This Is What It Was Like To Play Golf With Hunter S. Thompson While Tripping Balls On Acid
The last article Hunter S. Thompson ever published before he died was about golf. Specifically, shotgun golf, a very Gonzo version of golf that involved one person chipping a ball with a 9 iron and another person trying to shoot it down like a clay skeet disc. He proposed the idea on his “Hey Rube’ ESPN Page 2 column, recalling a very Thompson-esque 3:30AM phone call he had with his buddy, actor Bill Murray. Via ESPN in late 2004:
HST: “I’ve called you for some consulting advice on how to launch it. We’ve actually already launched it. Last spring, the Sheriff and I played a game outside in the yard here. He had my Ping Beryllium 9-iron, and I had his shotgun, and about 100 yards away, we had a linoleum green and a flag set up. He was pitching toward the green. And I was standing about 10 feet away from him, with the alley-sweeper. And my objective was to blow his ball off course, like a clay pigeon.”
HST: “This sport has a HUGE future. Golf in America will soon come to this.”
A few months later, Thompson checked out. He was 67.
But the point here is that Hunter S. Thompson, author of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and road man for the lords of karma, liked golf. Well, his version of golf.
One of Hunter’s long-time friends was former Esquire editor-in-chief and current Sports Illustrated director of operations Terry McDonell. McDonell worked with Thompson at Rolling Stone as the magazine’s managing editor in the early ’80s. He just published a memoir called The Accidental Life about his time in the publishing industry.
Esquire recently published an excerpt from McDonell’s memoir about the time he visited Thompson’s Owl Farm in Woody Creek with George Plimpton. They were *technically* both there to work, but Thompson took them golfing, dosing the editor with a tab of acid before teeing off. Via:
I had visited Owl Farm before and told George there would be distractions, but we arrived hopeful about our connected missions. My plan was to get Hunter to write a piece for the premiere issue of Smart. George was there to interview him for what he planned to be the first interview for the “Art of Journalism” series for TheParis Review. Hunter said first we had to play golf.
We played that first evening, in the dying light, at the municipal Aspen Golf Club, which was closed. Hunter just waved to a guy in the pro shop, who brought us a bucket of balls. Hunter had a 12-gauge shotgun in his golf bag and we had Heinekens in a cooler on the cart—also a fifth of Chivas, a fifth of Jose Cuervo, limes, a fifth of Dewar’s (for George), and an extra cooler of ice.
“Here,” Hunter said, holding out three white tabs of blotter paper with an unfamiliar red symbol on them. “Eat these.”
Following Hunter’s lead, we used the first tee as a driving range to warm up. His swing was explosive if not smooth and his third drive was solid and long. George had a fluid swing and drove each of his balls successively farther. I had never played but wasn’t pathetic. Hunter accused me of sandbagging. After we had each hit five balls, Hunter said it was time to get serious and we rode the cart to his favorite hole, the 14th—a short par-3 straight shot over a large pond. The Aspen course is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and the pond was full of geese.
If you’ve read this far, just stop and go read the full article at Esquire. If you’re anything like me, it will make you smile mischievously and miss Thompson’s raw, acid-soaked voice — something that’s gravely needed in 2016 America.
Personally, it puts me in a particularly sanguine place — From 2006 to 2009, I worked as a research assistant on a book project with Anita Thompson, Hunter S. Thompson’s widow. Before moving out to Owl Farm to finish the book project, I got a chance to briefly talk with McDonnell at the premiere for Alex Gibney’s Gonzo documentary about Hunter. It was an insignificant, unmemorable conversation — He was EIC at Sports Illustrated at the time and we made some small talk about the late Gonzo journalist before I grabbed a cab to an afterparty with a Chivas open bar.
But, looking back, that night lit a fire under my ass. There’s something inspiring about being 22 and surrounded by people I lionized — Jimmy Buffett, Jann Wenner, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, etc, all anecdotally celebrating their late friend. In roundabout way, that night set me on the path to link up with founding of BroBible a year later. This cosmic cocktail of experiences is kinda what allowed me to see the vision for what we were building at BroBible a publishing voice.
In Ancient Gonzo Wisdom, the book I helped Anita publish in 2009, Hunter tells a journalist “22 is the best age. You can afford to fuck up at 22. Not so much at 30. Definitely not at 40.”
Looking back, goddamn that is great advice.
We’ll never have another Hunter S. Thompson.
“Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll.”