Tag Archives: Jack Nicklaus
The summer started off with such promise. After several months of planning, design, name changes, stat tracking, and of course memorable loops around golf courses, I finally starting posting to this blog in June. I enjoyed the process, the posts were receiving great comments and responses, and in just nine weeks I had shared with the world ten of my most recent rounds of golf. There was even a guest post from a dear friend.
All was well with Multiple Non Winner’s rookie season.
Then nothing. Three months later, I have offered absolutely nothing in this space. And it’s not because I haven’t played golf – oh no, I’ve played some golf.
I played three fantastic courses in June in Myrtle Beach: The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Tidewater, and the Golden Bear’s Long Bay Club. (I played the final 12 holes at Long Bay with a broken toe, after taking a line drive shank to my left pinky from 30 yards from a player in my own group.)
I had an incredible match with Mike at Westfields that turned into our own Duel in the Sun on the back nine. I chip in on No. 13 for birdie, he almost holes out for eagle on No. 14. It was intense. No, we did not embrace post-round a la Jack and Tom.
I even returned to Oakmont in an effort to erase the embarrassment of my first visit in 2011. Wait until you read about this time around… (Stop rolling your eyes.)
And then, I shook hands with the Mighty Arnold Palmer after a round with Dave at Latrobe Country Club, and then witnessed the man (Palmer, not Dave) receive the Congressional Gold Medal a few weeks later in the Capitol Rotunda. God bless America.
The point is I simply have not been very good at keeping this blog current, and I apologize to all seven of you. My first several posts were about rounds from the previous year and my intention was to get to the point where I would walk off the golf course, fire up the laptop, punch out a highly entertaining blog post, and send it out to all the world in a matter of a few hours. Yeah, that was the plan. Apparently I am not that kind of writer. I need a bit more time. It’s taken me an hour just to write this special holiday message.
More posts are on the way and I hope you’ll come back to read them over the next few months. Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for reading.
Editor’s note: This is part two – and the conclusion – to my historic round (to me) at Oakmont Country Club. Be sure to read part one here. We now return to the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania….
After 40 minutes of hanging out on the porch it is deemed safe to return to the course, and as we walk back out to the fifteenth tee I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll be able to finish our round. One more delay of any significance and daylight could become a factor. And now that I think about it, the last time Dave was invited to play Oakmont was three years ago under the exact same circumstances. He only got in 11 holes that day. Naturally he was only one over when they had to quit.
No. 15 is a 434-yard par 4, mostly straight and gradually downhill but with a strong left-to-right slant over the final 200+ yards. The left side features the “Mini Church Pews” – as in the bunker is only 60 yards in length compared to the more famous pews found between Nos. 3 and 4, which I’m told are well over 100 yards. In fact “they” don’t even make up the largest bunkers on the hole as the right side of the green is framed by a 90-yarder. The green itself is pretty stinkin’ long making club selection a good time. A brilliant hole, really.
Dave and I both pull our tee shots left into the church pews, but while his ball finds sand, mine manages to land on a grassy pew. I get lucky again with my lie but because it is sitting on the very top of the knoll my stance forces me to choke down on the club. At 193 from the pin, I decide to play it smart and kick an 8 iron down the hill and onto the short grass. Amazingly, that’s exactly what I do. I’ve still got it, baby.
Sadly, Dave’s hole is just beginning. His recovery shot from the sand is a little too hot, rifling over the right side of the bunkers and down the severe slope into the deep right rough. His third doesn’t even make it to the greenside bunker on the right and his chip lands on the front edge. The pin is tucked in the back left corner, more than 100 feet away from his ball. This leads to a three-putt and a triple bogey.
Meanwhile, I start to see signs of life in my own game. I burn the lip with a 20-foot putt for par…which is about the most encouraging thing I’ve done all day. And this is not a bad time to gain some confidence.
The sixteenth is a bear of a par 3. It’s 211 yards, only slightly downhill, and has yet another giant green that hangs off the edge of a left-to-right hillside with nothing but death if you miss on the low side. This and the lack of trees in play once again screw with your depth perception and make the flagstick in the right center look like a distant buoy in the ocean. For the first time all day I have the honor (with a bogey mind you) and select a hybrid to attack this green. Still trying to get my heart rate under control I make an exaggerated backswing and tiny pause at the top. I hit the ball squarely and right at the pin. Expecting it to land pin-high (that darn depth perception thing again), the ball hits the front right fringe barely clearing the edge of death, checks up, and somehow doesn’t move more than a few feet. I quietly pick up my tee and breathe a sigh of relief. The other two guys in our group (oh yeah, you did remember we were playing with two others, right?) find trouble down near the out-of-bounds on the right, while Dave’s ball hits the far left side of the green leaving him with about a 60-foot putt for birdie.
