Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (12/19) — Chapter Twelve, Forsythia (3/3)

I HAD FORGOTTEN how beautiful and how seductive a double daffodil or narcissus can be until this one appeared a couple of weeks ago in our front yard.


MORGANTON, N.C. (March 29, 2020) – It’s the fifth Sunday of Lent, a period of somber reflection before Good Friday and Easter, the two most important days on the Christian calendar—not everyone’s calendar, mind you, just that of particular people who believe a particular story from a particular book.

Having been one of those particular people my whole life, I know that word particular probably pisses people like me off—and particularly other people who just pretend to be pious, like poll-minded politicians and other posers.

And a pootie-grabbing president whose surname ends in p—a pusillanimous prick and potty-mouthed pantywaist who cares more about pushing stock prices ever higher, than about protecting poor people.

THIS WHITE DAFFODIL was my favorite last year. It returned this spring as beautiful as ever, but my eyes wandered while waiting for her to bloom.

Now, read that last sentence three times, really fast, and then go to church. Oh, wait. You are at church. Like me, if you’re a Christian, you’re sitting at home this Sunday morning and you’re planning to attend an online service via Facebook, YouTube or maybe even Zoom. Anybody feel like giving me an amen?

Or maybe you attend a fundamentalist Christian church that’s still meeting in person as a congregation. We saw a church like that last Sunday just outside Morganton, and we couldn’t believe that those poor, puddin’-headed folks would let their preening, puffed-up preacher put them and their neighbors in peril.

So, before I go any further, I’ll ask forgiveness right now for using that P-word earlier—whichever P-word offended you. I didn’t like using the P-word. In my book, it’s like the N-word. Or the C-word. Or the MF- or GD-word. But I figured that if white, evangelical Christians, in particular, are okay with a profane president who uses X-words so prosaically, then they shouldn’t mind me using it in this parody.

Word? (If you’re truly pissed off, you can quit reading here. I made my point. Vaya con Dios, pendejo.)

THIS FRINGED BEAUTY caught my attention first this spring among all the common daffodils. I’d never before noticed her delicate charms.

I also should apologize for making a mistake in planning this chapter. Months ago when I first outlined this autobiographical series of nature-inspired essays, I decided to use forsythia, also called yellow bell or golden bell, not the more popular daffodil, as my inspiration for this chapter’s three parts. The reason was because one of the metaphors I’m using for life is the game of golf, and I wanted the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th chapters of this collection to be inspired by those particular holes on the Augusta National Golf Course, whose 18 holes have plant names, not just numbers. The golf course used to be a plant nursery, and each particular hole features the particular plant—a tree, shrub or flower—for which it was named.

Also, Augusta National’s 12th hole—Golden Bell—is the heart of what’s called Amen Corner, one of the most challenging and beautiful stretches of holes in golf. It’s where even the best golfers come to Jesus.

In my planning, I certainly didn’t foresee this coronavirus pandemic that would keep golfers indoors—or at least those of us who aren’t wealthy enough to keep playing at our regular courses and country clubs—and postpone, or cancel, so many sporting events, including the 2020 Masters Golf Tournament, which had been scheduled for Thursday, April 9th, through Easter Sunday, April 12th. What a beautiful date to write about golf and life and religion, when even good white, evangelical Christian golfers—and Donald J. Trump—go to an Easter Sunday service before watching the tournament’s final round.

THESE THREE DAFFODILS grow behind our house in Boone, in the flowerbed where our great cats McEnroe and Tiger Woods are buried.

I’ve already written about Billy Joe Patton, my hometown’s connection to the Masters. Remember? He almost beat golf legends Sam Snead and Ben Hogan in the 1954 Masters, though Billy Joe was only an amateur. Well, he played even better at the ’58 Masters but finished further behind the champion—still, just four strokes behind—and farther down the leaderboard in eighth place, not third, as he’d finished in ’54. Billy Joe was top amateur both years; however, he scored better in ’58—finishing at even par—than he had at two shots over par the four years earlier when he had finished a single stroke behind the two leaders.

I’ll write more about the ’58 Masters in a couple of weeks. But for now one of my points is that in life, like in golf, things don’t always go as we plan and we often aren’t rewarded for our performance, even when our “score” indicates that we’ve improved and worked harder than ever before. And when our lives—or golf tournaments or political campaigns—don’t go as planned, we shouldn’t pander for support from the poor people who have so little power and stand to suffer so much from our pugnacious perspective.

RUTHERGOLF’S HOLE #1, the only hole, also called “Fore!-sythia,” is the executive course that fills most of our front yard on the grounds of what was once the N.C. Fish Hatchery at Rutherwood. Its exclusive Hackers Tournament shall be played as planned.

As we “shelter at home,” maybe we’d all be better off just playing our Tiger Woods PGA Tour or Rory McIlroy PGA Tour video games, or maybe we should just settle back in an easy chair and read a good golf book—Michael Murphy’s classic Golf in the Kingdom or, my personal favorite, William Hallberg’s The Rub of the Green—until the coronavirus danger is past. Or watch Tin Cup or Bagger Vance again. I saw online that the United States Golf Associaton has issued special COVID-19 rules to keep us duffers from being infected by holding a contaminated flagstick or bunker rake. And “holing out” has been temporarily redefined: You don’t have to now. It’s a poor putter’s dream.

