A Place Unlike Any Other

I should’ve written this before I went and played golf yesterday.  I wanted to – it would’ve been far better to talk about the majesty of a golf course found somewhere out of time before I actually played it, and played some of the worst golf I’ve ever played. The whole day ended up being an 8-hour practice in stress management brought on by sheer helpless failure.  I couldn’t do anything I know I can do on a golf course, and it was brutal to say the very least.

What I would’ve talked about on, say, Wednesday prior would’ve been the nostalgia a course like Culbertson Hills can allow for.

My dad has been going to this golf course for far longer than I have been alive. We even joked about it as we left: he’s known the owners of this course longer than he’s known me. It’s a sobering realization.  Also a very confusing one.

Culbertson Hills is the kind of course that not only harbors memories – it can invent them too.  I have 20 years of memories with golf with my dad.  This is the first year I had ever been to this course with him.

And yet, I had a feeling that, if I went around that course, and looked hard enough, I could find my dad’s memories.  I was already told about the “Tomatoes Tree” at the first par 5, where my dad was so upset after a hole he threw his putter at a tree and it got stuck.  My dad’s friends and he spent an hour trying to figure out how to get it down; eventually he climbed the tree and got it.

There are countless other stories.  Stories I don’t know, but invent.

– Going to the local bar when he was my age, where the college girls frequented.  Inviting them back at night to the golf course, and the old hotel that used to stand right next to it they stayed at.  Going out to the seventeenth green, laying on the grass, looking up at the sky and smoking some…other grass.  Girls spending the night with my dad and his friends; all of them falling in love with the night, with the stars, and parting the next morning with no hard feelings, no last names.

– Drinking with the sons of the guy who owned the place.  Stealing carts at night while the sons’ dad slept, and leaving tire tracks all over the course.  Finding secret roads to cut through from the fifth hole to the fourteenth.  Breaking into the snack bar outside the fourteenth hole and eating whatever’s there.  Pausing at the dogleg of…hole seven or eight I believe, the hole my dad stopped me on when I went this year…to take in the quick beauty of an approach worthy of a far loftier course.  Throwing unforgettable parties at the banquet hall those same nights, inviting all the young kids in town their age.  Trying to drive the first green while everyone else watched from the banquet room window.

– The legendary Halloween parties the sons used to throw, and their far-too-expensive costumes.  Costumes my dad couldn’t recognize them in.

– Growing with those same sons as they became the owners of the place.  Meeting the adult son who may some day continue this tradition.

When I was young, and first starting to play golf, there was a course near my house that my dad and I would go to.  It had a driving range, and as simple a golf course attached as you could imagine.  Apparently I can’t remember it very well at all, for to hear my dad talk about it today you would think the place couldn’t have been a golf course it was so terrible.  The course was called Mid Pines.

I used to hate going to the driving range, because I didn’t understand practice.  I wanted to play the course, where I could maybe get a birdie or even an eagle if I were so lucky.  Today I don’t remember the course at all, but I do remember the joy I used to have in hitting the 100 yard sign with my pitching wedge when I would hit it really well.  I remember playing golf there with my dad, getting to drive the golf cart.  I remember that this game, this golf, has been the bond between my dad and I for twenty years.  I remember that this is our bond, even if I remember not usually having too much fun.  I should’ve practiced more.

Mid Pines has been long since torn down, replaced by a sorry excuse for a private country club; but playing Culbertson Hills, from purely my point of view, reminds me of Mid Pines.  It is both greatly heartwarming and tragic, because I now am able to be fully aware of the nature of our bond, and I am able to bask in it so much more completely.  We have played golf many times this year, but the only two times golf has become a fully circuitous experience, the only time this game has reached its full potential to realize all the years it has spent forging a bond between my dad and I is at Culbertson Hills.

The tragedy lies in its coda, as is the nature of every part of life.  I don’t know how much longer these moments will last.  I can only hope they last forever, but I know that cannot happen.

The other tragedy is my golf game.  Nothing in this world has the ability to make me feel more like a ten-year-old boy again more quickly than this wonderful, awful game.  On Saturday, it truly was like my dad and I returned to Mid Pines for one more round.

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