Rummaging through empty sleeves and whiskey bottles to celebrate one of golf’s unsung heroes
Words by Matt RenniePhotos by Christian Hafer
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It didn’t take Prince to see it wasn’t a little red Corvette that was much too fast. Bruce’s ’69 Chevy with the 396 never hauled kids to kindergarten. Eazy wasn’t cruisin’ down the street in his Town & Country. It was just a car, nowhere near as important as the children who were almost 3 and newly born when they necessitated its purchase. No one writes songs about minivans.
So when we recently donated our Honda Odyssey after 17 years and 190,000 miles, initially I wasn’t feeling particularly lyrical or even nostalgic; the thing was beat to hell. But later that night I came to understand its importance to my immediate family—and to my golfing one.
I thought about wrestling with so many damn car seats. I remembered the Outer Banks road trip that was halted not long after it began for an episode of backseat vomiting. I recalled the joy of no longer having to account for diapers in our packing.
But mostly I thought about the annual golf trip.
For the past half-dozen years, the minivan had been transformed into a golf vehicle, littered with tees and scorecards and balls and rain suits. And, once a year, it shuttled three or four of us, plus gear, to our annual three-day, eight-player competition, most often in the Ocean City area of Maryland.
I broke the news of its departure in our golf-trip text thread and quickly found I wasn’t alone. The message began, “Over the course of more than a dozen golf trips, I’ve had two sets of irons, three golf bags, four drivers, at least as many putters…and one minivan.” It concluded, “So pour a little out for an ol’ girl who, like us, had a lot of miles on the tires, some dirt underneath a dented veneer and still enough motor to make it to the next tee.”
It was intentionally melodramatic and received in spirit.
“I’m having an emotional response to this message,” came the first reply.
“Wow. RIP,” read the next.
“I think I might need a hankie,” the thread continued.
Our group started when two of us, working late one night, decided that someday we should drive up to Bethpage to play the Black. One warm evening in D.C. a few weeks later, four guys piled in the minivan and headed up I-95 destined for a Howard Johnson in Commack, New York, and a morning tee time. From those modest roots sprung something…just about as modest. We grew from four to eight participants and divided into teams. Though we were in different stages of life, everyone was cost-conscious, so we proudly christened it “The World’s Cheapest Golf Trip.” That meant playing the last week of the region’s shoulder season, bringing our own food and beer and never, ever buying a plane ticket.
That meant the minivan, and with all due respect to golf’s equipment manufacturers, I fancied myself as the No. 1 driver in golf.
The clubs were clean, the bags stocked with dozens of new balls, the coolers full of ice and beer. This would be the year we’d put up a number.
The return trip featured similar images, but in reverse, reflecting three days with more triples than birdies. Muddy shoes shared space with empty sleeves. The straggler beers in the cooler did their best to numb the return to responsibilities weightier than remembering to tip the bag-drop attendant.
It all sprang to mind that Friday night as we shared memories of the noble chariot carrying us through the Long Island Expressway, Shenandoah Mountain and the Bay Bridge. They were largely ridiculous, though set against mile markers of time: when we needed paper directions to find our way; the five-hour drive to the Homestead with someone I’d never met before that day, but more than a decade later would be the person I wasn’t related to whom I saw most during the pandemic; the comic idiocy en route to Ocean City, usually involving backseat libations and the halfhearted complaints of the driver, who dutifully abstained in a rare bit of wisdom.
Someone inexplicably still had videos of much-younger versions of ourselves riding along, ostensibly talking about golf, but really about the moments it provides that are so much better than the drudgery of real life.
At one point my mind flashed back to that Bethpage jaunt, when a member of our foursome discovered pretzels in the seat cushion that had been strip-mined of salt by the 4-year-old who usually sat there.
That was when the minivan was still the family’s “nice” car, and the interloping golfers weren’t supposed to “mess it up.” Imagine the mortification of discovering upon return the empty Jack Daniel’s pint under a seat and untold sticky things in the cupholders.
I remembered crossing the threshold when the minivan was relegated to our long-haul family car and allowing post-round smokes as long as the windows were down, figuring it would air out before the next road trip with children.
I smiled at my Dad Achievement of mastering the nuances of packing it like it was Tetris: “Remember, if we bring two coolers, we probably have room for only one night of firewood.” “Stack the golf bags lengthwise on the left; that’ll leave room for the big stuff on the right.” “Keep the cold beers where you can reach them.”
I thought about the minivan’s final year, when it was officially a golf vehicle only, its radio dead and the climate-control system failing. It was my companion in the only times I left the house while working from there, providing a weekly pandemic escape to a four-hour oasis of serenity.
The cars in songs aren’t transportation as much as costumes. They’re what we want others to see when they see us: power or speed or sex. It’s why there are no songs about a Dodge Stratus. The Honda wasn’t a costume, but rather a set, a functional but austere backdrop for characters in drama and comedy, victory and disappointment.
The text thread was almost lyrical. But no one writes songs about minivans. It wasn’t a little red Corvette or a ’69 Chevy or a 6-4. But, for 17 years, it was an Odyssey.