The Scrambler


How to scrape it around Western New York's finest and roughest tracks.

 

 

Volume 55-July
Porter Cup 2010 – 18 Wild Holes to Go
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Volume 54-July
Porter Cup True Preview
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Volume 53--July
Porter Cup Pre-Preview
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Volume 52--May/June
LPGA Championship
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Volume 51--March/April-2010
Gone Too Soon:  The Joy & Sadness of Mike Strantz (Pt. 2)
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Volume 50--January/February-2010
Gone Too Soon:  The Joy & Sadness of Mike Strantz (Pt. 1)
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Volume 49--December 2009
Pete's Retreat...A Day At The Pete Dye Golf Club
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Volume 48--November 2009
A Quick Nine With Ian Andrew, Golf Course Architect
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Volume 47--October 2009
Defining The Scramble:  Bunker Guru Jeff Bradley
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Volume 46--Late July/Early August 2009
Major Disappointments

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Volume 45--July 2009
US Open/ NY  Golf Trail Road Trip
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Volume 44--June 2009
US Open Ennui

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Volume 43--April 2009
New Golf Fitness Regimen Turns Golf World Upside Down
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Volume 42--March 2009
Press Release # 2from Buffalo-Niagara Golf Show:  The Show!

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Volume 41--March 2009
Press Release # 1from Buffalo-Niagara Golf Show:  Bunkers In Baghdad

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Volume 40-August 2008
Internet Scrambling on GolfClubAtlas site
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Volume 39-July 2008
Brockport Country Club:  Scrambler's Delight

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Volume 38-May 2008
Scrambling On The Champions Tour With Mark Balen

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Volume 37-March 2008
Buffalo-Niagara Golf Show Redux

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Volume 36-January/February 2008
If you can't scramble, stop by here to rebuild your game.

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Volume 35-December 2007
A New Place To Scramble:  Hickory Stick in Lewiston
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Volume 34-August 2007
The 19th Hole:  Diamond Hawk's Grill

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Volume 33-July 2007
The Porter Cup...No Scrambling Allowed
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Volume 32-June 2007
Scrambling around for apparel and more!
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Volume 31-July 2007
The Scramble that won the Peek'N Peak Classic
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Volume 30-May 2007
The Nationwide Tour @ Peek'N Peak Resort And Spa
Coming June 25th to July 1st!

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Volume 29-May 2007
The Nationwide Tour Part One
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Volume 28-April 2007
Upcoming Charity Events Press Release

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Volume 27-March 2007
Brockport Country Club Press Release

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Volume 26-March 2007
Update on Seneca Nation golf course
in Lewiston
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Volume 25-January 2007
The Frog Hair...A Photo Essay
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Volume 24-December 2006
A New Place To Scramble...Harvest Hill Golf Club
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Volume 23-November 2006
Back To The Dome...The Paddock Dome reopens to grateful golfers
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Volume 22-October 2006
Mark Twain Golf Club in Elmira...a fine place to meet the real Donald
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Volume 21-July 2006
Byrncliff...Oasis in the Scrambler's Nape of the Woods
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Volume 20-June 2006
Destination Kohler-Blackwolf Run
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Volume 19-May 2006
Destination Kohler-Journey and Irish Course
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Volume 18-February 2006
EWG (Short for Ecstatic Winter Golf)
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Volume 17-December 2005
The Real Scrambler Returns
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Volume 16-November 2005
Lonnie Nielsen:  Our True Local Scrambler
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Volume 15-May 2005
Buffalo Tournament Club
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Volume 14-April 2005
Cool New Scrambler Stuff
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Volume 13-June 2004
Conley Resort
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Volume 12-March 2004
Bethpage Black
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Volume 11-January 2004
The Joy of Fall Golf
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Volume 10-November, 2003
Turkey Run, In Honor Of Thanksgiving
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Volume 9-October, 2003
The Scrambler's Year In Review
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Volume 8-August, 2003
The Skinny On The Telus Skins Game At Royal Niagara
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Volume 7-July, 2003
Recapping The Lake Erie Charity Classic
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Volume 6-June, 2003
The Lake Erie Charity Classic's Top Dog?  After Two Years, It's Hunter Haas.
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Volume 4-5-November-December, 2002
Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh
The Reserve at Thunder Hill near Cleveland
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Volumes 1-3-Are currently missing.  Nice little mystery we have here. 
We'll keep you posted.
 

 

 

 

 

Want to find out how The Scrambler does it ?

Send an Email
to buffalogolfer@buffalogolfer.com.

 

Volume 55-July--Porter Cup 2010 – 18 Wild Holes to Go

At the Porter Cup, one of the traditions borrowed from the Masters is the presentation of a Green Jacket to the Event Champion.  And over the years, many of the players who have walked the fairways of Augusta National passed through Niagara Falls Country Club on their ascent to golf’s upper echelon.

While the topography of Lewiston would never be confused with the massive rolling elevation of Augusta, there is another similarity that has presented itself during the 52nd edition of the Porter Cup - a dramatic and exciting shootout.

Golf tournaments, especially those with elite fields, are at their best when the leaderboard features multiple swings in momentum and a large population of players with an opportunity to capture the title.  Through three rounds at the Porter Cup, we have witnessed dramatic reversals in fortune – some within a single round and others over the course of the event.  There have been kick-start eagles and soul-devouring double bogeys, all on the same reachable Par 5s, another common thread between the Masters & Porter Cup.

The final 18 begins with a 3-way tie for 1st, and 8 Golfers within 4 strokes of the lead. With opportunities for birdie-binges flirting ever so close to potential tournament-ending double bogeys, the drama will be high on Saturday.  Interject the story of local star’s resurgent comeback against the world’s elite, and the final round of the Porter Cup promises to be a spectator’s delight.

Round Three Leaderboard 

 

Rd 1

Rd 2

Rd 3

54 Hole

To Par

David Chung

65

72

65

202

-8

Russell Henley

65

67

70

202

-8

Jake Katz

73

64

65

202

-8

Nate McCoy

69

66

68

203

-7

Tomas Cocha

67

72

65

204

-6

Peter Uihlein

68

71

65

204

-6

Gavin Hall

70

69

66

205

-5

Drew Kittleson

72

66

67

205

-5

Wesley Bryan

69

67

70

206

-4

Bobby Hudson

71

69

66

206

-4

Harry Rudolph III

67

65

74

206

-4

Many Paths to the Top of the Mountain

Perhaps what has been most interesting about the 52nd Porter Cup has been the diversity of paths taken by the contenders residing in the final several groupings.   

(Relatively) Steady

Some have enjoyed a slow and steady ascent up the leaderboard, with no over Par rounds through 3 days.  This group features the likes of Russell Henley, Nate McCoy, Gavin Hall and Wesley Bryan.

Nate McCoy’s 3rd round featured 2 Birdies and no bogeys, as the Iowa State Junior has not experienced the large ups & downs throughout the week.  Through 54 holes, McCoy has been the steadiest in the field, with only 4 bogeys throughout the week.  At this point, his similarity to the other three “steady” golfers has ended. 

While the other 3 members of the “steady” group finished each day at Par or better, that certainly doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced the large swings in momentum lurking at NFCC.  Bryan’s first round 69 featured a Back 9 with only one par, punctuated by 5 birdies, 1 double bogey, and 2 bogeys.  For the 15 year-old Hall, his roller coaster ride also came in Round One, with 4 offsetting birdies and bogeys.  As Hall has reduced his bogey count in the next two rounds, his natural youthful attacking style continued to accumulate birdies, culminated by a 3rd round 66.

Finally, 54 Hole Co-Leader Russell Henley has also accumulated very colorful scorecards en route to his position.  During Thursday’s second round, Henley racked up 8 birdies, 3 bogeys and 1 double bogey.  However, his most important bounceback occurred in Friday’s 3rd Round.  A bogey on the 9th hole put Henley +2 for the day, vacating his leadership position.  However, the #2 ranked World Amateur righted the ship with 2 birdies on the back 9, assuring him of a reservation in the final threesome for the finale.

The Roller Coasters

In contrast to the relatively steady path taken by the above four Golfers, many other contenders have experienced much larger setbacks, enduring over par rounds during their journey.

David Chung, the 13th-ranked World Amateur had bookend rounds of 65 on Wednesday and Friday, in contrast to the Thursday score of 72.  In Round 2, Chung could not get a grip on any momentum, playing has last 10 holes in +3.  On Friday, Chung navigated the same stretch -4 under, to assume his 54 Hole lead.

Tomas Cocha has racked up an impressive number of birdies through the week, but in Round 2, the bogeys pulled more weight on his way to a 72.  Round 3 featured 4 more bogeys, but Cocha’s 9 birdies resulted in one of the wildest 65s recorded in recent history.  With such an impressive potential for excitement, the 19 year old Argentinian should be a pleasure to follow for the 18 hole finale.

Peter Uihlein also suffered a momentum setback in Round 2, posting a 71 to slip in the standings.  Uihlein also had to grind his way through the beginnings of Friday’s round.  The World #5 displayed his short-game prowess on the 7th and 8th holes, with near hole-outs from the rough and sand on the consecutive holes.  The par-saving shots kept the soon-to-be-pro in contention, setting up his back-nine 31 to climb the leaderboard.

However, the biggest reversal of fortune story also coincides with the best local-interest story.  In the past several decades, the influx of World Level talent has overwhelmed the local entrants at the Porter Cup.  The last Western New Yorker to don a Green Jacket was Ward Wettlaufer in 1965.

Through 18 holes, it appeared that the 2010 Porter Cup was not going to be any different.  Williamsville’s Jake Katz opened with a 73, 9 strokes back of the 1st round leader.  However, on Day 2, Katz bounced back with a 64 to leapfrog into 6th place.  An opening bogey in round 3 threatened to quell Katz’s momentum, until arriving at the 416 yard 6th hole.  Standing 130 yards out with a pitching wedge in hand, Katz was hoping to get his round started by attacking the tight left pin.  He was likely thinking of a birdie, but when the shot found the bottom of the cup, Katz received the rare jolt of energy provided by an Eagle 2.  Even though Katz gave a stroke back on the next hole, the Williamsville native accumulated 4 more birdies on his round to continue his resurgence from Day 1.  Katz has been the hottest player in the field, with consecutive rounds of 64-65. 

With a local standout going toe-to-toe with the World’s #2 Player and other elites, it promises to be an exciting finish at the 52nd Porter Cup.

 

Volume 54-July 2010-Porter Cup True Preview

As noted a few weeks ago, the 52nd Annual Porter Cup kicks off today at Niagara Falls Country Club, signaling the arrival of the World’s Top Amateur Golfers.  During our Media Day Luncheon and Course Preview, we picked up a number of interesting facts about the upcoming field:

World Amateur Champion Convention

The Porter Cup has always prided itself on being an international event, featuring Golfers from United States, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Argentina, Bolivia and South Africa.  However, this year’s field is a first for the Porter Cup, as the reigning British Amateur and US Amateur Champions will both appear.

Last August, Byeong Hun (Ben) An became the youngest US Amateur Champion when he defeated Ben Martin in the 36 Hole Final at Southern Hills.  The University of California Freshman will be making his first appearance in Niagara Falls, hoping to add to his already impressive resume.

Across the Ocean, Jin Jeong captured the 2010 British Amateur Title at Muirfield Golf Club.  However, as noted in the “Pre-Preview,” Jeong should be a name slightly more familiar to you now.  Jeong continued his hot play at St. Andrews, and was prominently featured on the first page of the leaderboard for much of the Championship.  His tie for 14th place easily captured the Amateur Medal, but also vaulted Jeong to the #1 Ranking in the Scratch Players Group World Amateur Ranking.

However, the congregation of National Amateur Champions does not end with the US & British Amateur Champions.  The 2010 Porter Cup Filed also features 2-Time Defending Canadian Amateur Champion Cam Burke, representing our neighbors to the North.  And just to round out the field, our “Down Under” contingency includes Matt Jager, who captured both the Australia and New Zealand Amateur Championships earlier this summer.

A New Champion

For the first time in several years, the Porter Cup Field will not feature a Former Champion, ensuring that we will have a first-time wearer of the Green Jacket.  This is a testament to the strength of the fields at the Event, as we are able to glimpse many players on their ascent to Professional Careers, and watch them, hone their competitive instincts against highest-caliber fields.  2009 Champion Brendan Gielow turned pro since last July’s Triumph in a 3-Way Playoff.  However, the 2010 Edition will still feature his playoff competitors, Cody Gribble and Andrew Yun, as they hope to make the smallest improvement on their 2009 performances.

Truly Elite

Scratch Players Group (www.scratchplayers.com) is generally recognized at the “official” ranking of Amateur Golfers, as this site tracks the results of all major amateur events worldwide.  A quick comparison of the SPG Top Rankings and the 2010 Porter Cup Field reveals the strength of our regional invitational.

As mentioned above, Jin Jeong’s British Open showing moved the South Korean into the #1 Overall Ranking.  In his ascent, Jeong supplanted World #2 amateur Russell Henley.  Henley is the two-time defending Georgia State Amateur Champion and posted a T16 finish during last month’s US Open at Pebble Beach.  The Georgia Senior will be making his third appearance at the Porter Cup, before his likely ascent to the professional ranks.

Another name you may be familiar with is Peter Uihlein, who has accumulated an impressive resume during his College Career.  The first team All American was undefeated during last Fall’s Walker Cup contested at Merion, and enters the Porter Cup ranked #5 in the World.  Like fellow Oklahoma State alumni Ricky Fowler, Uihlein may be one of those players you talk about 10 years from now, saying “I remember when he came to Niagara Falls” as he’s enjoying PGA Tour success.  Uihlein is joined by fellow Walker Cup Teammate Nathan Smith, the accomplished Mid-Amateur who sits #10 in the World Rankings.

In addition to the National Amateur Champions, the Porter Cup field also includes the past two US Public Links Champions.  Brad Benjamin captured the title in 2009, while Lion Kim enters the event with significant momentum from his 2010 triumph two weeks ago.

With many others from the World Top 20, such as David Chung, Shiwann Kim, Kieran Pratt, and Andrew Yun, the Porter Cup can pride itself on a truly elite field.

Local Contenders

While the Porter Cup features a number of International Golfers, the Western New York region will be represented during the week, as several locals will be measuring their games against the World Elite.

Jake Katz from Westwood will be making his second appearance at the Porter Cup.  With the inaugural jitters behind him, the 2009 BDGA Match Play Champion hopes to improve on his 2009 showing.  Raman Luthra will be making his third appearance, qualifying differently each time.  Luthra entered as the NFCC Champion in 2008, through qualifying in 2009, and was invited in 2010 as the Buffalo District Golf Association Points Champion.  They will be joined by Nick Morreale from Niagara Falls Country Club based on his Runner-Up finish in the 2010 Club Championship.  27-Time Champion Fred Silver graciously ceded his spot to Morreale, choosing to focus on the Senior Porter Cup to be contested in September.

However, expanding our “border” to the Rochester area brings in the likes of Tim Spitz (Pittsford), Yaroslav Merkulov (Penfield), Andrew Lane (Fairport), and Gavin Hall (Pittsford).  The 15 year-old Hall reached the quarterfinals of last week’s US Junior Amateur, only to be knocked off by the 14 year-old Jim Liu of Smithtown, NY.  Liu eventually captured the USJA Title, giving him a boost of memoentum entering this week’s Porter Cup.  We may see these two battling on the fairways of NFCC for a number of years to come.

A Chance to “Remember When”

If you’ve lived here long enough, I’m sure you have a story about some relative unknown you saw at the Porter Cup that is now an everyday name on the PGA Tour.  Beyond the obvious names of Mickelson & Woods, who were well known upon their arrival, I remember getting up close to David Duval, Lucas Glover, Rickie Fowler and Tim Clark, which is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  The Porter Cup boasts an alumni role call that is a veritable “Who’s Who” of the PGA Tour.   

If you are a fan of the Sport, you owe it to yourself to make the trek to Lewiston this week.  Besides watching amazing Golf with no Admission Price, you never know what “Remember When” story you will be creating for your future.

Volume 53--July 2010:  Porter Cup Pre-Preview

On Tuesday, the BuffaloGolfer.com trio of Mo’ Golf, Scrambler and Duff headed up to Niagara Falls Country Club for the 2010 Porter Cup Media Day.  Every year, it is a pleasure to be reminded that our Region hosts one of the premier Amateur Stroke Play events in the Country.  After receiving a preview of the upcoming field, we headed out to the links to get a first-hand look at the challenge these elite amateurs will face.  Mo’ and Scrambler took the challenge to the fullest, teeing it up on the Tips to get a full appreciation of the special tees implemented to battle with skill of the field.

As we get closer to the July 28th Tee-Off, I will provide a little bit more analysis of the field and some of special holes at Niagara Falls Country Club.

However, the “Pre” Preview is meant to let you know that you can catch a glimpse of the Porter Cup field at the Open Championship being contested at St. Andrews this week. 

One of the more unique aspects of the 2010 field is that the Amateur Champions of the United States, Australia, Canada and Britain will all be represented in two weeks.  However, before making the trip to Niagara Falls, British Amateur Champion Yeon Jin Jeong is making a detour to Scotland.

And if Jeong keeps up his current play, you may get a four-day preview, rather than a two day ceremonial visit.  Jeong opened his tournament with a -4 under 68, and currently sits in 17th place.  A strong showing at the Home of Golf may provide the confidence boost to propel the young amateur to another major amateur victory.

 

Volume 52--May/June 2010:  LPGA Championship

A few short stories from the BuffaloGolfer early coverage of the LPGA Championship at Locust Hill…..

An Elevated Status

While Western New York no longer hosts a Nationwide Tour Event, that certainly doesn’t mean we are missing the opportunity to watch Elite Golf up close.  On top of the nation’s best amateur Golfers coming to Niagara Falls in late July, Locust Hill in Rochester has hosted the Wegmans Championship since 1977.  The Tournament has been drawing top level LPGA talent for decades, with a roster of past champions including Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb, Patty Sheehan and Nancy Lopez. 

However, for 2010, the event promises even more excitement for those that make the trek to Pittsford.  Everywhere you look, you will see the following statement proclaimed:

“It’s Major”

With McDonald’s dropping its sponsorship of the LPGA Championship after 2009, the LPGA took control of the Championship in 2010.  In recognition of its success hosting the LPGA since 1977, Wegmans was given the opportunity to serve as presenting sponsor.  With the elevated tournament status, all the best female golfers on the Planet have converged on Pittsford to achieve Major Glory, including the recently named #1 Golfer in the world, Ai Miyazato.

In addition to a strengthened field, spectators in 2010 will also be treated to a strengthened Course.  Locust Hill has been given the “Major” modifications, with added length, tighter fairways and longer rough.  With greens running in the 12 – 12.5 range (estimated by Golf Channel Analyst Kay Cockerill), praise for the Locust Hill set-up could be heard throughout the LPGA Media Center, from players, analysts and LPGA officials.  The heavy rains that soaked the Rochester area early in the week have added several hundred more yards of effective length, adding to the challenge worthy of a Major Championship.

If you want to see the world’s best, you owe it to yourself to make the trek down Route 90 this weekend, and for years to come.

Two Defending Champions

The promotion of the Rochester Event to Major status leads to an unusual scenario of featuring Two Defending Champions.  2009 Rookie of the Year Anna Nordqvist captured the LPGA Championship hosted at Bulle Rock last summer, allowing the Swede to serve a the “Major” defending Champion.

However, the Wegmans defending Champion would never be considered “secondary” to even a Major Champion.  Jiyai Shin captured the rain-soaked 2009 edition of the Wegmans event.  That victory which helped propel her to the World #1 Ranking – a title she relinquished on Sunday in light of Ai Miyazato’s lightning-fast start to the 2010 season.  Shin is coming of an emergency appendectomy just two weeks ago.  Shin attributed her speedy return to her affinity for the Locust Hill layout, and may be the feel-good story of the week. 

Up Close

One of the benefits of having the LPGA in Rochester is how close the fans can get to the players during the event.  PGA events seem to feature painstaking efforts to keep players from ever having a chance of being touched or approached by a spectator – there is a strong feeling of detachment.  Throughout the day, I was struck by how accessible the LPGA Players were in comparison to their PGA counterparts.  Friendly words were exchanged with fans along the ropes, and players could often be seen mingling among the crowds while making their way between the course and practice areas, and in the walks between holes throughout the course.  Amanda Blumenhurst held an extensive discussion of her favorite color (yellow) with one of her young admirers, earnings the Rookie a few more well wishers among the crowd.

Personally, I discovered quite early on that the LPGA is much different.  After gathering my Media pass for the day, I headed out to the general area of the course.  While lost in my course map and planning out my viewing strategy, I lost focus and literally bumped into World #1 Ai Miyazato, who was walking in an open area, without a phalanx of security keeping her away.  If I had wandered 5 feet left, I would have bumped into Paula Creamer.

But that wasn’t the only close call of the day.  While walking between the 10th and 18th fairways, I noticed a group starting their back 9 practice round.  I immediately recognized the follow through of a snap hook, even though the ball was not visible.  I scanned the sky hard for incoming objects until the screams of “Fore” let me know it would be better to duck, cover my head and wait for the “all-clear thud” (which came about 10 feet away).  And that was my introduction to Samantha Richdale, who was unnecessarily apologetic as I returned her wayward sphere. 

Random Sightings

The practice round featured many random moments that you generally don’t get to see on TV, which only enhances the experience of a live golf tournament.

The first group I encountered featured Vicky Hurst, Marisa Baena, and Julieta Granada, as they approached the 172 Yard 9th Hole.  For Wednesday’s practice, the pin was tucked near the front edge, just past a gaping bunker.  It is often said that the average male golfer would be better off trying to emulate the swing speeds and rhythm of the LPGA.  After all three players left their shots within 15 feet of the flag, I could only dream of emulating such ball-striking.

Jean Reynolds burst into prominence last summer at the US Open, where she was the surprise first round leader and stayed on the first page of the leaderboard for most of the week until a final round 77.  While Jean has struggled most of the 2010 season, I came upon her group in time to see a beautifully struck iron to 2 feet on the par-3 15th.  Hopefully she can build upon her 2009 Major experience to become a household name.

We often think of the Pros as never making the same bone-headed mistakes we do.  However, on the uphill Par-3 5th hole, Patty Hurst was trying a new hybrid for her practice round.  After SAILING the green, it dawned on her that she had grabbed the wrong club from the bag.  After a good natured ribbing from Julie Inkster and a salty reply, the proper number club resulted in a 10 foot “mulligan.”

Finally, one of the best parts of the Rochester event was the continuing love affair with Nancy Lopez.  Lopez won the Inaugural Wegmans Championship during her magical 1977 Rookie season, and she is back for one more LPGA appearance.  Fans eager to get a picture with her were accommodated by the gracious ambassador, even those young ones who were desperate to run inside the ropes to meet the living legend.

 

Volume 51:January/February 2010-Gone Too Soon:The Joy & Sadness of Mike Strantz(Pt.2)
Click Here to read Pt. 1.

Many of the philosophies espoused by MacKenzie serve as the bedrock fundamentals incorporated by Strantz.  Where Strantz seems to earn his “maverick” label is through his flair for creating dramatic holes & courses unlike those seen anywhere else.  As an artist, Mike was able to create visually stunning “masterpieces,” the magnitude of which had not been experienced in the architectural arena.

Unfortunately, the dramatic visual appeal of his holes is often interpreted as a negative by some.  Critics, especially those ingrained in “traditional” design, are quick to dismiss Strantz’ work as being “all show” with little regard for the strategic golf elements contained within.  It is as if the magnitude of “visual awe” present in Strantz’ work leads these critics to conclude that artistic beauty and golf strategy are somehow mutually exclusive.

It is this type of thinking that results in unfair criticism of Strantz’ work.  However, I believe such “mutually exclusive” perception is a criticism aimed at certain of Mike’s predecessors, rather than Strantz himself.  There certainly have been courses created in the modern era worthy of such criticism, whereby overblown “artificial” holes have been created for “effect” with little regard for the principles of proper golf design.  I suspect in these instances that the designer did not have a proper understanding of shot values and strategy, and felt that visual effects could make up for those shortcomings. 

Such is not the case with Mike Strantz’ work.  For all the efforts put into creating a beautiful, artistic design, there is just as much emphasis placed on striking the right balances of risk and reward inherent in any great design.  In addition, great emphasis is placed on accommodating golfers of various skill levels.  As I performed a subsequent review of the Tot Hill Farm and Tobacco Road yardage books, I realized how many different options were presented, many of which I had never considered during my initial trip.

My experience with THF & TR made me question the basis of these criticisms.  Perhaps some critics don’t find it plausible that a designer can find time to give adequate consideration to both shot values and aesthetics.   In recent years, Modern Golf Course Design has become a “volume” business, with an Architect juggling multiple sites and checking in occasionally to see how his “blue prints” are being executed by the earth movers. 

But the solution to that is one of the great paradoxes of this supposed “revolutionary.”  Strantz again harkened back to the “Old School” methods, working on one project at a time, living on-site until the end product was completed.  This “hands on” approach allowed him to dedicate the energy necessary to create such “art”, without sacrificing the essential elements of golf strategy.

It is this dedication that again leads to simultaneous joy and sadness.  Because of his dedication, we are left with courses which reflect the soul of an artist and leave lasting impressions on all who witness them.  At the same time, his “one at a time” dedication means the Golf World was left with only 7 Mike Strantz creations before his much-too-early death. 

As you can see, I like to call Strantz the “Old School” Maverick.  This “revolutionary” is influenced most heavily by the principles espoused by the early classical architects, which seems to be a contradiction.  However, this type of paradox is not unique to Strantz.  In fact, his inspirational Dr. MacKenzie seemed to be hinting at the same paradox in The Spirit of St Andrews when he wrote:

“I am by nature a revolutionary, and only too apt to scoff at tradition.  Before visiting St. Andrews I had what were considered revolutionary ideas regarding golf courses.  To my astonishment, when I inspected the Old Course, I found my ideals in actual practice.” 

If you love this game, you owe it to yourself to experience his creations at least once in your lifetime.  Much like Golf is full of paradox, so too was Mike Strantz’ influence on me.  Whether from appreciating his “Old School” revolutionary ideas or by experiencing the conflicting joy & sadness of his brief contributions to the Architectural World, Mike Strantz is a figure who any true Golf-lover should get to know.




Volume 50:January/February 2010-
Gone Too Soon:The Joy & Sadness of Mike Strantz(Pt.1)

With the density of sad stories or horrible events that saturate our news coverage, it is easy to become desensitized to the grief that is reported.  The “matter of fact” delivery of such stories lends itself to an emotional detachment from the subjects.  As such, it is rare that the reader is moved to tears, without some type of direct personal relationship with the person affected.

And then Mo’ Golf sent me this Golf.com article several weeks ago (Strantz).  It recounts Mike Strantz’ heroic struggle to complete his final project in Monterey while battling the terminal cancer that would end his life in June 2005.  Recent visits to two of his North Carolina designs kick-started my passion for his work.  Further research into his writings and design philosophies revealed a man who echoed my feelings about golf design – he knew Golf was meant to be a full sensory experience, not just a game to be played.

Reading the Golf.com story, the quality of the writing alone would have brought a lump to my throat.  But having developed such a deep admiration for this perfect stranger’s work, I found myself in tears by the end of the story.  Tears of joy in that I was lucky enough to experience the masterpieces left behind by this special person.  And simultaneously, tears of sadness, knowing that his contributions to the world were cut short by a non-discriminating killer.

Getting to Know Mike Strantz

If this is your introduction to Mike Strantz, it is difficult to find a starting point to describe what an incredible figure he has become within the world of Golf Course Architecture.  I suppose the best I can do is to lead you down the same path that I took in learning about him.  You may have heard him mentioned during this week’s edition of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, as David Feherty discussed his renovation of the Monterrey Peninsula Golf Club.  As Feherty noted in his feature, it is often a sad fate of artists & creators that they are never fully appreciated until they have passed.

In this article, I will link you to interviews with Mike and also to his web site, which has been maintained as a memorial to his gifts to Golf.  At the same time, I will relate my personal experience with his work through BuffaloGolfer’s recent trip to Tot Hill Farm Golf Club and Tobacco Road.  Today’s article will focus on the introduction to Strantz’ philosophy and unique creative style.  His courses deserve an article unto themselves, especially Tobacco Road, as it often receives the most admiration, and paradoxically, the most criticism.  Later this year, we hope to bring you additional encounters of Mike Strantz, as we travel to Williamsburg to experience Stonehouse & Royal New Kent.

The “Old School” Maverick

Throughout all my readings about Mike Strantz, the one theme that emerges is “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  That statement alone should give you an idea of his influence within the Golf World – it is often used to describe anyone who revolutionizes an established practice, whether in music, art, industry, or other form of expression.  As Mo’ Golf wrote earlier this year, “Strantz' brand of
golf course architecture was the equivalent of Picasso's introduction of Cubism.”  His unconventional approach has tagged him as a “maverick of golf course design.” 

Yet, for all the discussion of “maverick ideas,” it is surprising to learn that Strantz credits his most significant influence to the most “old school” of sources.  The Old Course at St. Andrews is generally honored as the birthplace of Golf, and Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s tome “The Spirit of St. Andrews” is one of the most revered books in the Golf Course Architectural World.   

From MacKenzie:

“I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that beauty means a great deal on a golf course; even a man who emphatically states that he does not care a hang for beauty is subconsciously influenced by his surroundings.”

Mike’s reverence for Dr. MacKenzie permeates his website (Maverick Golf), which is a wonderful resource to familiarize yourself with his works, philosophy, and accolades.  These themes continue in Mike’s feature interview at GolfClubAtlas.com (GCA Feature Interview).

Click Here to read Pt. 2.


Volume 49:  Pete's Retreat:  A Day at the Pete Dye Golf Club
 

Reclaiming the Word “Awesome” – Pete Dye Golf Club

When I was younger, I had strange experiences when I would have time to contemplate certain ideas and notions.  In particular, when I attempted to comprehend the vastness of infinity, I would sometimes be overcome by a gag reflex, as if the magnitude of such an idea would cause my mind to “short-circuit.”  In retrospect, I realized this was one of my earliest examples of being “awed.”

As Eddie Izzard has pointed out in his comedy routine, our culture has diluted the meaning of the word “awesome.”  We use it to describe everyday items and commonplace occurrences, forgetting the magnitude of such an adjective.  Today is a chance to reclaim the word in its fullest meaning.

