This week in Myrtle Beach, we had two ten-man teams going head-to-head in Ryder Cup style matches over five days. The first four were better ball and the last day was singles. Our team entered the singles down by three, went 6-4 and lost by one. I went 2-3, won my singles match, but only played my best on the last day.
I had a fabulous time and was reminded of a few lessons along the way. If you want to play your best golf, you need to compete – regularly. You may have experienced significant changes to your golf routine over the past few years, with the ability to compete being removed because COVID restrictions. I sure have. For serious golfers, competition is an essential tool for keeping their game sharp as it hones their focus and steels their nerves. I was reminded of this because I hadn’t competed in anything since February of 2020 and it showed.
Mental preparation is essential for golf competition, but there is no substitute for being exposed to regular competitive pressure. My symptoms were classic. I often stood on the first tee with my head full of mechanical and competitive thoughts, and the mix was toxic. I got off to poor starts the first four days and finally started to play like myself on the last. Oh, there were stretches of good play mixed in, but the poor starts were the common thread since I had not been under the competitive gun.
A few key takeaways:
Do compete in your regular golf game. It gets your head in the right mindset for competition.
Do pair your down-the-middle stay out of trouble players against ego-based players. Down the middle puts excessive pressure on the ego-based player.
Do not make any mechanical changes to your game before leaving on a golf trip. They won’t hold up under the pressure of playing on strange courses or in competition.
Do not take too many chances in a close match and remember, par usually wins the hole.
Overall, I loved this trip. The weather was glorious and the course conditions superb at all five venues. The best part was the companionship and camaraderie. I was in a condo with our team captain, and our nightly libation fueled conversations about how we wanted to match-up the next day were fascinating and great fun.
Final thought: Why do the real Ryder Cup captains require two years of preparation where we did the same thing in two hours with a couple gin and tonics?
My Dad is 93 and he and I were watching the US Open yesterday. The announcers were describing a par-3 playing 173 yards and Dad asked me what they were hitting in. “That’s about a five iron, right?” I told him that the pros were using eight and nine-irons and that some guys like DeChambeau were hitting pitching wedges. He was incredulous, “A pitching wedge at 170 yards?”
The current crop of pros bomb it compared to their counterparts in the late 20th century, but the beauty of golf is that is still all about the carpenter, not the tools. Inthis week’s major, the USGA set the track at 7,700 yards, grew in the rough, dried out the greens, and presto, even-par for 72 holes is a great score – just like 20 or 30 years ago. No angle of attack, TopTracer Apex, or ball spin rates are going to save the competitors. The players with the best vision, technique, and mental toughness are going to be successful, and I am loving it!
In today’s world, most occupations and many sports are being taken over by automation and data analytics. How accurate is your data? Can you automate that? I suppose that’s the price of progress, but is removing the human element from life progress? My job is to manage resources (people) for my company. Whether I like it or not, we use automation to increase productivity, and it replaces humans with machines and I have to live with that. I read a very interesting piece by Kevin Kernan at BallNine about how data analytics is ruining professional baseball and making it almost unwatchable. It’s true, check it out.
The PGA Tour tracks gobs of player stats. You can get analytics on every aspect of every player’s game and today’s swing gurus and equipment manufacturers are all in. But the game is effectively the same as it has been for the last half century. Why? Only one stat matters; greens in regulation. Hit more of them and you win – how refreshing.
The human element is being removed from sports and that’s sad. Humans play and officiate the games, not machines, but thankfully, golf is holding the line. If I want to see machines in action, I can go to work.
Enjoy the final round of the US Open today and don’t pay too much attention to the TopTracer Apex. Play well.
Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of simulation during practice. Exercises using this technique have been a great stroke saver because it preps your mind for real course action, gets you out of mechanical thinking mode, focuses you on shot making, and is an exceptional time saver. Either full round simulation or short game simulation is beneficial.
This morning, I had two hours to practice and devoted most of my time to a simulated 18-hole round at my home course of Blue Mash. The whole exercise took about an hour and that included time warming up with about 20 balls. The best simulations are when you are focusing intently on each shot and do not rush. Today, I took 30-60 seconds between swings, wiped down the club head and grip after every shot, took an occasional sip of water, and chatted up my neighbor a little. We were hitting from the absolute front tee on our large grass range and weren’t allowed to use drivers since the last target flag was only 230 yards out. I resorted to using 3WD on all the tee shots where I’d normally use driver and may have stumbled upon something.
Have you ever thought how much better you’d score if you left your driver in the bag most of the time? I found this out after only missing one tee shot with the 3WD, and not badly enough so that the ball went into trouble. Upon reflection, I normally hit driver on 11 of our 18 holes but only need to on five. You can certainly leave driver in the bag on the par-5s unless you think you can reach the green in two. I’m not long enough to hit any of our par-5s in two and driver only serves to occasionally get you in trouble. Just put a 3WD in play and hit one more club on the layup shot and you alleviate a lot of risk. Anyway, I hit all these 3WDs and shot a solid simulated 2-over round with 13 GIR. Very encouraging.
Tomorrow, I’m playing the course for real and am thinking of only hitting driver on the five necessary holes. This is very important because when you keep the ball in play, your mind remains engaged at a much higher level than when you fight wildness. The last two times I employed this 3WD strategy in competition, I met with very successful outcomes. I think I’ll give it a try.
On a side note, in my recent jaunt to St. Augustine, FL and TPC Sawgrass, I sampled some Jambalaya at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille in downtown St. Augustine. It has vaulted up our Jambalaya rankings into the #2 position! (Rankings are in the left margin of the All About Golf home page). Harry’s is a New Orleans Cajun style seafood restaurant and is excellent. If you’re ever in St. Augustine, stop by for a heaping plate of this goodness!
My wife and I are in town checking out possible retirement properties, and yesterday I took a sojourn to TPC Sawgrass, the home of The Players Championship (up the coast in Ponte Vedra Beach.) I have written about this course, watched every tournament contested at this course, but never visited until yesterday. What a treat!
As I walked in from the parking lot, I noticed the venue was buzzing with practice round activity for the upcoming PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship. This is a 54-hole stroke play event contested on The Stadium and Valley courses over the next three days. I figured this was perfect to see this fabulous operation in action.
The expansiveness and grandeur of the clubhouse can be overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure where to start, so I filmed the following short video and headed to the driving range.
There were dozens of players, coaches, and a few parents working and watching at this extensive facility and I observed for about 10 minutes until I felt the urge to offer swing advice. Then it was time to move along. 😊
Next, I completely encircled the 77,000 square foot clubhouse after first stopping on a practice green and watching some of the women contestants rolling putts. I noticed how shaved down and beautifully manicured the surface was and how quickly the balls were rolling. I started to get the yips just watching.
On my self-guided tour, I was looking for the 18th green but couldn’t orient myself among the maze of cart paths and signs and figured I needed help. Inside the pro-shop, after picking up some souvenirs, I asked if I could tour the course and they said that course Story Tellers were starting clubhouse and course tours at the top of every hour – perfect! That’s when I met Julia Galac. Julia is a volunteer Story Teller and gave me a history of the clubhouse, The Players Championship, and talked about the artwork adorning the main lobby. Next, we jumped in a cart and headed out to the back nine. Julia was full of amazing facts about the course, and as we stood on a hill overlooking the par-5 16th, noted that many tons of earth had been trucked in during construction and that a large piece of equipment had gotten stuck that the crew couldn’t move, so they built it into the hillside. Amazing!
We toured the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes, and I became fully oriented from having watched over the years on television. The iconic 17th green seemed smaller in person than on TV. What do you think?
On the way in, I asked if Julia had visited the World Golf Hall of Fame, and she replied that she had and that it was, “okay.” I was planning to add that to the day’s itinerary, but it didn’t feel like a “must see” and I was getting hungry. So, I returned to the clubhouse and sat down for a delicious lunch of Crab Benedict and afterwards called it a day. The only thing that would have completed my journey would have been a round on the Stadium Course, but I didn’t have my clubs. You’re probably wondering what a tee time costs here. Well, open your checkbook, it’s a cool $600.
