Tuesday, May 27, 2008

2008 Niagara Men's Tour - Event Two (Grand Niagara)

I continue to try to catch up on this blog without success. I still have one last post to make about the Florida trip and I also need to document my experience at the World Hockey Championships last week in Quebec City.

I'm also less than a week away from my first ever Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship and I'd like to write about that as well.

I'm taking on just a bit too much these days by the looks of things.

Anyway, I played Saturday at Glencairn with my wife's uncle and my partner in this year's Men's Invitational at St. Catharines, coming up in a couple weeks.

I'm starting to hate that golf course - quirky, which is fine, but the overly penal bunkers were driving me nuts. Of course, it wouldn't bother me if I was hitting the ball better, especially with my irons, but I digress...

I shot a 'computer' 84, as my real score likely was a couple shots higher due to triples. I lost another $15.00 in bets as my better ball partner on the day (thankfully NOT my member/guest partner) shot about a 120 on a 18 handicap...wonderful. I still haven't profited from ONE DAY in golf this year! I'm down $50.00 in bets at the moment!

Dinner was also mediocre that night at the Glencairn clubhouse and the service was wretched. My host was not happy! Makes the problems at our club seem miniscule by comparison...just a bad day but the company was good.

That brings us to Sunday and the second leg of the Niagara Men's Tour. I'm not going to go into too much detail about the problems we had at Grand Niagara as a tour - simply put, the course overbooked itself, scheduling both our tour and the larger Great Lakes Tour on the same day and it caused chaos.

We were forced to go off both tees about an hour after our scheduled times, causing mass confusion. I ended up teeing off last IN A FIVESOME because one of the players, who was on the range well before his tee time, wasn't directed to the 10th tee for his time and he missed it. So I let the kid play with us.

What a disaster this day was from every standpoint. You needed the patience of a saint and all of the work that was thrust upon me by the tour (I'm a new committee member) affected me adversely on the day. I actually missed a four inch putt on our fifth hole (the par three 14th) due to the fact I wanted to get out of the way and not wait around five more minutes to tap in with four others still to putt.

I didn't even hit the hole!

My driving of the ball continues to be unbelievable - I've gained close to 10 more yards this year off the tee and most importantly, I'm hitting it straighter. I don't know what it is - I've lost quite a bit of weight (over 15 pounds) but I'm averaging almost 290 yards per fairway-hit tee shot these days.

However, everything else in my game is awful. I'm hitting my irons quite poorly and my GIR stats are way down. Most importantly, my short game is just awful.

I kid you not but I'm zero for my last 19 sand opportunities and I'm getting up and down only once every six times on the year.

The ugliest stat is my putting - specifically my putting when hitting greens in regulation. I'm actually three putting more than I'm one putting, which is almost inconceivable for a lower handicap player. Yes, I'm averaging more than 2 putts per GIR. Kind of hard to score or make birdies if that's happening.

It added up to four three-putts and five putts missed inside five feet on Sunday, including a complete yip on my last hole of the day, which gave me an unsightly 83 (+11) for the day at Grand Niagara to place me in a tie for 24th on the day.

Hell, Harris even beat me!

I've got to be a hell of a lot stronger mentally to get through tough days like Sunday. I just continually rushed because guys in my group were all over hell's half acre (one of my playing partners shot 103 and two others carded nine hole scores of 49...tough day for everyone!) when I should have just accepted our fate and tried as best as I could.

I'm going to try not to get worried but it's hard when I have such a big tournament coming up next week. I've got to be better on the greens and maybe a full weekend at St. Catharines coming up will help me get a bit of practice time on the greens. Laugh all you want Toasty, but I didn't even have three minutes of putting time on the two days combined - at least at St. Catharines, I can show up 20 minutes early and get a few putts in before I play.

I'm also in 24th overall on the Tour after two events, while Harris is in 30th. There was one good thing that happened on Sunday - I won the Tour's 50/50 draw, which netted me a cool $85.00. Makes up for my skins losses this year at least! ;)

Our next event is at Riverview GC in Fenwick, a dogtrack I've heard bad things about but never played. Probably not a good omen for me...I think I'm going to be in the first group that goes off so that should help somewhat.
Back later in the week with more updates from a busy life. Sorry about this mess of a post...too tired to correct any redundant sentences.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Heading to Quebec City

One of my bigger suppliers is whisking me off to Quebec City to take in the semifinals and medal round games in the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championships.

Unbelievably, I'd rather stay home - I've missed a lot of work lately due to golf and travel and there is a lot on my plate there right now. Two more missed days of work isn't helping matters.

Then, there is the fact that I'm missing golf on Saturday and Sunday, as I won't be returning until after the Gold Medal game on Sunday night. This is to say nothing of the fact that I have a pregnant wife sitting at home while I'm having a good time elsewhere. Err...have I even mentioned that my wife is pregnant on here? Meh...I'm too tired to check. Ha.

I'm sure it will be a fantastic event and a great time (ie: lots of drinking and great dinners) but I feel a bit strange leaving for another four days. It's really been a bit too much lately.

Maybe I'll bring my camera and take a few pictures. I'll be back in time to play some Victoria Day golf with my buddies on Monday morning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hammock Beach Resort - The Conservatory

Hammock Beach Resort - Conservatory Course
Palm Coast, Florida, USA

7776 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Tom Watson (2006)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://hammockbeach.com/golf/hammock-beach-courses/
LAST PLAYED: April 26, 2008.
LOW SCORE: 79 (+7)

On day two of our vacation to the Hammock Beach Resort, Harry and I intended to play 36 holes, with the first round at the Tom Watson-designed Conservatory Course and the second round back at the Ocean Course.

