On Tour With the Elite Republican Guard


Nobody wanted to go in August. There'd been a drought. And there was all that sand. Water rationing too. But someone had to. As we understood it, the call came down from the very highest level.

We were looking forward only to hardships. Weeks, even months away from our families and loved ones. Men without women. Constant movement. The unfamiliar. Bad food. The agony of defeat.

Almost immediately we were broken up into small units.

They were called foursomes. This was during the absolute height of the conflict, the All-State Seniors Golf Classic, the mother of all tournaments.

The courses were a mess. Fairways all brown. They couldn't water in a lot of places. It was hell. But we had to go. This thing had been scheduled way in advance.

When we started out we were officially called the Elite Republican Guard. We were the hand-picked ones closest to the president. The only requirements were that you be a member of the club, love the game of golf and be a registered Republican. So off we went, on tour. Before it was all over were just calling ourselves, The Elites. Woody had a sign made up for the sides of his Buick.

I'll tell you this, it took its toll. We were living in motels. Things were pretty basic. Some of these places didn't get the cable. Or change the linen everyday. We spent a four-day weekend on the fourth floor of a place with no working elevator and the ice machine a city block away at the High Ho. Some of them wouldn't take credit cards either.

We tried to stick to the chains. Your basic Ramada or Quality Inn. Howard Johnson. I'm easy. I'd stay at a Motel 6, I told the boys. Look, all we're really doing is sleeping in these places. As long as they're clean and quiet.

But some weren't. We were next to a bowling alley in Elm City. Place had heavy metal rock and roll bands on Friday night. Crazy damn kids in there raising hell until 3 a.m. Jeez there's just so much Sominex can do. I'll tell you this much, too, you try playing 36 holes on that little sleep. Hell, we're seniors. Woody's the youngest, and he's 58.

I'll be honest with you. There were a lot of things we weren't prepared for. How could we be? No one in my outfit, not Woody or Ken or Bob, had ever been out on a tour like this before. The unexpected was the norm as we traveled the length and breadth of the state. Speed traps. Indigestion. Dry counties. Bad starting times. Ladies Days. We just had to bite the bullet.

There were always shortages and other problems. I ran out of Maalox. Ken had hemorrhoids. Bob lost his sand wedge in Forestville. Woody got a touch of bursitis in his shoulder, threw his swing off. We all got sunburned.

And there were tough times, let me tell you that much. Every member of the Elite Republican Guard had to caddy for himself. There were no caddies to be had.

We were playing all over the state during the tourney. Quarter-finals. Semi-finals. And then the finals over in Cedonia.

Our reputation proceeded us around the state, too. Guys at clubs we'd never even heard of would come up to us in the Pro Shoppe and say "I understand you fellas are members of the Elite Republican Guard." People were scared of us.

They knew us because of our outfits. Lime green slacks with little gray elephants on them swinging a golf club. Canary yellow cardigans. And a white polo shirt that Woody's wife, Connie, got from Orvis with our names emblazoned on the pockets and in small print "The Elite Republican Guard." We had windbreakers, too. But we hardly needed them what with the hot weather we were getting. And some nice little canvas hats. Woody picked them up somewhere. Had a little band on the outside to hold tees.

Of course we were members of the Elite Republican Guard. But at the same time we were just ordinary guys, Too. Woody's with State Farm. Ken's a dentist. Bob's got an H&R Block, and I've been guidance counselor up at the regional high school since 1961 -- and coach of the golf team, too. We were undefeated the last three seasons.

We weren't real scratch golfers, either. I don't think there was a 15 handicap in the bunch. Just regular duffers. With a job to do.

And I like to think that we did it. We did our club asked us to do without complaining. Okay, so we didn't win.

Well, you know the rest of the story. When we got home. . . . What was waiting there for us? Did people care what we'd done?

Hell, no. My wife had gone to see her sister in the Finger Lakes. Woody was locked out of his house for gosh sakes. Even his own dog didn't even recognize him.

Bob's wife had the painters in. And I don't rightly remember what happened to Ken except that there weren't any yellow ribbons in his front yard. There were no parades for us. We'd expected that the Citizen Observer would have at least had a picture of us on the sports page -- I mean we went all the way to the finals for Pete's sake. But not a thing. Gag gifts? Towels with our names on them? A gift certificate at the pro shoppe? Nothing. Not a word.

Well, that was then.

Now the club feels a whole lot different about us. Things have changed in this country. I told the boys, we've got to be big about this. Show no hard feelings.

They're having a members-guest tournament in our honor. A celebrity clinic with Dan Quayle. A dinner-dance too. And they're putting up a plaque right in the main lounge.

We had to wait but like Woody says, it was worth it. Club members from here to eternity will walk in that lounge on their way to the 19th Hole and see that plaque with our names on it and pause to remember the golfing men of the Elite Republican Guard.

Christopher Corbett, author of the novel "Vacationland," was the 1990 James Thurber Journalist-In-Residence at Ohio State University.

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