CARTWHEELS at BETHPAGE BLACK

Editor’s note: This is a monumental day in the life of MultipleNonWinner.  We have our first ever guest post, and it comes from none other than my friend and frequent golf sparring partner “Mike.”  Regular readers will recognize him from previous rounds.  I told him some time ago that he absolutely could contribute a blog post to MNW, but that it had to be something special.  Not just some rinky-dink course down the street.  Well, you could say he called my bluff.  (I think you’ll also agree that his pictures are gorgeous.)  Enjoy!

 

Bethpage Black
July 21, 2012

“I’m doing cartwheels in your dome, baby!” I heard this all too often back in the day from my college buddy/wiffle ball rival after he’d again struck me out on a knee-buckling 12-to-6 curve (strike 1), cut fastball (strike 2), knee-buckling 12-to-6 curve (strike 3) series of pitches.   It’s a statement meant to assert psychological superiority over one’s opponent.  And it’s exactly the statement made by the sign behind the first tee at Bethpage Black.  

Welcome to the Black.

 

You read the sign, look down the long par 4 first hole, see the rough lining the fairway, notice the stands being erected that appear reachable (which is confirmed by the group teeing off before you when one of the players clangs his drive off of them, eliciting snickers from the twenty or so golfers watching the tee), and the cartwheels begin.

Before taking the club back for the first time on this famed course, you’re already two over.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The tee time process for getting on the Black is legendary.  Or, at least, it has become legendary leading up to and since the U.S. Open was first hosted at Bethpage in 2002.  Pre-Open, as one of the members of my foursome who grew up in the area informed me, it was easy to walk up and play.  The course was rundown and in terrible condition.  It was only through a deal worked out by the State of New York and the USGA in anticipation of hosting the Open that the Black was restored to its former beauty.  (For more information about how the U.S. Open was brought to Bethpage, check out The Open,” by John Feinstein.)

Post-Open it has become extremely difficult to get on the course, particularly if, as is the case for me, one is not a New York State resident.  In-state residents can reserve a time one week out.  If they’re able to get through the phone lines jammed with golfers all seeking the same thing.  Non-residents can only get a time two days in advance.  Of course, by then all the times are gone.  That leaves only the first six tee times reserved each day, which, as is now well known, requires a slumber party in your car the night before.

Not having much interest in journeying up to the Empire State, spending an afternoon tailgating in the Bethpage parking lot, sleeping in my car, and running the risk of not even being there early enough (at least fourteen hours ahead of a potential time!!!) to get on the course, I instead contacted a buddy who contacted a buddy who is a New York resident and golfer to help secure a time.  And secure a time he did.  How?  Let’s just say there are ways.

So it was that I found myself on a beautiful Saturday afternoon – pulse racing, palms sweating – preparing to tee off at one of the best and most difficult courses in the country.  Rounding out the foursome is the buddy of a buddy of a buddy, Jim, and two of his regular golf pals, Ted and Ryan (names changed to protect the innocent), all of whom had strolled the fairways of the Black many times over the years.

Which brings us back to the sign, the tee, the rough, the stands, and the cartwheels.

No. 1.

 

Just before teeing off, (we wisely decided against playing from the 7,400 yard back tees) the match and stakes were set.  Jim and I paired against Ted and Ryan in a best-ball Nassau with post-round beers on the line.   Business properly in order, I begin my round at the Black with a well struck, but pulled drive.   Jim goes right.  Ted goes left.  Ryan goes right.  No one is in the fairway.  But we’re off.

(Note: for anyone planning on playing the Black, Jim, Ryan, and Ted all informed me that it is a gross violation of the starter’s unwritten rules to place your bag on the tee box.  Doing so will most certainly get you yelled at.  Just one more obstacle to navigate before trying to hit the first fairway.)

My ball comes to rest just in the secondary rough, which is, throughout the course, wispy fescue, clumpy in spots, but forgiving enough that it is possible to get a decent lie.  With 190 yards to a well-guarded green (no other kind of green at the Black), and hands still shaking, I opt to play smart golf and punch a 7 iron down the fairway.  Once executed, 70 yards remain to a middle right pin.  A three-quarter wedge to about ten feet and a putt sliding in the right side of the hole later, I have my first par.  This is only good enough for a halve, (Ted and Ryan both made pars of their own, Ryan leaving a birdie putt hanging on the lip, center cut) but you better believe I am calling it a moral victory.

Two and 3 are, as the Black goes, relatively benign holes.  No. 2 is a short, dogleg left, uphill par 4.  Even so, standing on the tee, Ryan, no stranger to the Black, makes me feel much better about my case of nerves when he admits he can’t get his heart rate down, and then proceeds to top his tee shot.  Ted wins the second hole with a routine par while I double bogey after tree trouble, two chips, and two putts.

No. 3 is a short par 3 with a bunker protecting the left side. Nothing to write home about until you approach the green, look to your left, and through a clearing see one of the holes you’ve been waiting for.  The par 5 fourth.

No. 4.
Well hello.