Thank goodness Harris made the decision to rent a car for the trip - the Conservatory was a 10-15 minute drive from the main resort and on the other side from the Bobby Ginn, errr, Palm Coast toll bridge.

We actually couldn't believe how far away it was and we stopped at one of the many gated retirement communities to ask the security guard if we were on the right track. He gave us directions that STILL made us skeptical but we finally arrived at the resort with about 5 minutes to spare before our tee time.

This place was gated too and we got our pass from the security guard and were let in down a long road on our way to the clubhouse.

Now, keep in mind that there are precious few pictures of the Conservatory Course on the internet so we didn't really have much in the way of expectations for the place. We knew it was a beast from the tips and quite difficult even from the middle tees after seeing the course ratings but had no idea just how beautiful a place it really was.

There looked to be NO ONE on the golf course but there were a few groups around by the practice range when we finally reached the clubhouse. And what a clubhouse it was! Just spectacular! Harris likened it to the palace in the Eddie Murphy movie "Coming to America". Here is Harry's goofy ass with the palatial clubhouse in the background.

Just a beautiful place. It doubles as a resort/spa and they had that New Age, Enya and Kenny G type music going in the background all over the place to calm our club throwing, leg-slapping asses down after bad shots. It was very zen...does that even mean anything?

We didn't have an awful lot of time to enjoy the place at the moment, as we were pretty much on the tee right away upon signing in.

Now, we decided to try the back tees at each course at least once on the vacation and being all fresh early in the morning, decided that we'd go all the way back for our first go-around at the Conservatory. Course rating and slope? How about 78.4 and 155? Oh yeah, it measures a sporty 7776 YARDS FROM THE TIPS.

You read that right.

The Conservatory will be hosting the Ginn Sur Mer Classic in October on the PGA Tour so we knew we would be in tough to score from the backs out here. The one positive was the fact that there was very little rough on the golf course. This is because the type of turf planted out here is Paspalum, a strand of grass that doesn't really grow long but needs much less water than other strands. Not that this would matter, as there were plenty of bunkers, waste areas and heavily sloped green complexes that could mess with our scores.

The game that day was 36 hole match play, with the winner getting a free dinner courtesy of the losing player. We had an idea of what was ahead just by looking down the first fairway.

A long waste bunker framed the entire left side and two quite large fairway bunkers guarded the inside of the dogleg right, 444 yard par four. I'd hit into the first of those right fairway bunkers, blast out in front of the green and was unable to get up and down, making bogey to Harry's par and I was immediately one down.

I'd get that hole back on the 440 yard, uphill par four second when I was lucky to JUST miss going in the water left while Harris lost his ball in the junk on the right side. He'd double, I'd bogey and we were even once again.

Harris would retake the lead after parring the tough one-shot third hole which brought us to the immense 613 yard par five fourth. I'd MURDER a drive here and leave myself only 276 yards for my second shot. Let me tell you: these courses down here played very firm and fast and if you hit it straight with a lower ball flight off the tee, the ball would roll forever. I'd hit a 2-iron rescue into the greenside bunker (!) but was unable to get up and down, making a disappointing par and tying Harris. Still one down.

I'd throttle another 300+ yard drive on the 460 yard par four fifth (shown above) and make par to beat Harry's double and get back to even in the match, then finally take my first lead when he doubled the next hole as well.

Now, we were quite impressed with the golf course already but the visual stimulation just kept coming and coming. The 440 yard par four 7th (shown above) continued the trend, with a neat tee shot needed to go between the two oak trees that frame the fairway. Then you had to navigate a raised green surface with three tiers that proved very difficult to get close and even tougher to putt. Excellent hole, one I'd three-whack for bogey but Harris couldn't better me so I still had the one up lead.

The par three 8th (above) is another beauty, a downhill 199 yard one-shotter over water to a large green surface. We'd both bogey this one as well before hitting the incredibly tough par five 9th, a 570 yard par five that demanded a 260 yard tee shot from the tips just to reach the fairway, something we both barely accomplished. Well, Harry accomplished it while I was in the bunker. Again, we'd both bogey and I had the nine hole lead, 1up, shooting 43 to Harry's 45. My poor putting on the vacation was in full effect on the front, with 19 little stabs at the ball. Peutrid!

The course was gorgeous but unrelenting from the backs and it was taking its toll on us. We'd both bogey the 636 yard par five 10th while my bogey five was good enough to win the 467 yard par four 11th hole after Harris made double.

We could only laugh when we reached the serene but deadly par three 12th, all 243 yards of it. We both hit rescues and both came up woefully short, each making bogeys.

The 491 yard par four 13th (shown above) might just be one of the toughest and best golf holes I've ever had the pleasure of playing. A huge waste area frames both sides of the fairway and runs all the way down the left side. Literally a 500 yard waste bunker!

The fairway falls off on the right side and if you are lucky enough to hit it, you still have a 200+ yard shot way up hill to a sliver of a green that falls off dramatically to the left, propelling balls either into bunkers well below the green surface or worse, into an immense pond. No offense to my female readers but this hole is MANLY, BABY! Not surprisingly, Harry would double while I'd make TRIPLE and my lead was back to one.

