A BONUS FALL ROUND at WHISKEY CREEK

Whiskey Creek
October 8, 2011

I did not play golf during the month of September.  And whether my body was under the impression that I wasn’t going to play again until next spring, or my clubs thought their first trip back to the closet in months meant the season was over, the first nine holes at Whiskey Creek were the season’s worst.

I’m standing in the middle of No. 1 fairway, staring down a pin 130 yards away.  I take a nice and easy swing, make great contact, and, as I often do on my first few shots of the day, exaggerate my keeping-my-head-down-through-contact thought.  As I finally glance upward and pose with my 9 iron I expect to see the ball sailing toward the green perhaps a few feet left of the pin.  Instead I see nothing.  I frantically scan the skies, greatly expanding my range of possible ball flights.  After the hang time clock goes off in my head I stare directly at the pin hoping to see the ball land somewhere within my peripheral vision.

Nothing.  The ball vanished.  I would have asked BJ if he saw it, but he was busy searching for his own ball in the hazard.  Around the green there are three traps: one short and left, another deep behind the left side of the green, and a third beside the green on the right.  The rough is thick and beyond the traps is tall fescue.  I’m not going to find this ball.

Looking back I see the group behind us is already driving to their tee shots so I can’t go back to the fairway to take a proper drop.  BJ makes his way to the cart and tosses me a new ball, which I drop about 10 feet off the left side of the green.  As I take a few half-hearted practice swings I can’t help but wonder where the heck my ball went.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a ball completely disappear from view – at least on a hole with this much open space.

The pin is on the front right portion of the green about 45 feet away from me.  The green slopes front to back near the pin, which means the ball will roll right to left off my chip.  I take one last look and chip the ball 15 feet onto the green.  It bounces twice and after one beautiful, slow arc around the front edge of the green, the ball hits the pin and drops in the hole.

BJ laughs and congratulates me on my lucky shot.  I stammer over to the hole to retrieve my ball and remove the pin for his putt.  BJ is laying 4 after hitting his first shot into the hazard, re-teeing – even though he didn’t have to and I implored him to observe the red stakes all around the right side of the hole – hitting his third almost to the same spot but just clear of the hazard, then striking an impressive blind shot to the green about 35 feet from the hole.

Waiting for him to putt, I’m still perplexed over my lost ball and scanning the area for it.  BJ settles in behind the ball and gives it a whack.  His putt never leaves the cup and drops for 5.

Our day begins with two awful bogeys that easily could have been worse.  (My “bogey” was an illegal one with the drop, so indeed it was worse.)

And don’t worry because it took all of 4 minutes to officially get worse.  A tee shot into the left fairway trap leads to a double-bogey on No. 2.  A three-putt from a million feet on No. 3 adds a bogey.  Another drive into a fairway bunker on No. 4, followed by a poor recovery out of the trap, and then a possible shank through the trees onto the edge of No. 8 tee helps me rack up another double.

Hole No. 5 has one of the prettiest tee shots in the area as it looks out over a very steep drop to the fairway below with the mountains of Maryland off in the distance.  But I didn’t see any of it because I hook a hybrid into a trap on the left side of the fairway on a hole that makes almost a 90 degree turn to the left from the tee.  A stroke to get out of the bunker, one to get to the fairway, another to get to the green, a two-putt, a double-bogey.  All this on a 371-yard par 4 that finishes at least 60 feet below where it begins.

No. 5.
This pretty view was quickly ruined.

 

That’s when it occurs to me that I’m in danger of not breaking 50.  I think all golfers have a number in mind when the wheels are coming off and the number of holes left – whether it’s the full 18 or just 9 – is shrinking fast, and you’re making the calculations in your head on whether you even have a prayer of staying under that number.  “Well if I par out from here, I can maybe shoot 46.”  But of course if you are already eight over after five holes, the chances of you suddenly “turning it on” and making four straight pars are extremely remote.

Walking to No. 6 tee, I wasn’t sure I could hit the broadside of a barn.  I hit a decent 3 wood to the left side of the fairway but still have 130 yards up the hill to the green.  Having zero confidence left, I purposely over-club to make sure I get it to the green over the giant bunker in front.  The 8 iron leaves me on the back fringe with a quick downhill 40 foot putt to the front left pin placement.  Three putts later I am nine over.

A bogey on No. 7 and a three-putt double on No. 8.  For the first time in 15 years (except for that February 2008 round I decided to keep off the books and had my group swear to never speak of again) I was in danger of posting a Jack Lord.

At this point I should probably mention that play has been painfully slow all morning.  We’re waiting on every shot and it seems to be getting worse each hole.  It’s a slow burn watching each player in the group in front of you casually saunter up to a ball, take three practice swings, hover over the ball for several seconds, hit the shot, make several comments to the group about said shot, not replace the divot, watch his buddies hit their shots, make several comments about those shots, then, finally, all in unison walk to the other side of the hole where their carts are parked.  The carts advance 100 yards and the routine begins again.  Repeat, lather, rinse.

This scene appears to be wrapping up after almost ten minutes of leaning on our drivers on No. 9 tee.  BJ tees it up and gets ready to hit.  Out of the corner of my eye I see one of the gentlemen from the group in front of us driving his cart directly toward us and in front of the tee.  Oblivious to BJ’s addressing of the ball and the twosome teeing off No. 18, he blurts out, “You all see a 5 iron back there?”  We did not and replied accordingly.  He rolls past us and disappears over the hill behind the eighth green to continue his quest.

Twelve minutes later I bogey the par 5 for a 49.

The last time I played Whiskey Creek was in April, and it was my first round with the new irons (Titleist CBs).  I missed one fairway on the front and was upset with a 41.

So at the turn BJ treats me to a turkey sandwich and himself to a chicken salad sandwich.  He loves Whiskey Creek’s chicken salad sandwich and talks about it even when we’re playing other courses.  Plus, BJ quietly put together a smooth 41 on the front while I was hacking it all over the place, and the man deserves something special.  Let him eat his favorite sandwich.