 

Having trouble staying in the present, I manage to make a par and halve the hole with Ted who, at this point, is even through three.

“This is where the Black starts,” Jim says as we make our way from No. 3 green to No. 4 tee.

And he is right.

The first three holes are plenty challenging for a mediocre golfer choking up his or her breakfast, but starting on No. 4 is where the genius of Tillie the Terrorbegins to reveal itself.

The double-dogleg fourth is one of the best known holes at the Black.  It brings to mind a beautiful woman; great to look at, a ton of trouble to be found, a couple different options to avoid the trouble, but all of them very difficult to execute.  And, per my usual experience with beautiful women, I find trouble immediately, pulling my tee ball into the large bunker on the left.

The second shot presents the golfer with several options: an aggressive line at the green requiring an uphill carry of about 230+ yards over cross and greenside bunkers; carrying the cross bunkers with a short iron, leaving another short club, but all uphill and over the greenside bunkers; or playing farther to the right over the cross bunkers with a longer club, leaving a slightly longer shot into the green, but taking the greenside traps out of play.

Unfortunately, with the ball significantly above my feet in the massive fairway bunker, I have limited options.  I try to carry the cross bunkers with a 5 iron, but chunk it so badly I end up well short of them in the fairway.  Still harboring hopes of a par, I pull a hybrid with 190 to carry up the hill over 26,000 bunkers.

They have sand at Bethpage.

 

I promptly top my Pro-V1 right into one of them, and kiss par goodbye.

I blast a wedge to the fairway from a steep side hill lie in the trap, hit another wedge to the green, and two-putt for my second double bogey in four holes.  Ted makes another par to remain even and Jim and I go 2 down.

No. 5 is one of the best holes on the course and another double-dogleg.  423 from our tees (478 from the tips), a long, Rorschach-like trap (I see……a double bogey) parallels the right side of the narrow fairway, which angles left-to-right from the tee.

No. 5.
Cool hole.

 

Challenging the trap leaves a shorter shot into the green, but…well….requires a longer carry over the sand.  Play to the left, and you run the risk of being blocked out from the green complex, which angles right-to-left.

All four of us hit our tee shots right of the trap.  Ryan’s is long enough to kick into the fairway.  I manage to draw a decent lie in the fescue and have 190 uphill, but Jim and Ted aren’t as lucky and have to lay up.  I pull hybrid, doing my best to block out the mess I made with it on the previous hole, and absolutely stripe one over the front right trap, settling just shy of the green, but sitting down in some thick rough.

Ryan chunks his approach, opening the door ever so slightly.  Jim and Ted are on in three, but not close enough to be threatening a four.  I chop a wedge out of the bad lie to about nine feet and drain the putt for a par.  Ryan three-putts for a double, Ted makes his first bogey of the day, and Jim and I are back to 1 down.  For those keeping score at home, I am off to a par-double-par-double-par start.

The sixth hole, a medium-length par 4, welcomes Jim to the match as he makes a scrambling par, capped by a seven-footer to halve the hole with Ryan and keep us 1 down.

Another angled trap paralleling a left-to-right fairway highlights the seventh hole, a short par 5. In the greenside bunker in three, I fluff an easy sand shot, fluff an easy chip, and two-putt for my third double on the front.  Ted, Jim, and Ryan all make bogey sixes, and we go to the eighth.

The only water hazard on the Black can be found on No. 8, a downhill par 3.

No. 8.

 

Playing about 175 to a front left pin, all four of us miss the green.  Ted and Jim fail to get up and down from the fescue and bunker. Ryan three-putts from just off the fringe to the right.  I miss left off the tee, but have an easy chip, which I play to gimme range and win the hole with a par.  Jim and I are back to all square with one hole left to play on the front.

The final hole on the outward nine provides two options off the tee.  A large, steep trap (added by Rees Jones in preparation for the Open) extends into the fairway from the left side of the hole and promises at least a bogey if you find it.  But it can be carried with a decent tee ball.  Doing so provides you not only with a shorter shot, but also a flatter lie, into the well-guarded green.  The other option is to play out to the right, away from the trap, making it a more difficult approach, but safer off the tee.

No. 9 fairway, which I did not hit.

 

I choose a third option, setting up to challenge the bunker, and reconsidering that choice milliseconds before impact and hitting a block cut that starts right of the trap and goes right…….er.  Ryan and Jim also hit poor drives, but Ted rips his ball right over the bunker to the right side of the fairway, hits the green in regulation, and leaves himself about twenty-five feet for birdie.  After nailing a 5 iron out of the fescue, but coming up short, I hit a mediocre shot out of the front bunker to fifteen feet, miss the putt, and tap in for bogey.  Jim and Ryan make doubles, and Ted taps in for a routine four, winning both the hole and the front nine.

The inward nine kicks off with three straight long par 4s (Nos. 10 and 12 both play over 500 yards from the tips).  Jim and I win No. 10 on my bogey since he, Ryan, and Ted all make messes of it.

No. 10.
Oh look, another picture of a sand trap!

