Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dreaming of Augusta

No, I don't think I'll ever get the opportunity to fulfill a dream and play on these hallowed grounds. We'll get that out of the way quick.

However, there's no reason why I can't walk on that heavenly piece of land and the first step in that goal was met yesterday when I received an email from Augusta National, saying I had been added to their mailing list for practice round tickets for next year!

There are no guarantees we'll get tickets but I still was pretty pumped just to get the application form yesterday with the trademark Masters logo dotted around the perimeter.

Cal also signed up so we're doubling our chances of success for 2010!

You can request up to four tickets per day and you can either pick one day, two days or all three practice round days. The Wednesday tickets are priced at a $5.00 premium due to the fact they run the vaunted Par 3 tournament that day.

I couldn't care less which day we get. Just getting to walk around that wonderful course with a camera is worth the trip alone. However, if we do get selected, we plan on making a long weekend of it and playing some golf as well down in Hilton Head and perhaps Kiawah Island.

We find out in September if our names are drawn in the lottery. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Monday, May 25, 2009

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

What a gorgeous weekend weather-wise we had. Beautiful sunshine and temperatures warm enough for shorts both days.

English Dave would not approve, I'm sure.

Nevertheless, we got in two rounds of golf this weekend. I played with Wes and Gary on Saturday and shot an 80 from the back tees. Not a great score but I wasn't upset - I'm starting to hit the ball a lot better and I just had trouble making putts, getting a few bad breaks on the greens.

I've basically reverted back to my regular swing, playing for my normal draw and I'm starting to see some better results...slowly but surely.

So I went into the second leg of the Nevada Bob's Men's Tour with a bit more confidence in my game. The weather was perfect: 18 degrees, sunshine, barely any wind.

Still, my first shot of the day on the 425 yard par four opener was snapped into the hazard and I'd miss a six footer, making a double bogey in the process.

Lovely start.

It would get better...and by better, I mean worse.

I'd come out of a little 9-iron on the short par three second and my ball was pretty much dead, down a huge chipping swale with the pin cut high above. I'd have to hit a flop shot and executed it perfectly, with the ball landing about ten feet past the hole and coming back down the slope to finish about five feet away. I'd ram that one home for the satisfying par and I was appropriately settled down.

I'd get up and down on the 424 yard third hole for par but three whack the par five fourth, making bogey, before settling in to the round.

I'd par the fifth and also the extremely difficult 203 yard par three sixth, playing more like 215 uphill to a back pin. I'd hit an all-world 4-iron to the middle of the camelback green and two putt that one.

I'd start to get a bit frustrated on the par four seventh - I'd hit a mediocre drive into the fairway bunker but hit a missle of an 8-iron to about 12 feet, giving myself a great look at birdie. But I'd continue to have a heck of a time on these greens, leaving the putt short and tapping in for par.

The greens were much slower than I'm used to and I had tremendous difficulty getting the ball to the hole all day.

I'd have a huge hiccup on the shortish par four 8th hole, hitting my second shot into the greenside bunker and leaving my first attempt in the sand. I'd blast out from there and two putt for the crippling double bogey.

I'd end the front nine by crushing my drive on the 525 yard par five, leaving only about 230 yards into the green. I'd hit a nice hybrid but ended up in the back greenside bunker and again wasn't able to get up and down, making a disappointing par for a 41 on the outgoing side.

The back nine wasn't any better. I'd get a HUGE BREAK to start on the 385 yard 10th hole, when my snap hooked 4-iron tee shot took one bounce toward the water, hit a rock and ricocheted right back into the middle of the fairway. Lots of laughs for that one. I'd par there and also on the 11th but run into major problems on the par three 12th, one putting for a double after hacking it around the bunkers (again).

I'd play decently on the way in, and had about four great looks for birdie inside 15 feet, making none and getting none to the hole. I even three whacked from 15 feet on the tough 16th.

