Finding a golfer's grace in trying times

Ellen Hyatt

Glistening, the white carpet looked like snow in moonlight. But it was neither snow nor moonlight. It was sun. And glass.

An errant golf ball, quite visible, had sheepishly rolled several feet from the pane. The glass, some embedded, formed an intricate pattern in the fibers. The incident was one of the perils of living in a house on a golf course. And no one in the house even golfed!

For months, each time I found another sliver, I wondered about the golfer on fire with yearning for the ball to land in excited silence near the desired target. Instead, the golfer must have heard the shattering of dreams and a window. Mine.

Sometimes, I question why anyone lives or spends time on a golf course. But then I think of the calm, focus and wisdom at least one golfer I know manifests and applies to situations, even off the course. That golfer is my Uncle John.

One event challenging his calm, however, occurred in church during a holiday. I was about 12, and Uncle John's rambunctious boy J.R., with security blanket “Doodlebug” in hand, was about 4. The tiny church was brimming with guests, so we sat on folding chairs behind the carpeted area and church pews.

The service was as long as J.R.'s attention was short. On the folding chair. Off. On a lap. Off.

At one point when the church was as reverently silent as only a church can be, J.R.'s Doodlebug got tangled on the chair. As he tugged, he and the chair dropped to the floor with a bounce-bang-bash of echoes. Sobbing, J.R. looked at his father. Before my uncle said a word, his son shouted his words, “And don't you yell at me. This isn't even your church!”

Though no one yelled “fore,” someone should have.

My young cousin's words took on a new life. The words resounded loudly enough for a cathedral audience, for a fairway crowd. The words had a grand carry. They soared to the choir loft, bounced off walls, rotated parishioners' heads and altered the air we breathed. His words ricocheted.

I don't know for sure who all knew this: My Uncle John rarely attended church. On Sundays, he (rather like poet Emily Dickinson in her “Orchard”) kept the Sabbath in another way: He golfed.

I'm sure J.R.'s behavior was dealt with later, but what my Uncle John did first was get out of the rough to avoid complicating things: He met J.R.'s outburst by gently collecting boy, Doodlebug and chair. Without words, Uncle John patiently put each quietly in place. His actions were executed as smoothly as the follow-through of his golf swing and as civilly as replacing divots torn from the turf.

Today, I call it a golfer's grace.

I have come to believe that golf is more than a game. For some, golf's a walk with one's soul, thereby making the golf course a cathedral of learning and golf a therapeutic experience, nearly religious in nature. Certainly spiritual.

Despite not being a golfer, some days I feel it would've been wise to have continued living on Old Course Road, on the seventh fairway.

Wouldn't living on the course bring the necessary calm we each need whether facing broken glass in a rug or a boy with a Doodlebug? And if an errant ball from life is about to hit us, wouldn't we welcome a caddy's warning, “fore!”

Ellen E. Hyatt serves organizations promoting art and literacy. She has been appointed to the Board of Governors of the South Carolina Academy of Authors and teaches at Charleston Southern University.