It's been a different kind of year for me, in regards to golf. Just about a year ago... I found out that the job I'd had for over 7 years was going away. With it... a decent salary and a very, very flexible schedule would be going away too. Luckily, I had made a great friend through golf who immediately offered me an opportunity. It was going to come with a steep learning curve and, early on... a sizable decrease in pay... but it was a job.
With those changes came some choices. I decided to leave the club I was a member at... dedicate more time to work... and life was just going to be different than it had been. Golf, which is about the only 'activity' I get out for, has taken a back seat. With less playing time and less practice time, it means in increase in my scores when I do get to play. Gone are the rounds in the low 80's which could creep into the high 70's if it all came together. Instead, the scores hover around the mid 90's with the random score in the 80's on a day when I don't chunk 50% of my short game shots.
Still... I knew that the second half of the year would be better for my golf game. I have plans to play both the the Champions and the Stadium Courses at TPC Scottsdale in September. There's a 3 round tournament in Hilton Head during the middle part of October. There's some tournaments in August that I'm looking forward to, as well. All that aside... the big thing is that we're planning to join a club again in the coming months. No more battling for tee times on public courses. No more 'surprises' on the public courses where half of the fairways are gone. I'll be back in a comfortable spot with a solid practice area and availability to get out and practice various aspects of my game on the course... and hopefully that means the return of my scores where they were at this time last year.
Anyway... all that aside, I have been patient and optimistic. The Thursday before Father's Day, I was surprised by my wife when she told me to pack my clubs, my shoes and some clothes. We were headed down to Hilton Head (which is quickly becoming my second favorite place on Earth) for the weekend to play golf! She told me that she had made a tee time for Sunday morning. When I asked where, she told me we would be playing Harbour Town on Sunday morning! She knew it was on my list... and she wanted to give me an experience. Although she's very new to golf (maybe 10 rounds under her belt)... she wanted to play too, but we were concerned that it was going to be too much for her to handle there since the caddies were going to press the pace. After some discussion, she said she'd just ride along instead and enjoy the course and seeing me play.
To make up for it, I contacted Palmetto Dunes and asked if we could get out on the Jones Course at some point Saturday afternoon. I explained that we'd have our daughters (12 & 13) with us... but that they'd just want to ride along. The woman I was dealing with replied and said she had reached out to the director of golf there and he would provide us a four-seater cart and not charge us any riding fees for the girls. We got a great rate... booked a 2:15pm tee time... and were ready for a great time!
I was a little nervous because I hadn't played in a month leading up to that weekend... and when I had played, my scores were pretty rough. I was looking at Saturday as a way to kind of 'warm up' for Harbour Town. Everything I had heard from friends who played it... the course was tight and scores could get out of hand in a hurry if I wasn't careful.
The Saturday round was peaceful and relaxing. I didn't play well, but I enjoyed spending the time on the course with my wife and girls. The scenery was as perfect as I described it to my wife. She was excited to play the 10th hole and see the ocean from the green... and she was just generally excited to be playing and seeing exactly what I'd been saying to her about golf on Hilton Head. It's just better, in my opinion. I love the layouts. I love the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. I love the gators in the ponds. It's just special to play there.
On Sunday morning... it was time to head to Harbour Town. The girls stayed in the hotel while my wife and I headed across the island to Sea Pines. My tee time was 7:39am that morning and I was in the first group off. We arrived a little later than planned so I was a little rushed once we got to the course, but we were surprised when the attendant in the shop said he wasn't going to charge my wife the rider fee of $50 because the course was going to be slow and they had plenty of carts. After my wife spent some time looking around in the pro-shop... I headed over to the range to hit a few balls. After about 10 swings... I realized it was already 7:30 and I needed to get my stuff together and head to the first tee.
As I approached the first tee... our caddie for the day was there waiting for us. Randy had been a caddie at Harbour Town for about 7 years and was a 2.0 index from the blue tees at the course. While Randy and I were talking, the rest of our group showed up. It was a father and his 2 adult sons who had surprised him with this round for Father's Day as well. After some brief discussion, it was decided that my 13.0 handicap would best be suited for the white tees (6253 yards... 71.4 rating... 136 slope).
