Yesterday Clair, Jerry, Carl and myself went golfing on my very favourite local course, the Panther at the Spring Lake Golf Resort just a few miles east of here. It's a bit of a monster course but despite its length (which includes a par 6, 800yd 6th hole), it's not too difficult to get around as like with the rest of Florida, there are no hills. Barely an incline. Flat as a proverbial pancake in fact.
It certainly helped having a cart thrown in (a necessity and not a luxury) as speaking personally, my old bones much prefer being driven to my ball, especially when I've hit it just a wee bit offline !
In fact it was on one of those rare occasions when I was on foot that I came to realise that I was taking certain aspects of life here for granted. Clair had driven his ball to the edge of one of the many water hazards on the course and we both got off the cart and went scouting along the water's edge in case the ball was visible. With eyes fixed on the area only a few feet from where I was walking, I totally forgot one of the vital "rules" for golfers here in Florida - when close to water, always look far ahead for wildlife.
There was sudden movement on the ground about 15 feet from us as a 4ft gator who had been happily basking in the warm afternoon sunshine felt threatened by our presence and made a dramatic and very scary dash for the water. It was a bit of a shock to the system, my system that is, and as a result, we decided that Clair's ball could remain wherever it was and he'd drop another.
I lost a couple myself but that had nothing to do with golf !
The Panther course is beautiful. Wildlife abounds, mostly of the flying type thankfully, and while carting from one shot to another, it's great to be able to look at cranes feeding in the light rough, anhingas drying their wings by the water's edge and all sorts of birds soaring effortlessly above us on the thermals. You DO have to look out for snakes and gators though and the knowledge that they are more scared of you than you are of them is a fact I've never fully taken on board. Some of that could be due to living in Leeds where gators are not common and despite a bad experience with Irish hedge trimmers, snakes are pretty much only seen in zoos.
The weather reports coming out of England and even the rest of the US these last couple of months have also made me realise that I'm fortunate to be here in Florida and shouldn't take that for granted either. But when friends tell me I'm lucky, it gets to me a bit. My life here is a result of career and financial planning, some of which was admittedly fortunate but most was down to....well, planning. I've missed out on what a lot of people would say are vital ingredients for happy life (marriage, kids, close family ties etc) but as I've not had them, I can't really say if I've missed out.
Therefore what I need to remember, is not to take what I do have for granted. I'm not going to itemise them of course but the ability to spend winters here and be with good friends are certainly on the list.
Seems appropriate then that it took yesterday's basking gator to remind me about that. It stopped me in my tracks and made me think......
And that's gotta be worth a lost ball....or two !