Putting: Fast Greens 101

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How confident would you feel if this sign greeted you on the first tee?

I played Stoneridge Country Club in Poway Monday morning, and if you’ve heard anything about Stoneridge, it’s likely about their lightning-quick green speeds.

The greens on Monday were zipping along at a 13 and seemed to only get faster as the round progressed. (For comparison, Augusta National reportedly can run between 13 and 15 for The Masters.)

I used to struggle with putting fast greens, but a simple tip I received (that I’ll share later) after a nightmarish putting round in school last January during a tournament at Lomas Santa Fe CC helped me quite a bit.

What it used to be like for me is something like what happened to the player I was paired with Monday. Not having played Stoneridge before, he putted the ball OFF the first two greens and then got so skittish he three-putted inside 20 feet – three times. Painful.

He reacted the way the course wants you to react, which is to get tentative and become unsure of your stroke. When green speeds rise is when you’ve really got to buckle down on the basics of putting to be successful.

His three-putts came from decelerating, which is the death of any golf shot, including putting. Faster greens speeds make avoiding this more difficult because you’re trying not to be overaggressive, but you’ve got to maintain that acceleration through the putt or it’ll end of short, off line, or both.

A better answer is simply to shorten your stroke, cut down the takeaway and focus on the line and finishing the stroke.

This is where a guy like Dave Pelz and some of the other renowned putting gurus of golf can give you much better technical advice than you’ll get here. But faster green speeds also seem to amplify problems you have with your putting stroke in general, so if you really struggle, you might want to have your stroke looked at. I can tell you the guy I played with needed a major putting overhaul, which certainly didn’t help his situation.

The one thing I’m sure of when I step on a golf course is my putting. I may not always hole a bunch, but I keep my three-putts to a minimum and have rarely yipped my way to a bunch of extra strokes like I did on occasion in school tournaments.

The tip I got after my putting debacle at Lomas was the simplest, and possible best, putting lesson I’ve ever received. The more I learn about putting, the more I come back to this, especially when green speeds soar as they tend to do this time of year in California.

You ready for it? Here it is: Make a smooth stroke.

That’s not exactly the stuff of 30-minute infomercials much less entire books about putting, but if you think about it, there’s a lot of wisdom there.

When green speeds pick up, what to people do? They change their stroke. The often get stabby with their stroke or otherwise lose their tempo. At worst, they use that stroke that STOPS at the ball, which never works.

If anything, you want to exaggerate the finish to make sure the putter is going down the line.

The other tactic, or swing thought, I adopt when greens getting humming over 10 is this: Hit it half. For me, that means half the distance. Pick a point halfway to the hole and trust the green to carry it the rest of the way.

You might not hole a lot of putts this way, but you likely won’t be facing a bunch of those dreadful 6- and 8-foot comebackers either.

Anyway, “make a smooth stroke” paid the greatest dividends for me this year when I played Barona Creek, where the greens are quick but also role true. If you read it right and control your pace, you can make putts there. I know. I did.

So the next time you feel greens are pushing you over your speed limit, check your stroke and remember to stay a “smooth” operator under fire.

Notice to Readers: See You in 2014

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The blog is on break until 2014. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has read, followed, commented and otherwise helped this endeavor get off to a successful start. Happy holidays to all of you.

The blog will return after Jan. 1 with an absolutely loaded start to the new year, beginning with a look at the awesome craziness of playing the Plantation Course at Kapalua, site of the year’s PGA Tour event. Lots and lots to look forward to beyond that, building up to the Farmers at Torrey Pines at the end of January.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. See you in 2014.

Cali at Christmas: I Love A (Boat) Parade

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I just wanted to share a quick holiday post going into the weekend about what has quickly become my favorite California holiday tradition: boat parades.

I witnessed my second this week on Balboa Island and it was even more fun than my inaugural boat parade in San Diego Harbor last year.

