Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold. – W. Eugene Smith
Change brings us through the threshold. For a while, until we find ourselves upon it again. We must find ourselves upon it again. Again and again. Otherwise, we become dormant, content in our listlessness, dismissive in what could be.
They call it Year of the Blade. It started out simple enough. One guy essentially posted on the No Laying Up forum he was playing blades for a year. He urged everyone else to get a set too. So we could all party. That was basically it. That seemed to resonate with a lot of people and before I knew it, I was buying my own set of blades. The thing is, I’ve always loved blades. They’re beautiful, with sharp and sleek aesthetics; at address the profile instills a simplistic nobility. I always thought of them as the forlorn forbidden fruit that maybe some day if I miraculously improved my index by 10 strokes, I could finally get. For as long as I have been playing, it has been hammered into my psyche that I should forget blades exist. They are for experts only, no one else should even swing them; I even remember guys with blades in their bag who weren’t all that good called, “posers” in the past. “Skilled players only.” That’s what you’ll see when you go to most any website or publication discussing blades. Everyone else, go fuck yourself. Here’s a hybrid. Even though I have never felt comfortable with a thicker iron head or profile, I was almost about to buy some ghastly set of “super” game improvement irons that looked like vacuum cleaners. I should be playing those, I will enjoy the game more with all the forgiveness I was about to get.
I became intrigued. Putting the vacuum cleaner purchase on hold, I bought a set of older Mizuno MP 14 blades for $70. The weather finally warmed up enough to get to the range, so with the kids in tow, I took the blades out for some cuts. Maybe it was that forum full of encouragement and stories of enjoyment, but my goodness did they feel good. Much more in tune with my tempo, the ball and blade transformed my perception of how to hit the ball. Yes, there were misses too but those misses were always loss of distance instead of thousands of miles sideways and maybe more significantly, I shrugged those misses off. I was playing blades, of course there would be misses. I took them out for a round. I remember hooking the hell out of the 5 iron and a thinned 7 (that actually rolled on to the green anyways) but it was a very good round for me. I decided to get a new set.
And so my journey into blades began. A new horizon suddenly in view. While my ball striking had improved considerably since Pinehurst, this was by far the best I have hit irons. It wasn’t just the ball striking though. My perception of the game changed. I have always looked at course design as art but now I started looking at each shot as a work of art as well. Instead of worrying about technique, where my arms were during the backswing, when to shift my weight, I started focusing on visuals; where I wanted the ball to careen and turn and meet the land. I became a lot more in tune at impact; if I missed a shot, it was much easier to figure out what exactly what I did wrong. Maybe even most importantly, however, I enjoyed myself more. I loved looking down at that profile, loved how each shot felt, loved the ball flight. It was a renaissance of the senses.
The crest of change yields the dawn of new horizons, another valley to stroll through or mountain to climb, before we see another in the distance, beckoning. Such is life. These new horizons are reached through the cusp of change, which only occur when we decide to challenge what is out there, break through what is in place and forge our own paths. Whether it’s deciding to play golf clubs you’ve always been told you shouldn’t or deciding to play that golf course that doesn’t appear on the rankings or most seem to disfavor, these new horizons are out there for those willing to find them. Likewise, as we change, the game changes and golf courses undergo changes, some of these new horizons will come to us.
Tibetan monastic debate has been used for centuries as a way of using direct implications from the obvious in order to generate an inference of the non-obvious state of phenomena. There is typically someone that answers a series of questions from one or many, going on and on, deeper and deeper into the discussion. The group seeks to reach an enlightened understanding of the nature of the particular subject through this deep analysis, constantly challenging the premise and at times, the very basis of reality. Basically, question everything. If this is invaluable for monks to get down to the core of existence, it sure has an application to something like course design. By constantly challenging the premise in the first place. Perhaps that’s an avenue to these new horizons sought after.
Ever since I started this site, I have beat the drum of play what you like. This is such an individual game with so many aspects to it and as it evolves, we see what has been widely accepted common wisdom thrown to the side, popular opinion disproven and so on. I’m almost mad at myself for not at least trying blades earlier. Instead, I blindly followed that they weren’t meant for me and stayed within some confines that prevented me from enjoying this game as much as I should.
