Editor’s Note: I played almost two dozen rounds of golf in 2011, many of which were quite memorable. Some were unforgettable. As the 2012 season is only now getting underway for me, I’d like to go back and share as many of last year’s rounds as I can.
We begin with Masters Sunday.
Laurel Hill Golf Club
April 10, 2011
Showing up at the course as a threesome is always a crapshoot. You’re hoping for the best but you know darn well that the pro shop will be putting a straggler in your group. It is for this reason you never want to be the last of the three to show up at the course. The first two to arrive will quickly double up on a cart, leaving you with the next cart in the line and an empty passenger seat soon to be warmed by the rear end of a complete stranger. We are the closest of friends, but that’s not the sort of bullet one of us is willing to take for the other.
From the time you lace up your spikes, remove your clubs from the trunk, and head toward the pro shop, your eyes are darting from random lone dude to random lone dude wondering which one will be your fourth.
Courses must know this, too, because they keep you guessing on when they intend to introduce you to the person with whom you’ll be making awkward conversation for the next five hours.
The first hurdle is checking in. You hand over your credit card and nod when the pro shop staff inevitably asks, “Just one?” (Yes, as much as I enjoy spending time with my pals I do not intend to pay for all three of us.) As your card is being swiped you brace yourself expecting him to point to the back of the room and say, “Aaand the overweight gentleman back there wearing a red Nike shirt, black jeans, black TW hat, and white belt will be joining you today.”
When that doesn’t happen, you feel relieved.
Step two is handing your receipt to the cart guards outside. The Chief of Carts holds your receipt up to his clipboard checklist and confirms your time. “Just a threesome?”
“Okay. Range balls are on the cart. Be back here ten minutes before your tee time.”
You begin to believe it is possible.
By the time you pull up to the driving range, you have already identified the two guys who are clearly hitting balls solo and the one hacking out of the bunker next to the practice green. And ranked them in order of “no,” “please no,” and “I’ll carry my bag if it’s him.”
You do some token stretching, hit a few balls, and trash talk your buddies, all while keeping an eye on the three loners. When it’s time to head back toward the first tee, where the putting green is, you wait to see if any of them feel the need to leave with you.
No one moves.
After six minutes on the putting green the starter calls a huddle to go over today’s pin placements and other assorted instructions. The three of you step forward and prepare for the worst. Who’s it going to be? The guy with the Ricky Fowler hat? The one who just removed seven empty beer cans from his bag? Or the gentleman wearing a VT hat, putting his watch in his VT bag with the VT towel, the VT head covers, and the maroon and gold VT putter?
“Okay. Gentlemen, enjoy your round.”
Holy crap. Not only did you and your two buddies luck out by getting to play without a fourth, but you got your own cart. You may even play the entire first hole with a silly smirk on your face. Dumb jokes are suddenly twice as funny. You don’t care that you missed the green with your approach shot by 40 yards. Today is going to be a blast because the three of you can do or say anything you want during the round without having to apologize to a stranger for your inside jokes or offensive comments. Your pace of play will not be determined by a wildcard.
As you’re lining up your putt on the first green, you see out of the corner of your eye a ranger cart barreling down the middle of the fairway toward the green. That’s odd, you normally don’t see the ranger until the first par 3. As he approaches you see two bodies instead of one. Two rangers, seriously? The body in the passenger seat is – oh no – carrying a bag of clubs in his lap. They’re bringing you your fourth! With clenched teeth you stroke the putt ten feet past the cup. Now your double bogey to start the round is no longer funny – it’s this guy’s fault.
This guy. A guy who says, “Sure, I’ll join that threesome. And no I don’t care if I have to skip an entire hole to do it.” Awesome.
Think about it: adding a stranger to another group of golfers is a really bizarre thing to do. Where else does this happen? Have you ever gone to a restaurant for dinner and been told that the man waiting next to you at the door will be joining you? Because, hey, it’s a table for four and we need to keep dinners moving. Of course not.
