Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Golf Season - Year in Review

With mere hours remaining in the 2008 calendar year, I figured there was no better time to write a recap of what turned out to be the best year of my life both on and off the golf course.

I didn't score an invite to any top 100 in the world courses this year but I did see quite a few great courses for the first time in 2008.

DIFFERENT GOLF COURSES PLAYED:
2008 - 19

2007 - 19
2006 - 19
2005 - 21

COURSES PLAYED FOR FIRST TIME:
2008 - 11

- Brantford Golf & Country Club, Brantford, Ontario, CAN
- The Club at Bond Head - South Course, Bond Head, Ontario, CAN
- Eagles Nest Golf Club, Maple, Ontario, CAN
- Ginn Hammock Beach Resort - The Conservatory, Palm Coast, Florida, USA
- Ginn Hammock Beach Resort - The Ocean Course, Palm Coast, Florida, USA
- Lakeview Golf Course, Mississauga, Ontario, CAN
- Niagara Falls Country Club, Niagara Falls, New York, USA
- Oviinbyrd, Footsbay, Ontario, CAN
- Riverview Golf Club, Fenwick, Ontario, CAN
- Thornhill Golf & Country Club, Thornhill, Ontario, CAN
- Wanakah Country Club, Hamburg, New York, USA
2007 - 7
2006 - 9

From a quantity perspective, it was a prolific year with eleven new courses seen. Among them were five courses listed among the Top 100 in Canada by ScoreGolf Magazine: Brantford, Bond Head South, Eagles Nest, Oviinbyrd and Thornhill.

The best experience out of them all was Oviinbyrd, as we stayed in a boathouse near the course right on the lake the night before playing and basically had the course to ourselves that entire Autumn morning. It was a truly beautiful golf course in the Muskoka's and a treat to play - the Tom McBroom design is quite strong and the very exclusive nature of the club made it a privilege to play.

Another highlight was the four day vacation I took with Harry to the Ginn Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida, where we played two world-class courses, one of which (The Ocean Course) is listed among Golf Magazine's Top 100 Public Courses in the U.S. The resort was spectacular, with stellar accomodations and I ate for free the entire trip after throttling Harry daily on the scorecard.

Good times!

Now, let's look at some numbers for 2008 from a quantity and quality perspective:

TOTAL ROUNDS PLAYED:
2008 - 65

2007 - 65
2006 - 63
2005 - 62

TOTAL TOURNAMENT ROUNDS:
2008 - 27

2007 - 19
2006 - 14
2005 - 20

TOTAL NINE-HOLE ROUNDS:
2008 - 5

2007 - 2
2006 - 4
2005 - 7

Boy, am I ever consistent year-over-year with respect to rounds played! 65 again this year, same as last year. The big difference was how much competitive golf I played, with 27 tournament rounds under my belt. This DOESN'T include the 2 scramble events I played this year so I almost hit 30 competitive rounds in '08. A bit crazy and a number I won't come close to hitting in 2009.

TOTAL ROUNDS (80 OR UNDER):
2008 - 51

2007 - 52
2006 - 44
2005 - 45

TOTAL ROUNDS (75 OR UNDER):
2008 - 22

2007 - 13
2006 - 4
2005 - 11

TOTAL ROUNDS UNDER PAR:
2008 - 2

2007 - 2
2006 - 0
2005 - 3

Pretty similar numbers as far as shooting 80 or less, with me hitting that mark over 78% of the time this year.

The huge difference in my 2008 season compared to others was how many times I 'went low', with an incredible 22 rounds where I shot 75 or lower, over a third of my rounds!

I broke par twice this year, shooting a late-season 71 (-1) at St. Catharines. Earlier in the season, I finally broke par at a course away from home for the first time and to make it even sweeter, it was a tournament round. I'll touch on that briefly a bit further below.

OVERALL SCORING AVERAGE:
2008 - 77.58

2007 - 77.74
2006 - 78.93
2005 - 78.50

SCORING AVERAGE (ST. CATHARINES G&CC):
2008 - 76.46

2007 - 77.09
2006 - 77.91
2005 - 77.55

SCORING AVERAGE (OTHER COURSES):
2008 - 79.27

2007 - 79.32
2006 - 80.38
2005 - 80.50

LOW SCORE:
2008 - 69

2007 - 69
2006 - 74
2005 - 68

TOURNAMENT SCORING AVERAGE:
2008 - 76.89

2007 - 77.89
2006 - 79.36
2005 - 78.00

LOW TOURNAMENT SCORE:
2008 - 69

2007 - 74
2006 - 76
2005 - 71

LOW NINE-HOLE SCORE:
2008 - 34

2007 - 33
2006 - 34
2005 - 33

My scoring average both overall and away from St. Catharines were down only slightly and that was due to the early season rounds at the Ginn Resort. Both of the courses we played had extremely high course ratings and slopes and that meant higher scores. Still, I was able to put up lifetime best yearly marks in all of the scoring categories both at home and away.

My play in tournaments continues to be a huge highlight, as my scoring average in tourneys is actually two strokes lower than casual rounds! I am a pretty big grinder so I obviously get geared up for tournaments as opposed to our little weekend games with the guys.

As mentioned, I played quite a bit competitively this year and had a number of noteable accomplishments.

Starting out at the top was my biggest 'win' - qualifying for the 2008 Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship! I shot a 35 with three birdies on the back nine at the Club at Bond Head South Course to overcome a mistake-laden front nine 43 and qualify by a shot for the main event, which was held at Thornhill Country Club. I wouldn't fare well at the actual tournament, missing the cut by a wide margin but just making my first Provincial event as an adult was a goal acheived.

On the strength of making it to the Provincial, I actually received an invitation from the Royal Canadian Golf Association to play in the Canadian Mid-Amateur Championship, which was held on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. What an honour that would have been, playing in my first ever National Championship! However, a long-planned business meeting in Quebec trumped any thoughts of participating in the Canadians and I was forced to turn down the invite.

Harry and I teamed up earlier in an attempt to qualify for the Ontario Better Ball Championship but fell short by a few shots with our 74 at Brantford G&CC.

It was an excellent year on the Niagara Men's Amateur Tour. I finished 12th overall, which doesn't sound great but I missed the final event of the year and the standings were based on event to event points, so I got a big, fat goose-egg for that one. I would have been safely in the top 10 if I just teed it up there and even had an outside chance of winning the Tour with another win but my wife had a major fall with our child-to-be in her belly and she needed my help more than I needed to be on the golf course.

The highlights on the Tour were a second place finish in the event at Riverview G&CC and then to top it off, my first ever Tour win at LochNess Links in August, where I shot 74 in adverse conditions for my first stroke play trophy since I was a junior.

I played in a few fun events outside the club as well, as we ventured down to Pennsylvania once again to play in the Pine Acres Better Ball. I teamed up with my buddy Jay and we proceeded to stink up the joint, shooting a better ball score of 75 and we finished in D.F.L. with a net score of 71.

You can figure out what DFL stands for, I'm sure...haha.

I also played in the very informal 'Lakeview Open' with Bernie and Joey B, getting to see that wonderful municipal in the Toronto area for the first time.

I played in a lot of club events in '08. For the first time, I teed it up in the Auction Pool, a big gambling type event that saw my team finish just outside the money in 4th place with our scramble score of 66 (-6) but we ended up getting pro shop certificates that allowed us a slight profit.

I also played in our Member Guest for the first time, playing with my wife's uncle in the three day event. Henry and I played very well, shooting 66 (-6) each day in the modified better ball competition but we ended up finishing in the middle of the top ten. Still, a good result and a tremendously fun week!

My match play season was a huge success: first, I made it to the semifinals of the Langley Cup, our club's Match Play Championship for low handicappers, losing to Joey B 1 Down after defeating Brad B and Bernie B in earlier matches by a 4&3 score in both.

The big accomplishment though in match play was the victory by St. Catharines G&CC in the Niagara Cup competition, an interclub match play event modelled after the Ryder Cup.

We rolled over Lockport Town G&CC in the US, LochNess Links and Rolling Meadows in the first three rounds before facing the tough Niagara Falls Country Club from Lewiston, NY in the finals. NFCC had NEVER lost in this competition ever since joining the Niagara Cup three years earlier.

Well, we knocked them off to win the Niagara Cup, barely holding onto the commanding lead we built in the home leg of the competition to eke out a win by the slimest of margins.

I ended up winning 7 of my 9 matches on the year and in the Niagara Cup, I won 15 out of a possible 18 points in my best showing yet (won 5 of 6 matches there). I also shot my best score of the year in one of my matches against LochNess Links, shooting a 69 (-3) at Legends on the Niagara's Battlefield Course, which doubled as our home course for the day when heavy rains pelted St. Catharines and forced us to play away from home. It was my first under par round at another golf course and to do it in a tournament round AND shoot three under made it even more special.

Again, the biggest disappointment of the year came in our club championship. I really thought this was going to be the year I could contend and after an opening round of 75 (+3), I was at least in the running. But I got off to a tough start in the second round and just ran out of steam, shooting an unsightly 83 to miss the cut by a shot. The only thing that helped was the fact that I caddied for Cal in the final round and watched him play a great round of golf, doubling the 18th hole (with a chip-in!) to shoot a 74 and finish tied for second.

