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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Golfland, My Xanadu

By Eric A. Carlson

"Dig it out of the dirt, like I did."

--Ben Hogan (when asked for advice)

INVIGORATED BY Robert Redford's new golf opus, The Legend of Bagger Vance, I decided to seek out my own "authentic swing" at Golfland in Sunnyvale. There to play the much-ballyhooed East Course, known by many as the Carpet of Tears. The course is not long--233 yards; the difficulty lies in the layout--steep ramps into the maws of clowns, narrow fairways betwixt babbling brooks, and a Stinkmeter rating of 26. Tricked out? Perhaps. But a fair test of golf for those with the sand to tee it up.

Despite holes-in-one on 7, 8 and 13, I did not play well. Any pretense of finding my authentic swing was dashed after successive out-of-bounds shots on 9. I was stymied and shamed by windmill, dragon and clown. While retrieving my red golf ball from a small pond, it struck me that courses such as this would do well to modernize their themes. Perhaps dropping the clowns, windmills and Big Bens for topical Bay Area motifs or modern wonders. Several ideas come to mind for an imaginary course one might call Xanadu. To wit:

City Hall Escapades. Player must navigate between historical and future versions of San Jose City Halls. This design would be similar to many existing course layouts employing the "castle" conceit. Ideal cup location would be at the apex of the proposed Richard Meier version, on the stately pleasure dome--that San Jose decreed.

Attack of the Spouses. As your ball scoots down the fairway, evil spouses armed with machetes pop up out of nowhere and attempt to hack your ball into pieces. Balls damaged beyond repair may be replaced with a one-stroke penalty and played from the point of maiming. Spouses would be equally represented by sex, of course.

Pedestrian Free-For-All. A simulated San Jose "Walk" signal lights up just long enough to strand pedestrians in the center of the fairway. Each biped struck with a golf ball will trigger valuable cash prizes. A San Francisco version of this would feature a treeless fairway cluttered with double-parked service vehicles and roving bands of out-of-town drug dealers. A rough of homeless on either side of the fairway completes the picture. I see this as a reward hole; an ace into one of the drug dealers would ignite a fireworks display, emblazoning the sky with "San Francisco, Voted Best Place to Live."

Santa Clara Valley Water District Creek Beautification. Location for this hole would be at the site of a pristine mountain creek. After removing unsightly vegetation and trees, and straightening out unnecessary curves, gabions (rocks wrapped in chicken wire) will be placed on either side of the fairway. SCVWD lawyers, lawsuits drawn, would patrol the hole to deal harshly with unruly citizens. Cost to play here will be $370 million. Hey, it costs a lot of money to dig ditches that size.

At the risk of harping endlessly on San Jose's statuary, the concept of a hole featuring Quetzalcoatl and Cap'n Thomas Fallon is a no-brainer. A fairway leading up to Quetzy would be made difficult to traverse because of the prone figure of the Captain, recovering from a night out on the town. I see a hollow tube running through the body of the snake, with ball emerging from fanged face onto the putting surface. This hole would cost $1.4 million to play.

I did not find my authentic swing at Golfland. Rather, I became more bitter and disillusioned with each shot. Sixteen over par on a putt-putt course gives one little hope for the future, though I was buoyed to a degree by a line from P.G. Wodehouse, "You know and I know scores of men who have never broken a hundred and twenty in their lives, and yet contrive to be happy, useful members of society."

Final note. If you can't play good, play fast.

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From the March 29-April 4, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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