Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dana Point, California

Jacky and I flew out to Los Angeles on Thursday a couple weeks back for the annual Balpex Shareholders Meeting and social event. We were shuttled one hour south to lovely Dana Point, California and the spectacular St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort.

The room was crazy. Pretty much a junior suite, with a great couch, king sized bed, 47" Plasma television, balcony and an awesome washroom too. I think it was just as good, if not better than Princeville.

That's the view of the Grand Lawn from one of the stairways leading to the pools and the Monarch Beach Golf Links. We arrived around noon, grabbed some lunch, then headed straight to the beach, as there was nothing official on our agenda that afternoon.

The resort has a ten-person tram that takes the guests down to the beach area, as it's about an eight minute ride. Gorgeous beach with great views of the hillside in both directions. You get a good sense of the prime real estate in the shot above.

We had a 'Marche' style dinner that night on the Grand Lawn and closed the place down with a few of the other younger couples, good preparation for the day ahead...

On Friday, I woke up early in order to get down to the golf course for my 8:00am tee time. Monarch Beach GL is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design built in 1984 and is notable for the fact that most of the holes have ocean views. However, only one actually runs alongside the ocean - again, it just shows that the real estate development in the resort took priority. The course has some PGA TOUR pedigree, as it has hosted the Hyundai Team Matches in the past...what the hell is that?! Canadian Lorie Kane teamed up with Janice Moodie to win the last installment on the women's side at Monarch Beach in 2002.

There's your useless trivia for the day!

That's the view from the third tee shown above, a 315 yard sharp dogleg left. The view is great...the hole is decidedly average, with only the shortest hitters able to use a driver. However, the greensite is lovely.

Unbelievably, out of the 109 people attending the social, only FOUR played golf during the five day stay. You see the other three in the shot above.

The course had a few notable stretches. There are consecutive par threes on the fourth and fifth holes, something I'm sure I've never witnessed in person before. Also notable is the diabolical par five seventh hole, a 612 yard monster named 'Tsunami' that certainly did a fine job of reaking havoc on my round. The tee shot calls for a drive of well over 200 yards to clear a large ravine with the greensite 400 yards away back on the other side, necessitating another cross. I put two balls into the hazard here on my way to a delicious 10!

I would end up shooting 80 on the 6601 yard par 70 course, not bad considering the blowup hole. The course is decent but drastically overpriced and I turned down the opportunity to play a second round in the blink of an eye.

Funny enough, we had dinner that night at the clubhouse restaurant, eating sea bass, beef tenderloin and creme brule in something that would become a recurring theme, intentionally or not, during our stay at the St. Regis.

We had our shareholders meeting on Saturday morning at the crack of dawn and it lasted a whopping three hours. It's very low key, as I learned during my first meeting last year. For that, I showed up in slacks and a shirt and tie and was embarrassed when I found everyone wearing shorts and sandles during the session. Didn't make that mistake this year!

After the meeting, the families all got together again and were shuttled to beautiful Newport Beach. We then boarded the Wild Goose, John Wayne's old yacht. We took a lovely cruise through the harbour and had a great lunch aboard the vessel. There are some incredible homes on the man-made islands throughout the harbour, as you can see below.

The house on the left used to be where John Wayne lived back in the day. I believe his actual house has been torn down and rebuilt to what you see today. On the right is a house owned by actor Nicolas Cage.

We had access to all the rooms on the yacht, including the games room where Wayne and friends like Sammy Davis Jr. got together for regular poker games. That shot above is for my buddy Cal, a poker degenerate.

Dinner that night was geared toward the kids, with plenty of games and events for all the little ones. They even got the adults involved somewhat, as there was an 'East vs. West' relay race through an obstacle course with six participants from each side of the country facing off. Running through tires, doing a high jump, downing beer, hula hoops, balance beams...pretty fun. Being one of the younger guys there, I was picked and it ended up being a great time.

On Saturday, everyone boarded a train for San Diego, where we would be spending the entire day. We started with brunch at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown then got the opportunity to browse through the museum.

MY GOSH! MY WIFE IS BEING DWARFED BY OVERSIZED FURNITURE! Cool picture but I got reprimanded for taking the shot...couldn't resist though. The rest of the art was underwhelming...the contemporary stuff isn't my thing, I guess.

From there, the group split up into three groups: some went to the famous San Diego Zoo, some went to SeaWorld and others went to Old Town San Diego for site seeing and shopping.

We were among those who did the shopping. Ugh. Worst part of the trip for sure. We were stuck down there for over four hours in stifling heat in an area where an hour or so is enough.

As you can see though, I got a picture of possibly the ugliest golf course I've ever seen in my life, Presidio Hills. Brock Golfland and Fairview Golf look like Augusta compared to this mess! I think they had 18 holes in a 1000 square foot area with maybe 15 blades of grass throughout the course. Sheesh. To top it off, there were a lot of people playing out there too. I hope they got a deal...

We had some great Mexican food for lunch, walked around for an eternity before settling in with another couple from our group in a local bar, where we both waited anxiously for the bus.

The saving grace for me was that the bus showed up a bit early and we were able to take a quick tour of the San Diego waterfront and all of the military ships on display. It truly was something special. We passed by Petco Field as well, home of the baseball Padres before heading to Mister A's restaurant on the top floor of a skyscraper. Stunning views of the city and once again, sea bass, beef tenderloin and creme brule.

Monday was a free day, which meant hitting the unbelievably gorgeous pool and once again laying out on the beach. It was a welcomed break from the very structured and busy schedule.

Dinner the last night was at the Stonehill Restaurant in the resort, where we finally got a break from the sea bass and tenderloin. Instead, we had halibut and prime rib. Ha! Great meal and we ended the night and our stay at the St. Regis by closing down the lounge with about 16 of the attendees.

Tuesday was departure day, with most of those attending the conference heading back home. Not the case for Jacky and I.

We had Hertz drop off our rental car, a nice V8 Chevy Impala and we took off up the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway. Our destination?

