Friendly banter grew from the silence on the first tee: the usual introductions and declarations of inadequacy, meant to lower a player’s own expectations or perhaps persuade an opponent into granting an additional stroke or two a side. Added to these were the grunts and groans of sore bodies stretching, the struggle to make limber the muscles stiff and tight since last weekend’s round followed. And then the chorus ended with this crescendo: silence, thwack, response...silence, thwack, response...silence, thwack, response... silence, thwack, response. Then the group moved on, the starter hurrying them along, leaving the stage for others in the rear. And through group after group the old man lay still, as if sleeping to a rhythmic lullaby. There was something comforting to him in those sounds, familiar in content yet fresh in tenor and tone – that vigor of optimism which accompanied each foursome as they hit away on a new round. He had been there all morning, greeting the first group when they went out, again when they made the turn, and once more when their round was over. Slumped in his seat for hours, his body had slowly spread into every corner of the chair, hanging out over its edges like a bag of sand that had time to settle. He balanced the chair on its back legs, his shoulders propped against the clubhouse wall for support. His skin sagged like the rest of his drooping body, hanging from his face like a basset hound’s. Gray hair spread thin across his tan scalp. Were it not for the sunken eyes that showed between his squinting lids, focused straight ahead but looking at nothing, he might have been napping. Tommy Wilson approached the old caddy each day in the same fashion, hands held up tight to his chest like he was walking up to a strange dog, guarding against a bite but more likely to be startled by an intimidating bark. He never approached Frank without caution, sometimes announcing himself first. Tommy was sure Frank scared most fifteen-year-olds–it was the way he stared unseeingly from those small dark eyes that appeared so normal. “Who the hell’s that?” Frank barked, suddenly coming to life. “It’s me Frank . . . Tommy.” “The Wilson boy? Oh sure. C’mon over here and let me talk to you.” Frank cracked a thin smile when he heard Tommy’s voice, but Tommy still held his hands up close to his chest. He was not alone in his fear, for every member that passed by Frank outside the pro shop announced himself to the old man’s useless stare, never going too close until Frank acknowledged the member’s presence. The golfers of Potash Country Club had been passing by him for years. Frank had assumed the role of club mascot, the sight of him slumped against the club house wall giving comfort to the members. They would greet him before they took to the course, patronizing him with token praise while they fished in their bags for good balls to play. Frank nodded to the greetings, made small talk with some, and waited for anyone who still wanted a good looper, gladly willing to trade the daily salutations for a chance to lug a bag for eighteen. Then he could settle back in this chair knowing he had done a day’s work. But there was not much of a market for loopers at Potash anymore, especially crusty old half-blind ones with an attitude. Born the same year that the front nine was surveyed, Frank had grown up alongside the stately pines around the first tee. He had known every member of the club – the finest players, the struggling hackers, the noble gentlemen, the cheaters and drunks – caddying for each of them at one time or another. Like the blurry faces before him now, the details of his long life at Potash Country Club were growing harder to recall. Perhaps that was why he befriended Tommy Wilson—dumping all the stories out of his old, tired brain onto the young member, who had just taken up the game a few years ago and was eager to listen to the aging caddy. Tommy first stopped to talk to Frank while waiting for an afternoon thunderstorm to pass over, but after he proved a rare attentive audience for the lonely looper that day, Frank always listened for Tommy’s boyish voice outside the pro shop, inviting the boy to sit with him each time he came by. Frank’s intimate knowledge of the club was fading, drifting away like his eyesight, with only slivers of light left, but still catalogued in his mind was the true standard by which he measured every member: the golf swing. The old looper never forgot a player’s pass at the ball, imitating the swings of members long deceased and taking great pleasure in deciphering the blurry dark figures – a sort of moving Rorschach test – out on the first tee. Frank had seen the best and the worst at Potash Country Club, and he was not bashful about telling you who played to which category. He had a lot to say about each member’s golf game, a privilege he felt he had earned after a lifetime spent as a caddy. Frank had reached that age in his life when truth and candor seemed far more important than diplomacy, and he was too close to dying to invest a lot of time making friends. Most members paid little attention to the comments coming from that old lump sagging in his chair, his unbridled remarks going unchallenged, his musing cast aside as a product of senility and too much time under the sun. Potash is a small town in New Hampshire, not the kind of place one would associate with country club golf. No one jets into Potash to vacation, although there is a twin engine puddle-jumper that sputters its way up from Boston once a day. Most visitors just take the bus into town. By far the biggest tourist attractions in Potash are the trees. Each autumn, the maples set the hills surrounding the Tattleborough River valley ablaze in bright yellow, orange and crimson, flooding the country highways with “leaf-peepers” rubber-necking their way down the road. Golf in Potash is a simple game. Winter rules just mean you can take relief from the lingering snow drifts, or play the ball where it lies atop a frozen pond. Golf carts are allowed on the course from May to November, snowmobiles from December to March. You can’t wear cut-offs during the summer, but any other wardrobe combination is acceptable. It is a comfortable place to play golf, like a well-worn set of leather grips that you hate to replace despite your desire for something new and better. That caddy never tired of telling Tommy about the early days of the country club, when Frank was just a kid himself. Frank could have told you all these things about Potash if you sat with him—they were mere scene-setting for the dramas that played out on the course, dramas that he passed down to Tommy as they sat outside the pro shop, listening to the comforting chorus from the first tee and waiting for the odd chance at a caddy job.