I understand the reason why it’s done on a golf course, and even concede that it’s the prudent thing to do to keep pace of play consistent around the course. Perhaps it’s another one of those things that makes golf a gentleman’s game. But still, it’s really awkward sometimes and it can break – but almost never make – a round.
For this reason alone we’ve been auditioning various acquaintances of ours in the hopes that we can find that elusive fourth man to make our group impenetrable to any course policy in town. So far unsuccessful.
So this nightmare of a scenario is what’s in the back of all our minds on our way down 395 toward Lorton. BJ, Mike, and I are ready to kick off the 2011 season with our first round at Laurel Hill, a fantastic municipal course built on the grounds of the old Lorton Reformatory. To refer to the course as a “muni,” however, is ridiculous because it rivals any public course in the area. Extremely well maintained and pretty damn tough to master.
We arrive at the course, check in, and to the nice man who takes our bags and asks us who wants to ride with whom we say, “Surprise us.” We watch anxiously as he indiscriminately grabs two bags and pairs them up on a cart. Mike and I breathe a sigh of relief; BJ is the odd man out today.
On this particular day we get as far as the driving range before we are introduced to our fourth, and true to form it manages to get off to an uncomfortable start. It’s a busy Sunday and the range is packed, so BJ and I are in adjacent stalls, but Mike is a few yards away up the range. I hear BJ muttering something.
“Seriously? I guess this is how we’re going to do this, then.”
I turn around to see the starter moving some of BJ’s personal belongings around in his cart, while another man is putting his own clubs on the back. Pretending not to notice but very clearly irritated by this nontraditional form of introduction, BJ tees up another ball and smacks it range-ward. I spin around so BJ can’t see me laughing. Mike sees what’s going on, gives me a look of horror, and goes back to hitting balls.
“Haha. (sarcastic) This is awesome,” BJ says after taking another look at the men commandeering his cart. He nearly tops his next shot. “Love how this day is shaping up.”
He says something else inaudible (but likely unprintable anyway) and then walks toward the cart. On a dime he turns on the charm, extends his hand, and introduces himself to his new partner. Pleasantries are exchanged, including a lighthearted comment from BJ about hoping to find his cellphone after someone went through his cart, and we all go back to hitting balls.
Naturally, after getting all worked up about this, our fourth turned out to be an awfully pleasant retired gentleman who plays LHGC frequently, and in fact played with Mike once before. For the purposes of this post, we’ll call him Ned.
Let’s play some golf.
The first drive of the year has a lot riding on it. After nearly five months between my last round of 2010 and today, I’d love to think I’ve retained all the progress I had achieved by the end of last season and forgotten all the bad. Of course this is nonsense and I know it, as I tee up my ball and take a nice long look at the first hole. The 435-yard par 4 is a predominately straight downhill hole off the tee with bunkers on both sides of the landing area. The left ones can easily be carried with a drive of 230 yards or more, but the two bunkers on the right, at approximately 250 yards from the tee, are perfectly located to cause trouble. The hole continues downward for another 100 yards or so before bottoming out and gradually climbing upward to a huge green. There are three bunkers to its left.
I address the ball and hit a weak draw over the left bunkers and into the deep rough. Eh, I’ll take it. Mike and BJ follow with lukewarm drives of their own, and Ned smacks a short but perfectly straight drive from the white tees. The 2011 season has begun.
I’m left with 190 yards, but the thick rough and downhill slope dash any hope I have of reaching the green. Instead of playing it smart by hacking out with a higher lofted club to the middle of the fairway, I select my 3 iron and stubbornly assume that I will make perfect contact and reach the green. My second shot barely makes if four feet off the ground and ends up just short of the first greenside bunker on the left. A decent chip to the front middle pin placement leaves me ten feet for par. Which is great, because I take three putts to finish.
You never want to start too hot.
