Category: Grill Room (page 2 of 5)

My Solstice Survival Experiences (and why you should consider playing)

Now that winter seems like it’s behind us for good, we start getting into the meat of golf season.  Like you, I love watching the West Coast swing, and even the Florida swing can give us that good-vibes feeling of what’s to come (before the Masters tells us it’s time to tee it up).

Part of what I love about golf is that every time you tee it up, you’re testing yourself.  Today might be that worst round possible (which is why I suggest keeping airplane bottles in your golf bag), or it might be that rare day when it all comes together.  Or, if you’re like most of us, it’s somewhere in between.  But for the most part, standing on that first tee is still a thing of wonderment because we don’t know what will lies ahead for us over the next 3 1/2-4 hours (hopefully).

In that vein, if you really want to test yourself and you’re up for it, the Solstice Survival is something you should consider doing at least once.  It’s put on by Golfstyles which is one of those magazines you see in the grill rooms and pro shops at some golf courses (I subscribe so I don’t have to “borrow” a copy).  For the uninitiated, the Solstice Survival is 54 holes (3 full rounds) of continuous play golf (these events are always during the week- the only people on the course are your fellow competitors); you start at sunrise and finish after you putt out after your 54th hole of the day which is usually close to sunset, and it’s a competition so there’s no gimmes or mulligans.  You play the same course for all 3 rounds, with the same group (hopefully you get a decent group of guys- unless you have your own foursome in which case good for you!).  For what it’s worth, I have no association with Golfstyles, and while they’re welcome to share this article, they weren’t consulted on this and anything I write is my own opinion (and if you’ve met me you know I’m stubborn as a mule and not prone to be easily swayed).

I played two years (both times at Musket Ridge), and once things (body parts, limbs) start to work normally again, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  So you’re sitting there, reading this (and my, what great taste you have in golf blogs), and you’re wondering what sane person would do this (you’d be surprised), and what the hell am I getting myself into?  The day isn’t cheap (you’re looking at anywhere from $240-$300 for the day depending on where you play at, but that does include food and drink and a decent gift bag), and you’ll be out of pocket until late evening (well past sunset), but isn’t that the idea?  Maybe you’ve played 36 holes before, but have you ever played 54 holes in one day?  Sure- this sounds like a great idea when it’s winter and you’re weeks from even thinking about seeing courses open, but what about the actual day?  Read on.

Both times, the day starts around 3:00 a.m., which allows me time to get up, get myself put together, get dressed, take care of the dogs, and try to be on the road by 4:00 a.m. and allow me an hour to make the trek to Musket Ridge, which Google Maps says will take 49 minutes without traffic (you’ll want to have directions and driving times figured out the night before).  This will allow time to stop for a coffee and still get to the course and loosen up.  Despite the DMV having terrible traffic, at this hour it’s manageable.  It’s also dark which means you’re likely sharing the highway with truckers and other early-risers along with your fellow die-hard golfers.

Pulling into the parking lot while it’s still dark can be a bit off-putting if you’re not used to it, but being someone who prefers to play early it’s old hat.  However, the parking lot is quickly filling up, which is not usually the case (the event does a shotgun start so everyone starts at the same time).  If you’re smart, you brought plenty of balls (more on this later), and you’ve got plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, and hopefully and extra glove or two.  The event provides refreshments on the course so no worries on that front but I do have a bottle of swing juice to get me going in the morning.

After a quick stop at the registration desk to pick up my goody bag (2 dozen balls of a brand I don’t play but I’ll end up re-gifting, a couple highball glasses and a too-small golf shirt), I then carry my bag over and find the cart I’ll be in.  Everyone’s doing the same thing- carrying their bag around looking to see where your assigned cart is.  Many will then hit the range to warm up; some will seemingly try to hit a full bucket (keep in mind it’s still dark), while others will hit a couple balls and work on their chipping and putting.

Looking at my watch, it’s time to make a quick stop in the washroom, pop a couple ibuprofen, and put some analgesic cream on my back and shoulders (it’ll help loosen them up for now- I know that by sunset I’ll be in a world of pain again but it’s worth it).  It’s also time to take one last look at my smart phone; part of playing 54 holes of continuous golf is that there’s no time to check e-mail or take calls.  It’ll all get handled later tonight or tomorrow morning.  I’m sure that 20 years ago, this didn’t seem like a big deal but try going a day of being off the grid, unreachable, and out of pocket.  I can see many folks freaking out at the idea, but that’s the point.  Worry about work tomorrow.  Today, it’s all about golf and lots of it.

After getting a quick speech from the Golfstyles folks and the home pro, just as the sun starts coming up and there’s enough light (or close enough) for play,  everyone gets into their carts and heads out to their assigned starting hole.  It may be cool at the time, but both times it’s been warm by mid-day (the first year it got up into the low 90’s, the next year it was in the low 80’s).

On the first hole, there’s the usual introductions and hope of a good day out for everyone before we tee off.  At this point, I’m just hoping to make decent contact.  The first year I played the nerves got to me in a big way, as I hit a worm-burner that went dead left and put me on my way to a nice triple bogey to start the round.  Few things stir the soul quite like “just made a snowman on a par 5, and I’ve got another 53 holes to go”.

Hopefully, you start to rectify things if you got off to a bad start, or even better- if you got off to a good start you’re having your share of birdies and pars.  Since this is a “count ’em all, play by the book” event, there’s no gimmes, so that 18 inch putt to save bogey has to be holed (and I swear it looks like that hole is about 1/2 the size it should be).  Seems simple until you’re putting on greens that have quickened up since the sun has come out and you’re not exactly Brad Faxon with the flat-stick.  It’s starting to warm up so that windshirt or sweater vest you started the day with has surely come off.  There’s no free drops if you hit one in the woods or in a hazard; if you can’t find it you use the lost ball rule, if it’s a hazard  you proceed based on the USGA rule book (should probably have a copy in your bag).

By this time, you’re putting out on your 18th hole of the day; normally you’d be shaking hands but you’ve got another 36 holes to go!  So now it’s time to play that hole you started your day on…again.  But now you know where everything is so this time will be that much better (or so you think).  The way that the Solstice Survival works is that when you play the 18th hole (of the golf course) during your second round is when you stop for lunch.  If you’ve ever seen a NASCAR or Formula 1 pit stop, then you get the idea of the process.  You pull up in your golf cart and go through a buffet line (it’s burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches) and then you eat it in the cart and then tee off on the 1st hole.  Ideally at this point you’re at the half-way point of your day.  I usually take this brief break to pop a couple more ibuprofen.

They do have beverage stations and beverage carts (and a couple washrooms that are nicer than a port-o-let) going around the course so staying hydrated isn’t an issue (nor is having to pee), however there’s no beer until you’re done for the day so if you were wanting the revival that can only come from shotgunning some terrible American piss-water lager, you’ll have to wait until you finish for the day unless you have any airplane bottles stashed in your bag.

Of the three rounds, I’ve always felt that the last 9 holes of the second round is the hardest.  It’s in the heat of the day, and you’re starting to get fatigued and you’ve still got 19-27 holes left to play.  Both times I’ve played I’ve carded some scary numbers.  It’s also where you can struggle in terms of mental concentration; the first round might feel like a regular round, but most people who play 36 will stop for lunch before going back out.  Now you’re 28-36 holes into the day, and fatigue can be a factor.

The third round is hopefully when your second (or third) wind kicks in.  They do move the tees up for the third round so that long par 4 you’ve seen twice previously becomes a bit shorter.  You’ve got the hole locations down (hopefully) and hopefully by now you’ve got a good feel for the break of the greens.  Hopefully your muscles aren’t sore at this point, because while the tee boxes are moved up (the equivalent of going from the blue tees to the white tees at most courses), by now it’s afternoon and the shadows are starting to get a bit longer.

This is where I’d pop a couple more Ibuprofen and try to maintain focus and maybe have one of those energy shot drinks if I was feeling a bit sluggish.  When you hear touring pros talk about the mental concentration factor, this is what they mean.  You’ve held it together for 36 holes, and you’ve got one more round to go.  Sure- you know the course but you’ve got to focus amid some possible physical fatigue to keep making good swings for one more round.  At a minimum, you’ve got to keep from having a blow-up hole (and being someone who has turned the blow-up hole into an art form I speak from experience) which means no 3 putts and trying to keep it somewhat straight off the tee.

