One of the most important rules of golf, and one frequently ignored by duffers and casual cheats, is that you should take your next shot from wherever your ball has landed. (There are exceptions: if the ball ends up in a water hazard or its position puts someone in physical danger, nobody will expect you to play it where it lies.)

This rule has been cited in many cartoons, when a tee shot lands on the face of a sleeping person. The golfer generally stands on the sleeper's stomach, takes a wild swing, and takes a divot out of the guy's face. In practice, one would move the ball so as not to risk harming someone.

Off the links, this rule can be even more important. When you're in a bad position, you'll have to start from there to improve your situation. When you don't like the truth, it is nonetheless the truth. In short, you have to play it where it lies.

Easter is the perfect holiday to signal the beginning of spring because its arrival is as fickle as the season itself. Nailing down the exact date is a mind-bending exercise for even the most disciplined ecclesiastical scholar. I've read the conditions three times and I still have to consult a calendar to confirm the correct date.

The rules for determining Easter are based on something called "the paschal moon," which is when the fourteenth day of the new moon falls on or next follows the day of the vernal equinox. In short, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon on or beyond March 21st but never later than April 25th. What any of this has to do with the crucifixion and presumed resurrection of Jesus is a complete mystery to me.

Springtime in Minnesota is a promise that is not always kept. The reward for a grueling winter, more often than not, is a sleety, cold trudge to June and spring exists as little more than words on a calendar. We can only cross our fingers in March that adequate penance was served during the winter and that we will be delivered before Mother's Day.

Cabin fever and Seasonal Affective Disorder conspire to elicit a giddy mania in most Minnesotans by the time March 21st rolls around and if it isn't warm by Easter we simply pretend. The first time the thermometer breaks forty degrees Fahrenheit you will see people in shorts and shirtsleeves, shivering in denial, crazy as loons.

The golf clubs come out of storage even if we have to swing them with mittens.

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We always manage to play golf on Easter, one way or another but it isn't always on a golf course. They won't let us out if there's frost on the greens so we sometimes have to resort to "park golf" with pitching wedges and frozen balls. We invented the game on a snowy, thirty-five degree Easter morning as a means to escape a dark family gathering and place a demand for an end to winter.

We had just buried our Grandmother and the rest of the clan was planning a morbid assembly around the coffee urn in the church basement but Billy had a better idea. He made an optimistic tee time for just after the funeral but the weatherman lied and the golf course was frozen shut. Determined to escape the gloomy roomful of relatives, Billy proclaimed that we golf on Easter no matter what.

All of the rules for park golf were developed that morning and we've played by the same ones ever since. The wager never varies, a quarter a hole with carryovers and double for aces. Park golf can take you in any direction at all, in a setting not designed specifically for the game, so most of the rules are based on avoiding injury to spectators or arrest of the participants. Anything immobile can constitute a valid hole but you must always hit the target below head height as a safety precaution and must be willing to pay for damage caused by an errant shot. Pissed off pedestrians and lawmen are the responsibility of the golfer who does the offending.

Billy teed up his ball on a pile of snow in the church parking lot and pointed at the stop sign on the corner as our first goal. The winner of the hole gets to pick the tee box and the next target and that morning Billy was inspired. He was winning every hole and kept picking shots that led us further away from the heavy scene at church. We were at least a mile from familial obligation before we paused for our own memorial. Church or no church I thought we should speak to the occasion so I gave Billy a gentle nudge in that direction.

"Grandma would have been happy to go so close to Easter. She was big on the Jesus thing."

"Yep."

"Do you think the relatives are gonna get pissed at us for ducking out?"

"Yep."

He was killing me in the game, already four bucks ahead and he seemed a little miffed when I reminded him of the holiday and our loss. He shanked his next shot badly and it rattled against the undercarriage of a minivan at the four way stop. We hid the golf clubs behind our legs as the angry driver scanned the area for the source of the projectile and finally drove off unsatisfied.

"Do you think that they have golf in Heaven, Billy?"

"Yep."

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We originally set out to make our way toward Mound's Park, a strip of land atop the hill overlooking St. Paul that actually looks a lot like a golf course. When we ran out of park we set our sights on the tall buildings. Park golf became neighborhood golf, then railroad yard golf and downtown sidewalk golf. When we started losing our daylight and freezing our asses off we found an open door and invented "skyway golf."

The skyway system was once unique to the Twin Cities but I'd be surprised if it hasn't been imitated elsewhere. A network of heated, windowed tunnels at the second floor connect nearly every major structure in downtown St. Paul. This human "Habitrail" makes it possible to crisscross the entire urban center without ever buttoning your coat or braving a crosswalk. It's obvious that the designers of the skyway system didn't have golfers in mind because you can't hit anything resembling a full pitching wedge but the cozy warmth of the carpeted hallways more than compensated for limited shot selection.

Walking around with a golf club in public buildings is something like carrying a clipboard in the deference you are shown by passersby. It might have something to do with the fact that the thing could be used as a formidable weapon but when they see that you're actually golfing, fear is replaced by curiosity.

The skyway system was mostly vacant due to the major religious holiday so we had very few human hazards to avoid. Occasionally somebody would attempt to pick up one of our golf balls and we'd startle them with our alarm.

"No, don't touch that! It's a ball in play."

They'd ask us why we were golfing in the skyway on Easter and we'd tell them it was too cold outside; irrefutable logic to any long suffering Minnesotan. We started to develop a gallery of curious onlookers and fellow golfers who followed us from shot to shot down the carpeted fairways.

When a hapless security guard bent down to pick up the Titleist that smacked into his shin, no less than twenty spectators voiced their own outrage. When he meekly suggested that we take the game outside, the gallery grew ugly in our defense and for a moment I feared a lynching.

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If people are allowed to follow the events on Earth after their death, I'm sure that our grandmother was walking around with us rather than hovering over the sad scene at church.

Billy has an odd gift for making anything he does seem like the right thing to do at the time. Hanging around with him feels like being in a movie where the protagonist gets away with outrageous behavior because the audience is rooting for him and has suspended disbelief. He has the courage of his convictions so nobody's opinion has any bearing whatsoever on his own.

We played the skyways with little interference that day and I'm certain that if I attempted such a thing with anybody else we'd be rousted immediately. A little boy approached Billy at one point during our game and offered his services as a caddy, to help clear the fairways and carry Billy's beverage.

"Are you famous, mister?"

I answered before Billy could.

"No, kid, he ain't famous, he just acts like he is."

Before his mother finally called him away, the little boy inexplicably asked Billy for his autograph. As far as I know it was an unprecedented event for my brother the factory worker but he signed the kid's baseball cap like an old hand.

"To Adam from your friend Billy. Play it where it lies little buddy."


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