 

We take our first lead of the day with a pair of pars on No. 11 (best up-and-down of the day in my round after I hit a long flop shot over a greenside bunker and bury a nine foot slider, center cut)……….

………..Only to give it back immediately on the par 4 twelfth, a similar, but longer, version of No. 9.

No. 12.
And……..one more for good measure.

 

And, similar to No. 9, I again hit a block slice into fescue.  Playing the smart golf that I am known for (pause), I punch out to about 110 yards and hit a wedge to the green, which is sloped back-to-front with a ridge running through the center of it with the pin on the top tier.  (The first green of the day with any real personality.  If there is one consistent criticism of the Black it is that the greens are flat and uninteresting.)

By this point Jim is already out of the hole, while Ted and Ryan are scrambling for bogey.  Ted gets up-and-down from just in front of the green for a five, and Ryan drains a fifty-foot bomb (Yeah, I called him a name when it went down.  So what??  Take off the white wig.) from below the ridge to save his.  I give the hole away by three-jacking for a double-bogey six.

The par 5 thirteenth is the longest hole on the course, stretching to 608 from the tips, but playing to just over 540 yards for us.  Although not overly difficult, each of us proceeds to make an absolute mess of it.  Our methods vary, but they end in double-bogey sevens (mine comes via a second straight three-putt).

Approach on No. 13.

 

Following the longest hole on the Black, the fourteenth is the shortest, playing to about 152.  The pin sits atop the second of two tiers, but it makes little difference to me as I top a 7 iron into the fescue that stretches from tee to green.

No. 14.
That’s a big green. I guess I’ll see it a few shots from now.

 

I manage to find my ball and am able to get enough club on it to reach the front tier only to…………yep, you guessed it……….three-putt for a double bogey.  Thankfully my partner manages to make a bogey out of the greenside bunker on the left, which is one better than either Jim or Ryan, and puts us back in control of the second nine at 2 up, and back in the lead of the overall match.

Walking to the fifteenth tee I take solace in the fact that despite three straight three-putt double bogeys, Jim and I have lost no ground.  But I am not pleased.  And No. 15 is not going to provide one bit of relief.

No. 15.
ThreedoublebogeysdoIherefourfourdoublebogeysfourdoublebogeysgoingoncetwice……….

 

Arguably the most difficult hole on the course, No. 15 is a 430-yard (478 from the back tees) par 4.  A narrow, fescue-lined fairway crawls slightly left and uphill until you near the green complex at which point the gradual climb becomes steep.  The two-tiered green sits roughly fifty feet above the fairway and is well-guarded by several foreboding bunkers. 

See those? Foreboding.

 

Ryan is the only one in our group who hits the fairway, pounding one down the right side.  Jim, Ted, and I all hit our balls right to varying degrees.  Jim blows one over the fence and has to reload.  Ted is in the fescue and takes two to get it back to the fairway, while my ball is in the first cut down the right side.  I lay up in the fairway, leaving myself about 100 yards up the hill.  Ryan follows his beautiful drive with an equally pretty approach, roping a hybrid up the hill and onto the green.  Advantage team Ryan.

Jim and Ted are out of the hole.  Needing to do something special to make four, I leave my gap wedge twenty-five feet short and on the wrong tier.  After missing the par putt, Ryan burns the edge for birdie, rolling it about four feet by, but brings the difficult hole to its knees by sinking the comeback for par.  The lead Jim and I earned on the previous hole was once again short-lived, and once again gone.

With the match again all square and tensions rising in the titanic struggle, we march to No. 16.  Another long par 4, measuring 457 from our tees, but playing downhill from the tee to fairway, Ryan and Ted open the door by both hitting drives short and right.  Jim hits his well left and I manage to find my fourth and final fairway of the day, but can do no better than five after missing the green and failing to get up and down.  Ted halves with a bogey of his own and we go to the penultimate hole with the match still in the balance.

Retaining honors from their win on No. 15, Ryan and Ted take the seventeenth tee, a 195-yard uphill par 3.  The amphitheater created by the bleachers for the thousands of Barclay’s spectators who will soon be cheering on Tiger, Phil, and Ernie added to the drama of the match.

No. 17.
DRAMA!

 

Perhaps visualizing the masses hanging on the result of his tee shot, Ted chunks a long iron into the enormous front bunker.  Ryan follows by ripping a hybrid just left of the flagstick.   Jim takes us off the tee by hitting his shot into the same bunker that held Ted’s ball, and I hit a bullet of a 3 iron on the same line as Ryan’s.

The angle from tee to green is such that we are unable to see the putting surface until we crest the front bunkers.  Ryan’s ball is on the back fringe about twenty-five feet away, five feet outside of my ball, which is on the green.  As we line up our putts and repair divots, Ted blasts out of the trap to thirty feet.  Jim skulls his bunker shot, banging it off the bleachers behind the green, effectively taking him out of the hole.  Ted misses his par attempt, but Ryan lags his putt close enough to tap-in for his three.  I do the same and we go to the final hole with the overall match all square.

