We journeyed to La Grande, Oregon last weekend on a four-day trip. La Grande sits at almost three thousand feet of elevation. The small Eastern Oregon town rests in the shadows of mountains on all sides. We made the six-hour road trip to visit the brother of a high school buddy. He has called the town home for nearly three years. A golf tournament would be one of the main objectives for the trip. It was truly a family trip for my buddy and his parents, but they needed a fourth player to join their family golfing group. It was going to be a four-person scramble on a course they had played before. Their family had entered the golf tournament the year before and been joined by someone unfamiliar. Being asked to travel with them and play this year was exciting, making it easy to jump at the chance. We played to raise money and honor military veterans, the cause making it special to be there taking part. So, having a competitive golfer streak in me, I was excited that we got to play the course on Friday before the tournament. It wasn’t so much desiring to win, as giving ourselves the opportunity to succeed. With that goal in mind, it was important to play the course, allowing us some knowledge going into the day.
After arriving late into the evening Thursday, we awoke Friday morning to play. The half hour drive was my first time seeing the area of La Grande. We wound through farmland meeting the base of mountains. It was a small farming community, with trains rumbling through almost hourly. Pulling into the golf course was met with surprise. For me, it was challenging to know what to expect. Would it be a run-down course, or one the community took pride in creating and maintaining. The golf course turned out to be part of the latter category. My buddy had thought I would enjoy the golf course and upon pulling into the parking lot it seemed possible. So, in the morning sun we loaded up the golf carts to begin our journey. The entire course could be viewed from just behind the pro shop. It appeared to be an exciting golf course to play, causing anticipation just by looking over the fairways. There were no trees in sight throughout the course and it appeared to be set into a bowl, with holes elevating onto the side hill. We drove up the hill and onto the first tee box to begin.
The opening holes ran along the side hill. Looking out to our left revealed the remaining holes, created tiers as they wound down the hill. We could also see out across the city of La Grande. Playing up on the hillside creating picturesque views of the farming town below. The front nine felt relatively strait forward. Each hole seemed to have elevation changes, causing many elevated tee shots. As we ventured through, the first nine holes had a couple elevated greens, bringing into play challenging uphill approach shots. The elevated tee shots have always been fun to strike, with the fairways down below. Those holes also provided us great views of the surrounding area. The finishing nine holes presented the more challenging section. More holes on the back nine were in the flat portion of the property. With one of the exceptions being the most difficult hole, a par-5 reaching straight back up the hill. The second nine had more trouble for the golfer, with water hazards sprinkled here and there, it would be the larger test the following day.
The course wasn’t especially long, which helped my lack of distance. It would provide possibility for me to get drives into good position. Usually when playing a scramble, it has been difficult to use my shots. Past team games have left my team struggling to use two of my tee shots. But, this team golf event would be different. The guys playing with me were hitting the golf ball similar distance to mine. Of course, when they truly connected with a shot it would travel further than mine. It was still a good feeling to have an opportunity to more fully contribute in the scramble format. As our opening day on the course continued, we picked up more information. The men of the King family continued regaining their golf swings, after not playing golf in some time. The consistency of our four-person team appeared to be left for me, being the person who played most often. It would be a new feeling, to help our team score, but the challenge would be fun.
It seems cerebral palsy has been part of fitting my golf game into a role. While growing up, I played in team scramble events yearly. Most of the time my contribution was around the greens. The strong part of my game was chipping and putting when playing golf consistently. My disability had me struggling with the distance of my full shots, with other players hitting the golf ball much further. But, as time has gone by, things with my disability have changed. With the work being done in the gym to improve strength and balance, my golf game improves. The discrepancy in distance of golf shots with my peers has slowly diminished. That added strength and balance has changed my role when it comes to playing in team golf events. Playing in La Grande was the first time the new role as part of any team hit home. While playing our first round on Friday there became the feeling that the impact of cerebral palsy had diminished. My disability really wasn’t something holding me back. All aspects of my golf game where going to matter on the following day.
We pulled into the golf course that following day under sunny skies. The number of people was exciting, with more than twenty groups helping support veterans. My buddy’s dad was in the army years ago, so we were blessed to have a veteran in the group. We set out to begin our scramble on the 11thhole in a shotgun start format, where everyone begins play at roughly the same time. Our group would be the second group to play from the 11thtee. My feelings throughout the day were different. With each tee shot, there was a feeling of being relied upon to hit a good shot. In the past that train of thought would have caused me to play poorly, folding under perceived pressure. But, this day would be different, almost every tee shot from me was hit solidly down the middle. It seemed to take pressure off the other guys, who would miss hit their shots from time-to-time. However, when they did connect those times, our team was placed in good positions.
Our team had a blast playing in the scramble. For me, it was a learning experience of my newfound ability to succeed when being relied upon. But, I wasn’t the only one who played well. Each of us had more than one exciting highlight from the day. We all contributed to the success, coming up with good shots in crucial situations. The team ended the day by shooting five-over-par, which turned out better than the previous year. There were high-fives past around all day and jokes to make us all laugh. Playing golf in a team situation continues to be one of my favorite experiences. We helped out the veterans of the armed forces who have given us so much and it was a treat to play alongside one of them. Sunday was saved to hang around the house. The King family spent time together and I was lucky enough to be a part of the fun. On Monday morning we hugged goodbye, making the six-hour hike back into reality. It was a fun weekend that taught me more about myself than planned. Hopefully we can do it all again in a year.