I first thought about Urban Golf on one of my long drives from Tucson to Phoenix, Arizona. I passed by another golf course being constructed along side another housing development (here in Arizona, there are many developments with their own golf courses). I said to myself "There is desert being scraped away once again for a grass golf course".
I recalled recently reading that if you took all the square miles of grass golf course in the United States it would be greater then the State of Delaware.
I asked myself "Why do they have to play on grass? Why can't golf be played in the local environment? Why do they have to destroy many square miles of different ecosystems and deplete our water supply? Why do we have to divert the Colorado River to water the state through irrigation?" (I was more of a Bleeding Heart back then).
I remembered the episode of MASH where they would just play in the landscape around them. I thought about, on those long drives back and forth, the different ways and places to play golf - the desert, the woods, downtown. This was the first inkling of Urban Golf.
And after a while I put this conversation with myself in the back of my mind.
A few years later (1992 to be exact) I took a year off from work and volunteered with organization called Annunciation House located in downtown El Paso, Texas.
Among many other things, A-House gave hospitality to undocumented refugees, mainly from Central and South America. We lived and ate with the guests and the houses survived on donations from the public (we ate a lot of rice and beans and the building had no air conditioning... In the summer it was hot!)
After arriving in August and working for a month or so I was going a little stir-crazy. I am a creative person and I tend to like things to go over the top and I had been looking for something to release the stress that would also be really fun.
One day a donation came in, and among the canned food, soap, and clothing was a small set of golf clubs and a can of tennis balls. I grabbed them and took them to my room.
There were many volunteers as well as other houses in the organization. There was a guy named Jon Law who was from Phoenix and had gone to the U of A in Tucson. Since we had a few things in common, it was natural we would strike up a friendship. Jon would come over on his days off and we would make chilidogs and chat about things like politics, religion and Jon's favorite sports (his father was the sports writer for a Phoenix Newspaper).
At one point I brought up my thing about "Why do they have to play on grass?" and told him about Urban Golf. His eyes lit up when I explained the concept. He wanted to play right then.
We decided to play that night, after the sun went down so it wouldn't be so damn hot. We asked others to join us, but the only one who said he would play was another friend, Altaf Bimji. No one else wanted to play, in fact some people thought we were just plain crazy.
After sunset, with the sky was still glowing orange and purple, we went out the front door of A-House and into to middle of San Antonio Street. We decided that the hole would be the side of the Westin hotel, about a mile or so away. We were excited, and Altaf kept on saying, "We're playing Urban Golf, we're playing Urban Golf!"
Altaf approaches life in general with a child-like enthusiasm. That's why we liked him and that's why he said yes to joining our game. Jon, being an expert in sports, laid down some ground rules. Then we flipped a coin to see who went first.
"Four!" I yelled and smacked the yellow tennis ball, sending it flying down San Antonio Street. I felt exhilarated right off.
"Cuatro!" Altaf yelled for the Spanish-speaking people.
"Fore!" Jon yelled and his ball went the straightest, highest and longest. Right from the start I thought he would win.
Down San Antonio we went. After about 3 shots, Altaf smacked his tennis ball and it lofted high, but it came down and hit the rear window of a brand new Lexus. It bounced, but set off the alarm.
It so happened that the car was parked by this huge window of an Italian restaurant. And it so happened that the car's owner was sitting at the window to keep an eye on his car. When he saw that his baby got bumped with a tennis ball he leapt to his feet and pounded on the thick glass. We heard the muffled yells of a crazy man saying, "That's my car! That's my car!"
To this Altaf pick up his ball threw it over his shoulder like spilled salt, and said, "I'll take a stroke." We howled with laughter.
Soon a certain feeling that the cops might show up started to well slowly up in my gut. But, we went on.
The next thing I remember is the El Paso jail. In El Paso, the loved ones of the prisoners (mostly women) would stand across the street from the jail and with hand signals (of whose machinations I know nothing of) communicate to the prisoners through the windows of their jail cells.
As we approached the jail and played through this group of ladies with their arms flapping away, an uneasy pause took over us. We looked at them and they looked at us as if we just came off the Mothership.
Soon after we had passed the jail, the police showed up. They didn't stop us or anything but they made us a little leery. So, we pick up our balls and put them in our pockets. The Police did circle back and they put their spotlight on us. We just were walking around using the clubs as canes.
I remember the look on the cop's face in the lead car as he passed by. It was a very perplexed look of "What the hell are 3 guys doing, walking around with canes?" Then they sped off to headquarters around the corner.
By then, Jon was way out ahead, but I had caught up with Altaf. As we were closing in on the hole, traffic was getting busier and we would have to stop to let cars by. We were a block away and were all giving each other shit on who was going to win.
Then I smacked my ball and it rolled straight and looked like it was going to make it across the street in front of the Westin. Just then a car came from nowhere and ran over my ball causing it to squirt into a drainage grate. Lost for sure.
Jon howled with excitement as he was going to win. He went to make his shot, and it too went down a drain. At that Altaf jumped for joy and smacked his ball right into the side of the Westin.
So Altaf was the winner of the fist game of Urban Golf.
Suddenly, a security guard came out the front glass doors and another one whipped to the scene in a cart. Altaf just picked up his ball and held it out on the tips of his fingers and said to them, "Urban Golf, man, Urban Golf."
As we walked home, we were exhilarated. We all felt like we did something. We didn't know what we did, but we felt great. In a small way, I proved to myself you don't need grass to play golf.
Fast forward to the spring of 1999, I was back home working as the Resident Sound Designer for the Arizona Theatre Company in Tucson AZ. We were doing the last play of our season, which had a guest Sound Designer, none other then Matt Spiro. Matt and I hit it off right away.
One night we went to the Hut, a Bar on 4th Ave. here in Tucson, where we played pool and air hockey and drank beer and eventually tequila, I think.
I told the story of first game of Urban Golf to him and his eyes lit up just like Jon's did. It made him laugh.
Well, lo and behold, Matt took Urban Golf back to Oakland with him. He started to play it with his friends and expanded the sport to new heights, for which I am grateful.
This is where my story ends and the new era of Urban Golf began.
GO AND PLAY!
Brian Jerome Peterson
June 12, 2003