While certainly a good finisher for our epic match, the eighteenth received a fair share of criticism as a closing hole for the pros even after Rees Jones lengthened it, narrowed the fairway at the landing point, shrunk the size of the green, and added bunkers to both the green and fairway.

No. 18.
Looks plenty difficult to me.

 

Ted and Ryan both flirt with the traps on the right, managing to just carry them, and finishing in the first cut of rough.  Jim is not as fortunate, catching the last trap on the right, and I pull my tee shot into the last bunker on the left.

Arriving at my ball, my heart initially sinks. Although I only have 100 yards up the hill, I have to contend with an uphill, side hill lie.  I have some time to consider my options while the other three play.  Jim has to lay up from the trap and try to make four from the fairway.  Ryan and Ted both hit the green with their approach shots leaving me no choice but to go for the green and give myself a chance for birdie.

Pulling a gap wedge, I dig into the trap, adjust my shoulders to parallel the slope, and manage to catch it flush.  “Yes!  That’s MY partner!!” Jim shouts to the three of us and the thousands we imagine surrounding the green in the stands.  Again, hitting to an uphill green, there is no way to see where the three shots landed.

Tipping our caps to the adoring and roaring spectators, we approach the green and survey the situation.  I am just short of pin high in the fringe about thirty-five feet away.  Ryan is on the left fringe looking at twenty-five feet.  Ted is twenty feet away, slightly above the hole, and Jim is on in four having come up short after his lay-up.

“Jim” plays up to No. 18 green.
Also pictured, my ball and Ted’s (L to R).

 

Playing first I know a good putt can apply some pressure on Ted and Ryan. Instead, a pusillanimous (h/t Jonny Slator) effort leaves me staring at a pressure-filled eight-footer.

I put my Irish Euro marker down and pocket my ball.  As Jim, Ryan, and Ted each play their shots, I have just enough time for my mind to wander to all the three-putts on the previous seventeen holes.   I think about the fact that I am standing on the eighteenth green at Bethpage Black, a course I have been dreaming about playing for years.

While the negative thoughts swirl, Ryan and Ted both hit putts to tap-in distance, and are in with their fours.  Jim gets his out of the way for a double-bogey six.

It all comes down to my eight-footer.  A make means a halved hole, a 1 up win on the back nine, and a halve of the overall match.  A miss?  A long ride back to DC thinking about the choke job.

I replace my ball.  Slip the Euro in my pocket and follow my normal routine.  Practice stroke.  Practice stroke.  Deep breath.  Low and slow on the takeaway………..

And I missI #%@&*!@ missDidn’t even scare the hole.

The thousands in the packed bleachers groan.

Ryan and Ted high-five.

Jim consoles me with a pat on the back.

And I wander off the eighteenth green.  The Black still turning cartwheels in my dome.

 

- Posted with pride by “Mike.”
You can follow this MNW guest poster on twitter at
@mcollins9.

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MEMORIAL DAY at OAKLAND BEACH GOLF CLUB

Oakland Beach Golf Club
May 28, 2012

All I really want to do when I’m on vacation is relax, eat as much as possible, and perhaps sneak in a round of golf.  For the past several years, my family and I have spent Memorial Day weekend – and various other weekends throughout the summer whenever a mini-trip is possible – at Conneaut Lake.  It is tucked in Pennsylvania’s northwestern corner, roughly 40 miles south of Erie, and it is the commonwealth’s largest natural lake (for you geography buffs).  I wouldn’t call it a golf destination, but there is a great public course on the eastern shore that I love to play whenever I’m in town: Oakland Beach Golf Club.

According to the course’s website, which features an outstanding hole-by-hole video description narrated by the voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bill Hillgrove, it was opened in 1927 and served as the resort course for the old Oakland Beach Hotel.  The hotel is long-gone, but the course remains for those who wish to do something other than water ski, fish, or fall asleep on the lake’s shore.

Also found on its website is an article from 1999 that states that the course was designed by “Paul McGuire,” and this is the best part, “…of whom little is known.”  Mysterious.

I showed up at the course at 6:25am for my 6:54am tee time.  I couldn’t convince my brother to get up that early to play with me, so I reserved a spot for one.  I knew this could go one of two horrible ways: a) I would get thrown in with another group (not so bad, I guess); or b) I would remain a single but get stuck behind a foursome, thus defeating the purpose of trying to be the first guy out that day.  At check-in, my fate appeared to be the latter.

When I dare to ask if my 6:54am tee time is indeed the first of the day, I am told, rather sharply, “You’ll have to wait until that group is ready to go,” pointing to four guys through the window.  “They are always the first ones out,” she adds.  “Thank you,” I say with my tail between my legs.  Geesh.

I carefully grab my cart key off the counter, back away slowly, and walk outside.  I mosie on down to the row of parked carts, past the practice green where the Honorary Starters are having a confab, and place my clubs on the back of one of the carts.  Knowing darn well that the group is watching me, I make a great show of putting my valuables in one of the pockets of my bag, checking my watch, lacing up my shoes, opening up a new sleeve of balls, getting my marker out to mark them, checking my watch, moving my Gatorade from one cup holder to another, and then another, etc.  My final act is to stand next to the cart, with my arms folded, staring reflectively out toward the first hole, which is half obscured by the morning fog.