Webster’s describes awesome as causing “an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.”

Between the 12th green and 13th tee of the Pete Dye Golf Club, there stands a bell with the following inscription:

“RING THE BELL FOR MY DAD, PAUL F. DYE, WHO LOVED HIS FAMILY
AND EVERYTHING ABOUT THE GAME OF GOLF – Pete Dye”

As I was nestled in the peaceful solitude of the West Virginia hills, this salutatory ringing provided a moment to reflect on how much my recent BuffaloGolfer experiences had affected me.  Recently, we were fortunate to play classic courses such as Leatherstocking, had spent several days basking in the culture of golf in Pinehurst, had been introduced to the wonder of Mike Strantz, and were now submerged in yet another Pete Dye creation.  As we approached the 13th tee, I told Mo’ Golf, “This year has been inspiring.  My passion for golf had waned in the last year for some reason, but I feel invigorated when I experience places like this.”

The key word in that last sentence was “experience.”  Pete Dye, like so many of the great architects before and after him, grasps a fundamental truth.  Golf is more than a game to be “played” – rather, it is a pastime that should be “experienced” on many levels.

And here we were, experiencing one of his finest creations.  Upon further reflection of BuffaloGolfer’s visit, I think it’s safe to say that I am truly “awed” by Pete Dye, the architect, and this West Virginia Masterpiece that bears his name.

Pete Dye Golf Club

Located in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the Pete Dye Golf Club is one of the elite National Golf Club “retreats”, attracting corporate and individual memberships from 25 states and 5 countries.  Such clubs are created with the intention of being “world-class” in every way, and with Pete Dye, they found the right man to lay the foundation for their endeavor.

Pete Dye has been referred to as the “Michelangelo” of golf course architecture, which, upon first reading, may seem hyperbolic.  However, when one truly reflects on the creative process, the moniker gains credibility.  And as an artist, Dye has distinguished himself using many canvasses, whether it be the swamps of Sawgrass or Harbour Town, the rivers and valleys of Blackwolf Run, or a flat Army airbase at Whistling Straits.  The Pete Dye Golf Club was born from 500 acres of abandoned, coal-mined land, and the artist did not disappoint.

We at BuffaloGolfer have been privileged enough to experience a number of Pete Dye’s designs, and the theme that has evolved is one of creativity and imagination.  When I contemplate the variety of holes I have played and the thought process required to create them from a blank piece of land, that overwhelmed feeling from my youth reappears.

I try and comprehend the process necessary to visualize a routing for a given piece of land – one which maximizes the natural features unique to each property.  I start to realize what a gift it is.

Like studying a painting, your first impression is of the image as a whole.  But when you look closer, you can see each brush stroke, and appreciate the thousands of subtle decisions that go into creating the overall image.  Similarly, after you have absorbed the overall feel for one of Pete Dye’s holes, you look closer and realize all the subtle elements that contribute to your experience.

The slight rise in the land slightly obscures your view of the landing area, adding that challenging element of the unknown to your shot.  A single tree that should not come into play, but still tricks you into altering your aim towards very real danger.  The mounding and undulation of landing areas that force you to think your way through the tee-shot routine, searching for the optimal risk/reward payoff.   The beautifully complex challenge of angled landing areas, that force you to move beyond the “stick figure” simplicity of “bang it down the middle.”  The strategic placement of bunkers.  The contouring of greens that rewards a well-thought approach, and eliminates “routine two-putt” from your vocabulary.

But whether you are contemplating the detailed brush strokes or simply enjoying the overall “feel” of the end product, the Pete Dye Golf Club will overwhelm you.  The simple beauty of the land is stunning, whether it be the waterfall by the 10th green, the strip-mined walls along the 8th fairway, Simpson Creek winding throughout the course, or simply the magnificent vistas as the course rises and falls during your experience.  Or you may enjoy the unique “man-made” remnants of the land’s coal-mining past, including coal-laden mine cars, the iron bridges, or the cart path through a once active mine shaft. 

With every bit of analysis, you develop that “admiration and reverence” referred to by Webster’s.  And let’s not leave out “fear” – this is still Pete Dye-abolical, and for those of us scared by the occasional golf disasters hole, you should be wary, as certain poorly executed shots will be punished.

But don’t get the impression that this is a simply a monster course that relentlessly beats on golfers, appealing only to masochists.  A hallmark of Pete Dye’s designs is the variety of holes you will experience.  While there are several monster par fours ranging from 468 to 500 yards (Championship Tees), the course also features 5 par fours under 400 yards, placing a greater emphasis on shot placement than brute strength.  One of these, the shorter 17th hole, features one of the most frightening greens you will experience.  While some reviewers have criticized this green’s difficulty, when you consider the short length and relative lack of trouble off the tee, it is a fair challenge.

Similarly, the array of par fives varies from the easily reachable 8th hole (508 yards downhill), to the “not unless you’re Bubba Watson” three-shot 11th hole (604 yards).

For those golfers looking for a “world-class” golf experience, the Pete Dye Golf Club will exceed your expectations.  The variety of hole designs, combined with the array of hole and tee combinations, guarantees there will always be a unique experience waiting to be discovered on your first, fifth or fiftieth visit.

The Rest of the Story

However, the Golf Course does not encompass the totality of the “retreat” experience for this National Club.  While the course is the foundation and core of the Club, no experience would be complete without the complement of service, hospitality and accommodations.

Upon arriving at the Golf Club, out-of-town members and guests can relax in one of several on-site lodging options, including the Black Diamond Lodge or one of the townhouses located on the property.  Nestled within the woods of this magnificent piece of land, these accommodations provide views overlooking the course, Simpson Creek and the rolling West Virginia countryside, and slowly submerge the visitor into the complete retreat experience.

After a night’s rest, the golfer may prepare for his challenge at the Club’s practice facility, which, like everything else, is world-class.  Set up more like a golf hole than an “open field,” the range helps you to visualize shots, rather than simply “bang balls.”  If you have time, you can avail yourself of practice greenside and fairway bunkers, pitching and chipping areas, and putting greens, all of which are encompassed within this 35 acre facility.

After climbing the hill after the 18th green, you can recount your experience in the Clubhouse’s magnificent Grille Room, home to spectacular views of the course and adjacent hills.  Wherever you roam within the Clubhouse, you will be met by friendly staff who aspire to provide you with the highest service and hospitality during your escape to this mountain retreat.

Depending on your corporate entertainment or personal recreation needs, the Pete Dye Golf Club has the amenities and staff to provide a world-class experience.  To find out more about this West Virginia getaway, visit www.petedye.com.

 


 


Volume 48:  A Quick Nine With Ian Andrew, Golf Course Architect
 

1.  Describe your entry into the playing of golf (I assume) as a youth...

At 13 I was watching The Bing Crosby Pro Am and I asked if someone actually designed golf courses. He answered of course, and I told him that’s what I’m going to do then.
 
My father encouraged me by getting books on architecture and decided that if this was what I wanted to do, that I best learn the game. He signed me up to begin playing that summer at a local Muni. He was an old club captain from England and a pretty good player. So my introduction to the game was a series of lessons from him.
 
To play on my own, I had to pass an etiquette test with my father. Once I could play by myself, it only took a 5 mile ride to the course on my bike to play each day. I went up 85 times in the first year.
 
2.  At what age did you start to pay attention to the golfing grounds as something more than a course?  Elaborate if it's worth your while.

I was far more into the architecture than the game from the beginning. I was obsessed with places like Merion, The Old Course and Royal Melbourne due to a book called the World Atlas of Golf.
 
At 16 my father took me on the first of many family vacations designed to show me the great courses of the world and I was blown away. The first was Highland Golf Links. I was hooked and began to source out books, like Golf Architecture in America, and began to read about golf design as much as I did about Shakespeare.
 
3.  Describe your entry into golf course architecture...Courses of study, apprenticeships, machines ridden, etc.

I got in contact with Doug Carrick, who along with Tom McBroom was one of the two most prominent Canadian golf designers of our generation. I talked to him on the phone, went out on construction sites, came in to see him at the office and generally hung around while in University. We stayed in contact till an opening finally came up and I was asked to join.
 
4.  What tours have you made (in addition to the Australia one this year) that have revealed your direction in design to you?

These are the trips with my father:
 
Highlands Links and the Maritimes (age: 16)
Westchester (17) -
Pinehurst (18) – the lessons on short grass have lasted a lifetime with me
Monterey Peninsula (20) – borrowed scenery

Scotland (21) – details, undulations, green contour, it goes on forever – this was the trip that made all the difference

London Heathland area (21)
Ireland – incorporating natural features
 
These are trips on my own after I began working as an architect:
 
Northern Michigan
Florida (2 trips)
Long Island (4 trips played everything)
Philadelphia (2 trips played or walked almost everything)
Boston (back next year)
Los Angeles (played all of the famous courses)
San Francisco (played all the famous layouts)
Bandon Dunes (2 trips)
Seattle (Chambers Bay)
Pinehurst (2 trips)
Augusta (for the tournament)
Scotland (2 more trips) – seeing lesser known courses led to more ideas
Montana (Rock Creek)
Monterey Peninsula (2 more trips)
Australia (two weeks this year) – bunkering without rough!

England and Boston will be my next focus.

I try to go to at least one place to learn something every year. My wife understands and supports this “habit.” I try to take her along when she’ll go.
 
5.  Describe your work with other firms, before striking out on your own.

I did some work before Carrick Design, but I honestly think that the work there is the only experience I have working as a golf architect. I also considered the early years an apprenticeship where I learnt about design.

I ended up working on a dozen new golf courses for Doug. My role was always to assist Doug in any way I could. We worked together on everything, he in the lead, and me in assistance for the first ten years. I was very involved in the design of some courses and not as much in others, but it was always Doug’s projects. I did see all those courses through construction. We usually shared the site work with Doug, but when we were very busy I often completed most of the site work on my own.

By the mid 1990’s the renovation side of the business exploded and we found ourselves in great demand for that service. I liked the renovation work and he didn’t. I also loved the independence to deal with the clients and offer my own thoughts on design and promote restoration. Nobody did restoration work till I started and I would say that it’s this work that I best known for. Through the 90’s and beyond, I concentrated on the renovation business and grew it substantially while Doug concentrated on the new projects.

This was great until the new work stopped for the first time and Doug wanted to be involved in the renovation side again. I had established a strong renovation business and liked the independence. To complicate matters further, we had also grown apart on our design philosophies.  It became clear to both of us that we had grown apart and in my mind it was inevitable that I should plan to leave when the time was right. Rather than go right away, my wife convinced me to work together with Doug one last time before heading out on my own.  Sometimes we struggled, other times we pulled the best out of each other, but most often it was great. The course is a little different than most of his work and it did win Golf Digest’s Best New Course in Canada in 2007. I was pleased by the fact that we got our relationship back to where it was when I began and we built something a little different than the company had before. We finished up and I told him it was time to go.

6.  How did Mike Weir get in touch with you to discuss your current partnership?

I actually worked on my own for three years first.  Mike decided it was time to go into Golf Architecture and set out to find the “Coore” to him being the “Crenshaw.” He decided that they should do a search and invited 25-30 architects to put in an expression of interest. He then asked each to look at a site and to put together a plan, any additional accompanying materials they wanted, present a design philosophy and anything else we felt was relevant to the new venture.
 
Mike and his team reviewed the proposals and cut the group down to the final five. The five of us interviewed with him and his team. It was the first time I had ever met Mike. We were all left to present anything we wanted to. Most choose to present the project, but I choose to talk about my design philosophy. I also touched on an environmental approach to design and explained how I thought we would manage working around his schedule.
 
They were supposed to go down to two and interview a second time, but I guess we clicked because he phoned me on the 22nd of December to congratulate me. This year we have met at Riviera (LA), Augusta, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Montreal, Quebec City and yesterday at Bright’s Grove.
 
7.  Describe your thoughts on how a golf course should be built, kept up and play.

We are firm believers in the old idea of building courses. The best ones usually involved building only greens tees and bunkers. Unless the site is really lacking for any merit, it’s up to us to find the golf course, not design the golf course. We believe that every routing must deal with an unusual part of the site, but through innovation and creativity these tend to become the most iconic and interesting holes in golf. If you simply re-grade the complicated parts of the site, you will never build an iconic hole.
 
We plan to disturb less of the site, move less earth, design less and get back to the origins of the game which was all about embracing the subtle undulations in the land. Modern golf revels in the photograph, whereas the architecture we like revels in the playing experience. We are going to make courses that people enjoy playing.
 
We intend to get the ball back on the ground more, open up the fronts of greens for running approaches, increase the fairway width for options and have far more short grass around the greens to promote creativity. There will be less reliance on bunkering, because they will be used to defend the ideal line rather than frame a golf hole.
 
The courses will be wider, more playable and have far more options on how to get the ball to the hole. The player will be encouraged to flirt with trouble in order to score, but the amount of risk they take on is up to them. We want to test their thinking as much as we want to test their skill.
 
8.  If you could have one opportunity in golf design what would you like?
 
I would have to say a links site is the ultimate. The less we have to do the better the project will be. I would enjoy the fun and challenge of walking until the right eighteen holes is found. I think one site like this in a lifetime is a dream for all architects.
 
9.  What is the one hole in the greater Buffalo area that you wish you designed and why?
 
The 11th at Stafford Country Club.

The entire focus of that hole is the green. The approach to the front pin must be bounced in from the fairway. The middle needs an approach shot to run through the front and a shot to the diabolical back plateau needs the ball to run up from the middle. The contours do a fantastic job in separating the green into a series of completely different challenges depending on the pin position.

This may sound too tough, but the surroundings are all kept short to provide an alternative. Players can bail right and away from the creek and bunker on the left, but they are left with a really tough chip to try and save par. It’s the perfect combination of toughness and playability.

 

Volume 47:  Defining The Scramble:  Bunker Guru Jeff Bradley

The Scrambler, Kevin Lynch, makes his daily bread getting up and down out of abandoned grain mills, wagon ruts and lunar craters.  For fun, we asked him to interview one of the guys who makes him face these hazards.  Kevin chose Jeff Bradley, the self-christened "Bunker Guru."  Jeff is THAT guy who makes natural-looking bunkers look natural and intimidating at the same time.  He has worked for Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw on a number of original designs and renovations, and with Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry on their seminal project, Shelter Harbor in Rhode Island.  Our Scrambler got Jeff down off his excavator long enough for a quick ten questions...all right, it's actually nine right now...we've hit an impasse on the controversial seventh but, as soon as we have Jeff's answer, we'll post it.  After you finish, please check out Jeff's site, www.bunkerguru.com

1.  Where was your first sandbox as a child and did you know instantly that the grains would impact your life in such a big way?

 A: Probably at my grandparents house and certainly not!

2.  What can you publicly say that you do differently from other bunker carvers?

 A: That's hard to say. Most courses are built by large contractors. Under that scenario you probably have one guy rough in a basic shape with bulldozer, then an architect marks an edge, then another operator cuts out that line and cleans up the bunker for drainage and finally a labor crew does finish work, drainage and sand installation. A lot of things are going to change with that process. I am involved with every aspect of the construction from start to finish. I will employ the help of a few laborers, but basically, I want to be involved in the entire process. This way I’m assured that the details don’t change very much unless I want them to. 

 

C&C does their design work in the field rather than in an office. So we start with a very basic idea from Bill and Ben and work from there. Things change a lot so you can’t get to married to what you’ve done. Its very easy to misinterpret what the guys want, and sometimes  they aren’t real sure. This may sound strange but I think the process of putting something out there for them to look at and work off is very beneficial. In that, the architects get a few ideas to bounce around. Bill and Ben are very generous in the creative process. We get a ton of freedom in the field. This not only keeps the job more interesting for us, it allows for a variety of things to happen, and that makes the end product unique.

Having worked for these guys for 15 years has given me a better understanding of their design philosophy, but they never fail to surprise us. The team spirit that Bill and Ben have built has been good for all of us. We’ve all grown together and I think we’re getting better all the time. 

3.  You've worked with a number of different designers/architects... do you alter your bunker designs to fit the architect and/or the course?

 A: Not really, I’ve only worked with two or three, and they hire me because they want the style of bunker I’ve been doing all these years. It can be challenging to make my rugged and minimalist style fit into a modern looking design. It works best when the other shapers and myself all have the same approach. That isn’t usually the case off of a C&C job site.

 

Not to pick at the contractors. Those guys do some amazing things, they are forced to take a “financial bottom line” approach to the construction. C&C and works a with a different business model and construction process. It is usually cheaper and gives us a great deal more freedom creatively.

 

4.  Assuming that you don't alter your style, does it cause problems when a bunker on a Hurdzan/Fry course looks like one on a Palmer or a C & C course?

 A: I try to make every single bunker different. I have some shapes and edges that I like to use when the situation allows for it. But this is often the end result and not where I started in my head. I try to look at a project without a preconceived idea. I want the land or the shaping to tell me what needs to happen there.

 

Dana (Eds. Note: Dana Fry at Shelter Harbor project) was very open to just about anything I threw at him. He was amazing to work with and I hope to do it again someday. Talking with Dana is always an honest and entertaining conversation. I’m working with an architect named Thad Layton on the Palmer project and its going well. Thad is a little more hands on than Dana, but he’s very open to my ideas. Even some weird ones.  

 

Both of these firms have been very good to me and I feel fortunate to have contributed to their work and made some great friends. 

 

I should mention that I’ve worked with Landscapes Unlimited on both of these jobs, and they have been pretty amazing too. I’m very grateful for their willingness to think outside of the “box”. It isn’t easy to do when you as tight a profit margin as these companies do. They’ve been fantastic

 

5.  Do you actively pursue contracts or do architects/designers call on you?

 A: They have called me in the past. Working for C&C has allowed me to pick only the projects I really want to do. The economy has been rough on our industry this year and probably will be for a few years to come. I may have to pursue some things, but I hope not.
 

6.  Has any club contracted you independently to come in and give their bunkers a new/old look?

 A: Yes!  It’s called Weekapaug Golf Club. A great little 9 holer that I used to go play in the evening when working on Shelter Harbor just up the road. My colleague David Zinkand and I did a complete bunker renovation there last year. It was a great success for us and we’re hoping that it will lead to more projects in the future. 

7.  Have you ever been in a bunker-building or repairing situation where it just didn't work out?

A:  Yeah sure, Without being to specific. I've met with owners who didn't want to pay what I was asking. Sometimes the funding isn't there. Sometimes you can't get permitted. They can fall apart for all kinds of reasons beyond my control. Its just part of the business.

8.  List the tools of the trade of the bunker guru, from simplest hand-held implement to roaringest machine.

A: SHOVEL!!!!! and rake. All supported by a 12,000 lbs excavator!

9.  Whose bunkers inspire you?  We don't necessarily know which member of the team might have carved them, but we can at least begin with the architect/designer.

 When I started in this industry I didn’t know anything about architecture or construction. So I studied the things I was told to. Alister MacKenzie is my favorite for bunkers. It really seems like anyone who is trying to do that natural looking style is studying his work. Unfortunately, most of the study is done in books because those clubs have changed the bunker style over the years. 

 

But mostly I got my inspiration and education from the guys who came before me on Bill and Ben’s team. Dave Axland, Dan Proctor, Tom Beck, Jerry (Scrooge) Clark.  And of course Bill and Ben. I still work with Scrooge’s cousin Jimbo. We’re in NC this year and Jimbo has taught me many things over the years. Especially about the basic framework of a bunker and how it should tie-in with its surroundings. When I started Jimbo would rough a bunker in with a dozer and I would do my thing from there. These days it’s mostly all on me. Although Jimbo did make a brilliant move on a bunker the other day. It was kind of nostalgic...for me anyway.

 

Tom Doak’s crew does some amazing work and so does Gil Hanse. These guys use a similar model to us, so its fun to see what they come up with. Gil is always trying something new, and its always beautiful and innovative. I’ve met some great people in this business, Gil is one of my favorites.

10.  What do you swear you WILL NEVER DO to a bunker?

 Bill is always teasing me.......always!!!!! He’s always teasing about not being to build a clean bunker or a perfectly round one. He’s probably right. I always say I’m not a good enough operator to do that kind of work. I’m lucky I found the guys who never want that!


Volume XLVI--Major Disappointments

With all due respect given to the Ben Curtis / Shaun Micheel summer of 2003, there is no Golf Major season that can compare to the emptiness and disappointment the Scrambler has endured in 2009.  Last month, I wrote about the ennui that accompanied the US Open conclusion at Bethpage.  I was depressed by the loss of the great stories featuring Phil Mickelson or David Duval.  My online therapy that Monday afternoon concluded on a hopeful note:

“I can only hope that yesterday’s heartbreak is a prelude to a more amazing story that will forever bond those in the golfing community.”

And yesterday, there it was, as if my wish had been granted.  A short iron & two putts away……

Nice Story, but  it Won’t Last

Tom Watson came out with an opening 65 and gave everyone a pleasant trip down memory lane.  It’s not like we hadn’t seen this before.  Tom Watson opened with a 65 at Olympia Fields in 2003, bringing a tear to the eyes of everyone who watched him walk with Bruce Edwards.  I’m sure most people watching Thursday’s events left it at that.  A brief Reunion with glory, at the site of Watson’s most famed run of Golf in 1977.

And when Watson was +4 over on Friday through the first 8 holes, we were probably ready to move on and be thankful for the brief glimpse of Golf History we were granted.  But then the magic reappeared, as Watson played the last 10 holes at -4 under Par, reclaiming a spot in the final pairing for Saturday.

Several times over the weekend, I was able to accept that the story was just too good to be true.  On Saturday, Watson needed several miraculous par saves to keep in contention, but I saw he was putting too much stress on his putter.  After his third bogey in 6 holes, I was ready to release the dream peacefully.  That is, until the incredible birdie on 16 and Eagle chance at 17.

But I was guarded in my optimism.  I was mentally prepared for a lackluster finish and accept Ross Fisher as my story of the week.  And when Sunday opened with bogeys, it seemed that the magical ride was at the end.

Watson could have drifted away at a myriad of points throughout the week, and I would be perfectly contented by my Open Championship Experience.

BUT NOT THERE….

Not from the middle of the 72nd fairway.

Not with a one stroke lead.

Not when all he had to do was hit the middle of the green and we could all enjoy an 18th Hole Walk the likes of which we would NEVER see again.

Instead, we had to endure a tension-filled march up 18, knowing that there was no “in-between” for our emotions.  It was either going to be a glorious finale or another hour of torture watching the inevitable playoff result. 

Only yesterday did it hit me that we are firmly entrenched in the worst season ever.  Golf Major Sundays are like religious holidays to me.  I love to see a Golf Tournament taken by the winner, rather than given away by the runner-up.   I look forward to watching history unfold and seeing what lifelong memories I can accumulate to share with my son when he is older. 

Jack’s Charge in 1986.  Daly bursting onto the scene in 1991.  The Woods / May Battle at Valhalla in 2000.  Mickelson’s Back Nine to capture his first Masters in 2004.  Harrington’s Eagle on the 71st hole in 2008. 

We’ve certainly had our share of disappointing majors in recent history.  The Immelman & Johnson snoozers at Augusta.  Todd Hamilton & Ben Curtis in the Open Championship.  Michael Campbell at Pinehurst.  But those Majors were defined by Boredom, rather than Soul-Crushing Devastation.

Think about the crescendo of heartbreak that has accompanied the 2009 Edition of Golf Majors.

Masters

Mickelson and Woods electrify the crowds on the front nine, restoring the Sunday Roars and hopefully making the dull moans of grinding pars a distant memory at Augusta.  Yet, they both fizzle out on the closing nine.

Not to worry – Kenny Perry provides a great story and Kenny is ready to leave the “Greatest Without A Major” Title around Sergio’s waist.  Perry takes control of the Masters on the sixteenth to thunderous applause.  Another chapter is written in the volume of Winning Birdies on the Famed 16th Hole, always cast in the shadows of the Georgia Pines. 

Unfortunately, a bladed chip and fat approach later, an unfulfilling Masters is concluded.  Not exactly gut-wrenching, but a little sad to watch.

US Open

Phil Mickelson goes -4 under on Holes 9-13 to resurrect a dream ending to soothe his ailing wife and his lingering Winged Foot devastation.  He’s standing on the tee of the 17th hole, which he has birdied all three days and where he electrified the Long Island faithful on Saturday in 2002.  In storybook fashion, Mickelson swings and …….

limps off with a morale-crushing bogey.

David Duval comes in to save the day, recovering not only from his plunge into the abyss of Golf Rankings, but also from a bad-break Triple Bogey to start his day.  Birdies on 14, 15 and 16 set the stage for a…….

another deflating bogey.

This one was high up there in my Devastation Index, running a little above the Winged Foot fiasco in 2006.  The only way it could have been worse was if Mickelson or Duval were leading and standing on the 72nd fairway.

British Open

I was right.  It could have been worse.

I have no solace right now for the 2009 Golf Major Season.  This could have been the most incredible Season in the history of the Majors.  Feinstein and Reilly would be racing to get their books published first.  Jenkins would require an addendum to his recently published tome.  This would be one of those years that would forever end the Debate of “Greatest Year Ever.”  Instead, this is like Hogan snap hooking his 1-Iron at Merion or three-putting after that historic shot.  Moments that could have forever defined the Game of Golf have been ripped away from us in with jarring frequency in 2009.

I suppose I can take solace in the fact that it can’t possibly get any worse.

But given the trajectory of the season so far, I foresee a scenario where Watson, Mickelson, Perry & Duval are all on the Hazletine Practice Range, tied for the lead and waiting to start their 3 Hole Playoff.  A Feel-Good story is inevitable, no matter the winner.

Until Tag Ridings holes out a 3 iron for Eagle on the 72nd hole to join the playoff, which he wins with 4 scrambling Pars.

 

Volume VL--US Open/ NY Golf Trail Road Trip

A few short stories from the BuffaloGolfer road trip to Bethpage Black…..

The Journey

The Scrambler, Mo’ Golf and Travellin’ Duff hit the Thruway early Tuesday morning for an expedition to Bethpage Black.  En route, we stopped at Colgate University to play Robert Trent Jones’ Seven Oaks Golf Club, and super-sized our Golf Week experience with a stop at Leatherstocking Golf Course in Cooperstown during the return.  Keep an eye on BuffaloGolfer.com for our thoughts on these member courses of the New York Golf Trail.

After fighting our way through Bronx traffic and the conflicting navigational guidance from dueling GPS devices, we finally arrived at the Long Island Home of our gracious hosts.  Debbie & Jim are friends of Travellin’ Duff, and their hospitality cannot be overstated.  Cold Beer, fresh apple pie, engaging conversation, a shared love for sports, a welcoming sectional couch to sink into and chauffeur service to & from the Black Course.  Forget your fancy five star resorts – it doesn’t get any better than this.

The Nomadic Threesome of BuffaloGolfers looked forward to an up-close opportunity to watch the Pros test the Crown Jewel of the New York State Parks Department.  The Scrambler was particularly excited to watch this edition of the US Open, having been able to play the course several times since 2002.That familiarity added a dimension to the viewing not available during the inaugural Peoples’ Open.

Who is Ben Martin?

When TV coverage resumed Friday, an unfamiliar name to most graced the top of the leaderboard.  I’m sure many wondered “Who is Ben Martin?”

It was only by happenstance that Mo’ Golf & the Scrambler were previously familiar with the Clemson Amateur.  While wandering the practice grounds Wednesday, we came upon a single golfer at the 4th green, who apparently did not warrant an identifying standard bearer with his name.  It took an eager Long Island Native to help identify the golfer, as he requested an autograph and then asked “Who are you?”

Ben Martin seemed to accept his anonymity with grace and was happy to oblige.  Martin then struck a perfect tee shot on the difficult fifth, leaving the tee to cheers of “Go Ben Martin!!” from his newly increased fan club. 

At -2 under through his first 13 holes, Martin likely received more TV coverage than he ever expected, and we were happy to know that he was able to answer the “Who are You?” question for an even larger audience.

While Bethpage eventually had its way with the unknown Ben Martin, he still performed equal to or above former major champions Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, and Michael Campbell, as well as names like Paul Casey, Chad Campbell and Darren Clarke.

And as a consolation prize, even though Ben missed the cut, he was able to watch his favorite professional golfer play the rest of the event – also a former Clemson Tiger.  He had a decent tournament.  Perhaps you’ve at least heard of him – his name is Lucas Glover.

A Lesson in Statistics

One of the added dimensions of US Open Week is participation in various Golf Pools, adding a little bit of interest in the results.  As part of this, the BuffaloGolfers thought they may get some inside information from watching the practice rounds, to see who may be on or off their game.

We stumbled upon Steve Stricker at the Par Five 13th, just in time to see him rummaging through the rough for his wayward tee shot.  His punch-out was worse, crossing the fairway and descending into a cavernous bunker.  When he finally dropped a ball in the fairway, his long approach attempt was flared 30 yards right.

Despite Stricker’s large body of solid performances in the majors, the Scrambler felt the sample size of 3 shots was enough to purge Steve Stricker from the roster.  Looking for a replacement, Scrambler noticed that Ernie Els hit a few nice shots during his practice round. 

And therein lies the danger of using too small sample sizes.

Dan Jenkins Bobblehead Day

A lesser known milestone was achieved at this year’s US Open.  Dan Jenkins, author of humorous golf novels “Dead Solid Perfect” and “The Money-Whipped Steer-Job Three-Jack Give-Up Artist” celebrated his 200th major on Wednesday.  Stories from 94 of these editions are compiled in Jenkin’s recent offering “Jenkins at the Majors.”

While the book provided some pleasant reading during our rain-shortened Thursday, the additional bonus was the receipt of a genuine issue Dan Jenkins Bobblehead.

However, as big as his “bobblehead” may appear, the legendary author’s ego has not followed suit.  The star of the day could be found in the Media Tent, graciously fulfilling requests for “one more story” from his lesser-known media colleagues. 

James Dodson

Accompanying us on the trip was a copy of the book, “A Son of the Game”,  another golf-themed offering from James Dodson, author of other novels such as “The Dewsweepers”, “Final Rounds” and “Ben Hogan: An American Life.”  During the journey, Travellin’ Duff had been praising Dodson’s work and how the family themes added a meaningful layer to the pastime we love.

