Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April Showers

It was a pretty quiet weekend of golf, as we were able to get a round in on Saturday morning before the rain came in and washed away the rest of the day and Sunday as well.

My game was pretty mediocre on Saturday despite partly sunny skies and temperatures around 15 degrees. I hit the ball decently and hit nine greens in regulation but I just couldn't get it in the hole - my short game has been my saviour over the past couple years but I logged 36 putts and got up and down only once all day in shooting an indifferent 82 (+10) from the tips. I made only one birdie and that came on the last hole when I stiffed an 8-iron approach into the 449 yard 9th hole to a foot and a half after starting our day on the back side.

That was one of only TWO one-putts on the day for yours truly, perhaps a record low.

I'm not going to worry too much about it and hope to get in a bit of practice time either during the week or sometime this weekend. I need it: I lost a match with Harry 4&3 playing heads up, the second week in a row he beat me. I also matched cards with Cal and lost 1 down while sawing off with Ryan B as well. I have standing matches against all three every week, whether we play together or not, for $5.00 a game.

Thankfully, I won a skin for my last hole heroics so I came out ahead by about $3.00 on the day.

Sodas are on me!

Things are really going to start ramping up in the next week. First, I have the opening event on the Niagara Men's Tour coming up on Sunday afternoon at Peninsula Lakes GC in Fenwick, Ontario.

I finished 16th overall on the Tour last year and only had one top five finish. I expect to be better this year but my game doesn't seem suited to Pen Lakes. It's a short course but plays much tougher than you'd expect and I think I have to rethink my strategy out there - I always play safe and hit a lot of long irons off the tees but I really think I'm going to attack the golf course this year and just see where the chips fall.

Then, the next day Harry and I will be making the long drive north of Toronto to play in the qualifier for the Provincial Better Ball Championship at the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Scarboro G&CC.

This is our fourth crack at trying to qualify and we've never been successful, falling two shots short last year after finishing bogey-bogey. We'll need to make many more birdies than we usually do if we're to have a shot this year. In Harry's case, making ONE BIRDIE would be great, as he literally hasn't made a birdie in this event since his first hole at Bridgewater...in 2007! Not like I've torn it up either...

Anyway, I expect that we'll have to be under par to make it through, thinking a 70 on our best ball will be the number due to the fact that many of the top provincial players will be at our qualifier due to the quality of the golf course.

That won't be easy, as neither Harry nor myself have played at Scarboro so we're both flying blind. I plan on doing some research before our round and hope that will help somewhat but I'm just looking forward to playing competitively again and also, in the case of Scarboro, playing a great track.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Hectic Week

Sorry for the lack of updates lately - I've been quite busy with meetings out of town and various work projects.

In fact, I got my first ever traffic ticket on Tuesday after making an improper left hand turn on Bay Street in Toronto. More tickets came when I couldn't produce my drivers license AND after I found out I had let the thing expire.

Even more hijinks ensued but how about we stop there...lets just sum up by saying I've had better days!

We got hit with a cold weather spell last weekend, which prompted pansies like Harris and Cal to quit after one hole (!) and nine holes respectively on Saturday. Unlike those guys who get to play some weeknight golf after work, I can only tee it up on weekend mornings so I have to take advantage of those days, even when the weather doesn't cooperate.

I shot a pretty solid 77 (+5) on Saturday in frigid weather and followed it up with an 82 from the tips on Sunday. Funny enough, I may have played better on Sunday from tee to green but my putting really let me down. I went from 28 putts on Saturday to 34 on Sunday, a recipe for disaster on the scorecard, for certain.

Look for at least two posts per week moving forward. I'll have my weekly golf recaps and also try to post one course review a week as well. Next on the agenda is the 99th rated course in Canada, the South Course at the Club at Bond Head. I'm also going to do a "What's in My Bag" feature sometime soon in hopes of getting a sponsorship deal with TaylorMade, since my entire bag is filled with their products.

Joking of course...well, not really. TaylorMade - call me!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Masters Weekend Delivers

Another Masters is in the books and even the biggest skeptic would have to agree that the 2010 tournament was one of the finest and most exciting of all time.

Right out of the gates on Thursday, you knew we were in for something special when 60 year old Tom Watson went out and shot a bogey-free 67 and was only trumped by the six under 66 shot by 50 year old Fred Couples.

Friday saw the emergence of Englishmen Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, both of whom have been playing inspired golf over the past 12 months. Lurking in the weeds was one Eldrick Woods and with him so close to the lead, it looked almost certain that he would be the one to beat come the weekend.

Saturday provided some of the biggest thrills in Masters history. There was about a 40 minute stretch of some of the most mind-boggling golf ever seen, with Phil Mickelson making an eagle three at 13, holing a shot from 130+ yards on the 14th for another eagle then barely missing the lip from 87 yards for a third consecutive eagle on the 15th.