When we get to No. 10 tee, 2/3 of the group in front of us is still waiting for Mr. 5 iron to return with a full bag of clubs.  A few moments of awkward silence pass as BJ and I silently eat our sandwiches and stare at the two men milling about their cart.  The one near the passenger side reluctantly says, “So…why don’t you guys go ahead?”

(Youbetyourass…)  “Oh, yeah, sure, if that’s okay with you guys,” we reply.  “We’ll try not to hold you up!  Ha, ha.”  (As if that will be a problem.)

I hop out of the cart with my Diablo in-hand and tee it up before they decide to take back their offer.  No. 10 is a par 4, dogleg left up the hill, with a tee shot over marsh and other assorted unpleasant things.  Hoping to quickly put the front nine behind me I rip a drive up the middle of the fairway.  BJ manages three more enormous bites of his sandwich before ripping his own drive.  It’s left and close to the hazard, but I assure him he’s fine.  Off we go.  And not a moment too soon because Mr. 5 iron arrives on the tee before we get past the ball washer.  Oh well, see ya!

On the right side of the fairway I’m left with just under 120 yards to a front right pin placement over a green-side bunker.  I hit an absolutely flush pitching wedge straight at it and watch as it disappears over the lip of the bunker.  I’m left with a 15-footer down the slope, which I leave a few inches short.  Tap in for my first par of the day.  (!)

No. 11 might be Whiskey’s signature hole.  A 173-yard par 3, over marsh and death on the right, to a long narrow green that is slanted diagonally from left-to-right away from the tee.  Tall trees stand all along the left of the hole on a hill, while one giant bunker guards the right side of the green.  That is why I (unintentionally) lay up with my 6 iron to the left front fringe.  A chip, two putts, a bogey.

Then I turn it on.  A perfect drive to the middle of No. 12 fairway, a 3 iron a few yards off line to the right of the green, a chip, and a putt for par.  After lengthy waits on 13 and 14, behind the new threesome ahead of us, I add two more pars.  One over after five holes on the back.

Off and on over the past several holes, BJ and I have been discussing – and mocking – the idiocy of someone who cannot remember where he left his 5 iron.  One would think that after going over the last few holes in your head you would say, “Oh right, I took two clubs to the tee on No. 7 but used my 6 iron instead.  My 5 is probably still laying there.”  Ha ha, what a dumbass.

We hit our approach shots on the fifteenth, a 191-yard par 3, all over water, with a bunker just shy of the green.  BJ plants his ball in the sand, and I end up on the right edge in the rough.  We pull the cart up to the green, get out, and reach into our bags for our sand wedges.  Together we say, “Oh s—.”

Yup, we left our Vokeys resting side by side in the grass next to the thirteenth green.  (See?!  It shouldn’t take long to figure it out!)  Fortunately, the next hole loops around and will take us right back to No. 13 green.  Unfortunately, the very first group we’ll need to approach to ask if they have our clubs is Mr. 5 iron and his friends.

I suppose we deserve that.

It’s embarrassing to ask group after group if they’ve found two sand wedges.  One is bad enough, but asking for two lost clubs is downright humiliating.  One gentleman replied, “Two sandwiches?!  No, man, I would have remembered that.”

With my trusty Vokey safely returned to my bag, I par 16, bogey 17, and par 18 for a three-over 39 on the back and an 88 overall.  I haven’t a clue what transpired between the ninth green and the tenth tee – other than the rapid consumption of a delicious turkey sandwich – that led me in the wake of a 49 to hit six of the next seven fairways, five greens, and zero three-putts.  But it somehow feels good.

Unfortunately for BJ the temporary loss of his club on No. 15 clearly rattled him as he stumbled home with two doubles and a triple to also shoot 88.  I think it’s safe to assume this is our last loop of the 2011 season…

No. 18.
Goodbye, 2011 golf season.

 

 

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PLAYING SOME GOLF at AMERICA’S RESORT – PART II

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series on playing golf at The Greenbrier last summer. Yesterday’s post was on The Greenbrier Course. Today we see how I fared on The Old White TPC, now home to The Greenbrier Classic.

The Old White TPC
August 10, 2011

Old White TPC First Tee

The First Tee at The Old White TPC.

 

There is no doubt about the forecast this morning: today is going to be a beautiful day in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The previous evening, my family and I enjoyed dinner at Slammin’ Sammy’s, which is located above the pro shop and overlooks the eighteenth green of The Old White TPC. The Sam Snead memorabilia in that room is simply amazing, and the food was as smooth as the man’s famous swing. It was this combination of perfect morning and over-doing-it dining from the previous evening that prompted my brother and me to eschew the luxury of the shuttle and brave the ten-minute walk down to the clubhouse.

As was the case yesterday, we are the first ones off on either course, but we see no need to arrive at the pro shop as early as we did the day before. Instead of requesting a rendezvous at the elevators at 6:45 – for an 8:10 tee time – I let Bob sleep in until 7:00. Hey, I’m a nice brother.

And yet we still manage to arrive before anyone else. Seemingly. I mean the lights are on, the doors are unlocked, the coffee pot in the locker room is humming. But where is everybody? I swear I’ve seen a Star Trek episode like this before…

Not two minutes later a friendly attendant appears and offers to find our golf shoes for us. When he places two pairs of shoes on the table, we both do double-takes. Uh, these shoes resemble what was left here after our round yesterday, but there must be some mistake. You see, these shoes have all their spikes intact and there are zero mud stains. The laces match, too!

We sheepishly grab our shoes, generously tip the man for his astounding work, and head around the corner to our lockers. Sitting on the edge of his bench, Bob starts laughing. He can see his reflection in his perfectly-buffed black wingtips.

A few minutes later we are back on the veranda enjoying our coffees and the view of the mountains beyond the eighteenth green of The Old White. The final round of The Greenbrier Classic was just ten days before, and several grandstands are still under various stages of disassemble…ment. Honestly, I’m amazed at how great the course looks when the area right in front of us, on the previous Sunday, probably resembled Union Station on the Fourth of July.

