Tag Archives: golf

Damn

My old club in Virginia, The Highlands, is the antithesis of a stuffy country club. The members there come from all walks of life – constables, retired and active military (Ft Lee, a key logistics base, is located nearby), employees of Dupont and Phillip Morris.

The guys and gals from Phillip Morris are an interesting group consisting of folks from executive level to IT geeks to factory shift workers. From the latter group, I came to know a fellow named Vern.

Vern was the least likely person one would ever expect to see on a golf course. He sported a pony tail, usually had a cigarette dangling, and his standard wardrobe on the course was an untucked golf shirt worn over a loud pair of shorts. But the man had some game. He was remarkably flexible and could hit his 3-wood farther than most of us could drive it.

Vern was what they called a “fixer” at Phillip Morris – he was a mechanic who made sure the machines kept running – and alternated 12-hours shifts two weeks at a time (day vs night), with a few days off in between. That kept him from being a consistent player, but he was capable of shooting rounds in the 70’s on his good days (as well as in the 90’s in his not so good ones).

But what struck most people about Vern was his quiet, friendly nature. A native Virginian, he had a pretty thick drawl (guys used to tease him when he referred to his late father as his “diddy”) and almost always wore a squinty, bemused smile. He was the quintessential good ol’ boy who enjoyed his George Dickel on the rocks and could get more mileage out of a couple of words than most guys do in a paragraph.

A few years back, Vern retired from Phillip Morris at the age of 55 – he’d worked hard and benefited from a strong retirement plan that his union negotiated – and began playing more golf. Around that time, a former member of The Highlands had organized a tournament in Bluffton, South Carolina to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. I asked a few of the guys at the club if they wanted to get a team together to play in it; Vern was one of the first to say yes, and offered to drive us in his brand-new Ford F-150 King Cab [if you’ve never rode in one of those things, imagine a first-class seat on an airliner, only with more room].

So the Frenchman, Donnie the Plummer and I climbed into Vern’s truck and headed down to Bluffton together. Other members from The Highlands participated, as well. We played the tournament and met some of the troops who were wounded overseas. Vern was very moved by the experience, and when we returned from the trip, he pulled me aside one day and said to me, “Poppy, I’d really think our club should do something to benefit those guys.”

As I was president of the golf association at that time, I had become a master of delegation. “Fine, Vern,” I replied, “I’m putting you in charge of coordinating that.”

“Damn, Poppy! I knew you’d do something like that.”

(“Damn, Poppy,” by the way, was a phrase I often heard from Vern – and of course, “damn” was stretched out to two sylables. On a different golf trip to Pinehurst, I took him over to a house that a college friend was building in the area. The place was designed to be about 11,000 square feet, and as we moved from room to room, I mentioned some of the features that were in the plans. All he could say was, “Damn, Poppy.”)

Vern put out a challenge to our membership for donations for the following year’s tournament, and was able to deliver a nice check to the Project. But when he returned, he seemed a little disconcerted.

A bunch of us were having post-round drinks in the 19th Hole. Vern mused, “You know, it’s nice to help out those guys, but I’m sure there’s plenty of veterans right here in the area who could use some help.”

We all nodded. We’ll find a local charity. So what should we do?

Vern thought it over a bit.

“Weeeelll,” he drawled, “if we can raise twenty-five hundred dollars, I’ll cut off my pony tail.”

The rest of us looked at each other, and money immediately came flying out of everyone’s wallets. A few of us happened to have checks on us and wrote out good-sized amounts (fueled, no doubt by liquid generosity) – the net of all this was that we were half-way there.

Vern had a look that could be best described as grateful with a slight mixture of concern – after all, he’d had that pony tail for years – but gratitude won out, and he chuckled a bit. We bought another round of drinks, and then someone among us (it might have been me, but I honestly don’t remember) suggested that if we got to $5,000, Vern should shave his entire head.

