Birdies, bogeys, and bluegills: Appreciating nature through golf

Published 11:45 am Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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Golf is a game that is maligned by some and praised by others. It was our family’s game, and we started swinging clubs as soon as we could stand. Summer evenings meant trips with Dad to the driving range as the sun went down or trying to get nine holes in before it got dark. Vivid memories of owls hooting as we put the clubs in the back of our suburban in the twilight come back every time I smell fresh-cut grass.

As I grew older, we played more golf in the evenings rather than just hitting balls on the range. I always made it a point to walk next to the water to “look for balls.” Of course, while I might have found a lost ball or two, my main reason for the detour was to look for fish. Recently I watched my son walk around the same golf course pond I detoured around, staring into the water. It had been a decade since I played this course, but when my son got to a corner, he stopped dead in his tracks and stared. I was glad to know the bluegill made beds in the same spot a decade later, and more importantly, my son was aware enough to appreciate it.

Golf, at least how I play it, will also give you a crash course in forestry. I had to learn the difference between oaks and pines because my shots would frequently find a way next to them. Learning the difference between hardwoods and softwoods based on the sound a golf ball makes when hit was another valuable lesson. 

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Wildlife interactions are much different when you are wearing camouflage versus wearing a Polo shirt. When turkeys had outsmarted me in the spring, I sought solace on the golf course. Instead, I only found more heartbreak as the turkeys seemed to escape to the sanctuary of the golf course also. To think that I was afraid to move a pinky to scare a turkey while hunting them seemed impossible while ambling within feet of them and carrying a bag full of metal sticks on the golf course. 

This past Sunday, my daughter “caddied” for my son, father, and myself. At each hole, she would tend the flag, point out hawks flying, and laugh at our bad shots (she is now on probation). On the last hole, she spotted a goose with a gaggle of goslings on the other side of the creek. The geese were more interesting to her than my six-foot par putt. As I was about to hit the ball, I heard goose noises right behind me. My putt dodged the hole and I turned to see where the noise came from. My daughter was honking with her voice at the geese on the other side of the creek. 

As my putt sailed by the hole, relieved that my income is not based on putts dropping in a hole, I was thankful. Another kid was walking around the golf course, spending time with family, and being observant of nature.