Table for One

Thanksgiving on the road less traveled

By Bill Fields

By the fall of 1976, an honest appraisal of my golf game would have resembled that of the used cars my father bought when money was tight and he needed transportation: runs rough, could blow a tire at any time, uncertain future. I was 17 years old, a high school senior. Despite many hours spent playing and practicing through my teens, I was still a handful of strokes from being a scratch golfer. Only at the smallest of colleges would I have a prayer of making the team.

But my enthusiasm hadn’t evaporated, which is why I asked my parents if I could enter the George Holliday Memorial Junior Tournament held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, over Thanksgiving weekend. I would make the 130-mile drive by myself in the family Fairlane, spend two nights at the Howard Johnson’s on North Kings Highway, distinguish myself with a good performance in the boys 16-17 age group, and take some confidence into my final spring of prep golf at Pinecrest High School.

I was a responsible kid, having only an occasional beer when Tuesday teen night at the Castle of Dreams was over. Mom and Dad knew the only damage I might cause in a motel room was scuffing a wall on a practice swing. They said, “Yes.”

Before dawn on Thanksgiving morning, I left Southern Pines for a tune-up round at the tournament site, Myrtle Beach National Golf Club. I had a couple of packs of Nabs on the car’s bench seat and a road map, but having made the ride 15 to 20 times, usually on family beach trips, I knew the route.

After making it to the course, I registered and went out for 18 holes, completing a foursome with boys from Virginia and South Carolina. We were among nearly 200 entrants in the event, played since the early 1970s to honor a Wofford College golfer, George Judson Holliday III of Galivants Ferry, who perished in a 1967 car crash.

By 4 p.m., I had checked into the motel on what was a quiet main drag and called home collect to let my parents know I was settled in. Traveling with my shag bag like pros of yesteryear, I hit some wedge shots on a nearby field. Later, after wiping my clubs clean, I walked into the Howard Johnson’s restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. Given that there were only about a dozen people dining, getting a seat wasn’t a problem.

The excitement of the trip, of my grown-up adventure, gave way to a different emotion after sliding into the booth and watching the waitress remove the other place setting. I got lonesome thinking of my parents at the table back home and the familiar foods — turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, apple rings — they were eating. I was the only solo diner aside from an elderly man drinking coffee at the counter. 

I contemplated ordering a hamburger and French fries but decided I had to get turkey and all the trwimmings, even if it wasn’t going to taste like my mother’s cooking. I ate most of my turkey and the accompanying sides, eschewed one of HoJo’s 28 flavors for a slice of pecan pie, and paid my bill. Once I was back in my room, I chained the door and got a water glass off the bathroom vanity to use as a putting cup. Three-footers, 6-footers, 10-footers — for an hour I tried to groove my stroke. I wished my “make” percentage was higher, but at least I was faring better than John-Boy, who got injured in a sawmill accident during a special Thanksgiving episode of The Waltons.

A poor start Friday morning — bogeys on the first three holes — had me feeling like I’d been hit in the head, and I wasn’t able to reverse the mojo. Far from shooting a score that might have earned an instant’s worth of interest from any of the college golf coaches in attendance, I was in the mid-80s. Saturday’s score was only marginally better. Joey Sadowski of Hickory, North Carolina, finished at one-over-par 145 to beat Mike Cook of Cartersville, Georgia, by a single stroke. Each of them would go on to play collegiately at UNC and the University of Georgia, respectively; I would be in a golf physical education class at Chapel Hill, hitting wiffle balls off a door mat in Woollen Gym. 

I put my clubs in the trunk and pointed my Ford toward home. In 2 1/2 hours there would be leftovers.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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