People warned us about this place. ¬†‚??Don‚??t go to Galloway in the summer‚?Ě, they cautioned. ¬†‚??Those horse flies will drive you around the bend ‚?? and take a few pints of blood while they‚??re at it...‚?Ě ¬†Sure. ¬†How bad could they be? ¬†Galloway National had been billed as a genuinely top tier course too, so we thought any hardship in batting away the bugs would be merited. ¬†Which it was. ¬†But those God forsaken creatures will forever be etched in my memory as Satan‚??s Spawn. ¬†Avoid the sods at all costs.
For once our drive to the course was sub 30 minutes, since we had the luxury of staying at The Lodge at Hidden Creek last night (courtesy of our man John ‚??Slambino‚?Ě Sabino). ¬†In the common room John and Chris sniggered at the fact we had to go play golf; ‚??you got a hat one today boys...‚?Ě. ¬†100 degrees and 140 per cent humidity, or so it felt. ¬†Walking out onto the deck felt like walking into a wet oven. ¬†A pressure cooker. ¬†Not the ideal weather for a bijou stroll, and certainly not the ideal conditions if we were hoping to avoid Satan‚??s Spawn down the road. ¬†But what can you do?
Galloway‚??s near Atlantic City ‚?? the only other place you can gamble in the US, other than Vegas. ¬†I forget how conservative the US is compared to back home, where gambling is all but encouraged. ¬†I sense prostitution may not be legalised up here as it is Down There for some time... ¬†Politics however is not the preserve of this blog: golf is. ¬†Golf and All Things Golf that is. ¬†And whatever else you good people want or demand, within reason.
Jack Hubbert ‚?? an attorney from Philly who also sits on the board of the local First Tee chapter ‚?? kindly invited us down for a game. ¬†Jack‚??s a tremendously laid back, affable kind of bloke (so laid back that he plays golf in sneakers if it's dry), for whom there can be no troubles in life. ¬†Because he‚??s such a good golfer he doesn‚??t appear to have to cope with the stress of bad golf either. ¬†Wouldn‚??t that be nice? ¬†Last night Jack flicked me an email suggesting I bring pants for the first 5 holes ‚?? which border the salt marshes home to Satan‚??s Spawn ‚?? and change if necessary on the 6th tee. ¬†It was too late; I‚??d already packed; and we were down the road at Hidden Creek.
Wearing shorts on those first few holes is akin to swimming naked among a shoal of box jellyfish (correct collective noun? ¬†Perhaps someone could Google that?). ¬†Those horse flies / green heads will get you and get you good. ¬†Unlike Midges, whose bite you don‚??t really feel until it flares up later, you can tell straight away when you‚??ve been assaulted. ¬†Because it hurts. ¬†At this time of year the mother flies are trying to source blood to feed their younglings, which is forgivable. ¬†I can understand their actions but I can‚??t agree with them. ¬†They should bite squirrels, who serve no real purpose in the world other than to store nuts for other squirrels, who in turn serve no real purpose ‚?? one of those circular things, you know. ¬†
Enough about the bugs and the squirrels. ¬†Galloway National is a belter. ¬†They played a qualifier for the US Open here a few months back, the results of which will tell a story. ¬†¬†Best score was 73 (it‚??s a par 71); average score was 84; and worst score was 96. ¬†That‚??s from a field of sub-2 handicappers. ¬†¬†So it‚??s hard. ¬†On the little par 3 pictured below (about a wedge), guys were taking 9s and 11s...
Mr. Fazio has cut two quite different nines here out of the marshland. ¬†The front is marshier, and thus more lethal on the killer insect front. ¬†The back (which I preferred, and which like a fine wine got better and better) is very Pine Valley-esque, with plentiful undulation and bunkering. ¬†
Jack stroked it around all 18 like a seasoned pro. ¬†Having played a fair bit of College and Amateur golf (including a US Amateur or two), the boy can play. ¬†He may have hit 14 or 15 greens in regulation, from the tips, so he certainly knew what he was doing. ¬†Mike also played some good golf, not least along the final stretch which yielded a couple of birdies. ¬†The combination of the green heads & the humidity proved too much for my modest tolerance, so I resorted to merry hacking and just enjoyed Jack‚??s chat. ¬†
I‚??d love to come back and play Galloway in less trying conditions, when it‚??s a little cooler and You Know Who keep to themselves in Their Marsh. ¬†Because it‚??s not a brute ‚?? somewhat unlike a few other Fazio layouts we‚??ve played ‚?? you can maneuver the ball around with 2 irons from the tee and still comfortably reach greens in reg. ¬†You just gotta be straight.
The air conditioning and impenetrable walls of the clubhouse provided ample protection from the elements. ¬†In the bar we ran into a mate of Jack‚??s, a vivacious chap by the name of Larry Brown, who‚??s a litigator in Philly. ¬†Bags of personality and full of stories ‚?? like one of those Hollywood bigwigs. ¬†The four of us told lies for a good hour or two, despite Larry‚??s constant protestations that he should get home to his wife. ¬†Heard that one before.
Then came a weary drive back to Base Camp Slambino up Highway 9. ¬†We got lost in a town that seemed to be populated exclusively with orthodox Jews ‚?? maybe it was just the time of day we were driving through, but they were out in force walking the streets looking smart in full garb. ¬†We could have been in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney or in The Holy City itself. ¬†¬†Quite a sight.
John‚??s got a stack of impressive golf books in his house, which are now sprawled across the kitchen table for light reading between More Important Things. ¬†Flicking the pages of one I came upon a bold quote that resonated with my sympathies. ¬†It goes something like this:
‚??Make no little plans. ¬†They have no magic to stir men‚??s blood.‚?Ě ¬†
Inciteful (and insightful) words indeed. ¬†(Daniel Burnham, a noted Chicago architect).
Dodgy had a guest rider today ‚?? a guest by the name of John Sabino who is hosting us at his place and his club of Hidden Creek today. We met John and his pals Chris and Tom on the course in Melbourne Australia and have kept in touch throughout the year.¬† Tom was the guy who loved his ‚??Booags beers‚??.
Dodgy was happy to have another team member along for the ride, so happy that upon turning onto the Turnpike he signaled his glee by jerking the windscreen wipers up into the vertical position.¬† And there they have rested since‚?¶ By the way Dodgy is for sale on Craigslist and we need a buyer so if you‚??ve ever thought about taking a road trip across the US you know who to call.¬† I know we‚??re going to be sad to see him go.. ¬†
John Sabino has what you‚??d call a deliberate take away. And whilst this episode is occurring on each shot his shoes have a habit of letting out an almighty squeak reminiscent of a mouse caught in a trap with cheese stuck in its gullet.¬† Jamie, his playing partner, kindly pointed out these sound effects on the second hole and from this point onwards we were all, including John, trying not to laugh each time his shoes started squaking. ¬†
Hidden Creek is a course that not too many folk have heard about. It‚??s a pretty private joint down in the south part of New Jersey set up by the owner who wanted to replicate the pure golf set up at Pine Valley. So there are no developments, no bells and whistles (eg definitely no cart girls with skimpy skirts) and just a golf course, clubhouse, dining room and a lodge for golfers to stay at.¬†
When you‚??re going to create a golf haven for the purists like this one you need to engage some good designers to build a quality course.¬† And so Messers Coore and Crenshaw were shipped in to build this treasure.¬† This is our second course designed by these two chaps (first being Sugarloaf Mountain) and the two courses definitely have a similar flavour. ¬†I‚??ve taken some time to look at a couple others designed by these chaps ‚?? Sand Hills in Nebraska - which is a hugeley revered inland links course in the middle of nowhere, and Friars Head up in Long Island which we might play next week. ¬†Some characteristics of Coore and Crenshaw courses are:
- Generous fairways but you need to be in the right part of the fairway to have a decent shot into the green.¬† Similar to Mackenzie.¬† Take for example the short par four 8th.¬† The green has a huge lump in the green. The pin was to the left of the lump and thus coming in from the right hand side of the fairway was nigh on impossible.
- A firm and natural feel.¬† The course hasn‚??t been soaked in water and if you‚??re hitting a draw expect the ball to bound to the left.¬† The fairways play hard and you don‚??t quite know where the ball is going to bounce.¬† As said by former USGA president William C Campbell, ‚??bad bounces and bad breaks do happen in golf and life, and you don‚??t always get what you deserve.‚??¬† But with the course playing firm like this you can cling to the possibility that, from a bad spot, you might make a good recovery by rolling the ball up to the green.
- The greens are huge and you need to think about where on (or off) the green you want to be approaching the hole from.¬† Many of the greens have a number of sections and there may be a three or four club difference between hitting to the front or the back of the green.
- Trouble that compounds.¬† If you hit a good drive you will often have a straight forward iron shot into a large green.¬† But if you start going awry there are all kinds of hazards that, if you don‚??t play smart, will compound to really bite you. For example there are numerous cross bunkers between 100 ‚?? 30 yards short of par four green.