The same holds true for course design. Break through whatever opinions and comments are floating around about this course or that designer and see it for yourself. With this individual game, all of it touches us in different ways. The spoiler alert is not everyone who plays a top 10 course enjoys it as much as some where no one has ever heard of, just like not every “dark age” course out there is bereft of interest and fun, or a relatively unknown course isn’t every inch as good as those you see photos of online everyday. See it for yourself and if your experience is different than popular or trendy opinion, then terrific. Play every round with a blank slate. A lot of the fun is in discussing where are passions lie and where we think things could improve. You never know what portals of this game you’ll discover if you don’t see it for yourself. In fact, seek out these outlier courses every now and then.
This Summer, I played in a gathering at Jeffersonville. Golfers travelled from all over to play it, then talked about how much they liked it. The course now has a polished classic look to it with pronounced Ross features and quick greens. It was over twenty years ago I first played it in a much different state. Yet I kept playing it, even when our group would crow and want to go play the newer places in better condition. Of course I wasn’t the only one that believed in the place and it was those others that were able to bring it to where it is now. Remarkable change and now old J-Ville is a destination course of sorts. To some extent, that’s from someone, or even a group of people, challenging what the course should be for the community. We all now benefit from it.
As for blades, I stayed with them until the late spring, then switched to player’s cavity backs, which are within the same realm as blades in terms of feel and, stigma. I’ll get into it a little bit more below, but it’s been some of the best and most consistent golf I’ve ever played this season. A few weeks ago, I returned to blades. I missed the feel of them, the art of them, they might be here to stay. My perception of clubs and the game have changed, all for the better, simply by forming my own experience on something I had been told over and over was terrible for me.1
Year of the Blade indeed. You never know until you try. A new horizon, grateful to shatter the walls unnecessarily in place. Change and challenge bring forth those new horizons, which makes this journey we’re all on much more rich with interest.
It was a year of New Horizons for Golfadelphia, blades included. A new home club very close by and getting my family more into the game have been terrific change. Getting to the course after work as it emptied out, having it to myself and playing until it was too dark is the kind of thing I was hoping for and couldn’t be happier that it has come to fruition. Taking my son out on one of these sunset strolls, he insisted on playing from tee to green. When we reached a hole where even the forward tees were a forced carry over water, I suggested we drop on the fairway. He wasn’t hearing it. “You believe in me, don’t you Dad?” “Yes son, of course I do.” His first shot hit the tee out from under the ball as it dropped down to the ground. He laughed, I laughed. I started to get ready for the talk, how this game is full of disappointment and unexpected random outcomes and part of the whole thing is acceptance and. . .
he hit the best tee shot of his life, over the water and into the fairway. It was the happiest I have ever been watching a golf shot. You simply have to love this game.
The New Horizons continued. In place of the torrent of struggle with my game last season was a newfound confidence and consistency. Perhaps even an understanding in shrugging off the bad shots. Along with the blades, the conceptual and visual have become a focal point.
As for courses played, this year reminded me of 2017 (article forthcoming on that year). A spectacular array of new courses invading my top 10 rankings, becoming highlights of all time and once again confirming, there is a vast expanse of unknown out there, just waiting for me to discover. Most of it this year was up and down the east coast, with west coast and Pittsburgh trips thrown in for good measure. Finally going on that New England sojourn and playing in some new states made me realize just how much really good golf is up there. Quirky Ross courses in jutty sharp coastal hills and ridges of Rhode Island, stately variety of modern and classic with the Boston scene, as well as the relaxed woods and river aura of Maine. There were also some local courses I finally visited, again reaffirming how much there is in my backyard.
Yet I still search for the new horizons of course design. There is promise in this regard, despite concerns of a homogeneity taking hold. The margin of error before drowning in that rising tide of sameness becomes thinner and thinner as we go on. Perhaps more attention paid to that sameness, breeding an endless cycle of it, it may be necessary to look beyond popular opinion and the tweets and the slow motion drone flyover music videos, of all the same courses, and courses undergoing changes to look more like those popular courses, so they too, can be popular. While there may be some rejuvenation of another Golden Age, there sure as hell is an Alchemy Age as well, staring right at us. More on that next year in a good old Bourbon Chat.
