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This present was surprise of a lifetime

Boy, talk about travel plans gone awry. Consider the case of Steve Cox.

He went to the Portland airport for a five-day golf trip to Wisconsin but was re-routed.

To Scotland. To play St. Andrews. For 10 days.

"Considering I thought I was going to Wisconsin, it turned out to be pretty cool," says Cox, who recently was duped in the most wonderful of ways. "I was all packed and ready for warm, humid weather, and I ended up being in Scotland, where the temperatures were 55 to 60. That's all right. They had me covered."

"They" were his family and friends, who, over the course of 17 months, hatched an intricate international ruse heavy in deception and intrigue. Covert government operatives might not have pulled off the scheme so seamlessly.

Cox's son, Josh, wanted to do something special for his dad's 60th birthday.

"But it was much, much more than just his birthday," says Josh, 33, a former North Medford High baseball player who lives in Eugene and works in marketing for a health services company in Corvallis. "He's my dad. I am who I am because of him. He's taught me so much."

When Josh finished his athletic career, he and his father bonded through the things they did together. Golf was a constant activity they shared and enjoyed.

Josh plays to a 5 handicap, only slightly better than Steve's 6.

Steve took up the game at age 9, playing his first round left-handed with right-handed clubs and hitting the ball with the back of the club. That was how he batted in baseball. Soon after, however, a pro near the Coxes' Cottage Grove home encouraged Steve's father to turn him into a righty. Most courses, he reasoned, aren't set up for southpaws.

That was the beginning for Cox, who now plays primarily at Centennial and Stone Ridge.

With that as a backdrop, Josh went to work. He and some buddies were hashing out ideas 11/2 years ago on what to do for his dad's birthday. Pebble Beach. The Masters. There was no shortage of grand ideas.

"Then I said 'Scotland,' kind of flippantly," recalls Josh, "thinking it would be a longshot."

Research, however, told them they could get both a good deal and an amazing experience.

As Josh and his friend, Jeremy Gates, got more into it, the plot became more complicated. There was a birthday involved, so the element of surprise seemed a requisite feature.

"We thought it'd be great to hold out as long as we could and pull it off at the airport," says Josh. "There were huge logistical things, like how to get him to the airport, and the whole Wisconsin thing."

The Wisconsin thing made perfect sense. They had to get Cox thinking big, and they had to get him to pack for cooler climes. Whistling Straits, which will host the PGA Championship next year for its third major in 12 years, was part of the allure.

In April, Josh sprung the birthday trip on his dad. He presented scorecards of the Kohler, Wis., courses and brochures of the area. He sold it like it was a timeshare, and Steve bit.

When they discussed the trip, Josh would occasionally suggest packing rain gear.

"In retrospect," Steve says now, "my son did tell me several times to throw in rain gear."

And Cox's wife, Charley, dropped periodic hints about getting passports. Not for the this trip, necessarily, but in general. She was effective enough that Steve did so with nary an inkling.

Finally, a couple weeks ago, the trip arrived. Steve said goodbye to Charley and drove to Eugene to pick up his son, unaware his wife was not far behind. The boys stayed near the airport, and that night, Josh pretended to have forgotten his bag of shoes. He shrugged and said there was a Nike store in the airport.

"I bit on that one, too, like I'd been biting on everything," says Steve.

As it turns out, the Nike store was the intercept spot.

From the time they shuttled to the airport, Josh was in communication with all the others via text messaging.

Subject has landed.

Subject is on the move.

Subject is nearing the intercept point.

"We're working our way toward the Nike store, and I start hearing bagpipe music," says Steve. "That doesn't mean anything to me. I thought it was coming through the sound system. Then we see him, and I said to Josh, 'That's pretty cool. They've got live bagpipe music in the airport instead of a piano player.'"

A few more steps and they were near the store.

"He stops and looks at me," says Steve, "and says, 'Dad, we're not going to Wisconsin. We're going to Scotland.'"

Steve's mind was reeling as he turned to see a large crowd of family and friends.

"My mind had pretty much shut down," says Steve. "I looked at them and thought, what are they doing here. You could have knocked me over with a feather, and it got pretty emotional at that point."

Eventually, he learned the president of his company, North Pacific Supply Company, had lined up the bagpipe player, and that it would be a party of eight — a "mancation," he says — going to Scotland. Included was his brother, Gary, and Medford residents Dick Chiponis and John Campbell.

Before Steve boarded, he was handed a DVD to watch on the plane. It spanned much of his life and referred to his father, who taught him to play golf. It showed he and his brother as kids. It chronicled the days leading to this very moment.

"That was another emotional deal," says Steve. "They had everything planned from A down to Z, and there were no hitches."

The golf itself was hard and blissful. They played Kingsbarns, Carnoustie, St. Andrews Old and New, The Castle, Jubilee and The Dukes.

On the first hole of the Old Course, Cox made what he calls the shot of his life, knocking his approach in from 150 yards on the "Burn" hole, named for the canal that runs in front of the green.

He hit his 24-degree hybrid and encouraged his ball to "hurry up and get over the water. Then it hit on the green, took two hops, hit the pin and went right down in the jar."

In his young Scottish brogue, his caddie exclaimed, "Well ... that went in!"

"It was a pretty cool time in my golf career for that to happen," says Cox.

He shot 81 that day, his best of the trip. Other scores were in the high 80s, others higher.

It mattered little.

Cox returned to Medford Sunday and now can look forward to, of all things, his birthday, which is Sept. 29.

He's not expecting gifts to top the one he's already received.

"This covered my birthday, Christmas, everything for the next 10 years," he says, "which is just fine. The whole trip was all about family and friends."

And no small amount of intrigue.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

The group poses on Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole at St. Andrews' Old Course. From left, standing, are Steve Cox, Gary Cox, John Campbell and Dick Chiponis. Seated, from left, are Jeremy Gates, Josh Cox, Todd Rosborough and Aaron Rosborough. - From Daniel Newberry