Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mr. Consistency?

We are coming off a holiday weekend here in Canada, celebrating Victoria Day on Monday. The annual 'May 2-4' weekend is the defacto start of the summer season in our country and it's really the first opportunity every year for me to get in three consecutive days of golf.

We got hit with a good dose of rain on Saturday morning and it was enough to force pansies like Harris and Gary off the course but not yours truly. Sunday and Monday were truly gorgeous late spring days, with Monday especially being off-the-charts awesome, with temperatures nearing 30 degrees celsius and glorious sunshine.

How did I do this weekend, you ask?

Saturday: Score - 75; Putts - 32; Greens in Reg - 11
Sunday: Score - 75; Putts - 31; Greens in Reg - 11
Monday: Score - 75; Putts - 31; Greens in Reg - 11

How ridiculous is that? Same score all three days, same amount of greens hit each day and only one putt separating Saturday from the other two days.

I actually had a great chance to break par from the back tees at St. Catharines for the first time in my life on Monday but finished that round double bogey/bogey when I got a bit conservative on the par three 17th tee. I won't make that mistake again.

I'm really happy with how well I've started the year and it seems like I'm regaining my 2008 form now that my son, now 19 months old, is sleeping through the night. I can't think of any other reason for why I stunk up the joint last year so that's all I got!

My handicap index was in the mid-4's when I started the year and I've dropped down to a 2.6 so I'm definitely headed in the right direction!

Can't wait to get back out there this weekend and hopefully challenge par again. I've got a tournament on Sunday, as the Niagara Men's Tour holds its second event of the year, with this one being held at Thundering Waters GC in Niagara Falls.

No real expectations there, as I'm not a fan of the course whatsoever but hopefully my newfound consistency will continue over the weekend.

Hamilton G&CC profile will be posted later tonight - I've been working on it for a few days and it's finally close to completion!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Very Special Day

Hamilton Golf & Country Club - East Course
Ancaster, Ontario, CANADA


3294 YARDS (PAR 35 - NINE HOLES)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 36.0/125
COURSE ARCHITECT: Robbie Robinson (1975)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://hgcc.ca
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: May 11, 2010.
LOW SCORE: 39 (+4)

On Tuesday May 11th, I had the distinct pleasure of playing all 27 holes at Hamilton G&CC, the #2 course in Canada according to ScoreGolf and the #34 course outside the U.S. according to Golf Digest.

I've been hoping to play Hamilton for about 7 years, falling in love on first sight when I walked the course during the 2003 Canadian Open, won by Bob Tway. I've had various invitations over the past few years but every single one of them fell through or never came to fruition.

I was the beneficiary of kindness from a fellow St. Catharines member and one of my regular playing partners Jon, who accompanied me to Oakmont a few years back with Harry and Preston. It was Jon's 45th birthday and he was looking for a special place to spend his day.

This would certainly qualify!

I'm eternally grateful to the man who set this up for Jon and myself, along with Cal and Jon's buddy Ritch - I think he'd prefer to stay anonymous but I know he occasionally reads my blog so again, please accept my thanks for an experience that ranks up there among my top five golf highlights.

I will fully document my experience on Harry S. Colt's masterful West/South course in my next post but wanted to briefly go over the sporty East Nine, which opened for play in 1975 and was designed by C.E. (Robbie) Robinson and built by Dick Kirkpatrick.

We played the East first on what turned out to be a cold and wet day at Hamilton. You get a good feel for the rolling topography at the course right away on the 396 yard par four first hole, a slight dogleg right from an elevated tee that bends around a hillside on the right, as seen below.

From there, you have a mid to short iron approach into a long but narrow green protected by bunkers left and right.

I'd bogey the first hole and the second is a 414 yard par four that doglegs close to 90 degrees to the right with bunkers through the fairway just past the landing area. The approach shot, shown below, is a lovely one with trees framing both sides of the fairway and a large welcoming green that is open in front.