Our match was a tad one sided with Slambino making full use of his 10 shots to win a number of holes.¬† Chris has just got some new irons and has a case of ‚??the-new-clubs-wont-bloody-work‚??. ¬†I had a case of '4 putt from 15 feet' Ugly. Seen it before and I have no idea how to diagnose it. The nickname Slambino? It comes from this video:
After golf we were fortunate enough to stay in the lodge. Which was First Rate. We chilled out, showered up and then went back to the restaurant for another First Rate dinner.¬† We drank some wine, shared golfing stories and bantered generally all night.¬† A couple of cigars and some strange formats of New Jersey Poker later and it was time to call it a day. A mighty fine day at that so huge thank you to the lads in particular John for hosting us down here.¬† Slambino is off to Scotland tomorrow for a wee golfing trip, look forward to hearing all about it later in the week. 2 weeks till we‚??re there and the excitement is building!¬†
Below is a Guest Blog by my partner, the best 14 handicapper this side of Jupiter, Rich Oelkers. ¬†As you'll see from Rich's notes, we had a day to remember.
Michael and Jamie were meeting my son and me this morning at 8 pm. My son, Ryan Oelkers is the member and I am thrilled to be playing with him and especially the ‚??boys‚?Ě from New Zeeland. I have been following their blogs for the past 2 weeks after Ryan alerted me to their ‚??magical mystery golf tour‚?Ě around the world. I really didn‚??t know what to expect. Were they hackers or serious golfers?¬† Are they travel bums or were they just the two greatest golf enthusiasts in America today.
After driving in past the Baltusrol gates, dropping off my clubs at the bag drop, I went to the parking lot to try to find Ryan and the 2 kids from the Land of Kiwi. It did not take a great deal of searching since the parking lot was full of European sedans, American sport cars, and a few high end SUV‚??s. Standing out by itself, was an old, brown, Dodge Van with California plates and two very lean, handsome young guys unpacking their clubs and my equally handsome son who parked in the adjacent spot. After a few introductions, we went to the clubhouse, changed, ate a quick breakfast, and proceeded to the practice area to loosen up. I was impressed form the get-go on the fluidity of both Michael and Jamie‚??s golf swings. (Oh what I wouldn‚??t give to have a young back!) After 10 minutes on the range, we walked to the area near the 1st tee. Jamie was very impressed by the Rolex Clock in the staging area and said that any golf course with a Rolex clock has to be very important and equally impressive.¬†
Ryan gave the lads a short history of Baltusrol. The club was founded in 1895. It has two Championship courses‚?¶ lower and the upper. The courses were designed by A.W. Tillinghast and together the courses have hosted 16 national championships including 7 US opens and 1 PGA Championship. Legends who have left their historic marks on Baltusrols fairways are jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Tiger woods, Phil Mickelson, lee Jansen, Payne Stewart, John Daly, and now Jamie Patton and Michael ??????.
Anyway, our tee time of 8:50 came and I humbly went to the first tee. After checking my index against the handicap conversion chart, I determined that I was in for a long day with these three youngsters. I asked which tees they wanted to play. ‚??Green‚?¶ 6385 yards‚?¶or Blue 6652 yards. I was shocked when Michael said they wanted to play back. ‚??Oh, I asked. You want to play 7015 yards? ¬†(Since that was the back tees on the scorecard) ‚??No‚?Ě, ¬†Michel replied. We play all the courses from the tips.‚?Ě¬† I didn‚??t even know there was yet another sets of tees. But there they were; hiding back by the boxwoods in a shady area that had NO divots on the teeing area and no scorecards telling you that the slope was 147 and the course rating was 76. The Championships tees play 7400 yards and you have to go into the pro shop to find a card for the handicaps and yardage. I really felt small and agreed to give it a try. Why not? Why can‚??t a 65 year old 10.9 handicap index player keep up with two 25 year old lads who have played for 176 days straight? I suddenly realize I was daft, outmatched, outgunned and certainly crazy.
We threw the balls in the air and chose partners. Ryan paired with Michael and I got Jamie. We went one up on Baltusrol‚??s signature 4th hole. Jamie hit a 5 iron 205 yards to within 6 inches on this challenging 3 par hole. It was quite a shot and Jamie posed for an incredible picture doing his Birdie dance. We got to 2 up on the 482 yard 6th hole, par 4.
Ryan and Michael fought back with stunning long shots and tied the match on the 15th hole. Somehow, we all halved the 17th hole which is a monster at 647 yards, even for a 5 par. (John Daly is the only golfer to have ever gotten on this green in two. He hit driver and one iron.) The match was going to the 18th¬†with Jamie and I in the comfortable position of being dormy 1 up. ¬†This is such a storied hole. This par 5 plays 553 yards, crosses a relatively large stream and rises in elevation to a very well protected slick green. ¬†It is the hole that Jack Nicklaus won the 1967 US Open by hitting his one iron 247yards to the hole. Anyway, I made par to win with my incredible partner Jamie.
Playing the game of golf is such a privilege. Its rules have endured for a century. The handicap system is ingenious, making pairings fair when abilities are so different. It is a game where honor is more important than the competitiveness of the moment. I feel very honored to have been able to share this day with the two greatest golf ‚??nuts‚?Ě that I have ever met, and my son Ryan who helps to keep me thinking young. Thanks Ryan for setting up this match and making contact with Michael and Jamie. ¬†
Thank you for sharing your experiences with me.¬†
There are words, and proper nouns in particular, that are a pleasure to verbalise. ¬†They roll off your tongue, and even draw a smirk. ¬†Metedeconk (prounced ‚??meh-Tee-da-conk‚?Ě) ‚?? the name of today‚??s stop ‚?? falls this category. ¬†The club also falls in a category, among very good golf clubs, of excellence. ¬†We loved it; and are surprised at how low a profile it keeps given its pedigree. ¬†If I was a betting man I‚??d say it‚??ll hold a major tournament in the coming decade or two. ¬†Aside from having a solid 27 holes (granted, only 18 of which we played), it has very good facilities and a world class practice ground. ¬†
Mike‚??s putting together a wee video of our day there ‚?? in large part because the place was so photogenic and we took so many dam photos ‚?? but I decided a few accompanying words were more than justified.
Scott Kirkwood (of Muirfield / Gullane pedigree) is the Pro at Metedeconk, and was our kind host on the day. ¬†A charming man (although a Rangers supporter...). ¬†His Uncle David is a well known character in the world of hickory shafted golf, and keeps a shop in East Lothian that we‚??ll make a point of visiting in a few weeks‚?? time. ¬†Scott and his colleagues made us feel very welcome, and even allowed us into the members‚?? bar to watch New Zealand draw with Paraguay (a simultaneously triumphant and heart breaking result, ruling Us out of the next round). ¬†On occasions this year we‚??ve found our reception to be (marginally) less all embracing at private clubs when we haven‚??t been accompanied by a member. ¬†I make that as a fine point because really we have been welcomed with open arms everywhere. ¬†Anyway today we were guests of the club rather than a particular member, but found the hospitality to be as warm as anywhere we‚??ve been. ¬†A humbling experience.
Stevie a wee 16 year old kid from Jersey was our caddy. ¬†He‚??s a baseball player, not a golfer, but he‚??s spending his 2nd summer out here making a few bucks while his schoolmates are flipping burgers at McDonalds for minimum wage. ¬†He‚??ll go far. ¬†He‚??s also hanging out with a bunch of old guys that might give him a job in a few years when he gets spat out of adolescence. ¬†We enjoyed his youthful enthusiasm and couldn‚??t help but laugh when we saw him tearing down the fairways each hole before we teed off. ¬†Like Moses Kiptanui or Gabriel Salassi. ¬†Stevie would just disappear when we walked off the green; and re-appear 250 yards away. ¬†Brilliant.
The course itself is fantastic. ¬†Of the three 9s, we played #1 and #2. ¬†For tournaments they play #1 and #3. ¬†Had a storm not rolled in; and had we not had a traumatically sweaty sleep last night in Dodgy in the Caves Valley car park ‚?? we would‚??ve played 27. ¬†Because it was just awesome. ¬†Hard but fair. ¬†It‚??s a Robert Trent Jones Senior design, and rewards accuracy over length. ¬†Even from the tips we could‚??ve got away with hitting 2 iron off most tees, save for one or two genuinely long holes. ¬†The key really is to keep it on the (quite immaculate) carpet, because the rough is proper rough. ¬†As with yesterday, it‚??s Member Guest week, so the course was in Tip Top Shape. ¬†Fairly stiff breeze added another dimension, making for a stern test of golf indeed.
On some of the tees you stand there and can acutely feel your adams apple panicking in your throat. ¬†A sea of fescue and pine and sand ‚?? and not much bent grass, visibly at least. ¬†I haven‚??t been to Pine Valley yet (this Wednesday!) but I guess it must look pretty similar. ¬†Because they have 800 acres of land here, you don‚??t tend to see other holes often. ¬†Personally I don‚??t regard this feature as an intrinsically good one ‚?? in the sense that it makes the golf course a well designed one ‚?? but it does make for a serene atmosphere. ¬†Therapeutic, almost. ¬†Were it less humid we would‚??ve walked.
Check out Mike‚??s video later today: the images will really tell you most of what you need to know. ¬†A pure place.
The title for this blog is a little unorthodox, as you may have noticed. ¬†But the pearl of wisdom handed down to me by our good host Doug Lane was just too good not to dwell upon. ¬†Most people ‚?? in fact everyone I know ‚?? peel a banana from the top, by tearing at the stalky bit. ¬†That however is not how the experts (monkeys) do it. ¬†Nope. ¬†They pinch the little bulbous part at the bottom, allowing the skin to split open perfectly. ¬†After millennia of peeling bananas for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I‚??m sure they know what they‚??re doing. ¬†Doug certainly does, and now so do I. ¬†Please indulge me and try it next time.