We all looked at Vern with evil grins; his eyes opened wider than I’d ever seen them (normally, they were two slits) – but the George Dickel was speaking for him at this point, and he blurted out, “All right, I’ll do it!” He then looked at me and muttered, “Damn, Poppy!”

Word of this spread like wildfire throughout the club, and eventually donations rose to double the stated $5,000 (someone suggested that if we reached $10,000, Vern should submit to a full body shave and parade himself around the club; fortunately, cooler heads prevailed on that one). A local charity that assisted returning wounded veterans in finding housing was identified and happily received a nice check.

And so it came to pass that on Memorial Day weekend, a rather large crowd gathered on the club patio to watch Vern’s wife Martha snip his pony tail, and his son Jason shave his head. He wore a sheepish smile throughout the entire proceeding and waved off the ensuing applause and cheers. And then disappeared for a few weeks.

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It’s become an annual tradition for a large number of Highlands golfers to play in the Dick’s Place Invitational, a three day tournament/party that’s been held at a variety of locations. Earlier this month, Vern and the boys made their way down to play in it; upon returning, Vern began to feel rather poorly. Martha checked him into the hospital; it was thought he might have pneumonia. It turned out to be much worse – lung cancer, inoperable. He starts chemo next week.

I remember a conversation I had with Vern when I told him I’d be moving to the DFW area. He and Martha visit there frequently; he has a longtime friend who lives over in Granbury. “You and he would git along just fine, Poppy,” he told me. “He’s the only other liberal Democrat that lives in Texas. We’ll look you up when we git down that way.”

Damn, Vern. Take your time, buddy. Take your time.

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Luck Be Damned

Well, the year is almost three-fourths over, and I’m working on my 61st consecutive season of never having made a hole-in-one. Granted, there have been some gaps in my golf career – I was pretty much out of action from ages 1 through 9 and 14 thru 31 – but a conservative estimate would put the number of rounds that I’ve played in my life at well over a thousand. And yet, nary an ace for the Golf Nerd.

Oh, I’ve come close plenty of times, and I’ve certainly witnessed my share, including one wonderful moment in August of 2013 when the Golf Nerd Goddess, on the second hole at TPC Las Colinas, holed out a perfectly struck 6-hybrid. It was a glorious shot, but I couldn’t help feeling a slight tinge of envy as she clicked a photo of the ball in the hole with her iPhone (this is now her screen-saver shot) and then stored it away for safe-keeping. The ball and scorecard from the round are enshrined in a plaque hanging on our barroom wall (and let the record show that despite a fierce hangover, yours truly sank a 12-foot putt on 18 to card an 89 – a very mediocre score, but it looks a whole lot better than a 90).

My father, a very good player in his day, never made one either, but he was a man of many idiosyncrasies and stated on more than one occasion that a hole in one was more a matter of good fortune than any degree of skill, and that he never wanted to make one. Once he and I were partners in a match, locked in mortal combat that only a $2 Nassau can produce against a couple of his friends. We reached one of the par-3’s on the back side, and I hit a high, lazy draw that appeared to be all over the flag.

“Go IN!” I urged.

“No, don’t go in!” my father implored.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I cried, stunned.

“If it goes in, it’s a lucky shot!” he responded.

“If it goes in, we win the hole!” I yelled.

He looked at me for a moment, then shook his head.

“You always have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

[Post script: I missed the ensuing short birdie put and we lost the match]

I’m not dismissing the luck factor – after all, getting a 1.68” diameter ball into a 4 ½ “ hole from 10 feet away with a putter is difficult enough for most of us, let alone doing so with an iron or wood from more that 100 yards away. A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently that her son aced a 297 yard par-4 hole. The only way I can hit a ball that far these days is with either a gale force wind in back of me or on an airport runway.

But some people have a knack for making them. The late Art Wall, winner of the 1959 Masters, has 45 officially (which means that the shot needs to be witnessed and has occurred in a stipulated round). Among fellows I know, the player who has the most is a retired coach – and that’s what we call him, Coach – who, at last count, had a total of 13. The Coach’s backswing barely reached his waist, but he was ridiculously accurate.

