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18 in America

A Young Golfer's Epic Journey to Find the Essence of the Game

by Dylan Dethier

Hardcover, 258 pages, Simon & Schuster, List Price: $25 |


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A Young Golfer's Epic Journey to Find the Essence of the Game
Dylan Dethier

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Book Summary

Traces the author's coming-of-age quest to play golf in each of the lower forty-eight states, sharing his experiences on courses ranging from a Flint, Michigan, municipal site to the manicured greens of Pebble Beach.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

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The First Drive

We were three silhouettes walking up the eighteenth fairway,the late summer sun already sinking behind the mountains.

"So you're really gonna do this, huh?"

This was Taylor, one of my closest friends for nearly a decade. He was on my right, purple golf bag slung carelessly over one shoulder, and he was looking at me even though he and I both knew the answer to his question. He was a few inches shorter than I, a smiley boy with mussy blond hair and wide blue eyes
that always told you exactly how he was feeling

"Yeah," I murmured. "I guess I am."

We stopped at Taylor's ball.

"You nervous?" This time it was my brother, Evan. Two years older and three inches taller, Evan was a razor-thin giant with broad shoulders and a mop of dark brown hair that fell haphazardly to one side of his face or the other, depending which way he swiped it with his hand.

"Nervous?" I responded. "Nah. Just excited to get out on the road."

I wondered how many summer nights we'd spent this way — driving the ten minutes from home to Taconic Golf Club to tee off at five P.M., Evan and Taylor and I, playing till we couldn't see the ball. That was the time of day when the wind had died and left us in a quiet stillness, when the air was cool but comfortable, when the light was getting lower and the shadows longer, all of us in the sunset, feeling as if nights like these would last forever even as the gathering darkness warned that they wouldn't.

We putted out and I shook each of their hands, because that's what you did after a round of golf. And then I gave them each a long, choked-up hug — because that's what you did when you were seventeen years old and didn't know the next time you were going to see your best friends.

What I had told Evan was true, but it wasn't the whole truth. I was excited. But I was still coming to grips with the fact that leaving meant leaving stuff behind — everything I had ever loved: the people, the places, my home.

We went our separate ways — Evan off to his college dorm, the beginning of his junior year; Taylor to his house, one of the last nights before the start of his senior year of high school; and me, home, one final time.

Dinner was unusually quiet that night. Dad had gotten steak and Mom made pesto pasta, with corn on the cob from Chenail's Farm. My favorite meal.

From the outside, it was a perfect picture: the All-American family gathered around the table for a late summer dinner. But as we were sitting down I realized I still didn't know exactly how my parents felt about what I was about to do. And at this point, I was afraid to find out.

It was a simple idea, really: Me and Subi, our 2002 forest-green Subaru Outback station wagon, would drive around the country, and I would play at least one round of golf in every state — Hawaii and Alaska excepted. I'd be gone for the length of the school year, the beginning of September to the beginning of June. Then we'd come home, Subi and I, and I'd start college
the next fall.

Home was Williamstown, Massachusetts, a town of fewer than eight thousand people and also the home of Williams College, a small liberal arts school where I had been accepted the previous December and was on track to spend the next four years of my life. Williams is among the most selective schools in the country, and I had done well to get in. But enrolling there meant I wasn't exactly leaving the nest. I would become a freshman at the college where my brother was a junior and my father taught geology, all of eight minutes from the house I had grown up in.

I'd been mulling the idea of a year of something else since the moment I applied to Williams. My childhood had been happy and fulfilling, but since I'd started thinking about life after high school, I'd dealt with the persistent feeling that I had never really done anything. Staying in town for college wasn't really going to shake things up — I needed something that would.

My mom was in favor of the trip, I figured. I could almost always tell when she disapproved of something Evan or I was doing, and this didn't seem like one of those times. Plus we were usually on the same page — if I was really, truly excited about something, I could count on Mom to get on board.

Her job was built on hopefulness, after all. She worked for a company called the Center for EcoTechnology, which helped individuals and small towns acquire things like solar panels and wind turbines. Nothing screams blind optimism like battling pollution and global warming.

