The Veterans Golf Association held its inaugural golf championship at Pinehurst Resort last week. The players competed in qualifying events around the country for the opportunity to experience four days in our special world.
Dave Hampton called out for rules officials to assist the players during the two days of competition over courses No. 5 and No. 2. I was one of the 10 volunteers. Yes, Larry, you were one of them. (He’s always begging to get his name in the paper.)
I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for these less tournament-savvy golfers to have rules officials on the course. Blissful ignorance can make for an easier day of golf. It also tends to lower scores.
We golfers of the Sandhills are privileged to while away hour after hour chasing a little ball around beautiful lawns. We (yes, me too) have been known to grumble about how hard the game is, how awful the weather is, how annoying the rules are, how slow that other guy is playing.
What a litany of complaints: you would think we were forced to do it.
Last Tuesday I loaded up my backpack full of rules paraphilia and headed off to my assigned groups for that day’s shotgun start. We had lots of officials so I was to stay with three groups just roving back and forth to keep an eye on things. The usual: encourage a brisk pace of play, provide players with options on how to proceed if they got into a pickle.
One of my groups started on a par 3. It takes about 10 minutes to get through a short hole. I was visiting with the “B” gang at the tee box as the “A” group completed the hole. There was lots of nervous chatter and worry about their first shot of the day having to carry the pond.
I looked at my watch and realized 15 minutes had gone by and the first group was still on the green. I also saw one of the players measuring something with the shaft of his putter. Unusual.
I jumped in my cart and headed to the green to see if I could lend assistance. By then, the players were exiting the green. “Was there a problem?” I asked.
One of the players shrugged with a hint of a grin and said, “He was a little unorthodox when moving his ball. We’re good.” It was the first hole and I didn’t want to stir the pot this early in the day, but I would be checking their pace of play later.
My next encounter was with a guy whose ball was on the cart path. I like to wait to see if a player knows how to resolve a situation before providing my two cents. I haven’t met a player yet who enjoys unsolicited advice.
He looked stuck so I walked over to see what he needed.
“Would you like some assistance?”
“Yeah, that would be great. I have a brain injury and I have a tough time figuring things out sometimes.”
Now. Right there. My day and even my life changed.
I was done fussing about pace of play. I wasn’t concerned with blurring the lines about advice. I was there to give this field of veterans the best possible experience I could provide.
Clichés became reality. It is absolutely true that we can’t see all wounds. Sure, there were veterans playing with visible prosthetics but there were even more challenges that we could not see.
The next day, the veterans were playing No. 2, which is mostly cart path only. A spectator asked me if it would be OK to take clubs to her husband if he was far away from the golf cart. The rules of golf answer would have been no. My answer was, “Whatever it takes. Help him all he wants.”
I stayed greenside at the end of the round to congratulate the players and to thank them for sharing the day with me.
Each man took my hand, said thanks and then pulled me in for a big bear hug with an even more genuine, “Thank you so much.” My goodness.
My groups were finished for the day and as I was heading back to the club house when I came upon the group of women that was being assisted by my pal, Vicki. These fun-loving gals were part of my groups the day before. It was their last hole and they were in no hurry to get it started let alone finish. Instead they took a happy array of selfies to remember the day.
After the round, I was standing in the back of the St. Andrews room waiting for the awards to be given. Diane, one of the women veterans, was standing nearby admiring her personalized Wilson golf bag. Each veteran received one. A tournament official came by to pick up her bag so it could be shipped to her home. She said, quietly, “No. I’m not ready to let it go.” He said he would be back later.
She looked upset so I asked if she was OK. She welled up and said, “I worked so hard to get here. I can’t believe it’s over already. I don’t want to leave. It is so beautiful here.”
We hugged and she whispered, “Don’t worry. It’s OK. These are happy tears.”
Contact Betsey Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.