Up front: April 2012

A good walk

The editor in chief of this magazine doesn’t understand my obsession with golf, and I get his bewilderment. How, after all, did a game with sometimes stupid rules and terrible fashion sense generate, according to a North Carolina Alliance for Golf study, $5.3 billion for the state in 2007? All I can say is that golf, for most of us, is hardly ever about the golf.

My grandmother took me abroad after I graduated from high school, just as she had my brothers. It was something of a tradition: We picked a point on the globe, and she led us there. I could have visited the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower or the coffee houses of Amsterdam, but I chose Scotland. The Campbells hail from there — where we slaughtered the MacDonalds as they slept during the Massacre of Glencoe — but nostalgia had little to do with my decision.

I was a capable golfer in high school, but passion outweighed my ability. I spent most of my time at the course learning to gamble, filch beer and lie about women. Passion made tough memories, too. I once dragged my putter along the cart path for three holes to punish it for a three-putt. So given the option of any place on the planet, I picked my mecca: The Old Course, St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf.

But it wasn’t without trepidation that I boarded the plane to London. My grandmother was a daughter of the Depression who had a hard time letting go of cereal boxes, even after they’d been colonized by ants. I was a spoiled son of ’90s excess who didn’t know why his father’s mother got upset after he threw out a full glass of orange juice. (I don’t like pulp.) I knew she loved me, and I hope she knew I loved her, but I don’t think we understood each other. Sure enough, the first few days were rife with awkward conversation and embarrassment. I wanted to blend in. She wanted to walk the streets in a pink plastic raincoat holding a map.

Then we went to a pub in Inverness — Macbeth had a place there — where a clan of boisterous Scots adopted us. I didn’t understand much of what they said, but it must have had something to do with whisky because suddenly shots of the stuff were in front of us. After those were emptied, more arrived and so on and so forth. When we finally poured ourselves out of the bar, my grandmother asked if we could walk to the hotel. During that stroll, she showed me how to escort a lady: armed crooked so she can hold onto it, always stand between her and the street.

I learned more about my grandmother during the next few days than I had in the previous 18 years. She told me about her father hitchhiking to his brother’s house to ask for money during the Depression, about driving around Tulsa, Okla., in the ’40s in search of a place to neck with her boyfriend (they finally went to the movies) and, through tears, about my grandfather, who had died a few years before. I did play St. Andrews, but I don’t remember much about the course. What I do remember is that walk with my grandmother, who passed away two Christmases ago.

In this issue, you’ll find the state’s top 100 courses (p. 38) as rated by the North Carolina Golf Panel. I became friends with my boss on No. 61. I’ve played hooky at No. 37. I’ll celebrate my 30th birthday at Nos. 5 and 34 with my best friend. Each is, or is expected to be, brilliant to play. But mostly they’re beautiful backgrounds for higher purposes.