As fortune would have it, BuffaloGolfer had its second celebrity author sighting of the day, providing Travellin’ Duff the chance to share his positive reviews face-to-face with the North Carolina author.

We’re hoping the meeting may have a follow-up when we visit the Pinehurst area later this August for yet another BuffaloGolfer sojourn.

Ice Cream in the Rain

It really is true – at a certain point, you just can’t get any more soaked.  The BuffaloGolfer trio was able to catch most of the 3 hours of Thursday Golf, and we had prime seats when the marquis Woods threesome (and associated onslaught of fans) passed through.  Prime, that is, except for the steady rain that eventually rendered the outer rain gear useless.

However, we were luckier than others in the 2nd Green Grandstand.  Fortunately, umbrella-carrying patrons seated in front of us grasped common courtesy, and lowered their vision impediments when there was golf to witness.  Unfortunately, other spectators were seated behind fans solely concerned with their own dryness and unimpaired vision.  It simply begs the question “Are you ignorant, or just plain rude?”

We eventually wandered over to the 4th Green / 5th Tee, home of two of the best designed holes in all of Golf.  While short-lived, it was exciting to watch the pros pull off shots that I could never imagine possible. 

When the horns sounded, there was nothing left to do but embrace the elements.  So while most fans sought coffee from the concessionaires, the Scrambler went for irony and enjoyed an ice cream cone.  Besides, the line at the ice cream stand was much shorter.

 

 

Volume XLIV--US Open Ennui 

Now that this edition of the US Open has FINALLY concluded, it’s time to reflect on the week that was, and, unfortunately, the week that could have been.  10 years from now, I think the average Golf Fan will remember the latter, at the expense of the former.

The Open That Nearly Was

After watching the Final Round Drama, I was left with an odd numbness and slight level of mourning – bordering ennui.  It led me to revisit the entire phenomenon of “vicarious” suffering through sports. 

Why do “fans” experience any emotion for the success or failures of others?  These emotions seem strange to non-sports fans, tisking at enthusiasts who utter “We won” in reference to the Sabres or Bills.  They must find it even more absurd to have emotions when the performers are individual contractors, as opposed to teams representing communities.

But events like yesterday remind me of why we allow ourselves to become fully vested in sporting events.  I get annoyed when I hear dismissive statements like “it’s just a silly sporting event” from people.  While there is definitely validity in “keeping things in perspective,” to dismiss sports as “meaningless” really insults the human spirit.

At its core, sports viewing is one of the most basic elements of human existence, as pervasive as art, music or literature.  Sporting events provide an opportunity for large masses to share a common experience and bonds those that witness them.

In team sports, we share a goal with those in our community and attain solidarity among fans.  Anyone who has hugged a complete stranger at a stadium or stood around the water cooler after the Houston Comeback knows that sense of community.  Buffalo experienced the phenomenon in February of 2009, as the Sabres provided relief in the aftermath of Flight 3407, creating a life-lasting memory that will be shared for generations.

But I had to ask myself, how does this relate to an individual sport like Golf?

After pondering, I realized that we are still in it for that everlasting memory and the amazing story.  We all want to experience those events that will last forever in our memories, feel the emotions as they develop, and know that we shared that with others.  Jack’s back nine at Augusta in 1996.  The Ryder Cup comeback in 1999.  Mickelson’s first major in 2004.

Through two rounds, it looked like there wasn’t going to be any remarkable story, just the storyline of two lesser known pros who took advantage of fortuitous scoring conditions at an incredible course. 

So when Ricky Barnes rolled in his Eagle Putt on Number 4 Sunday to reach -11 under, I resigned myself to embrace that story, almost in Daly-esque fashion.  You know… big-hitting, lower ranked golfer forgets that he’s not supposed to play this well and puts on a performance for the ages.  However, deep down, I was still hoping for a better story that would strike a chord deep in the hearts of all Golf Fans.

And when Phil Mickelson birdied 9, scrambled miraculously at 10, dropped a bomb on 12 and then tapped in for eagle on 13, I was “all in.”  I allowed myself to imagine him making a fourth straight birdie in the 17th hole amphitheater for the margin of victory.  Imagine his complete emotional release on the 18th green.  Imagine him carrying the “silver trophy” into Amy’s hospital room.  Imagine him forever putting Winged Foot behind him.  I honestly cannot fathom a sporting story that would have been on par with that during my lifetime. 

And in a matter of minutes, it painfully slipped away.

I thought David Duval would salvage the experience for me.  Among golfers, who can’t relate to the despair of losing your golf game, of having no idea how it could disappear, and feeling like it was gone forever?  That emotion can only be magnified infinitely for a Former #1 player in the world.  But David Duval fought back through all that, and even battled through a gut-wrenching, “what-did-I-do-to deserve-this-break” triple-bogey on his first hole of the day.  With birdies on 14, 15 and 16, I embraced the feelings of Storyline #2, one that I would  be talking about in 40 years with vivid shot-by-shot recollection. 

And in a matter of minutes, it painfully slipped away.

Now, I know Lucas Glover is a wonderful person, and can still remember talking with him on the 15th fairway at Niagara Falls Country Club during his Porter Cup days.  In his circle of family & friends, I’m sure Monday is indelibly etched in their memories. 

But I simply can’t help but mourn the loss of a US Open Story that could have been.

I’m sure those feelings will pass in a short time, just like the nausea I felt after the 72nd hole at Winged Foot.  I can only hope that yesterday’s heartbreak is only a prelude to a more amazing story that will forever bond those in the golfing community.

 

Volume XLIII--New Golf Fitness Regimen Turns Golf World Upside-Down

When graphite shafts came into vogue, people said it wouldn't last.  When use of the big muscles replaced the 'reverse C' finish, people said it wouldn't last.  When Tiger Woods brought fitness back to golf, people said it wouldn't last.  "Chunks" Potbelly is banking on people saying "it won't last" about his newly-released fitness regimen for the average golfer.

"If you look at guys like Tom Jowels and Joe Adipose, they're average guys with god-given abilities to manoeuver a golf ball around a golf course.  The average guy doesn't have the time to get in shape like Tiger, to slim down like Adam Scott, to grow taller like Vijay Singh, or even grow hotter like Paula Creamer.  I came up with a fitness regimen that will approximate the training methods of Adipose and Jowels, making high-end golf more attainable for the overweight muni golfer."

Reverend Potbelly (he is also an ordained internet minister) gave us a sample menu for an average golfer.  "What is really important is sticking to the foods required.  It doesn't matter how much you eat, how often you sit down to a meal, or even what you decide to ultimately consume.  It's kind of like talking to God, which I do every day while I'm eating.  Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.  Sometimes I get angry and call God names, sometimes I get sad and ask God to give me stuff."

Potbelly, recently released from incarceration (he declines to give the particulars as to his crime, time served, and location) drew strength from Joseph Pilates' prison-designed workouts from the early twentieth century.  "Although Pilates was jailed for political reasons and I was not, the circumstances of our time in the penal systems of our respective countries was too big an opportunity, I mean, too uncanny a similarity for me to pass up, I mean, to ignore.  Prison food is much better than they tell you on the outside, which indicates why some of them prisoners never leave the system.  Why cook for yourself when someone else will do it for you?  I ate like a pig and came out fatter than any squealer I've come across."

Potbelly confesses that his regimen has little formal exercise and targets no specific muscle groups.  "When you look at Adipose, all he does is squeeze some more chocolate syrup onto his mamma's pancakes or flip open a bottle of somepin' nice with his powerful thumb.  Jowels, he rips off the plastic of a pack of smokes and flicks his bic to flame up.  These are powerful strong guys with great golf games.  Most every overweight guy at the muni course has the same potential for greatness."

With no formal plan, no literature, no DVD nor website, no backing from the medical community, it's understandable that Rabbi Potbelly (he converted to Judaism during this interview) considers his project little more than "a wing and a prayer."  If you are interested in learning more about Potbelly's Project, wake up and realize it's April Fools' Day.

 

Volume XLII--Buffalo-Niagara Golf Show:  The Show!

                                                           
 

Volume XLI--Buffalo-Niagara Golf Show:  Bunkers In Baghdad

For Immediate Release:                                                           
Contact:  Kevin Woods
February 24, 2009                                                                  
585-458-2200 ext 241

“Bunkers in Baghdad” Comes to Buffalo

Clarence, NY – Kevin Woods, President of Upstate New York Golf Show and Great Lakes Events presents the Buffalo Golf Show at the Western New York Events Centre March 21st 9am-7pm and March 22nd 9am-4pm. 

A featured highlight of this years show is “Bunkers in Baghdad”.  This program is designed to support our troops stationed overseas with golf equipment for recreation, as well as donating equipment to our injured veterans at Walter Reed Hospital.  Come this weekend to meet the founder of “Bunkers in Baghdad”, Joe Hanna.  Attendees are encouraged to bring used golf balls and equipment for donation, for which they will receive $2.00 off show admission.

Enjoy the Tiki Bar and lounge, Free wine and beer tasting all weekend long!  Sign up to receive a complimentary 1 year subscription to Golf Digest.

Attendees will have the opportunity to test out the newest and latest clubs at our giant indoor range!  Representatives from some of the major brands of golf equipment will be at the Show.  They include: Izzo, Wilson, Cleveland, Mizuno, Nike, Srixon, and Ping.

Golfers can have their swing analyzed in our designated Swing Analysis area.   Hear from the pros who specialize in analysis, lessons, and equipment fitting. 

“The major brands will be offering great deals on golf equipment and apparel. Find a new course to play or Golf Club to join.  We’ll have many local and out of town golf courses, clubs and resorts exhibiting at the show.  Discover a new vacation destination that caters to only golfers,” There will be driving contests, putting contests, and fantastic prize drawings!

 “The Buffalo Golf Show is “The Place To Be for Everything Golf,” this weekend at the Western New York Events Centre in Clarence.   

Admission tickets are available at the door: Adults - $8.00, Seniors- $5.00, Children 8 & under- Free

Advance tickets, are available at Wegmans for a $1.00 discount when you present a Shoppers Club Card.  The Buffalo Golf Show is produced by Upstate New York Golf Show ~ www.upstatenygolfshow.com.

Volume XL--Internet Scrambling on GolfClubAtlas site

 
I'll put to rest any worry on the link:  it's www.golfclubatlas.com.  The site is directed by a Pinehurst-area bloke 
named Ran Morrissett.  There is no better way to tell you of its mission than to quote directly from the home
page of GCA:
 
GolfClubAtlas.com is presented to promote frank commentary on golf course architecture. Within this commercial-free site, the subject of golf course architecture is discussed in several different sections, including:
  • course profiles that highlight the finer virtues of golf architecture found in over 160 courses world-wide. 
  • monthly Feature Interviews with a well known golf figure with past interviews archived for your perusal as well.
  • a Discussion Group limited to 1,500 people from around the world. Five new participants are added each month in lieu of five that are no longer active. If interested in participating, please email me.
  • an 'In My Opinion' column for you to submit detailed articles relating to the subject of golf architecture.
  • a 'My Home Course' section, where you may profile your home course and explain why it is enjoyable to play on a day to day basis.
  • an 'Art & Architecture' section in which many of the great courses are explored based on how they appeared at their inception through the paintings of artist Mike Miller. There is an ongoing Question and Answer session with Miller with new paintings added on a quarterly basis.
You'll find the discussion board to be quite interesting.  Tom Doak, Kelly Blake Moran, Mark Fine, Paul Cowley 
and Scott Witter (some of today's finest practicing golf course architects) contribute with regularity.  Experts 
(and they truly are steeped in wisdom and knowledge!) go back and forth on the virtues of various courses,
styles and trends throughout the world.  Case in point:  a fellow recently attempted to discern the identity of the
Brierwood Country Club (formerly Bethlehem Management Club) architect/designer.  One of the contributors
responded immediately that it had to be William and David Gordon, easter PA designers from the mid 1900s and
favorites of the Bethlehem company...wow.
 
Golf Club Atlas is a remarkable site that really does not aspire to occupy a niche any greater than the one in which
it currently resides.  If you're a golfer whose knowledge of golf course architecture is limited to Elma, Brighton, 
or (on a good day) Elkdale, you'll benefit from learning more about what great courses are out there.  CCB and
Park are not great because they're private.  They're great because they were designed by Donald Ross and 
Colt/Allison, respectively.  Arrowhead, Harvest Hill and Diamond Hawk will test your game differently because 
they were designed by professional, practicing architects Scott Witter and the firm of Hurdzan/Fry.  Cherry Hill
and Stafford are both Walter Travis layouts, both unique takes on land use, land forms, and green surfaces.
 
Chances are excellent that you'll never have an opportunity to change the way your course looks.  You do have 
the opportunity to learn what makes great courses better than good.  Many of these are public tracks (Mark Twain
in Elmira is an excellent Donald Ross course; Lafayette Hills in Syracuse is a wonderful A. W. Tillinghast layout,
and the list goes on) that you can plan to visit.  You'll return to your beloved home course a bit wiser and a bit
more knowledgeable.

 

 

Volume XXXIX--Brockport Country Club:  Scrambler's Delight

 
It's not often that a course superintendent gets the press that she or he deserves.  As is typical of human nature,
we often find a bit to criticize instead of a mound to praise.  Well, that status quo is no longer the case around
BuffaloGolfer.Com.  Brockport CC was rated the most hidden gem in Rochester last year by more than one
entity.  The golf course, owned by Tim and Anna Burklew, has continued to improve course condition 
since its expansion to 18 holes nearly 25 years ago.  In addition, the layout has expanded, specifically the
"Monster," the enormous par 5 18th hole that currently reaches 555 yards in length.  With plans to go back
even farther, there are no limitations to this monster's appetite.
 
And yet, what a golfer remembers are the good and bad bounces, the tight and loose lies, that define a round
of golf.  Brockport Country Club can't control all the "rub of the green" that each player encounters, but it does
have one man to thank:  Joel Bardwell.  Joel began his career at Oak Hill Country Club and then spent nearly
two years in France studying golf course maintenance.  Before coming to Brockport he was the first
assistant at St. Andrews, one of the most prestigious private clubs on Long Island.  What he learned over these
years was fundamental to the changes he brought to Brockport.  Brockport CC spends more money on 
environmentally-sound chemicals to help the grass then any other semi-private course in the Rochester district.
 
The greens are currently so perfect and fast that a promotion was run challenging anyone to find a blemish, 
with a free round of golf hanging in the balance. Astonishingly, no rounds were handed out. The greens have 
been assessed as the second-best in the area by local golfers, behind Oak Hill. What an honor for BCC.
 
Brockport CC was recently rated by the RDGA and was ranked as the 4th most difficult course in Rochester. 
The list includes public and  private clubs.   Tim and Anna want you to experience Brockport for yourself.
Get a group up and go see what they have to offer.  The course is less than 1 hour from down town Buffalo. 
Call 638-5334 ext 2 for a Tee Time.  If you mention this article and BuffaloGolfer.Com, you will receive the 
following web special:
 
Monday through Friday Seniors Golf and Cart $25 and a FREE LUNCH after the round.
 
Non Seniors anytime golf & cart for only $35 and a free lunch after the round.


 

 

Volume XXXVIII--Scrambling On The Champions Tour With Mark Balen

The road to exempt status on the PGA Champions Tour is more difficult than ever for the average Joe.  There was a time when fully-exempt status was at stake at Old Guys Q-School.  7 lucky ticket winners were punched for "no-worries" status.  Although they usually didn't get in until the third or fourth tournament, they got in.  Former Crag Burn pro Lonnie Nielsen parlayed his Q-School success to a victory in his fourth season on tour in 2007.  For Lackawanna native and Ohio State University product Mark Balen, only time and composure will tell the tale.

In qualifying school last fall, Balen scraped by with a final-round 77 to make the grade by three shots.  The final round revealed the flaw that all newbies must correct:  lack of grace under pressure.  After rounds of 73-67-72, in which he made 11 birdies and 1 eagle, Balen suffocated 2 final-round birdies with 5 bogeys and 1 double.  The pressure he felt in the final round is much similar to what he'll feel every day on the Champs Tour!

This week, Balen tied for 66th with multiple winner Jim Dent.  Only problem is, Dent is pushing 140 or so.  Balen needs to do better.  A quick glance at his stats reveals 7 birdies on the week.  Out on the Champions Tour, you often need 7 birdies each day in order to contend.  Balen got on a bogey train on Friday, finishing with four straight to go with an early-round triple.  On Sunday, two late double bogeys dropped him from a top 60 finish to the tie.  Granted, a top 60 finish won't get you far on any tour, but the success that would have come from a solid final round might have given Balen a push.

For now, Balen will have a week off with the rest of the old guys as the PGA Tour stages its showcase event, The Players Championship.  It's safe to say that he'll be at work on May 12th, trying to earn a spot at the Region's Charity Classic.

 

 

Volume XXXVII--Buffalo-Niagara Golf Show Redux

The sophomore slump didn't hit the Buffalo-Niagara 2008 golf show.  Using more of the main hall of the Buffalo Convention Center than last year, the organizers from Great Lakes Events offered booth after booth of golf courses, country clubs, regional resort destinations, tournament associations, and golfing professionals.  Each side of the convention center was anchored by major equipment retailers.  Penn Fair from Rochester and Golf Headquarters of Buffalo occupied the south end, while Rock Bottom Golf set up shop on the north margin.  The centrally-located food court sliced up hot and delicious turkey, ham, and corned beef while a series of oases offered libations to wet the parched whistle.  On one end of the hall, a gigantic net greeted missiles launched by those seeking to test the latest equipment from Callaway, Mizuno, Nike, Tour Edge, Wilson and other companies.  At the other extremity, local teaching professionals and coaches provided group clinics and one-on-one lessons.  Cindy and Allen Miller, Bob Gosch, Gary Occhino, and a triumvirate of teachers from Niagara Frontier Country Club ensured that attendees would depart with more than just a few balls and clubs.

The Scrambler put in some time at the BuffaloGolfer.Com booth (I was the good-looking one with the full head of hair) all three days.  Working side by side with Mo' Golf, I preached the word of the website to any and all who would listen.  Much gratitude goes to our neighbors for their patience.  On one side we had Skip, a landscaper and backyard putting green installer.  Across the other fence, a couple of young'uns sold reclaimed golf balls.  Even though the three days were incredibly busy, we still found enough down time to shoot the breeze about why we did what we do, and how we came to that place.  For me and Mo', golf is a sidelight; we both have full-time jobs doing other things.  For our neighbors and most other booth operators, this is their industry.  It made us pretty darned appreciative that we have time to participate in the golf world as we do.

Last Minute Golfer set up a putting contest in the center aisle.  Golfers from far and wide anteed up a bit of cash to take three to five cracks at making the big putt.  On Sunday afternoon, a grand champion was crowned.  Throughout the 2.5 days of show, drawings were held and winners were announced, receiving prizes ranging from equipment to apparel to vacations.  Although no guarantees were made, it became exceedingly difficult to leave the show empty-handed.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The staff at BuffaloGolfer.Com would like to commend those who took a booth at this year's show; you demonstrated a commitment to golf in western New York.  To those who bailed, a loud raspberry.  Western New York is not an exploding market; a sense of regionalism is required to keep us moving forward.  We find it impossible that a presence at the show will not lead to increased attention and revenue during the season.  Next year, reconsider your plans for Golf Show weekend.  Find a way to staff a booth and contribute to the golfing industry.  We'll all be better for it.

 

Volume XXXVI--If you can't scramble, stop by here to rebuild your game

Mo' Golf and I were laughing at how much the game has changed since we were kids in the late 70s and 80s.  Tuesday night, I learned how much.  I stopped by the Discover Golf Performance Center studio in East Amherst to shoot some pictures and chat with Bob Gosch, proprietor and former Mr. USA.  Bob took up the game in the mid 1990s with a lesson from local legend Dan Lucas.  Since then he has earned his PGA professional "A" teaching credentials, continued to harness knowledge and experience in fitness training, and develop a fine golf game (66 at Crag Burn mean anything?) along the way.  In December of 2007, Bob opened his East Amherst golf studio to members and the public.  I know that some of my readers are list people, while others still are visual learners, so here's what I'm going to do.  I'll give you a visual list of all the services found at Discover Golf PC and then elaborate on what I like best.

Two Hitting Bays

Putting and Chipping Green

Cardiovascular Training / Recovery

Weights and Stretching

Club Fitting and Repair

Mental Game Study

Truth be told, I like it all.  Bob Gosch selected a unique high definition golf simulator, different from the ones found at other area indoor golf boutiques.  He installed a putting green with Pro-Putt's Brent Gadacz, affording true break and realistic grass speeds.  By organizing the facility around a stone-faced cone with waterfall and flat-screen television sets (all facing the cardio equipment), Bob created a focal zone for gathering and exercise.  Along the perimeter of the center are various weight-training, stretching, and abdominal stations, to provide a thorough, tailored workout to all members and guests.  In the eastern corner of Discover Golf PC, Bob Gosch situated the club repair and fitting center and the mental game room.  As I watched him describe the various exercises and tests performed in the mental game facility, I began to understand why I need to scramble so much!  If my mind is all over the place, my swing and ball flight must be, too.  Don't get me wrong: it's the recoveries from trees, bluffs, sand, caverns and volcanic craters that keep me coming back.  However, should I wish to evolve to a more fairway-centered brand of golf, I'll begin with some Mental Game sharpening.

I left the Discover Golf Performance Center impressed and enthused.  Bob Gosch provides a vast offering of services to improve golf and life quality.  The workout space is quite the opposite of the huge gyms that have defined fitness for decades.  Having cardio, weights, stretching and core work, golf simulators and short game facility all under one roof is a dream come true.  Bob has plans to expand, possible involving a bunker facility, while preserving the intimacy of Discover Golf PC.  DGPC is situated for the new Western New York, in the eastern suburbs.  With easy access via Transit Road from the north and south, however, it's worth the drive for all.  Consider how great a distance you drive to your golf club; isn't it worth the same drive to get your body, mind and game in shape?  I think so, too.

 

Volume XXXV--A New Place To Scramble:  Hickory Stick in Lewiston

Fairways and greens are my enemy, my friends (at least for most of the hole.)  I don't intentionally miss them, but I certainly don't mind avoiding them.  There's adventure to be found in the rough and the sand, along cliffs and burns, near the OB stakes.  A wise individual once remarked, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.  With that said, I'd like to know why you crave the short grass, the safe grass...

Thanks to the Seneca Nation of Indians, a fine group of individuals if ever there was one, I'll be able to venture north in 2009 to embrace a new swath of rough, amid the Shellbark hickory trees of Lewiston.  Heck, I'll probably bang a few drives off that fine species of arbor.  The Hickory Stick course along the Robert Moses Parkway currently receives guidance under the cautious hand of Brian Dooley, one of Robert Trent Jones II's architects.  Quick course on courses:  Robert Trent Jones I designed Crag Burn and Glen Oak in western New York, passing away in the late 1990s.  One of his sons, RTJ II, is perhaps the architectural game's hottest commodity, with two incredible designs out west in 2005 (Idaho) and 2006 (Washington.)  A few years back, RTJ II snatched up a hot prospect from WNY, Brian Dooley.  Dooley had cut his teeth with Scott Witter of Lockport.  Witter, of Ironwood, Deerwood Doe, and Arrowhead fame, has since entered into an alliance with fellow architect Mark Fine.  So Dooley and Hickory Stick have a local connection, which is pleasant.

For those of you who simply cannot wait to embrace this fine new track, I see it as my duty to keep you connected during these days of discontent, these weeks of wailing, these months of mindless meandering.  Sure, you've got Arrowhead, Ivy Ridge, BTC, Harvest Hill, Diamond Hawk, the Canadian courses, the munis, and the private clubs, but isn't there more to it than that?  The next big thing?  You know it.  Below are links to some recently-published articles on Hickory Stick.  As time passes, perhaps we'll be able to bring you more of and closer to the story and its major players.

Hickory Stick Link One
Link Two
Link Three
Link Four

 

Volume XXXIV--The 19th Hole:  Diamond Hawk's Grill

My good friend, the Travelin' Duff, began a new series for us last month.  He came up with the idea which, as far as we all can recollect, was the first new idea that he's volunteered in over a decade.  After a champagne toast, he actually went ahead and wrote the first installment for The 19th Hole.  This month, the wheel spins to me, so I decided to head out for a meal at Diamond Hawk's grill room.  I was joined by my wife, who eats like a horse.  Or, rather, a thoroughbred, or a greyhound.  I started with a bowl of gazpacho, a summery soup from Spain (alliteration!) served cold.  The vegetables were crisp and varied, and the little noodles added a surprising and delightful crunch.  I was left wanting the entire tureen.  Wifey- pooh opted out of the appetizers, but enjoyed her diet Pepsi, which was kept filled all night.  The dinner rolls were of the wheat variety, arrived piping hot, and went down so smoothly!  My goal was to pocket the remaining ones, but the opportunity never arrived.  For the main course, my darling starling selected the French Dip, served on a hoagie-style roll, smothered in provolone cheese.  She loved the beef and the dipping juice, and devoured the entire sandwich in a demure and provocative fashion.  My eyes wandered down to the Bourbon Grilled Salmon and the Pecan Crusted Trout.  After a stirring round of eenie-meenie-miney-mo, I selected the Salmon, which did not let me down.  For our tuber selection, I chose a sweet potato fry, while she opted  the herb-roasted potatoes.  In addition, a medley of grilled summer vegetables came with my entree.  Between the two of us, we cleaned up the veggies.  With no room left in our tummies for dessert, we paid up and headed out, past the pro shop and the first tee, out onto Genesee Street.

I guarantee that, for those with more appetite space, any of the real appetizers are drop-dead gorgeous.  On the other end of the shelf, the desserts are built to satisfy, translating the pallet from one taste sensation to another.  You'll spend anywhere from $50 to $100 at Diamond Hawk's grill room for a nice meal and hey, it's worth it.  For August of 2007, The 19th Hole suggests that you stop in to Diamond Hawk's 19th hole for more than a bite to eat, whether you play the first 18 or not.

Editor's Note:  This column may or may not have been ghost-written by a non-scrambler.  We'll let you decide

 

 

Volume XXXIII--The Porter Cup...No Scrambling Allowed

The Scrambler, as you know, is a fan of the up-and-down, the out-and-in, the over-and-under-and -how'd-that-save-par.  The Porter Cup, to be held next week (July 24-28) at Niagara Falls Country Club, has all the makings of a non-scramble fest.  You'll see more scrambling in a frying pan.  Why?  The goofy weather we had this June and July has made growing consistent rough an impossibility, so the brain trust at NFCC made the decision to keep the rough to a minimum, and let Augusta-like (or what used to pass for Augusta) conditions rule the day.  This means shots spinning into greens and stopping from all angles, clubfaces making square and solid contact with golf balls, and lots of runs at birdies.  I'm not saying it's a certainty, but we may see the tournament one-round record of 60 (set by Bill Haas a few years back) or the four-round low from Casey Wittenberg (266, a mere four years young) threatened if a player gets hot.  Judging from the strength of the field, there's plenty chance of that.  Here are a few to keep your eyes on:

Daniel Summerhays...returning to Brigham Young University in the Fall, the young man stunned the professional world last week by capturing the Nationwide Charity Classic on the Nationwide Tour, becoming the first amateur to win on that tour.  Nice.

Billy Horschel...University of Florida player proved he has the stuff to go low with a 60 in US Amateur on-site, stroke-play qualifying in 2006.  Sweet.

Bank Vongvanij...Number one high school recruit of 2007.  Joins Horschel in Gainesville in the Fall, making the Gators one of the watch-out teams of the year.

Brian Harman and Chris Kirk...former teammates on the #2-finishing University of Georgia team in the 2007 NCAA tournament.  Both have international caps for the USA.

Dustin Johnson...Single-handedly brought Coastal Carolina into the elite of college golf.  Taller than telephone polls.  Can bash it and putt it and what else do you need?

Five guys you DO NOT have to worry about:

Nathaniel Crosby...Architect of the greatest melodrama in US Amateur history, the 1981 championship at Olympic Club.  He's an old guy, but he's no Jay Sigel around the NFCC.

Tripp Davis...Another middle-aged monster, he'll smile, sign autographs, and represent the midwest well, but won't be around in Saturday's mix.

Tim Mickelson...Brother of the Phamous Phil, he'll have spent all his magical juju the previous week in Carnoustie, as Phil tries to phigure out links golf.

Gene Elliott...won it back in '98, tied for 6th last year, my most daring, non-factor pick.

Rickie Fowler...first-timer from California, looks too cute and will receive too much attention from the ladies to have ANY time to focus on the tournament.

By the way, the Scrambler send his best wishes to this fab five, hopes that they prove him wrong, and invites you to travel north next week, from Wednesday through Saturday for the four rounds of the Porter Cup.

 

Volume XXXII--Scrambling around for apparel and more!

You may ask yourself, doesn't June come before July?  If so, why does the July installment precede the June one?  Good questions, both.  Sometimes things don't make sense.  For example, why am I writing about outerwear and rainwear when the sun is shining?  The answer is a simple one:  like The Scrambler's drives (and putts... and irons... and wedges... ), you never know when a bad patch is around the bend.  I've had the good fortune to test three outstanding pieces of apparel, and I'd like to share the results with you.

Zero Restriction is a company based in Hallam, Pennsylvania, a maker of jackets, pants, hats, gloves, with bags and head covers on the way.  The two items sent my way were a pair of gloves and a fine bucket hat.  The gear arrived as the rainy spring in western New York turned toward the breezy, sunny summer.  I had the chance to take the pieces out for a test drive during the final days of drizzle, and was thrilled to discover that, well, they didn't affect me one bit.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that, with the hat on, my head was as dry as ever.  With the gloves on, my grip was as stable as ever.  Come to think of it, that's a good thing!  Two good things!  I won't ask how many times your hat has saturated and dripped water down over your forehead, coating your hair with moisture and forcing you to wipe droplets away from your eyes with ... you guessed it ... your golf glove (which then gets soaked and slick as oil.)  The Zero Restriction gear made a rainy spring day seem like a benign summer afternoon, and allowed me to go about my business on the course.  With fall and winter golf approaching, I imagine some more wet weather on the way.  Good thing my hat and gloves are stowed safely in my bag!