The second hole is a short, gradually uphill 351-yard par 4, that is all about the tee shot. The fairway narrows 175 yards out from the tee. Tall trees guard the right side, while several bunkers come into play on the left before the hillside completely falls off the table into the woods and down to a creek. There is a fairway bunker on the right side, past the trees, that is reachable only by BJ.
My natural draw kills me on this hole time after time, so I favor the right side and hope for the best. Amazingly, the best happens and my ball finds the middle of the fairway. A nice smooth 9 iron to the middle of the green, two putts, and I have myself a par.
No. 3 is a bear. The various tee boxes on this par 4 are perched above a grassy, overgrown, and watery gully, flanked by tall overhanging trees. Once your tee shot clears this mess, it is greeted by a wide open fairway on a severe upslope that relentlessly continues all the way to the green. The fairway looks like a brick wall with one pot bunker in the middle and two on the right. Tee shots far left or far right must deal with narrow strips of rough before bouncing into the fescue.
I find the middle of the fairway but way short of the bunker…and just about everything else. It’s always a kick in the face to watch your ball hit the turf and roll back a few yards. I’ve played this course almost 20 times and only twice gotten home in two. Standing over my 225-yard second shot – all uphill carry – with my 23-year-old MacGregor 3 wood (that’s a story for another time), I’m confident I won’t be adding to my GIR total.
I make great contact with my antique fairway wood, but come up 15 yards short of the long two-tiered green. The pin is way back and my approach chip leaves me close to 20 feet to save par. Par is not saved. Bogey.
This is followed by a four-hole stretch of bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie. A level-par streak I couldn’t be upset with if I were in mid-season form. I’m also 1-up on Mike on the front nine, and that’s $3 I’m not about to throw away with one hole to go.
No. 9 is the second par 5 on the front and one of my favorite holes in the area. The tee shot must carry a deep and wide gully to a slightly left-to-right sloped fairway that is practically a plateau between two densely-wooded hillsides. Three bunkers on the right act as lifesavers for balls hit toward the woods on that side, with only one that is reachable on the left. The fairway then doglegs sharply to the right, snakes down the hill, narrows to no more than 30 yards in width, and makes a large sweeping turn back to the left to a long but narrow green. A big hitter may think about going for the green in two, but must contend with three large bunkers short and yet another forest of death that blocks out the left half of the green. Great zigzagging 3-shotter.
Remembering only my worst drives on this hole from the previous year, all of which ended up at the bottom of the hill on the right side, I favor the left a little more than I should. My drive is hit dangerously close to the trees on the left, but lands in the rough with a few clear bounces. Whew. Mike smokes his drive well into the right trees. I mean directly into them. (No, I don’t feel good about writing this.)
I completely squander my good fortune of staying out of the trees on the left off the tee by nearly putting my second shot in the crap on the right. Wanting only to advance the ball up the fairway to give myself a good approach to the green, I push my 4 iron and watch as the ball disappears over the right edge of the hill. I quickly look over to BJ who has a better vantage point from the top of the hill and wait for him to signal the ball’s status. He shrugs and gives me a thumbs-up. The ball ends up in the deep rough at the bottom of the hill, six feet short of a red stake. I hack out to the fairway, and land my fourth shot on the front right of the green. Lightning strikes and I sink a 35-footer for par.
A 40 and a 2-up victory over Mike on the front.
We make a brief stop at the turn and I get myself a turkey sandwich and a red Gatorade. (I only mention this because it may seem relevant later. I promise you I’m not going to blog about everything I do on the course, including whether or not I put mayo on my sandwich. I did, but that’s not the point. You tell me if it matters a few holes from now…)
We roll up to the tenth tee on the far side of the range and wait for someone to volunteer to go first. Each of us has a sandwich in his hands and doesn’t want to go through the hassle of putting it down just so that we can continue with our round. The group in front of us has already cleared the green and the dudes behind us are not stopping for refreshments. Sigh. I put my sandwich down on the seat and head for the tee.