Anyway. ¬†From Today‚??s Lesson to a veritable feast of luxury and fine golf at Caves Valley, near Baltimore. ¬†The club has an interesting genesis, which is worth sharing. ¬†(Doug will have to pardon me if any of the details have been lost or mutated in translation). ¬†Some years ago a group of businessmen in the Baltimore area wanted a place where they could come out to to do business (from memory it wasn‚??t so easy getting into Baltimore Country Club). ¬†So they pulled their money; bought 800 acres of prime land 20 minutes out of town; and brought a certain Tom Fazio in to build them a course they could be proud of. ¬†The clubhouse is an old family mansion ‚?? which is quite something, but I‚??ll get to that soon ‚?? and the pro shop the old out house. ¬†Very stately stuff.
This would be one of the more expensive places to join. ¬†Indeed to get an invitation to join you need to be an active member of the local business community and, well, be able to afford it. ¬†I guess some guys get their company to foot the bill, but often that would be a misnomer as these type of guys oftentimes own their companies anyway! ¬†You get the picture. ¬†At one stage the initiation fee was $120,000 (which at least got you equity at the time, although I understand a lesser fee is no paid for no equity) - no drop in the ocean no sir. ¬†Talking about money however is unseemly though so I‚??ll move swiftly on.
Doug Lane was our generous host for the day, and what a fine example of a human he is too. ¬†I hope he won‚??t mind me sharing a few discreet details of his Good Self ‚?? Doug, if you do, let me know quickly and I‚??ll pull this down! ¬†Born into a working class family of Quite A Few, he wasn‚??t your archetypal born-to-be-a-member-of-a-top-private-club kinda kid. ¬†But he worked his posterior off and continues to do so. ¬†Doug went to night school to get his college degree and is now in the more enviable position of being able to pay for his 3 kids to go through good schools ‚?? something he rightly takes great satisfaction in being able to do. ¬†Another interesting note on Doug: he is or was a whippit. ¬†Ran a 1 minute 56 seconds half mile. ¬†And a 30 minutes 30 seconds 10,000 metres. ¬†Anyway that‚??s Doug in a very small nutshell ‚?? a kinder human you couldn‚??t meet; and an interesting guy to have dinner with.
Our instructions were to turn up well in advance of our 12.40 tee time to meet Doug for a quick bite. ¬†After the pleasantries we were shown to the dining room, at which point I nearly died. ¬†¬†Having not had breakfast I was famished, and the sight of the Caves Valley buffet spread was almost enough to draw a tear. ¬†¬†Goodness gracious it was good. ¬†I remember sitting there like Oliver Twist trying to hold a proper conversation with Doug while at the same time trying not to choke on my feast. ¬†I inhaled it.
The heat outside was quite merciless, as it has been for some weeks now. ¬†Near suffocating in fact. ¬†Nothing a good walk wouldn‚??t fix though. ¬†That‚??s something I particularly liked about Caves ‚?? it‚??s walking only, and you‚??ve got to take a caddie. ¬†No carts unless you‚??re over a hundred or have one functioning limb. ¬†My caddie, Adam, was great ‚?? a young guy (I say young but he was probably a few years older than me) about to embark on a legal career after sitting the Maryland Bar Exam in a few weeks. ¬†Poor sod. ¬†No I don‚??t mean that. ¬†Just finished college with a law degree and an MBA, which he did concurrently ‚?? so no slouch. ¬†If he reads in law as well as he reads greens he‚??ll have quite a career. ¬†Saved me a shot or two, for sure. ¬†(The other caddie Serg was quality also ‚?? and did quite possibly the best Scottish accent impression I‚??ve ever heard, notwithstanding that he‚??s never been there and doesn‚??t have any Scottish friends or relatives!).
Caves is a very fine track indeed. ¬†It really gets better as you progress through the round, and could perhaps do with a few renovations to the opening stretch (which I found a little straightforward, at least relative to the rest of the layout). ¬†Holes like 9 were just awesome. ¬†In fact 9 thru 11 form in my humble opinion the best stretch on the track. ¬†On 9 you better have your game face on. ¬†A long par 4 tracking up to the right, with a narrow stream (befitting of the description as a ‚??burn‚?Ě) flowing across the front of the fairway and all the way up the right. ¬†The green is two tiered and guarded militantly. ¬†Definitely one of the better holes I remember playing in recent times. ¬†
10‚??s a goodie too; this time a risk reward short par 4, where it‚??s really all about the tee shot. ¬†Hit a driver if you like, but you better get hold of it or risk having a downhill lie for your 60 yard pitch to a plateau green on steroids. ¬†It‚??s at this point in the round that I turned to tobacco for solace. ¬†Doug offered me a big stogie and having not had one for quite some time I couldn‚??t refuse. ¬†Seemed befitting of the occasion, you know. ¬†So I sparked up this brown thing the length of my arm, and wandered down the fairway between gargantuan oaks, breathing it all in. ¬†Quite a sensation, believe me.
11 is intimidating and beautiful and tough and just one of those holes that you like playing. ¬†Raised tee shot plays to a dogleg right fairway, up to a severely raised green. ¬†If you crush driver (from the tips) you can hit something like 7 or 8 iron in; but if you have anything more than that in your hand then it‚??s dam near impossible to bring the ball high enough to stop it (notwithstanding the backstop at the back of the green). ¬†A hair raising hole, and one any sane golfer should be pleased with par on.
I must mention the conditioning. ¬†In a word, sublime. ¬†Thankfully we played on the day prior to The Member Guest event, which was a nice coincidence, the course as a result being prepared to its brilliant best. ¬†Fastest greens all year, without a doubt. ¬†Even faster than The CC of Virginia a few days back, which were scary enough. ¬†Fairways were carpet like, and everything was just as it should be. ¬†A privilege to experience, really.
The Match came down the 18th, as it has had a tendency to do of late. ¬†After Mike hit a missile of a short iron into the green ‚?? which like 18 at Olympic has bags of atmosphere ‚?? to 6 feet (then missed), I had 5 feet down the hill for par after getting into the front bunker. ¬†That putt would‚??ve halved the hole and won the match by 1, but I bottled it and honours were even. ¬†Michael and his playing partner (a gigantic ex-basketball player who goes by the name of Shane) took Doug and my money though by virtue of some funny system these chaps have with ‚??greenies‚?Ě (closest to the pin on a par 3) and ‚??dots‚?Ě (par out of a bunker) and other strange creatures. ¬†One was particularly memorable, although I don‚??t think any of us got one. ¬†It‚??s called an Esther [something], who was a famous female swimmer in the 50s. ¬†And it‚??s awarded when you make a par after having one ball in the water!
Somewhat exhausted after our ordeal we sat outside the clubhouse on the lawn, at what must be The Nicest Spot Ever. ¬†Big old mansion; big old oak tree; wide open vistas over the practice range and the valley below. ¬†A few tables; a few rocking chairs; and 4 guys having a drink and a cigar after a Great Day. ¬†Couldn‚??t ask for better.¬†
After we got cleaned up Doug then kindly took us to dinner in the dining room, which is a very decadent affair indeed. ¬†Tried softshell crab for the first time ‚?? not bad at all. ¬†If you‚??re ever lucky enough to get an invitation to Caves, and your host offers to take you to dinner, take him up on it; quite something. ¬†Between bites we covered ‚??most everything from history to politics to a comparative study of life in new Zealand. ¬†A very stimulating evening.
On our way out Doug surprised us again with a very thoughtful gift pack he‚??d had the pro put together. ¬†I‚??ll be wearing my Caves Valley shirt tomorrow with pride, and each time it comes out of the kit bag this year I‚??ll think back to Day 174 with nostalgia. ¬†And I‚??ll remember how to peel a banana like the experts do.
Thanks Doug and Shane for a great day. ¬†
A lie in was crucial after being led astray by the members at RTJ the night prior.¬† And in the comfort of Keith‚??s place this was all too manageable. So it was with delight that an afternoon tee time beckoned at the Washington Golf and Country Club.¬†
Outside was like a furnace again, it seems we‚??re following a heat wave up the East Coast of the US. I expected an endless summer this year, but not an endless heat wave. If it stays like this, we‚??re going to get the shock of our lives when we arrive in the UK.
Our host at the Country Club was Nina Pacer who we met for a spot of lunch before she had to duck away for a work meeting. ¬†I had a burger‚?¶ She had arranged for us to play with the head pro here, Frank, and the program director of the local first Tee chapter, Shaun. ¬†Nina is part of the 67 strong board of the Washington Chapter of the First Tee ‚?? welcome to DC and the home of bureaucracy. ¬†Although Nina‚??s involvement with TFT here is a recent development and she has taken a hands on involvement particularly in the marketing and pr area. Nina is also the only female member of the golfing committee at WGCC. ¬†A mover and shaker perhaps, or just a late starter to golf (she used to play Tennis) who has seen the light and really embraced this fine game.
WGCC is a buzzing place. People swarming around everywhere as the 19th hole and dining room overlooks the 18th green. ¬†It‚??s cheap entertainment watching people play up the 18th and try to putt the ball from above the hole or even get a rare up and down.
