I was paired with Jim and Bob in April while playing golf at Osprey Point Golf Course on Kiawah Island. They told me that they were from Minnesota and were married to sisters. While we were discussing our respective careers, I mentioned that I would be retiring in two months and that I planned to spend the first year of retirement playing the top 100 courses in the country. Jim asked if there were any courses in Minnesota in the top 100. I told him that I thought there were three, Hazeltine, Interlachen, and Spring Hills. At the time I had looked at several lists and didn’t have the 100 on the Golf Digest 2017 list memorized. I later discovered that Hazeltine was no longer on the list.
Jim told me that he could probably help with access to the courses in Minnesota and that I should contact him once I retired and started my quest. At the end of our round, we exchanged cell numbers. In July as I looked to the courses that I needed to play before winter, I contacted Jim to follow up on the offer he made to assist with the courses in Minnesota. Following our call Jim went to work on setting up rounds at Interlachen and Spring Hills. A few weeks later, he contacted me and said he’s arranged round for early September. He also warned that the weather could be hit or miss in Minnesota during September.
On September 8th I flew into Minneapolis. Jim and Bob had worked with a childhood friend of Bob’s, who had agreed to host us at Interlachen on that Saturday. Jim had also worked with a close friend of his son who had agree to host us at Spring Hills on Sunday. This was the beginning of my understanding of the phrase “Minnesota Nice.”
Jim and Bob are probably not aware of this, but their offer in Kiawah, two months before I began my quest, gave me confidence that it would be possible to meet enough people along my journey across the year that would be willing to assist me in gaining access the private courses on the Golf Digest 2017-18 Top 100 Courses in the US list. Over the years, I’d played golf with strangers during our time on Kiawah Island. More often than not, they would invite me to play golf at their home clubs if I was ever in their area. Based upon these experiences I theorized that while playing golf at the 12 courses on the top 100 list that I already had access to, I would likely meet people who would offer to help with my quest. The success of my quest is highly dependent on the kindness of those that I meet along the way. My introduction to “Minnesota Nice” was a good way to start.
It could have been a more beautiful Friday evening when I flew into Minneapolis. The sky was clear and blue. The trees were in the early stages of the transformation from the greens of Summer to the hues of Fall. It was perfect weather for golf. Jim had picked a great weekend to play golf in the land of 10,000 lakes.
On Saturday morning while having breakfast, I noticed that there were some young guys dressed in golf attire. I summarized that they must be a college golf team. That indeed was the case. They were members Pepperdine Golf team and their coach Michael Beard. They were in Minnesota to participate in the 9th Annual Gopher Invitational at Windsong Farm. I learned that this tournament was normally played at Spring Hills Golf Club. It was my good fortune that they moved it to Windsong Farms for 2017, otherwise it would not have been possible for me to play at Spring Hills on this beautiful pre-Fall weekend in Minneapolis.
The Pepperdine Golf Team and I talked golf and golf courses over breakfast. During the discussion, one of the guys asked if I’d played at Sahalee. I told him that I had indeed played at “Sahalee Narrows”. He then told pointed to one of their team mates, Sahith Theegala, that had play there and won the 2017 Sahalee Players Championship. His win qualified him to play in the US Open at Erin Hills as an amateur. Turns out that Sahith is one of the country’s top college golfers. It was great to have the opportunity to met Coach Beard, Sahith, and the rest of the Pepperdine Golf Team. I wished them well in their tournament.
The drive from my hotel in Wayzata, Minneapolis to the Interlachen Country Club in the wholesome community of Edina was pure middle American. It seemed like I was a world away from the controversies that was consuming the country. Here is middle America, people were living and enjoying their lives. There were people out biking and jogging, families gathered at Pop Warner football games and soccer moms piling out of mini vans with kids dressed in their cute soccer uniforms. It was the purest sign that in the middle of the country, life goes on.
I made my way through life in middle America and arrived at the Interlachen Country Club for my round with Jim, Bob and our host John. Upon arrival, I checked in at the Pro Shop and then headed to the practice range to warm up. I had a very good warm up. I was looking forward to the round. I made my way back to the clubhouse where I ran in to Jim and Bob, and was introduced to John.