I'd end up shooting an 83 on the day, matching my score from the first event. Scores were ridiculously high and two of my playing partners shot in the 90s, with one shooting 98. It was a tough day for our group scoring-wise, that's for sure.

In fact, the winning score was 75 (+3), the highest winning score in Tour history. There was really no reason for it, although many (like me) complained about the slowness of the greens at Grand Niagara. Still, it was a perfect day weather-wise and the greens, at the very least, were consistently slow so good players should be able to adjust.

I couldn't, hence the 83, which placed me T24th in the 57 man field.

Still, I hit eight greens and nine fairways on the day, both numbers much better than my 2009 averages so there's a bit of hope.

The one real positive on the day was our pal Harris, who shot a scintillating 79 to finish in a tie for 10th, his first ever top ten on Tour and his first round in the 70s there as well. Congratulations to Harris and you can read about his day
right here.

All hope isn't lost for this blogger though. Last year, I started the first two events 81-83 at the same courses, only two shots different than this year. I'd go on to post a couple top fives, including my first ever win, in the last three events I played so I've got something to look forward to, hopefully, as we approach the dog days of summer.

Next event is in two weeks at our own stomping grounds at St. Catharines, a perfect place to hopefully get rid of this season-long slump.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some Improvement

I'm getting later and later with my weekend recaps.

We're coming off a three-day weekend in Canada with the Victoria Day holiday just having passed on Monday. Of course, that means three days of golfing goodness.

Weather was sketchy on Saturday, with rain and some thunder but after a short delay, we were able to finish our round without incident. I didn't make a birdie during the round but didn't make any doubles either, bogeying my last two for a solid 76 from the back tees, my best score at St. Catharines this year.

I followed that up with another 76 on Sunday, this time from the Blue tees and also won a couple skins with birdies on the long par four 9th hole and the long par three 17th, which I came about a foot and a half from acing.

We were back to the blacks on Monday and I came in with a relatively mediocre 80, making only one two-putt birdie on the par five 8th hole and winning no skins. I'm satisfied that my bad rounds aren't quite so bad these days, as my short game has really come around over the past few weeks. If I can ever get my driving and ball striking back, I may be able to get the handicap back to where it was last year.

The thing that now bothers me is that my problems with ball striking have evidently caused me to 'freeze' over the ball at times, something I didn't realize. Cal made a crack on his blog about me taking too long over the ball and said that one time it took me 37 seconds to pull the trigger on a shot (of course, he timed it and SAVED it on his IPhone, the bugger).

Excuse my french but if that's true, I should be shot and left for dead. I'm not sure if that includes putting the tee in the ground and taking my lackadaisical practice swing but regardless, that's just a ridiculous amount of time for a guy who HATES slow play.

I'll clean that up or I'll quit.

Nevada Bob's Men's Tour second event taking place at Grand Niagara this coming weekend. I don't expect much and have never posted a score in the 70s out there so it might be another tough day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Slump Continues

I find myself whining quite a bit these days on the golf course due to my absolutely brutal shotmaking thus far in '09. Heck, even I'm getting tired of hearing myself bitch about my game!

On the positive side, my scores are getting a BIT better and I even broke 80 for the first time at St. Catharines this year, shooting 77 on Sunday from the Blue tees after an 82 the day before.

I then got the rare opportunity to play some weekday golf, getting out of work a bit early to play Grand Niagara with Jeff, Steve and Cam on Monday afternoon. I somehow scraped around in 81 shots, as my pitching and chipping are at least presentable. It was tough losing the match, as Steve and I lost to Cam and Jeff on the 17th hole which meant we had to spring for pizza, wings and beer but it was a really fun day despite my pathetic display on the course.

I still can't hit iron shots or hybrids for some reason and a lot of flaws have crept into my swing. Cam, the assistant professional at our club, gave me a couple of simple tips that seemed to work out well near the end of that round.

