A Gentlemen’s Getaway
By Nance Hellmrich
“If you asked 100 golfers where they wanted to play ... you know what 95% of them would say? Augusta National. But they could never get on,” replied Mr. Bobby Lott when I asked where he dreamed of teeing off some day. Mr. Lott was not complaining. On the contrary, his answer showed reverence for the hallowed course where the annual Masters Tournament is held. “I don’t know if you were The Pope whether they’d let you play golf there or not,” he continued and then, as though he were actually considering the possibility, he finished with “They might... .”
An insurance man from Arkansas, Bobby Lott likes to hit balls in his backyard with his wife and 19-year-old son, who are equally obsessed with the game. He counts himself fortunate to have traveled a great deal for both work and pleasure. He’s been to Italy, Spain, the French Riviera, Austria, the United Kingdom, and more. He’s played golf in Hawaii and remembers fondly the day he teed off on The Old Course at St. Andrews Links in Scotland. “My dream would be to go to Ireland or back to Scotland. Those people ... are just like people in the south. Very hospitable, they like to drink their ale and tell stories, that’s basically what we [gentlemen golfers] do.”
“We go way back. We’ve played golf together forever.”
When it comes to more serious play, Bobby has always called upon Mr. Robert Abney, an attorney and fellow golfer who lives a short distance away. But playing golf in a town that has just one “itty-bitty little golf course” left them wanting more. After a few years of getting rained out in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida they found a travel agent, and began their annual, late-February pilgrimage to Arizona’s Valley of the Sun.
That was nearly a decade ago and the gentlemen golfers from Arkansas are still at it today. “Arkansas winters are 40 ºF and rain, so we always look forward to it,” says Mr. Abney. “We’ll get on a plane at 7:00 a.m. and go directly from the airport to the golf course. Everybody’s ready to play, ready to get out there in the sun. Sometimes, I just walk out to the first tee and stand there with my face pointed up. It’s nice.”
For the last several years they’ve stayed at the same resort and their agent has booked back-to-back tee times for their foursomes, which Mr. Lott says makes all the difference in the world. “We’re always close enough that we can see what the others are doing. We can see whether they make the shot or not.” He laughs. “You know, grown men can be like little boys on the playground ... it’s the harassment in the moment that makes it so fun.” After they finish playing, they gather in the clubhouse and, as Mr. Lott puts it, “...lie about what they did. That’s just what men do.”
“We’re a close knit group. We go out there to have a good time.”
All of the participants are men (no wives or girlfriends allowed) and most are related through family ties or work. Competition to get into the group is high. “If you drop out,” says Mr. Abney, “somebody’s going to take your place and you’ve got to wait for an opening to come back up.” Both men agree that 8-12 is the perfect size and allows for the most camaraderie. Last year, they expanded to 16 players so a pro from Leeds, England who was visiting relatives in Arkansas could join them. “That was real fun getting to watch him play,” said Mt. Lott. “He was very good.”
When it comes to choosing from over 200 courses in the Phoenix-Scottsdale region, their travel agent is a big help. In the last eight years they’ve played 20 different courses, all with jaw-dropping views. They try to play at least one or two premium courses each time. Mr. Lott’s favorites are We-Ko-Pa Golf Club and Dinosaur Mountain at Gold Canyon. Mr. Abney’s is Rancho Mañana, a par 70 championship course with dramatic elevation changes and immaculate desert terrain.
“I’ll say this, no one has ever gotten into trouble with the law.”
A lot of work goes into ensuring that everyone has a good time. One of the players, a computer programmer, puts all the names into his computer and it spits out a schedule that ensures everybody gets to play with everybody. “It’s just a fun trip,” says Mr. Lott, “low key, get to the airport on time, get to the airport on the way back, and what happens in between ... well, we’re like Vegas ... what happens in Arizona stays in Arizona.” Except for this one story that managed to leak out...
“We were playing a course that was backed up like a lot of those courses get at prime time,” he begins with an audible smile. “This guy was waiting for his turn to play ... and he laid down in a little green, grassy knoll there ... and he just went to sleep. They had to literally go over and wake him up when it was his turn to play.” An endless amount of ribbing ensued. “Now that was the most hilarious moment,” says Mr. Lott. “Somebody going to sleep on the golf course? He had a very relaxing time.”