Urban legends are often little more than tall tales that eventually pick up so much incidental detail, it seems they have to be true. So people start believing them, retelling them and convincing other people to believe in them, until the tales become true legends, believed around the world, and usually having definitely, absolutely happened to a friend of a friend of the person telling the story. And when you're dealing with tall tales, can anything be taller than tales told of the game of golf?
The hole-in-one that got away is a legend in its own right. However, it's been heard far too often to have any impact amid the barstools of the 19th hole, and the time has come to reveal some slightly more believable legends of the links.
In the rough
You may have heard of the boss who used to take on his employees at golf once a week, betting them substantial portions of their pay packets they couldn't beat him. He could afford the bet: he was virtually a scratch player, and as consistent in his scores on the course as he was in keeping track of his underlings' clocking in and out of the office.
One morning, he'd had a fight with his wife - of the you-love-your-clubs-more-than-me variety - and arrived at the course in a foul mood. As always, he was first to tee off. And, much to the combined shock and delight of his opponents, he fluffed the drive completely, slicing it into the nearby bushes. He recovered a little, and came in just two over par, but he'd set the pattern for the day. He fluffed the next three tee-shots in a row, and the other players began to see light at the end of their tunnel.
The boss paused after the ninth hole, and took a little walk away from the group, muttering to himself, clearly psyching himself up for the next nine holes. His underlings were just a few shots ahead of him, and if he could recover now, he thought to himself, he'd massacre them. The boys watched in dread as he stepped up to the tee for the tenth hole. He poised himself, lifted the club, swung... and sliced! The ball landed right next to a nearby lake.
By now the entire clubhouse had emptied as word spread of a potential Waterloo. The bossman was utterly rattled. He barely managed to hit the ball, and it dropped into the water hazard with a gentle plop.
He was outraged. He put his iron away, lifted the golfbag above his head, and hurled it into the lake. Then he stormed past the clubhouse, throwing his gloves into a tree as he disappeared into the car park.
A moment later he reappeared.
"I'm having a very bad day," he shouted at the sky, at the clubhouse and at whoever might have been around to hear him, headed for the lake and carried on walking until the water was up to his thighs.
His audience, that had viewed the foregoing events in horror, fascination and glee, now became concerned. Golf was so important to him, it seemed he was going to do himself some serious harm.
But then he stopped, thrust his hands under the surface, and hauled out the golf bag. He zipped open a pocket and pulled out ... his dripping car keys.
There is something about golf that brings out the worst in urban legends. The typical legend of the links involves the most appalling punishment of people who waste profitable time chasing a small ridged ball about a landscaped park. Take the story of ...
The Fatal Tee
An overworked executive decided the one thing that would save him from a stress-related heart attack would be a week-long vacation where he would do nothing but play golf all day long. So off he went to one of those golf resorts where everything is designed for the comfort and luxury of the paying guest, from the last blade of grass to the weather itself.
The executive got into the habit of putting the tee into his mouth after he teed off, and leaving it there as he played along. After the second day of solid golf, he began to feel sick. On the third day, he felt so weak he had to give up halfway. And on the fourth day he dropped dead.
The course had been so heavily sprayed in insecticides, sucking the tee had given the executive a fatal dose of poison.
The amazing aspect of this legend, which is told of golf courses around the world, is that it is based on a real event.
In 1982, a golfer died in hospital after playing at an American country club. His death was traced to a pesticide compound called Daconil. There was no mention of sucking tees: that was a gruesome little detail the legend picked up as it began its tour around the world.
Having a ball
One category of golfing legends has little to do with the game, but everything to do with the curiosity of kids. Many adult males remember either experimenting with golf balls or dire warnings from other kids of what could happen to you if you tried the experiments.
One such story had it that every golf ball contains an explosive ingredient so that, if you hammered a nail into one, it would blow up. Another had it that the rubber ball in the centre was filled with a deadly poison. Eager to be exposed to these dangers, how many kids didn't sneak off with one of dad's treasured pimpled balls and spend hours tearing the thing apart?
There was indeed a liquid-filled ball to be found at the centre, but as for its explosive or poisonous properties? Pure legend. The fluids inside golf balls are usually some kind of mild oil, saline solution or glycerine.
Wait a minute; isn't that an ingredient of nitro-glycerine...?