Safe Haven

When it was unclear if my wife would live or die, Sligo Creek took care of me. As my wife lay in a hospital bed and after dropping my daughter at preschool I would slowly climb the hill to the clubhouse weighed down by a golf bag and dread. It seemed like a new pro shop attendant greeted me on each visit. Regardless the face behind the counter, a kind smile and warm greeting was there to encourage me. Green’s fees paid and bottle of water in hand I’d be out the door and onto the first tee.

More often than not I stood alone. During my family’s 100 days in medically induced exile, kind spirits and warm hearts graced our journey. Wonderful people were sprites that visited us on the path we traveled. Other than a former Negro League baseball player that seemed to appear on the first tee like Shoeless Joe Jackson stepping out of the cornfields, I played Sligo Creek as a single.

Standing over my driver, looking up the lush green hill, “play” always found the recesses of my mind. After a fair drive just left or just right of the front of the green, I’d bound up the slope with a little less weighing down my shoulders.

It was a nicely maintained nine hole loop (the oldest in the United States). Hitting a majestically lofted eight iron into the second green always brought a great sense of satisfaction. Hearing the hum of the DC beltway as I played the third and fourth holes was oddly soothing. Five and six created a meditative monotony – driver, walk straight down a hill, then straight up a hill, and wedge it onto the green… repeat. The dog leg left of seven was never quite as easy as it appeared (but isn’t this the reality of most of golf?). Eight always proved to be good for the ego. A short par 5 that gave up an eagle during my first round and under the watchful eye of an applauding green’s keeper. The concluding tee shot towards the road that brought me to this safe place never seemed to fly quite right. Deep rough or thick woods always to be my destiny. I am not sure if I ever found a par on the final green. It did not really matter, this hilly pasture somehow managed to give me shelter from the storm.

A year later, I found myself waving to the security guard of a gated golf community on my way in to work. Either around a perfectly manicure practice area or while wandering the course itself, members would share with me their golf stories. Stories of struggle, success, embarrassment, confusion, and all the rest. I think it would be difficult to find a more passionate golf community. The lesson tee rarely got a rest. Everyone seemed to have a regular foursome and at the same time each was often invited to join the random group here and there. Rarely did a week go by without some form of competitive event – be it stoke play, best ball, or match play the grill room leader board rarely got a rest. Great juniors, spectacular collegians, middle aged businessmen, and players happy to break 110 all shared the course and cared about the course.

Too often there is a dark side to such an intense passion, feelings of inadequacy or failure. In a close knit community, it is easy to sense a red hot spotlight shining on foibles and follies. The shanked 7-iron reverberates as a character-flaw. The missed four foot putt suggests a self worth just a bit less than “worthy.” Holes over par on the scorecard were worn like Hester Pryne’s scarlet “A.” Or at least this was how it too often felt in the guts and hearts of golfers.

Golf is enough of a challenge in and of itself. Add in a referendum on one’s goodness as a person while walking the fairways and it can be down, right smothering. Desiring a low score is a distraction when standing over putts. Wishes to not be excluded from the weekly foursome or evening cocktail party are guaranteed yip inducers.

The funny thing is, other than the occasional complaint about slow play, I never heard nor witnessed any golfer being ostracized due to a triple bogey. Actually it may have been quite the opposite struggles on the course built community rather than broke it. Particularly horrible rounds always seemed to have particularly good friends riding together in the golf cart. It is quite strange how we can expect so little good sense from others. A chili-dipped drive at all levels a golf is far likely to be something that brings players together rather than separating the field. Yes, accolades are received when one stands atop the leader board. The scores that grace the bottom are quickly forgotten in the minds of all but the player herself.

It has been suggested that gated community bread greater fear and distrust of neighbors. There is likely some truth to this. However on and around the course community tends to exist in the truest sense of the word. Golfers that strive, struggle, and succeed on parallel fairways accept and understand one another. Empathy can be found about the deep rough or the giant green on the ninth hole that seems to be surrounded by a force field. Acceptance of our golf game is quite universal we just need to find a little acceptance from ourselves.

As the months got warmer and my wife’s prognosis seemed a bit more positive I would find myself walking the hill to the club house after preschool had concluded for the day. It remained a laborious walk, but not out of burden. The inquisitive mind and club dropping hands of a three year old tended to slow the walk. We never made it to the first tee, but rather were diverted to the two putting greens and chipping areas. The pins were just the right size for a pint sized golfer. We would alternate between lining the balls up a few inches from each hole, to muscling wedges onto the greens, to sitting around in the grass of the shady hill. No place to really go, just the right place to be, a safe haven that did not add to our stresses, expose our frailties, but rather buoyed spirits regardless of how well we played our games. Be our stresses minor, major, or beyond, it is quite amazing how a community of play looks upon us with a supportive eye and warm heard rather than one of criticism.

For the full story on my wife, check out http://cancergaveme2birthdays.blogspot.com It’s worth the read.

If you like this tale, check out A Quick 9 for the Mind. Filled with stories of golf with lessons for the mindset.

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2 Responses to “Safe Haven”


  1. 1 Allan (Dr Geek) July 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Adam,

    A beautiful description of the sanctuary offered by golf and by friendship. It reminds me of why I fell innlove with the game; it was me who was unwell & not my wife, but I had an unexplained condition, and a problem with a parathyroid gland which raised the dark spectre of a very difficult diagnosis with a 50/50 chance of passing it onto my daughter (2 at the time). (like you, all is now well)

    Keen not to worry my family. I sought to bear the burden alone…but days when my wife was at work & my daughter at nursery could be very dark indeed. Golf allowed me to sublimate all of the anger & frustration; instead of brooding over the unknown, I obsessed with the fortunes of that little white ball. And I discovered Golf could occupy my conscious mind while my unconscious got on with some much-needed maintenance.

    Others can try to denigrate it as much as they like; we golfers known the beauty lying at the Heart of the Game.

    So thank you, Adam, for sharing this very personal story, and reminding me how blessed I am to be here, on my 8th wedding anniversary.

    Your book might just make my next list of 5 books golfers need to read 😉

    • 2 AHNaylor July 11, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      Allan,

      Happy anniversary – wishing you many, many more. Thanks for sharing. Definitely feeling the kinship across the Atlantic. Be well and enjoy it all.

      – AHN


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