We were joined by the resident pro here, a gent named Frank. Frank could play a bit and knocked it around the front nine in 33 ‚?? 2 under par. It could have been lower too had he sunk some putts. Unfortunately it wasn‚??t one of those days when a quality golfer makes you rise to his standard‚?¶
On the 11th hole we were also joined by Shaun ‚?? the program director for the local First Tee Chapter. Shaun is taking a group of kids up to the local First Tee tournament in Philidelphia next week and then taking them out to watch the PGA Tour event at Aronomink GC.¬† It sounds like the First Tee chapter here is a roaring success. It is based at Langston which sounds like an awesome wee 9 hole course right in the middle of the Capitol that we should have visited. From the Langston Website:
‚??Frequented by golfers of many ethnic backgrounds, Langston is traditionally played by African American golfers.¬† Over Langston‚??s long history, African American golfers have been consistently loyal to Langston.¬† Since the 1930s, it has been the home course of the Royal GolfClub, and the Wake Robin Golf Club, the nation‚??s first golf clubs for Black men and women, respectively.‚?Ě
Back to WGCC which is a gem of a wee Donald Ross course. It‚??s really short. But it‚??s really classy. It traverses through gully‚??s up hills and along plateaus before eventually climbing up the 18th to the clubhouse for this grand finish on the elevated 18th.¬† The greens are wee postage stamps and are on some severe tilts. I ‚??d say they were designed when there wasn‚??t a 20 strong green staff double cutting and rolling the greens to get them rolling at a 12 on the stint meter.¬† But that makes it all the more fun. A couple of these holes (e.g, 10) become almost unplayable when they have their annual member guest and the course is set up in tip top shape.¬† Bring your short game to WGCC. ¬†It‚??s a tight course as well.¬† Look carefully at the photographs below to see some of trademark signs of Donald Ross.
On the par three 11th. The green slopes violently from back to front, so much so that none of us could make 3. With a 9 iron.¬†
An example of the tight fairways here at WGCC.¬†
How cool is the WGCC sign that you look out at from the clubhouse. Dog-legging left is the par four 17th played over a ravene. 4 iron, 9 iron.¬†
All smiles and handshakes on the last. Jamie almost replicated Franks front nine with some Good Golf.¬†
After golf, we were entertaining again. But this time with our host Keith and a group of young guys who had contacted us through our website & were keen to share golfing lies.¬† We headed to Rays the Steaks ‚?? a great steakhouse in Arlington and feasted and talked to our hearts content.¬† And talk we did, of golfing stories, life in the paradise that is New Zealand, life in DC and one chap, Robert, of how the Democrats are ruining the country. ¬†A brilliant impassionate display sparkled with a dashing of humor. ¬†¬†What else could we ask for to round off our DC experience but dinner with a couple of Politico‚??s from inside the machine that is the US Government.¬†
This morning we had the privilege of gaining insight into one of the most unique golf clubs on earth ‚?? Burning Tree. ¬†Sadly we didn‚??t play the course; we didn‚??t have time. ¬†However a kind member named Frank called ahead and arranged for the pro, Michael, to give us a tour and school us a little on the club‚??s surreal history. ¬†Some of you may have heard of the club. ¬†Certainly in golf circles there‚??s a fair bit of folklore surrounding its ethos and practices. ¬†Some are true; some aren‚??t; and some...well, we don‚??t (and will never) know.
I can tell you that women aren‚??t allowed on the property, save for a short period on Christmas Eve (to allow them to purchase gifts for their husbands in the pro shop). ¬†‚??Burning Tree is, and will forever be, a man‚??s club,‚?Ě I read on the wall. ¬†There are stories circulating about female pilots in distress crash landing on the property and being escorted immediately off it without delay; of female paramedics showing up to cart off a member who‚??s had a heart attack on the course, only to be told they must wait at the gate; and so on. ¬†There are other stories yet about members playing in the nude, or hitting balls on the range in their underwear. ¬†It‚??s not my place to confirm or deny whether tales these are true, or to spread the rumours yet further. ¬†But, to be honest, I wouldn‚??t be surprised.
There are no rules at Burning Tree ‚?? rather the only rules governing members‚?? conduct are the rules of honour, good humour and sportsmanship (or principles to these effects ‚?? I should‚??ve taken a photo of the charter in question). ¬†Wandering through the clubhouse I took time to read carefully several beautifully prepared and framed documents, encapsulating the spirit of this place. ¬†One in fact was entitled The Spirit of Burning Tree. ¬†Another was an address by a former Supreme Court Justice, dated 1957. ¬†We also saw paintings and other gifts presented by past Presidents of the United States to the club. ¬†They were all members here.
Among the current and past members are 4 and 5 star generals; Presidents; and the like. ¬†In the locker room are a number of flags hanging handsomely from the ceiling ‚?? each being a flag bestowed upon the member by virtue of their office. ¬†Quite amazing stuff, I can tell you. ¬†Apparently Eisenhauer played something like 800 games of golf during his 4 years in office ‚?? and half of those were here. ¬†Again, I wouldn‚??t be surprised.
You can‚??t help but be impressed by Burning Tree. ¬†The course itself looks beautiful (a C.H. Alison design ‚?? who at the time was in partnership with H. Colt and Dr. A. MacKenzie). ¬†Simple, traditional, and you better believe it‚??s well manicured (the entrances to the greens are hand mown). ¬†But the clubhouse and, more pertinently, the atmosphere of this place are what makes it so special. ¬†In today‚??s world where gender barriers are becoming fewer and further between, Burning Tree is something of a last bastion of male domination. ¬†Those stirring speeches and charters I mentioned before speak directly to that domination. ¬†
In this sense the club must surely be the paradigm, the archetypal old boys‚?? club. ¬†I‚??m sure the members wouldn‚??t mind that accusation being leveled at them at all. ¬†¬†In days gone by there was a standing invitation to US Supreme Court Justices to come and play. ¬†Then Sandra Day O‚??Connor got elected to the Court, and one day rang up to let them know she‚??d be coming down for a game. ¬†An emergency meeting was held and the standing ¬†invitation rescinded! ¬†Justice O‚??Connor, so the story goes, then took it upon herself to exact some revenge. ¬†To my knowledge, she managed to get their tax credit removed. ¬†The members apparently didn‚??t care and footed up with the extra cash anyway ‚?? I imagine they‚??re not hard up for a buck.
Whether rightly or wrongly ‚?? and I make no judgment here ‚?? the members have clearly cultivated a place where they can relax, entirely. ¬†Often, we were told, they will show up as singles or perhaps with a friend, looking for a game. ¬†A social dynamic, whereby the gents mix and mingle, rather than a club fragmented into political clusters. ¬†Funny, in a way, given the place is full of high profile politicians! ¬†
Anyway it was a privilege to experience Burning Tree and to imagine what life would be like as a member. ¬†Michael was an informative and generous tour guide, and the members we came across in the hallways were very pleasant. ¬†If only there were more days in the year...
Had we not been putting the world to rest with our new pal Keith ‚??til the early hours of the morning, I would‚??ve woken up today full of life and ready to take on DC. ¬†But inevitably things never go according to plan and so we found ourselves behind the 8 ball Today All Day. ¬†‚??Twas a good ‚??un though!
A GPS device would‚??ve been a good investment. ¬†It would come in particularly handy in a place like Washington, DC where the word ‚??traffic‚?Ě takes on a different meaning; where there are more cars on the road than insects in the skies. ¬†No matter. ¬†We still managed to navigate Dodgy across the river (from Alexandria, i.e. Keith‚??s place) to the memorial district. ¬†It‚??s probably not called The Memorial District, but I‚??ve adopted that term for the purposes of this blog. ¬†The MD‚??s where all the monuments are. ¬†¬†At least all the ones I‚??d ever heard of.
Quite an impressive affair driving past the Lincoln Memorial, and up to the World War II Memorial (which reminded me of Cleopatra‚??s Needle). ¬†We ditched Dodgy and got our walk on, with not a lot of time to burn. ¬†Circa one hour, actually ‚?? which you might say isn‚??t enough to take in the whole of Washington DC. ¬†Not even one bloomin‚?? museum, I can tell you! ¬†At least we snapped a few buildings and absorbed a bit of Atmosphere.
There are more folks walking round The Memorial District with cameras and kids in tow than at Disney. ¬†Naturally. ¬†And we were no exception ‚?? except for the kids bit. ¬†We were however the sweatiest couple of knackered Kiwis in the vicinity. ¬†Still, we maintained our composure in the sweltering heat and found our way back to base camp (with the help of Keith‚??s nephew, Kevin, whom we had dinner with last night and who would be joining us for golf). ¬†Next time I‚??ll set aside more time to take It All In.
Anyway ‚?? the golf. ¬†That‚??s what most of you are interested in, isn‚??t it? ¬†RTJGC was today‚??s venue; or Robert Trent Jones Golf Club for long. ¬†(RTJ Senior, in case any of you golfers are wondering). ¬†Apparently it‚??s the only track he laid out that he thought was good enough to give his good name. ¬†Who am I to argue?
RTJ is about an hour out of town, or about 6 hours in normal traffic. ¬†Two words: road works. ¬†But I digress. ¬†It‚??s a private club, a very private one in fact. ¬†You‚??ll hear different stories depending on who you talk to, but there are rumours circling about how many memberships you have / had to hold before you could join the club. ¬†Some have told us 2; some 3. ¬†Either way, it‚??s not your average family club ‚?? most members would likely have memberships at more...accessible places.
