NOCONA, TX. – Playing golf with Hugh Martin was always as much an Easter egg hunt as a round on the links. At least I always thought of it that way.
Hugh was frugal, and the idea of losing a golf ball was simply unacceptable to him. Which was why, in addition to the rifle he packed in his golf bag to shoot snakes, he also carted along a telescoping aluminum pole with a scoop on the end to fish errant golf balls from the ponds gracing the golf course here.
This being Nocona, Texas, population 2,856, getting a tee time was never much of a problem, and for the record I never saw any snakes, though Hugh claimed to have shot a rattler once.
My theory of golf holds that you should use as much of the course as possible, so I spend at least as much time off the fairway as on it. If I find my ball in the rough, fine, I’ll play it. If not, I don’t waste time: take a drop and move on.
Not Hugh. I can’t recall him ever giving up on a lost ball. Indeed, once he made his way through 18 holes he invariably came off the course with more balls than he started with.
I’m sure I was something of a disappointment to Hugh in this regard, my lack of persistence, my spendthrift ways when it came to my cavalier disregard for missing golf balls.
But I figure if you can’t afford a couple of sleeves of balls, you shouldn’t be out on the course in the first place. Which may explain why I only play once or twice a year.
I love golf. I love the feel of making contact with the ball on those rare occasions when I don’t duff it. I enjoy the majestic arc of the ball as flies off the tee and gracefully curves off to either the right or the left, rarely straight. It’s fun trying to guess how many times the ball will bounce on the cart path or where it will ricochet off the side of the house I just hit. I love yelling “fore”, and I get to do that a lot. It’s a scream watching players scatter on the adjoining fairway. And the thunk when the ball lands of the hood of a passing car is a sound not to be missed.
I’m afraid Hugh missed out on most of those pleasures as his shots flew straight and long. Boring stuff always being on the fairway like that.
Hugh was a strong man and he could hit the ball a country mile, even in his 70s. A lifetime of working with his hands — he was a plumber by trade — made him that way.
Being a plumber, Hugh was a handy fellow to have as a father-in-law.
I recall one time when the garbage disposal was clogged up, my wife Sandy suggested we call her dad for help.
There I was, on my back on the kitchen floor, cordless phone in one hand, wrench in another, disassembling the disposal with Hugh guiding me by remote, like a traffic controller talking down a hapless passenger who finds himself at the controls of a plane when the pilot keels over.
Got ‘er done, too.
I was working in the back yard when I got the call last week, pulling weeds by the stepping stones Hugh helped me lay.
Sandy had been in Austin at the nursing home with her sister when Hugh finally breathed his last breath. He outlasted the doctor’s predictions and exhausted family members who had kept a week-long bedside vigil.
The funeral home took Hugh’s remains to Nocona to be buried by his wife, Wanda, who passed away a few years before.
We all gathered at the grave site and told stories about Hugh, remembering the good times and what a good friend he was.
When his next door neighbor’s house burned down, Hugh Martin put all the new plumbing into their rebuilt home — for free. He was always there for folks, to lend a hand or lend a smile.
He loved his wife and his kids. He loved to go shopping at the Goodwill store. He was a pack rat who had more tools than any man I’ve ever known. And he loved to collect those golf balls.
So long, Hugh. Wherever you are, hit ’em long and hard and don’t neglect the 19th hole.