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The Perils of Princeville

By: Bob Spiwak


In the waning years of the 20th century, Hawaii-American Cruise lines inaugurated a trial program. This was to a cruise from island to island aboard the good ships Independence and Constitution, which, in the 1950s, were the luxury stars navigating between Liverpool and New York. At each island stop, one or several major golf courses would be played. About 40 passengers signed up for the excursion, in addition to the regular complement of passengers.

As a member of the golfing press, I was invited to participate and write about the experience along with a dozen of my peers and our guests. The guest I chose was an old friend, Bob Cram. Bob was, in the 1960's, Seattle's TV weatherman, a ski show host and a commercial voice of a local grocery chain.

To add to the allure of the experiment, two pro golfers gave lessons in a class and on the fantail of the Constitution. The people were interviewed by us press folks. As we soon discovered, many were new to golf. Also invited was a man we called "Doctor Yes." He was a psychologist who had never played golf, but was going to imbue all involved with a very positive attitude, on and off the course.

Doctor Yes’s approach was a melding of Groucho Marx and Sigmund Feud. His emphasis was on congratulating oneself every time there was a success on the course. This included making contact with the ball. “The greater the achievement, the louder people should shout ‘YES’ and pump their fists,” he admonished. (Many legitimate golfers were shaken by this breach of etiquette on courses they were paying hundred of dollars to play.)

Bob Cram has a golf swing for which most hackers would trade their first-born. He’s blessed with a well-tempoed backswing, a fine stroke with a classic high follow-through. However, between the beginning and end of the swing, something pitiful frequently occurs, and the ball often veers off-course and into whatever terrain lurks off the fairway. By the second island, Cram had earned the appellation "Bunker Bob," for the many times he visited sand traps.

We were playing Princeville, then rated among the top-100 courses in the world. Princeville is on the island of Kuaui, which is prone to sudden frog-strangling cloudbursts. Along the course are concrete shelters where golfers can hide until the tempest passes. On this day there were several of these showers and, on one hole, there was a backup of golfers.

Two foursomes in four motor carts waited until the rain had passed and it was time for Cram and me to take the tee. I hit first, clearing the deep ravine 50 yards ahead. Cram took his stance and, being a popular guy, was given applause by the six waiting golfers in the concrete shelter. He smiled at the group and addressed the ball, waggled and executed that gorgeous backswing, swung the club – and whiffed. He missed the ball.

From behind, amplified by the concrete walls came a chorus of “YES!” He looked back with a you-know-what-eating grin, and again addressed the ball. His fluid swing was again employed and contact made. In a boomerang-shaped horizontal trajectory, the ball sliced hard right, out-of-bounds and into the jungle. From behind us came another chorus of “YES!” and dare I say, not a little laughter.

"Ya better reload," I said. The previous smile was replaced with a glare as he extracted another ball, amidst applause from his audience, where another two carts had driven up. He teed the ball, his tempo increased and he topped the little sphere. It flew a few yards, then skimmed the ground and then went bippety-bippety hop-hop into the ravine.

Before the ball got there it was followed by his golf club, whirring though the air like an inverted helicopter rotor. “Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh,” landing close to the ravine. More “YES,” loud clapping and applause. Bob was livid. "I'm never playing this *&$#@ing game again," he yelled. More applause.

I had seen similar performances by Cram and, true to form, before we finished the hole Bob had dropped another ball, was smiling again and played happily until the final hole. But that's another story for another time.

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he’s back to being a fanatical golfer. Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob’s most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultraprivate Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.