The End of an Era

The driving range is a sanctuary for most golfers. A place to hone your game, to improve, ultimately gain confidence. It’s the hours spent pounding the turf and seeing the ball follow your intended line landing at your intended target. The answers are in the dirt as the old saying goes. I believe the The Hawk coined the term Secret in the in Dirt, where the fundamentals become wrote and a person becomes a golfer, hopefully a player. When you find your place to get work done, it becomes sort of a second home. A comforting oasis away from the noise of the world. Stop and listen closely, all that is heard is the rhythm of the golf shots one after another. Close your eyes and you can distinctly discern the harmony of a well struck golf ball, even over the din of so many others trying.

It’s important….let me add emphasis here…it’s an absolute necessity to find a driving range, a good one where you can improve your game. Preferably, one with real grass, actual targets and a short game area. A practice bunker and a proper green are a bonus. Go to this place and put in the work. Become a repeat offender and soon you will join your brethren on the same journey to get better at this fickle endeavor. Your game will undoubtedly improve, frankly I can think of no other way to get better. I personally enjoy the work, to feel the sweat and the dull ache in the hands. Making adjustments in grip, stance, or alignment. Testing, experimenting with some new tip you saw on the Golf Channel, yes Michael Breed, we listen. Maybe a tip from Hogan or Jack, as you reread Five Lessons or Golf My Way for the 19th time. Sometimes you find a little nirvana in a perfect half bucket, striping one after the another. A new callous reveals itself, change happens. I love the driving range.

I’ve been going to the same driving range for over 15 years. They know me when I pull up. Golfers you’ve seen over the years, some you’ve actually enjoyed a round with are there. You ask about their games, you share ideas, stories, a truly organic exchange. It’s one of the many benefits of playing golf. Guilty as charged, they bear witness when I’ve been there hitting balls when it’s too cold to play, but just warm enough to hit a small, the sun is shining, you are compelled. In the rain hitting from the covered area, or shooting the bull in the shop waiting for the heavy stuff to pass. The lights are on in the fall when it gets dark early and the air is crisp, but you can still sneak in a bucket on the way home from work. One of my favorite places for certain. The range was 5 minutes from my house when my wife and I moved to Woodstock, Georgia. Hell, it was one of the reasons I was agreeable to the move. I had a range near our apartment, so if we were moving, I’d have to have a good one close by. When we moved again further north in Woodstock to a bigger place, I was okay, because my range was still only 15 minutes from the house. I can’t even imagine the number of balls I’ve hit there. When playing a lot, I would go at least once a week sometimes more. Crazy.

So then it happened a couple of weeks ago. I knew the property had been for sale, but it had seemed like a good 10 years the sign was on the lot. Almost as if, the sign had become a part of the landscape, nothing to fear. I stopped in on a Monday for a bucket and my friend Connie (the owner) told me the news…..”we are closing it down for good in a few weeks. We sold the place, they are building a neighborhood”. My stomach sunk, but I knew she was ready to do something else and it was a good thing in her eyes, so I was happy for her and her family. Her husband Joe and I have become friends over the years so I texted him telling him I was happy for them. A bedrock in my routine was shifting and coming to terms with the change was going to take some time. The drive home was silent, almost a death march. As I walked into the house, my wife knew something was up. I had the look…like making an 8 on 18 to shoot 80…that kind of disheartened look. Told her the news and she too felt a little sad….she knows what the place means to me.

Many memories were made at “my” range. My son took his first real swings when he was a toddler. My daughter did the same, though she was much older. When my son wanted to play golf exclusively we worked at “our” range. Connie and Joe took an interest and were very supportive of his endeavor. Joe would help get his clubs right, cutting them down and testing as he grew and improved. Changing out the grips or re-shafting a driver, many times without charging me. Forever grateful. Half the time I would only have to pay for my bucket, the boy was free. Memories that are indelible to an impressionable young boy not to mention his father. My favorite memory is still fresh. An invite to the last night of the lights, Saturday night lights. A big event for the regulars that made the list. Telling stories, hitting balls, a drink perhaps. The last target contest. Going to hit that trampoline one last time. A perfect ending on a perfect night. I will miss this place, or should I say we will miss this place. I’m sure a community will miss this place. More importantly, we will miss the people that make the place.

If you are new to this game, find yourself a good driving range. When I was just starting out, I would hit balls 2 to 3 times a week. My budget couldn’t handle playing golf that much, but I could certainly hit balls. Less expensive than drinking beer or going to the movies. Good driving ranges are far and few between these days. Especially if you live in the city. When you do find a range, hold on to it. Go there often and get better. Meet some people, especially the characters mucking it up, they truly are the fabric in the weave. You’ll often be surprised at some of the cool golf stories they will tell you…if you listen, they will share. There aren’t any real suitable replacements near me. Luckily, my local course is redoing their range so at least I’ll have a place to work. It won’t ever be the same in this all too corporate environment, but I will survive. To my friends Connie and Joe, nothing but the best, you will be missed.


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