The second time

This one’s for Mike, who’s been waiting very patiently after reading about the first time.

At any golf course there are people known as the greenskeepers. There are different roles, and it’s a massive undertaking. There’s one superintendent who oversees everything, with different people working on specialized tasks. There’s one person—or I suppose a team at a really important course—who is responsible for the pins.

I am not a golfer. I worked one loong summer at a golf course and 35 years later I might… no, actually, I’ve still no urge to go even near a golf course. Back then, I had no idea what “the pins” were at (on?) a golf course, and perhaps you’re in the same boat: The “pins” are the cylindrical metal “cups” with the big flags sticking up, which the golfers are ultimately aiming for. The bottom of the cup has a recepticle that holds the base of the flag. The cups are set into the ground exceedingly neatly and regardless of any slope where the pin is set, the flag must be perfectly vertical. The specially bred grass, mowed super short, with special mowers, grows right up to the edge of the hole, and the top of the cup is an inch below the level of the ground. The golf balls roll on the grass, and then fall perfectly into the cup. (“Nice putt, Bob!”)

And like me, if you’ve never played golf, it will never have occurred to you that the pins are periodically moved to different locations on each green. This is called “setting the pins” generally, or “setting a pin” if you’re moving the pin on one green. At the course where I worked we had one greenskeeper who was responsible for the pins; a college dude, (so a few years older than me at the time,) who was always in a college-dude baseball cap that had nothing to do with baseball, which led me to guess he was in a fraternity, but who was none-the-less nice enough as far as I was concerned. I can’t recall his name. He probably still wakes up from a recurring nightmare, screaming my name.

Setting a pin is tricky to do well. If you don’t do it perfectly all sorts of crap goes south. First, you have to do this when the course is not open to play. You use a special tool with a big T-handle top and a cylinder bottom; remember punching holes in cheese with straws? …it’s that, but for a lawn. You carefully push that into the green—right into that gorgeous, perfect, green grass—you just punch this gaping hole. And you have to hold the tool perfectly vertical, even if the green is sloping where you’re doing this. (It had a bubble-level on it.) You push it down with some twisting, and pull the core sample out. In the tool is now a plug of dirt with a perfect head of perfect grass on it. Leave that in there. Go to the current pin, pull the cup out of the ground; there’s a simple rod with a hook that you just reach into the hole for the flag and pull the cup out.

Now you swap! You push the cup down into the new hole. And you better have made that hole perfectly vertical. The 8-foot flag pole really magnifies any off-vertical error. Then you take the plug which we left in the tool. You push the tool down into the old hole. Then you push this lever arm, (which I didn’t mention before,) and it pushes the plug into the ground as it pushes the tool out! Since you put the plug in a hole you previously made with the same tool, it fits perfectly. Except, the plug has grass on it. If it’s too high, or too low, you have to extract it, fiddle with dirt, and put it back in so the plug’s grass-top seemlessly matches. If you do it wrong leaving it too high, when the green is mowed, the moved-plug’s grass gets scalped short and you get a dead brown circle. If it’s set too low, you get a dimple that makes golf balls roll funny. It’s fiddly. There’s also a minimum distance that pins had to be from the edge of the green, and you couldn’t put a pin back in an area where it had recently been. It turns out that moving the pins around is a huge part of what makes the whole game interesting, (for golfers who play the same course regularly.) So as I said: It’s fiddly.

And this sort of fiddly crap is right up my OCD alley. I set a couple of pins on the testing green, (we had our own, out of the way, extra, green for testing things like mowers and people who set pins,) and our pin-setter was like, “okay, yeah, you can do this. Nice, bro’!” Which was great because he was going to be away, pin setting must continue, and there was absolutely no way our boss, (recall that superintendent,) was going to get off his stool in the barn let alone get down on his hands and knees…

Just like that, I was a pin setter. It doesn’t take very long to move a single pin once you get the hang of it. One morning, as instructed, I went around shortly after sunrise, and reset the pins on all 18 holes. I did a really neat and tidy job of it.

…and around lunch time, the guy who owned the course, (literally, it was one person, who lived adjacent to the course, of course,) showed up at the greenskeepers’ homebase barn livid, screaming, and foaming at the mouth. (I missed this because I was out doing other greenskeeper jobs.) My boss actually thought it was funny, (after his boss left of course,) but it turns out the golfers had been bitching up a storm all morning at the club house. It turns out they live, die and base their self-worth, (or so I’m guessing,) upon their golf score, and some asshole had apparently raised the par-for-the-course by about 9 strokes.

You see, no one told me that there’s a method to deciding where you put the pins. It turns out you’re supposed to mix things up and there are rules about how to place the pins. Ideally, with each resetting of pins some holes get harder and some easier. And overall the par stays the same, while the course is still different to play.

I went around, thinking golfers like challenges, and intentionally put the pins in the most mischevious places I could imagine. This one under the overhanging tree so you can’t chip onto the green. This one on the steepest slope into that sand trap. This one close to the near-side trap so you come up short in the sand or roll right across the green into the other sand trap. I put all 18 holes into challenge mode! And no one appreciated my hard work.