Pacific Palisades, California and The Riviera Country Club!

Sorry have to be dying right now but...

To be continued...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Back from California with Memories to Last a Lifetime

Just a quick word to say I'm back from the West Coast after a ten day day more than scheduled after flight delays due to poor weather at our transfer in Atlanta.

No matter. The trip easily ranks up there with the best I've ever been on and I'll have details about our week in California over the next number of days.

The first post will detail our experience in Dana Point at the St. Regis Monarch Bay Resort, one of the finest places I've ever had the pleasure of visiting.

During those five days, my wife and I also ventured to Newport Beach and San Diego, among other places. This was all part of a business/social trip with companies similar to mine in Canada, where all the owners and their families get together for some rest and relaxation, with about three hours of business thrown in for good measure just so we can write the whole thing off.

Wink, wink!

I got to play a round of golf at the Monarch Bay Golf Links at the resort, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design. How did the round and the course measure up? I'll briefly go over my experiences there.

However, the real highlight of the trip was spending three nights at one of the most revered and distinguished clubs in the world, The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.

Home of the 1948 US Open, two PGA Championships and the annual home of the Nissan Los Angeles Open, "Hogan's Alley" is always near the top of the list when discussing the world's finest golf courses.

I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to play the George C. Thomas Jr. designed course on Thursday morning. Does the course live up to the hype? Was it worth the effort?

Maybe I'm spoiling it by saying my feelings can't be wrapped up in one blog post. It will take at least three.

My first post will talk a bit about the history surrounding this exclusive club before moving on to my experiences staying on site with my wife for the three nights.

The second post will be part one of my Riviera course review, with a detailed analysis of the front nine from a strategic standpoint along with a shot-by-shot recap of my outward half.

The third post will obviously be part two of the review, with the discussion surrounding the incoming nine. I will also sum up the whole "Riviera experience" in that last post.

Hopefully you will enjoy reading about the club and my experiences as much as I will enjoy writing about it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Break-In

Jacky and I had our first break-in since buying our house last year and the scary thing was that we were home sleeping when it happened.

Our security alarm went off around 4am on Tuesday morning. My wife furiously tried to waken me from my slumber and I actually asked her "are you sure it's our house?" as the entire place was buzzing.

I got up and immediately started for the stairs but my wife screamed "someone could BE in the house!"

The blood was pumping now so I put on a pair of shorts, grabbed my glasses and looked for a weapon. I ended up grabbing a pair of long scissors and flew downstairs on pure adrenaline.

I got to the alarm pad and noticed that the number four was flashing on it...the man door in the garage had been compromised. Without fear, I opened the door to the garage and noticed that yes, the door was wide open going into the backyard.

I quickly shut the door to the house and locked it then told Jacky to call the cops.

I went upstairs to check on Jacky as she was on the phone and saw her start yelling out the window to a guy in a car.

"Who are you? What are you doing?"

He got out of his car and said "someone broke into my house and I just saw a guy going into the houses over there. I was just about to call the police."

Jacky told him she was already on the phone with them and indicated to the person on the phone that someone else may have been robbed.

"But I don't know if I trust him or not", Jacky said.

The guy ended up driving into the townhouses about a block away and the cops arrived shortly thereafter, starting in those townhouses before coming to our place.

I went out to meet them and took them around back. It was then that I noticed for the first time that one of the windows in the garage was wide open and there was a waste basket upside down right underneath.

The guy jimmied my window to get in the garage.

The lucky thing for us was that I had done a bunch of tree pruning a couple days earlier and didn't finish until after dark. I had no light to cut the branches so I threw them all in my garage right up against that window. There was no way the burglar could move stuff out the window with all the trees there so he was forced to try to go out the man door.

Big mistake, as it is hooked up to our alarm system.

We went through the garage and I looked for anything that might have been stolen. Everything looked to be in its rightful place.

After answering a few more questions, the officer indicated that the K-9 unit would try to search him out. He gave us his card and told us to call him if we figured anything got stolen and with that, he went back out to his car.

There was no chance I could sleep at this point so I turned on the computer and did a bit of surfing. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door.

"Is this yours?", the officer asked, holding a half empty case of Coors Light.


I had a few cases of beer in my garage left over from my stag, that took place almost nine months ago.

"Yeah, that's probably mine", I said.

"Would it have been full or half empty like this", he asked.

"It may have been half empty", I said. "There were some leftovers from the stag but we're not real drinkers here so it's just been sitting in the garage for all that time."

The handle on one side of the case was torn off, as the case probably broke on the idiot as he was running down the street. The cops found it about two or three blocks away and now they were hot on the guy's trail.

"We'll likely have a police photographer call you in the morning to take pictures of your window and see if there are any fingerprints", he said.

With that, they were off, with only the K-9 unit vehicle in front of our driveway. It was about 5:30am by this point.

The phone rang at about 6:45am - I still hadn't been able to get back to sleep by this point.

It was the officer, telling me that they caught the guy!

Unbelievably, he was found in a field over by a local church with about 10-12 empty beer bottles around him.

Haha. The guy DID have a full case but when it fell apart on him, he took as many bottles as he could, stuffed them in his pockets and took off!

My goodness.

He also had a stolen bike from some other house along with a few other things that didn't belong to us. Geez, the things people do for alcohol or drugs...

Anyway, I'm going to be nailing those windows down and getting them hooked up to the alarm system so this doesn't happen again. I'm just so thankful that our actual house wasn't breached and that neither of us was hurt.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Niagara Men's Tour: Pelham Hills G&CC

The fifth leg on the 2007 Niagara Men's Tour took place on Saturday afternoon in Welland at Pelham Hills G&CC.

I wasn't feeling it before the round due to exhaustion - I had played four grinding, competitive tournament rounds in the previous seven days and I just didn't feel I had a lot of fight in me. However, the game has been really good for a couple weeks so I was hoping for the best.

I had no idea what kind of rollercoaster ride I was in for.