That's why I'd told her first, before I had all the details worked out.

Before I told Dad, though, I'd really need a plan. I knew he would appreciate part of it: the independence, the road trip, the rugged adventure. He was a mountain man, after all — a geology professor who spent his summers working in the Rockies, a father who used to take us hiking every Sunday. Exploring was my dad's thing.

Growing up, I came to realize that not everyone had a father like mine — starting with his appearance. From my earliest memories, Dad has had a full head of wavy, bright white hair and a thick, dignified mustache that gives him the look of George Washington or Mark Twain or Albert Einstein, going from least to most windy outside.

He was a warm, caring man who smiled a lot and was always proud of us. But he could be inscrutable, too. He rarely gave a clear, strong opinion unless he was asked directly, and even then he tended to speak in riddles, allusions, or roundabout responses that only he truly understood. I think he wanted other people to arrive at answers themselves, like any good professor, and hoped merely to lead us in the right direction.

He'd grown up in the Philadelphia suburbs and had gone to the all-male Haverford School. Since then he'd utterly rejected any sort of boys' club. As an adult, he'd been to more Grateful Dead concerts than golf courses. He was far more comfortable in a ratty T-shirt and a pair of old, tight, fuzzy ski pants than he ever would be in a polo and khakis. He exclusively wore sneakers, except for once, when he had to go to a wake — and then he borrowed my dress shoes. Here was a man wholly unimpressed with the appearance of things and fully enthralled with what lay below the surface.

Golf, ironically, was the only thing my parents and I ever fought about — never bad grades, juvenile misadventures, or other turbulent teenage behavior. When I wanted to join the high school team in ninth grade, it nearly tore apart the family. To my parents, golf was too white, too rich, too preppy, too exclusive. Couldn't I wait fifty years, they asked, until I had run out of other activities?

Mom and Dad were always eager to let Evan and me know what they thought, but they'd also always allowed us to make our own decisions, to figure out firsthand that they had been correct the whole time. So I was allowed to join the golf team. Maybe they thought I would miss soccer or develop a love for cross-country running or, best yet, realize that pursuing golf meant pursuing a life that was morally and physically against our family values. I didn't quit. But there was no question that they had won. I learned to think that there were two types of golf — the cheap, unrefined public course versus the private, stuffy country club — and that the former was the only type I would ever want to play.

Still, I loved golf. I wanted to keep playing, in college and beyond. And I didn't want to feel guilty for that. So really, secretly, I hoped that the sport, so famous for stratifying social classes, would show me something to justify my involvement in it. For the time being, the only way I was able to enter its world
with a clean conscience was by establishing my role as an outsider — not a golfer, just a kid who happens to play golf — and sticking to it. That's what this trip was going to be all about.

I knew I would need a concrete plan before going to Dad so I
could defend against any skepticism, show that this wasn't just a
whim but a plan with depth and purpose.

Except I never really made a plan.

To be fair, I did devise some basic rules. I would play at least eighteen holes in every state in the lower forty-eight. I would pay for the whole thing myself, using my savings and whatever I could scrounge up along the way. My first leg would take me across the northern states in the fall, and then I'd move back across the South in the winter and use the spring to fill in the gaps. My goal was to experience all the golf America had to offer, from the worst city municipal to the locked-gate country club and everywhere in between. I wanted to seek out golf where I didn't belong and golf where nothing at all belonged. I had to survive the whole thing — and I had to do so without coming home, except for Christmas.

Foolproof, right?

Except I didn't know how I would do these things. I didn't know how I was going to pay for the trip. I had exactly $4,720 saved up and didn't have to use a calculator long to determine how quickly that could disappear.

Where would I sleep? I had a station wagon, so I could probably fit in the back when I needed to. I packed a two-man tent and I solicited contacts from family friends and made a list, state by state, of potential hosts. I soon found that the constant problem was not with the number of offers but with geographic concentration. Everyone had a friend in Chicago and a cousin in L.A. Everyone "had me covered" in New York. Everyone had a golfing grandpa in Tampa.

