Over the years, it has become a yearly destination for my little golf group – Ellinwood Country Club in Athol.
At least once a year, and often for a second time, we make the 80-mile trek to western Massachusetts for a special day of golf. Actually, just make that a special day.
When I first made the suggestion that we play at the course where I grew up, learned to play, first held a job and established lifelong friendships, I detected a little skepticism. But then we made our first trip – lunch, greens fees and a cart for $25 at the time – and played the unique Donald Ross design. The others were hooked.
A day after the visit, one called to say of the skeptic, “He loved the course. It was much more than he expected – not a worn-out municipal course but a well-kept layout. It was a challenge. He wants to go back.”
The accumulating stories fleshed out over time. Long, circuitous, successful putts across tricky greens became the stuff of legend, as did a random ricochet off a sprinkler head.
More often than not, we would run into friends from my childhood, either in the clubhouse or on the course itself. We would pause for stories from the past. One time, we were joined by my third cousin, a member at the course, who escorted us around for a personal lesson on reading the greens.
We also have tended to stop in briefly, either before or afterward, to say hello to my sister, who lives just down the street. We once took a tour through my childhood neighborhood and one time stopped at an old family cemetery.
Before heading out onto the course, we always take a few putts on the practice green, which, as a matter of note, I helped to construct some 60 years earlier as part of the course grounds crew. It brings back memories.
As does the thought of my father, in his Bermuda “shots” (Boston accent), a cigar stuck in his mouth, navigating his way around the course with his peculiar “baseball swing.” While golf was not his sport of expertise, my mother would often say after his premature death, “He was the happiest man on the course.”
So, too, for my mother and me playing a weekly round together well into her 80s before she finally succumbed to nonHodgkins lymphoma.
“I’m so happy you came up as often as you did,” she once said. “I really, really loved playing with you. When you got good shots, I was tickled pink. It was something I could do with my child besides sitting in the living room and talking.”
Wrote a friend after her death, “Your mother never gave up. She always thought she would do better. She was a pleasure to play with. We were not out for blood. We were out to enjoy ourselves. I can’t imagine myself playing golf at the age of 86. You would never have known what your mother was going through. If she was tired or shaky, she would just say, ‘I think I’ll sit out a couple of holes,’ but not often. She was great fun. I will miss her this summer.”
Or, of a favorite uncle. It was always a special treat for us youngsters, as he called us, to play with him. He offered us little tips, but it was the good-natured kidding that made us look up to him. It was like playing with a celebrity.
Just his presence sparked the fun, right from the initial greeting of “How are ya?” Small and wiry, he could still outdrive us, which tickled him to no end. He had a chronic smile on his face, a pipe clenched in his teeth. His eyes twinkled behind wire-rimmed glasses. Just playing with him made us feel special.
Or of the rare, more recent round with my brother, now in Florida, who was often in my early family foursomes.
Or, or on an occasional Father’s Day, meeting my two sons at this location, somewhat central to our three homes, for a round on a course that their father and grandparents once played on a regular basis.
But back to the present, we always stop at a favorite restaurant, the King Phillip in Phillipston, for dinner before heading home. While “Prime Rib Night” was the initial attraction, one of the group discovered rack of lamb as an alternative. That has become the entrée of choice for three of us, though I still prefer an end cut of the prime rib. And one beer.
Even the knotty-pine décor of the dining room adds to the nostalgia, as did a roaring fire in the fieldstone fireplace in the lounge when we once arrived after a cold round on a late-fall afternoon.
Riding home in the darkness only adds to the mood as we talk over the happenings of the day. More than once, one or another has fallen asleep.
A full day of fun on a venue from the past to add to the memories of the future.
Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.