I‚??m sitting in the back of one of those GMC Arctic lorries, en route to Newark Airport. ¬†Our good friend George Eberle very kindly had his driver take us along the last freeways we‚??ll see in the US of A, before we board our Iceland Express flight tonight bound for London. ¬†And then an Easyjet one bound for Edinburgh. ¬†Tomorrow evening we‚??ll be playing at The Royal Burgess with my Uncle David, whom I haven‚??t seen for years. ¬†Quite a lot to take in, really.
It‚??s been an action packed 63 days here, and today certainly hasn‚??t passed us by without incident. ¬†They seldom do. ¬†This morning we awoke with a lot to do ‚?? packing, organise a game of golf, play golf, get ourselves to Newark Airport on time. ¬†You‚??d think we would‚??ve ticked a few of those tasks off our list before the eleventh hour. ¬†But you‚??d be wrong. ¬†Because, it seems, we are nutters.
I did my packing first thing, which was less painful than it could‚??ve been. ¬†We‚??ve accumulated a huge amount of stuff. ¬†A rolling stone may gather no moss, but a golf touring Kiwi gathers a lot of hats. ¬†In fact I‚??d say I‚??m almost at the ‚??hat collection‚?Ě threshold ‚?? something I never actively pursued nor intended. ¬†Trouble is the only hats I need to wear ‚?? by virtue of our obligations to our sponsor, Westfield ‚?? are running thin on the supply side, forcing me to wear a colour clashing bright red one. ¬†I‚??ll get over it.
I don‚??t quite know how it came to be that we didn‚??t organise a game of golf for today before today, but that‚??s what happened. ¬†Yep. ¬†Down the road from Maison George is Muttontown Golf Club ‚?? a grand old beast whose membership is largely Jewish I‚??m led to believe. ¬†At about 9am we approached the pro, Jeff, and explained our plight. ¬†Surprise surprise there was an outing on ‚?? shotgun start at 12 ‚?? so we were bang out of luck. ¬†To his credit Jeff did table the option of paying $92 each and zipping around ‚?? but that idea wasn‚??t an incredibly viable one. ¬†Onwards and upwards, then.
We drove around the streets of Long Island looking for other prospects. ¬†9.30am, by this time. ¬†I swung the truck into the Tam O‚??Shanter Club, which looked sharpish albeit mobbed. ¬†Another dam outing. ¬†And a less than friendly maitre de / car park attendant, who was marshalling the troops with militant gusto. ¬†He didn‚??t have much time for me and I didn‚??t have much time for him, so our relationship was a short lived one. ¬†We moved on once again.
This time to a municipal facility a few miles down the road, known as Eisenhower State Park. ¬†Similar to Bethpage, except Robert Trent Jones has his name stamped on the ‚??Blue Course / Red Course‚?Ě signs rather than Tillinghast. ¬†The check in area was buzzing with largely elderly folks out for their Monday morning game with their pals. ¬†A full tee sheet right through until 11.30 wasn‚??t looking promising, particularly since it would‚??ve taken us a good 5 hours to get around. ¬†That wasn‚??t going to work given we were being picked up from Maison George at 4 ‚?? and still had a fair bit of packing to do! ¬†Paul the pro kindly did his best to help us out, but with the sheer traffic they had there the stars were just not aligned.
At this point Mike and I were getting genuinely concerned about whether we‚??d manage to get our daily round in. ¬†193 days in a row ‚?? the prospect of missing one is a bone chilling one. ¬†(Although let it be known that given the state of my calf muscles after going for a run and playing yesterday, under normal circumstances I would quite happily have not played golf today). ¬†We really had one last lead, and that was to head to Piping Rock, where our mate Elliott is a member. ¬†He‚??d made the call over the weekend to see if we could make it happen, but run into some friction because the superintendent had designs to do some spraying. ¬†Still it was worth a shot ‚?? so we plugged Piping Rock Club into the GPS; raced along the back roads at a rate of knots; and told our story one more time. ¬†
Gavin, the pro‚??s brother who‚??s across from Ireland for a few weeks (he‚??s a teacher, so is on his summer holidays right now) and the pro‚??s wife, lent us their ear for a few minutes then were good enough to make enquiries on our behalf with The Powers That Be. ¬†Before long Larry the Starter appeared; did a bit of to-ing and fro-ing; then gave us the green light. ¬†Hallelujah! ¬†What a relief. ¬†And even better, we had the course to ourselves anda ¬†cart to zip around in. ¬†At this point we were looking good for catching our flight...
Because of the urgency of the situation, we played a Canadian foursome. ¬†For those who don‚??t know it, you both hit drives; pick the best one; then play alternate shots until you‚??re in. ¬†It took us 1 hour 41 minutes to get around, and we weren‚??t even gunning it. ¬†I think I‚??d describe that as a Result. ¬†Our score was a very mediocre 3 over par, courtesy of a string of 3 putts, but to be honest we were just glad to fulfil our obligations and be on our way.
In the melee we still managed to absorb the quality of C B MacDonald‚??s fine handywork. ¬†Piping Rock is quality. ¬†And it has a beautiful, Georgian looking clubhouse overlooking the front 9 to match. ¬†Very majestic indeed, I say. ¬†Similar in character to parts of The Creek ‚?? and possessed of a string of strong par 4s at 450+ yards (not to mention a couple of par 3s well over 200). ¬†We had fun.
As I look out the window Manhattan is to my right, it‚??s giant skyscrapers climbing into the stratosphere. ¬†What a magnificent spectacle. ¬†We must be nearing Newark; it‚??ll be a relief when those bags and checked in and all we need to do is board. ¬†Then sleep.
Following the pleasantries at Piping Rock we made our way hastily back to George‚??s, had a quick dip, then finished our packing. ¬†As I said before, a lot of stuff... ¬†Mary the Maid being the good soul that she is helped us slap together a couple of chicken sandwiches, and we were on our way. ¬†Toga is doing a fine job at navigating the 568 million cars on the New Jersey Turnpike (which according to our pal Slambino is the most amazing feat of road engineering in history ‚?? I‚??m not so sure myself). ¬†And soon we‚??ll be off, to commence another leg of this mad journey.
Never a dull moment.
Welcome to a humdinger of a day at Garden City Golf Club.¬† The club where the golf is pure and the atmosphere is electric. ¬†Even during the afternoon where everyone ought be watching the world cup final.
Blazer requirements in the clubhouse at all times and so we sat and read some books on golf looking dapper and reminisced of our last 61 days in the US of A whilst we waited for our host Mr Alex Barnet to arrive.
And that he did, in fine form and with none other than Mr Andy Leveen, one of these infamous brothers who seem to pop up everywhere.¬† Fortunately Mr Leveen was to be chasing our heels today in another four ball, where he subsequently crashed and burned amidst a sea of ‚??transfusions‚?? on the golf course in a feeble attempt to replicate his fine scoring during the Westhampton Experience.¬† He did hit it close on the second though whilst we were standing on the 3rd tee and I‚??m going to humor Mr Leveen and show y‚??all a photo of the short birdie putt he subsequently missed..
By the way I am rolling with some New York Times journalistic style today by my rather tongue-in-cheek use of Mr.¬† It has been bizarre to read about Mr Rooney shooting at goal, Mr Nelson and his stellar defending and so forth..¬†
So between Mr Leveens fourball, hosted by a charismatic chap by the name of Bob, and us the staff were kept busy and there was a bit of a buzz around the bar heightened by a few guys, including us kiwi‚??s of course, eager to have their first look at the golf course.
A Corrs Light and a few practice swings later we had left behind the pre-match analysis for the world cup final and were onto the first tee with our caddy Nick who was to drive the cart around with all our bags piled on so we could stroll the property and take it this C B Macdonald course. ¬†A Very Good gig for Nick today and I‚??m now recommending caddying as a job to a few young people we bump into, particularly during College holidays..
I was up first on the opening hole, a 300 yard par four guarded by a large bunker which my tee shot just carried resulting in a wee two putt birdie start. Couple of holes later there was another on the very reachable par five 4th hole, to use Mr Pattons prose ‚??take that Charles‚??.
Mr Barnet was a fanstastic host today and the lad knows how to enjoy a day out at golf.¬† He is one of two junior members initiated into the club each year and has strong roots here having lived besides the property growing up. His locker still has the name of his grandfather, George, on it and the two of them used to play a lot of golf together. Now Mr Barnet runs a charity in memory of George by putting on events and raising money for Alzheimer‚??s.¬† That is when he is not busy working in the insurance industry in Manhatton (read: entertaining clients).¬† Another Top Man with a good gig here ‚?? we‚??re meeting more than a few of them recently and it is starting to give NYC a pretty strong pull for life post 2010.
Garden City golf course is pure (as you can see from the photo above!!) and one of the best on Long Island. Perfectly conditioned from tee to green, the course has very few trees in play and each hole being surrounded by long hay that you don‚??t want to go into.¬† The course has C B Macdonalds stamp all over it with burns, unique bunkering and subtle green complexes (like the 10th where the green is merely an extension from the fairway and tilts away leaving a difficult approach shot and two putt from the front of the green). There are a few blind shots too, particularly if you get your angles wrong.¬† The wee agglomerations of bunkers sprout up here and there which are fiddly to say the least. With such tiny bunkers you don‚??t know what kind of lie you‚??re going to get making it all the easier to chunk it into the following one! It is unusually a par 73 with 4 par fives and only 3 short holes ‚?? a very unusual balance in the US, but I always enjoy the opportunities that arise with four par fives which increasingly seems to be a rarity.
Alex on the 2nd. A favourite hole amongst the pro's.
The par five 17th I snap hooked it so violently that I was nearly OOB a fairway + to the left. See the flag stick just below the steeple that signifies a bunker. This is another feature of the course.
Playing this inland links course is good preparation for Scotland and we‚??re transitioning from landing the ball by the pin to landing it 5 to 10 yards short, and often 5 to 10 yards left or right.¬† It makes the role of a caddy even more important as rather than simply aiming at the flagstick and swinging you need to realize that the perfect shot will actually bring your ball down somewhere entirely different.¬†
Mr Patton, Mr Barnet and myself played a split sixes match (which most Americas are unfamiliar with so I will explain briefly: 6 points up for grabs on each hole split in a variety of ways between the three players, for example: 4:2:0; 4:1:1; 3:3:0; or 2:2:2. 108 points up for grabs over the course of the round with a maximum if one person won every single hole outright of 72).¬† In the end, standing on the par three 18th green (also unusual), with the practice putting green around us, we had a bizarre situation where we were all tied on 36 points each having all played exactly to our handicaps of 1, 4 and 9.¬† Mr Barnet could have / should have cleaned us up particularly with his freddy couples swing knocking it long and with a high draw down the fairway time after time.
After golf we saw the real club atmosphere ‚?? the self proclaimed party club although there are no women here just lads having a few beers so it is not that kind of party.. ¬†We sat around on the deck overlooking the 18th (and practice putting green) and shared stories about our adventure with more than a couple of locals and their guests.¬† We were even invited back to the famous New Years day party and the locals pointed out we could play 31st December in NZ and then fly here in time for it‚?¶ I don‚??t think that will happen this year but you never know! Me being the sensible one and driving I eventually pulled Mr Patton from the table and we retreated back to George and Aimee‚??s place to start our packing for Scotland..¬† Thanks Alex for hosting us and Mr Leveen for jacking it all up ‚?? another fond memory to leave the US with.
