Rattlewood – Course Review

Tee shot on the par-4 6th at Rattlewood


Rattlewood Golf Club in Mt. Airy, MD is on the border of Frederick and Montgomery Counties and is one of nine courses managed by Montgomery County Golf.  While not extraordinarily long at 6,501 yards from the championship tees, the course is challenging in certain spots and provides ample opportunities to score in others.  Located in a fairly rural setting, the terrain is rolling but without any significant changes in elevation.  I would not advise on walking because of the considerable distance from green to tee box on several holes.  Every time I have played here I ride and and enjoy the course routing which takes you through a secluded front nine and some nice homes on the back that border but do not intrude.

We played on May 27th and found the course in excellent condition from tee to green, with no bare spots in the rough and the putting surfaces rolling fast and pure.  A little local knowledge goes a long way and can help you avoid some serious pitfalls on what you’d think was a fairly benign track.

Playing notes:

  • #1 is a medium short uphill par-4 and a good drive will leave you with less than 150 yards in.  If the flag is cut in front, you must stay below the hole because putting from behind and downhill is a carnival.  It’s better to miss the green short than to have a 30 footer from behind.  When the hole is cut middle-back, go for it.
  • The approach on the par-4 second hole plays two clubs shorter than the yardage because of the amount of rollout.  If you have a short iron in, you better be able to spin the ball or you will go over.
  • #3 is an uphill par-5.  You cannot see the green on the second shot but you must avoid the fairway bunker protecting the right side.  Hit it and you’re looking at a 100-yard bunker shot so take the left side where you’ve got ample room to miss.
  • The par-4 fifth hole is a shortie but the tee shots bounce hard left.  Aim your driver or 3WD down the right side fairway/rough line to put yourself in the best position.  Over the green here is usually a lost ball so take care with your approach.
  • The par-4 sixth (pictured above) is another shortie.  You want to leave yourself enough room to spin a full wedge from the fairway, especially if the flag is in front because the green is shallow and only holds approaches that are well struck.  I like to lay up with a 3WD, which usually leaves a full sand wedge.
  • On the par-5 10th, if you hit a good drive, you’ll be tempted to go for the green in two.  Don’t.  The myriad of greenside bunkers can leave you with a very tough play so lay back into the fairway for an easy third.
  • The par-3 12th is a long tough hole.  The green rolls slopes from right to left making it even more difficult to get it close.  Missing short in the approach is preferred to right or left and I often take less club than I need if I’m not comfortable hitting a 3WD or 5WD from the tee.  Don’t get greedy here.
  • Hit your driver as hard as you can on the par-4 14th.  It plays short but the green is small and approaching with the shortest iron possible gives you the best chance to score.
  • #15 is a great risk/reward drivable par-4.  At 265 yards from the white tees, if the flag is in front and you’re feeling good, go for it because even a leave in one of the front bunkers is a nice play.  If the flag is in back, avoid the front bunkers and lay back in the fairway.

    Risk – reward tee shot on #15
  • #18 is a hard dogleg left that tempts you with a tee shot that can get pretty close to the green if you fly it over the pine trees guarding the parking lot on the left.  Mishit your shot and you are out of bounds.  I prefer to take a 3WD for position, which usually leaves me under 100 yards for an easy approach.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

We played on the after 12 noon weekend rate of $38 which is an excellent value considering your cart is included and the quality of the golf is good.  The greens fee + cart rate before noon is $59, which is still reasonable.  A small basket of range balls runs you $4 and a yardage guide is available in the pro shop for free, which is a nice touch.

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

The facilities are a mixed bag.  The 18,000 square foot clubhouse is nice and provides ample room in the grill to relax and have some post round food and drink and take in a game on their big screen TV.  The pro-shop is of adequate size and is nicely stocked.  The practice putting green is large, has a variety of sloped/flat putts, and is located conveniently between the clubhouse and first tee.

Unfortunately, the driving range leaves much to be desired.  When it was created, the supporting concrete surface was not leveled leaving a ball above your feet shot (for righthanders) at each of the hitting stations.  Mats are the only surface provided.  A small pitching green is located in an odd bowl like depression between the range and clubhouse and the configuration doesn’t leave you with many flat lies to practice from.  The practice area is good enough to get loose but should be avoided by those serious about working on their games.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Booking tee times through Montgomery County Golf’s website is easy and there were ample tee times available one week in advance.    We arrived at the course at 11:15 a.m. for a 12:36 p.m. tee time and the starter offered to get us out ahead of three consecutive foresomes if we were willing to start at 12:00 noon.  We happily accepted his offer and were appreciative of the attention because our round was completed in under four hours and we didn’t wait on any shots and the group behind us never pushed us.