Balancing this out was the biggest accomplishment in all my years of golf: becoming a scratch player for the first time in my life! I hit scratch on July 26th and stayed there for a little over a month before ending the year as a two. I never thought it was possible for me to reach that goal but when I'm an old man (in five years), I'll be able to sit with my piping bowl of soup (after returning it three times for being too cold) and tell all the kids that I once reached the ultimate goal of a zero handicap! ;)

I'm not going to bore you much further with numbers. Usually, I compare my individual stats like Driving Accuracy, Putting, Greens in Regulation, etc to previous years but I'm thinking that is pretty redundant. Most of my ball striking numbers, funny enough, were WORSE in '08 versus '07. My putting and chipping, however, were much better. Still, I can improve in all areas and I will need to maintain a very sharp short game if I have any chance whatsoever of keeping my momentum going for 2009, especially due to the fact I have a new son at home that will mean less rounds next year.

Speaking of which, what do I think is in store for 2009?

Well, for one thing, much less tournament play. I will continue playing on the Niagara Men's Tour in '09 but I will be stepping aside in one of my favourite events, the Niagara Cup for the upcoming year. We won the whole thing in '08 so I think it might be a good time to take a break - we played eight rounds of golf in getting to the championship, a very significant number. It's just too much, as it's a whole day affair and I just can't justify spending that much time away from home with an infant son.

Jury is out on the Provincial events this year. I'd still like to try for the Ontario Better Ball again but as far as the Mid-Am, I'm not sure...the home course is not very inspiring this year and will pale in comparison to Thornhill. But we'll see.

The Member Guest and the Auction Pool are also in doubt - they are both very expensive to play in and again, it's hard to justify the great expense when I have more important things in my life right now to pay for.

One tournament I'm really going to try hard to play in this year is the John R. Williams Tournament at the highly regarded Oak Hill CC in Rochester, NY. Bernie has played in it for a number of years and my handicap and resume is at the point where they wouldn't completely laugh at me when applying to play. So I'm going to give it a shot...worst thing they can do is say no and I've heard that enough to be immune.

As far as great golf courses, I'm hoping to play St. George's G&CC this year after turning down an invitation this year due to the impending birth of my son. I'm also hoping to play courses like Devil's Paintbrush, the National or Hamilton G&CC but we'll see if I can swing invites to exclusive courses like that. I've never played any of them so it would be nice to play one in '09.

No golf vacations are on the schedule but I am heading to Victoria, British Columbia in early August for a business convention and anticipate playing a number of good courses out there. I'm already booked at Bear Mountain and hope that tee times can be arranged at courses like Royal Colwood and Victoria Golf Club, which I hear are great. I'll be bringing my family for that trip too and may venture into the interior of the province as well - if so, I may try to swing a round at Tobiano, another course with great buzz.

It will be an interesting year, I'm sure, as I struggle to maintain balance on the homefront with my desire to play golf. I still think I can keep my game respectable and may have to make an early season bet with my buddy Toast to keep myself motivated.

No more betting with Harry though...he doesn't pay his debts! There's a resolution for you!

All the best to all my readers and I wish you luck, prosperity and great success both on and off the course in 2009!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and all that jazz from Evan, Jacqueline and myself!

Our good pal Toast must have a lot of time on his hands these days, as he made this absolutely HILARIOUS video of my family.

Check out the video right here. It will take about 30 seconds to load up but be patient...it's worth it! You'll want to make a video of your own right away, I guarantee it!

Thanks to Cal for making this. I'm going to have to burn a copy to send to my parents!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fantasy Football Meltdown

Apologies in advance for making a post that's not centered on golf...

I had a great year in the one fantasy football league that I'm in called "Trash Talking is a Must". It's a pretty significant league from a monetary standpoint, as the entry fee is $200.00 for the year.

I drafted a pretty solid team all things considered after getting saddled with a brutal draft position once again and was fortunate not to run into too many injury problems during the year, with only Reggie Bush missing significant time.

It added up to the best record in the league in the regular season, as I tied another guy with identical 10-3 records. However, I lost my one head-to-head matchup with that guy so I missed out on the $200.00 prize for winning the regular season.

No big deal, as there was plenty of money being paid out for the playoff rounds. I got a bye into the semifinals so I was in great shape, with three out of the four teams left getting paid out. First place gets $1320.00, second gets $550.00 and the winner of the consolation game gets $250.00.

Of course, I run into the one matchup I didn't want and lose my semifinal matchup, even though my point total would have beat BOTH guys in the other semi.

Sigh.

So I'm relegated to the consolation final and I'm in decent shape until Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch goes down with an injury yesterday afternoon, leaving me six points behind my opponent, with each of us having one other guy left to play.

His guy was DeAngelo Williams on Carolina, who proceeded to score FOUR F'ING TOUCHDOWNS last night in a monsterous performance, leaving me over 40 points behind with Aaron Rodgers left to play. I'll need the best performance by a QB in this league all year to have a chance so needless to say, it looks like I'm going to finish in fourth.

Of course, there is a good chance after tonight's game that my point total would have been good enough to beat both guys in the actual finals so I'm feeling a bit ticked right now at my lack of luck in fantasy.

Two bad rolls of the dice, as the Toastman might say...

No fantasy football for this cat next year, I'm afraid.

I'll be back tomorrow with my long-delayed 'Golf Season in Review' for 2008.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

2009 Canadian Professional Golf Tour Championship Taking Place at St. Catharines G&CC

I heard the rumours about this possibility over the past few weeks as a member of the St. Catharines G&CC's Planning and Marketing Committee but word came out yesterday that it is now signed, sealed and delivered!

Our club will be hosting the biggest event on the Canadian Professional Golf Tour's schedule in 2009!

Canadian Tour Announces St.Catharines Golf & Country Club as host for 2009 Tour Championship

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. – The Canadian Tour today announced the host venue and a purse increase for the 2009 Canadian Tour Championship.

St. Catharines Golf and Country Club will host the tournament from August 31 to September 6, 2009.

Situated on the Niagara peninsula one hour from Toronto, the 6,792 yard par-72 course originally opened in 1899 as a nine-hole layout. The course will play as a par-70 6,850 for the tournament.

In July of 1947, renowned golf course architects Stanley Thompson and Robert Trent Jones were awarded the contract to construct an additional nine holes while renovating the existing nine. The classic course will be a stern test and competitors will need every club in the bag, along with patience, if they want to take home the title.

"This is a major golf championship with an international field of top PGA TOUR prospects that we are honoured to bring to St. Catharines," stated Canadian Tour Commissioner Richard Janes.

"The St. Catharines Golf & Country Club is a superb venue with a wonderful membership. We hope to bring them great golf and some memories to cherish for years to come."

The flagship event of the Canadian Tour – one of the Tour’s four major championships - also announced a purse increase to $250,000 in 2009, up from $200,000 in 2007 and $150,000 in 2006. The winner of the 2009 tournament will receive $41,000 and a two year exemption.

“The Canadian Tour Championship has undergone significant growth in both stature and prize money since its 2006 inception,” noted Bram Cotton, Canadian Tour Manager of Marketing & Communications. “We are very pleased to be bringing this event to St.Catharines Golf & Country Club in 2009. The Niagara community has an excellent reputation for the quality of its volunteer base and its hospitality. We are looking forward to working with the volunteers and the local corporate community to make this event a success.”

“We at the St. Catharines Golf & Country Club are absolutely thrilled to have been selected to host the 2009 Canadian Tour Championship the first week of September. We intend to make it a success,” says Joseph Gottli President of the St.Catharines Golf & Country Club. “This event will not only showcase the upcoming Canadian professional golfers, but also our quality golf course and facilities, the City of St. Catharines and the Niagara Region. Our golf course and its practice facilities offer much to young golfers and challenges to the seasoned veterans. The Region also has much to offer from world-renowned tourist destinations and attractions to new world wineries and uniquely local products.”

“I am confident we will be able to successfully partner with many and diverse business interests to support and sponsor the Tour Championship. The coverage on the Golf Channel and other media exposure has traction for the Club, the City of St. Catharines and this great Niagara Region. I am looking forward to promptly putting in place our committees and volunteers to ensure this event will reap benefits for us all, not the least of which will be the charitable group that will benefit from the Pro-Am portion of the week’s events.”

About the Canadian Tour:

The Canadian Professional Golf Tour is an International Tour with tournament operations in Canada the United States, Mexico and South America representing more than 200 members from around the globe. As one of seven (7) members of the International Federation of PGA Tours, official World Golf Ranking points are awarded to the top six finishers at each Tour event.

Some of the most recognizable names in professional golf have competed on the Canadian Tour, including 2003 Masters Champion Mike Weir. Other Canadian Tour alumni whom have moved on to successful careers on the PGA TOUR, include Chris DiMarco, Stuart Appleby, Steve Stricker, Todd Hamilton, Michael Campbell, Paul Casey, Stephen Ames and Dan Halldorson.

This is a huge deal for our club and will help considerably with attracting new members and bringing exposure not only at a regional level but at an INTERNATIONAL level, as the event will be televised on the Golf Channel.

I will have much, much more on this story and event as time progresses. Don't be surprised if I get involved in this event in some capacity...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Buying New Wedges!

Hey, a golf related post!