Coming from the Midwest, I had no idea whatsoever about this bit of California Christmas culture. You see, the Midwest doesn’t have these, seeing as, among other reasons, the lakes and waterways have normally long frozen by now. The best it ever got there was holiday lights tour of high-end neighborhoods in a limo bus. That has its own charm, but it’s not the same, especially because it’s likely 10 degrees out.

With a night in the balmy 60s on Wednesday, we stood on shore and watched a procession of fabulously decorated boats of all shapes and sizes. There were roughly 60 vessels or so, which I’m told pales in comparison to the previous years (and has been going for 105 of them now), but this is all new to me so I don’t have the buzzkill of history in this case.

For 45 minutes or so, we watched a floating procession of Christmas trees, reindeer, Santa and lights, lights, lights! Like houses at Christmas, some boats were decorated modestly whiles others resembled the U.S.S. Griswold. And they came by blaring everything from Christmas music to rock.

I appreciate the investment of time and resources it takes to put this on and will eagerly line up to grab some shoreline space to view it again next year.

White Christmas? Wildly overrated. Water Christmas? Wonderfully West Coast.

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The Year in Par-3s, Part III

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Photo courtesy of http://www.sandiegogolf.com

I conclude my three look at 2013’s most memorable par-3s with three more holes that made indelible first impressions.

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No. 3 at Aviara Golf Club (Carlsbad)

As a group, the par-3s at Aviara are the best I’ve played in San Diego County.

They’re a sensational mix of distance, difficulty and beauty. The long uphill par-3 6th is the only one not played over water, and it’s undoubtedly the toughest of the bunch. How often do you say that about a course?

The answer I’m probably supposed to give in this space is No. 11, since it’s the signature hole and certainly botanically beautiful, as almost all of Aviara is.

But I’m going with No. 3, which is plenty gorgeous in its own right, because it was the more memorable hole from personal experience and from attending the LPGA’s Kia Classic.

As you can see from the photo, No. 3 is a short par-3 played to a green, by far one of the smaller ones on the course, with water looming left and right. It can also be water short and right depending on where they put the tee box. This holes has multiple tees that vary how the hole is played tremendously, which is one of the things I really love about it.

I remember walking up on this hole at the Kia and just marveling at it. It’s a short par-3 that is beautifully framed and accented, but this beauty is tougher than it looks.

At the Kia, I watched this hole be feast or feminine for the pros. It’s a terrific tournament hole to watch because you get such a great range of golf.

Personally, I found the water right (Splish!) and then right (Splash!) again the first two times I played it. The third time, my ball finally found the green on the right side, leaving me a devilish downhiller that I nearly sank for birdie.

Amongst my golf friends who play here, No. 3 is one those holes that becomes like soap in the shower: Birdie slips away time after time on this hole even when you think you’ve got it down and know every putt by heart.

Another cool thing about this hole, and the course itself, is that you can really appreciate the change of seasons here. It’s beautiful year round, but, as you can see at top, spectacular when the course is blooming.

You may not par all the par-3s at Aviara, but changes are you won’t have to think too hard to remember them.

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No. 16 at Barona Creek (Lakeview)

I might nickname this hole “The Speed Bump” because it kept from me shooting what should’ve been a pretty nice number on the back nine at Barona twice.

It’s not a long hole – just a shade under 140 yards – but I can’t seem to club it right, and, as you can see, save for leaving it way out left, there’s no good miss here. The myriad of deep bunkers short and long, not to mention the deep native grasses, have the pin here protected like Fort Knox.

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This hole and the one I posted from Wilshire CC have a lot in common, but this one’s tougher.

If I can solve No. 16, I’m confident I can break 40 on the back at Barona as long as the green speeds are reasonable.

I look forward to giving it a go on what certainly was one of my favorite courses this year. I have yet to find a golfer who’s played here who doesn’t speak longingly about going back.

There is a seductive quality about the course and a challenge that, intentionally, always seems just a round away from being met. I plan to meet it in 2014.

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No. 17 at Dove Canyon CC (Dove Canyon)

California is blessed with an abundance of elevated par-3s, so much so that people seem to take them a bit for granted, like par-3s are just born that way. Being from the Midwest, I can tell you they aren’t.

