National Golf Links of America

The day was finally here…  Playing two of the most prestigious golf courses in the world on the same day.  National Golf Links of America #10 and Shinnecock Hills Golf Club #3 are located next door to each other in Southhampton, New York along the Peconic Bay.  When Ashley and I started this journey in 2012; the 6 private golf courses on Long Island (Shinnecock, National, Friars Head, Sebonick, Garden City and Maidstone) seemed like a distant dream.  Neither of us had any connection or a clue as to how we would get on these great courses. Our luck would change when I met a National member in the summer of 2013 while playing golf in Scotland.  The member stated that when Ashley and I planned our Long Island trip he would facilitate not only us getting on National but also Shinnecock where a close friend of his was a member.  Needless to say, this members generosity started our desire to plan our Long Island trip for 2015.

Arriving at National Golf Club is a little different than most golf clubs. Since we were playing unaccompanied we first had to register at the main desk and sign in. What a formal process as all of us were wearing a sport coat since we knew it was required to eat the “famous lobster lunch”.  After checking in we placed our items in a locker, had breakfast and waited for Gene to show up.

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Ashley at the entrance to National Golf Club.

Gene was a gentleman we met online when figuring out how we would play the 6 courses in Long Island.  Gene had posted a charity auction for an accompanied threesome at Sebonack benefitting The Viscardi Center.  When the auction closed, I emailed The Viscardi Center and asked if they would deliver an email to the sponsor.  Our offer was simple….  We would host him at National and Shinnecock and in return the following day he would host the 3 of us at Sebonack.  What golfer would turn down that offer!  Definitely not Gene!!  Within an hour we had confirmation that he was in.

National is a golf course I had been looking forward to since playing Chicago Golf Club in 2013.  I played horrendously at Chicago GC and was looking forward to getting some revenge on a similarly styled MacDonald design.  We started our round at 8:15AM with Greg and Gene paired against Ashley and Ryan.  We were accompanied by our two fabulous caddies Mike and Jim.  The handicaps this week were set as Greg playing as a 3, Ashley a 9, Ryan a 12 and Gene also a 9.  The team of Ashley and Ryan came out smoking hot by winning the first 4 holes and held on to win the front 4/2/0. Memorable scores from the front included my birdie on 7 and Ashley’s birdie on 9.

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Hole #4 Redan

The front nine at National has some remarkable holes.  My favorites were  #4 and #8.  #4 called Redan has a sister at Chicago Golf Club (Hole #7) which bears the same name.  A par 3 with an extremely sloped green where tee accuracy is a must.  Interestingly both holes on the day we played had the pin positions in the far left corner.  I also enjoyed #8 called Bottle.  A beautifully designed hole with trees on the right and bunkers down the middle of the fairway.  Bottle also has some extremely punitive traps shaping a small green.  Unfortunately, the front 9 at National also had a few holes I really didn’t care for.  They were #2 “Sahara” and #4 “Alps”.  Both holes involved blind shots..  On Sahara the drive is blind up a steep hill and on Alps the approach shot into the green is completely blind. I have just never been a fan of blind shots.

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Hole #8 “Bottle”

The back nine at National is golf heaven.  Gene and I were determined to fight our way back into the match after Ashley and Ryan’s victory on the front. Personally, the back nine at National is now one of my favorite 9’s I have  played.  Heading back to the Peconic Bay with constant views of the National Clubhouse and its windmill sets the stage for one of the best walks in golf..

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11th hole “Eden” Fashioned after the 11th at St. Andrews

The final 5 holes at National is why the course is in the Top 10 of most golf listings. An absolutely amazing walk!

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Ashley and I walking up 15.

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Gene, Ryan, Greg and Ashley on the 16th tee. National Clubhouse in the background.

Our match on the back nine was much closer than the front.  There were 3 birdies with Ashley making a great birdie on 14 and my 2 birdies on 14 and 18.  Even though Gene and I won the back even plus 2 we still lost 2 ways on the overall bet.  However, my 37 on the back was good enough to beat Ashley 4/2/0 to halve our match.  Obviously, my match with Ashley is the most important bet I make each round!  Overall, I shot 77 (40/37), Ashley shot 84(41/43), Gene shot 86 (43/43) and Ryan shot 91 (44/47).

After our round, we proceeded to the locker room to throw on our sports coats in order to indulge in the “famous lobster lunch”.  Wow!  That’s really all I can say..  What a feast…  Immediately after sitting down we were given 2 lobster tails apiece and a choice of 6 entrees.  I had the shephards pie and a few cocktails while soaking in the fabulous view of Peconic Bay.  Overall, I truly enjoyed National Golf Links and completely agree with it’s elevated ranking.

Chicago Golf Club – The icing!

