For the first few years of my golf life, a friend and I would rush home each day after school so we could get a ride to our local golf course. We were fortunate on many levels, but perhaps the coolest part of learning to play the game at the time was that TPC Heron Bay, a course that hosted the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic, would allow kids to play as much weekday afternoon golf as they could for only $10. There were three stipulations: You had to pass a rules etiquette test, you had to walk the course unless a parent drove and you had to allow all adults to play through your group.
Given the arrangement, we saw our afternoon rounds as a race against the sun. How much golf could we squeeze into the precious few hours of light remaining once school ended? Most times we would reach the ninth green and decide – based on how well we were playing and when sunset would be that day – whether to proceed to the back nine or head to the practice facility.
Soon, my overwhelming goal was to break 80 on a regulation course. So if my front-nine score was in the 30s, I often would speed around the back nine on my own just to see if I could reach the milestone of getting into the 70s before my 12th birthday. Alas, the sun typically set around hole 16 or 17 and I wouldn’t be able to finish. When I did have enough sunlight to make it through, I found myself stuck shooting 81 or 82.
One afternoon, I played solo accompanied by my dad, who came out to be my cart caddie as he often would. We had run an errand before teeing off, so my start time was delayed and it seemed inevitable that I would play only nine holes, even with the advantage of having a cart and not another soul on the golf course.
We saw our afternoon rounds as a race against the sun. How much golf could we squeeze into the precious few hours of light remaining once school ended?
Seven holes into the round, we both realized there was the potential for something special to happen. I reached that point at just 1-over par. The only issue was that we had about an hour and a half of sunlight remaining and would need to move as quickly as we could to have a shot.
My dad looked at me and said in no uncertain terms: “We are going to finish this round.”
I continued having the game of my young life and came to the par-5 16th hole at 3 over. The sun had dipped below the canal and we barely could see the golf ball take flight into the humid Florida night. Despite making a bogey, I still had plenty of room to spare for the two finishing par-4s. Sure, we could have suspended the round and come back another day to play those last two holes in daylight, but there was something deeply romantic and pure about a father and son finishing a game together in the darkness.
I bogeyed No. 17 and arrived at the 18th tee. It was pitch dark. All I needed was a double bogey.
The final hole was the most difficult on the course with water down the entire right side of the fairway and green. When I hit my tee ball, I feared it had finished in the hazard – we found the ball mere feet away from the swamp. I pitched back into the fairway and hit my third to about 40 feet from the hole. We didn’t know where the flagstick was until reaching the green.
Neither of us had thought to bring a flashlight, so I would need to three-putt by only the faint light from homes across the canal for my first round in the 70s. The first effort almost went off the green and into the water, but I recovered and made a tap-in for 79.
When someone asks me why I love golf, I immediately remember my dad hugging me on that 18th green.
We beat the course. We beat the sun. We did it together.