Another Look: Together on a Stretch of Green


Note from CM: In honor of Arnold Palmer, my first golf hero.

• • •

To begin with, as I say, my introduction to golf came when I started swinging myself out of my shoes with that old cut-down ladies’ club at age three and was taken by my father to the golf course, where I was permitted to ride on his lap while he was mowing fairways with gangmowers pulled by the club’s old Fordson steel-wheeled tractor.

• Arnold Palmer, A Golfer’s Life

My earliest memory of golf is a vague picture in my mind. I’m a little boy, four or five years old, running behind my dad who is pulling a golf cart on a flat stretch of green in Galesburg, Illinois. It seems to me he let me take a swing every now and then, and I recall chasing the occasional gopher and noticing their holes as we made our way around the course.

Several years later, when I was old enough to mow the lawn, I set the blades low and mowed a circle in our back yard, dug a hole and worked on it until I could fit a can in it for a cup. I can’t remember if I put together a makeshift flag on a stick or not, but at any rate, I had my own green, my own golf hole.

It was a dogleg left. I teed off from the front yard and tried to hook the little plastic golf ball through the narrow side yard around the house’s back corner to the hole. Those little plastic spheres didn’t putt too well on the rough surface, so I would replace them with a real dimpled ball from my father’s golf bag. Sometimes I got tired of hitting the plastic balls too — it really wasn’t very satisfying — so I’d tee up a real golf ball and take a whack at it. Until I broke my parents’ bedroom window a couple of times and real golf balls became verboten in the yard.

My father has always loved the game. When he wasn’t playing, he was watching it on TV. Wherever they’ve lived, he has belonged to a club or played in a league. When he retired early, he and mom ultimately found themselves relocating to a community in Tennessee noted for its golf courses. They still live there and he plays a few times a week.

At various times in my life, I have played too, but I’ve never become a “golfer.” My buddies and I used to play in high school, but I hardly ever played while I was in college. Where we lived in Vermont in our initial ministry, the local club let pastors play unlimited golf for $50.00 a year. (Honey, why did we leave Vermont again?)

Seminary years again found me preoccupied with studies and work and starting a family and pastoring a church. Guess what? Not too much time for golf, though I used to play with guys from church occasionally. It wasn’t until we moved to Indianapolis and I joined the staff of a church whose pastor was a golf fanatic that I started playing regularly. We had outings and trips and leagues, and I enjoyed every moment — though I’m sure I still owe my wife big time for all the time away while she was taking care of kids. When I left that church, I still played some, but not nearly as much. Too much time, and too much money — plain and simple. That was over ten years ago, and I’ve never gotten back on track with a regular golf game.

I still love to watch golf on TV, especially since having gone to watch some tournaments in person and realizing how amazingly good the pros are. I help with a charity golf tournament each year to raise money for a friend’s foundation that honors his late son.

And last week I had the treat of playing in that tournament with my dad.

With a couple of my friends from church, we made it ’round the course and did pretty well, enjoying the company, the brilliant blue skies, and knowing that we were supporting a good cause.

There we were, just a few guys who enjoy a game. Like baseball, the game I love best, golf is a pastoral activity that is as much about what happens between the action as it is about the action itself.

It’s also one of those games that is about fathers and sons.

Last week we took another one of those walks together — a little slower, stopping more often. Lots of other folks were swinging the clubs too, some of them focused and competitive. I didn’t see any gophers. But my dad and I were together on a stretch of green, chasing a little white ball together.

I can’t think of too many other places I’d rather be.

