When we decided to leave home for good and travel the world to live in foreign lands we expected to be overwhelmed by culture shock here and there. The last couple of weeks have been no exception. We spent time immersed in a culture with traditions and language that were initially incomprehensible to us. You may have heard of this culture and in fact, you may have even seen it on TV. This culture that I speak of is called golf.
Now don’t get me wrong, we have heard of golf, my grandpa watched golf on TV and I went so far as to play it a time or two in college. Heck, Deidre even got Willie Nelson’s autograph on a golf course one time. But there you are, that’s it – our entire experience with golf. Up to now our exposure to this culture was kind of like watching a special about stone age Amazonian tribes. Sure you can chat about it for a few seconds around the water cooler but you’re in no way prepared to be dropped into the village and survive on your own. And then we got dropped into the village. Or course or whatever you call it. Twice. And were expected to survive.
The first time our company was a sponsor for the Seaside Rotary Golf Classic where we also volunteered. I’m a member of Seaside Rotary and would do anything to help this great organization out – especially if it meant driving around a golf cart full of beer. Yep, my job was to take a golf cart full of Heineken around to make sure that no golfers went thirsty. I took my job very seriously and can assure you that if any did it was their own fault!
In spite of torrential downpours we had a good time and ended up raising over $5,000 to benefit the kids of Playa del Carmen through organizations like the KKIS Project.
It was a great introduction into the golf culture and came in the nick of time since we had a much bigger initiation in store for us. The OHL Classic at Mayakoba. That’s right, the PGA Tour was coming to the Riviera Maya and were going to be allowed to help run one of their tournaments. Seaside Rotary was asked to manage the 18th Hole in exchange for donations for our projects. Of course Deidre and I jumped at the chance to volunteer to benefit charity – right before remembering that we still knew nothing about golf.
Going back to my analogy of golf and Amazonian tribes then the Seaside Rotary tournament is kind of like meeting a “citified” tribesman who moved to Rio de Janeiro years ago while the OHL Classic is an undiscovered tribe who may or may not still be eating their enemies. We’re talking about a $6 Million dollar purse for an event being broadcast live by the Golf Channel and they asked Deidre and I our Rotarian brethren to help it run smoothly. Are they insane?
We’d been assigned to be Marshals and our job was simple – keep the crowd from affecting play. So all we needed to do was keep hundreds of people from moving, talking, sneezing or breathing while the golfers took their shots (swings? whatever they’re called). A daunting task. Fortunately I remembered that the greatest Marshal of all time, Wyatt Earp, did some of his best Marshaling in my home state of Kansas. That’s when I knew we could do it. And do it we did.
Not even lightning delays, horrific downpours, rampaging coatis, hungry crocodiles or inexperienced marshals could stop the juggernaut that was the OHL Classic from finishing on time. Yep, our well oiled machine (thanks again Heineken) had managed to help the tournament finish on time.
So we survived four straight days immersed deep into an alien and extremely close knit culture and survived. It wasn’t easy. There was one time when my heart stopped and the blood in my veins froze. Piercing blue eyes stared directly at me, their owner resplendent in his full battle regalia – Titleist visor, Dri-FIT shirt, and bright plaid pants. His boon companion (squire? caddy?) coming around him with a massive quiver of weaponry at the ready. Had I broken some unspoken code? Had I unknowingly committed a cultural faux pas? What had I done?
Then he spoke. In perfect English he said,”Thanks for being here, you guys are doing a great job.” At that moment I realized that differences in culture can be bridged. I doubt that I’ll be golfing anytime soon but at least being eaten by golfers is now a little lower on my list of possible ways to die while traveling.