I drove perfectly down the par 5 opening hole but quickly found that the ridiculously firm and dry conditions would cause havoc all day. The course was as parched as you can possibly imagine, with cracks in many of the fairways due to lack of water. The greens, however, were soft and receptive. Very strange.

My tee ball rolled just off the fairway behind a stray tree so I had to punch a 6-iron up front. I hit my pitch shot to five feet but missed the simple putt, leaving me with a disappointing par.

Cue the magic.

Hole 2, a 405 yard par four: Driver, PW to a foot and a half. Birdie.
Hole 3, a 185 yard par three: 6-iron to 40 feet. Two putts for a Par.
Hole 4, a 450 yard par five: Driver, 9-iron to 15 feet. Two putts for Birdie.
Hole 5, a 400 yard par four that doglegs 90 degrees to the right: 4-iron, PW to two feet. Birdie.

Oh my. I'm three under par through five holes and I'm just STIFFING shots right beside the pin. I felt like I could birdie EVERY HOLE out there.

The fun wouldn't last.

I hit a 4-iron off the 339 yard par four and drew it into the hazard, eventually making bogey. Lack of course knowledge cost me here, as hitting driver would have put me past all the trouble.

I then badly hooked my 7-iron on the par three 7th and made another bogey.

I'd bogey the 8th and 9th as well, hitting 4-irons again off both tees to stumble out in 37 shots (+1).

I figured my conservative play was costing me so I yanked the driver out of the moth balls and ripped it down the middle on the 405 yard par four 10th, leaving only a sand wedge approach over water. I hit a good one to 15 feet but the tough downhiller went three feet past. I'd MISS the par putt for my fifth consecutive bogey.

Now getting a bit angry, I LAUNCH a Nepon-like missle down the 346 yard par four 11th and I only have a pitch shot into the green. It rolls about 10 feet past but I make the putt for my fourth birdie of the day to get back to +1.

Adam, one of my playing partners, offered encouragement.

"Way to stay with it."

The tricky par five 12th was next. I ripped another perfect drive and was shocked to see it barely stayed out of a creek that ran about 320 yards from the tee. I only had about 215 to the pin but the shot was over a huge pond. With the guys ahead struggling, I decided to layup to about 85 yards, a perfect lob wedge distance.

My approach epitomized the day. It hit about four paces onto the surface pin high, then spun back off the green, down the embankment and into the water. Unreal.

I'd drop and almost chip in, settling for another bogey. Keep in mind, I haven't made a par since the THIRD HOLE!

The streak would continue. I'd hit my first poor drive of the day on the 13th, hitting into fescue well right of the fairway. I'd chop out to the front of the green, getting lucky to bounce over the same creek that almost nabbed my ball on the last hole. Again, I was unable to get up and down, making bogey to move to +3.

The long and difficult par three 14th, at 223 yards into the wind, offered a huge challenge from a club selection perspective. I decided to hit a hard 4-iron and left it out a bit to the right, barely clearing the pond. I had about a 60 foot putt and I would THREE-PUTT that for yet another bogey.

Things would only get worse. I would hit my approach shot on the par five 15th out of bounds, necessitating a drop. Without any delay, I hit a poor fifth shot short and right of the pin. I could only offer a laugh when I CHIPPED THE NEXT SHOT IN for a crazy bogey.

I raised my hands in victory on the short par three 16th when I made a six or seven footer for par, my first in 13 holes but would lose that momentum immediately on the next hole. I hit my tee shot slightly left on the difficult 374 yard 17th and we couldn't find my ball after five minutes of searching. Double bogey there.

Feeling numb at this point, I proceed to somehow finish in style, bombing a 300 yard+ drive on the 18th and hitting lob wedge to 4 feet, making my fifth birdie of the day to shoot a nutty 78 (+6).

Scoring was relatively low so I finished a disappointing 17th on the day. I was pretty surprised that 71 (-1) was the low score...I figured one or two guys would easily break 70.

The one positive that came out of the day was the fact I won my first skin in my four years on the tour for the birdie on the 5th hole. There were only three skins that day so I won a pretty tasty $170.00 for that bird. Not bad!!

Anyway, I was bumped down to 12th overall on tour with only one event remaining, the season finale at Twenty Valley G&CC in September.

I have never been able to score well out at that course so my expectations aren't high. I'd like to finish in the top-10 overall but I just don't think I will be able to put together a good enough score at that place to contend for an event win.

So after a round where I made three paltry pars but five glorious birdies, I went back to St. Catharines on Sunday and played a remarkably steady round, with only one bird, four bogeys and 13 pars on my way to a solid 75 from the backs.

What a nutty game.

I'll be back tomorrow with the story of how my house got broken into last night...with my wife and I in the house sleeping. Scary stuff.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Langley Cup Quarterfinals

I was matched up against Joe, one of the Sunday regulars, in the round of eight in the Langley Cup, the club's 0-7 handicap match play championship.

I liken Joe to Ty Webb, the character in Caddyshack played so memorably by Chevy Chase. Joe is extremely carefree and doesn't give a rat's ass about scores or keeping handicaps, which makes it tough for him to properly compete in a handicap event.

I was prepared to go with the flow and work off whatever handicap Joe thought he was playing to, figuring he was about a 5 or 6 and knowing him to be an honourable fellow. I was surprised when he stated we should just play straight-up to avoid any hassle.

Great! Off we go!

Joe is in his mid-50's and has lost quite a bit of distance over the past couple years but his short game is sublime and he doesn't get into too much trouble.

I'll be honest though. I didn't think I would have much trouble in this match, especially in light of how well I was playing and because of the distance advantage I'd have playing the back tees against Joe.

Little did I know how epic the match would end up being.

