Story by Jeff Marsh
“You happen to find a Snell?”
“A smell? What smell?”
“No, a Snnnnnnell ball…”
I had just royally blocked my tee shot way right on the 3rd hole at Winter Park 9 in Florida. It is a dead-straight, fairly short par-5. Definitely reachable in 2 (with a non-shanked tee-ball). Thankfully, we were playing a scramble game with 50 of our closest friends. My teammate Cody had just hit a beautiful, left-handed baby-fade, setting us up with what we thought would be a fairly doable approach. So I decided to let it rip. I carried the trees lining the fairway, bounded off the street, and into a thick hedge in front of a beautiful New-England style home. I figured it to be long gone, and wasn’t too worried about it since I wasn’t facing a penalty, though I really liked that Snell ball. So I jogged ahead to give myself an extra minute to hopefully get lucky on the easter-egg hunt.
“How do you spell it?”
“S. N. …”
“Ohhhh. Hang on, let us check. Hey honey, do you have a ‘smell’ ball in your bag?”
I stumbled across a grandfather, likely in his late seventies or early eighties, on an easter-egg style hunt with his six-year-old grandson. They had been wandering the front-yards of the homes along the 3rd fairway for good reason: the young boy had at least a dozen nice golf balls in his plastic bag. The grandfather had quite a few as well. Clearly a popular landing spot for errant shots off the 3rd tee box.
“Found it!” the grandfather hollered. He reached into his bag, ruffled around a bit, and pulled out that pearly white Snell.
A huge smile covered my face. Not simply because I found my ball, but because of how excited they were to have found the ball I counted as lost. The boy ran over to check it out and examine it, before conceding the ball back into play. I also smiled because there was something really unique, and beautiful, happening right in front of my eyes. The game of golf had brought grandfather and grandson together in a way that brought all three of us utter joy. I didn’t gather either intended to use the golf balls in a golf game; they were simply counting it pure joy just to find those lost, smelly golf balls.
The young boy didn’t skip a beat, as he continued fishing through a dense ivy patch pulling out one $4-ball after another. The old man tossed me the ball, as I nodded in gratitude and headed back to the fairway so we could continue our game. As I crossed the street, I couldn’t help but turn back and watch them continue plucking golf balls from the yards of those beautiful homes.
Winter Park is not like the rest of Florida. It feels like it almost doesn’t belong. The architecture, landscaping, cars – it all feels different. Elegant, detailed, green, wooded, unique architecture. It is a small town of 3,400 people, originally established as a “winter park” for Nor-Easterners during the winter months. President Arther called it “the prettiest place I have seen in Florida”. The setting the grandfather and grandson were in was something from a movie, as it has continued to play back in my mind since our encounter.
I was moved by how much the grandfather adored his grandson. The affection he shared as they searched eagerly for lost treasure. The way the gentleman called the boy “honey”. Most boys his age would have probably been bothered by being called “honey”, but it didn’t seem to phase him in the slightest. They both were caught up in the midst of the best moment of their lives. No care in the world, save for a quick bother as I came along for a brief look for my ball. The entire interaction with them was maybe 90 seconds, but nevertheless, something I will always remember. As a father, the love for my kids welled up. As a son, to know the love the man had for his grandson gave me peace. And to see that love shown across not only generations, but across race – it brought me hope. I suppose I may have read into it more than I should have, but in an overly white, extremely wealthy neighborhood, while considering the current racial divide in our nation, I was simply pleased to see that special bond between grandfather and grandson. They shared a common, deep love of the game of golf, whether or not they were actually playing a golf game.
Our team’s ball laid precariously behind a Lauren Oak tree, thus blocking our shot to the nicely tucked pin in the back right corner of the green. Oh, and the right side of the green was blocked by a short side bunker. Jason, another teammate, hit a monstrous 7-iron over the tree and just carried the bunker to settle on the edge of the green, about 38 feet from the flag. We were playing in a group of 9, plus some onlookers, and needless to say, that shot brought a soldi reaction. I almost always putted last as I am usually running around shooting content while my teammates hit their putts. After 2 great efforts for eagle, I set that infamous Snell ball down in front of the oversized silver ball-marker, aligned my stance just slightly to account for the read I had just been given by the prior putt, drew my putter back and sent the ball on a winding ride towards the cup. Plop. Eagle!
I wish the story ended with me enshrining that ball in the Winter Park Golf Hall of Fame (yet to be established), or I had thought of running to find that young boy to give him the ball. I ended up playing that ball for a couple more rounds. That Snell came to its final resting place in the swamp that splits the 4th hole at Streamsong Black. What. A. Course. I actually hit a great tee shot (for once), it just so happened to split the split-fairway and landed right next to a young crocodile (absolutely no lie, there is photo proof). I stood in the fairway above that crocodile for a solid 10 minutes contemplating the journey that Snell ball took me on. It was probably the hardest lost-ball I have had to let go. Come on. We all have spent just a little extra time looking for that one special ball. That ball had been on a cultural and Planet Earth world tour.
Unless that croc ate the ball, mistaking it for a real egg, it was likely picked up the next day by another golfer, willing and ready to take that ball on his / her own Steve Erwin-esque natural exhibit field trip.