It‚??s not a country club. ¬†Wives are not allowed on the property unless accompanied by their husbands (assuming the member is the husband; if not, then vice versa). ¬†How they let us riff raff on I‚??ll never know. ¬†There‚??s hardly anyone out there. ¬†A very peaceful, laid back place. ¬†With not a lot of traffic (of the golf variety) - circa 18,000 rounds a year, from memory. ¬†¬†¬†
Scott Furlong ‚?? the Chief Superintendent ‚?? was kind enough to have us out as his guests. ¬†After the eventful morning described above, a lazy lunch in the sparsely populated members‚?? bar was just the ticket before The Main Event. ¬†Great bar snacks, by the way. ¬†¬†
Scott had arranged for one of his assistants ‚?? a lad from Melbourne who goes by the name of Andrew Roberston, or Robbo ‚?? to join us for a hit. ¬†Good solid Australian, he was. ¬†I had the pleasure of riding round with AR (we took carts) and playing as his partner in The Match (which tragically we lost coming down the last). ¬†¬†Sorry Andrew. ¬†Kevin also had a bit of spare time on his hands ‚?? he works from home ‚?? so was only too happy to come out for a whack. ¬†Had he been born a few months later our fourball would‚??ve all been under 30 years of age ‚?? a rarity on this tour. ¬†Perhaps we should‚??ve branded it as: ‚??puregolf2010 ‚?? golfing with the geriatrics of the world, one by one‚?Ě. ¬†Now I don‚??t mean that, of course. ¬†Hyperbole, I think it‚??s called.
The course? ¬†Pretty dam long from the tips. ¬†Not surprising I guess when you consider they had 4 or 5 Presidents‚?? Cups here (all of ‚??em until they switched to Harding Park last year). ¬†Personally I was more partial to the back nine than the front ‚?? a prejudice motivated perhaps by the scenery along the 9 hundred and something acre lake. ¬†A house there for the summer would be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as indeed would most things.
An observation: 3 out of the 4 par 3s were all the same length. ¬†Good holes in their own right, yes ‚?? but had I been laying out the course I might‚??ve looked for a bit more variation. ¬†Then again Robert Trent Jones Senior knows a thing or two more than I do about golf course design so I‚??ll keep my mouth shut. ¬†Anyway as far as the rest of the place goes, the boy dun‚?? good. ¬†18‚??s a gem of a finishing hole ‚?? playing it every day would put carpet on your chest. ¬†
Back in the safety of the stately clubhouse, we perched ourselves back in the bar and put the world to rest. ¬†A couple of members overheard our story and we all got talking. ¬†Within a few moments we were all at one table; 5 hours later, at a shade after midnight, we were still at the same table. ¬†Mr. Davis kindly bought us dinner (sublime); and we heard a good few stories from a certain Mr. Avery, who has certainly Lived. ¬†Everyone was telling lies and the lies got thicker. ¬†By 12.20am the lies were pretty thick, and it was time to move onwards. ¬†Back to Alexandria, to conclude another manic day in the life of The Kiwis.
Thanks Scott & Andrew at RTJ for your first rate hospitality, and for letting us chop it round your very fine course. ¬†Thanks to Mr. Davis for keeping me healthy with the iron my lamb rack afforded. ¬†And thanks to Kevin for putting up with our rubbish and ferrying us to and from the course. ¬†A long day but a good one lads.
Kinloch Golf Club just north of Richmond Virginia was the venue for our latest golfing adventure. ¬†But firstly it was our grandstand to watch the Mighty Mighty All Whites take on some random footballing country that goes by the name of Italy.¬† Supposedly these I-talians can play a bit, but to me it looked like they were far better at falling over, holding their faces and generally acting like wusses. ¬†Holed up in the sweet confines of the Kinloch club house we were rooting on our boys from down under, those famous footballers whose combined transfer value is around $250 kiwi pesos.¬† When ‚??that goal‚?? went in circa 10th minute of the match we stopped, mid conversation with one of the staff, and jumped out of our seats with delight and surprise and complete disbelief.¬† This first Hour Or So in Kinloch had nothing to do with golf but it was a good Hour Or So.¬† The staff at Kinloch were as friendly as the All Whites were staunch ‚?? they all came by to say G‚??day to the visiting kiwis and to welcome us to their club. ¬†The bar staff even started cheering on the All Whites with us. ¬† But we‚??d left our caddy waiting on the range so at half time, with the scores locked up at 1-1 (note to ref: you‚??re a disgrace for awarding that penalty), we wished the boys our best and went to take on Kinloch.
Kinloch, like it‚??s kiwi namesake borders a serious lake (hence the name), although this lake in Virginia at about 72 acres large is dwarfed by Lake Taupo in our native homeland of New Zealand.¬† We met our caddy, Jeff, and were welcomed by the Director of Operations, Phil Owenby.¬† It was a tad warmer than it gets back home so after we hit a few balls on the range it was time for rotation number one of the sweat sodden glove, a couple of bottles of water and then we were off to the first tee.
First impressions once out on the course were that this place is bliss. We had the course to ourselves and before us lay a huge, perfectly manicured golf lovers paradise.¬† And to top it off we were blessed with the services of our caddy Jeff who had a real skill for reading putts.¬† And for being a good punter.¬† Jeff has previously looped at Caves Valley where his brother is the caddy master and we might see him again there in a couple days time. ¬†The whole caddying scene is very different to NZ ‚?? a caddy master organizes the whole rigmarole putting the caddies together with the players.¬† The caddies generally wait in the caddy shack until they ‚??get a bag‚?? for the day. ¬†I guess you could say we‚??ve got a little used to taking caddies over our 7 weeks here in the US but I don‚??t particularly think it is a trend that would catch on in New Zealand or Australia with our downunder DIY (do-it-yourself) attitude.¬† Nevertheless I‚??d say Jeff saved me a few shots today so perhaps there is some sense to it all.¬† The caddy master here, and generally boss of everything that goes on outdoors was a chap called Kevin Cook. ¬†Kevin made us feel completely at home at Kinloch, despite not playing with a member, which is normally the rule of thumb here.
Back to the golf course.¬† Two words describe this Kinloch (which is a parkland course as opposed to the Links on steriods that Jack Nicklaus built by Lake Taupo). Those words? Risk Reward. All of the par fives fit this description: the 3rd a short one enticing you to hit your second over water, and then both the 9th¬†(pictured below) and 11th which have split fairways and hazards going everywhere but if you take it on the right line you can get on in two no worries.¬† Split fairways suit both JP and I perfectly ‚?? we aim it straight and either (1) hit a draw and land on the left fairway, or (2) hit a block and hit the fairway on the right. ¬† Fingers crossed that it doesn‚??t go straight down the middle into the hazard like what happened on the 8th at Riviera. Yes I can remember that far back‚?¶¬† Kinloch also has a couple of short par fours ‚?? the first of which suckered me right in.¬†
The 4th hole, at 330 yards and downhill, is always going to be a driver. I didn‚??t even need to use the ridiculous justification that 'jeez we‚??re only going to play the hole once' to hit driver here.¬† The green angles to the right and there is a hazard running along short / right of the green. The creek is only 5 yards wide so there was a strong element of the 'she‚??ll be right' philosophy.¬† But the play is NOT to try and hit a high cut to land the ball softly on this shallow green and make a tap in 2 as if you knock it out left, the fairway actually slopes down sharply to the right and the ball will roll right down to the front edge of the green. Jeff told me to do this on the tee, but I still hit the high cut ‚?? straight into the hazard ‚?? bogey 5.¬† A great hole. (And of course there is a huge lay up area to play it as a 4 iron wedge if you are that way inclined). The 4th is pictured below:
7th tee and JP and I were fading.¬† Amidst the excitement of the footy, we hadn‚??t had much to eat. But, or course, there was a half way house between 7 tee and 9 green with, of course, a chef right there ready to rock and roll and fry up a burger or whatever else may tickle your fancy.¬† Burgers all round and what a burger it was ‚?? even by the Supremely High Standards of burgers that are set here in the US. Away we went again.¬†
There are some strong par fours here, one of which we encountered on the 8th hole. 470 yards or so, with a huge lake short left. JP hit two cracking shots and two putted for par. I hit a snap slice, a thin 2 iron, and then the most flukey hack¬†from the trees to 6 feet to make my par.¬† News only got better as Kevin was there to ask how we were going, and tell us the All Whites had drawn with Italy.¬† Boom.¬† NZ drawing with the World Champions ‚?? that‚??s like the two of us both shooting 67 at Bethpage Black off the tips.¬† It just doesn‚??t happen.
The heat was pretty immense and we made the call to use a cart for the back nine. (picture sweat covered shirts like that fine picture JP painted for you all from yesterday). The back nine started with some strong par fours (10 and 12) and the two par fives (11 and 13) and so by this stage we were both thinking a cart was a good option. ¬†My minor gripe of the course was that a couple of these par fours, in particular 10, could have had more of a shute off the tee to a narrow fairway.¬† The 10th hole has the most amazing shaped fairway which snakes to the hole, and to me I would have flagged the fairway bunkers here, brought the trees in a bit tighter and give the hole the 'understated by I'm going to really grab you when you miss the fairway and try and roll it up out of the rough' character.
The finish here is awesome as the closing holes flow around the lake ‚?? 13 a par five down to the lake, 14 a gorgeous par three surrounded by water, 15 a risk reward par four where driver actually paid dividends, 16 an almighty par four that wraps around the lake and climbs up to the green and that JP would quite happily never see again; 17 is a strong par three across a creek, and then 18 is 18. ¬†Picturesque. Where JP made birdie. He has a knack of doing that.
