Tag Archives: Sam Snead

LIVING THE DREAM at OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB – PART II

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….

The back nine as seen from the locker room during the lightning delay.

 

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.

No. 15.
Dave in church.

 

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.

No. 18.
At this very moment, all is right with the world.

 

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.

No. 1.
There is a hole out there somewhere.

 

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.


My first hit fairway in twelve holes.

 

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.

No. 1.
Look at that slope.

 

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.


No. 2.

Site of Tiger’s heroic par.

 

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.

No. 3.
Dave hits it down the aisle (see what I did there?).

 

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!

Dear Lord, I love this hole.

 

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.

No. 5.
I take pictures when I hit fairways. Especially this one.

 

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.

Final scores:

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…

 

Goodnight, Oakmont.

 

 

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PLAYING SOME GOLF at AMERICA’S RESORT – PART II

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

The Old White TPC
August 10, 2011

Old White TPC First Tee

The First Tee at The Old White TPC.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old White TPC 1st Tee

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

 

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

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

Old White TPC 1st Fairway

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

Bob bogeys to take the one-up lead.

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

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

Old White TPC 3rd

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

 

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

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

Old White TPC 4th

No. 4.

 

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

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

Hey. Great playing with you. Fellas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old White TPC 14th

No. 14.
Look at that view.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Old White TPC 17th Fairway

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

 

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

Old White TPC 17th Fairway Shot

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

 

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

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

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

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

Old White TPC 18th

No. 18.
No words necessary.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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PLAYING SOME GOLF at AMERICA’S RESORT – PART I

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

The Greenbrier Course
August 9, 2011

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

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

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

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

The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 1

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

 

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

The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 2

That rug really ties the room together.

 

The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 3

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greenbrier Course - 2

Looking north toward No. 2 green and the pond.

 

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

The Greenbrier Course - 3

No. 3.
I love morning golf.

 

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

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

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

The Greenbrier Course - 5

No. 5.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greenbrier Course - 8

No. 8.
Farewell, ye men from Texas.

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Greenbrier Course - View of Sam Snead Course

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

 

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

The Greenbrier Course - 11

No. 11.

 

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

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

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

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

The Greenbrier Course - 14

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Greenbrier Course - 17

No. 17.
Indeed I am posing.

 

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

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

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

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

The Greenbrier Course - 18

No. 18.
Aw yeah.

 

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

Bob was simply happy to be heading to lunch.

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

Eight.

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

 

 

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