I have to say it is one of my strongest performances.  Sure enough I hear, “Uh, you can go ahead.  Yeah, go on.  Go!

“Oh.  Are you sure?” I say in fake surprise.  “Great.  I promise not to hold you up!”  I am in the cart and halfway down the path before I finish my reply.  I roll up to the first tee, pull out my Diablo driver, and run to the blue tees back near the roadway entrance to the parking lot.  By the time I push the tee in the ground, place the ball on top, and step to the back of the tee box to size up the hole, four carts full of dudes roll up behind me.

You better make this tee shot count.

Through the fog I can make out a few trees along the right side of the dogleg left hole.  Thankfully, I remember (this time) that the main road is on the other side of those trees and much closer than one might think.   So I line up over the left edge of the fairway and swing away.  I absolutely murder the ball and briefly admire it as it flies right over my target, with a little bit of draw, before disappearing into the thick water vapor.

To these eight men, I am a playa.  I thank them again and breathe a sigh of relief as I motor down the fairway toward my ball.  Once I get over the hill and around the corner of the fairway, the fog oddly dissipates and I can see just how good my drive is.  From the blue tees the hole is only 347 yards long, and I’ve got no more than 80 to go to the green.  I hop out, take one quick practice swing with my Vokey sand wedge, aim for the flag, and swing away.  I make one of my signature foot-long divots through the moist, dewy sod (after making contact with the ball, so it’s okay) and look up in time to see the ball tracking right for my target.  It lands on the right edge, bounces twice, and rolls up to about 9 feet below the hole.

Aw yeah.

No. 1.

 

The best kept secret about this course is the condition of the greens, and I am pleasantly reminded of this fact every time I approach that first putt on the opening hole.  The first thing you notice is how tiny they are, and it’s probably the course’s number one defense against overconfident golfers (see next hole) expecting to tear up this 6,783-yard track.  While not super fast, they are as smooth and true as any country club’s greens in the area, which is quite an accomplishment for the amount of traffic the course can get.

Now out of range from the foursomes waiting to tee off behind me, I relax a bit and take my time marking and cleaning my ball, removing the flagstick from the hole, and studying the break in the green.  I’m feeling good this morning and I want get off to solid start.  The 9-footer is uphill and appears to break about a cup to the left.  I place the ball in front of the mark pointing the black arrow, conveniently printed on the side of my ProV1, toward the right edge of the cup, pick up my mark, check the line again, and step up to the putt.  Two practice swings, one more glance at the hole, a perfect swing, ball rolling on line, little turn left, and down it goes for birdie.

“Nice,” I say to no one.

To get to No. 2 you must cross the street – exactly like Oakland Beach’s sister to the south Oakmont C.C. (coincidence?) – and as I dodge cars emerging from a new patch of fog, I am feeling pumped.  One-under par after one hole and I’m already thinking about where I’m going to frame this scorecard after my sub-70 round.  It’s just a question of how low I’m going to go.

At 449 yards, the second hole is the longest par 4 on the course and requires a poke off the tee to have a decent shot at hitting the green.  The fairway is wide open with only a few shrubs and trees to worry about along the left side near the landing area.  Though there is out-of-bounds to the right, the hole points away from it and should not be an issue.  I hit my drive well, but into the right rough.

Still more than 200 yards away from the green, I can’t quite bring myself to hit the hybrid.  I try to muscle a 3 iron out of the thick, wet rough, but come up way short of the green.  With a large bunker guarding the entire left side, and the pin in the back left corner, I don’t mind being right where I am.

No. 2.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the pin anywhere other than back left.

 

Always loving the chance to hit a pitch shot from 30 to 40 yards off a perfect fairway lie, I take dead aim at a spot 10 feet in front of the cup and hit down sharply into the ball.  I completely misjudge the power required to get the ball back to the pin.  It flies the cup and checks up just in time to stay on the back fringe.  My chip from there ends up well past the hole, down the hill, and a two-putt for double-bogey follows.

Well that was a kick in the face.  Perhaps I should tone down the swagger a bit.

No. 3 is a 393-yard par 4 with a tee shot through a narrow shoot of trees to a fairway turning right and up the hill.  There is absolutely no trouble on this wide-open hole – no bunkers, no trees within 20 yards of the fairway, no crazy undulations on the green – but for the first 50 yards of branches hanging over the tee boxes.  There is out-of-bounds all along the right, but it would take a serious slice to come into play.  If you are experiencing any accuracy issues with your driver before approaching this tee, it could become a long hole very quickly.


No. 3.

I’m not normally a fan of vertical photos, but this one makes sense.

 

Still in denial over my double-bogey on the previous hole, I shuffle out of the cart and up to the tee.  I shake it off, take dead aim at the lone pine tree between the third and fourth fairways, and swing for the fences.  The ball misses the last branch on the right by less than a foot and disappears into the morning mist.

