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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 764

At a country club in Deming, New Mexico, Dillon Ripley practices his golf swing with the help of the resident pro, Allie Martin. There is little question that Dillon Ripley approaches the game as a sacred experience and not merely as an entertaining sport. On weekends he is accompanied by his wife, Jimmie, as he tries to instill in her his own reverence for the game. Golf, he tells her, is bliss and bane, like love itself. Ripley so reveres the game that he uses archaic terms such as “mashie,” “niblick,” and “spoon” to describe various kinds of golf clubs. Having delved into the ancient history of golf, he is familiar with its lore and minutiae.

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In his daily life, Ripley is a prosperous vice president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank (loan department), and he repeatedly tells his favorite golfing partners—Watts Gunn, Phinizy Spalding, and Poot Taylor—that he intends to take his wife and four children to Scotland to play at the Old Course at St. Andrews—the home of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. His love and enthusiasm for the sport is so profound that he once declared, on the fourteenth hole, that he had discovered “what best tested the kind we are . . . the hazards of unmown fescue and bent grass, or a sand wedge misplaced from a bunker known as the Valley of Sin.” In short, what separates humans from beasts and makes them most human is how successfully they emerge from their struggles in the Valley of Sin—literally and metaphorically.

It is at the fourteenth hole on a beautiful May afternoon, however, that Dillon Ripley faces the most traumatic vision of his life when his caddy, Tommy Steward, spots a Volvo speeding toward them. In it are Ripley’s golf pro, Allie Martin, and his wife, Jimmie Ripley—both naked. Dillon’s golf partners recognize—as does Ripley—that a corrupting agent has entered their lovely Eden and destroyed it utterly. When Ripley sees his naked wife, he immediately collapses with a heart attack.

The second part of the story takes up months after Ripley’s heart attack. He seems to be on the mend, though his physician, Dr. Weems, has warned him that he is not yet ready to play golf. The Deming Golf Club has lost its Edenic glow, now that Ripley’s friends realize that human beings are no more noble or charmed than “thinking worm or sentient mud.” Most people accepted the view of Dr. Tippit, the Presbyterian minister, that the world is “a fallen orb.” Although Ripley has seemingly accepted the terrible loss of his beloved, strange events and signs began to appear at selected places on the golf course, especially on the fourteenth hole—Deming’s own Valley of Sin.

Three weeks after Ripley puts his house up for sale, apocalyptic messages begin to appear in different parts of the golf course, written in tiny script with messages such as “We are a breed in need of fasting and praying. . . . The world is almost rotten. . . . Porpozec ciebie nie prosze dorzanin” (a quotation from a John Cheever short story). Ripley’s friends interpret these hermetic statements according to their own lights and obsessions. Garland Steeples, the high school guidance counselor, views them—especially “the downward arc of time”—as foreboding signs of an imminent communist takeover.

It is Tommy Steward who first confronts the vision of horror near midnight on an early summer night. As he and Eve Spalding are making out near the fourteenth hole—the Valley of Sin morally—he beholds “the thing, wretched as a savage,” leaping in front of him. It is dressed in skins, and as dirty as an orphan in a French movie, with one fist shaking overhead and the other holding a golf club heavy with sod like a cudgel. There are terrifying roars everywhere, and Tommy cannot believe the thing’s blind pink eyes and its teeth as wet as a dog’s. He feels as if he is staring at the hindmost of human nature.

Poot Taylor and Watts Gunn patrol the country club for a month, but the night that they cease their rounds, something begins digging pits and new notes appear: “We are blind . . . and nothing can be done about it.”

In August, Dillon Ripley sells his house and moves twenty miles south into the desert, where the only sport is hunting. There is no golf course in this barren place where the winds blow constantly, as if they come from a land whose lord is dark and always angry.

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Themes