A few years back, about a hundred of us formed a pool where anytime someone made a hole in one, he would collect $10 from each pool member. At that time, Coach was sitting on 9 aces. He signed up for it, and for the first time in years, he did not make one. I believe there were 7 holes-in-one within our group that year, which meant Coach (and the rest of us) had to pay out $70. This did not sit well with him, as Coach has been described by his closest friend as the type of person who will rub two nickels together in hopes of producing a quarter.

So the following year, a fellow known as The Assman (long story there) made the first ace of the season, and promptly set out to collect his money from the group. Coach politely told Assman that he would not be participating in the pool that year, as he paid out too much money the previous year and felt that the odds were against him ever making a hole in one ever again. He then proceed to make three aces that season, costing himself nearly $3,000 in the process – a fact about which the Assman took great pleasure in reminding him.

But my favorite tale regarding a hole in one occurred a number of years ago during our Thursday night 9-hole league. Pac-Man and I were paired up in a match with the aforementioned Assman and Spice Daddy. The groups that night were sent out in a shotgun start, so our opening hole was number 11, a drop shot par-3 that was playing about 120 yards.

The Assman’s tee shot found the hazard fronting the green, but Spice Daddy hit a beauty, stopping no more than an inch from the cup. Never at a loss for words, Spice crowed over the result. I looked at my partner and half-seriously said, “Go ahead and knock this one in, Pac Man.”

“No way!” gushed Spiced Daddy. “I’ve got him blocked.”

Pac-Man stuck his peg in the ground on the far right side of the teeing area, lined himself up, and let it fly. The ball hit the front of the green, and then tracked toward the hole like a putt. It got by Spice Daddy’s ball – and fell in the cup.

Pac-Man and I laughed and high-fived, while Spice was silent for about 10 seconds – which constitutes an eternity for him – before blurting out, “YOU LITTLE PRICK!” Which only made us laugh harder.

[Post Script – we smoked them in our match. I managed to shoot one-over par despite only hitting one green in regulation, getting up and down for par a ridiculous 7 times. It was fun taking their money – but I would have given anything to have switched roles in the match with Pac-Man. I’d rather be lucky than good any day]

Humility

 

One of the biggest mistakes that anyone can make in life is thinking that (s)he has figured out the game of golf. In tandem with this is those that suffer from this illusion feel it their solemn duty to inform the rest of us poor souls that they have done so, and are also compelled to tell what their “secret” is and how if you or I only implement this “secret,” we will be on that same road to perfection.

It’s a real siren call, those two to four (or if one is really lucky) six weeks of the golf season when the full swing is consistent, the short game is sharp (with a touch of creativity), the mind knows enough when not to take an unnecessary risk but also has just enough chutzpah to pull off a shot that will reward the chance being taken, and the normally balky putter has granted the golfer a temporary reprieve from its usual lack of cooperation.

It happens at every level of play, even professionally. Most tour players make the majority of their money over a month to six week period – the difference, of course, is that we mere mortals would be thrilled to have the average tour player’s mediocre days. But how one handles it speaks volumes. Unfortunately, it is so easy to fall victim to hubris.

Here is where I raise my hand.

I’ll never forget breaking 80 for this first time; it was in the first round of a 3-day match play tournament at Indian Hill CC in Newington, CT on the 4th of July weekend of 1994. My partner and I wound up losing the match in extra holes, and I felt oddly empty despite not just breaking 80, but busting it pretty handily with a 76. We move into the consolation bracket and destroyed our opposition in the next two rounds; I stayed in whatever state of grace the golf gods had granted me and went 81-77. Our club pro stopped by my table in the grill room to congratulate me, and a few of the better sticks at the club gave me a nod of acknowledgement.

The next weekend found me again carding a couple of pretty good rounds (I’m pretty sure one of them was sub-80), and handicaps were updated in the clubhouse. I searched for my name, and next to it was . . . 9.

Nine.

Single digit.

