“Riding high I got tears in my eyes, you know you got to go through hell before you get to heaven.” – Steve Miller
I’m at the Eighteenth tee of my home course, by myself. Looking out to the course below and beyond, it’s colder than I thought it would be, but the weather looks pretty bad the rest of the month, make that year. So this is probably it for golf in the surreal 2020. Strangely yet not surprisingly, I’m exactly where I was for the last round of the year a year ago. The quiet expanse is at rest and for a moment, I along with it. Finally up for closing things out, I tee off and watch my ball sail high and true to the center of the fairway below. Boy it’s been a hell of a year to make that happen, in more ways than one.
Fundamental shifts in set standards, struggling with what used to be thoughtless and easy tasks, wondering if staying at home would be best to avoid the stress and anxiety that comes with going out. Yes, 2020 was hell. Yet, I’m talking about my golf swing.
But before we get there, there is no trivializing the sheer tragedy and reality of the past year. We all have our own experience with it and it’s been tough for all, some a lot more than others. I’ve documented a bit of it through some of my reviews this year. For me, a bevy of travel the first couple months of the year then came to a stand still. This stand still reverberates, even today.
My 2019 recap talked about stopping every now and then. Stopping to take it all in, take a break from the hustle and bustle of all that occupies us and, breathe. This was good advice, especially for me, where it seemed I was running around faster and faster as each year came and went. There sure was a lot of stopping this year! No golf on the horizon and at home for months on end, I took the time to get back in shape, spend (a lot) more time with the family and read a ton of golf content. That time also turned into a grand plan to fine tune my swing. Hitting net, mat and launch monitor in hand, I swung and swung and swung. I’m not sure when it started, but the ball wouldn’t leave the ground. Then the hosel rockets started. I made all these adjustments, all temporary, but plunged deeper into the darkness. I started on the equipment angle. This shaft, that head; it was just a matter of finding the right one to get out of this funk. Finally, golf courses opened back up. I was still in free fall, but like most everyone, needed to get out. Some of the rounds were painful, humiliating even. But that’s where it got interesting.
There has been a resurgence of golf, for a number of reasons. Practically, it’s one of the few sports you can be distant and everything else to limit risks of pandemic spread. With many now working from home, there’s more of an opportunity for those to get out to the course as well. And of course, with everything going on, I’m sure many are finding the refuge of the outside and the natural setting the game provides a refreshing respite from it all. This has always been one of the appeals of the game for me. With my swing in limbo, there was a newfound focus that served as a different kind of diversion from everything happening. It was a journey and a puzzle. Like one of those old time jewel thieves with their ear to the safe, turning this way and that and waiting for the click, such was I, taking lessons, going to the driving range (a lot), hitting whiffle balls in my back yard, reading books about the swing, watching videos about the swing; anything and everything. There would be good rounds, good range sessions good holes, even a good shot, that made me think I had turned a corner. Yet it would come back, disastrously.
A journey, a puzzle, but really, a test. For someone who always felt score doesn’t matter because I’m out there for more soulful reasons, was there a threshold? Not just a threshold of tolerance, but a point where I might actually enjoy myself better if I simply walked the course and took it in that way? Ultimately though, the answer for me was, no. The battle is the battle. Some days you show up with your best stuff, some days you don’t. This game is indeed deeper for me than a score so if I was destined for a lower level of play for now on, that’s the breaks. And so it went. I’d stay in the trenches no matter what, with a smile on my face.
“. . . to learn golf architecture one must know golf itself, its companionships, its joys, its sorrows, its battles – one must play golf and love it” – George Thomas
Aside from the swing issues, golf this year was different a few other ways. Most rounds were in the company of others. Being at home and everyone else a lot more willing and able to get out there, this was a welcome change. And quite honestly, every single person I golfed with was a delight. From good friends to complete strangers, we had a blast. The other change was, most of the courses I played were local. So many places I kept claiming I’d get there at some point yet never did, I finally did. The Golfadelphia name was certainly earned this year. Along with it, a higher, more passionate and deeper appreciation of what we have here.
