Mansion Ridge, put quite simply, is a golf course. Mansion Ridge is also my family’s home. The golf course is aptly named, The Golf Club at Mansion Ridge, and the development of large houses and townhouses is called Mansion Ridge Estates. The property that the golf course and gated community rest on was once all under the ownership of a single family. This family predictably lived in a massive mansion. It was built sometime in the in the late 19th century, but the property itself supposedly predates The Revolutionary War, which means it qualifies as a protected historical site. The clubhouse for The Golf Club at Mansion Ridge, also qualifies as a historical site, the building was the old dairy barn for the family living in the mansion.

This of course gives the course the benefit of using kitschy catch phrases about historically beautiful upstate New York, the downside however, is that the clubhouse is much smaller than it should be for a course of its size, the designers of the course can not do anything to harm the structure of the building, like tearing down the walls to expand it.

This also leads to a problem for the gated community which shares the Mansion Ridge name, as the layout is designed around the mansion. The mansion can not be torn down to build one of their cookie cutter units and the cost of removing the asbestos, fixing the plumbing and wiring, and essentially gutting the house would be extraordinary. The irony is that the mansion may well have been sold as a charming fixer upper years ago, if an intrepid real estate agent had put in some effort. However, now that the golf course has been built, the value of the property has skyrocketed, and in conjunction with the cost of upgrading the house, it’s nearly impossible to sell. So, instead of having a community designed around a beacon of history in the county, a gorgeous house with a well manicured lawn, and an affluent community member, the house is a blight on the landscape, a dilapidated specter of glory that can’t be torn down or upgraded, and in fact serves only to block the spectacular view of the sunset over the golf course for some. It has also been a breeding ground for stray cats that roam around the neighborhood.

If you search for Mansion Ridge on the internet, you won’t be able to go very long without seeing the desperate symbiotic attachment of the phrase Niklaus designed, or Jack Niklaus, or the Bear. This is the major selling point for the golf course, that it is a signature course designed by golf legend Jack Niklaus. What you will not read is how the course came about getting the right to use that marketing tag. The course was originally designed by Jack Niklaus, however, sometime during the design process, Jack Niklaus decided that the course would be a few hundred yards too short, and he refused to put his name to the course. An epic legal battle ensued, between the mega corporation, American Golf, and Niklaus’ Design Company. The end result was that Jack Niklaus would have to allow his name to be associated with the course, even though he was having his son finish designing it. When the course opened, as a Jack Niklaus course, the Bear himself played the first round, and still in good form, finished well under par. After that he never came back to the course, nor has anyone else from his company after the check cleared.

The course is quite beautiful, when the massive incompetence of the operators hasn’t somehow managed to destroy the grass, fairways, and greens. The fourth hole is exciting because if you shank your drive at the right distance, it will crash into my house.

The eighth hole is the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen, and will restore the confidence of even the worst golfer. The tee-box is situated roughly 100 yards above the rest of the fairway, and every ball you hit, whether it goes straight down the fairway or into the woods, appears to have traveled about a mile, and has a 5 to 10 second hang time before it will hit anything solid.

The ninth hole is the biggest handicap hole on the course. It approaches 500 yards, bends twice, and has three separate tiers leading to the relatively tiny, massively sloped green. There are 3 different hazards to clear, as well as the line of golfers who are angry because they are ahead of you and frustrated or behind you and impatient. I have never gotten par or better on this hole, though I am a terrible golfer.

The twelfth hole is a small island in the middle of a lake. There are roughly 6,327,438,214 balls in the lake as you read this. The number rises parallel to the US deficit.

The fourteenth hole is remarkable not only for the beauty of the terrain, the rolling carpet of grass enveloped by the stark autumn colors of the maple leaves, but because you will usually spot a rather large hawk perched on an overhanging limb about 200 yards into the fairway.

But the hole that I am most interested in, and hopefully you will find the most intriguing is the seventh hole. The hole itself is difficult, with a hazard placed about 180 yards from the tee. This means you can lay up with an iron off the tee, or try to pound a 200 yard drive over it on your first shot. After the hazard it’s a blind run downhill to the green, which is elevated and rolls downhill immediately out of bounds.

The difficulty of the seventh is what led me into the woods one day to retrieve my ball, and kept me in the woods for a half hour, one quiet weekday afternoon when the course was nearly empty. The first thing I found in the quiet woods here was a small structure. The back and side walls were solid, thick stone slabs, the front was dominated by stone pillars, and the wooden roof, had sagged and collapsed. Then I found an almost identical structure, and another, and another. There were four in all. One structure had a large three tiered candelabra, and in front of another structure was a heavy rusted donation box, dominated by a large cross in the front. It is still in my bedroom today.

I walked a little farther into the woods, and discovered a clearing, completely overgrown with waist high grass, and whippoorwills. As I walked through the high weeds, I noticed a rotting wooden bench, and as I walked past I bumped into another one and almost fell. It came to me then that they were pews in an outdoor church, because not 30 feet in front of me, there stood a rotting podium, where the book was to be laid, and the litanies and incantations were uttered.

I looked up through this window cut into the foliage and saw the clear blue of the sky, hovering above the blotted out wilderness, and in that moment words began traveling through my mind, so I grabbed a piece of paper from my golf bag, laid it on the podium and wrote the first words of what would become this poem:

What God left in the rough

The fifth shot
on a par five,
follows the last three
into the trees.
I find the first ball,
and I notice a small building
tucked between saplings.
Two stone pillars hold
the remnants of a roof
above colored blocks.
They guard
a rusted candelabra;
three rows of black troughs,
tiered with moldy candles.
I stumble through forgotten shrines
bypassed arteries
to the heart beat of suburbia.

These religious relics
fade in the woods,
with waterlogged
Top Flites and Pinnacles,
whose three iron prayers
for birdies and a good lie
were never answered.
The processions of nuns
from a nearby convent
dim like the flowers
and weeds pressed flat
by the grass
of the seventh fairway.
The crunch of footsteps
become the hum
of passing golf carts.
Though the Hail Mary’s remain,
uttered silently on the back swing.

If I had hit my drive
fifty yards farther
my search would take me
to a clearing,
filled with moss and tall grass.
In that overgrowth stands
a rotting podium,
two feet above the plants,
where the litany's
and incantations of mass,
were conducted to those
who sit in outdoor pews,
covered in weeds,
remembering that religion
consisted of more than words
in books and ceremony.

I sit among the phantoms of prayers,
many for every dimple of the shot
that I had found,
and I offer up my own,
in the hope
that stoking the embers of memory
will steer me through the back nine.