The third is another sweeping dogleg right but this time, the approach shot is played over a large stream to a green that slopes severely from back to front. I stiffed an approach here into about five feet but missed the ticklish birdie putt, instead making par for the second hole in a row.

The fourth hole, a 391 yard par four, is a stunner and wouldn't look out of place on the championship course.

The tee shot is uphill and bends right to left around some trees and around the left fairway bunker, as seen below.

The fairway cants sharply from right to left and downhill in the approach area, giving a major boost to drives down the pipe. From there, the approach, as seen below, is well uphill to an elevated green protected by deep bunkers in the front. The green is pretty shallow and features some solid undulations. This is a tremendous golf hole, even with a double bogey from yours truly! I'm now three over through four holes.

The fifth hole is a par three measuring 196 yards from the back tees. It's open in front but framed by bunkers left and right and the green is very long. I'd hit a pretty solid 5-iron into about 20 feet and two-putt for my par.

The sixth is another gorgeous golf hole and one of my favourites on the entire course. It's a 431 yard par four with a downhill tee shot through a crowned fairway, as seen below.

You also need to avoid the fairway bunkers left and if you do, you'll face a slightly downhill approach, as seen below, to a very tricky little green with some large swales near the back that will cause problems for those who go long...like me! I'd skull my little chip across the green and ended up having to make a 12 footer just for bogey. Four over through six!

The seventh hole is a pretty straightforward par three measuring 159 yards. There's a large pond that fronts the very wide but relatively shallow putting surface. A hole that is a bit out of character with the rest of the course in my humble opinion and one I'd bogey.

The eighth hole is the only par five on this nine, a 532 yarder that bends slightly from left to right. Trees come into play quite a bit on the first two shots, especially the willows on the right side. You also have to cross a creek on your second shot and the approach is over a little pond front right to a large tiered green. I had some tree trouble and needed a six-iron for my approach shot but hit it to about 20 feet and made the putt for my first birdie of the day at Hamilton to move back to +4.

The ninth is quite a worthy finisher on the East course, a 386 yard par four that doglegs right to left off the tee, as shown below.

There are a bunch of very penal bunkers protecting the inside of the dogleg but if you hit the fairway or go slightly right, you'll be rewarded with an open look at the very large and unbelievably treacherous green that slopes hard from back to front and right to left. We had a front pin position and it was a big challenge for most of us just to stay on the green. Thankfully, I left my approach a bit short and it was a relatively simple up and down for par and a score of 39 (+4) on the East Course.

I really enjoyed this side of the course and truly think holes like #4 and #6 wouldn't look out of place on the Colt Course.

If you're looking for my profile of Harry Colt's revered West/South course, please see the following link:

NOW ON THE TEE COURSE PROFILE: Hamilton G&CC - West/South



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Definition of a 'Mudder'

Generally speaking, we've been pretty fortunate with the weather thus far in the Niagara Region in 2010.

My home club had its earliest opening on record, with play beginning on March 18th and temperatures have actually been unseasonably mild for the most part this spring.

I say for the most part because this past weekend we got hit with a brutal cold spell that kept most of the golfers off the course. Temperatures dropped to below freezing and we had rain and even some hail at different points during the weekend.

But as usual, I soldiered on. That's just what I do.

I get two days a week, for the most part, to play golf and that's Saturday and Sunday morning. If they allow play those days, I'll be out there hitting that little white ball around.

It's really that simple.

On Saturday, we had to deal with temperatures hovering just above freezing and winds that, I kid you not, were gusting up to 100 km/hr.

Six of the regulars braved these conditions and teed off around 7:30am on Saturday morning. I decided to hang back and play with new members Wes J and Ryan M instead of my regular partners in crime Harry and Cal. I kind of figured they might not make 18 in these conditions, as both would prefer to be bundled up under the covers instead of outside when it's less than 10 degrees, let alone 2 or 3 degrees.

So they went out first with another new member, Mike F and we followed one group behind. The wind was crazy and it took awhile to get some feeling in my hands but I struck the ball well enough on the front nine to go out in 39 shots.