I have some time to think about what I want to do with my second shot. The pin is 18 feet away, slightly uphill, and breaks at most a cup to the right. The ball, however, is only an inch from the rough making any backswing problematic. Feeling some renewed confidence in my stroke after nearly sinking the long par putt on No. 15, I choose the putter. Having left far too many putts short today I give it a little extra oomph. It doesn’t break an inch and rolls three feet past the left side. I choose to finish and waste no time cleaning up.
I have my first par of the day. Heads up, Oakmont. Dave three-putts for bogey.
We leave the sixteenth green and walk down the steep hill to find the seventeenth tee. This short par 4 is just plain cool. It’s only 295 yards long but all uphill to a painfully narrow and severely left-to-right sloped green. The fairway loops out to the right from the tee and then snakes up to the left before it disappears behind six bunkers on that side. If one were cocky enough to go for the green there are only five of the deepest bunkers on the course waiting to screw things up, including the biggest one guarding the front right side known as Big Mouth.
My caddie hands me my driver and I look at him like he’s crazy. I’m not going for the green, it’s almost 300 yards up the hill! No, I’m told, the tees are way up and there is at least 30 yards of room between the fairway bunkers and the green. From this distance it’s more difficult to hit the fairway than the green. Everyone else in the group nods in agreement. Um, okay, since I’m on a roll with my one par…
The pin is apparently on the back edge of the green because we cannot see it from the tee. Picking out a spot on the grassy horizon I saddle up with my driver. Another slow and deliberate backswing with the briefest of pauses at the top produces one of the best swings of the day and a solid hit up the right side. My caddie concludes that it’s a little right of Big Mouth in the rough and that I should be fine. Dave follows with almost the exact same shot.
Our golf balls are found in the shaggy rough about fifteen feet apart but a little deeper than our caddie had predicted. From here the green is wide and tilted toward us, but very narrow and lightning fast. Though we’ve both flown Big Mouth, there is another awfully large bunker beyond it with which we must contend. Instructed not to hit it short into the bunker but also not to fly it over the tiny green because of the impossible sand shot with which it would leave me from above the hole (some caddies are incessant optimists…others simply lay out the facts and leave the rest up to you), I pick out the meatiest part of the green and commit to a flop shot. The ball pops straight up into the air, lands safely on the green pin high, and then rolls back all the way to the fringe leaving about 15 feet for birdie.
Dave hits a more direct chip, which lands softly on the fringe and bounces up to about five feet. He’s back on track with a birdie, and I finish up for my second par in a row.
The final hole at Oakmont is unforgettable. The entire hole is visible from the tee as it leads you home to the clubhouse. In fact almost the entire course on this side of the turnpike can be seen from this elevated platform as if to give you one last chance to count all your strokes before making the final stroll home. Luckily we don’t have time for that.
Dave reclaims the tee and hits a solid drive up the right center of the fairway that trickles into the primary cut of rough. My drive is right the whole way and lands a little too close to the white stakes for my heart. After imagining greats like Sarazen, Jones, Snead, Hogan, Nicklaus, and the Mighty Arnold Palmer all hitting drives off this tee to thundering applause, the last thing I wanted to see was my own ball heading for the driving range. It’s an historic tee but I don’t really need to hit from it twice.
I finish the back nine with a bogey and a despicable 46, but with pars on No. 16 and No. 17 and a respectable bogey on one of the most famous and really hard par 4s in the country, I have a little momentum going into my final six holes of the day. Dave makes par and finishes with a 40.
We walk up the hill and around the clubhouse to find the first tee. What a sight. There before you is a pretty sizable chunk of western Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, that view includes very little of No. 1. You can see all of No. 2 in the distance, but only a sliver of this fairway before it disappears over the horizon. The right side of this 441-yard par 4 is lined with tall trees and OB, while five unseen bunkers await your tee shot left of the fairway.
Feeling pumped I connect on my best drive of the afternoon. So thrilled with hitting the middle of the fairway on Oakmont’s opening hole I take a picture of it.
Dave hits the fairway too, but I don’t feel it’s picture-worthy.
My yardage is 199 and (as seen above) the green is nowhere in sight. I walk up to the crest of the hill and peer over the edge. All I can do is grin and shake my head. Not only is the slope of the hill steep but, like No. 10, it continues through the back of the green. Two bunkers collect shots hit short and left, but the green’s true defense is that a ball hit onto the putting surface has almost no chance of staying there.