15 thoughts on “Another Look: Together on a Stretch of Green

  1. My father bought a low-budget, nine-hole golf course when I was seven, steel-wheeled Fordson tractor and all. Caddie at eight, greenskeeper at fourteen, escaped into real life at twenty-three, and then sucked back in doing a final twenty-five year stretch at fifty. Many’s the time I asked myself, just exactly how is this making the world a better place to live? Felt like being let out of prison when I moved up here with a suitcase of hard memories, but I learned a lot of valuable non-golf lessons along the way and the caddying was fun while it lasted. Oh well. Arnie really was the king and there is no one to replace him. Interesting that according to one report, he died worth two-thirds of a billion dollars. Not bad for a dying industry. Sometimes now when I’m out mowing, I think maybe I’ve died and gone to heaven. I get to mow and there’s no golfers in the way.


  2. My husband grew up in Butler, PA, north of Pittsburgh. There are at least seven PUBLIC golf courses around Butler and the game is VERY popular among the town folk. There is a private course and a country club, but it is also unusual and wonderful for a (former) steel mill town filled with a variety of working-class ethnic people to have access to so many public courses.

    I asked my husband about this, but he doesn’t know the reasons for all those courses. There’s a story there, I’m sure. But I do know that when we were first married and came ‘home’ to Buter (his home town) to visit family, my husband’s friends were over to collect him for golf very often . . . . . I thought the whole town was golf-mad. 🙂

    My husband ‘escaped’ the steel mills for the military at a young age, as did most of his six brothers, but he was always a ‘home boy’ and loved to go back to that little town in Pennsylvania when he could to ‘touch base’ with his roots. It’s a run-down rough little place now, with the mills closed. But good memories of good people and fun times.


  3. I’ve never been a golfer and neither was my dad, but he enjoyed golf on TV, and I used to watch with him, right from the beginning of Arnold Palmer’s televised career. And what a career it was! RIP, Arnie; you did good.


  4. My dad loved golf. And Arnie was one of his favorites. One time we were having a conversation about sports and I mentioned that I liked baseball, listening to it on radio and watching it on TV. He said, he didn’t like baseball, too slow. So I asked him what he liked… He said golf… Now I have a permanently quizzical look on my kisser…


  5. Dear Golf Players,

    Do invest in a broad-brimmed hat to wear while on the course – ball caps just don’t cover well enough. Of course, if you have to remove it to hit the ball, you can. But that and sunscreen can save you some pain, and may even save your life.

    A former pastor of mine, very light-skinned, used to bicycle a lot; he developed melanoma and died too young. I myself have had 3 excisions of a superficial melanoma in the same area on my forehead, the last one under general anesthetic with a skin graft – not terribly painful except on the pocketbook, but no fun, either. Thanks be to God, mine was not life-threatening, but still…

    Enjoy your time on the links and take care of yourselves.



  6. Not to brag (ok maybe a bit). Last time out I shot a 76.

    Not bad for a 9 hole par 3, huh?

    My son has never golfed. We have talked about maybe going someday. As I only golf once every couple of years it probably won’t be anytime soon.


  7. When Hurricane Andrew flattened Dade County in 1992, many parts of Miami were without power for weeks, even months. Meteorologist Bryan Norcross said, only partly tongue in cheek, that you could map out the demographic composition of Dade County neighborhoods by an aerial photograph three weeks after the storm. White neighborhoods blazed with light and were business-as-usual. Hispanic neighborhoods were on-and-off, prosperous West Kendall well-lit long before seedy Allapattah. Black neighborhoods such as Opa Locka and Liberty City were submerged in shadow.

    The Doral Country Club was up and running two days after the storm, the course lit up like the Indianapolis Christmas Tree, golfers chasing balls across the links. I know, know, know that it was likely a business decision to have a bank of generators on serial circuits with underground reservoirs of fuel, but the message it sent to my lizard-brain was “Golf is what matters.”

    I’ve never been able to look at golf quite the same way again, although I still like bowling.


  8. Two years ago, while playing a rare round of golf with my dad, we had this funny moment I’ll always treasure. Though on different edges of the fairway, we both hit shots that landed in the same bunker, just 6 inches away from each other. I had hit my ball there first, so I said, “Like son, like father.” I took a picture of it, am thinking of having it framed.


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