I even got out for a quick nine on Tuesday evening with regular partners in crime Cal and Harry but again, the shotmaking turned peutrid, with me hitting ONE GREEN IN REGULATION but somehow managing a 41 from the tips.

I'm just completely at a loss and have zero confidence in my game and my swing. Hopefully, the three day weekend coming up gives me something positive to talk and think about!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cog Hill G&CC - #4 Dubsdread

Cog Hill Golf & Country Club - #4 Dubsdread
Lemont, Illinois, USA


7554 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 77.8/151
COURSE ARCHITECT: Dick Wilson & Joe Lee (1964); Rees Jones (2009)
ACCESSIBILITY: Public
COURSE WEBSITE: http://coghillgolf.com/golf/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: August 7, 2000.
LOW SCORE: 87 (+15)

ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest Top 100 Public in America 2015: #53
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses You Can Play 2014: #34
- Golfweek Best Modern Courses 2016: #165


In August of 2000, one of my good friends from high school and university planned a week-long golf trip that would see us and two others drive across the Midwestern United States and play some solid golf courses along the way. To keep costs down, we decided to camp at National Parks throughout the vacation and the end of the trip was going to see us attending an Indy Car race in Lexington, Ohio.

At the time, I wasn't golfing much and didn't even have a membership anywhere so I saw it as a great opportunity to get some golf in with a good buddy. Interestingly enough, I knew practically nothing about the courses in the US at that point and really didn't take part in the planning aspect at all.

I was just along for the ride.

We were going to be playing golf in one province and four states during the week long trip, with stops in Windsor (Ontario), Jackson (Michigan), South Bend (Indiana), a couple of places in Ohio and the big one was going to be our stop in Lemont, Illinois, just outside Chicago to play the much revered Cog Hill Country Club and its #4 Dubsdread Course, home of the PGA Tour's Western Open.

We drove into Illinois from Indiana after a remarkable day at The Warren Course at Notre Dame, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design that had just opened. It was a surprise stop for us, as we were planning on playing another course in the area but found this gorgeous new course right by the football stadium and decided to tee it up there.

Our expectations were obviously high for Cog Hill with its PGA Tour pedigree but we made the drive into Illinois in one of the worst rainstorms I've ever seen, so bad you literally couldn't see anything but the taillights in front of you. Unfortunately, we needed two cars for the trip due to all the camping gear and without cell phones (it was 2000), I was forced to press on and follow the car in front which held our two other partners in crime.

The Dubsdread Course, home of the Western Open since 1991, was ranked inside the top-50 best public courses in the world by almost every notable golf publication so we were jacked to be playing out there, to say the least.

However, we really worried about whether the course would be ready to play the next day due to all the rain. So when we arrived in Lemont, we drove right to the golf course to check things out.

Needless to say, it was very wet but the pro indicated that everything should be fine for the next day. We ended up staying in a hotel that night since setting up camp in a foot of water didn't sound enticing. Plus, we wanted to be fresh for our big day!

Well, I wish it was all roses but I must say that overall, I was pretty disappointed with my experience at Cog Hill. Things started off poorly when the guy behind the counter wouldn't even throw in a yardage book with the $150.00 US green fee and was rude to boot. Cheap buggers...wait...maybe I'M the cheap bugger! Ha!

I stood on the first tee, shaking like a palm tree in a stiff Florida breeze. I wish I understood why I was nervous but I barely got the ball off the tee, hitting a really weak toe hook short of the bunkers on the left. I had to pitch out to the fairway, hit a nine iron to 40 feet and SUNK THE PUTT for a routine par.

Easy game...umm, not so fast Pro!

I'd three putt the short par three second for bogey and then bogey the nice par four third hole (shown below).

I would come back with a good up and down on the par four 4th hole but followed with a bogey on the relatively straight forward par five 5th and an ugly double on the par three 6th hole.

I'd bogey the 7th and make a two putt par on the interesting par four 8th hole but another bogey on the par five 9th gave me a 43 on the front side.

