Cold air chaps my lips as I drag my Uncle’s bag of rattling metal clubs up the steep incline to the putting green beside the clubhouse. I’m drunk now. In a million ways. Intoxicated by life and circumstance and day-old beer.
My cousin got married yesterday. I was just here. It was warmer then. It rained as we walked silently across the fifth hole.
I skipped town after class to get home for the wedding. Middle of October in upstate New York is a gorgeous reminder of how beautiful the world can be when it wants to be. All the leaves are various golden shades of alive. The air is crisp. The sun bakes warmth into the day; the wind takes that warmth and deposits it elsewhere.
I arrived in town late on a Thursday. Wedding was on a Saturday. Went to see a show that Thursday with my Uncle. Some local theater production where the kids try so hard and the audience is open to whatever happens. My Uncle, a sturdy man with years of self-confidence, enjoyed the production well enough—I think it was Rocky Horror. We left after. He chatted candidly with me about the wedding.
‘Not sure about brunch on Sunday. Not a brunch kinda guy. But her family wants it.’
Oh yeah, my Uncle’s kid was the one getting married. My Uncle’s kid—my cousin—is high tide: all superficial emotion readily apparent, no nuance, no vigor. He’s marrying some farmer’s daughter who seems nice enough—I guess I should say “he married” on account of his having married her by the time I’m writing this.
So the next day, I decided I wanted to play golf. I asked my Uncle if I could borrow his clubs and off I went. To the local cheap place. That place is a myth of unspeakable virtue and wonder.
What’s great about local cheap forgotten places is that no one wants to go there. In a world where everyone wants to go where everyone wants to go, solitude in beautiful, known places is impossible. Solitude, reflection, and connection can only be found in those little crevices of the world where no one, save for a few, can appreciate the true titanic beauty of the place.
This local cheap place sits on a hill. From the road, it’s nothing but a gravel parking lot leading to an old clubhouse that needs a fresh coat of paint. From the highway, it’s a forest. Over the hill, however, there lies paradise.
A person who takes it upon himself to climb the hill and cross that threshold will find quite a world before him. The hilly landscape dips down across bright green grass and runs into large pines waving in the breeze. The autumnal sun fires arrows of gold through bright red, green, and yellow leaves. The blue sky appears to hum against the din of color overwhelming the person gazing upon it.
You walk around the back side of the old clubhouse. The door is closed, locked. It’s past 5pm; cashier goes home at 3pm. Honor system in place. There is a small wooden box with a small paper sign that says “Please pay your greens fees.” You should pay and you do, crumpling a twenty-dollar bill into the box’s rectangular mouth.
You walk quietly, alone, to the small torn up earth marking the first tee box. You drop a ball. Take a few practice swings. Eye up the flag waving lazily. Swing with monastic calm.
So, I grew up near here. This is and will forever be my capital-h Home. This place is littered with memories of mine. Every time I drive along the roads around my parents’ house I am reminded of a million pieces of myself that I haven’t had the presence to think of when I’m away. My friends. Childhood. Games. Loves. Troubles. Triumphs. Failures.
That weekend, when my cousin got married, I decided to bring some friends to golf with me. Three of my closest friends—Tom, Ryan, Steve. Steve was a late joiner, but he showed up.
Golf courses are places where friends and acquaintances connect and create moments together. Something about the combination of walking around in the semblance of the wild, passively seeking a physical marker, brings us back to our tribal roots.
The course, nothing but a neatly cut field with a small hole at the end, is just a walking path with a little extra something. Along that path, lives are planned and big and small moments are determined.
I learned about my best friend’s proposal on the course. I rediscovered the love of my family on the course. I reconnected with myself in the solitude of a humid summer day on 5. Three swings and a prayer.
There’s one short hole with a large, algae-infested pond bisecting it. That hole has a small shed buried behind a canopy of trees. That shed likely hosted a million wildly important conversations.
I just can’t help, but never forget walking to the fifth green in the rain wondering is this heaven and knowing the answer is yes.
So my cousin got married. I got too drunk. I woke up still drunk.
I finished a stale beer and gathered my (Uncle’s) clubs. I stopped to visit some old friends at another club. Just to say hi. Buzzed, I drove to the old place. I played alone in the cold.
I finished well above-par. I almost missed my flight the next day. As I squeezed into the middle seat deep in the plane, I realized I was going home, but Home would always be behind me.