A big “Thank You” goes out to the staff at Sawgrass and to Julia for an awesome day. You do a great job!
I played Bayside on Saturday, October 31, 2020. The course is a Jack Nicklaus design located in Selbyville, Delaware that has been open since 2005 and is the signature piece of the broader upscale Bayside living community. The course is located four miles west of Fenwick Island, DE and is convenient to players coming from either of the Delaware or Maryland beaches. Troon Golf manages the course and players familiar with other Troon facilities will notice a consistent look and feel. My experience at Bayside was a mixed bag.
I had called for a tee time three weeks prior and booked 1:24 pm. During the call, I was asked if I was a member or a visitor because different times and fees are available depending on the classification. I booked as a visitor and learned that times prior to 12:00 noon were reserved for members. However, since the course wasn’t expected to be busy, I was offered an earlier time at a rate of $117. I was looking for something less expensive and settled for $79 at 1:24 pm.
I had visited the course on Friday to familiarize myself with the offerings and observed the fabulous practice facilities.
Licking my chops to try out the range and short game area before my round, I showed up at noon yesterday to get in a good warm-up and was promptly told that there was no record of my booking. Ack! However, they had a couple slots in the 1:24 tee time, so I booked and while displeased, considered it a wash. As I was settling up, a cart attendant came into the shop and indicated I could go now if I wanted to as a single, because there was an opening. I thought if I waited until 1:24 pm and the round went long, I might not finish in the light, so I accepted his offer. In retrospect, this was a mistake because I rushed a 10-ball range warm-up and went out unprepared. I quickly found myself in the awkward position of playing cold and managing on a wet course playing cart path only. I struggled with where to hit it on an unfamiliar layout, taking pictures for this review, and being sandwiched between two foursomes. Whew!
On the first tee, the starter set me up with a yardage guide, helped me decide which tees to play, and gave me a few pointers on how to play the first hole. I selected the members tees at 6,418 yards and 71.4/139 and promptly piped a drive and ended up with a routine par on #1. That turned out to be the end of my routine day at Bayside.
Most Nicklaus courses have a familiar theme of well-placed fairway bunkers on your tee shots and Bayside was no different. What was difficult was the fairway landing spots narrowed past the bunkers on several holes, which offered less reward for clearing these obstacles. I was left to wonder where the correct landing point should be after arriving at several tee shots. I drove it well, but it was so wet out that most of my tee shots were landing even with the bunkers and didn’t roll out. What I liked was that the holes had an abundance of clear targets that fit my eye well.
The fairways were wet but in great shape with the surfaces were mowed tight and smooth all the way up to the approaches. The routing on the par-4s and 5s often had forced carries and lateral penalty areas to deal with. You need to strike your irons great to score out here, and unfortunately, I didn’t. I was left with more than a few greenside pitches off tight lies that required height – which turned out to be a tough shot. Some practice of these lies in the short game area would have been beneficial.
The putting surfaces were smooth and running medium fast despite the moisture but were not tricked up. Pete Dye loved green trickery but it’s not Nicklaus’ style, and Bayside was no exception. I liked these greens and putted with confidence. In short, I drove it well, rolled it good, but couldn’t do anything in between.
Value (2.0 out of 5.0)
As I was struggling with playing cart path only (not the club’s fault because of the wet conditions), I thought it would have been beneficial for the carts to be equipped with GPS. Would have been a huge time saver while figuring out where to hit it, and determining club selection. For the prices charged in late October, this is not a great value. I believe it’s even more expensive in season. They can probably charge what they are getting because of high demand and to keep that exclusivity feeling for the members, but I’d like to see them adjust prices downward. Eagles Landing, in Ocean City, is more scenic and is a much better value, albeit without the driving range.
Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)
Bayside has a great full-service club house, complete with locker rooms and restaurant. The cart barn, bag room, and indoor portion of the driving range (Overhang) are laid out well and make staging and starting a breeze. There’s a learning school known as The Hammer Academy, which I got a kick out of. And of course, the short game area has ample room to practice your chipping, pitching, and bunker play. Conditions were pristine. There is a putting green by the club house and another next to the first tee. Nicklaus clearly knows what the upscale public player likes and has delivered. Small ding because of the loud music being piped into the driving range area, but I spent about two minutes warming up, so it didn’t really matter for me. If I were seriously working on my game, I’d prefer to do without.
After my round, I chatted with some ladies sitting around the grill’s outdoor fireplace and they were thrilled to have their picture taken for a review of their course! It seemed like the facility was a good gathering spot and enhanced the sense of community.
Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)
Obviously, the failure to record my tee time was a major problem for the pro shop. I would have preferred a simple apology, but they made excuses, like I might have mistakenly called Baywood Greens instead. No fellas, I knew who I was talking to. Good customer service is simply owning a mistake and moving on. Elsewhere, the cart attendants were great, as was the starter, and the on-course beverage cart visited me four or five times, which was appreciated.
I made a mistake going before my scheduled tee time. Should have used the ample practice facilities and warmed up properly, so that is on me.
As I was meandering through the round, I noticed the abundance of houses and new construction on most of the holes. The par-3, 13th was out on its own with great views of the bay, which I found refreshing. But I do prefer a layout without the development.
I noticed that the only COVID restrictions were on wearing masks in the clubhouse. All ball washers and bunker rakes were available, and there were regular cups and pins to be pulled. It felt safe and was great to be playing real golf again.
Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)
Bayside is a challenging well-conditioned layout in a good location. Bring your best ball striking game or you will be in for a long day. I’d like to try it again, now that know where to hit it and hopefully wouldn’t be playing cart path only. I wouldn’t advise in season play here because of the high greens fees and medium level value. Go for an afternoon round in the Fall or Winter and enjoy.
Just returned from a week on the Grand Strand with my wife. This was a fabulous beach vacation and not a golf getaway, but the clubs are an essential accoutrement for any journey to South Carolina, and mine were in the SUV. We arrived to some beautiful weather on Saturday, September 12 and after four straight days planted in my beach chair, I was ready for some action. On Wednesday, I headed over to Barefoot for a couple hours of practice and was feeling pretty good about my game.
Hurricane Sally had come ashore in Alabama and was supposed to visit the area on Thursday so I set out to find a tee time for Friday. My only criteria; the course couldn’t be too far from our condo in North Myrtle Beach, and I didn’t want to spend over $100. So, I booked a 1:00 pm time at Myrtle Beach National – Kings North. This is an Arnold Palmer design and is one of my favorite tracks. The greens fee was $50 which is about the best value you’re going to find for a course of this caliber.
As scheduled, Sally ripped through the area on Thursday afternoon/evening and produced an awesome lightning show and tons of rain. On Friday, I drove to the course and found one of the nines on Kings North was under water and closed. They offered to let me play the open nine twice or rebook on South Creek. MBN has 54 holes and I had played Kings North about five times. I had replayed once on the West course and thought it rather ho-hum so I agreed to try South Creek. What a delight!
With all the rain, we were playing cart path only. This was a day where wedge shots were exploding foot long divots and caking your legs with mud. But I loved the track. South Creek plays about 6,400 from the blues but I moved up a set on the front nine because it was so wet. You need to drive it straight out here, and I did, but couldn’t get anything going with my irons or putter and shot a four-over 40. I was by myself and following a twosome and raced around the front in 1.5 hours. When I got to the 10th tee, I found the last of three threesomes the pro shop had sent out to start on the back. A little perturbed, I asked the starter what he recommend I do and he told me to skip 10 and 11 and start my back nine on 12. I rolled up to the tee and joined the twosome that had also received the same instructions.
These two were a father and son combination, with the boy playing a practice round for a 16-18 year-old junior tournament scheduled for South Creek over the next two days. Dad was playing the whites, but the son was playing the blues, and clearly had a lot of game, so I backed up and played the blues with him. This kid was busting it past me but for some reason, joining him elevated my concentration level and I carded an even par 36 on the back. What a weird phenomenon: some kind of focus switch engaged in my mind as I played with the better player. It reminded me a similar situation a couple years back when I was out for a round on my local muni and a couple young pros from the course joined me on the first hole. They were pounding it 50 yards past me off the tee, but that same switch went off and I elevated my concentration and played great. I wonder what causes this? Has this ever happened to you?
