Stephen F. Austin State University

It was a great place to putter away the summer (February 2013)

It was a great place to putter away the summer
By Van Craddock

I don't mind progress if I can just have it without change.

The other day I passed by a familiar piece of Longview real estate that still brings a smile and great memories. The four-acre tract once housed the South Green Street Miniature Golf Course.

Sad to say, the little course closed years ago and today is overrun by vines and trees.

I practically lived at the South Green Street course as a youngster. Back in the 1960s B.C. (Before Cable), some kids hung out at the car lot or drive-in restaurant or movie theater. But all through junior high and high school, my "turf" was the mini golf course.

On most weekends or during the summer I could be found striking a worn yellow (or possibly red, blue, green or orange) golf ball with a borrowed putter.

Top-40 music ("Johnny Angel," "Duke of Earl," "Loco-Motion," "Surfin' USA") blared on the speaker system. The sun was warm, the Dr Peppers ice cold and there was the sweet smell of sawdust in the air. Games were 25 cents each. Sometimes, my friend Robert Cupp (he had a passion for the game, too) and I could play eight or 10 games a Saturday and actually make money.

That's because Robert and I looked like easy pickings to older kids willing to wager money on the outcome of a round. But truth is, we were a couple of 12-year-old hustlers who rarely lost. No, practice doesn't make perfect, but enough practice made us darned hard to beat.

(I assumed that as I grew older, my miniature-golf abilities naturally would transfer to "big" golf where I expected to break 70 by the time I was a teenager. Alas, as an adult golfer now I often break 70 on the links É but only for nine holes.)

Robert and I were in our own little slice of heaven on the mini-course, pausing from our games only long enough to let the course handyman smooth the green sawdust, dragging a piece of carpet on a rope behind him.

I plead guilty to waxing nostalgic, but those were fun times at South Green. (By the way, my golf-hustling friend Robert grew up and became a Baptist preacher.)

Living in the past has one thing in its favor. It's cheaper. But change and the passage of time are making the "good old days" harder to remember.

The Gregg County hospital where I was born is now a used-car lot. The elementary school I attended was torn down and replaced. The high school I graduated from is now a parking lot. The SFA journalism building (Birdwell Annex) where we first met Better Half long ago became a plot of grass.

I'm all for progress Ð but at what price? I admit to being a cultural curmudgeon, sometimes longing for a return to the days when doors went unlocked and you knew who your neighbors were. A time when youngsters could roam blocks from home on their bikes without worry and the family could watch TV together without fear of embarrassment.

I believe there should be a natural order to things. For example, in 1948 (the year I was born), Cadillac featured tail fins inspired by the Lockheed P-38 fighter plane. I believe God intended Cadillacs to have big tail fins. Nowadays, one car looks pretty much like another. That's progress, we're told.

The overgrown lot that once housed South Green Miniature Golf Course still brings a grin when I drive by. The little tract still holds so many fond memories many years later.

Change is inevitable. And nowadays, that's par for the course.