A well-ordered life is like climbing a tower; the view halfway up is better than the view from the base, and it steadily becomes finer as the horizon expands. – William Lyon Phelps
“The jewel has facets,” said the Chinese, “and it is possible that many religions are moderately true.” – Lost Horizons
There’s still a lot I’m excited about from what I saw this year. Experience refines and as a result, you start to see the strengths and weaknesses in all of the styles and designs and commentary. Indeed, while course architecture is thriving in a newfound glory, there are a lot of opinions that have some how become doctrines repeated over and over. I’d be weary of it or at the very least, see it for yourself. Golf is such a subjective art that creating your own path is half the fun. Play it all and make it your own. Try to learn something new everyday about this game, about the courses you play. Challenge those widely held views, or what the talking heads are peddling. Or even whatever it is I’m rambling on about at this point or that. Or just play new courses you haven’t before, or those you think you wouldn’t like, just to see for yourself. The more discussion, the more debate, the more various the views; all of it is needed to keep reaching for those new horizons. Challenge the status quo. Be like the Tibetan monks.
As I settle on my new horizons, I continue looking beyond. What else is out there, what can change. How can that horizon expand. For me, for all of us.
Upon these new horizons, golf was played.
States played in:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
List of courses played this year, still on deck for review:
- Deal Golf and Country Club
- Gulph Mills Golf Club
- Wanumetonomy Golf and Country Club
- Essex County Club (MA)
- York Golf and Country Club (ME)
- Cape Arundel
- Nags Head Golf Links
- Four Streams Golf Club
- Morris County Golf Club
- Quaker Ridge Golf Club
- Trump National Bedminster
- Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
- The Bridge
- Baltusrol Lower
- Baltusrol Upper
- Hollywood Golf Club
- Union League Liberty Hill
- Philadelphia Cricket Club – St. Martin’s
- Philadelphia Cricket Club – Militia Hill
And as is custom, for those close to 40 courses I played for the first time this year:
Morris County Golf Club. Technically, I have played here before, but it was years ago and it’s a long story and I wasn’t able to sufficiently take everything in. That round, however, prompted me to return post haste and pay much more attention. That turned into years and apparently, the course had undergone some work, and I believe some more is planned in the near future. So really, the course has surprised me twice. I played on my way to Long Island the first time, so our time here was short and I found out where we were playing 20 minutes before I was on the First tee. In fact, I didn’t realize it was a Raynor until we came across the Third. Returning this year, the course surprised me yet again. A Seth Raynor design opening in 1916, a large sweeping ridge with upper and lower playing fields dominates the land. The greens are brilliant and brutally deceptive all at the same time while the Punchbowl is one of the more fun out there. With the fairways and greens firm and fast, it’s a prime example of a classic course being fun and challenging all at once. A very under the radar Raynor design.
Deal Golf and Country Club. Originally designed by Lawrence Van Etten in 1895, Donald Ross completely re-designed in 1915 but not a whole lot of his work remains. Kelly Blake Moran renovated to bring a consistent theme, the result of which is a course full of quirk, a healthy dose of blind shots and ball striking intrigue. The smaller piece of property is used quite well, as pretty much every hollow, knoll and hill is used as intriguingly as possible. What surprised me here was how much the club embraced its character, the course relishing within its uniqueness instead of trying to become something else.
Wynn Golf Club. The recent match play tournament between Brooks and Bryson here spurred countless social media posts remarking in sarcastic undertones how the course isn’t natural and lamenting the waterfalls. Yes, there is nothing natural about the course. Yes, we are on the Las Vegas Strip, in the desert, where the atmospheric elements are a bit different. There are plenty of revered classics that are also not natural or found, so those kinds of comments are simply low hanging fruit fodder that don’t really get to the more important question; how does the course play? Once you accept your surroundings and focus on the holes before you, many will notice there’s quite a bit of interest, especially around the greens. The holes are varied and with no slope rating, are set up for match play or simply pure enjoyment. It’s a course that exudes its unique geographical traits vividly, where even the remarkable contrasts between man and nature that pervade the round are, well, manmade. The surprise was with how much I enjoyed the golf here, in a place that could have overly relied on its location and skimmed over the playing structure or reveled in a much more singular difficult one.