For the record, I played the white tees at 6,104 yards and shot a 5-over 77.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

McIlroy is fizzlin’ while Dufner is sizzlin’

Rory wingin’ metal

What is going on with Rory McIlroy and these all too frequent meltdowns in the big events?  The latest was at this week’s BMW Championship in Wentworth, England, and wasn’t pretty.  The club throwing incident in a two-over 74 in the first round was followed by an ungodly 7-over 79 in the second round and a missed cut in the biggest regular season event on the European Tour.  One of the post round reports had McIlroy indicating that he wasn’t working hard enough.  Huh?  Has he let the fame and fortune go to his head or is it something else?  Was there also this supposed lack of preparation before the missed cut at the TPC?  Either McIlroy has something going on in his personal life that’s causing a distraction that nobody knows about, or he should slow down, travel less, and dedicate more time to playing a consistent schedule against PGA Tour competition, which is still the best in the world.

Dufner wins again

Jason Dufner, the total opposite, plods along with minimal fanfare hitting fairways and greens and has snuck up on the PGA Tour with a couple wins sandwiched around getting married.  Talk about the poster child for getting your life, golf, moon, and stars aligned.  A quick look at his stats  shows superb ball striking with mediocre putting.  Indeed, his performance at the courses that require deft touch on difficult greens (The Masters and PLAYERS) was less than stellar with a tie for 24th and a tie for 68th respectively.  Big pressure events like Memorial and U.S. Open are coming up where players need to putt great and manage their nerves to contend but with Duf on cruise control, I expect him to win this weekend at Colonial.  Memorial is up next and should be a great one with the return of Tiger and all the drama of the world’s best on the same stage.

Who’s going to win at Jack’s place?

Golf psychology and mental game tips

Been fielding a lot of questions from friends, colleagues, and playing partners on how to improve their golf without a lot of practice.  Perfect opportunity to discuss the mental game because it doesn’t take a lot of time.  I’m not a sports psychologist but have read many books and articles and will share several techniques that work for me and should help you.

What works best:

  • Develop a reliable and consistent pre-shot routine.  Do this for every club in the bag and execute on every shot no matter how important.  Akin to putting your body and mind on autopilot.  Works great to handle pressure situations.
  • Be decisive.  For every shot, carefully decide on your approach and then play without delay.  John Wooden’s “Be quick but don’t hurry,” comes to mind because delay allows indecision to creep in and is deadly.  Build the timing of your rehearsal swings and pulling the trigger into your pre-shot routine and practice them.   Super effective for chipping and putting.
  • Game plan every hole.  Step on the tee and know how you want to play the hole to the finest detail.  Consider these two approaches for playing a long par-4 where you know you can’t reach the green.  Approach One:  “I’ll play a 3WD into the right side of the fairway, layup with a 5-iron to avoid the bunkers in front which will leave an easy third with my sand wedge, that will give me the best chance for a par.”  Approach Two:  “Wail on a driver.”  Which do you think will be more successful?  Game planning improves your focus and will reduce the dumb shots which are usually played out of emotion or indifference.
  • Visualize Success.  Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” says that everything happens twice, once in your mind and then again in reality. It’s easier to execute on what your desired outcome is if you visualize it first.  See the shot in your mind in the finest detail, then pull the trigger.  Also helps to avoid playing those dumb shots like that 3WD off a hardpan lie from the middle of the woods.
  • Identify the smallest target possible.  Helps to focus the mind on where you want the ball to go and less on swing mechanics.  Pick a small target for every shot and you’ll increase your margin for error.
  • Stay in the moment.  Focus only on the shot you are about to play.  The 50-foot birdie putt you just sank or the ball you just hit out of bounds, or the long par-3 over water coming up in two holes are in the past or future and don’t matter.  Let them go and devote your full attention to the current shot.
  • You are your best friend on the course.  This is difficult, but you must not criticize but rather encourage yourself after a bad shot.  The first time I tried this it was awkward but it helps you to forget mistakes quicker.  Thinking positive thoughts and playing with confidence is always preferred, and positive reinforcement helps.

What does not work:

  • Thinking about swing mechanics.  Very difficult to do especially when you’re hitting bad shots.  Your best golf will be played using one swing key and keeping your focus on the target.  When you start hitting the ball badly, resist the temptation to tinker with your swing and just play more conservatively.  Throttle down and use whatever club you need to to keep the ball in play.  Continue making aggressive swings with conservative club selections, but don’t mess with your swing on the course.
  • Thinking about trouble.  Think where you want to hit the ball and avoid thoughts about hitting into hazards or out of bounds.  Always play with your target in mind and you’ll get there more often.
  • Staying angry.  It’s okay to get mad at yourself but let it go and do it quickly.  Golf is an incredibly frustrating and difficult game and you need to play tension and distraction free.  Anger builds tension and is the worst of distractions.  Two things I’ve found here are to think about trying your hardest on every shot and to have fun on every shot.  Know that you are human and will make mistakes.  This will keep your bad shots in the proper perspective and allow you to let go more easily.

