We trace our love for this crazy sport to the places where it all began
By Michael Bamberger
Golf, if you’re lucky, can take you all over the world, but most of us have a home course, and we’re drawn to it like it’s a superconducting magnet. There’s your home course, the place where you first kissed the game and she you. Later, you might have a second home course, the place where you hang your hat. We have feet and cars, most of us. We are a mobile people.
Some of us have two homes. Those of you who tune in regularly here (thank you!) have read the names Bellport (South Shore of Suffolk County, on Long Island) and St. Martins (nine-holer in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia) on a semi-regular basis. When you’re home you know the mounds and slopes and bounces, of course. But you also know the patois. You fall right into conversation, and you feel like you know the kid behind the counter in the shop, following the scores at Memphis on his or her phone, even if you don’t.
At Bellport the other day, a gent said, “My father had Eye2s, too. I found them in the basement after he died and sold them on eBay.”
“You and everybody else.”
I remember the father, his wife, their four children. They were a formidable family, in the best sense. The mother is 98 now. She has moved from Patchogue, one village west of Bellport, to South Florida. There has always been a lot of that. Her son the golfer—nobody saw that coming!—and his husband have homes in both Bellport and South Florida.
My friend John Garrity, gifted piano player, writer and golfer, grew up in South Florida, moved to Kansas City as a kid and has lived there for many years. His older brother and Tom Watson were golf rivals as wild youths. Twenty years ago and a little more, John typed the words below for Sports Illustrated. The course he describes is the old No. 2 at Swope Memorial in Kansas City:
I’m 55 now and play at a private club on the other side of town, but I still visit No. 2 from time to time. It’s where I made my first eagle. It’s where I clubbed a snake to death with a 9-iron. It’s where I once hit a ball so far that it vanished over the distant downtown skyline and never came down. It’s my home course.
John was born tall and has a lanky man’s rhythmic backswing. When he’s going good (the grammar is correct), he can flat out pound it.
After playing the St. Martins nine-holer in a wee tournament a decade ago, John wrote up the tournament and concluded his report with these fine sentences:
Tournament play concluded on the 9th green at 4:58 p.m. At 5, a wedding ceremony began between the green and the starter’s shed. That’s so Philadelphia.
Someday I hope to write three consecutive perfect sentences. A man can dream.
Philadelphians of a certain class and place and time have some interesting pronunciations, including sall-mon for the fish often served smoked and thinly sliced, and Beth-LEE-hem, for the Pennsylvania town that once produced a lot of U.S. steel and Eastern Pennsylvania wealth. For years, my friend Jack McCallum, gifted writer, persimmon 4-wood user and driveway basketball player, hosted a tournament at the Bethlehem muni called the Christmas City Classic. Jack started at The Bulletin, Philadelphia’s late and great evening paper. On most courses in Philadelphia, if a guy on 9 drives it into the middle of the 1st fairway, you can encourage him to play first with this magic word: G-head. The right fingers, at shoulder height, move from right to left, as if shooing a fly. The hand signal to accompany the order-of-play instruction.
Suffolk County, where I was born and raised, has a wild, wild range of accents. In bars, on beaches, on golf courses, in Carvels, you’ll hear it all. It’s close to dead, like the High Society accent of Philadelphia, but there are still some old-timers with a Bonacker accent, with its traces of New England in it and once common in the Suffolk County fishing industry. As people from Brooklyn and Queens moved to Suffolk County over the past half-century, those accents followed them. But I’d like to wrap up this report with a short tribute to one of golf’s enduring characters, Mr. Bob Bubka, a Suffolk County radio man with the most confounding and amazing accent I have ever heard. Whenever I see Bob, which has pretty much been three or four times a year for the past 30 or 40 years, he’d typically say, “How’s Patchogue?” I don’t know how the Indians said it, but out of Bob’s mouth it’s PA-chaw-gggg. Bob’s a secret legend if ever there was one.
I didn’t see Bob at the British Open last month, but his name, curiously, came up wherever I went, in football-mad Liverpool and in the towns and villages beyond it.
Do you know Bob Boob-kah?
O.K., truth: Two people asked me about Bob. But the queries did fall on the same day, so that’s something. The first to pop the question was a gent named Lee Connolly, a Liverpool taxicab driver, on the morning of the Open’s Friday round. Later that night, Shane Egan, owner of Forza, a small Italian restaurant in Hoylake, about a mile up the shoreline from the Royal Liverpool course, wondered the same thing.
