Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Par Four From The Sidewalk, Oh My!

With no out-of-bounds stakes in sight, with no lateral hazard lines around, with no idea that the inside line of the curb of Country Club Road is officially designated as out-of-bounds because no rules are written on the Forsyth Country Club scorecard, I made my way through the row of tall holly trees along the right side of the 16th hole at the 1913 designed Donald Ross layout in Winston-Salem to look for my tee shot that had veered in that direction.

It had not been a slice with one of those clock-wise spinning balls that seems to take a quick turn to the right. It was simply a straight shot down that side of the 427-yard, par-4 hole and high enough to get over the hollies and yet long enough that had it been in the fairway, my guess is the approach shot would have been around 145 yards. That’s about where I started the search, carefully diving through the prickly barrier and then watching for traffic along the narrow yet busy road.

Wearing bright yellow shorts with a white, blue and yellow shirt and a wide brim “straw” hat adorned with the block “S” logo of my NC State Wolfpack, I peered into the area just short of the curb, hoping to find the ball, a Titleist ProV1x with two distinct Sharpie red dots and two obvious Sharpie red lines which would help me identify it as mine. As I carefully walked along the edge of Country Club Road, I looked under the trees but then along the street. After walking about 75 yards from where I originally thought I would find the ball, I glanced up the roadway. Another 50 yards beyond, across the street, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk was a white dot that I just knew would prove to be my tee shot.

I made my way back through the hollies after grabbing my 54-degree Vokey wedge, the one with age and scares of battles past, and I was soon back on the street, walking towards the ball. Cars and trucks, seeing me, I’m sure, slowed a little, thank goodness. Now on the sidewalk, as I got closer, there were the red marks. It was mine. Again, no out-of-bounds was in sight. I studied my lie, an aged sidewalk with lots of nooks and crannies on its surface, but I had a clean position, and now I needed to determine, if I am to hit from that spot, what is the line to take, and how do I negotiate passing traffic.

After a little surveying, it was obvious I was just 25 yards from the green. Talk about a hard fairway with lots of roll. Wow! A drive in excess of 400 yards. But I was just a few feet from the trees and I knew I needed to hit a pick shot and not attempt to take a divot unless I wanted a broken club and a stressed set of wrists, or may the reverse. And, I knew the pick shot would have a lower trajectory. My swing would not be as up-right as is normal for me, therefore the lower ball flight.

Then there was the bus. After taking a couple of practice swings, again I looked around for traffic. From the right, a car or two needed to pass, but from the left, there was a city bus approaching. I’m not sure if I was near a bus stop or not, but as the bus drew closer, it appeared to slow, and I’m certain if I had not shown my club and pointed to the ball, I would have had the opportunity to be a bus rider. I saw the driver smile as he added speed and moved past my location on the sidewalk, golf club and ball ready to try to save par.

With traffic cleared and two of my playing partners already waiting on the green and my golf cart riding companion trying to fill every divot in the fairway with the little bit of sand in the jugs supplied on the golf cart, I took my stance and one more practice swing. Another look around for traffic, and then the swing. As I took back the club, I reminded myself to stay focused, to keep my head down and my eyes on the ball. There would be no peaking to see the results. To scull the ball or to hit it “fat” was not an option. The swing was as perfect as I could muster, with the club barely glancing the sidewalk made of concrete and the ball rising towards the top of the holly trees and on a undeviating line in the direction of the green.

The flight was too low as it clipped the top of the very last leafy obstacle and darted nearly directly downward. But then the sound I wanted to hear: The ball hit the cart path just beyond the trees and bounded toward the green. It stopped short by the few yards, and my subsequent chip came up about six feet short of the hole. The other three in the group were laughing at most of this but returned to their own seriousness, attempting to make birdie putts. One made, the others missed, and it was soon my turn to try for my four. I struck a good putt but it looked to me it would miss slightly right.

At the last moment, it rolled left and hit the bottom of the cup. A par-four from the sidewalk! Or at least I thought. At least we all thought. It was part of the conversation the remainder of the round. Based on what had happened, the others tried to give me a new moniker, either Sidewalk Jim or Bus Rider Jim. Neither stuck, thank goodness.

Unfortunately, after talking with the golf course professional after the round, I was disappointed to learn that the inside edge of the curb nearest the course is indeed out-of-bounds. “It’s posted in the clubhouse and written on the rules sheets for tournaments,” he said. I had hit a provisional ball from the tee just in case my original teeing had been OB. In theory, I should have played the second tee shot, then hitting my fourth shot towards the green. But in reality, I didn’t.

It wasn’t a tournament, so there was no disqualification. My score on the hole didn’t mean anything to the friendly match among friends. It was written on the scorecard and remained throughout the round and is part of the score I posted in the handicap system, whether I should have or not. It was unique, an experience I’d guess most golfers have had at some point in at least one round at some time, maybe not from the sidewalk, but something unique and just outside the rules, experiences that will be part of their own golf lore for years to come.

Forsyth Country Club is ranked only as the 42nd best course (too low if you ask me) in North Carolina by the North Carolina Golf Panel (scroll down further and clink link to the right of this column), the enjoyable layout with lots of different shots from tee to green will be closer to the top of my list for years to come. A “par” from the sidewalk along Country Club Road will have a lot to do with that.

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