Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vance Heafner, a good player, the best kind of memory

The recent passing of Vance Heafner brought back some sweet memories of the charismatic golfer, not just thoughts about his effort to play professional golf but recollections of when we were both in school at NC State and even before that. Vance was 58 when he passed away Wednesday after a noted career as an amateur and professional golfer.

As an avid golfer, I could relate to Vance's love to play the game. I first met him at junior competitions and high school tournaments.  During my senior high school year, the sectional qualifying for the state tournament was at Duke University. Vance was there as a high school sophomore and had an imaginative golf game. It rained hard that day at Duke, and half of one green was under water; the pin was located under the flood. All players were awarded an automatic two-putt once reaching the green but were allowed to attempt to make the first putt. My first try raced hard toward the hole only to stop short once it hit the water in front of the cup. Vance played it differently, striking the ball with a wedge, hitting from a part of the green not under water, sending it through the air and holing out in the cup surrounded and covered with water. Birdie!

In 1974, Vance was a college sophomore and a rising star on the Wolfpack golf team. I was in my first of four senior years and was sports editor of the Technician, the student newspaper, and I covered the golf team. That spring, Vance tied for the individual title in two intercollegiate events, the Big Four Tournament and the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, both within a week of each other. Following are the articles I wrote about Vance after each of his wins:
Technician / April 17, 1974
Heafner comes through for State golf
By Jim Pomeranz
                Vance Heafner started playing golf at the very young age of seven, to his best recollection.
                He began beating the little white ball around local golf links in the early 1960s and has progressed from a real true to life “duffer” to one of the Wolfpack’s and the ACC’s top golfers.
                It was approximately in 1968 that the Cary resident began his conquest of an individual golf title. That was the year, at the age of 14, that Heafner began playing competitive golf.
                It was not until just last year, though, that the then State freshman won his first crown. That was the Raleigh City Amateur tournament.
                But, now there is another feather to add to his cap.
                For the past week, the blond-headed golfer has been competing along with six other Wolfpack golfers and those from the other Big Four schools in the annual four-round gathering of the North Carolina ACC institutions.
                And even though Wake Forest won the team crown 32 strokes ahead of second place State, 2083-2115, Heafner played well enough over four different courses to pace the Wolfpack and take home a tie for the top spot. He shared the individual honors with the Deacons’ David Thore.
                Carolina finished third with 2154, and Duke held down last place at 2199.
                The first round, played at the Deacons’ home course of Olde Town Country Club, saw Heafner fire a one over par 73 and fall three shots back of first place and teammate Ken Dye at 70.
                The State sophomore had probably what was his best chance to shoot a sub-par round as the Big Four tournament moved to MacGregor Downs which is Heafner’s home course. But his attempt at par or better fell short by three strokes over the par 71 layout. Heafner’s 74 dropped him five shots back of the top spot then held by Thore.
                Thore shot two consistent rounds of 72 and 70 in as many days and seemed on his way to first alone. But the Duke University Golf Course, one of the toughest courses in the state, got in his way. An even par round there could have almost assured him of “number one.”
                Thore shot 75 over the par 71 course, and Heafner took advantage with a one under par 70.
                “I played real good at Duke,” Heafner said. “It was one of the most solid rounds I’ve had all year. I hit the ball well, and I putted pretty good. I had two birdies and only one bogey, and that was on the last hole.”
                So, headed into the final round at Carolina’s Finley Golf Course, Heafner and Thore recorded identical scores and a head-on match was set. But neither golfer could budge past the other. Each shot an even par 72 and tied for first place.
                “At Carolina, I putted real good but didn’t hit it all that well,” Heafner explained. “I had two bogeys, and they were on the last two holes.”
                Heafner played golf every day. And his excellent golf shows the practice.
                “I play 18 holes about six out of seven days,” he said. “And I usually hit balls or practice putting on the other day.”
                And his want to play a good game of golf has brought him to realize the necessity of participating in more than just local tournaments.
                “I get better experience playing in bigger tournaments,” Heafner stated. This year as in past years the tall sophomore will play in the North-South tournament at Pinehurst and the Southern Amateur. He also plans to qualify for the Kemper Open in Charlotte and the U.S. Open.
