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Burial at the Tee

Tim Bower From Par to Eternity

Photo: Tim Bower

I have the spot all picked out. At Royal Dornoch there is a path that leads uphill from the sixth green to the seventh tee, and at the top is one of the most sublime vistas in all of golf. The glorious links are displayed at our feet; we can see no fewer than nine flags snapping in the breeze. The Sutherland hills are crouched behind us, Dornoch Firth sparkles invitingly just beyond the broad expanse of beach, and the red and white bands of Tarbat Ness lighthouse are clearly visible in the distance. If it happens to be springtime, the gorse-covered hill we are standing on is a blaze of vibrant yellow. Yep, that's the spot—that's where I want my ashes spread once I have gone to the great scorer's tent in the sky.

From Asheville, North Carolina, to Ashtabula, Ohio, under cover of darkness or in the broad light of day, countless golfers who have posted their final score have had their ashes strewn on their favorite links. It's impossible to determine exactly how many have turned Olympia Fields, say, into Elysian Fields, but my conservative estimate is hundreds, if not thousands, a year.

Legendary architect Alister MacKenzie (Augusta, Cypress Point) may have initiated the practice when he died in 1934 and reportedly had his ashes spread on his favorite par-four hole, the sixteenth at Pasatiempo in California. John A. Mulcahy, the Irish-American industrialist who rescued Ireland's splendid Waterville links from insolvency in the 1960s, recognized the importance of being urn-ish. His ashes are buried on the tee of Waterville's seventeenth hole, which is now known as Mulcahy's Peak. Putting guru George Low Jr., who died in 1995, had it both ways: Some of his ashes are buried next to a practice green at Cog Hill outside Chicago, and some were strewn over a lake on the nearby eighteenth hole of Cog Hill No. 4 (Dubsdread).

Bury Me in a Pot Bunker is the title of a Pete Dye book, and the author means for that directive to be taken literally. He's not particular—"any ole pot bunker or ditch is fine with me," says the eighty-one-year-old architect. Arnold Palmer, who grew up playing at Latrobe Country Club, writes in A Golfer's Life that he would like to have his ashes spread "out there somewhere near my Pap's on one of the club's fairways." Lee Trevino's instructions are typical of the Merry Mex. "My ashes will be spread on some golf course," he has said. "I don't care which one. I've told my wife to make sure you reach in there, and if you don't find two steel rollers and a metal plate, those aren't my ashes."

Caddies have their favorite golfing haunts as well. Before the 2003 Players Championship, Brad "The Russian" Krosnoff, a longtime PGA Tour caddie, had his ashes strewn over the water surrounding the seventeenth green at Sawgrass. A few years back, the ashes of a pair of Pebble Beach loopers known as Dawg and the Phantom were sprinkled off the eighteenth green in a joint ceremony one misty morning.

One has so many touchstones, so many meaningful experiences over the span of a lifetime, why choose a golf course as a final resting place?Armchair psychologists have a ready answer for that one. Golf, they say, is a religion, and golf courses are places of worship, so it's logical for the devout to choose a site that is sacred to them. "I haven't told my wife yet," says a nine-handicapper from Long Island who wants his ashes strewn on the ninth fairway of his home course, "but perhaps I should, so she'll get a sense of how important golf is to me."

Laws vary from state to state, but as a rule permission to spread ashes is required from the property owner—whether it's public or private land. Some clubs allow it and some do not, but among those where it is forbidden, the policy seems to be "Don't ash, don't tell." "Our official position," says the manager of a major-championship venue, "is that it's not permitted. Unofficially, we know it happens from time to time."

Pine Valley has no official policy on the spreading of ashes. Uncertain what response he would receive if he made a formal request, one member decided to proceed on the q.t. when his father died a few years back. The site of the covert operation was the fourteenth hole, a dramatic 185-yard par three. "My dad used to put his arm around me on that tee," recalls the member, "and say, 'If I could choose one hole in the world to have a hole in one, this would be it.'" Dad never made that ace, but after he passed away, his son orchestrated the next best thing.

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