Let's go with the encapsulated version of the match:

Hole 1 (Par 4): Joe misses the green but hits his chip to gimmie range. I hit a poor tee shot and a great recovery to 30 feet but leave my putt 8 feet short. However, I'm able to ram home the par putt. All Square
Hole 2 (Par 4): We both hit good drives down the middle. Joe hits on to about 15 feet and I come out of my 9-iron, hitting it into the greenside trap. The sand is soaking wet and I don't get the ball out of the bunker on my first attempt. My blast for par rolls to about four feet but it's a mute point, as Joe hits his birdie putt center cut. Joe 1up
Hole 3 (Par 4): Joe gets into trouble off the tee and can't get home in two. However, his chipping is on today and he gets to within three feet and ends up making it. I drive nicely down the middle and hit the front of the green. My birdie putt comes up 10 feet short (I'm still thinking the greens are at Club Championship speed I guess) but again, come through with a great par save. Joe 1up
Hole 4 (Par 3): Joe hits perfectly to about 15 feet and makes par. I misclub off the tee and I'm woefully short. I can't get up and down. Joe 2up

So Joe is one under to this point and I'm two over and I'm getting slaughtered early. However, this is where I started to step it up a bit.

Hole 5 (Par 4): Joe hits a weak hook against the out of bounds fence and is in trouble. I hit a horrible block into the fairway trap, close to the lip. However, Joe pretty much whiffs on his attempt to get away from the fence and is lying five by the time he gets on the green. I take out a 4-iron from 200 yards in the bunker and just pray I don't hit the lip...instead, I hit one of the best bunker shots of my life, hitting it straight up into the air dead at the pin. It lands softly on the green and ends up within a foot and a half. Joe picks up as I tap in the birdie. Joe 1up
Hole 6 (Par 5): We both play this hole well and barely miss birdie putts but end up halving with pars. Joe 1up
Hole 7 (Par 3): I hit a great 5-iron to about 12 feet and Joe's tee shot ends up in the bunker. He skulls it out over the green and duffs his chip. I roll in my putt for another birdie. All Square
Hole 8 (Par 5): I nail my drive down the pipe and have about 215 downwind and downhill to the front pin position. Joe has to layup to the bottom. My 5-iron second shot barely clears the creek, as I thin it ever so slightly. Joe hits his approach to about 18 feet. My chip shot ends up rolling just by the hole and Joe concedes my birdie putt. He isn't able to roll his home. Matt 1up

Three birdies in four holes and I now find myself in the lead! Crazy match! I'm one under at this point and Joe is two over.

Hole 9 (Par 4): I hit a nice drive that ends up right beside the 'pimple bunker' on the right side of the fairway, only leaving myself an 8-iron approach. Joe is left with 205 yards but hits a chokedown 3-wood to six feet. My shot ends up just short of the green and I three putt from there. Doesn't matter, as Joe makes his birdie putt to even the match. All Square

Geez. What a birdie fest! We're 5 under best ball at this point! Just when we thought we were world beaters, it was time to cue the ugliness...

Hole 10 (Par 5): I make a routine two-putt par and Joe can't get up and down. Matt 1up
Hole 11 (Par 4): I leave myself a bit longer of an approach than usual here (143 yards) and end up missing the green right. My chip shot is decent but rolls about 14 feet past the hole. Joe is already in with his par as I once again hole the long par putt. "You little grinder", Joe says with a smirk on his face, as Cal and Harry nod in approval I'm sure. Matt 1up
Hole 12 (Par 3): I step up and hit the ball into the hazard. Damnit! Joe doesn't take advantage, making a huge anti-left swing and hits it into Burgoyne Woods. We both make ugly doubles. Matt 1up
Hole 13 (Par 4): I drive perfectly, leaving myself about 160 yards and Joe barely makes the fairway. His 3-wood from 210 out is perfect and ends up on the front of the green. I thin a 7-iron to about 15 feet. Neither of us make. Matt 1up
Hole 14 (Par 3): I hit into the greenside bunker right while Joe hits a beauty to 12 feet, but he's above the hole. I once AGAIN can't get my ball out of the bunker. Wow! I shouldn't have been using my lob wedge I guess in the wet sand. I finally get out but two-putt for my second double in three holes. I concede Joe's par putt. All Square

I can tell I'm running out of gas by this point. I'm still focused but my energy level was rapidly falling.

Hole 15 (Par 5): Joe hits a weak hook and he's in jail in the trees left. I also hit a hook but it rolls through the grove of trees and seems to be fine from our vantage point on the tee. Joe is able to punch his ball out to 200 yards while I find my ball DIRECTLY behind a pine tree in front of the bunker on the sixth hole. I have no choice but to play a punch shot down six and leave myself about 225 yards away right across the huge holding pond. My rescue shot draws into the bunker and I make bogey. Joe also makes bogey from in front of the green. All Square
Hole 16 (Par 5): We both play two good shots down to the bottom of the hill. I play my third shot first and my wedge is right at the hole, ending up 3 feet away above the hole. Joe also hits a good one in there but is 12 feet away pin high, leaving a difficult right-to-lefter. He misses and says "knock it in". Inexplicably, I miss the putt. All Square

I knew that one was big.

Hole 17 (Par 3): Joe steps up and hits a great 3-wood to about 15 feet. I hit a huge hook with my 4-iron and once again find myself behind a tree. I do what I can with it and leave myself a makeable par putt from 12 feet. Joe nestles his birdie putt to gimmie distance and I miss my par effort. Joe 1up

Last hole. I figure I need a birdie to stay alive.

Hole 18 (Par 4): Joe hits another weak hook along the treeline and looks to be in trouble. I still have a shot! My drive is once again nailed down the middle. Joe was EXTREMELY lucky to bounce through all three willow trees and end up with an open shot from the greenside bunker. He hits his ball about ten yards short of the green. My 7-iron from 168 is struck perfectly and rolls just six feet past the pin! Joe pitches his ball to four feet so it looks like I have to make. It's a pretty routine left-to-righter...and I miss it on the amateur side. I take my hat off but quickly put it back on as Joe MISSES his first putt of the day. All Square

We're going to extra holes. Wow.

