You're lucky," a friend once told me. "In your job, the heaviest thing you lift is a pen." True. I'm a journalist. On the scale of manual labor, my gig ranks somewhere between tollbooth collector and Vanna White. So I joined the grounds crew for a day at Grayhawk to get some sod under my fingernails.
An avid golfer, I've enjoyed many stunning courses, but the workers who water, mow and trim them were all but invisible to me. They're not anymore.
I reported for duty at the maintenance shack at 4:45 a.m. The forecast called for sun and triple-digit heat. I burn easily, so I applied several coats of SPF-100, prompting the assistant superintendent to say, "I've never seen someone use so much sunscreen." For eight hours we mowed fairways, cut holes and dug and filled a trench. And oh, how we shoveled. Top-dressing the greens—spreading sand to fill in crevices so the surface provides a truer roll—demanded enough grains of the stuff to make a Lawrence of Arabia sequel.
The toughest chore? Helping hand-rake Grayhawk's 50 or so bunkers. The full-body motion fires every muscle from shoulders to calves. By day's end, my lower back throbbed, sweat clung to my body, and that molasseslike odor? That would be me, smelling of chicken-manure fertilizer. I clocked out. It was 1 p.m.
Two things surprised me. First, the crew's passion and embrace of its task was inspiring. Also, I felt slightly more ... substantive. Why? As author George A. Sheehan once wrote, "Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from places a shower will never reach." —C.B.