The back nine starts with a short, 334-yard, par 4 that doglegs to the left around two bunkers. The elevated fairway is wide open, but a miss to the far right will land in some fescue/trees, while the not-so-far left is awfully close to the out-of-bounds. Had my sandwich not been foremost on my mind, I probably would have done the prudent thing and selected a 3 iron. Nevertheless, I crush a drive over the right edge of the bunker that draws and lands in the middle of the fairway, not more than 90 yards from the green. Or so I’m told, because the moment I made contact with my ball my eyes locked onto my sandwich again.
A few minutes later I’m holding my pitching wedge and salivating over the front right pin placement. From this distance I’m more comfortable hitting a ¾ PW than hitting a full sand wedge, and I can’t wait to scare the flag with my second shot. Perhaps the late morning infusion of electrolytes is more than I can handle, because my ball sails over the back of the green and comes to rest just feet from the cart path.
This leads to a dumb bogey on the only “easy” hole on the inward nine, but I quickly get that stroke back with a lucky chip-in from the right edge on the par 3 eleventh hole.
This takes us to No. 12, a 401-yard par 4 with a perfectly straight fairway, but whose tees and green are pushed to the right hand side, creating the feel of a dogleg. This is probably the hardest tee shot for me on the course. I have killed many a round by pushing my drive into the woods on the right side of this hole. Today I have the magic stroke and hit a great drive down the left middle of the fairway. A 6 iron finds the left middle of the green roughly 30 feet from the cup. Two putts for par on a tough hole, and I’m even on the back – I’m flying high…
…when it hits me for the first time. Without going into the details let’s just say that my attention immediately shifts from enjoying my great par to hastily calculating how many holes are between here and the clubhouse. Specifically the locker room.
Yes, nature has sent me a friendly tweet.
Biting my lower lip, I look out from the tee onto the thirteenth fairway as it winds down the hill away from the clubhouse. No. 14 is a par 3 back up the hill, and No. 15 – naturally the longest hole on the course at 587 yards – is a long…climbing…monster of a par 5 that finishes next to the practice green outside the clubhouse.
Faced with this mighty stretch of holes, the smart thing to do would be to politely excuse myself now and head straight to the clubhouse before the fireworks start. But I’m even par over my last eight holes, and to suddenly pick up and leave in the middle of this round would be criminal. I can make it. Probably a false alarm anyway.
Putting this minor issue out of mind, I push my tee shot toward the small strip of grass between the fairway bunker and hazard on the right side. For some unknown reason Nos. 12 and 13 are cart-path-only holes, and I frequently manage to hit my ball to the side opposite the asphalt. Plus, because I can never remember how far that bunker is from the green, I must always take a handful of irons with me from the parked cart. Over to the ball I go with my 7, 8, and 9 irons, only to discover once I get there that the lie is bad and I’m still 165 yards away from the green (normally a 6 iron).
Time is of the essence here, and the small cluster of trees on the edge of the hazard interferes with a clear shot at the green anyway, so I concede to hitting my 7 down the fairway back into play. From there I pitch it to the center of the green, and two-putt for bogey.
One hole down.
The fourteenth is a 212-yarder, all uphill to a two-tiered green, with a severe drop off on the right into the thick brush below. There are five bunkers scattered across the front and right side of the green that can be helpful if your ball is hot enough to careen off the slope and into the trees.
Uh, hmmmmmmmmmm, heh. Another slightly more urgent tweet from nature.
I hate to do it, but this hole is so long that I must use my 5 wood off the tee. Instead of once again hitting a 3 iron short because I’m afraid to admit how weak I am (for this reason alone it’s time to buy new clubs), I decide this time I must do what it takes to hit this green…and speed things along. I’m rewarded with a pretty shot to the left side of the lower tier of the green. The pin is on the top shelf, but I don’t really care at this point. Three putts later I’m that much closer to getting to where I need to go.
One more hole. I can do this!
