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

Bandon Dunes

2011 Bandon Dunes Group

Bandon Dunes is a special place for Ashley and I. I was first introduced to Bandon Dunes by Tyler Sweeney in 2005. Since then, Ashley and I have visited Bandon Dunes every year on the last weekend of March.  Most years we have had 16 friends join us while some years there were as few as 8. Unfortunately, as the organizer of this yearly trip, I decided to cancel the trip to focus on the top 100 list with Ashley.  With a wife and 3 small kids it isn’t feasible to chase down these great courses and go on a seperate 4 day golf trip.  We will be back to Bandon Dunes one of these years and when we do it will be BIG!

Over the years, our Bandon Dunes trip has been the highlight of my year. The trip is simple: golf, friends, drinking, eating and gambling. What could be better!  In fact, it is our many experiences at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort that inspired our commitment to playing Americas Greatest 100.  Getting to Bandon Dunes isn’t easy.  Flying into North Bend is a pain in the ass. The past few years the only direct flights have been through SFO.  As we all know, San Francisco has frequent flight delays and issues.  Hence, we usually get into North Bend much later than planned and with a few too many cocktails in our bellies given the time of day.

Pacific Dunes 2009 with Jed, Ashley and Rob

Over the years we tinkered with the format of our trip.  We finally settled on 1 round Thursday afternoon, 2 rounds Friday, 1 round Saturday and 1 round Sunday.  The past  2 years we had a Calcutta on Thursday evening. Then,we would play a net tournament with 27 of the 36  holes counting Friday (throw out your worst 9) and the whole 18 counting Saturday. 

We had the same winner the past two years, Eric Cann.  In  2011, Eric headed into the last round down by 1 shot and ended up winning by  8.  Eric is the best player in our group as he is usually around a 1 handicap.  His short game is amazing and playing Bandon Dunes in March is a big advantage for him.  His chipping and putting is clearly superior to the rest of our group.  Fortunately, for the rest of us, Eric is an awful poker player.   The past two years he has won several thousand dollars for winning the tournament then loses it all back at the poker table.  I still haven’t figured out if it is his poor poker playing or the fact that he drinks 8 Apple Martini’s every evening.  I will miss playing poker with Eric in the Bunker Bar.  He was an easy mark! 

Overall, I have played over 40 rounds at the 4 courses at Bandon Dunes and have had numerous late night poker games in the Bunker Bar.  While it is hard to evaluate each course independently; I would rank my course preferences as Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old MacDonald.  Additionally, as of this writing I would rate Pacific Dunes as my favorite course in the world.  This rating will probably change over our journey but being on the Oregon Coast in late March with the gourse blooming, weather elements pounding and friends all around will be a hard experience to beat. 

Greg

2011 Old MacDonald with Eric, Ashley and Neil

The Mission

Well it’s summer 2012 and my good friend Greg and I have decided to take on this crazy feat of playing all of the top 100 public and private golf courses in the US according to Golf Digest 2011/2012 ranking. Crazy…. Right! I feel honored to chase down all these private courses with a good friend.

Greg has no idea how to blog and I am not much better but we decided that it was probably best that we chronicle our journey so we could remember all the crazy shit we had to do to get on these courses. Bare with us as we build the blog.  As we officially start this journey Greg has played 10 and myself 7, so we have a long road to tow. 83 courses are private and were guessing the most interesting aspect of our stories will be how we gained entrance.

The premise all kind of started a year or so ago when I told Greg I was trying to get a tee time at Pine Valley. I told him I would get him on with me. I doubt he believed me….I always like to shoot for the moon if you know me. So here we are summer of 2012 and we just got the call. 1:40 on 9.19.2012. Here we come Crump!

Ash