On an overcast morning I went back in time as I crossed the border from Indiana to Illinois. I had flown into Indianapolis the night before and driven to Terre Haute to spend the night. That morning I drove through more of America’s bread basket as I passed fields with rows and rows of corn and other food stuffs. It was a reminder that the Midwest does feed America and the rest of the world. As I crossed the border, I moved from Eastern Daylight time to Central Daylight time. Time zones in Indiana used to be somewhat confusing since prior to 2006, some parts of Indiana observed daylight savings time and others did not. It was also made more confusing by the fact that Indiana has two time zones. Most of the state is on Eastern Time, but the Northwest corner that is more like a suburb of Chicago and the Southwest corner of the state are on Central Time. Mercifully the state legislature passed a law in 2006 to require the entire state to observe daylight saving time. This issue of time was important to me because I had a date with a unique golf course at 9:30 on this overcast morning.
My GPS directed me across the border and North onto State Highway 1. From State Highway 1, I turned west on unpaved road in search of the Canyata Golf Club. Through the corn fields I drove with the blind faith that my GPS would lead me to the unique experience that awaited me. As I approached more corn and no sign of fairways or greens, my GPS announced that I had reached my destination. I don’t think so. It was now time to make a phone call and regroup. It would not be the only time on this day that I would recognize the need to regroup. A quick call to Tony Rodems, whose golf management company oversees the Canyata Golf Club, and I was again on my way. I had passed the entrance miles before I’d turned off State Highway 1.
The entrance prepares you for the tranquility that is central to the experience of Canyata. A long narrow road takes you past pastures of llamas and through fields of trees that were changing colors to welcome the change of seasons. The road ends at the home of the owner of the club. Mike Boudreau, the course superintendent was there in the parking lot adjacent to that home waiting for my arrival. He introduced himself and said that I must me Jimmie. A logical assumption since I was the only person scheduled to play the course on this overcast day. Tony had told me earlier when I called him to discuss playing the course, that there were only average of 150 rounds played on the course each year. Canyata is a private course owned by one man, Gerald Forsythe.
We loaded up my clubs and headed to the clubhouse. On the short ride, I asked Mike about the course. I learned that he had been superintendent for about a year. He had come to Canyata from Kankakee Country Club which is about an hour or so north of where we were. He told me that the course had started out as a three hole course on the Forsythe family farm. It then became nine holes and finally a full 18 hole course after Mr. Forsythe and the course architect, Michael Benkusky agreed to make it one.
It was also on this short ride that Mike informed me that his plans to play with me had changed. He needed to oversee the work of his team to prepare for an outing by a group from Chicago on the next day. He said he would do his best to be available to join me on the back nine.
Once at the clubhouse, Mike gave me a tour and showed me to the men’ locker room. He also explained the Native America theme that I’d noticed on the grounds of Canyata and in the clubhouse. The land was apparently Native American lands at one time and Mr. Forsythe had honored that with the design and decoration of the property. Mike showed me where the beverages and snacks were and informed me that I could help myself to them as they were included in the $750 guest fee that I’d paid to play the course. Yes, that is not a typo. This was the 29th course on my quest to in one year, play the top 100 golf courses in the US as rated by Golf Digest. It was by far the most expensive. This may also explain why there are only 150 arounds played per year, To be clear, there are not 150 golfers that play the course each year. There are fewer than that, there are 150 rounds played. Many of the golfers play more than one round.
After touring the clubhouse, Mike led to me the practice range. On the practice range was one lone stack of balls. I felt special. This was set up just for me. I had my own private golf course. On this day, it was going to be Jimmie versus Canyata versus Jimmie. I completed my practice session and headed to the first tee. Mike had set up two sets of tees for me, the black tees and the blue tees. I chose to play the black tees so that I could get as much golf course for my $750 as possible. The black tees measured 6800 yards with a rating of 73.6 and a slope of 143.
