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Teeing up new memories

Loving legacy: Putting life back in friend's golf clubs

With heartfelt spirit, lifelong buddies Ron Belyea, Charlie Brown and Ken Waltz back on course
By Ken Waltz | May 23, 2020
Courtesy of: Keenan Flangan Charlie Brown, left, and Ken Waltz hold Ron Belyea's Ping-I3 irons on the ninth green at the Rockland Golf Course.

Rockland — After two solid opening shots on the par-5 first hole at the Rockland Golf Course, I stood near my ball in the fairway about 190 yards from the green. It was the perfect moment for the perfect club. I glanced in my bag and pulled out the stick I had waited years to re-hit.

As I gently wrapped my hands around the grip of this precious and special 22-degree King Cobra 7-wood, my thoughts turned to the club's owner, my respected, beloved and much missed late friend, Ron Belyea.

There I was, about to use one of his favorite clubs, one I originally had owned and he enjoyed hitting so much that, during a round, we bartered a trade for it. What was mine became his and a shared love of a club blossomed.

Now, years after I had last held that precious commodity — and 11 difficult months since the passing of my dear friend in June of 2019, a few weeks shy of his 60th trip around the sun — I was able, for a brief moment, to shake off the sadness that enveloped me and suddenly became overwhelmed with joy to finally get the chance to bring my lifelong buddy's golf clubs back to life.

As if he helped me swing the club, or actually made the swing himself, I hit the shot well and the ball soared high, straight and true to the hole, only to come up a few yards shy of the green. Ron obviously wanted me to hit a good shot — but not too good a shot.

His clubs, in fact, his spirit within those prized sticks, were back on his beloved golf course, where he played so many rounds, hit so many wonderful shots and made so many cherished friends.

My hope is Ron, when he sees the need, can be my golf guardian angel. Help me remain calm, to take the good and bad, and roll with the positive and negative punches often dealt to those who try, nearly always in vain, to harness the game.

Ron and I learned, over time, trial and error, hundreds of unsavory spoken words, on-course tantrums and a few tossed clubs, that while we were perfectionists in all aspects of life, golf was not a game of perfect.

It could not be harnessed, simply admired — and immensely enjoyed.

The heartwarming, uplifting, bittersweet story of how Ron's golf clubs ended up in my possession — and back on the course — is almost the stuff of a magical movie. And, apparently from the assistance of Ron's spirit, it started with a blast from the past.

Out of the blue one day last week, Charlie Brown, a lifelong friend and classmate of mine and Ron's, called my wife, Sarah, and asked: "Can Kenny come out and play today." I laughed and said, "Sure." For the first time in perhaps a decade or more, Charlie and I were going to play nine holes of golf.

Of course, Charlie had no idea I had, earlier that day, visited Ron's daughter, Ali, who, along with Ron's other wonderful, generous family members, graciously said I could have Ron's clubs "because he would want them to be used by one of his good friends."

After Ron's death, Ali was kind enough to bring his clubs back to Maine from his Florida home and store them in her garage until I could pick them up.

So, as if Ron had orchestrated this special event, Charlie contacted me just after I left Ali's with her dad's clubs. Charlie and I decided the perfect way to honor Ron's memory was to take his clubs back on his hometown Maine course and hit them. And that is what we did.

As luck, or through Ron's heavenly matchmaking, would have it, two people who make the club and course run smoothly and look/play amazingly, PGA Pro Keenan Flanagan, and his son, Reilly, joined us for a trip around the front nine holes.

We had a blast. We hit good shots, bad shots, wayward shots and, highlighted by Charlie's blistering tee ball on the ninth hole that hit a red tee marker a few yards away and ricocheted behind us into the eighth fairway, a couple of weird shots. We talked about life and these strange times during the coronavirus pandemic.

Keenan did not know Charlie and I were using Ron's clubs until I explained, on the fifth tee, the significance of this beautiful, special round. Keenan said my story brought tears to his eyes as we all, at one time or another, talked about those we have loved and lost and how lucky we were to be alive and still able to play the game we love.

Back in the day, Ron, Charlie and I played a lot of golf together. Ron was a fine golfer, who, when on his game, could hit his driver and fairway woods as far as the longest ball strikers. His iron play also was solid. It was his inconsistent chipping and putting that kept him from being the single-digit handicap he always was capable of and longed to be.

Charlie and Ron had many memorable matches with and against one another. Charlie and Ron always liked to bet a few dollars on matches, especially when George Starr, among others, was involved. Not a gambler, I never bet much on the course (I don't even know what a $2 nassau is or what press means), but on this special day, we played as teams for a couple of bucks, with me and Keenan against Charlie and Reilly.

I am sure Ron, missed dearly by so many, was looking down with his big, beautiful smile — and trademark infectious laugh — and was bemused at the fact I had a little wager on our match, something I avoided like the plague in my younger days.

Which team won our friendly, big-money match? Who cares, we just had a fun few hours on the course — in Ron's memory.

Overall, on this day, my first tribute round to Ron, I hit the ball fairly consistently using his clubs and developed a new love affair with our trusty 7-wood.

I will continue to be honored and humbled to play with Ron's clubs and to be the guardian of his cherished Ping-I3 sticks — thank you Ali, Ave, Lilli and Brenda.

Every future swing on the course — the beautiful and ugly — will be dedicated to my friend's incredible memory and legacy. Mr. Belyea, I hope to make you proud and, every once in awhile, hit a memorable, on-the-stick, Ron-esque shot.

And I promise to sink the putt — in your name.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: Wayne A. Judkins | May 27, 2020 08:29

A great story about an eternal friendship Ken.  Memories that will last forever! Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 25, 2020 10:22

Doing what Mainers do so well: Making the best of a difficult situation  TOGETHER.  Am sure Ron was smiling and poking God in the ribs and saying, "Did you see that!".

Posted by: Susan Mitchell | May 25, 2020 09:56

What a great article and a wonderful tribute to Ron, Ken.  It was very touching and sweet.  But my favorite part?  I can just SEE my cousin Charlie hitting the ball that ricocheted and hear what my dad, his dad, and our Uncle Dave Libby, Sr., would have had to say about that!  I am absolutely roaring here!  Thanks for the ya, Charlie Brown!  - Susan Hillgrove Mitchell

Posted by: Debra Damon | May 24, 2020 06:57

Quite a memorable story Kenny. It brought tears to my eyes thinking about him being there with you all. Keep it going Kenny, so that Ron is always with us.

Posted by: Helen Plourd | May 24, 2020 05:52

Stupendous article, Ken. Makes me think of Ron while playing the course backwards in a tournament, and I got a hole-in-one. We had so much fun that day!


Posted by: Peter Henderson | May 23, 2020 22:49

Great article Kenny

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