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Where's the joy of golf gone? Look under the dust

Sometimes, when I need a camel to get out of a bunker and my putts smile and nod to the hole as they go by, I think, what ever became of the wonder and joy of the game?

The answer is, nothing. It's still there, it's just got a little dust on it.

I'll never play as well as I did when I lived in the fairway and was one-putting the world. But the memories of those days are still there and there are worse things to do than remember the way we were. Read on. It may take you back a few years to your own young love.

The first round of golf I ever played unfolded in a tumble of double and triple bogeys at the long-gone Hillcrest course off of Central Avenue. It was a flinty, scruffy place where gamblers gathered and beer drinkers drank and on at least one occasion, there was gunfire.

I shot 63 for the nine holes and never shot that high again, but it's not over and given the direction of my game today, my record is not safe.

I played with my high school pal Nick Stafford, sharing his clubs. Smitten by the game and rolling in money from my weekend job in a meat market, I began to spring for rental clubs. You could get a set for 50 cents. The paint was worn off the drivers, there was a chunk of wood missing from the face of a 2-wood, the irons were mismatched and rusty and the putter invariably had a hickory shaft, a dry and well-worn leather grip and a rusty head. And the bags looked like they had been in combat.

Our golf balls were, for the most part, ones we found. The skin of a ball was so thin, you could cut it to the core with an ill-placed blow.

Wonder and joy? I once played 51 holes at ol' Hillcrest, walking and lugging my clubs, and might still be playing if it hadn't gotten dark.

Over the years, I bought new clubs, developed a reliable fade, putted like it was easy and played in some tournaments. Then the years began to steal some distance off my shots and my putter became disinterested but I've never stopped in what someone called the search for infinity. I've beaten the ground on occasion, sputtered and fussed and sworn that the golf gods had it in for me, but I've never stopped loving it.

Where has the joy and wonder gone? Nowhere. If it was ever there, it's still there. Call it up sometime and get reacquainted.