The match took a turn for the worse for Harry on the downhill 502 yard par FOUR 14th, as he'd make a double to my par to fall back to 2 down once again.

The neat 377 yard par four 15th was next, another hole that features a waste bunker that spans the entire right side of the hole. From the front tees you can actually try to hit a driver at the green over the huge pond but from the backs, you just hit a long iron or hybrid to the middle of the fairway on the left side. It was here where I'd make my first real putt of the day and for birdie no less, to take a commanding 3up lead in our match.

I'd give it right back on the 414 yard par four 16th, snap hooking my drive into the water left of the fairway, something that would become a common occurance for me on this hole as the week went on. Harry would par to take this hole but I'd get it right back on the 200 yard uphill par three 17th, getting up and in for par to his bogey.

The last hole (above) is just tremendous. A 602 yard par five from the tips, with bunkers and beautiful vegetation on the left and an expansive waste area framing the right side of the fairway. You then have a second shot that you either layup well right or go toward the green over a large pond. Then you have to navigate a WICKED putting surface with three tiers and some unbelievable pin placement opportunities. Just a fantastic risk/reward finisher, one that I'd take down with a bogey to Harry's double to take a commanding 4up lead into our second 18.

We both enjoyed this course tremendously and we had second thoughts about leaving for the Ocean Course but did just that, keeping with our planned itinerary.

However, upon reaching the Ocean Course, we found out that the next available tee time was around 3:30pm. Ugh. It was only about 1pm at this point and we had no real intention of sitting around for that long to play. So we asked if there was any availability on the Conservatory for our second round and we got booked in for around 2:15 or so. Perfect!

We quickly headed to Publix, Harry's new favourite grocery store for some sugar cookies (for me) and Red Bull (for him) and then took off back to the Conservatory.

Just as we arrived there, it started to just POUR RAIN. We were told it was just a small front and it did subside within 10 or 15 minutes, just enough time for Harry and I to grab some lunch, the only time I did so on the vacation. Harris, on the other hand, ate like a horse the whole time but that was okay by me if he kept having to pay ;)

When the rain cleared, we pretty much had the course to ourselves. There were one or two groups in front of us and one of them would let us through, meaning a very quick second round. It also helped that we decided to move up two decks to the Blues, which measured a much more modest 6792 yards, with a course rating of 74.0 and a slope of 142. Still tough, but one we could navigate.

The match wasn't even close. I'd build on my 4up lead right away, starting off only one over par through the first 7 holes to build a 9UP LEAD. I'd bogey the 8th and par the 9th to shoot 38 on the front to Harry's 43 and have him dormie on the 10th.

I'd win that with a par to win the match in DECISIVE FASHION, 10 & 8, redeeming myself after he throttled me at PGA Village a couple years earlier on the Dye Course.

We'd absolutely fly through the back nine with no one in front of us and the sun back in the sky. Harry started playing great, making a fantastic birdie two on the tough par three 12th then following it up with a rock-solid par on the aforementioned beastly par four 13th. He'd finish it all off with a birdie four on 18 to shoot an excellent 40 on the back nine to my 42, giving him an 83 for the round and me an 80.

We were both pretty jazzed and still had energy. Our round had only taken a little over 3 hours and it was about 5:30pm or so at this point.

"You wanna try to play a few more holes?", he asked me.

I thought about it for a second and decided to give it a shot.

"Yeah, we can maybe get in a quick nine."

Ha! 45 in one day? Crazy.

We booted to the clubhouse and got signed in as the club cleaner guy marvelled at our stamina. Off to the first tee again and we both killed our drives down the middle with our swings in a great groove.

There was no one in front of us at all. We were literally the only ones on the golf course at this point and it felt like heaven. I don't know if there is a better feeling in the world than having a course to yourself.

Nine more holes? Don't think so...how about ANOTHER 18?!?! We'd boot around in just over TWO HOURS and both play our best golf on the vacation to this point. Harry just made par after par along with a nice birdie at the long par four 15th (452 from the blues) and shot a scintillating 77 (+5) while I birdied the 18th to break 80 for the first time all year, shooting 79.


We got back to the clubhouse, exhillarated after a great day of golf and there were literally three people other than us at the course: the head pro, an assistant and the club cleaner guy. They were all waiting for us to finish our round and were very nice about us keeping them from going home, as they were on the practice green having a little putting contest.

We left the Conservatory with crazy smirks on our faces. We really took it to Bobby Ginn on this day and got more than our money's worth.

We'd finish the day by downing a couple $2.00 Stella's from Cafe Gelato in the European Village Resort while waiting on a delicious pie from Mezzaluna Pizzeria. Of course, we'd have to let our buddy Toast know what he was missing out on and decided to give him a call while we chilled out on the patio on a gorgeous Spring evening in Florida.

Without a doubt, one of the best golfing days I can remember. And we still had two more days to go!

I'll finish off the rest of the vacation in a post tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Sweetest Screenshot of the Year

It's now official...I have qualified for the 2008 Ontario Men's Mid-Amateur Championship!

I got the good news around 4:00pm Monday afternoon after thinking I was going to get shafted out of a spot.

Why is that, you ask?