Matt Prince was one of the first chaps from the US to contact us, some months ago. ¬†He extended us a kind invitation to join him for a hit at Quaker Ridge (which I must confess I‚??d never heard of). ¬†Needless to say we accepted, pencilling in 10 July into what was a fairly empty calendar back then. ¬†The words ‚??Quaker Ridge, 10 July‚?Ě sat there as others names appeared in fits and spurts on my spreadsheet, week by week. ¬†Then I found myself on Friday afternoon checking the schedule, wondering where we were playing tomorrow ‚?? it‚??s easy to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of what‚??s coming next. ¬†Quaker Ridge! ¬†Aha, at last. ¬†Matt from his correspondence seemed to be sound as a pound, and the course was designed by none other than Mister Tillinghast, so the stars really were aligned for a cracker. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
The club‚??s next door to Winged Foot (from some points you can see what I assume was the East Course), but has a quite different religious fabric, being a largely Jewish club. ¬†As we‚??ve mentioned in previous postings, it‚??s intriguing for us to experience clubs that were formed along religious lines ‚?? given New Zealand is a very secular and liberal society. ¬†The road in takes you past tennis courts and cuts the 9th hole in half (which happens to be one of the best holes on the course, a short par 3). ¬†A swimming pool and large, striking clubhouse give something of a country club atmosphere ‚?? very laid back. ¬†
Our eyes lit up when we pushed open the doors of the men‚??s locker room. ¬†On the table there was a veritable feast of muffins, croissants, cakes and refreshments. ¬†Welcome. ¬†Matt hadn‚??t yet arrived, so we parked up with a copy of the New York Times ‚?? a publication I‚??ve very much enjoyed perusing at stolen moments over the past week or two (which has been described rather unkindly as ‚??liberal trash‚?Ě by some of the more conservative friends we‚??ve met of late ‚?? and carb loaded! ¬†With all this golf boys gotta eat...
Matt and his pal Scott arrived and saved us from ourselves. ¬†Had they been delayed by 10 minutes I may be looking for some wider garments. ¬†Just in the nick of time, after my second bagel. ¬†And second coffee. ¬†Not that either did my golf any good! ¬†
Matt‚??s a few years our senior, and was married last year (first guy I‚??ve ever met who met his wife on the internet ‚?? interesting story). ¬†He manages his own small hedge fund (which is probably not that small, but I didn‚??t ask). ¬†Very cool guy. ¬†Scott was also one of life‚??s nice people, a good natured soul, so the four of us had a good ol‚?? time. ¬†Crucially too we avoided getting struck by lightning; the storm that was promised never came, although dark clouds sat there threateningly throughout the afternoon. ¬†A lucky escape.
The first 8 holes at Quaker Ridge run anti-clockwise along the perimiter of the property, which means one thing. ¬†Out of Bounds. ¬†OB is not your friend when the par 4s are relatively long and your driver is misbehaving like a college kid on Spring Break. ¬†I lost one to the white posts, dam things. ¬†My partner Matt on the other hand decided he‚??d hit a controlled fade down the middle of every hole he played, casual as you like. ¬†Like The Golden Bear Himself (although perhaps not as powerful).
That rascal Tillinghast put a large mound in the middle of the 8th fairway that‚??s covered with ball swallowing thick rough. ¬†Some of the thickest rough on the course, we were told. ¬†Typical Tillinghast, up to his usual trickery. ¬†I hit my gracefully drawing 3 wood towards the left portion of the fairway, but came up 2 inches short in said hell grass. ¬†¬†I got my revenge on the old sod though by chopping a wedge out to 12 feet then draining the putt for my first birdie of the day. ¬†Take that Albert.
The 9th which I mentioned is a pearler of a short par 3 ‚?? I forget the yardage but it was a smooth 8 iron. ¬†A quite tiny, amoeba shaped green is pitched towards the tee. ¬†And when the greens are fast it would be Tough. ¬†They weren‚??t so it wasn‚??t. ¬†We still managed to play it like twits and none of us carded a par. ¬†How inept.
Then we replenished our energy reserves with what has become my staple diet at golf clubs ‚?? a chicken sandwich. ¬†After all the burgers of the first few weeks here, something had to be done. ¬†I needed to find a healthier alternative or risk having to buy two seats for my next plane trip. ¬†¬†The chicken sandwich was it and until anyone tells me otherwise, I‚??ve decided it‚??s significantly healthier. ¬†Incidentally you know you‚??re at ¬†Jewish golf club when the ‚??Hot Dog‚?Ě on the blackboard in the half way house has the word ‚??Kosher‚?Ě in front of it. ¬†I was tempted to ask for a non-kosher one to put the cat amongst the pigeons, but decided better of it.
By the 10th tee we found the suggestion box, pictured below. ¬†Nice touch.
On the back nine we also found a skunk ‚?? the first I‚??ve ever seen of his kind ‚?? but kept our distance for fear of being sprayed. ¬†Scott‚??s mate‚??s dog got caught out, and apparently they were shampooing the poor fella 3 times a day for weeks to get the stench out. ¬†Our caddy, Saul, wondered whether skunks know they stink. ¬†To be honest, I‚??m not sure.
But I‚??m getting sidetracked. ¬†The 12th hole (pictured below) is the signature hole at Quaker Ridge. ¬†It‚??s an uphill long par 4 and is rather charming. ¬†Not to mention quite hard (as in mildly mishit driver followed by 3 wood hard). ¬†When those rock star golfers flew around the US in their helicopters playing the 18 best holes they could find, the 12th was the one they played here. ¬†So there you go. ¬†We had the luxury of playing the other 17 too, which I was glad of. ¬†A very nice track indeed. ¬†Quite a different beast to the courses Albert designed next door at The Foot ‚?? probably marginally more forgiving if you ask me ‚?? with quite a different atmosphere. ¬†Vive la difference.
I can‚??t sign off without mentioning the showers. ¬†The pipes are so wide that if installed now they‚??d be illegal (thankfully they were saved by a grandfathering provision in the regulations). ¬†8 cubic metres a second must flow out of those showerheads, pounding your shoulders like a Tahitian waterfall. ¬†Top 10, for sure. ¬†I even managed a shave and brushed my fangs, then left feeling fresh as a daisy. ¬†After another pleasant day in good company.
Cheers Matt and Scott ‚?? you were great hosts!
Sleeping in and swimming in the pool and catching up on a spot of administration were the precursors to the latest round of golf at Deepdale Golf Club, a seriously private track just off the Long Island Expressway about a 10 minutes drive from base camp in Locust Valley, Long Island.
Our round here was arranged through Raymond Floyd Junior, a friend of a friend and so it turns out a friend of a few friends we‚??ve met during our US travels.¬† You may have guessed that Ray‚??s father is none other than Raymond Floyd Senior, aka the legendary golfer who won the US Open down the road at Shinnecock.¬†
Unfortunately Raymond and his buddies were on a golfing weekend up in Canada at a place called Red Tail so we played unaccompanied.¬† But a huge thanks to Raymond for having us (I hear he and a few of the guys at his work including Andy Leveen, are often distracted from the stockmarket by the antics of a couple of kiwi lunatics).
A constant theme we‚??ve come across in these parts revolves around a chap who lives not far away and goes by the name of Julian Robertson.¬† No we don‚??t know him, and no we haven‚??t met him (yet), but yes he has two outstanding golf courses in New Zealand that we are bookending our trip with.¬† Mr Robertson is a member of Deepdale and a few other courses we‚??ve played on Long Island and seems to be as revered around these parts as Charles in England.¬† Or maybe his name is just very closely linked to New Zealand because of all the great publicity he drives, particularly in the US, for Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers.¬† The rumour is that Mr Robertson is one of 18 billionaires who knock it around at this club.. ¬†Deepdale probably best describes itself on its website where it says it is "one of the preeminent private clubs in America continues to this day, welcoming a diverse membership of men and women united by their common love of the game of golf."
The property at Deepdale an old estate and the golf course, originally designed by C B Macdonald and his proteges Seth Raynor and Charles Banks but then redesigned by Mr Wilson after the Long Island Expressway was cut through the course, now weaves its way through the estate passing by a number of old buildings which have no been converted.¬† An old indoor tennis court adjoins the 9th hole and this has now been converted into a caddyshack.¬† An old barn lines the 15th hole and this is now the quarters for the professional and his assistants.¬† Upon arrival we were greeted by Scott and made to feel entirely at home in the grand clubhouse despite playing unaccompanied.¬† I forgot to say g‚??day to Scott from a friend of his from his days on Wall Street and none other than Jeff Leveen ‚?? one of these infamous brothers who seem to pop up everywhere. ¬†¬†We were introduced to our caddy for the day, a kiwi turned English lad by the name of Dylan, and we scooted down to the range to hit a few balls. Hitting balls pre-round is part of the routine in the US ‚?? unlike downunder.¬† We‚??ve both got very used to warming up and it helps being loosened up before the first hole or two ‚?? particularly as our bodies are getting creakier by the day ‚?? feel like 25 going on 55 at times.¬† Today I went for the unusual option of hitting some chip and pitch shots for 15 minutes before we played which definitely helped (to both warm up and score better) although I have to be wary not to do that again as it may be interpreted as ‚??practice‚?? which is not part of the ethos of the journey!!
We started on the 4th hole (pictured below) at Deepdale as there were a few groups around and this place is low key and understated and you do what works. Which I like. Wasn‚??t so sure about the first shot of the day though, a 165 yard into the wind par three to a front pin in a portion of the green only about 8 paces wide.¬† I shut my eyes and knocked it close which set the tone for a good day ahead. JP and I played a best ball and were 5 under par through the first 6 holes as we traded birdies.¬† As we were thinking about best-ball-Paul-Goydos-59 we went off the boil, started missing the putts and ended up at the mark of 5. But lets not get distracted with trivial matters like scoring on what was an absolutely pristine track.
Deepdale‚??s reputation has proceeded it as we‚??ve traveled around Long Island. Firstly the greens here are as pure as they get. ¬†The story goes that the pro‚??s come out here to replicate the putting experience at Augusta National the greens are that pure. Being so quick they also take a heap of break and a few greens with a tilt on them, for example the uphill par four 15th, require a pretty creative 2 putt.¬† The same can be said about the 18th which would just be scary with them rolling at a 14 on the stint meter (which is where they normally are but today we were given some respite and they were quite a bit slower as greenkeepers in these parts are worried about this crazy heat wave and not cutting them too short in fear of losing their greens altogether).
Looking back at Deepdale four days on and sitting in a plane which has been designed for school children - my knees are up by my head and I‚??m only of average height - I can‚??t think of one particular hole that absolutely stands out at Deepdale and would make it into my ‚??best composite 18 in America‚?? (*** see blog post to follow) but I can remember every single hole and every single shot with complete clarity. When you play as much golf as we do, and you start on the 4th hole, knowing the routing and broadly understanding every hole is really the sign of a great course.¬† The 10th hole is a different one as it reads 400 yards on the card but plays sharply downhill at about the 270 mark right towards the green such that a well struck driver and you‚??re not far from the front edge. Good for the ego if you‚??re so inclined to hit driver but we both kept the ball at the top of the hill with irons ‚?? Jamie a little further back on this occasion after hitting a tree‚?¶
The dogleg left, par four 8th to an elevated green surrounded by beautifully sculpted bunkers. Don't leave it short and get stung by the false front!