I spot our caddie from the day before, and do a slow fist pump. You can request a particular caddy in the pro shop ahead of time, but they cannot guarantee his availability. Zach expertly navigated us around The Greenbrier Course yesterday and Bob and I are happy to have him join us again. Plus, I’m psyched to already have an established player-caddie relationship with someone before even stepping to the first tee of the great *The* Old White TPC. You know, I feel like we had something special going during those final holes on The Greenbrier Course. I’m sure he feels the same way…

*(I think I should always use the “The” before The Old White TPC.)*

The pro shop door behind us pops open, and we hear, “Good morning, fellas.” The father and (grown) son duo we paired up with yesterday are back for more, and after about 2o minutes warming up on the driving range we all meet up on the first tee.

I won’t even bother trying to describe the first hole, other than to say that it’s a par 4. Oh yes, and it’s awesome. I split the fairway off the tee – as I envisioned myself doing repeatedly in the six months leading up to this visit – and take a deep breath before picking up my tee. I hand Bob my Diablo driver (be sure to read the previous post for an explanation) and watch as he launches his ball about 15 yards past mine. The Texans fire away as well, and the round has begun.

Old White TPC 1st Tee

If you’ve read the beginning of Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor, this is where Jack Ryan was when the president called.
I would have kept playing…

 

As we walk down the numerous steps next to the tee and across the bridge over Howard’s Creek toward the opening fairway, I’m excited about having the chance to measure my game against the pros who walked these very paths only a few days ago. I have no doubt it will be a kick in the face. Still, to play a course that is specifically set up for the big guys, and to putt on greens that are as perfect as a regular PGA Tour stop needs them to be, will be a pretty cool experience.

Unfortunately, this little walk in the clouds once again has me in the worst mindset possible before playing a course of this caliber. So I quickly snap out of it (right after taking another picture of the clubhouse from the fairway).

Old White TPC 1st Fairway

Looking back at No. 1 tee from the middle of the fairway.

 

Once you reach the fairway the rest of the hole – and much of the course – is overwhelming flat. The fairway curves slightly to the right to a narrow green, guarded by two bunkers on either side, and one cross bunker about 10 yards short of the green in the left middle of the fairway. This is a relatively harmless introduction to what the golfer will come to view as a penal design feature throughout the course today.

On nearly every hole at Old White, indeed on most shots, narrow rectangular bunkers with raised backstops are cutting into and across the fairway. Most are angled at 45 degrees, with some pointing in and with the hole, and others cutting back and toward the golfer on the tee. From above, some holes look like patterns on climbing walls. I’m sure that’s exactly what Mr. Charles Blair Macdonald had in mind when he designed the course back in 1914.

Zach informs me that I’m 197 yards from the pin nestled on the front left portion of the green, and hands me my 3 iron. I make remarkably good contact for a long iron this early in the morning, but it draws too much and stops, pin high, in the patch of rough between the bunker and the green. The rough here is not of the typical “resort-style” variety: short, thin, fluffy, forgiving. This is some gnarly stuff. Having said that, I am pleased with myself in the first two seconds immediately following my chip shot. But once the ball stops bouncing, the speed of the green becomes apparent, and down past the hole it goes, stopping a mere inch from the front fringe. I give the 12-footer for par a run for its money, but miss on the right edge. Eh, an acceptable bogey.

No. 2 is a 415-yard par 4 with another tee shot over Howard’s Creek, although this time the water truly comes into play off the drive. The tee box is set to the right of the perfectly straight fairway, creating a left-to-right shot. Running down the center of the fairway is a subtle “spine” that can create some havoc with an imprecise tee ball. My caddie tells me the best approach is a fade over the water to the right side of the spine, where the ball should kick forward into the optimum position to attack the green. I ask him if he’s been carrying someone else’s bag the last 19 holes (in fact he has…my brother’s!) and proceed to hit a draw that ends up on the far left side of the fairway. Bob, and both our partners, end up hitting tee balls into various spaces between the left trees.

We find Bob’s ball only a few feet into the rough, but under a tree and still about 200 yards from the green. He punches out safely to the middle of the fairway, about 10 yards shy of a bunker in front of the green. We spend the next several minutes searching for golf balls, belonging to our partners, in a section of deep, brown rough between the second and tenth holes. Once located, I jog over to get ready for my second shot.

With 176 yards to the green, Zach recommends the 5 iron. There are three bunkers surrounding the narrow green, which has a strong right-to-left tilt and a large collection area to the lower left. I once again hit a weak draw that barely avoids the bunker in front and bounces into this large valley of short grass.

From here, the right play is to pitch my ball into the face of the slope and get it to check up on the upper tier near the back left pin. The plan is flawless; the execution less so. My ball makes it to the very edge of the ridge, stops, and then rolls all the way back to the edge of the green. Three putts lead to a double-bogey six.

Sigh.

Bob bogeys to take the one-up lead.

The third hole is a long par 3 at 205 yards, and it has the most memorable green I think I’ve ever played. The narrow putting surface is 64 yards long and maybe 15 yards wide, with four bunkers bordering the sides. The unique feature, however, is a five-foot swale running right across the middle, which from the tee looks like two greens back-to-back. I’ve never seen anything like it and, until the massive restoration of the course in 2006, golfers at the Greenbrier hadn’t seen it for decades either. I’m told the design feature was a Macdonald original, but had disappeared over time with course changes here and there. Pretty bold thing to “restore” if you ask me.

Today the pin is on the back portion and I decide the hybrid is the right club to get me all the way home. Still frustrated with my three-putt double on the previous hole, I absolutely crush my tee ball through the back of the green and off the right edge. Ending up about 10 yards deep, I’m forced to attempt the always enjoyable chip over flat land to an elevated green without rolling it over the other side. My first attempt makes it to the upslope. My second attempt makes it to the fringe. My twenty-foot putt burns the edge. My tap in for double-bogey makes me mad.

Old White TPC 3rd

No. 3.
Look at those pearly white shoes glistening in the morning sun.

 

(One of my favorite websites is GolfClubAtlas.com, a fantastic place to spend your time if golf architecture is your thing. The editors, who are experts in their field, visited The Old White TPC recently, and I highly recommend reading their hole-by-hole essay and viewing their professional pictures. You’ll understand if I didn’t snap a pic of the green after my double.)

