Every year after the cold weather settles in, the gray skies gather, and the dampness chills to the bone, I get a reprieve. I go golfing in Florida. I have done this five years in a row.
I go with a group of guys who comprise the “Bluewater Bay Hacks & Flacks Golf Tour.” Each of us is either in the news businessa hackor in public relationsa flack. As a result, there’s a friendly competitive vibe to the whole outing. We golf at Bluewater Bay, a 36-hole resort in North Florida. It’s a welcoming place, with moderate prices, and it’s only an eight-hour drive from Nashville.
Every year, there comes a day in Februaryabout the time my daughter, Hannah (4), and my son, Rob (3), have decided to awaken Mommy and Daddy before dawn for five or six mornings in a rowwhen I pack up my golf clubs, golf shirts, and short pants, and leave the house to meet up with the guys.
I have to be honest: at that moment, I am feeling good about life.
Let me add this: The build-up to that moment is incredibly intense.
Planning sessions for the Hacks & Flacks Golf Tour begin in the fall. The meetings are usually held at Wolfy’s Bar on Lower Broadway. The agenda includes discussion of dates of the trip (should we push it into March for better weather?), group membership (having expanded once from four to eight, should we now go to 12?), tournament play (should we take ourselves seriously and compete?), and the possibility of chartering a private plane instead of driving (does anyone know any rich people?).
Roger Shirley, former editor of the Nashville Business Journal, presides over the gatherings. Back in 1994, when he put the first trip together, Roger was a hack, but now, as a senior account executive at McNeely Pigott & Fox, a public relations firm, he’s a flack. Whatever Roger has to discuss, it usually involves us paying him money. We respect and revere Roger; he is chairman-for-life.
At these meetings, many opinions are expressed. By about the third fishbowl of beer, most of us get carried away with our hopes, plans, and dreams for the Bluewater Bay Hacks & Flacks Tour.
But nothing ever gets changed. Every year, we take the same trip, down to eating at the same restaurants on the same nights, listening to the same songs as we travel the same highways, and even drinking a bottle of the same Scotch on the same beach on the last night of the trip.
The trip is no-frills. At its essence, it is about playing massive amounts of golf for three full days. Except for a quick lunch, we hit balls almost from the moment the sun rises over the rolling, pine-tree-covered woodlands to the time it dips into blackness over the long, lush fairways. We usually play 36 holes a day, which is two full rounds. The next day, we do it all again.
Every year, by the time we approach the first hole on our first day of play, all of us are acting like drooling idiots. Armed with extra balls, boxes of cigars, and the sudden realization that once again, we have returned to Bluewater Bay, we are in a state of incredible exhilaration.
We are also, however, in a state of abject terror. For that first hole at Bluewater Bay is a tricky, par-four, dog-leg right, 340-yard sonofabitch. Sand bunkers border almost the entire front of the green. But that’s not what really throws you onto the shrink’s couch. The big problemo is that the tee shot is over water. Then, once you hit over the pond, you have to navigate between condominiums that line both sides of the fairway.
On the one hand, you’re working with an immense build-up toward this once-a-year golf splurge, and it’s rising to a crescendo somewhere inside your aortic valve. On the other hand, you’re having to lasso all this sweaty palpitation into a state of relative calm so that you can swing your golf club easily, fluidly, calmly.
Invariably, someone pees on his shoes in front of everybody else. Invariably, he plinks a really sad drive, say 25 yards or so, right into the little pond. Or he rips a shot into someone’s screen porch.
I should know. I’ve done all of the above.
Then someone will yell, “Hit another one.” Soon, the two foursomes will have hit out and stumbled onto the No. 1 fairway. Sooner or later, things will calm down. The butterflies will disappear, and in their place will come three days of uninterrupted, unimaginably beautiful, guilt-free golf.
We pride ourselves on the amount of golf we play. It’s enough to injure you. One year, Pat Embry, an editor at The Tennessean, developed a withered-arm look that left him howling in pain after every drive.
Blisters appear. Bones creak. Feet ache.
We also play so much golf that it weirds you out and makes you stupid. It is a binge, after all, and your body and mind react accordingly. By the third day, as you pull the clubface back, you feel as if you’ve never swung a golf club before. Your arm no longer feels a part of your body. Your mind begins teasing the rest of your being. Did you always keep your right elbow stiff when hitting your driver? Have you always kept your feet parallel when putting?
Invariably, the slumps come. You hit out of sand, but you land in water. You decide to use your mulligan, but you slice it into the woods. You order a beer at the turn, but it doesn’t help. You light a cigar, but it doesn’t burn right.
Just about the time you begin cursing the gods, pleading with them to tell you why you ever took up the game, there comes the moment when, as easily as walking down the street, your swing suddenly gels. Grabbing your driver, you pull the clubface back, with the shaft dipping down over your back until it is perfectly parallel to the ground. In one fluid, seamless motion, you shift your feet, hips, arms, and shoulders toward the fairway in front of you, ripping the shaft through the air, and connecting with the ball so sweetly that it feels as if you have not hit anything at all. Flying off the clubface, the ball shoots far into the air, a tiny, white orb rocketing farther and farther away. Landing in the middle of the fairway, the ball rolls another 30 yards toward the flag. As it comes to rest, you stand on the tee box just a few seconds longer than you normally do. It is all you can do not to explode.
“That was huge,” someone will say.
Yeah, you know it was huge.
The thing about golf is that you may hit your second shot into the sand trap. You might hit a tree and bounce into the rough. You might chili dip it, whiff it, blade it, top it, or screw it up in a way that doesn’t even have a name.
That fact is, though, you crunched your tee shot. It is still with you. It will be with you a year from now.
And that is why you play.
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