Tom Jefferson’s Summer Place

I was working with a terrific group of people this week in Lynchburg, VA. A small company, less than 50 people. It’s an ESOP company. They are all owners. Employee Stock Option Program is a clever concept. What a great way to attract and retain the best people. After surveying the employees, conducting a tailored seminar based on their objectives, Lester, a true southern gentleman said, “Les’ go play sum gof” in a that charming southern drawl. I have played one round of golf in ten years. It showed. I drove the ball pretty well, even hit a few good shots with my 7 and 9 iron. But four-putting will never win the day. I don’ t play customer golf. I am waay too competititve.

On the fourth hole, Lester pointed out that all the land we were on was once owned by Tom Jefferson. “That was his summer house,” he pointed out with a great deal of pride.” Pausing for effect, “In fact, you can tell people you are playing with borrowed clubs that belong to the great, great, great, great, great, great grand-nephew of Virginia’s most famous fore-father. It was kind of cool. That didn’t help my golf score. Lester beat me by at least 12 strokes in nine holes. I remembered why I gave up golf after one particularly bad putt.

Golf. The sport is long overdue for a name change. I propose calling it “HUMBLE” or perhaps even ^&#)!@$?!*&^%$#@!!!~!!

Then I hit a 12 foot putt on the ninth hole. “Great shot!” Lester shouted out with genuine glee. Golfers are like that. Especially southern gentleman like Lester. It keeps us coming back. Why is it we forget ALL the bad shots once we hit one decent one?

Tom Jefferson never played golf. I wonder what he would think of it now if he were alive? In 1773, Thomas Jefferson and his wife, Martha, inherited nearly 5,000 acres of land in Bedford County, Virginia, upon the death of Martha’s father, John Wayles. While he visited the property many times over the years, and it would serve as a steady source of farming income, more than three decades would pass before he began building on the site. In 1805, just after his election to a second term as President and the tragic death of his daughter Maria, he began construction on a retreat at Poplar Forest. The house was mostly completed in 1809, as he left the Presidency and began his retirement years.

A talented architect and landscaper, Jefferson planted a Poplar Forest. The golf course is a testimony to his imagination and his liberal use of Italian and French design elements. The octagonal villa has floor to ceiling windows, skylights, columns and porticos.

Ever since George Washington began using Mount Vernon as his escape from official duties, American presidents have enjoyed private retreats. For Jefferson, that place was Poplar Forest. In his own words, “Detach from public life, which I have never loved, and retire to the bosom of my family, friends, my farm and my books, which I have always loved.”

As I write this I am taking an Amtrak train from Lynchburg to Washington, DC. There is something erstwhile and unique about watching the world go by on a train. I have fond memories of riding the rails in England as a child. The gentle sway, rumble and rocking is soothing. I had breakfast in the dining car. It gave me a chance to reflect upon three days with an ESOP company and Tom Jefferson. After that 12 foot putt, I reckon I need to read a biography on Jefferson’s life. Maybe I should reread “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” by Bob Rottella. He is one of the top golf consultants in the country, a professor at the University of Virginia. I wonder if he is related to Tom Jefferson? Hey hand me that pitching wedge. I gotta hit one over this Poplar. I have TJ to blame for that darn tree…

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