Turning west, the par 4 fourth hole provides another stunning view of the mountains. I step up to the tee on this perfectly straight hole and hit a line drive into the right trees, which kindly spit my ball out into the first bunker. The lie is not great and the lip of the bunker interferes with any real chance to chip away at the nearly 200 yards left to the green. But that doesn’t stop me from pulling out a 5 iron and hitting it directly into said lip, where the ball pops straight up and advances all of six yards into the thick rough. A really good caddy can keep a straight face after a golfer rejects his recommendation and proceeds to execute the exact error he was advising against. In this case, a 9 iron was offered to get back in play, but I knew better and requested the 5. Zach has a tremendous poker face.

Old White TPC 4th

No. 4.

 

The rest of the hole gets pretty ugly. My next shot out of the rough finds the fairway again, but still has me about 50 yards short of the green. I fly the green completely with my sand wedge, chip on, and two-putt from 15 feet. That would be a triple-bogey 7 on a 396-yard par 4 that is one of easier holes on the course.

Four holes. Eight over. Just once I’d like to make it through the front nine on a great course without taking myself completely out of it. Even worse, I’ve apparently driven away half our group again. The Texans, as they did yesterday after six holes, decided they were not moving fast enough to make their afternoon family activity, and forged ahead without us. This time, however, they didn’t even have the courtesy to wait for Bob and me to putt out on No. 4 before teeing off on the next hole. They apparently did said goodbye to our caddie, and took off.

Hey. Great playing with you. Fellas.

To be honest, we don’t take it personally. We’re not here to break any land speed records, and we have nothing on the schedule for the afternoon. If they do, they should make every effort to get back to their families in time. I’m just glad we no longer have to see, in our peripheral vision, two guys checking their watches every time we line up a putt. I don’t know about you but I came here to enjoy myself.

Bob has the honor – now 3-up after his bogey on No. 4 – and, once our former teammates clear the fairway, he hits a great drive up the right side of the hole. I quickly follow with my own solid drive down the middle and well past the lone bunker on the right. This is the shortest par 4 on the entire course at 320 yards. Today the blue tees are back a little and the entire hole is on a slow, uphill climb. A tiny creek runs along the front of the green, one bunker guards the right, and several large cone-shaped mounds dot the left side. They look like grassy huts, and the closest one actually blocks a clear view of the left side of the putting surface. The pin is dead center, and with my crushed drive I have no more than 78 yards left. Having nothing to lose, I aim at the cup and come darn close to hitting in on the fly. The ball lands a few feet left of the hole, and checks up about 12 feet away.

Five minutes later I drain it for birdie, and wonder where hell that came from. I laugh and tip my cap sarcastically to the nonexistent gallery. Whether the Texans were making me nervous or there’s never a bad time for a birdie, I suddenly remembered how to play this game again. The next four holes I put together a bogey-par-bogey-par run that helps me finish the front nine with a not-terribly-embarrassing 43. (Not one of those holes is a pushover!)

Now, there are no par 5s on the front and par is 34, but I’ll still take a 43 after the double-double-triple stretch out of the gate. Bob also fired a 43, but his ride through the front nine was considerably less bumpy.

Naturally, I quickly start the back nine with two bogies, which will happen when you miss the large, inviting fairways on Nos. 10 and 11. The good news is that we’ve finally reached a refreshment stand behind the eleventh green, and we are starving. And what’s the absolute best thing to have at 10:15 in the morning? That’s right: a foot-long hotdog. Which is exactly what Bob orders without flinching. I love it.

No. 12 is the first par 5 on the course. It is 549 yards long and makes a slow right hand turn around the mountain, which is quite steep and looming on that side. Another signature bunker is strategically located on the right side of the landing area with a large tree just beyond this area on the left. An intimidating tee shot, to be sure, and although I make a great swing with the Diablo, the ball won’t draw and ends up in the rough to the right of the bunker. Bob hits his ball way left. I’m sure Zach appreciates our zigzagging off the tee.

My lie is once again terrible in the thick rough, but this time I heed my caddie’s advice and hack out with an 8 iron to the middle of the fairway. Still 245 yards away from the green I must decide whether to lay up or attempt to fly a narrow creek that snakes diagonally across the fairway from right to left. There is a patch of fairway beyond the creek that will leave you anywhere between 40 and 100 yards to the green, depending upon where you decide to carry the water.

I’m suddenly feeling overconfident again – for no good reason – and decide to swing as hard as I can with my 3 wood directly at the green. The ball easily flies the creek but lands in the right rough, 40 yards shy of the green. A weak chip to the left edge of the green leads to a miserable three-putt double-bogey.

And with that, I can kiss any chance of breaking 80 today goodbye. Ah well.

Strangely, I’ve noticed that once I tell myself I have nothing left in the tank, I very often will immediately turn around and execute a perfect hole. This occurs on No. 13, a longish 415-yarder, where, after a perfect drive and perfect 6 iron to 16 feet, I burn the edge for birdie. So frustrating, but perhaps a sign that not all is lost.

The fourteenth hole turns south, away from the closest mountain, and it is here that I suddenly decide that I could not care less about my mediocre round of golf. There really isn’t a bad view from any part of this course, but this particular spot gives you a wide open view of mountains in every direction. The first 80+ yards of this par 4 is lined with tall trees along the left, where a 100-yard-long bunker awaits along that side of the fairway. On the other side of the fairway is another one of those perpendicular bunkers cutting in from the right rough and halfway across the middle of the fairway – exactly where well-struck tee shots are expected to land – before the hole doglegs left toward the green.

On the advice of counsel, I select a 3 wood, aim down the middle of the fairway, and make a nice and easy swing. I hit it perfectly and the ball draws all of 10 feet to land right in the middle of the narrowest patch of fairway between the two large bunkers. Unfortunately, laying back off this tee will necessitate hitting a much longer iron into a green that is angled from right to left and over two large bunkers in front. The farther one drives his tee shot up the right side of the fairway – and over the bunker – the better his angle will be into this tough green.

Old White TPC 14th

No. 14.
Look at that view.