I was touched by how eagerly people volunteered to look up old friends or call their least favorite relatives, but I was discouraged by just how clustered these folks were. Hell, my grandfather lives in Tampa half the year. Dude loves golf.

I began to make a list of the lower forty-eight in the order in which I would tick them off, attempting to hone in on the approximate date I would arrive in each — but I soon realized that I couldn't really figure that out, either.

I wasn't a planner at all. If I decided to do something, I generally just did it — and figured out how as I went along. So as exciting as it was to try to figure out the specifics of what and where and when, I didn't really want to have to answer to any schedule. I wanted this to operate on my terms; I'd confront issues as they arose.

As departure day — September 1 — drew near, though, I realized I was leaving home with zero tee times, exactly one golf course lined up, and no idea where I would spend my first night on the road — knowing only that it had to be free.

Dad arrived home with a fresh roll of duct tape one late August afternoon. "There's not much you'll run into," he told me, deadpan, "that a few strips of this can't fix." That was as close as he'd come to actually giving me his blessing for the trip, but it made me happy. You'll be all right, the gesture seemed to say. I took the tape. I was really doing this.

Urged on by Mom's insistence that I "just never knew" what I was going to need, I erred on the side of bringing too much. I took all the collared shirts I had — mostly yard-sale buys and hand-me-downs from my cousin Mark — and stuffed them into a low plastic crate alongside dozens of T-shirts, a smattering of shorts and pants, and my entire collections of socks and boxers. I stuffed winter clothes into a bag, jackets and gloves and hats, that went beneath the folded-up backseat. A raincoat and thick wind pants went into the mesh behind the driver's seat. And dress clothes went onto a couple hangers that I hooked above the driver's-side backseat.

I tried to divide the car into neighborhoods: There, on the right, with the cooler and the granola bars and the Honey Nut Cheerios, was Cereal Row. The plastic clothes crate spanned the width of the passenger seat. Plastic Plateau. I tried to leave room on the car's left side — though it was tough to fit anything between the extra clothes and the cooking supplies — and the ministove and the tent and the ski boots and the basketball and the football and the baseball gloves — for Golf Bag Boulevard, which I figured would hold my little red Titleist bag by day and could serve as a sleeping alley by night. Finally, the small gap between the pulled-up passenger's row and the back of the driver's seat: the Crevasse. Lots of things fell into the Crevasse. Few returned.

I hadn't even finished packing before these neighborhoods began collapsing into each other, which seemed like a bad sign. But I was tired of packing. I was tired of wondering exactly how I would figure out what I was doing. I was even tired of people asking why I was going. (No one wants to be asked a question for which they haven't yet figured a suitable answer.) I threw my golf bag in and slammed the trunk closed. I didn't know how. I was still a little hazy on why. But that was okay — I was going.

The next couple hours were an emotional blur. Mom crying. Dad, silent, choked up. Then I was crying, too, as I drove away, and I made my first wrong turn of the trip within miles of my house, and my second wrong turn soon after. But it didn't matter, because I had nowhere to go. Soon enough I'd left Massachusetts, speeding past Troy, New York, and then I was on I-90, where the first inkling of the trip was born months earlier. On a long drive back from a vacation with friends in Michigan, the idea had hit me during a three A.M. brainstorm with my brother. Most late-night ideas get brushed away the next morning, usually with good reason. But this one had stuck.

It brought me out of the haze, that realization. I was living out a dream — for myself, mostly, but also for the idea: It felt important that a kid could come up with a crazy plan and then just press pause on the rest of his life to go pursue it. I was breaking free, if only for a short while, from a modern world burdened by lofty expectations on a familiar path — grade school, high school, college, a good job. From my teenage eyes, it seemed like a lot of the people on that path forgot to do the one thing that matters most: live a little.

I knew as soon as I saw the sign for Alder Creek Golf Course and Country Inn that I had found what I was looking for. An eight-dollar opening round in Boonville, New York, was exactly what I had envisioned for my first round.

My background with golf had taught me that rounds like this were the best kind. I wanted my trip to glorify the Podunk two-buck municipal. Elite clubs seemed like another meaningless status symbol, kind of like Rolls-Royces, which I assumed people just bought so they could say, Hey, here's something I own that you can never have.