We got to the 10th hole and Mike was waiting for us with club in hand. Harris was there too but his clubs were conspicuous by their absence. Cal was nowhere to be found.

Well, I'll give them credit for playing nine anyway!

So Mike joined us for the back nine, or I should say back two, as the storm siren went off as we were about to putt on the 11th hole. We finished up and made our way back to the clubhouse as it started to absolutely pour.

We were pretty much soaked from head to toe upon reaching the clubhouse and Mike bid adieu, saying he was going home to warm up and dry off. We went into the pro shop to see what the radar looked like and our associate pro Cam indicated that this cell should be passing by within a half hour.

So Wes, Ryan and I went inside to grab breakfast and see if the rains would stop long enough for us to get the round finished.

Well, just as Cam predicted, the rains ended less than 20 minutes later and the sun briefly made an appearance! The winds were whipping even worse than before but the pro shop gave us the okay to head back out, even giving us carts so we could try to beat the next storm cell that was rapidly approaching.

Before heading back out, we were told by another assistant at the club that Mike had called in from home, saying that he would drive back out to the club to finish the round if we were crazy enough to do the same.

"Tell him to meet us on the 12th tee!", I shouted as we tore off down the fairway.

Mike did finally catch up to us on the 13th and I can honestly say I don't remember having as much fun playing golf at St. Catharines as I did during those seven final holes. The wind was absolutely fierce, easily up to a four-club wind.

I almost aced the par three 14th, which was playing about 175 yards that day into a quartering wind blowing from right to left and into us. Wes threw out a bet as we teed off on the hole, saying he'd offer five bucks to anyone who could stop their ball right of the flag, which was cut only about five paces off the right fringe.

I was last on the tee and hit a piercing 4-iron that started on the fringe line and hung tough against the wind.

"GIVE ME THAT FIVE DOLLARS WES!", I screamed as my ball finally started getting pushed toward the hole.

The ball hit the green and rolled right over the cup, stopping about four inches away as we all just about fainted.

It may have been one of the best shots I hit in my life but the highlight of the day was Wes' comment as the ball finally came to rest:

"It's LEFT OF THE HOLE! No five bucks for you!"

I'd kick in the satisfying birdie there and by the time we hit the 16th hole, the next storm was blowing in bigtime. I hit a full 8-iron approach from about 120 yards into the gale force wind and my ball almost spun back into the pond that fronts the green there.

Just crazy stuff!

We got pelted with rain the last two holes but there was no way we weren't finishing after all we had gone through to get this far. We finally tapped in on the 18th and got the hell out of dodge, all of us with smiles on our faces a mile wide. I somehow managed to shoot a 78 (+6) from the tips in that weather, a score that certainly felt closer to a 72.

I *love* playing in crazy weather, especially harsh winds. Just so much fun to hit low and creative shots and watch the ball move all over the place.

Things weren't much better on Sunday but again, we braved the cold and were lucky enough to avoid the rain that would come later in the day. Harry got through the entire round but Cal was a no-show. Still, we had nine guys total show up, a pretty decent number all things considered and again I lived up to my 'Mudder' moniker, playing likely my best golf of the year in a round of 76 (+4), where I hit 12 greens in regulation, won $45.00 in skins money and various games and generally struck the ball beautifully.

My confidence was soaring at just the right time, as I prepared for one of the most anticipated rounds of my year - a date at the #2 ranked golf course in Canada and a place I had been hoping for years to get an invitation to play:

Hamilton Golf and Country Club!

Get ready for a very long blog post, my faithful readers! This one will likely be split into three parts, as Hamilton is a 27 hole facility and we were fortunate to play all three nines during our visit yesterday.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Scarboro Golf & Country Club

Scarboro Golf & Country Club
Scarborough, Ontario, CANADA


6526 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 72.3/136
COURSE ARCHITECT: A.W. Tillinghast (1924)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://scarborogolf.com/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: May 3, 2010.
LOW SCORE: 77 (+6)


ACCOLADES -
- Golfweek Best Canadian Classic Courses 2015: #19
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #69
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #39


"There is a chance Scarboro is Canada's most under-rated golf course...once it hits the second hole, Scarboro rarely lets up, demonstrating a creative, clever design, with severe greens and interesting land."
- Robert Thompson, Noted Canadian Golf Writer

PHOTO CREDIT -
All photos included in this post, with the exception of the scorecard, were taken by professional photographer Clive Barber and posted with his permission. Please visit his official website at http://www.clivebarber.com/.

