At Home On The Range What Drives These Golfers To Such Madness?

Posted: August 03, 1987

On a hot summer night, the object of desire is something cool, something languid, something soothing. Something like golf.

Golf. As in the giant golf ball, big as a house, sitting on a wooden tee in the middle of the lawn at Fairmount Park's Burholme Golf in Northeast Philadelphia.

Golf. Less a sport than - with its five-hour games and kelly green Bermuda shorts - a way of life.

"Golf!" said Joe Welsh, 20, a look of disgust and shame on his face as he watched the nth golf ball veer-off to the left.

Seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., folks who have strong feelings about golf find themselves on the Burholme driving range, 401 W. Cottman Ave. There, for $3, they can shoot a bucket of 50 golf balls and maybe, just maybe, improve their swing just an itsy-bitsy bit.

But sometimes no amount of practice is any help at all. Sometimes, the fear of failure makes any improvement impossible.

"I'm working on my accuracy," said Ed Dancona, 42, a Jenkintown banker who had given up all hope of hitting the ball well and was now concentrating on destroying the wooden tee.

"Hitting a perfect ball is not as easy as you think," said Tony Noriega, 23, a Mayfair building contractor consoling a pal.

The secret of a perfect hit is this, Noreiga said: The ball must go where you want it.

There are other terms and strategies the golfer must memorize, too. A hack or duffer is someone with a giant swing. A top swing is hitting the top of the ball and making it bounce - a no-no. A miss is a miss.

"That's my usual shot," said Welsh, a Southampton electrical contractor.

While Noriega goes to the driving range to hone his shot, Welsh goes mostly to spend a few hours away from work and home.

"It's entertainment," said Welsh.

Entertainment? The frustrationand embarrassment of swinging at a teeny ball on an even teenier wooden peg?

Welsh shrugged. "There's pleasure and there's pain in everything."

He turned and swung. "That was pain," he said, watching the ball bounce a few feet away.

No such discomfort for Josh Putterman, 19, a sophomore at the University of Delaware. He's gotten so good at the driving range that he is reluctant to graduate to the golf course.

"I know I'd hit 200 something if I played a full round of golf," he said.

If golf was a game of baseball, .200 would be his average, said a rueful Minsoo Kim, 18, a Drexel freshman there with a half dozen buddies.

"He hits it like a baseball," said In-Gul Yuh, 18, watching Kim step toward the ball before twisting back and whoosh, hitting the ball.

Diana Kim, 17, a Radnor H.S. junior, was less worried about whether her swing was true golf form than she was in just hitting the ball.

As the sun set over the driving range, the moment everyone had waited for but no one had expected: She swung the club, it touched the ball, the ball rolled off the tee and dribbled onto the lawn.

"I hit it!"

And like a true pro, she knew it was time to retire.

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