As always, these are different from the surprises because I always expected to really like my experiences at these places. Even with that heightened standard, these courses surged past what I was expecting in dramatic fashion.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Simply put, I was not ready for how much I would thoroughly enjoy this course. I was expecting a very challenging layout that held on to some well heralded vestiges of classic design yet played a lot more modern out of necessity. I was not ready for the sophistication of the challenge, how subtle it was amidst some very forthright visuals of the hills and bunkers. It was simplistic, or at least started out that way, then came a more direct boldness before the conflicting harmony of a terse yet somewhat afterglow finish. A strong wind met us the entire round and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Very much a links play in classic American prose, the club reached that deeper shade of soul that makes me sleep better from here on.
The Bridge. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but playing here after Shinnecock I was almost certainly expecting a hangover letdown of sorts. I was wrong. The club is comfortable in its own skin and the freedom of its vibe resonated with me. The course was very good, firm and fast in its own right with some of the more expansive scenic views on the island. Strategy and alternate paths likewise abounded while a cleverness around the greens was vital to taking it on. It was the best Rees Jones course I have played, despite what changes may have come since.
Gulph Mills. To start with, I was not expecting such lively land. Also, there’s a sporty sharpness here I haven’t come across at other Ross courses I have played, even though it should be noted there are a number of architects that have done work to it over the decades. Rigid elevation changes stoically stand alongside soft shouldered gentle rolling hills that toss over the occasional pond or creek in flowing fashion. This land, a tranquil isolated respite, is brilliantly used while the respective legendary talents that have imparted their hand did not do so to correct, but rather to perfect. Even with the sportiness, the strategy is apparent, especially around the greens. The edgy challenge along with a magnificent routing, the course rich with history and character, my admiration for the place grew with each shot. I now regard it as one of my favorite new courses played this season.
Fox Chapel. Restorations, renovations, sympathetic restorations, renostations, complete re-designs, half re-designs; the majority of work is to existing golf courses and it takes on countless iterations. Courses decide what version or era it wants returned, or changes or transformations it wants to take on. These decisions are never easy and there are layers of considerations for each. There are precious few courses that are able to return to their original design and ever fewer where such a return unearths a delightful core of purity that elevates its identity in all the right ways. Fox Chapel is one of those courses and with the careful deliberate work of Tom Marzolf, the touches resulted in returning the course to as close to its original Raynor design as possible. The spectacle bunkers on the Second and Fourth, Lions Mouth on the Ninth, Road Hole features at the Fourth green, the center line bunkers at the Sixteenth and four leaf clover shape of the green at the Cape Fifth are some of the more notable changes that shifted the holes to their original template character, changing the bunker faces, mowing lines and green shapes are the kind of subtle yet powerfully effective factors that evoke a unique classic nature here. A special place some how becomes even more so.
Llanerch. Oh, what’s that you say? I had Llanerch here last year so what gives? Well, the second nine of the project was completed this year and well, I’m a member here, so it gets mentioned a second year in a row. The transformative nature of the project may even be more pronounced on the other side of Steel Road. The green of the Fifth is now wide open yet the subtleties in the contours before the green are remarkable, making it play very different from how it looks. This green was actually restored to a prior version of itself. More width and space yet more strategy, variety and reliance on the terrain are seen throughout in these ways. My favorite stretch of the course is on this side, the Eleventh through Sixteenth, each hole playing impressively different from the other. The Fifteenth, a short par 4 with a subtle mound running through the right side of the green, typifies the broad spectrum of the game in general. It can be fun, easy some times if you hit the right shots, but can turn on you quickly. There’s countless ways to play it so that if you walk away with the score you weren’t expecting, you’ll be harping on yourself for either a bad shot played or deciding on a different play altogether.
