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Gabriel’s Creek Golf Course didn’t show up on any maps or listings of golf courses in the Northern Alabama area when Chris Collins looked for a place to play while visiting his daughter. On arrival, he meets the course mascot, a Border Collie named Ralphie. The cast of characters running this out-of-the-way place describe the dog as an animal that just showed up one day out of nowhere. Why would Collins or anyone else expect anything other than a normal and relaxing day of golf in this easy-to-forget place? There would be no reason, even when an impromptu breakfast ends with the Pro’s caution, “This place is magical…You’ll see what I mean.”
This is a special day for Collins, although he doesn’t mention it to anyone at the course. Recently diagnosed as terminally ill, he has chosen to spend one of his final days doing something he loves: walking 18 holes of golf, a joy of life he wants to enjoy just once more. Ralphie becomes part companion, part guide throughout Collins’ round at Gabriel’s Creek, where it seems the course itself brings out his reflections on life hole after hole. While playing, he shares his deepest thoughts in a tale about family, friends, and commitment, about dogs and destinations.
He meets a variety of characters, some from his past and some who are new to him. Introductions to all of these players complement descriptions of the roles they had in Collins’ life, and show much about who he is. Both the pride and the regrets of this dying protagonist are felt as he reviews how he has treasured his life’s relationships.
During his day, Collins struggles with several tests of his faith, which comes into play as he remembers his reaction to his wife’s infidelity and his acceptance of responsibility for it. He fears judgment for his role in the murder of a business opponent, not knowing with certainty whether his involvement was the cause of the death or not. The crossroads of his childhood, scholastic years, business executive and family-rearing lives all fall under review while Collins negotiates Gabriel’s Creek. The round includes whisking to golf courses around the country and the world. Some of these are places he has played before, while some he had simply dreamed of before.
Is it time travel, or is it just the enchantment of Gabriel’s Creek?
His interaction with other characters blends with his memories of bygone places and times. These events all lead him to learn too late many of the lessons of life. These insights lead Collins to begin making plans to apply his newfound knowledge to address some outstanding life issues before he dies. Like so many of us do, Collins learns the hard way that procrastination can be costly.
Approaching certain death soon, Chris is not so much fearful as curious about what is coming. While he plays, he wonders what the transition from this life to the next will be like. He speculates in depth about his coming encounter, comforted by the strengthening of faith that has come with his travel around Gabriel’s Creek. Through his emotional day, his inspirational experiences provide the reminder that we should all treat each day of life as a gift.
The 18th hole is more than the end of Chris’ round. On that final green, Collins finds that Gabriel’s Creek Golf Course exists in neither the earthly nor the next world, but perhaps somewhere in between.