Walking 4 a purpose
Listening to the soothing voice of Nick Edmund, so calm and unflustered, it is difficult to reconcile his seemingly unflappable demeanor with all that he has been through over the last four years of his already eventful life. There is seemingly no resentment in this affable 58-year-old Englishman, a one-time barrister who went on to author 27 golf books and was, from 1997 until late 2012, the managing director of six-time major champion Nick Faldo’s course-design company. No bitterness. No hint of “Why me?”
Three times, Edmund has listened to the word no one ever wants to hear from the medical profession: cancer. The scars on his neck, scalp and forehead bear witness to the intrusive surgeries that have followed each diagnosis. But nothing has yet affected his heart, his courage and his determination to help those similarly afflicted.
Just before Christmas last year, Edmund completed a walk across and around Scotland, one that began at Turnberry and concluded at Dornoch, a journey that took him more than 260 miles on foot. As he did so, he visited 24 of the nation’s best golf courses—each time playing the fourth hole—including all seven past and present Open Championship venues. Prestwick, where the first Open was played in 1860 was a highlight. Edmund played the fourth hole there—“Bridge”—on Oct. 17, 2017, the 117th anniversary of the first rounds in the game’s oldest event.
Having already toured the 40 courses on the Republic of Ireland’s “Wild Atlantic Way,” Edmund intends to embark on two more expeditions this year. First, he will trek around Northern Ireland—finishing May 4 (Rory McIlroy’s birthday) on the fourth green at Royal County Down. Then, starting in late October, he will tackle the iconic Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across the northern coast of Spain. Six-hundred miles long, it concludes in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region and the alleged burial place of the biblical apostle, St. James.
On that trip Edmund will play the fourth hole at Pedrena, home of the late Seve Ballesteros, who died from brain cancer, along with two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal and at least one of Seve’s two sons. This is a man with friends in high places.
In between times, Edmund will be just as busy doing what he calls his “summer of fundraising.” Having already enlisted the South African cancer charity “Cupcakes of Hope” to his cause (2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and current Scottish Open champion Branden Stone are patrons), Edmund plans to attend the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando to further rally the cause. He will return to the U.S. in April with a view to kick-starting a North American campaign on July 4. Asia and Australia will come later.
By the time all of the above is completed towards the end of 2020, Edmund hopes to see his “GlobalGolf4Cancer” flag flying on at least those four times a year (Jan. 4, April 4, July 4 and Oct. 4) at as many as 1,000 clubs worldwide.
“In a way, I am trying to create a community within the golf community,” Edmund says. “This is an awareness creating exercise aimed at raising support for various cancer charities, whether I am involved or not. That is my mission. There are 60 million golfers and 36,000 golf courses in the world, so there is a huge potential. Let’s say every club raises £1,000 once per year. That’s £1 million. So the flag and the campaign creates the opportunity for clubs and individuals to raise money. The walks are drawing attention to that campaign.
“The flag is a mechanism or a tool, the emblem of the campaign. The great thing about a flag is that people can talk about flying it for the cause. So it fits. Very few sports can do that. All too often a flag is on the periphery. But in golf the players engage with the flag. We aim at it. It is integral to the game.”
The number “4” has become integral to Edmund’s quest, to the point where it has attained a status not far short of obsession. There are, he points out, around 4,000,000 people affected by cancer in the United Kingdom. The disease has four stages. One in four people are likely to be affected, either directly or indirectly, in their lifetimes. “Fore” is a common cry in golf. A “four-ball” is the most common form of the game.
The Scottish walk began on the fourth green of the Ailsa course at Turnberry at 4:44 p.m. on Oct. 14, 2018. In total, Edmund walked for 40 days, with a four-week gap in the middle, during which he underwent his latest round of radiotherapy. (That ended on Nov. 16; the walking resumed three days later.) Four walking poles have been worn out en route. His worst moment came when crossing the Firth of Forth from North Berwick to Elie during rough weather in what he describes as “a very small boat.” And his best when he played the first four holes on the Old Course at St. Andrews in the company of the two surgeons who have performed the four operations he has so far endured.
