Summertime in the desert is a great time of the year because fewer people are here and some courses are closed for maintenance. The Bermuda grass base, cannibalized during the season by the rye grass overseed, needs to be nurtured back to health for the season. Large void areas are shallowly verticut and aerated in hopes the Bermuda nodes will retake their ground. And when they can’t, wholesale re-sodding restores order. The course needs to be closed to have the best chance of recovery.
If you’ve never played in the desert, you need to understand that the courses are mostly desert and not grass. To conserve precious water, many holes are designed like lily pads where you play from one to another over expanses of desert.
Some of those expanses are desert scrub bushes and others are desert washes. The washes in the desert have naturally evolved to move the torrential downpours of the monsoon season—the salvation of the desert vegetation—downhill. The best designers fit the golf holes around them. And we golfers get to play around them or by them, but mostly across them. Since they are almost always dry, you can also play out of them back to the better lies of the grass.
And because they are almost always dry, the maintenance crews use them as shortcuts around the golfers. They fan out from the maintenance facility and move from one hole to another by these mysterious shortcuts. Mysterious shortcuts because as we play the courses, we only get to see the part of the wash that we have to play over. We don’t stop to think where the wash came from and we don’t get to see what’s around the bend it disappeared beyond. So we see the wash on our hole and not how they’re interconnected. Like the secret hidden passages emanating from the mansion’s paneled library in the old, fanciful mystery novels, they excite the mind when you start to pay attention to them. “Hmmm, just where does that go?”
Adding to the mystery is that most of the desert courses are routed in the hollows between the hills and ridgelines. The effect is to seal you off from the rest of the golf course; your only reality is the hole you’re playing at that moment. The best of that kind of experience I ever had was at Tom Fazio’s Pine Barrens—his homage to Pine Valley—at World Woods in Brooksville, Florida. He used the pine trees and the gentle hills, but the effect was the same: you arrived on the tee of the first hole and that hole was all you could see. When you finished the hole, the cart path moved off in an illogical direction to the next hole pointed in a counterintuitive direction. And you spent the day gently swaying from one direction to another with no clue where you were going next.
My intention on my walk was to take advantage of one of the closed courses as a connector to the various neighborhoods surrounding it. I intended it to be my secret passage through the desert. After all, I have been playing these courses for twelve years on almost a daily basis and I knew every part of every hole…except for the washes.
So as I was mentally calculating the interconnecting cart paths I would have to take to get me from one neighborhood to the next and back to a nice hot shower in the fitness center, I began to realize that the washes could be a much more efficient way to move through the desert. It would involve trekking through the baking washes rather than striding across the cool grass, but the idea of discovering secret passages inside the secret passages of the golf course itself excited my mind.
So as I entered the course from the sixth hole, I knew what holes to follow to get me to the first hole, but I didn’t know which washes to follow. I had to really think about how the washes might connect the holes in a way that I’d never considered before.
And then I realized that the paths I was seeking were the paths the maintenance crews used every day and took for granted. We would be playing a hole, they would politely wait so that they didn’t interfere with play, and then they would trundle down the wash in their green, John Deere Gators to wherever duty called.
And then I got to thinking about how we each had our own ways of moving over the same ground. The golfers moved serially from hole to hole and the crews moved efficiently from place to place. Two disparate groups of people finding their way over the same ground.
I don’t know, maybe it was the hot desert sun at 5 o’clock on a 100 degree day, but I suddenly started to see these two orderly ways of dealing with the same thing as a metaphor for life. There is the group of people living in the straight and narrow, prescribed way of moving through life. And then there is the other group of people who move through life in exciting and unconventional ways across boundaries and barriers.
And I found myself exhilarated as I walked down the desert wash, knowing that I was getting a taste of that mindset…and that maybe the reason it so appealed to me is that I’m already learning golf and living that way now. And that sharing my walk in the desert with others might create an opening for them to live that way too.