Then we saw Tiger make three birdies in a row to keep pace and that old codger Couples got the crowd on its feet again with an eagle chip-in at the 15th.

Truly inspired? Truly NUTS? You be the judge! Whatever it was, it was captivating television.

Sunday saw more of the same, with roars and thrills galore. Tiger was all over the place off the tee but we saw some of the magic reappear when he holed his fairway approach on the 7th hole for an eagle of his own. He'd shockingly three putt from about six feet on the 14th to take himself out of the tournament but even after that, he'd eagle the next hole and birdie the last to still finish 4th.

The unheralded K.J. Choi performed admirably all week, especially in light of the fact he got paired (saddled?) with Tiger all four rounds. He made birdie after birdie but finally cracked with a bogey on the tremendous par five 13th hole.

Lee Westwood had to battle a bit on Sunday but despite his troubles and the pressure of trying to close out his first major win, he still managed a one under 71 in the final round to finish second yet again in one of the big four. One of the things I'll remember most about this Masters is the class Westwood showed in defeat while giving his post-round interview - if only Tiger could be this gracious in defeat. I'm willing to bet Westwood won a lot of new fans this week.

At the end, this was Mickelson's show. He played unremarkably during the front side, with a slew of pars on his card and stayed right in the thick of things until he started putting on a show at Amen Corner. The birdie putt at 12 was huge but the shot everyone will remember was the sick 6-iron he hit from the pine straw on 13 that barely cleared the creek and finished only five feet away.

He'd shockingly miss that eagle putt and would have to compose himself for a bit before finally making the slick comebacker for birdie but the tournament was in his hands from that point on. He'd make a couple more birdies coming in, punctuating the win with a final birdie on the last hole to win his third Masters title and get everyone all teary-eyed when he got to embrace his lovely wife Amy, who has been battling breast cancer for over a year now.

What a show! And much credit must go out to Masters chairman Billy Payne and also to Fred Ridley, the chairman of the rules and competition committee for setting up the golf course so well. The roars and excitement came back in full force this year, with eagles and bogeys galore! It was spellbinding television.

It was also another lovely spring weekend for golf here in the Niagara Region. Saturday was quite cold and windy and the course was pretty wet from some late-week rains we had.

We played the back tees and basically got bludgeoned by the course - I shot a 84 (+12) and had the second best score among the nine guys playing. Cal was one better at 83 while Harry shot a super-duper 93.

The weather was much warmer on Sunday and the scores improved as well - I shot a decent 77 on the day and more importantly, I closed well for the first time all year, going one under par on my last six holes. Cal would again be the best in the group (we had 15 guys out on Sunday), shooting a very solid 73 (+1) and his eagle three on the 10th hole was one of three skins on the day, with each worth a whopping $50.00. Cal was playing some demo irons and I have a strong suspicion that he will be owning those clubs soon enough. Harry was also much better on Sunday, shooting a 79 I believe.

Next week marks the official opening of the handicap season in Ontario so scores will start to count. We're also pretty close to the start of the competitive season, as the Niagara Men's Tour is set to begin on Sunday May 2nd and the next day, Harry and I will be teaming up for the fourth year in a row in a bid to qualify for the Ontario Better Ball Championship, with our qualifier taking place at the esteemed A.W. Tillinghast design, Scarboro G&CC.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Brantford Golf & Country Club

Brantford Golf & Country Club
Brantford, Ontario, CANADA


6534 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 70.9/126
COURSE ARCHITECT: Stanley Thompson, Nicol Thompson & George Cumming (1906)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://brantfordgolfandcountryclub.com/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: April 28, 2008.
LOW SCORE: 80 (+8)

ACCOLADES -
- Golfweek Best Canadian Classic Courses 2015: #25
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #57
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #41


"Brantford is a course that is admired, but never loved...and remains just a solid, unrelenting test of golf"
- Ian Andrew, Architect, Weir Golf Design

I had the opportunity to play Brantford G&CC in late April 2008, as the club hosted one of the qualifiers for the Golf Association of Ontario's Better Ball Championship. I've used that particular tournament to play a few of the best courses Ontario has to offer, starting with Brantford in 2008, Burlington G&CC in 2009 and in three and a half weeks, Harry and I will be teeing it up at Scarboro G&CC for the 2010 qualifier.

Back to the topic at hand, Brantford is listed as a Stanley Thompson design but time has shown that most of the design work was done by his brother Nicol, the head professional at Hamilton G&CC for over 50 years and George Cumming, the head pro over at Toronto GC.

Harry and I had the first tee time of the day for the event and played in absolutely horrific weather conditions for much of the round, with torrential rain and temperatures maybe two degrees above freezing at the start of play. It was so bad, Harry was convinced that the GAO would postpone the event but that simply just doesn't happen in provincial tournaments.