The tight par four 15th, played uphill and to the left. ¬†The barn on the right is the Professionals abode.
The short par four 16th, with our man Dylan watching on.
We finished playing the last couple of holes alongside a father / son duo who are members here which gave the day a nice personalized touch.¬† Sans golf it was time to shower up (top 5 shower in the US) and a wander through the clubhouse which as the old homestead was really something. And then back to home base to chill out.¬†
There‚??s a good chance that Chapter 1 of The Book is going to be dedicated to The Westhampton Experience. ¬†We were shown the light by Jeff LeVeen and his brother Andy ‚?? two top drawer punters from New York. ¬†Jeff contacted us some weeks ago offering his hospitality, but at that time it was looking like we were overbooked for our last week in the US. ¬†As fate would have it other plans fell through and I‚??m dam glad that they did. ¬†Because in Jeff and Andy we‚??ve found two solid guys that I know we‚??ll keep in touch with for a long time to come.
Westhampton is unsurprisingly the Westernmost spot in the area known as The Hamptons. ¬†It‚??s significantly more understated and ‚??normal‚?Ě than its Eastern cousin, although certainly no shanty town. ¬†Our instructions were to meet Jeff at his pad out there, where he spends time in the summer (he lives down in Jersey most of the time). ¬†The drive was a different experience for us. ¬†Our mate George Eberle, who was our good host yesterday at The Creek, has kindly lent us his spare Toyota Land Cruiser for the remainder of our time here, since we‚??ve sold Dodgy to The Swiss. ¬†Talk about trading up. ¬†The Land Cruiser has a GPS system that talks you through every turn ‚?? quite a different experience to having Goldy barking directions at you from the Google Maps picture on his laptop! ¬†George you are a Saint.
Jeff met us at his house, and took us down the road to the local deli, for the first instalment in TWE. ¬†An egg and sausage breakfast sandwich, and a gallon of iced tea to wash it down (I say gallon but it was probably only half a gallon). ¬†A very good start to the day indeed. ¬†The deli was an unpretentious one; it reminded me of my local on King Street in Newtown, Sydney, when I lived there for a summer between years at University. ¬†A long counter housing unimaginable treats and blackboards up above with myriad sandwich options. ¬†Not one of those wallet emptying upper crust flash delis where everything is marked up at 800%; you‚??re scared to move in case you disrupt the perfect display evidently laid out by an overpaid consultant; and you need to sell a vital organ to buy a loaf of ciabatta. ¬†
We hopped back in Jeff‚??s gangsta Jeep and soon found ourselves at Westhampton Country Club. ¬†We were introduced to a number of the staff, including the very affable Steve ‚?? who hails from the Sutherland area of Scotland, and who spent 10 years working at Cape Kidnappers in our native land. ¬†Steve‚??s going to be in our neck of the woods next February, so we‚??ve teed up a couple of games of golf to look forward to. ¬†As we‚??re prone to doing.
While changing our shoes in the locker room LeVeen Brother #2 turned up. ¬†Andy‚??s several years Jeff‚??s younger, and is a shot lower on the handicap index. ¬†The Brothers LeVeen had played in a Member / Member event last weekend at the club but not covered themselves in glory ‚?? a subject that surfaced on several occasions throughout the day. ¬†Andy would tell you it‚??s because Jeff burned the candle at both ends all weekend, and couldn‚??t hit a shot. ¬†Jeff would tell you the same about Andy. ¬†Regardless of who you believe, it‚??s clear that too many Rumdy Dumdys had something to do with it. ¬†Nothing like a bit of brotherly banter.
Andy and I played together against the infidels. ¬†Things were looking good too when Andy blazed a drive down the 1st fairway, just short of the creek; pitched on to 25 feet; then casually rolled in his birdie putt to get the scoreboard heading in the right direction. ¬†Personally I think those Frank Sinatra black and white brogues he was wearing had something to do with it ‚?? it‚??d be impossible to play bad golf while wearing those things, because it just wouldn‚??t look right. ¬†
The course is a Seth Raynor design, a chap whose work we‚??ve come to appreciate over the past few weeks. ¬†Our first Raynor experience was at The Country Club of Charleston. ¬†And at The National we probably experienced a bit of Raynor too, given he was C B MacDonald‚??s understudy. ¬†Clever fellow.
Right away at Westhampton his mark was apparent. ¬†Relatively straightforward off the tee; the bunkers are well sanded and don‚??t have severe lips; and large, almost square greens, with funky undulations. ¬†The 3rd green (pictured below) sits in a punchbowl, much like the 16th at National. ¬†Local knowledge from The Brothers LeVeen and from our caddies was key. ¬†My caddy Tyler may have been 8 feet tall. ¬†I‚??m sure if he gets sick of going to college in Vermont and snowboarding and all that good stuff, he could just go and play in the NBA (when I say ‚??play‚?Ě, I mean stand by the hoop; catch the ball; and drop it in the hoop above the hands of the despairing guards).
Below is a photo of a deep bunker I found myself in (the only place on the hole that you really don't want to go - something Jeff kindly mentioned after I'd hit it there).
The Goodies took the front 9 3 up, as they well should. ¬†Jeff and Michael were in disarray, and their challenge was beginning to fall apart at the seams. ¬†That‚??s until Jeff muscled his first drive into a fairway on 14 then casually steered a wedge to 10 feet. ¬†All of a sudden the match was on and big Jeff had a glint in his eye. ¬†Brotherly rivalry being what it is though, Andy wasn‚??t going to take any of this sitting down. ¬†So on the 17th hole ‚?? a 200 yard or thereabouts par 3 with a ¬†green 70 yards long ‚?? he struck a pure rescue club (a club that no self-respecting Kiwi bloke would ever use, as they are generally reserved for the pleasure of women) to the middle of the green. ¬†Driving the nail into the coffin, once and for all.
The boy dun good, and until the 18th didn‚??t have a double bogey. ¬†With that women‚??s club in hand again he blocked his second into the car park and unfortunately allowed a blot to appear on an otherwise glorious card. ¬†His shoulders must‚??ve been sore from carrying me all day, so it‚??s not surprising that he eventually came unstuck and showed human weakness. ¬†The match aside (actually, included), we had a hell of a time walking round with the lads. ¬†Their good humour and rivalrous banter was refreshing. ¬†And the centrepiece of The Westhampton Experience was a true pleasure. ¬†[If I don‚??t mention Jeff‚??s swashbuckling tee shot on 18 I may get an abusive email ‚?? the photo I took of the ball soaring off into the distance, down the carpet, will most likely grace the cover of The Book.]
Parched after slogging it out in the heat for the best part of 4 hours, we found solace in the air conditioned comfort of the Men‚??s Grill. ¬†It was here that we would experience the next instalment of TWE: the Rumdy Dumdy. ¬†Those South Sides ain‚??t got nothing on this thing. ¬†I‚??m not even going to try to explain what‚??s in this concoction ‚?? the barman explained briefly but I was deeply focused on drinking the thing and not on his recipe ‚?? but suffice to say it‚??s a sour rum cocktail that like everything should be enjoyed in moderation. ¬†One and we were out of there. ¬†Via the pro shop that is, where Jeff very generously insisted that Michael and I take away a souveneir to Represent Westhampton CC for the remainder of our journey and beyond. ¬†Despite wise counsel from The Brothers LeVeen (not to mention a few angular jabs), I settled on a dapper navy cardigan bearing the Westhampton flag. ¬†To say they had reservations about my sexuality from that moment onwards would be like saying Australia has no water ‚?? namely, a significant understatement! ¬†I happen to think it‚??s a dam fine garment, yes Sir. ¬†And Graeme MacDowell just won the US Open wearing one. ¬†I rest my case.
Jeff zipped us back to his pad, to pick up his togs (Andy‚??s wife kindly procured a couple of spares for us), then we hopped in Jeff‚??s fully restored 1978 Toyota Land Cruiser Convertible ‚?? tunes blaring ‚?? and set sail for La Ronde Beach Club for the next instalment. ¬†A dip in the Atlantic. ¬†After the famous egg and sausage breakfast sandwich; golf at the Country Club; and a Rumdy Dumdy, nothing could‚??ve been more fitting. ¬†TWE was really living up to its billing, and then some. ¬†In the basking afternoon sunshine we body surfed and doggy paddled around trying not to swallow salt water (without success in my case). ¬†Then we hung out inside the beach club for a while; met some of the locals; then retreated back to base camp to freshen up for dinner.
I wish I‚??d had our camera with us when we arrived at the place we had dinner. ¬†Right out of one of those early James Bond films. ¬†I half expected a younger Ursula Andres to appear from the sand in that famous bathing suit, waltz up to the bar, and order a martini. ¬†She didn‚??t appear, sadly. ¬†We found ourselves out on a deck overlooking the dunes and the ocean behind, with a Pina Colada in hand. ¬†Scores of folks lined the tables and bar stools ‚?? some decked to the 9s in their glad rags; others in shorts and a t-shirt ‚?? and the atmosphere was quite electric. ¬†An acoustic Beach Boys-like band were strumming away over in the corner. ¬†And all was well.
Jeff being the kingpin that he is somehow managed to get us the best table in the joint, right on the corner of the deck between the main seating area and the bar ‚?? in full view of the dunes and the band. ¬†Martha (Jeff‚??s wife) and Grayson (Andy‚??s pregnant wife) were vintage company, as were the Brothers it pains me to say. ¬†A spaced out dude called Evan was our waiter (we‚??d already heard about his aloof nature based on Jeff‚??s past experience), and thankfully he had a lucid moment long enough to remember our orders. ¬†Seafood starters; a bunch of pizzas; and a couple of key lime pies to share for desert ‚?? a very relaxed affair. ¬†¬†
The Westhampton Experience will be forever etched in my memory as a very happy one indeed. ¬†The Brothers LeVeen went out of their way to make it so. ¬†Jeff and Andy were true gentlemen, generous hosts and, most of all, a lot of fun. ¬†I‚??ve promised them The Wellington Experience when they make it to the Land of The Long White Cloud, but will have to really put my thinking cap on if it‚??s to measure up in any way, shape or form to TWE. ¬†Thanks lads!
Postscript: Jeff & Andy tragically lost their father when The Twin Towers fell on September 11 2001. ¬†Below is a photo of a memorial plaque laid by the 17th tee commemorating the life of their father Jeff, and 3 other members of the club who lost their lives that day.
Wednesday July 7 was the day that we bid adieu to our trusty van, Dodgy. But not before we‚??d slept in it one final time, or should I say tried to sleep in it as the 85 degree overnight ‚??low‚?? turned Dodgy into a sauna.¬†
We had arranged to meet the Swiss buyers at Starbucks in Queens and from there we did the deal, gave Dodgy a pat farewell and jumped in a cab along with all of our gear on route to the Creek Club.¬†¬† But first we had talked to about 6 rental companies about getting new wheels for the rest of our time in the US but they were all trying to charge us 6% of NZ‚??s GDP for 5 days rental (and even more for 4 days ‚?? go figure?).¬† We were in a pickle so us being us thought, let‚??s get out to Westhampton (Jeff Leveen had agreed to give us a ride out after our game at the Creek) and we‚??ll take stock from there.¬† Meanwhile we were also trying to arrange for the papers to transfer the car, not altogether an easy task when it is Californian registered and we didn‚??t want to change it to NY as the buyers are doing the return trip back to California. ¬†A logistically difficult step in our year of golf.
