Born in Ohio and raised a tennis player, Luke Reese knew nothing about links golf as a young man. And he acquired no understanding of the game when he enlisted in the U.S. Army after his freshman year in college, largely in response to the Iran hostage crisis, and went on to serve in Germany as a linguist in military intelligence. The sport remained something of an enigma even after Reese returned to the States to finish his undergraduate studies at DePauw University and then earn a law degree from the University of Michigan. Not even a stint at a big-league law firm handling leveraged buyouts when they were all the rage on Wall Street in the late 1980s did anything to advance his knowledge of golf.
But then Reese left the legal profession and moved back to Germany, first to peddle bicycle handlebars and then, in 1994, to sell and market tennis and golf equipment for Wilson Sporting Goods, which was owned by Amer Sports, a Finnish company. He was 33 years old.
It was around that time that Reese first played a proper links, the Old Course at Ballybunion. It blew a near gale the day he teed it there. And though a soaking rain did little to enhance the experience, it certainly made it authentic. So, did trudging up and down dunes the size of small mountains, flailing away at balls buried in cavernous pot bunkers and searching hopelessly for tee shots he had sliced into calf-high marram grass.
Not surprisingly, Reese quit after 11 holes. But he didn’t retreat to the clubhouse to wash away his frustration and embarrassment with a couple of whiskies. He walked the rest of the course with his caddie as the other members of his group finished their games.
Reese remembers being intrigued by the game and its many intricacies – and being enthralled with the stark beauty of the treeless, seaside setting. But he also was convinced he had just played his first and last round of links golf.
Then he met Bondy, and it wasn’t long before Reese’s casual flirtation with that kind of golf developed into full-bloom love. A deep friendship ensued as well, and he has sought to honor both those relationships with a book, One For The Memory Banks. Written in a style that is rich yet austere, like many of the links layouts he and Bondy played together, it is a rousing, big-hearted read that reminds us of the many things that make golf such a joy. Like a good round with good friends, I never wanted it to end.
A native Scot – whom Reese describes as a “large-boned man … with silvery hair over his ears” – Allan Bond was for many years the UK sales manager for Wilson Sporting Goods. He learned the game as a caddie but then gave it up for a spell when he joined the Merchant Navy at age 15. “Bondy” spent the next five years traveling the world, returning home only after failing an eye exam. Looking for work, he walked unannounced into a Wilson golf equipment factory in his hometown of Irvine – and soon after walked out with a job repairing clubs in the back of a building that Reese says was so dark and spartan it “could have been confused for a local penitentiary.” Eventually, Bondy rose to the rank of UK sales manager. And it was while holding that job, in autumn 1994, that he met the Yank he quickly took to calling “young Mr. Reese.”
After spending time with Reese, who was 17 years his junior and based in Munich, Germany, Bondy pronounced himself impressed with the American’s sales skills. But he could tell that the lad had a lot to learn about golf. So, Bondy took him under his wing, encouraging him to read the great golf writers (Bernard Darwin, Henry Longhurst, Donald Steel) and to join him for rounds on the finest links. Dornoch, Portmarnock and Prestwick, Deal and Sandwich, the Machrie on the whisky-rich isle of Islay and the common-ground course of Southerndown in Wales, where the sheep frequently outnumber the golfers. There even was a match against Pádraig Harrington at Royal Dublin, which Bondy and Reese won, 2 up.
For 25 years, Bondy and young Mr. Reese played all across the British Isles, sometimes by themselves, most of the time with good friends. The matches were fierce yet fun. The pace brisk. The Rules of Golf always followed. There was plenty of banter – and abuse. No one ever asked for a mulligan. No one warmed up on a practice ground.
Just as enjoyable were the evenings spent in pubs once the rounds were done, listening to Bondy tell stories over drams of whisky and pints of lager and ale. Stories like the one he related after a game at Prince’s Golf Club in southeast England about Percy Belgrave “Laddie” Lucas, a formidable, left-handed golfer who had grown up playing the course that hosted the 1932 Open Championship. Good enough to have captained the golf team at Cambridge and represent GB&I in three Walker Cups, he found a second calling as a Spitfire pilot for the Royal Air Force during World War II. He was, in the true meaning of the word, an ace, and up into the sky he went every day to do battle against Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe.
A German managed to get the better of Lucas during one of those encounters over northern France and crippled his plane. Trailing smoke, he quickly headed back across the English Channel for home. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly given the thick cloud cover, Laddie found himself on the Kent coast, with the clubhouse at Prince’s – where his father had worked as the club secretary and where he had been born – looming in the distance. Bordering it was the links on which he learned the game – and a place where he could set down his plane.
As Reese recounts Bondy’s telling, Lucas steered his Spitfire toward the first fairway but decided against landing there because he remembered that he always missed that fairway. So, Lucas set his craft down instead on the fourth, bounding across the fairway before coming to a halt in the rough.
The next day, he received a telegram from Longhurst, the longtime columnist for the Sunday Times. It read: “Driven out of bounds again Lucas.”
Reese left Wilson in 2002 to start a private equity firm, having run that company’s golf division for several years out of Chicago as well as the international operations of Amer Sports, which also included the Atomic and Salomon ski companies. Investments first in Peter Millar and then Kjus allowed him to keep golf a big part of his business life. And he made sure that his outings with Bondy continued.
Sketches by Enid Day found in Reese’s book, One For The Memory Banks
Bondy had a habit of starting each round by saying, “Here’s one for the memory banks.” And after all those games together, Reese’s memory banks were full. His friend had not only nurtured a passion in golf for the American but also had given him the equivalent of a Ph.D. in the game in its purest form – and as it exists in its ancestral home. Along the way, Bondy also provided young Mr. Reese, who is the father of two grown daughters and a member of Royal Dornoch and Portmarnock among other clubs, with some of the best adventures of his life.
This book, which is out this month, is Reese’s way of saying thanks.
He could not have done it better.
To order the book, go to thememorybanks.com, or Amazon.com
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