Westfields Golf Club
May 6, 2012
Actual text conversation (but edited for content, grammar, explanation, interest, facts, and time):
I don’t feel like picking
you up. Meet there?
I agree, sir.
Very well. See you
there. 12:30 tee time?
12:30 tee time. I’m
walking. Your move.
You’re an expletive.
Sorry. “It’s good for
you.” Damn spellcheck.
You’re a big expletive.
Calmer than you
Your mind games will not
work on me. Walk or ride,
you will lose. And lose
Mike and I have not played golf together since our epic trip to Hilton Head last August (still writing that marathon post…), and while this is sadly my first round of 2012, he’s been playing every weekend since The Masters. Plus, he played yesterday and Wednesday morning. The man is a machine.
But as the electronic conversation above clearly shows, he’s still afraid that I will wax him on the course even after six and a half months of rust on my game. Why else would he throw out the twist of announcing his intention to forego the luxury of a motorized cart? Because he thinks I will tire easily. And, frankly, he’s right. Still, that’s not very nice, is it? So I call his bluff and tell the pro shop attendant at check-in that I, too, will be carrying my own bag.
Of course, I’ve learned to drop this nugget on pro shop staff with a touch of sarcasm and preemptive defensiveness, as some courses will look at you as if you’ve just said, “I’d also like to play pants-less.” Cart golf has become so ingrained in the amateur side of the game that most courses – at least in highly populated areas like DC – long ago eliminated the “with a cart” fee and simply made it a “one price fits all” fee. Indeed, some courses require golfers to take carts on weekends in order to (arguably) speed up play.
We frequently start each season opining on the virtues of carrying our own bags, slowing down the pace, taking in the scenery, playing the game as it was meant to be played, etc. We will walk so much more this year, we boldly proclaim. And then do it exactly twice. Still, it’s clearly a rare occurrence because when we played at Raspberry Falls a few years ago we overheard someone on the starter’s walkie-talkie say, “I’m sending a group your way…(audible sigh)…they’re walkers. Three of ‘em.” The starter smiled at us, and quickly tried to turn down the volume.
I’m not sure you could pick a better course in the area to carry your bag (if you’re a little on the lazy side like I am, that is) as the land on which Westfields is situated is overwhelmingly flat, with wild elevation changes topping out at around 12 feet. Okay, there are some severe drop-offs on several holes, but from tee to green the playing area is remarkably level. The weather today is also conducive to walking, pretty warm but overcast and somewhat dreary.
The first hole is a par 4, a nice 388 yards from the blue tees, and only moderately uphill. The tee shot must carry the first of many tall, grassy wastelands the golfer can expect to see scattered throughout the course today. The fairway is pretty straight and not terribly narrow, but the trees along the left hand side are close enough to give hookers a tough time. (Excuse me?)
We are paired up with two other dudes on the first tee. One of them heads to the Boom Boom tees, so named after the Mighty Fred Couples who co-designed the course in the late ‘90s. Our first impression is that he is a player and, by the sound his ball makes as it rockets over our heads, he clearly is. Unfortunately for him, trees are just as solid whether you hit them from 250 yards or 175; his ball strikes a tree hard and disappears deeper into the woods on the left.
The only diplomatic way to choose the order for a round – a flip of a new tee – gives Mike the honor, and his smooth, buttery swing sends his opening drive up the right center of the fairway. I somehow summon enough muscle memory to produce a swing solid enough to follow Mike’s drive up the middle. I’m about 10 yards behind him, but I’d like to remind you – and Mike, if he’s reading this – that we’re just getting started here. The green is narrow but deep, and our approach shots find the putting surface.
Fortunately, we were asked by the starter before our round if we’d like to jump ahead of our scheduled 12:30 tee time and join the 12:10 twosome. Unfortunately, this completely eliminated the 20 minutes I had allotted for the practice green. My first two putts of the year are quite awful, and the third is given to me. Mike makes his par and takes the early lead.
But I come right back and take the next two holes with pars. One up.