Zero Restriction recently announced the signing of Tom Lehman as a company spokesman.  A quote from the press release reads thusly:  "I can't tell you how happy I am to be an official member of the ZERO
RESTRICTION family," says Lehman, who is 16th in PGA TOUR career earnings. "Wearing the company's outerwear during last year's Ryder Cup in Ireland totally eliminated any weather-related issues or worries. I
can tell you first-hand that ZERO RESTRICTION makes the highest-quality outerwear in the industry, and being from Minnesota certainly qualifies me as a knowledgeable product tester for golf outerwear."  True it may be that I was not in Ireland with the Ryder Cup team in 2006, but my testimony rings just as loudly.  Zero Restriction is the next big thing in controlling your game in stormy weather.

Sun Mountain is a brand that stretches (literally and figuratively) beyond the legendary ski region in which its name originates.  To complement my ZR gear, I test-wore a short-sleeve pullover in the Rainflex line from the makers of bags, pull carts, outerwear and more.  The pullover felt like silk to the touch, initially causing a surge of suspicion on my part.  Shouldn't it feel tough, durable, impenetrable?  Like a thatch roof?  Remembering that I had entered the new millennium a few years back, I put aside my disbelief and donned the shell for a round or two.  Not only was it feather light and stylish, it also kept the wet out and the dry in.  I haven't had any press releases from noteworthy Ryder Cup captains on the topic, but I've weathered many a golfing storm, and not worn anything like the Sun Mountain short-sleeve pullover.

If you're not convinced, remember the adage of my friend and colleague, Mo' Golf:  the back yard test and the shower test are the ultimate proof of quality.  Mo' has some woodlands behind his house, and fine pair of showers on the second floor.  He has been know to bang balls into the trees to test new clubs, and to put on rain gear for a quick shower test.  I did the same with the three items mentioned here.  All three kept me dry beneath, concluding my testing and reinforcing my findings.

Volume XXXI--The Scramble that won the Peek'N Peak Classic

Roland Thatcher was staring double-bogey in the face, at the same time that Paul Claxton assessed a fifteen-feet birdie putt.  In the blink of an eye, the Scramble of the Week saved the day, and Thatcher went on to win at The Peak.  The 14th hole was put in play this year for the first time.  Confused?  Let's elaborate:  the back nine at Peek'N Peak's Upper Course used to begin with a 165 yard par three.  A somewhat bland hole, it tended to create traffic jams at the turn.  The intelligentsia decided to eliminate the wee hole, begin the back nine on the demanding 11th hole, and tuck a new par three beyond the par five 14th hole.  The new one-shotter, some 170 yards in length, plays downhill to a two-tiered green, with a thin hazard on the left.  Imagine that you're Thatcher, with a four stroke lead, on the tee of the new hole.  Right looks awfully good, so where do you end up?  In the hazard, of course.  Thatcher looked for a place to drop, then decided to tempt fate by playing off the rocks, out of the hazard, toward the green. 

         

         

With the ghosts of Jean Van de Velde and Curtis Strange hovering nearby, Thatcher pitched to twenty-five feet, then incredibly, made the putt for par!  When his closest pursuer, Claxton, missed his birdie effort by a whisker, the potential three-stroke swing was reduced to whisp of smoke, and Thatcher went on to a three-stroke victory.

 

Volume XXX--The Nationwide Tour

Nationwide Tour Peek’n Peak Classic to be held June 25-July 1

Tickets now on sale for the premier golf event in Western N.Y. 

Findley Lake, N.Y., June 19, 2007 – Peek’n Peak Resort and Spa will host the sixth annual Nationwide Tour Peek’n Peak Classic golf tournament from June 25 through July 1 on the resort’s par 72 Upper Course.

The Nationwide Tour is an extension of the PGA Tour, as the top 25 players on the money list each year qualify for the PGA Tour. The Nationwide Tour attracts players from around the world and is recognized as one of the top three tours worldwide.

A field of 156 players will compete for a total purse of $600,000. The first place winner will receive $108,000. The tournament will be televised live on the Golf Channel on Thursday, June 28 through Sunday, July 1.

The schedule of events also includes the Junior Pro-Am on Monday, June 25 and the Main Pro-Am on Wednesday, June 27. On Tuesday, June 26 at 10 a.m., a free Family Fun Day will be held on the driving range. Activities include carnival games, golf clinic and more. Space is limited to the first 300 registrants. Call 716-355-4141, ext. 7370.

Daily and weekly tickets are on sale now at www.pknpk.com and at local Wegmans. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society and the Foundation for Cancer Research and Education.

“It is truly a privilege to host this wonderful golf event, which is why we are so pleased to be able to ‘give back’ to two worthwhile charities who are committed to the fight against cancer,” said Chip Day, Vice President for Brand Management.

Last year’s Nationwide Tour winner was 24-year-old rookie, John Merrick from Long Beach, Calif. The Nationwide Tour 2003 Player of the Year, Zach Johnson, just won the Masters Tournament held in April.

“It’s exciting to see these young golfers go on to achieve great things and to have had the opportunity to watch them play here at the Peak!” noted Day.

The PGA Tour is headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Nationwide, based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the world, with more than $157 billion in assets.



Volume XXIX--The Nationwide Tour Part One


 

NATIONWIDE TOUR STORYLINES -- Week of May 21st
MELWOOD PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY OPEN
May 21-27
The Country Club at Woodmore, Mitchellville, MD
Purse: $600,000 First Prize: $108,000
This is the 11th of 32 events


 

  • NICK FLANAGAN PURSUES PGA TOUR PROMOTION -- With his win on Sunday at the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs, Nick Flanagan, became the Nationwide Tour's first two-time winner this season. The Aussie will be bidding for his third consecutive victory and an automatic promotion to the PGA TOUR at Woodmore this week. A third successive victory would also tie the all-time Nationwide Tour mark set by Jason Gore in 2005. Flanagan is still just 22 years old and in his second season on the Tour. He won the U.S. Amateur in 2003 at Oakmont CC, site of this year's U.S. Open. Nicholas Thompson, who sat atop the money list the previous two weeks, is on Flanagan's heels at number two given his runner-up finish in the BMW. Less than $5,000 separates the two.
  • RICHARD JOHNSON AND MARC TURNESA MAKE BIG MOVES INTO "THE 25" -- Wales native Richard Johnson and Marc Turnesa of Palm Beach Gardens, FL and the famous golf family, made big moves into "The 25" with their T3 finishes at the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs. Johnson entered the week 56th on the money list, while Turnesa was 63rd. When the new list came out, they were 22nd and 24th, respectively. The top-25 finishers at season's end will earn PGA TOUR cards for 2008.
  • FRED FUNK / HONORARY CHAIRMAN -- Maryland native Fred Funk is the honorary chairman of the Melwood Prince George's County Open. "I'm delighted the state of Maryland is hosting the Nationwide Tour," said the former University of Maryland golf coach. "It's a place where I have a lot of friends and love to play golf. I hope fans in the region will come out and see the event because they're going to see some great players who will be competing on the PGA TOUR in the very, very near future."
  • BILLY HURLEY III PLAYING NEAR HOME – U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former All-American golfer Billy Hurley III continues to advance his game since turning professional last year. A native of Leesburg, VA and current resident of Annapolis, MD where the Academy is located, Hurley has played in seven PGA TOUR events, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational twice, and two Nationwide Tour events, in addition to competing on other professional circuits. Past honors such as being named 2004 Byron Nelson National Player of the Year and captain of the United States’ Palmer Cup team that summer speak to his potential. Anyone with a valid military ID will be admitted free.
  • PRESIDENTS CUP PRESENCE -- Based on the current Presidents Cup standings for the United States, 19 of the top 25 players have Nationwide Tour roots.
  • NICHOLAS THOMPSON'S 12-YEAR OLD SISTER PURSUES HISTORY -- Alexis Thompson, 12-year-old sister of the Nationwide Tour's second-leading money winner Nicholas Thompson, will attempt to make U.S. Women's Open history next month. After claiming one of the 28 local qualifying spots at Imperial Golf Club in Naples, FL last Wednesday, she advanced to the sectional level and will play the Country Club of Heathrow in Orlando on June 11th where four or five spots are expected to be on the line. Her 73 was good for a T7 finish in a field of 117 players. Thompson, 12 years and three months old, is seeking to become the youngest player to qualify. Morgan Pressel was 12 years and 11 months old when she competed in the 2001 championship at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Pinehurst, NC. Pine Needles will once again host the Women's Open, June 28 - July 1.
  • DID YOU KNOW? There have been 42 double eagles in the 18-year history of the Nationwide Tour.




Volume XXVIII--Upcoming Charity Golf Events

Between Mo', Duff, Mouth and Me, we'll make certain that your charity golf events and links get the proper exposure on our site.  Here are two to consider for 2007:

http://www.ubathletics.buffalo.edu/events/golfclassic/
University at Buffalo will host an event in June at River Oaks.  Raising scholarship money for the scholar-athletes at our hometown biggee, this event is one that you want to put on your schedule.  Nothing like watching their kids come game time, knowing that you might have made the difference.

http://ismailia.golfregistrations.com/
In September, the East Eden Shriners will hold an event at brand-spanking-new, as-yet-unopened Harvest Hill in West Seneca.  Benefiting children who suffer from burns or orthopedic ailments, the Shriners do a lot more than ride those cool little bikes and cars in parades!

Email your tournament info to us at buffalogolfer@buffalogolfer.com.

Volume XXVII--Brockport Country Club:  The Best Value in the Rochester Area

The Rochester Area of New York state is home to a number of exceptional golf courses, but one alone stands out. The Brockport Country Club is close to Rochester, Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Located only six miles from Lake Ontario, Brockport is a remarkable country course. Spread out across small winding hills, creeks and ponds, Brockport is a serene layout, frequented by deer and other wildlife, and provides an opportunity for an exceptional round of golf. Newly remodeled tees and the expansion of the hardest finishing hole in the county make Brockport a memorable experience for all. # 18, nicknamed "The Monster," has been expanded by 120 yards and is sure to grab your attention as you near the end of the round. Ask yourself one question: will I slay "The Monster" ? Brockport Country Club was Built on farmland 30 years ago as a nine hole course. It was expanded to a full 18 holes in 1984 and is recognized today as one of the area's finest public courses. The Brockport Country Club is the area's most popular outings course. Some of the biggest names in the area choose to hold their events here, including former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. Three banquet halls that seat up to 200 guests are available for outings and private parties. Our 50-foot Oak Bar, complete with a 60" big screen tv for sports viewing, is the largest in the area and a favorite for great times on weekend nights. Delicious food is available at two course restaurants. The Yankee Doodle Bar & Grill, an All-American Family restaurant, is located in the clubhouse, and is open to the public for lunch, dinner and drinks. Favorite dishes from all 50 American states make for a great menu. To view the menu, go to www.YankeeDoodleClub.com . We even have a kids' fun center in the dining room where the youngsters can enjoy recreation while you savor that extra cup of coffee after dinner! For reservations call 638-5334 ext 124 . Brockport Country Club has an indoor/outdoor winter practice facility with 16' high heated stalls. This remarkable range gives golfers the opportunity for Florida-like conditions throughout our upstate New York winters. Come to the Brockport Country Club for the Rochester and Buffalo Areas' finest golf, with great times for all.

Volume XXVI--Update on Seneca Nation golf course in Lewiston

There is a lot of information out there about the Seneca Nation golf course in Lewiston.  In fact, two names (Old Creek and Hickory Stick) are circulating.  Here are two releases from the last two months.  We'll leave it up to you and history to decide the truth.  Click Here for a PDF of the proposed layout.

In March '07, this project was still in planning. A public hearing in February '07 received few comments by attendees about environmental concerns related to the project. If all goes well with the permit process, work could begin on the GC in spring '07. Assisting the Seneca Nation with the permit process is engineer Doug Eldred of BME Associates (585-377-7360). In July '06, the Seneca Nation hired Robert Trent Jones II's firm to design the GC. The nation, which completed its purchase of the 257-acre site from Old Creek Development (contact is Michael Dowd - 716-754-7865) for $2.1 million, plans to spend another $10 to $15 million to develop the GC. The tribe plans to convert the property into a "world-class" GC. The site is bordered by Robert Moses Parkway and Pletcher and Creek roads. Unlike other tribal investments, this GC will remain on the tax rolls and be open to the public.

In spring '06, the tribe (another contact is John Pasqauloni, president and COO of the Seneca Gaming Corp. - 716-945-4080 or 716-945-1790) issued a national RFP process that involves top-level architects, including Pete Dye, Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman before selecting Jones. If all goes well with construction, the GC, which will be augmented by a large clubhouse and practice facility, will open in summer '08. The plans have been reviewed by the Lewiston planning dep't (716-754-8271).

Here's a history of the long-planned project: In late December '05, the town board of Lewiston approved the sale of 17 acres to Michael Dowd, which now gives the GC developer around 200 acres. The town's land sale precludes Dowd from further negotiations with the Seneca Nation for land. A new development agreement with the town of Lewiston is nearly final, as public hearings continue. The GC project is now expected to cost $5.8 million, lower than its original $8 million price tag.

Here's a history of the project: In January '05, the Lewiston board discuss the findings statement on the EIS for this proposed GC. In late December '04, the state Dep't of Environmental Conservation said that what was thought to be a possible roadblock was really more like a speed bump. At that time the agency gave Lewiston officials the go-ahead to state their findings on the environmental stage of the project. The confusion arose over a small parcel of land owned by the state that will be part of the GC if the project goes through, an issue now deemed minor. In mid-November '04, the GC Committee approved the final EIS for the project, thus allowing Old Creek Development to finalize its cost. So far, only a routing plan by Carter Morrish has been completed, as the project has stalled due to environmental concerns and the lack of receiving permits. Critics panned a draft EIS released on July 26, '04. Among ! the concerns are the secretive clay-mining plans, wetlands protection, and building the above HUs on unsafe "hydric" soils.

In May '04, the Lewiston town board approved an extension of Michael Dowd's contract, following a clarification of some issues in the agreement. After the contract was signed, engineers began work on the long-awaited EIS. Dowd agreed to pay engineering fees worth $10,000 and repay the town for additional engineering costs. In late January '04, the Sierra Club and Buffalo Audubon Society came out in opposition to the project. The two groups are concerned about disturbing the wetlands on the 200-acre site southwest of the intersection of Pletcher and Creek roads. Besides the Carter Morrish-designed 18, the project includes the above HUs. In mid-March '03, Lewiston officials released one of the studies - a $30,000 archaeological analysis - required before it could proceed on this GC. In February '03, the town learned it needed to release $60,000 in funding to ! complete studies required under NY's Environmental Quality Review Act.

In late-December '02, preliminary studies by the Army Corps of Engineers were completed and the state Dep't of Environmental Conservation had completed its wetlands review. Lewiston Town Board member, Jim Langlois (716-754-8213), has been a prime mover of the project. The 18-hole, 7,000-yard GC will occupy land on the east side of Robert Moses Parkway. Developer Michael Dowd is among three owners of the property. Contracts with Morrish and Howard Twitty and with the private developers-operators, Old Creek Development, have been prepared. When a development contract is approved, the town must release $300,000 in state funds for the land. Also planned is a clubhouse and driving range, and perhaps a junior golf facility.

------------------------------

Residents comment on proposed Lewiston golf course

by Alice E. Gerard
Lewiston Porter Sentinel, February 3, 2007

The proposed Hickory Stick Golf Club has the potential to be “a positive growth experience for the Town of Lewiston,” said Niagara County Legislator John Ceretto during Thursday’s public hearing on the supplemental environmental impact statement for the golf course.

If the golf course is approved, construction at the proposed site – which is bounded by Pletcher Road, Creek Road, and the Robert Moses State Parkway – would begin this spring. The first golfers would tee off in May 2009.

Presentations on the proposed golf course were made by environmental attorney Ian Shavitz, design associate Brian Dooley of Robert Trent Jones II, and engineer Douglas B. Eldred of BME Associates.

Differs from Early Plan

Shavitz explained that the current golf course proposal is somewhat different from the municipal golf course that was proposed about two and a half years ago. He said that the extensive record of comments from the previous golf course proposal was helpful in plans for the Hickory Stick Golf Club. “There were complaints or concerns about the housing subdivision. Second, the concerns about the town using its money or at least bonding the town course project or finance the project,” he said. “There were concerns regarding wetlands and also the Big Shell Bark Hickory tree, which is a threatened plant in New York state. Out of those areas that were labeled areas of concern, we were able to address each of those areas.”

Wetlands Preservation

Preservation of the wetlands was a primary concern, Shavitz explained. “With respect to wetlands, there will be no buildings, no paving and no structures, other than a raised boardwalk that goes through the wetlands,” he said. “As far as the adjacent area, which is regulated by the state, there will be park paths, and that’s it. There will be no structures built in those areas, either.”

Shavitz said that the Seneca Management Corp., which presented the plan, is working closely with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to handle state wetlands and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to handle federal wetlands.

Dooley identified four areas of concern to the company hired to design the golf course, Robert Trent Jones II of Palo Alto, Calif. He said the four main concerns were: to enhance and protect the existing natural features, such as the wetlands and the Big Shellbark Hickory; to create a championship golf course; to solve the drainage issue in the vicinity; and to ensure public safety in golf course boundaries and between golf holes.

Beginner, Advanced Level Golf

The proposed golf course is designed for both beginners and advanced golfers, Dooley said. “When we first laid out the golf course, we put the clubhouse in a very central location. What this enables is for young players or for seniors to play nine holes and return to the clubhouse or, if they choose, to continue and do another nine holes.”

Protecting Trees

Eldred talked about maintaining the Big Shell Bark Hickory trees. He said many of the trees were preserved, and that all of the saplings were transplanted. He also talked about drainage issues and flooding, especially along Creek Road. “There is some localized type flooding. There were recognized problems that the town had addressed in their design for their own golf course that they then conveyed to us as very important issues for the development of the site,” Eldred said. “The primary way in which that is addressed is with the development of lakes on the property. There are six lakes on the property. When a storm occurs, you store the water in the pond and then release it slowly back into the creek … we are able to reduce those flows by up to 40 percent.”

Traffic and Parking

Traffic was another issue that Eldred discussed. “We found that one of the nice things about the golf course is that it tends to spread the traffic flow out during the day, rather than coinciding with the peak commuter hours,” he said. “So traffic seems to work fairly well without expecting a decrease in the level of service. In other words, we are not expecting significant delays in traffic.”

Plans are for 286 parking spaces at the golf course. Also planned are 12 parking spaces for employees and two comfort stations. Eldred also said that other things are being considered, such as the “use of electric carts so they won’t be as noisy.” When it is necessary to cross wetlands, “we are doing that with a boardwalk, instead of filling them and putting in an asphalt cart path, where we would be impacting the wetlands.”

Utilities are adjacent to the site, and they have the capacity to accommodate the increased demands that a golf course would place, Eldred said.

Public Comments

Ceretto was one of four community members to comment on the plan. Another speaker, Diane Roberts of Autumn Lane, spoke as a neighbor of the planned site and as a co-chair of the town’s Planning Board. “We’ve been through all of the plans and details that were submitted to the Planning Board, including a lighting plan that did not include any large, overhead lights. That was my concern,” she said. “We did look at many of these issues involving drainage. I, for one, am satisfied as a resident and as a Planning Board member that we looked at all of these issues,” she added.

James Allen of Ridge Road, who is the chairman of the environmental commission, said that the proposed golf course plan was “the most complete job of preparation we have seen, and we were quite impressed.”

Paulette Glasgow of The Circle expressed concerns about various aspects of the plan. She said that maps used to identify wetlands were outdated and that traffic information was incomplete. She also commented on the potential of erosion and flooding along Four Mile Creek and the possibility of environmental damage from the use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers.

Gary Paumen of the Seneca Management Corp. said that he and the other people involved in the project would review the written comments that Glasgow had presented and would provide a written response.

Area residents can check out the Hickory Stick Golf Course plans in detail by logging onto the Town of Lewiston Web site at www.townoflewiston.us and clicking the Electronic Plans Exhibit - PDF under the “Hickory Stick Golf Course SDEIS” heading.

 

Volume XXV-January 2007

The Frog Hair...A Photo Essay

I will be pithy with words to end the old year.  Perhaps by the time you read this, you will have visited The Frog Hair and her eight simulators, her full-service, full-length bar, her delightful grille and conference room, and her myriad plasma tv screens and fireplace or two.  After all, the public unveiling is/was none other than New Year's Day.  If not, let these images betray the hard work put in by the builders and employees of this newest golfing institution in western New York.  View on!

 

 

Volume XXIV-December 2006

A New Place To Scramble...Harvest Hill Golf Club

One of the more promising developments that came out of the Tiger Woods phenomenon was the attention to the plight of developing young golfers.  Country-club programs were doing a fine job with junior clinics, Friday leagues, and 3-, 6- and 9-hole championships.  Some public courses had developed similar opportunities for their beginners.  For too many, non-affluent kids, the options were slim and none.  Watching from the wrong side of the fence, sneaking on to the course during off hours, and hitting balls back from the wrong end of the driving range were the BEST chances they had to learn the game.  Many in urban settings had no chance at all. 

The arrival on the scene of Mr. Woods somehow removed golf from the cupboards of sporting fine china, and place it firmly on the table of accessible dinner ware.  Kids and twenty-somethings of all shapes, sizes, colors and ethnicities latched on to the challenge of the game.  In the late 1990s, The First Tee program was established, grounding itself in education beyond golf.  Nine core values were written as the tenets of the organization's program:  Responsibility, Sportsmanship, Perseverance, Confidence, Judgment, Honesty, Respect, Courtesy and Integrity.  Western New York saw a quick response, with the establishment of a program in Niagara Falls, an area desperate for signs of hope.  Unfortunately for the youth of the Falls, the Adelphia Dome closed, the driving range was abandoned for a time, and the hoped-for acquisition of the underused red nine at Hyde Park was derailed by various local efforts.  Meanwhile, a group in the southtowns found itself in much better shape, on much firmer footing.

The First Tee of Western New York had been granted 125 acres by Carl and Marion Labein.  The philanthropists hoped to see the development of a facility for public recreation and golf for the entire region.  An additional 140 acres were acquired, the services of Hurdzan/Fry golf course designers were retained, and a 21-hole facility, complete with short-game area and practice range, was scripted.  Hurdzan/Fry are the architects of the recently-opened Diamond Hawk in Cheektowaga, and saw a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the legacy of the game in the Buffalo-area's southtowns.  The short-game space recognizes the importance of pitching, chipping, sand play and putting to the overall score of the round.  For too many golfers, the game is one of bash and smash, overlooking the subtleties of greenside dexterity.  The short-game space stresses the importance of these skills with dedicated space.  The 3-hole short course, nestled within the championship course in a protected area, provides an opportunity for growing golfers to practice their developing skills on a series of holes precisely suited to their cognitive level.  Putting greens and golf simulators round out the myriad stations for acquisition of golfing prowess.  The facility, however, has plans beyond golf.

Cross-country skiing, community events, and science education are three adjunct projects for the center.  The natural lay of the land lends itself to the more horizontal of the skiing styles, while the various buildings on the property provide space to involve the community beyond The First Tee offerings.  Perhaps the most interesting use of the property, though, falls to science education.  The varied topography and numerous wetlands offer opportunity for young people to gain hands-on educational experiences to complement textbook learning.  Taking students outside the classroom and into the environment has proven to be a successful enhancement of the learning experience.  Combine it with athletics, and the attraction might be even greater!

The driving force behind the entire project is Fred Zillner.  Long a noteworthy figure in local golfing circles, Zillner currently coaches the St. Francis high school golf team, in addition to his work at Harvest Hill.  He is assisted by a capable director in Timothy Greenan and supported by an enthusiastic West Seneca Rotary board of trustees.

To get there, take the New York State Thruway to Route 400 South.  Take the Transit Road (Route 78 South) exit. Follow Transit Road south for one mile, then turn left onto Old Transit Road (NY187). The First Tee of Western New York is half a mile on your right.

 

Volume XXIII-November 2006

Back To The Dome...The Paddock Dome reopens to grateful golfers

I was not one of the media folk who latched on to the nickname "October Surprise" as a description of that blast of weather we received a month or so ago.  October Surprise sounds like the name of a tasty little dessert that you might spring on people at a dinner party.  That thing that hit us was an onslaught, an onrush, an offensive, an onfall, so if alliteration is your game, pick one of those and forget "October Surprise."  On November 18th, I was able to forget the worst of what happened for a golfer when the Paddock Dome reopened. 

It is somewhat haunting the first time you re-enter the bubble.  The main brick building suffered no damage, so the restaurant and golf shop have been open for business all along.  Passing through the revolving door, however, reveals a different end of the story.  The carpet along the walkway to the kiosk is gone, the victim of mildew, water damage, and other gunge.  The kiosk itself was leveled, and is in the final stages of a complete rebuild.  A glance skyward reveals the amount of patchwork that this enormous quilt required for reinflation.  All in all, it's a pretty impressive job.

 

The ground portion of the stations are open for business, which amounts to more than half the available tee boxes at the dome.  The upper half still needs a bit of work, as it bore the brunt of the water and snow weight, as well as the punishment of the descending light stanchions, from the beginning.  The miniature golf course and practice putting green are also open for business, giving the dome-goers access to every facet of golf that was available pre-October Offensive.  The effort is nothing short of wondrous, for anyone who drove by on the I-290 those first post-storm days, and saw the downed dome, covered in puddles of water, with no struts poking up.  That it was brought down intentionally, sparing the skin from greater damage, was the ultimate saving grace.

The two golf domes of western New York are as much symbol as reality for the area's golf aficionados.  As much as a break from the Winter weather, a chance to hit shots with flight in a warm environment, a place to gather for food, drinks, and a little golf-related purchase, they are a reminder that Spring and fairways are not farther than a few months away.  When the sky is grayer than gray, and the February winds dry and crack your lips, a few swings inside won't be affected by a lack of carpet here or an extra overhead patch there.

Volume XXII-October 2006

Elmira's Mark Twain Golf Club...A fine place to meet the real Donald

There are some foothills in Elmira, New York.  I'm not sure which foothills they are, nor do I much care.  You see, there's a golf course that runs along those foothills, just south of route I-86, along route 14 south, called Mark Twain Golf Club.  Seems he's the fellow that invented me and Huck, and he spent some passable time here when he was younger, heck, when he was alive.  Folks round these parts wanted to honor his presence, such as it was, in some fancy way.  They called this Donald Ross fellow from Scotland, and asked him to map out eighteen golf holes.  Ross fancied the idea, and caught a steamer the next day.  Now, this ain't no fancy-pants country club like the one he built in Buffalo, or some high-sounding resort like that one in North Carolina.  In fact, folks round these parts call it country casual, meaning you can play if you have any type of pants on at all.  That seems to suit them just fine.
                                                                                                --Thomas Sawyer


I was lucky to run into Tom in the locker room at Mark Twain over Columbus Day weekend, and asked for a few words on the history of the golf course.  Donald Ross did an incredible job with the layout, moving up, down, and along the ridgeline of the Appalachian foothills.  It's fairly easy for the average golfer to move from tee to green at this golf course.  Unless you go back to the tips, none of the holes from the white decks extends beyond yards.  Mr. Ross left behind some of the most interesting putting surfaces of any municipal course around, and that includes Bethpage Black.  Once a year, around Halloween time, the greenskeeper gets to set the pins in the most haunted of places.  It was my luck to reach Elmira right around that time.  Of my 87 strokes from the tips, it is safe to say that I averaged more than two per green.  Any putt outside of twenty feet was an experience in trigonometry, geometry, and cartography.  Throw in a series of fairways that resembles toboggan runs and the experience is beyond expectations.

Tee Shot On Number Five, The Second Par Five Hole

Of the eighteen holes, only two (2 and 11) can be called flat.  Fairways traverse slopes, swales, and a few cliffs.  Greens mirror these elevation changes, making the direction and placement of approach shots of optimal importance.  One is immediately reminded of the decisions made by professionals at Augusta National...the point is not to make the approach putt, but to put it as close as possible (sometimes five or six feet!) so that the SECOND putt has a chance.  How often do you get this opportunity at a public-access course?  All new course builders should be required to visit Mark Twain, where the common player has an uncommon experience.

Approach On Number Fourteen, A Downhill Par Four

Donald Ross cannot be accused of taking the fun out of the game.  Two of the four par five holes are reachable with a decent drive, and the 12th certainly provides a third opportunity for an eagle putt.  The par three holes are all reachable with a decent iron shot.  The seventh plays straight uphill over a deep bunker.  Long is no good, however, as more sand and trees await.  Hit the green, though, and all is well, right?  Guess again.  Any putt from side to side must be aimed at the back of the green, with enough borrow to lay the putt dead.  If there is one type of hole that Ross forgot, it is the short par four.  Not once does he provide an opportunity for a drive-the-green experience.  In fact, if there is to be a complain, it is that the par four holes are TOO solid.  Reminiscent of a welterweight that stays around for ten rounds, the two-shotters demand your straightest drive and your most solid approach.  From the tips, the shortest club I hit in was a full sand wedge, downhill from 105 yards.  As it was, thanks to superintendent Tim Foss, I had no chance to hit an approach in close, as the pins were at their most devious.

Uphill Tee Shot On Number 7, The Second Par Three Hole

There are easily four more great weeks of golf in the 2006 season.  Consider making the 2.5 hour jaunt down the I-390 and across I-86 to Elmira.  In the meantime, check out www.marktwaingolf.com to find out more about this unique treasure.

Volume XXI-July 2006

Byrncliff...Oasis in the Scrambler's Nape of the Woods

There's a great line in Caddyshack, one among millions, where Ty Webb says to Lacy Underalls, "So, what brings you to this nape of the woods, neck of the wape...how come you're here?"  True afficionados never again say "neck of the woods," only, nape of the woods or neck of the wape.  Welcome to my nape of the woods, my neck of the wape, from East Aurora east, from Elma south.  For years, Byrncliff was the only game in town.  In recent years, Ironwood and Spruce Ridge have added to the core courses, bringing the game to the masses.  Through it all, Byrncliff remains the stronghold, the fixture, the great hill course in southeastern Erie county.