I have a bunch of credit I have to spend at the golf club before Christmas, as our current Director of Golf is leaving for another club in 2009.

The grooves on my current set of wedges were lacking bite, so to speak, so I figure now is a good time to upgrade, especially with the end of year deals and whatnot going on in the market.

I've settled on these puppies, the Z TP Wedges from Taylor-Made. I'm getting three of them: a 52 degree with 8 degrees bounce, a 56 degree with 12 degrees bounce and finally a 60 degree with 6 degrees bounce.

They come in a smoke finish and I'll be getting them bent to my specifications.

Unfortunately, I won't get to test drive my new toys until March next year! Snow is on the ground here in the Niagara Region and the clubs have been put away until the spring!

I'll be back this weekend with my Year-End Review.

ADDENDUM:
I just want to note that unlike my pal Cal, who promotes products on his blog for profit, I'm actually PAYING for these wedges with my own money.

However, if anyone from Taylor-Made happens across my modest piece of internet space, I'd have no moral difficulty whatsoever in accepting a handout, expecially since my whole bag is filled with your weapons!

Hell, I'll even try your ball if you want. Call me!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Baby Pictures

Allow me to be a proud papa for a second - here are a few shots of Evan!




What a handsome rascal! Takes after his old man, quite obviously! ;)

There will be some golf related content coming soon. First off will be my annual "Year in Review" post that you've all come to know and love. I also plan on doing some more detailed golf course reviews and want to tidy some things up here on the site over the next little while.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Protégé Is Born!

My wife and I welcomed our first child into the world on Monday October 20th at 7:42pm!

Evan Alexander Bosela weighed in at 8lbs 2oz and had a head full of spiky dark hair just like his daddy!

Both Evan and Mommy are doing well and we've been home since Wednesday evening. Words can't express how happy I am being a dad!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Golf Season Ends on a High

The last leg of the 2008 Niagara Cup Finals took place last Saturday at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, home of the annual Porter Cup competition.

St. Catharines had a commanding 14.5 to 3.5 lead going into the final leg, so we only needed four paltry points to bring the Cup back to St. Catharines for only the second time in the competition's history.

We knew it would be tough knocking them off on their home turf, especially since they would have all of their big guns going in this one.

I had the distinct privilege of playing with two of them. I would be locking horns in a singles contest against Raman, the 2008 NFCC Club Champion and a participant in this year's Porter Cup.

Raman finished tied for 36th in the '08 Porter Cup, finishing at +6 for the four day event and ahead of great amateurs like Buddy Marucci and Peter Uihlein.

Gulp! I think I'm a bit overmatched!

However, that was topped by the other man I'd be sharing a foursome with: Fred S, the twenty-seven time former club champion at NFCC and a man who has teed it up in the Porter Cup an incredible 26 times. He is also a member of the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and is a much decorated amateur golfer at the regional, state and National level in the U.S. He would be going up against Bernie in a singles match.

Needless to say, I was probably more nervous on the first tee than I had been all year and it showed as I hit a weak slice off to the right of the fairway to start things off.

I'd pitch out then hit a nine iron approach to about 10 feet. I'd miss and concede Raman's short par putt and I was immediately one down.

I'd get it back on the short par four second, watching Raman make bogey from just off the green while I made a nice two-putt par.

Things would get ugly on the 552 yard par five 3rd, as I'd skull my wedge approach over the green and I was pretty much dead. I'd hit a good shot to 35 feet but three-whack before conceding Raman's four foot par putt.

Ugh...not good.

We'd both hit great tee balls on the par three fourth, with mine ending up 12 feet away and Raman about 8 feet. We'd both miss...in fact, Raman left his about two feet short so I could tell he was a bit nervous.

The 463 yard par four fifth is a monster but I hit driver/3-iron hybrid to about 20 feet and made the routine par while Raman made bogey, squaring the match once again!

The see-saw match continued on the straight away 417 yard par four 6th, as I'd miss about a six footer for par to drop one back again.

I'd watch Raman hit his tee shot on the 183 yard par three 7th into the front bunker but then do exactly the same thing. Damnit!

He'd splash out to about six feet then I almost holed my shot, ending up a foot and a half away. Shockingly enough, Raman would miss his straight in, uphill putt and I nailed mine center cut.

Tied again!

We'd both make solid pars on the 8th then both ran into some trouble on the ridiculously long par four ninth, a 477 yarder. Again, it was driver/hybrid into the green and I ended up in the rough just left of the green. Raman got his 3-wood onto the front edge so he had the advantage.

The rough was so long, it took about a minute for us to even FIND my ball! When I did, I just hacked it out and still had about 15 feet left for par. Raman's birdie putt was way too frisky and ended up five feet past the hole, leaving a treacherous, downhiller for the par save.

I did what I could with my putt but still went three feet past the hole. Thinking I was done, I'd watch Raman knock his par putt FIVE FEET PAST!

Whoa!

So with both of us facing bogey putts, his longer than mine, I walked up to him and said,

"Look, if you want to, we can putt them but how about we just move on to the back right now."

Ramon contemplated it then said,

"I'll have to ask my captain"

He meant Fred of course, who was just systematically DESTROYING Bernie at this point.

Fred just looked at him and said,

"You guys have a good match going. Just pick 'em up and move on to the back."

So I sawed off the front nine with the NFCC Club Champ, shooting a decent 39 in the process, all things considered. So I had a half point.

Bernie was holding on for dear life, four down after the front nine and Fred wasn't showing any cracks in his game, making one birdie and one bogey on a front nine of 35.

This man just doesn't miss a golf shot. What a pleasure he was to watch!

But I still had a match to play. Raman and I would both make routine pars on the 10th and get into great position on the par five 11th.

I hit my gap wedge approach right at the stick but my ball came up about 12 feet short. Then Raman followed with a laser at the pin, ending up four feet away. I knew I needed this one but I just couldn't get the line right, ending up just left of the cup. Raman would step up and knock his birdie putt into the hole and I was one down again.

The tricky 576 yard par five 12th was next and my 6-iron third shot came up about five yards short of the green. I got too fancy with my chip to the front pin and barely made it on the green. I'd then miss my ten footer for par while Raman easily two-putted for his.

Two down now.

Raman was gaining confidence and the momentum was his, never more evident when he hit his tee shot on the 185 yard par three 13th right over the flagstick to five feet.

I needed to step up and I came through BIG TIME here, hitting a glorious six-iron pin high, only 8 feet away.

Come on! You're still in this!

It was a tricky little right to lefter but after giving it a good look, I rammed it into the left side and watched it fall. Yes!

I wasn't surprised whatsoever when Raman calmly stepped up and knocked his home as well. We both birdie to saw off the hole.

I knew I'd need to make a bunch more birdies if I had any chance of recovering now.

I tried to cut too much off the dogleg on the 406 yard par four 14th and was punished, ending up in jail in the trees. The match was slipping away from me.

With Raman in the middle of the fairway, position 'A', I had to make the bold attempt for the green and tried to punch a four-iron through the small gap.

No dice. The ball hit a tree and propelled itself out of bounds left, hitting a maintenence shack loudly, announcing my fate quite clearly. Never one to give up, I'd drop another ball and try again, this time making it through and ending up in the greenside bunker. Now hitting five, with Raman in good birdie position, I tried to hole the shot to put even a bit of pressure on him, to no avail. I'd concede the hole and I was now in trouble: three down with four to play.

There would be no comeback on this day. I hit my approach shot on the short par four 15th into the bunker again and couldn't get up and down. Raman would knock his birdie putt to tap in distance and I conceded.

I'd lose the back nine and the overall match 4 & 3, giving him a 2.5 point to 0.5 point win. He was two under on the back versus my two over...nothing to be ashamed about, especially considering his talent and golf resume.

Bernie was ousted even earlier on the long game, losing 7 & 5 overall and 4 & 3 on the back side, getting zero points. Fred is just an incredible player, making one bogey during the round and just never mishitting a shot. A complete gentleman too, as was Raman and all of the NFCC participants.

We'd finish off the last few holes and have to hope for the best. I got a half point and Bernie was shut out. We'd need three and a half more and the reports weren't great. There was a four ball in front of us and the NFCC guys had a one up lead through 16 after making birdie there.

But we noticed our St. Catharines teammates Charlie and Andy teeing off first on the par three 18th. They must have tied the match on the 17th!

We watched from the tee as Andy made the par while the two NFCC guys were in greenside bunkers. They both splashed out and looked to have 10 footers for par. If they both missed, St. Catharines would get 2.5 points in that match...if they made it, both teams would split and get 1.5 each. Another Fred from NFCC stepped up to his putt and rammed it home! Tied match...great stuff!

So now we had two points and needed two more...

Joe T and Simon M from St. Catharines were in the group behind us and were playing singles matches. We'd find out that Joe got nothing in his match and Simon only got a half point, exact same results as Bernie and I in our foursome.

Uh oh...is Niagara Falls CC making the huge comeback?? We'd need a split, at worst, in the last fourball match to bring the cup home.

In that group for St. Catharines were our assistant, Cameron and Tom, the 2007 Senior Club champion at our club.

It wasn't close...Cam and Tom won all three points to take their match and lock up the Niagara Cup for St. Catharines!!! Wooo!