So, I finished my round playing 10 and 11 and after ending with a birdie, realized how much fun I just had. This was primarily because I was driving the ball so well, but I loved the golf course. I also realized how straight you have to be to score, and how penal it could get. The greens fee was $43 and I was tickled pink with the great value. I will definitely be back to play South Creek at the next opportunity. You should consider adding this course to your play list next time down.
Yesterday I took four shots of swing video. There are two down-the-line and two face on segments with a 7-iron and driver. I picked out a couple things to work on before and during today’s round and will let you know how I fared, but would love to have your feedback. Please send in any and all suggestions and observations!
Today was the first day back from Covid hiatus and I am beaming with satisfaction. It did not hurt that it was 85 degrees and sunny and a perfect day for playing hooky from work. I have been practicing weekly during the pandemic and even though it has been two months between actual rounds, it was really my 10th round of the year when you factor in my five pre-Covid rounds and five days of February golf in Myrtle Beach. All things considered; my game was sharp. I drove it well, hit some solid short irons and carded a 6-over 77.
Courses in Maryland have been open over a week and are widely divergent in how each are handling their response to the emergency. I am fortunate because my club, Blue Mash, is focused on providing a golf experience as close to normal as possible. First, the golf course and all practice facilities were in excellent shape. The crew had obviously taken the down time and spent it wisely. Greens were running fast and true, bunkers were nicely edged, and the sand was smooth (but without rakes), and all sources of shared water were removed from the course. Most excellent was the handling of the pins. They set the traditional flag stick holders upside down in the cups which allowed us to sink putts and have the ball just rest slightly below the grass for easy retrieval. I was happy they didn’t deploy a system that would leave some ambiguity as to whether the ball was holed. We played one player per cart, but you could double up with a family member or someone from the same household. Either way, there were no openings on the tee sheet until 5:30 p.m. and when we completed at 2 p.m. they had run out of carts. Finally, it was nice that the outside portion of the grill was open, where golfers could congregate and socially distance comfortably for some food and drink after their rounds.
There were only two minor issues. I detected a smell on the driving range from a recent fertilization that I would not want to be out in all day, but it was fine for a 30-minute warm up. Second, was the sensitivity of the cart’s newly installed GPS units. On several occasions, we were riding the rough of the hole being played and got audible warning beeps that our carts were out of position. I explained to the shop staff and they said they would make an adjustment.
Blue Mash was packed for a Friday and that’s understandable given how cooped up people were feeling. It was awesome to get out and play real golf again; the season has officially re-started. 😊
What’s the best way to get cranked up after COVID restrictions are lifted? I have a few ideas to get you started. First, remember there are many anxious and frustrated players ready to tear out of quarantine just like you. Don’t be one of them. Take it slow and deliberate. Last weekend I mistakenly ventured out to my Virginia home away from home on a balmy 72-degree morning. Oops!
Tip one, get there an hour earlier than you think you should. I didn’t and arrived at 10:30 a.m. and got the last hitting station on the driving range. The course, driving range, and practice green were packed like Father’s Day. While social distancing from other players, my range experience still provided ample opportunities to deal with real world distractions. Folks were very happy to be out playing and were walking, talking, and enjoying the sunshine to the point where it was hard to concentrate. Everyone kept showing up in the corner of my eye.
Tip two, find anything to simulate playing real golf. I played an imaginary 18 holes at my home course. I had a spare scorecard in my bag and wrote my score down after each hole. That helped to pace myself and forced me to concentrate. I didn’t hit the ball that great but salvaged an imaginary 6-over, 77 at Blue Mash. The rules are simple. Map out the hole you are playing in your mind before you start and adjust based on the quality of the tee shot. Hit good consecutive shots and give yourself a par. Blow one way right or left into trouble? Take a double and move on. Only shots landing right on the target are rewarded with a birdie. The only thing missing was some joker with a Bluetooth speaker blaring music off his golf cart.
Tip three, find an unoccupied practice green and play a game of up-and-down. It’s great to work on your chipping, pitching, and putting mechanics, but you need to add pressure to get ready for real golf. Up-and-down raises the ante. Play by yourself or with a friend. Throw a ball green side and don’t adjust the lie. Select your chipping or pitching club and play until your ball is holed. Each hole is a par-2. It’s good to put yourself under the heat, feel the burn if you miss a short putt, gain the satisfaction of hitting two great shots to save par. If I can play nine holes in 3-over or better, I’m in good shape. Find out what’s a good score for yourself and try and better it. Last weekend, I had too many players on the green and the distraction of the Blue Angels ripping overhead, so I just did some light putting. The weekend before was great, though. The weather was misty, the green was empty, and my short game got a great work out.
This week a cold snap is coming with temps forecasted in the mid-50s on Saturday. Perfect for some more COVID breakout work. And of course, Sunday is Mother’s Day. Don’t forget to honor the great women in your life.
I’m just as frustrated as you about the impact the virus is having on golf. But let’s heed the great advice from Stephen Covey in his 7-Habits of Highly Effective People. “Focus on what you can influence (your game preparation), and not your circle of concern (the virus).” Work on your game and do not get consumed with all the bad news circulating. Assuming your course is closed and you have tons of time on your hands, there’s a few Do’s and Don’ts to prepare for a great re-opening. Let’s take a look.
CREATE A PRACTICE STATION
Mine is in my back yard. I have a driving range mat, a bunch of golf balls, and three soccer cones. I set the mat on my patio and the cones at 5, 10, and 15 yards out.
I chip balls with different wedges at each cone trying to hit the cone on the fly. I use a high, medium, and low trajectory chip. This provides hours of fun and is great for rhythm and timing. Don’t have a driving range mat? Try an old piece of carpet. Take care though not to create divots in your back yard. It doesn’t show well for your July 4th barbeque. I also have one of those portable driving nets in the garage that I haven’t taken out for years but am ready if I need full swing contact. Lately, I’ve been hitting magnolia cones with a driver. Makes for a perfect bio-degradable projectile that doesn’t fall apart. Here’s an original how-to video:
I love what Jim at The Grateful Golfer has done in constructing a home hitting station in his garage. His build out was pre-Corona, but works great as well, check it out!
INVENT A GAME
Fortunately, I live close to a school field. Go find one. With school closed, it’s always empty and perfect for an afternoon of practice with a bag shag and a pitching wedge. For that matter, try all your wedges. Last time at mine, I invented a new game. The baseball diamond cages are roughly 150 yards apart. I start at home plate on one end and use one club and one ball, hitting full and partial shots until I can clank a ball off one of the cage poles at the other diamond. Each attempt is a par-4. Improve your lie within six inches in any direction on all shots. Great fun!
GET FIT- CROSS TRAIN
If you have a home gym or free weights, now is the time to start using them. There’s a plethora of workouts you can even do without weights. Here’s a great one from Sirkisfitness that is fast and protects your back. Before COVID, I had been lifting in the gym. Now I lift at home for an hour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after work. On the weekends, I’ve started playing tennis and taking non-playing walks on the golf course behind my home. The variety of activity is great for fitness and for keeping the mind clear.
In Maryland, our courses are closed for play and practice. In Virginia, they are open. Both states have stay at home directives, but exercise is permitted. I make the short trip to the Old Dominion and have conducted full-game practices under carefully controlled social distancing guidelines. After watching this video from Dr. David Price (New York physician on the front line of treating COVID patients), I have confidence I can protect myself in any social setting, including golf courses and practice facilities. The video is educational and empowering and is definitely worth a watch.
OBSESS WITH COVID COVERAGE
Protect yourself and others with reasonable precautions but don’t devolve into consuming the 24-hour COVID news cycle. Watching the daily death count is bad for your mental outlook and saps your energy. Focus on positive news, work your game fundamentals and fitness. You’ll be in great shape when courses are re-opened.
I’ve begun to see this with several friends who play and some that don’t. They are trying to social distance alone. The isolation is taking it’s toll mentally which is translating into physical difficulties. The mind and body are connected. We need social interaction even in this difficult time. If you can, get out and walk, talk to your neighbors and friends face-to-face while keeping your necessary distance. Have a dialog with front line workers like health care providers and grocery clerks. Tell them how much you appreciate them. I know we need to keep our distance but remember that full isolation can start to feel like solitary confinement. Don’t forget to call on friends and family who are isolating by themselves.