Hole 19 (Par 4): We head back to #1 and both hit perfectly down the middle. I hit a terrible shot to the front left portion of the green with the pin back right - a 50 foot putt awaits. Joe hits on to about 20 feet. My birdie effort comes up 12 sickening feet short. UGH! Joe also hits his short but he's about two feet away. I look down at the ground for a bit to compose myself, take two quick practice strokes and MAKE ANOTHER ONE! Yes! Joe is just laughing. I concede his par putt. All Square through 19

Hole 20 (Par 4): I completely block my tee shot and it hits the driving range fence and bounces wildly back to the left. I figure I'm okay. Joe is down the middle. I find my ball, of course, right in one of the pines and directly behind the huge cedar tree that frames the right side of the fairway. I have no choice but to go right of that tree and get to about 90 yards. Joe unbelievably hits a pathetic hook way left and is on the hillside near the 3rd tee. For some stupid reason, I step off the gas a bit and hit a mediocre third shot just on the front collar, about 15 feet away from the pin on the fringe. Joe steps up and almost HOLES his pitch shot and ends up three feet away. I have to make my putt...but it just rolls by. Joe steps up and calmly makes his putt. Joe Wins on the 20th Hole

Joe actually APOLOGIZED for winning! Haha. There is NO shame in losing this match. Joe played really, really well and WON the match. We both missed some shots here and there but as far as I'm concerned, he was the better player on this day and deserved the victory. Full marks for Joe, who will go on to face the Toastman himself in the semifinals. Harry is still alive as well but has the daunting task of trying to eliminate Mike, the four-time club champion I played with on Monday this past week.

Next up for me is the fifth leg of the Niagara Men's Tour, being played tomorrow afternoon at Pelham Hills GC. It's been a number of years since I played there and I've been told the conditions out there are extremely firm. Scores will likely be quite low.

I feel really good about my game these days and feel like I could possibly contend for a victory. Guess we'll find out tomorrow!

Then on Sunday, it's back to St. Catharines with the regular gang. I'll also be bringing out my buddy Rick to the club for the first time this year, something I'm looking forward to greatly.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

2007 Club Championship - Final Round

I headed into the final round of the 2007 Club Championship at St. Catharines ten shots back of the leader, Bernie, and four shots back of fifth place.

My goal was to finish in the top-five for the first time ever, as my best previous finish in the Clubs is 6th, something I've done twice before.

I had an interesting foursome. Larry (155) is a relatively new member at the club and someone I had never had the pleasure of playing with before. Gerry (tied with me in 6th at 154) is someone I play with quite often and like me, he's on the Niagara Men's Tour. Mike is the two-time defending Club Champion and I believe has four titles under his belt. He is a very accomplished amateur player at both the provincial and national level and I was really looking forward to matching up with him on this day.

The 'lefts' that I was suffering from on Sunday reared its ugly head right away, as my 4-iron tee shot on #1 went over the fairway bunker towards the trees lining the fairway. I had to punch out in front of the greenside bunker then got unlucky when my pitch shot didn't release up the hill, leaving me a 12 foot par putt.

I drilled it in center cut and I was off with a fighting man's par on the first.

I hit a perfect drive on #2 and my 9-iron from 145 yards stopped about 2 feet away from the cup. I had to watch all three of my playing partners three putt the hole and Mike pulled out the gamesmanship early:

"Geez Matt. It must seem like it's been an hour since you hit a shot!"

Mike has a bit of a reputation as a guy who tries to play mindgames on the course, although I don't necessarily think he had bad intentions with his comment.

I mean, I'm TEN SHOTS BACK! If he feels threatened by ME, the hack that I am, he seriously should just hang up the soft spikes!

But again, I didn't really think anything of the comments and calmly stepped up and holed my short birdie putt to get to one under through two holes, picking up two shots on him in the process.

I made a pretty routine two putt par on the third while Mike made a nice birdie to bring himself back to even for the day.

I threw up all over myself on the par three fourth hole. My 7-iron tee shot sailed left and I had a very difficult downhill chip to the middle front pin position. I got a bit too cute with my chip shot and it barely made it through the rough, leaving me with a 25 foot downhill par putt.

I got frisky with it, just missing the hole but it rolled about six feet by. I would miss that for a crippling double bogey five. +1 through four holes. Mike had trouble of his own here, duffing his first chip than thinning the next one past the hole to leave himself a 12 foot downhiller for bogey. He showed great poise in knocking that sucker down to save at least a shot.

I made a solid par on the long fifth hole and just missed a 10 foot birdie putt on the par five sixth after a nice wedge shot to the back pin location.

That brought us to the par three seventh, with one of the toughest pin positions on the course: back left just over a large swale. This was the first hole where the galleries started forming, with about 8 people, including our pro, watching from the waterfall right of the green.

Mike hit first and nailed a beauty of a 5-iron shot right at it. However, in something that would become common for him throughout the round, he misclubbed slightly, with the ball coming to rest in the rough behind the green.

I was next and hit a PERFECT 6-iron that started in the center of the green and drew left toward the flag. It rolled over the swale and I knew it would be close - it ended up about five feet short but it was still a tricky downhill right-to-lefter.

I put a pathetic, wishy-washy, "don't three whack" stroke on the ball and even Mike let out a groan as the ball limped miserably left and short of the hole. Disappointing par.

I followed that with one of my worst drives of the day, blocking it way right into the adjacent 3rd fairway. That forced a layup short of the creek and I would go on to make a relatively easy par.

The long par four ninth was next and I blocked my teeball once again. This time, the ball came to rest right alongside the driving range net, which strangely enough is considered ground under repair this year. That gave me a free drop and I hit my 7-iron approach right to the center of the green and made the easy two-putt for a solid 37 (+1) on the front. I had lost a stroke to Mike, who finished with a 36 while Gerry and Larry both went out in 39 shots (+3).

After hitting a great drive on #10, I hacked my way up to the green and ended up making an 8 foot putt to save my par. Unbelievably, Mike had even more trouble and made a similar length putt just to save bogey. He wasn't a happy camper.