The course was in perfect nick. Greens pure. Fairways carpet. You‚??ve heard it all before, but this course, well it‚??s the shiz.¬†¬† The greens were rolling at around 13 on the stint meter ‚?? so you need to be on form with the short stick and not putting like Ed.
As we shook hands and thanked Jeff we saw another hole nestled under the clubhouse.¬† The story behind this is that the owner and designer of this place ‚?? Vinny Giles ‚?? is not only a quality golfer (last year he was the Senior United States Amateur Champion at the age of 66 much older than his competitors) but he is also a gambling man.¬† And such the genesis of the 19th a par three over water that is there to settle all bets Once and For All. ¬†We had no such bets to settle because we are povo and play simply for pride. Pride claimed by Jamie courtesy of his one shot victory with the aforementioned 18th hole birdie. ¬†Oh yeah, and check out the clubhouse behind the 19th green below:
Kinloch is a place I‚??d love to come back to and Kevin assured us we‚??d be welcome any time. It‚??s a place of First Class service, a world class golf course and where everything is just done right.¬† Dotted around Kinloch were the rankings from a magazine called ‚??Golfworld‚?? which somehow rated the top 50 private clubs over a number of categories: the golf course, service, food, caddie programme, how-much-scotch-and-cigars-you-can-consume, etc and you can see why Kinloch are proud about their course filtering very much towards the top of this illustrious pile.¬†
Once done at Kinloch, we scooted up to Washington DC. Actually a place called Alexandria which I think is in the Northern tip of Virginia but is effectively part of DC.¬† We had a dinner party with our host Keith Mathews and a few friends he‚??d invited around to meet a couple of unusual species that go by the name of kiwi‚??s. ¬†We ate too much steak, drank some wine and some of Keith‚??s Bushmills 1608 and stayed up Far Far Too Late talking about what makes the world go round. Golf. Tomorrow we‚??re taking Keith‚??s nephew, Kevin out for the day at RTJ where I think we‚??re also playing with an Aussie.
P.S JP liked the benches by the tees at Kinloch, but we don't have any pictures of them so you'll have to take his word for it that thhey were good
puregolf2010 arrives in Tobacco Country! ¬†After a fine evening last night with the Inmans, we readied Dodgy for his first foray into Virginia. ¬†Destination: Richmond.
Steve DeWalle was one of the first Americans to contact us, way back when, extending a very kind invitation to stay with him and play at The Country Club of Virginia. ¬†The 19th of June those many moons ago seemed like an eternity away, but as we all know time creeps up on you ‚?? particularly when every day is a jam packed one! ¬†We met Steve at his apartment in The Fan area of Richmond, a quaint district with a residual flavour of Bohemian times gone by. ¬†My kinda place.
Steve's an interesting chap to be sure. ¬†Although he‚??s played golf for many years, he‚??s only in the last few years begun to take it somewhat seriously. ¬†In that time his handicap has come down and his collection of golf memorabilia has grown. ¬†I'm always loathe to pin the "golf nut" label on the donkey, but even Steve would find it hard to argue against. ¬†And why not? ¬†What I like most about Steve though is how he has so many strings to his bow, defying pigeon holing based on occupation. ¬†The man dabbles in advertising, provides some sort of installation service for high end stereo systems, probably consults for NASA and, I imagine, invests in obscure stocks in emerging markets. ¬†A chameleon. ¬†A chameleon who seems to do quite well for himself. ¬†Anyhow. ¬†
The golf? ¬†CCV has 3 courses: one in town, and a couple 15 minutes or so away. ¬†The River Course for whatever reason has the best name, and that‚??s the one we were fortunate enough to play. ¬†Sounds to me like the members get a pretty sweet deal, being able to play 3 fine tracks within a stone‚??s throw of each other (and of course use the rather decadent amenities). ¬†Our fourth ‚?? Berno ‚?? has been a member since Moses struck The Rock, and why wouldn‚??t you? ¬†The atmosphere is pitched nicely to balance laid back and good tradition. ¬†For example, you can wear jandals in the clubhouse; but you must take your hat off when you go in and your cellphone must be on silent. ¬†
We got another scorcher. ¬†My glove was soaked after hitting 50 balls on the range. ¬†I was also sporting one of those lower back sweat patches that you usually only associate with guys that weigh 300 pounds. ¬†Mmmm.
The River Course doesn‚??t actually border the river (you don‚??t see it at any point, as far as I could tell) but it‚??s the closest of the 3 to the river and takes its namesake thus. ¬†So there you go. ¬†From the first tee you look out from your perch over the surrounding lowlands. ¬†A nice view. ¬†Your eye‚??s also drawn to a lake guarding the left hand side of the green, which comes into place more than you‚??d think because the greens are so dam fast. ¬†(The member / guest is here soon, so the greenkeepers have got the place in tip top shape ‚?? a real treat).
Like the Country Clubs we‚??ve played of late ‚?? Charleston, North Carolina ‚?? the setting is a serene one. ¬†Very mature deciduous woodlands; gentle undulations; stately residences tucked carefully away, partially hidden from view. ¬†The sort of place that anyone ‚?? whether they‚??re a golfer or not ‚?? could happily walk around for hours. ¬†
Both 9s were good, but I had a slight preference for the back (which has more undulation). ¬†10 is a lovely dogleg left with a partially blind tee shot; 11 is a driver and a flip to an impossible green; 12 is a brute of an uphill dogleg right, commanding a pinpoint tee shot; 13 is a driveable par 4 with a treacherous green; 14 is a 220 yard par 3 over a huge ravine, with out of bounds left; 15‚??s another driveable par 4 with a creek running up one side and bunkers up the other ‚?? a great little hole; 16 (pictured twice above) might just be one of the most picturesque holes we‚??ve seen this year, a downhill dogleg left par 5 framed by bunkers and a narrow entrance to the green; 17‚??s a long par 3 that you just can‚??t miss; and 18‚??s a great risk/reward par 5 with a ¬†raised green. ¬†When you remember every shot on every hole you know you‚??ve been fortunate to play a good track.
There may have been another reason I enjoyed the back 9 so much. ¬†At half time Berno ran into the sheds and emerged with 4 red concoctions in hand. ¬†Transfusions. ¬†They look and taste as ominous as they sound. ¬†On a hot day like the one we had, you‚??ll be hard pushed to find anything as refreshing. ¬†Equal parts vodka and sprite, and a dash of grapefruit juice. ¬†Try it.
The match went down the final hole. ¬†Despite being up for most of the round, Steve and me found ourselves 1 down after 17, after a couple of brain explosions. ¬†Then Goldy did what he likes to do from time to time and drilled a driver 330 yards up the fairway (it was partially uphill), leaving a mid iron into the par 5. ¬†In the end the hole was halved in pars, but the baddies took the honours. ¬†
To celebrate / commiserate we sat on the deck looking out over this beautiful place, and swapped more lies while the sun was dropping towards the oaks. ¬†I also had a nice surprise in the form of a phonecall from my mother, whom I hadn‚??t spoken to for some weeks. ¬†
Then came something a bit special. ¬†Hickory golf. ¬†Steve has a set he‚??s been adding to in recent times, and we couldn‚??t resist the prospect of going out on the back 9 to hit a couple. ¬†He‚??s even got the proper balls and everything... ¬†I have to say they weren‚??t as difficult to use as I‚??d suspected. ¬†Swing smoothly and the ball tends to behave; swing like Tiger and things get a little messy. ¬†My favourite weapon was The Jigger, although the Mashie Niblick was a nifty piece of work too.
Berno joined Michael and me for dinner in a funky little neighbourhood bar / restaurant in The Fan ‚?? The Sidewalk Caf√© ‚?? where the pastas could feed an army. ¬†Seriously, I got a quarter of the way through my spaghetti and had to pull pin ‚?? a pathetic effort.
Another cracking day on the road. ¬†Great company; a beautiful place; a golf course in perfect condition; and a Transfusion or two to add to our glow. ¬†Life‚??s good and we‚??re lucky boys.
Thanks to Steve for being a wonderful host!
After knocking it around at Forest Creek we headed north to Durham North Carolina to stay with Patti and John Inman.¬† These guys are really good friends with Phil and Mel Tataurangi and had extended us an invitation to the ‚??Inman Inn‚?Ě on route to our game of golf the next morning at the TPC Wakefield Plantation course in Raleigh.
John Inman is a well known chap amongst the North Carolina golfing fraternity because of his career on the tour and now thru his role as Head Coach of the golf team at University of North Carolina.¬† In fact he was out recruiting today and will continue to do so tomorrow. By recruiting, he (along with coaches from all the other universities) is following every move of certain high school golfers at the summer golf tournaments and trying to convince them that UNC is the best place for them to further their golf and academic careers. ¬†Scholarships are offered up and tours of the campus are given.¬† It all sounds like competitive stuff and a far cry from the entirely non-existent college sport scene back in New Zealand.¬† John has a pretty good product to sell as from all accounts as UNC has produced a number of fine tour professionals (like John himself and Davis Love who were on the College team together).¬†¬†
We sat around enjoying an amazing home cooked meal (which crucially included plenty of vegetables) hearing about the world of the Inman‚??s here in Durham, North Carolina.¬† We also saw where the vegetables were grown ‚?? an impressive vegetable garden had been cultivated in the back garden, complete with a tin sheep from New Zealand. You see, the Inman‚??s are a rare breed of Americans from these parts who have actually managed to make it down to New Zealand ‚?? and no fewer than 6 times normally corresponding with the NZ Open.