I was ready for the big money games, and competing with the best players in the club. I’d crossed the Rubicon . . . or so I thought.

A few weeks later, a fellow named Chris Goff asked me if I wanted to partner with him in a match with a couple of pretty good players. Chris was an interesting character, and later became something of a golf sensi to me. He grew up in the Midwest and eventually found his way to Alaska, where he won the State Open (“I think there were maybe 4 other guys in the tournament,” he would modestly proclaim. “Alaska’s not exactly a golf hotbed, so I figured that if I could ever win a state title, it would be there.”).

Anyway, I was thrilled he asked, although I tried to act as nonchalantly as I possibly could, particularly when he said, “We usually play a $25 dollar Nassau with automatic 2-down $10 presses (For the uninitiated, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nassau_(bet) ), straight up. Are you ok with that?”

“Yeah, sure,” I replied. The most I have ever played for previously was $2 five ways.

“Cool, we’ll have fun.”

Why not, I thought? I’m hitting it well, I belong here.

The morning of our match came, and the first clue that things weren’t right was that while on the range, what I thought was my normally reliable draw had turned into a weak fade. On the practice green, I went through my normal routine of knocking home 5 three-foot putts in succession – except I couldn’t find the hole.

We teed it up, and I was pretty much useless on the front nine. Chris kept giving me encouragement, which only served to make my try harder, which was extremely frustrating because the past 3 or so weeks, there was no need to try, as everything was so automatic. I had fallen prey to the hubris.

So after 9 we were two down (thankfully, Chris had made a long birdie putt on 9 to limit the damage), and one of our opponents made a crack about Chris’s back getting heavy. My frustration gave way to anger – and suddenly my game was back. A solid par on 10, a rare birdie on the 210-yard par-3 11th, and another birdie from Chris on 12, and we were square for the match, 2-up on the side. On the next hole, a long par-4, Chris’s drive was wayward, but I hit my best tee shot of the day. My approach was even better, as I wound up about 10 feet away from the flag. Chris was out of the hole, so it was essentially myself against them.

Both of them made par. I was pretty familiar with the line of my putt, and would have bet a month’s alimony on making it. I hit the line perfectly, but perhaps a tad too firmly. The putt lipped out and rolled about 4 feet past the hole. And then my thoughts went to the practice green and pushing all my putts to the right. I had no chance of making it with all of that flying around in my head, and we walked off the green losing the hole.

I could not hide the angst of three-putting from 10 feet. Finally I looked at Chris; he gave me a wry smile and said, “You ain’t the first, and you won’t be the last.”

That was a phrase that took a while for me to process. I hit my next drive out of bounds, and presented no creditable threat to our opponents for the rest of the round. We lost all three ways, plus a press, and I was completely demoralized, ready to go home and mope over the humiliation of the loss. But Chris insisted we have a beer, so we pulled up to the bar. I figured he was going to give me some sage advice about how to handle match pressure and the like, but no, we talked about work and families and places we had traveled. An hour and several beers later, my mood had brightened – and then I apologized to Chris for my poor effort today. He would have none of it.

“Don’t ever apologize for your play to me, Pops,” he said. He wasn’t angry, but there was a tone that I had not heard from him. “You either have it or you don’t, but the only time you ever need to apologize is if you quit on me or whoever your partner is. And if you do that, no one will want to be your partner anyway. You didn’t quit.”

“I appreciate that, Chris,” I replied. “But I thought I was past all the stupid shots and mistakes. I’ve been playing really well lately, I just don’t get it.”

“Like I said to you before – you ain’t the first, and you won’t be the last.”

I finally got it. I was almost $100 lighter in the pocket, and had to break the news to the then-Mrs Golf Nerd that we’d be eating in that evening – but I got it.

Head Games

 

As Jack Nicklaus entered the final years of his playing career, he joked that he had become a “ceremonial golfer.” These days, he has fully realized that particular title, having become part of the triumvirate that fires off the opening shots at Augusta each year. The Golden Bear remained remarkably competitive well into his 50’s, particularly at the Masters, where he found himself on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday several times. But despite the relative longevity of career that golf affords, physical and mental wear and tear eventually catch up with even the best players – particularly the latter.

