A little while back I checked off a major bucket list item…”play golf in Europe”. I even got to play twice, and I was supposed to play a third time, but the famed England wet weather proved to be too strong that day changing my plans to inside activities on my last day out in the English countryside.
You might be wondering how I ended up in England…it wasn’t a fluke. Each and every time Laura has to go over to England for business I start planning the perfect (for me) get away; relaxing in the country, playing golf at least twice, and having a beer that is slowly drawn up from the cellar of a small village pub. I have scoured Google maps countless times plotting out course locations within a 30 mile radius of Wincanton, the town where the manufacturing plant Laura goes to. Yeovil Golf Club and Sherborne Golf Club always seemed to be the right fit.
Over the last three years every time Laura was summoned to Wincanton
I would start the planning again and each
time I would escalate the research. What town would I go to first to find the perfect beer, how many par threes are there at Sherborne? Another business trip, more research, how’s the weather in February? Rainy. Another trip, how much is Uber to Yeovil, and how’s the weather in May? Rainy. Another trip, will Pinnacle Golf balls work in the UK, and how’s the weather in October…? You guessed it, rainy. Over time both sides of the Atlantic got wind of my ever growing master plan. Loose ideas of coming over became tighter, casual conversation became more firm. Slowly friendships where developing and I began to feel like I better make this happen not just for my own pleasure, but I felt like I was letting down my newly established friends and family, and I better get over there before I miss the family reunion.
Finally, the planets aligned, and I was headed to the English countryside for a week and then to London for another week. My plans were in place while I was in Somerset County, but not by my doing. Karen, Laura’s rock star project manager, HR, and doer of all things operationally at Henshaw had asked Craig, her husband if it would be ok if I joined him for a round of golf. He said yes...Perfect. I was told I had two tee times lined up, Saturday the first day I was there, and Friday, my last day in the English countryside, and as luck would have it they were at Yeovil and Sherborne. I never met Craig, the only thing I knew about him was that he was the Husband of Karen and an avid golfer, again...perfect.
Arriving at Yeovil felt somewhat familiar for a couple of reasons; Google maps and (US) East Coast golf courses. Because of my research crazed days I recognized the clubhouse and first hole as I arrived, which felt comfortable. The other thing is if you have ever played golf on the East Coast of the US you would recognize that the UK course architecture influence is obvious. Tree lined fairways, naturally contoured obstacles, and postage stamp sized greens. I grew up on the East Coast, and it’s where I learned to play golf. On these courses I formed friendships that have lasted 45 years. Standing alone and looking at Yeovil’s first tee I could almost hear the jabs, quick comebacks, and laughing from former playing partners. I suddenly felt this surge of calm and nostalgia. It kind of felt like I was home again.
While standing there a thought came to me that I should reach out to some of the folks back East, and also, I had no idea how to find Craig. Before leaving for the course I never asked anyone “what does Craig look like, what’s he wearing”? I had a little time to kill so I went to the pro shop and asked to hit a bucket of balls, we exchanged the usual pleasantries and I went off to hit. I finished the bucket thinking I was hitting pretty good on 4 hours sleep and eleven hours of jet lag. Now it was about ten minutes to tee time and I have not seen Craig. To be fair, how would I have known if I saw him…
I went back into the pro shop to ask if they saw Craig. They were very happy to see me and announced with great pleasure “ You must be American Bob”, I responded, “how could you tell”, we laughed, and I was lead to Craig. Craig and I met quickly and headed to the First tee. En route I was introduced to our third person of the threesome, Little Kenny. I was happy to see that they were both walking the course, which meant I was walking too, which was part of my plan all along. We settled in quickly at the first tee establishing the type of game we were playing, which felt a little like a money game of some sort. I was wondering how serious these guys were.
Next I was asked what my handicap was, I thought, wait, I’m out here to play for fun, what am I up against here, and after I told them my handicap I then thought I should have added 10 stokes… Then we started to flip the tee to establish what the order of the tee off was going to be, I’m now thinking “no ready golf” here…Naturally, I drew honors, first to tee off with these highly focus, serious golfers…great.