They didn't exactly roll out the red carpet at Alder Creek. As I pulled into the driveway, I noted a dilapidated practice green a few yards off the road, its mini-flagsticks leaning one way or the other as if to mimic the schizophrenic grass on the putting surface itself. Hundreds of golf balls, some yellow and some an old, coffee-stained shade of white, lay abandoned on the ground of the too-short driving range, which looked as if it would serve as their final resting place. Wild grass had conquered two wheels and part of the front cage of the range picker and seemed determined to envelop it entirely.

My tire flattened a Busch Light can as I pulled into a parking spot in front of a large-ish white house that might've been the beginning of the Country Inn. Wait, no — there was a sign on it. ALDER CREEK GOLF — COUNTRY INN. FOOD-BEV. LODGING. It read like a classified ad that didn't want to pay for the next ten words. I ignored its accompanying arrow, which pointed unhelpfully skyward, and continued to the right, in search of GOLF and maybe FOOD-BEV.

Lots of courses have signs by the road to encourage drive-ins, like PUBLIC WELCOME or COME PLAY! I wondered what Alder Creek's would've said: JOIN US FOR A ROUND! OR DON'T! SERIOUSLY, WE DON'T GIVE A DAMN.

Alder Creek's complete absence of presentation reminded me distinctly of Stamford Valley Golf Course, the site of my first membership and just across the Vermont border from home. I was eleven, and it cost me sixty bucks. I'd experienced a lot of firsts there. I'd rented my first golf cart. I'd made my first eagle, on the 369-yard, quadruple dogleg par-5 fourth, where if you scooted over the rock wall but stayed under the trees you could save yourself two shots. I'd gotten the f-word directed at me for the first time, after I short-hopped some guy's thigh, still learning the power I wielded with a driver in my hand. Stamford was legendary, the home of the goose turd and the eight-year-old maintenance crew, and I did a lot of growing up there. Alder Creek brought me back: the driveway, the practice green, the flattened Busch Light. It felt like a good place to start my journey.

Beyond Alder Creek's practice area, the golf course stretched back into the trees. As I approached the inn from the parking lot, I paused to watch a man step up to his ball, eyeing the flagstick from a hundred yards out on what I would soon learn was the seventh green. There's something about watching complete strangers hit golf shots that has always fascinated me — an obsession fueled by the endless possibilities of flight and the near certainty
of human failure. I guess it's the same reason people watch NASCAR — for the crashes. This guy, dressed in a T-shirt and cutoff jean shorts, didn't disappoint.

After a methodical — if uneasy — takeaway that curled his club directly over his head, all semblance of rhythm disappeared. He descended on his target, delivering a wood-splitting hack at the earth behind his ball. The welcome mat of a divot stuck to his iron through impact, while the ball tumbled ahead out of sheer terror, coming to a stop ten feet forward and twenty feet to the side. Was this fun for him? What made him decide that playing golf was a good idea?

Lots of people are bad at things. Some people even have the misfortune of being bad at lots of things. Golf, though, is one of those things that people tend to be really, particularly bad at — yet those are often the same people always calling around to arrange a foursome. This was interesting: the mysterious paradox of the Bad Golfer. I wished I had shown up an hour earlier; I would've had a compelling partner.

I stalled through several minutes' worth of practice swings on the first tee in the hopes that another local would show up to join me for an afternoon nine, but all traffic seemed to have moved the way of the parking lot or the bar. Eventually I snagged a Titleist from my golf bag and coaxed a tee into the soft earth, leaving the ball about half an inch above the ground — perfect for
my 3-wood.

I took a deep breath. The first tee shot. I didn't know what it meant, exactly, but this drive seemed important. How many first tees would the next year hold? At what golf courses would they be? I hoped they wouldn't all be solitary rounds, that others would join me — people with stories and senses of humor and wisdom.