Something else. One night as I was flailing away in the backyard, struggling to hit whiffle balls, my son came out. He asked what I was doing, so I told him how I couldn’t get the ball in the air, or stop it from darting to the right. He then said, ” you need to practice in slow motion so your body can figure out what it’s doing.” He’s seven, by the way. So I did exactly that, and it worked. We would make it a thing, a few nights a week, would go out back and take turns hitting balls. And hitting those whiffle balls became effortless. What it reminded me of was me and my dad.
My kids are getting older and at some point, my time with them will get less. School will become more encompassing, time with friends more pressing, more freedom and time from home with driving and before I know it, they’ll be in college, away from home, getting on with their lives. The time is now. This is prime time. For us with them, and also, to instill in them a love for this game. A trip to the driving range every now and then, putting in the basement and taking them to a golf show once a year is all well and good but it’s time they’re introduced to the game. And it’s time for us.
The season wore on and the lows stopped being as low while the highs got higher. A step forward, two back, two forward, one to the side, and so on. Through it all, two things happened. During a round at one of my favorite courses, our host remarked how we tend to expect too much from ourselves out on the course. It’s a tough game, there’s so many variables, things aren’t going to go the way you want them to most of the time. We should all give ourselves a break. Profound in its simplicity, so I did. From that point on in the season, there was no more pressing. No more embarrassment or frustration, more of a studied patience. Of course, it was then that the game started coming back.
I’m down at Pinehurst later in the year. I’m playing #3 on a Monday morning, the entire course to myself. A bit chilly by North Carolina standards but for me it’s fine. Playing Tobacco Road and Dormie Club the day before, it was my first round at Pinehurst and as a Ross enthusiast, was overjoyed I was surrounded by so many works of his brilliance. Despite its shorter length, #3 is tough, especially around the greens. At some point, I realized I needed to keep my wrist hinge on my chips if I had any chance of holding the greens. And suddenly, it hit me, like a shotgun blast. I can’t even really explain it, other than it was a culmination of months and months working on a different, intended and thought out, action. A bowed left wrist and focusing on the shaft on the downswing instead of the club head for a more “behind” impact (none of this probably makes sense but is how it’s nebulously organized in my head), I started taking divots on my chips. That moment, that realization, that, was the way out. It wouldn’t happen overnight but like that movie Inception, the idea was born and now would grow. It would make its way to half wedge swings, then full wedge, then iron and so on. Slowly.
The safe was open.
Like many struggles, you come out the other side wiser, more aware. Perhaps with the knowledge of how to deal with what come what may in the future, stronger. We can only hope.
Amidst the massive inflection, philosophizing and existensializing, golf was played.
States played in:
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
List of courses played this year, still on deck for review:
- Merion East (post Hanse)
- Philadelphia Country Club
- Steel Club
- West Shore
- Eagle Oaks
- Burning Tree Club
- Pine Barrens
- Stonewall North
- Phoenixville CC
- Royal New Kent
- Tobacco Road
- Dormie Club
- Pinehurst #3
- The Cradle
- Pinehurst #4
- Pinehurst #2
- Southern Pines
- Mid Pines
- Pine Needles
And of those courses played this year for the first time:
Pinehurst #3. The course has seen a resurgence in certain circles but many don’t give it a thought when they’re making their schedules. In large part, that’s because members have priority for tee times and it’s not until the day before anyone else can book a tee time. So there’s a bit of work involved getting on. It’s also shorter, so most people may dismiss the course on those grounds as well. Yet those who play it are treated to an impressive Ross design that is just as tough if not even more so than #4. I was surprised at how good it was. The greens are very challenging, yet there are two lessons you learn early on. Going for the pin is highly risky; respecting the speed of the terrain and setting up one shot after the next, which includes hitting to the center of the green at times, is key. The second lesson is a subset of the first, which is driver is not really the best club to take off the tee. The course makes you plan each shot and stay out of trouble. And there are so many different ways to do that. Laying up short of the center bunker and settling for a longer approach might be a better play for you, especially since the far side of the green is relatively safe so you can swing away with the comfort that going long will be fine. And so on. The firm and fast conditions are essential to all of this as well, which is here and part of that planning process. Laid out on hillier terrain, it’s a combination of the scenery of #4 and strategic difficulty of #2. It was one of my favorite courses of the trip.