The fourth hole is the longest on the course at 541 yards and the only par 5 on the front nine. The tee shot is slightly uphill and blind enough to make it difficult to get a true feel for what lurks between the tall trees on either side of the hole. Not too deeply into the trees on the left is out-of-bounds, and to the right is a large bunker. My tee shot finds the latter. The lie is decent, but with more than 280 yards left to the hole, there is no reason to play chicken with the lip of the bunker. I pick my ball off the sand cleanly but weakly with a 6 iron, advancing it down the middle of the fairway.
The huge green is bunkerless, but a right-to-left slope and a very close out-of-bounds along the left will make you think twice about taking dead aim. And the area behind the green, darkened by the tall trees, is thinly-grassed with patches of hardpan. Good thing I hit the middle of the green to set up my three-putt bogey.
This mediocre effort matches Mike’s bogey 6, and after penciling in two more bogies on No. 5, I remain 1 up in our match. (I had one and he had the other…I didn’t have two bogies on the same hole. Try to keep up.)
No. 6 is a 459-yard par 4, again pretty straight but it requires a long tee shot to safely clear a trio of large fairway bunkers on either side. Even a great drive will require a long iron to the green, which is situated beyond a long deep bunker and to the right of the fairway. The fairway actually runs up along the left side of the green creating a huge but hilly bailout area. I split the middle of the fairway with my drive and end up finding this very inviting area with my pulled 5 iron.
I masterfully chip my ball down the slope to within two feet of the hole and tap in for my par.
As we approach the seventh tee, one of our playing partners announces that he’s missing his 8 iron and hops back in the cart to begin the search. “I know exactly where it is. I’ll be right back,” he says. I nod approvingly as he speeds off.
The posted yardage on this par 3 is 157, but the pin is on the front edge today and the green is a few feet above the tee box. Short and left is not an option with three deep bunkers covering the steep hillside, and missing right will leave you a delicate chip from higher ground to a pretty quick green. I hit a decent 7 iron pin-high, but push it a few yards right into the rough. Mike hits the back of the green, leaving himself a long, downhill, double-breaker for birdie.
I make another nice chip to less than three feet, and tap in for par. Mike’s putt, unfortunately, is impossible. The slope is so severe from where he is that you almost have to accept that the ball will roll well past the hole, if it doesn’t go in, and all you can do is attempt to minimize the damage. Three putts later, his bogey helps seal his fate on the front nine.
The front is mine, 3 and 2.
A bogey-par finish gives me a 39. Mike’s troubles continue on Nos. 8 and 9, and I don’t think he’d like me to share his score. But I have no doubt he’s very interested in how I describe the next several holes…
One thing I love about Westfields is the can’t-miss snack bar at the turn. It’s basically a mini-pavilion near the putting green, with a full gas grill strategically placed in the corner closest to the path coming from the ninth green, cooking real meat for real golfers. I had hotdog on my mind, but did not hesitate when the man behind the counter said he had a couple of sausages ready to go. “One please. For now.”
It was consumed before we reached the tenth tee. More out of necessity that anything else: no cart, no place to put down your sandwich. Damn you, Mike.
On the opening hole of the back nine I push my drive into the first of three fairway bunkers along the right hand side. I’m upset with myself for missing this fairway, as the landing area is relatively wide and the dogleg left is built for a nice draw with a driver. But tall trees hug the left side of the hole and take away your view of the green from the tee.
The lie is perfect, however, and with both feet firmly planted in the rough, I launch a 7 iron to the middle left portion of the green. The green is elevated and a ball missing long or left could easily bounce off the hill and into the surrounding trees, but with no bunkers (around the green) I felt the risk was minimal.
Suuuure, I give this much thought to my shots this early in the year.
The newly-energized Mike, fresh off a cheeseburger with all the fixings, splits the fairway with his drive, hits the center of the green below the hole, and expertly two-putts from 15 feet. My putting is not as strong as my long range bunker skills, and a crappy three-putt quickly puts me 1 down on the back.
No. 11 is a 507-yard par 5, with a tee shot that must carry a large section of grassy wasteland to a fairway running diagonally from right-to-left. If you pull your drive but clear the tall grass, a very large and deep fairway bunker still awaits your ball. It is best to miss right…if you’re going to miss, that is. Mike and I both find the middle of the fairway with our best 1-2 drives of the day.