At some point late in the day, as the sun is setting you’re going to putt out on that 54th hole of the day, and you’re going to feel an odd mix of excitement, fatigue, and maybe (just maybe) accomplishment.  That you pushed yourself to the limit on one of the longest days of the year and played 14-15 hours of non-stop golf.

After that, it’s a cart ride back to the club house to sign your scorecards, and enjoy some well-deserved 55th hole refreshments.  At some point you’re probably changing shoes (and hopefully socks) which is going to feel oddly refreshing.  You’ll have a buffet dinner, and while you’re eating the Golfstyles staff will have tabulated things up, award prizes for low gross and low net scores, and after (hopefully) a bit of regaling one another with stories about the day, you’ll load your clubs back in the car (likely in the dark by now), and head home, where the rest of the world will surely be waiting.

If you’re a little bit sore the next morning (or a lot), it’s okay, because you’re sore from doing something we all love, and that’s the best kind of soreness there is.

WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU (this list is hardly complete but it’s a few things that will make that longest day of golf a bit more bearable:

-Plenty of balls.  Think about your typical usage during a round.  Triple it and add an extra sleeve just in case.

-Sunscreen. Apply before you start and re-apply mid-day.  Trust me.

-Bug spray. See above.

-Extra socks, extra pair of shoes, extra hat, extra golf shirt (if it’s supposed to be dry you probably don’t need the extra pair of shoes or shirt but a lot of people like to change socks and/or shirt after a round or two).

-A comfortable golf shirt.  For me this means something that’s a bit looser since the fitted look on me means something resembling a sausage casing.

-Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or your OTC pain reliever of choice.   Don’t overdo it but a couple ibuprofen can help.

-Extra glove or two (and if rain is in the forecast rain gloves, umbrella, and rain jacket).

-Sharpie pen (to mark your balls if you haven’t already done so).

-Ziploc bag (in case of wet weather it protects the scorecard).

-First aid kit (hopefully you don’t need it but it’s better to be safe than sorry).

-Your sense of humor.  It’s going to be a long day.  I played with a dour, humorless dolt one year.  Don’t be that guy.  We’re not playing for a million bucks and we’re paying to be here.  It beats working.  Enjoy the day.

-A rangefinder (if they’re permissible- ask them).  Many golfers have the GPS watches.  If they’re allowed and you have one, by all means wear it.

-Patience.  The course will be full with your fellow competitors and it’s a shotgun start.  Since it’s a count-everything event pace of play isn’t going to be lightning fast.  Where possible try to play ready golf (within the rules); i.e. if you need to pee either tee off first or last.

-A USGA rulebook.  If you’re not sure about an issue, play two balls, record both scores and have the Golfstyles folks settle it.

 

The Major For The Rest of Us

See- even Judge Smails wants you to sign up for the Myrtle Beach World Am!

See- even Judge Smails wants you to sign up for the Myrtle Beach World Am!

The Myrtle Beach World Amateur, formerly known as the Dupont World Am, Golf.com World Amateur, Sandbagger Open (among other names) is once again slated for August 29-September 2nd (it’s almost always held the week (Mon-Thu) going into Labor Day weekend).  I’ve played it, and if you haven’t, I’d recommend it at least once in your life.  If you’ve played it, then you probably get it.  If not, here’s why you should strongly consider playing.

1) Competition.  If you’re like me you don’t belong to a private club so the opportunity to play competitive golf is limited.  Sure, there’s the Golf Channel Amateur Tour and the Golfweek Amateur Tour, but these are 1-day events on weekends (fine, well-run events though).  The Myrtle Beach event is four rounds over four days…just like a major that the pros have.  It’s easy to have a great first round, but try coming back on that second, third, or fourth day when you’re tired (or if you were out enjoying yourself the night before) and maybe you’ll gain some appreciation for what the pros go through week in, week out.  Or, you have a bad first day and you have 3 days to make up the ground.  Maybe you’re in the lead after one round (they post the scores at night at the Convention Center where they have a nightly 19th hole party).  Have you ever had to sleep on a lead before?

2) Handicapped flights.  Look, I could feed you a line of bullshit and tell you that they have eliminated sandbaggers (or bandits, or cheating, lying assholes).  They haven’t, but they’re doing a decent (could be better but they’ve made improvements) job of policing it.  You don’t see that many guys throwing up net 59’s anymore at least and then claiming to have a hot putter.  To play you have to have a valid USGA handicap index (the “I’m about a 12″ won’t cut it) and they will give you a tournament index based on the rating and slope of the course each day (so your index will vary from day to day).  You’ll be playing with golfers who have roughly the same index as you do.  It’s not perfect but they’ve made improvements.  If you do post two net 59’s on consecutive days, expect that you’ll get to meet with the handicap committee and they’ll want to have a chat.

3) Cost.  It’s $525 for four rounds including cart.  In my experience, you’ll get one of the top-tier courses in Myrtle Beach, two average courses, and one less-than-average course.  With several courses having gone under in the last few years, the odds are you won’t be playing too many dog tracks.  Split that, and it’s just over $100 per round which isn’t bad for a once-a-year “major” event.  Yes, travel costs are extra but it’s Myrtle Beach in August (not exactly prime season).  From DC it’s an 8-9 hour drive (Myrtle Beach Airport’s pretty easy to fly into but you’re going to need a car as they don’t provide transportation to the courses).  When I’ve played I drive down, mostly because it’s easier to decide when to head back rather than waiting for your flight.  The cost includes a decent gift bag (a decent golf shirt and some other stuff) and their nightly 19th hole party every night that I would call watch the seniors get their groove on (if that’s you, then by all means shake what your momma gave ya!).  The party is typically slammed on Mondays and attendance backs off Tue-Thu nights.  If you’re looking for a younger rave party…definitely not the scene but if you want to have a couple cold ones and chat with some of your fellow competitors, you can’t beat it.  They say they have food, but trying to make dinner out of it isn’t that hot of an idea.  The good news is that there’s cheap eats up and down the area so you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on meals.  The courses will provide bagels and donuts for that morning, but Gatorade is on you.

4) Fun.  Look, odds are you’re not going to win (and if you do, expect some scrutiny from your fellow competitors).  There are approximately 3,400 competitors (it was up to 4,500 years ago) so the odds are pretty small.  Accept this, and focus on playing the best you can.  However, you’re going to meet some salt-of-the-earth folks who love the game as much as you do (and are as nuts as  you are) and who know some of the same bad jokes as you do.  Odds are, someone in your group (you’ll be flighted and your group of 48-50 players will play the same courses on each day) will have a skins game (typically birdie skins) of some kind going.  If that’s your thing, throw some cash into the pot (if not, do NOT pull the “gambling at Bushwood is illegal” crap- let people have their fun because it’s not “harming the integrity of the event”).  I managed to pull down $350 from a skins pot by birdieing a hole on a day where I shot a gross 102.  That, and a cold beer, can take the steam off.  I still smile and chuckle at some of the stories I heard (one started with “so there I was, laying 2 and I noticed I still had glitter all over me…”).  If you have a group you go out with, have a designated driver (more tips below) or agree in advance to pay for an Uber.

5) Something to prepare for.  Playing every weekend is fantastic, and I wouldn’t trade my weekend morning rounds away.  But the reality is that other than playing against yourself and the course, there’s not that big event to plan around.  Putting an event on the calendar months in advance means you’re preparing for it.  Maybe you practice more, or focus on your short game more.  But it’s that “circle it on the calendar” event that you now have.  It’s not just another weekend round, it’s a 4-day, 72-hole, count-everything, playing-them-down, no-gimmes tournament.  You’ll learn about yourself and you’ll be a better golfer for testing yourself.  Put it this way- the first time I played there, I used to never thing of those 18-24 inch putts until I missed one.  And another one.  And another one.  See there?  Made you think.  It’ll make you a better player.

Having said that, it’s an undertaking and by Thursday night, you’ll be tired.  So here’s a few tips on what to do, and what not to do:

-Myrtle Beach in late August is hot and humid.  And I mean really hot, and really humid.  Staying hydrated isn’t a joke.  My trick is this- freeze a few bottles of water the night before and take them with you.  They’ll thaw, and you’ll have icy cold water.  Pick up a case of bottled water and go to town.  Gatorade is another great option especially if you’re sweating a lot.  Save the beer for the 19th hole.

