At 3:33 one morning in February 2005, Hunter S. Thompson rang up Bill Murray. “I’ve invented a new sport,” declared the writer to the actor. “It’s called Shotgun Golf. We will rule the world with this thing.” How do you play it? Why, you “shoot your opponent’s high-flying golf ball out of the air with a finely-tuned 12-gauge shotgun, thus preventing him (your opponent) from lofting a 9-iron approach shot onto a distant ‘green’ and making a ‘hole in one.'”
Murray, a known night owl and avid golfer in touch with his own Thompsonian side at least since portraying him in 1980’s Where the Buffalo Roam, seemed pleased enough with the idea. Alas, Shotgun Golf never had the chance to become America’s new national pastime; Thompson’s explanation of it came in the very last column he wrote before his death at the age of 67. Given the, shall we say, colorful life he lived and the drug-and-drink regimen that fueled it to the end, making it to late middle age counts as one of his accomplishments in itself.
We’ll never know what exact cocktail of substances inspired Thompson to come up with Shotgun Golf in the first place, but it came at the end of a long personal history of mixing drugs and clubs. Esquire recently ran an excerpt from The Accidental Life, its former editor Terry McDonell’s new memoir, about a session of “acid golf” with George Plimpton and the man who wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. No sooner did they arrive at the Aspen Golf Club (and goose sanctuary) than Thompson brought out the essential pre-game supplement: “‘Here,’ Hunter said, holding out three white tabs of blotter paper with an unfamiliar red symbol on them. ‘Eat these.'”
Before long, McDonnell feels himself “peacefully soaring.” Then the session, which also involves a fair bit of drinking, comes down to a high-stakes putt: “We were all in for $1,000, Hunter said.” Thompson, despite painstaking minutes spent lining it up, “missed the putt by about a foot and, charging after it, let out a howl as he winged his putter into the pond. The geese started honking and Hunter ran back to the cart, pulled the 12-gauge from his golf bag and fired over the geese, and they lifted off the pond like a sparkling cloud of gray and white feathers.”
“It occurred to me as I watched the glitter blend into the fading sky,’ writes McDonnell, “that having a story to tell about acid golf with Hunter and George was probably good for my career.” You can watch a video on that story at the top of the post. And what, finally, have we learned from it? In the company of Hunter S. Thompson, even plain old acid golf called for a shotgun.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.