Nick Karnazes set out with a goal.
He wanted to play 96 rounds of golf in 96 days in 48 states.
Less than two weeks ago, he completed his journey. Karnazes, who passed through Worthington in late May, finished exactly on time.
“I’m 100 percent completely relieved,” Karnazes said. “It was a tough challenge. My oldest son is a long-distance runner and when he runs a 200-mile race people say, ‘After you run 50 miles you must be tired. Aren’t you completely mentally fatigued when you think that you still have 150 miles to go?’ He says, ‘I don’t look at it like that, I look at it that I have to run to that next stop sign, then I have to run to that tree, then I have to run to that red convertible car.’ He calls it baby steps. You don’t look like you have to run 200 miles when you’re 50 miles into the race. He told me just before I left way back in March. He said, ‘Dad, baby steps. Don’t look at trying to complete 96 rounds, look at trying to complete the round you’re playing and what you’re going to do tomorrow. Look at one day in advance and when you finish that round, find a place to sleep, find something to eat that’s decent and don’t think it’s so (difficult).’”
He returned home June 25. On his first full day home, he did what he’s been doing for the past 96 days — he played golf. This time it wasn’t on a course halfway across the country. It was in his own backyard on a course he’s played thousands of times.
“It was absolutely fabulous,” Karnazes said. “I walked in and Dave Cook, who is the pro at San Clemente Golf Course — I’ve known him for years — he said, ‘Nick, I haven’t seen you for a while, where have you been?’ He knew darn well where I’d been, but he was teasing me.
“He said there was a tournament going on and he could get me out in an hour. I said, ‘I’m a member of the men’s club, I can play in that tournament.’ He said, ‘I know you are, Nick. There’s a single and you are the second guy up, you can play with him and two other guys playing in the tournament.’ He kept me waiting all of seven minutes before I was able to tee off.”
Back on his home course, Karnazes finished with an 84.
“I shot 42-42,” he said. “I wasn’t putting too well; I think what happened was I got used to the putting on all the different courses I played and so I wasn’t used to my own course. That threw me a curve.”
Only a few days before, Karnazes was teeing up his last shot on his final round of his incredible journey.
“… I teed the ball up and was ready to hit the last hole on my last day,” he said. “I had a tear in my eye. I stepped away and got my handkerchief and I said, ‘I think a little bug flew in my eye.’ (My playing partner) said, ‘We know what’s going on with you, Nick.’”
On this day, in Redding, Calif., he finished with an 86, completing a trip that at times, may have seemed impossible.
Before he left, his goal was 96 rounds. He accomplished more than he anticipated.
“I ended up playing more than that,” Karnazes said. “I played 108 rounds of golf because I played 12 times on my day off. Twenty times on the entire trip, I played 36 holes in one day.”
He also estimated he would drive just more than 10,000 miles. Again, he went farther than he anticipated. In all, he drove 12,763 miles, and spent just less than $2,000 on gas.
“I was thinking I would drive less, I was thinking I would drive about 10,300,” Karnazes said. “I plotted it from city to city and you get on Google and when I added up all the cities, like Oklahoma City to Wichita, Kan., it gives you mileage. All those miles added up to 10,305. However, it doesn’t allow for you, when you’re in that city, you’re not in the golf course and you have to drive six or eight miles one way. You have to go look for a Wal-Mart to buy some groceries. Some of the courses I mapped out when I was playing two different courses in a city, I would get to the first course and I had to backtrack a little bit to get to the second course.
“I was in Minnesota, I believe, when I passed 10,300 and I still had quite a bit of driving to do.”
After a stop in Sioux Falls, S.D., he was off to North Dakota. That provided another adventure for the “Happy Golfer.”
“There’s a city on the border between North Dakota and Montana and it’s called Beach,” Karnazes explained. “I live in San Clemente, which is a beach community. I know if you look in Webster’s Dictionary for the definition of a beach, ‘A large body of water mostly ocean, sometimes a lake or a river, it has sand, it has a whole bunch of people, men and women and children in bathing suits. You put on sunscreen and play with a Frisbee and you play with the waves.’
“Well, I Stayed at Beach, N.D., and that night it snowed 1 ½ inches on my windshield. I wake up in the morning to go to Montana and I don’t have an ice scraper or a snow scraper, so how am I going to get the snow off the windshield? I got a spatula that two days earlier I was making scrambled eggs in my camper and I used the spatula to get the snow off. I said, ‘I better get out of here. These North Dakota winters are very rough. So are the summers.’”
Living in San Clemente, Calif., Karnazes can golf all year round. On his trip, he encountered snow on three separate occasions.
“So much of the time, especially in the New England states, I played golf and people said that they were a little rusty because it was only their second or third round this season,” Karnazes said. “I said, ‘What do you mean this season? Because in California you play every day of the year.’
“If it gets colder than 52 degrees we fire the mayor and the city council and we get new people.”
A few days after completing his trip, Karnazes was already joking about his next adventure.
“I was telling the gal that does the Web site that I’ve been driving by, on the entire trip seeing all 48 states, I drove by courses that looked quite nice and I never had time to play them, I had to keep moving,” Karnazes said. “I said, when we set up the trip next year, we’ll play 10 courses in every state instead of two in all 48 states. It will take 480 days.”
After a laugh, he then added, “I don’t plan on taking a long trip like this.”
He was away from his house so long he almost forgot what it looked like.
“We pulled in Tuesday, and I looked at the house and I looked at the walls, and I said, ‘Did I paint these this yellow in the kitchen?’” he said. “(My wife) Fran says, ‘Yes.’ We remodeled our kitchen about two years ago and I did some painting… I said, ‘I don’t remember the yellow being this bright.’”
But Karnazes was happy to be home.
“I enjoy our camper and the driving and the aspect of camping out, but you’re kind of in a little small cage,” Karnazes said. “It’s not like you’re in a 45-foot camper, it’s a 24-footer. We live close to the beach and we have a golf course view and a beach view from our home. I just sat on our deck upstairs by the master bedroom. My wife said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just having a soft drink and looking at the ocean and remembering about how nice our place is here in San Clemente and how fortunate we are to live in southern California where you can play golf year round.’”
After all the places he saw, the people he met and the course he played, Karnazes sat down and started working on a memoir to tell of his experience.
“I wrote two chapters and I gave it to my wife — she’s a retired English teacher,” Karnazes said. “She said, ‘It really doesn’t look too bad. Who helped you with this?’ I said, ‘I did it on my own.’ She couldn’t believe it. I’m still trying to put it together and I’ve got some time now. I’m not that good of a writer, but I remember it quite well and I kept some pretty good notes on the trip of the courses and what I shot. But I also want to talk about some of the folks that I met.”
Because, for Karnazes, the trip was about more than playing golf and seeing the country. It was also about the people he met along the way.