                Golfers, even though much of their ability is raw talent, have a coach. In Heafner’s case, as is also the case of the remainder of the State golf team, it’s Richard Sykes, a class A member of the professional Golf Association.
                “He (Sykes) helps me if something mechanical in my swing is really wrong,” he explained. “But as far as telling me how to hit, he does not do that. He helps me a lot mentally. He builds confidence before a match.”
                Last year Heafner averaged 76.1 strokes per round and just for the Big Four Tournament he averaged just over 72 strokes per course. So, with the ACC tournament scheduled April 22-24 at Sanford’s Carolina Trace rapidly approaching, the Wolfpack looks good in Vance Heafner for a top notch finish.
Technician / April 26, 1974
Heafner achieves ‘greatest thrill ever’
By Jim Pomeranz
                SANFORD—Vance Heafner was walking toward the eighteenth green in the final round of the annual ACC golf tournament here at Carolina Trace Wednesday. The State sophomore trailed Wake Forest golfer Bob Bynum by two shots before teeing off on the last hole and an individual title for the Wolfpack golfer seemed too far off to even consider.
                Bynum had hit an incredible approach shot out from among some trees and was only 25 feet past the pin and just off the green. Heafner’s approach had come to rest pin high and only 20 feet away.
                State golf coach Richard Sykes began to talk about the type of golf Heafner had played for the three day tourney.
                “He’s played some pretty good golf. I’ll tell you that,” Sykes praised. “The turning point was that par five over there.”
                Heafner had been just one shot behind Bynum and took a bogey on the sixteenth hole while the Deacon sank an eight-footer for birdie. But Heafner picked up a stroke on the individual tourney leader with a par on the seventeenth hole. And, picking up two more on the last hole seemed just too impossible.
                “He’s had a pretty good week’s work with first in the Big Four and second in the ACC,” Sykes conceded.
                But, Sykes was a little too fast with his words. Heafner sank his birdie putt, and Bynum missed a four-footer for par and co-champions were crowned for the single player title.
                Wake Forest still won the tournament with a three day total of 1158. Carolina finished second at 1182 and the Wolfpack held down third place with 1187. Maryland, Clemson, Duke and Virginia, in that order, rounded out the field.
                But State should still be very proud. Proud for Heafner. He was the complete story for the Wolfpack.
                “It has got to be the greatest thrill I’ve ever had,” the tall blond smiled. “I thought I would have to make two on the last hole to win.”
                But he didn’t have to eagle the 408 yard long hole; birdie was just enough. It was one of the few holes Heafner had finished under par for the whole tournament. His three rounds of 74-76-74 were some of the toughest he had played in quite a while.
                “It was a real good test of golf,” he said about the 7,007 yard long Trace layout, “but not under the conditions we played it. The ground was hard, and the greens were slick. It is too hard for a collegiate tourney. You play so much defensive golf here. The fairways are so hard that you just try to keep from hitting a bad shot instead of going after the good shot.”
                During the whole tournament no one was able to shoot an even par round. Seventy-three was the tournament’s lowest score.
                Since Sykes had been a little too fast with his words about the eventual winner, the third year coach soon changed his tune.
                “I’m tickled to death,” he boasted. “Vance has turned out to be quite a player. He has just worked hard to get to where he is now. He was not the junior golfer that others have been. He has not known as much as other golfers. He’s worked hard with what he’s got, and he’s started being good. There’s really no telling just how good he’ll be, or how far he’ll go. I’ve kidded him in the past about dying fast when he sees the clubhouse. But this time he didn’t give up.”
                The first two days of the tourney Heafner had bogeyed both of the last two holes, but on the final day he stuck right in there and finished with a great par and a great birdie. “He’ll be a lot tougher in the future,” Sykes predicted.
                For his great finish, Heafner will most likely receive an invitation to play in the NCAAs, and there’s good reason for it. “What they want are the good players,” said Sykes. “And that’s what Vance is.”
Vance Heafner was a good college golfer, especially in 1974, besting players like Wake Forest’s Curtis Strange and Jay Haas and UNC’s Skip Dunaway. Vance won the Carolinas Open professional tournament that year as an amateur. In 1977, he won the North Carolina Amateur, and, the same year, he played on the Walker Cup team, winning three matches in leading the United States to victory. He won other notable amateur competitions.

He worked his way to the professional level, chasing fame and fortune on the PGA Tour, the Nationwide Tour and the Champions Tour. Vance made the cut 157 times on the PGA Tour and won a PGA tour two-man team event. When he turned 50, health issues had slowed his ability to compete regularly. He had a solid, not great, professional golf career, and, all the while, he was never a member of the Professional Golf Association. He last professional golf job was as Director of Golf at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary NC.

