My non-golfing friends (yes, I actually have some of those) often ask me what attracted me to the game. I think there’s several levels to which one can appreciate golf – the satisfaction of finally hitting a shot squarely after many futile attempts (and the frustrations one experiences when he/she can’t repeat the action on demand), the strategy required to navigate a well designed course which begets an appreciation for course architecture, the history of the game, and, of course, the beauty of the playing fields.
But as I’ve aged, what I’ve come to appreciate most are the people I’ve met who play it. From the usual gang of reprobates with whom I associated at clubs in Connecticut, Virginia, and Texas to the random folks I encounter on golf trips or when I golf as a single, one develops a bond with his fellow hackers, whether while trying to win a $2 Nassau bet or telling tall tales in the 19th hole.
One of my favorite people anywhere is a fellow I met while on a golf trip to Pinehurst with our usual traveling road trip gang from the Golf Club at the Highlands in Chesterfield, VA. What made this friendship unique is that we didn’t actually meet on the course and have never played golf together.
I was in the process of a divorce and out of work during the fall and winter of 2009 – 2010. Not surprisingly, I found myself on the golf course quite a bit until we got hit with about 6 inches of snow right around Christmas time. Now, the Richmond area will get snow from time to time, but usually disappears within a few days. Not this time – the rain/snow line that in most years stopped about 40 miles north in Fredericksburg had dropped to the south of us, and for the next few months The Highlands, along with the surrounding local courses, was closed, and we had to drive a few hours to the Tidewater area to feed our golf habit.
In the back of my mind was our spring outing to Pinehurst, which was scheduled around mid-March. The weather that time of year could be iffy, but snow wasn’t a concern most of the time. Our trip organizer made phone calls as the date neared, and we were assured that both the course that was hosting us and the others we had scheduled were fully operational.
We lit out on a Thursday morning and while it was cold, there was no snow on the ground when we hit the North Carolina border, which elicited a symphony of honking horns and cheers from our mini-caravan. Our good cheer abated, however, when we got to the bypass highway near Raleigh, as we spotted a steady stream of vehicles coming from the opposite direction with lit headlamps – and snow on hoods and rooftops. These are not things one cares to see when heading for a golf destination.
Thankfully, when we made the exit onto US 1 south, the snow had turned to rain and mist, which finally stopped when we reached Pinehurst. We unloaded our bags, checked into the Little River Inn, and played a very cold and damp 18 at its Dan Maples-designed course.
The Inn had its own restaurant and bar, of which we took full advantage. It had been a long day of driving and slogging through wet terrain, and I couldn’t wait to put my toes up. I made my way to my room and was about ready to crash when my mobile phone rang. It was one of the guys from our crew urging me to come down to the lounge – “Poppy, you gotta come down and sing with these guys – they got guitars, mandolins, everything!”
I cringed. In my younger days, I was a pretty fair guitarist and bluegrass banjo picker, but I rarely played anymore – usually for a few friends at parties. I still liked to sing – and I’m not exactly sure what drove me to put my clothes back on and head down to the lounge, but I did.
There were 4 guys from Canada – primarily from Nova Scotia – who were on the final night of their own golf trip. The guitarist was a friendly looking guy who greeted me with a quizzical smile.
“Lost Highway, key of D?” I asked with feigned nonchalance. He nodded, glanced over at the mandolin player, and thus started a jam session that lasted until about 2 in the morning.
The guitarist’s name was Greg Simm, and there wasn’t a song that I suggested that he didn’t know and couldn’t play. We covered Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, and lord knows how many other artist’s songs. The exhaustion of the day disappeared – no doubt fueled by the drams of Scotch that the appreciative folks who were listening kept passing me – and just about everything we played seemed to click.
Eventually we tired out. I suggested that we all end the evening by singing O Canada (Vancouver had hosted the Winter Olympics that year, and the anthem was stuck in my head), and the 5 of us somehow found the right harmonies to pull it off. We hoisted glasses for one last round and exchanged contact information, handshakes, and hugs.
Greg and I kept in touch over the ensuing years via various means, and I came to learn that he was indeed a fulltime musician, having done a ton of studio work with an eclectic collection of musicians. Occasionally he would send me samplings of various projects that he had in progress or had recorded in the past which always left me smiling and shaking my head over how talented this guy was. It didn’t matter if it was folk, bluegrass, country, western swing, rock, or even New-Age type pieces, he would handle it beautifully.
In addition to gigging and recording, Greg and several other musicians travel to Bannif Island for several weeks each year, delivering musical instruments and offering instruction to the native Tribes that inhabit the island. As I was to learn over the years, this was indicative of his generous nature and spirit.
We crossed paths again in 2016 – I had made a trip out to Cape Breton Island to play the two amazing courses at Cabot Links, and I met up with him in an outdoor bar in Halifax the night before flying home. We had a few drinks and caught up a bit, reminiscing over what I had laughingly referred to as “The Pinehurst Sessions.” He was scheduled to fly out to Saskatchewan early next morning to tour with Kim deLaforest, a talented fiddler and singer, but said to me, “Hey, I know where there’s an open mic night going on across the river in Dartmouth. Let’s go play a few!” We drove over the river to Dartmouth, and got up on the stage inside a dusty old Irish themed pub. I looked over at Greg, said, “Lost Highway, key of D,” and we were off once again.
We kept in touch over the next few years, either through email or text. It seemed like whenever I posted some music on Facebook, Greg would comment about the time he had recorded something with that artist, or interviewed him, or had some other encounter with him. I joked that rather than making a list of musicians he knew or with whom he recorded, it would be much easier to list with whom he hadn’t done so. He got a kick out that – and then asked if he could call me; he had an “unusual situation” going on.
When I got his call, we chatted a bit – he wasn’t aware of my recent relocation to Colorado – and I finally asked him about his “unusual situation.”
It turns out that his step-daughter, who has been in his life since the age of 12 and is now 29 – is suffering from a rare form of cancer that her doctors do not know how to treat. Greg had stopped touring during the summer, but, much like professional golfers, musicians need to play to get paid, so he has been busy putting together a support staff for his wife when he hits the road again at the end of the month.
“I haven’t really shared this with a lot of people,” Greg told me. “It’s something that I watch and that I feel helpless about. But I wanted to talk to you about it. You’re a good guy.”
“Well, so are you. And I don’t say that about too many people, especially those who I’ve only met in person twice in my life.”
He laughed. “It’s a diminishing pool these days, isn’t it?”
Usually during a round of golf, we get confronted with decisions – should I chip from off the green or putt it? Do I lay up or try to clear the water? Punch under a tree or try to curve around?
And I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t decided to go downstairs to meet up with Greg and his guys in the lounge of the Little River Inn that night. It certainly wouldn’t have changed Greg’s way of life, or prevented his stepdaughter’s illness.
But I’m glad I did it. And I’m glad that for at least a few minutes, I could ease a friend’s burden. And someday, we’ll actually play a round of golf. And sing a few songs while we’re doing so.