 

With 186 yards left, I need to hit all of a perfect 4 iron to get to the back middle pin placement. A gust of wind – or fatigue (or simple weakness) – leaves my great approach shot about 5 feet short of the green. This is nothing to worry about because it allows me to play one of my favorite shots: the hard pitch into the green where the ball flies 80 percent of the way to the pin, bounces twice, and checks up and rolls a few more feet. The Vokey is great for pulling off this shot but it can only be done (by me, at least) from a perfect fairway lie. Amazingly, I produce the exact shot I just explained but leave myself about 8 feet. I miss my par attempt on the low side and tap in for bogey.

I bogey the beautiful par 3 fifteenth hole, which includes a shot over the southernmost portion of Howard’s Creek to a green guarded by two deep bunkers in front. This is followed by a pretty nice scrambling par on the par 4 sixteenth. By missing the green short again I was quickly given another chance to pull off my favorite pitch shot, and this time I didn’t disappoint. The ball not only checked up, it bounced six feet past the hole and sucked back to within four inches of the cup.

I’ve still got it, my friends. To the final two holes we go.

No. 17 is only the second par 5 on the course, and relatively straight for most of its 541 yards. Howard’s Creek again comes into play off the tee along the right side of the hole, although this is far more of an issue for the pros playing in The Greenbrier Classic, as their tee is another 75 yards behind the blues and back across the creek near No. 16 green.

Wanting to finish strong, I step up to the tee with my Diablo and take several practices swings to find the right tempo. Moments later I hit a solid drive right up the middle that appears to clear the first fairway bunker on the left. Bob almost comes out of his shoes, and launches an unbelievable drive well past my ball and very close to the second fairway bunker on the right, nearly 300 yards away! Get this man another hotdog!

Old White TPC 17th Fairway

No. 17.
I’m either consulting with Zach on where the remaining seven bunkers are located, or pointing to Bob’s drive about 45 yards away.

 

My ball did clear the bunker, but not enough to reach the fairway on the other side of the mound. With about 290 yards to go and a poor lie in the thick rough, I punch my second shot up the fairway with a 6 iron, carefully avoiding the last several Macdonald-signature bunkers on the course.

Old White TPC 17th Fairway Shot

No. 17.
No one stuck around to see me lay up.

 

When we finally get to Bob’s drive, Zach explains to him that with a solid 3 wood he can easily reach the green in two. Seeing no reason to hesitate – the only trouble ahead is sand – Bob concurs and reaches out his hand. Zach smiles and hands him my 3 wood, the brand new Diablo, not his own, the persimmon Accuform from 1984. He laughs and takes the club. Getting one last tip on where all the bunkers are located near the green, Bob takes one practice swing with a club he’s never held before in his life, steps up to the ball, and hits it on the screws. The ball takes off like a rocket and never leaves the flagstick.

Unfortunately, he didn’t quite have the right distance. It rolled over the back of the green! But while his power is impressive, his lack of playing time shows around the greens, and it takes him three to get up and down from the back edge. I match his par with a nice 9 iron to 15 feet and two putts. I wave to the empty grandstands along the left side of the hole and behind the green. I imagine the applause to be polite but brief.

The final hole at The Old White is a seemingly straightforward and simple par 3. It’s 140 yards, there’s a big green to hit, a creek running across the front – the presence of which is nothing more than a scenic addition to the awesome vista – and four bunkers surrounding the edges of the green. The hard part is focusing on what’s in front of you, and not the view of the distant mountain range, or the faces pressed up against the glass of the clubhouse to the left. I can only imagine what it’s like to step up to this tee box during The Greenbrier Classic, when all the grandstands are set up around the perimeter of the hole allowing several hundred patrons to breath down your neck on your final swing.

The other hard part is the three-foot hump right in the middle of the green, which punctuates the two-tiered putting surface. Today the pin is in on the back (upper) tier, just left of and behind the hump. Finally finding a groove with two pars in a row, I aim for the flagstick and hit a perfect 8 iron right over the top of the hump and to within 12 feet for birdie. Bob steps up and plants his tee ball in the front right bunker.

Old White TPC 18th

No. 18.
No words necessary.

 

We make our way across the bridge and up to the green. Bob heads toward his ball in the bunker while I stroll across the putting surface, enjoying every last ounce of my nice shot on the home hole before finally throwing a mark behind my ball. Bob takes a few practice swings and then blasts through the sand sending his ball high into the air.

It lands on the very top of the hump… and stays there.

I do a double-take. Zach laughs. Three guys on the veranda above the green start clapping. A maintenance man, who had stopped his work on the adjacent bunker out of deference to Bob, said, “I’ve worked here for 2o years and I’ve never seen a ball stay on top of that thing!” Bob smiles broadly and waves to the crowd. Unbelievable.

On the way to the green Zach says, “I’m afraid I can’t give you a read on that putt. I’ve never seen a ball there before.” Then he added, “I do know it will be fast.”

And it was. Bob barely tapped it and it ran off the slope about 15 feet past the hole. He was 8 feet when he started. Luckily most of the people watching from the clubhouse above had left the scene before he completed his three-putt. That’s okay, Bob wrote himself into the Greenbrier history books with his gravity-defying bunker shot.

I left the course on a high note as well. Leaving my birdie putt on the left edge meant a par-par-par finish. My overall score of 85 is nothing to be pleased about, but finishing strong always helps to smooth out the rough edges of a disappointing round. I’ll take it.

And with that our two days of golf at America’s Resort have concluded. I can’t say enough about this place. Many years ago I was lucky enough to play both courses – and what was then Lakeside, now The Meadows – when I was just a kid. To return as an adult and to play with a true appreciation for the history of each course, the incredible conditioning, the peaceful surroundings, the southern hospitality, etc., made the return visit simply unforgettable.

Do yourself a favor and go play some golf at The Greenbrier.

 

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PLAYING SOME GOLF at AMERICA’S RESORT – PART I

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on my trip to The Greenbrier last summer (2011).  Today’s post is about my round at The Greenbrier Course, and tomorrow’s post will tell the tale of my trip around The Old White TPC.  Be sure to tune in for The Greenbrier Classic this week!

