(The month of March is dedicated to memories surrounding a 10 year journey with the man I consider my 'spiritual grandfather', Bill Stegall who mentored me in life and in golf from 1990 until his passing in 2000)
The picture on the left is Stegall, Bobby Patrick, Benny Parks, and me in Foley, AL. I guess we would be the new Old Goats now.
Remember the old song by Billy Joel, Piano Man? The narrator is the piano player and the song goes around the bar telling stories about the patrons gathered there.
This post mirrors that.
I'm going to go around the old grill at Mountain View Golf Course and give you a small vignette of the men I had the honor of spending time with.
The men who joyously called themselves, "The Old Goats".
'O.C.' was a brilliant man. Mr. Stegall prepped me before the round about his incredible powers. "He bought a new TV the other day and went in and reprogrammed his remote control. With that one remote, he can now work his TV, his lights, and even his garage door!, Oh my stars!" He is the one who knew everyone's score to par at anytime on the course. Stegall proved that to me the first time we played... on the 11th hole he asked him...
"O.C., where does Jaybird stand?"
O.C. looked up and said, "He was 6 over front, 42. He is 1 over on the back. He is down 1 on the front 9 and even on the back, and currently down one on the 18 for the bet."
It was like I was watching a new sequel to the movie, Rainman!
"Jim" was the oldest man of the Old Goat Club. When Jim played, the other goats got a little agitated, because he was slow. But they never lost patience, and he was always treated with honor and respect. Jim had been a physician, and had been a strong Christian presence in medical ethics before it was popular to do so. I remember him having the best smile!
"Ronnie" was the business wheeler and dealer. He had won a fortune, lost it, and got part of it back. He had story after story of courtroom battles over bad business deals. His speed was about as opposite of Jim's as any human could be. Thankfully, the two never played in the same cart or it would have been a disaster. Ronnie talked fast, walked fast, ate fast, and had little patience for any delay of game. He threw out the one liners and had all of the zingers. A mutual friend of the Old Goats had built a private sewer line and it was Ronnie who coined the term, " Yeah, the man is now #1 in the #2 business".
"Gene" was pure class and grace. The man had a movie star look about him. His swing was elegant and an aura seemed to follow him. He had a charisma that lit up the Old Goats. His dress was immaculate, his car spotless, and grace flowed from his speech. He would have been a spot on pick for any movie grandfather a director would ever cast. Some men just age well, and Gene was one of those.
"Burt" was a fighter, in a good way. He is the man you would point to a mountain and watch Burt climb! He was supposedly a true warrior on the German front in the 40's. Burt never backed down from a just cause but like any warrior, took shrapnel in the process. Burt had made an enemy of a man a few decades earlier, and that man turned the entire system loose on Burt. Frivolous lawsuits, gossip, untimely news articles had tarnished his name. I guess Burt was the controversial one of the Old Goats, but I admired Burt. He saw the battle was worth the sacrifice, and had no regrets about taking on the world. There is an energy and power found in the DNA of men who are contra mundum. I do know that Burt told me that all he needed was Jesus and his wife, and he would fight anyone. And I think that is all he had, except for the goats. And, as you would guess, could crush a golf ball!
"Fred" was frail. Every year, more and more of his ears and face were removed from skin lesions. He had built a very powerful company, sold it and watched the buyer run it into the ground. And then the buyer sued Fred for mis-representing the business! And to everyone's shock and dismay... Fred lost in court! The court case cost him everything and Fred was a man with a lot of personal pain. It wore on his face. But Fred was the most consistent player for the GOATS. I had high admiration for him, he took a lot of hits... but never stopped swinging.
In Billy Joel's song... there isn't much hope. They need the piano player to find a ditty to add to the alcohol to take away the loneliness for just a little while. There is a lot of truth in that song...
In the Old Goats Club, in the midst of cheeseburgers and diet coke, these men never showed anything but resolution and hope.
What makes the difference?
I am fully convinced that the living Word of God that testifies to the truth of the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ makes a world of difference.... an eternity of difference!
I saw it fully on display every time they needed young Jaybird to fill out the foursome.
I once heard a parable of heaven and hell.... not close to being biblical... but fascinating and eye opening.
In the parable, HELL is a place where men are seated at a table. They are in chairs and in chains.
In the middle of the table is a warm bowl of delicious soup.
Each man is also handcuffed to a very long wooden spoon. The spoon is long enough to reach the bowl, but too long to figure out how to get it back to their mouths.
And in this hell, men are always starving.... with the bowl of food in full view for all eternity!
Then the parable changes to describe HEAVEN... and the scene is a surprise!
It is the SAME table! The same SAME bowl! and the Same spoons!
But in heaven, the men don't care about feeding themselves.... their long spoons are used to feed one another!
And that was the secret of the success of the Old Goats Club. All of these men were in varying degrees of loss, sorrow, and pressure.... but their fellowship and communion of God's gospel and God's Word sustained each one daily.
Yes, golf was fun... a tool... an escape... but it really was just a convenient conduit of what really matters.
The men had fully grabbed on to God's mercy... and in turn they were free to love God and love others.
And it made those cheeseburgers taste even better!