Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Going to (Northern) California!

NOTE: The suggested soundtrack while reading is the Led Zeppelin masterpiece Going to California, not that one-hit wonder, bubble gum pop Wave song!

The greatest band of all-time

Next Wednesday morning, I will be making my way across the continent with my wife and young son as we embark on a 12-day adventure to Northern California, our first trip to that area of the U.S.

We will fly into San Francisco on Wednesday May 22nd and spend five full days in that gorgeous city before departing south by open air vehicle, heading two hours down the coast to the lovely Monterey Peninsula. We are booked to stay in Monterey for four nights, starting on Memorial Day and from there, we'll head back up north to the Napa Valley for three more nights before making our return back home on Monday June 3rd.

The 12-day trip will be our longest vacation since the two-week honeymoon we took to Kauai back in November of 2006. Needless to say, we're beyond excited.

We have scheduled a whole bunch of sightseeing for all three areas and I'm obviously looking forward to a lot of quality time with my family but I'm equally excited about the golf I have planned while in California.

My first scheduled round will take place at the California Golf Club of San Francisco, or the Cal Club for short. This original A. Vernon Macan design saw tweaks made by noted designer Alister Mackenzie in 1927 then saw another overhaul in the mid-60's by the top designer of that era, Robert Trent Jones Sr.

The glorious Kyle Phillips redesign at the Cal Club in South San Francisco

In 2005, the club was suffering from disease on the greens and needed to do some major work, hiring Kyle Phillips to not only rebuild the greens but basically reconstruct the course, adding five new holes in the process.

The results of the work are evidently quite stunning and the course now sits 147th on Golf Digest's list of the best 200 courses in the United States.

My second round will be at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club, where I'll be playing the Shore Course. This original Robert Baldock design from 1960 was completely reconstructed in 2003 by Mike Strantz. The response from the critics was overwhelmingly positive and the Shore Course has moved way up into the top 100 courses in the United States, now sitting 66th on Golf Digest's 2013 list. The Shore Course is also one of the three courses that annually host the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am event.

The artistry of Mike Strantz in full effect on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club

Speaking of which, the third course I'm playing on the trip is one of the most famous in the world. My bucket list will be one course short after this vacation, as I have a tee time at one of the world's greatest tracks, Pebble Beach Golf Links!

The gorgeous coastline is prevalent at Pebble Beach Golf Links

Pebble needs no introduction, of course but I'm elated to get the chance to finally experience this world-renowned design built by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant in 1919. So much history has been made on this links and I'm finally going to get the chance to walk the same glorious stretch of land that all the greats in the game have visited in past events.

The last round that I currently have booked is just up the coast in Santa Cruz at Pasatiempo Golf Club, a fantastic Alister Mackenzie design that's currently rated 115th in the U.S. by Golf Digest. Mackenzie made his home for many years just off one of the fairways at Pasatiempo, a testament to both his love for the course and the Santa Cruz area as well.

The par three finishing hole at Pasatiempo GC in Santa Cruz, California

Of course, you can expect to see full pictorials and writeups of all my adventures sometime upon my return. Ah, who am I kidding...I'm about a year and a half behind on my profiles so maybe I'll have them up sometime next year!

I'm sure it will be a great trip!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A Brief Glimpse of "The Zone"

Looking back toward the tee on the par three 12th hole at St. Catharines G&CC (Photo courtesy of STGCC)

I don't often talk about my individual rounds anymore, as I've realized over the years that the last thing anyone wants to hear or read is a shot-by-shot recap of someone else's round. That said, I did have a round on Saturday that is worth at least a brief mention.

I've struggled with my game out of the gates this year, with the issues likely a result of the late start to the season here in Southern Ontario. My four rounds of golf played prior to Saturday saw me shoot 83, 84, 86 and 80 - to give perspective, I started the season as a three handicap so as you can imagine, those numbers are a bit unsettling to me.

The bigger issue was that I wasn't having any fun - the round of 86 was particularly dreadful. I had taken out some Titleist AP2 demos the previous day and had little success in a round of 84 so I decided to try out the new TaylorMade RocketBladez Tour irons, just for fun.

I was strongly considering a gear upgrade for 2013 and I've heard nothing but great things about both the Titleists and the new TaylorMades so I figured I'd give the RocketBladez a shot.

Well, I proceeded to hit pretty much every iron shot offline, hooking wedges, pushing long irons...my game was a mess! My playing partners were practically wincing and after carding an utterly deflating 47 (!!) on the front nine, they implored me to throw the demos in my trunk and grab my regular gear for the back nine. So I ran to my car, grabbed my regular clubs and bolted back to the 10th tee, where I'd stripe my drive long and high, right down the middle.

Thane M, one of my playing partners, cracked: "See, it's not the carpenter, it's the TOOLS!"

That finally got me to smile and I proceeded to hit the par five 10th in two shots (I three-putted for par) then follow with consecutive birdies on the 11th and 12th holes. I wouldn't maintain that hot pace but at least I salvaged the round somewhat with a 39 on the back to shoot the 86.

Anyway, that brings me to Saturday. I was back to my normal equipment for the full round and started out with solid pars on the first six holes. I'd cruelly lip out for par on the par three 7th and also make a sloppy bogey on the 9th but I was pretty happy with my outgoing nine of 38 (+2).

I started to heat up on the short par five 10th. I'd hit my second shot into the front bunker but blasted out beautifully to about three feet, making the downhill tickler for my first birdie of the day. I'd miss the green on my approach to the short par four 11th but after confidently asking one of my playing partners to pull the flag, I'd chip that sucker in for another birdie!

I hit a great 5-iron to 15 feet on the 12th and barely miss then made a fantastic up and down on the 13th hole when I short-sided myself on the approach shot.

At this point, I'm two under on the back and even on the day and I started thinking about my round, usually a very, very bad thing. I almost always get extremely nervous when I'm chasing a low score and over the past couple of years, I've lost count of how many rounds came undone on the last four or five holes when I was near or under par. In fact, I only broke par once in 2012 (at Dismal River in Nebraska) and didn't break par at all in 2011 so I was starting to wonder if I really had that type of round in me anymore.

Today would be different. I've been studying some videos from a notable Canadian golf professional (more on that in another blog post) and he has some very interesting concepts both on the mental game and on the swing itself. The one thing I was leaning on during the round was to only "think about the target" and not get caught up in mechanics or get too ball-focused.

I knew I had reached that elusive "Zone" that the pros often talk about upon hitting my tee shot on the par three 14th, a glorious little 6-iron draw that landed on the green and rolled four feet from the cup. I'd knock that putt in to get to one under for the day!

The last four holes were a blur, only because I'm not used to hitting that many flush shots in a row. I hit 15, 16 & 17 in regulation and just missed birdies on all three. The 18th is a do-or-die type of tee shot, with out of bounds running down the entire right side. I took a deep breath, lined up and nailed a perfect shot right down the middle! I'd get one more crack at a birdie but narrowly miss, happily tapping in for the par, a three under 33 on the back and a one under 71 overall, my first sub-par round at St. Catharines since 2010!

It was an incredibly satisfying day. I'm not sure how many rounds I've been under par in my life (probably less than 12) but it's always an immense thrill. I fell right back to earth with a thud on Sunday during another round of 80 but it was an outstanding weekend of golf regardless, knowing I still have that type of golf in me on occasion.