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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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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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