Patti also was kind enough to decorate Dodgy, with a Tar Heels Golf Academy magnet ‚?? this is the golf academy that they are running over the next few weeks (think summer camp for golf).
The next morning we made it to the TPC course and were the second group away on the first.¬† I was really stiff and bunted my first few shots around to be happy with bogey golf.¬† Our brains were not fully switched on to golf, and on the fourth hole, a 480 yard brute of a par four, we hit off before checking the course guide. Thus we didn‚??t factor in the stream running across the fairway and made a couple more bogeys: Jamie courtesy of a drop, and myself a hack out of the bank.¬†This¬†evil hole is pictured below - still gives me nightmares. Oh and I forgot to mention the 80 yard long green which JP managed to two putt his way from the front egdge to a back pin - well played son.
All TPC courses are generally stretched out to some exorbitant length to extend the pro‚??s when tournaments are played.¬† Indeed, Wakefield Plantation hosted a nationwide event within the last few weeks.¬† We heard that the scoring was VERY low during that week at around 20 under for three rounds. Amazing really considering this course plays about 7300 yards and is really tight in parts. It goes to show that simply stretching a golf course out will not result in Pebble Beach like scoring.¬† When you do stretch the course out it really exposes the gulf between low-ish amateurs like Jamie and I and the tour player. If you can‚??t bomb it consistently 300 yards I think this course is tough.¬†¬†¬†¬†
I particularly enjoyed the last couple of holes on the front nine which were both strong par fours. The 8th plays downhill so the 480 yard measurement is not as ghastly as it sounds. Although if you don‚??t get a drive away there is a gully short of the green which you can‚??t roll the ball up.¬† The 9th curves to the left and has a bunker smack bang in the middle of the fairway. If you take it left of the bunker the lake comes into play ‚?? as I found out. But had I not hit such a strong draw I would have been sitting pretty 120 yards from the pin. Shake it off.. First Tee styles..
The back nine tightens up a fair bit off the tee and you really need to be hitting it both long and straight to make some pars (let alone birdies).¬† The 18th (pictured below courtesy of our sweet camera which was on top form today)¬†is one of those stadium finishes that makes your mouth water. A downhill par five crossing a stream before the green is nestled under the clubhouse. A beautiful finish.
After the round we spent some time with Michael Thomas who works in the marketing team here at the TPC Wakefield Plantation. Michael was a Top Notch host and we were able to relax and enjoy a nice lunch before our drive north to Richmond. We also met the general manager, Kirk, and shared our crazy story with him. Both these guys were as enthusiastic as they come ‚?? something that really gives me motivation as the days in this golfing marathon tick by.¬† Crucially, we were also treated to a new pair of shorts to add to our golfing uniform. Both of us have been low on shorts of late so it is key to add a second pair of shorts to the rotation (my lack of shorts is courtesy of the poor tailoring of Industrie clothing inc ‚?? don‚??t buy such shorts if you want them to last more than 12 rounds). ¬†Photo‚??s with dodgy and business cards swapped and off we went ‚?? in the newly branded ‚??tar heel golf academy Dodgy‚?Ě.¬†
I've had an idea y'all. ¬†A very kind lady who also doubles as Michael's Auntie has laid down the gauntlet. ¬†Now that Mick has gone under par - at last - Jane has pledged to pony up with $100 for The First Tee when I match the feat. ¬†
Anyone else up for the pledge? ¬†To make things a little more interesting, I'll make it a two-way thing. ¬†If I don't shoot under par by the end of our UK leg, I'll donate $100 myself. ¬†How's that for pressure?
For what it's worth, y'er money will probably be safe. ¬†But get involved anyway and let's have ourselves a wee wager...
Golf amplifies your emotions. ¬†When you hit a shank into the ice plant at Spyglass, there is no sharper sense of frustration imaginable. ¬†If you are lucky enough to drain a 40 footer for eagle on the 18th to beat your opponent by one stroke, life couldn‚??t be any better. ¬†As a paradigm for ‚??real life‚?Ě it‚??s a rollercoaster ride. ¬†And we‚??re riding it! ¬†What brought me to this reflection was this: this morning we were late for our tee time. ¬†Now, being late is bad enough under any circumstances, but when you‚??re a guest and there are people lining up to get going, suffice to say, well, you‚??re not flavour of the month. ¬†Thankfully Stuart ‚?? our host ‚?? and his pal / prot√©g√© Gary were very gracious. ¬†But (1) we were embarassed; and (2) we didn‚??t get the chance to hit a few balls before what promised to be a stern test of our ineptitude / patience at Forest Creek.
The club lies just outside of Pinehurst proper. ¬†About a 15 minute drive through the pines, past about 15 other courses. ¬†As we‚??ve foreshadowed in recent days, this be golf country. ¬†(Dam good golf country). ¬†Forest Creek has 2 courses: the north and the south. ¬†Before our visit they were described to us thus: one‚??s like Pine Valley; the other‚??s like Augusta. ¬†‚??God,‚?Ě I thought, ‚??I hope we don‚??t get the Augusta one...that‚??d be awful‚?Ě. ¬†In the end we did and it was a treat.
Stuart Taylor is a man who has a few stories; just the kind of man you‚??d love to spend a few hours walking round a golf course with. ¬†He‚??s a PGA professional and has taught around these parts for longer than we‚??ve been alive. ¬†Quite simply he knows everyone and everything about the area. ¬†Stuart was the man responsible for putting us onto the lovely ladies at The Pinecrest Inn ‚?? so on that count we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. ¬†The fact that he also arranged a game for us out at Forest Creek, well, makes him a saint. ¬†One of the better saints at that, like St. Andrew. ¬†(Being Scottish I‚??m biased).
Like a good few other places around here your name has to be on the gate if the Gestapo are going to let you in (unless you‚??re a member). ¬†We reported for duty about 4 minutes to 9, 4 minutes before our tee time. ¬†On the spot it was decided The Yankees would take on The Kiwis in the best ball match. ¬†No shots would be given ‚?? a travesty, really, given we were up against two pros (Gary used to play the mini tours and now works with Stuart teaching). ¬†But we like a challenge.
A challenge it was: 4 down after 4. ¬†The sods kept rolling in birdie putts and we kept missing ‚??em. ¬†Even when I stuck a sand wedge dead on the 5th Stuart did the same to snatch a half. ¬†Things got better thank goodness though and we pulled it back to about 2 early in the back nine. ¬†More on that note shortly.
The South Course? ¬†(The one more like Augusta than Pine Valley). ¬†Very good. ¬†A Fazio. ¬†Set in the sand hills area, it‚??s built on the perfect soil for golf. ¬†Drainage obviously isn‚??t a problem ‚??round here ‚?? although apparently just up the road clay soils make things a little trickier. ¬†Normally they have the greens running about about 26 on the stimp meter, but today they were a milder pace. ¬†Aeration and all. ¬†
Bunkers cut among the pine needles were a memorable feature. ¬†Fortunately none of us visited any, but they look pretty all the same. ¬†With this soil I guess it‚??s just a case of clear away a few needles and you have yourself a bunker? ¬†Maybe I‚??m oversimplifying...
There are a few short par 4s you can attack, and if you get a good tee shot away on the par 5s, you‚??re in the money (save for the 11th, which is 600 yards). ¬†On 11 Mike smoked one 340 yards and could‚??ve got there had it not been for the downhill lie he had in the fairway. ¬†My heart bleeds.
I‚??d love to play the course in tournament shape, to see how much carnage the greens can really cause. ¬†Even today some putts were rolling straight sideways. ¬†During Member / Guest week they must be treacherous. ¬†This Fazio fella‚??s a bit of a masochist...
Stuart being an old pro was interested only in pars and birdies ‚?? if he‚??d already had one more than par, he‚??d pick up (safe in the knowledge, almost without exception, that his buddy would have his back). ¬†Gary‚??s a good player. ¬†And a helluva nice guy too. ¬†They were both a pleasure to play with ‚?? a couple of the more light hearted sharp shooters we‚??ve come across; my kinda folks. ¬†In fact we enjoyed our golf so much that we even played 19 holes.
The 18th green finishes several hundred yards short of the clubhouse. ¬†To get there you have to trudge / drive past the 19th, playoff hole. ¬†This appears to be a peculiarity of some courses in these southern parts: if there‚??s unfinished business, the 19th hole (not of the bar ilk) is the place to settle it. ¬†So y‚??er man has built a 19th hole befitting of any good golf course. ¬†An all carry par 3 over water to a green sunk beneath the statuesque new hut. ¬†Stuart declared we‚??d play a Captain‚??s Pick, meaning we‚??d all hit and putt from the closest one. ¬†Putting wasn‚??t necessary, because he stuck it ‚?? quite literally ‚?? within a foot. ¬†Bumped gently into the pin, from about 210 or so, and ricocheted painfully off to the right. ¬†5 seconds before he struck the ball I said to Gary, ‚??this would be a terrible place to have a hole-in-one, wouldn‚??t it?‚?Ě. ¬†I‚??m sure Stuart wouldn‚??t have been too perturbed had it dropped.
