By Chris Rodell
Jerry McGee hopes to do something posthumously that he never achieved as a mere PGA mortal: He wants to hit the 12th green at Augusta.
"Its in his will -- and hes dead serious," says his son, Mike McGee, without a trace of morbid irony. "He wants us to rent a little propeller plane, fly over Augusta and sprinkle the ashes on the place he loves more than any other, Augusta National. Were going to do it."
For years, the back nine at Augusta has been a graveyard for many of the most immortal names in golf. Today, in a trend that is being mirrored at heavenly golf courses around the world, it is becoming an entirely different sort of graveyard.
Golfers are opting for discreet burials at tee. They are instructing surviving loved ones to scatter their cremated remains on courses like Shinnecock, Pebble Beach and lesser heralded tracks figuring, perhaps, an eternal rest would be more enjoyable spent on plush tee box than in a confining pine one.
To McGee, Augusta is already heaven on earth."Ive only played it five or six times, but to me its the greatest place in the world," says McGee, 61 (DOB 11-21-43), a four-time Tour winner. "Its the only place where, when I missed the cut, I cried. Its magnificent. When you walk down the fairways of Augusta, youre walking with the ghosts of golfs past."
Now, hes taken steps to ensure hell be one of them.
Most states have laws prohibiting the scattering of ashes without a property owners consent. Its considered littering and it puts golf courses in a ticklish situation.
Augusta spokesman Glenn Greenspan says memorial requests are met with polite, but firm refusals (certainly some members would make a cheerful exception for, say, Martha Burk, and McGee has heard wide-spread rumors that the ashes of Augusta co-founder Clifford Roberts dwell among the pines). But even firm refusals cant stop someone determined to surreptitiously turn a loved ones remains into some divot dust.
Dave Marr, the 1965 PGA Champion, wasnt a large man, 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, when he passed away in October 1997, but you wouldnt know it from the widespread dispersal of his ashes (the average yield from a human cremation is 8 pounds of ashes and pulverized bone fragments). Remnants of Marr are at Pebble, Shinnecock, Augusta, Laurel Valley, Seminole, Winged Foot, the National Golf Links, Memorial Park in Houston and throughout several links courses in Great Britain.
"He wanted his remains spread at Memorial Park where he grew up playing and caddying," says his son, Dave Marr III. "Then we asked if hed mind if we picked some spots for him. Each hole we selected was a spot that was dear to him in some way. We take little baggies of him in our pockets and say a few words. It became a joyful little tour of Dads best golf memories."
Marr says it may strike some as disrespectful, but to him the act is incredibly life affirming. "We feel like this is a way he gets to look after us. We all loved the time we got to share being together with him on a golf course. I just cant imagine him in a graveyard. It all seems so sterile by comparison."
Interestingly, the man whose well-known name is pronounced D-I-E and whose lively autobiographical book is called, "Bury Me in a Pot Bunker," has given no thought to the practice."Im guessing someone else will make that decision for me," says Pete Dye, who credits co-author Mark Shaw with coming up with the title that still makes Alice Dye cringe. "Ill be past caring. Itll be fine with me if you just throw them out at Crooked Stick on a windy day."
Dye points out that each of his early courses was constructed on grounds adjacent to tombstoned graveyards and that a recent course, Bulle Rock in Maryland, is the final resting place for its namesake race horse that runs no more. The horse, incidentally, is buried intact. You won't find a single horses ash at Bulle Rock.
But, for humans, its happening to the unheralded, the famed and to the only man on record as already having golfed in the heavens 27 years prior to his earthly demise. Alan Shepard in 1971 became the first man to strike a golf ball on the surface of the moon. Upon his death in 1998, the devoted golfer requested his ashes be sprinkled from a Navy Helicopter in Stillwater Cove while a startling Air Force flyby thundered overhead. Head professional Chuck Dunbar says most requests are much less audacious.
"Its not something we encourage," he says. "We never even know most of the times it happens. Golfersll sprinkle some right in the middle of their round, say a few words, and then keep on playing. Im sure it happens a lot during the tournament, too, when people can discreetly sprinkle some ashes. Theres nothing we could do in that situation."
The course gets about two or three formal requests a year and permits the ceremonies if the momentary memorials, usually held at the scenic 7th and 18th holes, dont conflict with active and upright golfers.
Dunbar says he has no such plans for his remains and jokes that doesnt have any intention of dying. Ever. Who can blame him? Why take a chance on heaven when youve already got Pebble Beach?
Talk about your buried lies. Here are five courses where tombstones outnumber tee boxes.
1. Hunter's Station, Tionesta, Pennsylvania -- Overclub on the 160-yard par 3 eighth hole and youll get an education in the pre-Civil War Holman family genealogy to go along with your two-stroke penalty.
2. Bear Trace at Ross Creek Landing, Clifton, Tennessee -- Dont be confused by all the Benham, Hughes and Speers names you see on the on many of the 150 tombstones near the parking lot and by the 13th tee. This lively beaut has Jack Nicklaus written all over it.
3. Blackmoor Golf Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina -- You get a free drop if you hit into the cemetery along the 499-yard par 5 13th hole. It may be the only time you ever get a mulligan from a graveyard position. The next drop you get, the six-footer, may ultimately be more costly.
4. Oak Wing Golf Club in Alexandria, Louisiana -- There are more two dozen reasons why the 363-yard par 4 sixth hole here is considered hauntingly beautiful. Hit too far left here and youre dead.
5. Bent Brook Golf Course, Bent Brook, Ala. -- This popular 27-hole layout features Brook, Windmill and the Graveyard nines that golfers are dying to play.