-Courses have pro shops, but you’re better off having it with you and not hoping that the pro shop has whatever item you need.  Bring four days (5 if you manage to win your flight and make the finals) worth of stuff.  Think socks, shirts, shorts, shoes (bring two pair and rotate) along with balls (the tournament uses USGA tournament rules which includes the “one ball” rule; in short, you can’t mix brands- pick one and stick with it), tees, gloves, caps (and sunglasses) and the like.   Most courses have ranges and will include practice balls.  There are retail golf stores in Myrtle Beach should you need additional whatever.  I’d also make sure my grips were in good shape before heading down.

-Sunscreen and bug spray are pretty much mandatory.  I’m not kidding.  Something sweat-proof (I like the Coppertone Sport spray- it’s easy to apply and does the job).  Bug spray…look for something with deet that keeps mosquitoes away.  Try playing with a sunburn and a bunch of mosquito bites and you’ll learn a whole new level of pain.  Use sunscreen and bug spray.

-Get a USGA rulebook, and read up on it (they cost a dollar; they’ll give you one if you sign up to be a member).  At a minimum, understand rules on hazards, out-of-bounds, playing a provisional, maximum number of clubs (14).  I hope you don’t get someone who sees themselves as an expert (by your 9th hole of the day you’ll be actively plotting their death).  If you’re not sure about what to do if you hit in a hazard, ask someone.  Understand that if your ball ends up in a divot, that’s tough shit for you.  You probably roll it over back home, but you can’t do that here.

-Keep accurate track  of your score and your competitor.  You’ll be marking a competitor’s card and they will mark yours (like the pros do).  If you’re unsure of their score, speak up and say something.  Keep accurate track of yours as well.  Better to take an extra minute and make sure you have the correct score than mis-mark a card.  Tell your competitor your score after each hole.  Before you turn them in you’ll review them (just like the pros do).  If you see an issue, speak up because if you sign for a 5 and you made a 4, then tough shit.  It’s a 5.  To that point, you’ll get paired with different people each day within your flight, so if you end up with a guy who’s a total jackass, odds are you won’t have to play with him again.   There’s 1 or 2 in each flight…95% of the guys you’ll meet are good, decent, salt-of-the-earth types just like you.

-Expect pace of play to be slow.  You can’t just say “I’ll hit another” or “just drop one here” like you’d do in a casual round.  You have to drop according to the rulebook, and if you go out of bounds off the tee, the only option is to re-tee with a 1-stroke penalty (when you’re hitting your 5th shot from the tee box after hitting 2 balls O. B. it’s not much fun but it is the rules).  Rounds of 5 hours are about what you should expect.  Hopefully you don’t end up having your last day take 6 1/2 hours because of torrential rain the night before and the course being cart path only (this happened to me and it wasn’t much fun).

-If the heat and humidity aren’t enough, thunderstorms aren’t unusual.  Courses will typically have some kind of alarm/warning system with respect to storms.  Bring some Ziploc bags with you (the quart size) to protect your scorecard (that you turn in).  I use them for my golf gloves as well.  Don’t leave your clubs in the car when you’re done.  Bring them inside.

-By all means, go out and enjoy yourself at night, but don’t be an idiot.  Have a designated driver, hire an Uber, call a cab, or go out and party somewhere close to where you’re staying.  Hangovers in the heat aren’t fun.  Plan accordingly.  Bring Advil, Tylenol, or whatever painkiller/NSAID you prefer.

-You’ll get your course assignments a couple weeks before the tournament.  Definitely worth doing some research on the courses.  The committee will set tee boxes so if you’re a 15-handicapper you won’t have to play from the tips.  I’ve only seen one course setup being unfair (we were in the 18-20 handicap range and they thought it was 8-10 indexes); we had a ton of forced carries that few of us could clear.  It also made for a long day.

-People fly in from all over the country (and outside the U.S.) to compete.  It’s a great chance to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t meet.

-Kids go back to school the week of the tournament so traffic can be an issue.  Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go.  I’d recommend having drive times checked on Google Maps or something similar.  Allow time to stretch and warm up properly or take care of anything you need to take care of prior to teeing off.

-Tournament rounds are shotgun start; in other words, you won’t start on the 1st hole in all likelihood.  You might start on 3, 8, 11 or whatever.  The home pro will give you a quick speech to everyone before they head off.  If there’s a local rule, they’ll tell you (one day we played “lift, clean and place” and they told us this- if they don’t tell you this, you can’t touch your ball until you’re on the green).

-MUTE YOUR MOBILE PHONE.  This should be obvious but sure enough I’ve played with a guy who had his going off.  After the second time it went off the three of us playing with him had a word.  If you need to check messages do so while you’re waiting for a group to clear off the green (after you’ve ascertained your yardage and club selection for your approach shot).

-If you need a ride on a specific day you can Uber or request a ride-share, but you’re on your own to get to the courses.  To that, not a bad idea to stay somewhere central (close to as many of your courses as possible).  Condos, AirBnB, hotels, and motels are all viable options.  Go with what’s going to be easiest for you.  If you look around deals can be found.  Keep in mind that the 19th hole and the registration center (where you pick up your stuff on Sunday) are located at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

-From the tournament website, there’s this on range finders:The World Am does allow range finders, but they must be USGA approved. Any device that is used may only have the function of measuring distance, even if the device has other options that can be turned off, it is not permitted. Any device measuring slope or wind is not allowed.  Not sure?  Check your range-finder and make sure it’s legal for tournament play.

-Women play in their own separate flights, so if you’re a woman and considering playing…by all means sign up!  You’ll be playing with other women (all from the same tee box) and you’ll have the same chance to play tournament golf (unlike this week’s ANA Inspiration there’s not an equivalent of Poppy’s Pond on 18 (if there was I wouldn’t jump in because God only knows what else is in there).

-Others I’ve played with have brought snacks with them to eat during the round (apple slices, orange slices, PB&J sandwiches seem to be the most common).  A deck of cards in a Ziploc bag isn’t a bad idea (especially if there’s a weather delay).  Not bad ideas all around.

-While I’ve always traveled solo, many people play and bring their families with them.  Not a bad idea, and certainly there’s plenty of family-friendly stuff in Myrtle Beach.  For time budgeting, expect that you’ll be gone most of the day (5 hour round plus warm-up time, plus going to/from the course).  They can go to the beach, hit the malls, and they probably won’t miss you all that much.

-For those in search of night-life, things have changed and a couple of the standard-bearer options are no more (farewell, Thee Doll House).  If that’s your thing, research it prior but expect that the local constabulary might be waiting for you should you decide to drive while under the influence.  Just remember that if you are looking for…well, you know…then be smart (and remember to use the “safe search” on your computer).

-South Carolina has weird laws on purchasing liquor (among other things).  If you drive down and are the type to enjoy making a pitcher of margaritas after a round of golf, maybe stash a couple bottles of tequila (or whatever) in your suitcase.   Don’t try to re-sell it, but for your own consumption…do what you need to do.  It’ll be our little secret.

You could do a hell of a lot worse than spend a week in Myrtle Beach playing golf.  To test yourself against golfers of your same ability over 72 holes is well worth taking time off.  Hope you make it to Myrtle Beach!

The 2016 Predictions You Didn’t Ask For

As we say adieu to 2015 and hello to 2016, I thought I’d whip out my crystal ball and see what my magic crystal ball has in store for golf this coming year.

Only slightly more accurate than most.

Only slightly more accurate than most.

PGA Tour: With the season starting on Thursday of this coming week (in Hawaii so get ready for lots of pictures that will make you want to get on the first thing smoking to Hawaii), it’ll be interesting to see who gets off to a hot start and generates much of the early ink.  For the life of me, I’ll never understand why someone wouldn’t play in the Kapalua event (no cut, limited field, plenty of FedEx Cup points).

I know that everyone has a hot nut all over Jordan Spieth, but he’s coming off of a 12-month stretch where he was the dominant player in the world.  I see him struggling early on and don’t see him repeating at Augusta.  The schedule is brutal especially from June onward with three of the four majors being played from mid-June through the end of July.

I'm sure this will look fantastic with a green jacket.

I’m sure this will look fantastic with a green jacket.

