Don’t pinch yourself all the way to paralysis

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 2, 2004

If you’ve read the front page of today’s edition and think I’ve completely lost all grasp on reality, you’ll have to take a number and find a seat in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

A few years back, during a job stint in Montgomery, I worked the putrid hours of a newspaper man. In fact, I worked every Saturday in order to help edit the Sunday edition of the Montgomery Advertiser.

So on Mondays — the last day of my weekend — I’d often escape from the toils of angry readers to visit the land of pain and suffering and emotional distress, better known as Capitol Hill.

Don’t fool yourself. I didn’t walk around downtown Montgomery looking for politicians to tackle. Instead, I hit golf balls at The Judge, The Legislator and The Senator — the three golf courses at Prattville’s Robert Trent Jones golf facility.

Some days, I didn’t even play a round of golf. I’d buy a small transfer truck of range balls and try to hit the giant flag pole in the middle of the driving range. I’d take a sleeve of Precepts and putt for an hour. I’d throw a handful of balls in a sand trap and try to build a little castle with them (but don’t tell anybody because USGA rules say you’re not supposed to touch the sand. Whatever.)

These days, I’d better serve my mental stability if I buried my golf bag in a slab of concrete, but I can’t conquer my addiction to sheer misery.

After I left the Montgomery job and moved back to Selma, I’d think about those Mondays and realize how much I anticipated pounding little white balls into big brown trees. Golf, for those who don’t play, offers an escape from every burden back at the office. Yes, it’s a hard sport, but if you’re lucky enough to remove your ball from the 18th hole, you realize you’ve spent the last four hours distracted from the worries of the real world.

I guess I was in Selma one afternoon when the thought of a Robert Trent Jones golf course being constructed in this region of the state crossed my mind. Obviously, my thoughts were selfish, at best.

After making the move to Demopolis two years ago, I pondered the idea a few more times. And with each fleeting thought, I always pinched myself and realized there’s no way the Retirement Systems of Alabama will invest a red penny in a region that can’t find its way across a two-lane highway.

While in Orange Beach last weekend, though, I read a story about the latest RTJ course in the Shoals area of northwest Alabama. Then I pulled out a map and realized all but one region of Alabama doesn’t have the opportunity to draw tens of thousands of out-of-state visitors via a golf course.

This time, before I had a chance to pinch myself, a friend called and began a rant against the Retirement Systems of Alabama and why they haven’t helped develop West Alabama. Like most others, this person felt we had been skimped yet again.

I got on the phone without a clue about what to ask. Marcus Reynolds Jr., the second-in-command at RSA, returned my call within minutes and had an extraordinarily open conversation with me about the process of building golf courses in the state.

Almost immediately, I realized every other person in West Alabama — not including Tuscaloosa — has always pinched himself before actually looking into the thought of bringing a part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail to our region.

In fact, it was almost embarrassing to learn that RSA hasn’t been contacted by someone in our region about building one of these magnificent facilities here.

On the front page of today’s paper, I decided to take an idea and explore what it would take to make that idea a reality. Most readers, I presume, will pinch themselves and chuckle at the idea of recruiting David Bronner to our region. You’ll find excuses for why the project would never work here.

We don’t have the right terrain for a golf course.

We don’t have anyone who will donate the land (which is mandatory in this process).

We don’t have a contact with Bronner.

The excuses for stagnancy will continue until we fall asleep on an empty track of 800 acres that Mark Twain would have admitted made for three perfect golf courses.

Our problem in West Alabama and the Black Belt is that we’re so bruised from the pinching that we can’t stand up to act on an idea.

I’m only one person, but I firmly believe we have the natural landscape and perfect location to build another path on Alabama’s world-famous golf trail. Sumter County and Livingston have the land and the most ideal locale for such a site. They have growing metros to the north and south (Tuscaloosa and Meridian), and I-59/20 in West Alabama is fast becoming a gateway for tourists who want to play cards in Mississippi or throw beads in New Orleans.

The unfortunate reality is that we’ll probably look at our arms in two weeks and see a new bruise. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead, a group of us got together, found a track of land, and decided we won’t accept double bogies anymore?

Anybody up for a game?