Interview: David L. Cook of Seven Days in Utopia
Sometimes real life feels like a metaphor. Sometimes it feels like a parable. David L. Cook is the author of Seven Days in Utopia: Golf’s Sacred Journey. He told me his story about his own time in the real-life town of Utopia, Texas, how it changed him, and how he has brought its message to others. Don’t forget to enter my contest to win a copy of his book.
What does it feel like to have your story turned into a movie?
It’s really special. You can’t really put words to it. Life changes on a razor’s edge. One day, I was just living life in Utopia and the next day I happened to notice a hand-written sign on a half piece of paper on a bulletin board in the cafe that said Utopia Driving Range next to the cemetery and it said, “Come Find Your Game.” It intrigued me so I went out there and I found this beautiful cemetery with oak trees and a rock wall around it, and about ten steps outside of it were three pieces of astroturf, really bad golf balls, and a bunch of weeds and a pasture on the other side of a barbed wire fence, and this was what they called the driving range. It was pathetic!
I felt like this was the place where the Lord said, “Write a book.” I went home, got my computer out, on the porch of an 1874 farmhouse and began to write. My fingers didn’t stop for hours. This story came pouring out. One day before, I was just walking around Utopia. The next day, I’m in the middle of writing a book. Now, five years later, we’re sitting here talking about a movie with Robert Duvall.
It’s unbelievable how all that happened. But God has a purpose and a calling and we know that, we step into it and he gets the glory. It’s a great adventure.
I’m very intrigued by the idea of “Come Find Your Game.” Tell me more about that.
In the book and the movie, the mentor challenges this young kid who’s shown up having had a horrible meltdown in his life, in the middle of a golf tournament, in front of lots of people, and driving out into the middle of nowhere, this little town of Utopia and he meets this old rancher who says, “Spend some time with me and you’ll find your game.” He didn’t really know what it meant, but in the end he learns that life is much bigger than golf. The rancher will teach him about golf but all along he’s really weaving in principles about life. “I’m going to help you find your life.” Finding your game really is: What is your true purpose and calling? Are you allowing your talents to come out? Are you giving God the glory?
Why are sports such a powerful metaphor for the things that are meaningful to us in life?
People love sports because of the competition, because there’s a tangibility — success, failure, there’s a score. You can see improvement. And they like it because it takes them out of their everyday life. In the midst of sports you see these stories unfolding that mimic life. It’s kind of a microcosm, a way to look at life through a two-hour game or a World Series.
Is golf especially spiritual?
No. God created the universe and all its elements. Nothing is more spiritual than anything else. But you find that when you walk with God in every aspect of life, the parables that unfold in front of your eyes — God goes with you into that, whether it’s bowling or golf or curling or football. When we take Him with us and use the gifts and talents that He gives us within that, it’s all a spiritual experience. Every moment, every step we take, every breath we take is an opportunity to move closer to God or away from God or to help others move closer or away from Him.
What have you heard from those who have been influenced by your book?
Someone’s life is literally touched by the words that come through someone else’s hands. I scribed this. I’m not smart enough to write some of the things I’ve found embedded in this story. I’m just scribing it. When other people say it means something to them and affects their life — that’s pretty amazing.
There’s a women’s prison in Ohio where a lady was teaching a Biblical Principles class. She took the lesson of the “buried lie” from the book to ladies who have never played golf, never will play golf, probably never step on a golf course. They went out into the recreation area with the plastic spoons from their lunch and began to dig holes for their lies to change their lives, give all their false identities away. She said a revival broke out with all the other inmates around them, singing praise songs and crying.
Golf is unusual because there’s no referee.
Golf is supposed to be that place where we self-police and you do get those characters who put down the wrong score or kick the ball with their foot. That is just hilarious.
How did a small town in Texas get the name Utopia, which means an ideal community?
A guy named Captain William Ware started this town and named it after himself. The cemetery is still called “Waresville.” It’s in a valley with a crystal clear river that flows through here and mountains in every direction. They’re Texas mountains — they’d be called hills anywhere else! It’s just a really, really beautiful spot. After Ware died, it began to be called Utopia. I don’t know if that meant they didn’t like him or they just liked the name. It’s close to Utopia — except that it’s 104 degrees today!
Are many people afraid of success?
Yes, yes. There’s two fears, one’s the fear of failure and the other is a fear of success. You look at Tiger Woods — who would want to be that? Media sets up the superstars for the great fall. A lot of people at every different level shy away from being all they can be because they know the perils of the limelight.
Who have been your greatest teachers?
A gentleman named Johnny Arreaga was my childhood mentor and golf pro. He would hit a really great shot, and he’d turn and put his club back and say, “Picasso.” One day, when I was 14, I asked, “What do you mean, Picasso?” So he says, “Cookie, for every shot you’ve got a blank canvas. You’ve got to create a masterpiece in your mind’s eye before you ever take the shot. When I hit a shot, I sign it: Picasso. You have to make up your mind. If you don’t create a masterpiece in your mind before everything you do in your life, you will have a lifetime of unfulfilled stick-figure outcomes.”