A Woman for all season
Julie is a fabulous cook. She merits “chef” stature by what comes out of her kitchen. She has turned what, for many, is an arduous responsibility of providing dinner night after night into one of her passions. If she’s going to cook it, she’s going to make it great, and, she’s going to enjoy the making.
With that opening scene setter, a few weeks ago now, Julie went busily about creating our dinner of crab cakes ala Pat Conroy, the renown Southern author and foodie. Year’s ago she ran into an article in a magazine in which Pat revealed his favorite way to prepare lump crabmeat cakes. His underlying secret was NOT to use breading of any sort. His commitment was to let the crab shine.
Julie was taken with Conroy’s dedication and tried his recipe. Over the years she has made it her own. Whenever fresh crab turns up in our butcher’s casings, I start licking my chops.
This is the season for fresh crab and it corresponds to two important celebration dates in our lives together; first, the anniversary of our first date on July 1 and this was our 45th anniversary of that date.
The other date is our wedding anniversary on July 19th, and that requires a bit more than a good home cooked meal.
So, fresh crab cakes has been a tradition by which we recognize our first date after which we were never apart.
To go with the crab, she paired a delicate rose’. The meal was mouthwatering for sure, but that isn’t really the reason behind wanting to write about that night.
As we were enjoying and talking and sharing and sipping wine and giving time to taste each morsel of crispy, delicate deliciousness, our conversation turned, as it often does, to golf.
That may sound weird and slightly unromantic to you, but in our family, golf is part of the romance of life. In this case, the subject came up because Julie had a match the next morning in the women’s single player matchplay at our club. And, it’s a big deal. Bracketed at the beginning of the summer, competitors must work their way in to the championship round by winning five consecutive matches over the course of the summer.
Julie has won it twice in her competitive campaign but her last victory was a distant 10 years ago.
As I listened to her talk about the formidable competitor she was set to play, my mind drifted four and a half decades back in time to our first date. I pictured her then, as I was just getting to know her and she me. I’m thinking about the fact that at that time she had little to no interest of the game of golf and now, here she is today, deeply into it.
When she realized that I had a bemused smile on my face she said, “What?”
“Oh,” I replied. “I guess you caught me thinking about that quiet, shy young woman you were when we met compared to the woman I’m sharing dinner with tonight.” She looked at me and her face implied “go on.” I asked this question, “Would the Julie Hazelton who went out with me on a date 45 years ago ever have imagined that golf would one day become such a core passion?”
Julie smiled and said, “Of course not. I mean, I had never played golf outside of Putt Putt and a few rounds at a par three course with Johnny (her brother).”
Sidebar on me for a moment. I grew up in a golfing family. Mom and Dad were avid golfers and both my brothers, older sister and me all took advantage of the opportunities we had to play at their home course as well as Hillandale Golf Course, the public course across the street from our home in Durham.
Occasionally, when Julie and I visited my folks during our early years of dating and marriage, I might join in a round with my dad and brothers from time to time. Baby brother Page married Maggie, adding another high caliber player, and it wasn’t long before Julie started getting the itch to learn how to play so she could join in the fun. However, the timing wasn’t great for scratching that itch. We had moved to Pittsburgh and were raising two kids, so, she put it on hold for a few years. She did take a class in golf through the community college she attended in the early 90’s, so she was always keeping the dream alive.
She told me that the seminal memory that spurred her on was seeing the big a role golf played in my parents’ lives, especially as they entered their retirement years.
“I thought it was so cool that they bought a van, outfitted it to carry a foursome of friends, their clubs and luggage,” she said. And, they went everywhere and when they got there, playing golf was both the major entertainment and shared passion of the trip.
“They just had such a good time together. I wanted that for us. And I wanted to get good enough at it to enjoy it…most of the time.”
And here we sat, still sipping wine and talking about golf. And what I’m seeing in my Julie is the amazing role that golf has played in her life in so many ways. And, how much she grew because of it.
And, I thought, I’d dedicate this blog to shine a light on her story.
She began her playing career in Pittsburgh as the kids got into elementary school and she could carve out some time. Thanks to the sponsorship of my boss, John Howell, we had joined his club. John Howell had just taken up the game and encouraged me to get back into playing so he would have a playing partner. His wife, Gail, was a golfer and she asked Julie to play with her. That really got the ball rolling. Over the years the four of us have played a lot of golf together, in and around Pittsburgh, in Palm Desert where they live now, here in Atlanta, as well as four marvelous days in Pinehurst.
But, it was moving to Atlanta and joining a more family friendly club with a strong women’s organization where Julie’s career and passion really took off.
That first year, we played a lot of family golf. It was a great way to spend time together as our teenage kids were adapting to new schools and making new friends. Playing golf together filled a void for a while until they had built a new community of friends.
As they needed us less, Julie took advantage of the time to improve her game to the degree that she felt good enough to tee it up with others.
She joined the women’s group at our club and began playing weekly. Took lessons from our club’s teaching pros. Played in competitive events, often playing on the club’s traveling team. Through all of that, she met more women who were passionate players, many of whom became great friends.
