‘More about fellowship than golf’

I traveled to Kayak Point Golf Course this past week with my brother-in-law, Gil McKinnie, 68, for an opportunity to spend five hours with one of the more Zen-like golf individuals one can find locally.

The Yoda character who drove me around in his golf cart as we traversed the steep ups and downs of the course was 74-year-old Chuck Patten, former athletic director of the Everett School District.

Patten, McKinnie, and the other member of our foursome, Denny Byrnes, 68, are part of a group of golfers who meet every Tuesday at Kayak. For more than 10 years, these guys have gathered to banter with each other, brag about a good round or bemoan a bad one, exchange a few dollars, and enjoy each others company.

And no one enjoys it more than Patten, who says simply: “This is more about fellowship than golf.”

Like a young Luke Skywalker, I originally journeyed to Kayak to get some golf pointers from Patten, a former PGA golf instructor. What I learned instead was more about how to enjoy the game than lower my handicap. Here are a few examples:

1) The Savant — With meticulous precision, Patten is able to keep track of not only his score, but the scores of all the members the foursome. This uncanny ability to tabulate strokes on each and every hole occasionally results in some humorous interactions.

When McKinnie reported his score on the 10th hole, Patten thought about the circumstances and determined that McKinnie must have exercised an unusual, and highly questionable, rule involving the placement of his ball because his score seemed one stroke less than it should have been. In classic joking manner, Patten raised the issue and was subjected to some good-natured ribbing by both Byrnes and McKinnie for his lack of faith in McKinnie’s integrity.

2) The Byrnsey — Patten made a point early on that Byrnes’ reputation for inexplicably having his ball end up on the fairway every time it enters the tall timbers that line Kayak’s unforgiving course is justified. In fact, it got to the point where Patten simply stated that it wasn’t fair to the rest of us in the foursome. Apparently, this is a regular topic of conversation.

And in the process, a legend has been established.

3) The Scootcher — According to Patten, Byrnes also has a reputation for manipulating the placement of his ball on the fringe, just off the green, in order to maximize his opportunities to score a couple extra dollars from his buddies. This particular competition is won by the person who has the fewest putts at the end of the day.

As Patten light-heartedly suggests, Byrnes, ever the competitor, will do anything in his power to stack the deck in his favor. Once considered, it’s difficult to observe Byrnes’ short game without thinking of the strategy they affectionately have named “The Scootch.”

4) The Ball Hawker — When Patten is not swinging at his own ball or embellishing Byrnes’ reputation for manipulating the placement of his own, he often scoots into the brush in search of lost balls. Patten takes great pleasure in finding golf balls abandoned by those who found it easier to simply take a drop and a one-stroke penalty than bushwhack the thick undergrowth.

The seemingly impenetrable Kayak brush doesn’t deter Patten, who typically retrieves upward of 13,000 balls a year by simply going where others refuse to go. While this may seem like an incredible number, one only needs to observe the Patten’s keen vision in action to realize such a number is possible.

Part of the motivation for Patten’s zealous efforts is so he can donate most of the balls to the Joe Richer Junior Golf program.

5) The Sandbagger — Occasionally, when Patten happened to miss a putt (which was not often), he hinted at the fact that his scorecard may have a few more two- and three-putts because he had a big golf outing coming up and it always helps to have a slightly inflated handicap index for some psychological advantages over his unwitting competition.

The fact is that “Chuck is the greatest defender of the integrity of game,” according to McKinnie. But, by Patten making light of his game it says something about the self-deprecation that is par for the course with these guys.

Suffice it to say that my view of the world of golf was significantly altered following a round with these crafty veterans. Originally, I expected to get tips for improving my swing from Patten. By the end of the round, it was obvious that what I got was much more valuable.

I had traveled a course with Chuck. I was enlightened.

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