Speaking of McIlroy, the world’s number one player was featured a couple of weeks ago in an article on entitled “Rory Gets a Good Read,” as in reading books, not putting greens. I read that story, then found another one and a short video on The Golf Channel’s website about the books that the British Open, U.S. Open and PGA Tournament champion was reading to prepare for the 2019 Masters, won by Tiger Woods at 13 strokes under par. At last year’s Masters, McIlroy finished in a tie for 21st place at 5 under. All five previous years McIlroy earned top-ten finishes but has never won a Masters.

The books that McIlroy reads? Mainly nonfiction works, self-help books even, about how our minds tick and how we handle adversity and even failure. Rory said Tiger reads, too, but his reading material is usually stuff like articles from medical journals, seeing as how Tiger has had so many physical problems lately.

THE LATE BILL HALLBERG, a former East Carolina University professor, is my favorite golf writer, better in my opinion than any featured in this collection of tales.

Long before COVID-19 was headline news, I pulled down my copy of Bill Hallberg’s Perfect Lies, a collection of golfing stories by famous fiction writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Updike and Walker Percy, three of my favorite authors. Fitzgerald, by the way, wrote his 1926 short story “Winter Dreams,” a miniature Great Gatsby and only tangentially about golf, while he was living at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn, our favorite lodging this side of paradise (east of Pukalani and west of Ocean Isle). Two years before Fitzgerald wrote the story, the Grove Park Inn’s 18-hole course had been redesigned by Donald Ross, my favorite golf course architect. Ross also designed Morganton’s Mimosa Hills, Lenoir Golf Club, Linville Golf Club, three Pinehurst courses including the historic No. 2, and 38 others just in our beautiful state.

The renowned American writer generally credited with the most famous quotation about golf—that it’s “a good walk spoiled”—isn’t found in Perfect Lies; however, this author wrote many of his best-known works in a town that would later have its own Donald Ross golf course. The 18-hole Mark Twain Golf Course near Elmira, N.Y., was designed by Ross and then built during the Depression of the 1930s as a federal public works project. Twain and his family had spent 20 summers at his wife’s family farm on a hill overlooking Elmira from the 1870s to the 1890s. There Twain wrote his masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and other well-known works. But according to the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, Twain did not say, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” And he couldn’t have played the Elmira course.

Even journalist John Feinstein, author of the best-selling golf classic A Good Walk Spoiled, erroneously attributes the quotation to the father of true American literature, saying in the book’s very first sentence that the phrase is Twain’s “famous assessment of the game.” As far as I know, Feinstein hasn’t admitted that he misspoke. Admitting error is hard.

MY VERY FAVORITE daffodil this year, a miniature variety called Rip Van Winkle, surprised us in our backyard in Boone.

So what was my mistake in planning and naming this chapter? I had forgotten—or had simply ignored—just how beautiful a daffodil can be. As I’ve learned again, the daffodil is also called a narcissus for a very good reason: In early spring after the dark, earthy browns and grays of winter, the daffodil’s gloriously brilliant colors are divine.

I should have gone with my gut instinct and titled this chapter “Narcissus,” even if it had meant writing two or three essays about America’s most narcissistic president ever, who this past week had the audacity to suggest that money is more important than life itself—and the so-called Christians who voted for him are backing him up. If that’s what evangelical Christianity has become, then true followers of Jesus need a new name for their church.

Maybe the Fisherman’s Church? The House of Trout? Anglers of God? The Pescatarian Church USA? And for the contemporary crowd, The Catch? Or maybe Fish Tales: Hook, Line & Sinker?

THE DONALD ROSS COURSE at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn has this statue of the renowned golf architect, as well as plaques bearing his sayings on various holes. We walked the historic course with the dew-sweepers before the groundskeepers had finished their work.

Like life, golf is a game of risk and reward. In other words, all players must often decide whether or not the risks that they routinely take are worth the resultant rewards (or punishments) they receive, and vice versa. The best players make those decisions based on the knowledge they’ve gained about any number of factors—course conditions, which way the wind’s blowing, their own physical limitations—but even our greatest champions know that the golf gods must smile upon them in order to win on any given day.

Donald Ross, who ironically also designed Concord (Mass.) Country Club, once said, “It has been my good fortune to bring happiness to many men. And great trouble to many men.” Even a famed walker, thinker and writer like Henry David Thoreau of Concord and Walden Pond would attest that most superior beings—gods or not—can make that statement. So can most moneyed men. Being a poor, common man in America is always risk-reward, but especially in this age of disease and disrespect.

So, in these uncertain times, stay home and stay safe, or go for a good walk that may be spoiled or not by the risks and rewards you will encounter going out or heading in. And above all, vaya con Dios, mi amigo.