As I write this, all we know is that Vance might have had a heart attack which might have been related to other health issues, lifetime health issues. He was just 58-years old. With many good friends looking out for him, giving him support, a place to live, and work, and to convalesce from a terrible fall that left him nearly unable to play the game he so much loved, Vance seemed to be on the road to recovery, maybe. His friends had high hope for him, but now he’s gone from us, leaving only memories, some good and some not so encouraging.

Like many athletes and non-athletes alike, even with lots of resources and a golfing ability many would love to have, Vance had demons in his life, and, unfortunately, he probably let them get the best of him; the demons were probably just too much. Maybe the demons finally won out with Vance.  All that said, when I hear his name, I’ll not let the demons get in the way of what I recall about Vance Heafner. I’ll always remember those days in college, in 1974, when he played golf for NC State. And, he won. Back-to-back; one week to the next. The Big Four and the ACC. He was a winner, a good player. That’s the best kind of memory.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Improvement? 16 shots better but way off USGA Sr-Am pace

If improving by 16 strokes is redemption for the terrible, mistake-filled round of 100 in the 2012 Carolinas Senior-am qualifier at Carolina Trace in late August, then I should be happy with the 84 on the card I signed and turned in Sept 6 at the 2012 USGA Senior-Am qualifier at Forsyth Country Club in Winston-Salem. I was, and I was not.

Obviously, it was a better score but I was still disappointed. My putting was off on the front side. I hit seven of nine greens in regulation but had 19 putts including three 3-putts. My ball striking and accuracy was off the inward nine. I hit two greens and had 17 putts.

After another good warm-up on the practice range and extended putting green attention, confidence abounded, or something like that. Even after I sprayed my opening tee-shot way right into the rough my confidence level was good, especially when I muscled a 9-iron about 150 yards onto the first green. Three putts later the air started to leak from the balloon.

Concentration got the best of me when my short, 58-degree wedge play to the second green was hit thin, the ball flying over the green and stopping inches from the chain link out-of-bounds fence. One attempt to stroke the ball to a safe area gave me an unplayable lie and a penalty shot. Eventually, I one-putted from about 12 inches for a triple bogey seven, and I headed dejected to the third tee four-over par.

"When you're playing in something like this," a friend asked me after the round, "do you get the jitters?" He may have been right, but I wouldn't admit it. "No, actually, I like the competition, playing in a group (the entire field) that plays strictly by the rules, putting everything out, even taking time for explanation of certain rules when there's a question," I said, but my guess is I had the jitters.

Which didn't stop for several holes. After hitting the next two greens, a par-3 and a par-4, in regulation, I three-putted each. An 8-foot birdie attempt came up short on the next hole, but somewhat settled my putting. Three holes later, I rolled in an 8-footer for birdie.

Playing tournament golf, and even in a casual Saturday morning round, requires knowledge and understanding of the USGA Rules of Golf and to be willing to ask for rulings from your playing opponents and from officials roaming the course. For instance, on the 8th, my second shot on the 516-yard, par-5 ended up pin high in the left rough. An official, spotting the hole, led me to my ball. I studied the lie, noticed rocks under and around the ball and in a line to the right and left, and asked the official, "Is this a drainage ditch of some sort?" He decided it was a french drain, offered me relief and talked me through the correct drop process. As he road away in his golf cart, I carefully played the ball over a sand bunker, onto the green and to 8-feet from the hole, making the putt for a four.

After starting six over through four holes, I remained that way on the par-36 front nine. My back side started out with a mid-length one-putt par but after a three-putt bogey on the 12th, the round was getting the best of me. My spirits were lifted temporarily with an excellent up-and-down from thick rough behind the par-3, 14th hole but then came my next rules reminder.

On the 15th tee, as my opponents hit their tee shots, I recounted my round: Nine over par with four holes to play on the superb par 71 Donald Ross layout. I shouldn't have counted those unhatched chickens, but there was a chance to break 80 if I would just steady myself, hit a few good shots and make at least one putt.

When I took a big cut at my 15th-hole tee shot, my head came through the ball before my clubjead and I topped the shot so violently that the ball created a three-inch long skid mark directly in front of the white peg. The ball darted hard to the left, scurrying through a red-lined hazard and toward the 14th green. We found my ball next to but not in a white-lined (free drop) area of timber steps and liriope. At first I was trying to determine how to hit the ball back into the fairway when I was reminded that since I was standing inside the free drop area, I could take a free drop to my nearest point of relief no closer to the hole. But, six shots later, due primarily to a poorly struck fourth shot, a bad chip and two lousy putts, I announced a double bogey seven.

