Morning came very early on the day of the great revival. Waking at 2:45 AM in the morning is hard almost always, but I was able to bounce out of bed and get out the door by 3:15 knowing that the roads were going to be completely empty I had plenty of time to check in for my flight that departed at 5:15 in the morning.
While taxiing down the runway I started to come to the realization that this journey was finally getting underway once again. It’s been a very strange, sad, tough, and reflective two years. We don’t need to go into the why's, COVID was, and still is, a life experience that doesn’t need to be explained. We all went through it and we all had similar experiences. I started thinking it might be time to talk about something else for now. As the wheels of the Boeing 737 left the ground I realized I’m the only one, that I know of, on a journey to play the oldest public golf courses in the US. Because of that I have the pleasure of sharing an experience, a unique experience with you all, which I couldn’t be more excited to do. At 10,000 feet I finally settled in for the flight, I was on my way to Foxburg Country Club.
Too Long, Three Bonded
It’s hard to describe the calm and comfort I feel when I have an opportunity like I did this weekend to meet up and play a few rounds of golf with some friends I have known since the 6th grade.
This bond began along time ago when we were all brought together by blending two small towns together into a brand new Middle school. It was weird at first because over the summer before the “blending” we were bitter rivals in sports, and suddenly at the start of the school year we were teammates. Teammates yes, but we were still feeling each other out. Once you receive a few passes from “that kid” in soccer, get picked to play stickball with “that other kid”, and team up in doubles tennis to beat “those other kids” the bonding begins. By basketball season the talk about which town was better had subsided, we were rooting for friends on the court, and already thinking about the upcoming baseball season.
We grew up with warm summer days at the beach, fishing, biking, and just laying around on an open sod farm contemplating life. No matter where we were or what we were doing we did it 100 percent. We always had a slight smile on our faces because I think we all knew what we had, we were living in the moment, having fun, and we all felt like we were getting away with something. I think if you asked anyone in our uniquely bonded group if we felt like we wasted our youth, or wish we had another chance to do something over from the days of yore, I think it would be a resounding no.
The passing time between us is irrelevant, when we get together we pick up in mid sentence from the story we left off at when we last saw each other. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I feel this excitement from the anticipation of getting together, I will finally get some resolution from that story cliffhanger I was left with 10 years ago, and knowing there will be several distractions and rabbit holes to discover that will challenge the most focused person listening to or telling the story.
Leaving the Pittsburgh airport and beginning my drive to Emlenton I began to clear my mind to make room for 3 days of cliffhanger resolution and new stories that don’t have a chance in all things holy to be completed by journey’s end.
Foxburg and Sweatshirts
Way back in the beginning of this journey Foxburg was one of the courses I was really anxious to play. It has history of course, but in this case it was the way it looked. Every image I saw had this lush quaint look to the course that just seemed to be very welcoming. When I woke up Thursday morning I could not wait to get to the course. Tommy and I arrived to an empty golf course at 9:30 for a 10:30 tee time, and as we rolled up to the clubhouse the first impressions of Foxburg Country Club did not disappoint. It was hard to believe after three years of various obstacles I was actually here, the images in my head matched the sights I was seeing in person.
At 10:30 we literally had the course to ourselves, and if we were worried about the pace of play that would be put directly on us, there was no one on the course. I guess it was a tiny bit early in the season to be out, with temperatures in the low 50’s and the course was just starting to recover from winter, we may have been rushing the season a bit.
So we found ourselves standing alone at the first tee, we were taking pictures, enjoying the quiet environment, and collectively we both exhaled. The third or was it the fourth round of catching up began as I pegged the first tee of the day into the ground and stepped back to line up the drive. We started off after our drives, which could best be described as a stroll, walking to each of our balls together. This is never done when walking, you hit, and then you go to your second shot alone and then meet at the green to putt out. As we walked to each ball we would stop to emphasize something in a story that needed both hands waving around and a few hops up and down to make the point. After each "very important" plot twist we would manage to pause the story long enough for one of us to hit their next shot.
The golf was…familiar and comfortable. Like putting on a Champion sweatshirt right out of the dryer. If you have never worn a Champion sweatshirt do it now, get the classic grey, and wear it a lot, it kind of needs to break in. After several times wearing it, wash it, dry it, and put it back on. The feeling of wearing that sweatshirt will equal the feeling of a warm towel out of the dryer but you get to wear the sweatshirt throughout the day! Ok, where was I…oh yeah, golfing with friends.