I had the chance to play Scarboro G&CC in one of the qualifiers for the provincial better ball championship with Harris in early May 2010. I always try to pick the best golf course from an architectural standpoint when I enter these events and Scarboro definitely was the top choice in 2010.

It's the only A.W. Tillinghast design outside of the United States which makes it quite noteworthy in itself, especially with the resume Tillinghast built over his years as an architect, with Winged Foot GC, Bethpage Black, San Francisco GC and Baltusrol GC among his many celebrated designs.

The club recently went through with an extensive bunker restoration by Gil Hanse and Ian Andrew and the results are absolutely stunning. The flat bunker floors give way to steep grass faces and the look is very unique and incredibly photogenic and while I have never seen the course before the bunker work, I have to imagine that the members of the club are quite pleased with the end result.

Before I go into detail about our round at Scarboro and the golf course itself, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the stately Victorian-style clubhouse. It's a gorgeous piece of architecture and features a wraparound veranda that overlooks the practice green, the 19th hole (another cool feature) and the first tee.

The first hole, seen above, is a relatively straightaway par five measuring 576 yards. There are a couple of fairway bunkers in the landing area, something that we would find out is quite rare at Scarboro, as I believe there are only four total on the entire course. Both Harry and I destroyed drives down the middle and we were off. I had about 280 yards in and hit a hybrid just short of the green and then Harry stood up to his 260 yard shot and almost holed it, with the ball settling about 7 feet behind the hole. He'd make that little tickler for the tremendous eagle three, a hell of a start in a best ball competition!

The second hole, shown above, is an absolute beast. It's a 213 yard par three that was playing into a stiff wind and features a green that slopes sharply from back to front and left to right, with many balls filtering into the deep trap on the right. There's also a ditch that runs across the hole short of the green to offer a bit more visual intimidation.

Harris got caught in between clubs I think and hit perhaps the worst shot I've ever seen him hit, a wicked slice that went further right than I could have possibly imagined with his hybrid.

"Your hole", he laughs as I immediately tighten up.

Thankfully, I kept my composure and hit maybe my best ever 4-iron, a soaring blast that landed pin high and stopped about 12 feet away. I'd barely miss my birdie and tap in for the satisfying par.

The third hole is an uphill par four measuring 342 yards. Both Harry and I would par this one with two putts and then we looked over to the fourth tee in horror, as two groups were still waiting on the tee.

You can see why when looking at the hole in the photo above. It's a terrorizing tee shot, to say the least. 205 yards, downhill with a creek to the right and a tree-lined hillside to the left with a long but very narrow green.

We watched as player after player either hit into the creek or bailed out way left. We'd end up having to wait about 25 minutes before finally getting the tee and the delay did not help us one bit. Harry hit another big slice that presumably went into the creek and again it was up to me to come through...only this time I didn't. I turned my hands over at impact and hit a pull towards the trees left. We didn't see the ball come down but it wasn't as far left as the guys in the group ahead and they found their balls. So I headed down toward the green without reloading.

Bad decision - five minutes would pass and I couldn't find my ball so I was out of the hole. I watched in agony as Harry dropped, hit a poor pitch to the front of the green and then three-whacked for a triple bogey six, a score that would have to count as our best ball.

From two under to plus one in a single hole. Devastation.

We'd both regroup on the fifth hole, a pretty but long and tight par four measuring 439 yards, shown above. We'd both stripe our drives down the middle and both made routine pars.