Well….. it is extremely fitting that our last day in Chicago would be spent playing at this magnificent golf club. Our friend Ryan D had to pull some major strings to make this happen and we will be eternally grateful for his efforts in helping us pursue our dream to conquer the top 100. I would also like to thank our gracious host Jay. The entire trip to Chicago was a blast and it’s hard to believe it’s over, but we did play 5 rounds of golf(4 top 100), watch 3 NFL games, a US Soccer match and eat more steak than I care to confirm.
A little historical reference of the club to make sure my post does this place a little justice. Chicago Golf Club is located in Wheaton, Illinois  and was one of the 5 founding clubs of the USGA in 1894. The course started out with 9 holes in 1892 and was expanded to 18 in 1893 making it the the first full length 18 hole course in the US. Chicago was designed by Charles B. Macdonald who is often referred to as the “Father of American golf course architecture”. He is also responsible for the design of National Golf Links which is ranked number 10 on our list and heralded as one of the best architected courses in the world. Macdonald was a slicer and he designed the layout of each 9 at Chicago to play in a “clockwise” manner to help him stay out of trouble. The Club is recognized as one the 5 most exclusive clubs in the world, with 120 members and an invite only policy for membership. It is a par 70 playing 6,877 yards with a slope of 137 and a course rating of 73.8.
We started off our day in the city once again utilizing Uber as our transport of choice out to Wheaton. We had our driver drop us off in Wheaton at Egg’lectic café for a little breakfast and as a rendezvous point to hook up with Ryan before we headed over to the club. As a food critic I would probably pass on this little eatery if I were ever in Wheaton again but I do have to mention that the service was good.
Our arrival at the club was welcomed by our caddies for the day and our member host Jay. He ushered us in to the mens locker room to put on our shoes and store our valuables prior to heading out to the practice range to hit a few balls. The clubhouse and locker room were very representative of the early 1900’s. The lockers were wooden and solid white with a top and bottom storage area on each . They stretched about 8 feet high and the doors were roughly 3 feet wide. It felt very historic and grand being in this room. The bathroom was classic as well with the tile from floor to ceiling and old porcelain fixtures for the sinks and built in urinals. Unfortunately, I am unable to publish any photo’s of our visit to Chicago in honor of their rules and respect to the members.
After our quick visit to the clubhouse we made our way out to the range to hit a few balls and then prepared to tee off. Our host decided that we would go off on 10 to make sure we managed our pace of play appropriately with other groups that might be out on the course. We threw balls for teams and it was Ryan and I vs Greg and Jay. The theme of the day really had nothing to do with the team game, it was me vs Greg. It was quickly apparent that I was out to grab a medal off of Greg on this fine day. The discussion circled around this multiple times during the round and the question was, “did I have the mental fortitude to hold him off through the end”. Well, I am proud to say that I did and it made it a very memorable round for me and one that I will never forget.
Chicago is a links style golf course and you can see a majority of the course from a lot of the tee boxes. You can also see the massive club house off in the distance with a high flying American flag in front from most points on the course. All of this combined together makes one feel like they are in this giant golf stadium of sorts. One thing that is really cool about Chicago is that all of the holes have their own name which is a descriptor for a characteristic or quality belonging to that specific hole(The Sottish Tradition). I love this about the course because it was a lot easier to connect with the hole and understand the Architects intent. My favorite hole on the day was Punch Bowl which is a long undulating par 4 with a giant punch bowl shaped green…..It was magnificent. Some other favorites were Eden (medium length par 3 into wind), Double Plateau (long par 4 with stair step green) and Redan (long par 3 with trouble everywhere). One of the other special aspects of Chicago golf is that Seth Raynor helped C.B. Macdonald with a redesign in the early 20’s and was able to put his indelible mark on the greens and bunkers. We had just played Shoreacres the day before so it was remarkable to see the similarities in some of the design between the two courses. After the round we enjoyed a nice lunch with our host in the mens locker room and tasted one of their infamous vodka lemonades. Two Thumbs up!
All in All I would say this is one of the most memorable courses we have played so far!

Shoreacres

Waking up not feeling our best (a normal occurrence for Ashley and I on these trips), we started our day by driving Ryan’s Jeep back to his house.  Ryan had left his Jeep at our hotel the night before after much prodding about not drinking and driving.  Luckily, Ryan’s Jeep had a “find home” button so it was very easy to navigate our way.  It was also easy because Chicago morning rush hour is absolutely awful. Going 37 miles north of the city took us almost 3 hours.

Once we had Ryan, it was game on.  The banter continued off immediately about Ashley’s field goal prowess.  The night before, Ashley had convinced himself that he could make 5 out of 10 field goals from 45 yards.  Ryan and I had a plan to test him.  Ryan had a kicking tee, cleats and a football ready upon our arrival.  Our plan was to stop at a local high school, jump on their field and have Ashley kick 10 field goals.  Unfortunately, Ashley didn’t like our plan much.  Immediately, he came up with a litany of excuses.  Some of them included: having the wrong shoes, not wearing the right clothes, the football not having enough air, his hamstring being tight, being late for our tee time, etc etc. The highlight of the ride was pulling into our second school of the morning (a very high end catholic school near Shoreacres).   Upon entering the parking lot, we were stopped by a very large security guard named Joe.  Joe asked us what we were doing on the property and we went into our spiel about Ashley’s field goal bravado and how we needed to find some uprights before we played golf next door at Shoreacres.  Joe was beside himself with bewilderment.  Here he was at 9:15AM with 3 thirty something guys dressed in golf clothes wanting to kick field goals at his $50,000 plus a year Catholic School.   After a few minutes, Joe confessed that the field goal uprights had just been taken down the previous summer but that he would have loved to watch our bet.  He recommended a high school about 5 minutes down the road which had some uprights we could use.  By  this point, we were late for our tee time and Ashley was working on his 97th different excuse as to why he couldn’t kick this morning.  The field goal bet will have to wait for another top 100 trip that includes Ryan.  Overall, the morning ride to Shoreacres will go down as one of the best preludes to a Top 100 golf round ever.