The Greenbrier Course
August 9, 2011

The forecast said nothing of rain in the final days leading up to the uber-vacation my family and I had been looking forward to all year, but when we checked in to America’s Resort on Monday afternoon, rain suddenly appeared on the weekly printouts for Tuesday morning.  That’s okay; I will play in the pouring rain if I have to.

As I was falling asleep the night before I could hear the rain hitting the window of the old, magnificent hotel and I prayed for it to clear.  Six hours later when my alarm went off, it was still coming down.  I met my brother in the hallway by the elevators at 6:45.  Poor Bob, he is not exactly a night owl but he’s not a morning person either.  The one thing that can get me out of bed without hitting the snooze button is golf; Bob doesn’t even have that one thing.  So when I emailed him in early March about our two tee times at sunrise, he responded, “That’s fine, I can shower the night before.”

We took the shuttle from the front of the hotel down to the golf club near the bottom of the hill.  When we stepped onto the shuttle and told the driver where we wanted to go, he very pleasantly said, “Sure, you might get a round in today.”  Great.

The golf club is open and the lights are on, but there are few signs of life.  We’re beginning to wonder if someone forgot to lock the doors from the night before.  Or if the staff know the forecast and see no reason to come in today.

The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 1

That’s Tom Watson on the far right saying, “YOU are too early.”

 

This gives us plenty of time to get our shoes on, grab a quick breakfast, and tour the mini-museum dedicated to Sam Snead, Tom Watson, the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup, and the Greenbrier Classic.  That’s a tough history to beat, and the display throughout the clubhouse is pretty cool.

The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 2

That rug really ties the room together.

 

The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 3

Mr. Snead’s gear from a little thing called the 1969 Ryder Cup.

 

Other people start to arrive, both golfers and pro shop staff, and we get an optimistic assessment of the weather at check-in.  The rain should let up at, or before, our tee time.  Our bags are waiting for us outside on the back of a cart when we step onto the veranda overlooking the 18th green of Old White.  It’s still raining hard enough to make people run to and from their destinations, and the thick fog takes away what would normally be a beautiful view of crisscrossing holes and the mountains of West Virginia.

Only one man is brave enough to stand in one place unsheltered from the cold morning rain: our caddie, who at this moment is wondering what two fools would want to play this early on such a miserable morning.  That would be us, and we venture down the steps to introduce ourselves.  I ask him if he wants to wait inside to dry off while we head to the driving range, but he says “nonsense,” and down the hill we go.  As soon as we pull up to the empty practice tee, the rain stops and the fog lifts.  I am not making this up.  I actually felt guilty about the crazy timing and wondered if I had used up all my good luck on this one round.  I’ll have to make it count.

As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones who wanted to tee off as early as possible in order to enjoy other resort activities in the afternoon, and we meet the rest of our foursome on No. 1 tee: a father and son duo from Texas.

The first hole is a 402-yard par 4, relatively straight but for several large trees on the left side of the fairway that make it a dogleg left.  The fairway runs slightly downhill before leveling off past a bunker on the right hand side near the landing area.  The large green is guarded by two bunkers, one left and one on the front right.

As usual I’m overly excited to be playing a top-tier course (a Ryder Cup / Nicklaus redesign no less) and I hook my tee shot into the left rough behind one of the big trees.  Bob finds the fairway with ease.  Not bad for his third round of the year.

My lie in the rough is fine but I have no shot at the green, so I hit a low hook around the biggest tree in front of me and leave the ball maybe 15 yards short of the right bunker.   From there I chip to about four feet.  Bob’s second shot is not as pretty as his first.  He slices a 6 iron well right of the green and down a little hill behind another large tree.  The caddie hands him his pitching wedge (Bob doesn’t have a sand wedge), he takes two practice swings, shrugs his shoulders in indifference, and takes a massive flop swing.  His ball clears the last branch of the tree, lands on the green, and rolls twenty feet before banging off the pin and dropping for birdie.

An unbelievable start for someone who’s been playing with his set of clubs for exactly seven minutes.

Long story short: I won a set of brand new Burner 2.0s a month ago; but I just bought my own new set of Titleists in the spring; Bob’s clubs are fake Pings from 1995; I took pity on him; I handed him the still-shrink-wrapped clubs the day before in the Greenbrier parking lot; his first swing ever with the pitching wedge finds the bottom of the cup.

Our new friends from Texas probably don’t know what to think, especially since Bob and I teed off using the same driver.

Another long story short.  Okay, other than the brand new set of Burners (pitching wedge through 4 iron) in Bob’s bag, the contents are as follows: my original Big Bertha Warbird with a graphite shaft, a persimmon Accuform 3 wood, the 3 iron from his fake Ping set, and a replica of the mallet putter the Bear used at Augusta in ’86.  It’s actually quite hilarious and perfect for someone who has more talent than desire for the game.  I believe that if he truly wanted – and if he found the time – he could be a scratch golfer, but he’s talented enough to play once every four years and still break 90 with ease.  And he’s happy with that.  The reason he’s sharing my driver on most holes is because I’m convinced the shaft on the Warbird is ready to snap and kill someone, and I’d prefer it not happen here at The Greenbrier.

By the way, I missed my four-foot par putt.  Already one-down.

The second hole is on the other side of the street and at the base of a steep and well wooded mountain.  The trees and slope run all along the left side of the hole, while water comes into play off the right side of the fairway.  The 388-yard par 4 is a bit of a double-breaker.  The fairway doglegs left around the trees but then narrows and curves back to the right the last 90 yards or so, toward the green and around the pond.  It appears to be the course’s signature hole, and I don’t disagree.

Bob pushes his drive a little right toward the water but manages to stay dry.  I yank mine left again but find only the primary cut of rough and have an open look at the green.  Bob’s ball is sitting up in the rough, but after some consultation with Zack he determines that the safest play is toward the left side of the green where there is less water to carry.  No reason to go straight for the pin, which today is on the back right edge.  In typical Bob fashion, however, he unintentionally pushes his 8 iron dangerously well right of his target, over the pond, over the front bunker, and just onto the green, giving himself a makeable 12-foot putt for birdie.  I smile and shake my head wondering if that was one of the clubs he had a chance to hit on the range, or if THAT was his first swing with it.  He now seems embarrassed.

