Golf has been a consistent thread throughout my entire life. It has taught me lessons, brought me to various places, introduced me to many people, and fostered many friendships. I started playing golf when I was around eight years old. Golf was, and probably still is, the most meaningful gift I ever received, literally. For Christmas, my mom bought my dad and me lessons. It was a nudge to my globetrotting dad to spend some time with his son. He had never really played the game, mainly because playing English sports was frowned upon in his Irish village.
So we learned to play golf together. We’d go to an indoor golf facility every weekend and have our lessons. We’d leave with VCR recordings of the session, which I recall my dad watching as he tried to figure out how the heck to make that little white ball go where he wanted. We’d visit a local driving range, too, and try to hone our skills. I’d lash as hard as I could, my dad stood still over the ball trying to remember a million swing thoughts while also trying to make his pesky eyes focus so those two blurry golf balls come together to make one solid ball. We’d often tease my dad for how long he stood over the ball in order to get his eyes to behave. A highlight was my friend Eliot switching my dad’s ball for an exploding golf ball. We managed to stifle out laughter before he got around to creating a cloud of dust. He’d claim it was his best swing of the day.
Over the course of 22 years of playing golf with my dad, we collected many memories. We’d play matches sometimes, we’d just enjoy the evening walk other times. When the shadows begin to get long on a golf course nowadays, I’m always reminded of my old man and his refrain that twilight was his favorite time of the day to play. It’s mine, too.
Growing up, my dad was fast. He played Gaelic Football, a crazy game that’s the love child of rugby and insanity with a dash of basketball and soccer. As the youngest boy, he was often chasing around his older brothers. Gaelic Football took great endurance, and once he grew too old to play he turned to the roads and just started running. He ran many marathons; my older sisters have many memories of piling into the station wagon, listening to Paul Simon, and heading to a starting line on a weekend morning.
Over the years, my dad’s body wouldn’t allow him to run as much as he’d like and when injuries piled up he couldn’t run at all. His back and knees just couldn’t support the pounding anymore, but it could still manage to play golf. Once my dad couldn’t run, he took to walking. Being outside was still a salve for him. My mom would often join him. Sometimes it was a quick jaunt and other times they’d stretch their walks to an hour or more.
This past weekend, we gathered some friends to play golf and remember my dad. It was a bright, sunny fall Saturday. We finished as the shadows began to lengthen and the air chilled. The kind of day my dad would have been grateful for. When the round ended we gathered for a few drinks. My mom joined us, all those years after the Christmas gift that made golf something my dad and I shared.
My dad died just over five years ago and I think about him every day. One moment that crosses my mind a lot was a time I was in the living room of our old house, it was about two months before he died, but we didn’t really know he was sick yet. He was sprawled out on the coach, right arm propped behind his head, as he watched TV. I was at the computer and I asked him if he wanted to play golf over the upcoming Father’s Day weekend. He said he couldn’t, that he was having some back pain. It was weird that he so quickly turned down the round, and maybe it should have sent up some sort of warning in my brain.
We never played golf together again. In the wake of that moment, I started to attempt recall the last round I played with my dad instead of worrying about the round that never was. It’s one of those foolish memory exercises, an effort to recreate some meaning in a round that we assumed was one of many more in the future. It’s tough to really be sure of the last time my dad and I chased the sunset.
There is one round from that fall that does stick out to me, though. It’s the one that I have decided was my final round with my dad. It sticks out because it was the only round I had ever played with my mom in tow. Over the summer of 2013, my parents spent a bunch of time up in Vermont. I would go up and play with my dad. Little did I know that my dad parlayed the walks with my mom into golf with my mom. My mom wouldn’t play, she would just walk along with my dad as they played. It was a wonderful course to walk. This final round that sticks in my mind from the last few I played with my dad was one in Vermont with my mom following us around the course.
It had all come full circle that evening. Here I was with my mom and dad on a golf course. My mom had never been bothered with watching me play golf. She’d driven me to course, ranges, and tournaments endless times in my childhood. Here she was with my dad and me, watching us play the game that she gifted to us 22 years beforehand. It’s the memory that has slowly pushed out the one of my dad on the couch. The three of us, walking the golf course, enjoying the company as the shadows lengthened and we chased the sunset.