If anyone was watching me, they would have had no idea what this single swing signified. I didn't know, either, how I was supposed to feel at the start of something so big, something so crazy. I wasn't moving in to college, wasn't meeting new friends as I hung pictures of the old ones on my wall. I was doing something big, but it was hard to know how to feel as I stood over the ball that late summer day somewhere in upstate New York.

I had been emotional all afternoon, not happy-sad emotional, but in a way that made everything feel magnified, like the world was more alive than usual. The sun was brighter, the views more impressive, the attached modular garages more architecturally compelling. That was one of my hopes for the year, really — to take the time to find significance in the insignificant. But did that really make sense? Did driving aimlessly like this make sense? And what if I was wrong about golf, about golfers — what if every first tee remained empty?

First-tee ennui. Some of this unease must have translated into the shot. My whippy backswing joined in a panicked union with my downswing, and my club head hardly even nipped the top of the ball. I looked up sheepishly to see the Titleist skittering along the ground just yards in front of me. It didn't even make the fairway.

I glanced around to see if anyone had witnessed the embarrassing spectacle. The coast was mercifully clear, I thought, until I noticed someone walking by the edge of the clubhouse — my jean-shorted friend disappearing around the corner, heading for the eighth tee. I wondered if he'd watched my tee ball. I wondered if he'd told jokes about me in his head. It was a humbling moment as I walked several steps forward to hit my ball again and wondered if I really knew anything about golf after all.

In truth, Alder Creek was disappointingly well maintained. If I really wanted to slum it, this wasn't the place. The greens were so large that they accommodated two flags (white for the front nine, blue for the back), and they were smooth if not fast. Any imperfections in the fairways seemed to disappear in the low afternoon sun, as if the lengthening shadows had snuck around,
filling in divots.

My golf swing improved from the first tee, and the course did as well — working its way back from the highway into the middle stretch of holes, pleasantly contained by the surrounding Adirondack forest and devoid of human life. The ping! of my driver was the only thing that interrupted the serenity of my surroundings, coated in late summer sun.

But as I putted out on the final green, maybe an hour after I'd started, some of the serenity faded. Our memories tend to form in two ways — from our first and last impressions. As I walked from the ninth green to my car, I was left with the impression that Alder Creek wasn't particularly strong on either side.

The enduring sights in our memory also develop in the remembering. There was a particular place at Alder Creek I would revisit often, the sight of which would grow more miserable in my mind's eye. Over the subsequent months I would remember a patch behind the inn's lodging that must have been intended to be a playground. A graveyard of miscellany was scattered across the ground, where a tornado had apparently gone through a tag sale a decade earlier. What had once been lawn chairs lay strewn across what had once been a lawn, a collage of plastic and metal and cloth. A faded-blue former trampoline had crumpled at the edge of the deep grass, a soggy taco of rust and neglect. Cracked Wiffle balls and broken Frisbees had succumbed to the decay of time like artifacts from a forgotten civilization. The centerpiece of misery, though, was a pink tricycle with two oversize back wheels and no front one at all. I imagined a little girl snapping her front axle in a midlawn crash, but the visual didn't quite work. Maybe it had been her brother, jealous that she had a real toy while he had to go hit on the driving range with Dad. Or a golfer coming off a tough double bogey on number nine, wielding an iron in maniacal vengeance. Maybe it was just nature taking back control, breaking down the new bike just to ensure that the lawn remained in a state of derelict equilibrium.

Every day we see pieces of the bigger puzzle, hints of the network of human lives we inhabit. People coming and going, fighting and making up. We see what they carry with them and what they leave behind, and we wonder why. People watching, some people call it. I fancied it more like detective work; I looked for
little details and hints that might answer the question of why they were doing what they were doing. It's the same reason I love going to the airport. Everyone is going somewhere, with someone, for a different purpose, but time and opportunity have fated them to spend a few hours in the same tin can thirty thousand feet above the ground. It's a miracle of humanity, the way people's paths intersect, and watching these intersections became, for me, the greatest guessing game in the world — and one in which the real answers almost always remained a mystery.