 

At the height of their powers, Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones (all of whom were the best of their respective eras) were incredibly focused at their craft, and were so mentally tough that oftentimes they could pull off a tournament win without having their best game. One of Jones’s most memorable quotes cites the most important 6 inches in the game of golf is the space between a golfer’s ears. It’s also instructive to know that Jones retired from competitive golf at the age of 28, explaining that “(championship golf) is something like a cage. First you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But of course, nobody can stay there.”

 

Hogan, of course, was ultimately done in by a combination of the aftereffects of a horrific automobile accident and a stupefying case of the putting yips. Woods’s is a story yet unfinished, but it’s pretty clear that since 2009, he’s fought an inward battle along with dealing with the physical ailments that have plagued him.

 

For most of us who play the game recreationally, if the word “tournament” is thrown into the mix, even on a course on which we regularly play, a nervousness [sometimes even a panic] sets in. Instead of the usual light-hearted banter and needling one generally hears on the practice range, there’s a grim silence punctuated only by shots of varying degree of quality and the occasional oath either muttered or bellowed. And this is just on the practice tee.

 

And then the round begins, and we are paired with guys with whom we are at least acquainted and oftentimes are good friends, but this is a tournament, dammit, we need to bear down! More often than not, this scenario results in shots that can only be defined as stupefying, turning otherwise decent, clear-thinking men or women into emotional mush.

 

I have to say that more often than not, I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve managed some decent tournament performances, and even have won a few, although I tend to think the reason for that was because the formats under which they were played were so convoluted that it was hard to know how I stood during the course of the completion, so I didn’t let that part of it enter my mind. Whereas in a straight-up stroke play competition, I was usually pretty much toast going into things.

 

The Golf Nerd Goddess has played in a number of two and four person team events, and has generally fared well. Recently, however, she decided (or was coerced, in her words) into our Women’s Golf Association’s Match Play event. The matches were seeded, with lower handicappers taking on higher handicappers in the first round. The GNG is in the latter group, so she wound up drawing the reigning Woman’s Club Champion in her first match, and was understandably concerned with this particular match-up.

I tried the usual pep talk – hey, you’re getting a lot of strokes; she’s going to be as nervous as you; it will be a good experience. Her circle of golf friends all told her “just go out and have fun” while also providing her with all sorts of advice on how to beat her opponent (which they all wanted her to do, as it would greatly improve their chances in the tournament). All of which did nothing to make her any less apprehensive. To make matters worse, her match was delayed a week due to heavy rains that came through the area.

We had gone out on the course a few times to prepare for the match, particularly from a mental aspect (those who know me would scoff at the thought of me playing the role of Sports Psychologist, and I would not blame them). Our main focus was to play one shot at a time and repeat the same routine each time. We seemed to be making some progress.

Match day arrived, and GNG was nervous (she had awakened me at about 2:30 AM that morning to tell me she couldn’t sleep and had mentally played all 18 holes. I had to laugh, as I’ve gone through that same ordeal). We went over to the club to warm up, and then met up with the WCC and her husband. At this point I should mention that all of us are friendly; we’ve play rounds and dined together previously. But this was a “tournament round.”

And it showed. Both ladies were nervous; I could tell that the GNG was playing much too quickly, but because of the “no advice” rule, I couldn’t really say anything to her about it. But she hit just enough really good shots (while the WCC hit just enough poor ones) so that they were even after nine holes.

Unfortunately, things unraveled for the GNG at the start of the back nine. Some bad shots, a (under any other circumstances) hilarious putting display by both players on 10, and a ball in the water on 12 suddenly put her three down. I felt horribly for her, figuring that she was broken.

I was wrong – a 50-foot putt on 13 halved that hole, and then another lengthy putt dropped for her on 14 to bring her back to two down with four holes to go. But a golden opportunity to close to within 1 went for naught, and the WCC closed her out on 16.

