Sand Rocks

February 9, 2017

As you grow older, influences of people and events on your life–and the meanings associated therewith–grow with you. Something that you experience one day may have a completely different meaning when you’ve grown 10, 15, 25, 50 years older. Perspective gives you patience and understanding of the deeper significance of events in your life…at least for me.

With that context in mind, I’ll give you some background on the story I’m about to tell.

Like so many, I was introduced to the game of golf by my father, who in turn was introduced to the game by his dad (my grandfather). My father was one of 7 kids in his family (6 boys); golf became one thing that kept them together. My grandfather was not an easy person to get along with, so the game was a chance for some in my dad’s family to spend the kind of time with their dad that they wanted to remember. Even in my own experience, some of the fond memories I had of my grandfather before his death were either playing or talking about golf. Growing up, my fondness for the game was built as much out of nostalgia as it was my own interest in the game itself. Playing the local muni with my dad was something we could bond over; having my uncle (dad’s brother) take me to The Masters remains one of the greatest golf experiences of my life, some 20 years later.

Dad never had much growing up (probably on account of being one of seven children, amongst other things). As my dad told me many a time, the only thing my grandfather ever bought for my father was a set of MacGregor Jack Nicklaus Signature blades as a high school graduation gift (which he still has in his basement somewhere). Visiting a special golf course was very much an exception rather than a norm for us during my childhood. In listing some of the “great” courses we’ve played, the top of my dad’s list included East Lake (which we got on after I joined a law firm that had a membership there for a short period of time), followed by Glen Abbey (which he got me on as part of a fundraiser while working in Canada), and then… NCR in Kettering, OH, which hosted the 1969 PGA Championship. Despite nearly 50 years golfing, my father had known little more than muni tracks across the US. He always played them like they were the best he could have had, and he had a real knack for finding the best day of the month to play on. One of my best memories was–most years, at least–finding a day somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Day to go out and play a round (I grew up in Georgia, and the weather oscillates a lot at this time of year). He earned the nickname “fair weather Fred” over the years for his uncanny ability to pick the best day there was.

In truly divergent fashion, readers on this blog will know that LG leaves no stone unturned when searching for a great golf experience. It’s been mostly tagging along with him that I’ve had opportunities to play Spyglass and Spanish Bay (our first golf trip together), Shadow Creek, Wolf Creek, St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Carnoustie, Olympic Club, the California Golf Club of San Francisco, and so many more that I simply couldn’t list them all. I’ve also had opportunities to play Peachtree Golf Club, Torrey Pines, Piedmont Driving Club, Reynolds Plantation, and several other truly great courses through some very fortunate circumstances.

My dad is also one of the types of people for which there’s always “someday.” If I had a nickle for every time my dad said “someday we’ll do ________” or “someday, when we get a little money, I think it would be neat to ________” then I’d probably not be willing to spend my time examining the finer points of what golf means to me for a blog.

Devoted readers of this blog will also know that LG and I went to Scotland on a Trip-Of-A-Lifetime type of golf getaway in August of 2016. Nevermind LG’s exceptional play that made it even more memorable, the trip featured visits to some of golf’s greatest and most historic courses. At 66 years old, my dad declined the chance to go, I’m sure for one of the many reasons that only a father can know. LG and I had an incredible experience.

In my conversations with my dad afterwards, he sounded disappointed.

For himself.

And I was too. He should have been there, if we’re being honest about it.

Life and time have brought me good fortune and some wisdom (I hope, at least). It was shortly after that time that I decided dad needed his own mini-experience to make up for missing Scotland. I plotted out with LG when we could make our way to San Francisco to visit him and play some courses in the area, including LG’s home track. It was a rather small idea that grew into a rather big one.

LG: “let’s pick some dates in January.”
JK: “sounds good. How about the weekend of 1/15-16? We’re going to go to Las Vegas first but then head up your way”
LG: “that works. Oh, wait, my course is closed on Monday. Could you switch your trip?”
JK: “can’t. Could we play somewhere else on Monday?”
LG: “no, most of the courses here are closed on Mondays.”

LG: “Wait….how about Pebble?”
JK: “Pebble Beach?”
LG: “Is there another course named Pebble around here?”

While it had certainly occurred to me on many occasions to take my father–the man who introduced me to the game–to a place like Pebble Beach, I have to admit that I never actually planned to do it. Frankly, planning a trip is hard; it requires coordinating people’s schedules and figuring out dates and commitments. In some ways, I certainly fall into my father’s “some day” mentality.

But that wasn’t happening today. LG signed us up for a tee time on January 16, 2017. When Christmas came, I told my dad we were going to go play some golf with LG in San Francisco.

Only I didn’t tell him everything. Here’s roughly how the conversation went down:

JK: “So we’ll get there on Sunday, January 15, and play LG’s course. Then, I think his course is closed on Monday so we’re going somewhere else.”
dad: “Do you know what it’s called?”
JK: “eh, you’ll have to ask LG that.”

Over the course of the next few days, I mentioned to LG that we were going to make this a surprise (as much as a round of golf can be). Then, the light bulb went on, and I said “if he asks you where we’re going, just tell him Sand Rocks.”

“Sand Rocks” was, of course, a pseudonym for Pebble Beach, what with pebbles being a subset of rocks and beaches being made from sand. LG chuckled, “you really think he isn’t going to figure that one out?”