While we awaited our tee time, I took a couple of golf balls over to the putting green. Everything seemed normal. That changed in an instant as I walked back from the putting green to the first tee box. A pain like nothing I’d ever experienced before shot through my back. I buckled. I’d experienced back pain before, but this was different. I have two herniated discs in my lower back. I’d experienced pain and muscle spasms associated with that condition, but this was not that. The pain was more severe, and it seemed come from a place much deeper in my back.
As an athlete, I learned to play through pain. On this beautiful Saturday morning in Edina, it would be no different. I asked if anyone had any ibuprofen and prepared to forge on with the 27th round of my quest.
We decided to play from the tan tees which measured just over 6500 yards with a slope of 135 and a course rating of 72.2. Adjacent to the first tee was a plaque commemorating Bobby Jones’ 1930 US Open win and the completion of the third leg of his Grand Slam. Bobby Jones had already won the British Open and the British Amateur that year. At the time, there were four major championship in golf, those two, the US Open and the US Amateur. It was here at Interlachen that he won the US Open, leaving only the US Amateur to complete the Grand Slam. If you’ve followed my entire quest, you will recall that I noted the plaque on the East Course at Merion where he completed the final leg. I continue to enjoy my journey through golf history. My knowledge of golf history has increased significantly during my journey.
On the first tee, I was introduced to Brendan who would be my caddie for our round. The first hole at Interlachen is a par five with a dogleg left. The fairway is narrow, and tree lined. There is water along the right side of the fairway. There are several bunkers along the left side of the fairway starting at the point where the dogleg begins.
The pain in my back was sporadic, but severe. There was a muscle deep inside my back that was just knotting up and causing pain. While I’d had slight aches and pains as my body adjusted to all the golf I was playing, none of my previous rounds were put into jeopardy by them. On this day, I was starting to second guess my decision to play. So much had gone into organizing my rounds in Minnesota. Everyone else had done their part, I wanted to do mine. Our host John was a physician. I explained my symptoms to him and asked what the possible causes of the pain could be. He agreed that it was likely muscular and not neurological. I decided to continue with my plan to play the round but gave notice that if the pain got too severe, I’d have to stop. I was hoping the ibuprofen would kick in and that I’d be fine.
I let everyone else tee off first, then I made my swing. I hit the ball to the bunker to left, right as the fairway starts to dogleg. My ball came to rest against the lip of the bunker. I made an ill-advised attempt to hit out of the bunker and over the trees toward the fairway. A better shot would have been to pitch out of the bunker to the fairway and take my chances with a long third shot. We heard my ball hit the trees and the ground but couldn’t find it. With all the leaves on the ground, we assumed it was under one of the leaves. We invoked the leaf rule. I hit my third shot to 90 yards out. My fourth shot landed short of the green. Two chips and one putt later, I’d opened my round with a double bogey and a painful back. Interesting enough, I could bend over, but turning was difficult. The biggest problem however were the muscle spasms that would just cause me to buckle then they’d go away. In the mist of me crippling with my pain, John quietly opened his round with a birdie on the first hole.
The second hole is a short par four that measures 340 yards. The fairway is narrow but there are fewer trees than there were lining the fairway on the first hole, there were however more bunkers to contend with. There were three bunkers on the right side of the fairway which started about 170 yards from the green and one bunker on the left side of the fairway about 100 yards short of the green. The green itself was surrounded by bunkers with the only bunker free area being a space on the front of the green.
The ibuprofen was starting the take effect. The muscle spasms causing the severe pain seemed to be occurring a little less frequently. With such a short hole, I chose my 3 wood to tee off with. I hit my tee shot to the right, just over the first fairway bunker and into the rough.
I was blocked out from the green by a tree that was about 25 yards in front of me. The pin was positioned on the back left. While I had 150 yards to the green, I was about 155 yards from the flag.
I told Brenden that this was the type of golf I just loved. I had the opportunity to craft a shot. This is much more fun than just having a straight shot to the green. I told him that I had two choices. I could try a low shot under the tree that would land in front of the green and run back to the flag or try a fade around the tree. I chose to go with the fade. I set up for a text book fade. I aligned my club with the flag and my body with the left edge of the green. I swung the club along the line of my body. The ball faded nicely around the tree and landed on the green just two feet to the left of the flag.
It was my one shining moment in the entire round. My playing partners conceded the putt. They said it was a continuation of the practice of being “Minnesota Nice.” I’ve determined that I really like the “Minnesota Nice” thing.
I made a double bogey on the 170 yard par three third hole after hitting my tee shot into the pond to the right of the green. I pitched onto the green and two putted.