So, on the back side, par-35 and considered to be the easier of the two nines at Forsyth, I was seven over par, 42. And, there's my 84 (which will be posted as an 83). I hit only seven fairways and 11 greens that round. There were four 3-putt greens and 36 total putts. And one penalty shot, along with at least four or five "stupid" shots. Could I have scored better than 84? Maybe, maybe not, but at least I think I could have.

More importantly, as I was departing the parking lot, I was reintroduced to a golfer I first met in the 1960s while playing junior golf in Raleigh (Wildwood Country Club) and Fayetteville (Highland Country Club). He asked about my round. Knowing he finished one-over par 72 after starting his round three over for the first two holes, I sort of hung my head and mumbled, "84." He slapped me on the shoulder and encouraged me to keep trying, to keep playing in this type of competition. "At least you're out here trying, and that's important," he told me.

He's right. While I want to score better, just playing competition golf is special. Better play, not better luck, next time, I told myself as I headed home.
Five players at the Forsyth Country Club qualifier advanced to the USGA Senior-Am. Each was under par. I tied for 63rd. Complete results: USGA Sr-Am Section Qualifying at Forsyth.

By the way, Forsyth Country Club is one of my favorite and better Donald Ross designed courses in North Carolina. Those I really admire and consider his best in North Carolina include (in no particular order) Pinehurst #2, Pine Needles, Linville Golf Club, Mid Pines, Myers Park, Biltmore Forest, Charlotte Country Club, Asheville Country Club and Sedgefield Country Club. There are many others but these are the best, in my humble opinion.
“An Embarrassing Round: 100 Strokes of Solitude” (my post about scoring 100 in the CGA Carolinas Senior-Am qualifier at Carolina Trace) enjoyed a wide readership and prompted several responses from friends and acquaintances, but not the acquaintance who had got up and down from a green-side sand bunker for a 12 on his 8th hole of the qualifier. The comments were sympathetic and revealing.
There was this from an educator who has a 6.8 USGA handicap index: My condolences. I certainly understand the 100, and I appreciate your nod to Marquez. Few golfers will know who he is, but this might lead them towards some educated reading, bizarre and fascinating as it might be. We are getting a glimpse into your intellect.

An annual golfing buddy (we play together once a year) with no USGA handicap of note wrote: I love you but not as much as Nancy.  I swear as I read the story the first thing I thought was you should not be practicing.  You are taking it too seriously.  You play better when you are totally relaxed.  You should be drinking a beer and playing with logo school balls from the college tourney. (Note: That’s an inside story about the golf balls.)

From a randomly annual golf partner (we play at least once a year and sometimes three or four times together) who is a scratch golfer but for some reason I cannot locate his USGA handicap (my guess is he’s too cheap to pay the annual fee): In 1968, when I lived near the Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco (during the beginnings of the flower child movement), I played Spyglass Hill (Pebble Beach was $50 and I said that was too much).  I was only six shots worse than (golf professional) Frank Beard when he played Spyglass in the Bing Crosby tournament that year.  Not bad, eh?  Except Beard had a 96.  I feel your pain.

From a PGA professional who has won two national PGA Club Professional Championships who remains competitive in lots of ways: Mark me down for an 87 in my last tournament round.

There was a 15-handicapper who chimed in with: Thanks for your email and your honesty. It makes me feel a little better.  I recently purchased a new driver, 3 metal and 22 degree hybrid. As you did, I practiced several times and played a couple of rounds prior to going to DeBordieu (Georgetown SC golf community) where I also shot 100 (adjusted).  Just wasn’t our day. 

Another no-handicapper who plays seldom but as often as possible wrote: ‘Scuse me for laughing.  Enjoyed your column; not your misery.  Keeps us humble.

Of course, there had to be one who gave advice, a long-time friend with a 6.3 USGA index: I haven't done that bad. Try this. Be sure on the first tee to grip the club as softly as you can almost to the point of it falling out and take the club back as slowly as possible. Tension produces high scores. Concentrate longer on the first putt of the day. It is the most important putt of the day. Good luck buddy. Enjoy your next qualifying round.