Byrncliff is a four-season resort, with cross country skiing and indoor activities in the winter, and swimming, running and hiking trails, miniature golf and one championship golf course for the remaining three-fourths of the year.  It is the golf on which Byrncliff bases its reputation, and the course that meanders up and over, then down, the many hills never disappoints.  The variety of lengths of each par hole allows every player to mark down at least one boast-worthy score on par 3s, 4s and 5s.  Most importantly, it is William Harries' vindication as a course designer.  So often, he was given mediocre pieces of land on which to create a layout, and could not come up with the inspiration.  At Byrncliff, Harries was finally given a piece of land (better even than Brookfield) on which to lay out his inspiration, and he produced.  Only one hole (number five) has been redesigned since the original construction, and it provides the most controversial and challenging tee shot on the course.

Ability to scramble:  Byrncliff's greens are not overly sloped, nor overly fast.  True, you can get yourself into some sticky situations, but with most missed shots, if you keep your head, you'll find a solution.  Places to avoid missing greens are back of number 2, left of number 5, short of number 8, anywhere off 10, left of 13, and back of 17.  At the Cliff, you want a straight, solid driver more than anything else.  If you get off the tee well, you'll have a great day.

Scramble of the day:  Any shot from the left side of number five.

The fifth hole at Byrncliff was a benign par four, a humble dogleg left along a rather flat trajectory.  A few years back, the ownership saw fit to move the fairway and green some sixty yards right, up onto a ledge.  At the corner of the dogleg, a deep bunker and a stand and a half of trees preclude any hope of reaching the green from the left, unless you go one-third of the way to sainthood!  The safe play is out to the right with a long iron or hybrid, then a mid-iron to short iron in to the green.  Driver should never come out on this hole, unless you're playing chicken.  Well, in my case, I hooked my safe club left, into the bunker.  The only shot I had was a low punch out of the sand.  I'd have been happy making solid contact, but I got a bit more.  The ball bounced along the fairway, and made the front edge of the green.  I got down in two putts for par, and called that pretty nice.

Favorite holes:  I start with the par fives.  2 is risk-reward, all the way.  7 is zig-zag strategy.  14 is a power slide from right to left, along the western edge.  15 is just like 2, only blind on the second shot.  With two eagle possibilities, the fives do it for me.

Websitewww.byrncliff.com
 

Volume XX-June 2006

Destination Kohler:
Day 2 – Golf and the Five Stages of Grief & Loss 

After a relaxing afternoon at the American Club followed by a refreshing workout at the SportsCore Complex, Mo’ Golf, the Travellin’ Duff and The Scrambler sat back and reflected on our preliminary Kohler experiences.  We were all still in awe of the engineering marvel that was the Irish Course, and had been enjoying the many comforting amenities available to us.  Even though I stumbled down the last few holes at the Irish, optimism abounded for our Sunday marathon at Blackwolf Run.  The weather forecast was clear of any rain and we were headed to “easier” courses.  In contrast to the rugged terrain of the Whistling Straits complex, all the promotional photos of Blackwolf Run portrayed a pastoral and serene setting, with the bright Blue Sheboygan River beautifully framing green fairways, inviting us for a relaxing day.

Sunday morning dawned and the weather was as promised, comfortable enough for shorts at 7:00 am.  As we stepped out onto the Clubhouse porch, we overlooked the vistas of the closing holes.  I could have never predicted how the serenity of that morning would belie the turbulent 36 holes ahead.

Who is Elisabeth Kubler-Ross?

In Jeopardy!, this would be the correct question to the answer, “The doctor who developed the Five-Stage Grief Model.”  With some minor variations from other Grief Models, the five stages one passes through are Shock/Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  On this Sunday, I grieved for the loss of a golf swing, and further, the lost dream of a serene and peaceful day of Golf at Blackwolf Run (don’t despair – there’s a happy ending).

Shock / Denial

The day featured many instances of shock, where I refused to believe this was happening to us.  Where did my beautiful Blue Sheboygan go?  Hard rains had pummeled Kohler Saturday night, and the peaceful flowing river had transformed into an angry brown raging waterway.  The comfortable warmth at 7:00 am gave way to oppressive 90+ degree temperatures, compounded by the moisture from the night’s storms, making for a sweltering journey.   The 3+ club winds rolled in after the first 13 holes, complicating club selection even further.

The shocking weather conditions could have all been endured, except for the sudden loss of rhythm and accuracy.  An occasional pulled driver is not unusual, but when wedges and 9-irons started missing their targets by 30+ yards, I couldn’t believe that my swing had decided to take yet another unscheduled vacation day.

Anger

In this stage, Anger is usually distributed to many undeserving recipients, in an attempt to cope with the loss.  I borrowed a page from many PGA players, placing Pete Dye’s designs in the cross-hairs.  “I hope this jerk gets some real pleasure from torturing people!”  “Pete Dye fell in love with the Cape Hole here – he really needs to mix it up a little.”  (An astute observation given my extensive years of architectural experience – I’m sure if Pete reads this, he’ll be sure to call for my input).  “How is it possible to play 18 holes with 30 mph winds, and never play downwind?!”   Or even the blasphemous “I don’t see what’s so great about this course!”

I never cursed the stupidity of the sport – there are just some things you’re not allowed to do.  Even in the darkest times, I always know that the difficulty is what makes Golf’s successes that much sweeter.  But those successes seemed so far away that Sunday.

Bargaining

I really didn’t have much to offer as a bargaining chip.  In the midst of my despair, I offered to the Golf Gods that I’d be willing to sacrifice 20-30 yards of distance if I could only have better control.  I promised to swing much slower if it would only help.  But the Golf Gods could see through my empty offer.

Depression

Yes, there was a perceptible funk in the Scrambler’s aura.  Shortness of written or spoken words is not something I’m often accused of.  After I stewed in silence for several minutes, Mo’ Golf told the Duff, “Uh-oh, we’ve lost him.”  My depression was not so much aimed at my poor Sunday play, but the fear that I would completely hack up my rare opportunity to play the Straits Course Monday. 

Acceptance

There’s no shame in getting your butt kicked by a Pete Dye design – the man has been vexing professionals for years.  And there’s certainly no shame in having an off-day with your swing.  However, the combination of the two, coupled with extreme weather conditions can lead to a catastrophic experience, a seeming universe away from the serene and peaceful day envisioned.

However, the healing process always seems to start with a change in perspective and bit of reflection.  One dramatic stretch of holes near the end of the day initiated the transition, as the great beauty and design separated the Scrambler from his problems.  The 12th through 15th holes on the Meadow Valleys course is one of the more memorable stretches you will find anywhere, and forces you to appreciate the greatness of the game and this course. 

It also put my struggles into a proper perspective.  How many other people get to spend three days playing 4 world-class golf courses with their friends?  We faced the challenges together, encouraging each other and rejoicing in shared successes. 

Sure, some lingering depression hovered even after that stretch, but the transformative process had started.  Now thoroughly separated from the negative associations with a bad swing day, the design of Blackwolf Run can be contemplated and appreciated as yet another example of Pete Dye’s genius.

Blackwolf Run

You may remember that Blackwolf Run hosted the 1998 US Women’s Open, highlighted by the duel between young stars Se Ri Pak and Jenny Chuasiriporn.  The Championship course was actually a composite of the River Course (9 holes) and Meadow Valleys Course (8 holes), plus one “hybrid” hole played cross country from the Clubhouse over to the Meadow Valleys 10th green. 

Unlike the Whistling Straits complex, where both courses have the same Irish Coastal feel, the two designs at Blackwolf Run vary greatly, moving from a River Woodland to a sweeping and undulating landscape.  All the courses are a testament to Dye’s ability to create unique designs that blend with a variety of canvases.

River Course

Perhaps the one word most associated with the River Course design is “options.”  The River course is not overly long, topping out at less than 7,000 yards, and only 6,600 yards from the Blue tees.  There are seven par fours playing less than 400 yards, including four under 350 yards.  With this type of design, Driver is not the automatic tee-shot of choice, and the use of long-irons, hybrids, or fairway metals is a valid selection on a number of holes.   However, Dye certainly doesn’t take the Driver out of your hands.  As any well-designed course should, the River Course rewards players who take a little extra risk off the tee, often by opening up preferable angles to well-protected greens.

Perhaps the hole with the most options is the 316 yard 9th, “Cathedral Spires”, a dog-leg right Par 4 which features a stand of tall trees in the center of the driving area, and the Sheboygan River down the entire right side.  Avoiding the trees left leaves a longer approach, but the view of the green is partially obstructed by high banked bunkers and elevation changes.  Challenging the spire of trees leaves a shorter approach and better view of the green, but brings more fairway bunkers into play.  Those hearty enough to attempt driving the green play right of the trees, but face the added risk of the river.  Holes such as these prove that a Par-4 does not need to push 450 yards to provide a memorable challenge.

Options off the tee are not limited to the shorter Par 4s.  “Long-Lagoon,” the 433 yard 12th, features two distinct landing areas.  To the right is a safe landing area, but leaves a longer second shot that must also flirt with the river and rough that cuts into the right side of the hole near the green.  Those willing to challenge the lagoon for the left landing area risk a forced 220 yard carry, but are rewarded with a shorter approach and more accessible green.

The options certainly don’t end once your tee shots are away.  One theme that stood out to the Scrambler at all Pete Dye’s Kohler designs was the amount of strategy required on the second shots for all Par 5s.  On many Western New York Courses, there is little thought required, as we usually just hit a fairway wood towards the green and get as close as we can.  The Par 5s at Kohler force you to assess multiple options and commit to a shot, usually through the use of angled fairways, split-fairways, double-doglegs, or cross hazards that don’t allow you to “almost” catch your 3 wood perfectly.

On the 512 yard 8th (“Hell’s Gate”), a decent drive may leave a 230 yard approach.  Going for the green requires you to flirt with the River running close to the right side of the fairway.  Guarding a little left will kick you down a sharp bank, requiring a difficult uphill recovery from either heavy rough or sand.  If you choose to lay-up, the split level fairway requires a choice.  The upper right landing area brings the River into play, but leaves an unobstructed view of the green.   The lower left fairway option is safer, but requires a delicate third shot to an elevated green.

The second shot on the 540 yard 11th requires a “cape-like” decision, choosing how much of the Sheboygan you want to challenge in an effort to shorten your approach.  The double-dogleg 16th Hole (“Unter de Linden”) features a solitary tree approximately 75 yards short of the green, leaving several options to play left, right or over the sentinel Linden.

Overall, the variety of options makes the River Course a true shot-makers’ paradise which has consistently ranked in the Top 15 public access designs in the United States.

Meadow Valleys Course

Just as you seemed to travel through space crossing from Wisconsin Farmland to the Irish Coast at the Whistling Straits entrance, the transition from the River Course to the Meadow Valleys Course can be just as shocking.  Compared to the somewhat restricted feeling at the River Course, the Meadow Valleys course features vast expanses of open space.  Between the 11th and 12th holes is a windswept prairie, with only a large barn (converted into a rest station) dotting the landscape.  Surveying the vista from the 12th green was one of the most unique experiences of the weekend. 

Except for the extremely tight 10th hole carved through the trees (think Blue #2 and #3 at International Country Club), the first 12 holes play over a sweeping and gently rolling Meadow, completely exposed to the heavy winds.  With the large areas, there are a variety of angles that can be taken, with Dye using large mounds to obstruct your view on several occasions, most notably on the Par 5 4th hole.  Severely contoured greens force you to choose your angle of attack carefully, as many three-putts await an approach improperly placed.

One large lake enters into play on the 7th, 8th and 9th holes, with the scariest being the 188 yard 8th, nicknamed “Wet & Wild.”  The water guarding the entire left side provides the “Wet,”, while the whipping winds from the left make for a “Wild” ride, especially if you elect to play over the hazard and pray for some wind assistance.

While there may not be jaw-dropping elevation changes or significant geographic features, the essence of the Meadow portion is the feel of being in the middle of a large wind-swept prairie, very much alone to commune with nature.  The only real indication of civilization on the Meadow holes is the “Largest Flag in the United States” which towers 338 feet above nearby Sheboygan, and at 7,200 square feet can be seen from miles away throughout the course.

The path from the 12th green to 13th tee features yet another geographic metamorphosis, as the Valleys portion of the course emerges with a series of ravines and dramatic elevation changes.  The opening trio of Valley holes holds up against any other sequence in the entire Kohler kingdom.

The 13th is a mere 335 yards, but steadily climbs from tee to green.  Nicknamed “Chimney”, the green doesn’t just sit at the top of the hill – that wouldn’t be high enough.  The 13th putting surface climbs even further, setting atop a 20 foot plateau at the top of the hill.  Think Country Club of Buffalo’s “Volcano Hole” being placed on the 18th green at CCB.  Only the purest iron approach will cling to this tricky surface.

As the saying goes “What goes up, must come down.”  The 409 yard 14th hole is not called “Spinning Wheel”, but sweeps back down to the right, revealing one of the prettiest downhill approaches you will ever encounter.  With a ravine providing the backdrop, the green sits 40 feet below the fairway, wrapped on three sides by Weeden Creek.  With its unmatched beauty, “Nature’s Course” is one of the most photographed holes in Wisconsin.

As the three of us drove away from the 14th, we assumed we had reached the high point and talked about how great “Nature’s Course” was.  However, as we pulled up to the next tee, Mo’ Golf could be heard, “Guys, you won’t believe this” followed by “Wow, would you look at that!”

After a demanding uphill trek followed by a gorgeous downhill sweep, it would take a special “flat” shot to complete this cycle of holes.  Finding a level hole in the league with this set-up would be a stretch, but the 15th hole actually crescendos to a fortissimo finale.  One of the more ironically named holes, “Mercy” is a 196 yard par 3, all over a glacial ravine and usually played into the wind, with “no mercy” granted to the poorly struck attempt.  A truly heroic par 3, the 15th leaves a lasting impression on all those who pass through the Meadow Valleys layout.

While it is difficult to maintain such a breathtaking pace in design, the last three holes certainly don’t disappoint, with the 16th featuring one of Pete Dye’s famous Acre-sized greenside bunkers (ala PGA West), the par 3 17th over a less dramatic ravine and solitary Maple Tree, and the closing hole featuring a final approach over the Sheboygan River against the backdrop of the Blackwolf Run Clubhouse.

Ability to Scramble

Compared to the Irish Course, Blackwolf Run is much more punitive to the wayward drive, essentially eliminating the hopes of a recovery.  Water abounds everywhere on the River Course, with penalty strokes adding insult to the lost $3 Titleist.  Even on the Meadow Valleys, water is less prevalent, but the grasses framing the holes are knee high, usually resulting in a lost ball or, at best, an unplayable lie.

Scramble of the Day

It’s often said that adversity is just an opportunity to shine, so it was an “opportunistic” round, to say the least.  On the 429 yard 9th at Meadow Valleys, my drive was pulled a touch, ending up a foot inside the tall grass, and behind a large Maple Tree, some 180 yards out.  The Scramble attempted to hit Driver from the rough to keep the ball below the tree, and still chase down the fairway.  Unfortunately, the ball was close enough to the high grass to interfere with the downswing, leaving a 100 yard shot from a perched rough lie on the side of a fairway bunker, all into a 30 mph crosswind.  As the full swing wasn’t working, it was time to get creative.  The Scrambler elected the “long pitch” with a 5 iron, which seemed to float in the wind 15 feet off the ground and dropped softly next to the pin, 4 feet away. 

Favorite Holes:

At the Meadow Valleys course, the honor would have to be a three way tie among the trio of holes described above. 

On the River Course, aesthetics was the primary determinant, with the 388 yard 5th hole getting the honor.  Named “Made in Heaven”, this hole features an elevated tee overlooking the valley below, guarded on the right by the ubiquitous Sheboygan River.  After descending into the valley, your approach is to a plateau green sitting at an angle to the fairway, adding both beauty and strategic elements.

To find out more about Blackwolf Run, visit DestinationKohler.com, and follow the “Golf” links to see the variety of world-caliber Golf available. 

Our three day adventure wraps up on Monday, traversing the Straits Course that hosted the 2004 PGA Championship.  Stay tuned to BuffaloGolfer.com for more on the Golf adventures of Mo’ Golf, Travellin’ Duff and the Scrambler.

 

Volume XIX-May 2006

Destination Kohler

Day 1 – A Short Trip to Ireland.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, the Scrambler was running in a downpour, frantically shoving all his golf clubs and luggage into the far too small cabin of his wife’s Ford Ranger.  Groceries and other miscellany had been put in the front, while all the golf gear and clothes had been loaded in the back of the truck, ready to meet up with Mo’ Golf and Travellin’ Duff for a weekend voyage.  The sudden downpour caused an immediate detour in the best laid plans, and a little comic relief for Mrs. Scrambler.

“Now, where exactly are you going?” she asks.

“Kohler, Wisconsin – we’re playing Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run over the weekend,” I replied, knowing full well that these answers meant absolutely nothing to my wife.  She may vaguely recognize Kohler as the faucet and fixture people, but other than that, it meant nothing.

To my fellow members at Elma Meadows and other Golf enthusiasts, Kohler means Whistling Straits and the 2004 PGA Championship.  Blackwolf Run and the 1998 US Women’s Open.  Future host to the 2007 Senior U.S. Open Championship, severa future PGA Championship returns, and the 2020 Ryder Cup.  Pete Dye and Herb Kohler transforming the shore of Lake Michigan into a new Golfing Mecca.

As we passed through Chicago around 9:30 at night, I called the Mrs. for a travel update.

“You’re not there, yet?!”

“We’re not even close, we still have a few hours to go.  It’s about an 11 hour drive.”

“Why on earth would you drive that far just to play Golf?”

The answer would be granted less than 12 hours later.

The Irish Course at Whistling Straits

All afternoon, I’ve been thinking of the best way to capture how impressive this course is.  To put it most simply... if you consider yourself an avid golfer, you MUST make the trek to Wisconsin and see this for yourself.  And I’ve only seen one of the four courses – and supposedly, this was the only course of the four in Kohler that did not receive a Five Star ranking from Golf Digest. (Only 16 courses receive Five Star Rankings - Kohler Resort boasts 3 of these).  If this is the warm-up band, I can only imagine what the headliners will do to me.

On the inside of the Irish Course yardage book is a quote from Pete Dye which reads –

“There’s nothing on the United States that has the look and feel of this course.”

As a Golfer who values aesthetics far over conditioning, there is nothing better than letting the feel of a course just wash over you and soaking in the atmosphere.  There are endless opportunities to do that here, and not just from the confines of the links.

A glance out the restaurant window revealed the panorama of Lake Michigan serving as a backdrop for one of the most beautiful holes I have ever seen.   Once on the course, the breathtaking views just kept on coming, with the 5th hole “Devil’s Elbow” drawing some raves, and the massive 8th fairway rising high to reveal an inviting glimpse at the distant green.  The remarkable 10th features dramatic elevation changes, a Cape hole tee-shot, followed by a Redan-style green, and completed by a towering mound nicknamed “Mount Dune” by the BuffaloGolfer trio.

However, all these holes paled in comparison to what was about to come.  The climb to the 11th tee provided a glimpse of several holes, including some from the adjacent Straits course, all with Lake Michigan in the background.  The feelings of awe were on par with the first time I witnessed Bethpage’s massive 4th.  While the Irish Course turned away from Lake Michigan a few holes later, I am heartened by the fact that all 18 holes at the Straits course will be in view of the Great Lake, raising my anticipation for Monday’s coming experience.

Yet, even more amazing than the end product is the transformation and development of Whistling Straits.  The trek from our hotel to the course was filled with miles of flat farmland. However, as we crossed over one last country road and through the Whistling Straits entrance, we seemingly passed through a space porthole which transported us from Wisconsin dairyland to the rugged Ireland Coast in the span of 100 feet.  Until you experience it firsthand, you cannot possibly comprehend how much earth was moved to create this Pete Dye masterpiece.

The Scrambler normally likes the “minimalist” approach to course design, where golf holes arise from the natural landscape and are not forced onto the land.  I’ve often been turned off by courses I felt were overly “manufactured” as they just don’t appear to fit the land. 

After today’s experience, I told Mo’ Golf that I was challenging my aversion to “manufacturing,” especially when done this spectacularly.  Pete Dye didn’t force Irish-Style Golf holes and bunkers onto a piece of non-descript land.  Rather, Dye first metamorphosed the entire landscape into a miniature Emerald Isle.  Massive sand dunes frame your paths, appearing as if they had been worn by centuries of erosion, not created from flat farmland less than a decade ago.  The end result is a design that blends with its environment as smoothly as any genuine Ireland links.

With Day One in the books, I now know why three men would drive over 11 hours to play Golf.  Great tracks like the Irish Course at Whistling Straits transcend Golf beyond a mere game or activity that is “played”, providing those memorable moments of euphoria and awe that allow Golf to be fully “experienced.”

Ability to Scramble

It’s a Pete “Dye-abolical” design, so what do you think?  If you miss, you will be appropriately dealt with, especially when there are thousands of sand dunes dotting the landscape and rough everywhere else.  However, the fairways and landing areas are more than generous enough, so this is certainly a fair test. 

The Scrambler probably could have lost several balls, but his Titleist 8 started to take on “Rasputin”-like qualities.  The “Ocho” seemingly refused to be lost, and came back to life several times from the heavy rough and dunes.  However, there are few heroic recoveries available from these places, as severe slopes and ugly lies abound – rather you are destined to get back into play and try to make it up with the short game.

Favorite Hole:  13th Hole / 160 yards / Par 3

This hole is named “Blind Man’s Bluff” and seems to be Pete Dye’s homage to the “Dell Hole” – Tom Norris’ much copied design at Lahinch’s Old Course.  A massive sand dune blocks all views of the green, with the top of a 15 foot flag as the only aiming indicator available.  The Scrambler loves this hole for its beauty and nod to Golf’s storied past.  However, even more so, it flies in the face of a disturbing trend in modern golf architecture.  Many architects seem to believe that the only way to make a hole challenging is by pushing tees farther back, resulting in new courses with several non-descript 200+ yard Par 3’s.  At only 160 yards, this hole is reachable with a short iron, but yields very little.  Assuming you choose the proper short club – a real challenge given the significant elevation change and restricted view – the green is likely to see more 4-putts than 1-putts, as the 14,000 square foot dance floor ebbs and flows, sending poorly struck putts severely off-line.

To find out more about the Irish Course at Whistling Straits, visit www.DestinationKohler.com, and follow the “Golf” links to see the variety of world-caliber Golf available.   

On tap for Day Two is a 36 hole marathon at Blackwolf Run, playing the River Course in the morning and Valley Course to wrap up the day.  Stay tuned to www.BuffaloGolfer.com for more on the Golf adventures of Mo’ Golf, Travellin’ Duff and the Scrambler.

 

 

The Scrambler--Volume 18
The Ecstasy of Winter Golf

The BuffaloGolfer.com E-Newsletter hit the inbox on Thursday, January 12th, heralding the news, “Terry Hills is Open for Golf!”  After a quick scan of the weather forecast, the Scrambler realized that the window of opportunity would likely be closed after Friday.  One problem - I had promised Mrs. Scrambler that I would give her a Friday vacation, and watch our newly adopted son all day.  Begging and “day-trading” ensued, as I promised a “premium” for her sacrifice, explaining the rarity of the opportunity.  Mrs. Scrambler agreed, and I was entering into the new experience of Winter Golf.

A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Joy of Fall Golf,” which espoused the virtues of those sparsely populated year-end rounds.  Through that time, I had golfed in Western New York up until mid-December, and assumed that the “Joy” of those rounds was as good as it would get.  In fact, the “Joy” article wrapped up with the following quote:

“Yes, it is true that we can’t play in January and February, but hey, Western New Yorkers have to Bowl (or ski) sometime. “

I have never been so happy to be proven wrong as I was two weeks ago.  Winter Golf arrived in Western New York, upgrading the Scrambler’s “Joy” to a new high of “Ecstasy.”

I need to clarify what I mean by the phrase, “Ecstatic Winter Golf” (EWG):

  • EWG is not based on dates alone

Technically, “Winter” starts with the Saturnalia Feast, and ends in late March.  However, I’m not referring to rounds on December 23rd or March 21st, just edging out the respective Solstice or Equinox that bookend “Winter”. Late December is usually just an extended Fall round and late March is just an early start to Spring Golf.  Ecstatic Winter is a season unto itself.  The Ecstatic Winter Season begins after you have abandoned all hope of late Fall rounds, removed the clubs from the car trunk, and resigned your game to the Domes for Winter Repairs. The experience at Terry Hills happened in Mid-January, well after several feet of Lake Effect snow had blanketed Western New York, and two months after my previous last “real” swing..

  • It’s not EWG if you travel south of the NY Border

Clearly, people in Florida play “Winter Golf” every year, but there is no special joy and no appreciation of the experience.  Even our southern neighbors in Pennsylvania have mild enough weather to dilute the January Golf Experience.

  • It’s not EWG under absurd conditions

I know there are courses in the area that stay open year round, where a few hearty souls play along the rock hard tundra to temporary greens.  The experience at Terry Hills was nothing like that. 

The greens had been mowed and rolled as true as any Summer Round.  The course was wet, but there were no plugged balls.  There were golfers in shorts, with many drinking beers loaded into their Golf Carts, which were allowed to roam freely over the Batavia links.  The only indication of the true time of year was the sporadic piles of snow that dotted the landscape.  Even this added to the day, as the bunker-like white faces surrounding the greens made certain holes look like Bethpage Black.

It has been quite some time since I went to bed with as much excitement and anticipation as I did that Thursday night.  Normally one to put everything off to the last minute and Scramble to get out the door, I laid out my Winter Golf Outfit the night before, and sorted through all the Golf Gloves accumulating in my bag for a game-ready pair.  (Yes, a “pair” – another reason the Scrambler loves “off-season” Golf is that he normally wears two gloves, so there’s no awkwardness when the weather requires it for warmth).

There were other factors that elevated the Scrambler’s enjoyment on that Friday.  I am an accountant by trade, and for the last decade (and then some), January was devoted solely to 65-70 hour work weeks.  I am now self-employed and specialize in an area that doesn’t require such efforts, so to have a day off in January, yet alone a day of Ecstatic Winter Golf, was even more special.  Unfortunately, many of my friends are still in the accounting field and were too busy with year-end closing to get away for the day.  I didn’t want them to feel left out, so they received cell phone calls to commemorate the first hit green, first par, first sandy, etc. of the New Year.

Also, the timing of the round allowed me to play without fear of breaking my most solemn superstition.  The Scrambler absolutely insists that every Golf Season finish with a Par (not sure of the consequences or reward, but it’s still a real superstition).  In November, I was able to complete the task in a way I never had before, finishing Birdie-Birdie-Par at Elma Meadows.  I’d hate to ruin such an “ending.” 

After a short debate with my assigned Golf Partners (Dan and Chuck – two great strangers that made the day even better), we unanimously concluded that the Round was in fact, the beginning of a new Golf Season, and not the extension of the previous season, leaving my Elma finish intact.

All in all, it was the perfect day of Golf.  There was no expectation for performance, just the shared joy of Golfers tricking Mother Nature (and there were many, as the parking lot at Terry Hills was full).  Every par was savored that much more, and every chili-dip was largely ignored and attributed to the early season.

To my surprise, the long game had maintained some semblance of normalcy during my two-month hiatus.  I was able scrape together 15 pars in my 25 holes (had to cut off #16-17 to get home on time – Mrs. Scrambler was accommodating, but she’s not a Saint).  The other ten holes had a few doubles, mostly due to some ugly pitches and chips, but for the most part, it provided some hope for the future.

And just in case the Golf Gods disagreed with my threesome’s conclusion, I safeguarded my superstition by paring my 25th hole to end the Season (for now).

To be continued???????........................

EPILOGUE:

As I submit this article to BuffaloGolfer, I am on my way out the door on Groundhog Day to test Glen Oak.  This round will finally complete my Western New York Golf Calendar punch-card, proving that you can Golf in Western New York 12 months a year. 

 



Volume XVII
The Real Scrambler Returns

It’s been quite some time since the Scrambler has added to the BuffaloGolfer landscape (some “ghost written” articles excluded).  The start of a new business, adoption of a new son, and a Golf Pool that has grown into a major time commitment have all conspired to put the Scrambler on a too long sabbatical.

Though away from the pages of BuffaloGolfer, the Scrambler still took part in the Western New York Golf scene in the past year.

The Scrambler witnessed a few of the year’s best Scrambles in 2004, including one that changed a career.  At the 2004 Lake Erie Charity Classic, Kevin Stadler was barely hanging on to his professional golf dreams, playing on a sponsor’s exemption.  In a playoff with Bubba Watson, Stadler put his second shot on the par five 9th in the water short of the green, while Watson was over the green in two.  Taking a drop 100 yards back, Stadler spun a wedge off the pin for a tap-in par – prolonging the playoff he later won.  This victory kick-started a run to the Top 20 and earned Stadler his 2005 PGA Tour Card.

The Scrambler also discovered some new enjoyable courses in the last year, including two Scott Witter designs, Arrowhead in Akron and Ironwood in Cowlesville.  You’ve probably heard of the former, but the latter is relatively unknown gem that you will read about here in the near future.  I’ve also gone International, with the Nattawasaga Resort in Aliston, Ontario hosting a weekend golf getaway and adding a few new favorite holes to the Scrambler’s Golf Encyclopedia.  Finally, the Scrambler and Mo’ Golf made the trek down the Thruway to the Turning Stone Casino to take on the Atunyote and Kaluhyat designs.

The Scrambler has also put his game to the test against fellow amateurs, competing in the Michelob Ultra Tour at Greystone, and leaned heavily on Mo’ Golf in team events at Tri-County and Arrowhead.  All these experiences left the Scrambler wondering why more WNY Golfers don’t take advantage of these events.

Scrambler No More?

However, the biggest change and subject of this edition was the attempt by the Scrambler to modify his moniker in 2005.  For years, I swayed off the ball, went far past parallel, and lurched back – praying all the moving parts came back together in unison at impact.  When the timing was there, the results could be impressive, especially when the short game was there to erase the occasional mistake.

However, one round changed the Scrambler’s outlook on his Golf game completely.  Just a few weeks after finishing Second in the Elma Club Championship, the Scrambler ventured back to Bethpage Black for another challenge.  The game that had been there weeks earlier had sailed away, and left a frustrated Golfer in its wake.  To make matters worse, parts of the round had been filmed and photographed, leaving no doubt in the Scrambler’s mind that something had to change.