Reaching the first green and putting out at a record slow pace of 25 minutes we took a look around and saw no one anywhere. We both laughed again and made our way to number two. Ending cliffhangers, starting new stories, laughing, waving hands, and hopping went on for nine holes. Pace of play and score were not even on our radar, just strolling through each hole enjoying the view and an occasional golf shot redefined the meaning of a good round.
My Second Voice In My Head
You know those monuments in our life when you're about to do something out of norm, like wondering if you’ll make it across the not quite frozen pond. Maybe, while driving you wonder if it makes sense to drive 10 hours, watch a football game, and drive back the same day. Maybe it’s wondering if setting up a tent in 30 MPH sustained winds is a good idea. In these moments I often hear two voices in my head: one is slightly more authoritative then the other. First I will hear my Mother’s quiet, clear voice, and with a slight shake of the head almost laughing, she would simply say, “You ass”. And most of the time she was, and still is right, even though she’s been gone for 20 years. The second voice is alway Scott, and all he says in my head is, “What would your Mother say?” Enough said. By the way, the tent did in fact fly 30 yards right into the California Delta. At that moment my two kids burst into tears. I threw all the camping gear that didn’t fly away, and the kids, into the car. Promises of pizza and arcade games at Scandia calmed everyone down including myself, and yeah, as I pulled out of the camp site both voices came to me as “I told you so” moments. This time Scott’s voice popped in first, “…what would your mother say”, and a split second later my Mother’s voice popped in, yes you guessed it, “you ass.” Truth.
It was great to see Scott standing outside the club house after Tommy and I wrapped up our morning round. It’s been quite awhile since I saw him, and hearing his voice in my head all this time, yeah I often ponder lot’s of things outside the norm, I was first to hug him mostly to confirm my living conscience was in fact here in person.
The stroll continued the same as the first round. Perfect weather was met with the perfect pace of play. We tee’d off to an empty course once again allowing us all to just walk, talk, and in between story’s hit an occasional ball. Keeping score was just proof that we were at the course, and by the way, the scorecard will make a fine addition to the Golf Dojo.
We were hitting our approach shots into number two when we noticed a twosome teeing off on the first hole. We all joked we were being “pushed” by this twosome and maybe we need to talk with the course Marshall, which of course wasn’t a thing. By the time we were ready to putt out on the second hole Tommy was deep into a very disjointed explanation of youth Lacrosse in Bergen County. Somewhere between how coaches were selected and how lacrosse balls were made we realized the twosome had made it to the second tee and we had barely walked off of the second green. We made a mistake asking Tommy a question about team selection and Scott and I looked at each other knowing we were going to wait for the twosome to catch up and play through at the third hole.
The 5th hole was probably the hardest hole on the course. It had a sort of blind tee shot and it was uphill from your second shot to the green. We all had decent drives setting up for an uneventful journey to the green. Scott, for some reason, took a much more adventurous approach to the hole. He topped his second shot 25 yards to the right. The third was top again and was dangerously close to the woods and out of bounds. Number four clipped a branch and landed under some scrub brush. 5 scooted across the fairway into thick dry grass. Shots 6 and 7 were just good enough to get the ball into the fairway. The 8th shot was clean and flew straight at the green, but just fell short of its target. We all slowly ascended the final leg of this hilly fairway and in between deep breathes Scott says with great optimism, “what’s Par for this hole”. “5”, Tommy says with a laugh, and as Scott settled in for his 9th shot completely focused on completing his serendipitous journey to 5th hole flag stick he replied “I love that fact that after you reach your swing limit on a hole you still get to keep going”. Both Tommy and I almost fill back down the hill laughing so hard we nearly called for oxygen!!
War stories, reminiscing, and way too many laughs went well into the night. It’s very hard to articulate the bond that exists between us, I can’t find the right word.
Maybe it’s family, We are more like brothers than friends? This bond stretches out among an eclectic group of folks that don’t stay in touch all that much, often years will go by without a peep, but somehow, some way, we remain bonded.
Through all these years we all have struck a perfect balance of connection and independence.
In the morning we squeezed one more nine in, and then it was time to go. With little fanfare, Scott was the first to roll out. As he drove past me in the parking lot he waved and he saw me tip my hat in a farewell salute in his rear view mirror I said to myself “see you next time”.
Tommy was finishing up a conversation across the parking lot so I yelled out that it’s time to go, reminding him he had to get to his Son’s lacrosse game. Somewhat out of character Tommy made quick work of our good-byes. While he was placing his clubs in the trunk of his car he closed the loop on a story he brought up last night, and when he got into the driver’s seat he started another story, I closed the door and said we will pick this up when I see you again.
Perfect pace of play.