Shoreacres is located in Lake Bluff, Illinois, about 45 minutes north of Chicago. It is located on Lake Michigan which you can see from the clubhouse. The course was designed by Seth Raynor in 1919.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by the club professionals who delivered 2 very stern messages.  First we were late for our tee time and second there would be absolutely no cell phones or cameras allowed on the course.  They actually watched us take our cell phones out of our pockets to place them in the car glove compartment.  Very strange arrival to say the least. Definitely, the strangest welcome I have ever experienced at a private golf club.  It didn’t help that we were playing unaccompanied and were about an hour late for our tee time.  I thought about explaining the field goal bet to the pro but figured we might get thrown off the property.

After hitting a few warm up shots on the smallest driving range ever, we were off.  Our 4th today was a good friend of Ryan’s named Jeff.  Jeff had arranged our round through his good friend who was a Shoreacres member. We threw up balls and Jeff and I were paired up against Ashley and Ryan. Shoreacres is known for its multitude of ravines and fabulous fast greens. It seems like every hole there is a ravine you must clear off the tee or on your approach. The most memorable ravines being on the 4th,  the 11th tee, and the 11th approach shot.  My favorite hole was number 12 “The Short Hole”.  Twelve is a short par 3 playing 127 yards with an elevated tee box playing down to a large green tucked into a very small valley.  Hitting the green is imperative as left is dead on the hill and right is either water or in the forest.  Unfortunately, Ashley couldn’t find his original tee ball and drove back to the tee to hit a second.  I guess he couldn’t pick up on “the short hole”.  Overall, the team bet ended up even while Ashley beat me 2 ways in our side Nassau.  I ended up shooting 82 while Ashley shot a respectable 84.  After the round, we immediately hopped in our Jeep and drove to Northmoor Country Club.

Northmoor Country Club is located in Highland Park, Illinois and is about a 15 minute drive from Shoreacres.  It is also the home course of our great friend Ryan.  Northmoor has 27 holes designed by the famous golf course architect Donald Ross.  Immediately upon entering the club, we were greeted friendly by everyone.  Staff, other members, caddies all seemed to want to meet us and say hello to Ryan.  A very welcoming feeling.  It is very different playing at a private club with a member as opposed to being  an unaccompanied guest. Unaccompanied almost means unwelcome at some places.  This is something that Ashley and I have learned very strikingly on this trip.  After getting something to eat and drink we headed to the tee. We were joined again by Ryan’s friend Jeff and another member named Rich.  We threw balls on the tee and it was decided that Ashley and Jeff would have the “wheel” against  the teams combined of Rich, Ryan and Greg.  Ashley and Jeff came out on fire and held on down the stretch for a comfortable win in the Nassau games.  Both of them played well while Rich  was the only leg of the other teams.  Unfortunately, Ryan and I were enjoying the cocktails and camaraderie a little more than the golf.  Overall, the two nines at  Northmoor were outstanding. Course was in great shape and the greens were fast.

After golf, we showered up and headed outside to enjoy Northmoor’s Steak and Cigar Night.  During a fabulous dinner,  we were rushed inside to avoid a very strong storm which came up and soaked most of us.  Once inside we settled into the bar and enjoyed the Jets-Patriots game with our scotches.  After dinner, we were offered a ride back into Chicago with Jeff and his driver Iz.

Jeff, Greg, Ryan and Ashley at Scotch and Cigar Night at Northmoor Country Club.Iphone 019

Iz was a great guy and an extremely large African-American.  During the ride, it was apparent that our new friend Jeff had been a little over served. He referred to Iz as “his boy Iz” at least 50 times and became definitely the worst  DJ I have ever heard.  While Ashley and I were sitting in the back seat; Jeff blared the likes of Miley Cyrus,  Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry to unfathomable levels for our 40 minute journey into Chicago.  Not only were Ashley and I a little worried about our new friend we were also becoming deaf.  Once back to our hotel, we were thankful to be alive and very cognizant of the fact that we would never ride home with Jeff again.

Overall, this day will go down as one of my favorite days of all time. It had everything.  Great friends, great laughter, great golf and some extremely memorable car rides. Thanks to Ryan for making this day happen!  I will always remember it.

Olympia Fields – North Course

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Wow, it’s hard to write up a course following my superb display of golf at Butler the day prior but it is my duty and I will try to wash the tears away. When you arrive at Olympia the first thing you see is this monstrosity of a clubhouse. As you come down the drive it is all you can see and there is a giant clock tower right in the middle of this tudor inspired structure. Olympia was founded in 1915 and the North course was designed by Willy Park jr, who was a two time British Open Champ. It is home to two courses, the North and the South, which originally were 4 courses. During the second World War the club fell into financial distress and had to sell off half the land and the holes that were left were configured into the South Course. The North course is a par 70 and measures 7,177 yards with a 74.9 course rating and a slope of 147. Olympia has been home to two US Opens(28′ & 03′) and 2 PGA championships(25′ & 61′).