You can probably picture us in the cab arriving at the Creek Club with all of our belongings (many of which had been hurriedly put into various golf club ‚??shoe bags‚??), frazzled and without much sleep under our belt. ¬†Oh, and it was of course another humdingingly hot day.¬†¬† But then, as it often seems to work out, we met our host for the day, George Eberle who was such a cool ‚??dude‚?? that his energy rubbed off on us and before we knew it we were living the dream at the Creek Club.¬† We also had that elated buzz after and I must admit I felt a little bit proud that we‚??d managed to buy Dodgy, drive Dodgy and sell Dodgy all with no huge dramas.
George brought out his friend and a junior guy at his work to join us for the round, another Top Man by the name of Elliot Pool.¬† So the four of us sat down and got to know each other over a spot of lunch in the clubhouse and a couple of infamous Southsides.¬† Both these guys are on our wavelength so after minutes it was like we were old friends sharing lies and drinking beer.¬† After our whirlwind morning and four nights straight sleeping in Dodgy, I was happy as larry to be perched in this old homestead that has been converted into a golf clubhouse and enjoying a fine lunch.¬† A very fine lunch at that. ¬†¬†The service and all around atmosphere of the Creek was first rate and stacked up there with the best establishments we have been blessed to be invited to this year.
The golf course at the Creek Club was designed by Mr C B Macdonald - a busy man in these parts in the early part of the 20th century.¬† The club is situated on a long skinny block of land on Long Island, which at the northern tip borders the Long Island Sound and the club makes the most of this by having a beach club out there with accompanying swimming pools and bars.. It‚??s a cool spot on the property.¬† The course winds its way down from the clubhouse out to the beach club and the 10th hole (below) plays right along the waters edge before the course makes its way back to the clubhouse.¬† The routing is like a traditional links course which I enjoy.¬† Today it not only played downwind many of the outwards holes, but also downhill towards the water. And then you turn and try to make your way home..
The name ‚??the Creek‚?? stems from a tidal creek which runs parallel to the beach.¬† The 11th hole is the signature hole on the course ‚?? a par three which is played from near the ocean‚??s edge to an island green which is completely surrounded by ‚??the creek‚??.
The 10th and 11th holes run east / west and are an interesting part of the golf course and holes that wont be forgotten in a hurry! ¬†10 is a drivable par four, but you need to carry the ball over the water and if you go left you‚??re OOB, and on the beach.¬† Around the green a number of wee bunkers which you‚??d almost rather be in as opposed to the sandy scrappy lies between them. It‚??s pure.
The 11th green, whilst completely surrounded by water, is absolutely massive. It is probably 70 yards in length and today there was a back pin.¬† So boys being boys we finished out and went to the front edge of the green to see if anyone could two putt (see below) but after two tries each with no success we moved on to the 12th¬†where instead of playing off the regular tees, we hit off from the back edge of the island 11th green turning a 390 yard hole into a 480 yard monster.¬† Which George subsequently knocked it on in two and made a solid 4, net 3. Money. Needless to say after a handful of these and some solid playing from JP over the front nine Elliot and I were tail between the legs and shaking hands on the 15th hole.¬†
The holes at the Creek which are on the bottom plateau have a real linksy feel to them and with huge waste bunkers along the fairways it almost has a Cypress‚??esque feel to it.¬† These holes are very flat, with the odd raised green (eg #9 and the gnarly #16 which is elevated with a huge false front and I‚??m sure has been the graveyard for many rounds over the years and is pictured below) and play firm and subject to the elements.¬†
George explained that there used to be huge reeds on the dogleg right 13th hole that blocked the view of the green from the tee, but these have now been removed to leave a wide open windswept expanse.¬† The tributary rolling across the 13th and 14th holes into the main ‚??Creek‚?? has also been cleaned up and over time this will erode away more of the course to become a prominent feature. I really like what they have done in this corner of the golf course near the ocean ‚?? the guys hope it will forge its way back into the top 100 in the US, and judging from our experience I think it can‚??t be too far away!
The last hole climbed back up to the clubhouse and a couple of solid swings later I had 10 feet for eagle.¬† Finally a putt dropped, a good finish but far too late to compete with the guns.
George Eberle? Amazing host and did everything to smooth over the stress of the day.¬† Even invited us to stay, and to borrow his landcruiser for the next few days which has taken a huge load off our shoulders.¬† We went back to his place after golf and met Aimee and their four kids. We had a quick shower and then ventured out to the Mill Creek in Bayville where we were hosted by the owner Mr James Scott who is a chief champ boss captain skipper.¬† He had about a million stories to share ‚?? including the one of him as a 24 year old fresh out of college making far too much money and with a father as the president of playboy magazine.. Sounded like a rough couple of years for him. James went around the restaurant telling everyone about these two crazy kiwis playing golf every day for a year and before we knew it we were making new friends all over the show. James has left wall street now and has really found his niche (we kiwis pronounce that ‚??neesh‚?? not nitch) making fine food and serving fine wine and generally making people like us and the Eberle‚??s happy over a great night out.¬† He also was kind enough to make a donation to The First Tee.¬† Thanks to George and Aimee and Elliot and everyone else involved with another special day of puregolf2010.¬†
Ok team, so here we go with part two of day 186 of puregolf2010 and I have quite the act to follow up after JP has painted quite a picture of the National Golf Links of America.
Before I start gushing superlatives about Shinnecock I‚??m going to pin my colours to the wall and declare Shinnecock as one of my absolute hands down favourite golf courses. Top 5 this year without one iota of doubt. ¬†¬†The story of Shinnecock is not about the cocktails, the swish locker room (great showers) or the food ‚?? it is about the golf course: this is pure golf.¬† Allow me to elaborate‚?¶
Shinnecock was originally designed in 1891 by Willie Dunne on this magnificent piece of rolling land in Southampton on Long Island (it is right next door to NGLA and another club whose clubhouse blots the skyline and is called Sebonack).¬† The course immediately appeared on the USGA radar and hosted the 1896 US Open (won by Foulis) one of four Opens that have been held here (along with the 1986 (Floyd), 1995 (Pavin) and 2004¬† (Goosen) Championships).
Lets now fast forward to the present day and our host for the afternoon, Mr David Jennings. David hails from Connecticut but has been a member here for many years.¬† Yet another great guy we‚??ve met who is part of the financial world and now keeps himself busy as a company director and helping friends out here and there‚?¶ By the looks of David‚??s golf swing he must have done quite a lot of business on the golf course over the years as he definitely could play.¬† David is a true gentleman who is quite rightly proud of the club that is Shinnecock.¬† It‚??s generally not about crazy nights in the clubhouse here or wining and dining large outings of clients here but about taking on this spectacular golf course. ¬†
So to the golf course and the beautiful array of colours that lay out on the wide open expanse laid out below the clubhouse.¬† From an elevated tee by the pro-shop (where earlier Dodgy had made quite the impression on the staff and visitors) the round begins with a straight forward opening hole played down into the battle ground.¬†
Our first taste of the small greens here at Shinnecock which are very traditionally designed and much smaller than the traditional links style greens across the way at NGLA. ¬†Shoulders roll off the bunkers and you can‚??t be short-sided and expect to recover. Many of the greens have a false front and angle away from you making the landing area appear very small from down on the fairway - a very simple but effective design. Fortunately the putting surfaces were not rolling at US Open pace and mere mortals like us could have a chance today.
The course routing is brilliantly done as the holes wind around the huge property so that you are constantly faced with a changing wind direction. Only twice do holes consecutively run the same way, on the 2nd and 3rd, and then again on 11 and 12. And from most holes you look up the hill at the grand clubhouse looking over the golf course.
Walking down the 3rd hole, a par four played to a fairway angling away to the left, I thought to myself I should not have had that Southside over lunch and ‚??the fairways should not be rolling at me like the ocean‚?Ě. The heat was scintillating - we had picked a scorcher of a day for our double header with the mercury hitting 100 most of the day‚?¶¬† The second and third holes run in the same direction away from the clubhouse and with little wind the first four holes are flat and generally left me asking, is this it?
So +1 through the opening four and then we arrived at the number five hole after guzzling a couple of liters of water which crucially made the fairways stand still. The 5th is the first of two par fives and the first of a couple of birdies today. Jamie learnt a lesson not to go over the green where there is a steep drop off and when the pin is tucked tight to the top of the hill you just have to take your 30 footer for par and walk off..
The 6th hole is the only hole on the course with a water hazard and is aptly named ‚??pond‚??.¬† The number one handicap hole at 456 yards it plays through a myriad of bunkers both and the fairway and the green.¬† This is the hole where two solidly struck shots leaves you putting for birdie and pleased to have missed the real experiences with the hole.
The 7th (below) is a world famous hole for both the right and wrong reasons. The ‚??Redan‚?? as JP explained below described a hole where the green is tilted from right to left, guarded by a by bunker short and angles away to the left.¬† Eg, you need to come in with a very high cut to hold the slope, or preferably bounce the ball in through the opening on the right.¬† The Redan at Shinnecock formed part of the original al design by C B Macdonald and was wisely kept by Mr Flynn.¬† This is the hole that the USGA had huge issues with during the 2004 Open when the greens were just too fast and after 6 groups had played the hole the average score was 6-point-something. So they decided to water the green after each group thus favouring the later groups and all hell broke loose. But they had to do something as the hole was swiftly becoming completely unplayable.¬† All three of us missed long which left us playing up to a green sloping away from us with the pin tightly cut near the top of the slope.¬† Dave went first and didn‚??t get it up the slope so it came tumbling back towards him. JP went second and gave his chip a little much juice and was left with a 30 footer back up the hill. Then Dave tried again and did something quite spectacular, holing his shot from off the green ‚?? a shot many of the pro‚??s would have paid huge money for ‚?? particularly those in the first 6 groups!¬† I opted for the texan wedge and rolled it just over the crest of the hill for a cheeky par.
The 8th and 9th holes play back in general direction of the clubhouse with the 8th a short par four with a green that slopes away from you and is devilishly difficult to hit, and then the 9th climbs up to the clubhouse for a truly spectacular finish to the nine with the bunkers (see photo two below) guarding the front left of the green.¬† A miraculous up and down and I was out in 35.
To the back nine and the rollercoaster 10th hole which plays uphill, downhill and then back uphill.¬† If you bomb it down the hill you‚??re left playing a wedge into an elevated green with the most severe false front I‚??ve seen.¬† A ball hit with spin will literally roll off the green and then 40 yards back down the fairway.¬† That is not an exaggerated ‚??40 yards off the green‚?Ě but you‚??ll actually have close to a full swing getting it back up top.¬† I laid up short with 2 iron from the tee and had a flat approach across the gully and there was no way my 6 iron was going to spin back off the green.
11 is a short uphill par three surrounded by bunkers and a roll-off back left which is actually the worst miss and from where it is impossible to get up and down from unless you are Greg Norman. Or Phil Mickelson.¬† This wee postage stamp reminded me of 17 at NSW.