The second shot is somewhat blind and neither one of us can recall whether the green was unprotected or not. “I’ll just roll over the hill to take a peek in the cart….oh, wait…” Eh. Figuring there is nothing to worry about, I take out the 3 wood and aim for the flapping flag in the distance. But I pull it big time, and watch it disappear over the hill near the tree line. Mike’s shot stays online and safely bounces up the fairway.
I am relieved to find my ball in the rough well short of the massive, flowery bunker guarding the front left portion of this tiny, shallow green. I’ve got about 65 yards left to the stick, and after witnessing Mike put his approach shot safely on the green with a reasonable chance at birdie, I decide I must make a statement.
Never truly settling on what kind of shot to play – full, flop, or pitch – even as I started my take away, it’s not surprising that my third shot would end up 10 yards short of the pin and plugged in the face of the bunker. A mighty blast gets me to the fringe and leads to a two-putt bogey. Mike leaves his birdie attempt a foot short, and settles for par.
Two down after two.
Then I double-bogey the par 3 twelfth hole. Mike pars again.
Three down after three.
No. 13 is the first of two short par 4s in a row. This one is 349 yards from the blue tees, and the tee shot is blind beyond the left-to-right tilted horizon. Mike helpfully remembers that this is not a hole on which to use the driver, with a Civil War burial site well within range on the right, and we both hit weak 3 woods to the left rough. This is one of the more frightening greens on the course to hit into, with two giant bunkers short and on either side, and absolutely no mercy for balls hit right or long. The steep drop-off behind the hole ends in darkness and death.
Mike goes first and hits the center of the two-tiered green. The ball trickles down the ridge toward the back right pin placement and onto the proper ledge for a great chance at birdie. This is a precarious place to put this pin with the aforementioned death just a few steps beyond the flag’s shadow. I go with an aggressive 8 iron, taking dead aim at the hole. It lands a few feet behind Mike’s ball and slowly rolls all the way to the edge of the fringe less than 15 feet from the cup. Whew.
Two more ho-hum pars follow.
One of the true “drivable par 4s” in the area, the 264-yard fourteenth can be a fun hole to play. Unless you’re playing it with Mike.
As he goes through his normal routine on the tee, I stand well back from the hitting area and prepare my camera phone for a well-timed picture. Mike starts his backswing and…
…as he completes his swing.
“Ho ho!” He drops his club, twirls around, and looks at me. “Thanks a lot, jackass!”
Stunned. “Say wha?”
“You had to take a picture during my backswing.”
Before I can answer, one of our playing partners steps up for me and says, “That wasn’t his camera, someone in the group behind us stepped on his cart brake.”
“Yeah, my phone’s on mute,” I say. “Always.”
“Oh,” Mike says.
And where did his “distracted” shot end up? Middle of the fairway, setting up a 70-80 yard pitch to six feet, which he then buried for a birdie. I’m just angry that his head games worked on me this time. My par is no match for his gamesmanship, and I’m now in a ridiculous four-down-with-four-to-play situation.
Mike is one-under on the back nine after four straight pars and a birdie. Whatever his problems were on the front nine, he has righted the ship quickly and is now playing some phenomenal golf. The biggest difference is greens-in-regulation, which now stands at five in a row – two more than his total on the front.
But whereas it’s always darkest before dawn, it’s also brightest before the s***storm. Pretty sure that’s a famous quote from someone.
The meltdown begins on the very next hole, a dead straight 530-yard, uphill par 5. The tee shot must carry a pond on the left to a welcoming fairway, with another giant bunker on the right near the landing area. Tall trees once again outline the entire hole, with out-of-bounds on the right and deep woods on the left. Mike finds the middle of the fairway and I find the very edge of the right rough.
I take a nice and easy cut with my 4 iron and propel my ball down the middle of the fairway. I turn to watch Mike. He hooks a 3 wood well right of the fairway and very close to the edge of the trees. A feeling of dread descends upon the group.
One of our eagle-eyed partners spots Mike’s ball just a few yards into the woods, and Mike weighs his options. Seeing a window out, he takes a violent cut at his ball through the dead leaves. His ball smacks the side of a tree no more than 15 feet in front of him and nearly takes his head off as it rockets back toward him with more velocity than when it left his club. Shaken, he turns to search for his ball and disappears out of my view.