That said, I can’t imagine anyone taking 17 at Dove Canyon for granted.

When you come to the tee on 17, especially the back tees, you can’t help but do a double-take and then just laugh. It looks like you’ve discovered the Grand Canyon of golf. It’s a golf hole that seems a bit preposterous, yet totally great.

You’re so high up that the flagstick stick looks small, like you might be mistaking it for a landscaping stake or something.

It seriously feels like you’re hitting it off a 10-story building. And no matter where you tee it up, I deem it to be about a two-club drop.

From the blue tees, I hit an easy 8-iron that nearly flew the green. I surely could’ve gotten home jumping on a pitching wedge.

But the tee shot is only half the story here. The green has dramatic drop-offs on the front and back. My ball landed beyond that back tier. Figuring I’d have to muscle it up the five-foot rise to get it to the hole, I watched my putt clear the ridge and shoot right past the hole. A two-putt comebacker left me with a bogey.

This is really the kind of hole where you’d love to take a shag bag to the tee and just drop wedges and short irons to see if you could get lucky. It certainly rated as one of the most fun holes of the year.

I also recall that as I walked off the green, I spied a speck of white in the bushes. I plucked out a lost ball stamped “The Olympic Club” – you know, that little place where they played the U.S. Open two years ago?

One of my rules is that you can tell the quality of the course you’re playing by the lost balls you find. And this is the course were I saw the 20 deer.

Yes, Mr. Nicklaus has created quite an experience here. And hats off to you on No. 17.

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The Year in Par-3s, Part II

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My look at the golf year that was continues with a look at another fantastic trio of par-3s.

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No. 3 at Torrey Pines (South Course)

It says it all that when you think of Torrey Pines, this is probably the hole you picture –  unless it’s No. 6 on the North Course, which is its equally incredible ocean-view par-3 counterpart.

Both holes give you that spine-tingling dramatic elevation change. Both holes are played to the stunning Pacific Ocean backdrop. Both holes give you that mesmerizing glimpse of La Jolla in the distance. Both holes also play slow because, well, you just have to take a picture. Have to.

No. 3 gets the nod for the blog this year because we’re not debating which is the better hole. Rather, it’s which one was more memorable to me, and for that I have two moments.

The first came during a practice round for the Farmers Insurance Open. I watched pro Darron Stiles nearly ace the hole. He dropped a shot within 6 inches and then simply turned to his caddie and traded an iron for his putter. There may have been a fist bump, but I know the level of celebration didn’t seem to match to moment. I know it’s their job, but still …

Anyway, there was no such lack of celebration when I dropped my tee shot there to 10 feet in November. An easy 9-iron just cleared the lip of that menacing bunker fronting the green and settled in gently below the hole – a perfect birdie opportunity.

My only regret is that my putt stayed a hair outside. If I could use one retro mulligan for my season, I’d burn it there.

If you want a less adventurous route to par, there’s a significant bail-out area to the right. And left or long is OB.

If you don’t club the tee shot right, it can ugly, which would be a shame on such a gorgeous golf hole. Club down one, trust your swing and you could experience that magical combination of a great golf shot meeting a truly great golf hole.

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No. 6 at Sherwood Country Club (Thousand Oaks)

I gave this hole its own post during Tiger’s World Challenge, so you can look that up if you want to read even more about this one, but you’ll have to look for No. 15 because that’s what it played as during the tournament.

I won’t repeat all of that post here, but I will add a little post-script to that post from the World Challenge.

You can may recall that this hole took a bite out of the pros on Saturday of the World Challenge. Of the 17 players in the field, 11 found the sizeable water hazard in front of the green that day. It turned into one of those golf TV train wrecks you simply can’t take you eyes off of.

Having been there, I have to say that I never saw that coming, but also the wind didn’t blow there the day we played and the commentators said gusts rushing down the mountain baffled the pros all day.

I believe ball No. 11 going in the drink was followed by one of those “boy, that wind really has these guys fooled today” kind of comments from the booth.