Both gents are devoted listeners to talkSPORT, a massively popular radio station across the British Isles. It was talkSPORT that got Lee and Shane to Bob Bubka, and Bob took it from there. He has a voice that will suck you in.
Since the early 1980s, just about every notable golfer from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods has been Bubka-ed, to use a phrase of the industry. That is, corralled into a greenside interview by Bob, a gigantic, gentle man with purple-tinted prescription glasses and a sui generis New York accent that he disseminates to the world with his trademark booming baritone. Bob’s voice is so loud he barely needs a broadcast outlet, though he has had more than one over the years, most notably WLNG, an oldies station out of Sag Harbor, in Suffolk County.
Bob was a member of the Class of 1960 at Pierson High in Sag Harbor, where his parents owned a grocery store. He was the lone member of the Whalers’ golf team. Bob would show up for a match, somebody would ask, “Where’s Sag Harbor?” and he would say, “Right here.”
His start in broadcasting came in 1963, when Airman Bubka was stationed at the U.S. Air Force base in Sondrestrom, Greenland. Bob made himself, and his voice, available to the Armed Forces Network, and he has been talking into microphones pretty much ever since.
For the past two decades and then some, Bob has been the voice of golf on talkSPORT, covering and analyzing, with a distinctive everyman charm, scores of Masters tournaments, Ryder Cups, and U.S. and British Open championships. The players, in good times and bad, find Bob strangely irresistible.
In 2004, Todd Hamilton, the flinty American globe-playing pro, was contending at the British Open at Royal Troon in Scotland. Coming down the stretch during the final round, Hamilton’s wife, Jacque, made an urgent announcement to Bob.
“I’m out of diapers,” she said, baby in her arms.
Bob, then the size of a retired linebacker, went tearing through Troon’s creaking clubhouse.
“Mrs. Hamilton needs diapers!”
“She needs what?”
“Oh, you mean nappies.”
Nappies were secured, Jacque Hamilton did not have to leave her lucky spot, Todd Hamilton won and some of the credit for the win, in the odd way of these things, fell to Bob.
On another occasion in Scotland, Bob and his partner, Janis Self, a former winner of the North of Scotland Ladies Championship, were in an electronics shop in Aberdeen. Bob asked to be pointed to the tape recorders. The salesperson said, “Yer Bob Bubka!” The voice was a calling card.
Bob doesn’t have the classic Bonacker brogue, though he has traces of it, along with old-timey hints that suggest time logged in two or three New York boroughs. He tends to add and subtract letters as he wishes. He turns the member-guest tournament at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, in which he once played, into something all his own, the memba-gesh a’ Nashn’ll. But he turns the name Ben Crenshaw, one of his favorite golfers, into Ben Crenshore. Bob’s unique.
In his prime, he was a good golfer, once the club champion at Southampton Golf Club, which abuts Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, where Bob has covered four U.S. Opens, the most recent in 2018. The U.S. Open is scheduled to return there in 2026 and Bob hopes to be back, too.
Last year, when Bob turned 80, Jack Nicklaus sent him a letter. “I passed 80 a couple years ago and it’s not as bad as you think,” Nicklaus wrote. The letter is in a frame and hangs on a wall in Bob’s house. Bob looks at it every day. The house is in Houston, where Bob has a studio, from which he does most of his broadcasting these days, in deference to some health issues.
But to Lee in his taxi and Shane in his restaurant, Bob Bubka is a voice from on high—Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti—surveying all that he sees in golf’s green pastures. They see him as a gift to listeners across the United Kingdom. “He’s a legend,” Shane told me one night during the Open, an hour after slicing the evening’s final pie. Bob, by phone, was happy to hear about these newly uncovered fans.
“People have called me the voice of golf and people have called me a golf bum,” Bob said. “I really don’t care, as long as the word golf is in there.”
He was in Houston. I was in Liverpool. Now I’m in Bellport. Bob had his usual question for me:
By which he means, How’s the old village doing? By which he means, How you doing? By which he means, How you playing?
You play your best golf at home. We all do. You’re home. Your father’s clubs are in the basement, or they were. You understand you might not be able to putt out on the last, because of the wedding ceremony. Bob told me about playing with a man named Lord at National. As Bob told it, the man was aptly named, but Bob was a better putter, and he had a game that traveled well. In his prime, he could shoot even par most anywhere and break par, now and again, on a summer afternoon, playing at home.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]
Michael Bamberger was briefly a caddie on the PGA and European Tours, invented a golf club (the E-Club) that Lee Trevino used in his final British Open, spent 22 years as a writer at Sports Illustrated and joined the Firepit Collective in May 2022.
email: [email protected]