The ladies hugged and I kissed the GNG, who wore an expression somewhere between disappointment and relief. “You made her sweat,” I told her.

We had lunch, ran a few errands, and then settled in for the evening. We talked about the match over several glasses of wine; I stressed how proud I was of her for not quitting and that the experience would help her in the future. She had seemed to accept the outcome all right, and we decided to turn in early.

I turned on the TV; we climbed into bed – and suddenly she blurted out – “I could have won that match! She was nervous; she did not play her best! I SHOULD have won!”

I tried again to explain that this was a building block, that she’d be better prepared next time .

“I don’t care! I lost. I feel terrible. How can anybody think this is fun?”

For that, I had no answer. I’m sure Jack, Tiger, Ben and Bobby would be at a loss, as well.

 

Sand Hills Flashbacks

Say “Pinehurst” to a golfer and most likely, his first thoughts will be of the famed #2 course at the Pinehurst Resort, host of several US Opens and other important championships. There are 8 other courses under the Resort umbrella, most of them originally designed by the venerable Donald Ross, the most prolific course architect of the first half of the 20th century.

I’m more loose in my use of “Pinehurst;” for me, it references most of Moore County, which includes the village of Pinehurst and the towns of Southern Pines and Aberdeen. These locales comprise a socioeconomic area referred to as the Sand Hills, a name based on the geology of the area. The sandy soil and rolling terrain are ideal for golf, and Ross made the most of it; in addition to his work at the Resort, he built the charming Pine Needles and Mid-Pines courses, as well as the recently restored Southern Pines Golf Course, which the locals refer to as The Elks Club, due to its proximity to that Fraternal Order’s local headquarters.

[Ah, the locals . . . Pinehurst and Southern Pines are connected by a two mile highway, but they are as culturally different as Dallas and Ft Worth. Pinehurst is a true walking village, with a pristine town green and tony shops. Southern Pines is a bit more free wheeling – for one thing, it’s home to the only “gentlemen’s club” in the area – and has a slightly more funky feel to it. In any event, don’t mix them up with a local.]

In addition to the Ross courses, one can find work by the Maples (Ellis and Dan), the Nicklaus’s (Jack and Jackie), Mike Stranz, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, and others. In all, I believe there are about 35 or so courses dotted through the area. In addition to the aforementioned topography, courses in Pinehurst are also noted for – well, for their pine trees. This is not to be taken lightly – it’s much easier to find a wayward shot sitting on top of pine needles than in a pile of hardwood leaves or knee-deep rough.

Pinehurst is a relatively short drive from my old Richmond stomping grounds, maybe about 3 ½ hours or so. I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times and never tire of it; primarily because something unusual always seems to happen when I visit.

There was the impromptu all night jam session I found myself in at the Little River Resort, playing guitar and singing with a group of visiting Canadian musicians. Or on one early March sojourn, our group saw cars coming in the opposite direction with lit headlamps and snow-covered roofs – never a good sign when traveling to a golf destination. Or having a lengthy conversation on the Veranda overlooking #18 at Pinehurst with writer Jim Dodson. Or chipping balls into the fireplace in the lounge at the Pinecrest Inn.

Or this. I was invited by a fellow club member to play in something called the Dick’s Place Invitational (hence the invite), an annual event that has had several hosting venues. This particular year, it was centered around Talamore Golf Resort, located on the Pinehurst/Southern Pines connector. It features a nice Rees Jones designed course and plenty of accommodations for visiting golfers. The Invitational typically draws around 200 players from the Carolinas and Virginia; in addition to golf, the three tournament, the entry fee – generally less than $400 – includes room, two meals a day, and drinks (including alcohol).

The tournament is played on three different courses (the other two on this trip were Seven Lakes and Beacon Ridge). Based on handicap, 4-man teams are essentially pulled out of a hat ahead of time in an A-B-C-D format (“A” being the lowest handicap, “D” being the highest]. Each round you are partnered with a different team member and play what is called a “Texas Scramble.” Both players tee off, select the best drive, and then play their own ball in. The better score on each hole is recorded.