The 12th tee is a great place on the golf course. I looked down upon the 11th green and thought of the disasters that much have occurred on that tiny piece of soil, and then refocused on the beauty of the 12th fairway (picture below looking back down 12 fairway from the green), a monstrously long par four along the perimeter of the course. ¬†A good bounce and a flush 6 iron down the breeze later and I was tapping in for 3 ‚?? it‚??s great to be back playing hard and fast golf where the elements really play their part.
Standing out on the 13th fairway with 8 iron in hand I stopped thinking about the beauty of the course and realised I was in red numbers at Shinnecock. I looked up and the green looked like there was absolutely no landing area ‚?? false front, bunker left/long and short/right with a green angling away to the right.¬† Where do you hit it?? (Note ‚?? JP and Dave were sensibly just taking in the beautiful way this hole is framed with the clubhouse perched off in the distance).¬† Shinnecock is not a place to start thinking too much and moments later my 8 iron was floating up in the air against the wind and plugging into the bunker short right - double.
On the 14th hole ‚?? the location for Shell‚??s wide world of golf where some pro‚??s jaunted around in a helicopter playing the 18 finest holes in this area ‚?? you start to realize that this back nine is a special special creature. I‚??m going to leave this hole, and the downhill strong par four 15th to the photographs below.¬† The light in these parts is particularly good and the golfing vistas along the 14th and 15th holes are about as good as it gets.¬†
16 is another green perfectly framed by the clubhouse. A three shot par five, particularly into the wind, Dave said it is a hole that the winner of the Open normally makes birdie on.¬† And it‚??s very much a birdie hole if you get into position for your third shot.¬† Walking off with 5, my hopes and dreams of an under par round at Shinny were dashed and I limped home over the last two holes to finish +4, 74.¬† Another kiwi misses the cut.
The 17th rounds out the set of par threes with another green angling away to the left and surrounded by bunkers ‚?? almost redan-esque but without such a severe tilt on the green. The par threes as a set? In a word ‚?? perfect.¬† Up there with both NSW and Riviera as the best of the year.
And then 18, well what can you say‚?¶ The site of much history, drama and great golf shots. Jamie‚??s 2 iron out of the bunker to 20 feet would rival Mr Pavin‚??s four wood from 1995, although I dare say Mr Patton had more pressure on his shoulders.
We play a lot of golf, and recently on some of the better golf courses going around. But very very few courses are as breathtaking as Shinnecock. In particular the back nine here has to be one of the great nine holes in world golf. Despite holes 10 ‚?? 18 being our 28th to 36th holes of the day in 100 degree weather, I was in another world walking around the back nine. A pig in mud. ¬†The design elements, the grandiose of the holes set amongst the rolling topography and the sheer beauty of the terrain was awe-inspiring and an experience I will never forget.
Thank you David for your company and making the day possible. A day that will be very hard to look past in years to come when reminiscing about the year that was golf.
On this journey we‚??ve had the privilege of spending time in some pretty amazing places. ¬†Some clubs are amazing because their courses are sublime; at others it‚??s more about the culture, the ambience, the history. ¬†A few very special clubs have it all. ¬†This morning we had the honour of visiting one such club ‚?? The National Golf Links of America. ¬†Set overlooking Peconic Bay which flows out to Long Island Sound, it sits right next door to the eponymous Shinnecock Hills, which we played in the afternoon. ¬†Out in The Hamptons (Southampton to be precise). ¬†Where a lucky few play their golf.
Where to begin? ¬†So it‚??s about as exclusive as golf clubs get. ¬†My understand is that the club has been dominated by City financiers and bankers since its inception; you know, JP Morgan and his pals. ¬†[NB. Because of all the information we try to absorb, it‚??s sometimes difficult to separate suspicion from actual knowledge, so you‚??ll have to forgive me if wires get in any way crossed.] ¬†I don‚??t think it‚??s a stretch to say that NGLA is the preserve of those with significant means. ¬†And I might add it‚??s certainly not the sort of place (unlike others in the area which I won‚??t name) where you can buy your way in; candidates of appropriate character and background are invited to join, much as is the case with all the other Great Clubs we‚??ve been privileged to visit for a day.
The course was designed by Mr. C. B. MacDonald, who reputedly drew his inspiration from the great Scottish golf courses like Prestwick and North Berwick. ¬†That influence is apparent when you play the course; it has an authentic feel unrivalled as far as I‚??m concerned in the US (based on my personal experience). ¬†A proper links. ¬†On a pretty phenomenal piece of property. ¬†Speaking of which, our good host Paul Kaned pointed out Charlie‚??s old house across the Bay (pictured below), as well as his gargantuan boat house (which - pictured below - would put most mansions to shame). ¬†The lad had style.
A word about Paul. ¬†Gentleman. ¬†Talented one at that. ¬†Standing by the pro shop I was approached by this All American looking mountain of a man, looking dapper in a pink polo and sunglasses. ¬†Paul was a college tennis player and picked up golf in his 20s. ¬†Now he‚??s a scratch player and plays tournaments for Pine Valley (where he‚??s also a member). ¬†Although it sounds like he plays as much golf as us, Paul in fact works, and has a successful residential real estate business located in North Palm Beach, Florida, which services the area bordering Seminole Golf Club (where you won‚??t be surprised to hear Paul also keeps a membership). ¬†Bottom line: charming and successful guy, and gracious host.
The 1st tee at ‚??The National‚?Ě sets the tone. ¬†Off to the left your gaze is drawn at the spectacular old clubhouse; down below you is a fairway guarded jealously by some pretty severe (and in some cases concealed) bunkers; up ahead you see a red flag on a raised green, fluttering in the breeze (of which sadly there wasn‚??t much); and behind the green is the iconic windmill that the National is famous for. ¬†You can go for the green if you dare, but do so errantly at your peril. ¬†A grand setting indeed. ¬†
The 1st green gave me good wake up call too, as if I needed one. ¬†With 120 yards I felt good standing over my ball with a 54 degree sand wedge nestled invitingly on the carpet. ¬†¬†What I didn‚??t know and couldn‚??t tell from down below was that the green had a false front which the pin was tucked behind. ¬†My perfect sand wedge didn‚??t seem so perfect when it landed atop the ridge and zipped 25 feet back off the front of the dance floor, leaving a mildly terrifying pitch. ¬†It‚??s never gracious or clever to blame one‚??s caddy, but on this occasion I could‚??ve throttled the 16 year old Danny for omitting quite an important detail. ¬†
On number 2 you get a more intimate look at the famous windmill, which lies probably 50 yards to the left of your line from the tee. ¬†It‚??s a blind tee shot, so you‚??re staring straight up the hill; hard not to get distracted by the magnificent structure erected by our pal Rory Corrigan‚??s grandfather & father. ¬†You can reach the green with a well struck 3 wood, as Paul did. ¬†So really the first two are birdie holes if you‚??ve got your act together. ¬†If you know what you‚??re doing, 1 under is probably par for the course by the time you get to the 3rd tee, where things change a little. ¬†
The 3rd (‚??Alps‚?Ě) is as Scottish a hole as I‚??ve seen in 10 years since I left the place. ¬†An open tee shot across acres of whispy fescrew to a fairway framed by a couple of low slung bunkers (a notable feature of the course; quite different to Dr. MacKenzie‚??s fiercesome hell holes). ¬†I managed to hit by hooking 3 wood so badly that it came up just short of the traps; the others hit proper golf shots. ¬†Then you have to heave it up over a tussock covered hill to a hidden green sunk into the hilltop. ¬†Thinning a 3 iron isn‚??t a good idea, but then I should‚??ve known that. ¬†Anyway when you climb over the brae ‚?? calf muscles starting to ache ‚?? a quite remarkable sight greets you. ¬†Not your average American green complex ‚?? see below ‚?? and a good old fashioned bell which you ring when leaving the green, to let the group behind know it‚??s safe to fire. ¬†Paul very graciously bestowed upon me the honour of ringing that bell, a duty I undertook with equal parts excitement and reverence. ¬†Which is a wordy and pretentious way of saying I walked up and rang the dam thing.
I‚??m going to spare you the chore of trawling through a hole by hole analysis, but the scene must be set and the 4th hole must be mentioned. ¬†‚??Redan‚?Ě is a name that crops up quite often in these parts ‚?? at Somerset Hills, here and at Shinnecock (I‚??m sure we‚??ve seen others). ¬†It‚??s a hallmark of C. B. MacDonald‚??s design work, and something he and his chums ‚?? messrs Seth Raynor and Charlie Banks ‚?? incorporated into most of their layouts. ¬†Correct me if I‚?? wrong, but the (golf) term traces its roots to the Redan fortification used in years gone by by the Russians and the French. ¬†For present purposes, it means a hole with a green that slopes downwards and away from the point of entrance ‚?? typically front right to back left (oft quoted description from The Man Himself in ‚??Scotland‚??s Gift: Golf‚?Ě: ‚??Take a narrow tableland, tilt it from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally and you have a Redan‚?Ě). ¬†The theory being you use the contours of the land to steer your wee white thing towards the hole, rather than being bold enough to fly the thing all the way at the stick. ¬†That‚??s very much the case with the 2nd at Somerset; the 7th at Shinnecock; and the 4th here at The National. ¬†Aiming at the back left pin is just not sensible. ¬†In fact it‚??s down right reckless, unless you hit a fade (which, as those who know me will know, I certainly don‚??t!). ¬†A great golf hole. ¬†And a thrilled Jamie who walked off with par.
5 is another gorgeous hole, this time a par 4 with a blind approach. ¬†I‚??ll waltz right past it, because for me it holds unhappy memories of a perfectly struck 4 iron straight over the pin into Hell, courtesy of a questionable yardage from a caddy who wasn‚??t quite The Full Shilling. ¬†Still I can appreciate MacDonald‚??s prowess, and consider it a gem of a golf hole (particularly liked the decision making required by the split fairway and the understated green complex). ¬†7 and 8 (pictured below)¬†were quality too.
As good traditional links layouts do, The National takes you out for 9 holes, and brings you back. ¬†Hence you can feel like you‚??re in control of things when there‚??s a gentle breeze behind you on the front 9, but then find yourself rudely awoken when you turn back into its teeth. ¬†Apparently the original clubhouse sat in the woods behind the par 5 9th green (a hole that‚??s creatively named ‚??Long‚?Ě - yes, there‚??s a ‚??Short‚?Ě too, the 6th). ¬†It must‚??ve burned down, we suspect. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
At the half way house we paused for sober reflection and an Orangina. ¬†And some peanut butter smothered crackers ‚?? just the ticket. ¬†Then we stepped out onto the ominously named ‚??Shinnecock‚?Ě (evidently named after the local Native Indian tribe and the track directly next door, which you can see through the trees on 10), and braced ourselves for a sterner examination. ¬†Little did we know what a cracking back 9 we were about to experience.
10, 11 ¬†and play long at 450, 432 and 459, especially into the wind and by National standards. ¬†10 has a humungous flat green pitched slightly towards the fairway ‚?? no need for a postage stamp here. ¬†On 11 at the end of the fairway is a dyke (or burn, as Paul called it) just short of the road which apparently was erected to stop cars getting hammered with tee shots. ¬†They‚??ve managed to make it look as If it‚??s been there since biblical times.
