Alright, here we go.....
Wow, what a day! I was so stoked for the day, that over the last couple of days I've had to remind myself that things like this seldom really live up to the hopes and expectations you've built around them. I needn't have worried. Remember the scene in City Slickers where they're talking about their "best day ever"? Well, this one was right up there for me.....maybe after my wedding and birth of our child, but really, not that far behind.
When they initially called, they had said that it was going to be a small group of loyal customers that they wanted to show some additional appreciation towards. She mentioned a 4-some, so in my mind I was hoping for 4 of us and Graeme, but really thinking that there might even be several groups of us schmucks, with Graeme wandering back and forth, playing the occasional hole with each group. Maybe even, heaven forbid, some kind of silly scramble type thing. Not so.....
We were asked to be there at 12:30, and I pulled up to the bag drop at Lake Nona GCC http://www.lakenona.com/ just a few minutes early. I was welcomed and directed to the main entrance to the clubhouse where I found two nice young ladies, Tamara and Lindsay, from GolfNow chatting with two other golfers. I walked up and before I could introduce myself, Tamara said, "You must be David, you'll be playing with these two gentlemen, Bill and John. Bill is from Tampa, and a pretty big social media buff. He's the one that was mentioned a couple of pages back.....he does some blogging and reviews and such. John was flown in from Philly......he was tailgating at that Eagles game on Sunday in all the snow. I got the feeling that GolfNow picked him just to get him down to some nice weather!
We were then handed a large bag with a shirt, shoe bag, hat, towel, a dozen Srixon Z Stars, a $100 AMEX card and a nice letter thanking us for our loyal patronage. We dropped the goodie bags off at our cars, then met in the Grille Room to get the scoop on the rest of the day. At this point, it's still just the 3 of us and the two ladies, so I asked how many other players there would be and they said none.......it's just the 3 of you and Graeme today, we'll meet up with him down at the range in about 30 minutes! We were then asked if we minded if the entire day was photographed and used in future GolfNow/Golf Channel ads and promotions, and asked to sign photo releases. Needless to say, we were happy to do so. At that point, 2 professional photographers joined us. From that moment on, just about every swing and ass scratch was photographed.....my wife's last admonition to me out the door was "don't pee on the course". Turns out, she was right!
After a couple of group photos at the clubhouse, we loaded up in individual carts for each of us and went to the range. They set us up on one end of the range, and we warmed up for about 10 minutes, until Graeme rolled up in his personal golf cart, tricked out in a Ryder Cup motif. We all shook hands and I asked him if he had lost a bet that resulted in him having to play with our happy little group. He laughed, and said that he actually enjoyed these things because it allowed him to practise on the course, which he preferred over range work. We took a bunch of pics (the GolfNow ladies offered to take pics with our own cell phones/cameras too), hit a few more balls, hit a couple of putts, and headed to the first tee.
A couple more pics on the tee box and we were ready to go. I asked Graeme if we were going to play a game, and he laughed and said of course. He said, let's play a group Stableford and asked for our handicaps. I was a 6, John was 11, and Bill plays off of 18. Graeme said he'd play off of +5. He also said he'd play the same tees as us, at 6771, rather than the tips at 7200. In retrospect, I think we were hustled a little at +5! I asked about stakes and Bill and John looked like they wanted to swallow their tongues. Graeme laughed again, and said we'd figure it out later.....a guy about as casual and down-to-earth as you'd ever find.
The first hole is a pretty straight forward little par-4.....410 yards with a little curve to the right with bunkers right and left that start at about 200 yards and end at about 280. OB left, and woods right that separate the 1st from the 9th fairways. Graeme took the honor and smoked a nice, high draw right down the middle about 280ish. I stepped up and promptly blasted it OVER the trees on the right. I was about to pull out a provisional, when Graeme said not to bother, I'd find it in the middle of the 9th fairway, with a decent angle in, but blind, and he was right! A blind 6-iron left me pin high in a deep grass bunker short-sided left. Hit a really nice little flop out of the bunker, but it rolled about 15 feet past. Nice putt back up the hill, but it stayed out. I RAN to the next tee happy with a bogey to start. The other two made 6 and 8 and Graeme hit his approach to 6 feet and lipped the putt out on the high side.
I won't try to run down all the holes, but a couple come to mind.
Number 5: A short, 333 par-4 that dogs to the right around a lake. I hit hybrid down the middle, almost going through the fairway, but end up ok with 128 to the pin. Graeme says nice shot, but this is how you play this one......and jacks it right at the green. By my rangefinder, the carry over the water was 285, and he must have carried it with 30 yards to spare. He left himself 10 yards from the front, with a middle pin sitting on top on the second tier. Promptly chips in for eagle 2. I knock mine off the back edge into 3" deep Bermuda rough, and end up with 5. Not my proudest moment from 128 yards, but pretty well ignored because of the deuce.
Number 9: I got this one right......maybe because I had seen it before after my tee shot on one? Par-5, 529 that turns a little left. Narrow, but no real trouble except for some cross bunkers about 120 out from the green. Nice drive, nice solid 3-wood that left me 80 yards to the back pin. Hit a nice low, spinning gap-wedge to 8 feet right and exactly pin high, and made the putt for my only birdie of the day. Graeme was on in 2 and bombed his eagle put 8 feet past the hole, then jammed the comeback in. Routine 2-putt.
Number 13: Pic below. That's Henrik Stenson's new house being built to the left of the green. 168 to the pin which is to the far right of the pic. Graeme hits 7-iron and almost immediately says "guys, we're going to the bar!" One hop and stop, 9 inches from the hole. I make a nice up and down from that Sahara on the right.
Number 14: Little 310 par-4. Hard dog to the right around the woods.....pic below. Graeme says, this is a fun little hole. The hole is directly over the woods on the right, over the bathrooms. He says, the aim point is just to the left of that big, tall tree in the middle. He hits it right at the tree and it draws about 10 feet....probably didn't miss the tree by more than 5 feet, and he says "damnit, that's too far left!" We get up there and find him pin high, 10 feet left of the green. Another short hole that I manage to make 5 on. Of course, I took a little more traditional route to get there.
Here's the final scorecard. As I said, I shot 85, with 2 doubles and a birdie. Graeme shot 63 and I'm serious, he really didn't putt well. He had the eagle, and birdied every par 5, but hit all but one in 2. The other he was just off of and chipped it close.....and hit it stiff on the par 3 13th. He only birdied one par-4 all day!
Scores on top, Stableford points on the bottom......and yep, that is his signature attesting to the card.
There's more to tell about the day, but I know there are a lot of you looking to hear some of the details, so I'll quit here for this post and fill in some additional details about the day later. Needless to say, one that I'm gonna remember for a loooooonng time!