Category Archives: Northern Virginia Golf Courses
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.
Editor’s Note: This is my second post from last season (2011). Rounds from 2012 are currently piling up and will be posted in the coming days and weeks. Enjoy.
1757 Golf Club
April 30, 2011
I decided during the offseason that I would purchase a new set of irons in 2011. This is a bigger deal than you might think.
The last time I made any significant investment in golf equipment was March 1995 when I was fitted for the most technologically advanced set of irons available: Titleist DCIs (black diamonds, baby). I purchased a Vokey sand wedge in 2008 after losing my beloved Ram Accu-bar somewhere between here and North Carolina, and acquired from a very generous friend who took pity on me a Diablo Edge driver in 2010. Before these absolutely necessary updates, the newest club in my bag was a Big Bertha Steelhead driver. From 1999.
But it gets worse. My 3 and 5 woods are MacGregor Nicklaus DXs, with heads that are only slightly larger than the shafts holding them. So old, they are in fact hand-me-downs from my brother who unwrapped them Christmas morning 1987. Throw in a Ping Anser 3 putter from high school (new grip though) and a…uh…ladies’ sand wedge, won in a neighborhood scramble in 1993 that I only use in greenside bunkers (I swear), and you’re looking at the weapons I use to attack Greater-DC-area golf courses.
I wish there were numerous good reasons for the sad state of my golf bag – also a late-90s purchase – but it really comes down to stubbornness. I don’t need your newfangled, illegal technology to play good golf, darnit. I can beat you with wooden sticks if I have to. I consider myself a more traditional golfer playing with more “reasonable” technology. A driver that can’t be twisted with a special wrench if I want to fade the ball that day. A putter that doesn’t have inserts or grooves to accommodate different grasses on greens. A 3 iron!
These are the zingers I throw back at people who question my sticks, all while I reach into that old bag and pull out a brand new sleeve of Titleist Pro V1s. Kinda hard to take the high road when I continue to shell out an exorbitant amount of money on the one piece of golf equipment that has had the largest impact on changing the game: the ball. Also, for the longest time, I was able to back up my stubbornness by beating most friends and other golfers with last century’s technology. That’s not the case anymore and I’d rather win a match than an argument, so my official club fitting is set for May 7th. Until then, my DCIs still have the honor.
BJ and I have a 1:04pm tee time at 1757, a solid new course wedged between Dulles Airport and any number of nondescript warehouse/office buildings that make up 80 percent of Sterling. Despite being aesthetically-challenged and landlocked, the course makes the most of the space it is given. A fun mix of short par 4s, bodies of water that seemingly come out of nowhere, and impressively maintained greens, helps you to forget the endless parade of planes flying a few feet above your head to the dual runways on the other side of the trees. Almost. (I exaggerate; Dulles is a good three miles away. Indulge me.)
Showing up at the course as a twosome on a Saturday presents all the same challenges and expectations as when you show up as a threesome. Except for the hope. Unless you’re teeing off at 5:00pm, or it’s November, you can rest assured you will be playing with another twosome. This of course is perfectly fine and reasonable as I have met and played with some fine people over the years. However, the last time BJ and I played here we were paired with two gentlemen who tried repeatedly to hit my clearly marked ball, and finally succeeded on No. 8. This is the sort of thing one can expect when he hits his ball into an adjacent fairway, not his own. And not by someone in his own group!
Recalling this incident with dread, I pull out my trusty Sharpie and make several additional markings on a fresh sleeve of Pro V1s. As we wait patiently in the cart loading zone for the starter to call our names and introduce us to the rest of our foursome, we are both silently staring at something that could make this a very long afternoon. In front of us is a cart loaded with two golf bags. Around the cart are three people: two dudes and one woman. The starter notices this too, walks over to the group, and says something that we cannot hear. Blank looks are the only reply. The woman kisses the guy on the passenger side and marches off in a tiff.
Whew. Not sure why a significant other – no matter how significant – would ever agree to spending a Saturday afternoon watching her boyfriend play golf with his buddy and two strangers, but thankfully the universal two-person-per-cart policy is always enforced. Always.
The first hole is a 401-yard, dogleg right par 4. The tee shot must carry a patch of water coming in from the right to a left-to-right sloped fairway. Tall trees on either side demand a good shot on your first swing of the day, although there is some room left and long of the fairway. A creek runs along the right rough and cuts in front of the elevated green, which is guarded by one bunker directly in front of it.
I pull my drive a little left and end up in the tall grass beyond the cart path, while BJ launches a Hogan-esque fade over the lone fairway bunker on the right, leaving himself about 125 yards in prime position. Left with 165 yards to the green from a crappy lie in the rough, I decide not to flirt with danger on the first hole and kick a PW to the end of the fairway in front of the creek. A mediocre chip leaves me with 10 feet above the hole. BJ sends his a little deep, too, and leaves himself with about 25 feet. Two pars are had to start the day.