It’s a much better course now in my opinion. It exudes distinction and emphasizes strategy, all while shifting the challenge comprehensively. Recoveries must now be much more creative, bunker shots can be flat out brutal yet there’s about a million different ways the golfer can get to the green. Instead of narrow aiming corridors and small target areas, the golfer can now think his way through the round, yet must know and judge the terrain well, all while his game must be sharper the closer he gets to the hole. The width is freedom yet deceit all at once. Oh, and it’s infinitely more fun now.
It is now a terrifically unique play in the area that I learn something new every time I’m out there.
Favorite Public Played
Cape Arundel – That’s right; I finally got in that New England trip and made sure to play this Walter Travis museum piece. There’s a friendly Americana charm that set in as I drove down the Main Street a few miles away and my car seemed to turn into a Dolorean and travel back several decades as I pulled into the parking lot and walked to the unassuming clubhouse sitting at a crook of the Grist Mill Pond (that’s more of a river). Playing with a couple members and a fellow journeyman like myself, the First laughs at you teasingly with the large swale in the fairway that leaves the approach completely blind. And so it goes the entire round. A set of brilliant greens that use their contours and bumps superbly, where putting is still a game of skill instead of nerves. The course crashes and careens into itself a couple times, abuts by an ancient cemetery and even what I believe were some apple trees in play while the Grist Mill Pond (river) greets us on this shot and that. It’s an elegant classic romp of quirk and course knowledge in a sublime setting. It’s the kind of place I tell myself I need to return and spend some real time at and wish it so, during those long days or sleepless nights, seeing myself among the regulars, walking the course endlessly while happily growing old.
Inness. I won’t shut up about this place. I refuse. I talk about new horizons and this is as good of a place to start as any where else. Inness plays like Tobacco Road looks. It’s extreme with its visuals and in playing structure yet strategy and course knowledge are invaluable in understanding its complexity. There’s also a comparison to Bandon Trails in how the course seems to transition into different natural environments, from sleek twisting hills to a wetland canopy with marshy frothiness to a more wide open wavy finish. All of that in just nine holes where the golfer goes back out wondering how much he has learned, only to find out there’s a lot more out there than he realized. The clubhouse is one of my favorite in how it sets itself along the horizon line. It is rare to feel like you’ve been on such a journey in nine holes but you do here and it’s remarkable.
Bedford Springs. Notable classics in good shape available to the public can be tough to find. Those that you can play in less than 5 hours can be really tough to find. Bedford gives you both of those and is one hell of a play. Forse and Nagle performed a remarkable renovation that highlighted the historical design pedigree, revitalized the natural waterways so that it was able to properly flow without flooding the course, then re-designed to elevate the course’s playing structure with their own talents. The only course I know of where Ross came in after Tillinghast and featuring one of the grander Volcano greens I’ve come across, the set of par 3’s were worth the trip alone while the round is a unique engaging classic that interweaves with the waterways constantly. A few hours from Philadelphia, one who needs a brief respite can make a day or weekend out of it, get some memorable golf in before a steak, then head back home refreshed as the day they were born.
Favorite Course Played
Shinnecock. This is a course that I’ve read a good deal about and seen on television, yet was still unprepared for the rush of brilliance. The seemingly straightforward nature of the course is much much deeper. There will be times when the golfer is at his ball on what seems like a harmless enough area and lie, or even on a spot of the green, only to realize they are completely dead as their ball lands and darts away, getting lost forever in the hills. I mentioned above it’s American links in the finest sense and the push and pull between direct presentation with complex undertones was nothing short of moving.
Without outright commanding you to do so, Shinnecock requires the best of you. The golfer learns a lot about himself out there as he begins to understand there will be times he either hits the shot at hand or he will suffer defeat. Never by intimidation or fear; that would be too direct and really, uncivil. I was able to rise to the occasion when needed, a culmination of my journey finally seizing upon the opportunity for glory. Some of the best shots I ever hit in fact. And if those shots were not hit, disaster was likely the alternative, which certainly greeted me a couple times during the round for good measure. The presentation of the challenge is something I’ve never encountered before. Instead of sheer intensity and perspicuous terms, the course strings you along, so as the golfer reaches his own conclusions, avoiding any untoward imposition on the matter.