On the morning of our round we did our usual, breakfast, coffee and some trash talk. Our good friend Ryan was gracious enough to provide us with a ride to the course and he picked us up from our hotel in his Jeep “sans top”. There are multiple issues with this…. Rain was in the forecast, 20 + miles of highway driving and if you are sitting in the back you can’t hear a damn thing. Luckily I got shotgun and if you are 6′ 4” like Greg, the back of a jeep is a bit uncomfortable:) Although, it beat our $135 Uber option until it started raining…..but more on that later.

We arrived at the club around mid morning and Greg was excited to get inside the club to see if his friend Beau Hossler had checked in for the big college event that was being hosted at Olympia the following day. We walked into the locker room and it was the biggest most industrial locker room I have ever seen(straight out of the 60’s), I think there were 1500 plus lockers. All of the college teams had their own sections with banners in front so that was pretty exciting to see. A lot of the players were arriving and checking the place out like we were, which created a type of buzz in the atmosphere.

Once we were checked in we headed down to the range to hit some balls, warm up and meet our host Dan who is a good friend of Ryan’s. After 30 minutes or so of sweating in the 92 degree midwestern heat we were ready to head out to the first tee. Dan is a fan of the member regular tee’s, so that was our choice for the day. I have to say that is was a nice test of golf. Olympia is well known for it’s abundance of oak trees and a serpentine creek that flows through the course that may catch you off guard if you are not mindful. We had a nice team game that was very competitive all the way to end where Greg and Ryan wound up claiming victory on the 18th hole. In our personal game I lost straight up and was spared a bit in my Nassau match with Greg. He shot a 79 and I wound up limping in with a 93. The most memorable stretch of holes for me were 13, 14 and 15. A fantastic par 3 followed by a picturesque par 4 and then a monster par 5 to set you up for the home stretch. The greens were very fair and were rolling pretty good. The bunker layout is a nice distraction at Olympia and can be very penal if you are too aggressive on your approach shots.

Hole #13

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After our round we had a beer with Dan, revisited the round and then had to run so we could make our dinner reservation in Chicago. Unfortunately Dan was unable to join us for dinner as he had to be up at the crack of dawn so he could make it out to the BMW championship at Conway farms the next morning. Fortunately for Greg we only experienced a little rain on our drive back to Chicago as he was in the boot once again.

IMG_9059Our Dinner reservations were at a Restaurant called Bevette’s. If you are ever in Chicago you must eat at this establishment. It is speakeasy meets steak house. Greg called 3 weeks in advance and was able to secure us a booth in the Parlor, which is in the basement of the building dimly lit and conducive to a very relaxing dinner.. The Bone in Filet is the “go to ” and I highly recommend the maple cured bacon. After celebrating our day over a few bottles of wine and a couple scotch’s we decided to venture out for a few more libations at a local bar where an infamous bet was made between Greg and I. At some point in the future I am required to test my field goal kicking prowess by making 5 of 10 from 40 yards……Hopefully this story will make the blog at some point in the future……

Chicago

Butler National Golf Club

Ashley and I arrived in Chicago on our 3rd trip to play America’s Top 100 Golf Courses. On this trip we relied on our good friend Ryan to play “host”.  There are 6 Top 100 Golf Courses in Chicago.  They are Chicago GC #17,  Medinah CC #23, Butler National #54,  Rich Harvest #58, Olympia Fields #60 and Shoreacres #92. It was always our desire to play 4 of the 6 courses this week.  We arrived Monday and left Friday night.  4 nights and 4 days in Chicago!

Our first round was Tuesday morning at Butler National.  I had arranged for us to have an unaccompanied foursome through Josh’s boss.  Josh is a great friend of mine from college who had recently moved to Chicago.  He  had been visiting Las Vegas earlier in the year and mentioned that  he could help us get on a course or two In Chicago..  Within a week he had confirmed a Butler foursome for us.  Thanks Josh and Josh’s Boss!

Butler National was designed by George Fazio in 1974 with a later update by Tom Fazio.  It’s a male only club with absolutely no exceptions.  Butler National  shares an entrance with Oak Brook Golf Course.  You drive through the parking lot of Oak Brook to find a private driveway  that leads you back to Butler National. Photo below.

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After getting settled into our lockers we decided to have breakfast and wait for Ryan and Dan.  Dan is a good friend of mine from Las Vegas who recently moved to Chicago.  He is also an excellent golfer who plays around scratch or better.  The highlight (or lowlight depending how you look at it) of breakfast was Ryan’s late entrance and story about his wife separating her shoulder.  I immediately nominated him for husband of the year after hearing the story of how his wife separated her shoulder while he was driving to Butler.  She needed to go to the hospital  but Ryan  wasn’t going to turn around and miss his Butler tee time..  What  commitment!!  The story  has many more details but this blog is supposed to be about golf.

We get to the tee and decide to play the Tournament Tees.  The “Tournament” tees play from 6,989 and provided an excellent challenge.  We all  knew that Butler National is regarded as the toughest course in Illinois and saw no need playing from the “Butler” tees at 7,523 yards.  After throwing balls to determine the teams (Greg and Ryan versus Ashley and Dan), we were ready to play!