Southern Pines. While I tried to play as many courses as possible while I was down there, this one was one of the casualties initially. I figured I would play it after the renovations. But we finished #2 in the morning so quickly that I called over to see what the tee sheet looked like and it was wide open. I was there fifteen minutes later. Similar to #3, it’s set on more severe property spectacularly. Even more impressive is that the hills are very much taken on vertically, meaning you’re going up and down a lot more than across them. Within this framework, the round has variety, allowing the ground game to thrive, remaining flexible with mis hits yet incorporating some heroic carries as part of the challenge. The greens were versatile, mounding and shaping around them accommodating the terrain and allowing an arsenal of variety in the short game. This is where Ross excelled the most. His efficient practicality takes over here, figuring out how to to build a solid, sensible course that showcases and incorporates the mountainous aura of the pines. A more rugged Mid Pines. Am thanking my lucky stars I didn’t miss it.
These are courses I had lofty expectations going in, yet those expectations were destroyed as the experience shot through the roof above and beyond.
Philadelphia Country Club. We start with the greens. Pure movement on subtle contours where the terrain and grass are in balance with each other and the ball rolls exactly as it should, beautifully. This concept extends to the course as a whole. There is nothing here bold, or flashy, or grandiose, because there doesn’t have to be. Flynn’s design is in harmony with the hills, creeks and ponds, which glide through the land effortlessly. The strategy in using the contours and figuring out advantageous angles is pure joy, the presentation of each hole after the next superb. It’s a classic layout pulled off at a very high level, all of it understated.
Burning Tree Club. Club tradition allows if not encourages a mulligan at the First tee, setting the tone for a relaxed round amongst really really good terrain for golf. A medley of classic greats contributed to the current design. While Mackenize was not directly involved in the design, a lot of the green complexes and approaches looked familiar to his style (Alison was in Mac’s design firm) while the back nine was giving off some of Flynn, which I was starting to know better and better with all the courses of his I played this season. The hills never really ended and traversed, climbed and crossed in every direction, with that relaxed cadence flowing to how the course revealed itself after each shot.
While I try to only stick to courses I played for the first time in these yearly reviews, it’s only fitting to discuss courses here that I’ve played before.
Merion East. You might have guessed that the evolution of golf courses, as well as those that design and work on them, is something that I like to learn and write about. Having played Merion just before it closed down for over a year to undergo work by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, I was interested in what would change, especially since I was really taken with it pre-restoration. But that’s the splendor of the project. Hanse focused on the right things without worrying about leaving his own mark. A gentle approach, the bunkers are a bit sterner, the fescue now gone around the edges (which is probably the biggest change), a sharper look around the greens. The greens play faster and there’s more of them (meaning larger in size). In effect, the course was touched up in all the right ways, enhancing the brilliance of the course and how it plays. One of my favorite places to golf became better. Getting to realize that firsthand was one of the highlights of the season for me.
Llanerch. A couple miles away from Merion is Llanerch, which has been undergoing more significant changes. Nine holes of the course were renovated at a time. The first renovated nine opened for play this season while the second renovated nine will open next year. If Merion’s restoration excelled for its focus on enhancement, the renovation here should be commended for the manner in which it has transformed the character of the course. Many times, courses feel reverting to a prior version of itself will make it better. There are times when that holds true. How many times, however, does a revered classic course take a much bolder approach, changing its character to assert its identity? And pulls it off? I can’t think of many, but that’s what is happening at Llanerch. Always well thought of as a strong classic parkland locally, Brian Schneider of Renaissance Golf Design is now instilling a heathland style that will distinguish itself much more. West Sussex and Myopia are a couple of places Schneider used as inspiration, and in playing it this season, it reminded me of Wilshire. Firm and fast, relying on strategy over length, deftness and finesse more important than brute and brawn; it’s a style of golf that appeals to me greatly. Embracing change while still anchored to tenets and features of the original design by extensive tree removal and with changes at the Fifth and Seventeenth greens, Llanerch is forging a very promising path forward.