This is Masters week which signifies the traditional start of the golf season. One of my favorite activities is to play golf on Masters Sunday and plunk down for an afternoon of delight with my favorite major. Not happening this Spring. The Masters has been moved to November. No worries, because rather than concerning myself with the schedule, or if the participants are going to be affected by frost or falling leaves, or how closely the tournament will be played in proximity to football, I’ll focus on my game, my health, and my mental outlook. How about you? Hope you find these thoughts are helpful.
What is going on with all the disparate rules on how to manage golf courses during the emergency? Is golf an essential business? Is golf exercise? Is golf just entertainment?
In Maryland, our governor shut down golf courses on March 23 as non-essential businesses. If Lakewood Country Club (course behind my home) is a microcosm of the industry in our state, judging by the number of groups coming through after the order, people were ignoring it, even though they had to walk. Two days later, Virginia closed non-essential businesses but golf courses and driving ranges remained open. A week later, both states instituted ‘Stay At Home’ orders. Lakewood pulled all the flags out and players stopped coming through, but nothing changed in Virginia.
Today, I checked with friends in West Virginia (all courses open) and Arizona, where all courses have been deemed essential businesses and are open, along with beauty salons and barber shops! Go figure.
Today I walked 18 holes on the closed Lakewood course (without clubs) and nary ran into a sole. Got some great exercise in. Then I ventured across the river to Reston National in Virginia and practiced for two hours. Here’s a video and picture of the parking lot at Reston.
I think if you lived in the DC area, you were either home or playing golf at Reston National. Finally, I saw this article about golfing in Brampton, Ontario. Apparently, it’s illegal because of the virus and could cost you a big time fine. Unbelievable that it’s come to this.
I very much enjoy getting out to play and practice while socially distancing. Helps me to keep my sanity. Where do you stand on golf as an essential business? Is it?
In the 20+ years that I have been traveling to the Grand Strand for golf, it’s always been in the summer. This year, I was invited to play in a February family and friends 5-day match play tournament staged across the four Barefoot courses and Grand Dunes. We had a fabulous outting. If you have not tried Myrtle Beach as a winter golf destination, it’s about time.
Many in the group of 20 players scheduled their travel to arrive and depart on the first and last days of the competition. I elected to pad a travel day on both ends which worked out well. Going into the event, I had been playing or practicing every weekend and that turned out to be a huge boon for my game. I played well the entire week and generally felt in mid-season form. The on-site day of practice beforehand was very helpful for getting accommodated to the playing conditions and green speeds.
Our accommodations were condos located in the Yacht Club and North Tower on the Barefoot property. These were huge and well-appointed three- and four-bedroom units that housed us very comfortably. I would definitely recommend them for a trip in the North Myrtle Beach area. On a previous trip, we stayed in 3-bedroom condos on the Norman course which were nice but much smaller.
We were grouped as A, B, C, and D players by handicap and a blind draw assigned us into two 10-man teams for a Ryder Cup style competition. I was told that on paper, our team looked very strong. Not having played any golf with any of these fellows, I made up my mind to just go play and not try to over-analyze anything. On days 1 through 4 we would play four ball matches (you and your partner’s better ball against your opponent’s ball) at 80% of handicap. On the fifth day, we’d play 10 singles matches – again at 80% handicap. Every match had one available point, with a total of 30 points available, 15 ½ were required to win the Cup. The team captains met each morning to make pairings and select who would play whom. An excellent requirement was added to promote player interaction. You could not be paired with the same teammate more than once. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to play with a new teammate every day because I only knew four of the other 19 players going into the week. After playing with different teammates and opponents and dining with everyone on a nightly basis, I’m thankful to have met so many great guys.
Day One: Barefoot Love Course.
Weather was cloudy in the mid-50s. This was the first time I had played the Love course and I enjoyed the layout. Course was in great condition and the over-seeded greens were rolling medium speed and smooth. There was a little hidden water off some of the tee shots but the holes were nicely framed and fit my eye. I played with Ken and our opponents were Bruce and Tim. I drove it really well and struck some good irons close. Lost my concentration a bit around the greens on the back nine but Ken and I had pretty good control of the match and won 3 and 1.
Day Two: Barefoot Norman Course.
Weather again cloudy in the mid-50s. Norman is the Barefoot course I’ve logged the most rounds on, but I struggled on the greens. Joe and I played Nick and Ed and we were behind all the way around. Down 2 with 4 to play, our opponents let us back into the match with some loose driving and Joe made a 4-footer for par to win the match on 18. About 2/3 of the guys went out for a nine-hole replay but not me. My new strategy was to conserve energy.
Day Three: Grand Dunes.
One of my favorite courses, Grand Dunes did not disappoint. Temps were in the low 60s and the course was in fabulous condition. I was super excited because I was stripping it on the driving range which is always a good leading indicator for my game. Greens were running faster than the previous two days at Barefoot and the day’s match was Glenn and I vs. Marc and Ed. I had my best ball striking day and carried my partner on the front nine. Glenn ordered a fast-action Bloody Mary from the cart girl on the 6th or 7th hole and his game suddenly caught fire. I relaxed afterwards and we coasted in this one 7 and 5. The last four or five holes were played in the rain which was a harbinger of things to come.
Day Four: Barefoot Dye.
It had rained heavily overnight and there was still precipitation in the area. Dye was playing cart path only and giant puddles and ruts were the order of the day in the cart paths. The paths at Dye are all sand/waste areas which made for a sloppy round. It basically rained medium hard all day. The driving range was closed beforehand and swings were obviously affected. In this match, Ron and I played Nick and Tim. Nobody hit it that well. However, my chipping and putting were getting it done and we prevailed 5 and 4. I found Dye the most difficult driving course because there are few good sight lines. You stand on the tees and confront a world of bunkers. Where to hit it? At the end of the day, our team was up 15 to 5 and needed only a half point to secure the Cup making the outcome all but decided. I guess all the pre-tournament prognostications were correct.
Day Five: Barefoot Fazio.
Temps were in the low 40s, rain was falling, and winds were building from the west. We were on the leading edge of a winter storm that dumped four inches of snow just north of us in Virginia and North Carolina. I was paired against Dan in singles and was playing with my teammate Ted who was matched up with Steve. Surprisingly, the greens were rolling fast and pure despite the weather. Dan and I got off to a rough start and halved the first hole with 7s. He took a 1-up lead on the second but I came back to take a string of holes and was three up at the turn. Ted was leading Steve 7-up and it was raining and blowing sideways. We called it quits. A couple of the boys did complete their games and a few reported that they had played well. I didn’t get the final points total, but it was clear that our side had prevailed. While we didn’t play the back nine, we had to drive in along it and I was impressed by some of the routing and conditioning. It would be great to come back and play Fazio in good weather.
When in a match play format, don’t get distracted by your individual score. Several players asked me what I shot for the day and I told them that I didn’t know. It was true. If I was out of a hole, I’d put my ball in my pocket and let my partner play for our side. I think it’s beneficial to NOT play out a ball on a hole you messed up because making a bigger mess can form negative mental pictures in your head. When you have a bad hole pick up and forget about it. Your gross score doesn’t matter – it’s not the game you are playing. I get that many of the guys just want to play for practice or measure themselves, and that’s fine, but not my preference.
Play to your strength in match play and don’t alter your game based on the way your opponent(s) play. My strengths are accuracy off the tee and attacking with wedges. My weaknesses are playing from fairway bunkers, and there were a lot at these venues. I often hit a long iron or 3wd off the tee for position. If you have strengths like mine, you’ll find that ego-based players may become frustrated playing you. While they like to bomb tee shots, your accurate tee shots and their wayward driving often puts significant pressure on their game.
Around the greens, work the ground game. Courses at Myrtle Beach do not have significant greenside rough and don’t require high lofted pitch shots. Don’t get too enamored with your lofted wedges and try chipping and pitching with more straight-faced clubs. Putt when you can and keep the shots low whenever possible because roll is easier to judge distance on than flight.