Well, the majority of the qualifiers were run Monday and the full field qualifiers (60 participants) were seeing the top 16 players get into the main event. This after my qualifier last week at Bond Head, also with a full field of 60, only had the top 14 PLAYERS get in. I, of course, finished 15th.

What the %($*@?

I vented to Toast via MSN about the predicament but while I was ranting, the Golf Association of Ontario updated the Bond Head qualifier webpage to reflect the fact that they'd be taking the top 16 from our qualifier as well, meaning I was now in the Championship!

I am absolutely ELATED right now! My first provincial championship in 17 years!

Regular playing partner Bernie B. will be joining me at Thornhill G&CC from June 2nd through June 5th for the event, as he also shot a 78 at the local Bridgewater qualifier today but needed retrogression to beat out our fellow St. Catharines G&CC member Mike K. Mike is a second alternate from the Bridgewater qualifier and will likely not get in the tournament. That's a huge disappointment for him, as he finished in 11th last year and barely missed out on an exemption into this year's event based on that finish.

There are a few others that I know that made it into the championship and I'm still anxiously awaiting word from two other qualifiers, those at Oshawa and Westmount, as they haven't been updated on the GAO site yet. I know a few people who were playing in those qualifiers and it would be nice to have them in the tournament as well to make my first experience that much better.

Lots more to come in the weeks ahead on this and you can certainly expect a full report, with photos of my experience at Thornhill after the tournament takes place.

Cloud nine, here I come!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hey, I Actually CAN Score!

Really solid weekend of golf at St. Catharines.

I doubled our 18th hole (the 9th) on Saturday from the middle of the fairway to shoot a 76 (+4) from the back tees, my best score of the year. It was good enough to take down Bernie 1up in our match to give me five bucks but I lost ten in the skins game.

Then Sunday I top myself, shooting 74 (+2) while making two birdies, two bogeys and a double. I hit 9 of 13 fairways, 12 greens and hit the ball just beautifully off the tee.

Case in point: on the 568 yard par five 6th hole, I went driver, 3 iron hybrid from 250 yards past the pin over the bunkers on the right and made an easy birdie. Then on the 15th, I had only 262 yards into the green on the 575 yard hole. I'm just in a good place with the driver right now, something that is really
affecting Harris in a bad way. He'll be fine...hell, he made one of the best birdies I've ever seen yesterday on #15 and he was too busy thinking about driving distance to talk about it in his blog.

The most important thing for me right now is that I'm making putts again - Saturday especially I made more five footers than I had in all my rounds combined I think.

Good weekend of golf and a good weekend overall, as I had two really solid Mother's Day dinners too.

I'll be putting everything aside tonight to finally get back to talking about our trip to Florida and part two of the trip report.

Friday, May 09, 2008

2008 Ontario Mid-Amateur Qualifier

I decided to try and qualify for the Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship for the first time this year.

The Mid-Am is a competition open to anyone 25 years of age or older, something that is enticing to guys like myself who only get to play a couple times a week.

There were a couple of intriguing qualifying sites this year but my main choice filled up in a hurry - Westmount Country Club is one of the top rated courses in the country but registration closed there within a week of opening. There were places like Oshawa G&CC available but I noticed that there were a LOT of members from that club trying to qualify, something that would put me at a distinct disadvantage.

I wasn't keen on paying $160+ to play Bridgewater so I decided to pick The Club at Bond Head as my qualifying site. I had never played out there but I heard the course was pretty tough, something that usually doesn't faze my grinding ass.

I was invited to play the course a week ahead of the qualifying event as a practice round but was disappointed to find out the South Course was closed for maintenance that day. I'd end up playing Eagles Nest that day instead but would be flying blind for the qualifier, not a great omen.

I arrived about 50 minutes before my 8:24am tee-time, only to find out that there was a 45 minute frost delay. Didn't faze me in the least. Instead, I grabbed a yardage guide and did some pre-round scouting before hitting the range and practice green.

I hit the ball quite well on the range but keeping with recent form, couldn't make a putt in warmups. Harry showed up about 20 minutes before I went off and we wished each other luck. He would be about an hour behind me.

Little did I know the rollercoaster ride I was in for on this day.

We were playing the blue tee deck at Bond Head which only measures a little over 6400 yards. Why so short? Well, the Golf Association of Ontario likes to keep the course difficulties between the qualifying sites as uniform as possible. With a course rating of 71.9 and a slope of 132, the middle deck at Bond Head is similar to most course's back tees.

On paper, it looked like I'd be hitting a lot of irons off the tees. But when you see this place in person, you realize quickly that the driver will be an important part of the day, even from 6400 yards. In fact, I'd hit only one long iron tee shot all day on a par four or five...and that was on the first hole.

I was playing with a 32 year old from Dalewood and a 52 year old from Cedar Brae. The first hole is a risk/reward short four measuring 291 yards. There is a creek that runs right across the front of the green so either you carry a driver all the way there or you layup short. I hit a perfect 5-iron down the middle and was off. My lob wedge was perfect and ended up about 6 feet away.

I'd miss the putt...SHORT of all things and I was shaking my head right away.

It would get worse.

On the 381 yard uphill second hole, my drive was hit weakly to the left and into a hazard. Or so I thought anyway...

This is where I saw how ridiculously competitive some guys can be in these type of events. This creek cut through the entire hole and my ball obviously was in there somewhere. The three of us looked around for about four minutes and couldn't find it.

