• Family,  Fatherhood,  Life Stories,  Media

    Heading Toward the 19th Hole

    When my brothers called to propose a round of golf last month, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I don’t get to play all that often; maybe five times a year, if I’m lucky. This day would be special. For the first time, I’d play with part of my inheritance: my Dad’s clubs. On his favorite course.

    A few years ago, I turned down two invitations to play golf with Dad and my two brothers. I suppose I was too busy with work concerns. Now, a year after Dad’s death, I reflect on those lost opportunities with some regret.

    There are other times—some bad, mostly good—that I associate with golf. I remember my last game with Dad. We finished the day looking out over the course with our feet resting on the dashboard of the cart. I told him I hoped to retire early, maybe about age 55. He said he and his friends had the same goal once.

    “When did you change your mind?” I asked.

    “When we all turned 54,” he said, smiling.

    At a family funeral when I was in college, I met a distant relative, novelist Walker Percy. He invited me out to see the “western South,” and we played golf near his Covington, La., home. He then helped me land an interview and my first job at a Mississippi paper. Years later, when I read Walker was dying, I kept reminding myself to write him a note of thanks. Regrettably, I never did.

    I’ll never forget the early Saturday morning in South Carolina when my friend Mike Egan and I were looking for my lost ball on a par three. We then traced a dark trail in the dewy surface of the green. It led straight to my ball—in the hole. In one.

    Once, when I was in marketing The Charlotte Observer, I helped arrange an evening with Lewis Grizzard to benefit a local charity. While he was in town, I assumed the role of the paper’s goodwill ambassador and Lewis’ chauffeur. He asked if I could arrange a tee time at a local course.

    When we were on the fourth hole, it began to sleet rather heavily. Lewis and I were having fun and were anxious to press on, but his manager, Tony, was tiring of angling puts around piles of ice. We retired to the clubhouse for some Irish coffees.

    Lewis had another request. He asked if I knew anyone who could get him on the course at Peachtree. I told him I’d call next time I was in Atlanta—if it wasn’t sleeting. I never called.

    I suppose golf is like life in some ways. If you choose to play, you’re bound to land in the rough or the sand trap or the water once in a while. Sometimes, everything goes straight down the fairway. One thing is guaranteed: you will finish the round one way or another.

    On this occasion with my brothers, I had some good shots and some bad ones. I was proud to play with the clubs that Dad passed on to me. And, at least I didn’t let another opportunity to spend time with my friends or family slip away.

    As my brothers and I walked away from the 18th green, a youngster was on the practice tee, preparing for his trip to the first tee and his walk around the hills and valleys and traps of the course beyond.

    – October 1995 column