This trip was about camaraderie. We played with lots of different players which was great. We were also able to make dinner reservations every night for our party of 20 at a different restaurant. You could never pull this off on a summer trip to Myrtle Beach; it’s just too crowded.
The course conditioning was excellent everywhere. Of course, the dominant playing surfaces (Bermuda) were dormant, but they were very playable and framed the over seeded fairways nicely on all the courses.
The value was tremendous. We paid about $550 for five days of golf and four nights in excellent accommodations.
I’ve been invited to the 2021 version of this tournament and am eagerly looking forward to it. That’s it for now.
Our travel group visited Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs, MI from July 22 to July 27. Until last year, I never knew of Boyne, but one of our Myrtle Beach golf partners suggested the location was to die for as far as quality golf went, so we decided to mix things up and booked it. Boyne is about as far north as you can go without crossing into the upper peninsula and is on the west coast of the state just north of Little Traverse Bay.
Because of its remote location, travel to the resort is not simple. We priced out flights and flight times from Washington and decided to drive it in two days, with a stop in Ohio. Total driving time was about 11-12 hours. Our playing partners booked flights from Phoenix that connected in Chicago and terminated in Grand Rapids. They drove the remaining 3-4 hours in a rental car. We are thinking of returning next year and will continue to research flight/rental car options.
When you talk to the locals, you quickly learn that Boyne is a split season resort and caters to golfers in summer and skiers in winter. I asked the reception agent about the popularity of the various sports and seasons and learned that ski season brought in about 25% more customers than golf did. Our accommodations had the look and feel of a ski lodge. The unit was in the Heather Highlands Inn and was at the base of the mountain with a ski lift right out back. It consisted of a bedroom, a loft with two queen beds, two full baths, a fireplace, and a pull-out sofa. Perfect for four guys. The resort was running that ski lift and let resort guests ride up and down the mountain for free – which I did. You could just ride up and explore or bring your mountain bikes up and ride down the ski trails.
Boyne is a big resort and employs a large staff. All the employees were super friendly and accommodating. Interesting factoid: I noticed that several of the golf courses had women staffing the bag drops. A little unusual but a welcome site. I was curious so I asked them about their story and found most were working the golf clubs in summer and at the ski resorts in winter, some as instructors. In either case they handled the work with ease, and it was good to see them get the additional job opportunities. Some of the wait staff told me they loved their jobs because they could play as much golf as they wanted for free at any of the Boyne courses. Nice gigs.
The Golf Package
Boyne has 10 courses at multiple sites and I played nine rounds on seven of them over five days. We played on the Great Escape package which ran from Sunday night through Thursday night and extended it an additional two days on the Unlimited Package. The whole shebang included a welcome party on Sunday, full breakfast and dinner daily, unlimited golf every day, an $85 gift card to any of the pro shops, and a $25 casino voucher. They threw in a Wednesday scramble tournament for package players, but we skipped that because we had 36 holes booked every day. Our Arizona guys stayed through Sunday and I played Monday through Friday and left on Saturday. My total package cost was around $1,100 plus gratuities. We were eating filet, rib-eye, lobster tail every night and quality of dinner and breakfast choices was outstanding. With the food, accommodations, and unlimited golf, this was an incredible value.
There were other activities such as zip line, horseback riding, and spa treatments that you can purchase. At the end of the week, I was hurting from all the golf and could have used a spa treatment but passed. Swimming pool, nine-hole natural mini-golf, tennis, fishing, and paddle-boating are also available and are free, and many families were present to take advantage of these amenities.
At the end of the day, we were there to play golf and the list of offerings was impressive. At the resort center, there are four courses. Heather plays out of a clubhouse across the parking lot from the main lodge. A one mile drive gets you to the Donald Ross Golf Center where there are three courses: Arthur Hills, Donald Ross, and Moor, and an extensive practice facility.
14 miles away in Bay Harbor is Crooked Tree where we played twice on Wednesday. And 30 miles to the south in Boyne Falls are Monument and Alpine, that both play out of the same clubhouse. We played both on Thursday.
Normally, I’ll do individual reviews for one or two courses, yet my experience was almost overwhelming playing seven new tracks in such a short period of time. I just wanted to immerse and play rather than capture intricate details on each. So, enjoy some photos and I’ll provide some memories of each course but not a comprehensive review. At a high level, what impressed me most was the variety of layouts and awesome course conditions. Due to the northern climate, all courses play on Bent grass and there was rarely a blade out of place. Each of these courses is a must play but since we are a society of rankings, I’ll note them in my order of preference.
#1 Arthur Hills. I have a bias for this outstanding layout because we played it first and were overwhelmed with its grandiose appearance and perfect conditions. It’s a fabulous course to get your golf vacation started on. No two holes are alike, and they give you ample room to hit your driver. The par-5 #13 is the signature hole. When played from the tips this monster measures 570 yards (see short video) and you need to carry a drive 250 yards (downhill) just to reach the fairway. We played it once from the tips and once two sets up at 516 yards. It was here that we learned we should not be playing this course from the tips.
As mentioned, I played my first and last round and the beast beat me up on the later, but I played it well on day one. We observed ample wildlife as well, with many wild turkeys, and we actually saw deer in the middle of a lake on #17 feasting on aquatic plants.
#2 Donald Ross. This track is a collection of classic holes designed by Donald Ross and is another outstanding conditioned golf course. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of rendition type courses and I couldn’t recognize any of the holes we were playing, but the layout and routing was incredible. I was loving the holes I was playing whether the scorecard said, Pinehurst, Oakmont, or something else. Many of the holes had extensive bunkering around the greens and you need to be a solid ball striker to score on this one. My sand game got tested too.
#3 Crooked Tree. This course runs along the south shore of Little Traverse Bay. You enjoy great elevation changes on some of these holes starting with #1 where you have a huge drop on a downhill dogleg right par-4. #2 is a par-3 with a giant hump in a two-tier green. If you miss this one left you can forget about keeping a chip shot on the green with bogey not a bad score.
The par-4 16th is the signature hole and plays 389 from the tips and has tremendous lake views. The tee shot drops down a huge hill and if hit well, can leave you with a flip wedge in, but you can just as easily lose your ball if you’re not straight.
I had my best round here in the morning but ran out of gas in the afternoon which was my 6th round in three days. My ball striking began to falter as I became fatigued, but I was in love with the greens and managed to go around in only 25 putts (10 on the back nine) despite shooting an 11-over 82. Crooked Tree is a great course. My only ding was that the snack bar was small with only about five tables. It got very crowded in there as we were hit by a rain shower between rounds and several golfers came in and packed the place.
#4 Monument. Monument and Alpine play out of the same clubhouse and required the longest road trip from the resort area. The practice area is awesome for a 36 hole facility. They boast a large driving range, full pitching and bunker green, separate chipping green, and another green for putting only. I could definitely spend a full day here working on all aspects of my game.
Both courses start at the top of the ski slope and the cart ride is about a mile up the mountain and takes about 10 minutes. Monument was the toughest of all the courses we played with the front nine weaving its way through the mountain with tight tee shots, elevation changes, dog legs, and incredibly fast / undulating greens. One of my playing partners equated the putting experience to rolling a ball on a Pringles potato chip.
You get hit right out of the chute on #1 with a big downhill dogleg right par-5 with a beautiful approach to a green protected in front by a bunker framed with railroad ties.
Oddly enough, I was the only one in the group that didn’t struggle on the greens and managed to take 29 putts with no three jacks – that’s the good news. Unfortunately, I was playing with some serious pain in my left neck / shoulder area as this was round seven in day four. It prevented me from making a full swing, but on a golf trip and you gotta play through it. Monument chewed me up and spit me out because I could not control my golf ball and I shot 90.
#5 Alpine. We welcomed the warmest temperatures of the golf trip Thursday afternoon as the thermometer hit 80 degrees and after nine Advil, my neck finally loosened up and I played much better on Alpine. Alpine is the sister course of Monument and was a little wider open off the tee and the greens were just as fast but were not as undulating. In the morning, everyone was a little shell shocked from our experience on Monument and found Alpine more playable / more score-able. As it was, I found Monument slightly more scenic. Both were fantastic plays.
