By Gary Lloyd
I have stood inside the ropes at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, among the pink azaleas and tall dogwoods, and played for free at the Country Club of Birmingham, yet, inexplicably, I can’t get a long-shuttered driving range out of my mind.
It always seemed to be on the cusp of going out of business even when its hitting area was lined with dozens of wannabe golfers, but I suppose that’s just the nature of a driving range. A driving range is something connected to a real golf course, meant for warming up before 18 expensive holes. It does not stand alone. It is always an appetizer, never the main course.
Maybe I think about it because I often pass its rusted sign and faded white gate on the way to my parents’ house, to take my dogs to the veterinarian, to pick up six bags of deer corn at Tractor Supply. Or maybe it’s for other reasons.
I was introduced to golf here. When my dad traded in his Zebcos for a set of Mizunos, this driving range is where he learned to swing them. I tagged along with a junior set of clubs, including a driver thats shaft wagged like the tail of a happy Labrador. When I played for the Hewitt-Trussville High School golf team, on the days that it rained and we couldn’t practice at Trussville Country Club, we crossed the St. Clair County line and headed for the covered hitting area at this driving range.
I remember cows grazing more than 300 yards away from where we swung as hard as we could with Cleveland drivers, and thinking — not callously — how cool it would be to smash a ball all the way to their hooves. I remember dogs chasing after bouncing Top Flite balls, and my friends and I drilling low 4-iron shots at the range picker cart.
I remember the creak of the wooden steps outside the main building, and digging through my $10 large bucket of range balls for Titleist Pro V1s. I remember the fear of slicing a ball over the black netting and sending it directly toward a nearby home. I remember taking my wife to that range when we moved to a house about two miles from it, and seeing her smile after sending a ball airborne.
I’m not sure how long that driving range has had a steel chain blockading the graveled entrance, but the rust suggests it’s been a while. I suppose every golfer’s — and hacker’s — desire is to tee it up at the lushest, prettiest, best-manicured golf courses they can find. I think that’s great. I guess I’m just more at home on the range.
Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and is a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.