Before long, she was tapped to join the board of the Women’s Golf Association, along the way becoming the women’s Handicap Committee representative. If you know Julie, you know that if she gets into something she’s going deep. She worked hard to understand the how and why of the handicapping system and how to apply it to various competitions.
That led her into the rules side of the game, something that flummoxes the most ardent golfers, amateur and pro. Today, I would put Julie’s knowledge of the rules of the game up against just about anybody. On long car rides she has been known to pull up the USGA website on her phone and take an 18 question “test” of situations involving rules decisions. It’s actually pretty fun and makes for a lot of discussions to pass the time.
Julie is very good at looking at the situation at hand, boiling it down and figuring out which rule applies and figure out what options apply to that situation. On top of that, she can quickly navigate through the Rules of Golf handbook or app to find the rule pertaining to the situation. It has been my observation that most players don’t ever carry a rules book with them.
To be fair, she’s not an “official” rules official who makes on course decisions during competitions, but she is a respected resource for players at our club.
And importantly, Julie plays by the rules, when the applicable rule calls for a penalty or, in some cases, offers options of penalty-free relief. Her mentor taught her early on that the rules can often be your friend. She’s also learned how not to be shy about bringing it to a fellow competitor’s attention if they have committed a rules infraction. Never the easiest thing to do in the heat of competition.
While serving the board, she also ran tournaments and ultimately served as president.
In the middle of all of that, she heard a club member talk about the volunteers who rate courses. She was fascinated and wanted to know more so she reached out to the Georgia State Golf Association, found out when they were having another meeting and volunteered. Let me tell you, that was deep and hard work. She went to instructional training which continued throughout the years of her work with the raters. She met and got to know the many people who made up the intrepid band of “nerds” who tackle the task of rating courses so that anyone’s handicap index can be applied equitably to any course.
On rating days, she often left at the crack of dawn, driving over an hour to get to courses they were rating. She worked her way up to leading a rating, a very demanding position.
Julie rated for almost a decade and only pulled back and finally “retired” when I retired. It was too much of a commitment and she wanted to clear the calendar for our time to be together like she remembered my parents enjoying.
All the while she was giving of her time and energy to the organizational aspects of the game, she developed into quite a good player, ready to tee it up on almost any course and with anyone…including my brothers, sister and sisters-in-law.
It was especially meaningful to play with my parents while they could still play the game. And, she wanted to show her mother-in-law the golfer she had become, and that she shared Mom’s enjoyment of the game. It was a touchstone.
To this day, one of Mom’s first questions to me when we talk on the phone is, “And how is Julie? Is she playing golf today?”
The answer is, more often than not, yes.
And very often, she’s playing with me.
We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by taking a golfing vacation in which we went through Durham, played a round with Mom and Dad before driving up for three days at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
It’s how we celebrated our anniversary almost every year since we moved to Atlanta, just like we are memorializing this one, by staying and playing golf at Barnsley Gardens north of Atlanta.
We celebrated turning 55 by touring the Alabama Trail of Golf. (Magnificent but very hard.)
And, we were all set to celebrate my/our retirement with a trip to the home of golf in St. Andrews, Scotland in Spring of 2020. Air travel booked. Hotel at the Olde Course…booked. Tee times…booked. And then, COVID19 hit and that was that.
We plan to recall and implement the plan for Spring of 2023, the year we “celebrate” turning 70!
So, this is what we talked about as we swirled our last sip of rose’. It was fitting for sure, to acknowledge both the time of our beginning as a couple and the magnitude of difference time has made in who we have become.
I’m so proud of Julie and her accomplishments in so many areas, but especially in the world of golf. Her drive took her well beyond the act of playing. She became an organizational leader with a depth of knowledge and appreciation of the organization of the game that is well beyond most players.
Oh, and by the way, Julie won her match the following day. Tied at the end of 18 holes, she won it on the first hole of sudden death by draining a long putt for birdie – net eagle. Drop the mic.
And, since it took me longer to complete this than I hoped, Julie has now played her match in the third round of the matchplay tournament. This time she played her good friend, Val Ashton. They dueled mightily. Val got up in the match early but Julie fought her way back to even on the back nine. Then Val won the 17th hole to go one up with a stroke forthcoming on the final hole. Val made a brilliant par net birdie and the match was over. And, it adds one more story to their friendship. That’s golf.
Hey, thanks for reading and letting me put to paper some of the insights into the woman I’ve loved for 45 years.
And, thanks Julie, for the memories and the fact that we, now, like my parents, enjoy the game of golf together. We haven’t bought and outfitted a van for retirement like my folks, but we’re definitely ready to play with anybody at the drop of a tee.
*Crab cakes ala Julie ala Pat Conroy
She loves to serve the crab on a plate of pasta. While the pasta finishes its boil, she cooks the crab cakes in butter on a cast iron skillet. Once the cakes are done to a crispy outside, she removes and sets them aside. She adds butter to skillet and melts it before draining the pasta and adding it to the butter sauce. She also adds capers along with lemon juice. She lets the pasta soak up the juice before plating first the pasta, then placing the crab cake on top.
This time, she garnished it with a grilled corn, tomato and jalapeño salsa leftover from a Tequila Friday.
It was spectacular!