I saw a horribly collapsed left arm, a club release waaaaaaaaaaay too early, a right shoulder thrown over the top, and most surprising, legs that were collapsed and ahead of the ball at impact.  How I ever managed to break 90, yet alone 80, was a mystery based on the look of this swing.

Over the Winter, the Scrambler finally broke down and approached Cindy Miller at the Wehrle Dome. 

Scrambler:     Can I talk to you about some lessons.  I’d like to overhaul my swing.

Cindy:           Sure – what’s your handicap?

Scrambler:     About an 8.

Cindy:           An 8? Why would you want to change?

Scrambler:     Because the USGA only counts the best 10 out of 20 scores.  The worst 10 are too hideous. 

Cindy:           So you’d like to be more consistent?

Scrambler:     Absolutely, but it’s going to take a new swing.  (Pulls out photos from Bethpage debacle)  See what I mean?

Cindy:           Ugh!!!!!  (just kidding – Cindy is far too sweet and positive to ever say that).

Scrambler:     I figure that if I can get to an 8 with decent rhythm overcoming horrible mechanics, if I improve the mechanics, who knows what I could do.

And so began the swing transformation.  Cindy offers various lesson packages which include a combination of individual lessons, as well as “perfect practice” group sessions, to ingrain the week’s lessons. 

Cindy’s first move was to still the Scrambler’s ever swaying body, employing a number of drills to improve balance and correct a poorly ingrained swing path.  The power that I had attempted (and mostly failed) to create with a forceful lunge was being taught with a better release and integrated turn.

I learned fairly early in the process that this was a long transformative process, rather than a quick repair at the swing shop.  After one lesson and perfect practice session, I seemed to have learned how to get consistent contact with a closed stance drill, and was ready to move on to my 300 yard laser drive secret.

Scrambler:              OK – What’s next!! 

Cindy:                    Next?  We keep doing this until it’s ingrained. 

At that moment, it hit the Scrambler like so many out-of-bounds penalties he’d incurred over the years.  This wasn’t going to be fixed so easily.  I had been swinging so poorly for years, my swing path wasn’t going to change over the 3 week span of lessons.  This was going to take a long period, so that each change began to feel more and more natural, until an improved swing could emerge.

If you’re looking for a fantasy ending to this story, you have as poor expectations as I did at the start of my quest.  There was no Club Championship in store for the Scrambler in 2005 and no flirtation with under par scoring. 

The changes take patience and time.  As a Golfer who played solely by feel for years, shortening my backswing and stilling my body felt mechanical and forced for quite some time.  Work commitments cut short my time at the range to further cement the improvements.  When the season began, I often found myself frustrated when the new swing wasn’t working and could lapse to the “old” swing mid-round just to get by, rather than fight through the awkward feelings.

Do I still come over the top at times?  Yes – but not as much.

Do I still fat my irons at times?  Yes – but not as much.

Do I still overswing at times?  Yes – but not as much.

Am I still the Scrambler?  Yes – but not as much.

However, there is much happy news to report.  My index dropped a point over the course of the season, but I certainly haven’t reached my potential.  I have lost over 30 pounds in the past year, which can only help my long term prospects.

Overall, my swing is much simpler looking and easier to control.  The backswing has naturally shortened and I do not sway off the ball.  I have a better arm and hand release, rather than an erratic lunge. The best part is that I don’t have to consciously keep my body still or stop my backswing. These improvements are now a solid basis to continue on my journey of improvement.   

And it is a simultaneously wonderful and frustrating journey.  While the long game improved during 2005, my short game fell off to some extent.  I was unable to “steal” as many pars as I had in the past, but I earned many more by hitting more greens.  Also, now when faced with a 30 mph headwind, I’m not scared of an inevitable banana slice ballooning off course.

What’s next?

I will be working on the wedge game, as far too many greens were missed from 100-120 yards during the past season (but at least I’m in that position more often).  I will continue to ingrain an inside swing path and delay my release, to further minimize the appearances of the weak pop up.  I will be doing some strength training to improve my grip and help me release the club faster and in control. And I will do it happily, knowing there will always be another challenge, another area to improve, and ultimately, the sight of seeing pure shots soar as they were imagined and basking in those glorious seconds of ball flight that we all play for.

What are your plans for this Winter?  I would recommend that everyone take a few minutes to take a look at your swing on film to close the gap between your perception and reality.  Be forewarned, it can be a frightening experience, but ultimately one that is worth it.  You may see me at Wehrle this off-season, most likely in a turtleneck, with a Ping G-2 in the bag and the Camera Tripod set up behind.  Come up and say hello and share your swing change experiences.  If you’d like, I’m always willing to film people so they can see their swings.  But I won’t give any tips or suggestions - I’ll leave that for the experienced help like Cindy.

 

Volume XV
The Local Scrambler:  Lonnie Nielsen Seals The Big-Time Deal

I have made my share of up-and-down plays from improbable places.  However,
I know when to tip my cap and cede the stage to a true scrambler.  Lonnie Nielsen
ranks somewhere around 76th on the Champions tour in driving accuracy.  Fred
Funk he ain't (especially not in a skirt!)  So when Lonnie finished 26th on the C-Tour
money list this year, it was cause for celebration... heck, I don't want to give it all away.
Read on!
Lonnie Nielsen, without a complete exemption, began 2005 in a better
position than he had started the 2004 season.  Huh?  Although he had only
conditional status, the experience gained during his first season on the
senior circuit would prove invaluable in his quest to gain a complete
exemption, accompanied by the appropriate perqs.  Here is the story of
season # 2 on the Champions Tour.

Lonnie Nielsen is an affable guy.  As a teacher, a traveling companion, a
competitor, he is easy to get along with, and reliable to have around.
Although he had conditional status on the 2005 Champions Tour last
January, he could count on the friendly and business relationships
established during year one to get him through the early tournaments.  It
must have felt strange, though, when the low qualifier from the 2004
qualifying school, Mark Johnson, won a tournament right off the bat.  What
did this guy have that Lonnie lacked?  After all, winning a tournament
essentially locks up a top 30 finish for the year, establishes you at a
higher level, and makes bill-paying easier.

The season started at a less than brisk pace for the former Crag Burn pro,
with +4 and +5 results granting T-52 and T-26 finishes.  The third event
of the year, the Toshiba Senior Championship, gave us the first signs of
the Lonnie who dominated local PGA events for two decades.  Rounds of 67
and 69, offset by a final-day 72, brought a T-15 finish and a $26K payday.
  Two more average showings (T25 and T63 at FedEx Kinko’s and Blue Angels)
left Lonnie at some $60K in official earnings after five events.  Lonnie
played in 23 events prior to the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.  Had he
averaged $12,000 (his first-five average) for all 23, he would have earned
$275,000 for the year, not nearly enough to keep his card.  Something had
to happen to ignite the season.

Mastercard, Ace, Outback and Legends:  These four events lacked a Lonnie
in 2005.  Why?  He didn’t have a card, and he didn’t have a sponsor’s
exemption.  Imagine four high-paying events for which you can’t even tee
it up!  Talk about starting in the hole.  The Champions Tour has never
been accused of handing “easy street” to the club pro.  You have to earn
your way around this neighborhood.

How often do you shoot 64?  For all 18 holes?  Lonnie’s two average rounds
of 72 and 71 at the Bruno’s in late May were sandwiched around a sizzling
64, bringing him a T6 finish.  The next six events, however, brought
nothing better than a T11 at the Allianz Championship, leaving our man
grinding to crash the top 30.  Then came 3M.  For the rest of his life,
Lonnie should use their products every chance he gets.  Rounds of 67, 68,
67, capped off by a birdie-eagle finish, shot him to T2 on the board, his
first top-three finish ever.  $140K will pay a lot of bills, and will move
a man up the list in a hurry.

Mr. Nielsen experienced a bit of a hangover the next two weeks.  T39 and
T53 did nothing to secure his place on the all-exempt list for 2006.  A
return to a favorite haunt, however, was the medicine he needed.
Throughout his club pro years, Lonnie Nielsen would travel west to play in
the Pebble Beach pro-am in December.  He developed an affinity for the
area and its golf courses, and grew to be comfortable on their fairways
and greens.  This September brought a top-ten finish at Pebble, and the
healthy $54,000 check that came along moved Lonnie closer to his goal.
Two weeks later, a T6 finish at the SAS championship essentially sealed
the deal, although Lonnie would have to sweat out the true result until
the final putt fell at the SBC championship in late October.

What did happen over the next four events was curious.  At Greater
Hickory, SBC, and the Charles Schwab Cup, Lonnie burst from the gate with
first-round tallies of 66, 65, and 66.  Learning to play with the lead, be
it the WNY Public Links Championship or the USGA Senior Open, is the mark
of any champion.  Although Lonnie was unable to hold any of these leads
for the duration, he hung around the top in each of them long enough to
learn how he responded physically, emotionally, and psychologically to the
pressures.  A T9 finish in the top-30-only Charles Schwab Cup championship
brought him his second-largest check of the year, and a final placement of
26th on the money list.

And 2006?  We will see Lonnie at the Mastercard championship in January,
as well as the Legends of Golf in April.  And the ACE, and the Outback.
We should see Lonnie in 27 events next year.  And hopefully, he’ll be
holding a trophy at the end of at least one of them.  Bravo, Pro.  We miss
you in western New York, but we’re glad you made your home here for a few
decades.

Links:	Lonnie Nielsen Media Guide Entry:	http://pgatour.com/players/bio/460012
	Lonnie Nielsen Profile:		        http://pgatour.com/players/intro/460012

 

Volume XV
The Buffalo Tournament Club

Have you ever played a brand new course?  Not one of those resort jobs that use toenail clippers and scissors to get every blade of grass standing at attention.  A real, honest course, built with the hands of a small corps of dedicated workers.  The course plays firm, and the grasses battle the undesirables (weeds and native grasses that do not figure in the final plan.)  I played one this May.  Playing a strange course is always a challenge.  Sometimes you begin with a sense of trepidation, hitting cautious shots, and you're four or five over before you know it.  On other occasions, you feel an immediate kinship with the design, and strike shots as though you're a regular.  I encountered a little bit of both when I played the front nine at the Buffalo Tournament Club.

For a number of years, Tim Davis and his wife, Marlene, have carved stone and soil, and landscaped trees and turf to create the course that they always wanted to own and run.  Davis is no stranger to the field of course design.  If you have played Fox Valley, then you know his handiwork.  With the exception of one or two holes, Fox Valley is a terrific design.  When you play The Links At Ivy Ridge, you'll get more of an idea of the way his thought process works.  Tim routed the holes at Ivy Ridge, then left the project to complete his own baby.

The Buffalo Tournament Club, with its lofty name and goals, is quite an addition to the western New York golfing scene.  The course is hewn from land along Genesee street in Lancaster.  The property traverses quarry land, farm land, and a few creeks and ponds.  The course employs five sets of tees, ranging from forward and intermediate to championship and tournament.  To give you the entire story, I scrambled from the Tournament tees, all 3600 yards of them!

The first hole is a deceptive straight hole.  I say deceptive because it just has to be a dogleg, with the large cross bunker devouring the right side of the fairway.  Deceptive, too, as there are no objects (trees, steeples, houses) in the distance off which to site your tee shot.  My suggestion:  aim left and work the ball back to the right.  The second shot plays evenly to a large, undulating green with at least three unique tiers/pin positions.  This is the norm for the majority of holes on the front:  greens that sit at the level of the fairway (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9), yet present tremendous challenge to the putter and chipper in all of us.  On number six, you might just find your self with a 180-feet (no lie!) putt, from front to back or back to front.  The green is that deep (at least three clubs from front to back.)  After a mediocre three metal off the tee, I punched a six iron toward the front of the putting surface, and got up and down for an opening par.

Number two comes back toward Genesee as a dogleg left to a blind landing area.  A bunker guards the inside corner of the dogleg, forcing the golfer to play away from the short route home, adding yardage to the second shot.  The approach plays down over a valley to an elevated green.  As the greens quicken over time, the safe play will be to the front of the green, to avoid the downhill recovery from behind.  The scrambler quickly got his comeuppance here, as a good drive was "redeemed" by a topped five metal, a too-strong pitch, a chip and two putts.  Nothing like a double bogey to take the wind out of your sails.  Strangely enough, as I butchered the hole, I never disliked any of the shots I hit.  Must have been the ambience.

Number three heads back to the north, again playing to a par of four

The course heads west for the first time on number four, the first of two tremendous five pars on the opening nine.    The tee shot is played through a corridor of trees onto an open plain.  The second shot bends from left to right around a corner bunker.  It is nothing more than a position shot, in preparation for an approach across a ravine to a putting surface suspended above a river's cut.  The creek dives across the fairway some ninety yards out.  With a howling wind in my face, I hit three solid shots with driver, three metal and six iron, in order to get home.  Fortunately for me, I was on the pin side of the ridge that bisects the wide and shallow green.  Two putts brought my scrambling self a satisfying par.

The first short hole of the course reveals itself at number five.  Playing mightily from 240 yards at the tips, it features a wide fairway and an elongated,  kidney-shaped green.  Pinched slightly from the right by a chipping mound and bunker, the putting surface runs some thirty five yards from front to back.  Without a wind in your face, the proper play is to bounce the ball in.  I hit three iron and ended up a few yards off the front fringe.  No luck scrambling here, as I chipped and two putted for bogey.

Six is another dogleg left, around a retaining pond to a wide fairway.  This medium par four is best played down the right side.  True it is that a few more yards are added, but the route is safer.  The left side is guarded by the pond, with thick rough running the length from tee to green.  Once near the putting surface, the advantage of the right side becomes clearer; a hollow to the left presents an awkward pitch to the largest green in humanity.  The gnarly grasses lie in wait to twist the clubhead as it descends toward the ball.  The right side is higher, like a mountain pass around a crevace.  Stay right and stay safe on this hole.

The second par five is even more interesting than the first.  The tee ball is played over the same creek that protects number four; from the Tournament tees, the carry is breathtaking.  The fairway sits like a saddle between two hillocks, with trouble on both sides.  After negotiating this treacherous first shot, the second is even more demanding.  The green sits around the dogleg to the left; however, an enormous tree blocks a straight shot to the putting surface.  The ideal play is a right to left shot into the flatland that fronts the putting surface.  In spite of its status as a medium-length par five, this hole is reachable in two, and should yield fair number of excitement in the form of eagles.  For us mortals, the third shot must negotiate a fronting bunker, to land upon another deep and challenging green.  After an absolutely-smashed drive up the heart of the saddle, the scrambler got away with two mediocre shots (an over-the-top three metal that bounced off the trees down into the fairway, followed by a thinned sand wedge to six feet) to miss a birdie putt by one inch.  Unbelievably, par was a disappointment.

Number eight plays southward toward Genesee, some 210 yards from an elevated tee.  A large irrigation pond lays a bit out of range on the left, yet its fury is not needed.  Yet another gigantic green will ensure that, unless your tee shot stays in the proper quadrant, a three-putt remains a distinct possibility.  The Scrambler bashed another three iron under the wind to the back of the green, then left a chip some twenty feet short of the hole.  In spite of my best efforts, bogey once again took up space on my dance card.

Number nine presents another high-to-low tee ball, in the style of number seven.  This par four boasts a truly large lake down the right side, again forcing the player away from the short route home.  Head too far left and trees come into play.  The approach must run parallel to the H2O, unless the pin is cut back right.  In this case, get out your superhero cape; you'll need it!  There is always a bail out area at the Buffalo Tournament Club, and number nine has one along the left.  With a mid-left pin, the Scrambler lived up to his name by chipping in after a fringe-bound approach.  41 strokes to cover 3600 yards didn't seem too bad.

SCRAMBLE OF THE DAY:  It was the chip-in on number nine, hands down.  More important than great shots is patience.  Patience for the fairways to grow in and settle, patience to elude the hazards that dot the course, patience to site the proper line down which to play your shot, patience to wait for the back nine.  Navigating the old quarry land, the back nine is rumored to have even greater vistas and challenges.  By the time the Buffalo Tournament Club celebrates its fourth or fifth birthday, it should rate with Arrowhead, Glen Oak and Ivy Ridge among the top four public courses in the Buffalo district.

 

Volume XIV
Cool New Scrambler Stuff

One thing that the Scrambler likes, besides a great up-and-down, is new stuff.  Well, when Tiger holed that "thing" on 16 at Augusta, the Scrambler's juices started flowing.  I got in touch with Mo' Golf, the Duff, and Sandy Lie, and they felt it was just the thing to cure my writer's block.  In case you hadn't noticed, not much new has come from the Scrambler lately.  If you put me behind a tree, under a rake, or in a trash can, I'll get it in the hole in two every time.  Writer's block was another thing altogether. Let me tell you . . . actually, I won't.  Let's get to the goods.

Nike One Platinum
     This is the one that showed its stripes for three whole seconds late Sunday afternoon.  This Tiger ball seems to go just a bit beyond the Nike One Black and Gold.

Bionic Gloves
     I have an arthritic friend (we'll call him WCL, to protect his anonymity), and he met me at the Paddock dome one day and complained about two things:  how much he likes to practice and how much it hurts to do so these days.  Here's his take on these new gloves from Hillerich & Bradsby:

Sunderland Jacket
     In case you didn't know, the Scrambler usually opens and closes Elma Meadows each year.  When the county doesn't see fit to open its tracks, you'll find me at Byrncliff.

 

 

Volume XIII
Conley Resort

One of the most exciting times of year for the Buffalo Golfer are those first few rounds after the winter layoff.  After months of smacking balls into the Blue Wall at Wehrle, it is finally time to see how they look against the green backgrounds of the links.  It is a wonderful time when you are not burdened by expectations of performance, but simply enjoy the pleasure of playing our sport.

For the second straight year, the Scrambler’s inaugural tee shot took place not in Western New York, but in Butler, Pennsylvania, located 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh.  For more than 20 years, dozens of Elma Meadows members and friends have journeyed to the Conley Resort in late April / early May to celebrate the opening of the golf season.

This resort course has a very relaxed atmosphere that the Elma Group has benefited from over the years.  The staff of regulars have become friends that we look forward to seeing each year, and often join us for evening rounds (both on the course and at the 19th hole).  One of the Scrambler’s favorite features at Conley is the indoor water park, which provides a refreshing dip between morning and afternoon rounds.

Conley Resort

Looking at the scorecard, you will note that the Conley Resort does not overpower you with massive length at all.  In fact, there are a number of short Par Fours and reachable Par Fives that offer many birdie opportunities.  It is not a classic design in that the back nine features no Par 5’s, and only one Par 3. 

Yet, what Conley is missing in length, it more than makes up for with challenging design.  Many of the greens slope away from the fairway, requiring only purely struck shots to stay on the dance floor.  Many times, the shot that runs through the green will also fall off the slopes to the sides and back of many greens.  On top of this, the rough around the greens is wiry with significant grain, causing many difficult chips.  The conditioning of the course is also superb, which adds to the pleasure on our annual trips.  Add to this the great views from the many elevated tees and hills in the backdrop, and you can have a pleasant start to the season.

However, what makes Conley such a fun course to play is how easily you can shoot a triple bogey on a hole that should be easily birdied.  The design of the course is such that you often have the chance to do something amazing all at the risk of putting up a big number.  For the first rounds of your Golf season, this is absolutely perfect, because no one will care about your blow-ups, but you can still create a memory early.  The Scrambler usually dislikes courses that are overly punitive and can rack up penalty strokes quickly.  However, given the very safe options available coupled with the potential rewards, the use of water and OB at Conley is appropriately balanced.

The Par five 7th is 500 yards, all downhill, and brings thoughts of Eagle into the realm of possibility.  However, with OB tight on the left, many would-be heroes need to hole their second tee shot for that illusive Eagle.  Once safely in the fairway, the decision to go for the green is not an easy one.  With 70 yards of water fronting the green and usually faced with a slightly downhill lie, there is no room for almost making it in two.  I have scored from Eagle 3 to Septuple Bogey 12.  How?  Well, I made a 5 footer to edge out my opponent’s Octuple Bogey 13.

The Par four 10th is also downhill, and only 330 yards.  It is possible to drive this green, but just as easy to drive into water and trees.  Again, scores have ranged from a two putt birdie to triple bogey 7.  

The fun continues on the next tee, a 350 yard hole with a 90 degree dogleg.  Challenging the corner with a long iron can leave a mere 50 yard pitch to the green and a great birdie chance. However, it can turn just as quickly.  The Scrambler was sailing along at 2 over through 10 holes, but the corner caught a slightly heavy 3 iron.  Even once safely in the fairway, this simple looking hole is dangerous as the downhill approach must hold a green that runs away, and falls off a 5 foot ledge over the back.

The next fun decision is the 290 yard 15th, another downhiller that tempts many to take a rip at the green.  However, with a pond tight to the right of the green, bunkers short, and pine trees to punish a blocked shot, dreams of eagle are often replaced with mad scrambles to salvage bogey.

The final chance to be a hero occurs on the finishing hole.  However, unlike the previously mentioned situations, there is little choice in the matter.  The 18th hole is a Par 3 that features water short, left and long of the green, with evergreens down the entire right side.  Depending on the tees, the 18th can range from 120 to 190 yards.  Scores from 2 to 10 can easily occur, putting a few grey hairs on the Golfer trying to protect a good score.

If you’ve been looking for a new place for your annual golf getaway, visit the Conley Resort website at www.conleyresort.com and tell them you heard about them at buffalogolfer.com.

Ability to Scramble

If you are a bit wild, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to escape unscathed from Conley without incurring a few penalty strokes.  However, it is possible if you miss in the right spaces.  Most of the fairways are tree-lined with evergreens, but not vast forests.  In many cases, it is better to miss big than a little.  A tee shot blocked 20 yards right will likely end up in the tree line, leaving only a punch option.  However, the severely missed tee shot can give you a chance at redemption, as you get far enough away to hit back over the trees or create open angles that the designers never would have contemplated.  In the Saturday morning round, the Scrambler was having one of those days.  Having nothing to lose on the Par Five 7th, the Driver came out.  After a MASSIVE right to right cleared the trees and ended up on the far side of the adjacent 9th fairway, I had even less to lose.  Breaking out the Pythgorean Theorem, I estimated I had 240 yards remaining over trees and water.  Not feeling good about the 3 wood, I lunged at a Rescue Iron that plugged into the green 20 feet left of the hole.  The putt dropped for the lone high point of the round, capping a double, double, triple, eagle stretch.

Favorite Hole:  5th Hole / 400 yards / Par 4

The 5th hole has a slightly uphill drive that carries out straight for 280 yards and then starts to dive down to the right to a green some 50 feet below.  Standing at the top of the hill, you feel a sense of confidence looking down at the inviting target.

Usually, my favorite holes are Par 5s because of the additional ability to manufacture pars.  However, at Conley Resort, I was influenced mainly by positive reinforcement. After struggling on Saturday, I woke on Sunday with little expectations for the final round.  Swinging easy, I had one of those pure shots that split the fairway with a slight draw, leaving only 85 yards to the hole.  From a slight downhill lie, I hit a partial wedge that landed 10 feet short of the pin, bounced twice, clicked the flagged and disappeared for a very Un-Scrambler-like Deuce.

Place You Don’t Want To Be:

One of the foundations of the Scrambler’s game is the ability to manufacture pars on occasion.  However, each course has one place that makes par virtually impossible.  At Conley Resort, this honor belongs to any shot on the 6th hole that is long, as the rear of the green is raised, and drops off quickly.   From the rough behind, you will be hard pressed to stop your recovery on the slick green that quickly runs away from you.

Best Scramble:

On the 290 yard 15th, the Scrambler made his normal attempt for immortality, bringing out the Big Dog.  A classic over the top yank ricocheted off a tree just left of the tee and onto the adjacent 14th green, still 290 yards away.  After taking relief from the green, the only option was a shot to 100 yards, followed by a fat wedge, leaving a 60 foot putt to the upper shelf pin.  The putt died in the back door, answering the riddle “How do you drive a Par 4 green, one putt and get a Par without penalty strokes?” 

However, one of my fellow members provided some early nominees for Scramble of the Year.  Bob Summerville, Jr. is an absolute bomber who intersperses 300+ yard drives and 200 yard 7 irons with some big misses.  On the 500 yard 7th, Bob’s initial effort was hooked OB left, but the second was crushed true, leaving 106 yards to the green.  A wedge and putt later capped the unlikeliest of pars. 

But Bob wasn’t done for the trip.  On the Par Five 1st, Bob squirted his drive off the toe, rattled his second off the trees, having covered less than 200 of the 500 yards on his first two swings.  A sweeping slice from the tree line finally found the fairway 140 yards out, but by then opponents Craig Sylvester and Mark Ricci were counting the hole as won.  A hard wedge dropped 2 feet from home for another Scrambling Par, turning the tables on the hole.

What is your favorite Resort getaway?  Do you have a memorable Scramble, at Conley Resort or elsewhere?  The Scrambler would like to hear from you at buffgolf@buffalo.com.

 

Volume XII
Bethpage Black

Ever since the “People’s Open” in 2002, the Scrambler has made it a goal to make the trek to Bethpage State Park and subject his game to the A.W. Tillinghast Masterpiece on Long Island.  Finally, in September, a college wedding found the Scrambler in the middle of Long Island. 

I was not really sure how far away Bethpage was, but figured I would make my way there sometime on Labor Day and take my chances.  The night before, a number of college friends were reminiscing about old times, and when the night had ended, the Scrambler headed out in search of an all night diner.  After several failed attempts, I finally found one some 10 miles away from my hotel.  Exhausted and bleary-eyed, I still managed to notice that the menu indicated I was sitting in Farmingdale, N.Y.  This was a clear sign from above that I was led to Bethpage and meant to sit in the famous car line right then and there.

And so the quest began.  Armed with general directions from diner patrons, I set out at 1:00 am to find the Black Course in the dark.  After wandering for some time, a late night delivery man gave me the final directions I needed to find my destination.

You think the old Elma Meadows Bag Lines were bad?  Getting to the course at 1:00 am put my car in the prestigious 45th position.  After getting debriefed on car line rules by one of the locals, I put the seat back for a few hours sleep. 

At Bethpage, the ticket process starts at 5:00 am, when the “bakery” tickets are distributed, so you can get in line to buy some of the few walk-up spots left available.  Given my position in line, I was prepared to be relegated to the Red or Green Courses on this day.  Luckily for me, most of the 44 cars ahead were filled with threesomes and foursomes, which were in minimal supply on the Black.  There were, however, a handful of single spots left over.  As I neared the ticket window, I was encouraged by the threesome in Car 44, and when I snatched up one of the 3 remaining singles, I was ever so close to my dream.  The overcast skies still shed some doubt on my quest, but it would take lightning to keep me away that Labor Day. 

When I showed up later for my tee time, I discovered that Long Islanders can take their beloved course somewhat for granted.  With the mere threat of rain, many locals stayed away, leaving scattered openings throughout the day.  If you’re ever in New York on such a day, you may want to take a chance walking onto the Black.  This same complacency allowed the Scrambler to get a tee-time while working in the area in May, as several temporary greens were enough to leave openings in the starter sheet.

Bethpage Black

After hitting the range and pro shop, I finally walked around the back of the Clubhouse to get my first glimpse of the Bethpage golf complex.  The first thing I noticed was the large hill that houses the 18th green and 1st tee.  Television never fully captures the slopes and elevation changes that you see in person.  I had wondered why the pros seemed to struggle hitting the green on the short par 4 18th hole during the 2002 Open.  With the significantly elevated and terribly small green before me, I understood the difficulty.

You then continue down behind the clubhouse towards the Black Course starter shack, and there it is:

Warning:  the Black Course is an Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only for Highly Skilled Golfers.”

Duly warned, I met my three playing partners, all locals from the area, and it was finally time to see what the Scrambler could do.  I knew from the first swing that Jim was a “stick” and would obey any advice he gave me for the day.    The first ball was away, hit solidly but pulled into the rough.  Which was appropriate, as this is an integral part of the Bethpage Experience.

Like Oakmont designer Henry Fownes and many of the other classic course designers, A.W. Tillinghast knew the one truth that the Scrambler believes in very much:

“Penalty strokes suck!”  (I hope the FCC doesn’t monitor this).

Except for the pond well short of the 8th green, there is no water to be found on the Black.  There are some places where out of bounds can come into play, but is never an imposing presence.  This doesn’t mean you get away with missing the fairway.

On my first trip to Bethpage’s rough, I thought I could overpower the grass and still be a hero.  After two humbling hacks, I walked off the first green with a heroic triple bogey.  We weren’t playing US Open conditions, but missing the fairway by 3 feet made all the difference in the world.  After the opener, you cross the road and really start to see what makes Bethpage one of the most special and difficult courses in the world.  The second hole encapsulates much of the magic on a fairly short par 4. 

Although the hole is a mere 354 yards, this is one of the hardest fairways to hit.  Usually, hitting a fairway only considers “how far left or right of center can I hit this?”  Like so many other drives on the Black, the angled fairway provides an additional dimension of difficulty. With the penalty for missing the short grass so high, these added considerations challenge your tee shots all day.

If you navigate the drive, Tillie then hits you with his next defense.  Your typical view on the approach is part of a flagstick surrounded by an absolute vista of sand.  And I’m not talking about a bunker here and there.  I’m talking about gorgeous, massive, white-faced pits that stare at you and let you know that, in no circumstances, is a thinned iron going to accidentally run onto the green.  Think of some of the largest bunkers you’ve played in Western New York, dig them a few feet deeper, then link 4 or 5 of them together, and that is your typical green on Tillie’s Masterpiece. 

The second green also previews one the subtle features of Bethpage that will wear you down.  Beyond the obvious massive pits of sand that you do see, one thing you do not see is an inviting putting surface.  Many approaches are to elevated greens, or are obscured by the great upswept faces that are Tillinghast’s signature.  The constant strain of playing without the visual reassurance of a large, safe dance floor will wear down even the best player’s confidence.

After finally settling down and safely hitting the 158 yard 3rd hole, I was able to take out my camera to start recording the day. Walking towards the green, Jim asked if I was a photographer.  I explained it was just a hobby, that I loved the natural beauty of golf courses.  Jim indicated that he had the same passion, but painted golf courses.  I commented how much I enjoyed some of the paintings I saw in the clubhouse prior to my round.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that “Jim the Stick” was also well known as James Ellis, the artist responsible for those prints.  If you share the Scrambler’s passion for the artistic beauty of golf, visit Jim’s site at www.jamesellislimitededitions.com

Playing golf with another passionate golfer, walking towards a birdie putt on a US Open course, it didn’t seem the day could get any better until I marked my ball on the third green and looked up…….