That's Bernie and Andy kneeling in the front with me, Simon, Cam, Tom, Joe and Charlie standing happily in the back. Sorry about the picture quality...we weren't smart enough to bring a camera and had to use Joe's cellphone for this shot.

Fantastic competition this year and what a thrill for yours truly to not only play NFCC for the first time, but to play with Fred S and Raman. Certainly a day I'll never forget!

I'd follow this up with my second subpar round of the year on Sunday, shooting an awesome 71 (-1), making three birdies and only two bogies during the round. I'd also play on a glorious Thanksgiving Monday, shooting a less-than-stellar 78 but I can't complain too much after the great rounds on Saturday and Sunday!

That's it for golf this year. The clubs are being put away, even though we still may have some decent weather left in October. It's been a fantastic season: two subpar rounds, including one in the sixties and that round was in competition and also winning my first ever Niagara Men's Tour event. I was also lucky enough to get down to a scratch handicap for about three weeks in the middle of the season. Mind boggling!

Now, it's time to be a dad! My wife is due with our first child tomorrow, although, sitting here on Saturday night at 10:30pm writing this, it doesn't look like tomorrow is the day.

Regardless, the next time you hear from me, I'll be someone's old man! Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Niagara Cup Finals - First Leg

St. Catharines G&CC once again has made it to the finals of the annual Niagara Cup, the interclub match play competition between most of the clubs in the region, including those in Niagara Falls, NY, USA.

However, this year there was a new wrinkle, with head-to-head, NCAA bracket style matchups during the preliminary rounds, culminating in a final between only two clubs as opposed to the normal six clubs.

We were able to defeat Lancaster CC, LochNess Links and Rolling Meadows in separate, home-and-home matchups to roll into the finals against Niagara Falls Country Club, the Lewiston, NY home of the annual Porter Cup competition.

All year, we were hoping to have this matchup - NFCC has won every single Niagara Cup that they have participated in so you always want to matchup against the very best in these type of competitions.

From a personal standpoint, I also wanted the opportunity to play their golf course - I've never teed it up out there and haven't even walked it since Gary Nicklaus won the Porter Cup many moons ago. It's an A.W. Tillinghast design, the very same man who designed the Black Course at Bethpage and a course I've wanted to play for some time.

So needless to say, I was pumped when we got into the finals and found that NFCC got through their side of the bracket as well for the heavyweight final tilt!

The first leg took place at St. Catharines on Friday afternoon, necessitating a day off for yours truly. It was a bitter cold and windy day but thankfully, the rain stayed away.

There were to be two best ball matches and four singles matches on the day, each being worth three points. You get one point for winning the front, one for the back and one for winning the overall match. All matches are played straight up, with no handicaps.

I was put in a singles match against Mario, a very outgoing and chatty NFCC member. I was a bit worried at the outset that he'd be a bit TOO chatty but he was an absolute gentleman, as were all of the NFCC participants.

I'm not going to go through the entire match on a hole-by-hole basis...perhaps I will do that for the NFCC leg of the competition.

I came out of the gates quickly, making par to Mario's bogey after he drove into the trees left of the fairway, making the rookie mistake of hitting driver off the tee.

He'd get the match back to even when I three-whacked the par four 3rd hole and made bogey to his par. I quickly got back in the driver's seat on the par three 4th, making par to his bogey.

I'd make a great birdie on the par five 6th to best his bogey then make a routine par on the 7th after Mario put his tee ball in the water to move to 3up in the match.

However, he'd come back with a solid birdie of his own on the 8th and we'd saw off the 9th with pars, giving me a 2up lead on the 10th tee to win the front nine point. I shot 36 on the front while he came in with a 39.

I'd really grab control early on the back. I made about a 12 footer on the par five 10th for another birdie to go three up and get into red figures at one under for the round. Then, Mario would three-whack on the par four 11th, making bogey and giving me another hole.

I would blow a chance to take a five up lead on the downhill par three 12th, notching another three putt of my own for bogey to tie Mario then I three-putted AGAIN on the 13th from only 15 feet, making another bogey and tying him again.

I'm a bit ticked and try to tell myself to suck it up and close out the match right here but we both tally pars on the 14th hole to put the match at dormie.

Thankfully, I'd close out Mario on the 15th, making a routine par versus his bogey to take the overall match 5&3. We'd both par the 16th as well and that locked down the back nine point for me too, giving me all three available points in our match.

I'd bogey the 17th and par 18 to shoot a solid 74 (+2) on the day and our club dominated the proceedings on this day, coming out with a commanding 14.5 to 3.5 lead going into the final leg, which takes place at Niagara Falls CC on Saturday this weekend. I also won a $50.00 skin for my birdie on the sixth hole, a nice bonus!

I'm told that many of NFCC's top players weren't able to play at St. Catharines but will be playing on Saturday so it could still be a contest. I can't tell you how excited I am to finally get the chance to play NFCC after walking it a number of times while watching the Porter Cup.

On Sunday, there were nine of us at the club for our regular game, perhaps one of the final games of the year. I'd be one of only two guys to break 80 on the day, shooting 75 (+3) and winning two skins. We also played a three-man best ball competition that our team took down AND I took Bernie's money in our regular match play game so I had a nice haul on Sunday!!

The weekend was topped off with a CONVINCING AND DECISIVE victory over our favourite blogger Harry in Fantasy Football. Harry, if you don't already know, doesn't play golf on Sundays once September hits - he puts his football jammies on, fires up his laptop and watches the NFL Network from 8am to 1pm to make sure he has all nine of his fantasy teams in perfect order before the games start up.

Just to let you know, I played 18 holes Sunday morning, had a drink with the boys on the patio and still had time to take the two minutes necessary to set my lineup and DESTROY THE FANTASY GURU HIMSELF!!!

The fact that I'm tied for first in that league is just icing on the proverbial cake!

Ahhh...good times.

I'll be back on the weekend with my report from NFCC!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Full Weekend of Golf!

Thankfully, my wife is feeling a bit better these days as we approach the delivery date. She is now able to walk around, carefully mind you but she is able to place her weight on the broken foot with the walking cast.

That means she's less dependent on me and most significantly, it meant that I could get out of the house both days this past weekend for some golf!

Cal, Harry and I ventured across the border on Saturday around noon in order to play Wanakah Country Club, one of our recipricals at St. Catharines.

The Wanakah website indicates that the course was designed by famed architect Donald Ross in 1899. However, I'm being given conflicting reports by a number of posters at
Golf Club Atlas, who say Willie Watson is the real designer.

Regardless, Wanakah proved to be a fun little course and one in superb condition. The first hole is a downhill par four that doglegs slightly to the left and has a cool green complex, something that is prevalent throughout the golf course.

The uphill second is shown below. The tee shot is pretty wide open but the second shot is played to a green perched well above the fairway and it slopes dramatically from left to right and back to front. I hit my second shot about 20 feet left of the flag and I was DEAD. Three putts later and I had my bogey five. Hah!

The front nine is really wide open off the tee and you quickly realize that the difficulty lies in the greens and the approach shots.

One of the highlights of the day came on the par three 7th hole, a 211 yard par three. I hit a horrible five-iron way left and the ball stopped directly behind a large tree. The green is elevated in back and with the pin sitting in that area of the green, I had to open up my lob wedge and take a full swing and hope for the best.

Well, the ball went straight up over the tree and landed about three feet away before rolling about 8 feet by. Crazy good shot that was followed by a sick putt that started a foot or so right of the hole and broke all the way back into the cup for the AWESOME par! Harry had nailed a 20 footer for par just before me after a decent bunker shot so we were having a lot of fun.

Another highlight came two holes later on the 431 yard par four ninth. As you can see below, my drive ended up in the trees left of the fairway, about 185 yards away. I had to aim about 30 yards right, at a greenside bunker, and snap hook the shot in order to have a chance to reach the green.

Great photo by Cal here, getting me right in the backswing. I pulled off the shot perfectly and my ball ended up only 15 feet away from the cup. I'd miss that but tap in for my par and a 38 (+2) on the front side. We all played pretty well on the outgoing nine, with Harry coming in with a 39 and Cal shooting 41 despite two doubles.

The course really starts getting great on the back nine, with more varied topography than the relatively flat front side. Standouts include the par three 12th, shown below, a drastically uphill 174 yard par three.

The green here is unbelievable - Cal had a putt that was only 20 feet away but he was completely dead. He barely touched it and it rolled well off the green. We dropped a few balls and it took us a while but we finally were able to get one reasonably close. Fun stuff!

The downhill par five 14th, measuring 563 yards, is another stunner. You have to navigate around a pond that creeps up on you down the left side right where you'd place your layup. Then, the approach shot is played back up the hill to a great greensite with a putting surface that slopes sharply from back to front. I'd hit my second shot in the water here but get up and down from 115 yards to save my par.

The par three 15th, measuring 206 yards, is the signature hole at Wanakah and it may be one of the prettiest holes I've ever seen.

Not only is it pretty but it's as tough as nails. Very narrow putting surface and water runs in front and curls around the right side as well. You can bail out left but that's no bargain either, as Cal found out when his hooked tee shot bounced off the stairs left of the green and ricochetted back towards the water on the right, barely staying out. He'd get up and down, as would I from a nasty little lie left of the green to keep a solid round going.

