I am working on a book – a kind of memoir of my uncle, Harry O’Hare. This is a scene from the book describing a day watching golf with my uncle at his (and my) golf club, the Castle Golf Club in Rathfarnham, Dublin.
It is a summer’s evening, and you can see the swallows diving and swooping along the fairway of the second hole at the Castle. The air seems full of things: seeds and insects, but also of something that you can feel rather than see. Maybe it’s pollen, or simply the heat, or the heaviness of the evening.
We are standing, Uncle Harry and I, beside the first tee. We are waiting for the semi-final of the club matchplay championship to begin. There are several others – perhaps 10 of us in all – in the gallery.
The players drive off, and the gallery moves slowly down the fairway to watch their second shots. I know not to get too close to the players. Uncle Harry has coached me on the etiquette of the game: never stand behind your playing partner when he is hitting a shot; always wait for your partner to play before walking ahead; always help your partner look for his ball; never play your shot out of turn; the player who scored lowest on the previous hole has “the honour” of hitting first on the next.
We fall into step with two of Harry’s friends, Frank and Willie. I have played golf with them many times. Nice men, who always have a good word for any shot I hit well. Frank has a shooting stick, and he folds out the seat, presses the spike into the turf and sits back when the players are on the green.
One of the Linehans is in the semi-final. He’s a friend of my cousin Jack, and because of this slight connection, I am up for him. The players are all square for a long time, then one goes ahead, the other comes back at him and it’s level again.
I know something about every hole on the course. At the 11th, for instance, I know that Harry hit a low cutter of a drive and shouted “Fore!” because the ball was heading for where Auntie Vera and her partner were standing by the ladies tee. They bent low and covered their heads, as you’re supposed to do, and Uncle Harry’s ball hit Auntie Vera on the backside. “I had a bruise for weeks,” she told me, laughing.
I know that Joe Carr, the famous amateur golfer, thought the sixth hole the best par 4 in Ireland. And that Auntie Vera was once watching him play this hole in a match, and she managed to find his ball for him. He walked up the ball, which was half-buried in the rough. “The curse of the seven snotty-nosed orphans on it!” he had said, much to Vera’s amusement.
I know that Uncle Harry has given several sapling trees – poplars, I think, that seeded in his garden in Oaklands Drive – and that they are planted along the side of the 17th fairway.
I know that Auntie Vera was playing a match on the second hole once, and Sister Bridget, who was staying with them at the time, offered to caddy for her. Vera was about 100 yards from the green and was lining up her approach when she looked up one last time to check the position of the flag, and saw Sister Bridget standing on the green, holding the flagstick, the golf trolley on the green beside her.
On the sixth hole, we walk ahead of the players, to watch their drives come towards us. The sixth, seventh and eight holes are in a corner of the course and are laid out so that you can stay on the brow of a hill watch the players play out the sixth, play the short seventh, and then watch them drive on the eighth before picking up with them again.
So we pause on the hill. We chat to Frank and Willie. Frank plants his shooting stick and takes out his pipe. The sweet smell of the tobacco comes to me on the air. I can hear the click and fizz sound of a well-struck golf shot as the players hit their seconds into the sixth green. Insects buzz in the air and the breeze ruffles the top of the trees that line the hole. I realise that I am happy.