“Oooaaaaahhhnnn”

I don’t know how to spell the sound I made, but it is that combination of getting your breath taken away coupled with a sense of awe upon first viewing beauty that you didn’t think could possibly exist.  The first time you take in the Par Five 4th Hole, you are absolutely stunned by the panorama before you.  I am thrilled that my first sighting was not spoiled by the inclusion of fan-lined fairways or intrusive grandstands; there was just the natural raw treasure inviting me to experience.  It is on the scale of the gorgeous 14th at Peek’n’Peak, but simply in a league of its own for beauty.

The 4th simply previews many of the beautiful holes you will encounter as you take your walk in the (literal) park.  The 5th is one of the most photographed holes in the world, the 8th is a wonderful downhill Par 3, and the 15th is incredible as you look up the seeming mountain that houses the green.  The 17th features a panorama of graceful flowing bunkers with a supposed “Oasis” of green hidden somewhere behind, and the elevated tee on the Rees Jones-renovated 18th lets you absorb the minefield of sand which stands between you and the Clubhouse that overlooks your finish.

The beauty of the Black is everywhere, luring Golfers to it like the Sirens of Greek mythology.  Let yourself be seduced.  Unlike those doomed Greek sailors, you won’t be killed or suffer some disastrous fate (unless you consider a triple bogey a mortal wound).  What you will experience is a challenge that has very few equals on the planet, all in the rugged beauty of Bethpage State Park.

Ability to Scramble

Much like Oakmont, the rough at Bethpage severely limits your ability to get creative once you miss.  What makes Bethpage even tougher is the elimination of certain recovery opportunities.  While many courses allow you to recover by hitting a low runner that may run up to the putting surface, that option is limited on the Black.  Most fairways end 50 to 70 yards short of your goal, with that distance filled in by meandering bunkers and tall rough.  If you can’t carry the ball to the green, you will be relying on a great pitch or sand shot to leave any chance for par.

If (and when) you’re in the sand, the Scrambler also discovered another hazard that may impede your recovery efforts.  Playing at Elma Meadows, we often bemoan the many footprints that populate our bunkers, often blaming this on people who think it is somehow acceptable on an unknown muny track.  Unfortunately, even golfers at one of the best courses in the world seem to view rakes as infectious objects, making the already dangerous pits more hazardous.

Favorite Hole:  4th Hole / 517 yards / Par 5

Great golf holes should always present a challenge and options to the player, demonstrating the sound theoretical design elements of golf.   However, when choosing favorite holes, the Scrambler is heavily influenced by aesthetics, as I think golf should be more than a strategic challenge of the mind, but also an experience to be felt and absorbed.  Elevation changes add to the experience, both from an aesthetic standpoint as well as an element of strategic design.

The 423 yard 5th is widely regarded as one of the best designed Par 4s in the world, offering the classic risk-reward option of challenging the vast expanse of sand that runs at an angle from the tee in exchange for an easier second shot.  Playing safe to the left with a shorter carry over the bunker brings the massive trees that frame the left side of the hole into play.  With an elevated tee shot down to the natural valley below, followed by an approach to the raised plateau green, I absolutely love this hole.  On any other course, this is the runaway favorite.

However, I simply could not put aside the feeling of awe I had looking over the 4th hole.  This hole has everything the Scrambler ever looks for.  Besides, it’s a Par 5, which also allows an extra scrambling opportunity.  After your elevated tee shot, this hole starts climbing over a 90 yard wall of sand up to a second plateau that provides the lay-up area, and continues its ascent to the green over yet another fortress of sand.  From a strategic perspective, flirting with the fairway bunker on the left with your drive allows you to get the benefit of a forward kick from the fairway slope.  The second plateau offers a variety of options of lay-ups and angles, all predicated by the path taken from the tee.  With the combination of strategic options and jaw-dropping aesthetics, this Par 5 is an unforgettable gem.

Place You Don’t Want To Be:

Take your pick, as there are many.   However, if I had to pick, it would be anywhere on the “Black Mile” on a windy day.  This is the stretch of holes from 10 to 12, consisting of three meaty par 4s, measuring 434, 421 and 432 yards, and that’s just the White Tees.  The Blues swell to 492, 435 and 499 yards.  If you’re not feeling in control of your game after the front nine, this trio does not offer the fresh hope of a “new nine” that we often look for to salvage a poor start.

Best Scramble:

After hitting another fairway on the 6th hole, the Scrambler hadn’t been forced to get creative.  I commented to my partners how comfortable I felt with the driver that day.  As you would expect, articulating my comfort woke up the “God of Scrambling”, who must have thought I teed off a few hours later. 

Standing comfortably on the Par Five 7th tee, I looked over the 2 ½ acres of waste bunker before me with an eye only on the fairway beyond.  The horribly bladed drive dove low, coming to rest in the sandy wasteland a mere 175 yards away, signaling the Scrambling Gods’ arrival.  I attempted to hit a 7 iron over the trees that guard this Par 5’s corner, but caught a little too much sand, and the ball rustled in the branches before being deposited in the rough 185 yards from home.  After a mighty hack with the 4 iron, the ball ran up to the front greenside bunker.  Praying just to get out of the sand, my explosion shot rose high, landed soft and dropped for my first ever holed-out bunker shot, and an unlikely birdie. 

Have you made the Trip to Bethpage State Park?  Do you have a memorable Scramble, on the Black Course or elsewhere?  The Scrambler would like to hear from you at buffgolf@buffalo.com.  We will post your responses.

 

Volume XI
The Joy of Fall Golf

If you’ve lived here long enough, you’ve heard all the weather jokes about Buffalo and its supposedly minimal golf season.  But real Buffalo Golfers know the truth. It’s all about attitude and preparation.  And no one beats Western New Yorkers on these two counts.

It’s the same spirit that allows us to get to work on time after a 6-inch snowfall, while other cities close their schools because an inch is forecasted.  So what if it’s 36 degrees?  One layer of thermal underwear, a turtleneck and a windbreaker and I’m ready to go.  The greens are getting a little hairy?  Hit the ball a little harder.  The course is saturated?  Great, that means the slices won’t run very far.  When else can you say “I was throwing darts with my 3 iron”?

The Scrambler loves playing golf in the late Fall for so many reasons.

  • First, the post season tends to weed out the less than avid golfers.  If you’re playing in a foursome in 40 degree weather, you can be assured that these people love the game as much as you do.  You won’t hear people whining about the conditions, but rather basking in the joy of partaking in their passion.  I was put in a threesome with two strangers at Byrncliff last year, but wasn’t surprised that we were able to talk about the latest episode of “The Big Break.”
  • The less than full courses in the fall offers opportunities not present in the fairest weather.  Going off in a six-some of avid golfers is a rare pleasure.  The camaraderie is so great that you forget that it’s been raining for 3 hours.
  • Scores don’t count for handicaps.  The Buffalo District Golf Association typically cuts off the handicap season in Mid-October, so WNY scores after this point are for pleasure only.  This is the time to experiment. 

One of my favorite fall practices is to play two balls in a Scramble format and see if I can break par by myself. 

Play tees you normally don’t play.  At Elma, the alternate tee on Number 4 is never used, but I always play from it in the Fall.  I’ve heard that certain members create a “Super Course”, with cross country holes from the 4th Tee to 6th Green.  That’s the Spirit I’m referring to. 

  • And how can you mention Fall Golf without discussing the amazing views that we get when the leaves change colors.  This, combined with the hills and valleys we play in at Byrncliff, Elkdale and Elma Meadows, and you know that Fall Golf is a special thing.  The people who joke about our weather from down South play the same flat courses year round, where the ponds don’t change, and trees (if they even have them) don’t signal the time of year like our majestic Elms and Maples.

So yes, for the wimps who think it needs to be 70 degrees to play Golf, the Buffalo season may not be the longest.  But for the people who love the game with a passion, Western New York has golf available from March to November (and even December in certain years).  Sure, the season may start and be interrupted by an April Snowstorm, but that just gives us a weekend to head to the Dome to do that last minute fine tuning for the season to come.

Yes, it is true that we can’t play in January and February, but hey, Western New Yorkers have to Bowl (or ski) sometime.

 

Volume X
Turkey Run, In Honor Of Thanksgiving

The First Time

Everyone remembers their first time.

Where were you when it happened?  How old were you?  Who were you with?  You probably didn’t perform well, but it really didn’t matter.

The Scrambler’s first time didn’t occur until just before his senior year in high school, but once it happened, I knew what the big deal was all about.  I couldn’t wait to do it again as soon as possible and keep getting better.

Double entendres aside, of course I’m referring to that moment you lost your golf virginity.  Growing up in Chaffee, I focused more on baseball, soccer and tennis, as there was limited public golf my direction.  I always joked about the golf stereotypes and picked on those idiots that wasted their time on such a game.

However, during the summer of 1987, everything changed.  The 9-hole Turkey Run Golf Course was born from a former farm at the top of Bixby Hill Road in Arcade.  This event went unnoticed by the Scrambler for a few months, until friend Jason Almeter declined to play tennis one day, and suggested we take a trip to Turkey Run instead.

With borrowed clubs in tow and gym sneakers on my feet, I stood on the first tee not having the least clue what was about to happen.  Jason explained that you’re supposed to interlock your fingers on the grip, which felt like the most unnatural thing ever, but I figured there was some magic secret in it, so I complied.  He also suggested I try a 3-wood for my first time.  Given my lack of experience, Jason seemed as all-knowing as Bagger Vance.

Finally, I pulled the trigger and….

Believe it or not, the ball flew low and straight down the middle, around 210 yards.  If I remember correctly, there were probably 5 people who witnessed the birth of a Golf Fanatic that day.  Whatever delusions I had about the ease of golf based on my first swing were soon erased.  Over the next 60 or so strokes, I discovered two Golf truths:

First, Tin Cup was right.  The 7-iron is the best club in golf.

Second, it only takes one shot to get you back.  As luck would have it, I had reached a certain level of frustration through the first 8 holes, but proceeded to nail another drive on the 9th tee. The rush of seeing the ball go as I imagined it, combined with the whooping of your partners at seeing your success, and I was addicted.

Turkey Run Golf Course

While the Scrambler has spent the majority of his years honing his game at Elma Meadows, the influence of Turkey Run cannot be denied.  Just like your first girlfriend, your first golf experiences have deep and long lasting influences, often not noticed until reflected on years later.  In my formative stage of my golf career, Turkey Run was my entire golfing universe.  Four of the key aspects of my game can be directly linked to my early days at Turkey Run:

  • I have, and always will, hit a fade/slice.
  • I love to run the ball on the ground, rather than hit soft pitch shots
  • Going for it is always more fun than laying up
  • If I can find it, I can manufacture a par

The Fade/Slice:

After taking up golf in late August 1987, I tried out for the Pioneer Golf Team two weeks later.  Luckily, golf wasn’t as popular in 1987 as it is today.  Due to the low number of students trying out and the generosity of Coach Max Payne, who seemed to identify with my passion, I was allowed to be a member of the team (not a starter; but still part of the team). 

As a result, I was able to watch our starters (seeming golf gods to me) play Turkey Run.  In one particular match, I stood on the 3rd tee, a 378 yard dogleg right, and watched the “gods” wield their magic.  Dan Owens hit a drive that went out straight and then turned right, following the dogleg perfectly.  Well, that was the coolest thing I ever saw!  I had to learn how to pull off this trick.

I rented the “Golf My Way” video by Jack Nicklaus, studied dutifully for few days, and reached the 3rd Tee ready to try out my new trick.  Once I pulled this off, the fade was permanently ingrained as my natural swing.  Dan Owens may never have known it, but watching that one shot changed my life.

Unfortunately, prior to this experience, no one told me that my previous natural draw was a good thing.  I have fought the slice for years.  However, in one of the beautiful paradoxes that gives golf its essence, the swing that often puts me in the right woods, is the same swing I use to hit the miracle sweeping slice recovery shot that gives me my name.

The Ground Game

Being a brand new course in 1987, Turkey Run was still quite firm and maturing during my formative stage.  I watched a number of shots bounce off the hard greens, and altered my ball flight accordingly.  With no real forced pitches to be found, I learned the virtue of chipping with 7-irons, hitting 70 yard running shots and landing shots short of greens. 

What’s a Lay-up?

Turkey Run is one of the more strategic/heroic designs in Western York.  After two relatively short and straight opening par fours, the 3rd dares you to challenge the dogleg.  The thrill of having a little chip to this par 4 was too much for me to resist in my early years, especially when I developed some distance.

The 300 yard 5th is a tight dogleg left that can be driven, offering a chance to putt for eagle.  Once my friend, Axel Ackerman, holed his tee shot for a rare double eagle, I had no choice but to go for the green each time, weathering numerous penalty strokes over the years.

The 6th is a Par 5 which features a 90 degree dogleg after the tee shot.  With a decent drive, golfers have the opportunity to play a blind shot over the dogleg to a green that is guarded to the right by a pond.  Early in my career, Dan Owens (a profound influence that sold me my first set of Arnold Palmer forged irons) also had a rare double eagle, so I knew what I was gunning for.

Finally, the 318 yard 8th is also a drivable dogleg right (further embedding my fade), which offers the possibility of a heroic eagle.  While a smart play is a 180-200 yard shot to the corner followed by a wedge, the time I had a 2 foot putt for eagle cemented my club choice on this tee.

Just Let Me Find It

As you can imagine, my developing swing with slice tendencies, when mixed with youthful bravado and so many tempting heroic opportunities, led to a number of sticky situations.  Out of necessity, I developed recovery shots out of trees, out of high grass, even 120 yard putters to escape certain predicaments.  After watching many drives rocketing off-line, my only request was “just let me find it,” and I can manufacture something.

Over the years, I’ve tempered some of my tendencies for the better, but still am influenced by the habits I developed on that hill in Arcade.  If you sit back and reflect on it, you probably have been affected by your first love.  Why do some holes fit your eye better than others?  I bet the answer lies in your first course, whether it be Audobon, Grover, or Cazenovia.

I hadn’t been back to Turkey Run in a number of years, but went back to visit the “old girl” in the fall, playing 27 holes.  The memories and associations came back at many times, remembering the first legitimate birdie (5th hole), the first absolutely stone-dead iron I almost holed, the first time I pulled off the fade on number 3, or the once-in-a-lifetime shot that I couldn’t replicate now if I had a bucket of balls.

If you haven’t been back to visit your first love in some time, you owe it to yourself to set up that reunion.  Don’t worry, your current course won’t be jealous or feel inadequate (another reason why Golf is Better than a Spouse).  If you have a story about your visit or memories from your first time, e-mail them to us at buffgolf@buffalo.com.  We will run a follow-up story next spring with reader’s responses.

Ability to Scramble:

If you’re having a wild driving day, Turkey Run can make you pay after the first two holes.  Holes 1 & 2 allow you to slice severely and still play an approach to the respective greens.  After that, you should know where you can miss.  A number of holes have out-of-bounds to the left, with the right side usually tree-lined.  You may often need to pitch out sideways, but there are still situations where you can try hitting difficult recoverie (usually from the mid-sized evergreens).

Favorite Hole:  5th Hole / 300 yards / Par 4 (The “Gas Well Hole”)

The 5th is the Scrambler’s favorite hole at Turkey Run because of the various options it provides from the tee and the fairway.  Also, it was the home of the Scrambler’s first ever natural birdie (appropriately from the right rough and trees).  The hole is a dogleg left, with O.B. guarding the left side, and trees on the right.  The tee shot is gently uphill to a sloped right-to-left fairway, while the approach drops slightly.

The safe play is a mid to long iron off the tee aimed just inside the large tree that guards the right side of the fairway.  Once safely in the fairway, you are faced with one of the trickier approaches on the course.  The green is shallow and firm, and a less than perfect wedge may bounce over the green and fall off to a difficult lie.  Landing just short of the green is also problematic, as the fairway slopes away from the golfer and will kick the ball through the green.  Instead of a wedge approach, a run up shot is a viable option, running along the slope of the fairway.

However, while 300 yards on the card, the green is reachable with a solid drive of 270 yards (shorter in the firm summer conditions).  Even this approach leaves options.  The player with a natural draw may follow the dogleg, gaining the benefit of a forward kick from the shape of the fairway.  If a draw isn’t your strength, you can still take the riskier flight over the OB trees on the left and drive the green with a straight or fade shot. 

A truly well designed hole, scores may range from double eagle (Congratulations, Axel Ackerman!) to a very easy triple bogey.

Place You Don’t Want To Be:

At Turkey Run, the toughest drive comes at the end of the round on the 388 yard 9th hole.  Out of bounds is tight against the tee and runs down the entire left side of the hole, with a solid wall of mid-sized evergreens on the right.  On top of this, the hole plays into the prevailing winds.  If you bail to the right and slice, there are very few opportunities to create a recovery, even for the most bold player.

Best Scramble:

The Best Scramble for this round was not a particular hole, but the Scramble to finish under 80 at the end (summing the last two loops).  After parring the 4th, the Scrambler was in solid position to break 80, coming to the normally easier 5th through 7th holes.  After bogeying all three with some chunked, skulled and yanked irons, respectively, the Scrambler needed to play the last two holes at -1 under to make his goal.

The Scrambler knew the only birdie hole left was the 310 yard 8th, as the 9th was playing into a strong wind.  As attempted numerous times over the years, the Scrambler pulled the driver on the 8th and tried to fade the ball over the dogleg to the narrow green.  The shot was pulled off, leaving a short chip onto the green and a tap-in birdie. 

After a popped up drive to the right side, and a slightly heavy 6-iron, it was only appropriate that the Scrambler need to get up and down from just short of the green to make the 79.  After making the 4-footer, I was happy to reflect on the visit back to where it all began.

As I walked back past the small clubhouse, I remembered Chuck Mayer, the founder of Turkey Run, who passed away from a heart attack on the 7th green a few years after its opening.  On a stone in front of the clubhouse is engraved an inscription from one of Chuck’s many friends which so wonderfully summed up the feelings of the Turkey Run Golf Community:

“Julie,

Chuck’s memory shines so brilliantly in my mind – I vividly recall that late Sunday afternoon when I played golf with Thad, Stacey and you.  As we all waited to tee-off, Chuck insisted that the newly-arrived customers tee-off first.  This became rather comical after we waited through at least three groups.  I chuckled to myself, yet I knew Chuck had just extended a hand of courtesy.

I saw him later on the last hole.  The golden August sun dipped low in the sky and Chuck was fishing in his pond.  I asked, “How’s the fishing?”  He smiled and said, “They’re biting” – he seemed a picture of contentment.

Chuck brought so much to all of us in opening Turkey Run.  He did more than introduce a sport foreign to us – he fostered a community of golfers, one that will continue to grow strongly as Chuck’s memory lives in our hearts.

Sincerely,

Brandon Michals”

Volume IX
The Scrambler's Year In Review--2003

With a name like the Scrambler, it shouldn’t surprise you that some aspects of my golf game carry over to my non-golf life.  In this case, I have been scrambling to change careers over this past summer, including starting my own business.  This change has interfered with my writing schedule, but I am back after a bit of a hiatus.  Even with my hectic life change, I still found as many opportunities as possible to play and view golf during 2003 (you have to have your priorities).

The Scrambler’s 2003 season started with a trip to the Conley Resort in Butler, PA.  Each year, a large contingent from the Elma Meadows Golf Club makes the trek down to Southeastern PA for a 4 day celebration of golf and the coming of a new year.  Watch for an article on the Conley Resort next spring as the 2004 season is expected to be kicked off the same way.

Meanwhile, back in Western New York, the most Scrambling being done was by local greenskeepers, who were working feverishly to restore many greens that were destroyed by a winter ice storm, leading to an early summer filled with temporary greens.

Even with such playing condition difficulties, there were many great golf experiences to be had during 2003 from a viewing perspective.  The Scrambler, usually accompanied by Mo’ Golf, witnessed golf at the highest caliber in the Western New York Region.  The Nationwide Tour stopped by Peek’n Peak in June for the Lake Erie Charity Classic, where we met winner Guy Boros, and featured other key players Hunter Haas and Stan Utley.

Boros continued his hot streak, winning again at the Dayton Open.  The Golf Channel viewers learned in August that Boros attributed his success to an adjustment lengthening his putter by 3 inches before the Lake Erie Classic.  However, Buff-Golf readers knew this in early July, as we had the inside scoop from Boros’ caddy.  However, in July, it was reported that the adjustment was only 2 inches, but guys sometimes exaggerate when they talk about shaft lengths.  Boros finished 2003 in 14th on the Nationwide Tour money list, so he will return to the PGA Tour in 2004.

Former Porter Cup and US Publinx Champion Hunter Haas did not have as successful a year, but had 2 more Top 10 finishes on the Nationwide Tour, finishing 53rd on the money list.  We will keep an eye on Hunter for 2004 and hopefully have a follow-up Article next June.

Stan Utley, who was a victim of golf’s fickle nature, spent more time on the PGA Tour after his near win at Peek ’n Peak.  He made 6 of 9 cuts on the PGA Tour, but will be back on the Nationwide Tour in 2003.  However, Stan’s renown as the Short-Game Guru of the PGA Tour continues to grow, as Jay Haas and Peter Jacobsen have attributed their 2003 success to working with Stan.

After the Nationwide Tour, Buff-Golf watched John Daly, Ian Leggatt, Sergio Garcia and 2003 PGA Tour Money Leader Vijay Singh compete at the Telus Skins Game at Royal Niagara, with a report on the superhuman length and skills possessed by the PGA caliber golfers.

The Porter Cup also gave Western New York golf fans a glimpse into the future of golf, as Casey Wittenberg bested a field of the nation’s top amateurs at Niagara Falls Country Club in July.  A few weeks later, Wittenberg nearly captured the US Amateur Championship at Oakmont Country Club, losing in the final to Nick Flanagan, another Porter Cup participant.

Finally, the PGA Championship was contested at the immaculate Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, bringing Major Championship golf up close and personal.  Mo’ Golf was there to report the side of golf you don’t normally see for Buff-Golf readers.

However, even with all these great events through August, the highlight of the year for the Scrambler did not occur until Labor Day.  On that day, the Scrambler waited in the famous Bethpage Car Line (2:30 AM put me in the 40th car), and I was able to play the remarkable Black Course, walking the same grounds as Tiger Woods in the 2002 US Open.

The Scrambler hasn’t given up on the 2003 season yet, even as the snow has started to fly.  The Elma Meadows Men’s Club is a hearty group, and over a dozen members played last Sunday in the 35 degree temperatures, so this season is far from over.

However, a Scrambler year in review wouldn’t be complete without an account of the Best Scrambles witnessed in the past year.  I have met a few readers on the golf course this past summer, and many have showed me scrambling ability worthy of note, but the following items have left an impression.

Best Scramble – Pro Division

In my own opinion, there isn’t really even a need to list multiple nominees, as the winner was so clear cut.  During the 3rd Round of the British Open, Sergio Garcia pulled his tee shot left on the par four 17th, leaving the ball partially buried in the heather.  Garcia attempted to make a heroic shot, but only succeeded in driving the ball forward a few yards, and deeper into trouble, nearly losing the ball.  After pitching out sideways, Garcia was still 70 yards out, and staring at a double bogey.  His low pitch shot kept rolling to the deep pin, until finally hitting the flagstick and dropping for a jaw-dropping par save for the ages.

Best Scramble - by the Scrambler

I did not have too many memorable Scrambles in 2003, and none would certainly be worthy of the Overall Scramble of the Year award.  However, three Scrambles stick out.

First, trying to find Bethpage Black in the middle of the night without good directions made for one of the most interesting Scrambles of my year.  I finally located a graveyard shift delivery man who pointed me in the right direction for my quest.

Another mad Scramble occurred in July, when the Scrambler received a late invitation to play in the HFMA Golf Tournament at International Country Club at 12:00 noon, but had also committed to play Byrncliff that morning as well.  The Byrncliff round was completed by 10:30, leaving just enough time to change in the car, speed up to Canada and negotiate the Peace Bridge.

However, on the course, the most typical Scramble was aided by the swing difficulties that often arise in the late fall.  On the Par five 5th hole at Elma Meadows, the Scrambler broke from his normal routine and attempted to hit Driver over the trees, with some extra juice to perhaps leave a mid-iron to the green.  As expected, the drive was topped, and compounded by a cold-topped 3-wood recovery attempt.  The only option for the third shot was a punched driving iron to the bottom of the hill, leaving 130 yards.  After a nine-iron landed 4 feet away, the putt was holed for a very ugly, but effective par.

But none of these Scrambles compared to the nominees for the 2003 Scramble of the Year that I have compiled below:

Scramble of the Year – Amateur Division

Chris Smith – 16th  Hole; Byrncliff Resort (Par 5 – 505 Yards)

I always like Par 5s, because they offer the most opportunity to make up for a bad shot.  However, when out of bounds comes into play, the margin for error is greatly reduced.  The 16th at Byrncliff is not an overly long Par 5, but is distinguished by the fact that the green sets down in a hollow, and is not visible from the fairway until a golfer gets within 80 yards of the green.  Chris had never played the hole before, which compounded the difficulty.  Chris’ first tee shot started right, but never drew back to the fairway.  Given the trees and slope of the land, the ball was likely lost.  Chris played his 3rd shot from the tee, and absolutely crushed a high draw, leaving just under 200 yards to the blind green.  Chris launched his 4th shot iron high into the hollow, leaving a 15 foot uphill putt for an unlikely par.  Knowing he was putting for a definite Scramble of the Year candidate, Chris put a perfect stroke on the ball, and it dropped dead center into the cup.

Jamie Krolczyk – 17th Hole; Elma Meadows (Par 4 – 343 Yards)

What makes this Scramble great wasn’t so much the actual shots, but the conditions they were made under.  Jamie was competing in the Elma Meadows Directors’ Cup Match Play Tournament, trying to add it to his President’s Cup Match Play Title captured earlier in the summer.  However, in the Round of 8, Jamie drew Garth Anderson, and was 2 down with 2 holes to play.  Uncharacteristically, Jamie topped his drive, leaving well over 230 yards to the hole.  Garth played safely, and hit a solid iron down the left side of the fairway.  Needing something to happen, Jamie attempted a 3-wood, but again mishit the shot, leaving around 100 yards to the pin.  Garth missed the green with his approach, but would have no difficulty making a bogey 5.  Knowing the match was dormie, Jamie knew he needed to save par to have any chance of extending the match.  With the match on the line, Jamie’s third shot finished within a foot of the cup.  Showing why he is one of the toughest match play competitors at Elma Meadows, Jamie was able to win the hole and the next, and won the match on the first sudden death hole.

Garth “G-Dogg” Anderson – 9th Hole; Elma Meadows (Par 4 – 434 Yards)

Garth is one of those players that can hit incredible shots worthy of a single digit handicapper, and has his share of birdies, but throws in the occasional complete misses, frequently resulting in double bogeys and worse.  In a best ball format, he is a perfect partner; in an alternate shot event, he’s a heart-attack waiting to happen.

In the End-of-Summer Best Ball Tournament, the Scrambler and Garth were paired together.  On the long par-four 9th, Garth flared his drive to the right, leaving approx. 240 yards from the rough.  Trying to be a hero, Garth ripped at a 3-wood, but only advanced the ball 15 yards, and still in the rough, 225 yards out.  As Garth stalked after the ball, it was clear he was going to take another rip with the 3-wood, and the Scrambler, staring at his own nasty lie in the rough around 200 yards out, had two thoughts.  First, “G-Dogg, take out your iron and take your medicine” and second, “Looks like this hole is on me now.”  Before the second thought was completed, Garth was mid-swing, but this time the ball rose from the rough like the Phoenix, and landed on the distant green, 5 feet from the pin.  Still amazed from the previous shot, I watched as Garth calmly rolled in the putt for a par (net birdie) and a nomination for Scramble of the Year.

I would like to let the readers make the determination of Scramble of the Year.  Please cast your votes by sending an e-mail to buffgolf@buffalo.com. 

Also, if you were witness to any memorable Scrambles worthy of notice, the Scrambler would like to hear from you at buffgolf@buffalo.com. 



Volume VIII

Telus Skins Game

As the commercial goes, “These Guys are Good!”

The Scrambler and Mo’ Golf headed up to Royal Niagara Golf Club for the Telus Skins game held on June 23rd and 24th, offering the Southern Ontario and Western New York golfing communities a rare opportunity to witness the highest caliber golf at close range.  The event was a truly international affair, pitting John Daly (USA), Sergio Garcia (Spain), Vijay Singh (Fiji) and Ian Leggatt (Canada) in a battle for $360,000 in prizes.

I have seen some long hitters on the Nationwide Tour or young gun amateurs at the Porter Cup, but have never seen golf balls sail like they did at Niagara-on-the-Lake.  In watching the practice round on Tuesday morning, I knew we were going to have fun while standing 310 yards down the fairway on the 434 yard 14th hole (Iron Bridge 9th) after watching Vijay Singh’s drive fly past us, dissect the fairway and finish 80 yards from the pin, a mere 355 yards from the tee.

If you have never seen John Daly pounce on a golf ball from just behind the tee, you have not fully experienced the raw power that makes him a fan favorite wherever he goes.  I ensured that I would be positioned behind the 12th tee (Old Canal #6), a 570 yard par five.  The initial ball velocity generated was beyond comprehension and John had a mere 190 yards remaining to the green (and this was a tight driving hole).

Although he finished in last place in the final dollar winnings, John always wins the people’s choice championship in a runaway.  Daly fully appreciates what the fans are there to see when he appears.  Walking to the 12th tee, a young fan pipes up, “Mr. Daly, can I have your autograph?”  Without missing a beat, the self deprecating Daly replies, “You don’t want my autograph, you want one of these good players’ autographs.”  John then brings the young fan under the ropes and proceeds to deliver the aforementioned 390 yard drive.  The fans are fully entertained and a future golfer has a memory for life.

Daly is not even close to finished.  After winning 2 skins on the 12th, Daly entertains the crowd at the 13th by hitting his “tee” shot on the 210 yard 13th off the top of a Diet Coke can.  Although he fails to win the skin, his encore on the 13th green is to loudly tell Vijay Singh what a cute butt he has as Singh is about to tap in his birdie putt.

