Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The last three holes

Maybe since the inception of the North Carolina Golf Panel's ranking of golf courses in North Carolina, Old North State Club at Badin Lake as been ranked second in the state, behind Pinehurst #2. I'm told that the last three holes at Old North State are primary to being ranked as high as the 2nd slot.

All three holes bring the lake into play. There are five others that require approach shots hit to greens with the picturesque lake in the background and of those, there's a chance water will come into play on four: #2, #4, #7 (play video above: representative on my bad play that day), and #14. The view from the tee at #9 (photo right) offers the lake as a background to the green but it's across the street to the clubhouse and across the 18th fairway.

But, numbers 16, 17 and 18 offer spectacular water views and bring the liquid into play on your approach to the par 4 16th hole, from the tee on the par 3 17th hole and from the tee, your second shot and approach shot on the par 5 18th hole.

I recently had the chance to play at Old North State, honestly a course I do not rank second in the state. No doubt it's one of the overall best we offer in North Carolina, from the front gate and back with a wonderful clubhouse, lots of terrific hospitality by the entire staff, especially head professional Tom Ducey, and 18 holes of golf that test you with every shot. And, while the last three holes offer spectacular views and a tough tests of the game, so do nearly all 18 holes at Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville. There's plenty of water which comes into play on that mountain course.

But back to Old North State. As I said, I recently had the privilege of playing there, and I was not doing well enough to go over every shot. But when I got to the 16th tee, I remembered the accolades always given from that spot to the end of the round, and I was reminded by my playing partners of the make or break element of the final three holes. So I went to work, trying not to embarrass myself any more than I had prior to that point in the round.

The 16th hole (left) is a picturesque, 427-yard downhill par four with the lake as a backdrop for the entire journey. The water and its marsh wrap around the left side of the green to near the middle of the front. From the tips, better golfers might choose a three wood but I'm holding my driver. The other three have positioned their tee balls to the left middle of the fairway to avoid trees on the right that stick out slightly into possible driving area. An initial shot that resides along that side may require a cut-shot approach that must be aimed to the water finger. My tee ball is well hit, starts directly down the middle, but the left to right breeze must have caught its flight as the ball veered slightly right. I found it about 157 from the green just off the fairway, sitting on mulch in the crease of an area cut around one of those trees. The pin was on the front, so the right club--an 8-iron--was out of the question because of limbs that might have caught the higher arc. I chose a choked down 7-iron that was well struck but not full. It landed on the first third of the putting surface but rolled to the back of the green, at least 60 feet from the hole. The down-hill putt was struck too hard, leaving an up-hill 15 footer which I hit center cup for my par. One hole conquered and two to go.

The 17th (right) is a magnificent par 3, 197 yards long that appears to be a dogleg left. With water in front of the tee and along the left side of the hole and green, the common tee shot results are to the right of the green, either short or in the right bunker, especially with the pin placed in the front middle. My gut said hit a five iron, but I wanted to make sure I carried the green, and I have a tendency to roll on my five and bend it largely left, or I push it more to the right and I did not want to be in the bunker right or even right of the bunker. The wind was in my face, so, I hit 4-iron which was well struck. Too well struck. It hit middle of the green and came to rest in the sand bunker behind the green, leaving a 25-yard down-hill sand shot. With the power of positive thinking that I might barely get it out of the sand and onto the green for a very long par attempt or that I might pick it clean and watch it fly into the water, I chose my lob wedge, opened the face as wide as possible, took a hard swing, hit about two inches behind the ball, popped it up to the middle of the green, but it was down-hill and the ball rolled about 10 feet past the pin. It was actually quite a good sand play, and I calmly rolled that in for a par 3.

Because of my bad play for most of the day, the 18th tee was the first time I had honors for the entire round. I was looking at a 90-degree dogleg left par 5 that measures 568 yards with water all the way from tee to green. It's hittable in two, but the tee shot needs to hug the water, stay in the fairway, get the right bounce and roll and end up closer to the corner about 260 from the green. Even at that your second shot must be played as a draw giving it all the roll possible. Some will say they can get there from closer to the tee with an iron. Go ahead and try, I say.

