Golfing in Memphis
During my time in Memphis, Tennessee, I lived across the street from the Memphis Country Club on Goodwyn Street – very beautiful course, but I was, alas, never invited to play golf there. I did have lunch there once, which coincided with a visit from one of the Kennedy luminaries, but that was about it.
I did get to play one of the other country clubs, however, also a beautiful and challenging course. The Chickasaw course up on Galloway was a popular hang-out for big John Daly, and it was at this time that I acquired some perspective on the long hitter. Hitting one of the best drives in my life, I rejoiced at the likelihood of clearing the creek in two, provided that I went airborne. My playing partner pointed well past the creek and reminded me that the distant patch of ground was the spot for Daly’s average drive. Disheartened as I was, I still carried the creek without incident.
My other memory of playing golf in Memphis was a round at the Southwind course. This is one of the courses on which they play the FedEx/St. Jude Classic, a regular feature of the PGA tour. My recollection is that I played an excellent round that day, but had no one to share it with, other than my three partners, who were never to be seen again. Worse, none of my regular partners believed me.
More important considerations came out of that oversight, though. While Memphis, Egypt, may be the resting place for dead kings of long ago, Memphis, Tennessee is all about promoting life for children, at least St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is. The hospital’s connection to golf, among other sports, is extensive, not only through professional tournaments, but through a flexible system whereby any amateur or professional event can establish a relationship. Deemed by important publications as one of the top companies to work for in the nation, this patient-oriented research facility has accomplished incredible things since its establishment in ’62. For instance, the survival rate for lymphoblastic leukemia, a common killer of children, has risen from 4 to 84 percent, and in all, cancer survival rates have gone from 20% to 80%.
I seem to remember that founder Danny Thomas, beloved entertainer from late vaudeville into the fifties and beyond, loved golf, so it fits. The hospital was named for his patron saint, but the hospital’s not catholic, and ability to pay is not an obstacle. With daughter Marlo Thomas (yes, that girl) acting as the national outreach director, the hospital has gathered a team of supporting professional golfers that includes Morgan Pressel, Vijay Singh, Keegan Bradley, Ben Crane and Phil Mickelson. The website displays not only the necessary info for the Fed Ex/St. Jude Classic, but “Meet a Patient” and “Meet Our Team” as well.
The pro tournament is all set for June of 2013, and the usual stars are expected. The loyalty people feel for the institution and these public events is certainly tied up with the facility’s success, but the integrity and passion of Danny Thomas certainly drove the emergence of this jewel on the Mississippi. Marlo picked up the ball and ran with the same passion, and one can hardly help but respond to her belief in the cause. In fact, the adolescent crush so many of us had over “that girl” has given way to a deep admiration for “that woman,” “that research hospital,” “those children” and “that tournament.” I’ll be tuning in – see y’all there.