October 8, 2011
I did not play golf during the month of September. And whether my body was under the impression that I wasn’t going to play again until next spring, or my clubs thought their first trip back to the closet in months meant the season was over, the first nine holes at Whiskey Creek were the season’s worst.
I’m standing in the middle of No. 1 fairway, staring down a pin 130 yards away. I take a nice and easy swing, make great contact, and, as I often do on my first few shots of the day, exaggerate my keeping-my-head-down-through-contact thought. As I finally glance upward and pose with my 9 iron I expect to see the ball sailing toward the green perhaps a few feet left of the pin. Instead I see nothing. I frantically scan the skies, greatly expanding my range of possible ball flights. After the hang time clock goes off in my head I stare directly at the pin hoping to see the ball land somewhere within my peripheral vision.
Nothing. The ball vanished. I would have asked BJ if he saw it, but he was busy searching for his own ball in the hazard. Around the green there are three traps: one short and left, another deep behind the left side of the green, and a third beside the green on the right. The rough is thick and beyond the traps is tall fescue. I’m not going to find this ball.
Looking back I see the group behind us is already driving to their tee shots so I can’t go back to the fairway to take a proper drop. BJ makes his way to the cart and tosses me a new ball, which I drop about 10 feet off the left side of the green. As I take a few half-hearted practice swings I can’t help but wonder where the heck my ball went. I don’t think I’ve ever had a ball completely disappear from view – at least on a hole with this much open space.
The pin is on the front right portion of the green about 45 feet away from me. The green slopes front to back near the pin, which means the ball will roll right to left off my chip. I take one last look and chip the ball 15 feet onto the green. It bounces twice and after one beautiful, slow arc around the front edge of the green, the ball hits the pin and drops in the hole.
BJ laughs and congratulates me on my lucky shot. I stammer over to the hole to retrieve my ball and remove the pin for his putt. BJ is laying 4 after hitting his first shot into the hazard, re-teeing – even though he didn’t have to and I implored him to observe the red stakes all around the right side of the hole – hitting his third almost to the same spot but just clear of the hazard, then striking an impressive blind shot to the green about 35 feet from the hole.
Waiting for him to putt, I’m still perplexed over my lost ball and scanning the area for it. BJ settles in behind the ball and gives it a whack. His putt never leaves the cup and drops for 5.
Our day begins with two awful bogeys that easily could have been worse. (My “bogey” was an illegal one with the drop, so indeed it was worse.)
And don’t worry because it took all of 4 minutes to officially get worse. A tee shot into the left fairway trap leads to a double-bogey on No. 2. A three-putt from a million feet on No. 3 adds a bogey. Another drive into a fairway bunker on No. 4, followed by a poor recovery out of the trap, and then a possible shank through the trees onto the edge of No. 8 tee helps me rack up another double.
Hole No. 5 has one of the prettiest tee shots in the area as it looks out over a very steep drop to the fairway below with the mountains of Maryland off in the distance. But I didn’t see any of it because I hook a hybrid into a trap on the left side of the fairway on a hole that makes almost a 90 degree turn to the left from the tee. A stroke to get out of the bunker, one to get to the fairway, another to get to the green, a two-putt, a double-bogey. All this on a 371-yard par 4 that finishes at least 60 feet below where it begins.
That’s when it occurs to me that I’m in danger of not breaking 50. I think all golfers have a number in mind when the wheels are coming off and the number of holes left – whether it’s the full 18 or just 9 – is shrinking fast, and you’re making the calculations in your head on whether you even have a prayer of staying under that number. “Well if I par out from here, I can maybe shoot 46.” But of course if you are already eight over after five holes, the chances of you suddenly “turning it on” and making four straight pars are extremely remote.
Walking to No. 6 tee, I wasn’t sure I could hit the broadside of a barn. I hit a decent 3 wood to the left side of the fairway but still have 130 yards up the hill to the green. Having zero confidence left, I purposely over-club to make sure I get it to the green over the giant bunker in front. The 8 iron leaves me on the back fringe with a quick downhill 40 foot putt to the front left pin placement. Three putts later I am nine over.
A bogey on No. 7 and a three-putt double on No. 8. For the first time in 15 years (except for that February 2008 round I decided to keep off the books and had my group swear to never speak of again) I was in danger of posting a Jack Lord.
At this point I should probably mention that play has been painfully slow all morning. We’re waiting on every shot and it seems to be getting worse each hole. It’s a slow burn watching each player in the group in front of you casually saunter up to a ball, take three practice swings, hover over the ball for several seconds, hit the shot, make several comments to the group about said shot, not replace the divot, watch his buddies hit their shots, make several comments about those shots, then, finally, all in unison walk to the other side of the hole where their carts are parked. The carts advance 100 yards and the routine begins again. Repeat, lather, rinse.
