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The Best Lesson

An appreciation of the little things, as taught by a true Texas legend

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Let me begin with an apology, for this story may provoke those possessing more-traditional sensibilities. It involves loud, occasionally ribald music. It pays little heed to the dress code. Most egregiously, it favors a scramble format. But it is also a tale of love, loss, friendship, life and death. It is, after all, a story about golf.

the best lesson
No. 11 at Twin Creeks

When I joined Twin Creeks Country Club in 2015, it was still affectionately known around Austin, Texas, as a bar with a golf course attached. The open-air patio above the pro shop often took on the vibe of a soft-spiked frat house. In short, my kind of place.

Nothing embodied the “golf hard” mentality of Twin Creeks better than Sundowners, the nine-hole coed scramble held every Thursday from March to October. I attended my first event about a week after joining and was paired with a cart-mate named Karis.

I asked if anyone knew Karis—it turns out everyone did—and when someone shouted her name and pointed me out, she gleefully yelped, “Ooh, fresh meat!”

I piled into her cart and we headed for the No. 4 tee. On the journey out, Karis informed me that she was Canadian, in sole charge of our music and that I’d “better not suck,” because she felt like winning that night. Any pressure was assuaged when she topped her first drive about 25 feet and laughed herself silly at her attempt to con me into believing she was an ace.

It was the ideal introduction to what would become a weekly ritual for me over the next two years. The Sundowners regulars carried themselves with an intoxicating mix of bravado and hubris, and whatever that didn’t cover, the shots of Deep Eddy at the bev cart filled in.

The golf was surprisingly good. I was exposed to a number of scratch to plus players and received dozens of impromptu on-course lessons. I learned how to fit my game to the course, the proper aiming points for the most-aggressive lines and how to play some of the toughest putts on the front nine. To this day, there are a number of “Sundowner reads” I know only from having watched four players miss the exact same putt the exact same way.

The game was essentially birdie or bust, as the quality of the A and B players plus the guile of the old guard—those who still remembered when the turn house was a cash-only shack where you could grab liquor by the bottle and knew that the best way to play to the front right pin on No. 8 from 50 yards out was to putt—meant it often took a score of 26 or 27 to win. Sure, you could occasionally sneak into the money with a score as modest as 32 if the wind was up or the pins on a few key holes got cantankerous, but really the mission was to step on it with every swing.

The real money was reserved for the Super Skins pull. The winning team for the night got one pull from a stack of cards, ace through nine, for each skin they’d won. If they pulled the number of a hole they’d skinned, they took home the pot, which often swelled to $1,000 or more. Not a bad rake for a $10 entry.

Karis was the only player I ever saw pull a winning card for her team more than once. I would come to learn from the assistant pro that this may have been due to the fact that, though never confirmed, a few extra fours or sixes might have made their way into the deck on the nights when Karis was pulling. But her joy was genuine and no one seemed to mind.

I secured many of my best golfing buddies amid the draping Texas heat on those steamy afternoons, including a few folks whom I honestly never imagined I could coexist with ideologically. I am now a bleeding-heart liberal with oil-industry cronies. An Oklahoma alum with a Texas Longhorn ride-or-die for a partner in our club’s 2-Man Dogfight. 

My dream of joining a country club was always about the promise of unlimited golf, but I learned to savor the constant companionship even more. My time as a Sundowners diehard cultivated a roster of playing partners that meant I could look at the tee sheet on any given morning and find a home for the day.

Over time, I also discovered a disheartening truth: Karis had been fighting brain cancer to a tenuous stalemate for more than a decade. This was after she’d found out I grew up playing hockey, a fact that earned me a spot in her “boyfriend harem,” and before we bore witness to her final decline.

We all lost something when Karis left, including Sundowners. Some of the regulars drifted away, while others started showing up a bit less often. It was still a wonderful way to spend a Thursday evening, but it began to feel like a Broadway show on tour: thoroughly entertaining, but missing the thrill of the original cast.

Over the last few years, a combination of new management, a swelling membership and a COVID-induced pause has transformed Sundowners further. Gone are the days of texting the pro shop while sprinting from the office, “Coming in hot! Don’t put me with any assholes!” The online reservations are now full by 10 a.m.

If that sounds like mere lamentations of the old, it is. Yes, there are fewer members now who know that the pond that lies out of bounds to the extreme right of No. 7 is called Lake Koharsky, or that tee shots that come up short on the 18th are sucked into the Castleberry bunker. The intermediate cut is now grown higher in a few places to curb the effectiveness of bunting and “chutting,” and many foursomes go off without a single speaker blaring, let alone four competing for attention, as was common in the days afore.

Fresh meat fills the fairways now, but the course is still my home. It’s still the place where most everyone knows my name. And Karis’ words still greet me on the bench installed on No. 11, where she made her one and only ace: “LET’S ALL LAUGH AND ENJOY.”

A final piece of sage advice from the Sundowner who broke me in. It never fails to hit home. So, somebody cue up some Queen and make sure the cooler’s full, because we’ve got eight holes left before the sun goes down on this round.