Thursday, May 27, 2010

Playing 58 Holes Of Golf To Celebrate 58 Years

(NOTE: Excuse today’s extensive posting, but I played 58 holes of golf yesterday, and it takes a lots of words to tell about such a lengthy round.)

It was early Tuesday evening when I considered taking Wednesday off from work to play a round of golf on my 58th birthday. And, then, for some reason, when a friend asked me what was planned for the next day, my response was, “I’m going to play 58 holes of golf.”

And I did. And, it was actually not as tiring as one might think. It was challenging on several fronts, especially with a somewhat full tee sheet at Lonnie Poole Golf Course on the NC State University campus and with the course-purposely-designed rough that’s nearly knee deep in some areas.

So, with 58 holes in mind, after I posted in this space yesterday, I put together a peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich on a funky-whole-grain-wheat-it’s-good-for-you bread at set out for the 12-minute drive to the year-old course that borders the north side of Interstate 40 along Raleigh’s southern edge.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I was concerned with the number of cars, thinking that just getting off the first tee in a timely fashion would be a problem, but, at 7:30 in the morning, it wasn’t. Entering the golf shop, I encounter head professional Rob Yanovitch, who is always glad to see any golfer walk through the door of this public facility (call 919-833-3338 for your tee time) and who was assisting a couple with merchandise purchases.

“Gonna play today, Jim?” he asked.
“58 holes,” I said.
“Really?” he said with a bit of reservation and excitement.
“It’s my birthday,” I explained. “I’m 58 today. One hole per year.”
“That’s great,” he said. “Take off.”

So, I saddled up on cart #6, a number of no significance except that we became good buddies over the next nine hours and I promised to mention her in today’s column. Yet that I rode is noteworthy because I usually walk. Considering the length and expected time frame of the “round,” walking was completely out of the question, not even considered.

To play that many holes in one day, especially with lots of golfers scheduled at the same course, I expected to “go through” other groups (though I guess you couldn’t consider me and #6 a group so I should have said “go through groups”). It started at the first tee when I raced to the starter who informed me that another single and his son, maybe three years old, were set to tee off. When I explained my effort for the day, the starter looked at the other player who suggested I take off. After my tee shot on the first hole, that player and his son were not a factor in round one, but I would encounter them a little later during the 58 holes.

My plan was to play the first 18 holes from the tips, the Competition tees which measure the course at 7,358 yards. The second 18 would be from the Black set of markers, a 6,901-yard layout, and the third loop would be played from the White tees, a course of 6,326 yards. All par 71. The distances for the final four holes—which were to be numbers 10, 11, 17 and 18—would be determined if and when I reached that point in the day.

It was on the 2nd tee of the day when a wave of disappointment struck. A three-some was noticed at the 3rd tee and a twosome was on the 2nd green. “This is going to be a slow and long day,” I thought, but after playing number two and driving to the 3rd tee, I thought of an alternate routing to get past the two groups. About as far away from the clubhouse you can get, and across Main Campus Drive from the Centennial Campus Middle School, is a complex where the 3rd and 5th greens and the 4th and 6th tees come together.

After I putted out on #3, the twosome, just now teeing off of #4 suggested I go through, but seeing the threesome on the 4th green, I passed on their suggestion and went with the alternate plan: play #6 and #7, then the 5th and 4th holes, and move on to the 8th tee. Because of the layout of the course, this was possible, and in my humble opinion is a better routing than the design, with apologies to Arnold Palmer and his design team. Several months ago, I suggested this same scheme while playing with two others as we were being held up by two groups at the same location of the course.

My plan yesterday worked well except for one thing: I played #6 and #7 and arrived at the 5th tee just as the twosome, which had only completed the 4th hole during that time, was teeing off. “Now, may I go through?” I asked. And I did, hitting two of my better shots of the day, striking a solid drive and a six-iron to about 8 feet from the pin on the 462-yard, slight dogleg right, par 4, but missing the putt. From then on, it was smooth sailing to complete the first 18 holes, only encountering early morning maintenance crews on the back nine and finishing the round in about two hours.

