Game improvement. Next step: Big Step.

Earlier this week I finally addressed an issue that has been bothering me for quite some time; my equipment.  Since moving to Titleist DCI 822 OS irons around 10 years ago, my ball striking and GIR stats have been a continual source of frustration.  Everyone has bad ball striking days, but experienced players can feel a good swing born of balance, power, speed, and agility, and on too many occasions, I’ve felt the good swing and dealt with a substandard result.

On Tuesday, I laid down on the proverbial swing couch of master club builder Wade Heintzelman, of the Golf Care Center, and presented all my issues.  Wade has been building clubs for 28 years and has many excellent players as customers including several from the PGA Tour.  I figured I’d go to the best to finally get my issues addressed.  Over the course of my nearly two hour fitting, I learned that the 822s are designed for a lower caliber player that has an outside to in swing.  The clubs were one inch too long, had shafts that were too light, and the heads had too much offset and bounce.  Wade informed that often players adapt their swings to their equipment, and after receiving this information the pieces of my swing puzzle fell into place.  I had been coming up and out of my spine angle to account for the misfitted length, and the poor swings coupled with the added bounce on the iron heads were causing all the thin pushes that have plagued me inside 130 yards, as well as the thinned chips around the green.

During the fitting, Wade identified my proper loft, lie, length, total weight, shaft flexibility, grip size, and swing weight.  We discussed my set make up, what ball I played, and how I liked to approach the game and what shots I relied upon under pressure.  Then we discussed my wedge game and developed a plan to cover the yardage umbrella between 80 and 100 that I was previously covering with swing modifications.  I did not have any preconceived notions about manufactures or options and told Wade to make a recommendation solely based on his experience and what would be best for me.

I left the shop feeling very positive and taken care of and I realize I’m going to need to hit the delete button on all the frustrations of playing with misfit equipment over the last 10 years.  You’re probably thinking, “the carpenter is blaming his hammer for the bad house he just constructed,” and you may be right because I’m a big advocate of spending scarce resources on swing instruction over equipment changes, but this one feels like the right thing to do.

My new set should arrive within a week and I’m eager to game test it.  After making such a significant change, I’ll need to adjust to the new feel, change in distances, and hopefully regain some confidence in my natural ability.  I think a good read will require about 10 rounds, and I plan to have these played, as well as plenty of range sessions logged, before the 2013 trip to Myrtle Beach in May.  What do you think of this approach?

The old vs. new set makeup and specs:

Old:

  • Irons: 3 – PW, Titleist DCI 822 OS, Titleist NS Pro 650 (stiff)
  • Gap Wedge: Cleveland Tour Action 533, 49 degrees, Dynamic Gold S-300
  • Sand Wedge: Cleveland Tour Action 533, 56 degrees, Dynamic Gold S-300
  • Lob Wedge:  Taylormade Rac Tumble, 60 degrees, Uniflex shaft

New:

  • Hybrid Irons: 3, 4.  Mizuno H4, Dynamic Gold S-300 shafts, Tourwrap 580 grips, swing weight D2
  • Irons: 5 – PW, Mizuno JPX 825 Pro, Dynamic Gold S-300 shafts, Tourwrap 580, swing weight D2.
  • Wedges:  Cleveland CG 16, lofts 50, 54, 58 with specs commensurate to the irons.

Heritage Shores – Course Review

Summary

Clubhouse at Heritage Shores

I played Heritage Shores on Sunday, November 4, 2012.  The course is part of a new +55 residential community in Bridgeville, DE and is conveniently located on Rt 13, one mile south of the intersection of Rt 404 (main thoroughfare to the Delaware beaches.)  This Arthur Hills design presents a classic open style links play with significant green-side mounding and very little protection from the wind.  The day I visited it was windy and while the layout isn’t particularly difficult, the wind made scoring a challenge.  Most of the par four and five holes are fairly open but are bordered by a considerable amount of water, usually running parallel or diagonal to the tee shot.  The view from the tees fit my eye well and I didn’t find it too difficult to avoid the hazards but you get the feeling on several holes of a repeat look.

The front nine is the more pleasurable of the two as the course winds its way out into open areas and you feel more secluded.  The back is crammed into “house world” with the new single-family homes all looking the same.  I don’t mind playing courses tightly woven into housing communities, such as Oyster Bay in Sunset Beach, NC, where the properties are very different and present some variety, but that’s not the case at Heritage Shores.

