“A Matter of Golf and Death,” by John Paul Newport. The Wall Street Journal, 6/27/2015.
I usually skip newspaper’s sports pages (even The Wall Street Journal has one), but occasionally an article with broader meaning catches my eye. This one is about memorials being built on golf courses to store the ashes of their departed patrons (and to maintain revenues as membership declines).
In 2003, the author visited the Olympic Fields golf course (just outside of Chicago) one early morning in advance of the U.S. Open and found someone’s cremation ashes scattered on the 3rd green (doesn’t say how it looked). The course director confirmed that many member’s ashes are out there somewhere, and even he has instructions for his to be scattered on the 14th green, his “favorite place on earth.”
“Wildcat scattering,” scattering on the sly without permission, is usually illegal on private property, but that hardly stops anyone. I have never heard of relatives sent back to vacuum it up. The ashes of astronaut Alan Shepard, the one who hit the golf balls on the moon, were scattered from a Navy helicopter in front of his home in Pebble Beach, and some blew onto the nearby golf course according to witnesses. But nobody minded. Good for the grass.
Cremation nationwide is approaching 50% and rising. That’s a lot of ashes, over 3,000 tons per year by my ghoulish calculations (5 lbs for half of the 2.5 million annual American deaths). Golf courses see that as opportunity.
I would guess ashes scattered on the ground would soon wash into the soil where the phosphorus would provide nutrition for the plants. That part appeals to me, but I have never considered crematory ashes to retain any essence of the departed. I understand rather large pieces of bone remain after cremation, and the ashes are routinely tumbled in a ball mill to crush them to the fine powder people expect to receive. No one sees this part of the process.
Wildcat scattering of ashes in Longwood Gardens must be fairly common, but any field or backyard will do for me. Just no ball-milling, please. Ouch, ouch!