At the time, I was a fairly solid 8 handicap, so I was the designated “A” player on our team. I was scheduled to play with our “D” player in the first round. I found our cart, put my bag on the passenger side of the rack, and went off to practice. Upon returning, my partner (we’ll call him Pete) had not yet arrived, and it was getting close to tee time. Finally, a short, pudgy fellow woozily approached the cart with his clubs. Seeing that my clubs were loaded on the passenger side, he shook his head and drawled, “Man, I don’t know if you want me driving the cart. I could get picked up for DUI.”

I chuckled a bit and said, “I’m sure you’re fine, Pete. Anyway, I’m Gary.”

He eyed me suspiciously and replied, “Call me Booger.”

Trying to make conversation, I asked him where he was from. “Dinwiddie County,” he shot back. “Oh,” I replied, “We’re practically neighbors. I grew up in Massachusetts, but I live in Richmond.”

“Sheet,” he spat. “I ain’t never been north of the James River.”

I could see that this was going to be a challenge.

We somehow managed a gross 76 that day. I say “we,” because I believe we actually might have used one of Booger’s shots during the course of the round. He did, however, manage to back our cart into a bunker and make a few unscheduled stops to rid himself of excess tequila from the night before. On around the 6th hole, play had slowed; Booger and our two other playing companions engaged in a tee-box discussion about their favorite squirrel recipes. I wanted to chime in with my squirrel risotto recipe, but wasn’t sure if 1) I could keep a straight face, and 2) they actually had heard of risotto.

But somehow we made it to the finish. Our B and C players had posted a decent number, and we were right in the mix for our Calcutta flight. We bought our team, and when the dust settled on Sunday, we wound up in second and split $1,100 bucks. I handed out the cash to our teammates, finishing with our D player.

“Well done, Booger!” I exclaimed.

Once again he gave me the eye. “My name’s Pete,” he grunted, and walked off.

[Postscript: The Dick’s Place Invitational was moved to Myrtle Beach the following year. No truth to the rumor that the golf cart tire tracks found in the fairway bunker on number 4 forced this action.]

A Totally Subjective Comparison of Metroplex PGA Events

[Originally Posted on Facebook – May 2014]

For those of you who are not familiar with the Dallas / Fort Worth area, the two cities are separated by about 20 miles of interstate and are worlds apart culturally. Those differences manifest themselves in so many ways, not the least of which is displayed by the PGA events held in their respective cities – the Colonial, which was just completed this weekend over in Fort Worth, and the Byron Nelson Classic, which is technically in Irving but is about as Dallas as it gets. Thanks to the Golf Nerd Goddess, I was able to experience both this year.

To illustrate – The Byron is held at TPC Four Seasons, a modern, tricked-up track that is affiliated with a very upscale resort. The Colonial, on the other hand, is played at a very traditional course of the same name that has been shoehorned into a residential area and would not be out of place in a lot of New England or Northeastern towns.

The Byron is essentially a week long party, with all of the beautiful people of Dallas on full display. Beer flows freely and the spectators tend to be fairly raucous (not quite on the level of those on 16 at Phoenix, but pretty close). The fans at Colonial are far more genteel, and , I think it’s safe to say, a bit more golf-savvy.

Other differences/totally subjective observations:

THE COURSES: TPC Four Seasons is a bomber’s course, but with really weird angles. The list of champions there is filled with long hitters. The holes are spread out in such a way that rarely does one hole parallel the other. The Colonial, on the other hand, is a true shotmaker’s course – you’ll rarely see a professional player pull out driver. Tight, treelined fairways and exceptional par-3’s are this course’s main features.

SPECTATOR EXPERIENCE: The TPC course was built with spectators in mind. There are plenty of large, amphitheater-like mounds to view the proceedings. Colonial is tightly packed (do you sense a theme here?), and unless you are in one of the corporate lofts, it’s difficult to follow.