Conditions were good through the green with the putting surfaces rolling medium fast and holding iron shots reasonably well, despite the heavy wind.  The bunkers were in terrible shape, with nearly every one loaded with casual water and leaves.  In all fairness, Hurricane Sandy had deposited about 10 inches of rain a few days earlier but the rest of the course had drained well so I was unsure if the greens crew had ignored the bunkers or these were just poorly designed.  I only had the bunkers at Queenstown Harbor, which I had played two days earlier, to compare to and they were in pristine condition.

18th green at Heritage Shores

Value (2.5 out of 5.0)

Greens fees were $59 which included a cart.  I believe the in-season rates are the same which would make it a better play in the summer, but I wouldn’t go any higher to visit a course of this caliber.  A small bag of range balls was $6 and they should really be included in the greens fee to improve value.

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

Heritage shores has a giant clubhouse that serves the entire community with two restaurants and houses the cart barn along with other non-golf related offices.  The smallish pro shop is combined in an adjacent building with a fitness and aquatic center.  A small snack bar sits next to the golf shop entrance but was closed when I played.  A small number of soft drinks were available for sale in the pro shop but I was surprised not to find the snack bar open for weekend play.

The driving range is a short cart ride across the street and boasts about 15 hitting stations.  We were hitting from mats and there appeared to be an ample grass area that was not open.  One thing missing was some type of bag rack or device to hold clubs and towels next to the hitting stations.  There was nothing, as you can see in the picture below, which required you to lay your clubs on the ground.

There were two very small putting greens adjacent to the golf shop entrance and I saw a sign indicating the short game practice area was closed.  I never observed the area and will reserve comment.

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

I booked a tee time over the phone and my impression of the golf shop staff was courteous and professional.  The starter drove out to the range to notify me when it was my turn to play which I appreciated.

The GPS units on the golf carts were touch screen, but only showed distance to the center of the greens, not the flag stick.  You had to drag the flagstick icon to a particular part of the screen where you thought the flag was and the GPS would recalculate the yardage.  I found this kludge and was glad I brought my Bushnell rangefinder to snap accurate yardages to the pins.  I could also do without the constant stream of adds on the GPS which required you to touch the screen to “return to golf”.

Overall I viewed Heritage Shores as a decent retirement community golf course but not a facility dedicated to the serious player.  For the record, I played the green tees at 6,477 yards and carded a 12-over par 84.

GPS unit

Overall Rating (2.75 out of 5.0)

Driving Range at Heritage Shores

Queenstown Harbor (River) – Course Review

Summary

Queenstown Harbor Clubhouse

On Friday, November 2nd, I made my way down to Queenstown Harbor to play the River course just a few days removed from Hurricane Sandy.  Queenstown is a 36-hole facility with The River being the more upscale play, and The Lakes, also a nice course, but not presenting as scenic an experience or as challenging.  The River has a lot of water and combines tree-lined protected holes with some open and exposed holes that are subjected to the winds off the nearby Chester River and Chesapeake Bay.  On this day, the hurricane was just exiting the area and the wind was sustained at 15-20 mph with higher gusts, and the temperature was in the high 40s.  Playing conditions were  super difficult from the blue tees at 6,568 yards.  I was amazed at the exquisite course conditioning considering nearly a foot of rain had fallen only days before.  The course drained extremely well and the bunkers were in immaculate shape (all groomed and not a sign of any pooling.)  Fairways, tees and greens were smooth and filled in nicely.  We were playing cart path only but the course was dry for all practical purposes.  A tip of the cap goes to the greens crew for the amazing job.

#16 green, The River Course at Queenstown Harbor

Playing tips:

  • All par-fives are three shot holes and placement is the key off the tee.  Don’t hesitate to take a three wood and keep it in play.
  • Most of the par-fours are medium length and play under 400 yards, however there are several sharp doglegs that tempt you to play over water to get a shorter look.  Don’t succumb to the temptation as the risk is not worth the reward.  The iron play in from the safe areas on #4 and #12 are easy enough to play to without risking a rinse.
  • #18 is a par-five and when the pin is cut front and left, be careful of the hidden water hazard that creeps up close to the green.  You can’t see it from the fairway.