I was given the honor... Randy retreated up the fairway to keep an eye on shots... and away we went. What follows is a hole-by-hole recap. I wouldn't be upset if you skipped past this now... but for my own selfish reasons... I'm gonna post it all.
Hole 1 - Par 4 - 380 Yards -- Handicap Hole 11
Tight. That was the word that kept running through my mind all weekend. Standing on the first tee... I could tell that it was true. Randy's instructions were to not miss left... but don't miss right either. At 380 yards... at 7:40 in the morning... at sea level... I didn't have another club to hit. It was driver or bust for me. Luckily, I made a pretty decent swing and the ball trickled just off the fairway on the left side. As I got to my ball... I had about 100 yards to go. I guess they had moved the tees up quite a bit! If I had known that... I would have hit a 4 iron off the tee and left myself an 8 iron or something. Oh well... it worked out in the end. I was told short was better than long... so I took less club and came up a little shy of the green. A decent pitch to 4 feet and a smooth putt and I walked back to the cart to put a par on my card. I wish I had known there was only going to be 1 more of those on the card that day.
Even through 1
Hole 2 - Par 5 - 471 Yards -- Handicap Hole 13
This was not as tight. In fact, it looked pretty open. I took a more aggressive swing with my driver... and although I struck it well, I found myself up the right side, kinda blocked out. I wanted to punch it through the pines on the corner with a 5 iron... but I topped it instead. I was left with about 170 yards from a waste area. Trying to play a fade didn't work out well, and instead... I pushed it and short-sided myself. An okay pitch ran to the far side of the green and I needed 2 putts for a bogey. It could have been worse.
+1 through 2
Hole 3 - Par 4 - 381 Yards -- Handicap Hole 9
"Hit your drive up the right side so you'll have an open look at the green." Okay Randy, thanks for the tip! I pulled my drive low and left. It sat in the rough up the left side. My only shot was to aim at the trap to the right of the green and try to get up & down. I hit my target with an 8 iron... but the ball finished just out of the bunker on a slope with a steep uphill lie. My wedge went completely under the ball and I didn't even get the ball to the green. My putt from the fringe came up 4 feet short and I made that for bogey.
+2 through 3
Hole 4 - Par 3 - 165 Yards -- Handicap Hole 15
On our drive down, my wife asked me if there were any specific holes I was looking forward to on Harbour Town. I told her that I was especially looking forward to 4, 14, 17 and 18. Well... here we were!
What water? The pin was right at about 158 yards from the tees. It should have been a perfect 7 iron. Well... it would have been if I hit it solidly. Instead... I came up well short. I wiped my brow when the ball landed and it was still dry. My pitch from about 25 yards (yeah... I struck that 7 iron wonderfully) ran over the left edge of the cup and finished 7 feet above the hole. Tricky putt coming back. It leaked to the right at the last second and I made a 3rd consecutive bogey.
+3 through 4
Hole 5 - Par 5 - 497 Yards -- Handicap Hole 5
"See those electrical boxes up the right side? Aim for those. They're the perfect starting line. Oh... one last thing. Don't go left. You can't see it, but there's water there." C'mon Randy! Don't let that be the last thing you say to me! I was focused on those electrical boxes. Now... I'm worried about trouble I can't see!
Well... I avoided the water. I started the ball at those electrical boxes... and then it faded off of them and landed in the trees. Dang! I didn't finish my swing. My chip out of the woods with an 8 iron wasn't great... but I was just trying to lay up to about 140 yards or so now, so... easy swing. Whoops! That's not the club face. Drop 4... hitting 5. Topped it. Hit a low cut that finished about 30 yards short of the green.