On cue, we were summoned to the first tee at 7:30am and would have to play this wonderful course under dark, angry skies.

The first two holes are pretty underwhelming, to be completely frank. The first is a 511 yard par five that doglegs left and the second is a straightaway par four measuring 334 yards, with both holes placed on flat, unremarkable land.

Things take a turn for the better on the beautiful third hole, shown above, a 197 yard par three that plays downhill to a green cut into a hillside. It's a stunning view down into the Grand River Valley and the player will move in and out of this valley throughout the course of the day.

You continue your descent into the valley on the gorgeous fourth hole, a 526 yard par five that doglegs slightly to the left off the tee, as seen above.

A big drive here gives the player a chance at the green in two but the shot is no bargain, as a large bunker protects the front of the undulating green but there is the opportunity to play to the left quadrant, as seen above from the approach area.

The fifth hole, shown above, is simply a tremendous piece of business, a 442 yard monster from the tips to a rolling fairway.

From there, you'll have a long iron or in my case, a hybrid second shot into an open fronted green that sits below the fairway somewhat as you can see above, allowing the player to hit a running approach. This hole is a shotmakers delight and truly a wonderful golf hole from tee to green.


The sixth, a 353 yard par four, offers a bit of a breather if you play conservatively. However, it can jump up and get you if you decide to pull a driver and test the fairways bunkers up the right side. There is also a holding pond out to the left that will eat up any snap hooks off the tee so accuracy off the tee is a must. If you hit the fairway, you'll have a short iron approach to a well-bunkered but flatish putting surface.

The string of solid golf holes continues on the seventh, an uphill, straightaway par four of 355 yards, as seen above. It's not an easy driving hole, as you need to split a couple of maple trees that border each side of the fairway around 220 yards from the tee while favouring the left side, as the elevated green opens up a bit from that area. It's a pretty diabolical putting surface if I remember correctly here too, with it sloping heavily from back to front.

The eighth is a 156 yard par three with redan characteristics. Shots that bail to the right here are pretty much dead, as the green slopes sharply from right to left.

The ninth offers some intriguing options off the tee. A par four measuring only 308 yards, your first thought is to take the big dog out and let it fly but if you're short or offline, you'll face a completely blind or semi-blind approach, as the fairway drops off considerably around 200 yards from the tee. The prudent play is likely to hit a mid-iron off the tee and leave an easy wedge approach to a very long, elevated green, as seen above.

The par threes at Brantford are quite exceptional as a group and the wonderful tenth hole, a 168 yarder as shown above, might be the best of the bunch. The tee shot is played over a gorge to a green that is protected by bunkers in front and to the left.

The 11th is a 408 yard par four played off an elevated tee, with a holding pond on the left in the landing area. The approach shot must avoid another pond short right but I believe the green is relatively flat so birdies are a possibility if you hit two good shots.

The 12th is another superlative hole, a par five measuring 476 yards. Sounds pretty easy, huh? Well, think again! As seen above, the tee shot favours a fade either to the left of the right fairway bunker over a small creek or you can try to drive it over the bunker.

The hole climbs steeply uphill from there and the fairway narrows considerably as well the closer you get to the green. Drives blown over the bunker allow the player to reach the green in two but shots must avoid a cross bunker in front of the elevated green, which cants quite severely from right to left. A fun and sporty risk/reward par five.

The 13th is a brute of a par four, measuring 458 from the tips. It's a dogleg left with an open front green.

The 14th, shown above, is a 508 yard par five that climbs uphill and plays much longer than the scorecard would indicate. The drive needs to avoid fairway bunkers on both sides in the landing area and an exacting and long approach is needed to hit this green in two shots.

The 15th is yet another tremendous par three, measuring 192 yards. The hole plays a bit longer than its yardage and features a greensite that slopes sharply from back to front and is protected by a bunker cut into the hillside on the left side. A very tough par three, likely the toughest one shotter on the course.


A bit of claustrophobia might set in on the par four 16th, as seen above, a 458 yard par four that plays well downhill off the tee. There is out of bounds right and large trees framing both sides with branches overhanging the fairway. The one hole over all others here that could use a bit of chainsaw work in my opinion to open up the corridors a bit.

The 17th is the weakest par three on the course, a 154 yarder that plays over a pond. The green is pretty wide and inviting but you still need to be exacting with your mid-to-short iron off the tee, as wind might be a factor here.

The par five 18th hole, measuring 530 yards, is a worthy finisher. The entire hole plays uphill and the fairway is pretty wide and inviting off the tee, giving the long driver a chance to reach the elevated green with two well-struck shots.

However, a mishit second shot brings bunkers into play on the left side and from there, it's no bargain to make your par, as the green is elevated and undulates quite severely. A really solid closing hole.