My caddie recommends backing off at least two clubs. I concur and hit a perfect 5 iron, running after it the moment I make contact to watch it land. It hits about 25 yards short of the green, skips twice, and slowly rolls onto the front left side of the green, 18 feet from the front right pin position. I actually start to strut down the fairway having every intention of birdieing this world-class hole.
That’s when we hear the sirens again. Wha? No, not now. Not when I’m finally putting it together!
We reluctantly leave our golf balls where they are and take cover in the shelter we visited earlier in the round next to No. 9 tee. Already inside the shelter is another foursome, and after just a few minutes I think I’ve discovered who’s responsible for all the empty coolers throughout the course today. Holy cow are these guys having a good time today. Thankfully the delay lasts only 15 minutes and we can leave the party behind. It’s 5:10pm and we have five more holes to go – another delay and we can kiss our full round goodbye.
I take par on No. 1 with a near miss for birdie on the low side. RPFD. So back across the PA Turnpike to a super short 325-yard par 4. No. 2 is a popular hole to watch when the pros are playing because it’s so short and the temptation to go for the green is so great. During the Saturday round of the U.S. Open, BJ, Mike, (you remember those guys, right?) and I managed to get a decent spot near the second tee box when Tiger’s group came through. I’m not the biggest Tiger fan (whereas some of my pals seem to think golf history began in April 1997) but even I can admit the man has a certain aura about him when he’s at the office. He also knows how to manipulate a crowd.
Standing on the edge of the tee for almost a full minute, staring a hole into the middle of the second fairway, he had his hand on the rim of his golf bag. There must have been 800 people in this tiny area of grass wedged between the tee and No. 8 green, and yet you could have heard a pin drop. In fact, I’m pretty sure they stopped traffic on the turnpike for Tiger’s tee shot. Finally, his hand rises. He grabs the top of that silly tiger head cover and pulls out the driver. It sounded like Jerome Bettis had scored a touchdown. Even I started cheering. He then went on to make a riveting par.
As did I. One over in the last five holes.
Finally, we get to the most sacred stretch of sand in the world: the Church Pews. Everyone who loves golf has heard of them and yeah, sure, they sound great. Let me tell you, when you see them in person they are magnificent. Not only do they come into play off the tee on No. 3, but you turn right around and face them again on No. 4. The bunker complex is roughly 125 yards in length and as much as 35 yards wide, taking up the entire stretch between the third and fourth fairways, and unlike the “mini” pews on No. 15 that have nice lush, grassy knolls poking up through the sand, you can forget about advancing the ball up the fairway if you happen to land on one of these pews.
Should you find the fairway off the tee – there are only five large bunkers on the right side and a closer-than-you-think OB beyond them – you still have to land your second shot on top of an elevated green that shockingly is not referred to as “The Altar.” Kinda seems obvious to me; the pews are even pointed in the right direction!
It’s a 390-yard hole and my good drive leaves me with a 162. The green, though very large, is tricky to hit. A ball hit to the front third or the back edge will fall right off the table and leave you with a 20-yard pitch on either side. I hit a beautiful 6 iron that scares the flagstick on the back left portion of the green, but it’s a little too hot and skips just off the left edge into the rough. This is followed by the worst chip of the afternoon and three painful putts. Out of respect for the famous bunker I keep my expletives in check.
From the fourth tee I can see the last three holes of my day in their entirety. All I need to do is par out and I can still break 90 – usually a terrible thought but one that didn’t seem possible just two hours ago. I’m finally playing to my capabilities and it’s time to finish strong. The par 5 before me is 512 yards long for the humans and 610 yards for the pros. The tee shot must be struck down the hill to a ridiculously narrow fairway that runs between the Church Pews on the left and five deep bunkers on the right. A sudden surge of confidence in the Diablo has me aiming over the left edge of the bunkers – well clear of the pews again – where the fairway doglegs right and continues its long narrow path toward the green. I hit another great drive right over the right edge of the fairway that draws nicely and bounds up the middle of the immaculate short stuff. I am in golf heaven right now.
The green cannot be seen over the crest of the hill and my caddie spends the next 30 seconds pointing to spots on the horizon indicating where the remaining eleven bunkers are lurking. With 260+ yards left, there is no reason for me to go for the green. I hit an easy 4 iron that flies up the right middle of the fairway and ends up in the primary cut of rough a few yards past the first set of giant bunkers. The pin is on the front right part of the green. Naturally I hit my sand wedge to the back left. Three more putts for a bogey. RPFD.
No matter how much my game heats up I still can’t putt to save my life. I’ll have to birdie one of the next two holes to break 90. Sure, no problem.