As I addressed my tee ball, "Hello Titleist ProV1 with a University of Houston logo," I set my aiming point for the 18th hole (left) as far right from the lake as I could without leaving the fairway. Then I pushed it right along the cart path on which the ball came to rest well away from the green but somewhat with a straight line to the putting surface without bringing the water into play. I took my appropriate drop and chose 6-iron, though the idea of hitting 4+ metal did briefly cross my mind. The six-iron was a well struck slight draw that started along the right side of the fairway and came to rest in the dead middle of the low-cut green grass 100 yards from the pin. At this point I was thinking birdie. But for some reason on the downward motion when trying to hit a solid 56 degree wedge, the arms and club slowed just enough to cause a chunk. The ball stopped about 20 yards from the green. Now, my "lost interest" mode took over and the fourth shot rolled past the pin, caught a downward slope and ended up about 20 feet past the hole. I was confident I would roll it in, but the break was not correctly read or the stroke was off or the hole moved. In any event, I made a six.

They say the results of the last hole is what brings you back to golf and to certain golf courses. Most people believe that's true when you make a great par or a birdie. The bogey at 18 will bring me back. I know I can do better.

Every course has its Augusta National's Amen Corner, three holes somewhere within the 18 that are the toughest three straight on the course. It's because of length, or shot-making requirements for shorter holes or the treachery found on the greens. It has to be with the risk-reward factor: Can I cut off the corner of the lake on #18 at Old North State on my second shot and get closer to the green? It may be a different stretch for different golfers. For me, at Pinehurst #2, it's just about any three in a row, but the par 5 4th hole, the par 4 5th hole and the par 3 6th are maybe its toughest back to back to back. Also 16, 17 and 18. Or maybe 10, 11, 12. At MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary, it's the 11th (454-yard down-hill dogleg right, par 4), 12th (232-yard, par 3), 13th (414 yard, up-hill, par 4).

At Old North State, it's 16, 17 and 18 for everyone. The holes are tough, scenic, interesting, challenging, but when played properly, they can be conquered. While the remainder of the course is very good, it's the last three holes that make this course one of the best North Carolina has to offer. It's the three-hole run that all who play there discuss before and after the round.

I just did. I'll be back, hopefully.

To view more of my photos from Old North State Club, go to:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

WOW! What a course: Lonnie Poole Golf Course

The entire 18 holes opened this weekend. I played 36 holes: 18 on Saturday afternoon walking with a push cart for my clubs and 18 Sunday morning in a riding cart. Each round took less than three hours to play. I was by myself most of the time each day, though I played the last seven Saturday with a couple I caught up with on 12th tee.

87 Saturday; 81 Sunday. Black tees. 6,901 yards. 69.3 course rating. 131 slope.

No doubt the hardest part of playing the course is the bunkers. For the most part, the sand is very soft and deep. Tough to get out. Lots of opportunities to get in and to have long shots to the green, even in bunkers near the greens. Islands of natural grass in the sand bunkers all over the place. Four-inch lips all the way around. I firmly believe that's a design flaw. A ball just barely in any sand bunker leaves you with no shot whatsoever. Deep edges on the forward lip is okay. The bunkers are so large that locating a rake after playing from within is a pain. The natural areas inside the sand bunkers make it difficult to locate your ball. I've been told the best method for playing out of sand bunkers is to avoid them. That's very true at this course.

Holes 2-7 are wonderful tests, especially #3 and #5. Right now, #3 from the black tee is a 526 par four. The white tee is 501 yards. They may move the tees ahead a little or they may change par to 5, changing the total to 72 from 71. I think i hit the ball rather long for my 57 years, but even Saturday's tee shot from 526 left me with a 275+ shot over a natural area and a series of sand bunkers. (See photo above.) A neat six iron to the natural area with a good 7 iron gets you to the back of the green.

The fifth hole is 459 yard par four with somewhat of an up-hill tee shot over a hill and then down to a green that's actually up-hill again. Go figure. Just getting your tee shot to the fairway is tough.

I also like the 13th hole, a devilish 434-yard dogleg right par four. The entire right hand side of the fairway is trouble with a very large sand bunker and other natural grass and then a sand bunker on the right side of the green. There is no bail-out area to the left as a sand bunker sits just off the green on the left side.

No doubt Lonnie Poole is an interesting golf course. It has a nice practice range and large and relatively flat putting practice green. No area right now to practice sand shots, and believe me, it would be nice to have that there.

This course was built with donations by hundreds of NC State enthusiasts. There are no memberships. It's a daily fee facility.

If you want to see more photos I took this weekend, go to: JIM POMERANZ PHOTOS OF LONNIE POOLE GOLF COURSE. You may have to create an account (no charge) to view the photos.