Even without the wind, birdie was hard to come by. This green is one of the slickest at Sherwood.

I knocked a 7-iron into the back of the green and then watched my putt turn into a freight train on the down slope. Bye, bye, birdie. Hello, three-putt bogey.

I didn’t feel so bad when I saw that happen to a couple pros.

The day I played, we were in a scramble format and I played his hole on the latter half of the round. After being stunned and amazed over and over, seeing No. 6 for the first time still took my breath away.

Played to the towering backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains, the way the hole is framed is the complete flip of No. 3 at Torrey, but still entirely awesome.

Several waterfalls feed a group of ponds in the front creating one intricate and fascinating water feature that made the hole an absolute rock star on TV.

I hope I haven’t played this hole for the last time, but if I have, I’ll never forget it.

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No. 7 at Wilshire Country Club (Los Angeles)

During a fairly fantastic two-week stretch of golf, I played Sherwood and Wilshire on consecutive Mondays. Played any time, they would be great, but it was even better the way it worked out because it allowed me to really appreciate the contrast.

Whereas Sherwood is new school golf, Wilshire, established in 1919, is decidedly old school. It’s a shorter course that defends itself very aggressively with an army of rugged bunkers placed anyway and everywhere, many in plain sight, but with some hidden in dastardly places. I half expected to find one lurking in the parking lot after I got done.

So, yes, the bunkers get in your head a little.

I had a full-on case of bunker fatigue by the time I arrived at No. 7 near the end of my round (again, scramble format).

The par-3s at Wilshire are all unique – especially the one with the insanely big two-tiered green – but I picked No. 7, again, because it was the most memorable.

Playing a shade over 140 yards, No. 7 is the shortest of the bunch, but it might be the toughest to birdie. Even with a solid tee shot, the green proved nearly impossible to one-putt.

But to back up a bit to the tee shot, I recall hitting a solid pitching wedge and then absolutely holding my breath during the ball flight, which seemed to last forever. I could tell the caddie and I where thinking the same thing: back bunker.

Instead, my ball hit the back fringe and stuck like it had hit flypaper. Whew!!

That left me a downhill 8-foot slider that was the working definition of touchy. I barely tapped the ball and it never even thought about stopping at the hole. It’s one of those sneaky little putts where if you hit it five times, you might make one. Might.

My three-putt bogey was a bummer, but at least I was spared waging war with the bunkers, unlike my playing partners.

Wilshire is a great course, but it never lets you rest. It made me work for every par that day and only surrendered one birdie despite a bunch of great looks, like on No. 7.

But at least I got to see the Hollywood sign from the course, which certainly ranks as one of the year’s best moments. Hopefully I get to do that again next year.

My par-3 series will conclude with part III, likely on Thursday.

The Year in Par-3s, Part I

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No. 5 at Kapalua’s Bay Course

If you’ve paid somewhat close attention to the blog since it started four months ago, you may have noticed a slight bias toward par-3s.

This isn’t because the blog likes par-4s or 5s any less; it’s more of a visual thing. The overall goal of providing quality content on the blog includes visuals (golf’s a visual game, and perhaps the most visual game, right?), and par-3s just happen to be largely easier to photograph. That’s not to say you can’t make good or even great photos of some 4s and 5s (you can), but par-3s are just a little easier and even the most novice photographer can grasp why.

Anyway, one thing I’ve also noticed about courses is that great ones almost always have great par-3s. When reflecting on my golf season, that’s one thing that occurred to me. I tried to think of my favorite courses throughout the year and in nearly every instance I could easily recall at least one truly outstanding par-3.

And, as we know, par-3s in golf come in all shapes and sizes (legal limit being 275 yards, I believe) and beauty or appreciation can often be in the eye of the beholder (I’ll take a one-stroke cliché penalty there) with an obvious birdie/bogey bias. We don’t tend to the love the holes (or courses) that don’t love us back.

Well, regardless of what ended up on my card, I can say I love all the par-3s I’m about to list.