Here’s a picture of the 4 of us on the 5th tee. A beautiful 179 yard par 3 over water. In order left to right: Dan, Greg, Ashley and Ryan.

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Overall, Butler is a very demanding golf course which  requires length and precision. There is a lot of water and errant shots seem to always cost strokes.  That is definitely a common trait of the top 100 courses! My favorite holes were the collection of holes around the main central lake 5, 6, 13,14 and 18.  Below is a picture of Ashley and I on the 13th tee.

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Below is a picture of the approach shot on 18.  A fantastic finishing par 4 playing 444  yards.  The clubhouse is up on the right.

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Ryan and I ended up winning the Nassau 4 ways.  It helped that Ryan shot 85 playing as an 8 while Ashley shot 105 as a 12.  Ashley didn’t make a par all day.  The best player of the day was clearly Dan who carded an easy 77.  Dan’s drives were massive and several times the caddies said  they hadn’t seen anyone hit it that far on a particular hole. Unfortunately, Dan’s wedge game was a little off or he could have easily shot around par. I ended up shooting 81.

After having lunch in the gorgeous Butler Clubhouse, we headed to Naperville with Dan  to play White Eagle CC and have dinner.  Naperville is a suburb about 40 miles west of Chicago. We only played 9 holes at White Eagle due to the heat, wind and poor golf games.   Ashley ended up not making a par the whole day.  Fortunately, he made a fabulous birdie on number 9 at White Eagle to salvage some dignity.  For the 9 holes from the White Eagle “Tips”,  Dan shot 39, Greg shot 42 and Ashley 47.

After golf, we headed over to Dan’s house to shower up and see the family.  The day was capped off with a great dinner at Hugo Frog House in downtown Naperville.  A fabulous first day in Chicago!

Greg

The Olympic Club – Lake

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Greg has been rousting me for months to pontificate on our Olympic experience and maintain my blogging responsibilities…..Ashley will refrain from writing in the 3rd person.  In an earlier write up, posted many moons ago, Greg detailed our first adventure to SF and most of the Shenanigans that came along with the trip. While our trip did not reap as many top 100 golf rewards as originally planned we were able to play Olympic Lake with a couple of great guys and spend some time with old friends.
And away we go…..Olympic has been home to 5 US Open’s(55′, 66′, 87′, 98′, 12′) and 3 US Amateur’s(58′, 81′, 07′). This course and club have some serious historical relevance. The club was opened in 1860, under the name  “San Francisco Club”, as an Athletic and Social club making it the oldest of it’s kind in the United States. Golf was brought to Olympic in 1918 when they purchased Lakeside Golf Club, which at the time had been struggling financially. Both the Lake and Ocean courses were designed by Scottish architect Wille Watson and opened in 1924. The courses were remodeled by the original builder and superintendent Sam Whiting in 1927 after being devastated by landslides.
One of our friends that I had met on my first trip to Bandon Dunes, who Greg has known for many years, is a social member at Olympic and graciously offered to arrange our round with a member friend. Our round was scheduled for Wednesday 7/17.  As usual we woke up early with that familiar feeling of excitement around playing one of the top 100 courses. One common occurrence that I noticed this trip, which is starting to get burned into my brain, is the one where Greg says, “I am going to kick your ass today”. I  am not sure I like it and it is definitely motivating me to improve my golf game. As we left the hotel we grabbed our coffee’s at the local coffee joint (which there is no shortage of in SF) and then ventured across town to the course. Greg and I met Neil at the pro-shop around 7:30 and then met up with our host Ben shortly after hitting a few balls on the range.
The group decided that we would play the “back tee’s” which measured out at 6,934 yards with a course rating of 74.7 and slope of 138. It’s hard to put into words how long 6900 yards feels when you are at sea level. I think I had a 4 iron or Hybrid in my hand all day on my approach shots. Unfortunately the greens had recently been aerified but they were rolling pretty good for being a week or so into the healing process. The theme of the day was trees and heavily protected greens and the Ham Dogs(AKA Burger Dog)!
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I think for me some of the best holes were 9, 12, 16 and 18. 16 being the most challenging for the group at 609 yards. The finishing holes at Olympic are awesome you come home with two par 5’s followed by the famous 18th hole. it is so hard to describe how small the 18 green is but I would liken it to a postage stamp. Overall, It was a rough day out there for me and I wound up loosing “two ways” to Greg in our Nassau bet. Greg finished with a 82, Ashley a 92, Neil 83 and our host Ben with an 85. Neil came roaring into the clubhouse on the back with a very respectable 38. Let’s just say his driver was working!
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San Francisco and Pasatiempo Golf Club

The second trip of our journey takes us to San Francisco.  There are 8 courses on the Top 100 list within 2 hours of the city. They are Cypress Point (#5), Pebble Beach (#6), Olympic Club (#27), San Francisco (#33), Spyglass (#52), Preserve (#68), Monterrey Peninsula (#80) and Mayacama (#82). Going into our journey, both of us really like our chances at playing all 8 of these courses.  Both of us live in California and Greg spent 7 years living in San Francisco.