This is definitely the way golf should be played. Too many people take too much time, checking the wind, using range finders (distance determiners for those not in the know), standing over the ball until they feel like swinging. It’s just golf, and unless you’re in a tournament or playing for tremendously high stakes, have fun on the course. Hit the ball and move along. Use the sprinkler heads for yardage. Pull the club on first instinct. Understand that the distance may say 177 yards but that if you hit a 177 yard club, or even a 167 yard shot, the ball will not end up near the hole and that the better idea is to play to the right side of the sloping green with a 160 yard hit and let natural contours take over. Course knowledge is a lot better than those time consuming devices, head counselors and the mimicking of PGA Tour players who play under a lot better course conditions than most of us.

After exiting the 18th green, I found an approaching bag attendant who was surprised to see me so early and who wanted to clean and stow my clubs. Thanking him for his assistance, I explained the 58 holes, jumped in the cart and headed toward the starter positioned near the putting green. “The front is packed,” he said. “You’ll have to wait for a while.” I pointed to the nearby 10th tee, and he told me to take off as no one was exiting the 9th green. As it turns out, when I checked in two hours earlier, the pro used his walkie-talkie system to let the starter and course rangers know what I was there to do. All day, they were extremely accommodating without disturbing normal play. By the end of the day, there were many other players who knew of my quest, cheering me on as I continued to move throughout the course.

But, hitting off of the 10th tee (Black tees now), I noticed a solitary player approaching the green. It was the man and his small son from the original first tee. The man was trying to hit onto the green and putt while his son decided that the sand bunker in front of the green was a sand box for play. They soon were on their way to the 11th tee and I was soon there as well. I was motioned through, and never looked back, playing my way through the back side with its wonderful rolling hills and exciting views of the downtown skyline of Raleigh. It really is picturesque and should be enjoyed by all, golfers and non-golfers alike. Visit Lonnie Poole golf Course in Raleigh and see for yourself.

Over at the 14th hole, a par 3 that sits in a low spot with the green surrounded by trees not allowing for much air circulation and therefore susceptible to thinning grass and bare spots, an electrical company crew was working on a huge fan to remedy the air flow problem. As I walked onto the green, one worker looked at me and asked, “didn’t we see you just a few minutes ago?” It had been about an hour earlier. Actually I saw them again at the 4th tee during my third round.

Two holes later—remember the twosome and threesome I passed by re-routing the front side?—I was asked if I wanted to go through. So, on 16 and 17 (my 25th and 26th holes of the day), I passed the five players I went through and around 22 holes earlier in the day. They were joking and playing and having fun. I was on a mission. After my 27th hole, the attendant looked at me in shock. “You’ve already played another 18?!?!” I chuckled and drove toward the first tee.

“Slam booked,” said the starter.
“Any non-foursomes?” I asked.
“A twosome on the tee and this twosome waiting,” he said, pointing to a couple of players on the practice green.

I opted for the first tee twosome, a father and son—a civil engineering rising senior at NC State—who were getting ready to hit from my Black tees. “May I join you for nine holes?” was responded with “of course.” And it was a good break from the race-speed of the earlier 27 holes. It was only 10:30 a.m., and besides, having a little competition was enjoyable. Neither of them had played Lonnie Poole, and asked throughout the nine about the course. The father had an interesting yet deliberately—not fast but not slow by any means—pace of play and game and a positive attitude. Recent physical problems with his right arm caused his game to change from a left to right ball movement to a left to left direction. “Any suggestions for changing that,” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. “Aim to the right.” It worked.

The son was another story. He’s a nice player but has studied the game and the younger tour players too much. He’s got a routine on every shot and can’t understand or figure out why his ball kept going to the right, on a straight line. “It’s your stance,” I eventually told him. “You’re aimed dead right.” When he repositioned his feet, the ball started to split the fairway. But, he also has an affinity for a 60 degree wedge, a relationship, I believe, he has developed from watching Phil Mickelson. This kid used his 60-degree to chip from anywhere near the green, once using it on well manicured grass from about 6-inches off the putting surface. His ball came to rest about halfway to the hole.

