In 1900, a single hole of golf was mowed into existence at the present day George Williams College. A few years later, James Naismith added six more. Yes, that peach-basket-loving-Naismith. No matter that his creativity was obviously used up on the game of basketball and thus left the only golf course he ever designed as a practice in the art of lined up North/South fairways with an occasional East/West run to stretch the space, this was still an important event. The formation of what was one of the first public golf courses in the state of Wisconsin is one of peculiar history, but I suppose none of that matters now.
One day, while playing what must be hole number eight on the front of the George Williams course, I let loose a horrible torrent of swears. Not actually multiple, but one, and the one was the big one. The real one. The one that would cause my brother to turn a shade of white and have him promise me he was telling our father. I said a word on that course that I don't believe I had ever said in public before, and on that evening (had to be a twilight rate) I crossed over into a different potty-mouthed realm of adolescence. Later, my father didn't ream me as I thought he might. He simply said something about Martin Luther. That too doesn't really matter now.
Nor does my memory of playing a high school golf match against my old school. It was Williams Bay versus Faith Christian, I on the side with the Faith, pitted against those kids with whom I had spent the first six years of my education. I walked up to the first tee, which was the 10th tee, and with a great crowd of participants hushed behind me I took a wobbly rip. The ball soared, straight and long, as if I had intended it to. I chalked it up to luck, other opposing players claimed I was sandbagging, and I swelled with pride. Further up the fairway, the next shot went sideways, as did the next. When the round had come to an end, I doubt I broke 55 on a nine hole track, but that doesn't matter much anymore.
I once parked in the George Williams golf course parking lot on a late night in the heat of an early 1990s summer. I walked with a girl towards Yerkes, over the holes that Naismith had unimaginatively laid out nearly 100 years prior. We stopped by a particularly large tree and sat against it with just the wet grass and the starlit sky as our witnesses. We sat under that tree for a while, an hour or more, and were alone. Alone, that is, until some older couple walked in the darkness to within a few feet of us, talking to each other. They paused, we held our breath, and they kept walking. Later, we'd walk back through the grass, over a green and across the fairway, but that's not really so important now.
My dad once had a hole in one on what I recall was the third hole at George Williams. No one was around to see it, so when I say that I recall this happening it is only that I recall my father telling me. And then I recall my brothers and I questioning this "hole in one" that nobody saw. He clings to the story, so perhaps it is true. My father only lies about boats, so this wouldn't be a stretch to grant him his rare golfing feat. But even if we agree that it did happen on some summer night during the early 1980s, it's not that we can retrace his steps and recreate his shot. Not now, anyway.
I don't play golf anymore. I probably could, but the pain it creates for a degenerating back is not worth the momentary glory, nor the enduring frustration. Though I don't play now, I did play when my back was younger, and I had a mighty slice that anyone would recognize and congratulate for its physics defying arc. The hole that runs from the corner of Geneva Street back south to the clubhouse was the scene of many trans-road slices. They were epic. I would grip the club tightly, nervous of what might come next. I would exhale to steady my nerves and take a great hack, hoping to pull my left hand through straight to counteract the outside to inside path that was my tendency. The ball, more times than not, would launch with a push, aiming over to that road and later slicing, wickedly, violently. It was not a matter of if the ball would reach the street, it was if it would (hopefully) slice enough to clear the street and the cars and land harmlessly in the western field. It almost always did, but who cares.
Aurora University should be ashamed of themselves. There is no other way to put this. They have closed a golf course that has operated in some form or fashion since 1900. The course where my childhood golfing memories remain among the childhood memories of tens of thousands of others, that course has been unceremoniously closed. I am a proponent of the free market. I love it. I believe that individuals have freedom to do as they please. But in this case, there is no pass. The University claims they lost $80k last year on this course. How much did they lose on Music By The Lake, before the beneficiaries chipped in to offset those losses? I'm guessing far more than $80k, yet Music By The Lake continues on as a celebrated function. The Pritzkers give lots of money to the event, though to get to the event one must travel by car past a now closed golf course. This disconnect is startling.
There has been no creativity employed to figure out how to save their enduring golf course. They continue to mow it, which makes its closure even more unwarranted. A local group of men have volunteered to work at the course this summer to keep it open. The university has apparently snubbed this generosity. Aurora University needs to understand there are decisions that make sound fiscal sense even while they fly in the face of common sense. The two opposing forces do not exist solely in a vacuum. Take a moment to email George Williams and remind them how shortsighted their decision has been. A visual staple of my Lake Geneva summer is endangered, but it is not dead just yet.
Photo by Matt Mason. www.mattmasonphotography.com