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Karl Lindholm: Walking the course, making friends — Links Golf

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Posted on March 1, 2017 |
By Karl Lindholm



Karl Lindholm column Humphrey & caddy.jpg
GREGG HUMPHREY POSES at Bandon Dunes in Oregon with his caddy and friend Darren Bender. Humphrey has discovered the pleasures of links golf.

In Hemingway’s classic “The Sun Also Rises,” Montoya, the Spanish innkeeper, exempts protagonist Jake Barnes from the contempt he feels for Jake’s hedonistic group of American friends.

Why? Because he has aficion.

Gregg Humphrey is an aficionado, not of the bullfight like Barnes, but of golf. He has a passion for golf.

He is an avid player, to be sure, but he also has a deep appreciation for the game and its history. He collects books about golf and is fascinated by the “architecture” of golf: “I like seeing the golf course with the eyes of its architect,” he says.

Gregg started playing when he was “about seven or eight years old,” living in Cincinnati in the 1950s. “My brothers and I found an old set of hickory-shafted golf clubs in the basement — all the clubs had names: a niblick, brassie, mashie.”

“We got these plastic golf balls and made a golf course around our house. We took little cat food cans and sunk them in the ground and they were our holes.”

By junior high, he was playing on a real nine-hole course. “I got to be an OK player.

I played football and was a catcher in baseball, but golf was something I could do. It was nicely personal. It’s just you and the ball. It resonated the most for me.”

At Middlebury College, class of 1970, he played on the golf team on the nine-hole course that preceded the 18-hole course of today. “We had great times — Duke Nelson was our coach. Imagine being in a small van going to a match with Duke. The stories!”

After a five-year hiatus (including two years in the Peace Corps), Gregg took a job in 1975 at Mary Hogan School in Middlebury, “where I stayed 19 years.” At Mary Hogan, he met his wife Susan, a Middlebury College student doing her practicum there.

Gregg joined the golf club at Middlebury upon his return in ’75, now the Ralph Myhre course, and has been a member there ever since.

In the mid-1990s, he joined the Teacher Education Program at Middlebury College, and taught and supervised aspiring teachers until his retirement three years ago.

Susan’s family summered in Northeast Harbor on Mt. Desert Island in Maine — and there Gregg discovered the Northeast Harbor Club, a course right on the water, one of the oldest golf clubs in America (1895). It activated all of Gregg’s golf instincts.

These days, he goes there in the spring and plays from May to July, “until the ‘summah people’ come,” and returns for a couple weeks in the fall and plays every day. “It’s my ‘Field of Dreams’ course,” he says.

In 2009, Gregg’s and Susan’s son Dan died of cancer at age 25. They were naturally devastated. “I took it upon myself as a mission,” Gregg said, “to take his ashes back to Oregon where he went to college (Willamette University in Salem) to spread them there. Dan loved Oregon.“

While there, on that trip, Gregg attended a golf school at a resort called Bandon Dunes, a links course, right on the Pacific, a cool and damp golf paradise just outside Coos Bay. Gregg too fell in love with Oregon.

He has returned to Bandon Dunes every January since then, eight years. He has been accepted as a member of the “Fellowship of the Dunes,” about 30 golfers who play a four-day tournament in January in a Ryder Cup format. “They call me ‘Professor,’ and I’m now one of the team captains,” he says.

“Early on, I was asked if I wanted a caddy. I said, ‘Why not?’ and was assigned Darren, a young man about the same age as my deceased son. We hit it off right away. Now whenever I go back he’s on my bag.

“We have a golfing relationship — and a personal relationship.

“Wherever I play now, I get a caddy.”

Bandon Dunes is a “links” golf course, built on “pristine linksland,” which is to say, right on the sea and subject to the vagaries of coastal weather.  “It’s ‘minimalist golf,’” Gregg explains. “You accept the land as it is — you play the lay of the land. It’s a different kind of golf. You hit lower shots that roll.

“At Bandon, there are no carts, walking only — and you have these fantastically picturesque views of the sea.”

Now that he’s retired, Gregg would like to “play links golf all over the world.”

The owner of Bandon Dunes, Mike Kaiser, is building courses throughout the world, all links courses, public courses, walking courses: “destination golf,” he calls it.

Two years ago, Gregg and Susan traveled to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and played two of these courses there, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs — and the year before that Gregg went to Australia and then on to Bridport, Tasmania, to play two courses there built by Kaiser’s group.

“I’m good traveling by myself,” Gregg says, “going to these interesting places, walking these courses. I make new friends on these jaunts, and I stay in touch with them when I come home to Middlebury.

“There are so many places I’d like to go — Scotland, South Africa, New Zealand, Wales, other parts of Canada — even South Korea.”

Destination Golf. Links golf. Walking the course with a caddy. Looking out at the sea. Sheep grazing nearby.

Aficion.

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