And, then there was this comment: A "5" handicap cannot shoot 100. Period.  (This guy makes a good point, but it happens to the best of us, but probably not him or least he will not admit it. He has a 6.0 USGA Handicap Index with 18 of his last 20 scores posted from rounds at Raleigh Country Club, though he has been seen playing at Lonnie Poole Golf Course (maybe in just non-post round such as Captain’s Choice). His posted scores used to compute his handicap range from 75 to 88. There are just two tournament scores: 75 and 76 in July at RCC. My guess is that if some of the scores in the 80s had been in tournaments or had been played on courses a lot tighter than RCC, higher numbers would have been posted. My guess, with his handicap and his scores, he’s probably a good member-guest or member-member player which means his handicap should be lower than it is.

But maybe the best response came from a long-time friend who once lived at Carolina Trace who pointed out a newspaper ad which appeared in The News & Observer the day after my wonderful experience there. From the advertisement: As part of our 20+ year history, legendary golf architect, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designed Carolina Trace's two championship courses - the Lake and the Creek. Experience his famous "easy bogeys and difficult pars"... The ad was titled: GOLF. Our Legacy... Your Passion.

At Carolina Trace, I wish bogeys had come easy instead of double, triple and septuple bogeys. Golf may be one of my passions; I guess my score of 100 could be my legacy. Ha!
I'm not sure what competition round is next up for me. I'm sure I'll find one. But, next up here will be a review/perspective of my "home" course: Lonnie Poole Golf Course at NC State University. Here's a preview: It's been open for three years; as of this month, the course is now on its third Director of Golf Course Maintenance (fancy title for greens superintendent).

Sunday, September 02, 2012

An Embarrassing Round: One Hundred Strokes of Solitude (with apologies to Gabriel García Márquez)

I love my wife. I really love my beautiful wife. More on that later and one of the reasons why, but before that explanation, I must tell you about shooting 100 in the CGA Carolinas Senior Amateur Championship Sectional Qualifier on the Lake Course at Carolina Trace Country Club in Sanford NC.

That's right. 100. The Century Mark. Some 28-strokes over par 72 on the Robert Trent Jones layout that, before August of this year, I last played in the early 1970s shortly after its opening. I do not recall shooting 100 back then; not even close. But on Thursday, August 30, 2012, in a tournament round, I signed and turned in a scorecard showing 100 strokes.

Before deciphering my way out of the memorable round of just 18 holes, I'll set the scene. For several months, I've wanted to replace my interesting golf club collection of a 983 Titleist driver; a Callaway Big Berth 4+ metal-wood; Hogan Plus irons numbers 3-W and 50-degree wedge; a Titleist 56-degree Vokey wedge; an American Standard lob wedge, loft unknown but which was a gift from my friends John and Julian Bunn of Carolina Customer Golf many years ago when I played 100 holes of golf in a fund-raiser for the Cary YMCA; and an Odyssey DF-990 putter.

My desire for new clubs led me to Larry George, PGA Professional at River Landing Golf Club in Wallace NC, who agreed to a club-fitting. The result was a change, a complete change, to a set of Ping i20 including a 10.5 degree driver, a 15-degree 3-metal, a 20-degree hybrid (my first hybrid club), irons 4-W and wedges of 50-, 54-, and 58-degrees. Prior to that I had recently replaced my putter with another Odyssey, the Metal-X D.A.R.T.

Prior to the club fitting and purchases (went whole hog and bought a red and black Titleist lightweight carry bag as well), I committed to play in two tournament qualifying rounds, the aforementioned CGA event, and, believe-it-or-not, the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur Sectional Qualifying, to be played Thursday (Sept 6) at the Forsyth Country Club in Winston-Salem. My USGA handicap index of 5.0 is low enough to allow entry into both.

My game, though, is borderline to make cuts; I'm realistic but wanted the competition, knowing my best bet of advancing to a Championship would be the Carolinas Senior Am. An 80 at Carolina Trace and I would be preparing to play at Forest Oaks Country Club in Greensboro later this month. But, I missed the mark by 20 shots; after hitting countless range balls for two weeks prior to last Thursday's attempt; after shooting 81 (first round with my new clubs) 15 days earlier at Hope Valley Country Club in Durham which has the same Bermuda greens as Carolina Trace; and after playing two practice rounds at Carolina Trace, coming off the course each time with plenty of course notes and the confidence that I would play well enough to advance.

However, last Thursday, at the appointed tee time of 9:17 a.m., after warming up extremely well on the driving range and knocking in several good length putts on the practice green, I stood on the 10th tee, my first of the day, and embarked on a round that will live with me in infamy, not to mention for a long time too. I will not bore you with all of the golfer-nightmarish details, just a few interesting shots and some facts about the round.