When I told them I'd just drop and get it over with, the younger guy in my group blurts out the following nonsense:

"Umm, how do you know it's a hazard?"

I just look at him for a second and then say "well, it's a creek, it has water in it and there is also a yellow stake back over there", as I point to the middle of the creek about 40 yards back toward the tee.

"Well, there isn't a stake over here", he says. "You may have to go back to the tee and reload."

I just stare a hole right through his beady little eyes.

I keep my composure. "Well, it's a continuous creek but if you are unsure of how to handle it, how about I play two balls - one from here hitting three and one from the tee, hitting three. Then we can address it with the rules officials when we're done."

He looked satisfied with that but a GAO official came to the rescue, driving down in his cart. It took him about five seconds to agree with my assessment. It was a water hazard and I could drop right there as opposed to going all the way back to the tee.

You don't say?

Well, of course I end up duffing my third shot into a bunker, duffing THAT one too before hitting left of the green and two putting for a devestating triple bogey seven.

I hope my playing partner didn't hear me mutter "go in the bunker" when he hit his tee shot on the par three third. Haha.

Still a bit hot, I'd rattle my long birdie effort on the third 12 feet past the hole but would ram that putt in for a par.

The shaky play would continue on the uphill 377 yard fourth. My 8-iron approach shot was just right of the green and left a very difficult, downhill chip to a cup that was cut right on a slope. My chip was good but kept rolling and rolling, coming to a stop 30 feet at the bottom of the green.

My par putt was pathetic. 10 bloody feet short. I'd miss the next one too and tap in for a double. No leg slapping, by the way. Just steam coming from my ears.

The very short par three fifth was next. I hit a pitching wedge on this very wide green about 25 feet left of the pin and THREE-PUTTED that too.

I'm now +6 through five holes.

The cool downhill par four sixth (shown above) measures only 304 yards from the blues and just screams "GO FOR IT" from the tee. You have the option of playing safe to the left, where there is a lot of room but it leaves a very tough pitch shot over a bunker to a small green with water behind. Or you can go straight at the flag but must worry about that water to the right.

I end up bailing out to the left and my little 30 yard pitch shot is DUFFED. The awesome continues!

I'd then overcompensate and pitch long through the green, hit a terrible chip on and make a 10 footer for bogey. I could only laugh. +7 through 6 now.

Maybe I'd get it going on the long par five 7th, a 563 yard monster even from the blues. I'd hit an excellent drive down the right side, layup nicely to about 120 yards but slightly come out of my pitching wedge and end up in a chipping swale to the right of the green. I'd chip it to three feet but miss the heavily breaking putt, shouting "NO!" when it cruelly hit the lip and spun out. +8 through 7.

At this point, I thought about two things:

1. Was I going to be able to break 90 out here?

I just couldn't let either of those things happen. At least not without a fight!

I hit a pretty mediocre drive on the 419 yard par four 8th but hit a terrific 5-iron from the left rough to the front of the green. My 40+ foot putt came up five agonizing feet short but I somehow rolled it in for a par, my first since the third hole.

I knew I had to do something on the 9th, a 491 yard uphill par five. I hit my best drive to that point, a perfect shot down the middle and I had 202 yards to the middle of the green for my second. I opened the face of my 4-iron a bit so I could fade it around the tall trees framing the right side of the approach area and nailed it perfectly, ending up about 30 feet behind the pin. Yes! I'd two putt that for a birdie and an outgoing nine hole score of 43 (+7).

Interestingly enough, for all my struggles, I was the top man in my group at this point. The young prick who debated me on the second hole basically bogeyed his way around the front and shot 44 while the older gentleman actually fared better but got caught in the trees on the 9th hole and made a triple bogey 8, shooting 45 on the side.

Actually, by this point, the young guy was getting cordial, figuring he didn't have a chance of qualifying at this point. Meanwhile, I was wondering if I could find a way to shoot 37 on the back, figuring an 80 might be good enough to qualify.

The tenth is a downhill par four measuring 361 yards and doglegs to the right. My drive was perfect again and I only had 86 yards to a pin that seemed very accessible, with swales taking the ball from almost every angle toward the pin. I'd hit a decent lob wedge approach and watch the ball take the slope and end up 7 feet away. Yes! Great birdie chance!

I'd miss it. Damn it! +7 though 10.

The 11th is yet another short, downhill par four, only 337 yards. My drive ended up about 45 yards short of the green and I had another pitch over a bunker. I wasn't taking chances and hit it a bit long, just though the green. It was a simple pitch and I was confident enough to take the flagstick out before hitting it...


I'm reinvigorated now! +6 through 11 and two under on my last four holes. I still may have a shot at this thing!

The very tough par five 12th was next, a beast at 595 yards from the blues. I hit a decent drive and a mediocre layup, leaving a 9-iron approach with the ball well above my feet. I'd hit it straight over the pin to the back of a heavily sloping green, leaving a 70 foot putt. I'd gauge the pace perfectly but I missed the line by five feet to the left. I'd confidently ram the par putt home to stay on pace.

The 347 yard par four was next and I continued to hit driver even on these short holes. Again, I hit it perfectly down the right side of the fairway but my lob wedge from 90 yards came up woefully short of the pin, leaving yet another long putt. I'd again make a tough 4 footer for par to stay at +6.

