Fiddlin’ around the course with Charlie Daniels

There’s a three-time NASCAR champion, a Grammy Award winner, and then loitering around with us on a tee box between shots, an America Idol runner-up. This, after an bumping into an Oscar nominee and a Heisman Trophy winner in the clubhouse.

Meanwhile, there was a sportswriter carrying a 28-handicap and a more than a little bit of guilt about winding in the damndest round of golf of his life. How it happened, Talladega Superspeedway’s great PR man Russell Branham invited me to join a foursome in the Waltrip Brothers annual golf tournament. It would be a reunion for me with Michael Waltrip, with whom I worked for two seasons, and a chance to rub elbows with — in order of the above-mentioned luminaries — Darrell Waltrip, Charlie Daniels, Bo Bice, Elliott Gould and Archie Griffin.

Then, when two of the foursome dropped out, Russell and I were nervous last-minute fill-ins alongside the twosome of Charlie Daniels and Darrell Waltrip. When I heard today that Charlie died at age 83, I had to share this column that I wrote for The Huntsville Times/ about the event:

FRANKLIN, Tennessee – There was a traffic tie-up on the sixth tee, two foursomes waiting to hit, another foursome of onlookers with camera.

A cell phone sounded. Charlie Daniels dug into his golf bag and fetched it.

And, yes, honest truth, I wouldn’t make this up:

Charles Daniels’ ringtone is “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”

And, you should also know this. If the Lord went and made a nicer, funnier, more gregarious and gracious fiddle player than Charlie Daniels, I’d be hard-pressed to believe it.

Through fluke and fortune, country music legend Charlie Daniels and NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip were two of my playing partners in a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming experience Thursday at the Waltrip Brothers Charity Championship golf tournament on the lush piece of suburban Nashville that is the Vanderbilt Legends Club.

We’ve spent more time in the sand than Kenny Chesney,

Bo Bice

Despite the effort of Russell Branham, the director of public relations and our “A” player, coupled with the various “executive decision” of the tournament co-host, we didn’t win. But I won the golf-partner lottery.

We did finish better than the team in front of us, captained by Bo Bice, the Huntsville-born “American Idol” star.

“We’ve spent more time in the sand than Kenny Chesney,” Bo bemoaned while waiting out traffic on No. 6.

I managed not to embarrass myself too badly. For a change I hit more grass than water and managed to coax in a 30-foot downhill rainbow for a birdie, a putt that will likely have grown to 50 feet in length before the week is out.

When I managed to fly the green with an iron shot, D.W. noted with the sort of Waltrip logic I’ve grown to understand from knowing his brother for more than 20 years, “Two of my short ones is equal to one of your long ones.”

Daniels, four days shy of his 77th birthday, is fit and healthy, and had to bolt almost the instant we left the 18th green. A motorhome was awaiting. He was off to a concert in Lynchburg, Va., then onto New Jersey. He’s still doing 90-100 days a year on the road.

He’s an exceptionally knowledgeable football fan, loyal to his Tennessee Vols. One of the great thrills of his performing career, he twice got to play “Rocky Top” at the same event. With Steve Spurrier in the audience.

Daniels doesn’t visit the tee box very often. (“You know you’re a redneck when you gotta watch out for cows and horses on your driving range,” he said of his golf upbringing.) But he contributed with his short game.

Standing in a fairway at one point, Waltrip said, “Charlie, I wish you had your fiddle.”

“I do too. I’d sure play it a hell of a lot better than this golf club,” he said.

This was the fourth year for the Waltrip Brothers, Darrell and Michael, to host the event. With a dinner and auction on Wednesday coupled with the tournament, they expect to have raised $400,000 for charities that include Feed the Children, Motor Racing Outreach and Charlie Daniels’ Scholarships for Heroes, a program that provides college education for returning veterans.

You know you’re a redneck when you gotta watch out for cows and horses on your driving range.

Charlie Daniels

A number of other drivers and NASCAR celebs turned out, including Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers, Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse, Elliott Sadler, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond.  Former Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield and actor Elliott Gould were among the other celebs.

All along the course, D.W. and Daniels stopped to pose for pictures and sign autographs, amiable as could be. First-class tourney that it was, each foursome posed in front of an electronic message board with our name in lights.

“If you want,” I said to D.W., “Russell and I will be glad to autograph the picture for you.”

With Charlie not hitting off the tee, we invoked the long unwritten mathematical rule of a scramble that we could hit an extra ball. We used the bonus ball from Daniels, colored Tennessee orange, naturally.

A foursome waiting behind us saw what we were doing and one player jokingly squawked about it.

To which Darrell Waltrip turned and said, “You get your name on your tournament, you can make the rules then.”

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