Links Love’s Lost: Here’s hoping a forced absence makes my heart grow fonder
When I last checked in, I let on that I’ve been grappling with a wee bit of trouble in paradise of late. In some cruel twist of fate, my passion for golf has waned—even though I find myself well situated in the game’s birthplace.
Now, I should make clear that the source of this malaise, as Jimmy Carter might put it, is assuredly of my own making. Scotland is still blessed with an abundance of riches when it comes to captivating links courses—both those that are well known and the many more that deserve to be. If you love golf, you really do need to make the pilgrimage here to experience it the way it was meant to be played. I sincerely hope my little Eeyore act doesn’t dissuade you.
Because, if I were to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with this fair land, I would tell it—as gently as I could muster—that “it’s not you, it’s me.” And, unlike failed romances gone by, this time it would actually be true.
The issue, then, is not what Scotland needs to do to rekindle the fire. No. It’s entirely up to me to stoke these embers.
So, what have accomplished since I last posted? In a word, nothing. On purpose.
Here’s where I’m going with this:
If my affair with golf mirrors that with a beloved, then perhaps the same motivating forces apply. And if that’s true, perhaps absence will make the heart grow fonder. In other words, if I abstain from playing golf, perhaps I will begin to feel the loss on a deep emotional level. Eventually I’ll miss it, desperately. At that point, I’ll be bound and determined to, once again, make the game one of my defining reasons for being.
At least, that’s the theory. And I’ve begun to put it to the test. With the exception of a quick 9-hole jaunt to introduce a friend of a friend (and his friends) to Goswick, my local club, I haven’t touched a club in nearly a month.
Now, while this cold turkey strategy has been largely by intent, fate has also lent a hand. In the midst of my self-inflicted angst, my mother very courageously decided to get her first U.S. passport and make her first journey overseas at the fine young age of 90 to visit with my wife and me. She’s been with us the past two weeks and has one more week to go. Her adventurous spirit has been an inspiration.
We’ve had a wonderful time together, for the most part making half-day trips to local sites of interest. But we also took on a far more ambitious five-day jaunt to Northern Ireland in search of our family’s roots. Factor in a surge in day job demands as well as the ongoing challenges of living in a foreign country and, to be honest, there hasn’t been much room for golf—even if I had a hankering to play it.
But the game is insidious. Even with so many other seemingly more important matters to attend to, it has way of working its way back in. Consider Exhibit A and Exhibit B: the photos illustrating this post. Both were taken from County Antrim, where the McAlonan clan (my mom’s and, by extension, my ancestral family) once hailed.
As it turns out, the old homeland is only about a 10-minute drive from Royal Portrush Golf Club. It’s an absolutely fabulous links course that I had the pleasure of playing in 2000 on my first trip to Ireland. It’s also back on the Open Championship rota, hosting the game’s oldest major in 2019 for the first time since 1951.
The other photo was snapped near Carrick-a-Rede, a somewhat harrowing rope bridge—the first version of which is thought to have been hung by fishermen some 300 years ago to gain access to the salmon run near Ballintoy. Way off in the distance, along the horizon, you can just make out a land mass that happens be the Kintyre Peninsula, situated in the extreme southwest of Scotland. Each May, I travel there—specifically Machrihanish Golf Club—to reunite with friends from both sides of the pond. It’s one of my most sacred places on the planet.
Even when I try to keep my distance, the game—it seems—keeps calling back. And if I make the effort to retune my inner ear, I can hear its siren call.
As I do, and as I share this experience with you now, I can feel the subtle forces of attraction begin to stir. It’s telling me that my golf hiatus, while beneficial, won’t last much longer. And it’s reminding me that, while I might never fully understand why I play this ancient game, the simple truth is that I must.
If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.