I have a hard time letting go of these puzzles. I can't stop wondering how they fit together. Any resolutions I reach just make it worse — they drive the questions deeper. How are those two related? Are they on a date? What number date? Have they had sex? That urge to be an observer of humans and all their wacky behavior — that's part of what drove me on this trip. Over the next year I'd collect a lifetime of clues, an infinite number of puzzles that I couldn't solve. But I'd have the time, and the freedom, to figure out some
for myself, to follow teenage curiosities.

I was still wondering how the tricycle had become a bicycle as I climbed onto a stool at the Lowville Diner some thirty miles down Route 12. The cook greeted me with a low grunt. He was wearing a blue Eli Manning T-shirt, and from the looks of it outweighed most of the Giants' offensive line. I glanced down at
the Red Sox tee I had just thrown on, realizing it might not have been the wisest choice. On the surface, then, he and I had little in common. I never got past the surface. I would have to work on that: navigating local customs.

I finished a burger, which was good, and followed it up with a slice of blueberry pie, which wasn't. The sun was beginning to disappear over the hills to my left as I got back on the road, pointing Subi northwest. As I drove through the outskirts of Watertown a half hour later, it was almost completely dark, but I pressed onward to Sackets Harbor, a small town jutting from a peninsula into northern Lake Ontario. I pulled Subi to a stop in a park and walked around some before settling into a bench overlooking the water's edge. I watched as the last orange reflections disappeared beneath the evening's swells. It had been just twelve hours since I left Williamstown.

I stayed on that bench for a while, just thinking. Most of my friends were settling into college right now, completing orientation trips or decorating dorm rooms. And here I was, alone in Sackets Harbor, watching the sun set. There were no professors cramping my schedule, no classes to attend (or skip), no
practices to get to. Hell, nobody even knew for sure where I was, never mind where I was going. I didn't even know myself, exactly. I knew one thing: Tomorrow was another golf day. I had gotten a text from a friend of a friend in Rochester: 1:30 tee time the next afternoon at Irondequoit Country Club. A family friend's "Oh, maybe I could help" had come through. I took it as a good sign. From there? Subi and I would keep heading west.

For now, though, I was my own master, counting stars on a cloudless night over Lake Ontario. I understood that this freedom put me in a pretty unique situation. Anyone with as few restrictions as I had was probably unemployed, retired, or homeless. Yet here I was — sure, sort of homeless, but with no desire for or pressure to gain employment — and retirement wasn't
exactly on my horizon.

But despite all this freedom, I still didn't really know why I was doing what I was doing. I had explanations, sure, answers I could recite when concerned parents had pushed for them in the preceding months. For whatever reason, my own parents had never quite asked for the why, although they had every reason
to. I was smart and athletic. I had friends. I had liked high school and was excited for college. I had never wanted for anything, never gotten in trouble, had never made any enemies. I was on a path to likely success. What was it about me that needed to mess that up?

Why would come when it had to, I guessed. All I had to do the first night was find somewhere to sleep.

From growing up in Williamstown, I knew it would be easy to find a quiet place in a quiet town. Somewhere to read, maybe, or to go make out. Not that making out seemed likely to be in the cards anytime soon.

Finding somewhere to spend an entire night, though, quickly proved a much more difficult task. I drove along the shore, looking for campsites or pullouts. I cruised through back roads, sure there would be a park or a turnaround. Nothing. One street abruptly concluded in a dead end, and as I slowed to make a three-point turn I saw a woman peering out her kitchen window. I could tell
from her look: I was an intruder. I didn't like the feeling.

I'd thought about all the places you could sleep undisturbed in Williamstown — there were a million — and figured that everywhere else would be the same. Most of the time I'd get there in time to pitch a tent, I figured, and other times I'd just clear out room in the backseat. I hadn't considered until now that you can't exactly discover these places in a day. Hmm. This was going to be harder than I'd thought.

I got on the highway heading south, hoping to catch some bit of inspiration from a road sign. A few minutes passed and I saw a sign for a state park. Perfect. State parks were quiet. They had camping. Nobody would be around. There might even be a shower I could use in the morning.

