written by Dan Hruby, Sports Editor, San Jose Mercury News
originally published SUN FEB 12 1978
Some veteran San Jose golfers were sipping beers in the clubhouse lounge the other day, grousing over how miserably they had played.
“I think,” said one player, “maybe Dr. Barrette had the best idea.”
“Dr. Barrette?” asked his friend.
“Yes, he used to play without a ball,” said the player. “He swung his clubs and went 18 holes. He played at La Rinconada and San Jose Country Clubs. And he always seemed to enjoy himself.”
Some oldtimer golfers remember Dr. Pierce C. Barrette. A neurologist, he practiced here many years up to his death in 1963. He was chief of the Santa Clara County Medical Society in 1955.
Dr. Barrett’s widow, Helen, confirms the story.
“Yes,” she explains. “Pierce felt golf, like any recreation, should be relaxing, fun. It used to make him tense and frustrated. He figured out the main worry was where the ball went. But if you eliminated the ball, your big worry was gone. And he felt most players took the game too seriously, anyway.”
Mrs. Barrett says he probably got the idea from a magazine article he read about a foursome that played regularly, each player not using a ball.
They carried the charade to the hilt. They would hit shots out of bounds, blast from traps, one-putt, three-put. And afterward they would replay the round in the bar, discussing their games like any other golfers might.
The idea of such a fantasy probably started when someone realized there is more to golf than just striking a missile with a stick.
For instance, there is camaraderie—the joy of spending four or five hours in the company of good friends on a weekly basis. And, in an urban society, there is the lure of green grass, blue sky, a soft, fresh breeze blowing through the pine blossoms and an opportunity to exercise by walking briskly overland for five miles.
Why should anyone be deprived of this contentment just because they have difficulty hitting a lousy golf ball?
One could not go this route in tennis. Imagine the arguments that would ensue if two players squared off in a serious, albeit imaginary, game.
I once saw Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli take a divot out of his own shoe while trying to extricate his ball from the ice plan on the renowned 16th hole at Cypress Point. That shot, and some others that didn’t come off, frustrated Mieuli so much he quit the game. There are millions of others like Mieuli who appreciate the many benefits the game offers, yet cannot bear the disillusionment and blighted hopes that emanate from failure to his that ball.
The world of make believe golf isn’t without its classic stories. There is one about two club members who played sans the ball. As luck would have it, they clashed for the club championship. Dead even on the par 5 18th hole, they both hit good drives and fairway woods just short of the green.
The first player pitched to within six inches of the cup and said, “There, I’ve got you now.”
Whereupon the second man chipped his ball into the cup. “I win,” he yelled dancing onto the green.
But the first player then walked to the cup, extracted his foe’s imaginary ball, looked at it and exclaimed, “Sorry, you hit my ball. That’s a two-stroke penalty. You lose.”
Dan Hruby, who has been a loyal customer to GH Sports almost since the day it opened (and its predecessor, the Hind Performance as well), is a retired sports editor and columnist of the San Jose Mercury News. During his 45-year career in San Jose, he covered eight Olympics–summer and winter. He wrote of the exploits of such athletes as Mark Spitz and Don Schollander in swimming, Tommie Smith and Bruce Jenner in track and field, Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett in football, Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson in baseball, Rick Barry in basketball, Mohammed Ali in boxing and Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in golf, to spotlight just a few among hundreds of sports stars. Plus covering a ton of Super Bowls, U.S. Golf Opens, World Series, Wimbledon for tennis, Kentucky Derbys and many national collegiate championships.