, but I didn’t want to get soaked. Nor did I want to get nailed with the brunt of the potent stream as had Ron.
I nearly died of side-stitches from laughing.
I have no doubt that he probably won the next few holes because I could not concentrate on any shot I faced. The minute I would calm myself to swing or putt, I would start laughing again. The timing could not have been more perfect. He was speeding past. The sprinkler just happened to be pointing in the absolute perfect direction. It turned on at the splittest of seconds. POW!
This was long before those funny videos TV shows and, of course, I wasn’t taping. But it would have been the big winner. Nothing could have ever been funnier.
By the time we were on the back nine, my hysteria had finally subsided. We were back to enjoying our round and trying to win five dollars from the other. I cannot recall which hole we were playing but Ron was up somewhere on the back half of the green, preparing to line up his putt, and I had just chipped up and was walking towards the green.
And the timing was perfect.
We could play there three times a day for the rest of our lives and the timing would never again be so perfectly exact.
I’m strolling up to the green and this sprinkler decides to pop up and refresh the green and surrounding area. Only it refreshed the hell out of me right in the… in the lower… uhhh… higher than my thighs… but the lowest portion of my abdominal area. In the center of my lower abdominal area. Not an inch to either side.
I’m sure I made some sort of guttural sound and I reflexively clasped my hands over my… the area… and slumped in a heap to the freshly dampened fairway. I do remember seeing black for a few seconds. I think I recall enjoying a vision of some distant galaxies spinning exquisitely before my clenched eyelids. I may have even smelled a few words and heard a few colors. As I drifted back to Earth, I fought to suppress nausea and instinctively took note of the area still covered by my hands. There was a good chance that Willie and the Poor Boys were no longer attached, possibly having been blown in three separate directions.
I tentatively raised myself onto my elbows to find Ron, now laying on the green, face red and gasping for breath. Of course, he hadn’t been hit, nor was he succumbing to heat exhaustion. He was laughing. And for the rest of the back nine, I could have taken advantage of his unstoppable hysteria to win back some of my money. But, for some reason, when it came time to address the ball, I was having trouble standing up straight.
That’s what I get for laughing at the misfortune of my friend…