The putts would stop falling though. On the 419 yard uphill 14th, I'd hit a 7-iron approach just right of the green and hit a horrible first putt from the fringe, leaving a 9 foot par putt. I wouldn't be able to make it, dropping a shot.

The tough 193 yard par three 15th was next and my 5-iron into the breeze went just right and fell down into a huge chipping area about 20 feet below the putting surface. Great. I'd hit a fantastic lob shot, stopping the ball on a dime about five feet away but would MISS the sharply breaking right to lefter to drop another shot. +8 through 15.

Undaunted, I hit the very short par five 16th, only measuring 460 from the blues. It's a tricky shot off the tee but I nail another beauty center-cut, leaving only a measly 8-iron second. I leave it a bit short but it's an easy chip to a front pin and I stop the ball a foot away! I tap in for my third birdie of the day and I'm right back at +7!

The par three 17th is next and is playing 180 yards downwind to a front pin. I'd hit a great 8-iron about 15 feet from the flag. It was a pretty easy putt but at this point, I'm thinking two pars might be good enough to get in. Nevertheless, I give it a good look from both sides before walking up to the putt AND MAKING IT FOR ANOTHER BIRDIE!!! That one got a fist pump as I picked the ball out of the hole.

The young guy at this point asked me how many birdies I had on the back, thinking it was four but all I was thinking about at this point was the tough tee shot on 18.

You can see the last hole in the background at the top of the picture above, with the par three 17th just below it and the par five 12th green in the foreground at the bottom of the photo.

The 18th is a tough 368 yard shot up a huge hill with water on the left and bunkers on the right. For the first time all day, my legs were feeling a bit rubbery. I took a deep breath and unloaded my driver right down the freaking middle again! I had 126 left to the middle but the pin was well back so it was more like 140 yards or so to the pin, which was tucked well to the left. I recognized the sucker pin right way and aimed at the clubhouse clock well to the right. Unfortunately I left myself yet another ridiculously long, 80+ foot birdie putt that broke two times. I gave it a good look and rammed the putt at the hole.

"GO IN!", I shouted.

The ball actually hit the lip and dipped out, stopping 6 inches away. Awesome! I'd tap that in for par and a 35 (-1) on the back nine.

I made FOUR birdies on my last ten holes and played the last eleven holes in two under par to shoot a 78 (+6) on the day.

I can't remember a more satisfying finish in a competitive round of golf than this one!

My playing partners offered their congratulations on my solid back nine and we handed the scorecards in and grabbed some beers. I decided to wait for Harris to come in to see how he did, something you can check out for yourself at his blog
right here. He certainly has a funny story to tell about his round!

Harry was really pumped about my score and was willing to wait it out with me to see if I made it in. At this point, I was right on the bubble, so to speak.

There were 60 players who teed it up for this qualifier. Of those 60, the top 14 automatically gained entry into the actual championship and the next 5 would be named alternates. The GAO officials indicated that most of the alternates get into the tournament, due to the fact that many of the other qualifying sites don't have full fields like we did.

We watched as the group after Harris came in with TWO GUYS at 76. Damn! I felt like I was jinxing myself by waiting so I told Harry to forget it.

"Let's get outta here", I said.

At that time, there were 9 players left on the course and I was literally hanging on for dear life. I was tied for 14th with one other guy but I knew that I would win any tie-breakers due to my back nine score being the best in the field. Thankfully for me, that was the deciding factor for the GAO when using the retrogression method of tiebreakers.

It was a painful, one-day wait but I finally found out my fate yesterday afternoon. I finished tied for 15th, as one of the remaining nine players beat my score to leave me as the first alternate for the Championship.

I quickly did some math based on the remaining qualifiers and figured that there would be almost 20 spots for alternates assuming every exempt player for the event actually signs up. If my math is correct, I'm pretty much assured OF PLAYING IN THE 2008 ONTARIO MID-AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP!

Now I'm not going to get ahead of myself until I find out for sure next week. The remaining qualifiers are being held on Monday May 12th and I should find out shortly thereafter if I'm in the main event, taking place this year at Thornhill Country Club.

I haven't qualified for a provincial event in 17 years, with my last tournament being the Ontario Junior Championship in Blenheim, Ontario back when I was 18 years old. This would be my first provincial event as an adult and the biggest tournament I've ever played in.

I'm absolutely thrilled that I even have a chance at this and no matter what happens, I'll always look back fondly on a round that saw me grind to the bitter end.

When I hear any news, I'll be sure to post about it. Keep those fingers crossed for me!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

2008 Ontario Better Ball Qualifier

Last Monday (April 29th), Harry and I made the one hour plus drive to Brantford to tee it up in the Ontario Better Ball qualifier being held at historic Brantford G&CC, the 29th rated course in Canada by ScoreGolf Magazine.

We could have slummed it and played in the local qualifier at Bridgewater but Harry and I are ballerz so I decided to pick the swankiest course available.

The weather was horrible. Pretty torrential rains and temperatures hovering around 5 degrees made for difficult driving conditions and even worse playing conditions. Harry was hoping for a postponement but that just doesn't happen with provincial events. Making things worse? We had the first starting time of the day at 7:30am and even with the Golf Association of Ontario officials being late setting up their registration table, we still were called to the tee at 7:30 on the dot.

No practice balls and only a few quick practice putts and we were off. I nailed my first drive down the middle while Harry went right of the fairway. He would end up making a solid up and down for par to get us off and running.