Knowing it is a great hit, and seeing it clear that last branch, I instinctively turn away from the ball and reach over to grab my tee.  But then I remember that I’m alone and I’ve twice lost balls on this hole after hitting “perfect” drives, so I quickly look back toward the flight of my drive and into the bright haze.  I see nothing.  Did I draw that a little, or was it a fade?  I think I hit it hard, but maybe I didn’t.  Oh great.

I drive up the middle of the fairway, seeing nothing.  I roll over toward that one pine tree on the left side, squinting to see a little white ball in a sea of thick, green, wet rough.  Nothing.  So I go up a little farther, pushing the limits of how hard I think I can hit a golf ball.  Still nothing.  Back on the second hole I can see the group behind me approaching the green and looking in my direction as I drive my cart around in circles.

I guess I have to end this and just drop a ball.  Son.of.a…  Wait!  What is that?  Okay, okay, I’m fine.  I’m right in the middle of the fairway.  Good.  You need to chill out, yo.

The yardage is 138, and I choose to hit a ¾ 8 iron.  The pin is on the back right corner, again with no danger anywhere in sight, and I hit a decent shot to 15 feet below the hole.  My birdie effort is mediocre, and I tap in for par.

The fourth hole is No. 3 in reverse.  It runs parallel to the previous hole, doglegs left, is flat off the tee shot but slightly downhill to the green, guarded by a row of tall trees along the left side, and has no bunkers.  It’s longer – 433 yards – and it plays as the No. 1 handicap hole, mostly because of the small green with a fast right-to-left and back-to-front tilt.

No 4.

 

I’m so glad I hit my drive well into the right rough, leaving myself very little opportunity to hit this green.  With 208 yards left in the thick, wet stuff, I select a 3 iron to get the ball down the fairway as far as possible to present myself with a manageable pitch to the far left pin placement.  The plan works, and I pitch on from less than 20 yards away.  But I miss my 10-foot par putt and force myself to make a 6-foot comebacker to save bogey.

The next hole, No. 5, can be confusing the first time you play here (and the second time if your short-term memory sucks), because the blue tees are about 20 yards in front of the white tees.  My brother and I played our inaugural round here last summer and I almost teed off toward No. 2 – and the road – before I realized the hole was behind me.  The hole is a par 5 for golfers playing from the whites and reds, but a par 4 from the blues.  (Though clearly marked on the scorecard we didn’t truly understand the bizarre tee marker configuration until we were sitting on No. 10 tee trying to figure out why our numbers weren’t matching up with par.)

So from where I’m standing the hole is 438 yards long, a dogleg left, and uphill on the second shot.  The round green is isolated on top of the hill, with the fairway ending about 90 yards shy of the fringe.  It is also tilted severely from back-to-front and right-to-left.   Hitting the fairway is crucial if one is to have any chance of putting for birdie.  Knowing this, I aim for the middle of the fairway, focus on making a nice and easy swing, and then hook it maybe five yards into the rough on the left.

Despite being offline, the drive was well struck and I walk off my second shot to 186 yards.  The ball is sitting up nicely on top of the rough and the grain of the grass is with the hole.  All signs point to a nice 3 iron getting me to the putting surface, but I pull it slightly and miss the green left.

On my way toward the green I notice something out of the corner of my eye.  Being on the course this early in the morning, the slightest disturbance of dew anywhere on the empty property is glaringly obvious – quite helpful when looking for golf balls.  Throughout the morning so far I’ve seen all of two sets of tire tracks, presumably from maintenance workers moving mowers from one green to another.

Is that….one tire track…? 

Hmm.

 

I inch up a little farther to investigate, and realize what it is: a turtle slowly making his way to the lake!

At this pace, he should get to the Lake by Labor Day.

 

Feeling one with nature – as well as relieved that I spotted the turtle before rolling right over him – I finish off the hole with a decent chip to 8 feet, but a poor missed putt on the low side.  Another bogey.

No. 6 is the first par 3 on the course and another sneaky tough hole.  The tee shot is all uphill to a small green with one lone bunker tucked between it and the out-of-bounds markers along the right side.  Shots missing on the left side will bounce down a steep hill, leaving all sorts of fun scenarios for chipping back up onto the green.  And not only is the putting surface not visible from the tee, neither is the pond that stealthily sits between you and the flagstick.

No. 6.
The green is just to the right of the Biosphere.
What water?

 

The pin is in the very back portion of the green and I hit the front right edge with my 6 iron.  I know, it’s sad that I can’t get a 6 iron all the way to the pin on a 150-yard hole, but these are the facts.  Still perplexed by the speed of these greens, I three-putt for a bogey.

I am now four-over-par after six holes.  That birdie on No. 1 feels like it was another day.

No. 7 is a long, straight par 5 back down the hill.  Though I miss the fairway to the right with my tee ball, I give myself a great chance for birdie by leaving my third shot just 13 feet below the hole.  The putt looked to me like a right-to-left breaker, but it stayed dead straight.  Tap in for par.

No. 7.
The beauty and joy of morning golf is hard to explain without pictures.

