The Post-Journal

Worth The Wait

I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar.
— Robert Brault

LAKEWOOD — The men gather on the front steps that lead to the porch of Tim Shults’ home on the shores of Chautauqua Lake. They range in age from 52 to 74, but as they pose for a photograph and look into the camera, it’s hard to ignore their almost-giddy, childlike enthusiasm.Three months removed from an 11-day golf excursion to Scotland, during which they played some of the most historic courses in the world, the area men gather to reminisce about their bucket-list trip. As the camera shutter clicks away, Paul Hedin sits smack dab in the middle of his friends. Although his location for this Kodak moment is merely coincidental, it seems only fitting that the Jamestown resident is surrounded by “brotherly” love.

Encircling Hedin are Peter Sullivan, Stan Lundine, Chuck Hall, Dean Weaver, Bill Evans, Rick Wight and Shults. Seated in front of Hedin are Tom Calalesina, Rhoe Henderson and Dalton Burgett. Not present for the photo, but members of the traveling party, are George Carlson and Tod Eagle.

“I think,” Hedin says later, “that having people who especially put their arm around you and say, ‘You’re one of us and we’re not going without you,’ it changes your attitude.”

In Hedin’s case, attitude and friendship, with a little bit of golf thrown in for good measure, are just what he needed.

“He is,” says Hall, one of the trip’s organizers, “a medical miracle.”

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In March 2011, Hedin, Hall and Sullivan met to begin planning for a Scotland golf trip in 2012. Hall and Sullivan had made the trip many times before, but Hedin never had, but had always wanted to.

Originally, the player lineup numbered eight, it expanded ultimately to 12, and Sullivan and Hall had to go to their metaphorical “bullpen” for “relief help” when two players had to be replaced for health reasons.

“It’s a trip of a lifetime,” said Hall, who lives in Jamestown. “This wasn’t a budget trip. This was a chance to just go and have a last hurrah for some of those who aren’t planning to go again.”

There was one problem, though: Hedin wasn’t well.

In June of 2011, he was diagnosed with melanoma, his second bout with cancer after successfully conquering thyroid cancer in 2008. Several trips to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston followed and on July 29, 2011, Hedin sent an email to Hall and Sullivan, informing his friends to proceed with the Scottish golf plans without him.

But a heartwarming response from Hall and Sullivan intercepted Hedin’s gut-wrenching diagnosis and the painful disappointment of missing out on a golf outing for the ages.

“That morning,” Hedin said, “they both replied and said, ‘We’re going to wait.”’

In other words, plans for Golf Trip 2012 had been exchanged for Golf Trip 2013, and the “we’re-going-to-wait” mantra found a safe place in Hedin’s subconscious, although he couldn’t have known it at the time.

“When that happens,” Hedin said, referring to his friend’s kindness and consideration in postponing the trip one year, “you see it as a goal, something to move ahead and do. On my last trip to Texas, I asked my oncologist, ‘Why me? Why am I doing better?”’

Among other things, Hedin was told, it was because he “just got up and got going.”

“When you’re diagnosed,” he said, “you kind of feel that maybe people don’t want to be around you and they bounce back because they don’t know what to do. These guys stepped forward and said, ‘We’re going to wait until you’re ready.’ That makes all the difference.

“It’s hard for me to tell you how much my heart beats for (Hall and Sullivan), because they had no good reason to say, ‘We’ll wait.’ … For them to say, without hesitation, they’re going to wait just melted my heart. I’ll never be able to express to them, or anybody, my gratitude for waiting.”

As it turned out, Hedin was able to let his friends know his true feelings on their final day in Scotland following a round of golf at Carnoustie.

More on that later.

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Turnberry (Kintyre); Royal Troon; Turnberry (Ailsa); Nairn; Royal Dornoch; Trump; St. Andrews (new); KingsBarns; St. Andrews (old); and Carnoustie.

Hall and Sullivan had played most of those venues in their previous visits to Scotland, but the majority of their traveling party had not. Of the 12 men, seven would ultimately play all 10 rounds.

“I hate to say this,” said Calalesina, a Lakewood resident, “because it was without my wife (Sandy), but this is the most exciting trip I’ve ever been on. … She just kept telling me to go. Like she explained, ‘You work hard all your life and you deserve a trip like this.”’

So as each of the friends arrived at Shults’ house last Sunday evening, they received a hardcover book, edited and published by Weaver’s wife, Debbie. Complete with photos, including the scorecards from each round, Deb painstakingly chronicled the trip of a lifetime.

“I told these guys,” said Wight, a Bemus Point resident, “that I’m still fighting depression for having (the trip) behind me instead of in front of me. It was that good.”

