Thomas Lynch’s Golfatorium

Thomas Lynch is an undertaker, poet and writer who just happens to have a cottage a few doors down the “beach” on a lake in Northern Michigan from ours. In his book, The Undertaking (Norton, 1997), Lynch describes his idea for what he calls a “Golfatorium”:

There are roughly ten acres in every par four. Eighteen of those and you have a golf course. Add twenty acres for practice greens, clubhouse, pool an dpatio and parking and two hundred acres is what you’d need. Now divide the usable acres, the hundred and eighty by the number of burials per acre—one thousand—subtract the greens, the water hazards and the sand traps and you still have room for nearly eight thousand burials on the front nine and the same on the back. Lets say, easy, fifteen thousand adult burials for every eighteen holes. Now add back the cremated ashes scattered in sand traps, the old marines and swabbies tossed overboard in the water hazards and the Italians entombed in the walls of the club house, and it doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion that there’s gold in them there hills.

You can laugh all you want, but do the math. Say it costs you ten thousand an acre and as much again in development costs—you know, to turn some beanfield into Roseland Park Golfatorium or Arbordale or Peachtree. I regard as a good omen the interchangeability of the names of golf courses and burial grounds: Glen Eden and Grand Lawn, like Oakland Hills or Pebble Beach could be either one, so why not both? By and large we’re talking landscape here. So two million for property and two million for development, the clubhouse, the greens and the watering system. Four million in up-front costs. Now you install an army of telemarketers-slash-memorial counselors to call people in the middle of dinner and sell them lots at an “introductory price” of, say, five hundred a grave—a bargain by any standard—and cha-ching, you’re talking seven point five million. Add in the pre-arranged cremations at a hundred a piece and another hundred for scattering in the memorial sand traps and you’ve doubled your money before anyone has bought a tee time or paid a greens fee or bought golf balls or those overpriced hats and accessories from your pro shop. Nor have you sold off the home lots around the edges to those types that want to live on a fairway in Forest Lawn. Building sites at fifty thousand a pop. Clipping coupons is what you’d be. Rich beyond any imagination. Add that’s not even figuring how much folks would pay to be buried, say, in the same fairway as John Daly or Arnold Palmer. Or to have Jack Nicklaus try to blast out of your sandtrap. And think of the gimmicks—free burial for a hole in one, select tee times for the pre-need market. And the package deals: a condo on the eighteenth hole, six graves on th par-three on the front nine, dinner reservations every friday night, tennis lessons for the missus, maybe a video package for you and your best foursome to use at your memorial service, to aid in everyone’s rememberance of the way you were, your name and dates on the wall of the nineteenth hole where you golf buddies could get a little liquored up and weepy all in your memory. All for one low price, paid in a way that maximized your frequent flier miles.

Where do I sign up for one of those?

I would want to be in a sand trap, where I could wreak my ghostly vengance on generation after generation of unsuspecting weekend hackers.

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