My wife put her head down and put the camera down too. She was embarrassed. So was I. Oh well... this is gonna be a triple now. Time to regroup. From 30 yards... I hit a low pitch that checked perfectly... tracked the entire way and dropped in for an unlikely double! CRAP! She put the camera away!
Stupid unseen water hazard.
+5 through 5
Hole 6 - Par 4 - 373 Yards -- Handicap Hole 3
"Aim for the last tree up the left side. That's the perfect target for you. It's open here so, driver is a good play." Cool... thanks Randy!
I smashed my drive. Right at that tree. "Oh... that may have run through the waste area into the hazard." Well... at least he didn't tell me about the hazard this time until AFTER I hit it there! I took a drop... and had an angry white-faced hornet coming at me. I had inadvertently parked the cart on it's nest. My wife ran into the fairway. The drink cart lady ran with her. I got to the cart... put it in reverse... backed up about 10 yards... let the hornet back in his home... and then messed up the rest of the hole en route to a triple.
Gators? Snakes? No big deal. Hornets?!? Way to rattle my nerves, Harbour Town!
+8 through 6
Hole 7 - Par 3 - 160 Yards -- Handicap Hole 17
"No real trouble here. Just don't go in the sand that surrounds the entire hole. It's a real tough up & down from there!"
The tees were up a bit... so it was an 8 iron for me. 100%... no doubt. My wife's behind me with her phone taking pictures and/or video. Make this a good swing. Clearly I had too much crap running through my head this day. My swing was okay... the contact was meh... and my 8 iron fell out of the sky 20 yards short and in the bunker. I'll have to look at that swing on the video or pictures she took.
"Oh... I was taking pictures of this little toad on the tee box. I didn't know you were hitting yet."
I didn't want to see it anyway. Splashed out of the bunker... nearly holed out... but it ran by about 6 feet and left me another quick, downhill putt. Nope. Bogey.
+9 through 7
Hole 8 - Par 4 - 405 Yards -- Handicap Hole 1
Wonderful... the most difficult hole on the course and I'm playing my worst golf of the day. "The big tree up the right side is your target. Let it fly."
I did just that. I let it fly right at that big tree with a nice, tight draw. I was through the fairway and had about 145 to the hole, out of the rough. Tired of coming up short... I took an extra club but I flared it out to the right a bit. I was pin high, but off the green. As I got out of the cart, I told my wife I was going to chip in. From behind the green, one of the guys I was playing with chipped in for par just before it was my turn. I clipped the ball perfectly... it checked up just enough and rolled up to about 2 feet before stopping. Close... but not close enough. Tap in for par though!
+9 through 8
Hole 9 - Par 4 - 298 Yards -- Handicap Hole 7
Easily my most frustrating hole of the day. This hole is pretty wide open. Not a ton of trouble. Let it go and leave a little wedge into the green or lay back and take a full short-iron into the green. You choose.
"You're hitting the ball well off the tee. Let it go! Rip it at the clubhouse." Sounds good to me, Randy!
I blistered my drive into the breeze and found the center of the fairway. I left myself about 50 yards to the flag. No real trouble. Just make a nice swing and put it close. The other option is to completely decelerate... chunk it 10 yards and hit the same shot from a little closer. That was the path I elected to follow. Next swing was better but tugged. From 25 feet, I rolled the putt 2 feet past and tapped in for a bogey to close out the front side.
+10 through 9
So... it was pretty much what I was expecting. I figured on a few pars and a hiccup hole or two. Take the 5th and 6th holes out and it was not a bad score for that side. Having now played much... those 50 yard shots that I messed up on the 9th hole are becoming my nemesis, so... I wasn't shocked by that, just annoyed. My putting was decent. I missed a pair of putts that should have gone in. By my count... if I was playing or practicing more consistently, I could have been 4-5 strokes lower, but... it was what it was. I was excited to get to the back nine and see what was in store for me there!
Hole 10 - Par 4 - 398 Yards -- Handicap Hole 12
After a quick stop to use the restroom, wash my hands & face and grab some water... we were on the 10th tee. Randy didn't have much advice on this hole. It was pretty straightforward. Avoid the left side where the water was and you'd be okay.