The trip idea started as a quick 1 night 2 day journey where we were going to play 2 or 3 of the 8 courses.  Going into the trip the confidence level was high as Greg’s moms friend is a woman member at San Francisco GC, the head pro at Mayacama is good friends with the head pro at Martis Camp where Greg’s parents are members and our good friend Neil is a social member at Olympic Club. The plan from the start was to play those 3 courses in two days.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the W Hotel in San Francisco on Monday, July 15th still not knowing where we were playing Tuesday.  Neil, our friend from Olympic Club, had lined up a 7:30 tee time on Wednesday at Olympic Club but Tuesday  was still up in the air. We decided to not worry about Tuesday’s golf location and enjoy a night out in San Francisco.  We had a fabulous dinner at Boulevard  (Greg’s favorite San Francisco restaurant) and capped the evening with several cocktails at the Redwood Room in the Clift Hotel.  Maybe we won’t succeed on our golfing journey but we surely will have fun and experience the best San Francisco has to offer.

Unfortunately, Greg’s moms friend ended up not getting us on San Francisco GC.  This had something to do with her being a woman member at a male dominated club. We didn’t ask questions.  We were still hopeful that we could get on Mayacama Tuesday morning.  Mayacama is closed to members on Tuesday but caddies and staff are allowed to play the course.  Unfortunately, Greg got an email at 10:45PM on Monday night that we wouldn’t be able to play Mayacama due to a staff party that day.  Damn… we had high hopes for the 8 courses in Northern California and starting our first day without getting on any of them was disheartening…  Oh well, we are together, in San Francisco and ready to play…

On Tuesday, we decided that we didn’t want to drive all the way  to Pebble Beach. The next best course not on the top 100 list is Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz.  Pasatiempo Golf Club was designed by the famous English Architect Alister MacKenzie. (MacKenzie also designed Cypress Point and Augusta National.)  In fact, Pasatiempo was MacKenzie’s favorite course and he lived there until his death in 1934. Pasatiempo was opened in 1929 with Bobby Jones playing in the first group. Pasatiempo appeared on the Top 100 list  until 2007.  While Pasatiempo doesn’t help us on our quest to play  the top 100; we were both excited to play our first Mackenzie design.

1photo Greg and Ashley at Pasatiempo entrance

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Bethpage Black

Yes, our golfing journey has landed us in downtown Manhattan! After playing Pine Valley yesterday, we drove our rental car back to the Newark airport and got a ride into the city.  After a few beers we were off to bed around midnight excited for our round at Bethpage Black early in the morning.

Having your alarm go off at 4:30AM is never fun. It is especially tough when in Manhattan.

Bethpage Black is a public golf course located in Farmington, New York.  It’s about a 45 minute train or car ride from Manhattan.  Getting on the black course can be challenging.  On the weekend it requires camping out in the parking lot.  During the week, we were advised to get to the course no later than 6:00AM as the pro shop opens at 5:30AM and then dispenses tee times.  We got a private car from our hotel at 5:00AM and arrived at Bethpage State Park around 5:35AM.  Once there, we noticed the line of golfers waiting to secure a tee time on one of the 5 championship courses at Bethage. At the window, we were disappointed to learn that the black course had just reopened after being closed for a week for aerification.  What a bummer!  Additionally, the first tee time was being delayed until 9:00AM because the superintendent needed more time to get the course ready for play.  We purchased two spots at 9:06AM and proceeded to have some coffee (and breakfast).

Bethpage State Park Clubhouse

Welcome Sign at Bethpage State Park

At breakfast, Ashley and I decided we didn’t want to sit around for 3 hours to play the black course so we went back to the pro shop and purchased 9 holes on the blue course.  We teed off at 6:36AM on number 10 of the blue course and had a very pleasant 9 hole warm up with two retired locals, Mike and Pat.   The course was in decent shape with a few memorable holes.  My favorite was number 12 which was a 473 yard dog left left par 5.  It was a very challenging hole which demanded a right to left tee shot and had a small green on top of a hill.  Overall, Ashley shot 43 and I shot 41.  However, taking full  advantage of his shots; Ashley won $10 on the blue course.

Walking to the first tee of Bethpage Black Course was quite intimidating.  First, we had to walk by the sign below. Second, there was a small gallery of people watching on the railing above the first tee.  Third, the starter informed us that the fairways and greens were recently aerified and that  the rough was still very long. What a difficult setup for one of the hardest courses in the world.

Ashley next to one of the most famous signs in golf.

On the tee, we met our two local playing partners, Ted and Jim, who were both singles out for their weekly round on the black course.  Bethpage Black is probably one of the best deals in golf for locals.  While Ashley and I paid $130 for our round; Jim and Ted only had to  pay $65.

Bethpage Black opens with a difficult 430 yard par 4 which demands a well placed tee shot.  The 2nd hole is a tight uphill  short par 4 which also demands a well positioned tee shot. Since the course was recently aerified and the greens were  covered with sand; Ashley and I  decided not to get caddies.  In hindsight, we probably should have. Ball position is a premium at Bethpage Black and we were constantly in poor positions.  After an average start for both of us, we came to the famous par 5 4th hole. The 4th is a visually stunning golf hole as can be seen below.