What’s interesting (and worth keeping in mind) that the last PGA Tour event to make the top 60 for the Olympic tournament is the Greenbrier Classic (the cutoff date is July 11th), so players will go into the Open Championship the following week already knowing who is or isn’t qualified for the Olympics (and will also play the PGA Championship after the cutoff date for Olympic qualifying, which means that half the majors this year won’t count towards Olympic qualifying.

I’m also curious as to what the attitudes will be toward the Olympic tournament.  It’s a 72-hole stroke play event (same as the week-in, week-out tournaments on the PGA Tour).  Remember- this is a course that was built for the Olympics, so it’s really a case of nobody really knowing what to expect.

Predictions: I think we’ll see a dark horse/first timer win at Augusta; my crystal ball thinks one of Jason Day (has played well there), Patrick Reed or Ian Poulter will be the last man standing.  It would be great for golf to see Rory McIlroy win the Masters and complete the career grand slam, but I don’t see it happening this year.

Poulter is ready for the PGA Tour's "Disco Appreciation Day"

Poulter is ready for the PGA Tour’s “Disco Appreciation Day”

At the US Open, thankfully they go back to Oakmont.  Hopefully the USGA will manage to not f*** the course up that much (they don’t need to, and they should resist any attempts at trying to gin something up).  I don’t know why, but I have a wild hunch that this will be the year Phil Mickelson finally gets over at the US Open.  I like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka to contend.  I’d scratch anyone who changed brands in the off season; historically that rarely ends well.

At the Open Championship, the last three times that the Open Championship has been held at Royal Troon (this year’s venue), it was all won by first-time Americans who had not won majors previously.  Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed are, for me, the guys this year (your previous winners at Troon were Todd Hamilton, Justin Leonard, and Mark Calcavecchia).  The last time a non-American won at Royal Troon.  Bobby Locke in 1950.

The PGA Championship is held in late July (two weeks after the Open Championship and the week after the Canadian Open) at Baltusrol in New Jersey.  The last time it was held there (2005) Phil Mickelson won.  I think this will be the major that Spieth wins this year, which will put him an Open Championship shy of the career grand slam.

Ryder Cup: When last heard from, the Europeans won (again) and the US team spent several months trying to figure out what the hell happened (Europe played better).  So this time we go to Hazeltine National in Minnesota.  Seriously?  This is the best we can do?  Is it beyond the PGA of America to play the event on the West Coast or somewhere in the Rockies?  Your US captain is Davis Love III, the European captain is Darren Clarke.  Barring injuries, I think the Europeans will win yet again.

Locally:

I think at least one fairly well-known public course doesn’t survive 2016 barring a sea change in the economy.  It could be in Maryland or Virginia, but I really have a bad feeling (and I hope I’m wrong).

I think at least one private course either goes public or goes to some kind of a public-private relationship where they allow more non-member play.  I’d like to see the gong show that is Turf Valley open themselves up to public play during shoulder months or at least release tee times within 72-96 hours to the public.

To that, with private courses struggling to attract new members, they could do worse than start to try to attract new members by selling tee times inside 48-72 hours that would otherwise go empty.

Four Wishes for the local area:

1) With the PGA Tour’s annual stop moving around (it’s at Congressional this year and 2018…2017 is up in the air), I’d like to see the LPGA return to the DMV.  I’m not counting their event in Williamsburg; I’m talking something within an our of DC or Baltimore.  The LPGA Tour has done so many things right in the last few years that I’d like to see locals get to see what a fantastic tour they have.  Ideally, you’d shoehorn an area event before the tour stop in Atlantic City which would be an easy trek for the players to make.

2) I’d like to see public courses step up their game in terms of playing conditions (talking to you, Renditions and Timbers at Troy) and start to enforce pace of play and time par (pointing at you, Waverly Woods).  Yes- you might make a few golfers upset, but you’re going to make dozens more happy.

3) On a personal level Howard County needs an additional public course.  Ideally you’d look to Western Howard County where you have cheaper land than you would in the Columbia/Elkridge/Ellicott City area.  I’d also like to see a MCG-type situation in the county, where you’d bring several courses under one jurisdiction and one umbrella.  MCG isn’t perfect but there’s no doubt they’ve improved playing conditions at their courses.  Even if you went in with some kind of partnership with Baltimore County, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it meant better course conditions and improved pace of play.

4) To see Golfdom or some form of competition come into the Maryland suburbs and compete with the Golf Galaxy/Dick’s Sporting Goods duopoly.  I remember the old Washington Golf Centers and mourned the demise of Mammoth Golf.  It’s not that Golf Galaxy and Dick’s Sporting Goods are bad, it’s that I’d like to see competition and more options.

Two Wishes for me:

1) I know that the schedule makes it hard, but I’d like to see the PGA Tour do a better job of giving the Canadian Open a better spot on the schedule.  What they’re doing this year is particularly offensive.  The event always does great attendance, and their National Open deserves better.

2) To play more, and improve course reviews.  The first one is simple, the second part isn’t.  I want to have course reviews that you, as a reader, would find useful.  I’m not sure how this will look, but I’m looking at changing how I review courses to make it relevant to ordinary golfers and ask the kind of questions an average golfer might have.  I’ve long argued that Golfweek and Golf Magazine’s course reviewers aren’t bad at their job, but 99% of their course reviews are destination tracks, and some of their ratings sound a bit jaded.  When it’s your job it’s one thing, but when you’re paying out of pocket to play somewhere, you want to know you’re seeing something worth your dollars.  Nobody reimburses me for my green fees and my guess is if you’re reading this you’re in the same boat I am.

My sincerest wishes to all of you for your best year ever in 2016.  Hit ’em straight, and make lots of pars and birdies.

Song of the day:

Before they became huge, U2 did one of their first US tours in 1983 to support the War album.  They did a concert at Red Rocks Ampitheatre and filmed it.  Below is my favourite track of theirs.  Hard to believe this is 30+ years old.  Still sounds great.

A Farewell to 2015

All of the rain we’ve had over the last few days meant any hope of getting out to play yesterday was unlikely.  I guess I could have played but my knees have been bothering me lately.  I opted for a trip to Olney Golf Park to get a few final swings in for the year, since I won’t have a chance to go to the range or hit balls until 2016 (and while this warm spell has been great I can’t see it continuing) since work typically keeps me busy during the week.

I like Olney Golf Park because the range has covered bays (the ranges at Fairway Hills, Timbers at Troy, Waverly Woods and Hobbits Glen do not), and because the mats are in better shape than you find (they were pretty wet yesterday, which isn’t a surprise given the rains we’ve had).  Unfortunately that means going to Olney and dealing with the army of photo radar that they have (or “speed traps” as they should be known as).

My view from my hitting bay at Olney Golf Park.

My view from my hitting bay at Olney Golf Park.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get loose, my hand kept bothering me (I fear that I may be developing some kind of arthritis in my hands- make your own jokes), and I never felt comfortable bringing the club back (I’m not overly mechanical).  The bays that are covered are heated (kind of needed yesterday due to fairly constant breeze- the photo above shows the flags all blowing pretty good) but the one I was at wasn’t working.  I hit far too many bad shots.  Hopefully I can get back out there sooner than later.

I was hoping to start earlier, but their hours on Google weren’t correct (their website and their signage at the range is correct- currently they open at 10am).  So with some time to kill, I thought I’d venture down Georgia Avenue and see how one of my old haunts was getting on- the mystery golf course that was Trotters Glen.  I spent many a happy evening after work there, hitting balls and using their short game area.  I never knew what happened, but a few clues made the answers fairly apparent.

Driving past the two large churches and a few McMansions, it was clear the area had seen some development.  And then, there it was.

Trotters Glen.  Brought to you by Toll Brothers homes.

Trotters Glen. Brought to you by Toll Brothers homes.

I’m not against development, and I’m not against progress, but I am concerned about how the average person gets into the game (Trotters Glen was a shorter course).  The course’s website is now this, and if you look carefully, you’ll note that these are going for $1.1mm plus.  So for an average family, that’s so far beyond attainable it’s ridiculous.

This made me wonder two things- who’s paying into seven figures for a home, and where does someone new to the game go?  The First Tee does great work for kids, but what of adults?  Are we to assume they binge-watch old Golf Channel infomercials?

If you’re scoring at home, Virginia is losing Goose Creek at the end of the year, Trotters Glen is gone, Sligo Creek has long been rumored to be going away, and I’d argue that Old Gunpowder may not survive this decade.  Montgomery Country Club went under for a housing development.  I’m almost certain I’ve missed at least one course going away.  And yet, interest isn’t waning.  The number of rounds is typically impacted by weather (notice how much rounds went up in November/December since the weather was spring-like?).