I have the honor, and without incident I shove my tee in the ground and fire away. No time for practice swings. The ball is hit pretty well and carries up the right side of the fairway, well short of the cart path that cuts across the middle of the hole around the 290 mark. Then I wait for BJ and Mike to do the same. Standing as still as possible on the edge of the tee box, I can see the tiny pin at the top of the hill. It looks like it’s on the moon. I close my eyes until I hear both drives struck. Get in the cart, Mike!
Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten that Ned still needs to hit from the white tees, and I slam on the breaks. This was a mistake. I now know there’s no way I can finish this hole. Ned, God bless him, takes no practice swings and his ball is soon airborne. Off we go again.
We drive up to my ball. I hop out with my 3 wood, take all of 4 seconds to consider the shot, aim thataway, and send my ball cruising up the middle of the slowly rising fairway. Mike takes considerably more time to go through his routine before hitting his second shot. Granted, this is probably how someone without digestive issues would act but, man, does it seem deliberate right now.
He hits a nice shot to…you know what; I don’t really remember what he does. It’s time to get out of here. He finally gets back in the cart and as we drive up the path I say, “Get…your bag; I’ll meet you…on the next hole.”
Laughing, he exits and quickly unlatches his bag from the back of the cart. “Clear!” I slam on the gas and take off at the breakneck speed of 6 miles per hour.
I briefly consider lifting the seat to stick a tee in the governor of the cart motor, possibly giving me another 10 to 15 mph. But this trick also screws up the engine, makes really loud backfire sounds, emits black smoke, and generally shreds the “I promise to return this cart in proper order” waiver every golfer signs before teeing off. Rightly, courses tend to frown upon taking this action. Plus, I’m driving toward the clubhouse, and any time I gain from the extra speed would be negated by the time spent on this delicate procedure.
The cart slowly chugs up the hill and as it does I can only imagine the conversation currently taking place in the fairway as BJ sees Mike carrying his own bag. No time to care. Must focus on using as few muscles as possible to keep this pedal down. The cart path meanders up the left side of the hole, around the side of the green, and crosses with the main path between the clubhouse and No. 1. I fly though this intersection and past the practice green, parking an inch from the steps to the grill room. Up the steps, through the doors, past the bar, around the corner in the main foyer, and into the locker room.
Having a few minutes to think about things…I’m bummed that I’ve pretty much thrown away my chance to post a great score today. Even if I end up breaking 80, I can’t really call it official without finishing No. 15. Plus, I’ll have to concede that hole to Mike and our match on the back is still pretty tight (1-up with the concession).
We meet up again on the sixteenth tee. After several obligatory jokes at my expense, and the decision for me to mark a bogey on the card for No. 15, it’s time to play some more golf.
No. 16 is the final par 3 on the course. It is 185 yards in length and slightly downhill to a kidney-shaped green surrounded by four bunkers on each side – north, south, east, and west. To the left of the green is a pond. But there are two sets of tee boxes, which can create two completely different holes. If the tees closest to the clubhouse are being used that day, only shots that fly the green – or incredibly horrible hooks – will find the water. If the tees to the left are used, as they are today, the water must be carried.
Feeling like a new man, I groove a 4 iron to within 1o feet of the pin on the back right corner of the green. My putt finds the center of the cup, bounces off the back edge, and plops home for birdie. This helps me close out my match with Mike for the day and go dormie on the back, which means there’s still hope for him yet.
Until I make a ridiculous birdie on No. 17 (driver, 3W, 20-foot-putt) and crush his hopes. This is followed by a routine par on the last hole for a 1-over 36.
Though an unofficial 76, for the reasons discussed earlier, this is easily the “best first round of the season” I’ve ever had. And it couldn’t come at a worse time considering my long overdue decision this winter to purchase a new set of clubs. Maybe my beloved DCIs are still trying to prove something to me.
- 10 out of 13 fairways.
- 7 greens.
- 30 putts.
- Handicap Index drops half point from 6 to 5.5.
- ($10 from Mike.)
What a summer this is going to be.