There are therefore no prizes for guessing how many times Edmund had to shout “fore” while in Scotland. Or for how many 4s he made at Open venues. Or for how many days before Christmas he finally holed out on the fourth green at Dornoch—at 44 minutes past noon. Or why he intends to visit as many Harry Colt-designed courses—Colt was born Aug. 4.
Adding to Edmund’s discomfort is the fact that, having already undergone one hip replacement, he is limping badly after a second operation, this time on his left hip. And yet he completed his self-assigned task while carrying a golf bag on his back, one containing the following:
• four clubs and a putter (Driver, 5-iron, 8-iron, Wedge)
• several 4-flags
• special 4-flag on a flagpole
• wash bag
• various medicines
• iPad, and iPad charger; phone and phone-charger
• tee-shirts, waterproof trousers, evening sweater
• lots of socks and “under-garments”
• non-walking shoes
• spare visibility jacket
• bottle of water
• packet of mixed nuts and a banana (invariably squashed)
• two balls, four tees and one marker
“It’s not a golf walk without the bag,” he says with a smile. “I could have made it easier. But I’m trying to balance difficulty with pushing myself. Besides, my story is stronger with the bag."
Still, for Edmund, these expeditions are not just about the physical aspects of walking many miles with a heavy load on his back. Having been forced to consider his own mortality on multiple occasions and with plenty of alone-time available to fully ponder all that such a fundamental question entails, his has also been something of a spiritual journey.
“There has never been any sense of panic,” he says. “Or any tears. I now look at any adverse situation and wonder how I can turn it into an opportunity. Things that used to irritate me are now what give me pleasure through solving them. I do things more slowly now and figure them out.
“So the last four years have been the best four years of my life. I get much more out of relationships. I appreciate things. On the Ireland walk, I watched Spring happen. I get more out of what I see and do in life. I see things more clearly. I have a better perspective on everything. I am passionate about what I’m doing right now. I’m enjoying it. And my interactions with people are, almost all positive.”
More times than he can count, Edmund has had money forced into his hands. A typical example. At Monifieth, where Tom Watson played his maiden round in Scotland days before he would win the 1975 Open at nearby Carnoustie, a married couple stepped aside to let this stranger play the par-4 fourth before digging into their bags for spare cash.
Matthew Harris (3)
On Day 3 of his Ireland walk, already suffering physically and mentally, Edmund was forced to stop for rest after every three-quarters of a mile. But each time he did so, someone appeared to lift his ailing spirits. A fellow pedestrian. A driver. As if by magic, they come from nowhere to boost him emotionally.
“Those people were like angels,” he says. “Whenever I was down, someone would come along to give me a boost. So I carried on, albeit slowly.”
Nearing the town of Buncrana in Donegal, darkness was falling and Edmund was failing. A complete stranger had invited him into his home for sandwiches and tea, and so he was behind schedule. At which point, from nowhere, an 80-year-old Parkinson’s sufferer, his hands shaking, walked out of the driving rain and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Shoot a 65 for me,” he said, before handing him €20. “How could I give up after that?” Edmund says. “I kept going. That man was like an angel.”
Entering Buncrana and maybe a mile short of his hotel, Edmund came upon a little old lady walking her dog. They got talking, and she offered to accompany him to his destination.
“We had a lovely chat and she lifted my spirits,” Edmund continues. “She really was my last angel of the day. And just before she left I asked her name. Gloria, she said. Hairs were standing on the back of my neck.”
One last tale. Towards the end of yet another exhausting day, Edmund was searching in vain for a sign that said “2 km” to his destination. When one with “5 km” appeared, his heart sank. It was dark and it was cold and he was tired. But not only did he get a second wind, he actually started to move faster. He wasn’t running, but he was definitely loping.
“It was like the ministry of silly walks from Monty Python,” he says, showing his age. “It felt like I was being propelled. I was laughing out loud. I had no idea where it came from. I was lifted. Weird but wonderful. I am definitely getting help.”
Few deserve it more.
For more information about Edmunds' Global Golf 4 Cancer foundation and how to donate, go to www.globalgolf4cancer.org