Giving Thanks in a Golf Culture
Canada celebrated its day of Thanksgiving (jour de l’action de grace) last month, and in the U.S., it’s today. Having been born in the Pacific Northwest, spending much time in British Columbia, and living in Alberta for a time, some of my best avenues of gratitude go out to the exquisite natural country this continent enjoys. I was born in great scenery, and I’ve got to have it. And, since we’re all about golf, that means one rare golf course after another. I live in a part of the globe where a tour of golf courses makes sense, playing or not.
Growing up in a golf culture, I’ve got to give thanks for successfully making the switch to playing right-handed after six months of making sense of my Aunt Helen’s lefty clubs. Speaking of Aunt Helen, the memory of walking up the first fairway of Neskowin with her has never dimmed, even though she was dressed like a nightmarish Christmas tree of golf fashion. I guess that I would have to thank Neskowin itself, that quirky little nine-holer by the mid-Oregon Pacific, flooded for two-thirds of the year. The seventh tee sits atop a hill that requires a moderate climb to reach. It’s a hill, I know that now – back then, though, it was Mt. Everest, and I’d actually dream of it from three hundred miles away. It was a driver then – now it’s a fitty yard wedge, and seventy or eighty feet straight down.
It’s so odd, the things I remember gratefully. After a million golf shots, I know that I’m grateful for all of them, but my special memories always involve scenery and the people I was with when I hit those shots. Of course, I am especially grateful for the fairway wood I hit right at the pin at Black Butte, Oregon. Yes, the shot was thrilling. In fact, putting for eagle is so rare that it’s almost a paradigm changer in my little world. The really important part of it, though, was that Linda Hamilton was watching, and you’d have to have met Linda Hamilton to have any idea of what I’m really saying. At any rate, I was Hercules, Arnold Palmer and Einstein, all at the same time. What kid wouldn’t be grateful for that?
I remember the warmth and cheerful companionship of my father, from my first round to his last. I remember every round we played together, because he was there. I’m grateful to have been present for my older brother’s first sub-par round – what was he, thirteen? I grumbled over it, but was I ever impressed!
I’m grateful that my mother understood that all young boys would direct their sense of hero worship somewhere, and helped me direct it toward Saturday and Sunday, when Gary Player was almost always in contention. OK, I got it – you can weigh 140 pounds and still throw a lot of weight around. Funny, to talk about weighing 140 pounds on Thanksgiving. I haven’t seen that part of the scales for forty years.
I was never talented enough to become a truly excellent golfer, and that’s probably all right. Golf did not occupy the center of my life, and yet has been central, winding itself as a thread through all the major events and relationships I have enjoyed, and serving as a haven when things, and people, weren’t going so well. As a way to spend a few hours, it has satisfied on every level, from the perfect sweet spot I find from time to time, evoking a feeling that cannot be duplicated anywhere else, from childhood friends-for-life and parent-student conferences no school could supply, to the best of sibling rivalry, romantic beginnings, and alone time with grandchildren. That’s the thing about golf for those of us who love it. It’s not a separate thing from life, so we never have to explain or justify its importance. It is, rather, one of the sweetest building blocks of our memories. I’ve played in every sort of terrain, processed every sort of thought, and played with every sort of human being. What I came away with was a heightened sense of concentration, a higher integrity, the joy of good companionship, exercise, family closeness, and even a birdie once in a while. Yes, I’m grateful for all of that, and hope that everyone finds something equally satisfying to raise a glass to this Thanksgiving.