This scene appears to be wrapping up after almost ten minutes of leaning on our drivers on No. 9 tee. BJ tees it up and gets ready to hit. Out of the corner of my eye I see one of the gentlemen from the group in front of us driving his cart directly toward us and in front of the tee. Oblivious to BJ’s addressing of the ball and the twosome teeing off No. 18, he blurts out, “You all see a 5 iron back there?” We did not and replied accordingly. He rolls past us and disappears over the hill behind the eighth green to continue his quest.
Twelve minutes later I bogey the par 5 for a 49.
The last time I played Whiskey Creek was in April, and it was my first round with the new irons (Titleist CBs). I missed one fairway on the front and was upset with a 41.
So at the turn BJ treats me to a turkey sandwich and himself to a chicken salad sandwich. He loves Whiskey Creek’s chicken salad sandwich and talks about it even when we’re playing other courses. Plus, BJ quietly put together a smooth 41 on the front while I was hacking it all over the place, and the man deserves something special. Let him eat his favorite sandwich.
When we get to No. 10 tee, 2/3 of the group in front of us is still waiting for Mr. 5 iron to return with a full bag of clubs. A few moments of awkward silence pass as BJ and I silently eat our sandwiches and stare at the two men milling about their cart. The one near the passenger side reluctantly says, “So…why don’t you guys go ahead?”
(Youbetyourass…) “Oh, yeah, sure, if that’s okay with you guys,” we reply. “We’ll try not to hold you up! Ha, ha.” (As if that will be a problem.)
I hop out of the cart with my Diablo in-hand and tee it up before they decide to take back their offer. No. 10 is a par 4, dogleg left up the hill, with a tee shot over marsh and other assorted unpleasant things. Hoping to quickly put the front nine behind me I rip a drive up the middle of the fairway. BJ manages three more enormous bites of his sandwich before ripping his own drive. It’s left and close to the hazard, but I assure him he’s fine. Off we go. And not a moment too soon because Mr. 5 iron arrives on the tee before we get past the ball washer. Oh well, see ya!
On the right side of the fairway I’m left with just under 120 yards to a front right pin placement over a green-side bunker. I hit an absolutely flush pitching wedge straight at it and watch as it disappears over the lip of the bunker. I’m left with a 15-footer down the slope, which I leave a few inches short. Tap in for my first par of the day. (!)
No. 11 might be Whiskey’s signature hole. A 173-yard par 3, over marsh and death on the right, to a long narrow green that is slanted diagonally from left-to-right away from the tee. Tall trees stand all along the left of the hole on a hill, while one giant bunker guards the right side of the green. That is why I (unintentionally) lay up with my 6 iron to the left front fringe. A chip, two putts, a bogey.
Then I turn it on. A perfect drive to the middle of No. 12 fairway, a 3 iron a few yards off line to the right of the green, a chip, and a putt for par. After lengthy waits on 13 and 14, behind the new threesome ahead of us, I add two more pars. One over after five holes on the back.
Off and on over the past several holes, BJ and I have been discussing – and mocking – the idiocy of someone who cannot remember where he left his 5 iron. One would think that after going over the last few holes in your head you would say, “Oh right, I took two clubs to the tee on No. 7 but used my 6 iron instead. My 5 is probably still laying there.” Ha ha, what a dumbass.
We hit our approach shots on the fifteenth, a 191-yard par 3, all over water, with a bunker just shy of the green. BJ plants his ball in the sand, and I end up on the right edge in the rough. We pull the cart up to the green, get out, and reach into our bags for our sand wedges. Together we say, “Oh s—.”
Yup, we left our Vokeys resting side by side in the grass next to the thirteenth green. (See?! It shouldn’t take long to figure it out!) Fortunately, the next hole loops around and will take us right back to No. 13 green. Unfortunately, the very first group we’ll need to approach to ask if they have our clubs is Mr. 5 iron and his friends.
I suppose we deserve that.
It’s embarrassing to ask group after group if they’ve found two sand wedges. One is bad enough, but asking for two lost clubs is downright humiliating. One gentleman replied, “Two sandwiches?! No, man, I would have remembered that.”
With my trusty Vokey safely returned to my bag, I par 16, bogey 17, and par 18 for a three-over 39 on the back and an 88 overall. I haven’t a clue what transpired between the ninth green and the tenth tee – other than the rapid consumption of a delicious turkey sandwich – that led me in the wake of a 49 to hit six of the next seven fairways, five greens, and zero three-putts. But it somehow feels good.
Unfortunately for BJ the temporary loss of his club on No. 15 clearly rattled him as he stumbled home with two doubles and a triple to also shoot 88. I think it’s safe to assume this is our last loop of the 2011 season…