And what of that lack of interest by millennials?  Looking at my Instagram feed and suggestions (and if you haven’t done so, follow me on Instagram- I post other stuff besides golf photos), it’s a lot of golf stuff being largely produced by the younger set (some of it really good and some of it terrible).  They’re playing the game (I played several rounds with millennials this year; they’re just like most golfers- by and large a decent lot, they love the game, and they want to improve).

Where one of the holes used to be.  Have to wonder how many people got bit by the game here?

Where one of the holes used to be. Have to wonder how many people got bit by the game here?

So when I hear people talking about growing the game, I point out that you’re losing courses that weren’t as intimidating to novice players as some other tracks…how does the game grow again (you don’t grow any business by reducing supply)?  There’s no new courses coming to the area that are public and/or daily fee.  We keep adding houses.  Where are the golfers going to play who want to take the game up who aren’t quite ready for a full size course?  Northwest Park has the “inside 9″ which is a pretty stern test.  Needwood has an executive nine hole course, and Sligo Creek is a nine-hole course.  Hilltop in Alexandria is a 9-hole course but is no pushover.  See where I’m going?

There are rumors floating around East Potomac Golf Course in Washington.  I fear what may happen, because frankly, this rarely ends well for golf courses.  Look at what almost happened to the golf course at University of Maryland.

Meanwhile, tell me again how to grow the game when you eliminate courses.  Take as much time as you’d like.

Unrelated, if you have a chance, go see the film The Big Short.  I can’t recommend it enough.

 

Enjoy your New Years’ celebrations and all the best in 2016.

 

2015 SGIC Plays Santa Awards

Screw it.  You're all bad.  Eat a bag of dirt.

Screw it. You’re all bad. Eat a bag of dirt.

Without the drunken debauchery and mayhem that come from a roast, it’s time for your humble scribe to don his santa outfit (who am I kidding- I don’t own one and unless the offer is an all-expense paid trip to Pebble Beach for a week, I’m not putting one on) and hand out some gifts this holiday season.

So this year I’ve invited people to come sit on my lap (and wear depends you assholes) and find out what Santa got you for Christmas (or the winter time festival of lights

First off…it’s Joe Buck from the Fox Sports Golf team.  You’ve had a bad year.  First off, Harold Reynolds is a moron, you don’t seem to understand geography, your network was a dumpster fire for the World Series and the US Open.  During the Franklin Templeton shootout last week you said a player was using a putter off the green.  Brad Faxon corrected you saying he was using a 5-wood/hybrid.  For someone who plays, you’d think you might know the difference.  Or, I don’t know…maybe ask?  Dan Hicks of NBC isn’t a hall of famer, but he knows how to go to Roger Maltbie and ask “what’s going on down their Rog?”  Try it some time.  So to help out Joe Buck, we’re sending you to the Columbia School of Broadcasting!  You’re welcome!

New logo for Fox Sports Baseball and Golf Coverage

New logo for Fox Sports Baseball and Golf Coverage

So for Christmas, since you can’t have nice things, Santa is taking away your USGA rights and putting them up for rebid.  You can air the events next year, but with CBS and NBC announcers who know how to get out of the way of fantastic championships and let the golf speak for itself.

Next on Santa’s lap is the USGA.  And haven’t you been a naughty group of stuffed shirts this year?  Your move to Fox Sports was a train wreck, you can’t understand why bifurcating the rule book would help the vast majority of golfers, and you’re about 10 years behind understanding technology.  You are trying to forbid rounds played as a single from counting towards your handicap which is fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.  Your signature events that the majority of the public associates with you…were train wrecks.  So one train wreck deserves another.  So in that vein, Santa got you a Sandra Lee Kwanzaa Cake.  That you’re going to eat while I watch.

Look at it.  LOOK AT IT!  Don’t avert your eyes!  Now eat the damn cake! Like we had to look at greens that were described as cauliflower on a course that hopefully will never see another major championship in its lifetime.  Now eat that concoction.  EAT IT!

To Rattlewood and Compass Pointe golf courses…you were nice to Santa this year.  You were pleasant surprises when Santa needed them.  So you’ll get good weather in 2016 so you can keep doing what you’re doing.  And Rattlewood, with your clubhouse decor straight out of Caddyshack…I like your style.

To Waverly Woods…you’re getting a watch so you can…you know, start enforcing pace of play.  Here’s some motivation for you.

May none of you ever get Judge Smails in the group in front of you.  If that wasn’t subtle enough…move people along.  It’s called a time par.   First few groups should be in 3 hours or less, then 3 1/2 hours, then 4 hours.  Look into it.  Please.  Don’t make excuses for slow play.  Move people along.  You’re better than this.

Timbers at Troy…oh, what’s happened to you?  This is your Santa intervention.  A few years ago, you had a really solid golf course.  Fantastic layout…some solid holes.  And you’ve let yourself go.  Take a look.

white goodman fat White goodman smile

That’s you at the top today, and below is what you used to be.  You can do this.  So let’s make it happen.  I’m pulling for you.  Nobody is saying you need to have tour-level conditions, but some basic improvements in conditioning will go a long way.  Ask yourself- do you want to become another Cross Creek, or worse- a Gunpowder or a Goose Creek, or do you want to be in that discussion of very good public courses in the area?

The LPGA has had a good year and remains a viable, entertaining and watchable product.  They have a good schedule and they’re growing their game fairly well.  So Santa is going to get you continued health, playable weather, and hope that the Olympics give your game that boost to the next level.

Donald Trump…where to start.  Have a seat.  Let’s leave your politics out of it for a moment.  You’re not exactly making friends so far, but what’s odd is how many people say that, on the golf course, you’re a swell guy, and I can see this.  You’re pretty good, and it’s been said you get around pretty quickly.  But with that being said, you can’t be completely tone deaf either, so let’s take it down a notch.  There’s no question you’ve acquired some name-brand golf courses, but this notion you have to put your name on it is frankly silly.  So stop it.  Turnberry was on the Open rota of courses until the R&A got a bit tired of your act and have decided to pull TRUMP Turnberry off the rota.  Sticking your name on something doesn’t make it better.  Improving pace of play for amateurs while having a course that will challenge modern professionals should be enough of a challenge.

As to your politics…they’re just that- yours.  However, I will point out something Michael Jordan said- “Republicans buy sneakers too.” and yes- Democrats play golf.

So stop attaching your name on courses you buy.  New builds?  Go as tacky as you want.  And stop eating thin crust pizza with a fork and a knife.  You’re a New Yorker for the love of birdies.  Fold the damn thing and insert into your maw.  Pay attention and take notes.  Note at the end how he folds and inserts into his maw.

So for Christmas, you’re playing golf at a public course.  With a bunch of regular guys.  You’ll change your shoes in the parking lot, pay a green fee in cash, and have to deal with the starter like we do.  And get off of push carts.  Seriously.  They’re tacky?   You wear a baseball cap with a suit.  Just saying.  You’re going to have to use one, because I’m being spiteful.

Don…seriously.  You’re not helping yourself.  People in the golf industry can’t stand you.  You’re embarrassing us.  People I play with think you’re an imbecile.  Okay, so maybe this whole thing is some kind of long con, or a goof.  But when the goof is over you have to go back and do whatever it is you do.  Good luck with that.

TopGolf Arlington…while my two visits to Top Golf didn’t blow me away, it’s a point of entry for people, and certainly folks seem to have fun.  So Santa is giving you a lease extension so more people can go and enjoy their facility.  Again- it’s not my brand of scotch but it doesn’t have to be.  People enjoy it and they have fun.  To close it down because of some nimby types is ridiculous.  I live near a concert venue.  Occasionally I hear the concerts during the summer.  I deal with it.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Santa is giving you a whole new group of selectors, because your 2016 class is, frankly, laughably bad.  Steve Miller?  Chicago? Deep Purple?  It’s the triple-pleated dockers of inductees.  I get that Morrissey is a prick beyond words, but The Smiths have held up incredibly well, and their music has its own sound (it’s the Rickenbacker guitar).   You have teenagers wearing Smiths t-shirts today, like I did 30 years ago.  While you’re at it, time to induct a few punk bands (I have a list).

