Death on the Golf Course

Death is a Mystery, and Many Speak Wistfully of Dying on the Golf Course

The anticipation of dying is, of course, something that has to be worked out by each human brain individually, according to his or her beliefs, ways of being and thinking. In terms of the game of golf, death is a strange mismatch. The game, even though not one of the overly fast ones, is built on action and well-defined goals. It has targets, hopes and fears. In short, the game of golf is in some way symbolic of everything life is about. When we lose great golfers from the past, there is a special eeriness about it. These were men and women engaged in a noble, refined and life-filled career. There is a little corner in the human mind that understands when the bad guy in a western movie has to go, but screams in disbelief when it comes to Jimmy Stewart or Arnold Palmer.

Many postcards, mugs, and shirts refer in some way to being buried on the golf course at life’s end. It’s a sacred place to many, and stories of people dying while playing their favorite game in their favorite place are heartwarming. We are grateful when we hear of people ending their lives in what was for them a place of joy and serenity. I heard such a story last week, when the mother of one of our friends passed away on the golf course. She was 91 years of age, a fireball throughout her life, and had just rolled in a par putt on 18. One of her playing partners commented that she had parred a very difficult hole, as if there’s an easy one for most people surpassing 90 years of age. She had intended to play another nine that day, but just replied. “Well, so I did. I think maybe I’ll just go home now.” Thereupon, she suffered a stroke and died. A person with no interest in golf might not get it – dying is dying, what does it matter if you’re in a place that’s nice? That viewpoint, to me, carries a fatal flaw. It would be like saying, “Dying is dying – what does it matter if all the people you love are around you when you go through it?” Being surrounded by a beautiful setting, in a place where one has enjoyed so many memorable hours? I’m going to give a golf devotee the benefit of the doubt.
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Death in the place one loves more than most others has come close to our family as well. Our uncle Richard, simply known as Uncle Dick, was the most colorful character in our family tree. As children, my mother was poised to spring into action to cover our ears in case he got colorful. Through the years, he engaged, entertained, and taught all the nieces and nephews, with many memorable hours on the golf course. Uncle Dick looked like a slightly shorter, heavier version of W.C. Fields. It didn’t appear as though even walking came naturally to him – but could the man ever hit a golf ball! Even in his later years, he remained close to scratch, with one of the prettiest swings I’ve ever seen. When his golf cart came over the hill without him, it looked like a riderless horse coming out of battle, and even in that moment, there was a rightness we all felt about the nature of his loss. We last saw him on the patch of ground he loved most, playing the game he loved most. We don’t know what happened, but lightning may have been involved. Uncle Dick would probably go that way,

With all the violent danger in the world, with all the vitriol aimed in so many directions, why wouldn’t we wish our loved ones to finish their journeys in a beautiful place, with no more anxiety involved than trying to stay on the fairway and roll in some putts? Playing with friends, surrounded by trees, water, grass, birds singing, a gentle breeze? Perhaps in the end, it doesn’t matter, as the skeptics might say, but I would personally wish for a beautiful transition when it comes to all my people. For many of them, that’s the golf course. Death is a mystery, but the beauty our game offers, we can provide.

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