When I began playing golf, I used my grandfather's old clubs; a set of MacGregor muscleback blades and some persimmon woods. The irons went from a two to a pitching wedge. There was also a well-used Wilson sand-wedge to round out the set. The irons had the crest of the Denver Country Club on the back of each club. When they had been purchased, these had been very expensive clubs. My Dad isn't a golfer, so the clubs had sat neglected in our garage after grandfather died.
The clubs were in a big, black leather Wilson golf bag. The bag sat in our garage with an old cloth thrown over it until the day I pulled it out to resuscitate it and begin playing golf. I must have been twelve or thirteen when I first took an interest in golf. I pulled the bag out of the garage and marveled at the layers of dust that it had accumulated. The irons were dusty but the woods all had those leather club-head covers with large numbers stitched on that you don't see anymore. When I pulled the head-covers off, I was surprised at the seeming newness of the woods. You could see the grain in the persimmon beneath the clear, shiny varnish. There wasn't mud or turf on the clubs, and they didn't show the scratches of having been played frequently.
The bag itself was another matter. Its black leather was covered in years of garage dust. I set to work cleaning it. First I rubbed off the worst of the grime with a damp cloth. I emptied the bag's many pockets. I found lots of tees, lots of those neon orange golf balls that you hardly see anymore. They were Titleists, but they also bore the name of my grandfather's car dealership. I found an old glove, a few sizes too big, and a pair of neon yellow wind-pants. I turned the bag upside down so that the leaves and other detritus fell out of the top opening. I took a vacuum hose and thoroughly cleaned the myriad pockets. Lastly, I took some leather cleaner and applied a liberal amount to the bag. I let it sit awhile, and then applied the leather cleaner again. It did the trick; it restored the suppleness that the bag had lost from sitting in our garage through the blazing summers and freezing winters.
Carrying the bag presented its own challenges. It was clearly meant for a caddy or a cart; not a skinny twelve-year-old. I had golf lessons that summer at City Park golf course, near our house. I was dropped off every day by my Mom or Dad, but I would have to walk or take the bus home. The bag was nearly as big as I was, and I was exhausted when I got home after my lessons.
When I went to college, I took my grandfather's clubs, which I had been using for a few years then. But I got a new bag; one of those flimsy nylon ones. Somehow the burnished persimmon woods and the irons with the country-club crest looked sadly out of place in the new bag. The new bag was green nylon with mesh pockets. It lacked the gentle sheen of the leather bag, and the pockets seemed delicate compared to the stout, twill-lined pockets on the old bag.
When I went off to school, I started playing more golf, and it became clear that I would need to modernize my clubs. I wasn't good enough to be playing with musclebacks anyway, and the woods seemed comically anachronistic compared to the space-age alloys in the other golfers' bags. That first summer came and went and I put the clubs back into grandfather's bag and put the bag in our cluttered basement, which was better than leaving it to the unregulated temperatures in the garage, I figured.
When I returned to school, I indulged in a new set of irons and a new driver. It seemed a terribly extravagant purchase at the time. The new irons were a revelation. They were cavity-backed and a hundred times more forgiving than the old blades.
Along with the clubs I got a new bag. The new bag was a blue nylon stand-bag, with a backpack harness so that I could trek across the course without stress on just one shoulder. The bag had a pleasing Cleveland Golf logo on the big rear pocket, and had plenty of room for all sorts of golf paraphernalia. My new clubs looked at home in their new bag. I set it standing at the foot of my bed in my dorm room. I'd often practice putting in the hallway outside my room using a water glass as the hole.
I cleaned my bag out the other day, as I periodically do, to remove old score cards, receipts, and the other debris that tends to accumulate in golf bags. I was surprised at what I found. I found a (much wrinkled) sweater that I'd given up for lost, a business card-case engraved with my college-graduation year, a dirty toothbrush which I had used to clean my irons, a small notebook with some cryptic jottings which I could no longer remember, pencils with the names of half a dozen different courses I had played, a divot repair tool from my Aunt and Uncle's country club, a poker chip I had used as a ball marker, an unused sleeve of Titleist Pro-V1s (to my delight), a hardly recognizable energy bar, a dozen loose golf balls (among them a neon orange one that says Ralph Schomp Oldsmobile, for luck), and bizarrely, a pocket copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (golf is certainly a game for stoics).
My new (now not so new) bag is beginning to show its age from the hundreds of times its been carried across a golf course in all sorts of weather, thrown in the trunk of the car, and been generally banged about. There are some streaks of mud, and the plastic base is scratched. Someday soon, I'll be in a golf shop and on impulse I'll decide that I've been needing a new set of clubs, and yes, a new bag to go with them would be a good idea.