The vibrancy of the hills, the contrast between fairway and auburn fescue, the splendid clubhouse lulling with comfort, resting on the hill in peaceful refinement, with the genius of the course every where; it was the highlight of the season and certainly a moment of spiritual zenith in my golfing crusade.
I’m still mulling it over, but it certainly has the potential to disrupt the very top of my rankings.
Riviera. This course has always appealed to me on a personal level and is among one of the first I began looking at from a course design perspective. Having the opportunity to play it was indeed a joy in itself for those reasons yet the playing experience itself surpassed expectations for two main reasons. The width the course manages in a smaller space was impressive and allowed for much more variety in play. The course was also much more strategic than I thought it would be, the hazards expertly placed for the golfer to mull over on each shot. Beyond those things, there are holes here you won’t encounter any where else while the par 3’s are a supremely unique set. All of this brilliance was essentially built by George Thomas and Billy Bill, more than a century ago, adding to its lore. The course still provides one of the more interesting PGA tour venues each year, yet remains as thrilling as ever for the amateur golfer of any skill level. A titan of course architecture.
Essex County. The combination of the terrain, the extraordinary routing capability of Ross and the end result of the holes within the terrain and routing produces one of my favorite courses designed by him. In fact, for those who always wondered how much a routing could affect the greatness of a course, look no further than here. There’s a stoic regality that took hold as soon as I drove in yet never felt inaccessible or intimidating. It simply presented itself and the golfer immediately understands he walks on sacred ground. Ross lived on the grounds and his early journey into course design was here. The rocky hills provided an impressively accommodating site for distinction, as the front nine jaunts along the lower outer works near the meadows and streams as the hills start to arrive to the party leisurely. The back nine is an entirely different matter, moving right into the hills until really getting into them towards the end, before diving off the cliff altogether to get back to the clubhouse. The polish of the course contrasts well with its natural jaggedness. I love it, for entirely different reasons than Pinehurst 2, which further emboldens my respect and admiration for Mr. Ross.
Hollywood. It was windy and the back nine grew eerily dusk quickly while I dropped my swing some where from the range to the First tee, but none of that could sway how much I enjoyed this course. In some ways, it actually added to it. A Walter Travis design that has seen a good amount of work from Brian Schneider over the years (most recently at the Seventeenth), the course is on moderately rolling terrain with unique hollows and mini hill formations that are used splendidly. How the greens configure with the bunkers (I always call this a green complex) really stood out, as did the bunkering in general. Schneider’s short grass contouring style around the greens has been very impressive from what I’ve seen thus far and his versatility with bunkers is refreshing. Indeed, the variance of the bunkers worked well. You might come across large ones dominating the hole, or several smaller ones, all distinct in their shape, swarming in defense of certain spots, all of it adjusting for the terrain. There’s a lot more here, though. A lot of it is the routing through some rather memorable terrain but there’s also a very well put together presentation of subtle playing styles for each hole. It’s certainly cohesive and allows for all manners of play, but I always felt like the questions asked of you were a little different as you went through the round. This added to the character of the course, which was a lot more unique than I was expecting for whatever reason. A great course that very much shows the golfer why Walter Travis is a legend.
Quaker Ridge. In my review of Baltimore Country Club, I wrote about how the course seemed to be a grand expression of Tillinghast as he had the freedom to do as he wish among the sprawling hills. You then have other courses of Tilly, like Wissahickon and Somerset Hills, where there’s a ying and yang between grandeur and intimacy. Quaker Ridge is a brilliant display of another side of Tillinghast. A leafy, idyllic parkland with a serene brook or pond here and there, width and creative freedom of playing structure is maintained even while trees are integral to the design. The ridges, contours, center line roughing mounds and bunkers all bring forth a wonderful tee to green experience that is subdued and restrained, anchored a bit more to traditional presentation. Yet the play structure is rich with strategy and subtlety, where the golfer must consider terrain movement, angles and playing lines, as well as hazard placement. The bold directness and vast intimidation I have encountered at other Tillinghast courses is not present here. There are more exquisite tones that lull the golfer with its relaxing setting yet demand the sharpness and resolve of any of his other courses. I haven’t even mentioned the greens yet, which is where subdued and bold expressions blend in harmonic intrigue. One of the best parklands out there.
