Falling River Country Club lies outside Appomattox in an area of rolling hills and rich history. “Where Our Nation Reunited” reads a billboard on one road leading to the national park honoring the cessation of civil war.
The 18-hole course on the outskirts of town is scruffy but fun. I’d never played it, and after touring the battlefield I felt the call of fairways and greens. Following a bogey-filled front nine, I stood on the 10th tee and surveyed the hole’s layout, a par four dogleg left. And speaking of doglegs, suddenly a sleek English setter hybrid, tongue lolling happily out the side of its mouth, emerged from behind the tee box and approached along the cart path. I was on my way back to the cart, deciding the hole called for a driver rather than 3-wood, and couldn’t resist giving the setter a scratch behind the ear and a cheerful “Hey, girl! Good puppy!!”
No sooner had I hit (should’ve stayed with the 3-wood) than Rover climbed into the cart and began nosing a packet of peanuts I had opened a few minutes earlier. I shooed her away from the nuts and eased her out of the cart. Soon she was springing down the left rough, completely at home as if she owned the course. Or as if she belonged to the course’s owner.
The latter may well have been the case, for over the span of the next few holes, Rover proved to be a most knowledgeable and supportive companion. As I prepared to chip onto the 10th green, she came up—wagging and panting and smiling the way only dogs can smile when they’re running at large on a sunny spring day—and offered her head. A quick pat, and I suddenly felt confident that I would hole out my wedge shot. Rover eased to the side and stayed still as I shot. Close but no cigar.
On the next tee, Rover came up again for a little love, then scampered away from the box. I did use 3-wood this time but pushed the ball far right into some scraggly junk by a cedar tree. I might have said a forceful word, for Rover seemed dubious when she came for a post-shot petting. I hit another ball—pured it down the middle—and all was right.
Rover continued roving as I puttered down the cart path. I picked up the bad ball and hit the good one, a seven iron just off the green’s shoulder. Rover took the liberty of piling into the cart, and together we rode to the next green. A chip and a couple of putts and we were off to the next tee box, where the routine repeated. I began to wonder how far Rover was straying and whether I was aiding and abetting an escape, but judging from Rover’s well-groomed appearance, leather collar and dog tags, I surmised she was just out for a lark and totally within her realm of familiarity.
On the next tee, she did something I’ll never forget. She went to the front of the box and laid down just in front of the raised part. Her body was completely protected from any errant shot, yet she was able to watch me go through my pre-shot routine, then hit. The ball sailed toward the left side of the fairway and came to rest right at the 150-yard mark. A good shot. Rover leapt up and accompanied me to the swale where my ball sat. Then, as if assuring herself I would no longer require her company, she took off, not in any hurry, just exploring, following the nose wherever it goes. Increasingly, she moved back toward the clubhouse and farther away from me. I concentrated on my shot and didn’t realize until too late that that was the last I would see of her.
I finished the last few holes without event. Later, long after the round was over, rather than reliving the good shots and ruing the bad, I would think of Rover, the softness of her white-and-black fur, her friendly disposition, her uncanny knowledge of golf etiquette, and, most of all, that smile that only a happy dog can smile.