Over the next 90 seconds I hear: shuffle, shuffle, shuffle…..whack, KNOCK…..shuffle, shuffle, shuffle…..shuffle, whack, shuffle…..whack…..whack, KNOCK, laughter, shuffle, whack.
I decide the best thing for me to do at this point is to quietly walk to my ball and keep playing. My ball is resting nicely in the fairway and I walk off the yardage to 73. The front middle pin placement calls for a ¾ sand wedge, which I am wholly incapable of pulling off this early in the season, and my approach shot lands a few inches short of the green. That’s okay, I’m pretty sure I have this hole.
I putt up to tap-in range and take my par. Mike’s misery (on this hole) is over and he cards a 9. Three down with three to play, baby.
On our way to the next tee, Mike is laughing about the sudden turn of events in his round. I’m not sure there is anything else one could do. We also discuss the rules of declaring one’s ball as unplayable. Can this be done in a hazard? What is the proper procedure? Sadly, no matter how many times I’ve read the rule book I seem to forget these simple tidbits after extended periods away from the game. I’m embarrassed.
(Don’t worry, I’ve since consulted the Rules and confirmed that no, you can’t take an unplayable in a water hazard.)
The honor is mine on the next hole, a 354-yard par 4, all downhill. A creek meanders down the middle of the hole and then ends in a pond to the left. Approach shots must carry this pond to reach the green, which looks like a tiny strip of grass between a large bunker in front and a steep hillside behind. A stone wall protects the green complex from falling into the water (more on that wall later).
I determine that using driver off this tee will bring more trouble into play than it’s worth, and I take out the 3 wood. This safe play works to perfection as I pick my head up way too soon during my follow through and fire (top?) a line drive directly into the stream not more than 125 yards away. I stand there posing as if I just hit a perfect shot.
“I don’t think that’s the play here,” I say.
Mike starts laughing. “I guess we didn’t realize how timely our rules discussion would be.”
He also chooses the safe play with a 3 wood but misses the fairway a few feet right. The lie is not very good in the thick rough, and his go-for-broke attempt at hitting the green ends at the bottom of the pond. As he heads down toward the water’s edge I continue hacking my way toward the green, a few yards at a time. My tee shot did end up in the hazard, but I was able to get a 6 iron on it to advance it another 100 yards or so. This led to a 7 iron flying the green, a chip to 8 feet, and two putts for double-bogey.
And I still won the hole.
Mike’s fourth shot (after his drop near the pond) was caught a little thin, smacked off the face of the stone wall, and propelled halfway back and into the water. A few minutes later his second quadruple-bogey in a row is written on his card, and he officially does not care anymore.
I hate to kick a man when he’s down, but I’ve still got a chance to storm back from a four-down-with-four-to-play deficit to even the score on the back nine. No. 17 is a par 3, normally the shortest on the course at 146 yards, but today the blue tees are on the upper tier and playing closer to 160. This hole has enough going on in front of you to make it pretty challenging. It is all-carry over a pond and surrounding marsh to a left-to-right diagonal green, with another very large bunker running along the front and right. There are more trees behind the green, and a steep drop-off to the far right.
I make a nice swing with my 6 iron but push the ball into the far right portion of the bunker, shortchanging myself to the far right pin placement. Always feeling confident about my bunker play – with absolutely no reason for it – I make a great attempt out, but roll the ball well past the flag.
Mike hits the middle portion of the green and three putts, but with my two-putt bogey, this is good enough to squash my hopes of making an epic comeback. With the match over, we drag ourselves toward the finish line with double-bogey sixes on the final hole.
Mike’s score for the day will remain in “the vault.” No reason to share it with the world. I do attempt to console him over a few quick beverages in the grill room by pointing out that only two holes (or 15 minutes) did him in. He hit ten of 14 fairways and 50 percent of greens. Those two holes are the only things about which he should be upset.
And the 41 putts, but that’s just nitpicking.
For me, a 6-4-6 finish gives me a 45 on the back, an 84 for the round, and a bad taste in my mouth. Sure it’s the first round of the season and expectations shouldn’t be high, but breaking 40 on my first nine holes had much to do with my sudden change in perspective.
I blame it on walking.