I am not quite sure if this is a dream or if this is real. I hear the rhythmic tones of a bagpipe fading in and out. Is it a bagpipe or is that the sounds of my hospital room and the machines breathing for me? I listen intently as all my senses seem to have opened up, receiving a boost, fined-tuned at maximum capacity. I smell the color green, fresh and earthy, intense. My nostrils cannot get enough of that scent. I feel peaceful, relaxed yet in contrast, I feel an anticipated excitement. My eyes begin to focus on my surroundings. I know where I am (or do I)? I am on Hallowed Ground. The slightly undulating greens before me; behind me, the iconic stone footbridge over the Swilcon Burn, the Clubhouse, and the telling whispers of the greatest legends of golf rising through my gut and out my fingertips swirling throughout the Old Course of St. Andrews.
I remember thinking if I ever had a chance to request something from the "Make a Wish Foundation", a chance to play a few holes at St. Andrews would have been my lavish request, but that never happened.
Scotland, land of highlands, whiskey, tartan kilts and where my mother's ancestors (I guess they are mine too), farmed and pillaged, but most importantly to me, the land where this passion of mine was given birth. It has been told that fishermen as far back as the 12th century, found relaxation and competiveness by playing a game with a pebble they hit with a piece of driftwood. The winner of course would be the one with the longest distance. I wonder if they marked the pebble somehow to identify it. In this part of the world, golf has been the national pastime for centuries. In the 1500's, golf became a game of kings, played in church courtyards and higher learning cultural centers, thus St. Andrews where I now stand, the oldest and most historic golf coarse anywhere.
There is a remnant of a crowd gathering and I see someone approach me, with his caddy alongside him as well. I have just become aware again of my own physical body, still wondering at this surreal experience, but absorbing every sensation. I recognize this gentleman golfer immediately; garbed in his colorful, stylized golf wear.
"Hello young man ...glad to be partnering with you today. Have you had a chance to practice a little, get warmed up? Don't let this flat-looking course fool you. We will encounter many surprises along the way."
"Excuse me," as I shake his hand. "Are you real or is this Heaven?" I wasn't sure I really wanted to know the answer.
"Well son," said Payne Stewart, "whenever one is here in Scotland, placing your ball down for the first tee shot on this historic course, I would say St. Andrews is a bit of Heaven. Do you feel good today?"
"Uh," yes Sir. "I feel better than I have ever felt before in my life!"
"Breathe deep son. Let the wind fill your lungs with hope. We will need it when we get to the 17th, 'The Roadhole.' It is there sometimes where winners and losers are made."
"I am a winner Mr. Payne," I said quite assuredly.
"Yes son, you are and that is why you are here."
I get to play every day now across all of creation. Sometimes the bagpipes are accompanied by a multitude of Heavenly song, but the Hallelujahs are not for me. St. Andrews remains my favorite and Payne and I have partnered several times since that first day. My approach shots took a lot of practice when I was mortal, and that effort paid off. Making it on to the green is truly Amazing Grace.
"As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round." -Ben Hogan
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