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Pilgrimage to the Panhandle

We ate dinner with friends at a little boutique restaurant. I had a martini before dinner and ordered trout almondine, just as if I were in the French Quarter, in New Orleans.

The next morning, we played at Lakewood Golf Club.

Every course we had played so far in our week of "Third Coast" golf had been built since 1987. Of the thirty-six holes at Marriott's Grand Hotel, eighteen are more than fifty years old. We were lucky enough to play the original course, which is normally broken up, with nine holes on each of the Azalea and Dogwood layouts. The old course has a moody, dreamy antebellum character that comes, chiefly, from the dozens of ancient, brooding live oak trees that flank the fairways--mythic trees whose branches are draped with Spanish moss and who remind all but the most harried players that golf is a game that disregards time. We teed off at eight, when there was still dew on the grass.

"It is," Marsha said, "lovely. Just lovely."

The course was splendidly uncrowded, and we played at our own languid pace, pausing to admire an especially stately live oak or to study the little Civil War graveyard along the OB line of one fairway. We had talked earlier in the week to a couple of young golfers who disdained this course because, they said, the maintenance was poor. In fact, the course was in fine shape--even in this transitional time between grasses--but there were inevitable root intrusions near the indispensable trees. So if that is where your ball stopped, then you had to hit off bare ground. Golfers raised on television, where the PGA Tour sites are all groomed to lavish perfection, might opt to lose the trees so that they could hit off grass. But they would be idiots.

We were near the end of our week and had not eaten enough seafood. So we went to a favorite place, the Bayside Grill, in Orange Beach, and had oyster po' boys with a side of grilled shrimp. And a little cold beer for our poor parched throats. While we ate, we watched tourists load into tour boats for dolphin watching. There was, we decided, a lot we hadn't done. I had not fished at all, for instance, and the cobia were running offshore. Nor had we gone honky-tonking.

"One more day," I said. "Want to skip the golf and do some other things?"

"Have you lost your mind?" Marsha said.

"I see your point," I said.

There remained a new nine at Peninsula that we hadn't yet played, and we had faith that Earl would be good to us. So we called for a morning tee time. The next day, after a good, valedictory round at Peninsula, we drove to Mobile to catch our plane. The flight had been canceled. We were rebooked on another flight--six hours later. So we found a place a few miles from the airport where we settled in front of the television with a plate of cold shrimp and watched the third round of the Masters, in which another guy named Norman was having his problems.

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