“John is John.  You can’t take Daly too seriously,” Singh says after the round when asked about Daly’s antics.  Tour players know John as a “class guy” and understand his role as the crowd favorite.

On the 434 yard 14th, Garcia rips a 310 yard drive, Leggatt, a 360 yarder, but Daly FLIES the ball over 340 yards, finishing just short of the bunker fronting the green.  Given the tight pin just over the bunker, the proper play is to lay back far enough to be able to spin a wedge, but Daly knows fans don’t want to see the former Razorback play for position.

Until witnessing the display at Royal Niagara, the Scrambler never fully comprehended the whole debate over the obsolescence of golf courses by the length of today’s players.  In case you think the obsolescence issue is limited to anomalies such as John Daly, I submit for evidence Exhibit A, the 570 yard 18th (Escarpment #8).  With minimal trees to penalize a wayward drive and fairly light rough, these four world class players let the shaft out, turning this par five into a virtual par four.  The second shots ranged from 185 yards to 160 yards, and not only once.  Considering the playoff iterations, there were 11 tee shots played on the 18th, with no second shot longer than 185 yards.  In the post-game conference, Singh informed the assembled press of his three approaches with an 8 iron and two 9 irons.

A 210 yard uphill par 3 into the teeth of the wind?  Hit an easy 4 iron to three feet like Singh.  A 396 yard par 4?  Lay up with a 300 yard 3-wood and knock a lob wedge close like Ian Leggatt.

As amateur golfers, we sometimes imagine how our golf courses would hold up to the best players on the planet.  Take what is generally known as the toughest opening hole in Western New York, the 425 yard 1st at Sheridan.  These guys could take a driver over the top of the trees and water.  Heck, on Sheridan’s 14th, they may take a driver over the trees & out-of-bounds and drive the green.

Without a punitive perimeter of heavy rough, rock hard greens, or tucked pin positions, golf courses are at the mercy of these PGA Tour caliber players.  You can begin to sympathize with John Cleese’s half-crazed golf architect of Titleist fame.  However, we can only hope that the exploits of these elite few do not unfairly skew golf course architects towards obsessions with length for the average player.  The Scrambler has already noted that some newer courses have foregone the pleasures of varied par threes in lieu of one-shotters requiring nothing less than long irons or fairway woods.  “These Guys are Good”, but we’re not.  As the divide gets wider each year, architects will be more and more challenged to create courses playable by the entire range of players.

What’s next for these pros?  They are getting ready for this year’s British Open to be held at Royal St. George’s Golf Club.  Leggatt and Singh played in the Western Open before crossing the ocean for 2003’s 3rd major.  From what we saw at Royal Niagara, Telus Skins Game Champion Vijay Singh is continuing his solid play that almost felled Johnny Miller’s 30-year-old US Open scoring record.  Asked by the Scrambler if he would be changing his swing in anticipation of the British Open demands, Singh says he subscribes to the theory, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”  Singh is sure to be a favorite to add to his PGA and Masters major titles.  If you didn’t get a chance to catch these pros in June, and can’t afford to make the trip to England, you still have an opportunity to travel to Oak Hill in Rochester August 11th-17th. 

 

Volume VII

Recapping the Lake Erie Charity Classic

Phrases come and go, and sometimes are repeated so often that people say them without fully realizing how true they are.  Well, after witnessing the final round of the Nationwide Tour’s Lake Erie Classic at the Peek’n’Peak Resort, the Scrambler truly stopped to reflect on one golf-related phrase in particular:

“Golf is a fickle game.”

As amateurs, we may think that this phrase only applies to the constant frustration that we encounter trying to master an athletic movement that seemingly cannot be perfected.  Recently, after 15 years with no better than a birdie, the Scrambler finally eagled the Par 5 16th hole at Elma Meadows, and then eagled the same hole again in the next round.  Since then, the Scrambler hasn’t been able to par the hole. 

As much as amateurs would like to chalk these instances up to the fickle nature of game, more accurately, they are a function of poor swings not practiced with nearly enough regularity to expect consistent results.  However, in the case of the highly trained professional golfer, the subtle twists of fate in golf are much more profound.

On the Saturday back nine at the Lake Erie Classic, Stan Utley could not miss a putt.  Rough estimates had him making over 100 feet of putts over the back nine en route to a 32, and a three round total -16 under.  This wasn’t surprising to people who have followed Stan’s career, as Stan is generally regarded as one of the best short game players on the PGA and Nationwide Tour, and is consulted by PGA Tour Professionals for putting assistance, including Jay Haas and Pat Bates.  Stan led the Nationwide Tour in putts per round and putting average in 2002, and has finished in the Top 10 in these categories on the Nationwide Tour since 1999.  In August 2002, Stan established a PGA Tour record for the fewest putts over nine holes, only using the flat stick 6 times over the front nine at the Air Canada Championship.

After Utley’s rounds of 68, 66 and 66, no one would expect a score of less than 16-under to even have a chance, and that would assume a mere level par round by the leader.  While the final round at Peek’n’Peak threatened to turn into an unexciting runaway, the golf deities again demonstrated why we loathe and love the sport simultaneously.

The dictionary defines “fickle” as “marked by erratic changeableness in affections” and “liable to sudden unpredictable change.”  I can think of no better adjective for golf, and it is why I love this game so passionately.  If golf ever became as simple as mastering a 2-second motion, it would not encourage the levels of dedication it does. 

Early in Utley’s final round, a simple third shot pitch to the par 5 second green demonstrated the wonderful duality of golf.  While preparing for the approach, Utley’s ball moved ever so slightly, juxtaposing the harsh penalty of a stroke for a happenstance of fate with the simultaneous grandeur of a pastime that is self-officiated by the participants and the honor system.  After the resultant bogey, Utley seemed to recover with birdies on the 4th and 8th holes, restoring his lead to 5 strokes with 10 holes to play. 

The incident on the 2nd hole only previewed the changes in store for the competitors on the back nine.  Walking the back nine, the Scrambler and Mo’ Golf started to notice the winds making their presence known, and the Upper Course that had yielded to some of the nation’s top professionals for 3 ½ rounds began to bear its teeth.  On the back nine, the definition of “par” as normal was severely challenged, as birdies and bogeys occurred with a greater frequency.

Chris Couch started the day 9 strokes back, but had set a blistering pace through the first 11 holes, carding 6 birdies and a bogey, and was on pace to challenge the course record of 64 set earlier in the week.  Successive bogeys on the 12th and 13th may have dashed any hopes, but 3 more birdies gave Couch a chance at a playoff.  Other contenders made moves and fell back, probably not realizing that they were closer to the final winning score than they ever could have imagined going into the day.  Bob Heintz had reached 13 under (the eventual winning score) but became derailed with a bogey/double bogey combination after the turn to finish one stroke short.

Even the winner in this week’s edition was not immune to the ups and downs.  Although Guy Boros made the turn at -13 under, quick bogeys on the 10th and 12th holes needed to be overcome for the victory march to be complete.  And don’t think that the golfers are the only participants in this sport subject to changing affections.  Equipment is subject to the threat of changing affections.  The Scrambler got the scoop from Guy Boros’ caddie after the round that the difference was based on old fashioned putter intimidation.  Threatened with banishment to a 2nd hand club bin or worse, Guy’s putter came through in the end after receiving an early week adjustment that added two inches in length.

As for Utley, the fickle nature of golf was overwhelmingly harsh.  The one-putts that came so easily on Saturday afternoon disappeared as quickly as they arrived.  Missed five-footers for pars, three-putts and a missed four foot birdie putt on the 17th that may have stopped the bleeding, all combined to turn a boring victory into a painful to watch tragedy.  For one of the best-regarded putters on Tour to suffer with the blade would never have been expected, averaging 2.2 putts per green hit in regulation.  We all know Stan Utley didn’t forget how to putt in 24 hours, but no one has yet to solve the mystery of where golf swings go for their unscheduled vacations.

Even after such a painful finish, Utley was the epitome of class, bravely answering questions about his round to the assembled press.  When asked how disappointed he was that his family didn’t get a chance to see him win, Stan didn’t miss a beat in replying he had already won because the family that loved him was with him on this particular day.  With all the talk of keeping competitive sports in their proper perspective, such comments have given the Scrambler a new feel-good favorite to watch on the Nationwide Tour.  As I shook Stan’s hand and looked in his eyes, I could only mutter “Please come back from this.”

As I opened the PGA Tour Website the following Thursday for the PGA Tour’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, I was thrilled to see that Stan Utley had indeed come back, and had opened with a 66, in a tie for 6th place, making a move on the PGA Tour.  I was hoping that I could write the feel good follow-up piece demonstrating that golf’s fickle nature work’s both ways, and such a disappointing finish on Sunday could preview one of those “Cinderella Stories” we dream about in sports.  Unfortunately, the “erratic” changeableness” doesn’t lend itself to the movie endings we hope for.  In an eerie coincidence, Stan followed up his opening 66 with a 77, the same scores as his weekend in Erie.  This time, the downfall was no less unpredictable, as a 9 on the par 3 11th forced Utley to pack up for the weekend without a portion of the large prizes they compete for on the “Big Tour.”

However, none of this changes the fact that, for a runner-up, Stan Utley won in many ways.  From demonstrating honor in calling a very costly penalty on himself for the most minor of infractions to his class in handling a painful defeat, Stan illustrated that Golf has many more facets well beyond the bottom line measurements of score and paycheck.  

If you haven’t been one to follow the Nationwide Tour in the past, take a few extra minutes to click on the link to see what is happening with some of your future stars as well as those who have starred in the past and are looking to complete their comeback.  There are many more stories waiting to be discovered just like Stan’s.  And if you didn’t make the trip to Findley Lake this year, make sure to pencil it in to your 2004 plans.  You will witness these players making shots that make them appear superhuman, but still experience the same emotions inherent in our shared love for golf that make them as real as your steady foursome.

 

Volume VI

Hunter Haas Is Top Dog At Lake Erie Charity Classic

Much like the Scrambler is all over the place on the golf course, it shouldn’t surprise the reader that his writing style follow suit in covering the various high level golf events that have passed through and will visit Western New York.  In considering an angle to pursue while visiting the Nationwide Tour’s stop at Peek’n’Peak for the Lake Erie Charity Classic, the Scrambler didn’t want to simply report the various scores, as many daily news outlets have those angles covered fairly well. 

In looking at the names that appeared on the leaderboard of the Lake Erie Charity Classic, I noticed numerous names that have passed through Western New York earlier in their career as amateurs during their ascent towards the highest levels of competitive golf.  Western New York may not host a PGA Tour event, but we have the great opportunity to tell stories about when we saw PGA tour stars before they were famous.  The Porter Cup annually draws one of the strongest amateur fields in the nation as one of the premier stroke play amateur events in the country.  For those with even more foresight, the International Junior Masters has hosted numerous future pros, with Champions including Briny Baird, Rory Sabbatini, and Joey Sindelar.  Current Nationwide Tour Player and past PGA Champion Tom Scherrer also enjoyed making the trip to East Aurora Country Club to test his game against the best juniors in the nation.

As a late initiate to the sport of golf, the Scrambler did not take up the game until his senior year in high school.  During my first golfing summer, the US Amateur Champion was Eric Meeks, so he was one of the first famous amateur names I knew.  One of my earliest golf memories was helping Eric Meeks look for one of his wayward drives at Niagara Falls Country Club during an early round of the Porter Cup.  A few years later, I followed around a pair of amateurs named Mickelson and Duval, among others that have made the trip to Niagara Falls to compete against the best amateurs in the country.  Prior to last summer, Ricky Barnes had wowed the crowds at Niagara Falls with his prodigious length, but had never put together 4 complete rounds to compete for the title.

In the Summer of 1999, one of the country’s hottest young collegians arrived at the Porter Cup coming off a triumph in the 74th US Amateur Public Links Championship.  Hunter Haas, after his Junior year at the University of Oklahoma, continued what would be a magical summer by winning the 41st edition of the Porter Cup in a three hole playoff with current PGA Tour Member Jonathan Byrd.  After Niagara Falls, Haas’ summer included a semi-final finish at the US Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links, as well as a 3-1 record at the Walker Cup.

A by-product of this stretch was an exemption to compete in the 2000 Masters, provided Hunter remain an amateur.  As a person that views Masters Sunday as a holy day, I have that much more respect for Haas’ decision to forego turning pro for another year for the opportunity to walk the hallowed fairways of Augusta National.  Haas nearly made history, finishing in a tie for first in the Par 3 Tournament with Chris Perry, Jay Haas (no relation) and Steve Pate before bowing to Perry in a playoff.

When I caught up with Hunter on the second day of the Lake Erie Classic, he was fighting to make the cut on a golf course that had been yielding low scores, and the projected cut was below par.  Hunter had opened with a 74 on Thursday, tied for 115th and was still at 2 over par at the par five 14th (his 5th hole of the day).  When asked what went wrong on Thursday, Hunter replied “what didn’t go wrong?”  He had been sick right up to his Thursday tee time, hadn’t been able to hit any range balls, and challenged Peek’n’Peak unsure of where the next shot would fly, all while staving off a fever.  Considering the factors stacked against him, a 74 was an accomplishment.

After a heavy wedge into the 14th green from 40 yards, Haas let some frustration out, slamming the offending club down.  After expecting a short birdie putt, Haas drained the 20 footer by shear force of will, illustrative of the tough competitive spirit his Publinx and US Amateur opponents had experienced over the years.  On the par four 15th, a poor drive forced a lay-up approach, leaving a 20 foot par putt from the fringe.  When the putt dropped, I commented to Hunter’s mother what a big putt that was, and that we should keep these two putts in mind if he should make a move in this event.

After his great summer of 1999 and Masters appearance in 2000, Haas turned pro in the summer of 2000 and finished tied for eighth in the December 2000 PGA Tour Qualifying event, giving himself a belated 24th birthday present.  The following year on the PGA Tour proved to be a difficult learning experience for the recently graduated Sooner.  The grind of traveling to 30 different tournaments, most all of which were held on unfamiliar courses, without sufficient time to rest between events compounded the difficulty of maintaining a PGA Tour Card.  Add the stress of planning a late 2001 wedding and the inherent mental adjustment from playing for pride vs. playing for a living, and the 2001 result is not unexpected or unusual for Tour rookies.

After a birdie on the par four 16th finally returned him to even par for the event, Haas attacked the 535 yard par five 17th, striping a 2-iron from just over 225 yards to pin tucked left behind the gaping greenside pit.  After just missing the 10 foot eagle putt, Haas followed up by sticking his approach on the 18th to 4 feet, completing a 4 under stretch in the last five holes to move to the cut-line.

If you ask his family or Haas himself, there is no question “if” Hunter will return to the PGA Tour someday, just a matter of when.  Haas has always been an explosive player and has his highest statistical rankings in birdie conversion percentage, birdie average and putting average.  In his US Publinks victory, he rolled in 53 birdies during the event.  Haas certainly has the self-confidence that is necessary to succeed at the highest levels, an attitude that comes through in any print interviews on file or simply in watching him stare down a hole when needing a birdie.  After the round, he wished the course would play a little harder and the scores weren’t so low, almost as if he felt the additional challenge would allow him to show more depth of his skills.

After making the turn on Friday, Haas continued his quest to work his way back into the tournament.  Coming to the 9th hole (his 36th), Haas was right at the cut line and facing his nemesis hole.  In the 2002 Event, Haas finished one stroke behind champion Patrick Moore and had bogeyed the 9th in each round.  His Thursday 74 included a double bogey 7, and it was time to finally put this hole in its place.  After a perfect drive and lay up, Haas left his wedge 6 feet to the left of the hole.  After making the putt, Haas sat in 46th place, safely within the cut.

On Saturday and Sunday, Haas steadily continued his ascent, shooting a 70 on Saturday and a 68 in the challenging Sunday conditions.  From an inauspicious start at 114th, Haas fought his way back to a Top 10 finish, starting from the two clutch putts made on Friday afternoon.

One can hope that Hunter’s pro career will mirror his performance at Findley Lake.  After a slow start, Haas exhibited the sheer will and competitiveness that made him one of the nations most feared amateurs.  Like fellow Porter Cup Champion David Duval, the Nationwide Tour may be a temporary stepping-stone to the peak of the golfing world.  Keep your eye on this former Big 12 Conference Champion, and you may be able to someday talk about the time you saw him on his way to the top as an amateur and as a Nationwide Tour Player.

And if you do not take advantage of the opportunities to see these stars when they visit the Western New York area, you are truly depriving yourself.  Make sure you plan on making the trip to Peek’n’Peak, whether it be for the 2004 event or to gauge your game against a Nationwide Tour tested track.  The Porter Cup will be contested July 23rd -26th, and the Scrambler will be there to see the next generation of Tour Stars or perhaps a preview of the 2003 US Amateur Champion that will be crowned August 18th – 24th at historic Oakmont Country Club in suburban Pittsburgh.

 

Volume IV-V

Two Days of Torture

On a Wednesday and Thursday, the Scrambler embarked on a two day golf trip that would become a case study in immensely difficult golf design.  The first day brought the rare privilege of walking the hallowed links of Oakmont Country Club in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, while the second day involved a trip to The Reserve at Thunderhill in Madison, Ohio.

Both courses are well known as two of the most difficult golf courses in the Northeast, and may be some of the toughest in the country.  However, the two courses couldn’t be any more different.  Playing both courses in 24 hours revealed a clear juxtaposition between classical golf design and modern design philosophies.

Although we at Buff-Golf.com usually play the courses From the Tips, sanity must intervene in special circumstances such as these.  Oakmont is preparing to host the US Amateur next summer and the US Open in 2007, and isn’t messing around.  From Oakmont’s tips, I would need a map and binoculars just to see the middle tees that we played.  Don’t think that Oakmont rolled over though; the middle tees still post a 138 slope rating and course rating of 73.3 (Par 71).  The former Championship Tees (7,018 yards prior to the recent renovations) carry a slope of 144 and course rating of 76.2, but will play over 400 yards longer when the nation’s best amateurs arrive next year.

On Thursday, I invoked the “Rule of 150”, as the Reserve’s “Thunder Tees” boast a slope rating of 152.  Section 2.3(g) of the Scrambler’s Guide to Golf states that, “Golf is forbidden from tees with a Slope Rating exceeding 150 on days of the week that end in “y” except in Leap Years, during which play is allowed between 7:00 am and 7:05 am.”  In other words, “152!? Are you kidding me!?”

Oakmont

When I received my first invitation, Oakmont’s difficult reputation weighed on my mind.  In “The World Atlas of Golf”, each course has a brief intro such as, “Augusta; Dream Course in a Dream Setting” or, “Pinehurst: Donald Ross Creates his Masterpiece”.  Oakmont’s simply read “The Toughest Golf Course in the World?”  I thought that I would be in for ridiculously unfair greens and a horribly punitive round of golf, but at least I could say that I played Oakmont.  I assumed that I would lose multiple balls and would rack up a multitude of penalty strokes with an occasionally erratic driver.

The night before playing, I was talking with one of my playing partners about the extra balls I would be sure to bring, and he soothed my fears, saying I would have to work real hard to lose a ball.

Oakmont was absolutely nothing like what I expected.  For one of the “toughest courses in the world,” there is no water (save for a few narrow dry creek beds), and while out-of-bounds is in play on a few holes, it will take an enormous slice to reach.  The fairways are actually reasonably wide and are not lined with immense trees.  In fact, in the past few years, Oakmont has completed a program to remove hundreds of trees to return the course to Henry C. Fownes’ original open design.  Walking through the middle of the course, you can usually see at least 5 or 6 other holes, which gives you a very comfortable feel.

After hearing all this, you may ask, “how can this be so tough?”  Well, Henry Fownes realized that you don’t need penalty strokes to punish a golfer for a missed shot.  Once you leave the generous fairways, you are in for an adventure.  Bunkers abound everywhere (there are 180), many of them golf landmarks.  Running between the 3rd and 4th holes are the renowned “Church Pew Bunkers,” 100 yards long, with eight grassy ridges (pews) throughout.  To the left of the 8th green is “Sahara”, over 130 yards long and 30 yards wide.  If you are in the middle, your caddie will be doing a lot of raking (and will probably be raking your second attempt to get out as well).  The third landmark bunker is the infamous “Big Mouth” bunker, which guards the green on the 296 yard 17th.  This enormous pit swallows any approach pushed to the right.

If you happen to avoid the fairway bunkers, the rough will make reaching the green near impossible.  If you are over 150 yards away in the rough (absent a generous lie from the golf gods), you can forget about getting home, and if you can reach the green, it is unlikely you will stop the ball on Oakmont’s firm greens.  The rough is not terribly high, so you will not lose your ball, but it is thick and will grab or stop your club immediately. 

If you have navigated the bunkers and rough, you have finally reached what has made Oakmont famous, its putting surfaces.  I had heard the greens were fast, so when I took my first practice putt (around 10 feet), I was very cautious.  It still ran 8 feet by the hole.  The only comment from the caddies congregated behind the practice green was “it looks like they’re a little slower today.”  Even the practice green at Oakmont is famous.  The practice area is actually the back half of the ninth green, which is 3 times bigger than the largest green you’ve ever seen.

I was repeatedly warned that I would rack up at least 45-50 putts, so I assumed that the greens were going to be ridiculous.  One thing I hate about modern golf is that many of the old courses are ruined by modern mowing equipment.  Some of the old designers created slopes and contours on greens that never contemplated the advances of mowing technology.  These undulations made the greens difficult enough at the speeds that could be attained when designed.  Now, overzealous superintendents only want to brag about their speed, and the combination of brilliant design with the modern obsession over speed results in unplayable greens that may as well have a windmill.

Again, Oakmont pleasantly surprised me.  When designed in 1903, Oakmont utilized techniques to create the fastest greens in the world, including the use of 1,500-pound rollers.  As a result, the slopes and contours greens are not so severe that they are unplayable at today’s speeds.  The greens were never unfair, but each putt required such concentration and focus that I was mentally exhausted when done.  However, when it was done, the Scrambler was able to leave the course with only 35 putts, one of my more memorable accomplishments.

The final component of Oakmont’s difficulty is simply the Oakmont entity itself.  It has a reputation for difficulty and it takes you some time to get over the intimidation.  Your first exposure to the course is the famed practice green, and your round starts with what is known as the toughest opening hole in the world.  From the middle tees, the first hole is a 444 yard par four, featuring a tight drive between a number of fairway bunkers, followed by a blind downhill approach to a green that slopes away from the fairway.  If you do manage to get off to a good start, your mind may begin fighting with you, thinking, “This is Oakmont; I shouldn’t be allowed to play this well.”

However, you will have access to a personal guide, as the caddies at Oakmont are one of the more memorable parts of the experience.  The quality of service will vary widely based on the age of your guides.  On one visit, our group had four caddies, all of which had carried for the pros in one of the previous US Open visits.  In fact, one of our caddies had a close up seat for Johnny Miller’s famed 63 in the 1973 Open, looping for Miller Barber in the same group.  The next visit, my caddy was in his first summer at Oakmont, with much different results.

When your round is complete, you know you have been challenged by one of the classics in the golf world.  It is no wonder that it has hosted more major championships than any other golf course in the United States, including 7 U.S. Open Championships (#8 in 2007), 4 U.S. Amateur Championships (#5 in 2003), 3 PGA Championships, and 1 U.S. Women’s Open Championship.  Add to that the beauty of the terrain, the sense of history as you play the same fairways, greens and bunkers that Jones, Sarazen and Nicklaus did, and the service provided by the caddies, and you have one of the most incredible golfing experiences possible.

The Reserve at Thunderhill

To this day, I am still convinced that the invitation I received to play The Reserve at Thunderhill was cleverly designed revenge masquerading as generosity.  The Scrambler once defeated one of his clients from Erie on his own home turf (Lake View Country Club).  Even worse, it was the Scrambler’s first visit to Lake View.  While the client did win the rematch a year later (quite handily), that did not satiate his appetite for my destruction.

Enter the Reserve at Thunderhill.

Picture, if you will, Robin Williams’ now famous golf-inventing Scotsman.  Now, instead of a pleasant drunk, this Scotsman takes a nasty turn to the dark side, and falls into a sadistic binge.  Instead of a few hazards to “mess with your ball”, there are “sandboxes” and “pools” wherever you look.  Where many courses start as a farm or excavated mining site, the Reserve at Thunderhill began as a fish hatchery.  The result is a combination of 72 ponds, 81 bunkers and multiple natural wetlands that must be navigated through numerous narrow openings.

You think you know what a tough course is?  Western New York has Crag Burn, but has a mere slope rating of 135 and course rating of 74.7.  River Oaks from the tips?  Only 135 and 75.5.  Hazeltine Golf Club was chosen to test the PGA’s best in August, but only rates a 139 and 75.6.  Oak Tree in Edmund, Oklahoma is a Pete Dye terror, but tops out at a 148 slope and 76.9 course rating.  The only course I could find that challenges the “Thunder Tees” is the world-famous Pine Valley, George Crump’s “184-acre bunker.”  Trouble abounds at Pine Valley to the tune of a 153 slope rating and 74.1 course rating.

The “Thunder Tees” stretch to a lusty 7,504 yards, translating to a ridiculous 152 slope rating and even more mind-boggling course rating of 78.5.  While the Scrambler recognized his limits under the “Rule of 150,” the “Champion Tees” selected for the day’s round still rated a 144 and 74.5, at 6,866 yards.  However, the Scrambler didn’t escape the wrath of Thunder on multiple tees.  After the 1st hole, I was looking forward to the 398 yard par-4 2nd for a minor break.  As I surveyed the 200 yards of marsh ahead of me, I quickly realized the Champion Tees were placed 60 yards further back than usual.  This trend stretched the Champion Tees well over 7,000 yards for the day.

The Reserve’s modern design style is the absolute antithesis to Oakmont’s classical parkland design.  While the Scrambler has completed two rounds at Oakmont without losing a single ball, there would be no such luck at The Reserve.  Water abounds everywhere, in a variety of forms.   There are multiple forced carries over ponds from the tee.  On a handful of par-5 holes, you must hit the fairway with a solid tee shot, or be forced to lay-up short of the immense ponds that stretch out in the middle of the hole.  Ponds nestle up to many of the greens, guarding the fronts, sides, or behinds.

As opposed to the open tee shots and sparse trees at Oakmont, the fairways at The Reserve are tree-lined, swallowing up stray drives.  The 5th, 12th and 14th holes are framed by trees, forming a chute which must be traversed simply to reach the perils that lie beyond.  Hidden behind the chutes are usually more trees, fairway bunkers and even smaller ponds.  If there is one fault to be found with the design of The Reserve, it is the number of blind shots required, often with the unpleasant discovery of unknown hazards.  The value of local knowledge is simply immeasurable as you fight your way to the finish of your round.

If you manage to make your way to the green in regulation, you will generally be rewarded with a relatively easy two-putt.  However, there are notable exceptions such as the 15th, 16th and 17th greens.  Yet, most patrons who leave The Reserve do not dwell on the greens, but this is just a tribute to the unforgettable challenges encountered on the way to the dance floor.  The greens are true and relatively quick for a public course setting.

So if you are looking for an unforgettable challenge, you owe it to yourself to take the trip down the Thruway to test the mettle of your game against Fred Slagle’s 1974 creation.  Visit their website at www.reserveatthunderhill.com and let them know you read about them on buff-golf.com.  Next to Bethpage Black, this is one of the best bargains in the Northeast at just $45 (cart included) and you won’t have to sleep in your car for 2 days.

By the way, we have all heard of the infamous sign at Bethpage that reads “Warning:  the Black Course is an Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only for Highly Skilled Golfers.”  Yet, the Reserve still exceeds Bethpage’s respective slope and course ratings of 148 and 76.6.

And their sign is much more dire.  It states “Warning: Playing the Thunder Tees Could be Hazardous to your Golf Game.”

Ability to Scramble

Both courses subscribe to the penal school of golf design, which by nature is meant to eliminate your ability to completely erase a mistake with creative scrambling.  At Oakmont, missing a tee shot will generally force you to hit a lofted iron to either escape from the rough or navigate a high-lipped fairway bunker.  Your most important scrambling tool likely will be your 50-80 yard wedge shot from the forced lay-ups, followed very closely by the putter.  However, you should not accumulate penalty strokes in your round.

In contrast, the penalties for missed shots at The Reserve are generally much more severe.  There is no recovery from water and missing many fairways requires you to layup much farther back than at Oakmont.  Bring a number of golf balls and a good attitude, because you will not escape Thunderhill unscathed by its numerous hazards.

In essence, the difference between these two difficult courses is like the difference between a strong undercurrent and a crashing wave.  While both will kill you, they appear quite different at a glance. 

Oakmont provides a serene setting, with open expanses and no water or OB to steal your ball away.  But underneath the surface, the combination of rough, deep faced bunkers, and the hardest, fastest greens in the world will wear you down to the point that your score is swept away with half-strokes added everywhere.

At the Reserve, you see everything coming at you.  The holes are tree-lined and water-lined, with bunkers filling in the other areas.  Thunderhill just beats you over the head, preferring to add to your score in chunks with penalty strokes.  You may score 90 at both courses, but you’ll take 90 swings at Oakmont, but may only swing the club 82 times at Thunderhill, and add your penalties.

Favorite Hole:

Oakmont:   18th Hole / 456 yards / Par 4

When you are talking about one of the Top 10 courses in the world, it is difficult to choose just one hole as the favorite.  However, as you stand on the elevated 18th tee and look back at the historic Oakmont Clubhouse, you fully realize where you are.  Hogan stood here in 1953, and birdied the 18th to cap a 3-3-3 finish.  Nicklaus won his first U.S. Open Championship here in 1962 in a duel with Pittsburgh’s King, Arnold Palmer.  Your tee shot is one of the more difficult, as 5 fairway bunkers frame the landing area 240 to 300 yards away.  The approach must split two large greenside bunkers, and then you will face one of the trickier greens on the course.  Everything about the hole is majestic, from the breathtaking view, to the massive sand pits that fill the landscape, right up to the immense putting surface framed by the National Landmark clubhouse.  The Scrambler is not too proud to admit that he welled up on his first walk up to the 18th green.

Reserve at Thunderhill:  8th Hole / 620 yards / Par 5

This hole is big, really big.  Oh, and by the way, it plays uphill.  Rated as one of the best holes in