And since it is the holiday season, here’s my oddball discovery.

I found the Cocteau Twins in the late 1980’s, and I’ve liked their music on and off.  It wasn’t until a couple years ago, back when I had a Sirius XM unit in my car that I came upon this gem.  I didn’t really know that they had done this (originally released in 1993) so I finally found it on YouTube.  It’s exactly what it says it is- the Cocteau Twins singing a Christmas classic.

Enjoy your holidays.

Wise Words of Wisdom on Slow Play

While I like to consider myself a fast golfer, I won’t claim to being the only expert when it comes to slow play.  There are others, and I would argue that the more voices that we hear from, the better off we’ll all be.

To that, I cede the floor to James Achenbach of Golfweek, who, in his farewell column, wrote some of the best words (that came from Dick Hyland, head professional at The Country Club at DC Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona (if you ever need a second, or a third, just contact me through my site and I’ll be there).

Note: this was in the August 31st issue of Golfweek.  I’d link to it, but Golfweek doesn’t have print articles that I can link to.  I tried (so we’re clear, what’s below isn’t my words, but that of James Achenbach and Dick Hyland; Italics are mine).  Mr Hyland’s tips (which should appear at every course), appear below:

1) Give golf professionals the clear authority to approach and advise plodding groups.  Hyland’s first words to any slow group: “What can I do to help you?”

2) Forget honors entirely; play ready golf at all times.

3) Concentrate on determining your yardage before it is your turn to his.

4) Try this guideline: From the time you pick up your coin (or ball marker), you have 15 seconds to hit a putt.

5) Another guideline: In the age of plastic spikes, experiment with rounds where continuous putting is mandatory.

6) The first golfer to hole out should hold the flag and replace it.

7) Never park a golf cart on the front side of the green; park it as close as possible to the point of exit from the green.

8) After hitting a shot, keep your club in your hand.  Replace it in the bag only after the cart has stopped at its next position.

9) In the age of distance measuring devices, try this on par-3 holes: Spray paint the exact yardage to the flag stick from various tee locations.

10: Courses might keep and even post a time sheet, noting start time, turn time, and finish time for all groups.

Brilliant.  Absolutely brilliant.

 

Slow Play Saturday and Other Very Bad Things

Work has kept me away from updating my blog for the last two weeks- I played a desultory round two weeks ago at UMD golf course where I couldn’t have made a putt if my life depended on it.  Last Saturday I played at Rattlewood with some locals; enjoyed their company and turned in a very pleasant 80.

The Rattlewood round was played with a foursome; we got around in a shade over 3 1/2 hours despite waiting for the foursome in front of us (all walking) on several holes.  Which leads me to today’s episode of “Slow Play and You- when forces combine to make the 5 hour round a living, breathing thing!”

Two things you’re noticing if you’re playing (or two things to take note of if you’re not)- several courses have punched their greens (it must be real difficult to let people know- if only there was some kind of mechanism to broadcast this information), and the lack of rain over the last several weeks means that the lush, thick rough we were all hacking our way out of back in June is now brown, thin, and going dormant.

Today’s episode takes place at Northwest Park Golf Course.  Let’s follow along step-by-step on how you, too, can make slow play a real thing and happen at your golf course too!

1) Accept and allow people to book tee times prior to sunrise.  So if the sun comes up at, say, 6:30, book that first time at 6:20.  Be sure to have several people in this first time who are unwilling to hit that first shot until the light is to their liking.

I can see the fairway and the sprinklers. Good to go.

I can see the fairway and the sprinklers. Good to go.

2) Have the starter show up late and spend several minutes taking care of stuff that has nothing to do with getting golfers on the golf course.  Said starter being a stickler for “enforcing rules” will be even better!

3) Always put out three walkers who aren’t exactly quick.

4) Put three foursomes of players in carts in back of them…ideally the types who are good golfers who play fairly quickly.

The deer play faster than the 3 rubes I got stuck with.

The deer play faster than the 3 rubes I got stuck with.

5) That first group?  The one with the three walkers?  Let’s have one go full Kevin Na 2012.  Not sure what I’m talking about?  Feast your eyes:

5) If you haven’t punched your computer yet, the next step would be to have one of these people have a pre-shot routine that takes about 60 seconds.  At a public course.  On a Saturday morning.  I’m almost shameful putting this link up but sometimes you have to do things that are unpleasant.

6) Be insistent about who does and doesn’t tend the flag.

I normally try to be patient (and if you play fast, you can shoot 150 for all I care), but I lasted four holes with these three idiots before I bolted from them.  I’ll point out that I took these clowns over an hour to play four holes (again- as the first group out).  It took me 90 minutes to play the last 14 as a single and that would have been shorter had I not had to wait on the guy cutting new holes on several shots on the back nine.

Waiting on guy cutting new hole location.  No worries mate.

Waiting on guy cutting new hole location. No worries mate.

I don’t know what became of them, and frankly, I don’t particularly care.  I know I played a whole lot better once I ditched them; played the back 9 at one over par (6 pars, 2 bogeys and 1 birdie).

18th hole at Northwest Park. Pro tip- hit it left of that giant tree on the right.  Seriously.

18th hole at Northwest Park. Pro tip- hit it left of that giant tree on the right. Seriously.

The sooner you send these goobers to “how to play faster” school, the better we all will be.   Hint- DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, USE THE PRESHOT ROUTINES YOU SEE FROM THE PROS.  They get paid to play.  And most of them play at a pace that would have to improve to be called glacial.

If you’re one of these “walking is integral to the game” purists…that’s all good and well, but I can assure you that I can get around faster than you if I’m in a cart and you’re walking.  And I’m sorry, but on a Saturday morning with a full tee sheet, the goal should be getting people around quickly.  I’ve long felt that early morning weekend rounds should be cart only, with rigidly-enforced time par to get people around.  Maybe go to only twosomes or threesomes for the first few slots.  The Scots believe a round of golf shouldn’t take more than 3 hours.  They’re on to something.

The proverbial “last straw” with the three dipshits was the one telling me “maybe if you walked you might lose some weight” which was hilarious and sad at the same time.

Here’s the thing…I have a confession to make.  It’s taken me years to come to this realization, and hopefully you’ll all be understanding during this time.  I’ve never admitted this before, mostly because I never really felt the need to say it, but here goes.

Oh…the suspense….oh the agony!

I’m fat.

Seriously.

I’m fat.

I’ll say it again.  I’m fat.  It’s true…alert the media.  Golf Channel should have breaking news, but only if a half-in-the-bag Charley Rymer can be the one to mention it.  It’s true!  Golf blogger is fat!  Oh. My. Gawd.  Get Jim Ross!

I’ve been fat most of my life.  I spent two years in middle school fighting my way through grades 7 and 8 because the “intelligent, refined, and intellectually superior” kids would say horrible things and instigate fights with me (that for them, usually ended with them bloodied, bruised and occasionally broken and ended with me getting detention and eventually a suspension…for fights I didn’t seek out or start).

Once I got out of that playground comments about my weight (or the vastness of it) have largely gone silent because people don’t give two shits (ideally this is the case) or because people prefer to mock my fatness behind my back.  Which is fine, because the truth is I don’t really care what anyone thinks about me being fat.  If I wanted your opinion (and I don’t) I’d have provided you with one.

So yes…I’m fat.  You need not point this out to me.  I’m aware of it.  While I’m making confessions, I swear like a sailor and have an alcohol tolerance associated with Irish dockworkers.

I’m not looking for a parade or sympathy.  Treat me with the same respect you’d afford the other folks, and we’ll get along fine.  That’s it.  You don’t need to point it out, and talking about it is, frankly, pointless.  So there.  I said it.

 

 

 

A Polite Rebuttal and Other Nonsense

Brandel Chamblee of Golf Channel, who I normally find worth listening to (he’s not afraid to be critical which is good, and for those unaware he did play on the PGA Tour to some level of success- he has one PGA Tour victory which is one more than I’ll ever see) recently wrote an interesting piece about growing the game of golf.  He suggests that the PGA Professional at his home country club was a huge factor for him, and that the home professionals have the ability to make that all-important 1 on 1 contact with would-be golfers.  This sounds really nice, except that it lacks a bit of practicality in the 21st century.

Brandel Chamblee speaks.  I offer a rebuttal.  Politely.

