I'm sitting in a golf cart on the first tee of a golf course I've never played, next to a man I'd never met until 10 minutes prior, waiting for our third -- a guy whose photography I know vividly but whose face I don't.
I know our man's going to show. Or, at least he should. We can see his house in the parking lot.
A few DMs are exchanged simultaneously, just clarifying the tee time (9:50 a.m.) and the course, since Queenstown Harbor Golf Club has 36 holes on property.
Just a few minutes later, a figure with a push cart and a day-embracing smile walks up toward our cart.
I've done a lot of things in my life on a lark, but I never imagined even half-assedly attempting what Patrick Koenig is doing.
After walking away from his job as an information technology salesman, he's now about halfway into a year-long quest to travel the United States in an RV -- more accurately, an RGV -- to play golf, often with complete strangers, on courses he's never seen or heard of until he rolls up in his chateau on wheels.
So far, he's played with more than 300 people, in more than 160 rounds, in less than 150 days.
My new friend and fellow Terp, Chris, and I are the fresh duo of the day, teeing it up with Koenig at a course I've never played on the other side of the state of Maryland.
When Koenig announced his tour, something inside me said I just had to meet this guy and play a round with him. A few months into it, he tipped off he'd be in the Old Line State in June. I kind of forgot about it until last Friday, when, out at dinner with my wife and kids, I saw Koenig had played earlier in the day at the Schoolhouse Nine in Rappahannock County, Va. I sent him a tweet; I wanted in. He couldn't have been more gracious, and the tee time was made thanks, unbeknownst to me, to Chris.
Chris grew up in Laurel, Md. I lived there for exactly 50 months during and after college with best friends in an absolute shithole of an apartment. Now, Chris calls Hoboken, N.J., home. He works as an auditor. He made a trip of this whole thing, taking the day off work, coming down on the Amtrak and driving over to the Eastern Shore. All to play golf with a guy he didn't know except through social media.
So here we are, three strangers in the 20th century sense of the word, about to play a round of golf.
Koenig's RGV Tour is, despite the hundreds of golf partners and thousands of interested social media followers, a personal journey. He tells me midway in our round golf is his centering place. It's where he wants to be. He's played plenty of rounds alone, though he prefers the company. Nonetheless, he chose to do this with his 2018 because of what golf means to him. It's fitting, then, Koenig is raising money in support of The First Tee, taking suggested donations in exchange for all kinds of memorabilia commemorating his RGV Tour, including T-shirts, stickers, pennants, tumblers and headcovers. Perhaps the money he raises will help someone else find their sanctuary is a purpose-built hundred-some-odd acres of grass, sand, water and brush.
Queenstown Harbor is beautiful, with a half-dozen holes opening up clear views of the Chesapeake Bay. As Koenig points out after the fifth hole, whose green leads right up to the water's edge, the vista has a way of turning an otherwise modest hole into a scene-stealer. On each hole, Koenig gets his camera out of his push cart -- which he uses because the netting holds his DSLR better -- to snap a few pictures. Through his lens, Koenig has engaged and enthralled thousands, chronicling golf's beauty. You should be following his Instagram account.
Koenig has plenty to do during the day other than step out the RGV and get to the first tee. He has to do the basics: take a shower, make some food, do a little laundry. Then, he tends to his social calling card as he edits photos and drone footage from the previous day's golf courses. Of course, he has to drive the RGV from place to place as well, and driving in a massive vehicle means going at cruising speed at best.
Koenig hand-picked his RGV -- recreational golf vehicle, if you haven't picked up on it yet -- last December. Lots of people dump their RVs at the end of the year for tax purposes, so Koenig was able to get what he wanted at a modest discount. Eyeballing it, the RGV is about 20 feet long. The interior decor is pretty much standard-issue RV, save for the smattering of golf stickers, pin flags and other personal touches which has turned a house on weehls into a home on wheels. Above the driver and passenger captain's chairs is bunk which could sleep a couple of kids or one mid-sized adult. The couch folks down to sleep two more. The booth seating is a dining room, desk and clatch spot in one. The bedroom in back holds a queen mattress and is surrounding by floating cabinetry. There's an airplane-sized bathroom on one side and a shower on the other. The kitchen and the couch can expand 3 feet out with the push of a button. An awning can create instant shade outside. Koenig has a driving range mat in stowage to create a makeshift Topgolf.
— Ryan Ballengee (@RyanBallengee) June 25, 2018
The days -- days like the one we had -- clearly make the trip. The golf is great, and it's what Patrick loves. The golf takes up a good 4-5 hours. No doubt driving probably contends with golf for the biggest chunk of his time. Then there's the editing and other work to get through the day. The nights get a little lonely, Patrick says. That's part of the deal. But those quiet hours are important, and they give way to the kinds of afternoons we enjoyed, joined by a Queenstown Harbor regular and unwitting Tour participant, Matt. Matt joined us on the first tee, and he only intended to play nine. But he had so much fun with us, he sat through our grabbing some mid-round grub to reflect, and he played four more holes before he had to get on his way.
Patrick's a good golfer. He drives it with above-average length, and his short game is solid. His putting is fantastic -- at least from what I saw that day. I wasn't good that day. Well, I wasn't committed to being good that day. Queenstown Harbor is the kind of place where someone like me can try a half-dozen hero shots through the round. I tried 'em all, and I pulled off only one. But, as I told Patrick and Chris, what fun is par?
Our round wasn't anything like my experience of playing with three other singles, which is really what we were. There was still the impulse for superficial bullshit conversation -- what do you do, where did you go to school, where do you usually play. You know the hits. But this felt like a celebration, with Patrick serving as emcee. The rounds and courses can kind of run together, Patrick says, but the people are really what make the experience.
Isn't that what golf is, at least for most of us? It's life, really. The only thing that really matters in the five Ws is the who. While golfers have an uncanny ability to perfectly recall, shot for shot, rounds from a decade ago, they come back for more because the people they struggle with.
That's the RGV Tour in a gist. Patrick is the pied piper, calling all kinds of people to struggle with him for a little while, love every minute of it, and then pitch in a few bucks for The First Tee to help someone else someday also delight in futility.
At the end of the year, Patrick will head back home to Washington. At some point in the coming months, he'll have to find a new job. He's not sure if that'll be in IT or if this journey might fork his career path toward working in golf. His voice is one golf needs -- welcoming, placid, content and modest. His goal for his journey was modest, too, looking to raise $10,000 for The First Tee. He'll potentially triple that before getting back to his ZIP code, and then he hopes to cap it all off with a finish-line celebration at Chambers Bay near Tacoma. He invited Chris and I out to take part in whatever it winds up being, and I'm hoping to meet so many of the people who probably have stood on the first tee, wondering what they got themselves into.