The shortish par four 17th, measuring 362 yards from the tips, is another beauty. The drive is pretty wide open but the approach shot, seen below, is played to a green with a severe false front and is also protected by water on the left and in front.

We all hit great drives here but somehow, only Harry was able to make par and none of us hit the green in regulation despite all being within 100 yards. Nice hole!

I'd also bogey the final hole, stumbling home with a 77 (+5), still a decent round considering it was our first trip around Wanakah and also considering the fact I hadn't played a full round of golf in almost three weeks. Strange stats though, as I made five bogeys, 13 pars and no birdies, even though I hit 9 of my first 12 greens in regulation.

Cal made a crucial putt on the 18th to shoot 80 and top Harry by a single shot in their grudge match.

We really enjoyed Wanakah - I think it's a toss up but East Aurora may still take the prize as our favourite reciprical...it's a close race though! Good golf course and one we will certainly be returning to at some point.

I followed up that round by shooting a great 73 (+1) on Sunday at St. Catharines, despite bogeying the 18th in disappointing fashion and keeping me from my first par or better round at my home course this year. I hit my first 11 greens and hit 14 of my first 15 before stumbling home on the last three holes. Still, a nice round and I took home four skins on the day (three birdies; one par).

I'm taking the day off on Friday in order to play in the first leg of the Niagara Cup finals against Niagara Falls Country Club (Lewiston, NY). We play at St. Catharines on Friday then head to NFCC on the following Saturday for the second and final leg. I've never played NFCC, home of the annual Porter Cup, the second most influential Amateur tournament in American golf behind the US Amateur and I'm PUMPED to say the least.

However, my participation in the second leg will depend on my wife. She is due one week after the event so there is a good chance she'll pop early. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my little son-to-be holds off so daddy can play NFCC! ;)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Life Gets in the Way

I've played only 27 holes over the past three weeks, as "real life" has taken precedence.

My last full round of golf took place on Saturday September 13th, as I shot a solid, bounce-back 74 (+2) at St. Catharines from the blue deck after my horrific 85 the weekend previous.

This was to be good preparation for the Niagara Men's Tour finale, scheduled to take place the next day at Thundering Waters GC.

However, we got hit with heavy rains on Saturday night and Thundering Waters closed their doors for the day on Sunday, leaving the Tour without a course to play. So the event was rescheduled to the following Sunday and I just stayed at home and watched football.

I had to go to Toronto for a set of business meetings from Monday to Wednesday but a really scary, almost life-changing accident took place on Tuesday night.

My wife, who is eight months pregnant, was trying to carry a piece of cake into our family room when her foot gave out and she fell...right on her stomach.

Thankfully, her cousin was able to get to our house to take her to the hospital while I sped home from Toronto to meet her at the hospital.

Initial tests showed that the baby's heartbeat was still strong...thank goodness! However, my wife suffered a broken foot in the accident and in addition to some other complications earlier in the pregnancy, its resulted in her not being mobile whatsoever.

So I had to get her a wheelchair for the house so she could get from the bed to the washroom and I also had to take Wednesday and Thursday off work to take care of her. One of her good friends was nice enough to take the day off on Friday so I could go into work but unfortunately, there was no one available to help out on the weekend.

That meant I had to cancel my tee off time on Saturday that I had at St. George's G&CC, one of the top-rated courses in Canada...a course I had waited YEARS to get an invitation to. Devastation is the only word. I did end up playing a quick nine with Cal in the AM but my heart wasn't in it whatsoever and headed home quickly after a nice breakfast.

It also meant that I wasn't able to participate in the season finale on the Niagara Men's Tour, which was rescheduled for Sunday at Ussher's Creek (Thundering Waters was unavailable). This was a huge blow, as I was in position to possibly win the whole Tour after winning the previous event at LochNess Links.

But family comes first.

Thankfully, we got great news on Monday, as we had a followup ultrasound appointment and everything looks great with our future child. What a huge relief! And my wife, while still having lots of trouble, can at least put a little bit of weight on the walking cast she has, so she can use a walker to get around some of the time.

Not sure how much golf there will be for the rest of '08. I'm hoping to get out once this weekend so we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Dog Days of Summer

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. The golf season is really starting to wind down and my game is beginning to suffer quite a bit after all of the tournament grinding I've done this year.

Quick update on the past couple weeks on the course. It will become quite clear why I haven't wanted to talk about golf lately ;)

On Labour Day weekend, I played golf all three days. On Saturday, I shot an ugly 80 in preparation for a fun little money game held Sunday morning at the esteemed Mississauga municipal course Lakeview, which has held two Canadian Opens in the past.

What a neat little course! It tops out at only about 6300 yards from the tips and the course rating and slopes aren't anything to write home about. However, this has to be one of the tighter tracks I've ever played. A Canadian Tour event was held the previous weekend so the rough was up quite a bit and I had two shots where I barely advanced the ball in the thick grass.

There were 20 guys out for the mini-tournament, with everyone throwing $50.00 into the pot. There was money for skins, for a team game (four man best ball) and for individual scores.

I made two deuces in the round but still could only muster an 80 (+9). Our team (which included Bernie and Joey B) finished second with a -5 total, three shots behind the winners. I finished out of the money in the individual game and both of my birdies were cut up so I left town a loser. Still, a really fun event and I've been invited back for next year so I'm looking forward to tackling Lakeview again. Course knowledge there is probably worth an extra three shots at least.

Monday is was back to St. Catharines for another mediocre round of 79 (+7). By this point, I've completely lost confidence in both my driver and my putting, not a good combination!

This past weekend started a bit more promisingly, as I shot a decent 75 (+3) from the Blues, one of the first times we played that deck all year. The course was soaking wet due to heavy rains on Friday night and it was pretty cold so we decided to move up for one day. I hit 8 fairways and hit 11 greens so I was pretty happy with the result. The putter failed me though, as I only one putted four holes all day.

At least I had a bit of confidence going into Sunday. I brought out a guest from the Men's Tour and he joined Cal and I for the round. I was OK for awhile and was only +2 through the first eight holes before the wheels fell off.

And boy, did they EVER fall off!

I bogeyed the ninth then missed about a two footer for par on the 10th after hitting a great little lob shot from a horrible lie. +4 through 10.

I mention to Cal that the round feels very similar to my second round in Club Championships and he asks if I'm going to mail it in from here.

Haha. He was spot on!

I snap hooked my tee shot on 11 into the long grass on the left, a place I've NEVER been before. I hit my second off a tree and it ricochetted right back into the hazard.

Then I did it again!

I finally duffed it out then proceeded to SHANK my next shot almost out of bounds right.

Lying five, with both Cal and Phil laughing their ass off, I just shout "I'm done!"

Haha.

I'd continue the awesome play by pulling my tee shot on the par three 12th into the hazard and making another double. I'd bogey the 13th and 14th as well before finally making my first par on the backside on the 15th. I'd par 16, bogey 17 then triple (!) 18 after nailing a gorgeous slice onto the #406 highway.

My score? 39-46-85 and that's a "Computer" 85, as equitable stroke control dictates that I take a maximum of a double on any given hole.

Worst round of the year by far from a playing perspective and I just don't have any fight left in me. It will be very interesting to see if I can get up for the last Men's Tour event, which takes place on Sunday afternoon at Thundering Waters GC.

I always play better when the outcome means something so I'm hopeful that my poor play lately is just an abberation.

Time will tell.

I'm not sure I'll be doing an Oviinbyrd writeup but we'll see. Kind of tough to talk about the course without pics, as I don't want to go against their wishes of having photos splashed on the web.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Langley Cup - Semifinals

I'm coming off a pretty busy weekend, both on and off the golf course.

On Saturday, I played with Bernie and Gary and shot a horrific 81. Almost nothing went right, as I drove the ball terribly and the short game was erratic, at best.

I went home to do some work around the house and ended up spending almost three and a half hours powerwashing my patio, cleaning the crevices and whatnot. Mud everywhere! Not fun but necessary, as our new patio furniture was set to arrive a couple days later.

On Sunday, I was scheduled to play my Langley Cup semifinal match against Joe B. If you recall, I played Joe in the quarterfinals of the same event last year and he beat me in twenty holes in an epic duel. He's also beaten me in the event a few years earlier so I've never won against the guy in match play.

Making matters worse, my 81-shooting ass still had to give him three shots, as I was still technically a zero going into the day.

I knew I was in for a rough day right off the bat. I hit a great tee ball on the par four first but my 9-iron from about 140 yards was pushed into the greenside bunker. Upon arriving at the ball, I noticed that I was sitting in a huge rake mark, the ball pretty much embedded. I almost killed Joe, as I skulled the ball over his head and through the green. I'd take three more shots to get down, making a wonderful double out of the gate to go one down.

We'd saw off the second hole with pars, then I'd even up the match on the third hole, making par to Joe's bogey. We both parred the fourth and fifth but Joe's par/net birdie on six allowed him to regain the lead.

After sawing off with pars on the 7th, I'm still down one on the par five eighth as I smoke my drive down the pipe. I have only 215 yards left to the green on the par five but my 5-iron is pushed ever so slighly and rolls into the bunker.

No big deal right?

Not today...