 

The next hole is a 349-yard par 4, with nothing standing in your way but a large oak tree to the left of the landing area.  Tee balls will land beyond the horizon, as the fairway dips down toward the green.  I smoke the Diablo and stand on the tee admiring my first really good drive since the opening hole.  The ball draws nicely and disappears right over the left edge of the fairway. 

No. 8.
No, Mr. Cart Ranger, that was not me who drove that close to the green.

 

I’m left with 73 yards to the middle of the green.  It looks harmless enough, but the green is sloped from back-to-front and it is wicked fast.  My approach shot lands pin high but rolls up the slope about 20 feet or so.  The break is at least a foot from right-to-left, but speed is of the utmost importance here.  Not wanting to leave myself another putt above the hole, I give it – perhaps – a little more than I should.  It sails right by the edge of the cup and keeps going until it rolls off the front of the green.

One really nice thing about playing solo this early in the morning is that no one is around to see you making an a** of yourself.  I leave the green with another bogey.

Green profile (No. 8) to back up my story.

 

I close out the front nine by bogeying the 232-yard par 3 for a spectacular 41.  The only impressive thing about my opening nine holes is the pace: 1 hour and 13 minutes.

I waste no time rolling up to the tenth tee and jumping out of the cart with the Diablo ready to go.  I’ve made it this far this quickly and I don’t want the pro shop to send someone off the back side right ahead of me.  The coast is clear on the 431-yard par 4, and I shove my tee in the ground and place the well-worn Pro-V1 on top.  The hole is pretty straight but it runs along a steep hillside, and tee shots can very easily end up at the bottom of the slope in the left rough.   I aim for the right edge of the fairway and connect on another very solid drive.  The ball lands just inside the fairway and kicks a few yards left toward the middle.

One-hundred-and-sixty-three yards is the estimated distance to the green, but the ball is slightly above my feet and a very large cherry tree blocks the right side of the hole.  This lie and my natural draw are not a good mix for this approach shot, so I attempt to cut it into the green and fail miserably.  The ball is left the whole way and lands about 10 yards short of the green and several paces into the rough.

No. 10.

 

The green is – again – small and the pin is tucked on the right edge, but it’s plenty of green to work with from this position.  I hit down into the ball, but the rough is thicker than I anticipate and it squirts out to the right, missing the green by a few feet.  Sigh.  I chip it up to tap-in range and leave with a bogey.

Then I bogey the par 4 eleventh hole with an errant tee shot into the left rough.  But, gees, I didn’t miss by much.  The fairway might be 15 yards wide.

No. 11.
Landing strip area.

 

No. 12 is the course monster.  It is a 598-yard beast (yes, that’s six feet shy of 600 yards) that slowly climbs the same hill where I saw my new buddy Mr. Turtle.  The tee shot from the blue tees is over a small pond, but the true test off this drive is the carry.  To reach the fairway you must hit it at least 210 yards.  Honestly, that’s not that big of a deal, but visually a fairway that far away on a hole this long can screw with the mind.  A weak mind, perhaps.  Not mine.

I smack a powerful drive, but barely miss the fairway to the right.  Clearly a three-shot hole, all I need to do is get this ball back into the fairway and far up enough to give myself a mid-iron into the green.  Naturally this would be the perfect time to hit my hybrid fat, which is exactly what I do, and leave myself about 175 yards, from the rough, and over a nasty, flat, barely-filled sand bunker about 20 yards short of the green.

You know where my next shot’s going…

 

Yup, I then hit a 3 iron fat and directly into said bunker.  My recovery shot clears the edge of the hazard by two feet.  My fifth shot flies the green.  My sixth shot rolls past the flag to about 18 feet.  I sink this downhill, double-breaker for seven.

Four-over after three holes on the back nine.

No. 13 heads back down the hill along the northern edge of the property and doglegs right, into a tiny corner.  It’s only 370 yards long and there is absolutely no trouble of the tee, but the green could not be smaller.  Nor could it be closer to the out-of-bounds markers and tall trees.  A perfect drive sets up a perfect 100-yard gap wedge to 15 feet.  I will take my first par in six holes, thank you very much.

No. 13.

 

There is only one thought in my head whenever I step up to the fourteenth tee: “Do not miss this fairway to the right.”  Sports psychologists consistently tell golfers to think negative thoughts because that will motivate them to do the opposite.  (Do I have that right?)  The only possible way to make this a difficult hole is to miss the fairway to the right.  With out-of-bounds and tall trees fencing in the right side, the hole makes a sharp right turn around those trees toward the green, making any second shot from this part of the hole dead.  The left side is wide open, and I aim for the left edge of the fairway…

No. 14.
Note also the maintenance man laughing at me through the trees.

 

…but I push it straight down the right side, and then verbally abuse myself for the next several minutes.

I compose myself and select a 6 iron to attempt a punch-cut around the edge of the last overhanging tree.  This turns out to be the prettiest – or at least the best executed – shot of the day.  I’m left with only 40 yards to the green, and I expertly pitch it to pin high on the left side.  Desperately needing a par, I take my sweet time reading the break on this one.  Twenty-two feet, slightly downhill, and roughly two cups outside left.  I place the ball in front of my mark and stand over the ball.  Just then, the gentleman cutting the rough near the green throws the mower in neutral and shuts off the blades for me.  I reward his kindness by rolling the ball into the heart of the cup for par.

