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Monday, October 30, 2006

Technology Buries Nicklaus' Course Record at the Golden Horseshoe

One of my favorite courses in Virginia is the Gold Course at the Golden Horseshoe in Williamsburg, VA. I haven't played it in a few years, but I remember it as a tough test of golf. Amazingly, Jack Nicklaus' course record 67 was shot on September 19, 1967. That same day, uber-amateur Vinnie Giles set the amateur course record of 68.

Both of those records stood until earlier this month when Nicklaus' record was shattered by seven shots by Daniel Summerhays of BYU at the Ping/Golfweek Preview. Normally a par 71, the Gold Course played as a par 70 from the tips for the tournament. On the same day Summerhays shot his 10 under round, Billy Horschel carded a 63. Fifteen other players either tied or bettered Giles' old amateur record of 68 during the tournament.

To me, these scores are astonishing and must be attributed at least partially to advances in the club and ball technology. These were amateurs shooting incredibly low scores on a course which has been played my many Tour pros over the years. You know it's not a pushover when the course record shot by Fat Jack himself stood for nearly 40 years. Even though I think that hackers should avail themselves of technology to improve their games, something is out of whack when a bunch of NCAA golfers can waltz into a classic course and destroy a course record like that.

It's doubtful, but maybe the scores at the Horseshoe will serve as a wakeup call to the wimps at the USGA to rollback some of the technology in the upper echelons of golf.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Best Features of Golf Courses I've Played

This morning while revising my list of golf courses played (182 and counting), I started to think about the reasons I like specific courses and the features that make them good or bad. So, I came up with the top-ranked for each feature. On a few of them, I couldn't choose one, so there are ties. Here goes:

All-Time Favorite: Mid-Ocean Club, Tucker's Town, Bermuda
Most Difficult: Wild Dunes (Links), Isle of Palms, SC
Most Deceptively Difficult: Coudersport GC, Coudersport, PA
Most Historic: Merion CC (East), Ardmore, PA
Most Exclusive: Los Angeles CC, Los Angeles, CA
Most Scenic: Chateau Whistler GC, Whistler, BC
Most Unique: Tobacco Road, Sanford, NC
Best Views: Kapalua (Plantation), Kapalua, Maui, HI
Best Par 3s: Golden Horseshoe (Gold), Williamsburg, VA
Best Par 4s: The Cascades Course, Hot Springs, VA
Best Par 5s: NCR CC, Kettering, OH
Best Front Nine: Cabo Real, Los Cabos, Mexico
Best Back Nine: The Cascades Course
Best Green Complexes: Hidden Creek CC, Egg Harbor Township, NJ
Fastest Greens: Bayonne GC, Bayonne, NJ and Merion CC (East) - Tie
Wildest Greens: Yale Golf Club, New Haven CT
Easiest Course to Lose a Ball: Princeville Resort (Prince), Princeville, Kauai, HI
Hardest Par 4s: Long Island National, Riverhead, NY
Best Course to Walk: Atlantic City CC, Linwood, NJ
Best Conditioned: Coeur d'Alene Resort, Coeur d'Alene, ID
Best Course to Have a Few Beers: Cabo del Sol (Ocean), Los Cabos, Mexico
Best Memories: North Ranch CC, Westlake Village, CA, Westlake GC, Westlake Village, CA, Whitemarsh Valley CC, Lafayette Hill, PA, Atlantic City CC, Green Tree GC, Mays Landing, NJ and Woodland Hills CC, Woodland Hills, CA - Tie
Best Surrounding Town: The Leatherstocking GC, Cooperstown, NY
Hardest to Find: Yale Golf Club, New Haven, CT
Most Remote: Leynir GC, Akranes, Iceland
Most Interesting Location: Bayonne GC
Location With Most Untapped Potential: East Potomac Park, Washington, DC
Most Tricked-Up: General's Ridge, Manassas, VA and Wild Dunes (Harbor) - Tie

I know there are a million more categories I could have listed. Let me know of any I missed and if you have better answers than the ones I gave. Also, feel free to totally disagree with any of my choices.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Els' Cut Streak Is Impressive

Some might say I'm an Ernie Els apologist. I like the guy, and he has tons of game. However, this year he hasn't won anything in the U.S. He's played well off and on, but much of the year was spent trying to regain confidence after his knee surgery.

He's playing this week in Tampa, and he really likes the course, so he has as good a shot as anyone of winning. But one thing of which I'm almost certain is that he'll make the cut. Ernie currently leads the Tour with 40 consecutive cuts made. The next best on Tour is Robert Allenby with 19.

People made huge deal over Tiger's streak of 100+ consecutive cuts made. Yet, I never hear anything about Els' consistency over the last 40 tournaments. Maybe he needs to win a few for people to catch on to this tremendous streak. I'm hoping he wins soon and gets back into the mix of chasing Tiger for #1 in the world. It'll be a whole lot more fun with Ernie at the top of his game.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mattaponi Springs - Wowza!

Last Monday, I took the morning off (actually it ended up being the whole day) to play Mattaponi Springs Golf Club in Ruther Glen, VA, which is outside of Richmond. Some of my friends had been urging me to play it, and since I need to do a few more course ratings in '06, I figured it was worth the 75 minute drive.

It was more than worth it. Mattaponi is one of the better "daily fee" courses that I've played in a while. It's tough, but fair. Quirky, but also traditional. Intimidating, but user-friendly.