The fourth hole is the second of the three par fives on the front nine. Brenden advised that I hit my drive along the tree line on the left side of the fairway. My ball hugged the trees and landed in the rough. With water to the left and the right and a fairway that sloped severely from the left to the right, Brenden advised that the best shot would be a 190 yard shot to the left side of the fairway. I hit the ball 190 yards, but remained in the rough left of the fairway.
My third shot landed short of the green. I chipped on to three feet and one putted for my par.
The fifth hole is a 160 yard par three with a well bunkered green. I hit my tee shot into the right front bunker. The bunker was ground under repair. I took a drop to the right of the bunker, chip over the bunker onto the green and two putted for a bogey. The good news at this point was that my back was no longer a constant thought. The pain from the muscle spasms had subsided enough to where they were no longer impacting my play.
The sixth hole is short par four at 330 yards. There is a small pond on the left in front of the tee box that is aesthetically pleasing but doesn’t come into play. The fairway is narrow and line with sporadic trees. It slopes from the left to the right. There are bunkers on both side of the fairway. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway.
There was a tree with branches overhanging the fairway. My approach shot hit the overhanging branches and dropped straight down. I pitched onto the green and two putted for another bogey.
As we walked to the seventh tee box, I learned that not only were Bob and John former high school classmates, but that Bob was also John’s dentist. Learning that was probably the most interesting thing during my play of the seventh hole. It’s another short hole with a narrow tree lined fairway. I hit my drive to the right. The only shot that would advance the ball toward the green was a lob wedge of the trees. Why is it so much easier to hit a ball over trees into trouble than it is to hit a ball over trees out of trouble. If you are able to hit a ball into the trees, shouldn’t you be able hit it out of the trees?
I got the ball over the trees, but was short of the green. It took to chips and two putts to get the ball into the cup. I made double bogey on the hole. I came close to making the one putt for par. Brenden guaranteed that if I hit the ball on the line he gave me, the ball would drop into the cup. He was right. I hit it on the exact line, but not hard enough. The ball stopped just short of the cup.
The eight hole is almost a mirror image of the seventh hole, just 60 yards longer. It plays 405 yards from the Tan tees. While the seventh hole had a slight dogleg to the right, the eight hole has a dogleg to the left. They both have tree lined bunker laden fairways. The seventh hole is the fifteenth handicapped hole on the course. The eight hole is the number one handicapped hole.
I hit my drive into the rough to the right of the fairway leaving about 200 yards to the pin. There was a tree with branches overhung the fairway. I tried to recreate the beautiful fade that I hit on the second hole, but my ball clipped the overhanging branches and fell short of the green and behind another tree.
I hit a lob wedge over the tree and onto the green to 30 feet left of the flag. I two putted from there for a bogey.
The ninth hole is the third of the three pars fives on the par 37 front nine. The hole plays 520 yards, has a dogleg right and a rather large lake on the right side that affects the second and third shots on the hole are played. I hit a great drive right down the middle of the fairway, 255 yards out.
I decided to forget about the lake and go for the green in two. My three wood from the middle of the fairway was just a good as my drive. The lake wasn’t an issue. My ball cleared the lake easily. While the ball was in the air, my only concern with the bunker just off the left front of the green. After such good contact with the ball, it looked like I was headed for the bunker. My ball landed in the rough to the right of the bunker, just short of the green.
As we strolled to the green, I with visions of a birdie dancing in my head, Brendan told me that the ninth hole was a part of golf lore. He pointed out a plaque in the fairway that marked the spot where Bobby Jones hit the “lily pad shot.” During his grand slam US Open win in 1930 at Interlachen, Bobby Jones topped his approach on this hole. The ball skipped across the lake and landed just short of the green. He then got up and down for his birdie on his was to a 66 and golf history.
After hearing the story, I realized that my ball landed just short of the green just like the ball of Bobby Jones. The difference is that I made solid contact and he hit the ball thin. Could I now make solid contact with my chip and snuggle it close enough for an easy birdie?
I did chip it close, to about 8 feet. I also hit a good putt that looked like it was headed for the hole. And then it hit something which diverted it from it path to the hole. I tapped in for my par to finish the front nine with a 45 or 7 over par. Remember the front nine has a par of 37. I was feeling good about my round. It looked as if my back pain was under control. I was looking forward to a good back nine. And then it all changed.
