Southern swing

Thursday, March 25, 2010

March 25, 2010

Dear Patty,

My friend Rick and I were charging south toward Huntsville, Ala., in a quest for golf and warm weather when hunger called timeout. His GPS system said the Shady Lawn Cafe was only a few miles or so down the road. My imagination conjured up a converted plantation with a big screened-in porch where diners sipped sweet tea to a bullfrog serenade and the night air was thick with deep-fried smells.

Not quite. The Shady Lawn Cafe was a truck stop that served decent corned beef hash and eggs. Our waitress called us "Hon," and the other waitress wore a bouffant-style wig that topped out at least a foot above her skull. No view of a lawn appeared outside the restaurant window, just the lights from a fireworks store, a motel and the Boobie Bungalow gentlemen's club. No doubt this is some traveler's idea of paradise.

Every spring, college students go looking for paradise on a beach. Middle-aged guys go to Southern golf courses. We can't wait until April to get the season started, so Myrtle Beach and Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail swarm with pale guys with round bellies.

Rick and I played a round of golf at five courses in five days, a breezy pace compared to the 36 holes a day many guys play on golf trips. The standard golf trip day is capped with drinks and a big meal, often followed by more drinks and very shortly thereafter by the phone in your hotel room ringing because it's time to get up and do it all over again.

A different experience is possible. Outside Nashville we played a course that envelops you in granite hillsides, where streams seem to carry you from one hole to the next and turkey vultures gather in trees above the tee boxes. In his book "Golf's Three Noble Truths," James Ragonnet writes of moments playing golf when time stops, when ego and judgment disappear leaving only the place Rumi called "the secret sky within our hearts."

You don't have to play golf to experience those moments. You only have to be completely absorbed. There is no thinking about. Is is all there is.

Golf is a good walk spoiled -- Mark Twain's famous description -- only if you spoil it yourself. Rick and I both prefer to walk instead of riding in carts. In Muscle Shoals we took on Fighting Joe, the longest of the RTJ trail courses. Nearly five miles later, our legs and feet were screaming. But who says paradise is painless?

I showed Rick Rosie's Cantina, a favorite restaurant in Florence, Ala. The guacamole is ambrosial, the fiery tamales muy bueno and the atmosphere charged with colored lights, music and conversation. A small cooler filled with tamales -- one of DC's favorite foods -- left the restaurant with us.

Food aside, golfers on a golf trip are on a single-minded mission. At the end of the trip I realized we had driven through three of the world's most treasured music meccas -- Nashville, Muscle Shoals and Memphis -- and heard only a lounge singer in a hotel.

Immediately upon arriving home I soaked in a warm bath, sated. DC happily munched a cold tamale.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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