No. 2 is the first of six par 4s under 375 yards. From the tee box, the hole looks rather unprotected but for the three bunkers jutting well into the right side of the fairway and the obvious water next to the tee on the left. What you can’t see over the ever so slightly raised fairway is the other pond, left of the landing area, and the green. Finally remembering this small detail after three rounds here (last go around I told BJ there was nothing to worry about on this hole, and then watched his perfect drive over the horizon mysteriously end in a splash) I hit a great drive to the right middle of the fairway, a few yards past the bunkers. BJ’s ball ends up well past mine and farther left, but dry.
The green is slightly elevated and angled diagonally from right to left. Two bunkers guard the front left and anything short of them will land in the “hidden” pond. I take dead aim at the pin in the middle of the green, but come up way short with my PW and leave myself a good 40 feet for par. I bogey the hole with three awful putts. BJ makes a nice routine par and, thanks to the handicap system, is now 2-up after two holes (he stroked on No. 1).
We match bogies on No. 3 and pars on No. 4, before teeing it up on the par 4 fifth hole found on the northern-most edge of the property. It is here that one might suddenly feel like he’s come down with “a case of the Mondays,” as the buildings across the street could very easily be IniTech’s northern Virginia office. There is nothing wrong with a golf course being in the heart of commerce with unobstructed views of the surroundings, and vice versa. It’s just that we are far more accustomed to parkland tracks in the middle of nowhere (or housing developments), and it feels a little out of place. Indeed, after making several cracks, I silently acknowledge being jealous of those who work across the street from a brand new golf course like this.
This distraction must be the reason for my three-putt bogey on No. 5 and, now, a three-hole deficit to BJ who parred the 408-yard, dogleg right par 4 like a pro. With water on the right and OB on the left, the tee shot can be tricky. He selected a 3 iron off the tee, split the fairway over the edge of the pond, hit the middle of the green with a pretty 6 iron, and two-putted to take a commanding lead on the front.
To get to the next tee, golfers must cross a meandering stream on what might be the loudest bridge I have ever heard on a golf course. I’m sure it’s perfectly safe, but the platform boards on this thing are so loose or warped that you can hear people going over it all day long from any part of the course. What you can’t hear is the person sitting next to you while getting to the other side.
The sixth hole fits into another corner of the property, again with OB on the left and water on the right. The differences are found in the narrow width of the fairway and the 100-degree right hand turn around the pond to a green perched much closer to the water. Drives that go through the fairway – 250+ yards – will either go out of bounds or end up in the trees, while approach shots that miss the green short, right, or long will get wet. Have a nice day.
We both select 3 iron. BJ pushes his right toward the water. I find the middle of the fairway. Advantage me…or so I thought. Because of his sheer strength, his ball ends up flying the corner of the pond and landing only a few feet into the rough. Not even an awkward stance that could result in a face-first plunge into the pond after follow through is enough to stop him now. He hits a nice shot to the back of the green within 15 feet of the pin, and makes his par.
I do too, but no one wants to hear about a boring yet perfectly executed FIR-GIR-2-putt par.
With matching pars on the par 3 seventh, BJ closes me out on the front. Ouch. I’m only 3-over for the day, but BJ is just on fire right now with four straight pars and only one bogey, all day. Honestly, it’s fun to see him play so well, despite my already being $3 in the hole.
Back across Deafening Bridge to the 319-yard par 4 eighth. From the tee, the hole looks pretty harmless. You can see the flag at the end of the mostly straight fairway, and a fair amount of room in the rough on either side before the trees come into play. What you can’t see is the creek that cuts off the end of the fairway after maybe 230 yards, and the aboveground pool of a green complex on the other side. The wide but shallow green sits atop a four-foot stonewall that wraps around the front, left, and back sides, with one trap off the back right corner. With zero room for error – there can’t be more than eight feet of grass between the fringe and the moat around the stones – you will want to place your tee shot carefully to give yourself a nice wedge into the green.
I select a 3 iron and land my ball safely in the middle of the fairway, leaving at most a 60-yarder to the pin in the left middle of the green. BJ selects a 5 iron and nukes his ball past mine – on the fly – stopping only a few feet from the end of the fairway. All I can do is acknowledge his power and press on. My ¾ sand wedge lands my ball safely on the putting surface about 20 feet from the pin. Not great but better than in the ditch, which is where BJ’s ends up after he skulls it over the green. After a drop and a nice up-and-down, he saves bogey. I par. I should have “pressed” two holes ago.