I pulled in through the gates and followed the left turn for parking. The park road was well back from the highway and just a few dozen feet from Lake Ontario. I saw a sign that read, in large red letters, NO CAMPING ON THE BEACH, but this didn't worry me. It was too late to set up my tent, and besides, the radio had told me it was supposed to rain. I pulled around a corner and entered a parking lot so massive I figured it couldn't fill up on even the
hottest July day. In fairness, there was a sign by the entrance, again in bold red lettering, that said, NO OVERNIGHT PARKING.

But it was well after ten o'clock on a September weeknight. Who would care?

I would come to learn that, in any state park, at any time in
the day, someone is always there whose job it is to care. I pulled to the far corner of the lot and got out, opening the trunk to survey things. If I was going to sleep in this thing, I needed to do some serious rearranging — which was pretty bad considering I had packed the car that very morning. As I stood scratching my head, headlights swooped across the parking lot and made a beeline in my direction. Uh-oh.

The park ranger slammed to a halt next to me, his window already down, gray goatee glinting in the moonlight.

"What're you doing out here?" His voice was gruff, low, humorless.

I had no answer ready. "Hanging out?" Nice one.

"You know you can't spend the night here."

It wasn't a question. "Uh, yeah," I responded. "Just leaving." He rolled his window back up. I fiddled around with some bags for another minute, waiting for him to drive off. He didn't.

I was defeated, again. The ranger followed me most of the way to the exit before turning off, presumably to protect another
besieged parking lot.

This was supposed to be the easy part. But I had been trying to park my car for a few hours now. Anywhere. And I couldn't figure that out? What the hell was I going to do for the next year? I would do a lot of nighttime thinking over the next year, and a lot of nighttime driving. And the thing I kept learning was that whatever feelings you brought into the car with you — frustration or contentment, anger or hope — would get magnified on the lit road in front of you. Maybe it's what happens when you can't see too far ahead.

I was frustrated as hell. Helpless and frustrated. It got worse as I got lost while heading back to the highway. "Lost" isn't quite right, I guess, because I had no idea where I wanted to end up.

It had started to drizzle. Lightly, so that I didn't have to turn my windshield wipers on, but the rain was visible as I drove on, like static in the headlights. I made a turn that put me on a smaller road. And then another one, onto a different, bigger road. It was the same thing I had been doing for hours. How many hours had it been? One? Five? And was that the same intersection I had
already been to? That looked like the same stop sign. Perfect. I was going in circles.

But as I kept driving on that same road, the one that might have connected the towns of Adams and Rodman, a pullout appeared on the left.

It was no more than a hundred feet long, but it ducked behind a low hill that gave it some protection from the road. It was mostly gravel and somewhat hidden — the type of roadside nook where police hide when they're looking to catch speeders. I had been looking for a place like this for nearly two hours, and now one had found me.

But as I surveyed the night around me, I had a little burst of anxiety. Who else used these spots? What if someone else came into the turnaround and ran into me? What if the cops found me there?

It would have to do. I shut the lights and turned off the engine. I clambered into the backseat as best I could, shimmying around the driver's seat and over the CD case. I grabbed my golf bag and shoved it up onto a couple duffels to the side. I unpacked my sleeping bag and an extra liner, which was basically like a giant pillowcase for my body. It was too hot to zip everything up all the way, so I left the windows cracked to keep some air moving through.

The narrow sleeping alley I had tunneled out was far from perfect. My golf clubs were a nudge away from crashing, driver first, onto my chest. The section of car I had cleared seemed like it could fit my head — pressed against the driver's seat — or my feet — crunched into the rear door — but not both; if I adjusted
one, the other cried out in discomfort. Worst of all was the clothes container that dug into my ribs, the big plastic thing that spanned the width of the backseat, forcing me to lie sideways on a step. And as I lay there, wondering how I was ever going to fall asleep, I couldn't stop grinning.

Why was I doing it? Why was I going? Hell, I didn't know. But I was seventeen, and I had a car, and I had a year, and I had a big, vague plan.

This was going to be the best adventure ever.

Excerpted from 18 in America: A Young Golfer's Epic Journey to Find the Essence of the Game, by Dylan Dethier. Copyright 2013 by Dylan Dethier. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.