Mark Shurtleff and his manservant John Swallow are giving golfers a bad name. You’ve been reading about how the two distinguished public officials enjoyed lavish weekends at a posh golf resort, courtesy of a crook who says he had been assured by the two gents that they would make his legal problems go away.
Monsieur Shurtleff and young Swallow jetted to the Pelican Hill resort in Huntington Beach, Calif., on a couple of occasions in 2009, where they were treated to $500 rounds of golf, received sinfully soothing massages, and were presented with matching argyle sweaters. (Some of the stuffier members at Pelican Hill reportedly referred to the lads from Utah as the Argyle A-Holes.)
That the Argyle A-Holes were living it up on the expensively attended links feeds, unfortunately, the widespread perception that golf is a common venue for deal- making and let-them-eat-cake privilege and indulgence. It doesn’t matter that most of the golf populace is composed of a much more humble cohort, i.e., working stiffs who lace up their scruffy golf shoes and head once a week to an unkempt public course where they spray, slice and shank their Top-Flites through 18 arduous holes.
It is a long-accepted axiom that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she plays golf. All aspects of character will be revealed. Does the golfer pound the turf or throw his club after a bad shot? Blame a mishit on a barking dog or honking horn? Utter imprecations when a yipped putt skitters off a fellow golfer’s foot?
Most revealing of character, however, is the relationship the golfer establishes with the rules of the game. Golf, above all other games, is defined by rules, and unlike other games, the player polices himself. Many of the rules are arcane and, in the eyes of nongolfers—and perhaps in the eyes of most golfers—are unreasonable and draconian.
In tournament golf, players are forever penalizing themselves for something as seemingly trivial as a wind-wobbled ball on the putting green or a grounded club in an unmarked hazard. For most golfers, however, the rules of golf are as incomprehensible as particle physics. Nevertheless, the overarching rule of golf is well-known, and mostly observed: Play the ball as it lies. This precludes noodging the ball into a better lie, or employing the foot-mashie for a better shot out of the rough.
In the case of the Argyle A-Holes—Monsieur Shurtleff and Swallow, his manservant—there is no way of knowing, short of interrogating their Pelican Hill caddies, whether they observe the rigorous rules of golf. (It would not be right to give any credence to the rumored claim of Monsieur Shurtleff’s caddy, a wizened Scot named Sandy, that Monsieur S. offered him a discount on his vanity publication, a bodice- ripper set in the antebellum South, in lieu of a tip.)
On the other hand, because there is much known about both Monsieur Shurtleff and his manservant as to what kind of people they are, we may be permitted to reverse the already mentioned axiom about golf revealing character. If how a person plays golf tells you how he lives his life, then, ipso facto, as attorneys general in every state know, how a person lives his life will tell you how he golfs.
Information has been steadily accumulating as to how the former attorney general and the current attorney general, aka the Argyle A-Holes, comported themselves in their office of public trust. They have been accused of being on the take, letting it be known that generous campaign donations will be translated into benign neglect of fraud and racketeering. Monsieur Shurtleff’s manservant, the honorable John Swallow, has borne the brunt of most of the scandal, but the former AG’s past behavior, including the plagiarism charges of a couple of years ago, has now plopped back into the picture, like a mishit ball from another fairway.
Which brings us back to the Pelican Hill golf resort and the argyle AGs living it up on the sea-swept links. Both lads, like a lot of small men who find themselves with a lot of power, seemed to have reached the conclusion that, since they are entrusted with enforcing the law, the law doesn’t apply to them. Certainly, the rules of golf wouldn’t apply to them, and one imagines them noodging their balls, employing the shoe mashie, and subtracting strokes.
They may have been living it up on the golf course, but they weren’t really playing golf.
D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.