WHICH STARTS AS SOON as I rise. I find my way out of the hotel and drive ten minutesmaybe seven of them in the parking lotto the first tee. It's a warm, humid day in Opryland, and limbering up is easy. I like the way this Larry Nelson design starts, with a straight, medium-length par five followed by a straight, shortish par four, both of them moseying south alongside the Cumberland River, not too much going on, no trouble unless you pull. Then there's a pretty little par three, and by the fourth tee you've got most of your swings oiled up. The course at Opryland is called Springhouse, and at number four, the signature hole, there it is: a century-old springhouse tucked just off the green by a sweet little pond. I'm looking across some water, waggling before my pitch, and a Guy Clark tune is playing in my head: "Come sit by my side in the shade of all greens/It smells like the honeysuckle have gone to extremes." That's the feel here, where wetlands and nice, thick Southern air make for a ripe round of golf. I don't sink the putt, but what the hell.
"He's in the jailhouse now/He's in the jailhouse now/Lord, ol' Bill flubbed his dub," sang the immortal Jimmie Rodgers. My name's not Bill, but I'm in the jailhouse now on number five, where a two-hundred yard-long bunker splits the fairway (long hitters go for the fairway left, short hitters go right, so I go down the middle). I hate these things: penalties dead ahead off the tee. I also hate traps that stretch toward the horizon. You can be in there all daytwo, three shots. Like me.
The rest of the front nine is plain and simple. The Seniors play here every year during their BellSouth Classic and chew the place up. There's only a bit of water in play (though lots of nice water to look at), no overabundance of sand (maybe they ran out after number five) and moderate hills and distances (7,007 yards from the tips). Number thirteen's a pretty par three, across a lake to a picturesque green, a TPC-looking thing that is featured in the brochures. And eighteen's a good closing hole, a longish par four with a lake on the right. It makes for a nice challenge and leaves a good taste.
Speaking of which, that evening I get together with an old friend of mine, Jim, for dinner. We have a good meal at Café 123, a modern saloon with an accent over the e, a good wine list and fancier cooking than I remember from my last trip to Nashville. "Yeah," says Jim, "That's been happenin' 'round here." Jim grew up in Ohio, but he's been in Nashville a while and has started talking in apostrophes. After dinner we head for the Station Inn, a truly great dive with music as authentic as Hank Jr.'s roots. Tonight the Nashville Bluegrass Band shreds the house, and toward the end, they're joined by the singer Gillian Welch, who's thrilling and heartbreaking. For my moneywhich isn't considerable, mind youI'd take the Station Inn over the Opry any night. Up to you.