For more than 60 years golf has been a way of life for Brian Doyle. As a high schooler he caddied and played at the Shorehaven Country Club in Norwalk, Conn. Then he spent three decades as an independent representative for golf clothing and equipment. He still plays frequently, often at the club in the Del Webb Spruce Creek community where he lives.
His new book, “Summer Days/Hot Nights,” coming out in July is a memoir about being a teenager in the Norwalk area. The first line is, “When I was 19, I bought a gas station.” The adventures surrounding the B&T Texaco include the local people who worked and hung out there, plus the characters who visited regularly.
“I believe that no matter where you grew up, the characters are much the same. Hopefully reader will recognize the types and say, ‘Hey, that sounds just like one of the people I grew up with. Different name, but same personality type.”
In addition to being a ‘car guy,’ Brian was also a caddie at the Shorehaven Country Club throughout school. “Remember, golf carts were not popular until the mid-’60s, so, except for carrying your own bag, the only way to get around the course was to hire a caddie,” Doyle says.
While he caddied for hundreds of ordinary golfers, he also carried bags for the likes of Ed Sullivan and Jerry Courville. Pay for the top caddies was about $3.50 a round plus a tip. Strong caddies could carry two bags and if they caddied two rounds a day, they might earn $10 or more.
“Of course,” Doyle adds, “you also had ‘The Cheater.’ Caddies who overlooked such goings on might get $10 a bag, especially if the members were playing for money.”
While most golfers might bet a few dollars, there were some who played for serious money. One of them was “Porky” Manero, whose family owned several restaurants.
“He was short, heavy, and flamboyant,” Doyle recalls. “He had all kinds of tricks to gross out his opponent and put him off his game.”
One big reveal in the book comes when Manero plays the young Jerry Courville—a local amateur who went on to the win tournaments for the next three decades. Doyle was Courville’s caddie. Manero and Courville, playing for big money, are tied and under par by 15. Then the serious betting, high stakes, and bragging rights really begin.
Asked why he wrote the book, Doyle responds, “It’s for people all over. We were one of the first generations to watch the same TV, listen to the same music, see the same movies all at the same time. My hope is that readers will rediscover their teen years and smile at the memories.”
Doyle is a storyteller, and while some stories may seem a bit stretched—they also might have happened the way he tells it.
One of the more famous residents of the Norwalk area was writer Jack Douglas. He wrote humor books and was on the Johnny Carson writing staff. He also appeared on Carson’s show.
After a major snowstorm in the region, Doyle and a friend were plowing driveways with a Jeep. One of the clients was Douglas, who had a long, winding driveway with a little Japanese bridge in the middle.
“We agreed on $35 for the job, although Douglas complained a bit,” Doyle remembers. “He handed us a check and hurriedly waved us off. We didn’t look at it until we got to the end of the driveway. He had made the check out for $25. Obviously, we needed revenge.”
Very quietly, with the lights out and radio off, Doyle returned, dropped the plow and created a six-foot snow wall near the end of the driveway. When Douglas left in the morning for an important meeting in New York City he realized he’d been blockaded.
A few weeks later Doyle and his friends found out that Douglas’ new book, “Shut up and Eat Your Snowshoes” told the story in a chapter titled “Jeep Jackals.”
“The night of Douglas’ appearance on Carson we got together with a few beers at Fred’s place. Johnny wasted no time before asking about the Jeep Jackals. We were completely in awe, slapping each other on the shoulders and back, clinking our beers, and jumping around; they were talking about us to millions of viewers on national TV.”
Other chapters in the book recount how the boys at the B&T Texaco built the fastest car in Norwalk that turned a quarter mile in 12 seconds. A chapter on the colorful Doyle family details mid-century life in Norwalk, and there’s lots of coverage on food, beer, friends, cigarettes and girls. The narrative looks at mid-century American teenagers from a sardonic, tongue in cheek, yet sympathetic viewpoint.
Perhaps the most poignant chapter in the book is about Doyle’s short career in the U.S. Army. He volunteered for Vietnam and, ended up at Fort Jackson, S.C. where the recruits were issued their uniforms. “Everything fit, except boots and wool socks—size 14,” Doyle says. “I wore size 10 boots and I’m allergic to wool.” When he tried to tell his E9 that there had been a mistake he was loudly and closely informed that “The Army does not make mistakes.”
After several thwarted attempts, Doyle ended up in base hospital with feet so blistered and lacerated that even battle-hardened doctors were impressed. “I could stare down at my feet, stuck on the end of my legs like lumps of rare hamburger meat. Wiggling my toes made them look like hamburger come alive. It was eerie.”
“It was also interesting that my doctor, while treating me, was suddenly arrested and sentenced to the stockade for marching in an anti-Vietnam War protest.”
After recovery he was hurriedly discharged. “Some time later I realized that the Army’s hurry-up-and-leave routine had a purpose. If I had stayed in thrall to Uncle Sam for a single day longer, I would have been eligible for military benefits and a pension.”
Doyle happily notes that part of his success as a representative for lines of golf gear like Spalding and Ram came from the early days of The Villages. Living at the time in St. Cloud, Fla. he called on The Villages golf management. “Apparently I was one of the first few reps to come to this ‘new development in the middle of nowhere’ at the time. I was rewarded with big orders and helped both the golf shops and the retail shops in the sales centers get established.”