Finding solace in a journey to Scotland
ORLANDO, Fla. – In the midst of the cacophany of the PGA Merchandise Show, Jim Hartsell was sitting at an eight-seat dining table quietly talking about his new book, “When Revelation Comes.”
Near the end of the interview, Hartsell paused and he wiped away another of the million tears moments after recounting a story about the final high school golf tournament played by his youngest son Jordan.
For Hartsell, an architect by trade and a frequent contributor to The Links Diary and The Golfer’s Journal, that day at the 2023 PGA Merchandise Show was another day to cope with the grief of losing Jordan to an accidental drug overdose in 2021. His son’s death, and how he found a measure of inner peace in a month-long trip to Scotland in the aftermath is the backdrop for “When Revelation Comes,” released in December by Back Nine Press.
It’s Hartsell’s first book following his initial offering – “The Secret Home of Golf” – which chronicles the story of Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, and the rise of the Rob Collins-Tad King golf architecture firm.
The essence of “When Revelation Comes” deals with trying to heal after the loss of a son. It’s also an impromptu travel guide for golf in western Scotland.
‘When Revelation Comes’ is A love letter to Scotland
Hartsell explains the book this way:
“It’s a love letter to Scotland and Scottish golf – a travel guide in a way. But it’s also kind of a book about life and how you deal with a horrific, horrific tragedy. [Jordan’s death] is the worst thing that can happen to anybody; I challenge somebody to tell me there is something worse.”
To understand why Hartsell needed to tell his story, a snapshot of his family life before the trip to Scotland is necessary. It helps the reader understand the devastating effect Jordan’s death had and why visiting Scotland was essential.
Hartsell’s first experiences with Scottish golf came in 1994 on a trip with his father. Through the years, the tradition of those golf trips evolved into Jim’s taking his three sons – Jake, Jonathan and Jordan – on similar excursions. Nearly from that first visit, Hartsell developed a special affinity for courses such as Dunaverty and Macrahanish, although there aren’t many Scottish courses that don’t get his seal of approval.
Those trips forged a love of Scotland, something he passed on to his sons, including Jordan, who had been a fine high school golfer at Hartselle High School in north Alabama.
The pain of a son’s death
In Chapter 2, Hartsell chronicles the life and death of Jordan, who as a sophomore in 2015 played on his school’s Class 6A state championship golf team. After his 2017 graduation, Jordan briefly played college golf at a local community college. And then, like many teenagers, he lost his way. He became distant, pulled back from his family. He lost, and then regained, a love of golf and appeared on the upswing until the May 2021 morning Hartsell found Jordan dead in his grandfather’s home.
The cause, doctors said, was an interaction between his prescribed Adderall and either an opioid pill or Xanax, possibly laced with fentanyl.
Two and a half months later, Hartsell was on a plane bound for Scotland, uncertain whether he could come to terms with Jordan’s death but knowing he would find comfort.
“There’s just not a road map for it because you just don’t know what to do,” he said. “I thought I was going to die myself, quite honestly. What am I going to do?”
Throughout the book, Hartsell introduces readers to his Scottish friends who not only provide solace but also give him space to deal with his grief.
He details Scottish landmarks and takes the reader hole-by-hole to courses where sheep and cows graze nearby and greens fees are collected in honesty boxes.
Hartsell introduces his friend Robbie Wilson, who was instrumental in helping him in the aftermath of Jordan’s death. He also offers snapshots of the interactions with random strangers he meets along the way – from the Easdale ferry captain to a looper named Des, who once caddied for renowned Scottish amateur Gordon Sherry.
Hartsell said the Scots have “an almost sixth sense when an American is there.”
“For the most part, they really want to know what you think about the golf courses,” he said. “Whenever I would run into a greens-keeper, almost without fail they would start talking to me and ask me what I thought. To me, the people are the stars of the book and the people I met.”
‘Jordan would not want me to give up’
When talking about “When Revelation Comes,” Hartsell also explained how he could remember each stop, each person, each conversation.
“When I go on these trips I always take a journal, and every night when I get back to the room I write down everything that happened that day,” he said.
“When Revelation Comes” reaches its crescendo in Chapter 13. It is the day of Hartsell’s final round in Scotland, played at Dunaverty with his friend Robbie. Sitting on a bench at the 11th tee, the floodgate of memories of Jordan and his other sons opens. He describes sitting there, unable to stop crying.
“I had a couple of times on the trip where I got a little bit emotional,” he said. “But it was not like that. It just all came crashing down on me. I was thinking about everything and being at the place where I had been with my dad 30 years before. I get emotional talking about it now.
“It all came crashing down, but it was almost like a catharsis – like I have done this, I have got stuff I still need to do. I can’t just give up. Jordan would not want me to give up, and that’s kind of what I was thinking.”
Hartsell said the reward from writing “When Revelation Comes” is mostly from the messages he receives.
“There are three different tones to the messages,” he said. “One will be from somebody who had something similar happen to them. They say they know what I am going through and it has helped them through the grieving process.”
Some messages are from people who have read the book and immediately want to plan a trip to Scotland to play golf. Often, Hartsell responds with a potential itinerary for them.
“I don’t mind doing it for them. If they have read the book it’s the least I can do,” he said.
Other messages are from people who might not have children, but the book makes them think about their life and inspires them to “not waste their time.”
“That really is the reward for writing something,” Hartsell said. “It’s not about the money. I had planned to write a book about Scotland while I was writing Sweetens Cove. Jordan died about the time I finished writing the Sweetens Cove book. I didn’t know if I would be able to finish it or if I would write anything ever again. But I did.”
Writing from the heart is the best kind of writing, and in “When Revelation Comes,” Hartsell does it as well as anyone.
“When Revelation Comes” is available through Back Nine Press.
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Featured image courtesy of Jim Hartsell