Again, the bunkers weren't raked and AGAIN, I find my ball plugged in a rake mark. I was MAD, let me tell you. After spewing a few expletives, I once again skulled a shot well over the green and onto the cart path. I stormed across to the other side and pitched onto about 12 feet but it wouldn't matter, as Joe made a routine two putt par for the net birdie to take yet another stroke hole.

Joe would make a big five footer on nine for par to saw me off there and take a 2up lead to the back nine.

His par/net birdie on the short par five tenth was good enough to win the hole once again, meaning he took advantage of all three stroke holes. He was three up now, with no more stroke holes left.

"Well, I've spotted you three, Joe", I said as I teed up on the short par four 11th.

"Let's see if I can give you a run!"

Joe was in for his par and I finally did something, rolling in about a six footer for my first birdie of the day to win the hole and get within two.

Keep in mind, after the ugly double on the first, I had parred every other hole to this point and was still three down. Now, with a birdie on 11, I was only +1 on the day and 2 down in the match.

We'd both par the short par three 12th, as it was playing only 123 yards on the day, down from the usual 200+ yards.

I'd make a terrible, anti-right swing on the tough 13th hole, leaving myself about 215 yards into the green. I'd hit a great rescue to the front of the green but with the pin tucked back left, I'd three-whack and lose the hole to Joe's par.

Three down with five to play.

Joe hit a bad tee shot on the par three 14th into the bunker and knowing how bad the bunkers were on this day, I knew I just had to make par to get a hole back. I hit my best iron of the day, landing five feet short of the pin and stopping right there. I'd inexplicably miss the putt but Joe made bogey, so I was back to two down.

The big opportunity I was looking for came on the par five 15th. I'd hit three excellent shots to get within seven feet for birdie but again, I'd miss the putt and make par, tying Joe on the hole. What a huge letdown.

I couldn't hole a twenty-plus footer for birdie on the 16th so I was dormie heading to the long par three 17th. Joe hit a beautiful 3-wood to the back of the green, 30 feet away. I knew I needed to make birdie and hit a spectacular shot and for some reason, chose a 6-iron (!). I hit 5-iron over the green the day before so I figured I'd need a six to hold the green.

Unfortunately, I didn't hit the ball flush and came up woefully short. Needing a chip-in, I give it a good run and come up about a foot and a half short. Joe concedes my par then runs his birdie effort about two and a half feet past.

I contemplate giving him the putt but decide to make him putt it out for the win.

I have my hat off and I'm ready to shake his hand as he inexplicably MISSES the short par putt.

I'm still in it! One down with one to play.

Alas, I hit another awful drive towards the trees on the left and have to punch the ball out just short of the green. Joe has some trouble too and has a 12 footer for par. Figuring I need to chip in, I run my shot well past the hole but my putt means nothing, as Joe calmly steps up and makes his par to win the match one up.

I played pretty poorly but still shot a 74, a pretty solid score. However, my chipping was rock solid all day and made up for the fact I only hit 8 greens in regulation.

Full marks to Joe for the win - he will be tough to beat if he keeps playing this well.

I want to win this event pretty badly but strangely enough, I wasn't really disappointed after the loss. Just not my year to win it, I guess. No big deal!

I had a quick drink and I was off. Within an hour, I was on the road to Muskoka, as I had an early morning tee off on Monday at the very exclusive Oviinbyrd in Footsbay, Ontario.

I'll have a writeup on Oviinbyrd before the end of the day tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Score Golf Top 100 in Canada; Golf Magazine Top 100 Public in USA

Quiet weekend on the golf front for yours truly.

Played decently on Saturday in a group with my regular partners in crime, Harry and Toast, shooting 76. Deserved better, was pretty accurate off the tee again but just couldn't get key putts to drop. Toast shot a fine 73 and Harry was excellent as well, shooting 77.

Crazy enough, I skipped golf on Sunday in a planned move in order to get some painting done. Well, to be honest, I would rather have been playing golf but I had been putting off the painting all summer and pretty much owed it to my wife to get it done this weekend.

I value my life over the four hours spent on the golf course, lets put it that way. ;)

Moral of the story? Just ask Toast and Harry, as I preach those three little words every weekend at the golf course ;)

Regardless, the painting is done and did take the entire day (8:30am to 4:00pm) so it WAS necessary to skip the golf. At least it's out of the way and I can get back to my regular routine once again!

Lets move on...

I love lists, especially those that talk about golf courses. Two publications recently released their 'Best of' lists, with Golf Magazine releasing their top 100 public courses in the United States and Score Golf listing the top 100 courses overall in Canada.

According to Golf, the best public course in the US is Pacific Dunes in Oregon, taking over the crown from Pebble Beach. If you recall, Harry and I had preliminary discussions about taking our spring trip to the Bandon Dunes Resort but he didn't want to travel all the way out west when we only had five days to play with.

One day, I'll get out there. All three courses on the resort are rated extremely high, with Pacific Dunes at #1, Bandon Dunes at #6 and Bandon Trails listed at #15. Not too shabby.

I have played three courses that were listed on the 2006 rankings: Cog Hill (Dubsdread Course) was ranked #22, Princeville (Prince Course) was ranked #30 and Ginn Hammock Beach Resort (Ocean Course) was ranked 78th.

Unbelievably, Cog Hill DROPPED RIGHT OFF THE LIST! From 22nd to GONE! That makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Almost like an oversight - the course certainly doesn't deserve to be ranked at 22nd but I definitely think it's a top-100 public track.

Princeville stayed right at the same spot, sticking at #30 while the Ocean Course at Hammock Beach moved up from 78th to 74th. Funny enough, Harry's preferred course at Hammock Beach, Tom Watson's Conservatory, isn't ranked.

On to Canada, as Score Golf posted their 2008 rankings on the top courses in the country.

The new #1 is the National, a club I haven't had the chance to play. In fact, I haven't played any courses in the top 15. That's pretty ugly. Well, I DID play St. George's (#3) when I was a teenager but I don't count that in my 'Courses I've Played' list, as I only count courses I've played since I took up golf again in 2000 - I don't really have much recollection of courses played prior to that year and didn't really appreciate architecture until I started playing again as an adult.

Taboo is the highest ranked course that I've played in Canada, dropping to 18th from its former spot at number 11. I like the course but think it's rated a bit high. Glen Abbey dropped from 13th to 19th while Bigwin Island dropped to 21st from 16th.

There are three courses I've played that made their debut on this list: Eagles Nest debuts at #23 in the country, probably a good slot for the Doug Carrick design. Another Carrick course, Muskoka Bay, comes in at #26. I *really* like Muskoka Bay and would personally rate it higher than Taboo.

Also, the Club at Bond Head's South Course makes its debut on the list near the bottom at #99.

In all, I've played only 17 of the top 100 in the country, with the other courses being Osprey Valley - Heathlands (36th), Brantford GCC (41st), Deerhurst Highlands (50th), Rosedale GCC (54th), Deer Ridge (57th), Wooden Sticks (61st), Angus Glen - South Course (69th), Heron Point (73rd), Osprey Valley - Hoot (77th), Lookout Point CC (86th) and Thornhill GCC (94th).

Interestingly enough, I have played three courses that dropped out of this year's rankings from 2006 - Cherry Hill was ranked 89th in '06, Niagara Parks - Whirlpool was ranked 91st and Lionhead - Legends was ranked 97th. They all dropped off the list.

I will be adding to this total soon, however. I have a tee time set up in eight days at the very exclusive Oviinbyrd GC in Muskoka, which debuted on the list this year at #29. I'm pretty excited about that, let me tell you!

I also plan on taking one of my old friends up on his offer of playing St. George's. I have some business meetings in Toronto in mid-September and will try to schedule a mid-week round with him there while I'm in the big city.

I'd like to strike one more off this list by the end of the year as well - hopefully I can get Harry and Cal to join me at a place like St. Thomas or something better...I wonder if I can call in a favour and get on a place like The National or Hamilton G&CC...hmmm.

Likely too much to ask but time will tell!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another Milestone Reached: Niagara Cup Semis & Niagara Men's Tour

It was a busy weekend on the links.

A couple buddies of mine, Jay B and Ryan D, came out to enjoy some twilight golf at St. Catharines on Friday night. They are both former members at the club but don't get the opportunity to play much these days. We had a great time: the course was completely empty and we were able to get around in about three and a half hours, barely beating nightfall. I played decently, shooting a 76 but didn't make a birdie for the second round in a row.

I've kept scoring records for my last three years and this 36+ hole birdie drought qualifies as the longest in that period.

Still, I had a bit more confidence teeing it up on Saturday afternoon at St. Catharines, as we hosted Rolling Meadows GCC for the first leg of the semifinals of the Niagara Cup competition. I was facing Kevin D, a solid southpaw from Rolling Meadows in a singles match.

I started off by stiffing my approach shot on the first hole and knocking in my three footer for birdie to take the quick 1up lead. I'd par the 2nd hole but then I started to fall apart.

Hole 3: Double Bogey
Hole 4: Par
Hole 5: Double Bogey
Hole 6: Bogey

My opponent's start, you ask?

Hole 1: Bogey
Hole 2: Double Bogey
Hole 3: Double Bogey
Hole 4: Par
Hole 5: Triple Bogey
Hole 6: Par

So I'm four over par through six yet still lead 2up in the match. Unbelievable.

