Editor’s Note: This is the final part in our “Golf’s Inherent Bond” series about how the game connects people in unexpected & wonderful ways. Click for Part 1 or Part 2.
Gilbert Freeman spent his teenage summers with his
parents Avery and Louise in the jungles of Central Mexico. They all agreed: it
was the best time of their lives. The longtime Head Professional at Lakewood
Country Club in Dallas learned to play golf at the Golf Club de Covadonga, which skirts a tropical rainforest nearly equidistant
between two of Mexico’s biggest cities – Monterrey and Mexico City – in the
state of San Luis Potosi.
Avery Freeman was a biology teacher at Hillcrest
High School in Dallas and one of America’s foremost authorities on Lepidoptery,
the science of butterflies. It’s these colorful insects that brought the family
to Mexico in the first place. Avery wielded a butterfly net like no other; he
identified a staggering 107 new butterfly species during his esteemed career.
It was 1964 when the Freemans first visited the
area. No one in the family played golf (yet), but there was a well-maintained
nine-hole course connected to Hotel de
Covadonga, where the family stayed every summer. On their fourth trip
there, things changed quite dramatically.
Gilbert had become friends with a retired golf
pro from Kansas and his wife, who ran the hotel’s souvenir store. A couple
times a week, the old pro and his buddies played nine holes in the evening when
the temperature wasn’t so caliente. One
day in 1968, Gilbert tagged along. It was an instant sea change. The pro gave
Gilbert his first golf lesson, and the 13-year-old boy fell in love with the
game instantly. The Lakewood pro has been dedicated to the sport ever since.
Not long after Gilbert’s
first divots, Avery and Louise Freeman followed suit. Starting the next summer,
when the Freemans weren’t catching butterflies, they spent early mornings and
late afternoons together playing golf at Covadonga.
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“Golf became part of their lives, and our summers at
Covadonga included golf daily,” Gilbert said. “My dad continued to collect
butterflies, as well. Covadonga was their favorite time of their lives.”
When Avery died in 2005, Gilbert wanted to spread
his father’s ashes at their favorite golf course in the world. It wouldn’t be
easy, however. Life happened and it had been 32 years since Gilbert had been to
Covadonga. There was nothing on the Internet or in phone directories about the
golf course or hotel. Gilbert wasn’t even sure they existed anymore.
That’s when two strangers stepped in and helped Gilbert
complete his mission to lay his father’s remains to rest. The only thing these
men knew about Gilbert was he played golf. They played, too, and that was
enough for them to get involved.
“One of the cool things about
golf is that if you’re a golfer, and I’m a golfer, and we don’t even know each
other, there’s some built-in trust involved,” Gilbert said. “Golf opens doors
for people that might not otherwise open.”
This entire story of Gilbert’s amazing journey
back to Covadonga is told in Texas golf writer Curt Sampson’s inspirational 2008
book called Golf Dads. Chapter 10 details Gilbert’s heart-warming account;
there’s much more to it than we have space for here.
Gilbert started researching the area again,
looking for anything or anyone who could connect him to Covadonga. After a
while, he scored an email address to a golfer in Monterrey who was somewhat of a Rolodex for Mexican golf courses. The man’s name has slipped from Gilbert’s memory,
but his contribution to this story is unforgettable.
“I think our golf bond allowed him to trust me,”
That man introduced Gilbert to Randy White Guzman, a
golfer in Central Mexico with knowledge of Covadonga. Randy and Gilbert had
never met or spoke. All they really knew about each other was they both played
golf. From there, a friendship sprung.
and I began to communicate and sure enough he had firsthand knowledge that
Covadonga did still exist,” Gilbert said. “Randy helped arrange the trip. We
flew to Tampico, then drove to Covadonga, as chronicled in Curt Sampson’s
The connections bore more fruit than just the
Golf Dads story. Randy and Gilbert remain friends to this day, for example.
Gilbert also returned to Covadonga again in 2010 to scatter his mom’s ashes.
Gilbert’s relationship with Randy – who at the time had a daughter who played
junior golf – helped strengthen the international flavor of the most popular
junior golf tournament for boys in Texas.
Randy and Gilbert struck an agreement in 2007
that allowed three Mexican junior golfers each year to receive exemptions into the
Legends Junior Tour’s flagship event, the Byron Nelson Junior Championship,
which is played annually at Lakewood. Three-time Web.com Tour champion Carlos
Ortiz was one of those who benefited from Gilbert and Randy’s friendship. Ortiz
finished second to Jordan Spieth at the 2009 Nelson Junior.
“It’s just been an amazing journey,” Gilbert
said. “None of it would’ve happened without the help of strangers who trusted
me solely on the fact that I played golf.”