The 12th green (pictured below) is a devil to hit, and beware, is guarded at the front by a well concealed sprinkler head that catches unsuspecting pitches like mine. ¬†When I say ‚??catches‚?Ě I mean kicks sideways into a nasty bunker. ¬†Anyway the green is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, and is split into 3 quadrants the left and right of which are raised above the depression in the middle. ¬†A good fun chipping green if ever there was one. ¬†(And I suspect most people are chipping on this hole).
Standing on 15 tee you see perched on the horizon that famous windmill once more. ¬†It‚??s probably appropriate at this point to share a story about the structure‚??s genesis. ¬†Apparently a member had travelled overseas and got some ideas in his head about golf courses having iconic features. ¬†A windmill would be a good idea, he thought ‚?? an idea he mentioned to the chap in charge. ¬†Months later, so the story goes, when he returned, lo and behold a windmill had been erected. ¬†And a bill was sitting wedged in the door of his locker. ¬†That‚??s how they roll at The National, you see!
It‚??s a stunning view, walking the fairways of 15 and 16, looking up ahead. ¬†The golfer must be careful however not to miss what‚??s right in front of him, namely two awesome golf holes. ¬†As Paul noted though, if there was any criticism with the course it‚??s that 15 green could be flattened because the false front eats too far into the green, leaving only a sole possible pin position or maybe two. ¬†Nonetheless it‚??s a gorgeous hole ‚?? just don‚??t hit it in the fairway bunker left as I did, because you won‚??t have a stance and will have to sink long putt for par, if you‚??re lucky that is.
The ‚??Punchbowl‚?Ě 16th is one of my favourite holes we‚??ve played all year. ¬†Another semi-blind tee shot, this time to a fairway that splits from a central ridge (some half a dozen yards wide) into two chasms. ¬†Unless you hit the perfect drive ‚?? and I do mean perfect, because there ain‚??t much margin for error ‚?? you‚??ll be playing your second blind too, to a green hidden inside a punchbowl. ¬†The contours of the punchbowl gather any half decent approach towards the hole, so it‚??s not as hard as it looks ‚?? but incredibly fun to play. ¬†Particularly since the windmill by this point is right above you on the hill. ¬†We also had an audience in the shape of an elderly couple who were perched on a bench 20 yards along the ridge, evidently just out and about taking in the beauty of what I assume is their club (might‚??ve been too hot to play for them ‚?? at 95 degrees...).
At risk of exhausting you all with superlatives, the view from 17 tee is breathtaking. ¬†Across to your left is the clubhouse; ahead the Peconic Bay; below a magnificent golf hole; and behind the grandiose (if not very narrow) gates to the club. ¬†When the wind‚??s up I imagine the hole could give you some problems, but today is was benign ‚?? a 3 wood and sand wedge to a straightforward green. ¬†Just short of the tee there's a commemorative stone that you could miss if you're not careful, engraved with the letters "KEV". ¬†Kev was a young lad in his teens who came out here to caddy, and who lost his life on September 11 2001, when the World Trade Centre fell. ¬†One of several lucid moments we've had recently where the tragedy has taken on a more tangible character than it did from afar in New Zealand.¬†
The symphony comes to a fitting crescendo on 18, as you walk up the hill between said clubhouse and an 80 foot high flagpole bearing the club‚??s colours. ¬†An easy hole but a tremendous one ‚?? just the thing to whet one‚??s appetite for The Lunch At The National, which is as famous as the windmill.
The original plan was to meet our host for the afternoon, Dave Jennings, at Shinnecock for a bite. ¬†Paul called him to see whether he could be tempted to lunch down the road instead ‚?? Dave being a food lover and The Lunch being what it is, a new plan was hatched and soon we found ourselves sitting in that amazing dining room, overlooking Peconic Bay once more. ¬†There can be few more thrilling places to take your seat at lunch in this world.
Ever since friends we met in back San Francisco at the Olympic Club on Day 133 briefed us on ‚??The Lunch‚?Ě, it‚??s an experience we‚??ve been hoping to have. ¬†When Paul offered, my first instinct was to refuse out of politeness. ¬†Then my better senses kicked in, given it may be some time before I may it back to NGLA and am fortunate enough to receive the same invitation. ¬†
We took our place at the far end of the dining room, in the bulbous section beyond the iconic long table that on this occasion was filled by 32 guys chatting and looking suave in their jackets. ¬†(You have to wear a jacket to lunch ‚?? even if it‚??s 120 degrees). ¬†An almost unsettlingly articulate and competent waiter approached to confirm with us that we‚??d begin with the lobster. ¬†¬†But of course. ¬†My first ever taste of the crustacean, would you believe it. ¬†Not a bad spot to pop my lobster cherry, so to speak.
Before the lobster arrived came a round of ‚??South Sides‚?Ě, the cocktail of choice in these parts. ¬†It‚??s mixed at the old clubs in these parts, and to my knowledge not found in ordinary watering holes. ¬†You can either have it with vodka or Mount Gay rum; and if you think you‚??ll find out what else is in it you have got another thing coming. ¬†They‚??re lethal too. ¬†Paul sensibly limited us to one each, with our best interests in mind ‚?? knowing we were about to play the 4th ranked golf course in the world after lunch, across the road. ¬†As he quipped: ‚??They‚??re like women‚??s breasts: one‚??s not enough and three‚??s too many.‚?Ě ¬†Paul himself had had 4 on a recent flying visit before going to dinner, and reportedly not remembered much about what followed.
After the lobster you have a range of choices, from the famous crab cakes, fish cakes, beef and kidney pie and shepherd‚??s pie. ¬†There are cold soups on offer too, as an appetizer (one of which I chose, a potato leek and chive concoction that was quite beautiful). ¬†And on this occasion a veal special for the main event, which I chose over the beef and kidney pie (too hot for such a heavy dish). ¬†Paul and Dave had a plate of Bay Scallops, which apparently are smaller and sweeter than normal ocean scallops. ¬†They looked rather good.
What an experience. ¬†The consensus is that of the two, Shinnecock is the stronger golf course, and playing at The National is more about the experience in a holistic sense. ¬†That‚??s not to say that C. B. MacDonald‚??s is far behind Flynn‚??s work next door ‚?? only that at The National you really feel like, for one day, you are a billionaire. ¬†I know I did. ¬†And it was a true privilege.
Walking out of the dining room we paused for a moment to examine the grand paintings on the walls of the sitting room. ¬†And to imagine the evenings members and their guests have had here over the years. ¬†Cards would be played; bottles of whisky consumed with lusty enthusiasm; cigars puffed decadently; and lies told around the fireplace. ¬†Quite a place, let me tell you.
A very sincere thank you must go to Paul, who invited us at short notice, and who as I said was an incredibly gracious host. ¬†Michael and I thoroughly enjoyed your company and were humbled to experience a day in such majestic surrounds. ¬†I‚??d love to take you to Paraparaumu Beach in New Zealand, but can‚??t promise the food will be quite the same!
Part 1 of Surely The Best Day Of Golf Ever Played was surreal. ¬†Part 2 wasn‚??t half bad either, as Mike will tell you shortly.
More often than not, when we leave things to chance they work out just dandy. ¬†On this occasion we got stung, giving a gentle reminder that life‚??s no breeze. ¬†Won‚??t do us any harm at all.
There might‚??ve been two or three days this year when we‚??ve left it literally to the last minute in organising our golf. ¬†When we woke up this morning we didn‚??t know where we‚??d be playing, but felt comfortable(ish) that something would materialise. ¬†A dozen or so phone calls and a bunch of emails later, there was still nothing on the radar. ¬†Hatching plans the Monday after 4th of July weekend on Long Island is harder than hard. ¬†It‚??s very hard ‚?? but we should‚??ve known that. ¬†Amateurs...
We slept in Dodgy last night out at Montauk Point, in a carpark near the famous lighthouse (commissioned by President George Washington himself). ¬†A sweet spot. ¬†We even had the luxury of a public bathroom for our convenience, and a beach a 4 iron away. ¬†I blew away the cobwebs with an early morning dip in the Atlantic, and sat on a comfortable rock to ponder life for a while. ¬†
Mike and I parked up at a caf√© in Montauk; had ourselves a fulsome breakfast (first time I‚??ve ever ordered an omelette - Result); and made the most of their free Wi-Fi for an hour or three. ¬†Montauk‚??s right out at the tip of Long Island, past the super affluent part of the Hamptons, and has a relaxed vibe. ¬†Quite a different scene to the likes of Bridgehampton and East Hampton (pictured below).
I had designs to take in some of the local sights before we golfed. ¬†So we shot down the road to Bridgehampton, then took a drive around East Hampton and the surrounding area. ¬†I‚??ve never seen houses like that. ¬†And they‚??re holiday houses, likely used for a couple of weeks a year. ¬†Decadent doesn‚??t quite cover it. ¬†If you‚??re not a local you certainly know it: car parking at the beaches is reserved for holders of East Hampton Village parking permits only. ¬†Egypt Beach (pictured below) looked like a great spot for a dip; but having Dodgy towed was a risk too great, so we moved swiftly on. ¬†To another beach, which was also resident parking only. ¬†Then another, and another...
We passed the Old Money club of Maidstone, which looked pretty special. ¬†They have a pretty classy looking links track, and a beach club a stone‚??s throw from the clubhouse. ¬†We thought about approaching one of the greenkeepers to ask whether we could sneak on for a quick 18, but thought better of it. ¬†Didn‚??t particularly rate our chances...
As the hour hand crept further around the dial we still had nowhere to play our golf. ¬†So around 4 o‚??clock we trucked back out to Montauk, to Montauk Downs state park. ¬†It‚??s a public track, much like Bethpage where we played yesterday, run by New York State. ¬†Quite a different kettle of fish to the clubs we‚??ve been privileged for frequent of late.
We tried our luck at getting a comp green fee, but it was the Manager‚??s day off and the ladies manning the fort didn‚??t have the authority to make it happen. ¬†So we reluctantly paid our first green fee of the year ‚?? a necessary evil in the circumstances. ¬†Boys gotta play.
A particularly officious looking mountain of a woman held guard at the starter‚??s box. ¬†Players would not proceed to the first tee until they got the nod; in the meantime, as in the Olympics, they would wait patiently by the start line. ¬†That famous old despot at Muirfield would‚??ve had nothing on this woman. ¬†A piece of work.
We were called to the tee about 5.37pm, with slim prospects of making it around by dark. ¬†Being the 5th of July and a scorcher, the locals were out in their droves. ¬†A packed field playing at a public course pace of play ‚?? 5 and a half hour rounds. ¬†Not my idea of fun, but...well...you know.
The course itself is a Robert Trent Jones Senior design, and is being reworked by the omnipresent Rees Jones (the so-called ‚??US Open doctor‚?Ě). ¬†Much hype had been made of the course by the ladies in the shed (‚??much better than Bethpage Black‚?Ě; ‚??one of the best courses you‚??ll play all year‚?Ě). ¬†I have to say I was disappointed, although it did have a few good holes. ¬†On one of the par 5s we hit driver 9 iron (I saw ‚??we‚?Ě because Michael and I played a scramble); on most of the par 4s we had less than an 8 iron in hand for our approach; and we were playing from the tips. ¬†So it‚??s short.