Yesterday Jonathan nearly wet himself talking about the men‚??s locker room at Forest Creek. ¬†Better than Sea Island, he said. ¬†(That‚??s a big statement, by the way ‚?? the locker room and showers down there to date had been firmly in the #1 spot out of 167). ¬†The anticipation was killing me as we stepped out of our carts and up the steps to a barn-like structure of colossal proportions. ¬†
There‚??s a front desk 30 yards ahead of you as you walk in, with lockers lining either side. ¬†I guess you check in there? ¬†Beyond the desk are more lockers; a pretty sensational shower / sauna / etc setup; a towering fireplace; and a grill bar. ¬†Popcorn and nuts and everything you could possibly care for are on offer. ¬†A full time barman stands poised waiting to satisfy your every thirst. ¬†If I‚??m not speaking out of turn, this gentleman was poised with an inconvenienced air about him ‚?? perhaps we shouldn‚??t have been in there without a member (Stuart had arranged the game through a friend, who‚??s the Pro / Director of Golf)? ¬†Either way, I felt a little bit like I did as a nipper when I stepped nervously into the Big Boys Bar at Lundin Links back home where I played with my dad. ¬†Disapproving stares all round. ¬†Maybe they knew I was trouble even back then?
Better than Sea Island? ¬†I think not. ¬†It‚??ll take something extraordinary to snatch that honour from the folks down at St. Simons ‚?? Davis Love and his cronies. ¬†Very impressive nonetheless ‚?? to go with a quality golf course. ¬†Apparently Michael Jordan has some land by the 16th. ¬†Being the curious punter I am, I hit a block cut into his property in the hope of spotting the man (there‚??s nothing built there, but he might‚??ve been out surveying his estate?). ¬†No sign.
Thanks Stuart & Gary for a cracker. ¬†Sorry we couldn‚??t take you down the 18th... (we lost 2&1).
P.S. If you play at Forest Creek, watch out for the fire ants. ¬†They attacked me on 17 tee. ¬†My shirt was off quicker than you can say "fire ant", revealing my rather impressive golf tan.
It was about as relaxing as it gets for us this year after a great sleep in the Pine Crest Inn and a mere 5 minute drive to the golf course for our 1220pm tee time.¬† I think we even managed a lie in until around 9am - a first during our 40 days in the USA.¬† I‚??ve just come to the realization that playing golf every single day is actually a bit of a marathon. And looking back on 167 days of non-stop around the clock golf, blogging, meeting new folks and traveling 30,000 or so kilometers, it has already been some journey.
When we finally rose, we found time to check out the Tufts archives (the Donald Ross museum).¬† Donald Ross is a legend of the game of golf, a Scotsman who moved to the US to sell golf clubs, play golf and famously design golf courses. ¬†In the corner of the museum were a couple of golf historians trying to find the mark of Donald Ross on another old US golf course ‚?? I heard the words ‚??this might be the oldest Donald Ross in the US‚?¶‚?? We‚??re quickly learning that this guys work is good ‚?? up there with MacKenzie.
A few other names were dotted around the museum that I‚??ve quickly learnt are synonymous with Pinehurst.¬† There was an array of information about Peggy Kirk Bell, the owner of Pine Needles and of course Mr Tufts, the guy who sold his soda fountain business to create this golfing paradise. ¬†And of course the champions of Pinehurst: the late Payne Stewart who won the 99 US Open here, the kiwi champion Michael Campbell who won the 2005 US Open here, and of course Danny Lee who won the US Amateur here in 2008.¬† Kiwis have done well in this town, perhaps it‚??s because it is so laid back and chilled out like our country.
Anyway we cruised into the Country Club of North Carolina with plenty of time to spare and were greeted by our hosts, Jonathon Broyles and Cleve Folger.¬† Cleve is a member here at the Country Club and Jonathon, who works at Cleve‚??s insurance firm, Trisure, had kindly arranged the round today. ¬†The connection? Jonathon is mates with Kirby Yawn, the gentleman we have not yet met but who has kindly helped us out here and there including putting us in touch with his father in law at Augusta Country Club, Len Allgood.
There are two courses at the Country Club and both are revered by the Pinehurst locals.¬† Our test for the day was the Cardinal course, with the Dogwood track to wait until next time we visit Pinehurst.¬†
I‚??d describe the course as stately.¬† Large undulating fairways roll through the pine trees and down towards green complexes that are often surrounded by deep blue lakes. ¬†These lakes were manmade by boy they look natural. Check out this one bordering the 18th hole on the Dogwood course which we had a quick look around
The Cardinal course which we played has a great set of par fives - all of which are punctuated by elevation changes and water.¬† If you can bomb a drive you often get the benefit of a downhill springboard which opens the possibility of going for it in two. ¬†Although then you‚??ve got to contend with water short,right or even long of the green. The hole below is the par 5 second - if you have the desire to go for the green you can't leak right. And if you bail out left of the bunker it takes some touch to not pitch it through the green and into the lake.
The course was really fun to play, difficult in parts but it gave you a chance as well - it wasn't a slog. ¬†And what made it even more fun to play was the perfect conditioning of it and in particular the greens which were rolling true and quickly.
Cleve and I played a cart match against Jonathon and Jamie.¬† So during the round I was fortunate enough to hear all about Cleve‚??s involvement with the First Tee of Raleigh where he has joined the board and contributing to their chapter, a chapter which it sounds like there are some exciting things on the cards.¬† Aside from the Insurance business Cleve also runs a small travel business and has a few other bright ideas he was sharing with me.¬† An entrepreneurial man which I really enjoy.¬† Jonathan was not in my cart and cart golf can be very fragmented so I didn‚??t get time to chat with him too much (unfortunately he had to head away swiftly after the round) but I can say that he was a handy golfer, even if he did stand on the wrong side of the ball.
All in all a top day, one of the most relaxing in a long time. Cleve and I took the spoils and snuck in a cheeky +2 round.¬† The golf is getting better - I think it is a combination of the rest, the warm air, a new putter and that Pinehurst Chilled Out attitude.¬† I‚??ll leave you with photographs of a couple of par fours I loved, the 4th and the 18th. Both shortish, relying on angles and with the water very much in play.
It‚??s not often that we devote a blog post entirely to a hotel we‚??ve stayed in. ¬†Throughout the last 166 days we‚??ve stayed in some special places, for sure, and we‚??re very grateful for it let me tell you. ¬†But The Pinecrest Inn really is something quite special, and it commands a closer look.
The place has a lot of history. ¬†Bought by Donald Ross and his brother-in-law James McNab circa 1921, it is and always was a hotel for golfers. ¬†Well, it‚??s smack bang in the middle of Pinehurst... ¬†If you ask me ‚?? an outsider, granted, with only a couple of days‚?? experience of the place ‚?? it‚??s the pulse of the town. ¬†Everyone knows about it. ¬†Everyone seems to go there for a beer or for a meal. ¬†Everyone‚??s eyes light up when you mention you‚??re staying there. ¬†Everyone raves about it. ¬†¬†And for good reason. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
At The Pinecrest you get an old fashioned, intimate type of hospitality. ¬†No pretenses; no guy standing by the front door and expecting a tip; no electric towel rail and Egyptian cotton robe worth more than a small house. ¬†Just an unpretentious haven run by the most wonderful salt of the earth people you could hope to run into (it‚??s been owned and run by the Barrett family for 48 years). ¬†Linda and Andy rate a special mention as the two wonderful ladies that looked after us like royalty (we tried to get a photo of 'em but they refused!). ¬†Very humbling stuff; Michael and me still can‚??t get over quite how we deserved such kindness.
From mid afternoon onwards, it seemed to us anyway, you‚??ll always find people out on the deck having a beer or a cigarette. ¬†Often there are gatherings of 5 to 10 sitting out there in the shade. ¬†Or more. ¬†In the bar too, as I mentioned, you‚??ll be hard pushed to find a quiet few minutes. ¬†Rowdy‚??s the wrong word; suffice to say it has Atmosphere. ¬†There‚??s a fireplace in the lobby ‚?? which is bordered by the front desk, the bar and the dining room ‚?? covered by a felted board. ¬†Into the board has been cut a hole the size of your average head. ¬†And into that hole patrons / guests try to chip with the sand wedge that lies there. ¬†Not in many hotels will you walk in the front door and find people practising their short game. ¬†This place is special.
They might not have had wireless internet back in Donald Ross‚?? time, but they do now. ¬†Flatscreens in your room too, if TV floats your boat. ¬†Personally I couldn‚??t think of anything worse than turning on the box when you‚??re in a place like this. ¬†With all the history, the golf and the atmosphere of the pubs...why would you? ¬†Crucially there‚??s air conditioning too! ¬†
Really our stay here in Pinehurst couldn‚??t have been more comfortable, or more memorable. ¬†People often ask us if we take notes along our way. ¬†Truth be told we seldom do. ¬†Sure, a lack of spare time has a part to play here. ¬†But there‚??s another reason, and it‚??s this. ¬†The experiences we‚??re having ‚?? like the hospitality at The Pinecrest ‚?? are amazing. ¬†They hit you. ¬†Just as I can remember vividly the moment when I heard Princess Diana died (I was at a friend‚??s house in Wainui, New Zealand, playing board games), or the moment when I got on Space Mountain at Disney World, I‚??ll remember these few days for a long time to come.
If the team at The Pinecrest are reading this: a sincere thank you from the two of us. ¬†Look forward to returning in years to come, and to having you down under for a bit of Kiwi hospitality! ¬†¬†