Even though I have less water to carry than Mr. Playmaker over there, I play it safe and aim for the middle of the green with my 8 iron.  Two putts and a par.  Bob’s attempt at back-to-back birdies burns the right edge.  He settles for a birdie-par start.

By the time we get to No. 3, the fog is beginning to lift and we can make out the beautiful surroundings.  The resort is right in the middle of some of the most picturesque mountains in the land, and sure enough I take some pictures.

The Greenbrier Course - 2

Looking north toward No. 2 green and the pond.

 

From the blues, or “Sam Snead” tees, the third hole is a 462-yard par 5, not very long but uphill all the way and extremely tight between the trees.  The fairway narrows 150 yards out from the green and doglegs sharply left to a tiny, elevated green tucked behind two traps and overhanging trees.  We both find the fairway with the Diablo.  Neither one of us can reach the green in two, so on the advice of our caddie I lay up with a 3 iron to give myself a nice pitch to the back left pin.  I place it perfectly in the center of the narrow fairway, 40 yards short of the bunkers.  From there I find the middle of the left-to-right sloped green, and two putt for par.

The Greenbrier Course - 3

No. 3.
I love morning golf.

 

Bob finds trouble.  After also laying up, he smokes his third shot over the back of the green into the woods.  It takes us a few minutes to find his ball in the brush, and when we do it’s resting next to a rock.  He takes an unplayable, barely advances a few feet toward the green, and then picks up.  He absolutely hates making people wait and our partners are not the most patient golfers in the world.  I am a major proponent of speedy play and “ready golf” but these two gentlemen are a little too anxious even for me.  I encouraged him to go ahead and finish, but it was no use.  Ah well.

After we let a single play through on the par 3 fourth hole (he was one guy in a cart – seriously we weren’t playing slowly!) I make a dumb bogey and Bob adds another double.

No. 5 is a really pretty par 5.  The hole is in the shape of a crescent, a smooth left-to-right turn from tee to green, and you can almost see all 527 yards of it as the tee box is set high above the fairway below.  There are no fairway bunkers, but trees, out-of-bounds, and train tracks all border the left side.  The two-tiered green is well protected with bunkers on every side.  Inspired by the view, I take a deep breath and unload on my drive.  I make great contact, but draw it a little too much and into the left rough again.

The Greenbrier Course - 5

No. 5.

 

When we get to the ball we find it in the deep rough but propped up rather nicely – perfect for the hybrid, a club that I’m not completely convinced is “legal.”  Sure enough, with a nice and easy swing the (supposedly) USGA-approved club cuts right through the tall grass and sends the ProV1 flying directly at my target.

I swear I didn’t even take the time to aim.  The club just read my mind.

A perfect 9 iron to 15 feet, a lip out for birdie, and a tap in for par.  I am officially very pleased with myself for being only 2 over after five holes on this historic championship golf course.  So you can imagine my state of mind after bogeying No. 6, and then hitting my 3 iron dead right into a pine tree off the tee on No. 7.

The 194-yard par 3, though long, should not be too difficult to play.  It’s downhill all the way and the green is very large with bunkers in all four corners.  But after practically hitting my tee shot off the hosel, it ends up at the base of a tree near the bottom of the slope.  In the interest of time I decide to go ahead and swing away at my ball, twice, before getting it back into play.  Still left with about 70 yards to the pin on the far right side of the green, I somehow hit the front left portion and leave myself at least a 60-footer.

I finally stumble off the green with a triple-bogey six and a great round in tatters.  Sadly, Bob isn’t faring much better as he matches my triple and precedes it with a double on No. 6.  The wheels are coming off fast for both of us.

Perhaps this is the reason why our friends from Texas suddenly announce their intention to split up our foursome and go on ahead without us.  The father and son duo are here with their much larger families and they’ve mentioned more than a few times that activities scheduled for the early afternoon may make it difficult for them to complete a full 18 holes.  Something about a 1:00pm falconry appointment.

This explains their somewhat impatient manner all morning, and while Bob and I have been enjoying the experience of walking and playing with a caddie, the Texans have been riding in a cart.  If they break off now, they just might make it.  We shake hands, wish them good fortune, and wait for them to clear the horizon on the eighth hole.

The Greenbrier Course - 8

No. 8.
Farewell, ye men from Texas.

 

As nice as they were, I have no problem letting them go.  It’s now just me, my brother, and a great caddie on one of the nicest damn courses I’m likely to play for some time.  And since we purposely pre-scheduled nothing before 2:00pm during our stay, we can relax and play at our own pace (which I still contend is “solid to brisk”).

This immediately leads to a solid par on No. 8 and an absolutely perfectly struck 5 iron to three feet on the 180-yard par 3 ninth hole.  Birdieing the final hole on the front enables me to salvage a 41; not bad with a triple on No. 7.  Coming back to Earth following his birdie-par start, Bob finished with a respectable 47.

The back nine starts with a short, dogleg right, 326-yard par 4.  With plenty of room to the left of the fairway, the out-of-bounds is very close on the right hand side.  A wide creek cuts across the hole directly in front of the green moving right-to-left away from the golfer.  The green complex rises up slightly, and is well guarded with one bunker in front and two off the back.  I’ll bet this was an awesome hole to watch during the 1979 Ryder Cup.

My caddie recommends using something less than a driver, and with my hybrid I find the middle of the fairway with exactly 100 yards left to the green.  Misjudging the amount of room behind the pin on the right side, I hit my gap wedge through the back of the green and a few feet into the rough.  From there I nearly chip in from 25 feet for birdie, and take the tap-in par.

As we walk behind the back of the green and over to the eleventh tee we can see several holes of the new Sam Snead Course, which looks insanely pristine and practically untouched.  In fact, it’s a members-only course for those in the Greenbrier Sporting Club and, judging by the number of golfers we see…it’s quite possible no members are in the area today.  Hmm, remind me to pick up a membership application form in the pro shop.

The Greenbrier Course - View of Sam Snead Course

View of Sam Snead Course and those gorgeous mountains.
Obviously, they blocked off a window of tee times so that my brother and I wouldn’t be disturbed
over here on The Greenbrier. We greatly appreciated this.