I made another par on the short par four tenth, getting up and down from the front bunker but three putted again on the par five eleventh for bogey.

It just wasn't going to be my day.

I finished my round of 87 with a double bogey six on the very difficult 18th hole (shown below), a 448 yard brute with bunkers right off the tee and a large pond fronting the left side of the green.

The golf course wasn't in great shape due to the weather but you'd think for $150.00 you would get a course with RAKED BUNKERS. Not here...at least on this day. The greens were much slower than I expected and the overall conditioning was shockingly poor for such a highly thought of course.

I will admit that the course layout and design is solid. There is a lot of variety in the design and it certainly is a good test of golf. Even though I was a golf architecture newbie at that point, I still noticed the excessive tree growth out there - you can leave yourself some blind shots out there FROM THE FAIRWAY due to the overhanging limbs. I doubt Wilson had that in mind when he laid the course out 40 years ago.

There were some highlights: I was a big fan of the greensite at the par four 8th hole and I also enjoyed the lovely par three 12th. The 16th hole is absolutely gorgeous. It's an uphill dogleg left par four with a fairway that slopes from right to left towards a ravine. The pear-shaped green complex is protected by bunkers short left and long right. A beauty and a beast.

The aforementioned 18 is also a fantastic golf hole, with a very difficult tee shot and an intimidating second.

I can't help but feel disappointed with the day. I was really excited about the opportunity to play such a well-respected course but left wondering why it merits so much attention.

The course does a good job testing your game and you definitely needed to be accurate off the tee to avoid the towering oaks that line the fairways. This is an old-school type design so there aren't too many forced carries, enabling higher handicappers to get around without too much difficulty.

The Dubsdread course is certainly not a pushover but if you're on your game, you can likely do some damage. That said, I'm positive that the Rees Jones renovation has really toughened up the golf course in order to qualify it for future US Open consideration. Wilson and Lee did a pretty good job mixing things up, with some short fours thrown in the mix along with the extremely difficult ones like #18. There are some great looking and memorable holes out there, with the 16th being a standout but overall there is a bit of 'sameness' that keeps it a notch below the top courses in the world.

The towering trees were beautiful to look at but a nuisance both to golfers and to the greenskeeping staff. It must have been tough getting enough light on some of the areas of the course.

Conditioning was strictly average when I played, with is not acceptable for a course of this magnitude. Unraked bunkers, poor drainage and shaggy greens - I didn't pay $150.00 for this and I expected much, much more. I actually added a half point on due to the excessive rains the night before, cutting them a BIT of slack.

There is something about the complex here at Cog Hill that definitely says this is an important place. The clubhouse was understated from what I saw of it but I must say it was cool at the time walking around on the same fairways as PGA professionals. I'm pretty sure we carted it that day but you could definitely walk the course if you wanted.

I thought Dubsdread was a very nice course but in my opinion, it wasn't good enough to be considered a top 100 course in America as it was rated at the time. I'll stand by my score here - the course design is quite strong but inferior conditioning and overgrown trees really marred my experience. I imagine my rating will go up a bit if I were to return at some point down the road.

ADDENDUM FOR 2009 -
The Dubsdread course at Cog Hill, which I played in 2000, has undergone an extensive renovation by Rees Jones, the so-called 'Open Doctor', who was called in to work his magic in the hopes of landing a US Open at the facility.

The course is reopening next week on May 15, 2009, making this review pretty timely!

Dubsdread measured a little less than 7000 yards from the tips when I played it but has been lengthened to a beefy 7554 yards under the renovation, with a course rating of 77.8 and a slope rating of 151, making it one of the most difficult courses in the United States.

Here are some pictures of the new work, courtesy of the Cog Hill GCC official website.

