KIAWAH OCEAN COURSE. Quick. What comes to mind? Pete Dye. Brutally difficult. Diabolical greens. Gators lurking. The War on the Shore. Can't hit the seventeenth green. Langer’s agony. Rory running away. An amazing hotel.
Not for me.
I think of a golfer I played with there. Hunter Goodwin.
That time in Kiawah, he was a reasonable golfer who played to a solid single digit level. Really good guy and nice to play with. He was like a utility infielder...you want him on your side...but not with the first pick. There was nothing about his game to really notice. Not too good. Not too flashy. Not too slow. Most importantly, not wild off the tee. Thankfully, he didn’t force me to search for lost balls near water at Kiawah. Large teeth and slim shoulders lurk.
Our next round of golf was about 7 years later. Things had changed. Dramatically.
For Richmond, Virginia natives it might have been a cool, crisp 95 degree morning. For me, the humidity hovered somewhere between Bangkok and a steam room. Pulling into the new Tudor Revival clubhouse at Kinloch Golf Club, my anticipation swelled. I’d be playing with Hunter and Matt, two brothers who were both business associates and friends. Both low key and humble. They had an enviable relationship based on trust and understanding. Over the years, I had watched them in meetings. They both knew exactly what the other was thinking. Words were not needed.
Matt waited for me in the grill. I was early. He was earlier. Mutual respect. We ordered coffee. Always understated, Matt promised world class breakfast. I was all in. This was Virginia. Country ham and scrambled eggs showed up. Wow. In my hometown in Ohio, I grew up eating some form of water and salt pumped into baloney-like product. This was a serious upgrade. Breakfast vanished quickly. I think some of it spent a few seconds in mouth. But it all wound up in my stomach.
We made our way out to the driving range. I set my bag down and took a few swings. No tightness in this old back. Too humid. Titleist Pro V1 range balls and sculpted greens for target practice. A Field of Dreams driving range. I could spend serious time here. This kind of place could make me as accurate as William Tell.
To the left of the range, a small structure housed what looked like a learning center. Every few seconds a laser guided golf ball would hiss away from one of the bays. All dead straight. All with ferocity. They all landed in a circle the size of a hula hoop. I wondered what tour pro was back there.
I waited for a pause and peeked around the bay. A sinewy, athletic man glistened in sweat. His soaked shirt was pasted to his body like partially hung wallpaper. Hunter Goodwin was too busy to smile. His intense glare and contemplative look said he was almost...but not quite...happy with the last few hundred shots.
The pro turned to me, “Welcome to Hunter’s office.” Alignment sticks. A few sets of irons. Drivers with exotic shafts. Vokey wedges with different bounces. Small buckets lay strewn on the ground like empties after a frat party. This was a place of work. Not for socializing. Video machines. Launch monitors. A KJUS Retention vest and Pro 3 L rain jacket hung on a chair. I was glad to see a backup clean shirt for our round.
Curious, I watched a few swings. It wasn’t smooth or languid. It was just perfect. Think Rolex. Repeatable. Reliable.
At Kiawah, he had played like a utility infielder for the Baltimore Orioles. Now, he was the cleanup hitter for the Yankees. I asked about his handicap. The pro whispered to me, “Hunter as a plus two, gets a BUY recommendation.” As we headed to the first tee, Hunter, in a fresh new shirt, agreed to give us a few extra pops. This wasn’t charity. It was necessity. I’m pretty certain he was better than his handicap, and I knew I was worse than mine.
By the turn, I had already inhaled about five bottles of water. I walked by a jar of Virginia peanuts...and couldn’t imagine eating. I never pass a halfway house without sampling the wares. But today, it was hotter than a cast iron skillet. Water was the only item on my menu. The match seesawed back and forth. Thanks to the strokes, we were actually two up on 13.
Then Hunter decided a birdie binge was appropriate.
By eighteen, we were all square. Shortish par four with a peninsula green. Just avoid the string of bunkers down the right and the water on the left. We all did. The competitive juices flowed. We didn’t talk as we walked to our balls. I chugged yest another bottle of water. My throat was still dry, but I couldn’t keep the sweat out of my eyes. Wiping sweat repeatedly from my hands, I made a smooth swing with my eight-iron. Felt great. Fifteen feet. My partner Matt stuck his even closer. Two good birdie looks.
Just needed Hunter to be average. Like expecting Ted Williams to strike out to end a game.
Hunter methodically surveyed the approach. Pin deep. Water. Front. Left. And behind! Don’t think he saw any trouble. That Rolex swing. His Pro V 1 took off with a built-in homing device. Almost hit the flagstick. Kick in birdie. I had to putt over a ridge. I didn’t feel good about the line or the speed. I was right. Harmless par. Now Matt had about an 8-footer for birdie for the half.
Giving him space, Hunter and I backed away to the edge of the green. We both watched anxiously. Hunter had shot in the 60s and Matt and I had played well. But none of it mattered. Just this putt.
Hunter turned to me and spoke softly, “I really hope he makes this. I hate to see him disappointed.” I did a double take. He was kidding right? He was talking about his opponent. Not even a glimpse of humor. He meant it. He wanted his opponent...his brother at that...to do well at his own expense.
It was pure love. Selfless. He loved great golf. He loved striking crisp irons. He loved dropping birdies. But he loved his brother even more than he loved any of those or even himself.
Matt missed. Hunter winced in pain.
I reflected. Wiser.
A few years later, Hunter was diagnosed with cancer. With typical tenacity, he fought it. It went away. Soon he was back hitting a million balls a day from his office at the driving range. In the fall of 2019, he won the Kinloch club championship. Gross.
In January of 2020, he was taken from us.
When I watch the PGA at Kiawah, I’ll think of Hunter. Grateful for his lesson of unselfish love.
Luke Reese is the author of the critically acclaimed One for the Memory Banks.
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