It's hard saying goodbye to old friends.
And, though it often treated me rough, I have long considered Sycamore Creek Golf Course a good friend. Many weekends I spent an afternoon chasing a golf ball - or four - around the course with my best friend and regular golfing buddy, Mark (he often chased more golf balls than me, but don't tell him I told you).
Sycamore Creek closed for good on Sept. 30. It's going to be replaced by a large park, complete with soccer fields - which, ironically, reminds me of the time the folks at Sycamore tried foot golf. Soccer and golf do not mix; otherwise, Sycamore might still be around.
I realize Sycamore Creek had lost money for a long time, and it made financial sense for the city of Fort Worth to close it. Some things, though, are about more than money. Memories, for example.
I only began playing Sycamore Creek about 10 years ago. Many had been playing the course for decades. In fact, when I went to play there for the last time, my friend Ken, who was working in the clubhouse that day, told me of a former collegiate great who had stopped by earlier to play there one last time. Turns out among the many tournaments he had won, his first junior championship was at - you guessed it - Sycamore Creek.
There was nothing fancy about Sycamore Creek. It paled greatly to large country club courses, or even the nearby renovated Rockwood just a few miles down the road on the other side of downtown Fort Worth. Also, it was only nine holes, something that turns off some golfers, though I've never known why.
But Sycamore Creek was a challenging course, deceptively so. If you couldn’t hit the ball straight, you'd be in trouble. From the thick woods to the right on the first hole, to the deep embankment - and I mean DEEP, not quite Everest, but dangerous to the most foolish - to the left on the fifth hole, to the front yards just to the right and off the course on the second hole, trouble was waiting.
Speaking of those front yards, often they were filled with youngsters waiting for the next errant shot. Many times, on my next trip around the course, I'm certain I bought my own golf balls back from the youthful entrepreneurs.
And then there was Jason, the gentleman who worked from under the bridge on the sixth hole, the toughest hole on the course, complete with a creek right before the hole. Jason would gather up the many golf balls that found their way into that creek and then sell them for reasonable prices.
Rarely have I made a stop elsewhere to buy golf balls because Jason offered such great deals. And while not everyone working at Sycamore Creek was pleased with his business, most were cool and left him alone.
Last time I spoke with Jason, whom I always assumed was homeless, he was getting ready to go to work for his brother. I asked him if he was going to make his way to Meadowbrook to do business, promising I would continue to buy from him as Mark and I are also moving there to play, but it sounded as though he was quitting the golf ball business.
Before he did, however, he surprised us - literally - with a few extra balls. Mark was about to hit his second shot on the eighth hole, when out of the woods came flying about a half dozen golf balls, followed by "heads up!" (isn't it supposed to be the other way around?)
It was Jason's parting gift to us, some golf balls he'd found in the woods. And we aren't talking old, scrappy golf balls. Remember, this is a course where a lot of golf balls get lost, including ones just out of the box and hit for the first time.
It was also Jason who helped out Mark and me after a cart we were in was caught up in a flash flood on a low-lying area and swept into the aforementioned creek. It was a frightening moment as we both went underwater momentarily and were, in fact, almost trapped under the cart.
We managed to find our way out of the water and onto the bank. Jason heard the ruckus and came by. Knowing his way around the terrain, he made his way to our cart and gathered up both of our golf bags and clubs.
Thankfully, Sycamore Creek officials roped off the area to prevent any future such mishaps. The incident, meanwhile, has become a personal legend between Mark and myself, much like the time we played a par-three course in 35-degree weather.
I made several birdies at Sycamore Creek over the years, along with some pars, and more bogeys than I care to recall. The last time I played there, on Sept. 28, I made the lone eagle in my golfing career, a farewell gift from the course (though a good shot also factored in). In truth, I became a better golfer because of the course, and I am grateful for that.
But the scores were never what made Sycamore Creek special, and neither were the cheapest green fees in the area. It was like the black-sheep child who deserved love, perhaps even more love than usual. It was always there, with reasonable prices, challenging shots, and who knows what story on the next tee box.
Hit a slice on the eighth hole and you would end up in a horse pasture. It wasn't uncommon to hear some distracting music coming from over that way as well, though it might have been enjoyable under other circumstances.
There was the band of drifters who lived under the bridge before Jason arrived. They never did us any harm, but management clearly wasn't happy.
There was the time a couple, perhaps homeless or just camping out, were shouting at each other so loud we could hear them from a hole away. And when we did reach the hole that they were near in the woods, well, remember how distracting the music was? Multiply that by about five.
After a rain, the second hole was sometimes turned from a makeable par 4 to a certain bogey or worse because, unless you were John Daly, you weren't hitting it over the newly formed lake. The fourth hole, on the left, had a ditch the size of a quarry. When it was dry, though they were not supposed to, golfers would often go down and hit the ball back up (I actually made the green once). When it had rained, well, it became another place for Jason to find golf balls when it dried back up.
I never made a hole-in-one at Sycamore Creek (never have anywhere, full confession), but I hit the flag on the third hole a couple times. Once I was so surprised I wound up missing the birdie putt of about a foot and a half.
I've played a lot of courses, and will probably play many more before my life is through. I even had the fortune of playing Colonial earlier this year in a media tournament.
With due respect to them all, Sycamore Creek was my favorite. It was my escape from the rest of the world almost every weekend, often on a Sunday afternoon, after which we'd hang out in the clubhouse and watch a little football with the guys who had one eye on the TV and the other on their poker hand or dominoes.
The last time we played Sycamore Creek, this happened. On the ninth hole, inexplicably, the cart died. It wouldn't start. Mark and I unloaded our clubs and belongings and were set to finish the hole, walk to the clubhouse and tell Ken he had a stranded cart on the course.
Then, on a hunch, Mark tried once more. Of course, it started.
One last joke on us. That was Sycamore Creek.
So long, old friend. Soon your land will make a lot of youngsters and families happy. But I'll never forget the smiles you brought to me over the years.