2003: Halfway houses: The simpler, the better

By John Steinbreder

As a rule, I am not a big fan of halfway houses. I guess that’s because I hold the Old World view that no golfer ever needs to break for ginger snaps and Gatorade if he, or she, is playing at a proper pace. After all, how hard can it be to go without sustenance for three or four hours?

Unfortunately, that’s a dissenting view on this side of the pond, where halfway houses proliferate like hecklers in a Colin Montgomerie gallery. To be sure, places such as Cypress Point have sensibly resisted the need to build or operate such on-course commissaries and believe a few strategically placed water coolers do the trick.

But most of our golf and country clubs feel compelled to offer more food and beverage options at the turn than a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. And whether we like it or not, halfway houses have become as much a part of the American golf experience as cart paths and GPS systems. Which means, of course, that we have to deal with them.

And if we have to deal with them, I suppose we can find some good in them. A bottle of cold water during a hot summer round is a good idea, especially after a night of Dark and Stormies, and a few Ritz crackers and some peanut butter make up nicely for missed breakfasts. Plus, halfway houses are infinitely better than those hideous beverage carts that patrol many layouts.

As for the things that make some halfway houses better than others, I prefer the ones with the smallest structures and the most simplistic menu offerings.

Hot food seems an unnecessary luxury, and an unhelpful one at that; some folks crave hot dogs between nines, but I don’t know how anyone can pure a long iron after ingesting one.

My friend Simpson believes that the best halfway houses are those that aren’t really halfway at all, which is the case at Pine Valley and Sleepy Hollow. Another golfing buddy, Stratford, loves the stop at Wayne Huizenga’s place called The Floridian, mainly because the food and drink are free. And while free is not a word you ever hear at the sort of miserly New England club to which I belong, there is something quaint about a spot that is unmanned and exists entirely on the honor system.

The halfway house at my home track is an attractively austere building that has a loft caddies once used as a sort of off-course retreat.

It also was a lair from which they would mutter mild insults to unsuspecting club members. “Looks like you’ve gained a little weight, Mr. Barney,” they’d say as Mr. Barney waited for his cup to be filled.

And he would look around to see who had said such a thing as his server anxiously cringed. Another favorite trick was for the caddies to talk while the boy manning the counter moved his lips, creating scenes reminiscent of those Kung Fu movies where the words and the mouth movements never seem to jibe.

Perhaps the best thing about our halfway house is that it is located by the tee for the par-3 11th hole and is therefore a perfect betting venue, the usual play being: farthest from the hole pays. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you factor in drinks and candy bars for four players and two caddies, a bad shot can cost $20. And none of that can be applied to the monthly minimum.

Needless to say, some golfers don’t handle that pressure very well, and I have friends who haven’t hit the 11th green with their tee shots in years. Others have become so desperate that they try to reverse the bet so that closest to the hole pays. But then they hit a shot stiff and lose just the same.

The betting can get a little intense, as it did the time that two of our more senior members hit their tee shots in the water and proceeded to get into a terrific argument over whose Top-Flite went into the drink closer to the pin. Ten minutes of haggling nearly brought play on that part of the course to a standstill, and two old friends to blows. However, cooler heads prevailed when a following foursome resolved the dispute by picking up the halfway house tab and sending the near-combatants on their way.

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