The first thing you see as you proceed from the parking lot toward the pro shop and first tee at Bennett Valley Golf Course is a big cast sculpture of a fan favorite from the world of newspaper comics: Lucy Van Pelt from Peanuts.
Why? What is a character associated with football, of all sports, doing at a golf course?
Bennett Valley is in Santa Rosa, Calif., where famed illustrator Charles M. Schulz spent the latter 30 years of his life after moving from his first studio location a few miles west, in the town of Sebastopol. The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in downtown Santa Rosa is a beloved destination for fans of his work, and includes tributes to his characters by noted contemporary artists like Christo and Yoshiteru Otani.
Of all the Peanuts characters, Lucy is the perfect candidate to keep watch over a golf course. After all, her signature athletic move - pulling the football away from Charlie Brown an instant before he tries to kick it - is a metaphor for golf.
To play golf is to step into Charlie Brown's sneakers, full of optimism and visions of greatness. But seemingly every round, there's a moment when we are suddenly and thoroughly humbled. We follow a smashed drive with a fanned iron shot. We lick our chops over a 10-foot birdie attempt and then three-putt. Lucy pulls the football out from under our feet, and we land flat on our backs. She stands over us, holding up a merciless mirror to our faults.
And yet, we always seem to come back for more. For golfers at Bennett Valley, Lucy is there to remind them just how elusive - and how tantalizing - golf glory can be.