We stopped at the turned to get snacks. While I had been moving well on the front nine, the pause at the turned caused my back to stiffen. As we resumed our round on the 10th tee box, my back begin to tighten up and the pain started to return.
The 10th hole is a short 335 yard par four. The fairway is extremely narrow with trees that overhang on the left side of the fairway and the right side. There are also several bunkers along both sides of the fairway. The green is elevated with two massive bunkers protecting the front of the green. I hit my drive to the right rough about 155 yards from the flag.
With the elevated green the approach shot was playing 165 yards uphill. I hit a high approach shot that landed pin high and just 7 feet right of the flag. It was my last hurrah. My back was continuing to tighten. I made the long walk in the short grass with my putted in hand with more visions of a birdie dancing in my head.
I hit my putt just a tad too soft. The ball stopped short of the hole and I tapped in for what would be one of only two pars that I would make on the back nine.
The 11th hole is a long par four that at one time had been a par five. The hole plays 420 yards from the tan tees. The fairway doglegs right with trees and bunkers along the left and water and trees along the right. I hit a good drive but at a high cost. As I swung the club, I felt the muscle in my back tightening more and the spasms starting to radiant pain again.
My next swing did not advance the ball very much. I managed to get it near the green on my third shot and onto the green on my fourth shot. I two putted for a double bogey and realized that the remaining holes would be a struggle.
The next two holes were indeed a struggle. I made double bogeys on both. The stiffness of my back that started as we made the turn was now dominating by game. On the par 5 twelfth hole, which plays 540 yards with what I believe is the narrowest fairway on the course, I hit my drive into the trees. I got out of the trees on my second shot but not back to the fairway. I hit my driver from the rough on the third shot to with 100 yards of the green. My fourth shot missed the green. I chipped on and two putted.
The thirteenth hole is a very beautiful par three with water behind the green. I hit my tee shot to the trees on the right. My second shot was into the right greenside bunker. I hit my sand shot to the back of the green and two putted for the double bogey.
I some how managed a bogey on the next two holes. I think holes eleven through fifteen are the heart of the course. The fourteenth hole is another long par four at 423 yards. While like most of the other holes, there are trees on the left and right sides of the fairway, they are not as thick as they are on some of the other holes. I actually hit the fairway with my drive, then landed my approach shot short of the green. I chipped on and two putted for my bogey.
On the fifteenth hole which also plays slightly over 400 yards, I hit my drive to the first cut of rough just off the fairway. My approach shot was short of the green. I pitched on to within six feet of the pin. I missed my par putt and tapped in for a bogey.
The sixteenth hole was a welcomed relief at 310 yards. The fairway is offset to the right of the tee box and is well bunkered. The green is also well bunkered. I hit my three hybrid to the fairway, carried the bunkers in front of the green with my approach shot and two putted for my second and last par on the back nine.
The final par three of the course is the longest of all the par threes. It plays over 200 yards. There are bunkers on the front of the left side and right side of the green. I hit my tee shot to the right of the right front bunker. I pitched over the bunker and onto the green. I then two putted for a bogey.
The back nine closes with a 385 yard par four. The hole has the obligatory narrow tree lined fairway. There is just one bunker on the entire hole. The bunker is about 30 or so yards short of the green. There is a tree behind it that blocks the left side of the green.
I hit my drive to the rough on the left side of the fairway. My approach shot missed the green to the left. The green was the toughest green on the course. It reminded me of the greens at Augusta National. There was lot of undulation. Brendan said that during the 2008 U.S. Open, Michelle Wie called the 18th green the potato chip. I think that is a rather accurate description. It has the contours of a Pringles potato chip.
My ball was off the right side of the green, the flag was positioned in one of the depressions on the potato chip. I chipped onto the green, but there was just no way to stop the ball close to the flag. I two putted for a round ending bogey and a 45 on the par 35 back nine for a total score of 90.
I enjoyed the course, but didn’t enjoy the knot that was throbbing in my back. After our round Jim, John, Bob and I posed for a picture on the 18th green at Interlachen.
On Saturday evening after our round at Interlachen, Jim and his wife Kathy hosted Bob and his wife Jaymie (Kathy’s sister), and John and his wife Becky, and me at their beautiful home on Lake Minnetonka. Prior to dinner, Jim, Bob, John and I hit golf balls into Lake Minnetonka.