“He was not an advertisement for early morning exercise.”
For 7 years, starting around the year 2000, my very old friend Iain and I played dawn golf (up to 3 mornings a week) at Burnley golf course in Melbourne’s inner east. The course was short and very “forgiving” (you could slice savagely onto the adjacent fairway and still confidently find the green on your next shot), so we could play a quick 9 holes and be on our way by 8.30am most days. We would tee off in the pre-dawn gloom using fluorescent balls, tapping the ice that collected under our shoes with out putters (during winter), and leaving zig-zagged foot-print trails stenciled into the dewy fairway behind us. Sometimes those footprint trails disappeared into bushes and reappeared out the other side. Sometimes the trail even led over fences. And I use the word “sometimes” liberally. Sometimes after teeing off we would crouch and shudder and wait for cars to crash beyond the protective nets to the far left of the first fairway. The onward ramp to the Monash freeway from the 7th tee was Iain’s best effort – we always joked that he had the world’s longest drive because one of his balls had hitched a ride to Frankston in the back of a truck.
We repeatedly asked ourselves why we did it? What would possess two idiots to get up in the dark and chase a little white round thing around a park? What were we thinking? I guess people the world over often ask themselves the same thing. You only have to execute 1 decent stroke each round to lure you back for the next game. That’s golf.
Iain and I grew up together, meeting when we were 7 years old. I am 2 days older than Iain, but he will tell you that he looks a lot younger than I, which I tend to let ride, because, standing us both side by side, the court of common sense (and the laws of gravity) would find in his favor. He also has a very relaxed and observational dry wit. Being friends for so long (and having lived together in our 20’s), we are comfortable in our own combined space, and we don’t need to talk if there is nothing to say. We have played entire rounds of golf without talking at all. Not one word, except maybe “hello” and “goodbye”. During other rounds, if there is something to talk about, you can’t shut us up.
On one particular frosty morning, we teed off in the dark and were just approaching the 1st green, when we noticed a dark bulky shape on the 6th green off in the distance. There was a clearing halfway up the our fairway so we had an uninterrupted view down the length of the 6th hole. It was still too dark to properly make out any definition on the shape, and although it struck us both as being a little odd, we dismissed it, thinking that someone had left their golf bag on the green. We continued to navigate our way casually around the course. I don’t think Iain and I spoke at all as we took in the crisp morning air, although we had both already played our “lure” shots – the ones that would bring us back for the next game later that week.
The penny dropped at the 6th hole, when we suddenly realized that the bulky shape that we had seen earlier was a dead body.
We raced to the green and along the way we calculated in our minds how long he must have been there for. When we arrived it was clear that he was beyond help. He had been there for at least an hour, and by the way in which he was positioned on the ground, we knew that this man had died instantly. We found out later that his name was Kent, and that he was in his mid 50’s, and a regular at the course. He was a large man both in height and girth, and looked to have enjoyed the good things in life. Perhaps he was working on his fitness with early morning exercise but, sadly, had left it a little too late.
As we stood there on the green, taking in the situation, we noticed something odd. There was 1 body, but 2 balls in play, both sitting within a metre of the hole. We suddenly felt an extra chill run down our spines.
Was there a second golfer?
We conducted a forensic survey of our surroundings, like they do on CSI, and concluded to the negative, that this was a clear case of 1 golfer, playing 2 practice balls. Nothing untoward or sinister. The landscape was pristine, and there was only 1 set of tracks in the dew, apart from our own. We also knew that Kent had died this morning, rather than last night, because his tracks were fresh in the overnight dew.
Kent had been practising very well indeed, as both of his tee shots had neatly carried the 117 metres in the still morning air and dropped within a putter length of the pin. Normally shots like these would “lure” you back for the next game, but sadly for Kent, these were to be his final approaches to the green. Kent’s footsteps down the short par 3 fairway were purposeful. He had probably already congratulated himself, and was now visualizing these two “gimme” birdie putts sinking into the pot.
Instead, Kent walked up to the flag, hoisted it out of the hole, and died.
Kent’s lights went out so suddenly that his shoes were still planted on the ground, facing the flag, but his torso had buckled and twisted to one side as it sharply descended. There was no doubt that he was dead before he hit the ground.
We alerted the paramedics and the clubhouse, but there was nothing else we could do for this man. We both stood there on the green with Kent for a few minutes, saying nothing to each other, in a degree of shock.
Kent had a really nice gold-plated putter. It was resting beside his body. The same thought crossed both of our minds at the same time. We looked at each other, looked at the gold putter, the balls, and at the hole.
“If I were in his shoes I would want us to finish off those putts” Iain said quietly, with his hands linked across the back of his head, as if what he was saying was making his brain hurt.
I agreed, wincing. My head was hurting too. “And do you think he wants us to use his putter to do it?”
The rules of golf – that you never hit someone else’s ball – was being weighed up against a dead man’s possible final wish. It was tempting, in the same way that I get irrationally tempted to randomly put my hand up at house auctions. It seemed like something that needed to be done, but we just couldn’t do it.
Apart from the fact that it would have been very inappropriate to disturb the scene of a death, and that it may have been enormously disrespectful to Kent’s family, we also knew we didn’t have the right to change the circumstances. Kent’s life ended when and where it did, and that’s all there was to it. As passers-by, we had no right to interfere with Kent’s final mortal imprint.
Still…the balls were just sitting there, and the hole would never be properly finished!
Then another thought surfaced. What if we putted and missed! I’ve missed putts (without any pressure) from far shorter distances than what was in front of us at that moment. It was just too unthinkable. I just hope that Kent’s soul wasn’t standing there next to us, willing us toward his putter and pointing at the hole, beckoning us to go ahead and tap those balls in for him.
As we heard the paramedics arriving we continued on our way. We decided to finish off the 7th, 8th and 9th holes for this fallen golfer. We could still do that for him. We didn’t talk much, we were both deep in thought and still somewhat in shock. We both agreed that there were worse ways to end your life, albeit that is was way too soon. There is a lot to be said about going out whilst doing something that you really enjoy. And I would definitely rather die playing golf than surfing – Getting eaten by a shark is not the same as setting up for a birdie putt.
From that morning onward, for every round we ever played at Burnley, Iain and I played the 6th hole differently. We always chatted on the tee because we had a lot to talk about. Iain had inscribed the words “Kent’s Hole” in pencil onto the back of the timber information sign at the side of the tee, as a sign of respect. If the flag was located on the forward, right hand side of the green, it was regarded as being “On-Kent”. If we drove that green from the tee, it was considered “Kent-like”, and if you were ever left with a putt within a metre of the hole, well, you were shooting for a “Kent” – and for the purposes of this story, they always went in. Neither of us are overly superstitious, but we never played extra practice balls on our own at Burnley, because that would have been just asking for trouble.
Many years have now passed since we last played early morning golf together. Iain eventually moved to Byron Bay in northern New South Wales with his wife Yvonne and now they both live in the French Alps, so the opportunity to play together no longer exists. I play very intermittently at a different golf course now, and I do miss the times that we spent together, happy in our own shared space, half asleep, scouring bushes and climbing fences, crouching and shuddering, and both wondering why we did it.
Iain made the comment last week that Kent “Was not an advertisement for early morning exercise.” Of course Iain was only being playfully dry when he made the comment, and he would equally agree that, on the other hand, Kent’s circumstance was very much an advertisement for any form of exercise.
For Kent, it was a case of “too little, too late”. For us, however, it is a grisly reminder that, when it comes to exercise, it’s never too little, and it’s never too late.
And we still wonder if we should have made those final putts.