If I had my druthers, I’d never play golf alone.
Whether I’ve known the person or people for 10 years or 10 minutes, it’s nice spending four — or in the case of crowded summer weekends, five — hours with people from different walks of life.
Or riding carts.
Sometimes the round produces happy memories; sometimes sad ones.
I recently experienced both in the span of a few days.
The starter at Cape May Golf Club on Saturday paired me with John Savage, who was in town as part of an intriguing, exciting adventure he was experiencing with his wife, Sally.
His stop in Cape May was one leg of a year-long boat trip along what is known as “America’s Great Loop.” It’s a journey that takes people between Florida and Canada via the Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterways, Hudson River, Erie Canal, Great Lakes and various rivers.
The weird part was that until John bought his vessel, a Great Harbour N37 trawler, about a year and a half ago, he had never been on a boat in his 66-year-old life.
John, a retired lawyer, grew up and still lives in Rifle, Colorado, a self-described “cowboy town” of about 9,000 residents located about 180 miles west of Denver.
“I still don’t know why we’re doing this,” he said. “It wasn’t a dream of mine or anything. And after we’re done, I’m gonna sell the boat. My only hobby is golf. Playing golf and watching golf.”
John and Sally cover about 50 miles at a time and routinely spend a few days at each stop. They usually stay on the boat, which he described as an RV on the water, but sometimes book a hotel because Sally gets seasick.
To John, the best part about the voyage to date is that he’s been able to play golf in every place. He docked the trawler at the marina in Hilton Head, South Carolina, a few weeks back, grabbed his clubs and ventured over to nearby Harbour Town Golf Links. He did the same thing a couple weeks ago in Annapolis, Maryland.
Upon arriving in Cape May last Thursday, he docked at Utsch’s Marina, took his wife to dinner at Tisha’s and played 18 at Cape May National on Friday morning. The plan was to set sail Saturday, but storms and strong winds prompted them to wait a day so that Sally didn’t lose her lunch. So they ordered takeout from the Lobster House on Friday night and John joined me for another 18 on Saturday.
On Monday, I was thrown for a loop.
Upon scanning the obituaries of Monday’s Press, I was shocked and saddened to learn that Mike Riederer had lost his courageous battle against cancer at age 58.
Most locals knew him as “Baker Mike.” He owned and operated Cape May Bakers for more than 30 years with his wife, Lynda.
I knew him from the golf course, where I would occasionally be invited to join up with Mike and his good friend, Jule Hober.
Up until a few years ago, Mike carried his bag, eschewing a push cart in favor of slinging his clubs across his back. His swing was smooth and powerful. On Cape May National’s par-5 14th hole, he routinely reached the green in two.
If he had a weakness, it was putting. Mike was amused — and perhaps a bit irked — at my ability to drain 3-footers with a one-handed grip and even attempted it a few times himself.
A few months later, I ran into Mike again. He was sitting in a cart, clearly in pain and looking gaunt. But he still managed a smile and explained he just wanted to experience the feeling of hitting a golf ball again.
Mike scored a TKO over cancer that time. His strength and stamina gradually returned. The last time I met up with him and Jule, about a year ago, he reached that Par-5 in two.
In the spring, while making the turn at Cape May National, I spotted Mike and Jule on the practice green. Jule was recovering from a knee replacement. Mike was fighting a rematch against cancer. They were having a putting contest.
Mike was facing a downhill 3-footer. He saw me and smiled, then gripped his putter with one hand.
He made it.
(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)