 

The eleventh hole on the far corner of the course is a 145-yard par 3, back over the same wide creek that cuts across No. 10 – this time from left-to-right away from the golfer – with one giant bunker in front of the green.  The green itself is wide, but has a back-to-front slope that should be receptive to shots.  I hit my 8 iron a little thin, but manage to catch the back left corner of the putting surface, giving myself a long 45-footer for birdie.  The first 42 feet of my journey to the cup are great, but the final three require two putts.  That would be my fourth miss under four feet today.

The Greenbrier Course - 11

No. 11.

 

I bogey the par 5 twelfth hole, but come right back and make a great par on the thirteenth.  My ball finds the fairway bunker off the tee, and with 150 yards left to the hole I hit a perfect 7 iron to about 15 feet.  Too bad my putting isn’t as solid as my long-range bunker shots.  My birdie putt never had a chance.

The next hole is the shortest par 4 on the course at 305 yards.  It is gradually uphill and rifle straight, but because the tees are back and to the right of the fairway, it feels like a dogleg right.  Trees line both sides of the hole, and one large bunker takes up the final 100 yards of the left side.  Another bunker guards the front right of the green, protecting it from any big hitters who think they can just run it up the middle of the fairway.  I am no architectural expert but this hole strikes me as brilliant.

There is no reason for me to hit driver and bring the left bunker into play, so I pull out the 3 wood and hit another perfect draw to the center of the fairway.  “A-1 position,” according to my caddie.  Unfortunately I follow it with a “D-6″ sand wedge to a tiny piece of grass between the green-side bunker and the fringe.  A chip, another miss under four feet, and a miserable bogey…

…followed by a three-putt bogey on no. 15.  Sigh.

The Greenbrier Course - 14

No. 14.
Bob ready to unload on his ball. I wish he’d ‘unload’ that hat.

 

On a typical day at the golf course this sort of poor execution would be driving me nuts and ruining my mood, and likely the moods of everyone else around me.  It helps to be playing with my brother who couldn’t care less about his round (which is a good thing and the reason I haven’t been writing about it on the back nine) and a caddie who is relentless in his pep talks.  With three holes to go, it is he who reminds me that with a strong finish I can still shoot a 39.  And with two pars and a birdie (18 is a par 5), I can tell my Jeep Off-Roading instructor – our late afternoon activity – that I shot an even 80.

He won’t care, of course, but I can still tell him.

This locker room speech, however, ends up having more of an effect on Bob than it does me.  The par 4 sixteenth hole is just under 400 yards and returns to the same pond that gives No. 2 its signature look.  The fairway is crowded by overhanging trees on the right creating a dogleg right off the tee, while the second shot must carry the pond to a green that is tucked back and to the right.  One lone bunker guards the left front of the green, giving the golfer nowhere to bail out on the approach.  My errant tee shot into the right trees forces me to punch out to the fairway.  Bob on the other hand hits his best drive of the day and has no more than 130 yards left to the green.  He hits a beautiful 9 iron to 12 feet and comes up two inches short of making his birdie.  Nice par.  Bogey for me.

The tee box for the par 3 seventeenth hole is behind the sixteenth green and right up against the trees blocking the road.  At 144 yards and perfectly flat, the hole is not terribly treacherous – but for the OB left, the narrow two-tiered green with long bunkers on either side, and the last bit of the signature pond coming into play along the right and in front of the green.  No problem at all.

Bob steps up and fires a shot right at the pin that hits hard and bounds off the back of the green into the rough.  Coming off bogey I decide I have nothing to lose and also fire right at the pin on the upper tier with my 8 iron.  The moment I made contact I knew it was my best iron shot of the day.  Drawing ever so beautifully over the water and onto the middle of the green, the ball bounces up the right side and stops about 12 feet from the cup.

The Greenbrier Course - 17

No. 17.
Indeed I am posing.

 

With his ball about 20 feet over the green, down a slight embankment, and under some low hanging pines Bob nearly pulls off the same miracle shot he had on No. 1.  Forced to hit a low punch-chip to avoid the branches, his ball hits the side of the hill, pops straight up in the air, lands on the green, and runs right over the cup.  He’s left with a six-footer that he rams home for back-to-back pars.  Ho hum.

Caddie Zach gives me a great read on my birdie putt: left edge, uphill, “give it some pace.”  I set up over the ball, take one more look at the hole, see the line perfectly, glance back at the ball, start the club back, pause, and stroke the putter through the ball.  I look up and immediately realize it doesn’t have enough.  My ball runs out of gas less than two inches from the hole.  I can feel the light mist on my face off the fountain in the pond, and consider jumping in head first.

The final hole is back across the street and a straight shot toward the clubhouse.  It is the longest hole on the course at 537 yards, tree-lined, and very narrow.  Nothing flashy about the finishing hole on this great course, except the oddity of sharing one giant green complex with the eighteenth hole on The Meadows Course.

Both courses finish in front of the resort’s outdoor swimming pool, which was recently renovated to include an infinity edge.  And like any pool with an infinity edge, 4 out of every 5 people in the water at any given time end up hanging out on that end of the pool with their arms resting on the edge.  If you were standing on the green and didn’t know there was a swimming pool there, you might find it peculiar to see 15 people with wet heads staring at you from behind a white wall.  Fortunately for all of them they were treated to two ho-hum bogies from Bob and me.

The Greenbrier Course - 18

No. 18.
Aw yeah.

 

An 83 for me and a 94 for Bob.  I suppose I can’t be too upset with an 83 on this course, but I played so much better than my score would indicate.  I had one disaster hole – a triple on No. 7 – and a total of 36 putts, missing six under four feet.  That sort of thing can wear you down.

Bob was simply happy to be heading to lunch.

We thanked Zach for being such a great caddie and asked him what the policy was on requesting him for our round at Old White the next day.  He said he’d be happy to join us but that the pro shop handles all such requests.  So off to the clubhouse we go, and who do we bump into in the locker room?  The Texans, who finished all of eight minutes before us.

Eight.

Tomorrow in this space, be sure to read my epic post about our round the following day at The Old White TPC.

 

 

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