A super composite course using holes from the courses I played for the first time this year
- 1 – Baltusrol Lower
- 2 – Bedford Springs
- 3 – The Bridge
- 4 – Cape Arundel
- 5 – Gulph Mills
- 6 – Deal
- 7 – Morris County GC
- 8 – Inness
- 9 – Shinnecock
- 10 – Riviera
- 11 – Wanumetonomy
- 12 – Waynesborough
- 13 – Hollywood
- 14 – Baltimore Country Club
- 15 – Pittsburgh Field Club
- 16 – Country Club of York
- 17 – Quaker Ridge
- 18 – Essex County
This season was certainly different from last. It was the most consistent I’ve been, never really having a blow up round yet never really going on a hot streak. Perhaps a big change for me was realizing I could still walk away from a hole with par or bogey even if bad shots were hit. So I never counted myself out and kept grinding it out. Here are some shots that stick out worth mentioning.
Llanerch. The second nine holes opened this Spring and I was one of the first few groups out to check it out. The Thirteenth is a short par 4 and I managed to hit my drive about 900 yards to the right, making the hole much longer. In long grass to the right of the tee of the next hole, therein completely blind, I hit my second shot (blade) to within a few feet and knocked in the birdie. May have been the first of the new hole.
Shinnecock. There are a few that will remain with me for quite some time but at the Ninth, I saw myself on the fairway at the foot of the large hill where the green resides. It was a harrowing looking shot, the pin was in front and regardless, it needed to land and stop in a hurry. I knew I had the shot with my wedge and didn’t hesitate. Got it to within a few feet. I think the caddie was even impressed.
Rio Secco. On what was one of the windiest days out there on record, we were the only group out on the course. Some holes turned into bears in the headwind, but it was fun getting one of my drives close to 400 yards downwind and downhill. I’m not a big distance guy but it was still pretty cool pulling out a wedge and promptly flubbing my score that way.
York Golf and Country Club: It was the tail end of a 36 hole day and the temperature was essentially 150 degrees. I was feeling it and was some what going through the motions when I found myself at the par 3 Seventeenth. Putting a good swing together, the impact felt nice but the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t really follow the ball. It was easy to find at the green; a foot from going in. By the way, I am virtually certain if I ever get a hole in one, it will be like this. By myself, won’t officially count, no one to verify it, but me at least knowing it happened, and some how convincing myself that it is enough.
Just a shout out to Pinehurst 3 in general from last year. That breakthrough moment grew this season and my irons and wedges are as good as they ever have been. The confidence in the wedges especially allows me to relax if I’m in unfavorable position and need to scramble. That really shined at Shinny, but has been a tremendous highlight of the season in general.
Of course there are millions to choose from but like the best shots, it’s tough to bring them to memory. It all blends together into an endless joy of grinding. And intentionally erasing them from my memory. Still, with the help of hypnosis, I managed to bring these ones to the surface.
Llanerch. The tee shot at the Fourth, I felt confident with this punch draw I had been honing at the range and it was time to unleash here, watching the ball expertly roll from the right side down the hill and, likely, into the hole. Instead, it was a cold shank that shot out at like 2:00, through the fence and into the road, where it barely missed a car driving by, but then bounced in front of it and kept bouncing down the road ala Tin Cup, preventing the car from going more than a few miles an hour for a comically long amount of time. I re-tooled my thoughts on the punch draw at that point.
Nags Head Links. A windy affair, I blasted my drive at the Ninth while bringing that wind to its knees and had a simple wedge shot in. Laughing and bouncing down the fairway, I smirked at how nice it was going to be to birdie the hole in front of the clubhouse, where I was positive a crowd had gathered to remark on the drive that had just taken place. Woe is pride. It was a flubbed shank, going over towards where I think they clean the carts. A couple more flub chips before dribbling in for double. Five strokes in less than 90 yards.
