It was late on a warm April afternoon in Iowa City with the school year winding down and the suggestion of summer on the horizon. I was driving up the gravel lane to our old brick farmhouse when my son, Chester, who was then 13 years old, bounded down the front porch steps with the fervor of a hungry beast.
"Mom!" he blurted out, "can I have $150 for an all-you-can-golf pass for the summer?" And in case this request wasn't impulsive enough, he added, "Right now – the guys are all getting one – right now!"
To my knowledge, this child had never picked up a golf club. This child was also a poor athlete, had poor impulse control, and did not know the meaning of a dollar.
I – in a constant state of mild irritation, always juggling the myriad balls of motherhood – habitually used the "automatic no" when my kids pleaded for money or other extravagances demanding my attention.
But suddenly, right then with the sun still high in the afternoon sky, I heard myself say, "That sounds great!" It came out free of ambivalence or sticky second thoughts. And I surprisingly added, "Let me write you the check right here on the hood of the car."
Where I grew up, in the Jewish suburbs of New York, golf was a country club sport. People who had money, who drove certain cars, who wore certain clothes, and had particular mannerisms played golf. Most people did not play.
But when my husband, Michael, and I, seeking broader horizons, moved from Manhattan to Iowa 18 years ago, I took note that in Iowa, golf is a common man's sport. Ordinary people – nurses, teachers, and shopkeepers – all play golf. Little towns all over Iowa have their own municipal courses that cost no more to play than the price of a swim in a public pool. In fact, I've heard that the state of Iowa has more golf courses per capita than any other state in the nation.
Recently, on an unseasonably cold April day two years after I wrote that $150 check, Chet and his gaggle of golf buddies had come off the greens and into the clubhouse at the University of Iowa's Finkbine Golf Course to watch the final holes of the Masters Golf Tournament. As they were glued to the drama on the set – small-town Iowa boy versus Tiger Woods – a phone call came in to the pro shop. A reporter from ESPN was looking for the coach who had rejected Zach Johnson – the soon-to-be green-jacketed winner of the Masters – from the Iowa team years ago. The guys went wild.
Not only was Chet there that day, but he's been there every day that golf course has been open since he purchased his pass. He is there when it rains and when it shines, when the sun is scalding and when it barely warms the damp, bitter air of late autumn. He is there when the horizon gleams blue on green and when it's misty gray on gray.
Never having been an adolescent boy, I don't know what it's like to be one. But Chester and his buddies have enormous energy, enormous appetites, and a need to connect to something that allows them an outlet for all of that.
Chester found that and so much more on the golf course. There he has learned focus, patience, diligence, etiquette – and grace. There he has connected to the earth, the sky, and the hunt in between.
He has grown up on the golf course – his body becoming longer, leaner, and more muscular every day, and his mind focused, inquisitive, seeking, dreaming, and hoping against hope that this very hole will be the best one yet.
Chester was named for his paternal grandfather, who died before my Chester was born. Apparently my father-in-law's last words were that he wished that he hadn't waited so long to learn to play golf. Likewise, my husband has said that his one regret was not playing golf on the high school team, where there were no greens fees and instruction was free.
I told Chester the other day when we were driving past Finkbine on our way to the golf store to have his shoes respiked, that by loving golf, he is fulfilling the unfulfilled dreams of both his father and his grandfather. This idea gave a new dimension to his passion.
So when Zach Johnson beat Tiger Woods in the Masters in Augusta, Ga., Chester's world grew even wider. "I'm just a regular guy from Iowa," Johnson kept saying in newspaper and TV interviews.
Chester and his buddies – Ian, Nick, and Sam – are regular guys from Iowa, too, who are out there golfing every day – rather than hanging out in basements, parking lots, or malls; smoking and drinking; or spending too much time on the Internet.
They are looking up at that endless Iowa sky, feet spiked into the ground, connecting to what came before, pursuing what lies ahead – seeking mastery, aiming straight, correcting errors, and figuring out what, in an otherwise often discouraging world, may still be possible for them.