THE FIELD: Slight edge to Colonial. The Byron comes on the heels of the Players Championship, after which a number of players choose to take the following week off.

TV ANNOUNCERS: No Jim Nantz at The Byron. HUGE advantage there.

EYE CANDY: Absolutely first rate at both venues, although I would give a slight edge to the Byron. The resort and its amenities brings out the inner wild-child in a lot of ladies, which leads us to . . .

AFTER HOURS PARTYING: HUGE advantage to the Byron. The poolside hi-jinx and pavilion bands are first rate.

FOOD CONCESSIONS: Big edge to Colonial. Outstanding chicken sandwich and fries, plus the chili-spiked watermelon is a great on-course pick-me-up.

ACCESS TO VENUE: We live right across the street from the Four Seasons. To get to Colonial requires extreme local knowledge. Advantage, TPC.

CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: TPC – Paulina Gretzky, Johnny F Manzeil. Colonial – still looking.

ICONS: TPC – Byron Nelson. Colonial – Ben Hogan (and maybe Dan Jenkins). Edge to Colonial.

YOU’RE STILL READING: God love you.

Weather Delay

Thunder and lightning outside. Everyone’s been called off the course and into the 19th hole. Time for a golf story . . .

Generally speaking, we had fairly mild winters in Richmond, VA during the 15 or so years I lived there. And, of course, having grown up in New England and attended college in Wisconsin, “mild” could have a different meaning than to those raised in the south. Most of the time, 40 degrees was my unofficial cutoff point as to whether or not to tee it up. We had a number of like-minded golfers at my club; enough to have fairly large weekend groups traipsing about the course. On days like that, it was highly beneficial to have some “warming fluid” or “bracer” or whatever other euphemism for spirits that one might use. Some of us carried flasks in our bags, and willingly shared our elixir with anyone else in our foursome feeling a bit of a chill.

As our course ran through a residential community, the yards of numerous homes bordered it, several of them belonging to members. Tacked on to some of the trees were birdhouses, which by and large were vacated during the winter months. One weekend morning, the word spread among those of us playing that we should check out the birdhouse coming off of number 6 green. Our group finished up there; I went over to inspect the birdhouse, and surely enough, a pint bottle (at that point nearly empty) of Jim Beam sat inside.

As you can imagine, this caused quite a sensation when we all gathered at the 19th Hole for out post-round libations. Our generous, forward-thinking member (for purposes of this story, we’ll call him Rich) was hailed as a genius. We quickly did an audit of the member/birdhouse matrix, and devised a plan to ensure that our players were well fortified during winter play.

This soon became an unofficial, year round feature at our club. Guests and new members were quietly introduced to our “secret” stashes. New birdhouses popped up, some having enough size to accommodate liter-sized decanters. One of our members took a different tact, using individually labeled jigger-sized bottles that were recycled. He even included tasting notes for the available spirits.

Of course, there were drawbacks to this, as popular as it was. The youth of the neighborhood soon learned of our stock, which forced the shutdown of some locations and the use of combination locks on others. This, however, was not the worst transgression to occur.

One early spring morning, a group of us were finishing up on the aforementioned 6th hole. I had just three-putted for bogey, which put me in a less-than-contented frame of mind. Thinking that a quick shot would improve that situation, I walked over to Rich’s birdhouse, opened it up . . . and found a bird’s nest inside.

Talk about adding insult to injury! I whipped out my cell phone and rang up Rich; when he answered, I immediately expressed my displeasure about this turn of events:

“A bird’s nest? A f*cking bird’s nest?” I bellowed into the phone, only half-joking.

Rich’s explanation was, in my mind, rather weak – he had been out of town on business travel, which was followed by a planned family vacation (one that he had been in the process of enjoying prior to my call), thus neglecting his duties to his mates at the club. But all things being equal, I had to let him off the hook – although going forward, he (and other tenders of the houses) would be required to advise us of all pending travel plans so that future incidents would be avoided.

Come to think of it – this should have been put into the club’s by-laws.