INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — More than two months into his drive to hit a golf ball across the country — from California to South Carolina — Luke Bielawski has experienced an incredible assortment of adventures.

The experiences for the 24-year-old Catholic have ranged from the thrill of hitting a golf ball across the Mississippi River to the fear he felt after having his truck break down on a dirt road known as “Smuggler’s Lane” — so named because Mexican drug cartels use the road to transport their contraband.

His “Tee to Shining Tee” journey also has led him to be featured on “CBS Evening News,” to a private meeting with former President George W. Bush, and to an unexpected encounter with “Christ’s Cowboys,” a nondenominational group that “takes Christ” to horse shows and other events.

And perhaps best of all, his golf-swinging summer has been a success so far in terms of the reason he is making the cross-country trek — in the hopes of raising at least $100,000 to help youths receive a Catholic education at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis.

The college preparatory school combines academics with a work-study program that lets its students from mostly low-income backgrounds experience different career possibilities.

“We’re on track to either hit our mark or be close to it,” Bielawski said July 11 before teeing up for the day in Vicksburg, Miss. “We’re at $42,000 right now.”

He’s keeping track of the journey online at the site

Bielawski hopes to take his last golf swing Aug. 13, ending the roughly 2,500-mile journey by plunking a ball into the Atlantic Ocean from the shore of Kiawah Island, S.C. A short time later, he will begin his final semester at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis.

By mid-July, the 2007 graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis said his score for the cross-country course was 36,490 shots, including the loss of 3,889 golf balls along the way.

At that point, he also had hit a golf ball 2,174.1 miles — across a desert, around mountains, over rivers and through numerous other natural and man-made obstacles while passing through the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.

Yet while the statistics he has accumulated are stunning, they don’t compare to some of the memorable moments that Bielawski has experienced since starting this rare round of golf May 8.

Indeed, the journey’s most frightening experience also led to the most fulfilling moment for him.

After their truck broke down on “Smuggler’s Lane” in New Mexico — an area with no cellphone service — Bielawski and his cousin, Nick Bielawski, set off in a small John Deere utility vehicle to look for help.

“After having driven roughly 30 miles and not seeing a single sign of any town or city, Nick and I decided to stop at someone’s house to ask for directions and to possibly use their landline telephone,” recalled Luke Bielawski, a member of Holy Spirit at Geist Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“There is no doubt in my mind that all of the events that had transpired that day had purposefully guided us to the Kniepkemps. We were in need, and God led us to the Kniepkemp’s ranch,” he told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

During the course of several days, Paul and Christy Kniepkemp fed the cousins, gave them a place to stay and lent them tools before the truck was repaired.

Other blessings have blossomed from being featured on “CBS Evening News.”

Bush saw the spot, and Bielawski and his cousin met him in his office in Dallas. “We got to spend over an hour with him. That was a tremendous honor.”

Asked what impact the journey has had on him so far, Bielawski hesitated before saying, “It’s tough to say. This trip has offered me a lot of time to be on my own and think. You think a lot about friends and family and other people you care about — and helping the community. When I get to the end of it, I’ll think about how it’s changed my life.”

One point he’s certain about — the course has strengthened his faith.

“When you get to see all of his glories like I have — the beautiful terrain, the gorgeous sunsets, the stars at night, all the great people I’ve met — it’s hard for your faith to dwindle. At the end of the day, you just have to say, ‘God is good. He is glorious.’ It’s definitely solidified and strengthened my faith.”


Shaughnessy is on the staff of The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.