Mattaponi starts off with a tee shot down a HUGE hill to a wide fairway (it doesn't seem so wide from the tee bos) that doglegs over water to an elevated green. It's not for the faint of heart and definitely not a wimpy opener like many courses feature. The second hole is a doozy of a par 5 -- uphill and long. If you can get through these holes in 2 over, you're in pretty good shape.

After that, you come to a fun, short par 3. It's a breather, but beware of over or underclubbing. I parred it, but it didn't prepare me for #4, a 470 yard, uphill two-shotter (it's even longer from the back tees). It's one of the most difficult holes I can remember playing that's not tricked up. Bogey is a good score.

The course eases up a bit after #4, but it has plenty of challenges on the last fourteen holes. Some of my favorites are number 9 and 18, doglegs in which your second shot plays steeply downhill to the green (both over a creek).

Probably the best feature of the course is the greens. They are WILD rides. There are humps, bumps, swales, triple-tiers, and punch-bowl sections. Lots of fun. Be careful of the speeds, and definitely play the breaks.

In the spring, I'll be ready to tee it up again. With a little bit of local knowledge, I should do better than the "scrambling" 90 I shot last week. I give Mattaponi at least a 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Most Exclusive Courses in the United States

Access to private country clubs can be a tricky affair. First, you need to have connections with members or friends of members. Second, you need to be invited to play. This second requirement can bedevil many who think they'll be able to play a particular course just because they know a member.

All clubs are of course not created equal. Some are more exclusive than others; many have waiting lists a mile long, and many more are by invitation-only. Still others only get their members through legacy programs, where you have to have a family member who's a member to sponsor your application.

Though I'm no expert on the subject, I think it's worth pondering which country clubs are the most exclusive in the country. The three that come to mind immediately for most golfers are Cypress Point, Augusta National, and Pine Valley. However, there are plenty of others that are as difficult or more difficult to join. They just aren't as well known.

Here is a partial list of clubs in which money is not a factor for joining and which the common man would be hard-pressed to find a membership invitation in his mailbox. Though members of these courses certainly have a few duckets to throw around, a person cannot buy his or her way into these clubs.

1) Fishers Island Club Golf Links - New York
2) Chicago Golf Club - Illinois
3) San Francisco Golf Club - California
4) Burning Tree Golf Club - Maryland
5) Seminole Golf Club - Florida
6) Nantucket Golf Club - Massachusetts
7) Los Angeles Country Club - California
8) The National Golf Links of America - New York
9) St. Louis Country Club - Missouri
10) Crystal Downs - Michigan

Notice that except for the two New York clubs, they are all geographically disparate. I did this intentionally to show that location is not a prerequisite for exclusivity. Every city and region of the country has its share of very exclusive clubs.

I know I haven't hit upon all of the big ones here, so I need your help. Do you know of other country clubs that should be on this list? Love to read your comments...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Should We Be Gaining Distance As We Age?

I read a very telling stat today in the new issue of Travel & Leisure Golf which says a lot about the impact of technology -- for both the golf ball and the driver -- on driving distance. 1980 was the first year that the PGA Tour officially measured driving distance, and Dan Pohl led the Tour with an average drive of 274.3. Dan was 25 years old at the time. In 2006, at age 51, he's leading the Champions Tour with an average of 292.5. Is it me, or is there something wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Danger on the Golf Course

Non-golfers think that since golf isn't a "contact sport", it must be very safe. To the contrary, there's plenty of danger in golf which can cause plenty of bodily injury if you aren't careful.

In Florida and South Carolina, you have to be wary of alligators. In many other states, you need to keep one eye on the ball and the other patrolling the landscape for snakes. And no matter where you play, you need to be alert to wayward balls, flying clubs, slippery hills, and runaway golf carts. With some of my friends, I put my life up for grabs every time we play together.

Though I've really only been psychologically damaged on the course, I've had some brushes with physical disaster that merit retelling. Both instances involve carts.

A few years ago, Jay Payne and I were playing the Lower Cascades at the Homestead. It's a mountain course, and some of the hills are pretty steep. We came upon a foursome on the tee early in the round, and they told us we could play through. Wanting to get out of their way in a hurry, I jumped off the cart and set about to grab my driver. Unfortunately, I hadn't depressed the emergency brake, and before I knew it the cart was careening down the hill. I chased after it, tried to jump inside to stop it, but it was heading directly for a massive tree. I bailed out in the nick of time, but the cart was still moving. It slammed into the tree and smashed in the front end.

Trying to save face in front of the astonished foursome, I got in and tried to reverse it back up the hill. It gurgled, but that cart was going nowhere. After closer inspection, I saw that the front axle had been ripped in two. I ran back to the pro shop, told the guy what had happened, and he just laughed and gave me another cart. He said that earlier in the day he had to fish a cart out of a creek.

The second incident was with Jay as well. We were playing at Wild Dunes in South Carolina, and he was in another cart. After curling around the cul-de-sac behind the tee box, his cart tried to pass mine, which was stopped. At exactly the same time as he was passing (at high speed), I was stepping out of the cart, and I didn't see him coming. My head got wedged between the tops of the two carts and stopped his cart upon impact. Needless to say, it hurt pretty badly. I felt like one of Gallagher's watermelons. He reversed the cart to undo the jam-up, but I wasn't the same the rest of the day. I shot about a zillion.

Has anyone else found danger on the golf course? I'd love to hear your stories.