#6 Heather. Heather has won several regional and national awards for course of the year. The clubhouse was walking distance from the main lodge and our accommodations. If you feel like taking a few putts on an off day, just stroll over and enjoy.
The pro gave us the preview and set expectations that we would see a lot of doglegs and that if we hit our tee shots at the 150 yard poles, we’d be fine.
Of course, I tried to cut too many of the doglegs in the bend and got in trouble off the tee. The course was in excellent condition and was another enjoyable play, but I learned after playing that I favor holes where you can see the flag from the tee. If I can’t, for some reason, it’s a struggle to concentrate on my tee shots. Along with the collection of doglegs, Heather has a stunning par-4 finishing hole with a forced carry over water.
I was thrilled to flush a 4-iron and carry the beast only to three-putt. Oh well. I got several pictures from the tee and from the lift going down the mountain. When we finished up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the pro come out and assist the bag staff in unloading our clubs. Excellent customers service bonus points there. Finally, the driving range at Heather is a short drive from the clubhouse and plays up the mountain on one of the slopes which I thought was an excellent use of real estate.
#7 Moor. We played Moor on Monday afternoon after Arthur Hills in the morning. The front nine presented tight tee shots with lateral penalty areas in seemingly every landing spot. Conditions on the front were good but not great. The back nine was much stronger and our mood was re-elevated as the quality of layout and conditions improved markedly. I’m not sure of the reason for the change, but I relaxed and played much better on the inward half.
The consistency of course conditions made for some of the best quality golf I’ve ever experienced on a trip. All week I putted exceptionally well on the smooth fast Bent greens. The extensive work I had done in the previous month paid off. My short game was sharp, and I was particularly pleased with my bunker game. It was clear that as the week wore on, I became more fatigued and my ball striking was affected. Woods, irons, and wedges were off after my 5th round. The last four were a struggle and I only played 18 on Friday because the tank had run completely dry. On future trips, I need to find a way to conserve energy over the course of the whole week and that will probably involve only 18 per day in the early rounds. Getting old sucks 😊
What do you wish for most on a golf trip? The simple pleasures are important like good weather, comfortable accommodations and delicious food, but what I want most is to play my best. When I travel it’s usually for a week to Myrtle Beach and the trip consists of 10-12 rounds in the heat and humidity of the southeastern United States.
We’ve been going to Myrtle for the last 15-20 years and I can honestly say that I haven’t swam in a pool once, or taken a dip in the ocean. People are incredulous when they ask, “How was the beach?” and I tell them I never saw it. For me it’s a pure immersion in golf. Not sure how healthy or sane that is, but when it’s done, I’ve had my fill. These trips include a lot of physical exertion when you factor in the rounds and warm-up balls, and I am usually exhausted by the end.
As luck would have it, I’ve visited Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Doral, and even met Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill, but never played any of these world class tracks. Why? The visits were always without clubs and on a family vacation.
This year we are going to Boyne Highlands in Michigan, which will be an entirely new experience. All the courses are supposedly pure with beautiful fast Bentgrass putting surfaces. I can’t wait to test myself, and we are on an all-inclusive package that includes accommodations, 18 holes per day, replays, and a full breakfast and dinner daily. We’re expecting cooler weather because it is way up north, almost to the upper peninsula, and I’m hoping to be able to play later with the added daylight and longer because of the lower humidity.
There are a couple things that could hold me back. My elbow tendonitis is about 85% healed. I still feel it a little when I play and practice and am wondering how it will hold up under the prospective load. I’ve been doing my rehab exercises from physical therapy every day since February, and oddly enough, I’m seeing some muscle development in my forearms, but the damaged tendon is still there. Second is my age. I work out and stretch for golf every morning, and I know it’s just a number, but at 58, should I be attempting to play this much? It was a lot at 38. We’ll see how serviceable my big bottle of Advil is.
The first mistake most serious players make is to try and bring a perfect swing to the trip. They get too mechanical in pre-week practice. I’ve done it numerous times and it only makes things worse. When you play upwards of 200 holes, your swing will come and go and there’s only so much you can control. You are much better off thinking “target” than mechanics. So, I’ll try and play a few 9-hole rounds after work next week in-lieu of hitting balls.
When I do practice it will be short game and it will be simulating game conditions, not raking ball after ball for chipping or putting. A good game is to take nine balls and throw them around the green. Put three in easy lies, three in medium, and three in difficult. Try to get each up and down. If you can get 5 for 9, you’re doing well. This helps steel you for pressure in new and unfamiliar conditions.
Lastly, I’ll double down on my morning workouts. The one year I went to Myrtle after exercising daily for three months prior, I felt pretty refreshed coming off the trip. Hoping for the same.
There you have it. Expect a few select course reviews upon my return. Play well!
What’s your hardest shot? For me, it’s the long bunker shot. You know, 50-60 yards and perhaps over another bunker or with water behind the green. The shot places seeds of doubt in your mind and what follows is not pretty. It’s made more difficult by the infrequency that it occurs. I don’t practice it, will go several rounds without confronting it, and often play away from it altogether. Yesterday, I learned how to hit it.
I had been struggling with consistency in my green-side bunker game and went to my pro for a lesson. He had me hit a few shots to a close in flag with my lob wedge and quickly identified a flaw in technique. I was forward pressing the grip and that was causing me to hit the shot heavy (take too much sand and leave the ball short). The fix was to move my hands back – even or slightly behind the ball which allowed me to use the bounce in my wedge to slap the sand in a more aggressive motion. Not very complicated and the burst of adrenaline from the “ah ha” moment teased me with anticipation.
This practice bunker has targets at 20, 40, and 60 yards and the lesson progressed into hitting shots with the new technique at varying distances. I changed out to my 54-degree sand wedge for the longer green-side shots. The new setup allowed me to approach with an attack mindset. I now controlled distance with club selection, how fast I swung, how hard I hit the sand, and with the confidence that I wasn’t going to chunk or blade the shot.
In the past, my aversion to the long bunker shot was rooted in the belief that I didn’t have enough power to take sand and get the ball to the hole. But I do! We talked about choice of wedge for this shot and my pro said he adjusts by squaring the face on a sand wedge or gap wedge. Gap wedge? I had never thought of that and tried a few with the square blade at 60 yards and presto! Never in a million years did I think I could hit an explosion and cover the distance.
We then moved to uphill, downhill, and side-hill bunker shots. I hit a few out of footprints and learned this was an excellent way to practice. Don’t get married to hitting simple 20-yard shots from a perfectly raked lie. We finished up with some 9-iron, 7-iron, and 4-iron fairway bunker shots. Of utmost importance out of the fairway bunkers is to keep your lower body and your head as still as possible. I made good contact on most of these but without the lower body rotation, pulled them a bit. I learned I need to aim a little right and allow for it.
Finally, we dialoged set make-up. I recently purchased a TaylorMade M6 3-hybrid and had been considering dropping a wedge to get to 14 clubs. He advised against this because the wedges are key in scoring situations which should be my top priority. We agreed I should remove my 3-iron instead.
This was a fantastic learning experience. My only regret was that a steady wind was blowing in our face for the entire lesson. After nearly a hundred balls I was caked; but was beaming with confidence. 😊
What is your toughest shot to execute? Need any help with that?
Do you have a specific distance in your game you play away from? Most players do and it’s because they don’t have a club to cover the yardage or they’ve hit poor shots in the past from the spot. Since I was fitted for my current set of irons, my gap is 200-215 yards. I usually hit my 3WD 230 yards but can pooch it 220. My 3-iron is good up to 195 yards but when I land in my gap, I’m a bit lost. I have a 5WD that can cover the distance but have hit some horrendous pull-hooks and don’t trust it. Carpenter or tool? Probably carpenter, but you need confidence in your stick.
A week ago, my son’s roommate was getting rid of an old set of clubs. I took them and found a 3 and 4 hybrid included. They were a little short and had a shaft that was too soft, but I went to the range for a session and found I was pretty comfortable hitting both. So I threw them, along with my 5WD, in the bag for my Saturday round at Links At Gettysburg. Turns out it was TaylorMade demo day at the club and the rep set me up with a M6 3-hybrid that I could test in a bake-off with these second hand giveaways. Looks like I found my Father’s Day present!