For instance, the disastrous round started with my first swing at the Titleist ProV1 which came off the heel of the 15-degree 3-metal with a low trajectory down the left side of the fairway, stopping in deadpan rough under a tree limb. My second shot, ball way above my feet, clipped a few leaves on the tree but ended up in the fairway. Third shot was a little thin and came to rest near the back of the green, safely on the putting surface. Three attempts later, I retrieved the ball from the cup, announced a double bogey six as my score and headed to the second hole, a little shaken but knowing in my head 17 pars were still possible.

On my second hole, in a sand bunker off the tee, I discovered my ball nestled up against the back side of a rock the size of a large marble. Finished the hole with a triple bogey but still had a positive attitude. After hitting a second shot into the water hazard on my third hole (#12), I walked away with another double bogey. I was seven-over par after three holes. And, so it went. Making one par was deep on my mind but fleeting.

There were several good shots and holes that day. I reached the 500+ yard par five 14th hole, my fifth hole, by hitting driver and the 20-degree hybrid, but I three-putted for par. I rolled in an 8-foot putts on the 17th and 18th holes (my eighth and ninth) to save par. That felt good, and gave me pause for hope on the incoming nine after scoring a solid but very disappointing 48 on my first nine holes.

Hope gave way to frustration when my tee shot on my 10th hole, number one on the Lake Course, came to rest next to a tree and lodged on the front side of a root in the left rough. I could only swing to hit it away from the hole, back towards the tee. Triple bogey came easy. As it did on my 12th hole, the course's number three, when I hit my first tee shot out of bounds to the right and my second tee shot into a red-lined hazard on the left.

And, then there was my 17th hole, the 8th hole on the Lake Course at Carolina Trace, a 186-yard, down-hill par three that required no more than my 7-iron, the club I used to safely locate pin high during my two practice rounds. This time my ball landed with little splash, easily a 9.5 dive, in the pond bordering the front and left side of the green. I located the marked drop area and proceeded to hit my third shot into the water, then my fifth shot into the water, and then my seventh shot onto the green about 30 feet from the hole. Three putts later, I relayed to my scorer to write a 10 on the card.

As I walked to my final hole of the day, I needed a birdie on the par 4, to break 100, to turn in a 99. A somewhat good drive down the left side of the fairway came to rest in the 4-inch high rough. Tree limbs were between me and the green, and my second shot, ripping through the branches, stopped short of the green and many yards away from the cup located near the back of the green. I made a valiant chip but it came up four feet short. I calmly rolled the putt into the cup, and chuckled to myself that I was about to post 100 in the first qualifying round I had played since my junior golf days in the 1960s.

Stats, as they say, are usually for losers, so, aside from looking at my scorecard, here is the breakdown by the numbers:
2: fairways off the tee
7: greens in regulation
7: penalty shots (which account for 13 strokes on my score)
41: putts, including seven 3-putts and two 1-putts.
6: pars
5: bogeys
2: double bogeys
4: triple bogeys
1: septuple bogey
0: birdies or better
28: strokes over par

For a fleeting moment, I considered no-carding, but, as far as I'm concerned, not turning in a completed card is disrespecting the game. "I'm embarrassed," I told the official scorer as I signed and offered my scorecard. "Why?" he asked. "I shot a hundred," I returned with a dejected smile. I was actually laughing at myself. "I even had a 10 on a hole." The CGA official, trying to give me some unsuspecting encouragement, told me, "Your 10 is not the highest on a hole today. One guy had a 12 on the 17th hole." That was little relief to me but it softened the blow. I did not ask who might have recorded the octuple bogey, and fled to the friendly confines of my car to return home, despondent about what had just happened during the previous five hours.

Now, for why I love my wife. My first telephone call as I climbed into my car went to my wife, Nancy, who was interested in my round. "How'd you do?" she inquired immediately. After I told her, she asked with dismay in her voice what had happened. She recounted all the practice, effort and determination I had put into this one round. Then she made a suggestion of how to correct it before I tackle the USGA Senior Am sectional qualifier. "Don't go to the range and hit more balls," she said emphatically. "You need to play more and learn from that. I want you to play Saturday morning. Call the golf course and get set up to play Saturday. Will you do that? For me?" And that's why I love my wife; I really love my wife. Not the only reason, but a strong reason.