No. 5 is a great great par 4. The dogleg left is only 349 yards long but the fairway ends after 290 of them, giving way to a thick, grassy depression with ditches and all sorts of bad things waiting to hide your ball. The green is an island beyond and above all this nastiness. Not to sound like a broken record but there are seven very large bunkers guarding either side of the landing area, and five more around the green. During the Open we sat behind this green in the grandstands watching pro after pro hit amazing shots to the middle of the green that slowly trickled past the pin and rolled off the back into one of the bunkers. I remember staring at the one foot of fringe that stood between the garage floor of a green and two miniature bunkers just inches below it thinking I’m glad I’m up here stuffing my face with hotdogs and not playing in front of all these people.
After Dave drives his ball a little off line and into the right rough between the second and third bunkers, I follow with yet another solid draw down the middle of the fairway. That would be my fifth fairway hit in a row and (having already played Nos. 7 through 9) six of seven on the front nine.
Why am I 20-over-par again?
Dave has no trouble finding the green on his second shot out of the rough but has left himself with more than 30 feet of undulating fun. From above, the green looks a lot like a footprint. Very narrow in the front and wide in the back. The right side is perfectly straight while the left side wiggles out to meet the back left side. All corners are rounded. You know, exactly like a foot. (I can get longwinded sometimes. He says after 7,000 words…)
It suddenly dawns on me how little time I have left to play on this historic course and before I step up to my second shot I take a few extra practice swings. I pretend to study the terrain and the trees (three holes away near the turnpike) as if these things will tell me something that will help me with the way I play my shot. I unnecessarily repeat the last thing my caddie tells me in the form of a question. I don’t want to be short or left? He responds, “….right…that’s what I said.” Right. I step up to the shot and glance up at the flag twice instead of just once. An extra waggle. I take my 9 iron back slowly, pause ever so slightly at the top, and come through the ball perfectly. I watch – and pose – as the ball lands right next to Dave’s ball and rolls a few feet closer. Ah, I could get used to this. Dave makes a great lag and taps in for par. I burn the high edge for birdie, pretend to be shocked that it didn’t drop, and then gladly tap in for another par.
Our final hole of the day is No. 6, a 168-yard par 3. The tiny green is slightly elevated from the tee and is all carry over another valley of deep rough. There are two long and narrow bunkers short and left, two smaller ones off the back left edge, and one giant bunker all along the right that is almost as big as the green itself. The severe right-to-left tilt and the way it sits on the hill guarded by the bunkers for some reason makes it look really small. I select a 4 iron. Hey, the tee markers are back a little today, and it’s uphill, and it’s been raining, a little, so stick it. I draw it a little too much and hit the left fringe only to end up a few yards down the hill between all the traps. Dave hits his a little hot and into the bunker off the back edge. Our usually chipper caddie didn’t say anything. Uh oh.
Missing the green is not ideal of course, but missing it below the hole on the left is far more preferable than the alternative. I realize this when I assess my chip shot from about 15 feet off the green. From here the slope is all into you and the tilt of the green is simply frightening. The pin is in the back right corner and my chip doesn’t even come within 10 feet of it. But I still have a makeable uphill putt to save par and (gulp) a 90. My attempt never scares the cup and I sheepishly tap in for bogey. Dave makes an admirable play out of the sand and also two putts for bogey.
Dave 39 – 40 — 79
Me 45 – 46 — 91
We remove our hats, shake hands, thank our caddies profusely (I apologize), and begin our journey back toward the clubhouse across the street. I am exhausted. Because of the three lightning delays it took us a little over 6 hours to play, which is exactly three times longer than the amount of sleep I got the night before. I am disappointed that I didn’t play very well. I knew I’d have a difficult time keeping my heart rate down on the first several holes, I just didn’t think it would be that bad. I have a tendency when playing top-ranked or famous courses to get caught up in the spectacle of it all and end up taking myself right out of a good round almost immediately.
I am thrilled, however, that I was able to right the ship once I calmed down. My last ten holes – 15 through 6 – included my only five pars of the day, five hit fairways in a row, and a much better putting stroke on arguably the hardest, fastest greens on the planet, for a total of six over par. Not too shabby. And so here it is…
Oakmont Country Club is the finest golf course in the world.
Sure, I’m biased. I grew up nearby. I worship the Golden Bear and the King. I love Pittsburgh. I turn down the radio when passing the course on the Turnpike out of respect. I even like the cartoon squirrel the club uses as its symbol during championship years (and there have been a lot of them).
Oh yes, and I’ve actually played it. That might have something to do with making it the very best in my eyes. It is a classic, American design that deserves every bit of praise it receives.
Thank you, Dave, for helping me fulfill my biggest golf wish. Now about getting us a round at Muirfield Village…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow in this space, be sure to read my epic post about our round the following day at The Old White TPC.