The concern now is what to take out to get to the regulation 14 clubs. Maybe my 4-iron? Can I just choke down on a three at the appropriate distance? Or my lob wedge? I usually hit either a lob or sand wedge out of green-side bunkers depending on the distance of the shot. I’m sure I can open up the blade on my sand wedge for high pitches without too much trouble. Sounds like a good discussion for my next golf lesson.
On a side note, it is Memorial Day. A big note of thanks to those in our armed services and for those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our great nation. I’ll leave you with a gallery of photos of a recent tour my son and I took of Fort Sumter and the USS Yorktown in Charleston, SC.
Are you the type of player that enjoys golf more when you have moments of greatness mixed in with poor play? Or do you get more satisfaction from a steady level of competent performances, no blow-up holes, but with little fanfare? The answer depends largely on your personality and your preference for risk. If we put a professional persona on each type, Phil Mickelson might be the roller coaster riding risk taker and Nick Faldo the solid performing steady eddie. Each had comparable levels of success in major tournaments and across their careers, but were highly different in the way they built their records. Because I’m generally risk adverse, I’m in the Faldo camp, how about you?
For those preferring a steady course, I have some advice that may help you get to the level of consistency you seek. The following plan has been working for me for two months (which coincides with my last lesson of the season). In that session, my instructor made a couple of key changes to my setup. The specifics are not important because they are unique to me and not you. The key takeaway is that they addressed fundamentals, and to improve and play consistent golf, it starts with a mastery of the fundamentals. I know, not very profound, but without fundamentals, good course management and sensible practice habits will only get you so far. If you want to get to a level of real consistency, you need to work to get the fundamentals ingrained so that you can strike the ball with confidence. It’s sort of a chicken and egg scenario. For years I worked on various techniques to improve my practice habits and course management. But until I understood and could replicate the mechanics needed for good ball striking, my improvement was limited. Seeking the advice from a pro is a start, not the end of your journey. I’ve had to iterate through three years of lessons before I found the keys that resonated to a point where I feel I can take my game to an away course, in a variety of weather conditions, and know I have a good chance to play a successful round because my ball striking will not falter.
Being well prepared with the fundamentals is a good feeling. Handling the smallest details are also important. In my last lesson, I discussed a concern about my grip that I had always wondered about. Use a long thumb or short thumb on my left hand. I’ve read conflicting points on that in different instruction books. Stupid little topic but if you’ve been switching back and forth over the years, how can you expect to build consistency into your swing? So I had the discussion, got the recommendation (short) and have gone with that ever since. It’s best to dialog and eliminate these inconsistencies because they create doubt. Get them worked out because it provides a baseline of correctness you can start from when working on your swing. Many of the fundamentals can be applied using different techniques and it’s important to pick a single approach and stick with it. Elevate your baseline understanding of the fundamentals, work them continuously in practice, and you will gain the consistency you seek.
After the fundamentals, you must work to simulate game conditions during practice. This is critical for those who have limited time to practice and for players having trouble transitioning from the practice tee to the golf course. There are two aspects to focus on. First is creating real pressure. If you struggle with choking on or around the greens or having your range swing disappear on the golf course try the following: Play 9-hole games of up-and-down and / or have putting matches with a friend or with yourself to simulate real round pressure. Go through your full pre-shot routine on every chip, pitch, or putt. Play for small wagers. Next, head to the driving range, where you can play a simulated round on a familiar course, hitting all the tee shots and approach shots and varying targets on every swing. Keep score in your head. If you are playing poorly, don’t quit! Learning how to handle adversity is an important skill that’s worth practicing. Second is preparing to play shots you will need during your rounds. Last Saturday, I was on the practice tee and it was sunny and 70 degrees. I knew my round the next day would be played in 40 degree temps with heavy winds, so every iron shot I hit during my simulated round was a knock-down. Somebody watching me may have been wondering what I was doing, hitting all these low bullets, but conditions the next day were difficult and I felt prepared, and was able to execute a lot of good low iron approaches.
How do you measure your success? Your scores are the best indicator. Say you are a 20-handicap and average between 90 and 100 strokes per round. If you are improving your fundamentals and practicing correctly, you should hope to have a solid string of scores in the low 90s and occasionally break into the high 80s. For lower handicap players the same holds true. My current index is 4.4. With my limited ability to play and practice I try to keep my scores under 80 and the current trend is good with the last seven in the 70s.
To truly improve, you need to seek professional instruction and focus on getting your fundamentals ironed out during the lessons. Then dedicate 20% of your practice time to mechanics and 80% to the skills you’ll need on the course. You’ll find the transition becomes seamless from practice to play. Whether you hit it like Phil or Faldo, mastering the fundamentals and correcting the way you prepare will help you play better over time. Give it a try.
We played Hampshire Greens, in Silver Spring, MD, on Monday, October 8, 2018. Of the nine courses in the Montgomery County Golf (MCG) rotation, this Lisa Maki design is considered the high-end play. They boast a country club level atmosphere and service level at a daily fee price point. While it’s been open since 1999, this was my first time on the course. I’ll usually play between 15-20 rounds per year on the MCG courses, but have not included Hampshire Greens as there are lower cost options that provide an equal level golf experience.
There are four sets of tees on this par-72 track and I found it a very enjoyable play. We played one up at the blues and I felt that this was a course I could score on. They put all the length into the par-5s and don’t kill you on distance or forced carries on the 3s and 4s. If the strength of your game is driving, you’re going to love the looks they give you with neatly framed fairways, superb conditioning, and fairly generous landing areas. Hit your drive solid and in the fairway, and you’re usually left with a medium to short iron in. The course’s main defense is well bunkered raised greens with a decent amount of slope and quickness to them. I found you needed an extra club hitting into these raised greens. Also, the reputation is for lightning quick speed on the putts but we found them medium fast. Perhaps it was because of our early afternoon tee time, but either way, the bentgrass surfaces were in excellent condition and rolling smooth.
They had positioned some pins in difficult spots either right in front or on the sides of some greens. I left thinking it was best to just play for the middle of these greens rather than go flag hunting and missing into some tough up-and-down spots, which I did.
Pay attention to the aiming sticks they have in some of the fairways, especially on the second shot for the par-fives. Each of the fives has a similar design where the landing areas are squeezed down to very narrow corridors the closer you get to the greens. We thought this was a bit awkward and felt like the par-5 2nd hole was a little unfair. I lost my ball into the hazard left on a well struck medium iron layup. You must hit it right of the aiming stick there to keep it in play.
With these narrow corridors on the fives, for long hitters, it felt like you needed to approach with supreme accuracy, else you were taking an unnecessary risk going for the green in two. This was my only bone to pick with the layout.
From the blue tees, none of the par-4s were short enough to try and drive close to the green, but you need to pay attention on where to land your ball. #10 is a downhill tee shot and an uphill approach. The hole is only 362 yards but everything bounces hard left to right in the fairway. You must keep your tee shot out of the fairway bunker left, which is about 220 yards from the tee, or you could be looking at a big number.
Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)
This course is designed for cart play. You cannot walk. Actually, you may be permitted to walk but your greens fee includes a cart and for good reason. Some of the distances between greens and tees are huge. I like to walk but couldn’t imagine playing this one on foot.
The course has a smallish clubhouse and grill with a patio that overlooks the fairway of the 9th hole. The 9th finishes up going away from the clubhouse, which I found a little strange, and if you need to stop, you have to backtrack for half a hole. We didn’t and just continued on to the inward half.
They have a grass driving range but the grass tee was closed on this day and we were hitting from one of 13 driving mats. Balls are $5 for a bucket of about 40-50 and are purchased in the pro-shop.
There is a single practice green next to the clubhouse and while you are permitted to chip, it feels a little squeezed to make this an actual short game practice area, especially when golfers are warming up their pre-round putting. I came out the day before just to practice and didn’t feel right hitting chips and pitches in, and just putted. If you want to seriously work short game, I’d seek another venue.