Rolling Green. And a couple miles from Llanerch is Rolling Green, which just completed a comprehensive tree removal project with tremendous effect. A terrific example of how significant tree removal can be and the potential it can have on a course. More of my thoughts on it are in the course review but thus far, this is an example of a course returning to a prior version of itself and uncovering a lot of its brilliance, some of which lay dormant for decades.
Best New Artist
New to me, at least. The perception and reception of Mike Stranz has certainly changed over time, with a growing appreciation of his courses recently. Still, his work remains polarizing and there are plenty who flat out do not like his courses. Case in point, during my trip, some characterized Stranz as, “taking way too many drugs,” “insane,” and “just felt like screwing with all of us.” Stranz only took jobs near his home for the majority of his career, so a lot of his work can be found in that southern Mid-Atlantic region. I wanted to take advantage while I was down there and play a few of them to get a little sense of where I came down on him. I played Royal New Kent, then Tobacco Road the next morning, for a 1-2 punch at the start of the trip. On my way back home, I stopped at Stonehouse, which is almost a stone’s throw from Royal New Kent.
Having played those three Stranz courses, I’m one of those who really love his style. The visuals are unique but what really stuck with me were how they played. Golf is very much an adventure and Stranz was able to capture that sense of adventure in his work. Lots of paths to the green, course knowledge a very big part of the experience, which helps knowing where to hit, or miss, and large, grand, sweeping features that normally reside in dreams, his design is very much tied to classic links tenets. Getting the ball to roll all kinds of directions was a blast, especially at Tobacco Road, while there always seemed to be recoveries with a little creativity. We’ll get into more of Stranz next year, but his design principles and his work in general are how course design progresses, which can be seen in some of the courses getting built today.
Favorite Public Played
Pinehurst #2. Candidly, I was never really strongly drawn here. Strange since I’m a huge Ross fan and I think the restoration returning to native wire grass and eschewing the obsession with lush perfect green conditions was one of the more significant course design events this century. Once I got in the area, everyone seemed a lot more high on #4 and down on #2 for becoming way too difficult. I played #3, then #4, then #2, and for some reason, the prior rounds in the Sandhills may have helped my appreciation here. The course is a stern test (and the slope rating is criminally disproportionate to it). But beyond the challenge, it’s one of the most strategic courses I’ve come across. The cardinal rule is to resist the mesmerization of the pin and instead, pay attention to the terrain above all else. It’s also about knowing the greens well, which helps understanding where you can and cannot miss, which then extends backwards to the approach, then the tee. Shots will inevitably roll off the greens, especially if hit in the wrong places. That’s a lot for some people to take, who feel they should be rewarded for hitting the green on their approach, but the game is a different one here. It’s not about hitting a good shot; it’s about hitting the right one. Pinehurst is often referred to as the St. Andrews of the U.S. #2 certainly bears degrees of similarity to the Old Course, in how it doesn’t present as much at first glance but only after getting in the trenches, as many times as possible, does its complexity start revealing itself. There are so many ways to approach and attack it as well. Beyond all this, the course is actually set on more interesting land than I was expecting, hillier and more attractive than most talk about. It’s befitting of the accolades bestowed upon it. It’s a true golf experience, if that makes any sense at all.
Mid Pines. The routing and ground game reigned supreme here. Intricate paths to a few converging points gave each set of nine diversity of direction, slopes and structure of play. The golfer is beset on all sides by terrain movement, effective below ground bunkering and copious amounts of pine straw, just waiting to greet those wayward shots. The greens were spectacular. Similar to #2 in that there are areas you absolutely cannot miss to and similar to Southern Pines in how the hills are embraced vertically, they seemed to receive an array of lines and shots in. There’s a rustic feel to those pines. It was a bit more rugged at Southern Pines while here, it’s a bit more refined. And while we’re at it, Pine Needles a bit more modern and sporty. And in true Ross fashion, the course is replete with subtle challenge. It seems like an easy enough stroll through the woods but as each hole goes by and you realize the scoring has been hard to come by, you start to look at yourself instead of realizing the course is working you just as intended.