At NC State University in the 1970s, I took a Spanish literature class. One book we read was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I remember it today. As I reflect on my round of 100 strokes, I think about that novel and the beginning and end of the Buendía family. Writing about my fortune and misfortune helps me break away from it. It's just golf, not life. I shall live on.

POST SCRIPT #1: As I was driving home, I received a call from an acquaintance who had also played in the qualifier at Carolina Trace, finishing about 90 minutes ahead of me. He didn't ask how I had done; he asked me one question: "What was the highest score you had on a single hole today?" At that point, I knew the answer to what the CGA scorer had told me. "You're the guy with the 12 on number 17?" I asked and stated. "Yep," he said explaining: Tee shot into a bush on the left side of the fairway; chipped out; tried to hit the third shot but it hit a tree and went out of bounds; fifth shot was same as third; seventh attempt went across the fairway; eight shot back into the fairway; ninth shot short of the green on this 367-yard up-hill par four; 10th swing sculled the ball into the back trap; if you've been following, he got it up and down from the trap for a 12, a nonuple bogey, sinking a 10-footer to avoid a 13. (Click here for an names of scores over par.)

POST SCRIPT #2: The 100 was not posted in its entirety on my USGA handicap. Only a 91, the adjusted score after the four triples and the one septule were reduced to double bogeys.

POST SCRIPT #3: I played 18 holes at Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh Saturday morning. It was extremely hot and humid but my game was a lot better. Scored an 81 with two double bogeys which included a penalty shot on each. Only 34 putts; hit nine fairways and 10 greens in regulation. The big difference between Lonnie Poole and Carolina Trace, aside from bent grass greens at LPCG and Bermuda at CT, Lonnie Poole has much wider landing areas off the tee, more receptive to my sometimes erratic tee shots.

POST SCRIPT #4: Next up for me, two things: 1. The USGA Senior Am sectional, and, 2. A review of the Lonnie Poole Golf Course at NC State University, three years after it opened. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

You Be The Swing Judge...

For your viewing pleasure, a few swings to analyze. Be patient. The videos take a few moments to load. Post your comments below.

Scott Yakola
Johnny Moore
Johnny Moore
Daniel Prevost
Phil Warshauer

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Rating and Ranking North Carolina's Best Golf Courses

The 2012 North Carolina Golf Panel list of the best 100 courses in the Tar Heel State has been recently published, and, not unexpected, Pinehurst No. 2, for the18th consecutive year, is #1. What may be surprising to many golf enthusiasts and holders of golf mystic and lore is that the much celebrated Donald Ross design was not a unanimous selection by the members of the Panel for the top spot.

How do I know? No. 2 is only the third best golf course in North Carolina on my ballot. At my top is Grandfather Golf & Country Club in Linville. Second on my ballot is Elk River Club in Banner Elk. There may be other Panelists who didn't vote No. 2 in the loftiest of positions. But, what do I and maybe those few others know? Pinehurst No. 2 with its magnificent history, especially its hosting of US Opens and many other great professional and amateur tournaments, is worthy of the top spot. It's a great golf course, one I've played much of my more than 53 years of enjoying the game.

As a native of Sanford, just 30 miles from Pinehurst, when learning golf as youngster from my golf professional uncle and my golf enthusiast parents, I had the opportunity on many occasions to play No. 2 as well as the other numerated layouts. That was when there were just five courses at the famed resort, which was much less of a corporate conglomeration than it became with rising greens fees, a modern clubhouse that took away from the traditional charm of the place, and the friendliness of a locally owned passion for the game. I loved each and every course there. I especially loved the uniqueness of the sandy, love-grass-filled rough instead of the tree-line to tree-line grass of different cuts.

While Pinehurst Country Club remains a big business and a huge draw for corporate golf and group fun-filled outings, it has undergone a transformation back to its roots in that it is no longer held by golf-factory businesses. And in the past couple of years, under the direction of the golf course design firm of Coore & Crenshaw, No. 2 has been re-born near to its original state of play, taking out lots of green grass, and adding back the clumpy love grass and its charm. Who am I to say it, but I will: Pinehurst No. 2 is worthy of the top spot. However, in its current state, I've not had the chance to play it so I'm not sure what it offers today. When I do return, it may well move up on my list. Hint, hint...