The sixth hole is a pretty long but routine 560 yard par five, as seen above. We had fallen woefully behind the group in front of us after our troubles on the fourth hole and had a GAO official watching us for a bit on this hole. Harry went way right off the tee again, duffed his second and ended up having a long par putt left. I hit a decent drive down the middle, hit a very poor second shot with my hybrid but still only had about 80 yards left. Maybe I rushed the shot but I'd skull my wedge to the back of the green and leave myself about a 60 foot downhill tester. Thankfully, I hit a great lag putt and saved par, dodging that bullet.


Oh how I love holes like the 7th at Scarboro. It's a little jezebel that measures only 276 yards from the tips and just screams "go for it" from the tee. The green is well bunkered and sits elevated from the fairway and also features a wicked back to front slope that likely sees more three-putts than any green on the course.

I drove my ball into the front bunker and thought I was in decent shape. I'd hit a decent blast but it caught the false front and tumbled back down the hill. No problem, right? Well, from there I'd duff my birdie chip, finally chip on and do well to two-putt for a double bogey. What a little devil this one is!

Thankfully, Harry did better than I did but only marginally, as we had to take a bogey on a sub-300 yard par four.

What a golf hole!

From there you head across the road to the 413 yard par four 8th hole, which features a blind tee shot with a hillside on the right that only a goat could climb. Or so we thought...

We had no idea where to aim and Harry and one of our playing partners hit big fades around the hillside, both of which I thought were dead. With a lot of doubt in my mind about line, I proceeded to hit my worst drive of the day right into said hillside and would have to make the walk of shame to play my ball.

Thankfully there were stairs (!) that led up to the top of the hill and with the ball at waist level, close to where the picture above was likely taken, I somehow managed to hit an 8-iron down to the flat, about 110 yards away from the green.

Both Harry and the other guy were actually in position A and Harry would make a par to save our bacon on this hole. Still +2 through 8 on our better ball.

You have to walk up from the valley to the ninth hole, passing the 'Oasis', the Scarboro halfway house with the very appropriate name. The dogs were really barking at this point - my legs that is - as this course is pretty relentless with the hills and valleys.

Unfortunately, the girl in the halfway house was making sandwiches and we were pressed for time so no drinks for us. We'd have to press on!

The ninth, with greensite seen above, is a 402 yard dogleg left over the creek and I'd hit a wishy washy drive to the left. We almost didn't find my ball it was so buried in the rough and I could only advance my shot about 60 yards. I'd bogey and Harry would also bogey from the middle of the fairway, as we'd finish the front side in a very disappointing 39 shots (+3) after being two under after one.

I figured we'd need to go two or three under at this point to get in and the 10th hole, seen above, was our last par five so we'd have to take advantage. We'd both play it well and both have makeable birdie putts but neither would drop and we'd settle for par.

The 11th hole, shown above, is a remarkable 110 yard par three that is surrounded by deep, deep bunkers and features a crowned green that repels many slightly wayward tee shots right into those craters.

We'd really throw up here - Harry laid the sod over his wedge and went into the front bunker. He'd need two shots to just get out and would make a double. My shot was decent but hit the right side of the green and spun to the right.

Uh oh!

It would filter right into the bunker and while I hit a good out, I'd barely miss my 15 foot par effort, giving us yet another bogey to drop us to +4. Another short hole gets us!

The 12th is another superlative hole, a par four measuring 416 yards. There are two creeks to traverse, with the second being a 265 yard carry from the tee. That wasn't an option on this day with the wind into us so both Harry and I hit hybrids into good position. Harry would make a bogey here and it wasn't looking good for me after I hooked my 4-iron approach well left. I hit a pretty solid lob shot to about 10 feet and made the putt for the big par save, my first real putt made and literally my first one-putt green of the day. Yikes!

The 13th, shown above, is a 417 yard par four that climbs well uphill and features a green that is severely elevated from the fairway. It's a very strong hole and both Harry and I would make pretty routine pars here to stay at +4.