All of that calm I was feeling when I arrived was gone, I went into “75% mode”. Just get a good swing in and move on. I settled in, and hit a safe drive…phew. Little Kenny settled in and hits a good one down the middle. Craig is next. He lines his shot up. waggles the club, and begins the back swing. All was quiet at the moment of contact…which turned out to be a near whiff. The ball trickled out to about 7 feet, straight, but very short of the green, like 340 yards short.
The silence was painful, this is the moment of true, everything is riding on what type of reaction occurs next. Craig could through his club into a tree and be done for the day, or he laughs and all is good. The silence seemed to last for hours until Kenny says very quietly “ That was a bit conservative” Boom! We all fell to our knees laughing. Once we regained our composure Craig reloaded and pumped a drive 235 dead center. This was going to a great round.
We begin sharing US vs UK golf course experiences, golf course bucket list items, and walking vs riding. In between making shots and making sure I was fully aware of my surrounding our conversation was comfortable and natural, in other words very relaxing. While walking this great course and trying to get to know my new golf friends at about the fifth hole I tried to learn a little bit about them. I asked Craig about the work obligation he had in the morning. His response both surprised and pleased me. I received a polite but short response that didn’t take a seasoned detective to know that work talk was off the table. Today was about golf: fresh air, laughs, and new relationships. That was fine with me.
It did get me thinking about my early golf experiences and friendships. We never talked about work on or off the course. When we were together on the course it was about the game and the environment around us. We were feeling the game. Work talk would have taking us out of that golf moment. Off the course it was the same. We were in the moment of each other’s company again sharing the experience right in front of us, perhaps subconsciously thinking if we were to create and unauthentic element, like work talk, it would destroy the moment and in turn the memory. Deep, I know…by the way; to this day I would be hard pressed to tell you what 90% of my friends do for work, that includes Little Kenny and Craig.
The round ended and the usual hand shake and “good round” commenced. This time it was different, Craig and Little Kenny were not only gracious hosts, but I believe we could meet again a year from now on any golf course, or anywhere for that matter, and pick up right where we left off…to me that’s a true sign of a good friendship.
With Saturday’s round firmly cemented in my memory banks Sunday came and went quietly. On Monday I got a message from Craig, he asked me if I was interested in playing golf Tuesday afternoon? After about a half second of internal deliberation I replied with a resounding “YES” . This round was a total surprise and on top of that I was going to get to play with the President...of the Yeovil Golf Club. It turns out that Craig was visiting family on Mother’s Day and his grandparents were there. I’m guessing they got talking about “American Bob” and the “fine” display of American golf. Well it turns out that Craig’s Grandfather is the President of the club. I was being invited to the “Tuesday Chuck-up” and my playing partner was going to be Mr. President (of the Yeovil Country Club)
Tuesday’s weather was awful, rainy (duh) windy and raw. Our tee time was set for noon and at about 10:30 I was certain the round would be canceled. However, in the very short time I’ve been in England I was getting the impression these folks are a hardy bunch. Word got to me that Mr. President was on his way to the course and I should get there by 11:45 because, I was told, there looks like there will be a window of good weather by then and we should be able to get the round in. OK…I show up, it’s windy and raw, but not raining. I found myself standing in the same spot as I was a few days ago and I was having a completely different experience; Howling winds, rain soaked clouds, and the first tee box was completely saturated. I normally would not have tried to play in these conditions, I was not getting the warm and fuzzy feeling like I had on Saturday.
While trying to figure out how to get out of the round all of sudden, like magic the clouds parted. The sun came out and like that we were on, a little damp, but we were going to play! I had no trouble finding Mr. President….he found me. I was met with a firm handshake and we were off to the first tee. As we huddled near the first tee about ten more folks showed up to play in the “Chuck-up” A couple things were going on here; ten other folks showed up eager to play in this weather, and this format is pretty cool. The Chuck Up is named that because everyone throws their ball into a hat and a “captain” picks the balls out. Twosome partnerships are determined randomly as the balls are identified. When the “Chuck Up” selection began only then did I realize I was thrust into a weekly members only tournament as a guest of the President and this meant I got a few exemptions; I didn’t need to put my ball in to the hat, it was already determined who I was playing with...naturally we got first group out honors, and of course, because I was a guest of the President I got first to tee off honors in our group…gulp.