LedgeRock. At the Fifteenth, I was hitting my approach when impact felt weird and as I looked up, I saw my ball, then my club head, flying in the air. The ball actually went a bit further than I wanted while the iron head flew into the densest creekside brush on the property. I searched for it, then returned with a very helpful staff member after the round with no success. The course superintendent and generally awesome guy Alan told me not to worry, he would find it. And find it he did! I still owe him a bottle of bourbon for that one.
Baltusrol. Basically every putt. I’m an idiot and as idiots are known, decided to bring a new putter with me for these two rounds. Other than using it on the practice green for a little bit, it was the first time using it on a course. It did not go well. No feel or distance control, probably should have thought out that one a little more.
Shinnecock. Opening tee shot. You start at the top of the spectrum where the clubhouse is, teeing off to the glorious fairways, fields and fescue below. Feeling inspired, I addressed the ball with gusto, ready to take on the legendary challenge of Shinny. Then I cold topped the tee shot. You can’t take me any where.
There’s so many many more but we should cut it off at some point. Nothing to see here; we all have better things to do!
I just don’t tire of it. Of the new experiences and courses and making new friends. Of visiting places I think of as old friends and playing with my actual old friends. Of the fun and laughter, the stupid tantrums, as well as the heartbreak. The solo walking rounds as the sun sets, some times even staying out in the moon light making my way back to the clubhouse. The rounds with a lot of us, joking and ribbing and praising and consoling each other and talking golf for as long as we feel like. Learning and appreciating and thinking about the game, as well as all of the fascination of course architecture. It’s all a great joy for me. This year has been tremendous in all those respects. Here’s to all of us seeing the same in 2022, where those new horizons await. Hope to meet you there. You can hit my blades if you want.
A primer to the World of Blades
1. This is one of those things some will have no interest in. Most, actually. The main point here is if you have some interest in playing blades and have felt you’re not good enough, from my experience that is probably incorrect. I putt with a blade as well, mainly because it allows for more feel and I always felt too constrained with a mallet. My main premise in trying blades was my experience with putters and that I can mis-hit any club no matter how forgiving it claims to be, so who cares if I don’t hit these well? I was astounded at how well I got along with them and it turned out to be a great idea. That might not be true for everyone. Here are some things I learned that might be helpful, or not.
- I played lighter shafts than I normally would. Graphite actually. It helps maintain tempo while not having to swing as hard. For most, trying a blade means going to a store and trying one as a demo, which probably has a shaft much stiffer and heavier than what you’re used to.
- They are easier to hit out of rough.
- It’s a lot easier to pin point why you hit one poorly.
- You will hit shots poorly. Yet, I did not see any noticeable increase in mis hits from my regular set of blades. Maybe even less, but again my swing has improved overall recently. Still, there will be misses.
- The misses are a lot more manageable. For me, they are straight with loss of distance. I’ll take that over an 80 yard hook.
- Turf interaction is easier.
- Half shots, punch shots, cuts, what have you, are easier to envision and pull off. I find myself manufacturing shots a lot more. A 4 iron pitch 150 yards some times makes more sense than a full swing shot to that distance. A hooded punch shot that rolls out 180 yards is a lot more manageable than a full shot there. A par 5 going 7 iron-PW instead of swinging out of your shoes 3 wood and hope you’re some where you can scramble is a lot more plausible with blades for some reason, at least for me.
- There are a lot of vintage sets for fairly cheap as a way to try it out.
- Impact is all that matters. Less wind up is probably better.
- I still carry a hybrid for the longer shots.
- Generally, no one cares what clubs you play. That means you should play what you feel like or what makes you feel good out there, regardless of whatever the rule of thumb is. Golf is way too subjective and multi-faceted for that. For me personally, I don’t like feel like I’m swinging a toaster at the ball when I need to hit down on it, I get weirded out at address as I look down at all the mass and the sounds at impact are not pleasing. Conversely, there are guys out there way better than me playing irons a lot more forgiving than mine. They’re probably smarter too. But they’re playing what they want, not what they’re told. That’s all it’s about. Search it out on your own, you never know.
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