Unfortunately, neither of us could make putts when it counted for birdies and we continually put pressure on each other just to make par saves, not the recipe for success in a two-ball competition like this.

The rain didn't stop falling until about our 16th hole and sorry to say, the birdies didn't start falling at all. We made ZERO COMBINED.

Friends, that's just not going to get you into the main tournament!

We stumbled to a 77 (+5) on the day and finished T19th out of the 38 groups that signed up for Brantford - right in the middle of the pack. Neither of us played particularly well. I shot an 80 on my own ball and Harry was something like 82.

I'll tell you something though. That golf course is pretty special. It was truly a treat to play there and I only wish the weather was a bit nicer so we could enjoy it more.

Still, a fun experience and we'd have to wait a week to get a chance to redeem ourselves at a provincial qualifier, this time on our own trying out for the Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship at the Club at Bond Head qualifier.

That event took place yesterday and deserves its own thread...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

2008 Niagara Men's Tour - Event One (Peninsula Lakes)

Might as well clean this one up right away.

We teed off in cold and windy conditions today at Peninsula Lakes GC for the first event on the men's tour.

Things started off decently. I made a routine two-putt par on one, starting on the Hillside nine. The 232 yard par three second was playing into a stiff breeze and my 2-iron hybrid was hit well but into the greenside bunker. I'd bogey that then par the third and fourth to sit at +1. I three-jacked the par three fifth then made an absolute all-world BOGEY on the sixth to sit at +3.

I thought I was getting one back on the par five 7th when my drive hit the cart path and propelled itself an extra 80 yards down the middle of the fairway. I had only 158 yards into the green for my second shot on the 507 yard hole but missed a three footer for birdie. That hurt.

Not as much as the next two holes though - I came out of my 8-iron on the short par three 8th, flubbed a chip and three putted from there for a double then FOUR-PUTTED the par five 9th for another double bogey while Harry watched from the fairway. The bugger of course sent an email to Toast to tell him of my predicament as I covered my mouth and let a couple expletives fly. From possibly being only +2 a couple holes earlier, now I sit at 43 (+7).

I continued to play poorly but made a number of great up and downs to keep my score semi-respectable, finishing with an 81 on the day after coming back home in only 38 shots on the back.

I believe I finished T20th after the first event, a very poor start for me considering my expectations. Harry shot an 84, one of his best scores ever on tour so his tournament game continues to improve.

Everything was bad for me today and I'm not holding out much hope for one of the biggest events on my calendar this year...

On Tuesday, I'm heading up to the Club at Bond Head to attempt to qualify for the Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship. It will be a very long day if I continue to strike the ball the way I did today.

I'll post my results from that qualifier on Tuesday night and will continue with our Florida trip report in the middle of the week. Lots going on right now...I still have to talk about Harry and I trying to play into the Ontario Better Ball Championship as well. Sheesh...not enough time for all of this!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

2008 Niagara Men's Tour Commences

Tomorrow around noon I'm teeing it up at Peninsula Lakes in Fonthill for the first event of the season on the Niagara Men's Tour.

The tour has seemingly taken a big hit this year, losing many of its top players due mostly to stupid political issues (ie: money). Tragically, we also had one of our top players pass away just this week in Jim McNeil, an excellent player who played out of Twenty Valley G&CC and was always near the top of the leaderboard at each event. Just awful.

There is a beacon of light, however. That is because my boy Harry officially qualified for the tour just this afternoon in nasty, rainy conditions after shooting an 81. I'm happy for Harris that he's back on tour and continuing to hone his competitive game.

I had a mediocre game today in preparation for tomorrow's tournament, shooting a flattering 77 (+5) at St. Catharines early this morning. Nevertheless, I expect a pretty good showing tomorrow and will be back with the results by Monday at the latest. I'll also finish off our trip report from the Ginn Hammock Beach Resort later in the week.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ginn Hammock Beach Resort - Part One

Well before dawn on Wednesday April 23rd, Harry and I made our way to the Buffalo International Airport for our big golf trip to the Ginn Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida.

We had an hour and a half stopover in Charlotte, North Carolina, ate a crappy airport breakfast and then boarded our flight to Daytona Beach. Once there, Harris waited in line for an eternity to sign for our rental car, a poor-steering Chrysler 300 and then we were on the road to the resort.

I've never been to Daytona before and was really surprised to see that the world famous Daytona Speedway was right beside the airport. I'm not a NASCAR fan at all but man, you just have to appreciate the size of this place!

Very cool!

We had a very easy 25 minute drive to Palm Coast. You have to pay a $1.00 toll charge at the Palm Coast Skyway in order to get to the resort and the running joke of the week was that we were just padding Bobby Ginn's pockets every single time we crossed this bloody thing.

We were directed to the main resort to sign in and grab our keys for our condo at the Yacht Harbor Village, which was about a five minute drive from the main area and sits right on a marina.

Now, we saw pictures of what the place was supposed to look like before we arrived but I've found in the past that the rooms never live up to the hype.

Well, this time the accommodations EXCEEDED our expectations.

This place had everything. Beautiful dining room, ceramic tiled flooring, granite countertops in the kitchen, full laundry room behind the kitchen and la piece de resistance was the living room area complete with mounted 42" Panasonic Plasma television...with Dish Network satellite too.


Oh yeah, the view from the balcony wasn't too shabby either...