Since golf is a game of nines, here are nine of my favorite par-3s from the year that, I think, represent the range of what has undoubtedly been the best golf year of my life. I’m going to simply give course, hole number and reflection on these unless the exact yardages are really necessary. I’d like this to be a visual joy ride as much as anything. And there is no attempt to rank here, although my No. 1 is hardly a mystery.

Also, for the purposes of being blog-friendly, we’ll do this in three parts throughout the week.

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No. 5 at the Bay Course, Kapalua (Maui/Hawaii)

We’ll start with the hole of the year, regardless of par or score. The pinnacle of my golf season was standing on this tee box in Maui in July.

No. 5 is the second of the consecutive ocean holes on the front nine and the epitome of golfing on the ocean.

The name Kapalua means “arms embracing the sea” and you rather feel the sea embracing you on this stretch – or trying to blow you off the island depending on the day. Playing out and back on an emerald peninsula, you are completely surrounded by the ocean.

We had a gentle breeze the day we played, and I could’ve stood on this tee box for days. It’s golf heaven, as I currently know it.

If you’ve ever been, or have golfed in a similar tropical scenario, just viewing the photo probably already has transported you there.

But for those who haven’t been …

Yes, the water is that clear, and waves are crashing all around. You may need to zoom in a little to clearly see the pin, but it was in the front of an undulating green where the wacky physics of Hawaii golf are fully in play.

Arnold Palmer did some fabulous work here. I’ve never seen a hole that fits my eye more, and possibly perhaps a little too much.

The seductive quality of the hole, and the lack of a guarantee you’ll ever get back here, makes you want to go for broke and chase the ace of your dreams, risking water or crashing on the rocks into a very serene OB.

My playing partner, who had played here before, thankfully talked me out of it.

“You don’t need to go for the green,” he said. “Play it out left and let gravity take over.”

That proved to be some wise caddying. I hit a smooth 7-iron and watched my ball find the fairway and track right to the fringe of the green. I walked off perfectly content with a two-putt par.

We played a lot of great golf over three rounds in Hawaii, but I didn’t play a more beautiful golf hole than this. It speaks to your golf soul and you spend the rest of your round playing blissfully with your head in the clouds. Bogeys couldn’t dent me the rest of the day.

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No. 17 at Journey at Pechanga (Temecula)

And now for an entirely different kind of “awe” … as in awe-fully hard.

This is the monster par-3 that waits two holes from the finish at Journey at Pechanga. This was the hardest golf hole I played all year, made all the more so by playing it from the tips – 200 yards, all carry, into a mid-afternoon gust. Gulp.

A fairly solidly struck 3-wood never had a chance, although my playing partner, a former teaching pro, reached the horizontal oblong green with a terrific Rescue that just caught the right side.

A course staff member confided that he’ll go here most days and hit one from the back just to see if he can “get lucky.” Yes, this is what a golf lottery shot looks like.

Understandably, this is one of the holes that gives Pechanga its fearsome reputation, but difficulty aside, it’s also one of the holes that gives you views unlike many other places. The four “view” holes on the course highlight a course that is still pretty great when it brings you down from the mountains.

If you descend with a par at 17, you’ll have bragging rights in the bar and grill because it’s doubtful you’ll have much scorecard company.

I need another run at 17 in 2014 and to try it from the blue tees. Put a par here on my wish list for the New Year.

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No. 8 at Royal Links (Las Vegas)

I played Royal Links in February, thus the dormancy, and I was quite stoked to do so.

At the time, I was taking my Golf Course Landscape and Design class at golf school and we had just studied links courses. Royal Links, for those unfamiliar, is a replica course with holes modeled after those in the British Open rotation, all routed around a clubhouse that is built like a castle.

I had played links-like golf before but nothing that aimed to so closely recreate the British experience. I loved this place and walked away with a major appreciation for links-style golf. I can’t wait to do it again.

Until you stand on the tee box of a par-4 with a yardage book in hand that shows 10 scattered fairway pot bunkers, and you see none, you can’t truly grasp the challenge of this style of golf.

