I once played a round of golf at Chastain Park in Buckhead with Ray Mock.
For me, it was like playing Augusta National with Jack Nicklaus.
Mock played slow and steady, never rushed, rarely frustrated. His game was all pars and bogeys, with an occasional birdie.
My game is the exact opposite in terms of tenor and score. It’s all triple bogeys and searching the woods and creeks for errant shots, with a few unprintable words peppered in for good measure.
I’ve found at some point during a round of golf like that, the player with the lower score will inevitably begin offering unsolicited advice to the struggling player. They’ll provide pointers from their stance and how they are gripping their club to their backswing and the movement of their hips.
Not Mock. He seemed to simply enjoy being out there that day, playing golf in his personal Shangri La and chatting between holes.
I couldn’t have known then that a few years later I would be playing in a memorial tournament honoring him. It was held on that same course, with the funds raised going to the Chastain Park Conservancy, an organization Mock co-founded. He died unexpectedly in the park July 15.
The tournament, called the Ray Mock Memorial Golf Tournament and nicknamed “The Ray,” was May 3. It was held on the first Friday of the month, a day he reserved for a round of golf with his friends.
Those friends and many others came out to honor him the best way they knew how: to enjoy one another’s company and putter around the Chastain golf course doing anything but taking themselves too seriously.
Mock was much more a Buckhead boy than I ever could be. He was a virtual encyclopedia of the who, what, when, where and why of our community. He went to Garden Hills Elementary School and graduated from North Fulton High School. He would call the paper and tell me about a story. Newspapers get pitches all the time about what we should be covering, but we can’t get to everything.
But everything he called about was a story, and I never passed up a suggestion. It would be difficult to guess at how many Mock-generated stories I have assigned or written over the years, but it is a lot.
For the last one in the fall of 2017, he said he had a great story on Chastain Park. It was a story no one knew. It was the real story, about a man named George Starr Peck, who singlehandedly shut down the Fulton County prison farm in north Buckhead and created a park in its place.
Mock wanted to give me the documents for the column, including a letter written by Peck, but he didn’t have any time and was running late. We agreed to meet in front of the Ace Hardware on Roswell Road for a quick exchange. We stood in that parking lot for 45 minutes talking.
Every once in a while, his cell phone rang, he looked down it and said, “I’ve got to go.” And then we’d talk for another 15 minutes. That was Mock, through and through.
A large white envelope was on my desk the day I learned of his death, his name written across the front in big black letters. Inside were the documents about Peck and Chastain Park. I had planned on dropping them by his office in the Quonset hut in the center of the park.
I put the envelope aside to wait from a more appropriate time, but I never got around to it.
Jan. 4, the Quonset hut burned to the ground.
Walking the golf course with Mock all of those years ago wasn’t about golf. It was about his stories, the history he knew first hand and the crystal-clear memories of names and places I didn’t know. That’s why playing that day was so special — for me, and for what I do, it doesn’t get any better.
I always wanted to somehow download all of that knowledge somewhere and capture it for future generations. I thought we had time.
It turns out we didn’t. But I think back to those documents about Peck and the creation of Chastain Park — the real story — and wonder if there may have been a divine hand from the great beyond keeping me from returning them to the hut.
The real story of the park he so cherished will be preserved, with “Ray Mock, Chastain Park Conservancy” written across the front of the envelope.