This is a quick recap for this hole. I put 2 balls in the water... took my maximum score and sat in the cart enjoying the scenery while the rest of the group played the hole.
+13 through 10
Hole 11 - Par 4 - 387 Yards -- Handicap Hole 6
This is another fairly straightforward hole. I made it ugly by yanking my tee shot way left. It went nowhere, fell down in the trees and forced me to punch out. I was kind of aggravated at this point... hit a poor 5 iron heavy and short... pitched on to about 12 feet and two-putted for a double. Not the start to the back nine I was looking for.
+15 through 11
Hole 12 - Par 4 - 376 Yards -- Handicap Hole 8
"Do not try to cut the corner. I've only seen one person cut the corner in all the time I've been here. Jason Day blasted a 4 iron up over the trees. To this day, I don't know how he saw that line and decided to take it but it was the best shot I've seen on this course. Ever."
Okay then, Randy. I hit about as good a shot as I could there. I nice little fade that started up the left side of the fairway and peeled back to the center and bent around the corner of the left-to-right dogleg. I was left with about 130 yards to the pin. Again, I took more club because I'd been coming up short... and again, I pushed it out to the right. I got very aggressive with my chip and it rolled 23 feet beyond the hole and led to a bogey, wasting a perfect tee shot.
I'm definitely not Jason Day.
+16 through 12
Hole 13 - Par 4 - 339 Yards -- Handicap Hole 10
"You cannot be on the left side of this fairway and have any look at the green. Stay out to the right. Less than driver. If you listen to anything I've said today... make it be this. Do not go left."
Oh Randy... you're faith in my ability to control where the ball goes is almost amusing. Less than driver... breeze into my face... no control with my 3 wood. Hybrid it is. I struck it like crap... but it stayed to the right side of the fairway. I landed in the rough right next to a sprinkler head. Good thing because my lie was garbage. After a drop for relief from the sprinkler head... I was left with 155 yards or so to the flag. Here comes Randy...
"Long. Do NOT be short."
Yes sir. Extra club... perfect flight... lands past the flag... and over the back of the green.
"Good. You'll get up & down from there way easier than from that front bunker."
My chip checked in a hurry and stopped 15 feet from the hole. I never gave it a shot and tapped in for a bogey.
+17 through 13
Hole 14 - Par 3 - 148 Yards -- Handicap Hole 18
This is THE hole I was most looking forward to. I'd seen it so many times on TV. I'd played it in video games. I just couldn't wait to get here.
"Don't dunk it." C'mon Randy... you're better than that! Don't do that to me.
The bottom edge of my 9 iron struck the ball firmly in the equator. The ball never got higher than my shin. It screamed over the green into a spot that Randy said he'd never seen anybody ever play from. Well... you're welcome for the memory, Randy.
Dead from where I was... I had to close my eyes because I had twigs from the trees I was under poking at them. I hacked a wedge out of the trees but short of the green. I then chipped to about 5 feet and made that putt for bogey. Certainly could have gone way worse than that, but... I wanted a par at that hole.
+18 through 14
Hole 15 - Par 5 - 541 Yards -- Handicap Hole 4
Last par 5 of the day. Gotta make it a good one. Swing hard! Wait... scratch that... that's a bad idea.
I did it anyway... and pulled it into the trees again. Punch out... attempt to hit a low, swooping draw that hangs up in the rough... push an 8 iron way right of the green... flub the pitch... blade the next one over the green... chip to 6 feet... one hand it in for a triple.
That's my blueprint for most par 5 holes anyway.
+21 through 15
Hole 16 - Par 4 - 361 Yards -- Handicap Hole 14
"The tree straight ahead is in the middle of the fairway. There's room to either side of it. Left of it brings the bunker into play. Right of it just makes the approach slightly longer, but it's a short hole."
See... THIS is the type of information I'd love to have had throughout the day, Randy! Tell me what my target is. Inform me what my options are and the risks and/or rewards to each option... then let me choose.