Years ago, I was taught to use my putter from off the green, especially when the grass is cut smooth or if there is no grass at all. Instead of watching Mickelson play, I suggest older footage of Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and others, using a putter, or at the very least a much less lofted club, when close to but not on the green, especially when just 6-inches away. “I’ve tried it, but can’t make it work,” the son explained. It takes a special person to understand and know how to putt from off the green.

At the end of that nine, I needed a break and a friend had texted me (yes, I Blackberryed while playing golf yesterday) and said he would drop by the course to buy me a birthday lunch. I took him up on the offer and had a 30 minute break and a chicken salad sandwich before presenting myself to the starter. First tee was open; hit it. In the first six holes, now playing from the White tees, I went through one foursome who asked me what hole I was on. “The second,” I said, but then realized I should have said my 38th. “Third 18,” I told them as they encouraged my efforts.

On the 6th hole, a 141 yard par three, I sank a 20-foot birdie putt, my only under-par hole of the day, and then joined up with another single, an OBGYN doctor who works at Wake Medical Center, on the 7th tee. We played together through the 18th hole, enjoying conversation—only about golf and not about our business—and comparing notes about Lonnie Poole Golf Course. Though he’s not a native of the area, coming to Raleigh from Minnesota, he’s become a Wolfpack fan and made a donation to the NC State golf course. He’s, therefore, a charter Partner, as I. But, his work schedule does not encourage him to pay an annual greens fee, though he plays about twice a month during warm weather. When I asked why he chose to be a State fan upon moving here, he said he didn’t like Duke or North Carolina when he lived in Minnesota so NC Stare was his choice. “I just wish our teams did better,” he said.

We both think the layout of Lonnie Poole is good, interesting, challenging and fair, no matter which set of tees is played. We both look forward to a couple of years from now when the course “grows in” more and has a more mature look, feel and play, though we both complimented the conditions of the greens. The final 12 holes of my third 18 were very enjoyable and at a slower, but not miserably slower, pace. We even enjoyed several deer crossing various fairways, numbers 7, 12 and 15 in particular.

And, then it was on to the final four holes. Another man and his son were teeing off or so it seems. Actually, it was just the son, practicing for a qualifying round next week for the North Carolina Amateur. They had no problem with me tagging along for a couple of holes before, at the 11th green, they turned right to the 12th tee and I went left to the 17th tee to play the my last two holes, the 135-yard par 3 17th and the 463-yard par four 18th, of my 58 on my 58th birthday. After putting out on the last hole, making par there and at 17, I walked the hill by the green to my cart; the attendant was standing there with a damp towel. “Done?” he asked before attending to my clubs.”Finished,” I smiled as he wiped the club heads.

My goal for the day was to shoot a 255 or better, a bet thrust on me by that lunch friend. I shot 259, an average of less than 5 shots a hole: 4.47. My rounds were 83 from the Championship tees (course rating of 74.4; slope of 137); 81 from the Black tees (72.3; 131); and 77 from the White markers (69.3; 124). I played the final four holes one-over from the Black tees. I used just four golf balls all day, losing three Titleists with NC State logos. One birdie, #6 on my third 18; made 3 on the par-3 8th hole each time. And, made a six on the par-5 15th hole hitting the ball twice into water hazards: One in, two out, three in, four out; chip to hole five; putt six. I hit 27 of 42 par-4 and par-5 fairways from the tee, just 20 of 58 greens in regulation, and had only 98 putts, obviously the key to my success in scoring yesterday. I started at 7:30 a.m. and completed the 58th hole at 4:45 p.m., just 9 hours and 15 minutes with a lunch break.

Playing 58 holes of golf in one day is not my record. I played 100 holes of golf several years ago as a fund-raiser for the Cary YMCA, and, along with a couple of buddies, I played 54 holes a day for two straight days four or five years ago, on our annual excursion to the Linville/Banner Elk area of North Carolina.

I had nothing to prove on my 58th birthday by playing 58 holes on May 26, 2010, the 58th anniversary of my birth, but when I was through, I felt I had accomplished something of some significance. It was just an idea I had two nights ago, and I’m glad I followed through. If I had just done that—follow through—a little bit better on some of those shots yesterday, my scores may have been better.

Maybe, just maybe, it’ll 59 holes next year this time. Anyone want to join me?

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