meal is sipped through the straw of its proboscis, and most species will take
nectar from flowers or the juice from rotting fruit. There is plenty of both at
Covadonga. Mangoes, bananas, lemons and limes grow along the course's fairways.
The jungle has taken over the orange grove near the 9th hole, but still, no
butterfly ever goes hungry.
And no golfer is
ever bored. You're stymied from the tee by trees on both of the par-3s. A
verdurous forest surrounds the green of the mystifying 5th, a 234-yard par-4.
The bunker sand is not really sand but, and this is only a theory, the stuff
that ants throw out when they dig their homes. And to say the greens are slow
doesn't really capture their speed. They are glacial. They are an old man
walking underwater in lead boots. In short, Covadonga is a course that makes
you grit your teeth, especially when the experts--Andr�s, Raymundo and a
part-time caddie named Luis--are kicking your butt. Even after you play it for
three days, Covadonga remains an unsolvable puzzle, like chess in the dark.
But Strimple will
not allow anything but laughter. More cerveza, he says at lunch, then more.
When someone notices how the sunscreen on his face contrasts with his pink
skin, he begins to call himself El Diablo Blanco. "How do you do," he
says in his awful pidgin Spanish to a new, very surprised acquaintance.
"I'm the devil." At a bar, in keeping with his strategy for speaking
Spanish, he asks for a Coca-Cola and rum-a. At a party in honor of the
Americans under twinkling Christmas lights in the front yard of la casa de
Andr�s Morales in Valles, El Diablo Blanco declares the whole thing--the food,
the drinks, the course and the company--to be awesomemomento. Most of all,
Strimple the morale officer keeps an eye on Gilbert. Is his friend feeling for
his father, gone now for four years after dying of emphysema, or for his youth,
gone now for much longer? And when and where will he spread Avery's ashes?
On the morning of
the third day, when Gilbert carries his clubs to the 1st tee, he has the black
Hogan shag bag in his left hand. He nails his tee shot--he's an excellent
player; he twice qualified for the Byron Nelson Classic, a PGA Tour event--but
he doesn't leave the tee right away. He hangs back, then slowly walks into the
dark jungle to the right of the fairway. He opens the bag, sticks his hand in,
and a moment later some of the ashes of Avery Freeman hang in the air.
this ceremony a few more times during the round. We leave him alone. Luis, who
putts like a safecracker and has the strongest grip on the planet, knows what's
going on. He talks for a minute about fatherhood and his own father. He and his
wife, Maribel, have only two ni�as, he says, Karla and Zaira. His own padre was
much more prolific, fathering eight boys consecutively, then five girls in a
row. Luis's 12 Mart�nez siblings joke about his small output, he says. That's
one of his brothers over there, Magdaleno, the man with the gray mustache and
the rake standing by the creek in front of the 4th green. Magda has six
children. The Mart�nez brothers smile and wave at each other.
"I go twice
to Estados Unidos for work, cemento, and use that to buy the tierra--the
land--for my house," Luis says. "I build the house." To make ends
meet when he's not caddying at Covadonga, Luis tends bar in Valles.
After this, our
final round, we walk through the abandoned hotel, the now empty, echoing space
that had been Gilbert's home for eight summers. "The bowling alley--two
lanes--was over there," Gilbert says. "I used to skateboard down that
ramp. I hung my hammock on those hooks. My father used to come in here for a
Covadonga cocktail, which was red. There were snakeskins on the wall, there and
No guests have
checked in since the early '80s, Andr�s explains. That's when the government
decided that Covadonga should be the center of a giant lake. The administration
paid off the owner--a Spanish guy, according to Andr�s--and condemned the
place. Then a new group came to power in Mexico City and forgot the lake idea.
That's why, Andr�s says, we're left with ... this.
Before we leave,
Gilbert gives Luis his watch and Andr�s his clubs, dozens of balls, gloves and
golf towels--almost enough to stock his shop. As the Suburban bounces along the
crooked path to the highway, Gilbert isn't sure if the pleasure of the last few
days has outweighed the pain. At times it seemed as if the fun of the golf and
the reunions had brought to the surface a dormant sadness. Yet he had come
close to crying only once, when he carried the shag bag to the jungle bordering
the 9th fairway and scattered the last of Avery's ashes. But at that moment the
son also thought that his dad would live on, in a way, in this out-of-the-way
place. As a butterfly floating over slow greens.