Favorite Private Played
Wilshire. Every now and then, I come upon a course where a sense of familiarity washes over me as soon as I hit the grounds. And with that familiarity, anticipation. Some times that anticipation fizzles as I get through the holes, but some times, I know right away I’m some where I’m going to completely love. Then there are times I almost get jealous of the membership, that they get to experience this all the time. Wilshire hit all of this for me. Watching my opening tee shot hit the ground, then roll another 30 yards grabbed my attention, then the approach where I decided to “punch-sting” (TM) one into the green, rolling most of the way on – that was it. It only grew from there. How the course moves into certain sections, the use of the barranca, the bunkering, the firm and fast conditions melded in so well; it’s the type of strategic inland test that is remarkable because of how well thought out it is. Wilshire goes even further than this, with visuals that intimidate, tempt, beguile and inspire. It’s an intimate strategic marvel. Sophisticated, fun and pleasing to the eye, Wilshire is the kind of course I’m happy to come across, then remember it often.
Philadelphia Cricket Club – Wissahickon. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, but just like Wilshire was Macbeth’s home club, so it is with Tillinghast and Cricket. They both end up as some of my favorite of the year, both with impressive restoration projects resurrecting a lot of their original character. Yet Cricket is a much different course. There’s an exquisite balance here. The course dips back and forth between intimacy and width, with large sweeping corridors running up and down the hills, interspersed with shorter par 3’s and greens that harken the golfer back to the ground and what’s underneath him, as opposed to the great big blue where he has had the freedom to roam from tee to green. The greens also have that balance. Most of them with generous and inviting entry points, it is certainly nice getting the ball on to the green but it is only once you’re on that you realize pin position and contours dictate whether you have any chance despite your position. The sequencing here is a big part of getting that balance right, with it all ending in dramatic fashion. Part Somerset Hills, part Bethpage Black, part a special character all its own, Cricket’s identity in maintaining that balance makes it a unique experience.
Lehigh – Should be a primer for routing a course on dramatic property. Instead of over relying on the scenery, it’s a component of the experience, used as temptation and uncertainty, while the higher areas feature a lot of interesting strategic contours. It’s a booming classic in an inspiring setting.
Spring Lake – While my round there showed off its mellow subtlety, the course has a good amount of versatility to handle more volatile conditions apt to occur so close to the shore of the Atlantic. The shaping here was impressive, featuring a more classic geometric and sharp line aesthetic. The versatility doesn’t just apply to conditions, but to accessibility, allowing just about anyone to have an engaging round out there. And the ground game was outstanding.
Could be so much better with the right TLC
Old Orchard Country Club – Opening in 1929, the course is generally attributed to Tillinghast, although there is someone over on golf club atlas that claims the course was actually designed by Martin O’Laughlin, who was the pro at Plainfield and involved in the three replacement holes there (13-15). The course is in that golf rich area of the Central New Jersey shore, steps away from Spring Lake, Hollywood, Deal and Suneagles. Really what struck me though was the layout and how it played. It played great, despite the conditions, yet it’s in need of a lot of tree removal, bunker and greens work and some of the green to tee transitions should be changed. Numerous bushes have been planted in weird areas, perhaps for aesthetics(?), but that’s a big area for change. There also appeared to be a few abandoned greens (off to the right of the Second or Third), making me think there was some major tinkering with the routing. The terrain, however, with Turtle Mill Brook running through it, and long, running hills along it, is very good. Features such as an island green and numerous and varied carries over the creek make it a lively round. It would be great to see the course resurrected, in design and conditioning, as it has the potential to be one of the stronger public classic courses in the state. As it stands, however, the course sees plenty of play, the staff is friendly and most everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. But out of the courses I played this year, this is the one I couldn’t help thinking to myself, what if.
