|Credit: Emmett Tullos III|
Last week, a couple of us were playing the nine-hole Crowne Plaza golf course just west of downtown Asheville. As we teed off on a long par four, we heard a train rumbling along the tracks that ran along the right side of the fairway. It was a Norfolk Southern engine slowly pulling a couple dozen cars.
We should try to hit it, we chuckled. Wouldn't that be fun.
I decided I would not. I had just cracked open a brand new sleeve of golf balls. These were much too nice to bang off the side of a train car. Also, I'm not twelve.
My brother let me borrow his over-sized Taylor Made driver. I do not hit drivers well. I have a tendency to cut across the ball. I slice it. The ball usually lands 30 yards to the right of where I aim.
I teed up my shot, aimed for the middle of the fairway, and swung.
|Credit: Susie Blackmon|
I've never hit a hole-in-one. I haven't had an eagle in years (except on the Wii). I was cut from the JV golf team in high school.
This was the apex of my golf career.
I'm not the first person to do this. That may have been L.H. Vernon. In 1937, he hit a tee shot at the railroad-bisected Ballarat Golf Club links near Melbourne, Australia. As he did, a train rolled out from behind a stand of trees. "To the surprise of the golfers," said the local newspaper, "the ball landed the engine cabin and continued its 'journey' by train."
This is also a major plot point in a beloved childrens' book. In "Paddington Goes To Town," Mr. Curry asks Paddington Bear to be his caddie. When Mr. Curry hurts himself by slipping on a marmalade sandwich, Paddington not only takes over for him in the golf tournament, but also wins the long-drive contest by accidentally knocking his drive into a passing train. Big hitter, the Paddington.
I wanted to know where my ball went. I emailed Robin Chapman, the public relations director for Norfolk Southern. I gave him the important details of my shot: time, location, direction of the train, description of my superb athletic prowess, and so on. My ball, Chapman said, landed on local p59. It was on its way from Asheville to Blue Ridge Paper in Canton, North Carolina. By his estimation, my tee shot had traveled 17 miles, or approximately 30,000 yards. That's going to up my average significantly.
You can see the path of my shot below:
I called the paper mill. A nice security guard named Jack Hawkins picked up the phone. "We make pulp and paper here," he said. "That's pretty much the basic thing."
I told him what happened. He then proceeded to laugh through our entire conversation. "That oughta be some sort of record," he chuckled. That's what I'm saying, Jack.
(It's nowhere close to a record, actually. In 2006, a cosmonaut hit a shot from the International Space Station that orbited Earth for three days before burning up in the atmosphere. NASA thinks that shot traveled 460 million miles. No fair.)
My ball most likely arrived at the mill a few hours after my tee shot. The train car dumped it into a big pile of wood chips. It probably stayed there for three or four days. Then, most likely, it went through a screener that's designed to weed out imperfections in the wood, like knots. That screener probably caught my ball, Jack said. It probably ended up in some sort of waste fuel pile. Blue Ridge Paper, it appears, has given it a Viking funeral.
I asked Jack what would happen if my ball made it through the screening process. "It might contaminate our products," he said.
I gave him my name and number and told him to give me a call if they ever found my ball. "Oooo-kay," Jack giggled, in a way that told me there was no way in hell anybody was going to find it. So far, he hasn't called back.
So what happens now? Nothing, really. I hit a lousy shot. I took a two-stroke penalty. My golf ball probably met a hellish end. If it didn't, I might have destroyed a few reams of paper.
But in the end, I did learn a valuable lesson. Next time, hit the three-wood.