It’s funny how memory works – or doesn’t. I often find it hard to remember what my wife asked me to do this morning or the name of someone I was introduced to minutes before.
But show up at a golf course you haven’t visited in 30 years – even one completely redesigned – and everything comes flooding back. Despite extensive changes made to the University of Virginia’s Birdwood Golf Course made by Davis Love III’s design team, one round back was like catching up with an old college friend.
Birdwood originally opened in 1984 near the end of my second year as a student at UVa. My roommate, Adam Sachs, and I had been eagerly awaiting access and showed up in the pro shop the first day we could. When we asked about the student rate, the guy behind the counter told us we could buy an annual student membership with unlimited access for $150. We couldn’t pull out our checkbooks fast enough. (It did cost Adam extra to buy appropriate length shorts before we could proceed to the first tee.)
Imagine playing hundreds of rounds of golf for 2½ years, for less than the cost of one round at many upscale resort courses today.
That deal of my lifetime probably cost me at least 1.0 off my cumulative grade-point average, but my handicap has never been better. Our parents would be appalled at how many sunny days we skipped class to play 18 and then retreat across Charlottesville to grab a Big Jim’s burger platter, but we got more than our money’s worth and still managed to graduate.
Seeing Birdwood again triggered so many memories. The second hole where I made my first eagle (I took an “X” this time since my old reliable slice is history and that lake on the left suddenly became a real hazard). The old sixth hole (now played in reverse as the 16th) where Adam rolled his drive onto the green into a group that included then-baseball coach Dennis Womack (who fumed but didn’t yell, maybe because he felt bad for never calling Adam after he walked off as a walk-on catcher). The long bunker shot I nearly holed on the old 18th (now No. 14) in front of golf coach Clem King to shoot 76 in open tryouts (I didn’t make the team but felt good about the effort).
Then there was the old island-green 14th hole, where a bunch of us – including the three women from the volleyball team who lived across the hall in U-Heights – packed into my red Honda Civic and carefully drove out on a moonlit night for a “dip” in the pond. DL3 didn’t see fit to include that modern-style hole in his new classic redesign, so now it gets used for an exercise boot camp called “Fitness Island” by guests of the Boar’s Head Resort.
Those carefree college days are as long gone as that former signature hole. Birdwood is a better course than it was, and the green fee will cost us $135 when we show up for a Homecoming football weekend. But the beauty of golf is that it really does provide a lifetime of memories that decades and a redesign can’t erase.