My tee shot was pulled left, smashing squarely into a tree trunk, luckily the ball ricochet across the fairway settling right of the fairway in the first cut. Not good but safe. Mr President and Colin, who made up the our threesome all hit safely to the middle of the fairway.
The first hole scoring went par par, and double bogey for me. For the next 8 holes I never had honors again.
As we went along I was getting loads of insight about the course and life in Yeovil; family history, club membership history, tons of local knowledge about playing the course. “left here would have been better shot for you, this hole plays longer than that Driver lay up, don’t worry you should be safe in that row of trees and brush…Bottomline I was all over the place. I did want to play a little better for Mr. President and Colin, but it was not going to ruin my round. I did notice I was getting “poked” a little bit by Mr. President. At the appropriate times he would verbally jab me, and I would toss it back to him. It was all in good fun, and by the 5th hole all three of us; Colin, Mr. President, and I were lobbing jabs, complements, and advice freely. The round was going just fine.
We made our way through nine and we came up to Ten. A very unassuming par 3. I parred it on Saturday and I felt like if I could do that again I could start to redeem myself. As we rolled up to the hole Mr. President announces to me and Colin, “we have made it to the Medicine Hole” I thought, what does that mean, is that the name of the hole, like St Andrews has the “Road Hole” we have the “Medicine Hole”? I ask Colin and he just pointed to Mr. President. I looked over and could see that Mr. President was excitedly rooting through his cart, he then pulls out three small bottles of booze. A bottle of Gin, a slightly smaller bottle of some reddish liquid, and an even smaller bottle of a yellow ginger gin elixir, “it’s time to take our medicine”, Mr. President announced once again, and he went on to explain that every time they come to the tenth hole they take their medicine and continue to play on. Well, “while in England” I thought and boy did I need the distraction!
While this moment was unfolding I realized I was invited to participate in a long ongoing tradition usually shared with close friends and long time golf partners. After 9 holes of golf the best I could hope for would be to be considered friendly, and I that I play golf. In no way did I reach long time golf partner or close friend status. Maybe the earlier banter was a proving ground for me to find out if I was worthy of the invitation? What did know this was definitely a special privilege. Mr President offered me the three choices and I choose the yellow ginger stuff. He even brought three little metal shot glasses. The sun was warm, the breeze had died down, and we all were having a good laugh. Standing there I noticed that this was all a bit chaotic and routine all at once. Clearly this was not the first time this has happened, but there also was this awareness that we had to me mind full of pace of play...I thought for a second I need to get a picture of this, and then I shut that down. I thought to myself, sometimes you don’t take the shot.
As the medicine was being sorted out on the cart I stepped back and slowed down this moment in my mind: to the left of the tee box Mr. President was digging through the bags that held the medicine, from the right side of the tee box Colin was smiling as he slowly worked his way over to the cart. All the while I had the 10th fairway and green framed in the background…I just stood still, listening to the idle chatter of good friends and long time golf partners. At that moment I knew there was no better way to honor this moment, pulling out my phone and taking a picture would introduce an unnatural element, it would ruin the memory.
Sometimes you just don’t take the shot.
I did learn a few things while in England. Beer is much better when it’s hand drawn into your glass from a cask being chilled only by the cool basement below the pub. Afternoon tea is a thing. It’s ok to put your day on hold for an hour, and I will be bringing the afternoon tea concept to the workplace.
Finally, golf is better when played with good friends and familiar golf partners. When I left Wincanton I felt I was hovering at the "friendly golfer" status. I plan to be back to Wincanton, perhaps in a year or so, and if we all stay in touch, continue to share stories, the plan to return will stay firm. When we tee off, maybe at Sherborne Golf Club this time, but I hope to be playing Yeovil Golf Club first. I'm sure this Friendly Golfer might be starting the round closer to Good Friend and Familiar Golf Partner status.
I have vivid memories of this trip that I hope to keep front of mind for a very long time.
Don’t get me wrong I did take pictures, lots of pictures, and I’ll look back on those images and be reminded of those moments. The emotional moments, the ones I felt, did not require a photo. By simply being fully aware, feeling the authenticity, and participating commits the moment to memory forever.
See you all on the course!