What are some of your best mental techniques?

Feeling pressure to tinker with my swing

Suffering a short-term hangover from playing in the Jess Carson Foundation charity tournament at Queenstown Harbor last week.  While the team did well and shot 11-under, which was good for 2nd place, I’m starting to feel the urge to do swing analysis, probably brought on by the scramble style format.  To get ready for one of these tournaments, you are afforded the luxury of not having to work on your full game and focus only on driving and putting.  Leading up to the tournament, I mentally prepared myself to optimize distance by making the most powerful and technically correct move possible.  I struck the ball well in the tournament but missed a few shots and felt the sudden urge to work on my swing.

With a certain major milestone only one month out, I think it best to resist.  Yes, Myrtle Beach is 30 days away and every year faced with the proposition of playing 180 holes in six days, I haul down a minivan full of swing thoughts that inevitably twist me into a swing pretzel.  While my short game usually sharpens from the reps, the carnage of bad shots I leave is not pretty.  Why the constant need to over-prepare for this venture?

To date, I’ve let the off season conditioning plan drive my swing performance and have yet to film swing or hit balls all spring, except to warm-up before a round.  With a clear head and a relaxed demeanor on the course, I’ve made more good swings than I have in years so why am I feeling the urge to tinker?

Between now and Myrtle, I’m thinking I’ll try what Bob Rotella advocates:  Commit to only two things on the golf course -try your hardest on every shot and have fun.  Think it will last?

2012 TPC Wrap-Up

Strange sort of PLAYERS Championship this year characterized by a lack of star power at the top, with the exception of Rickie Fowler, and no dynamic pulse pounding finish.  Again, #16, 17, and 18 played pivotal parts, but I felt like I was watching a fleet of large ships all leaking oil and trying to get to port.

Matt Kuchar

Congrats go to Matt Kuchar, for leaving the smallest oil slick, and for taking the crystal while maintaining the best attitude and biggest smile on tour.  By historical standards, Kuchar won this in traditional style by finishing 3rd in GIR which is always the key stat.  My picks of Luke Donald (6th) and David Toms (T-10th) played out well but they were never really in contention.  I was very disappointed in Hunter Mayhan’s performance as his ball striking failed him and he missed the cut.

Final impressions on the other principals:

  • Tiger Woods:  T-40th at The Masters, T-40th at THE PLAYERS.  Probably the 40th best player in the world.
  • Rickie Fowler:  This guy is the real deal.  Goes all out and made key birdies on 16 and 17 and had a great look at another on 18.  LOVE to watch him in the hunt.
  • Lee Westwood:  Another good ball striking week but same old story with the putter.
  • Has anyone noticed that Charlie Wi cannot play on the weekend?  Poor Charlie is 14th on tour with his pre-cut scoring average (70.04) and 165th in final round scoring (73.11).
  • Kevin Na:  3rd round leader and total basket case on the tee with more false starts, waggles, practice swings and self admonishments BEFORE THE BALL IS STRUCK than I can remember.  Don’t think it would be pleasant playing with Kevin until he gets these worked out and was worried that Kuchar would get distracted.  Not the case, though.
  • Rory McIlroy:  Didn’t drive it straight, didn’t hit greens, didn’t make the cut.  Didn’t have high hopes for him this week but he underachieved even my lowly expectations, and again on one of the biggest stages.

My secret to playing better more satisfying golf

Time to pause at the quarterly mark of the golf season and evaluate how my improvement plan has performed to date and check my readiness to hit the meat of the summer schedule.  I’m happy to report it’s working better than expected and I’m enjoying myself more than ever on the golf course.  My desire to get better more consistent ball striking was the secret sauce of satisfaction.  It’s great to come out to the course confident that you will hit solid shots with consistency.  The off-season conditioning program has clearly helped strengthen my core and allowed for better execution without extra practice or lessons.  In fact, I have not hit balls once with the intent on working on my swing, and have just let the physical changes drive the swing improvements.  I’m playing about once per week, practicing a little less, and feel more refreshed.  I planned to add a mid-week nine holes but that has not materialized.