And (unsurprisingly) not in great nick. ¬†Mike and I decided however that we‚??d leave Montauk Downs better than we found it. ¬†On each green we repaired 20 pitch marks each that those before us hadn‚??t bothered to attend to. ¬†Given the pace of play was so slow we had ample time to perform these surgeries and line up on putts with a leisurely lack of urgency. ¬†
By the 14th hole it was so dark that the 3 ball ahead gave up the game. ¬†Needless to say that wasn‚??t an option for us, so we ploughed on and lamented not eating carrots for dinner the night prior. ¬†Down the final 3 holes we were really struggling to see the ball ‚?? both at our feet and once it was launched. ¬†Ironically enough this was when we played our best golf!
On 17 I hit a hot one 320 yards down the middle and on 18 Mike did the same. ¬†Never mind the fact that we didn‚??t know we‚??d dun good until we marched optimistically down the fairway. ¬†On neither occasion could we make out the outline of the short grass below. ¬†Then on 18 I managed to knock a wedge from 130 to a foot! ¬†At that time (circa 9.15pm) it was Pitch Black, and I hardly had an idea of where the green was, let alone the flag. ¬†A stroke of good fortune indeed. ¬†And a debacle.
Shattered and sweaty we took Dodgy back to the carpark at Montauk Point, to sleep as we did the night before. ¬†No shower; no dinner; a long day. ¬†But a good one to look forward to in the morning: National Golf Links followed by Shinnecock ‚?? surely the Double Header Of The Year. ¬†Masochists...
Bethpage Black course is a unique beast. Entirely run by the State of New York, they have developed this course over the last few years so that now it is a course of true championship quality and has proved this by hosting two fantastic US Opens in 2002 and 2009.
Bethpage Black is a course many people can relate to because they have played it before (like my folks when they came to NYC last year) ¬†Being a public course anyone can get a game.¬† Getting a tee time here can be tough and the ‚??right way‚?? of ensuring you can play is to camp out in the parking lot for one of the first 6 tee times that are left free and available every day.¬† We intended to try and sneak one such spot before the pro at Winged Foot kindly made a call for us and before we knew it we had an 1157am guaranteed spot.
Despite our tee time we still camped out to get the full Bethpage experience but were surprised at the lack of festivity around the parking lot.¬† This was probably because it was the 4th of July in the morning which a family day here and so we caught Bethpage on an uncharacteristically slow day.¬† Instead of the normal 1800 or so golfers playing on the 6 golf courses in the complex there were probably only 1400 today‚?¶ That is about as many rounds as are played a year on some of the courses we‚??ve been playing recently‚?¶ (note: it sounds like Bethpage Red is a course worth playing as well if you‚??re in the area)
The black course is a monster of a golf course.¬† It‚??s about 7500 yards, but is stretched right back to 8000 for the Open.¬† And it is grand ‚?? each hole has a huge footprint and often includes significant undulations. It‚??s a solid walk around here particularly when it is 95 degrees.¬† When we met Doug Batty at Bel Air (kiwi pro who qualified for the 2009 Open) he told us about his experience playing ¬†here when shot a pair of 74‚??s and was hitting 4 iron or 3 wood into almost every green - after today I can understand where he was coming from.¬† For the 2009 Open it was wet and there was no roll and some of these par fours would be nearly impossible. ¬†You really need to bomb your driver here and it was a good thing that we were both hitting the ball pretty well as the length of the course combined with the wind and the relentless heat made it tough going.¬†
I‚??ve put together a slideshow of the course (below) which has some great photographs of this Tillinghast monster (I understand that it was recently redesigned by Rees Jones).¬† You will see that the bunkering here is out of this world and the design of the holes is classical and strong.¬† There aren‚??t many scoring opportunities around here.¬† But the green complexes here are very different to the Tillinghast greens we have been playing at Winged Foot and Somerset Hills as they are generally very flat although as the round went on the later holes started to have more of a pronounced tilt to the greens.
Some of the pictures in the slideshow been given to us from our playing partner, Gary, who photographed the course a year or so ago.¬† Gary was a really enthusiastic guy who took a rather ‚??zen‚?? attitude to golf. He is a landscape gardener and for Gary the best part of golf is the walk and he‚??s not going to let his game get in the way of the beauty of a golf course. A good philosophy indeed.¬† We were also joined by Maurice who made a pretty good fist at suggesting golf courses to play in and around the greater New York area‚?¶
There is a huge difference between public and private golf courses in the US.¬† The rigmarole to get on the golf course here reminds me of an amusement park. You go to the tellers, pay your green fee where you are given a bracelet to wear which you then take to the starter who cuts the bracelet and allows you through to the first tee.¬† There are people swilling around everywhere and a 5 and a half hour round beckons.¬† What is cool is that the public have access to this world class golf course and residents of NY can play here for about $40 ($150 for out of towners).¬†
I hate to say this but the decorum of Bethpage did not match the quality of the golf course.¬† There were more than a few loudmouths floating around and golfing attire appeared to be optional.¬† But the thing that stood out to me was the lack of respect shown by the players to the golf course. ¬†One of the first things I was taught was that¬† you should try to leave the golf course it in better condition than you found it.¬† And fixing pitch marks was something to take pride in as it meant that you had hit the green!¬† So it is a real shame that the patrons here don‚??t seem to appreciate or respect the gem that the state is providing for them.¬†¬† The greens were covered in pitch marks and the bunkers were often left un-raked.¬† These bunkers are not designed to be left unkempt.¬† Jamie described the sand as like fresh powder on a skifield and you can only image the craters that were left all through the bunkers by the time we got to the back nine in the mid afternoon. ¬†I will disclose that this particularly agitated me as I was grinding out a decent round only to find myself in three such huge craters and the resulting double, double, triple, quickly put an end to a decent round (I have subsequently learnt that many of the locals play a local rule that if you go into a bunker here you can rake it and then place your ball.¬† But that‚??s just not cricket and we play the ball as it lies).
After golf we headed out along Long Island. With nowhere to play the next day we just cruised right out to the point at Montauk, just missing the 4th of July fireworks after a protracted session catching up on our admin at Starbucks.¬†¬† Once out on the Point we found a camping area and nestled in for another night in Dodgy ‚?? one of the last as we‚??ve found a buyer for him ‚?? two swiss guys who are traveling across the US over two months in the reverse of what we‚??ve just done. Brilliant.¬†
Winged Foot may just be the coolest name in golf. ¬†And one of the coolest places I‚??ve ever been. ¬†You can use a word like ‚??cool‚?Ě when you‚??re talking about Winged Foot too, because it‚??s unpretentious and I reckon it‚??s how half the members would describe the place. ¬†A bunch of solid New Yorkers inhabit this domain, this Mecca for serious golfers. ¬†On a fine afternoon last Saturday our host was Terry Toll Jnr., a well set man who hits the ball further than Daly, and who rightly is proud of his family‚??s long held ties to The Foot. ¬†¬†What a phenomenal host he was too.
Winged Foot can lay claim to having one of the best pairs of golf courses in the world, if not the best. ¬†By that I mean that both courses are world class (and are always ranked in the Top 100). ¬†They play The US Open on the West Course ‚?? the last one was held back in 2006, when Geoff Ogilvy won ‚?? so it‚??s regarded as the big brother of the two. ¬†The East Course however is just as interesting and indeed the preferred track for many of the members. ¬†Tillinghast really had some fun with both of ‚??em. ¬†Some people like to make the comparison with Baltusrol (which he also designed), and reckon The Foot is really Baltusrol on steroids. ¬†Certainly it has more undulation than The Lower Course, but I‚??m not sure that it‚??s more intimidating. ¬†Anyway.
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive is the gothic looking clubhouse. ¬†Apparently the same chap that designed the hut at Mountain Ridge did this one too. ¬†I‚??m a big fan. ¬†It‚??s some building. ¬†Probably the best vantage point to admire it is the 9th fairway on West, or 18th fairway on East. ¬†It‚??s a real thrill standing over your approach shot, glancing up to the green, and picturing that perfect 6 iron dancing around the pin for the amusement of the lunch crowd looking on. ¬†I can confirm that I hit no such shot.
Speaking of lunch, Terry treated us to the WF lunch experience in the Members‚?? Grill (no longer the ‚??Men‚??s Grill‚?Ě in these times). ¬†Being a Saturday afternoon the place was buzzing, and sitting next to Terry in that Grill is like sitting next to Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill. ¬†Everyone knows him. ¬†Terry Senior flew past and said g‚??day, as did about 36 other members. ¬†All the staff knew him well, and knew what he‚??d be ordering to drink. ¬†A well liked member by the looks of things. ¬†Apparently most of the staff have been at The Foot for years ‚?? a sign of a healthy club. ¬†Terry likes to sit at one of the four corner tables, so he can people watch across the room. ¬†If walls could talk...that place has seen some antics over the years, some of which he shared with us (but which I won‚??t be sharing with you lot!).
Fuelled up and raring to go, we stepped out into the oven. ¬†It was hot. ¬†The range balls are Pro V1s embossed with the club logo ‚?? class. ¬†Not those nasty tinny Callaways, or even worse those yellow numbers. ¬†When the time came to blast off, we were advised to play one forward from the tips ‚?? and for once we listened! ¬†The sight of that tangled (probably triple seeded) rough was enough to convince us not to go All The Way Back. ¬†A good call. ¬†Terry (pictured below, left) and I teamed up against Mike and Terry‚??s pal Greg (pictured below, right). ¬†Greg was quite the College sportsman back in the day, and played several sports at an elite level. ¬†A football injury however put the cat amongst the pigeons: no longer could he swing the golf club right handed. ¬†So he switched and is now a lefty! ¬†Quite amazing. ¬†Poor Greg had just had a lesson earlier in the day, which inevitably meant he wasn‚??t swinging it as he usually would ‚?? he saw more of the course than most.
The course played fast, which we really enjoyed. ¬†As Terry said, that‚??s how Tillinghast designed it to be played. ¬†Drives run through doglegs if you‚??re not pinpoint accurate but you can play wee runners up to the greens. ¬†I spent the entire afternoon marvelling at the green complexes; at Albert‚??s artistry. ¬†A favourite was the 2nd (pictured below), which is split into two quadrants offset from one another. ¬†The hole would play totally different were the pin in the back, which is guarded by a huge overhanging elm tree. ¬†
On the 3rd the history started flowing from our hosts. ¬†In a US Open many moons ago Billy Casper laid up every day of the tournament, and pitched on. ¬†It‚??s a 200 yard hole, but is guarded fiercely on both sides by sand traps and the green is menacing to say the least. ¬†Billy took trouble out of the equation and made four pars! ¬†I got under my 4 iron and left it short left, prompting the ‚??Billy Casper‚?Ě quip. ¬†(Only difference was he did it on purpose; oh, and he made par too!). ¬†
Juan and Jorge our caddies were pretty sharp at reading the greens, which helped considerably. ¬†At least, it helped when I could understand them! ¬†Good characters.
The West Course though long is not a slogger‚??s track. ¬†There are quality short par 4s like the 6th, and short par 3s like the 7th. ¬†Ironically though these holes are just as likely to ruin your scorecard as the brutes ‚?? because what they lack in length they make up for in trickery. ¬†Tillinghast knew how to get his man (but also how to let him play). ¬†The 6th green for example (pictured below) is kidney shaped and as shallow as Paris Hilton; the 7th is raised up to the heavens like one of Donald Ross‚?? tabletops at Pinehurst No.2.