Brandel Chamblee speaks. I offer a rebuttal. Politely.

I suppose that, if your parents have a country club membership that this is a fantastic means to make that personal connection that can make someone into a golfer for a lifetime.  I was not one of those people and I must confess to knowing one person (a very good friend) who grew up in a country club environment (by his own admission, the club was not a sanctuary for the well-heeled but more of a social club that had things for people of all ages and genders).  My parents were of very modest means, so joining a country club was a laughable idea (not to mention my parents were not golfers on any level- the best I could do is my father playing minor league baseball and being a fairly decent doubles tennis player).  However, I did have my “one on one” introduction via an aunt (since deceased) who was a very good amateur player (we would see her once a year during the family visits that doubled as vacations).  At no point did she ever give me lessons other than a couple tips (we played together a few times- she could be as tough as nails but she could also be as sweet and charming in her Texas/Oklahoma drawl as you could possibly imagine) and a suggestion to watch Jack Nicklaus’ videos “Golf My Way” (in my opinion this remains as good of an instructional video that exists- there’s nothing fancy here…just good solid fundamentals); I can still remember watching these videos (renting them from the local video rental store- kids, go ask your parents about “video rental stores”).

I’ve been playing the game off and on for close to 30 years.  I’ve probably played at 200 golf courses, and if I’ve met the local PGA Professional at any of them, it would be news to me (again- no need for introductions from the club pros).  If you don’t know me, I’m the guy who happily puts on his golf shoes in the parking lot, and then walks into the pro shop to pay my green fee and head to the starter (until I quit smoking I’d be the guy pulling up in untied golf shoes stashing my cigarettes in the cart (if I didn’t have one already lit) where nowadays people stash their mobile phones).  Generally speaking, I’m a “hit the ball and hit the road” golfer (a phrase coined by a writer whose work I enjoy).  I don’t know anyone who has the time to spend that kind of time at a country club, and the reality is that I don’t see this dichotomy changing anytime soon in the age of two-income families and social agendas for kids becoming more and more compacted.

So unless you’re the child of parents who spend a lot of time at a country club, the reality in the 21st century is that a club professional may not be capable (or willing) to have that one on one time.  It’s a wonderful idea (and to be clear, I’ve nothing but kind words for any club professional teaching the game to young people), but is it really practical?

The answer, it seems, is that it’s on all of us.  My aunt didn’t teach me grip, stance, or swing.  My grip, stance, and swing are entirely self-taught from watching Golf My Way and going out and following what the videos showed me.  Is that a bad thing?   I’ve had two people give me pointers in the last 20 years.  A guy I was talking to at a driving range in 1995 told me to stand closer and more upright to the ball (I’d gain distance and I’d be less likely to come over the top), and a guy at a store I was trying some clubs out identified me as a hockey player based on my swing.  His advice?  Don’t let anyone get the hockey out of your swing.  That and Jack (and later in life, that Jack would sometimes be Jack Daniels, who also offers sage advice).

If you see young people playing, welcome them.  Don’t worry about them becoming Tour Professionals (they won’t) and for all that’s good, let them try to figure it out on their own (sounds mean but once you actually figure out what it is you’re doing wrong and how to correct it, you’ll be a much better golfer).  Offer aid when asked.  Focus on the basics- grip, stance, ball position.  I learned by hitting lightweight practice balls in my neighbourhood (I’d cover them with scotch tape to give them a bit of weight and make them not quite as susceptible to wind) and I made my own “course” using light posts and trees for flag sticks (using a single club- an old Wilson 8-iron).

Again, I’m not being critical of Brandel Chamblee, I’m pointing out that his experiences are just that-his.  It’s not to diminish them, but rather to point out that there are different paths to the game other than the club professional.  I do agree with him that foot-golf (Frisbee golf but with a soccer ball) and the 15 inch hole are not solutions, but well-intended but naive ideas that do nothing to grow the game.

Shouldn't you be at a Phish concert or something?

Shouldn’t you be at a Phish concert or something?

Seriously.  Go find a disc golf course and ask folks playing if they’ve ever considered playing real golf.  My guess is that they haven’t.  Which is fine- they enjoy their sport and I’m free to enjoy mine, just like they can enjoy 20-minute versions of Phish songs, and I can enjoy double scotches.

 

 

 

 

Only 11 more years of this garbage (FOX Sports and the USGA)

I wanted FOX to get it right.  I wanted them to balance new technology and new thinking with a well-structured broadcast that would win reviews, delight and energize viewing audiences and hopefully, elevate the entire medium of how golf tournaments are broadcast.  At a minimum, I wanted them to put together a technically strong broadcast that informed the viewer of what was going on, and give the viewing public confidence that they would show themselves to be a worthy partner in the landscape and show their rivals at CBS, NBC and Golf Channel that while their portfolio might not be the largest, they would always put their best foot forward.

That, unfortunately, didn’t happen.  From enough technical mistakes to fill seasons’ worth of NBC/GC/CBS broadcasts to overuse of people wholly unsuited for the broadcast to the tragic under-utilization of Holly Sanders, to the USGA’s utter incompetence in being able to set up a golf course, it was four days of incompetence saved, not because of themselves, but in spite of themselves in the form of a thrilling conclusion.

It was only then that FOX managed to get out of their own way, but only barely.  An exciting finish does not make up for nor excuse a raft of technical mistakes that seemed to be happening far too often.

Much like Rogers’ 12-year (11 years left) deal for Canadian NHL rights, the first year was an error-strewn stage of screw-ups and trying to put round pegs in square holes that meant lower ratings and dissatisfied audiences.

I’ll let Gary Player offer a reasoned critique of the USGA:

He did everything but drop the mic when he was done.

I’ll add this- going to an all-fescue course wasn’t the problem.  It’s when you let poa annua creep in that you end up with mess on the greens that you have.   The USGA had 8 years to get this course ready, and more importantly, they had the resources to get the course in fantastic shape.  And frankly, this isn’t the first time that they’ve let this happen (letting a golf course get away from them).  It happened in 1998 at Olympic (the hole location on #18 on the Friday was worthy of a clown’s mouth), it happened in 2001 at Southern Hills, 2002 at Bethpage Black (forcing players to carry the ball 250 yards on the fly), 2004 at Shinnecock Hills (letting the greens die on them), 2006 Winged Foot (letting the rough get horrific), 2012 at Olympic (tee boxes on the final day), and 2014 at Pinehurst.  I don’t blame them for the wet conditions in 2009 and 2011…they did the best they could under the circumstances.  But far too often they’re trying to over-think things; often to the detriment of the tournament and the golf course.

My concern is this- by Sunday night, Chambers Bay looked dead (the turf).  For their well-intended concerns about using less water on courses how much more water (and sod, fertilizer, etc.) is it going to take to get the course back to being operational?  I’m all for courses that use drought-tolerant turf but there has to be a line between “you can save water” and “let the course die and become as hard as a cement parking lot.”

The USGA have one crack to set up a course for the best men in the world (and one for the best women), and their record is, frankly, terrible.  I’ll go back to the question- are we trying to identify the best players in the world or embarrass them?  This notion of “we must protect par” is absurd.  If you watched The Masters and were angry because Jordan Spieth took the course apart, raise your hand.  Did Rory McIlroy’s win in 2011 somehow detract because he finished -16 on a wet course that you could throw darts at?  Did Tiger Woods’ 2000 win at Pebble Beach (where he finished at 272 and won by 15 strokes and put on a clinic) detract from watching?  NO!  People want to see elite athletes turn in elite performances!  Set the course up to challenge the best players in the world, but reward great shots.  If the winning score is -10…so what?  Augusta National, the R&A and the PGA of America don’t have this obsession with par, and yet you have the USGA ginning up their annual “we must protect par” game.  And having holes alternate between being a par 4 and a par 5 is laughable.  The par of a hole should not change from one day to the next, especially on the first two days when you have players going off at the first and 10th holes.

Back to FOX.  In the interest of trying to be nice, I’ll present the good, the bad, and the ugly:

GOOD:

-The trackman that they were using was fantastic and it helped casual fans see where shots were going.  Better than their glow-puck idea from 20 years ago.

-The audio; from hearing the putts rattle around in the cup to the conversations between players and caddies…they got the audio right.

-Brad Faxon and Steve Flesch were solid, if not unspectacular in their roles.  Faxon would be a great tower commentator (17th hole).