There was one sticky point and that was the rooms. We had a two bedroom condo, with both having ensuite bathrooms and rooms equiped with 32" Plasmas. Very nice.

One room was modestly-sized, with a queen size bed and a small bathroom with a tub/shower combo.

The other room was just a bit more grand...

This sucker had a king sized bed, couch, chair and table, TWO walk-in closets and a mammoth bathroom with both a jacuzzi tub and a separate standup shower.

Of course, Harry being Harry, he immediately plops his crap down in the big bedroom like he owns the place.

Now, there was no way I was letting this go without a fight - you see, the last time I vacationed with his sorry ass, he took the big bedroom at PGA Village without so much as a whimper from me.

So after some back and forth, he says fine.

"We'll flip for it"

I call heads, it's heads and I get THE MASTER BEDROOM! However, I feel guilty and offer him a best two out of three.

"No, you won it fair and square."

Cool with me! So I'm about to put my stuff in the room and he then shouts out from the main room.


We had a 3:30pm tee time at the Ocean Course, a Jack Nicklaus design that recently hosted the Ginn Championship on the Champions Tour, won by Bernhard Langer.

"Sure, sounds good", I replied. "Should I start unpacking now?", I asked, starting with the gamesmanship early.

We quickly changed and headed to the Ocean Course.

We would be playing straight up match play for the room. 18 holes of golf for the ultimate in grand comfort. Oh, it was on baby!

The one thing that's important to note is that we were playing on quite possibly the windiest day I've ever seen on a golf course, with gusts hitting 50mph. It was a three-club wind and I literally felt like I was going to blow over on more than one occasion.

For this round, we settled on playing the Gold tee deck, with the course measuring 6723 yards with a course rating of 74.8 and a slope of 142.

I started my round ominously, hitting my first drive through the fairway left and into the long fescue, necessitating a penalty stroke and a drop. I'd double and lose the hole to Harry's bogey.

The rest of the front nine went predominantly my way. Harry would double the second and bogey holes 3 (shown below) through 5 while I parred all of them to give me a 3 up lead.

I'd double the par five 6th hole to lose to Harry's bogey but he'd finish the nine double, double (see below for his predicament on the par three 8th), double to give me a commanding 5 up lead through the first nine.

Harry shot a 49 on the front versus my 42, a score I should have been very happy with, considering the gusty conditions. How gusty, you ask? Well, on the 452 yard par four ninth, we both hit perfect drivers off the tee and perfect hybrid seconds to the green...and still fell short. Uphill to the green and into a three club wind. That's long.

Things continued to go well on the back. I spanked a monstrous drive on the par five 10th and only had an 8-iron second shot in to the green. I'd have to settle for a par but Harry doubled this one too to give me a 6 up lead.

I'd build on that even further on the shortish par four 11th, making my first real putt of the day from about 20 feet for a birdie and a 7 up lead with 7 to go, putting Harris dormie.

He'd fight me off for a couple holes, as I went double bogey, bogey on 12 and 13 but we both sawed off with bogey sixes on the par five 14th to give me the match 5&4 and the luxurious master bedroom for the entire vacation!

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that I was pounding it off the tee all vacation long, knocking it by Harris by an average of about 20 yards per hole. This is noteworthy, as Harris is usually much longer than I am.

Needless to say, I let him have it EVERY SINGLE TIME I drove it past him. Which was often...did I mention that already? Well, I did. Ha!

We both started to tire by the time we reached 'The Bear Claw', the great four-hole finishing stretch at the Ocean Course. The uphill par four 15th is fantastic. 450 yards from the back with a centre-line bunker in the fairway, making you decide on the tee whether to go left, right or over it.

Well, Harris went into the bunker and from there, you have about 160 yards uphill and into the wind to a green perched WAY above the fairway.

Of course, he was having the kind of day where his ball came up just short then tumbled all the way back down the hill, leaving the following crazy pitch shot back up the ridge.

We'd both make solid bogeys here then headed to the big dogleg left par four 16th just as the winds hit their peak. Being right on the ocean didn't help matters for us!

I'd stumble home from here, finishing double, bogey, double to shoot an ugly 45 on the back and an 87 overall. Harris shot a 96 and I think we were just glad to make it in alive. The wind was just unbelievable!

We were met at the 18th green by one of the staffers, who washed our clubs after the round for us. By the way, great thing about this resort is that there is a no cash and no tipping policy in effect. Makes things VERY easy and you never have to bring your wallet around all over the place.

I asked him for some restaurant suggestions and he recommended the European Village Resort on Palm Coast Boulevard, saying there were a number of great places to eat in there.

So we headed back to our condo, got showered and changed and headed out for dinner. This place was very cool, built in the piazza style that is very reminiscent of Old Europe. In the middle of the facility were three large screen televisions showing various music concerts from lame acts like Celine Dion and Shania Twain. At least they like Canucks!

There were plenty of food choices but we settled on La Piazza Cafe for our first meal. We were not disappointed! We had a great bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, some calamari and dual orders of veal parm. Just a fantastic meal! We topped it off with a couple bottles of $2.00 Stellas at a nearby bar to complete a very satisfying first day in Florida.

How would day two stack up? We were scheduled to play the unheralded Conservatory Course in the morning, a Tom Watson design that we hadn't heard much about. This course was about to blow our mind and exceed every expectation we had.

You'll have to tune in later for part two of this very satisfying vacation!