FIRST HOLE: Par Four - 458 Yards
SECOND HOLE: Par Three - 224 Yards
EIGHTH HOLE: Par Four - 379 Yards
NINTH HOLE: Par Five - 613 Yards
TWELFTH HOLE: Par Three - 216 Yards
FOURTEENTH HOLE: Par Three - 215 Yards
SIXTEENTH HOLE: Par Four - 456 Yards
SEVENTEENTH HOLE: Par Four - 423 Yards
EIGHTEENTH HOLE: Par Four - 494 YardsI believe they redid the drainage out there as well with the reno work so I imagine conditioning won't be as problematic going forward.

They also cut down a bunch of trees and limbs to improve playability and to help improve the turf conditions - I will say the course looks pretty, as most Rees Jones designs do. He doesn't have the greatest reputation among the course architecture junkies but he gets a lot of work so course owners must like his work. I've only played one Rees Jones design, that being Grand Niagara GC right here in the Niagara Region and I think it's pretty solid but uninspiring.

I won't lose sleep if I don't get out to Cog Hill again in my life but if I'm in the Chicago area again and I don't get that elusive invite to Chicago GC (haha...right!), Butler National (again...right!), Olympia Fields or Medinah, I could certainly do worse than giving Cog Hill another shot.



Wednesday, May 06, 2009

2009 Niagara Men's Tour - Event One (Peninsula Lakes)

The opening event on the Nevada Bob's Men's Tour took place this past Sunday at Peninsula Lakes GC on the Hillside and Quarry nines.

The first event was doubling as the Spring qualifier for the Tour - there were 37 exempt players and 37 potential qualifiers also participating, from which the Tour was going to take the top 15 and ties, for a total field size of 52+.

Thankfully, I'm exempt for a couple of years after my win at LochNess Links last year so I could just go out and play without too much pressure.

Pen Lakes is an above average course for the area and always is in great shape. It's a bit quirky in spots, with short par fours that take driver out of your hands, some solid par fives and some extremely difficult par threes.

I've never played particularly well out here, shooting in the 70's only a couple of times despite it being a par 71.

Confidence was short upon arrival due to my terrible early season struggles. I was able to hit some balls on the range and did well with my irons off the mats but seriously struggled with my hybrid, something I'd need to have any chance of scoring out here.

My group started on the Hillside nine and the short par four first hole. I elected to hit a 4-iron into the wind and hit my shot thin, coming up well short of the 150 marker. I'd lose concentration immediately, setup poorly to the ball and pull my second shot into the greenside bunker. I'd splash out nicely to seven feet but kind of yip my putt long on the tough right to lefter and make an opening bogey.

The next hole is borderline unfair - 230+ yard par three, playing into a strong wind with the pin all the way back. One of my playing partners hit driver and I contemplated it as well before deciding on a 2-iron hybrid, the biggest club in my bag other than the big dog.

I actually made excellent contact with it, pulling it ever so slightly toward the cart path just left of the green. I'd chip to about six feet and make the straight-in uphiller for the satisfying par.

I started to think things might go my way when I killed my drive on the downhill par five 3rd right down the pipe. I had about 270 yards into the green with the wind helping and I proceeded to completely snaphook my hybrid out of bounds left.

Sigh.

I'd drop another and try again and of course, I'd do the exact same damn thing, only this one MAY have stayed in.

Indeed, we'd find that second ball about three feet from the boundary fence so I'm now hitting my fifth shot. The ball is sitting on mud but at least I had a full backswing. I'd muff that shot just short, chip terribly to about ten feet and make the long putt for a double.

Wonderful.

The fourth hole on Hillside is their signature hole. A 400 yard dogleg right, with water down the left side and also another pond up in front and right of the green. It's really a difficult tee shot, especially downwind, as the Driver is too much club.

So I'd have to go to the pesky hybrid again but this time I'd fire one right down the pipe. I'd thin my 7-iron approach but get a great hop, finishing ten feet away but I'd leave that putt short and tap in for par. Still, a good score on that hole.

I'd hop on the bogey train on the fifth and sixth holes and make par on the par five seventh before coming to my nemesis hole at Pen Lakes: the benign, 150 yard par three 8th.

