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Plumb-bobbin' Nashville

THE NEXT GOLF is scheduled for the Legends Club in Franklin, twenty minutes south of the city. Franklin's a wonderful little town with dramatic history, a comfortable Main Street with shops and such, and a host of stars living in and around. John Hiatt lives here, and Wynonna has her spread outside town with that buffalo collection of hers in the field. (Yeah, she collects buffalo. To each her own.)

Franklin's nice, and Legends is nice. It's big, with two Tom Kite and Bob Cupp layouts. Folks who've played both the private IronHorse eighteen and the daily-fee Roper's Knob say there's "not a skeeter's fart difference," only that Roper's Knob has side hills on the fairways that tend to bounce your ball back to the middle, keeping the traffic moving. Sounds good to me.

Except I play like bull dookie, and my 7,100-yard march on Roper's Knob is about as much fun as General Hood's back in '64 (that's 1864, and we'll get to that shortly).

I think I'll blame it on zoysia grass, which is pretty in a faded-blue sort of way but is a carpet I just can't get a feel for, grippy as it is. I need roll, bounce and lady luck today. I get none, but let's be fair: Legends is truly beautiful, particularly on numbers ten through fourteen, when water's in almost constant play. Number ten is a terrible beauty, 465 from the back, a long tee shot over water, a green sloping right to left where it bails into the same pool you just passed (you hope). I play ten as well as I play any hole today but still get wet toward the end and take a double bogey. Emmylou once sang, "I can find no bridge for me to cross/No way to bring back what is lost," and as I'm drying my ball on the tenth green, I know just how she felt.

That night I get together for dinner with some friends, including, notably, Robert Hicks, a manager of music acts (everyone here either manages a music act or is one). Hicks is a son of the South, a larger-than-life character and a spirited teller of tales. "My family lost tons of folks in the battle of Franklin," he says as he drives his four-by-four down the tree-lined streets. "This was a bloody, bloody battle." In November of 1864, General John B. Hood of the Confederacy stormed Tennessee. Sort of. He and his forty-thousand men advanced to Franklin, and Hood yelled, "Attack!" Big mistake. The Union forces held, and five of Hood's generals were killed; more than six thousand other Confederates died or were wounded or captured. Hood's battered forces fought on in Nashville. Second big mistake. Outnumbered two to one, they got hammered. "You'll be writin' about golf?" Hicks asks. "We figure the Union fought for golf. There's a road in Nashville called Golf Club Lane, and they say that when the Yanks won the battle, they built a golf course out there. That's why so much blood was spilled—over golf." It's a theory, anyway.

Hicks is taking us to a restaurant named Manuel's. "It's dry, so we'll have a beer on the way," he says as he pulls into a 7-Eleven. This seems a fine idea, but Hicks gives pause as we pass over a small stone bridge. "This is where ol' George Jones almost killed himself when he crashed. They found the bottle under his seat."

A little while on we turned down a small side street and head into Milton, Tennessee, and back in time. On the right of the street is a Little League game being played on a dusty field. What townsfolk aren't watching the game are turned the other way, toward the front porch of Manuel's, where Abe Manuel and his family are playing Cajun music. Grandparents sit on folding chairs they've brought for the show. We sit at a wooden table and sip good iced tea and order from the type of gal to whom Hank Williams once crooned, "How's about cookin' somethin' up for me?"

"Interestin' you bring up Hank," says Hicks, who seems to know just about everything and even believes a lot of it. "They say Manuel was with Hank the weekend he died—he was the guy who found Hank in the Cadillac. Afterwards, he ends up in Milton and opens a country store." That store became a restaurant, and Manuel found his calling. The frog legs, shrimp and okra gumbo, catfish and "Shrimp A2Faye" at Manuel's are as spicy and filling as a Bob Wills's rag.

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