The 14th, shown above, is yet another super strong par three, measuring 212 from the tips. The tee shot is played well down the hill and was playing into the very stiff wind, with a hybrid shot required from both of us. Harry would get into bunker trouble again and make bogey while I pulled my tee shot left of the greenside bunker. However, I'd hit another great lob to kick-in distance for another unlikely par save.

The 15th is yet another tremendous short par four on a course featuring a number of them. It's 320 yards from the back tees and is uphill the whole way. One guy in our group tried to drive the hole but I don't see any merit in that strategy, as the green is very elevated from the fairway and drives would just go into the hill and likely settle into one of the bunkers.

Harry and I took the more prudent play and layed up with hybrids, leaving routine wedge shots into the long and narrow green. I hit a beauty to about eight feet and Harry was about 20 feet away but would blow his first putt off the green and miss the comebacker. It was up to me and I hit a perfect putt on the very harsh right to lefter and watched as the ball cruelly came to a stop on the lip just on the high side.

"How did that putt not fall?", our playing partners asked. Wish I could answer that one!

The 16th, seen above, is yet another tremendous short par four, with this one measuring only 284 yards. This one reminded me quite a bit of the driveable 8th hole at Westmount G&CC in Kitchener - there are some dips in the fairway and there is trouble running all down the left side, with a slight opening in front and a deep bunker in the front right.

Harry would hit hybrid here, as the hole was screaming downwind but he came up slightly short. He'd hit on and barely miss his birdie putt. I drove into the front bunker and blasted out nicely to about 7 feet. From there, I was able to coax in the putt for my first birdie of the day to get us back to +3 and actually thinking we might have a shot at qualifying.

I still figured we'd need to birdie the last two holes as we reached the lovely par four 17th hole, a 379 yard downhiller shown above.

There is a creek that runs across the fairway about 270 yards away from the tee so we had to hit hybrids off the tee to avoid it. From there, I hit an 8-iron to the back and would barely miss again, matching Harry's par as we moved to the last hole.

Look up the word 'quirky' in a Canadian dictionary and you may find a picture of the tee shot on the 18th hole at Scarboro.

I wish I had a picture of the tee shot - you have to hit over a green, tarp-covered chain link fence that protects the cars travelling on Scarborough Golf Club Road to a blind fairway with a hillside to the right and trouble left.

We literally couldn't believe we had to go in that direction! None of us had played the course so we were pretty dumbfounded. I hit what looked to be the weakest drive, a bit of a fade around the hillside on the right but that turned out to be the money shot, as I was dead-nuts perfect and only 94 yards from the pin.

The green, shown above, reminds me a bit of the 18th at Bethpage Black, as it sits well above the fairway and features a significant false front. So significant that one of our playing partners had to drop due to having a sprinkler head in his way.

With a rules official watching, he dropped three times and all three times his ball rolled down the hill, giving him the ability to place his ball. He did so successfully, went to get his club and then was stunned to see his ball had rolled all the way back down the hill from a stationary position.

He'd have to play it as it lied and would bogey. I'd again hit a really strong second shot in here and both Harry and I had great chances at birdie. Both of us would barely miss, giving us a par and an even par 35 on the back nine for a total of 74 (+3).

Not bad with a triple right? Well, we'd be in a bit of anguish the next day when we found that the cut to get into the tournament outright was 72 and the alternates were the guys who shot 73.

Again, another year of so close, yet so far.

We'd finish T11th out of the 40 teams in the qualifier, our best finish yet by position. I shot a 77 (+6) on my own ball and Harry came through with an 80, both good scores on a very tough golf course.

I can't speak highly enough about the experience of playing Scarboro. The routing is kind of unique in that it doesn't feature the traditional 'loop', with nines returning to the clubhouse. You basically set out through the course, across the road and eventually come back, finally reaching the clubhouse again on the 18th.

Conditioning was absolutely spectacular. The greens were reminiscent of Oakmont and I can't give a higher compliment. They had to be running at about an 11 or 12 on the stimp the day we played and with the slopes on those greens, it was as much challenge as you could ask for.