There's nothing to this hole. It's got water in front and left but it's a huge green and you're only hitting a 7-iron at most. Today, it was a baby eight and like always, I chicken out and come out of the shot, hitting it into the right greenside bunker. It's already my third bunker shot on the front and I'd obviously get scared of the water long because I completely duffed the shot, barely escaping the bunker and leaving a treacherous 30 footer over the ridge for par. I'd do well to get it to three and a half feet but proceed to miss the short putt, tapping in for double.

Another double on that bloody hole!

I'd miss an easy six footer for birdie on the par five ninth to finish the front nine at 43 (+7).

I'd head to the shorter Quarry side but the first hole is a doozy - 410 yard par four with a boomerang dogleg left around a huge holding pond. It was screaming downwind which meant hybrid yet again. Keeping up with my one shot good, one shot bad ratio, I snapped it right into the pond and just laughed.

It wasn't going to be my day.

I'd have to make a tough three footer just to save double there. I'd get up and down for par on the short second hole then make bogeys on the third and fourth, the latter on a three whack to really knock me out of it mentally.

Of course, I'd end up playing well from there, seeing as it was my 14th hole of the day...all year, it seems like I play well from the 14th in, just to make me think I've FINALLY figured out how to play this stupid game.

Solid, two putt pars came on the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th and I actually had great runs at birdie on all four, barely missing each time.

The last hole was another par three doozy - measuring 205 yards into a stiff, stiff breeze. It was likely a hybrid but I just couldn't let myself hit that bloody club again. So I wailed away at a 4-iron and actually hit it right where I aimed, which was the right greenside bunker. I wouldn't get it up and down, going 0-5 in bunkers on the day to make bogey and finish my round with a horrible score of 83 (+12).

I'd end up finishing in a tie for 38th place on the day, one of my worst finishes in years on the Tour. I've played much worse in other rounds this year so I can take some solace in that...my mistakes were just too big on this day...too many doubles and not enough putts made.

The good news was that everyone I know from St. Catharines that tried to qualify for the Tour made it in. Brad B shot 80; Jeff G shot 81; Harry and Stevie G shot 83 and Calvin shot 84, which was the cut number for qualifying.

So St. Catharines is going to be very well represented on the Tour in '09.

Next event takes place in three weeks at Grand Niagara, another course I've had little success at. Hopefully, I start gaining a bit of consistency with my game over the next couple of weeks to get some confidence back. A few rounds in the 70s would do the trick nicely!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Nevada Bob's Men's Tour - Preview

The Niagara Men's Tour begins tomorrow with the opening event once again taking place at Peninsula Lakes GC in Fenwick.

The Tour seems to be in great shape in 2009, with 38 exempt players returning and a fantastic 37 potential qualifiers all teeing it up on Sunday afternoon. Of the 37 qualifiers, I imagine the tour will take the top 15 and ties but that remains to be seen.

I'm exempt for two years after my win last year at LochNess Links so I'm safe and can just go out and try to put a good round together. Harry once again is on the outside looking in and will be looking to grab one of the qualifier spots.

Meanwhile, Cal is going to give the Tour a crack for the first time as well and will also be looking to qualify.

In fact, we have a number of players from St. Catharines coming out to give it a go this year, including Steve G, Jeff G and Brad B. Great stuff!

Cal, Harry and I were among eight players who braved wet conditions early this morning to get a round of golf in before Men's Opening Day at St. Catharines. Another rough day that was somewhat saved by me making two birdies on my last four holes and playing the last five in one under to salvage an 81 and actually win some money for the first time this year.

Hopefully I can carry over that solid, late round play to tomorrow.

I've never really played well at Pen Lakes so my expectations are low, especially with me playing mediocre golf to start the year. I just hope some of the boys make it through qualifying and join me this year on the Tour.

Looks like it's going to be a beautiful day weather-wise and I'll be back on Monday with a full update on the first event.