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

I played on the off-season rate of $75.  In season is in the $90-$100 range which is not inexpensive for this play, even though the price includes your cart and unlimited range balls.  The Lakes can be played for $49 off-season and the greens fee is commensurate with the relative caliber of the layout.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

Queenstown has a modest size clubhouse that houses a well stocked and attractive pro shop, along with a good sized snack bar.  Behind the building is a pavilion used for outings which is a nice setting and can host upwards of 200 people.  Earlier this year I played a very well attended charity event here that was organized nicely.

The range at Queenstown

There is a 25 station driving range that is outfitted with mats that are designed to hold a wooden tee.  Unfortunately they don’t do the job and just teeing a ball up to hit driver was an issue, which was about the only source of frustration I had during the day.  There is a very large beautiful practice putting green adjacent to the first green and a smaller one by the driving range.  Next to the primary green is a medium sized pitching green that includes a bunker and a closely mown area, and presents a variety of lies to practice from.  Overall, the practice facilities are spacious and ample enough to support two courses.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

The staff at Queenstown from the professional manning the shop, to the snack bar attendant to the starter/bag drop guy were all very friendly and accommodating.  Reserving a tee time was easily done through their website which is intuitive and easy to use.  On this date, they had any time I wanted and the starter gave me the option to play as a single or pair up with a choice of twosomes.  Playing Queenstown in the offseason or in season during the charity outing was a delight.  Visitors to Maryland’s eastern shore should not miss this one.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

View of the first hole from the practice putting green.

2012 Fall Golf Trip Update

Just returned from a 3-day golf trip to the Delmarva that almost didn’t happen because of Hurricane Sandy.  The aftermath of the storm left the Delaware and Maryland coastal areas with windy and cold conditions that were less than optimal for golf.  I pushed through three blustery rounds that left me battered, exhausted, and glad to be home.  Full course reviews for Queenstown Harbor (River) and Heritage Shores are coming.

Freezing my butt off at Queenstown Harbor.

If you’ve ever played golf in heavy wind, you know there’s a premium on good ball striking.  Without it, you have no chance.  Oddly enough, I was getting it off the tee but couldn’t hit an approach shot to save my arse.  Only 15 GIRs over three rounds left me with handicap busting rounds of 85-90-84 and some serious second guessing about my motivation to take this on.  It had  been seven weeks since I last touched a club and the game rust exacerbated the difficult conditions.

Several truths came out as well.

Truth 1:  You MUST strike the ball solidly in the wind.

Truth 2:  If something is not working, change it.  We are creatures of habit and when you are on the bogey train or worse, and missing shots consistently, it’s probably a mechanical flaw.  I know it goes against conventional wisdom to try and fix your swing on the course but missing shots the same way every time (e.g. big push slice) can be addressed with little tweaks until you find a wood band-aid.  I found my fix on the range yesterday morning and finally put some good swings together after 50 holes.  Admittedly, it was a little late, but I enjoyed my last four holes and actually birdied #9 at Heritage Shores to end the trip.  While I will be “coming back”, I left the course with my game feeling like that crane in New York.

My golf game yesterday.
Picture from the New York Daily News

Truth 3:  No feel on the putting green?  It’s because your brain is flying on auto pilot and heading towards that big mountain.  You need to radically alter your setup and/or stroke to get your head in the game.  In round one, I was 10-over after nine holes and had taken 20 putts.  I abandoned my square stance, quiet hands, and shoulder propelled stroke, and went with a wide open stance with my heels together and implemented a very wristy stroke with a little “pop” at the bottom, and BINGO!  All feel returned and I rallied for a 3-over 39 on the inward half and took only 14 putts.  I have done this before, especially when playing in very hot weather where your concentration tends to wonder.  Something as simple as removing your hat, or putting with your glove on/off works.  Anything to break your routine can shake you into a course correction.

Truth 4:  Roll is easier to judge than flight.  I’ve been struggling with my green-side pitching.  Yesterday, in the wind, after another bladed wedge, I switched to low running bump and run game for all shots without forced carries and regained a measure of control and confidence.  Actually chipped in with an 8-iron where I normally would have tried to pinch a sand wedge.  The pros hit this shot with great effectiveness, but unless you have a ton of practice time, take the easier route and stay low.

Looking forward to expanding on these truths and playing some good weather golf this fall.  Any tips you’d like to convey for playing in the wind, please send them along!