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Stories: Dan Conaway

Dan Conaway talks about the most significant golf game he ever played. A version of this story originally appeared on Dan’s Memphasis blog.

Overton eagles soar.

Dan and Nora Conaway
Dan and Nora in 1968, the year after they met at Overton Park.

For 104 years, longer than any other, one golf course has introduced this city to the game, more than any other. Short and certainly sweet, first pars are found on this course, first birdies sing, and first eagles soar. And they come back for a lifetime.

This is more than a golf course. It is one of our city’s storied venues, a living, green archive, open to all and as patient as the giant trees that surround it.

My father learned to play golf there, playing his first round with my grandfather. They teed off before there was a clubhouse, just a stone colonnade (still there) behind what is now the ninth tee. I learned to play golf there, playing my first round with Dad. I’ve watched my own son’s eyes light up there when the stars align and the ball actually becomes airborne for the first time. But that’s not my story.

Those wonderful stone bridges; you cross the first over a grape vine infested ditch and magically emerge from the Old Forest at the clubhouse. You cross the others grateful that your ball doesn’t lie below, or with eyes peeled to spot it and scramble down after it. But that’s not my story.

Consider the evocative clubhouse itself, dating from the 20s, with vaulted ceiling, fireplace and stone terrace overlooking the first and ninth holes. Take in the view of the course from Brooks, from the College of Art, from Poplar, serving as a grand lawn as part of the park’s original grand plan. But that’s not my story.

We couldn’t get out on Galloway, so my friend and I drove in to Overton Park. The starter gave us a choice. Go with the two antiques over there (guys about my age now) or with those two college girls. Yeah, we went with the girls, and my buddy bet me five bucks I wouldn’t ask either one of them out. After all, I was just a senior in high school and these fascinating women of the world were sophomores in college. I took the bet. When the cute redhead hit her ball into the ditch on seven, I went to help her find it. Since I figured no one would see me get shot down in the ditch, I asked her out. She said yes. A few years later she said yes to another question, and we’ve been married for 40 years.

Dan and Nora Conaway
Dan and Nora revisiting the golf course in 2013

That’s my story, and like the Overton Park golf course itself, it’s about a lot more than golf. It’s about our history, our hopes, even our innocence. It’s also about progress. You can improve and move on to larger, more challenging stages. You can learn to concentrate, to overcome, to persevere, to succeed. But you should never forget how it all began.

And how good it is when it’s good. Not just worth saving, worth savoring.

I’m a Memphian, and I won five bucks and found the love of my life on Overton Park’s golf course.

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