Imagine if Jack Nicklaus hadn't gone to Ohio State.
It's a short walk from his boyhood home to the Scioto Country Club, where he first played golf (he shot a 51 on the front nine at age 10). As a child on those walks, he would have to pass the park that's just beyond the 17th hole where he had his first hole-in-one (he was 14). When he didn't or couldn't play a round or three, he would just hit balls at that park. It's since been named after him.
Barely west of that park is the high school from where he ended up graduating. The Jack Nicklaus Museum is barely more than halfway between the school and the Horseshoe. He won five junior championships and 27 (!) events before he moved out of his parents' house to go be a Buckeye. That journey was, if he hit every traffic light, maybe a six-minute trip.
He didn't leave home to bring Ohio State into his life. He simply traveled a few blocks into its epicenter. You cannot imagine Nicklaus not going to Ohio State because it's unimaginable. He is from Upper Arlington, which bumps right up against main campus. It's the most Buckeye neighborhood in the state, which means it's the most Buckeye place on earth.
My family moved to UA when I was in grade school. When you arrive as a stranger in any new land you're immediately told what the place is known for - and in Upper Arlington that begins and ends with Ohio State. It's all around you. It's right over there. You can point at it.
Then you're told which famous people it has produced. There's the aforementioned Golden Bear, which also happens to be the high school mascot (there are no actual bears in UA). Arlington also claims the actress who played the mom in National Lampoon's Vacation, European Vacation, and Christmas Vacation. That's Beverly D'Angelo. She went to UAHS, got famous and then had twins with Al Pacino. That's usually where Arlington's unsolicited tour guides stop, which is ignorant because D'Angelo's grandfather was Howard Dwight Smith.
Smith got his architecture degree from Ohio State and then he designed Ohio Stadium with it. He was also a rabid Buckeye football fan, which is not unusual for the area. His season tickets - in his stadium - were exactly one row behind Orville Wright's. Yes, that Orville Wright.
Think about that. The Buckeye fan who created the Horseshoe used to high-five the Buckeye fan who created air travel explicitly for the purpose of getting from Dayton to Ohio State football games faster. Most of that sentence is true. Smith also designed Barrington and Jones. If you're from Upper Arlington you know what those are. You didn't have to click.
Smith designed a lot more than a few schools and your favorite football stadium. He's probably the second-most famous OSU architect you can name right at this moment. The first has designed and built over 400 golf courses in 45 countries. That guy, again.
So you either grow up or arrive in Upper Arlington appreciating both the history and expectations of being from such a place. You're immediately told which famous women and men it has produced, and there is almost always an Ohio State tie-in because, well, it's right over there.
When I arrived in UA I was also told exactly where Woody and Anne Hayes lived, on Cardiff Road. They had a two-story white house with green shutters. Green shutters? It only mattered that they weren't blue. On the day he died, Ohio wept but Arlington sobbed. Woody was everyone in UA's beloved, elderly neighbor - regardless of where their actual house happened to be. You lived on Cardiff; you lived on another street. Woody and Anne were still your neighbors.
As anyone from Bo Schembechler to the average Arlingtonian would tell you, when you were one-on-one with him Woody made you feel like the only person on earth - a great, empathetic, selfless and engaging old man - which only made him like practically everyone else in UA, only famous enough to justify multiple statues. And speaking of average, that's got a funny definition in UA.
The median household income there is over double the Ohio average. Population has been flat for about 40 years, only because it's geographically locked between other neighborhoods and campus - there's nowhere left to grow. People move into town and send their children to the schools. They graduate, go to college and then frequently move back into UA so their children can go to the schools, lather, rinse, repeat.
People want to be there and be from there, but there's only so much room. Being from UA has always worked well for generations, so its natives often come back when it's time to start a family to give their kids the same predictable, productive path. How firm thy friendship.
On the day Woody Hayes died, Ohio wept. Upper Arlington sobbed.
The asterisks every year by the names in the UAHS commencement program that indicate legacies, and double-legacies, and triple-legacies are impossible to overlook. There are family names that have been known in UA for decades. I won't call them out, except that I was one of two Nasrallahs that matriculated through the system and our lockers were arranged alphabetically which placed a Nicklaus just to the right of mine. The faces change in UA; a lot of other things do not.
My parents worked for the university, as do a lot of Arlington residents for obvious reasons. It's annoyingly cute and nice and you cannot beat the commute to campus or downtown. The residents enjoy vacationing in Siesta Key or Myrtle Beach, just to golf somewhere else. To this day I've never heard anyone who wasn't from Upper Arlington ever mention Siesta Key. It's basically UA's southern cottage island.
At this point in the story of My Golf-Loving Hometown that Manufactures Successful People, the elephants in the room are that UA is a) very white, and b) quite affluent. The first part is true - the demographics were cast at its inception when real estate developer King Thompson bought the land with the intent of creating the consummate Columbus country club neighborhood about 100 years ago.
The housing deeds Thompson issued contained restrictive covenants that prevented African-Americans or Jewish people from buying any homes there (those covenants haven't existed for generations, but that's how the die was originally cast). You cannot control or erase your history. It's part of the uncomfortable American story.
Thompson named his project Upper Arlington, since it was just north of Arlington. Today Arlington (RIP) is inequal parts Marble Cliff and Grandview. So there's Old Arlington and New Arlington, but all of it is Upper. That century-old descriptor inadvertently became a part of both the charm and the stereotype.
The second elephant - about wealthy one - requires some context. It still takes a decent chunk of money to still be considered less fortunate in UA. Living in what's referred to as the Golden Ghetto part of town means you could easily move a couple miles away and get a lot more house than what you're getting there. But they know how well UA works, no matter how difficult it might be inside of a smaller house with shared bedrooms.
The pride is on the outside. For a town that's barely over a century old, it's already got more than its fair share of history.
My hometown isn't one of those vomit-inducing split-loyalty towns that dot the entire northwest corner of the state. Sure, there always seems to be one petulant Brady Hoke-type just because traitor in each grade who unwittingly unifies Arlington Buckeyes around her or him, but UA is still closer to a consensus than any town in Ohio.
That allegiance is both powerful and portable. I left Ohio and have three alma maters, but only one college football team. When I'm asked how I became a Buckeye football fatalist, there's often some surprise that it had nothing to do with having attended the university. Nicklaus was all Buckeye long before he ever enrolled. This is pervasive in Upper Arlington.
It had everything to do with where I grew up. And you cannot choose where you're from. It chooses you it becomes part of your identity. Shying away from who you are doesn't make much sense; besides, Ohio State was right over there.
No matter how much or little the town changes, its giant neighbor isn't ever moving away, so its residents - and exports - happily resign themselves to loving it. Hailing from Upper Arlington and feeling any other way about Ohio State would be unimaginable.