Firm and Fast (at least from my round(s))
- Rolling Green
- Steel Club
- Burning Tree
- Tobacco Road
- Pinehurst #2
- Pinehurst #3
Best course I can think of using holes I played this season, using the corresponding hole numbers and trying to keep a typical set of different par holes
- Riverton 1
- Pinehurst #4 2
- West Shore 3
- Pinehurst #3 4
- Pinehurst #2 5
- Citrus 6
- Philadelphia Cricket – Wissahickon 7
- Hardscrabble 8
- Mid Pines 9
- Wilshire 10
- Tobacco Road 11
- Lehigh 12
- Stonewall North 13
- Royal New Kent 14
- Burning Tree 15
- Philadelphia Country Club 16
- Dormie Club 17
- Stonewall Old 18
Best shot of the year
So the weird thing is that despite all the moaning above about my swing, those issues were more in spats than anything else. The rest of the time, I was playing some pretty good golf, which spurred me to soldier on with the changes I was trying to make. But with all the bad, the good certainly sticks out.
- Wilshire, approach at the Eighteenth. A tough angle in and the green sits just below the fairway on the other side of the barranca. I was around 200 yards out. Was thinking about just laying up but decided what the hell. My caddie kept telling me to watch my tempo, so I thought of keeping it nice and steady. Great contact and the ball landed a few feet from the pin, rolling a bit more away. But in terms of difficulty in execution, it was up there.
- Rolling Green, tee shot at the Tenth. It’s a longer par 3, slightly uphill. Knocked it to a couple feet, ho hum. It was all the sweeter since I don’t think I’ve ever even hit the green before.
- Merion East, the Tenth. A nice tee shot set up a wedge at the pin, which I managed to get to a few feet for the bird. I then semi-woke up at the right time, hitting the greens at 13-16 for some great shots in one of my favorite pockets for golf any where.
- LedgeRock, the Twelfth. This hole loved me all season. I came away with either a par or birdie every time. In a tumultuous season, this was my refuge.
- Squires, the Fifteenth. In a match, one of the players on the other team hit a beauty to about a foot of the pin, uphill from it. My tee shot was pin high, but a bit off the green with a downhill chip left. I some how sunk it, for a net ace based on the strokes. That guy got his revenge on the next hole, when he nailed his approach yet again to a couple feet. I ran out of magic by that point.
- Pinehurst #2, Seventeenth. After getting killed at the hole prior, I mustered enough composure to thread a nice tee shot that landed a few feet from the pin before rolling a little towards the back. A nice par to take some momentum to the Eighteenth, which I promptly lost with a bad tee shot off to the right.
- Pinehurst #4, the Eighth. A great tee shot led to an approach from the fairway but with the wind, it was on the longer side. A little too well hit, rolling off the green on the back left, a nice chip to a foot saved par on a hole that had a lot of places I’d normally die at.
- LedgeRock, the Eighteenth. The recovery shot I had from the bunker edge, which I talk about below. I’m not sure how many times I’d be able to repeat that shot.
Worst shot of the year
Ok enough bragging. There were so many disasters this season, I don’t know what to single out. Early on in the season, the miss was either a smother hook grounder or a slap grounder that went a few feet. It then turned into topping shots. That would then some times creep into my driver, which was awesome. It plagued a good amount of my golf this season, maybe like 75% of it. But I had a plan and was trying to change my move to get more purpose and awareness in my swing. That now seems to have happened, and the reward has been what I’ve been hoping for. I look forward to next season! But, here are the more atrocious shots I can think of.
- Wyncote, the Tenth. I put together a great front nine in the middle of a rough stretch and was happy with where things were headed. Then, the back nine. Tee shot somehow went 3:00 right, so dropped in the rough and literally took 5 shots just to advance the ball into the fairway. Picked up. Swore I’d quit the game, just after the round.