He was whispering to himself on the 11th tee, "time to make a birdie", but wouldn't like the result, as he missed the green long again with his approach and couldn't get up and down, making a second consecutive bogey on what are considered the two easiest holes on the golf course. I barely missed my 12 foot birdie attempt as we hit the backlog on the par three 12th.

This hole was my 'nemesis' last year, as I put more balls than I care to remember in the water left of the green. However, I've played it incredibly well this year - maybe only one ball in the drink.

Make that two...kind of. My 5-iron shot was kind of hit fat and it cleared the hazard and took an awful kick to the left. It ended up going into the hazard but it was playable in very long grass. I thought hard about my options and really felt I would make a big number if I attempted the recovery so I made the choice to take the one stroke penalty and drop.

It was a good decision: I almost made the chip shot and tapped in my two foot putt for a good bogey. I'm a big believer in the fact that bogeys aren't's the doubles and 'others' that kill a round.

So I'm +2 on the day as we hit the toughest hole on the course, the treacherous par four 13th. I nailed the best drive of the day right down the middle as the gallery following us and the last group really swelled. We had about 10-12 people following us in carts by this point, including my buddy Harry, who took off from work early to catch some of the action. There were about 20 people following the other group as well, with the rest of the gallery sitting on the patio or the grass surrounding the 18th hole.

Back pin location and a perfect lie and I pick this time to hit a horribly fat 9-iron short left. My lob shot is a good one, leaving me only four or five feet but I make the same pathetic stroke on my par putt that I did earlier in the day on the 7th hole and I make my second consecutive bogey.

I'd recover somewhat on the par three 14th with a good two-putt par while Mike would make his fourth bogey in five holes to pretty much eliminate himself from the championship.

However, we started getting word at this time that the group behind us was struggling immensely. Reports were coming that Bernie was +4 or +5 on the day and the other three weren't much better. That seemed to spark Mike a bit.

We both striped perfect drives down the middle, with me actually outdriving him for the first time.

"I hoseled that one just a bit", he said with a smirk upon finding that he was behind me.

He then said "if I make two birdies coming in, I just might have a shot at this thing."

Mike hit a nice 3-wood layup to about 80 yards and I decided to be aggressive as well, taking out my 2-iron rescue. I would proceed to hit just an awful shot and the ball ended up rolling weakly into the pond left of the fairway. I would do well to make a bogey after taking my penalty stroke while Mike came through with one of those birdies he was looking for to pull himself back to +3 on the day.

Gerry was really struggling at this point, as he hit two balls out of bounds on this side while Larry was moving along nicely at +3 after going even through the first six holes on the back.

Geez, I was now back in a tie for sixth overall, unless someone REALLY blew up in the last group.

I'd barely miss my birdie putt on the 16th hole but Larry sunk a gorgeous, downhill 12 footer to move to +2 and move ahead of me by a shot.

The difficult par three 17th was playing a bit shorter on this day than usual, as the wind was more of a cross instead of being in our face. Larry, not a long hitter, tried to hit an iron and came up woefully short, in the bunker short right. Mike's 3-iron was nicely hit and ended up on the back fringe. I decided on a 4-iron and hit one of my best irons of the day to about 20 feet. I'd have the putt tracking but JUST came up short while Mike parred and Larry bogeyed.

Last hole jitters were slightly in effect but I murdered my drive right down the pipe and was only a couple yards short of Mike. The wind was howling at this point and I changed clubs at the last minute, hitting a 6-iron from 162 yards. With a huge gallery watching, I hit my best shot of the day to about 9 feet. Whew!

Mike, still at +3 on the day, came over the top of his a bit and was on the left fringe, about 20 feet away.

Larry must have had the nerves kick in, as he hit his first poor drive of the day over on the 1st fairway and had to punch a shot back over to 18. He'd eventually make bogey to finish at 76 (+4) for the day and 231 (+15) for the tournament.

Gerry tapped in for bogey on the last and a very disappointing 86 on the day (+14), leaving himself at 240 (+24) for the event.

Mike was up first and was able to sneak his putt in for a closing birdie and a huge round of applause from the gallery, shooting 74 and finishing at 224 (+8). Perhaps he still had a shot but would need Bernie to shoot an 80 to get in a playoff or worse to win outright. Last we heard, Bernie was +5 through 12.

I had the green to myself and hoped to close out with a birdie but my streaky putting let me down, as I just ran the putt past the hole and tapped in for par and a final round 76 (+4) and a 230 (+14) tournament total.

Bernie would par the last hole to shoot 78 and finish the tournament at 222 (+6), good enough for a one stroke victory and his seventh club championship title. Congratulations my friend.

I would end up 8 shots back in 6th place all alone, tying my best finish in a club championship. I just couldn't make enough birdies during the weekend but I grinded like heck for all three days.

In the end, I'm pretty satisfied with how things went during my favourite event on my golfing calendar.

Next up for me is my quarterfinal match in the Langley Cup - if I prevail, I will be facing my good buddy Cal in the semis. We always have great matches against each other and I'm sure if I get the chance to play him, it would be no different this time around. But that's looking too far ahead...

I also have the fifth leg of the 2007 Niagara Men's Tour coming up on Saturday afternoon at Pelham Hills Golf Club (formerly Welland GC) as I look to improve on my 11th place standing.

I'll be back Thursday with the results of the Langley!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

2007 Club Championship - Round Two Update

I was on the tee at about 11:00am this morning on cutdown day for the 2007 Club Championship at St. Catharines. I entered the day in a tie for 9th out of the 24 golfers in the open flight but saw that I moved up to 8th when one of the 76's from yesterday had to withdraw due to injury.

So I was inside the cutline to start the day but figured I'd need about a 76 myself on day two to qualify for the final round on Monday.

I didn't have a very good practice session before the round but I wasn't really worried. I felt loose and ready to go.

My first tee shot was very poor - a pull into the fairway bunker. However, I hit a great recovery from 155 yards, hitting it to about 20 feet. I two-putted for par and we were off.

