Metro-East Living

This family’s giant golf ball sculpture is a neighborhood landmark

Giant golf ball sculpture is famous in The Orchards neighborhood

The Gram family in Belleville has a giant golf ball on a golf tee carved out of a tree trunk in their front yard in The Orchards neighborhood in Belleville.
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The Gram family in Belleville has a giant golf ball on a golf tee carved out of a tree trunk in their front yard in The Orchards neighborhood in Belleville.

The Grams are a divided family.

John likes the giant golf ball on a golf tee carved out of a tree trunk in their front yard at The Orchards in Belleville. So does his 10-year-old daughter, Sydney.

“If I make a new friend, it’s easy for me to tell them where I live,” she said.

But the 4-by-2-foot sculpture bugs John’s wife, Jane, because the golf ball is a little oblong instead of round. Before it was painted white, she thought it looked like a mushroom.

The Grams’ 13-year-old daughter, Sophie, is perhaps the most opinionated.

“I think it is terrible, and I think it should be taken away immediately,” she said.

Good or bad, the unusual yard art is famous on Golf Course Drive, which runs through The Orchards Golf Club.

I think it’s actually perfect for our neighborhood. It’s fun, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Our neighborhood is fun, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Neighbor Alicia Lifrak on the sculpture

“We love it because it’s a landmark in the neighborhood,” said neighbor Stefanie Perryman, 34. “You can say, ‘It’s the house with the giant golf ball.’ They could never get rid of it because it would make everyone too sad.”

But there’s a caveat: “Would I want one in my yard? Ehh ... I don’t know,” Stefanie said.

John Gram is a logistics management specialist at Scott Air Force Base. Jane does sales and marketing for a chiropractic subscription service. Both retired as Air Force reservists in Ohio before living in Freeburg for three years and moving to The Orchards in 2012.

John, 49, also is an avid golfer who’s teaching Sydney how to play.

“He does a pretty good job,” she said.

Jane, 52, gave up the sport, but living next to the 18th fairway, she has plenty of contact with golf balls that land in her yard.

“We collect them by the buckets,” Jane said. “Sometimes, you’ll be working at home alone, and a golf ball will hit the roof, and it sounds like an explosion.”

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The sculpture outside the Gram home on Golf Course Drive at The Orchards in Belleville was created by a chainsaw woodcarver, who used a special tool to make dimples in the golf ball. Zia Nizami znizami@bnd.com

The roots of the golf sculpture go back four years.

Jane’s parents came to visit, and John let them park in the garage, leaving his black Jeep Wrangler in the driveway.

“It was kind of his dream car,” Jane said.

On a brutally hot summer day, for no apparent reason, a 12-foot-long, 6-inch-diameter limb broke off a tall oak tree and crashed onto the Jeep, destroying its soft top.

“The wind wasn’t even blowing,” John said. “We realized that if that limb had fallen on someone, they could have been killed, and there was a lot more dead on top.”

Original tree
The Gram family cut down the large tree next to their driveway after a limb fell on John’s Jeep Wranger in 2013, but they left enough trunk to carve a sculpture of a golf ball on a golf tee. Provided

The Grams had the tree cut down, along with another one about the same size. John asked workers to leave a good portion of the trunk standing.

“This was not a mutual decision,” Jane said.

Then, John hired a chainsaw woodcarver to make the golf ball and golf tee. It took the man more than a week, working every day. He used a special tool to form dimples in the ball.

“When he was finished, he told us that it was one of the hardest things he had ever done,” John said.

The wind wasn’t even blowing. We realized that if that limb had fallen on someone, they could have been killed, and there was a lot more dead on top.

John Gram on his downed tree limb

The 4-foot-tall sculpture stands next to the sloping driveway on a base formed by the lower four feet of uncarved tree trunk, for a total of eight feet.

Alicia Lifrak, 46, is another neighbor who has become attached to the totem polelike work of art.

“I think it’s actually perfect for our neighborhood,” she said. “It’s fun, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Our neighborhood is fun, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

“It’s the best neighborhood in Belleville, as far as I’m concerned. There couldn’t be a better group of people to raise your kids with, and the Grams are a huge part of that.”

Teri Maddox: 618-239-2473, @BNDwriter

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