Golf Things Considered column by John Rogers
Spring wanders into the Shenandoah Valley like a vagrant, on no particular schedule, and likely to jump a ride out of town just when we get used to him being there.
Technically, spring arrives around March 21, when the sun passes through the vernal equinox, whatever that means. But we know it’s spring by a million telltale signs – the resurrection of color in a vibrant array of shades, from the light cloak of buds some of the trees have taken on to the rich, verdant depth of fast-growing grass; to the yellow cloud of pine pollen shaken loose by an ever-warmer wind; to the shreds of pearl-colored virga; to the slanted shroud of rain hanging from a darker cloud, which decides not to jump to the thirsty red clay of Virginia below, but rather to hang on and hitch a ride with the towering cumulonimbus, which will cross the Alleghenies and then the Blue Ridge on its way to the Atlantic.
In the Valley, sometimes it’s not clear whether spring has really arrived until it’s almost summer. April brings thunderstorms and 85-degree days, as well as morning frost and occasional rumors of snow.
But somewhere along the way, things change. I’ll leave Lakeview Golf Course for a day or two, and when I come back down Shen Lake Drive, which divides the Lake Nine from the Spring Nine, the dormant, brownish terrain has changed to turf that assaults my eyes with its intensity, like an explosion in green. This means that the grounds crew is out on the mowers, trying to keep up with the rye and bent grasses, and the golfers are back.
Scenery like the Valley offers in spring stirs the pulse of anyone who has a pulse to stir. Rebirth, rejuvenation, new beginnings and all of the spirits that move when life replaces the short, darker days of winter. Granted, the Valley still has an industrial backbone of agriculture, which means there are some less than appealing aromas riding the spring winds across newly fertilized fields, but the other senses all contribute to the onslaught of pleasant feelings. It’s time to shed a layer of clothes, get outside, and for those of us whose imagination has been captured by the sport, it’s time to play golf.
At Lakeview, some of our seasoned golfers (as the great teacher, Harvey Penick, liked to call seniors) appear for the first time in months, having wintered in Florida. The seniors and ladies associations start their matches, the days are long enough for nine holes after work, and I’m back at my post at the left end of the driving range, watching hundreds of rusty swings and keeping an eye on the westward skyline where rain clouds lurk, threatening to shorten my workday if they make it over the mountains from West Virginia.
Members I haven’t seen in months come up to say hello or to book a tune-up lesson. Buddy Livick showed up for the first time in three years, having struggled with health issues. He wants to see if he can play golf again, and he is tentative, like he is afraid to hope too much. He would love nothing more than to play golf again, with his friends, and with his grandson, who is a man now, but was a boy when I taught him years ago.
During Buddy’s layoff, last summer, one of his regular golfing partners passed away. He had a heart attack right on the golf course. Another member drove his cart up to me that morning, at the driving range, shaken, and said we needed to get the paramedics out on the Peak Nine. By the time I summoned help and got out to the second hole, there was nothing to be done. It was a helpless and surreal experience.
But I have been certified in CPR and in the use of a heart defibrilator since then, and Buddy is back. After his first lesson, Buddy said his leg and back felt good, but his smile said his soul felt even better. He hit some beautiful 8-irons that day, and we’re going on the course for our next appointment. His first time in three years.
Then there’s young Caleb Jenkins, who had his first lesson this weekend, sharing time with little Kaitlin Keeley, as we covered the basics of grip, posture, alignment and ball position. We all laughed and shared high-fives during our hour together. This is what golf is all about. This is what spring is all about.
Who knows where Buddy and Caleb and Kaitlin and I will all go next? But right now it’s spring in the Shenandoah Valley. It’s spring at Lakeview Golf Course. It’s a time of new beginnings for all of us, just as it should be.