I slipped up on the second hole after nailing a perfect drive. My 8-iron approach sailed just left and I couldn't get up and down, continuing my trend from the day before.

Uh oh...not another one of those days...

Turns out it wasn't.

I made about an eight footer for par on the third hole after finding trouble off the tee then made a nice up and down from just over the back of the par three fourth.

I drove perfectly again on the long par four fifth and again hit my approach slightly left. For the third hole in a row, I made a 5+ footer to save my par.

It got even crazier from there. On the par five sixth, I hit a good drive and solid layup to about 80 yards. I hit my pitch shot a bit fat and was on the front fringe. I nailed the birdie putt at least ten feet past but calmly knocked that in for yet another save.

I was now 'up and down man' according to playing partner Brian.

I did it AGAIN on the par three seventh. The lefts continued as my tee shot went in the greenside bunker but I splashed out to three feet and sunk that for par to stay +1.

I finally hit my second official green on the par five 8th. I hit a huge drive, leaving myself only 208 yards downhill and downwind. My 5-iron was perfect and ended up only 10 feet away. I picked that time to miss my first real putt of the day but I tapped in for my birdie to get back to even on the day.

My 9th hole struggles continued with another weak drive that forced a punch out to the 100 yard marker. I took three to get down from there, making bogey and shooting 37 (+1) on the front.

My poor iron play continued on the back nine and unfortunately, my smoking hot putter started to cool off. I had only 197 yards for my second shot into the par five 10th but made yet another disappointing par. I then hit a horrible tee shot on 11 and had to punch out, ultimately making bogey.

The tough par three 12th saw me hit a 5-iron onto the front collar and I two-putted that for par. I made a nice up and down for par on 13 then three-putted from the back fringe on 14 for the second day in a row to move to +3 on the day.

I hit the most frustrating patch of the day on the 15th when I once again hit my 9-iron approach left, just avoiding the bunker. I ended up missing a four foot par putt for an ugly six and was now thinking I was in tough to make the cut.

I still stayed with my gameplan and hit 4-iron off the par five 16th tee just to keep it in play. I hit 8-iron to the bottom of the hill and my sand wedge third shot ended up 12 feet away but it was a tricky one: a downhill, right to left slider. My putt circled right around the hole and cruelly stayed out. Bah.

The par three 17th is an absolute bear: 222 yards and almost always into the wind. I really don't have a club for this hole. 4-iron usually isn't enough and my 3-iron rescue is usually too much. What I try to do is hit the 4-iron and hope to get the 'member's bounce' into the green.

Today, I yanked it left, like almost every iron shot and found the greenside bunker. I splashed out nicely to 7 feet and hit a great putt but the ball just wouldn't fall. Bogey and now I'm +5.

On the 18th tee, I noticed that a nice run by one of my playing partners, Gerry, had pulled him even with me for the tournament. I figured I'd need to match his 18th hole score if I had any chance to make the cut.

Gerry bombed his drive on the tough par four down the left side and was in great position. My drive drew left of the fairway around the willow tree. I couldn't tell where it ended up from the tee and eventually found that I ran through the fairway bunker onto the downslope of the hill. I had a little maple tree about 15 yards directly between me and the flagstick and about 150 yards in.

I tried to hit a cut shot off the lie to start it left of the tree but hit it dead straight, with the ball coming to rest behind the green off to the left. With the gallery watching, I hit my chip perfectly and watched it roll towards the cup. I raised my wedge as it approached and once again, it cruelly hit the lip and dove out, leaving a tap-in par.

Gerry also made a routine par so we both were in with matching 77s and matching two-round scores of 154.

Fortunately, no one who had come in posted a better score so we were the clubhouse leaders with only 7 golfers left on the course, meaning we both were guaranteed to make the cut, which would be set at the top eight and ties.

It turned out that two guys in the last two groups blew up a bit so Gerry and I find ourselves tied for 6th place going into the final round, ten shots behind leader Bernie, who shot a 73 (+1) to put himself at even through two rounds.

I will play with Gerry (154), Larry (155) and Mike (150), the club champion for two years running in tomorrow's second-to-last group. There are 19 flights in the Club Championship so it's quite the production, that's for sure. Tee times start at 7:30am and run all the way to 12:30, with my group going off at 12:20pm.

I'm also really looking forward to playing with Mike, as I haven't had the privilege of playing with him in some time. I don't have any goals for tomorrow other than to have a good time and try to hit the ball a bit better. Should be a good day.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

2007 Club Championship - Round One Update

I'm not going to whine too much for fear of pissing Harris and Cal off but today's first round was a case of many missed opportunities.

Things couldn't have started better: two putt par on the first hole from 18 feet and another two putt par on the second.

I hit just left on my approach on three but my improved chipping game was in full effect early, as I left the ball on the edge of the cup for a tap-in par.

I hit a 7-iron over the flag on the par three fourth then drained the downhill 15 footer for birdie to move to one under for the day. I pulled my approach shot on five left of the green but again was able to get up and down to stay in red figures.

The luck started changing on the par five sixth. I hit another poor approach shot with a 9-iron, this time going right and I would miss a four foot par putt to move back to even. Then, on the par three 7th, my birdie putt ran about six feet past and I couldn't make the comebacker to fall to +1.

We ran into Cal's group on the par five 8th, as his playing partner lost his ball and had to go back to the tee. With 240 yards left for my second shot to a green perched over a creek, I decided to layup rather than wait ten minutes for the group ahead to clear the green. I ended up making a routine par but in hindsight, I wish I had more patience to have given the shot a go from dead in the middle of the fairway.

I blew up on the long par four 9th - horrible drive then a low, hooking rescue that nestled under the trees. I had no shot at the pin but smartly played to the front of the green, leaving myself with about a 30 footer for par. I once again nailed the putt five feet past and again missed the comebacker, making a crippling double for a 39 (+3) on the front.