Trying to highlight all the special moments — on and off the courses — would take days, but here are a few:

-Weaver at St. Andrews: “I would say playing well on No. 1 and No. 18 at St. Andrews, that was the most special. … I hit two really good shots on 18. I hit a really good drive and, with the wind in our face, I had a really good rescue club to 12 feet. My caddie said, ‘Mr. Weaver, that ball landed so soft it was like a butterfly with sore feet.”’

- Hedin at Turnberry: “I birdied 18, like Tom Watson did (in the 2009 Open Championship). I hit the same clubs — driver and 7-iron — and made the putt. That was the highlight for me.”

-Sullivan at St. Andrews: “I was back in my hotel room on the Road Hole (No. 17). It happened to be Rhoe Henderson’s birthday and he was in the last group. I’m back in the hotel room and I have the window open watching Rhoe play No. 17. I don’t know whether he made par, birdie, bogey, triple-bogey, but I sang happy birthday to him out of the window of our hotel into the road hole at St. Andrews.”

-Henderson’s response to Sullivan’s vocal birthday greeting: “It was awesome. It surprised me, but I actually ended up parring the hole.”

-Calalesina trying to pitch out of an eight-foot high bunker at Carnoustie: “It wasn’t a favorite memory, but I’ll never forget it. My caddie said, ‘You gotta go backwards,’ but I said, ‘I didn’t come here to go backwards. I’m trying to get out of this.’ I hit the side wall and it went flying by my head. It went backwards anyway.”

-Wight walking down the first fairway at Nairn with his caddie, Marty MacDonald: “I asked him if he had ever been to the United States. He said he had and that he was the Scottish Rotarian winner who came to the U.S. to play the U.S. Rotary winner for our area, Fran Remington.”

The course that MacDonald and Remington played? Moon Brook Country Club.

-Shults and Calalesina on watching an old man playing the 18th hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews with his dog, a golden retriever, laboring just to walk, trailing behind:

“We were sitting at the outside bar an hour before our tee time and up comes an old guy and an old dog,” Shults recalled. “They had played thousands of rounds and he had said that it was (the dog’s) last round,” Shults recalled. “I can’t imagine what happened the next morning.”

Added Calalesina: “It was killing the dog to try and walk, but the dog did it. The man wasn’t going to put the dog down, but it couldn’t make 18 holes anymore. … That was pretty emotional. … I started to tear up.”

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The final round of the trip was played at Carnoustie. As usual, Weaver, the West Ellicott resident who was known affectionately by his friends as “The Dictator,” set up the daily matches, and Wight, as was his custom, entered it all into his daily journal.

“The day’s weather was awesome and memorable,” Wight wrote. “Sixty degrees, consistent 20 mph wind with gusts of 40 mph, and more sun than not. No rain! But it was a very challenging day.”

Noted Lundine, who lives in Ashville: “I think it’s the toughest course in the world. I know it’s the toughest course I’ve ever played. The front nine I played really good, so that helped.”

Lunch was at a restaurant nearby, and after the men had finished eating, Hedin realized he’d forgotten his golf hat, with his initials monogrammed on the back, in the Carnoustie pro shop.

“They all finished and got on the bus,” Hedin said. “I was the last one on and (Sullivan) said, ‘We decided to wait for you.”’

Hedin was stunned. It was the same comment that Sullivan and Hall had expressed in their email to the then-ailing Hedin two years before.

“Really, it was something I never thought about until Peter said it,” Hedin said. “I then got emotional with the guys on the bus. It was a bucket-list trip for me and a dream that I thought would never come true. It was the thrill of my life.”

Noted Wight: “That was a tear-jerker. … It gave me chills.”

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Hedin, who was one of the guys who played all 10 rounds in Scotland, is scheduled to return to Houston for a visit with his oncologist this week.

“It’s my two-year checkup, my milestone checkup,” he said. “They tell me if it goes well, it will probably go to every six months until we get to five years.

“I’m doing very well.”

And, so too, are the rest of the men who gathered at the Shults’ home last week.

“If you can imagine 12 guys living together, eating together, playing together, riding in a bus together and riding in a long plane ride together and I don’t believe there was one time of testiness that I can think of,” Weaver said. “Everybody got along tremendously.”

“This 12, if we can stay healthy and our wives can stay healthy, we’re already talking about going to Hawaii in 2015,” said Sullivan, a Jamestown resident. “It will be hard to top Scotland, but as long as you have the bonding of a bunch of guys …”

Sullivan didn’t complete the sentence, but the point was clear: On so many levels during 11 glorious May days on the other side of the Atlantic, the wait was more than worth it.

Just ask Hedin.

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