As the time grew closer, it turned out that San Francisco–and most of the northern California area–experienced some ridiculous storms (http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/weekend-storm-to-unload-widespread-heavy-rain-in-western-us/70000459). Many trees at LG’s course were felled during the rain and after. LG’s course was in unusually damp condition, with branches downed all over. With the bad weather, it easily could have rained out our plans for the following day. But what were we going to do? The trip had been scheduled. We packed up and prayed for good days.

The trip happened. I showed my dad around Las Vegas, a place he hadn’t really experienced in detail prior. Then we got on our flight to SFO. Now, at this point, he knew:
(1) we were not playing LG’s course on Monday
(2) we were getting up at 5:00 am to go play a course at an 8:10 tee time
(3) we were planning to fly out of San Jose that night, not SFO.
(4) the course was called “Sand Rocks”

We landed in SFO and took the legally-mandated Uber ride to LG’s course. Then we teed off and walked around the track. Dad quit after nine holes from being tired (and, of course, the bar at LG’s course didn’t hurt either). We had a quick dinner in the city then got to bed. Then we got up at 5:00 and started.

FK at LG's Course

Many thanks to LG for driving us all the way down. SF is not close to Carmel, and the drive certainly wasn’t easy at 5:00. At one point, it was 37 degrees F outside. It was still dark. But as we approached the course, things started to warm up.

LG began asking my dad what his favorite golf experiences were; he asked what the best courses played were; he asked if my dad had ever been out to Pebble Beach before. My dad answered all his questions honestly and earnestly…

…and he had no clue where we were going.

We passed road sign after road sign saying “PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS, NEXT RIGHT”–still nothing. We stopped at the guard gate at 17-Mile Drive, the well-known entrance to Pebble Beach Golf Links, and said “we’re playing the course today.” Still nothing. As we drove in, my dad told his story of walking out on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach–“it’s a really neat place,” he said. “You see all these houses and you go, ‘My God, how fortunate do you have to be to live in a place like this.'” He also threw in a gold nugget: “ya know, it would be wonderful to play it some day, but not at the price they’re charging for it. It’s too expensive.”

Sand Rocks Signs

did you read the signs?

LG pulled the car into a parking space in front of the course. We took all the bags out and set them behind the car, gathering our items for the round. It was there, standing at the precipice of one of the most historic courses in the world, that I decided to let him in on the secret.

JK: “dad, did you put in your contacts today?”
dad: “I only put one in, my eye hurts a bit”
LG: “you need to get your stuff out of your travel bag, right?”
JK: “well, yeah, I guess…….

Hey dad, did you read the sign?”

After about 15 seconds of reading and pondering what had been right in front of him all along, my dad turned around with a puzzled look on his face.

“I thought you said we were playing this other place?”

and then it hit him. He broke into a full grin. He chuckled at himself, trying to figure out what he should say. He fumbled over his words, not realizing if we were serious or just playing a joke of some sort.

sr-play

“I told you this place is too expensive,” he managed to get out with a huge grin.

He finally knew where we were, what we were doing. 50 years of golfing, he finally got to be a part of it, not just to watch it on a screen or walk from the sidelines–he got a chance to do it. At one point during the round he remarked “I wouldn’t have chosen to come here with the way I’m playing now.” I couldn’t help but wonder if, when, and how he would ever be better than he was that day. And that’s when I understood–somewhere along the way, I learned that the game isn’t about the way you play it, it’s about the experience you get from it. It’s about getting things out of it that you never knew were there. It’s about finding things within you that you needed to know about yourself to fully understand who you are.

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Our caddie mentioned that we had picked the perfect day to play. It seemed only fitting. “It rained all last week,” he said, “and it’s supposed to get overcast and cold tomorrow.” We walked the course at 65 degrees F in full sunshine. Fair-weather Fred did his part.

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Highlight of the Day: dad hits a 40-foot putt to save par on the second

In a moment I’ll personally never forget, dad and I both hit the green on the 17th. It was probably the only one all day.
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We took picture after picture, then finished our round, had a putting competition on the practice green (which LG won, of course), had a drink at the bar, then sat out by the 18th green for awhile just contemplating what had just happened. In a lifetime on the golf course, I don’t think I’d ever seen my dad seem so much in-the-moment as I did that day. We both played pretty good rounds of golf, all things considered. 20170116_092112

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And dad managed to narrowly avoid plummeting to his death in Stillwater Cove.

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Then we went home.

Pride, hope, achievement, reflection.

As ephemeral as those feelings can be, they are the reason we do this. Even when it’s expensive, even when it’s not perfect, even when we know we could play better, there really isn’t much that compares to experiencing the pinnacle of a lifetime’s devotion. My dad never asked for much and never needed to have that experience. He could have gone his whole life never setting foot on the hallowed ground of the game–at least, not as a player–and probably would have never noticed a thing. But having been one to have that experience gives him something he will never let go of for the rest of his life. And, frankly, the same went for me. Just watching him live out something he could have only dreamt of a few years earlier showed me just how far we had come. And, starting tomorrow, he’ll be able to watch the best in the world take on the course he now knows just a small part about. Even if he could have done without it, it is priceless in its own right.

That…is why we love this game.

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