"MMMMM, I FEEL LUCKY today," sang Mary Chapin Carpenter, and I'm singing it, too, as I head east the next morning toward Old Hickory, which was Andrew Jackson's nickname and is now a town. There I go to the Hermitage, which was once Old Hickory's plantation but today is a tourist destination with two golf courses. I'm heading into the Day of the Bubbas.
The General's Retreat at Hermitage is a kinder, gentler, softer, greener, lusher course than Springhouse or Legends. It reeks of the word "parkland." It's hard by the Cumberland; big and small ponds belonging to the river are everywhere. Only 6,773 yards from the tips and with a slope of 129, the Hermitage looks mild on paper and plays that way if you're hitting straight and smart, staying high and dry.
On the range I shake hands with my playing partners, good ol' boys from New Orleans. We start with the easiest hole on the course and a passel of pars. Mine's a tap-in; Joe's is a monster putt, the one that gets the Bubba serenade as it curls into the cup. This is country golf, with singin' and all manner of vocalizin' this side of yodelin'.
On the front nine, water is decorative on two, seven and five, and can harm you on four, six and eight, but I make the turn with the ball that brung me. The back nine's even prettierpretty like Deana Carter, with that sweet smile, perfect hair and . . . curvy stuff. There are hills and mounds all over but no stupid bounces and no two-hundred-yard sand traps. There is, on the great eleventh hole, some thinking to be done. It's a six-hundred-yard par five, and if you really poke a draw on your drive you have a chance with your second shot to carry a long pond that starts on the left, then cuts across the dogleg. Or you can do what I do: two irons down the fairway, turning it into a 640-yard hole; then a pitch across the water, careful not to go into the back trap; then roll the putt back down toward the cup; then sink the comebacker as Kenneth observes, "Bubba! You played that hole smaaa-art!"
The comin'-home holes are lovely as the sun's setting. The boys from 'Nawlins have been good company, and I'm sorely tempted when they invite me for steak and a Dixie, but I'm a little worried where that might end up. Besides, I've had this Lucinda Williams line in my head"Is it too much to ask?/I want a comfortable bed that won't hurt my back"and while the beds at Opryland are fine, the high-intensity glare of the place has worn me out, and I've got packing to do. I shuffle my bags downtown to Union Station, which used to be Nashville's Grand Central before it became a renovated hotel with good, gilded-age bones. And where better to stay in the country-music capital of the world than in a train station, unless it's in a boxcar?