Jake and I played golf throughout his life. We got him his first set of toy clubs when he was three or four. He would hockey the oversized ball around the yard until he had coaxed it into the big plastic “hole” that came with the putter, “iron”, and “driver”. We would chase each other laughing and screaming with delight. We still have the faded yellow plastic putter rattling around in our back yard. When he was a little older, I got some real junior clubs and had them cut down to his size. We would go to the driving range and he would smack golf balls off the green astroturf mats with abandon. He graduated to a full-sized junior set when he was about nine or ten. We got him certified to play on public courses and we would go to a little par three at Rancho Park and actually play golf together. It was something we did on “boy’s days”. By the time he was twelve or thirteen, He could hit the ball pretty well.
When he was about fourteen, he could handle a full-sized set, and in fact, he could hit farther than I could. He was a natural. As soon as he could reach the pedals, he began driving the cart. He loved driving the cart. We played wherever we went. When we took family vacations, there was often a golf course nearby. We played in Florida. We played up and down California, at some really nice courses: Aviara, Torrey Pines, Sterling Hills, Rancho Park. We played in Baja California at a beautiful track at Bajamar by the ocean. Seagulls would steal our sandwiches right out of the cart when we weren’t looking. We even played a round in England when we visited Terry’s sister and brother-in-law. But the best times were in Hawaii.
I started playing late in life, only a few years before Jake was born, so I never got really good at it. But I enjoyed playing with Jake. During our annual family vacations to Kauai, we played nearly every course on the Garden Isle. Gleefully hitting golf balls into the jungle that lined the fairways, weathering out torrential cloud bursts huddled in our carts with the roll-down plastic windows snapped to the fenders. Marveling in the magnificent rainbows that followed. Hitting the ball only 50 yards into the fierce trade winds, then 300 yards downwind. It was something we always did together and planned to always do. I often joked that as long as he could wheel me up to the ball and I could hit it, we would keep playing.
One year when he was about 8 or 9, he decided to give me a spectacular Father’s Day present. He researched limousine companies and managed to reserve a limo for the day over the phone. His intention was to give us a limo ride to a nearby golf course and pay for a round of golf with the money he made from his lemonade business. His aunt got wind of this and notified a local news station. They jumped on it and sent out a reporter and a cameraman to cover this ‘heart warming human interest story;. We made the six o’clock news. But that was what Jake was like. Always wanting to do something special for someone he loved in a way that was his and only his.
There are so many golf stories about Jake. When I worked in the film business, one of the camera rental houses had annual ‘tournaments’. They were wild affairs whose purpose was to have as much fun as possible and to raise money for a worthy cause. We played a scramble format with each foursome acting as a team sharing the best shots. During one of these tournaments, toward the end of the day, Jake made a legitimate hole-in-one, to the utter amazement of everyone. I guess he was about 15 or 16. He became the darling of the company, their unofficial mascot. He won a computer and a new driver for the feat. He even got a little bag tag from Titleist for making the Ace. Every time thereafter I spoke with the owner of the company or any of the people who worked there, they would always, always ask about Jake. He was unforgettable.
We played our final rounds of golf in Palm Springs last year. We would go to visit him every couple of weeks, and the visits always involved a round of golf. We played in the 90 degree September heat, and the frigid November pre-dawn. He would post pictures up on Facebook as we played, and one morning, as the sun was just peering over the horizon and flooding the fairway with clear golden light, he put up a photo with the caption, “Real men see the sunrise.” The very last round we would play was on a magnificent Pete Dye course in the afternoon. Grey clouds gathered in the sky as the day wore on, and the massif of Mount San Jacinto that dominates the skyline in Palm Springs loomed over us. As the day drew to a close, the clouds broke and a spectacular sunset flamed alive in the western sky. We played until we couldn’t see the ball anymore. Yet one more thing left unfinished.
For the past 11 months, I haven’t been able to bring myself to pick up a club. When I passed a golf course I would start to cry. I look at his golf bag and my eyes fill with tears. My golfing buddy for life – gone. How do I play again? How do I not play? Last week I ran into a friend of mine with whom I used to play regularly more than five years ago. We chatted and he convinced me to join him for a round on Friday. I reluctantly agreed, but knew I had to start playing again, if only to have Jake come visit me on the links. So I did. We played at Brookside in Pasadena, in the shadow of the Rose Bowl. It was a glorious day, clear, warm, calm, perfect. After not touching a club for a year, I was a little apprehensive, but oddly, I played better than I thought I would. And more importantly, I enjoyed it. No tears. I even talked with my friend about playing with Jake with clear eyes. So I guess I have made more progress than I give myself credit for. At least on Friday with the memory of my beloved son riding in the cart with us, standing beside me on the tee, slamming a long straight drive, hitting a perfect three wood off the fairway onto the green, making a putt for par, he was there. I just wish he was still driving the cart for us, mumbling under his breath as he sliced a ball into the weeds, laughing as we bounced down the fairway together. So many rounds left unplayed. So many balls left un-lost. So much fun left un-had. He will always be there with me when I play from now on, just as he was with me when we played together. I may enjoy playing once again, but there will always be something missing, as there is in every aspect of life. But for now, I’ll just have to take what I can get.