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Plumb-bobbin' Nashville

THE FOLLOWING DAY BRINGS GreyStone, a big new-style Mark McCumber course in Dickson County, forty miles west of Nashville. Among fresh courses, one like GreyStone stands a better chance of maturing quicker because it doesn't depend on trees for its sense of self. Set in a hollow beneath a modern clubhouse, it's an up-and-down and all-around course with distinctive grasses as a hallmark: good ol' zoysia underfoot, and Scottish-looking gorse just beyond the rough. McCumber wanted a natural look, even if his course is one of those new, Jetson-type golf experiences in which you stay on the cart path as if it's a monorail, driving about fifty miles to cover 6,858 yards.

GreyStone tries to re-envision golf as a sport of the ancient warlords. On the twelfth, I cut the dogleg and find my ball tucked into these Stonehenge-like boulders. I can't go forward because of the rocks, so I pitch over another rock, away from the hole, praying to hold the fairway. When I play a hole like this in Scotland or Ireland I figure it's charming, because the stones have been there since Celtic chieftains were running around with cudgels instead of Callaways. The folks at GreyStone assure me the stones stand where they were unearthed, but still—I'm in Tennessee!

Anyway, I'm enjoying myself, because GreyStone is undeniably two things: breathtaking and interesting. And, today, a third: entertaining. Playing behind us are "Vince's roadies and his bus driver," according to my playing partner. "He's out here some. He lives nearby—I see his ol' Caddy with the Elvis plates—but usually only plays here in winter so he won't get mobbed."

Vince is, of course, Vince Gill, country star and, more importantly, the Jack Nicklaus of Music City golf. It's not just me—Vince himself thinks golf is more important than a good country twang. Once, when I saw him sing, he kept going on about an ace he'd scored. Some guys tell between-songs stories about whiskey or wimmin. Vince rambles about his hole in one.

If Vince is the best of the country crop—and he is, a bona fide one handicapper—he's only the tallest stalk in a very large cornfield. In the country of country, everyone plays. Vince plays and his wife, Amy Grant, plays. Dixie hicks play, as we've seen, and Dixie Chicks play. All the hillbillies and hat acts play, no matter how small or big they are, no matter how good or bad.

I'm wondering about this. Why this nexus of Softspiked hackers and Tony Lama'd stage stompers?Before blowing out of town, I put the question to Jim Della Croce, a Nashville mover and shaker, currently Levon Helm's manager and Vince Gill's PR guy. Della Croce explains it to me, or takes a stab: "It's weird, sure. It's a weird social circle here, the golf thing. A weird business circle, too—Jimmy Bowen actually ran Capitol Records from the golf course.

"I think what happens is, you gotta play 'cause the next guy plays. And also: As artists quit drugs and drinkin', they gotta stay addicted to somethin', and they take up golf."

So they may be professing love for ruby-lipped honeys or frosty six-packs in all of those great songs, but it's sublimation. They're hooked on golf.

There's a nice wholesome thought for the USGA to chaw on, Bubba.

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