It happened a few days ago.
My friend Claire Smith, her son Jake, my son Chip, and I had driven up to a golf resort near Asheville, the Etowah Valley Golf Resort. After two days of golfing and merriment, we drove down to Washington, Ga. to play in a gutty tournament sponsored by the Bon-Air Golfers led by Ross Snellings. The venue was a 1926 nine-holer designed by Donald Ross, the Washington-Wilkes Golf Club. It’s a good layout but in poor condition since it’s kept up by mostly volunteers from among the 2,500 local citizens who love their city and their golfing heritage.
In the early evening on the day before the tournament, we went to the course to take a look. The shop was closed, and few people were out on the course, a box hanging by the door said, ‘If the office is closed, leave your green fees ($20) here.’ Yes, it’s that kind of place.
There was a good hour or so of sunlight left so I led the young men over to the driving range where I emptied my bag of gutta perchas and handed them the grooveless clubs to hit off a surface with little grass and dozens if not hundreds of small ant hills.
We all began to hit in turn, three balls each, starting with the niblick moving up through the mid-iron and driving iron. Once all the balls were hit, we walked down the hill into the middle of the driving range where a kind of free-for-all ensued.
I told them to hit the various white flags ahead of us at about 80 and 140 yards. Jake, Claire’s 15-year old son, had walked up to the flag farthest away, and Chip and I found ourselves hitting towards that flag where Jake stood about 20 feet away. When a few shots landed near him, he started hitting balls back at us. We all were laughing as the shots flew back and forth. It was no surprise, in retrospect, Jake and Chip began hitting crisper and straighter shots. So I began officiating making sure the shots didn’t land too close, but without much success.
Balls were everywhere, strewn across the grass between the two flags. We all began to hit the balls towards the 140-yard flag where we would bag them up and get in the car with Claire who had driven up next to us on the adjacent road.
I began to walk the perimeter to gather the more wayward balls. I turned to survey the field, both young men were hitting the balls well and with visible glee as the sky was darkening, and suddenly I began to cry, uncontrollably — ‘It is perfect, all of it’ I thought to myself over and over as my sobs continued.
I began to bend over with the palms of my hands against my face trying to control my tears, but they kept coming. Jake, Chip, and Claire, all surrounded me asking, ‘what is wrong?’ I took a deep breath and looked at them, and said in a voice I almost didn’t recognize, ‘I love this game so damn much!’