The KPI I’m most concerned with is greens in regulation, with the goal of averaging 11 per round.  Through eight rounds, I’m not there but have hit or exceeded 10 GIRs five times.   For the first eight rounds in the last five years, my 10+ GIR stats were:

2011:  3 for 8

2010:  1 for 8

2009:  0 for 8

2008:  0 for 8

2007:  4 for 8

The trend is good and the major change I’m enjoying is more length off the tee.  I’ve been able to maintain a solid spine angle and clear my left hip much quicker on the downswing which has improved my timing and balance.  Oddly, I’ve struggled in my scoring on the par-5s as the added length has left me in layup/go for it situations I’m not used to.  In years past, my strategy was to lay back to 100 yards for an unimpeded wedge to the green.  Now if I go for it, I’m dealing with awkward greenside plays that often include low percentage long bunker shots.  Guess more short game work will be required to leverage the distance off the tee, but it’s a great problem to have.

2012 TPC Picks

The Tournament Players Club at Ponte Vedra is one of the greatest venues for stadium golf in the world and The PLAYERS Championship is arguably the strongest field of the year because it’s open to only the highest ranking professionals.  Picking a winner is like shooting fish in a barrel since the course favors accuracy over length and the potpourri of recent champions bears that out.  The winner is usually the one who drives it the straightest, hits the most greens in regulation, and can handle #16, 17, and 18 on Sunday.  The pressure in the final three holes is immense and has broken many a golfer’s heart. 

In recent history, the champions haven’t necessarily won the week before, or even in the same season but are generally in good form for the previous month.  With that in mind here are your winning picks for 2012:

PLAYERS Champ:  Luke Donald.  I like him on the strength of his iron game and high GIR potential.  Conventional thinking has this coming down to a head-to-head matchup with Rory McIlroy, but I’m a little cool to McIlroy’s 78th place ranking in driving accuracy and 76th place ranking in GIR.  Donald is in good form after winning twice, and had a strong fourth place finish here last year.  I love his nonchalant approach to the #1 world ranking and results in general.  He stays in the moment quite well.  Luke’s ready, and will take the first step towards winning a major with a victory here.

Runner Up:  Hunter Mayhan.  I actually like his ball striking better than Donald’s but his short game is so inferior to Luke’s that you have to give Donald the edge.  If Mayhan can stay out of the bunkers (149th on Tour) he’s got a shot to win it but I need to see a win in a big tournament like this before I give him the nod.  The image of his chunked chip in the Ryder Cup is still burned in my mind.  Is it still in his?

Third Place:  David Toms.  I’m allowing myself one horses-for-courses pick and Toms drives it straight and had a great TPC last year despite losing in a playoff to K.J. Choi.  Also seems to be rounding into form at Wells Fargo after three solid rounds.  Momentum is often fleeting on the PGA Tour from week to week, but I’ll ride this horse to a very high finish.

Notes on the field:  Bubba Watson is burned out and will not play.  Tiger Woods has taken a step back with his missed cut at Wells Fargo and insistence on the root cause being the swing corrections he and Sean (Foley) are working on.  Really?  Thought he had it worked out after winning at Bay Hill.  Again, Tiger has morphed into merely a good PGA caliber pro with a very a high focus on swing mechanics and a long record of success, but in a different virtual lifetime.  He’s a very poor pick on this layout since the premium is on ball striking.   Last year, Rory McIlroy played the stupid shot off the tree root that injured himself, but he’s in good form at Wells Fargo.  I think he comes up short for reasons mentioned earlier.  Phil Mickelson is a past champion, but is driving it too inconsistently to threaten.  Lee Westwood could make some noise as the venue suits his ball striking, and the greens will not be as fast as Augusta National.  With a little less pressure than a major watch him.

Looking forward to some excellent play and a thrilling Sunday finish.  Who are your top three picks?

Oh no, Bubba Watson is burned out!

Bad news from the Tour as Bubba has made it official and pulled out of next week’s PLAYERS Championship 😦  Sighting reasons that sound like burnout (need family time, need to take a month off from the game), it’s upsetting to hard core fans when the most popular players pull out of the best events.  Dustin Johnson pulled out as well sighting ongoing problems with his back.  But the trend of high profile post-major burnout continues, which makes you wonder, is anyone managing these guys?  Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open last year and basked so long in his popularity that didn’t play until a month later at the British Open and was hopelessly out of form.

I suspect the pressure to respond to the media after a major win, and the self imposed social networking obligations are taking a heavy toll on these players, with mental downtime at a premium.  Call me nuts, but if I won the Masters, spending the next few weeks tweeting my every thought and responding to all the media inquiries would run me ragged.  Remember how many talk shows Bubba did?  Just incredible.

In the everyday course of life, don’t you get burned out from too much connectivity?  I do, and when I hit the golf course, I make sure to unplug, go dark, and enjoy some serious disconnect.  Now you or I will never have the”problem” of winning The Masters, but what would you have done different if you were Bubba?