It‚??s really quite something standing on 9 tee which, as I mentioned before, looks down the hole to the clubhouse. ¬†What a sensation. ¬†Come the end of the year I‚??m going to put together a video blog of the grandest holes we‚??ve played ‚?? number 9 at The West Course will be near the top of the pile, I can tell you. ¬†As will 18 at Royal Sydney, Baltusrol, San Francisco, Olympic, Riviera and Commonwealth. ¬†A few from Scotland might make it in too (St. Andrews anyone?)...
The back 9 on West is pure. ¬†The shamrock bunker on 14; mind boggling green on 16; graceful dogleg right on 17; and approach on 18 were all memorable features. ¬†My partner Terry smoked a 7 iron out of the fairway bunker on 18 to 12 feet to close out the match ‚?? a shot he won‚??t forget for a while. ¬†That was after Mike rolled in 30 footers on 17 and 18 to apply unexpected pressure, the rascal.
It was 6.30 when we walked off, and the sun still had some juice in it. ¬†So we grabbed a beer; hopped in a couple of carts; and shot out to play the back 9 on The East Course. ¬†Why not? ¬†We had the place to ourselves, on a glorious Saturday evening. ¬†Pure golf indeed. ¬†An interesting chap by the name of Neil Regan ‚?? who happens to be the club historian ‚?? introduced himself as we were teeing off, then joined us a few holes later. ¬†He was out playing solo, with his favourite caddy, a dark skinned gentleman who looked like he‚??s been carrying bags since Moses Struck The Rock.
We zipped round 11 thru 18 at a frantic pace in probably an hour. ¬†Some very cool holes, like the 14th, 15th (pictured below) and 17th (Davis Love's favourite hole). ¬†Although what stuck most in my mind was the group of glamorous women at a garden party by the 14th green! ¬†Neil‚??s climbing low cut with a driver off the deck on 16 deserves special mention too. ¬†Oh, and the approach to 18 I mentioned before.
Neil pointed out where they‚??d made changes to the course in recent years, after having brought in Gil Hanse the restoration mantis. ¬†Getting back to original designs is very much en vogue right now, it appears. ¬†
Terry assured me the showers were as good as any ‚?? even those huge wide brim numbers at Merion and Pine Valley. ¬†He wasn‚??t fibbing. ¬†Not quite as wide as the aforementioned, but probably a faster flow. ¬†I could‚??ve stood there for days. ¬†Although I would‚??ve got those manky wrinkles. ¬†Terry being the consummate host also pointed us towards a little beaker of liquid that you‚??re supposed to chuck on y‚??er paws before dousing them in talcum powder. ¬†Sensational stuff ‚?? similar feeling to menthol shampoo. ¬†
WF gift bags also appeared in our lockers ‚?? each containing a Winged Foot polo shirt, a dozen Pro V1 Xs (WF embossed, of course) and a WF bag tag. ¬†We were very embarassed to say the least. ¬†Suffice to say Saint Terry is among the most generous characters we‚??ve come across this year; he couldn‚??t possibly have made our experience at The Foot any better.
Since none of us had to be anywhere, Terry floated the idea of dinner in the Grill. ¬†As if lunch; 18 on West; 8 on East; those showers; that foot solution; and Terry‚??s gift bags weren‚??t enough of a treat... ¬†The 3 course meal I inhaled would be right up there with the most memorable of the trip. ¬†If you told me the club was hiding a Michelin starred chef back in the kitchen I‚??d believe you. ¬†We must‚??ve sat there telling lies for a couple of hours, after One Hell Of A Day.
A huge thank you to Terry ‚?? you‚??re the greatest. ¬†Looking forward to showing you a huge day at Paraparaumu Beach when you make it down our way!
We left The Foot late in the evening bound for a place called Bethpage. ¬†We slept in Dodgy in the carpark, on one of our last few nights with the old fella. ¬†Terry had his pro phone ahead to get us a tee time, saving us the trouble of having to queue up. ¬†We would play the Black Course in the morning, our 2nd US Open course in two days...
I‚??m perched at a picnic table out here on Montauk Point ‚?? right at the tip of Long Island ‚?? on a beautiful Monday morning, catching up on blog duties. ¬†There‚??s not a cloud in the sky; in front of me is a lighthouse commissioned by George Washington Himself, and the Atlantic Ocean; and I‚??ve just been for a dip. ¬†Life‚??s good.
It‚??s with great fondness that I look back on our day last Thursday at Somerset Hills ‚?? one of the most relaxing and enriching of the year. ¬†After a week down in south and central New Jersey this would be the first of our days spent in and around New York, building towards the climax of our US leg. ¬†After Pine Valley the day prior, and Merion the day prior to that, Somerset Hills was in good company. ¬†As were we.
Our charismatic host was a gentleman by the name of Rory Corrigan. ¬†A well read, cerebral chap, Rory was an equities salesman in The City ‚?? and he did well enough to retire at 52 to a beautiful slice of paradise in the woods outside Morristown. ¬†Rich Oelkers (my partner at Baltusrol; father of Ryan The Great, our host there) put us onto Rory. ¬†I could tell from the email correspondence leading up to our visit that Rory had a sense of humour very much along my wavelength, and that we were going to get on well. ¬†
We left the bar at Pine Valley bound for Morristown, a couple of hours up the road. ¬†On arrival we came across this bear of a man, who identified himself as Rory. ¬†A deeper and more rumbling voice I may never have heard. ¬†The bear led us into his quite breathtaking house and introduced us to his charming wife Debi. ¬†Their twin boys also emerged from the stairwell and we all sat up over a glass of wine chewing the fat. ¬†Our impression of the Corrigans was of a very successful but very grounded family: the sort of family I myself would like to raise when the time comes.
Mike and I awoke to a beautiful morning like this one, and to a fine breakfast that Rory had prepared. ¬†We sat out on his deck overlooking the woodlands below, with a cup of Joe in hand, and reflected. ¬†Mike beat me to it: both of us were thinking that we could have been in New Zealand. ¬†A beautiful spot; no humidity; you couldn‚??t hear one car. ¬†The squirrels darting around the oak trees were the only ones that gave the game away.
Somerset Hills was just two miles down the road ‚?? a shorter commute than we‚??re used to. ¬†Dodgy got a rest for the day; instead we travelled in style in Rory‚??s Jeep. ¬†Along the way we got a little local history on the area, as well as a few other pearls of general wisdom. ¬†When you‚??re in Rory‚??s company you can‚??t help but absorb the fruits of his readings.
It‚??s a quite magnificent piece of property, Somerset Hills. ¬†A long driveway curves gracefully around the perimeter of a few holes on the front 9, and drops you near the top of the hill, overlooking A W Tillinghast‚??s masterpiece below. ¬†Behind the pro shop, further up the hill, are a dozen or so grass tennis courts (which by the time we made the turn were swamped with little ‚??uns decked out in their whites, tearing it up). ¬†The locker room is understated and cosy ‚?? here they‚??re not too fussed about gold plated handles or rich mahogany lockers; they‚??ve got everything they need.
On the wall in the locker room is a photo of a famous lighthouse, not too far from where I‚??m sitting right now, at The National Golf Links of America. ¬†It‚??s iconic in the golfing world, and a sight I hope to see in the next few days. ¬†Anyway Rory‚??s grandfather built it. ¬†His father helped too. ¬†Apparently the team that did the work was composed of both Anglo Saxon Americans, and a few lads of Native Indian extraction. ¬†They didn‚??t get on too well ‚?? there were a few fisty cuffs every now and then ‚?? and so the work was divided to keep them separated where possible: the white guys worked up top (the Indians were scared of heights from memory) and their counterparts down below. ¬†Interesting stuff.
Up by the pro shop we met Adam Machala, the Head Pro, who was to join us on course. ¬†A more affable and gentle natured guy you will not find ‚?? he was also my partner in the haggle and so I‚??m morally bound to say nice things about him. ¬†Which is not hard. ¬†Our caddies were Alex and Evan, two of the best we‚??ve had. ¬†(I‚??m aware that at this point this blog is gushingly positive and full of superlatives ‚?? be assured that this is not because I‚??m in a particularly good mood, but because really it was a perfect day).
The front 9 sit out below in the pro shop, almost in full view. ¬†They‚??ve cleared hundreds of trees here in recent years (I think in part at the direction of their new superintendent, who came from Merion) - something that‚??s a big ‚??no, no‚?Ě in New Zealand. ¬†Aside from improving the course, by all accounts, it also means you can stand at several vantage points and admire Tillinghast‚??s genius in its full splendour. ¬†Distinctive bunkering and green complexes are for me the hallmarks of his design ‚?? particularly those bunkers 40 yards of the green that look like they‚??re greenside. ¬†Adding to the character is a racetrack ‚?? about a mile long ‚?? that runs throughout the front 9. ¬†In days gone by members would bring their horses down and gun round it; apparently there was a spot of polo too. ¬†
We had cool sunshine; a healthy helping of wind; and plenty of laughs. ¬†Adam and I were one up at the turn, and looking dangerous. ¬†
The back 9 takes you into the trees, and past a gorgeous lake. ¬†It‚??s also more undulating and requires a bit more concentration. ¬†With the sound counsel of our hosts and caddies, we knocked it around without a care in the world. ¬†On holes like 10, 12 and 14 ‚?? and 15, 16 and 17, come to think of it ‚?? you just look around and admire the beauty of Somerset Hills. ¬†Mike and I reflected afterwards that it‚??s really the type of course you would never tire of playing. ¬†I asked Rory whether he‚??d ever come down here not to play golf, but just for a walk. ¬†In the winter he does, with the dog (ironically named Bear); I would too.
Adam and I held on up the uphill 18th for a 1up victory, much to the dismay of the ever competitive Goldstein. ¬†I‚??d left myself a 2 foot downhilll left to right putt for par, which would‚??ve been for The Win had Adam not rolled in an 8 foot uphiller before me. ¬†Thank God he did; I didn‚??t fancy being put under that type of pressure after such an enjoyable day!
Rory very kindly took the 3 of us to lunch in the Grill, which like the locker room is an understated but tasteful affair. ¬†He was also kind enough to gift Michael and I a souveneir belt each, which will be worn ‚??most every remaining day of 2010 I would speculate. ¬†I‚??m wearing it now, actually. ¬†In the pro shop we met Kylie, a fellow Kiwi, who hails from Great Barrier Island. ¬†These Kiwis turn up in the darndest of places...
On our way out we met Oscar, the gentleman who looks after the locker room and members‚?? shoes. ¬†Oscar‚??s nephew Oscar was the star of Paraguay‚??s most recent victory in The World Cup, something Oscar Senior was quite rightly very proud of sharing. ¬†He showed us a newspaper cutting and all. ¬†On our way out we also met one of Rory‚??s friends, a lady named Joan. ¬†Later Rory told us that Joan plays bridge with Warren Buffet (who‚??s apparently ‚??very smart, but bids senselessly...‚?Ě!).
A surreal day indeed. ¬†Rory and Adam couldn‚??t have been more affable and generous hosts; Somerset Hills is Tillinghast at his best (quite different in character to San Francisco GC and to Winged Foot, which we played on Saturday (blog to come shortly)); and our golf wasn‚??t as bad as it can be. ¬†What more could one ask for?
Late in the afternoon we boarded a train bound for NYC, for a night of mischief in The City. ¬†That‚??s another story...