We loved the variety out there, with many short fours that presented multiple options and a very challenging set of par threes. The bunkering, as indicated previously, is tremendous both visually and from a playability standpoint. The course is a hell of a great walk too - both Harry and I were exhausted by the time we climbed the fairway on #15 and would have likely paid big money for a comfortable Muskoka chair to sit in as we caught our breath before hitting our approach there!

The best thing I can say about Scarboro G&CC is that it is super fun to play and after finishing 18 you want to head right back out and challenge the course again, a trademark of all great courses. I very much agree with Robert Thompson in the quote at the beginning of this review: Scarboro may be one of the most underrated courses I've ever had the pleasure of playing. It's currently listed as the 53rd best course in Canada according to ScoreGolf from the 2008 ranking and that was actually improved from their standing in 2006 so the work Hanse and Andrew did with the bunkers has been notable. I would imagine the course will continue to climb when the publication re-ranks the courses later in 2010.

I think Scarboro stacks up against the best this country has to offer and believe it matches up favourably with a place like Westmount, which I also loved. Perhaps it would fall slightly below that course but my point has been made. Scarboro is a wonderful members course, one people could play every day and feel still feel challenged every time.

I can't wait to go back and play it again!



Thursday, May 06, 2010

Niagara Men's Tour 2010 - Event #1 (Peninsula Lakes)

The first event of the season on the Niagara Men's Amateur Tour took place on Sunday at Peninsula Lakes GC in Fenwick.

I played the day before, shooting a pretty mediocre 79 from the tips that looked a lot worse than that because of a +5 through 4 hole stretch where I was duffing chips and missing every putt I looked at. Still, battled through and a 79 isn't THAT bad. The highlight was coming from four down to halve with Harris in our daily match play game, the first time I avoided a notch in the loss column against him in 2010.

I didn't come into the event on Sunday with any great expectations - I've never played well at Peninsula Lakes for some reason. The course is relatively short by modern standards, with it only stretching out to 6500 yards from the back tees and playing to a par of 71. I've always played it a little tentatively in the past, hitting long irons off the tees and playing for the 150 yard markers, for the most part.

I decided to play a lot more aggressively this year and talked to their head pro a few days before the event, asking about carry yardages over hazards and other pertinent yardage info so I could utilize my driver more. He was kind enough to set me up with a yardage guide gratis before the round so I could do a bit of strategizing.

For the most part, the new aggressive philosophy worked but not on the first tee.

I took driver out on the tough, dogleg left 430 yard par four 1st on the Quarry Course, with water running down the left side and hit an awful hook right into the drink. Then I had the indignity of hearing Harris heckle me from behind as I took off down the fairway.

"I thought you were going to carry that water, not go in it", he said, or something to that effect, making fun of the fact that I had told him pre-round about being more aggressive off the tee.

He'd keep barking away until I was out of range and couldn't hear him anymore.

I'd drop well back, about 220 yards from the green but hit a great 5-iron downwind to the front of the green and two putt from there for a bogey, not too bad a result after the rotten tee shot.

I parred the next two holes then three putted the par four 4th hole to move to +2. Another bogey followed on the par four 5th after coming up short on my approach and now I was +3 through 5.

However, I seemed to right the ship on the next hole, a long 200 yard par 3. I hit my 5-iron over the back and then hit an indifferent chip to about 10 feet. The turning point in my round was making that ten footer for the par and I now had a bit of a bounce in my step as I hit two par fives in a row.

The long par five 7th at Peninsula Lakes plays into the prevailing wind and I likely played my best hole of the year to this point. Perfect drive down the middle, past the bunkers, a piercing 3-iron hybrid second shot to 70 yards then a perfect punch lob wedge that landed twenty feet past the hole and spun back to about eight feet. I rolled that putt into the center of the cup for the birdie to get back to +2. Literally, a perfectly played hole...a rare occurence for sure!

I hit another beautiful drive on the par five 8th and had about 250 yards into the green. My lie was on a bit of a downslope though and I ended up just short of the green on my approach. I then hit a ridiculously awful pitch through the green and did well to just make par. I'd hit a great tee shot on the tough par three ninth to about 12 feet and barely miss birdie there as well, finishing the front nine in 37 shots (+2).