I would settle down and start making a bunch of pars, winning the last three holes on the backside to take a ridiculous 5up lead through the front nine.

I was still five up after 13 holes but then the bad weather rolled in. We took shelter at the halfway house for about an hour as the lightning and thunder rolled through St. Catharines.

Once we got back on the course, I quickly closed out my opponent with a par on the 14th hole to win the overall match 6&4, a pretty lopsided result considering how poorly I was playing (+6 after 14). I'd make a par on the last hole to win the back nine 1up and take all three points in my match.

St. Catharines as a team locked up a ridiculous 17 of the 18 available points in the first leg of the semis, with the second leg taking place the next day at Rolling Meadows.

That was an event I'd have to miss, as I had the fifth event on the Nevada Bob's Men's Tour taking place that afternoon as well at LochNess Links.

Now, having shot a 79 the day before and flaming out in the club championships a week earlier, I wasn't exactly the most confident guy in the world going into the day.

I get to the course around 1pm and it is just POURING out. Raining cats and dogs. My buddy Bernie had opened his trap the day before about the fact that the Tour had never had a rainout in its 8-year history and it was looking like he jinxed the event. Puddles were forming in the fairways and on the greens.

But this isn't the PGA, folks. The Niagara Men's Tour plays in EVERYTHING. So we were off.

I made solid contact, all things considered, off the first tee ending up in the right rough. From there, I hit 6-iron to the middle of the green, hit a poor putt that went five feet past the hole then made the comebacker for the par.

The rain really started to come down as we hit the 240 yard second hole. Hitting 2-iron hybrid, I hit a stinger that landed just short and stopped in its tracks on the wet turf. I had a little chip shot to the front pin and sunk it for the awesome birdie! Great start! One under through two!

I'd give it right back on the par five third. I'd hit a weak drive to the left and draw a poor lie in the rough. I'd advance the ball about 150 yards to leave myself about 130 yards into the green. With the rain just teaming down, I'd push my approach into the right rough then lip out the chip, rolling four feet past. Somehow, I'd miss that little putt for the bogey to drop me back to even.

The next hole is an animal. 450 yards, uphill, into a stiff wind with the rain coming down hard. I nailed my drive but still had 205 yards left. I'd hit another fine hybrid shot but still came up short. My chipping was on though: I'd knock my wedge to about two feet and tap that in for the great par.

I'd bogey the easy and short par three fifth after hitting long off the tee and not getting up and down. On the par five sixth, I'd drive down the left side but hit a horrible 5-iron layup shot into the right fairway bunker about 150 yards from the green.

The bunker, of course, was drenched and I ended up topping the ball out, barely missing the water. I was still about 50 yards away, hitting my fourth shot when I reached the turning point of my round.

With turf so wet, you worried about either skulling the shot or laying the sod over the ball, I hit a perfect little wedge that took two bounces and hit the flagstick, dropping stone cold stiff to a foot. SWEET! Tap in par after hacking around the hole.

It was a boost I needed.

With the rain still coming down in sheets, I made a great two-putt par on the tough par four 7th then did the almost impossible on the 245 yard par three 8th. I knocked in a 20 footer for yet another birdie.

I birdied both 240+ yard par threes on the front nine! NUTS!

I'd play the tough par five ninth hole perfectly but miss a 15 footer for birdie, settling for the par and a GREAT front nine score of even par 36.

We moved to the other side of the road for the 10th hole and like magic, the rain started to lighten up.

My swing felt great at this point. I used a hybrid off the 10th tee and nailed it to the 150 marker then almost HOLED my approach, landing about six inches short of the hole and stopping four feet away. I'd roll THAT in for yet another birdie and I was back to one under on the day!

It was a nervous walk to the 11th tee. It was here, for one of the first times ever, that I started to think about winning an event on Tour. One under HAD TO BE LEADING considering the weather.

However, the rain had completely stopped by this point and the sun was even trying to poke through the clouds. I ripped another hybrid off the tee at the 11th right down the pipe, again avoiding water on the right side. I had an easy 9-iron approach but the pin was tucked in the back right portion of the green, a tough placement. I hit a loose shot, coming up just short but then chipped to four feet and made the putt for another par.

I'd give a shot away on the par three 12th when I made the cardinal mistake of hitting left but made routine pars on both the 13th and 14th holes.

Disaster almost struck on the difficult par three 15th. I hit a nice, solid hybrid on the 215 yard hole that just went through the green. It was a tough chip shot to the pin though, with a huge slope that took the ball left to right and down a hill, so tough that I had to aim almost 90 degrees left to have the ball feed properly to the hole.

However, I didn't make good contact and barely moved the ball, just getting it onto the green and not reaching the bottom shelf. Damn!

I now had a 30 footer down the slope and while I hit a good putt, I still went seven feet by. Geez.

Staring double bogey in the face, I somehow mustered the courage to firmly hit my putt through the break, dead center into the cup to save the bogey.

Whew! Now one over on the day with three holes left.

The short par four 16th was next. I hit a great drive down the middle and had another of those testy 30 to 40 yard wedge shots left, with a bunker directly in front of the green. Again, I was so conscious about not laying the sod over the ball that I ended up skulling this shot through the green into the back bunker.

Trying not to show any anger, I splashed out nicely to about 10 feet but couldn't knock the putt home, making a very disappointing bogey on the easiest hole on the course.

Undaunted, I hit my best drive of the day down the pipe on the long, straightaway par four 17th but hit my 6-iron approach a bit fat, ending up on the front of a very large green, with the pin cut all the way in the back. I'd hit my birdie putt and leave it six feet short.....but make the par putt to stay at 2 over!

I figured I'd need a birdie on 18 to have any chance. It's a shortish par five with an elevated tee shot and water running all the way down the left side. It's not an easy drive, let me tell you.

That said, I continued my solid ball striking off the tee, striping it down the middle. However, I was well back, about 250 yards to the flag. With water looming, I decided to play it safe, hitting an 8-iron to 115 yards then hitting a gorgeous gap wedge to 12 feet.

"You got a run at it!", my playing partner Ken proclaimed.

It was a pretty easy putt, left center and up the hill. However, it broke off a bit more than I anticipated and I just missed on the amateur side. I'd tap in for the par and a total score of 74 (+2), quite a great number considering how tough the conditions were.

I was the clubhouse leader and over a couple beers, watched as group after group came in, with no one bettering the score. I've been in this position before, back in 2005 at the last event when someone in the final threesome came in to dash my hopes of winning my first title.

So, needless to say, I wasn't getting overly excited.

Which made me all the more dumbfounded when Bernie came over, hand extended and silly grin on his face, offering his congratulations.

I won the tournament!!! I WON THE TOURNAMENT!!!!!

My first ever win on Tour in five years of participation. In fact, as best as I recall, this is the first time I've EVER won a stroke play tournament. Yeah, I've won a couple match play titles but other than some junior club events back in my late teens and winning a local qualifier for the Ontario Junior Championship, I can't recall ever winning ANYTHING before.

This is easily the biggest event I've ever won in my life and I'm just ELATED! There I am below with my little crystal trophy after the win.

There was a nice writeup in the local paper about the event too. If interested, check it out right here. I assume it won't stay online for long, though.

Now, it's time to rest. In fact, I'm even taking next Sunday off from golf to do some painting before the baby arrives. Shock of shocks!

What a great year it's been!!!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

An Unexpected Outcome

Not going to go into much detail here, as my game on Sunday doesn't warrant much exposition.

I have a couple excuses I could throw out but in the end, I just didn't have it on Sunday. I had nothing, in fact.

I had to make a 25 footer on the 1st hole just to save par then bogied the second hole to go +1. Relatively solid pars followed on the next three holes but a poor drive into the fairway bunker on the sixth resulted in another bogey.

No big deal right? Just +2 through six.

After a 25 minute wait on the par three 7th, I hit just a horrible shot that barely clears the creek. It then hits a rock and runs hard to the right along the waters edge...somehow staying out.

I have no shot at the flag, which is sitting front left, due to the fact that my ball is sitting up against the rock. My only play is to go to the back of the green and I have about a 70 foot putt for par. I leave it 20 feet short but somehow regain my composure enough to MAKE THAT for the ridiculous bogey.

I'm stupid enough to think I have to start pressing and after hitting a solid tee shot on the par five 8th, I have about 215 yards into the green but the ball just rolled into a shady-looking lie. Figuring I need to make something happen, I give it a go and fall short, landing in the creek short of the green. I'd pitch long, chip to three feet and miss the putt, making a crippling double.

I'd finish with a 41 on the front and I was just gassed. I had no fight in me on this day, something that is unusual for my grinding ass.

My buddy Jay, who has caddied for me in the past, showed up to watch me just as I hit my tee shot on the par three 12th into the water. I'd hit a good third shot to four feet and MISS that too. Another double.

My drive on 13 would go left but I'd have a clear shot at the flag. However, my luck on this day ensures that the lie is peutrid and I couldn't get the ball in the air, hitting a tree 20 yards in front of me and cruelly falling right down in it. I'd chip out and make another double.

Knowing I'd need to play at least one under just to make the cut, I try with everything I have to make a run for one but just miss on the par five 15th then am forced to get up and down on 16 just to save par. I'd then have a great chance on the 17th but leave my birdie putt on the lip just short. Ugh.