Value (3.5 out of 5.0)
We played on a Monday after 12 noon rate of $39.99. At this price, the value is superb because of the quality of the course. Pre-noon, the cost is $49.99 which is still good. The normal weekend morning rate is $74.99 and after noon it falls to $59.99 which brings a lot of the other area courses into play if you are budget conscious.
The quality of the golf course is the main allure. An equivalent area play for layout and conditions would be Blue Mash. I’ve picked up a 30 round membership there which works out to $47/round for afternoon weekend play and that appears to be a better value.
Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)
Monday was Columbus Day, a federal holiday. The course was busy and the bag drop guy doubled as the starter. While friendly and helpful enough when it came time to get us paired up and out on time, when I arrived he did not unload my bag. This was of no inconvenience to me. However, if they boast a country club experience, folks may expect more than one person working the bag drop on a busy holiday or weekend, and some assistance with their clubs.
The fellow manning the golf shop processed my check in with a “business as usual” attitude and while he wasn’t rude, didn’t go out of his way with a warm or friendly greeting. The guy at the snack bar provided snappy service and the hotdog with sauerkraut graded out pretty good on the taste test.
There was ample cold drinking water on the course and we were serviced several times by the beverage cart which was appreciated.
Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)
On this day, we played from the blue tees at 6,512 yards (71.6/129) and I carded a five-over par 77. I enjoyed my round at Hampshire Greens and wouldn’t hesitate to return, but would only play on the weekday rate. If you are a walker or are serious about practicing your short game, you may want to try out another close-by venue like Blue Mash or Northwest.
We played The Links at Gettysburg on Sunday, August 26, 2018. The course is a one hour drive from Montgomery County, MD, and a couple of miles east of the famous Pennsylvania battlefield. There are six sets of tees that make this a fun and playable experience for golfers of all abilities. We challenged ourselves from the whites which play at 6,277 yards with a rating/slope of 70.5/136.
This course is known for its beautiful scenery and excellent conditioning and did not disappoint. The architect did a great job fashioning several holes out of the local red rock and presenting them as mini-cathedrals surrounding the greens. They use a lot of hard red sand in their bunkers, which looks a bit unusual but is fine to play from. As the course is located in the rolling countryside, there are many elevation changes but none too severe, and we didn’t find any holes that were tricked up or unfair. The course is also bordered by some very large and beautiful homes, but you don’t feel as if they are on top of you.
From the whites, most of the par-4s are under 400 yards and if you are hitting your driver well, you can score. Greens are bent-grass and were rolling medium fast and very true. There is significant mounding and sloping on the putting surfaces that make chipping and putting from above the hole ill-advised. The rough was cut at medium height and didn’t kill your chances to recover from a stray shot.
From a ball striking perspective the front nine plays fairly easy with the reachable par-5 4th hole offering a great scoring opportunity at 457 yards. The back is more difficult. On this day, I was fortunate enough to hit #4 with a six-iron and drain my eagle putt. After going out in 1-under 35, I managed a birdie on the par-4 10th hole and followed with a couple of pars. Just when I thought I was rolling, I ran into the buzz saw at 13, 14, and 15. These three straight holes bring water into play all down the left side – on every shot. If you fight a hook, you are in trouble. My big miss is a pull hook and I had not seen one all day. But with all that water left, and a strong wind blowing in my face, #13 got in my head and I pushed a drive into trouble and carded a triple. The par-5 14th was playing 531 yards into the same wind and I left a couple more shots right but managed to salvage par. The par-3 15th finally gobbled up one of my big misses into its leftward watery grave and left me with a deflating double on the card.
With no water left on the remaining three holes, I managed to right the ship and finish strong with a par-birdie-par run for a 2-over 74.
#1 tee shot. We got a lot of conflicting advise on what to hit at this blind downhill short par 4. From the white tees, you need about 210 yards on your shot. Don’t take more else you will go through the fairway into trouble. I didn’t take enough club and left myself with a longer approach into this green that is protected in front by a steep stone wall.
#4 tee shot on the short 457 yard par 5. Hit it over the pine tree on the left, closest to the fairway. My tee shot was aimed at the middle of the fairway and I pulled it a bit only to see it roll to the extreme right side of the fairway. Everything bounces and rolls right.
#8 tee shot is a precision placement play. The hole has trouble short and an elongated fairway bunker long that abuts a rock cliff. Hit it 180 yards from the white tees and you’ll have something between 80 and 110 yards in from the middle of the fairway.
#11 tee is a 345 yard gentle dogleg right. The wind was blowing left to right and I took 3wd which was a good play. Looks like driver may be too much here.
#13-15, as previously mentioned, try to block out the water left 🙂
#18 is another short par-5 but has water in front challenging you to go for it. On the tee shot, aim slightly to the right of the pump house. There is ample room past the water to land your shot but it’s mostly rough. If you can fade one in, you can follow the contour of the fairway, which you cannot see well on your second shot. If you don’t have a good yardage, layup left for an easy wedge shot third.
Value (4.0 out of 5.0)
The regular weekend rate to play is $79 before 11 a.m. We played between 11:00 and 2:00 p.m. when the rate drops to $59. They offer a senior discount of $44 which we played on. This includes your cart but range balls $5.00 are extra. At the regular rates, the quality of this course justifies the price. At the senior rate, the value is outstanding.
Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)
There is a 16 station driving range with mats and grass tees. Next to the range is a small practice area for chipping and bunker work. Back by the clubhouse are two medium small putting greens. The surfaces are beautiful, but if the course gets busy, crowding might be a small issue. Behind the clubhouse and pro shop, and overlooking the 18th green, there is a grill where the attendant fixes your burgers and drinks. There was some music going softly and a bit of a festive atmosphere when we finished our round. Seemed like a great 19th hole spot.
Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)
There was one club attendant at the bag drop and he took our bags and loaded us promptly upon our arrival. The pro shop staff was very professional and got us checked in quickly and our starter and on course marshal were friendly and helpful, although we could have used some better advice on the first tee on how to play the hole. They tell you to hit it 160-190 yards, but take 210, as I have indicated above. There was ample cold drinking water on the course and the beverage cart hit us up two or three times during the round. We played as a twosome and while going off at 11:12 a.m. didn’t have to wait on any shots, nor did we get pushed by anyone from behind. It was a truly relaxing and delightful day on the course.
Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)
The Links at Gettysburg provided excellent conditioning, value, and a fun day. The one-hour drive from the Washington D.C. area is well worth the trip. I will be back.
From 1971 to 1983, my parents brought me on five or six trips to Europe in an attempt to expose me to other lands and different cultures.
In 1975, we visited Scotland, and were in the town of Carnoustie. Tom Watson won the claret jug at Carnoustie Golf Links that year, and my Dad and I actually played the famous course while on our journey. I was 14 years of age, and was at the stage where you measured yourself against your buddie’s 9-hole scores during beginner’s summer camp. Breaking 60 was a badge of honor. In short, my level of preparation for taking on Carnoustie was excellent.
What’s cool about playing Open Championship rota courses is that the general public can get a tee time on several of the venues. I think it was probably easier back then because there were no on-line bookings. Either show up or call. Now, this was 43 years ago and I was young and have just a few memories of the round. I do recall it was not planned; we just showed up and got off. We played with rented clubs in old canvas bags. The course had a lot of tall brown fescue and sand. My Dad and I played as a twosome and were followed by four elderly ladies who admonished us at one point for playing too slow. My Dad usually played in the high 90s and was actually having a good game considering the difficulty level and our unfamiliarity with the course. He shot something like a 94. Even though I had been to golf camp, I was still a beginner and couldn’t control my golf ball. I played awful and shot a 125 and nearly took another player’s head off with a hosel rocket. I remember being pressured to play faster by the ladies and my Dad apologizing. I remember topping a lot of shots, but not feeling embarrassed. The same was probably not the case for my Dad.
I don’t remember watching Watson’s victory on television that year, but do remember Paul Lawrie’s win (Jean van de Velde’s implosion) in 1999, and of course today’s recently concluded championship. In none of the telecasts, do I recall any of the holes first hand.
So the question I’ll leave you with is: Can you shoot 125 at Carnoustie and say you actually played the course?
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