I had a couple poor holes to start the back - I'd three putt for the second time on the day on the short par four 1st on the Hillside nine then hit a terrible hybrid tee shot on the 230 yard par three 2nd way right and all the way down the hill. I'd do well there just to make bogey. +4 through 11 now.

The par five 3rd on Hillside was next and this hole has been a bit of a nemesis of mine over the years. There is OB all the way down the left side and I've spent some time over there in many of my rounds on this course. Today was different though, as I'd make about a 20 foot right to lefter from the middle of the green for the satisfying birdie to get back on track.

The par four 4th on Hillside is one of the toughest in the region. It was screaming downwind and there is water in the landing area left and right and OB through the fairway straight ahead about 290 yards from the tee. The hole then doglegs right from there and the green sits in a narrow opening slightly above the fairway, with the OB still looming left and water right. It's a super, super tough and intimidating hole and I'd bogey it after hitting a crappy chip from behind the green and missing about a six footer.

I had another 'turning point' moment on the par three 5th. Boy, the par threes out here are pretty tough! This one was about 190 yards but playing into a very stiff wind - I hit a perfect 5-iron but it wasn't enough club and I ended up about 20 feet short of the green. My chipping, which admittedly has been awful to start the year, finally came through, as I hit a decent one about four feet past the hole and made the trickly little putt to save my par. +4 through 14 and basically we're done with the really tough holes.

Time to get aggressive!

I'd hit a beauty on the par four 6th then hit a decent approach to about 25 feet, giving me a run at the putt since I was putting uphill. I'd make no mistake, hitting a pure putt that just barely got to the front of the cup and dropped for my third birdie of the day! +3 with two par fives left!

I knew it was a good day when I stood over my second shot on the par five 7th on Hillside, sitting about 280 yards away and didn't even think of hitting a mid-iron. I took out my 2-iron hybrid, the biggest club in my bag other than my driver and just striped the crap out of it, ending up about 30 yards short and right of the green, right at my target. From there, I'd almost hole my pitch and tap in for my second birdie in a row and fourth on the day.

So I hit my Peninsula Lakes nemesis hole, a routine little par three that is only about 150 yards but has water in front and down the left side of the green. A nothing hole but I double it EVERY TIME I play it. So when I hit a little cut 8-iron to the back of the green, I figured I finally conquered the beast.

Not so fast pal.

I couldn't figure the read and had to back off the putt before readdressing it, knowing I was really in this thing and if I could two-putt here and birdie the last hole, another par five, I might just have a shot at winning this tournament.

With my mind all focused on the line, I'd end up putting a wishy-washy stroke on it and left the putt five agonizing feet short. Then, I'd watch in horror as my par putt horseshoed out and cruelly came back to me. Another three putt.

I was pretty numb after that one and hit a horrible hook off the 18th hole that got a generous kick back toward the fairway. I had a playable shot and hit a good one, laying it up to about 100 yards. From there, I'd lay the sod over the wedge and only make the front of the green.

The pin was cut in back and I'd leave my birdie putt almost 8 feet short then miss the par putt as well for my fourth three-putt on the day and second in a row to finish the back side in 38 shots and finish the round with a 75 (+4).

Of course, I'd finish two shots out of the playoff so if I just two-putted those last two holes I would have had a chance at my second victory on the Tour but it wasn't meant to be.

Still, a 75 for me out there is gratifying and I ended up in a tie for 4th place, easily my best ever start on the Tour in my seven years of participation. Four birdies was also promising and I hit 11 greens in regulation, both better than average numbers.

Needless to say, after his 82 and loss to me after matching cards, Harry wasn't heckling me anymore! ;) I hoped that our games would be even better the next day, as Harry and I travelled north of Toronto to play in the Ontario Better Ball qualifier at the esteemed A.W. Tillinghast-designed Scarboro G&CC.

That trip report will be coming in the next day or so.