124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The End Is Near

By David Owen Illustrations by Joel Holland
September 28, 2010

The driveway that leads to my club's practice range

bisects a cornfield. When the range opens for the year on April 1, the field is muddy and covered with stubble, and as I cross it, I know that months and months of golf stretch out ahead. But I also know, in the back of my mind, that the season is already expiring. Our golf year usually ends just before or after Thanksgiving, depending on the snow, and the cornfield is like a living clock, ticking away what's left.

By Memorial Day, there are neat rows of green corn shoots -- still eons of golf to go. On the Fourth of July, the stalks are almost as tall as the door handles on my car, and I wonder what happened to June. In August, the leaves brush my windows as I pass, and, if someone is leaving when I arrive, one of us has to back up. Then, one autumn afternoon, I decide to try to de-shank myself at the range, and on the way in I notice, with alarm, that the cornfield is stubble again, and that the maples at the edges are more orange and red than green. Some of the year's best golf weather is still to come, along with more opportunities to wear my Royal Portrush sweater, but now there's no denying that golf is almost done.

There are clocks all over our course. Every spring, I forget about the fruit trees until they blossom. Then the blossoms fall, and it's like pressing the snooze button: I don't think of them again until crabapples and chokecherries have covered the ground near the eighth and ninth tees. Hitting crabs with pitching wedges is fun, but it's also a reminder that time is growing short. The big oak that overhangs the clubhouse begins to drop ripe acorns in late August. They sound like golf balls when they hit the roof, and some of them bounce onto the putting green. By September, the turkey chicks that wander in and out of the woods at the bottom of the range are getting hard to tell from the hens. Then the leaf blowers begin again: maybe 10 Sundays to go.

Finally, we have our first serious snowfall, and that other clock begins to tick, the one that measures the empty weeks until next spring. It moves as slowly as the clock on a classroom wall, but it does move. And when it starts I know that in just four months, give or take a week, the range will be open again.