Harry and I didn't fare very well the day we played, with neither of us making a single birdie. I shot an 80 on my own ball while Harry came in with an 82, while our better ball score of 77 (+5) placed us in the middle of the pack, not good enough to advance to the actual championship event.

Brantford features an excellent routing and a truly great set of par threes and par fives. There are some weak points - the course has undergone some recent renovations, courtesy of Graham Cooke and some of the bunkering just doesn't seem to fit with the original work. I also think the course needs to think about pruning some of the trees to open up the fairways a bit and bring some of the angles back into play.

We played the course early in the season and during very poor weather so conditioning wasn't great but it certainly wasn't bad either. While there are some average holes out here, I can honestly say the good outweighs the bad by a large margin. I was quite surprised by the elevation changes throughout the course and I think the design really takes great advantage of the land.

Brantford G&CC is a heck of a good golf course and is very much deserving of it's placement within the top 50 courses in Canada. In fact, if they got the right architect involved, touched up a few more bunkers and do a bunch of tree pruning, you could make a strong case for this course being one of the top 20 in the country. It's that strong.

NOTE:
All photos here, with the exception of the scorecard, are courtesy of the official Brantford G&CC website.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Glorious Three-Day Weekend

The weather in the Niagara Peninsula has been stunning over the past few weeks and Easter weekend was no exception, with temperatures almost reaching 30 degrees on the celsius scale, well over 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The result was three days of great golf on the first weekend in April, quite the Easter treat for yours truly. The tee sheet was packed at St. Catharines G&CC on Good Friday and we had 12 guys out on a glorious spring morning.

We had our first controversial moment of the year right out of the gates. See, there is quite the discrepancy in ages between the guys I play most of my golf with at the club, with players ranging from their early 20s to guys approaching their mid 50s. As a recently-turned 37 year old, I'm right in the middle of this group.

Cue Harry and his inevitable crack about me being in my forties.

The problem is that the older guys, all of whom can still play great golf (pretty much all the guys on in our 20 or so person rotation have mid-to-low single digit handicaps) are starting to tire of the back tees. They say the 6800 or so yards is too long and they'd prefer playing the second deck, which measure out to around 6500 yards or so.

I knew this issue would come up eventually but didn't expect it to rear its ugly head quite so soon. My thoughts are that if you want to play the Blues, PLAY THE BLUES. If you want to play the Blacks, great. Whatever! Yeah, we play a skins game every time and that would be a problem but we could run two games: one from the blacks and one from the blues.

Anyway, my group teed off first and it was myself, Cal, Harry and Ryan. We immediately went to the back tees on our short par four first hole. It was certainly ambitious to be playing the backs on our first full round of the year but we're ballerz, yo!

I was second to tee off and as I was in my downswing, one of the 'complainers' mumbles:

"I can't believe they're playing the f*&$ing blacks!"

So yeah, I hosel my 4-iron tee shot about 60 yards up the cart path as my playing partners laugh their asses off.

Turns out that everyone at least STARTED from the blacks but the naysayers ended moving up to the blues after about 3 holes and didn't even come back to the 19th hole after the round to meet with the rest of the group. Sheesh.

I'd end up making double bogey on the 18th hole to shoot 80 (+8) in my first official round of the year, the low score in our group and won my match against Cal and halved against Ryan. A solid start to the year!

It was more of the same on Saturday and Sunday. There were only four of us on Saturday and six on Sunday so we decided to opt for world peace and just played the Blues both those days.

I'd make three birdies on Saturday and two on Sunday in carding dual 78's - I'd stumble to the finish line both rounds, finishing +3 on my last three on Saturday and +2 on my last three on Sunday. I have to finish better but it's nice to get a couple of sub-80 rounds in so early in the season after the atrocity that was 2009 on the links!

I'm kind of in the market for a new driver, as I'm playing relatively old technology in the TaylorMade R7 TP, the first club that had the moveable weights. I thought I might be losing some distance so I took out a Ping i15 on Saturday - it has quite the fade bias to it and looks to be about a degree open at address, which is fine but I had trouble adjusting at first. When I did connect, it was heaven - our 15th hole is about 535 from the Blues and I hit a 6-iron second shot there after hitting the sweet spot on my drive.

Yeah, it was howling downwind but I was still at least 40 yards ahead of my playing partners, which felt pretty damn good for this 'Punch and Judy' hitter!

Went back to my normal driver for Sunday's round and hit it great and pretty long almost all day so I'm not sure if I should keep looking for something new but we'll see how it goes.

It was a great weekend on the course - I won three skins on Sunday but just getting the chance to play so much so early in the season seems like an incredible bonus. The weather may take a slight turn for the worse so I'm not sure if I'll get in two rounds this coming weekend but I'm hoping for the best!