The more you know your British Open history, the more you can appreciate Royal Links. For those who don’t know, the stone hole markers that are designed like books are only too happy to clue you in.

This is No. 8, the par-3 taken from Royal Troon nicknamed “The Postage Stamp.” Played at a mere 153 yards from the tips, this is where Gene Sarazen made ace at age 71 in his final British Open appearance.

The photo doesn’t quite do this one justice, but what it doesn’t show is a square bunker off the right side of the green. I recall it clearly because I was in it.

It wasn’t the jail that many British Open bunkers can be, but it was challenge nonetheless, so for a score, let’s just go with “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” shall we?

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         Stay tuned for parts II and III of my par-3 series throughout the week.

        

Tis’ The Season at La Costa

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Just going to do a quick photo post today. I’m knee deep in wrapping up some freelance projects, but I wanted to share this from my round at La Costa earlier this week.

This is La Costa’s impressive Christmas tree. It’s quite striking from the course and the clubhouse’s bar and grill. The palm trees you see are lit up at night, making for quite a sight.

If you get a chance to swing by, it’s recommended viewing to get you in the spirit of the season. There’s a great little outdoor patio that allows you to take in the full effect. Happy holidays.

P.S. – I just checked the stats and the blog just had its highest viewership week yet. Thanks for all the views and follows. It’s greatly appreciated, and if you like what you’re reading, please pass the word.

Highlight Hole: No. 5 at La Costa (Legends Course)

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La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad recently completed a $50 million renovation that included an extensive makeover of both 18-hole championship golf courses.

I was part of a media contingent on Tuesday that was the first to play the renovated Legends Course (formerly the South Course). You might recall the South from its days of hosting the PGA Tour’s Accenture Match Play, which was last held at La Costa in 2000.

I have now played both renovated 18s and will have more to say about them in future posts, but for now I just wanted to give you a little glimpse of the new look of the Legends Course.

This is the par-4 5th, the last of the five par-4s the Legends Course opens with. No. 5 is a mid-length par-4 – 370 yards from the blues and 346 from the whites – that plays even shorter due to the downhill. It’s a bit of a breather after what’s actually a pretty tough stretch of opening holes, but, overall, it’s indicative of what you get on the Legends Course.

You can see the reworked bunkers waiting near the landing area, and this is how bunkering tends to be at La Costa – more strategically placed than plentiful.

There’s plenty of room left, but I pushed my tee shot right and flirted with a drainage ditch on the right side. Fortunately the healthy rough held me up 2 feet short. I had a pitch over a tree to what is the Legends Course’s best defense – small greens.

This is one thing that really didn’t change much during the redesign. Whereas the greens on the Champions Course are pretty sizeable, the Legends Course greens remain quite small by modern standards but true to the original design from 1969. Let’s just say you earn every GIR on the Legends Course.

Unfortunately, my approach hit the bank next to the green and bounded off into the bunker. I ended up making an unsatisfying five given that I was within 50 yards off the tee.

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Not the ideal approach at No. 5

There are certainly tougher holes – although this is the No. 5 handicap, which surprised me – on the Legends Course but this one is undoubtedly pleasing to the eye.

The originally routing on the Legends Course remains intact, but the greens on Nos. 1, 12 and 15 were slightly relocated during the renovation and the 17 green was moved most significantly, closer to the water. That doesn’t me mean much to those of us, like me, who barely knew the old course (I only played it once) but members are certain to appreciate the changes, which actually made the course play a little shorter. It’s now 6,587 from the blue tees and almost 7,000 from the tips.

No. 15, a dandy dogleg left par-4 with a carry over a creek on the second shot, starts what the pros used to call “The Longest Mile in Golf,” named for the lengthy finishing holes, often played into a stiff ocean breeze, that stood between them and the finish. I can tell you the wind was dead into us on Tuesday and it wasn’t pretty on the scorecards.

