As I pointed out in this space some time ago, our Merry Company of Northwood Golfers, otherwise known as the Northwood Men’s Golf Club, is a diverse lot given to unpredictable words and deeds. Among us, “appropriate golfing attire,” as a sign tells us is required, can include tie-dyed T shirts, too short shorts, socks that don’t match, no socks at all, or even no shoes at all.
In James Stadig, however, we have one of our worthies, a shining light in fact, always properly dressed and in a good spirit for the game. He is the member of our Merry Company we all want to play golf with. It’s sheer pleasure to walk the course with James.
James’ somewhat unorthodox but determined golf swing comes about because his left leg was blown off in the Vietnam War. He walks and plays golf on a plastic prosthesis that extends well above his knee. By profession, he is a world-class woodworker, turning out exquisite tables, chairs and other fine pieces in exotic tropical woods from his studio in Guerneville. He also volunteers for Meals on Wheels. Without trying to be, he is an inspiration to many of us.
A week ago Wednesday, James scored his fourth hole-in-one at Northwood Golf Links, which has to be more than any player of that beautiful course since it opened in 1928. For you fortunate ones who don’t know about golf, a hole-in-one is when your first shot on the hole goes right into the cup.
Those who figure such things have determined that the odds of the average golfer getting a hole-in-one on any given day is about 12,500 to one, so James has beat those odds four times now. The overwhelming majority of golfers never get a hole-in-one their whole life long.
Eight years ago, after James’ third hole-in-one on the sloping eighth green at Northwood, an enthusiastic young playing partner got James in a bear hug, lifted him off the ground, and then dropped him. CRACK! “I think you just broke my foot,” James said. The young fellow was beside himself, but James assured him it was only his plastic foot and it would be repaired at the VA hospital.
Still, in order for it to be an official hole-in-one, it is necessary to play at least nine holes in succession. The ninth hole at Northwood is over 500 yards long, a scenic, uphill, tree-lined difficulty that tests the best of them on two good legs. James, who never rides a cart, hobbled and wobbled and crawled and swung the club from his knees the whole way in. He finished his round, recorded his ace and headed for the bar. A grand old custom holds that the one scoring a hole-in-one must buy the drinks when the round is over, which is what James did.
James’ fourth hole-in-one was a week ago Wednesday on the third hole at Northwood, a 150-yard shot between redwood and bay laurel trees. This happened during a league match, so lots of guys saw the ball roll into the hole. They responded by jumping up and down and cheering, but nobody picked James up and dropped him, thank God. One fellow was heard to say, “Good things happen to good guys.”
It was reported that James bought drinks for the whole league and the bartenders too, some 40 or 50 drinks, but when I asked him about it, he refused to take credit for what he did not do. “I just bought for the guys I was playing with,” he said.
James, like many of us in our Merry Company, has an abiding sense of how lucky we are to play golf in such a serene and majestic place, the long slant of sunlight streaming through towering redwoods, their shadows stretching across the green fairways, the breeze swaying the branches and rustling the leaves of the stately trees. It’s a good and peaceful thing to be there. It’s good for the soul, especially if we’re playing with James. Wild and wooly as our Merry Company may be, we all know this and feel it deeply.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.