Par 5 4th hole from the champonship tee.

8th tee at Bethpage Black

Overall, the front nine at Bethpage is a challenge.  I particularly liked holes 4 through 6.  Neither Ashley nor I played very well.  Ashley shot 47 and I shot 43. Our Nassau bet was even as we headed for number 10.

The back nine starts with a difficult par 4 which extends to  the edge of the property.  The wind was starting to blow pretty hard and our games were leaking a little oil.  At one point, I thought Ashley was going to give up because his game was not cooperating with his mind.  I got a little cocky and was throwing verbal  jabs at Ashley.  Unfortunately for me, Ashley stepped up his game and came back with 4 pars over the last five holes to win 2 bets on the back.  Overall, I shot 84 (43-41) and Ashley shot 93  (47-46).  Even with his poor round, his strong finish enabled Ashley to win $40 on the black course and $50 overall  for the day at Bethpage.

15th hole from fairway. #1 handicap.

18th tee box

After our 27 holes, Ashley and I visited the restaurant to have a few beers.  We were served by the same woman who helped us earlier named Ginger.  Ginger had a fabulous personality and was obviously a very hard-working woman. She served us breakfast at 6:00AM and then drinks at 3:00PM.  We shared our story with Ginger and promised to put her in our blog. Cheers to you Ginger!!

Ashley with Ginger

Being our last round of the trip, we decided to have a big night out in Manhattan.  We hooked up with a few friends of ours, Jed and Mick, and Jed was kind enough to get us all into the Boom Boom Room at the Soho House.  It was a fun night with many stories but the wake up call at 4:30AM sucked… One thing I will remember next time visiting Manhattan is that 4:30AM wake up calls are brutal especially 2 days in a row!!

Greg

Pine Valley

Few golfers have heard about the majestic nature of this great course in Clementon, NJ. Once I realized we might have a chance to play Pine Valley. I started telling people and most of the time their response was, “Pine Valley?, is that in NC?”.  Seriously,  as a golf nut I have started to realize that very few people care or have the passion about these architectural masterpieces that exist in America. My wife supports my passion but reminds me that I sound like an Ornitholigist when I talk about the ranking, history and architects. This made me realize that anyone who reads our blog probably wants to hear more about how we gained entrance, our actual day on the course, and maybe a little history sprinkled in with the commentary. Or they might just be looking for a few pictures.
PINE VALLEY – I am writing this a week or so after our round and I can still visualize everything. In my mind nothing on paper can do this course the justice it deserves. Granted Greg and I are just beginning our journey to conquer the top 100 and have a limited perspective to make full comparisons. We both agreed that this course was the most mentally challenging course we have ever played. This may change but I doubt it…..When we arrived at the course we knew we were in for a special day. The drive in is relatively secretive and non-assuming. We hit the guard gate and the gentlemen asked who our member sponsor was for the day.  After we got that out of the way we asked about some of the rules to make sure we were on our best behavior. He instructed us to go to the range and we knew that it was bad form to change your shoes in the parking lot and the gentlemen said,” you are a guest and it is all about fun here, feel free to change your shoes anywhere”. That was how everyone at PV and our host approached the day, which made for an amazingly special experience.
After warming up for about 45 minutes on one of the most amazing practice facilities(Fazio enhanced) we were slated to play the 10 hole short course before the great adventure. The short course was designed by Fazio and opened in 1991. The “Short Course” at PV is a great way to start the day as it provides some insight to some of the toughest approach shots and gives you a good feel for the relentless nature of your second shot. At Pine Valley they have a green mailbox at the first tee at both courses that contains pencils and scorecards.  The mailbox at the short course had a 5th of Vodka sitting in it and my guess was that it might be tradition to take a little warm up swig, but since our host did not comment I thought it might be poor form to make any suggestions. The short course was pretty awesome and helped Greg dial in his game as he would go on to beat me on the main course and shoot a 79. I hate loosing to Greg by the way!
We left the short course and ran over to the clubhouse to have a quick bite before the round. We followed the program and ate some Snapper soup and grabbed a cookie(or two) on the way out the door. The service during lunch was exceptional and the food was fantastic.
The round started by meeting our caddies. Nat and Bob. Nat was a true veteran and Bob looked like he might still be struggling through puberty. Nat was our caddie for the day and we soon discovered that he had previously spent 14 years of his life at little old course down in Augusta, GA. The first question that jumped out of my mouth, “which is better?”. Nat Struggled with this question but in the end he concluded that he enjoyed the Pine Valley experience a little more as it demanded more from the golfer on an approach shot basis. We have no opinion on his comment but we hope to someday. The battle had begun and our front nine was pretty tight. The highlight of the front was Greg hitting it to 4 inches on #3, which is a downhill Par 3 that was playing 170 yds……We finished the front 1/1. Greg 39, Ash 42.
The Back 9 was my demise. I started off well but 14 –16 is where the mental anguish set in and took me down. Greg was masterful with his emotions and made a mockery of me on the back and wound up beating me 3 ways and clinching the overall through this stretch of holes.   We had read this little bit of advice about the course somewhere previously. The #1 rule at Pine Valley,  “if you get in trouble, take your medicine and move on!”. Unfortunately,  this is more challenging than one might think.
I think a lot of people talk about the forced carries off the tee at Pine Valley but for us we found that getting into the green in regulation was an absolute grind. The bunkers on this course are treacherous and can put you in a mental spiral if you are not a great sand player. The fairways were immaculate and the greens were extremely fair considering they stimped out around 10 on this fine day.  My favorite holes were 4, 6, 10, 16, 17 and 18. Greg has been holding back on sharing this info so maybe on our second trip he will be more forthcoming!
Weather: 75 and Sunny:)
#1 tip to getting on Pine Valley – You gotta know someone!
Thanks to our wonderful host and Thomas for a wonderful day that neither Greg nor I will ever forget.

