This Ain’t Pebble Beach, Son

Celebrating when muni life finally, briefly, got its Hollywood closeup
Dud (left, played by Wyatt Russell) and Ernie (played by Brent Jennings), working on the vagaries of life and putting. Photo by Michael Moriatis/AMC/Kobal/Shutterstock

Larry Loomis, the long-haired, geriatric and highly eccentric Sovereign Protector of Lodge 49, is teeing off. His setup could be generously defined as irregular. His swing is brief and particularly violent. He hacks away without making contact; it’s unclear whether these are practice swings, and it doesn’t matter, since the strokes won’t be counted anyway. Finally, a moment of triumph: He hits a heat-seeking wormburner down the middle of the fairway. Several holes later, Larry’s playing partner and Lodge underling, Ernie, discovers him lying face down in a bunker. As paramedics wheel Larry away, the two argue bitterly over whether Ernie’s lead is three strokes or five. Welcome to muni golf in Long Beach, California.

For those who missed it—and nearly everyone did—the wildly offbeat AMC comedy Lodge 49 ran for two seasons and 20 episodes between 2018 and 2019. It was one part anti-corporate tract and one part magical-realist yarn about a group of down-and-out dudes and ladies who untether themselves from the quiet tyranny of their working-poor circumstances through the crypto-mystic teachings of a very broken-down secret society. Those men and women call themselves the Lynx. Also, they play a lot of golf.

The show is the rare example in modern popular media where the trappings of private golf are ditched and muni life is celebrated. So often—too often—movies and television portray golf solely through a private-club lens as either an aspirational ideal or a comical waste of time. Neither of which sat well with Lodge 49 creator Jim Gavin.

“After my mom died, I started playing a lot with my dad,” says Gavin, who filmed scenes on the same Long Beach municipal they grieved on. “[Golf is] a situation where people can ease up to difficult conversations. Half the time you’re just bullshitting, but you can get to some more-meaningful stuff. And there’s a comfort level there, where you have a distraction, so you can talk about something and then you just move on and you go to the next hole.”

On Lodge 49, the muni is a staging ground for both slapstick and sincere bonding. It is the place where a round of business golf goes awry after an enraged Ernie, following a long stretch of trash talk, helicopters his sand wedge into the crotch of the client he is attempting to impress. But it’s also where he consecrates the father-son bond with amiably lost surfer dude Sean “Dud” Dudley, which is the show’s emotional core. For Gavin, it’s difficult to imagine either scenario taking place on the staid environs of an elite private track.

“The times that I’ve played a really nice course, I have had zero fun,” Gavin recalls. “All I think about is, ‘I’ve spent all of this money and I’m playing horrible. I’m so self-conscious, and there are good golfers watching me.’ It’s been kind of a miserable experience.”

Like several characters on Lodge 49, Gavin worked in plumbing sales prior to his writing career taking off. He refers to munis as Plumbers’ Country Clubs and still fondly recalls an annual plumbing-heating-cooling contractors’ golf day “where they invite all the plumbers out to the course, and naturally it just turns into fucking bedlam.”

Lodge 49 has now breathed its last, and Gavin hopes that muni golf doesn’t suffer the same fate on screens and in real life.

“Preserving that feels so crucial,” he says. “Having to pay $100 for a round of golf? I don’t know who can do that.”

Cut to a beautiful SoCal afternoon. Ernie and Dud are on the course, two links Lynx breaking down the mysteries of life one mulligan at a time. Still a newcomer to the game, Dud approaches a tee shot warily while Ernie reassures him: “Just grip and rip, baby.” The results aren’t pretty, but Dud seems pleased: “I hit it!” He smiles and sips from a can of beer. “It’s pretty cool they let you drink on the course,” he says.

“Muni life,” is Ernie’s fatherly rejoinder. “Enjoy it while it lasts.”