-Tom Weiskopf- unafraid to voice an opinion; in a revamped lineup I’d put him in the 16 hole tower.

-Graphics (when in use).  The leaderboard was clean and the font they used easily readable.  Having a top-five leaderboard on the screen at all times might have been overkill early on, but definitely something I’d like to see more of for weekend (especially final round) coverage.

-Drones (when in use).  They should have been using the drone hole previews a lot more, especially on Sunday when you have casual fans tuning in.

-No Chris Berman.  Not having to listen to him babble like a drunk in a bar was the one positive in their Thursday/Friday coverage; he might well be great hosting football and baseball, but it does not equate to being good at golf (regardless of if he plays or not).

BAD:

-Joe Buck.  They’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole.  Maybe you bump him to the host role (think Bob Costas on NBC’s US Open coverage), but for someone who’s covered Super Bowls and World Series, he seemed completely out of his element on Sunday evening.  He was good conducting the interview with Jordan Spieth…maybe that’s his role going forward.  It’s not a knock on Joe Buck; it’s about putting people in roles they’re good at.

Curt Menefee.  He’s good at football.  He’s terrible with golf.  The four-five person booth might work great for an NFL pregame and halftime setup, but for golf it was too many people (CBS and NBC have two at a time…it’s cleaner and it works better).  They tried having him host their UEFA Champions League Final coverage which was a similar bust.  Maybe he’d be a good fit for baseball.

-The crawl.  For early round coverage, that FOX didn’t have a crawl with the entire field (on Thursday) listed is borderline criminal.  For a network that spearheaded giving the viewer more information, this was laughable.  I kept flipping over the Golf Channel as they had one.  They hired Mark Loomis away, and something relatively simple and frankly, expected by viewers and they can’t be bothered.  They didn’t run it much on the weekend coverage either.

-Early coverage.  To come on the air and not show actual golf…WHY EVEN BOTHER?  When in doubt, show golf shots!  It’s not that hard!

-Mike Davis interview.  I’ve seen pillow fights that were tougher.  I know…the USGA is their partner.  But you didn’t have one or two players being critical of the course and the setup.  The guy who won was critical of the setup.  Ask tough questions.  It’s okay.  It’s not like they’re going anywhere.

UGLY:

-Holly Sanders.  They hire someone from the Golf Channel, and rather than use her knowledge of golf, they have her do the post-round interviews (99.9% of which are completely pointless).  I did like the graphic showing their score in the background, but a complete and total waste of talent.  Here’s a crazy idea- have her anchor coverage.

-Rules.  You have David Fay in the booth explaining things, but for audiences watching with no sound, a graphic showing the rule being applied would be a great addition (they do this with their NFL coverage).  When Grace hit his tee shot on 16 way right (I was on the phone at the time so I had the volume on mute), I didn’t know if it was O.B. or considered to be in a hazard.  The orange traffic cones I saw aren’t covered in any rule book.  Again- when in doubt, give the viewer as much info as possible.

-Dustin Johnson interview after the 4th round.  As in why didn’t they have one?  He had one putt to win the championship and a second to get into a playoff…missed both.  I get it- he feels awful, but this is your job to flag him down and ask him questions.  To borrow from the late great Ken Venturi, from his first putt, he needs to take 5 out of the equation.  Meaning, at worst, leave yourself a tap-in for a playoff.  It’s not unreasonable to ask him a few questions (ask him about the number of short putts he missed- was it spike marks, was it a read issue…what?).

-USGA Playoff Format.  In any other tournament they’d have kept playing (daylight wasn’t an issue), but this being the US Open, we’d send everyone home Sunday night without a winner and force an 18-hole playoff on Monday, which is beyond silly (the Masters goes to a sudden death playoff like every other PGA Tour event, while the PGA Championship and the Open Championship use 4 and 3-hole aggregate score playoffs).  If the USGA is so against sudden death, then why do they use it after an 18-hole playoff (see 1994 and 2008 US Opens).  Go to a 3-hole aggregate playoff, and send people home Sunday night with a winner.

ALL OF THE ABOVE:

-Greg Norman.  At times he was insightful; other times he was long-winded and seemingly incapable of making a coherent point.  With a better anchor who could keep him on point, I think he could be a solid main analyst.  He’s not Faldo nor is he Miller, but he has the ability to improve.  The question I’m asking is this- given his worldwide businesses that he runs, does he want to put in the work to become a world-class analyst?  Given their limited portfolio of events (if we’re being honest, you’re looking at the Open, Senior Open, Women’s Open and the Amateur as the four main events that FOX has) it’s not unreasonable to ask if Norman is going to put in the time for four weeks’ work.

OVERALL:

As I predicted, this was never going to work well, and I continue to question the logic (beyond money) of the USGA’s decision to go to FOX for the next 11 years (after this one).  It’s hard to see them going after golf (they have NASCAR and baseball rights on weekends, and I don’t see Golf Channel/NBC or CBS giving up their current rights without having something to replace it) so they’re going to continue to be a part-time player (like ESPN, who shows the Open Championship and early-round Masters coverage and that’s it) in golf.  Long term I still think that the Masters will take early-round rights to Golf Channel, and I think NBC/Golf Channel goes hard now that the bidding process is underway for the Open Championship.

FOX did some good things, but still made far too many mistakes that viewers shouldn’t have to tolerate.  I can only hope that next year at Oakmont (as traditional of a US Open course as you can get) they do a better job.

The Falls Road Follies

Years ago, at least two or three jobs ago, the Bethesda-based company I worked for ran a golf league at Falls Road.  So once a week we’d go to Falls Road and play 9 holes in the evenings.  It was a great way to have fun and play golf.  I still have many happy memories of playing there.

Despite the clusterf**k that is Montgomery County traffic controls (especially in the Bethesda-Potomac area), I like to make the hike down there to see what’s happening.

My round on Saturday, if it were a highlight reel, would have this as the soundtrack (just click on it- it really makes everything better):

It was a cascade of shit in the form of el hozel chips, bad approach shots, and 37 putts (I never did get the pace down…which is a nice way of saying I putted like crap).

Falls Road, based on Saturday’s round in full-blown summer heat and humidity, is still catering to the masses and is still offering up a playable yet challenging course.

The first three holes shouldn’t pose much of a challenge, although #2, while on the card appearing to be a reachable par 5, has a very tight landing area to an uphill green.

The challenge really starts on the 4th hole, which is a par 5 protected to the left side by a giant tree (that unlike the giant tree protecting the second green at Maryland National, is still standing).  Shots to the left or into the gully offer no real chance of hitting the green.  The fifth hole (pictured below) is a tough par 3 with no bailout.

5th hole at Falls Road.  Don't miss long, left, right or short.

5th hole at Falls Road. Don’t miss long, left, right or short.

The seventh hole, for those who play there on occasion, has been toughened up with a hazard that runs the width of the fairway (for shorter hitters it doesn’t really come into play, but for longer hitters or for someone who tattoos one…you might want to give club selection some thought).

Falls Road 7th hole.  Note the hazard where there used to be fairway.  Jerks.

Falls Road 7th hole. Note the hazard where there used to be fairway. Jerks.

The back nine (or second nine if you prefer) is largely unchanged.  The 12th-15th holes remain as tough of a stretch of holes of any public course in the state (I’d put Blue Mash #1-#4 only because they start you with that crusher) before you get three relatively easier holes to finish the round (#16, while on the card appearing to be relatively easy, is anything but- the tee shot has to carry a hazard and the green is well protected with junk left and a giant bunker to the right).

Two issues- the greens were a bit soft (they were watering them yesterday morning) and the rough was pretty thick and lush (any shots that missed the fairway were dead).  I understand why they’re watering the greens because they don’t want to lose them especially with the spate of heat and humidity, but keeping the tall cabbage around grinds pace of play to a halt (it’s not like it rained Friday morning when they could have cut the roughs down).

Falls Road is still a pain in the ass to get to and pace of play can be brutal on a busy weekend, but once you’re there, you’ll find a course that still offers a pretty good setup.

In that note of “things I discovered in the late 90’s”, I discovered Everything But the Girl during a phase of enjoying the slightly less rage/angry music.  Not their biggest hit but for me, this was my favourite song:

 

I’m hoping to put together a US Open preview blog before Thursday where I’ll try to pick a winner…or most likely I’ll get it wrong beyond words.

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