Golfers have preferences for the style of golf courses even though when compiling our list, members of the NC Golf Panel are asked to consider course "conditioning, routing, design, strategy, memorability, fairness, variety and aesthetics," as explained by Kevin Brafford, executive director of the Panel, in a short article in the magazine Business North Carolina, revealing this year's list. But, sometimes, the style, the designer, of the course filters into the objectivity of the voter.

For instance, the 23rd-ranked course this year is Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, a wonderful layout designed by Perry Maxwell in 1939. Several years ago, the first time I played Old Town, which I ranked this year as the 19th best, I was shocked when a member of our foursome said he didn't like it at all. "It's Mickey Mouse!" he said, meaning every word. Much to the chagrin and disappointment of my cart partner and me, the Golf Panelist, several years our senior, went on to say that the older style golf courses were not his flavor. We wondered what golf world he lived in but agreed that he had the right to his opinion no matter how wrong he was and remains.

Older-style golf courses are my flavor, though I also appreciate some of the more recent designs. I love Donald Ross courses much more than, say, Tom Fazio courses, which I also enjoy, of which there are 18 wonderful layouts in North Carolina including Nos. 4, 6 and 8 at Pinehurst. But, after many years of the privilege of playing there, I've really come to overly appreciate those two particular mountain layouts at the top of my list: the Ellis Maples-designed Grandfather, and the Jack Nicklaus designed Elk River.

Maples learned the design trade from Ross and much of that course has the Ross flavor; Nicklaus designs courses around the land provided and makes the most of it. He especially did that at Elk River. Part of the lure of these two courses is the location. Grandfather weaves along the base of its namesake mountain with brooks and streams a plenty running through it. Everything breaks towards the mountain. Or is it the other way around? Elk River is somewhat two courses in one with about half of the course somewhat flat but strategically designed and the other near half built on the side of a mountain. The 14th hole, played from the back tees, is one of the most picturesque you'll find. Both Grandfather and Elk River are tough; both are beautiful; both are worthy, in my humble opinion, of the top two spots on my list.

There are lots and and lots of great courses in North Carolina which natives still feel is the premier golf state. I believe you can take the top 20 on the NC Golf Panel (NCGP) list, toss them in a bag, pull names out one at a time and come up with a reputable ranking. My top 20 contains 16 of the Panel's top 20 but not in the same order. Three of my four not in the NCGP top 20 are in the NCGP top 26. I also put the Country Club of Asheville in my top 20 though it shows up at #81 on the NCGP list. The Country Club of Asheville was built in 1928, is a Ross design, and did not show on the 2011 list primarily because, I believe, very few of the members of the Golf Panel have played it. A strict requirement to completing the ballot: you can only vote for courses you've played. Honor system is key.

For instance, Wade Hampton Golf Club, another Fazio design, in Cashiers is #19 on the 2012 list but doesn't show up on my list and on the list of other members of the Panel. I've driven past it a couple of times but never played there. If more Panelists played Wade Hampton, it would probably be ranked higher.  I take the playing of a course criteria a step further. I played the Country Club of North Carolina Dogwood course when it first opened in the 1960s but never again until last fall. It showed up on my ballot for the first time for the 2012 list at #6, the same spot on the NC Golf Panel list.

I'm not an expert, but I think I have a good eye and idea of what makes a good golf course and golf experience. While I may not place Pinehurst No. 2 as North Carolina's best golf course, it's hard for anyone to argue with my top choice. On the North Carolina Golf Panel list, Grandfather, my top choice, is #2; Elk River, my second selection, is NCPA #8.
Here are my top 10 golf courses in North Carolina with the NC Golf Panel ranking in parenthesis and the designer listed:
1. (2) Grandfather Golf & Coutry Club: Ellis Maples
2. (8) Elk River Club: Jack Nicklaus
3. (1) Pinehurst No. 2: Donald Ross
4. (5) Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club: Donald Ross
5. (13) Linville Golf Club: Donald Ross
6. (6) The Country Club of North Carolina (Dogwood): Willard Byrd/Ellis Maples
7. (9) Forest Creek Golf Club (South): Tom Fazio
8. (12) Pinehurst No. 4: Tom Fazio
9. (15) The Country Club of North Carolina (Cardinal): Byrd/Maples/ Robert Trent Jones/Rees Jones
10. (7) Charlotte Country Club: Donald Ross
Here are the other top 10 on the NC Golf Panel List with my ranking in parenthesis and the designer listed:
3. (14) Quail Hollow Club: Tom Fazio
4. (20) Old North State Club: Tom Fazio
10. (15) Pinehurst No. 8: Tom Fazio