Philadelphia and Merion GC

We have just started our adventure and the first stop is Philadelphia where we are scheduled to play Merion East tomorrow and then Pine Valley the following day.  To say we are excited is an extreme understatement.  Months of planning and preparation have landed us at the Le Meridien Downtown Philadelphia Hotel Bar talking with our new-found friends, David and Dara, who are from Oklahoma.  Over a few drinks we start telling them about our journey and why we are sitting next to them enjoying cocktails (Hendricks and Tonic for Ashley and a Chopin Dry Vodka Martini Up for myself). David and Dara seem like a very fun couple as they are extolling on the virtues of their bar hopping adventure the night before.  Basically, they know exactly where the restaurant we are planning on going later is, however, they can’t really give us exact directions because it was the very last  bar of their tour. I really like these two already!  Before we leave, David asks us if there are any  courses in Oklahoma on the top 100 list.  We explain the only course is Southern Hills in Tulsa which is number 38.  (Ashley knows the list almost by heart). David then offers to  help us get on Southern Hills as between them they know a lot of golfers in Tulsa who are probably members.  We exchange numbers with David and head off to dinner.  What a great first few cocktails on this journey. Met some nice people, had some seriously strong libations and got a hook up to Southern Hills!  Wow!  We look forward to seeing David and Dara again in Oklahoma!

After a very nice dinner at Pub and Kitchen with some of Ashley’s work colleagues; we head back to our room in anticipation of playing Merion East when we wake up.  We have been in touch with our host and she has graciously offered to play golf with us rain or shine.   The weather forecast is abysmal for tomorrow but Ashley and I have played in snow so we feel confident that anything the storm gods throw our way we can handle.

Unfortunately, I wake up to an email from our host displaying clearly in the subject line “Merion Closed”. What a bummer!  Ashley isn’t awake yet so I decide to go for a walk and find a local Starbucks.  After a massive caffeine intake, I am ready to move on from this monumental disappointment. I have been so excited to play Merion East that I was almost giddy.  Merion East is the number 7 ranked course on our list and is the site of the 2013 US Open. Additionally, our host has been awesome to communicate with and is a good friend of a friend of mine from Newport Beach.   Not only was I looking forward to  playing the course but I knew that we would meet some great people.  For both of us, meeting people along our journey is almost as fun as playing fabulous golf courses. 

To say the weather forecast for today is poor is a massive understatement.  The meteorologists are expecting over an inch of rain, 40 mile per hour plus winds and the city is currently in a tornado warning.  So what should we do today??  Pretty easy decision for Ashley and I.  We are playing golf!  

After checking local public golf course rankings and calling courses to see if they are open (3 of the 5 we called are closed due to weather), we decide to drive about 45 minutes to The Golf Course at Glen Mills.  Glen Mills was opened in 2001 and was designed by noted architect Bobby Weed. Glen Mills has hosted qualifiers for both the US Open and US Amateur and has been voted the best public golf course in Philadelphia several times.  Upon arriving at the course around 11:30AM, we are greeted by several shocked PGA Professionals.  They tell us there is only one other group on the course and that they teed off before the weather “turned sour”. We are welcome to play but given the weather the course is cart path only and we need to be very careful of lightning.  After checking our handicaps for the course (I’m a 2 and Ashley is an 11), getting a quick bite to eat (snack bar was closed except for hot dogs), and agreeing on our standard wager of a $20 Nassau; we settle into our cart and go right to the first tee.  No warm up necessary for this round!

Glen Mills after the round.

Overall, the course was very nice.  It was in magnificent shape, had a lot of extremely demanding golf holes and played incredibly fair.  Unfortunately, the weather was miserable.  It rained almost the entire round and the wind was a steady 30-40 miles per hour.  Since this course is not on our overall top 100 list and the weather didn’t allow for any note taking; I am not going to write much about the round. That might also be due to the fact that I played my worst round in years. I ended up shooting a 96 (47-49) and Ashley shot a very respectable 86 (43-43).  No birdies for either one of us. This round now represents the first time that Ashley has ever beaten me straight up.   We have probably played over 100 rounds together and to say that I wanted the first round of our journey to be the day that he finally beat me would be a lie.  The only saving grace to the round was that Ashley played a miserable 17th and 18th to only win $40 from me in our Nassau bet.

Greg

 

Ashley hitting his 3rd shot on the 17th at Glen Mills.

 
 

Scorecard from The Golf Course at Glen Mills

We played the blue tees at Glen Mills