Unfortunately he follows this up with another bogey on the par 5 ninth, a 511-yarder that doglegs right around the edge of a pond. I, on the other hand, take advantage of the pushed up tees and hit the green in two. Crappily, I make par after three awful putts. Although BJ stumbles a bit coming home, and my putting sucks, we both make the turn at 38. Not too shabby.
We match pars on No. 10 (BJ gets a shot) and No. 11 before stepping up to the 288-yard par 4 twelfth. Going for the green on this short hole is certainly an option but there are enough obstacles in your line of sight to make you reconsider, including OB on the left, water along the right, and a bunker in the middle of the fairway. The hole turns slightly left, up a slope, to a tiny green that is guarded by two bunkers in the front. As you stare at the pin from the tee, you can’t help but notice in your peripheral vision the dozen white stakes pointing just past the left edge of the green.
We are on the IniTech side of the property again, and while random buildings along the outside of a golf course’s borders would not normally come into play, we are not playing with normal golfers. After BJ and I both successfully find the fairway with long irons, we witness one of the best things of the day. One of the gentlemen we’re playing with steps up with driver and hits a high duck hook around a telephone pole, under the wires running through the pole, and up onto the roof of a warehouse. We see it bounce twice and then hear several bangs before it finally goes out of view. Thankfully his buddy starts laughing before either one of us can. He prudently tees up another ball, even though I think there’s an outside chance his first one bounced along the top of the roof and exited near the green.
I have no more than 100 yards left to the green from the middle of the fairway. Instead of overexerting myself with a sand wedge to get the ball to the pin on the back part of the green, I go with another ¾ swing with my pitching wedge. Hit way too hot, it skips past the pin and off the back edge into the rough. BJ finds the green and has a good look at birdie.
My ball is sitting up nicely in the rough, inches from the fringe and only 15 feet from the pin. I take dead aim at the cup and manage to turn my 15-foot chip for birdie into a 15-foot putt for par. My touch isn’t quite what it should be this early in the season. But I sink the comebacker and put the pressure on BJ to make his four-footer for par. He does, and I remain 1-down.
The thirteenth hole is not a terribly long par 4 at 448 yards, but it feels like a monster when the next longest two-shotter on the course tops out at 408 yards (No. 5). From the tee, a hitter must contend with OB lurking on the left and a grouping of trees on the right. The fairway is wide open with a bunker on either side – the left bunker is easily carried, while the one on the right is a little out of reach for me to worry about. The second shot is over a pond that cuts through the fairway and then runs along the right hand side past the green. This can be an intimidating shot with a long iron in your hands.
My description of the hole is far more exciting than how we played it. We both bogey, but with a stroke BJ takes a commanding 2-up lead on the back. It becomes insurmountable after I double-bogey the par 3 fourteenth.
The final par 5 on the course is No. 15, and it is the longest at 560 yards. It’s a pretty straight hole with only a minor swing to the left near the green. The fairway is pretty open, but it is sloped from right to left toward a pond. What makes this hole tricky is the second shot, or lay-up, over the hill to a blind landing area between two bunkers and a sneaky second pond creeping in from the left. The green is huge and has a strong back to front tilt.
BJ and I both miss the fairway left off the tee, but while my ball finds the deep rough, his nuked ball cools at the bottom of the pond. Before hitting our next shots we make darn sure the group ahead of us is on the green. The last time we were here BJ intended to layup with his second shot, but absolutely murdered it over the crest of the hill. Only when we popped over the hill a few minutes later did we see his ball sitting on the far right side of the green about ten feet away from the unhappy foursome attempting to finish the hole. The gentlemanly thing to do in this situation is to call out “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to hit you!” Unfortunately, BJ exacerbated the problem by blurting this out the moment one of the golfers started his backswing.
His wet tee ball is the difference this time around: I par, he bogeys, but gets a stroke and maintains his 3-up lead. With matching pars on the short par 3 sixteenth, he closes me out on the back to complete his total (front-back-overall) victory for the day. Although we both bogey Nos. 17 and 18 to finish our rounds with 78s, we are quite pleased with breaking 80 this early in the season. And for BJ this marks only the second time doing so; the first coming in late August 2007 at a course near Charlottesville. Because of that, I have no issue whatsoever with handing him a 10 dollar bill to settle our bet. He played great golf to beat me and there’s nothing for me to be upset about.
The one thing bad about my 78 is the doubt it places in my head days before dropping a hefty amount of dough on a brand new set of clubs. Of course the flip side of that is: if I can shoot 78 with my out-of-date sticks, just imagine what I will do with some brand new weapons.
- Nine out of 13 fairways.
- Missed 11 greens, including the final seven.
- 32 putts!
- Shaved 1/10 of a point off my index to 5.4.
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.