I missed yet another six footer on the short par five 10th and had to settle for par and made a routine two-putt par on 11. The par three 12th was playing into a stiff breeze, completely opposite from the tradewinds on our course and my 5-iron ended up about 18 feet away. I was able to curl that in for my second deuce of the day and move back to +2.

Still in this thing.

I made a nice up and down on the 13th for par but ended up three putting the par three 14th from off the green, my third three-whack of the day to move back to +3.

Barely missed birdie on the par five 15th which takes us to my 2007 nemesis hole at St. Catharines - the dogleg left par five 16th.

I usually get into trouble off the tee here so I hit 4-iron off the tee for position. It worked out nicely and I hit 9-iron down to the valley to leave myself with an easy wedge third. I didn't hit a good one but still had only about 20 feet or so for birdie. Good time for ANOTHER three-whack? I guess so...

Ugh. I'd bogey the 17th as well when I couldn't sink a four foot par putt and hit 18 with no bounce in my step.

I hit a decent drive and a fantastic approach with an 8-iron, ending up only six feet away. Of course, I'd miss the sharply-breaking right-to-lefter, settling for par and a 77 (+5) on the day.

Scores, as expected, were all over the place. Bernie, my playing partner (the open flight went off in twosomes today - very cool), is the first round leader after firing a one under 71. There were a bunch of rounds in the 80s and one guy walked off the course after making a TWELVE on the par four ninth. My 77 leaves me on the outside looking in as we move to cut day tomorrow, as the top eight and ties make it into the final round on Monday. I'm tied for 9th out of the 24 guys in the open flight at the moment and will likely need a 75 or 74 to play the last day.

I'm really disappointed in my putting and will need to work on it a bit before the round tomorrow if I'm to have any shot.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Evening Golf; Going to California

It had been a long time since I've played a round of golf by myself at night.

The streak ended tonight as I decided to hit the links after some short game practice after work this evening. What great fun it is just to hit the course with no agenda other than to have some fun and keep the swing loose!

Playing by myself, I decided to play two balls and have a little competition between each one - one was a Pro V1, the other a Pro V1X.

The Pro V1X, my normal ball, got off to a solid start with two pars while the regular Pro V doubled the second and was +2. However, THREE STRAIGHT BIRDIES by the Pro V enabled the ball to take a two shot lead through six holes. What a blast!

I was playing behind a couple foursomes and decided to play the 8th with another couple at the club who were behind me, so I pocketed the second ball. By the time we hit #9, I noticed one of my buddies, Bernie, playing #2 so I hopped back over with him and once again played 3 through 9 with him.

So I ended up playing 15 holes on the day in about 2:20. I think I'm going to play pretty well this weekend - no reason really, just a feeling.

On another note, I will be heading to California in two weeks for a 'business' trip. I use the quotations only because the actual business portion of the six-day conference will last about a half day, likely giving all the participants the ability to write it off as an expense.

We're flying into Los Angeles and getting shuttled down to Dana Point, about halfway between LA and San Diego. It's essentially a social convention for all of the owners of the independent distribution companies within the Balpex buying group, of which my company is a member. This happens each year and this will be my second appearance with my wife after staying at the Taboo Resort last August.

My parents usually go but with my father slowing down as the years pass, he feels it's important that I represent the company at these events.

No complaints from me!

While there, I'll be playing a bit of golf. The Balpex tournament will be played at Monarch Beach Golf Links (shown above), a Robert Trent Jones Jr design from 1983.

I usually only get excited about old, traditional golf courses and my expectations for this course aren't too high. But it sure does look pretty. The shot above is from the clubhouse patio looking toward the Pacific.

Jacky and I will be taking an additional three days after the convention ends to stroll around California, with our likely destination being the Santa Monica area.

The highlight of the trip will come on our last full day in California...

I will be teeing it up at The Riviera Country Club, one of the most exclusive private clubs in the world!

Nicknamed "Hogan's Alley" after golfing great Ben Hogan won three tournaments in an 18 month span back in the late '40s. It's the annual home of the Nissan Open, home of the US Open in 1948, home of the PGA Championship in 1995, home of many Hollywood stars and one of the most famous clubs in the world. It's also ranked inside the top 100 courses in the world by pretty much every golf publication.

This 1927 George Thomas design is a genuine classic and I couldn't be more excited about getting the chance to play out there. There are so many notable and famous holes but the driveable par four 10th (shown below) may just be the best short two-shotter in the game. You could play the course ten times and likely play it ten different ways off the tee - the amount of strategic leeway Thomas provides is astounding.

The course is also notable for its wonderful set of par threes, including the famous 6th hole with a bunker in the middle of the green (see below). The bunkering work done by Thomas' associate Billy Bell looks to be a highlight throughout the course.

Of course, one of the most famous finishers in the world is the 18th at Riviera, an extremely long, uphill par four with the gorgeous clubhouse in the background and the great amphitheater setting, as seen below.

Wow. I literally can't wait.

To top it off, the head pro out there has been unbelievably accommodating through a few emails that we've exchanged. There is a good chance Jacky and I will actually stay at Riviera in one of their guest rooms for a night or two, allowing us to soak up the atmosphere even longer! A shot of the room is shown below.

Unbelievably, it doesn't end there! The gracious pro suggested that I also play ANOTHER of LA's great private clubs, saying he'd be happy to help me get on Bel Air CC, Los Angeles CC, Sherwood CC or Valencia!

I'm not entirely sure I'm going to take him up on the offer to play elsewhere anyway, due to the fact it won't be cheap and I'm already going to have to take out a second mortgage to play Riviera. Kidding of course...kind of. That's to say nothing of the fact that I also have my ever-patient wife waiting for me to actually do something with her!

But you only live once and these type of opportunities just don't come up every day. I'm leaning toward Los Angeles Country Club and their North Course, another top-100 in the world design by Thomas (shown below).

Any thoughts from the peanut gallery? Have any of my readers ever played any of these courses?

Either way, it will be a vacation of a lifetime!