While La Costa is a private club, it is open to public play. My understanding is that daily play for members and guests will rotate between the two courses with the members having sole access to one course each day.

If you’ve played the South Course (Legends) in the past, you may find one thing disappointing when you return. The signage that used to commemorate famous shots from the pros – such as Phil Mickelson driving the green on 15 (really????) and Tiger Woods being the first player to reach the par-5 17 in two – are gone.

It’s a shame that history won’t be marked going forward, but I guess the reasoning is that it isn’t the same course, which, in the case of No. 17, for instance, is certainly true.

Still, the Legends is a serious test of golf and La Costa, especially with its glorious Christmas tree, sparkles as a venue and gives you that feel of being in one of golf’s special places.

If you play the renovated courses and read this, feel free to post your comments on the new-look La Costa as there are certainly many who are more familiar with the courses than I and can give a more informed take.

For more extensive details about the renovation, you can go to www.lacosta.com.

No. 18 at Sherwood CC: Well Done, Mr. Nicklaus

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What you see above is the view that greets you after you walk through the clubhouse at Sherwood Country Club. This is the green view of No. 18.

Seeing Torrey Pines for the first time and seeing Sherwood rank as my most memorable California golf course first impressions. At Sherwood, you can’t help but just stand there, take in the scene and then begin to contemplate what it’ll be like walking down that 18th fairway. And then when you do it, it completely delivers on the experience.

No. 18 could well decide the tournament on Sunday as Tiger takes a two-shot lead into the final day of the final World Challenge at Sherwood, where Woods will seek a sixth title.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching this event on TV the past three days and found especially entertaining the travails the field had at the par-3 No. 15 on Saturday (11 balls in the hazard, making it the course’s toughest hole).

No. 18 doesn’t seem to trouble the pros too much, despite a tight tee shot. Tiger in particular has been content to fly a 3-wood to 160-170 yards or so and play from there.

But the second shot is what makes this hole so memorable. What golfer wouldn’t want to be looking at this for a second shot? Isn’t this the challenge we all live for?

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It’s about as pretty as it gets, but daunting as well. The day I played, my drive found the right rough of the fairway. I had a clear shot at the green, but I was very leery of the water. The last thing I wanted was to execute the drive and then rinse my approach. So I clubbed up and hit a fabulous 4-iron that carried to the back of the green. It was a club more than I needed, but I was dry.

That approach shot replays in my head every time I see the 18 green on TV. Yes, it was one of those shots.

From the replays, I expect the pin position to be in front today, as it was the day we played. That left me a super slick downhill that I mishit and then I lipped out my par putt. Oh, well. Being on in regulation was one satisfying feeling and rates among my better golf accomplishments for the year.

But enough about me. Let’s give credit here to the designer, Jack Nicklaus, and his fabulous creation. Check out sherwoodcountryclub.com’s hole description to gain a little more appreciation for No. 18.

Nicklaus calls the 444-yard par-4 eighteenth hole the finest finishing hole he has ever created. The tee shot is blind and must be played down the left side allowing the left-to-right slope to take the ball to the middle of the fairway. A mid-to-long iron approach awaits.

The second shot must be played to a multi-level green that presents an extremely visually intimidating shot. The green is protected in front with a rock-filled pond that flows into a waterfall on the right and is connected to another waterfall and stream on the left leaving very little room for error short of the green. There is also a bunker on the left that will catch balls that are missed slightly left. The back right portion of the green is protected by the waterfall, a deep pot-bunker, and a deep grass-bunker. Most shots left short of this green find the water, but balls over the green face a chip or pitch from the deep rough to a green sloping away from the player, taking the shot right back toward the bunker and water.

This is truly a classic finishing hole that ranks as one of the finest in the world.

I’ve hardly played everywhere in the golf world, but I don’t know of a finishing hole I’ve played that rates above it.

So take a minute to appreciate No. 18 today and lament that we might not see it on TV again.  It’s a masterpiece to play and a wonder to watch and a hole that can’t help but make you love this great game just a little more.     Image

The view as you walk off No. 18