I hit a poor driver at the tree that faded just to the right and went into the rough, but I was left with 145 yards or so to the green with nothing in the way. Simple game! My 8 iron hit the green (although it was 50 feet from the hole) and I finally had my first (and only) green in regulation on the day. An awful putt left me 7 feet and I missed that for my only three-putt of the day. Bogey. Dang!
+22 through 16
Hole 17 - Par 3 - 159 Yards -- Handicap Hole 16
Wow. Just... wow. I've played a lot of golf holes. I've played in the mountains... at the beach... in the Caribbean. Without a doubt, this is the prettiest hole I've played so far. It was a gorgeous day... blue skies with a few clouds. The view was just spectacular. The struggle throughout the round was worth this view. The $300+ greens fee was worth this view. Everything was perfect here.
I was too distracted to care that I flared another 7 iron short and right of the green. My pitch checked up quickly again and I needed 2 putts from 18 feet for another bogey.
I didn't care. What a golf hole.
+23 through 17
Hole 18 - Par 4 - 414 Yards -- Handicap Hole 2
This hole is the one every golfer knows. Calibogue Sound all along the left side of the hole. The iconic light house in the distance beyond the green. The reeds between the tee and the fairway... and then again between the fairway and the green. The mile-wide fairway. It was picture time. Randy took photos for everybody on the tee and then said he'd do the same on the green when we finished up.
"It's a little down wind. The fairway is there. Just... hit it."
Indeed. My final drive of the day was my best drive of the day. I couldn't find trouble unless I hit the ball 50+ yards offline in either direction. Swing away! Right down the middle. Second longest drive of the day. I smiled... picked up my tee... breathed a sigh of relief... and hugged my wife for giving me this opportunity.
Once to the ball, I still had 182 to the hole. All carry over the reeds. I hadn't missed an iron shot left all day so the water wasn't in play. Start the ball at the flag... let it peel off to the right. Tons of room over that way. Easy 5 iron... and I pull hooked it into Calibogue Sound. I dropped where I crossed... hit a wedge to about 13 feet... left the bogey putt short and tapped in to finish out my day.
+25 through 18
After we had all finished up and looked back down the fairway... it was again time for pictures. The dad and his sons in front of the lighthouse. Then my wife and I with the lighthouse in the background and the Harbour Town flag flapping in the breeze. All this in a few minutes over 4 hours.
It was awesome. I played like garbage... but I didn't care. I was just happy to have had the experience. My wife went above and beyond to get me there. I knew I'd play there eventually... but to have it happen unexpectedly made it all even more memorable.
As far as single rounds go... it was the most money I'd ever played for one round. It was worth every penny. Randy was awesome. Great stories throughout. Laughed with us (and at us when we hit poor shots). He talked a little smack... told us about himself... inquired about our lives... and overall, just added an extra fun element to the round. It was like having a golfing buddy there as a caddie.
My wife took a bunch of pictures throughout the round. She and I laughed together about my bad shots (and there were plenty). We took in the scenery. We enjoyed the jokes in the group and had a good time.
After the round, I went into the locker room to clean up a little. It was also amazing. In addition to the lockers and typical showers... there was an entire lounge upstairs with a phenomenal view. Down in the pro-shop, my wife bought me a polo and she bough herself a travel mug to add to her collection. We headed out... collected the girls from the hotel... went back to Sea Pines to walk around a bit and then took the 4 hour drive back home.
Where The Ocean Course at Kiawah was a 10 round fight for me... Harbour Town was like a Sunday drive.
The rumors are true. It's a tight course... but if you've got control of your ball, it's not that bad. The rough isn't overly thick (supposedly because they want you further penalized by rolling through the rough and into the trees & waste areas). The greens are as small as they claim. I wasn't playing well, but I hit only 1 green in regulation. I average about 6-7 when I play.
I'm looking forward to going back when my game is a little sharper. Until the next one...