- Wilshire, the Fourteenth. A decent tee shot, I was on the downhill left side for my second, which was a fairway wood. Topped pulled grounder, a couple of them, as the golf club started looking completely foreign to me.
- Burning Tree, the Eighteenth. Dunked the tee shot on a miserable shot and then once near the green, just couldn’t stop wanting to hit the ball this way and that.
- Pinehurst #3, the Eighth. I tried to draw my approach in but instead pushed it right of right. I saw it a yard, about 5 feet in someone’s yard. There was a sign that said something to the effect of I would be shot if I went in for the ball. I would have only had to take about 2-3 steps in to get the ball, which was sitting there, mocking me, but thought best to let it be. A goal of mine when I golf is to never get shot and I didn’t want to break the streak.
- Tobacco Road, the Eleventh. My second shot of course went into the Grand Canyon of bunkers. I was only able to get the first bunker shot closer and higher to the green, but it was too steep to clear from there. After a few whacks of not being able to get out, I had to go out sideways, away from the hole. Picked up, laughing.
- Dupont, pretty much every green. I kept missing 1-2 footers with abandon. It made me temporarily insane. Then again, temporary insanity happens most rounds.
- Honestly, there’s so many more. These may not be even the worst. And I’m sure there will be many many more. Hopefully a lot less frequently next year!
Back to that Eighteenth hole. . .
I reach my ball on that Eighteenth fairway and do a little thinking. It’s either a fairway wood to set up a shorter approach or a hybrid that likely means another hybrid into the green. Ugh woods and hybrids are really what has plagued me this season with the tops but none of that is with me at that point. I go fairway wood and it comes off perfectly, like a canon and lands, hitting the ground with more vigor than anticipated. That leaves me with a downhill lie and I need to get the ball up in the air to carry this ravine. I pull it a bit, but it’s over, landed in the left green side bunker, or just on the lip? I can’t tell. Finally getting over there, I see my ball is resting on something that’s preventing it from going into the bunker. Instead, I have a weird stance and need to think about how to salvage this. I could tap it into the bunker, which eliminates some weird bladed miss that would be a disaster. I decide to try and chip it on the green by choking way up on my wedge. I have to carry the bunker and get it rolling uphill to the pin. With the ball almost waist level, I figure it’ll probably end up in the bunker anyways. Some how, I pull it off and the ball ends up 6 feet from the pin. I have that for par.
Indeed, I’ve come through the other side. A little more gray hair, but more relaxed, more centered and a renewed sense of what this game means to me. A lot of what it means is important enough to pass on and share with my family. Indeed, it is time. My dad was a distance runner and growing up, that meant I was a distance runner. Spending miles and miles, hours and hours out there with him, talking strategy, life, whatever; those are the times that mattered, that stick out. Later on with golf, rounds we had like before my wedding, or before my sister’s wedding, those too are what matter; those playing catch with Pops moments from Field of Dreams. The time has come, for change. These stories from the game I have, they will at some point include my family. My son and I making the drive to Cabot, a family trip to Monterey Peninsula, my daughter and I in Pinehurst. My wife and I, retired, heading to this place and that, winning all those couples tournaments. For the game to be as much a part of their life as it is mine, and with their schedules getting busier, the time has come for some where closer. Some where we’ll be able to go to more often, effortlessly. Any time. Any amount of time. Change is hard. Saying goodbye is hard.
The putt for par goes in. I don’t take it out right away. I linger. I look around, take in that same serenity present at the tee. That familiar serenity, I’m with it often here. I finally get my ball and go off. My last round as a member.
You bond with the land, grow a passion for it. It is a sanctuary, some where to recharge, relax, renew. All of that is still there with me. Like old friends, we’ll see each other again and start up again as if we last saw each other yesterday.
While 2020 included plenty of change, here’s to 2021 being the year of those better things ahead. For me, a new and improved swing and a new home course await, the golfing future an optimistic one. Golf, as with life in general, Steve Miller seems to really know his stuff. Hope to see you all out there, on the good old 707.