Needing birdie on 18, I hit another awful drive left into the trees and end up making yet another double bogey. I didn't think it was possible but I shot 83 and MISSED THE CUT.

Wow. This ranks up there with one of the more disappointing events I've ever played, especially considering how well I've played almost all season.

I did learn a few lessons though -

#1: Avoid working in my warehouse and lifting heavy crap in the days proceeding the tournament
#2: Stay in my normal routine...don't play nine holes the day before the club championships and especially, don't ever practice if you don't do it already!
#3: Don't drink three bottles of wine at dinner the night before your second round
#4: Don't try to cut up an orange before your round of golf on Sunday just in case you accidently cut your thumb open

Yeah, all that crap happened along with some medical concerns that popped up last week with my wife's pregnancy but it probably wouldn't have mattered. I just played like complete garbage on Sunday and suck ass at golf again. My driver especially let me down, big time. It was embarrassing how bad I hit it off the tee.

In more positive news, Toast finished in SECOND PLACE after shooting rounds of 74-77-74. Just awesome stuff. I caddied for him yesterday and he played great, controlled golf, hitting at least 14 greens in regulation and outplaying everyone but the eventual champion, Mike K, who shot a scintillating 213 (-3) over the three day event.

Congrats to the Toastman!

As for me, there's always next year...and 'A' Flight instead of Open!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Club Championship - Round One Recap

It was a story of two distinct nines in the opening round of the 2008 Club Championship at St. Catharines for me yesterday morning.

I was really solid to start. Perfect 4-iron off the short par four opener, followed by a wedge to 15 feet. I'd barely miss and tap in my par.

I'd leave my approach just short on the second and chip it six feet past the hole. However, I'd slip the putt in the side door to stay at level par.

Two good shots into the par four third left me with about an 18 footer, a putt I'd leave just short. I'd make another routine two-putt par on the par three fourth.

I got into a bit of trouble on the long par four fifth. I drove it well right over by some sprinkler boxes but I still had a relatively clear shot with a tree hindering my backswing. I ended up well short of the green but my 30 yard pitch shot nestled within a couple feet. Another par.

Routine two putt par on the sixth then I got up and down from right of the green on the par three 7th, almost chipping that in too.

I'd get into red figures on the par five 8th. I hit my best drive of the day here and had 218 yards into the green. My four-iron went just right of the greenside trap but I pitched the ball to five feet and made the putt to get to one under.

Two solid shots set me up with a 35 footer up the hill on nine but I got a bit frisky with my birdie effort, knocking it five feet past. I'd miss the comebacker, my first missed putt of the day to shoot an even par 36 on the front.

I hit the ball beautifully for the most part on the front but my game was just about to fall apart...at least my long game!

On the short par five tenth, I hit a weak hook into a tree and was lucky enough to be able to get a swing on it. I hit another poor shot, leaving me 150 yards into the green but knocked my 9-iron long. I would miss another six footer here for the ugly bogey.

I'd make two routine pars on 11 and 12 and that's when I decided to turn into Harry Houdini!

13th Hole: Pull drive left. Find it's right in a tree. Just chip it into fairway, 135 yards away. PW to 18 feet. Make the putt for par!

14th Hole: Sucker pin in back right portion of green. Go for it like an idiot and short side myself right. I do what I can and the ball settles about 20 feet away. Make that one too! Fist pump!

15th Hole: Another weak hook that hits a pine tree left of the fairway and drops right in it! Have to be careful manoeuvering myself into a hitting position, being sure not to break any branches. Advance the ball five yards so I can get a swing on it. Then hit a 5-iron to about 180 yards. From there, I hit a 6-iron to four feet! Knock that in for another par save!

Wow.

I knew I was dancing with the devil for almost the entire back nine and finally played a good hole on the par five 16th, barely missing a birdie putt.

But my escape routines were about to come up short. On the long par three 17th, I hit a horrible shot into the hazard right of the green. I'd find my ball and contemplated taking a drop due to the poor lie but ultimately decided to try to hack it out. It was a good decision, as I hit a soaring shot that ended up about 12 feet away! I'd miss the putt though and make bogey.

Then on 18, with out of bounds looming on the right, my playing partner hits a ball so far right I could only wince. I step up and make the ugliest, Charles Barkley-like anti-right swing you can imagine and snap hook the ball into a tree forty yards in front of me, with the ball ending up in a gulley on the adjacent first hole.

Wonderful.

I have practically no shot, with the ball sitting poorly on a downhill slope and can only advance the ball fifty yards. I still have about 200 yards into the green and hit a high 5-iron over the trees into the greenside bunker. With a decent crowd assembled at the green, I blast out and hit the flagstick, with the ball stopping an inch away. I get a few claps for that one and also when I tap in for a bogey they all surely thought was a par.

So in the end, I somehow prevail with a 75 (+3), a score that flatters me tremendously. I could easily have been about a 78 so I guess I'm satisfied with the number.

While I'm not out of it by any means, scores were quite low on the day. Mike K, a three-time former club champion shot a lovely 69 and has a three shot lead over young Joe T. There are four players sitting at 74, including friend of Now on the Tee, Mr. Toast himself. The
Golf + Poker blogger shot a scintillating 34 (-2) on the front nine.

So I have six guys in front of me starting the second round, which takes place in an hour or two. Our good pal Harry from Sports, Entertainment and Smack also played a solid round, shooting 77 (+5). Good stuff.

I have a feeling the cut will end up at 155, as they are taking the top 12 and ties.

I won't be thinking about the cut at all. I think I need a 72 at the worst today to get into contention for Monday's final round so I'll be looking for birdies. Talk to you later tonight or tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reaching the Ultimate Goal

On Saturday July 26th, I bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot a fine 73 (+1) from the tips at St. Catharines, a score that brought my handicap index down to a 0.3.

For the first time, I've officially reached a scratch handicap!

I really didn't know if it was possible for me to reach this goal - I play about twice a week on average and I maybe hit 200 balls per year on the driving range. I just don't have the time or patience to practice when that time can be spent on the golf course or doing more important things.

It's not all roses though. I followed up with an ugly round of 77 (+5) on Sunday and hit some really poor shots, especially off the tee with the driver and didn't make one putt of consequence in a birdie-less round.

That being said, I have gotten into quite a groove with my swing over the past twenty rounds, especially with my iron play. It's at the point right now where I just aim right at the pin with anything from a 6-iron down to my wedges and pretty much expect the ball to go right at it.

There are a few slight adjustments I've made at setup and during the swing this year that have helped me get where I am and I want to note them here for the future when my game goes back into the gutter ;)

  • DRIVER: Setup in athletic position with about 60% of weight on back foot and left shoulder up. Hands should be as low as possible. At the beginning of the backswing, I pull the club back outside the target line (more of a perception thing...I'm sure I'm just pulling it straight back) and then up over right shoulder to complete the backswing. Finish with weight fully transfered to front foot.

  • HYBRIDS: Setup in athletic position with about 60% of weight on back foot and left shoulder up. Hands should be as low as possible. If I want to cut the ball or hit it straight, weaken the grip, with my left and right hands turned much more to the left. On hybrids off the ground, I want to stand a bit closer to the ball than I do with hybrids off the tee, which will promote more of a downward blow. Use a three-quarter swing going back and finish with weight fully transfered to front foot.

  • IRONS: Setup with weight evenly distributed and hands as low as possible. Grip down an inch or two. Bring club straight back from target line, using what feels like a half swing but is more likely a three-quarter swing. Swing back and through right down the target line and finish with weight fully transfered to the front foot.

  • CHIPPING (GOOD LIES): Setup with a narrow, slightly open stance in athletic position. Ball position should be slightly behind center and about 90% of weight placed on front foot to promote downward strike. Follow through should be low to ground.

  • CHIPPING (POOR LIES): Setup with wider, slightly open stance in athletic position. Ball position depends on severity of lie with majority of weight placed on front foot to promote downward strike. Break wrists early on backswing and either splash down slightly behind the ball or hit the ball off the toe of the clubface for a softer blow out of the rough. Follow through should be short and low to ground.

  • PUTTING: Set stance first to stabilize body then set putterface square. Trust your line and speed, complete the stroke with head down and keep it there until well after the ball leaves the putterface. Don't be scared - try to make EVERY putt - don't think about the consequences of a missed putt. Good putting is almost 100% psychological. Crouch lower for shorter, important putts.


  • At this point, I have no personal tips for bunker shots. It's been a huge weakness in my game this year and I still haven't figured out what's best for me. I definitely need new wedges soon, as the grooves on my lob and sand wedges have almost worn down to nothing. I imagine that will help a bit with my sand play!

    The timing of my solid play couldn't be better, as Club Championship weekend is approaching in four days. It's my favourite tournament of the year.

    I'm excited and actually a bit nervous about it and my expectations are just a bit higher than usual. I'm going to try to tell myself to play just like any normal round and most importantly, I can't be afraid to succeed. Sometimes, when you start out on fire with a birdie or two, you start trying to protect your score - I want to have the feeling that I can swing free and just try to make as many birdies as possible.

    My goal for the weekend is that I put myself in a position to win after two rounds. That's it...I just want a shot at it.

    As usual, I'll have daily reports during the championship. I'll be back on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning with my first round recap.