I look up to thank him for pausing during my putt – and half-hoping for a thumbs-up or some other acknowledgement of my awesome save – but his hands are already on the throttle again and he spins around to finish his business.  I wave anyway.

Two pars in a row.  It’s time to finish strong!

But I bogey No. 15, a 352-yard par 4.  I usually blame the trees on this hole because of the narrow shoot and blind tee shot, but my bogey was a result of my missing the wide open green from 143 yards in the middle of the fairway.

No. 15.

 

And then I bogey the 290-yard par 4 sixteenth.  I don’t…the reason…because you…ah, forget it.

I think No. 17 is the hardest hole on the course, despite what the scorecard might say (#10).  From the blues, the hole measures 181 yards.  Once again, thick, overgrown trees crowd the out-of-bounds on the right, while a smaller grouping of trees takes away your view of the left half of the green.  The green itself is 90 percent of the difficulty on this little bear of a hole.  It is very wide, but elevated and ridiculously sloped from back-to-front.  Any balls landing on the front third of the green will roll off and down the hill, and, depending upon where the pin is, you could have a 70-foot putt that might have yards of break.  There are times when missing the green might feel like the right option.

No. 17.
The pin is far left and out of view today.

 

I take out the 4 iron and aim for the middle of the green.  The pin today is nestled on the back left corner, but there is no compelling reason to try to hit a miracle shot at this point in the round.  With a great swing I produce a beautiful, high, drawing shot just left of my target that hits the green and bounces left and toward the hole.  I read too much break in my 14-footer up the hill for birdie, and leave it on the high side.  Tap in for par.

This green is just mean this close to the end of the round.
(Tee is to the right of this picture.)

 

The home hole is a dead straight 388-yard par 4.  Only now does it occur to me that the final six holes on this course all have out-of-bounds to contend with, and all along the right hand side.  What that means…I don’t know.  But that is the genius of Mr. Paul “of whom little is known” McGuire.

The tee shot is uphill to a slightly left-to-right sloped fairway.  Trees line the left side of the landing area and a mere ten yards of rough and cart path lie between the fairway and the out-of-bounds on the right.  I hit my drive directly toward the cart path and sigh with relief when I see it land to the left of the gravel and kick straight, not right.

No. 18.

 

The rough drops off a few feet on the right and back edges of the green, and a bunker snakes all along the left side.  I hit a smooth 8 iron from a decent lie in the rough that travels 12 feet short of the 148-yard distance to the pin.  The putt is absolutely flat and break-less.  I drain it for a bookending birdie – my first since No. 1.

For a course that plays all of 6,800 yards from the tips, with very little water in play and eight total bunkers (there are two on No. 16), Oakland Beach should not be taken lightly.  After my birdie on the opening hole I approached the rest of the course as an inferior opponent, and it sent me home with a humbling 82.  Of course, no matter where you play, hitting five fairways will do little to help you go low.

So, if this little post didn’t sell you on how worthy of your time Oakland Beach Golf Club is, perhaps this will: for 18 holes on the weekend (or holiday, as was the case on this day) the price is $36.00.  That includes the cart.  AND, in what I believe may be the deal of the decade, on Monday through Thursday you can participate in “Golf-O-Rama.”  For $39.00 you get: 36 holes with a cart; one hotdog; and one beverage of your choice.

If you leave this place disappointed, it’s your own fault.

Closing thought (only one today because it’s so wonderful):

    • I played in 2 hours and 35 minutes.
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A NEW SEASON BEGINS at WESTFIELDS

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.

It’s hooverville.

??

Sorry. “It’s good for
you.” Damn spellcheck.

You’re a big expletive.

Calmer than you
are, dude.

Your mind games will not
work on me. Walk or ride,
you will lose. And lose
badly.

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 1

No. 1 at Westfields.
Dark. Foreboding. Like Mike’s chances today.

 

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 4

No. 4.

 

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 6 Fringe

No. 6.
My second shot just left of the green.

 

Westfields Golf Club Hole 6 Green

Nothing to this chip.

 

I masterfully chip my ball down the slope to within two feet of the hole and tap in for my par.

Two up.

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 7

No. 7.

 

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.

Site of my second shot on No. 10.
Per the instructions on the handle, I placed the rake back in the bunker.

 

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 11

No. 11 green.
Behind that big-arse bunker.

 

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 13


No. 13.

 

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…

C-C-CLICK

…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.

“Yeah. ‘Oh.’

Westfields Golf Club Hole 14

Mike on No. 14.
A split second before spewing his hate.

 

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 15

No. 15.

 

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 15 Fairway

No. 15.
That sign has no meaning for me today.

 

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 16

No. 17.
That’s Mike heading toward the water.

 

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.

Westfields Golf Club Hole 17

No. 17.

 

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.

 

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