It was now time for me to stand on the first tee and take on Canyata; mano y mano. The first hole wasn’t that tough. It was a short 335 yard par four with a hard dogleg to the left. In addition to paying as much length as I was offered, I decided that I was going to play a very slow and deliberate round of golf. This was not day for speed golf. I was only going to play 18 holes and I had all day to do so. The pace of play would be governed solely by me. There would be no one in front of me slowing me down and no one behind me pushing me.
On this short opening hole, I took aim with my drive at the far bunker at the bend in the fairway as it made the turn to the left. My drive landed in the rough short of the bunker, leaving 140 yards to the green.
My approach shot flew right over the top of the flag and over the back of the green.
As I stood over my ball, I had a vision in my head of the chip in for birdie that I had made a few days earlier on the second hole at Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata, Minnesota. Could I do it again. I made solid contact with the ball and started it on a good line. The ball rolled down the slope on the green and headed toward the hole, stopping five feet short. I made the putt for par. Hole 1 – Jimmie!
The second hole is a 565 yard par five requiring an uphill shot through trees and over a ravine to reach the fairway. Once you get through the trees and over the ravine, the fairway is generous. I hit my drive left of the fairway and under a cedar tree.
I chipped out and then hit my lay up to 135 yards from the center of the green and 120 yards from the front left position of the pin. Up until this point, with me as the sole golfer on the course, there had been an eerie silence. Now I could hear a dog barking in the distance and mowers that must have been somewhere on the course cutting grass. From this point through the sixth hole, the only sounds I could hear were those of nature – the occasional birds chirping and the shrilling low level background noise of the male cicada.
My approach shot landed on the from of the green, 25 feet below and to the right of the cup. My par putt slid just off the right side of the hole to 18 inches past. I made the comeback putt for a bogey. I called this hole a tie in the Jimmie versus Canyata versus Jimmie match. This is the third hardest hole on the course, so a bogey is a draw.
The third hole is a par three that plays downhill with water behind the green. It is always tough for me to judge how much help I will get from a downhill hole. The hole was playing 203 yards with the pin at the back of the green. I didn’t want any part of hitting over the green. I hit an easy 5 hybrid to the front of the green, leaving the mother of all putts - 100 feet.
The putt took so long to get to the hole, I was able to take several pictures of it as it rolled to hole. I had left the flag in the cup since it was so far away. The ball stayed on line the entire time, hit the flag and kicked a foot to the right.
I made the one foot putt for par. I forgave myself the penalty for hitting the flag since as the lone person on the course, I had no one to tend the flag. Also if the pin had not been in the hole, the ball would have dropped for the longest birdie putt ever made by me. Hole 3 – Jimmie!
The fourth hole is breathtakingly beautiful. It is also extremely intimidating. It is rated as the most difficult hole on the course. Let me take a moment to describe this hole. For starters it very long from the black tees, playing 450 yards. That’s the easy part. The tee shot requires a carry of about 220 yards from the black tees to clear a pond that is between the tee box and the right side of the fair. Image a 90-degree dogleg right hole with water as the first part of the dogleg. If you are a long hitter, not only do you have to worry about mishitting the ball and landing in the water. You also must worry about hitting too long and going into one of the six bunkers that line the left side of the narrow fairway.
The one advantage I had on the hole was that I knew that if I hit the ball as hard as I could, I could carry the pond and the ball would likely fade toward the green. I took a deep breath, relaxed, made a good turn and let the club swing. The ball shot off the face of my epic driver on a straight line. I couldn’t see whether it cleared the pond or not. I heard a thud and didn’t see a splash, so I figured that I hit it long enough to clear the pond. Something I should point out is that there is absolutely no roll on this course, at least not on this day. All my shots stopped near their pitch mark, whether they were shots to the fairway or shots to the green.
As I rounded the lake in route to the fairway, I could see a white spec in the fairway. My drive had traveled only 235 yards, but it was all carry and enough to get me over the pond and in the fairway. However, the challenge of what is the toughest hole on the course was not over. I was left with 205 yards to an uphill green. Given the slope of the fairway toward the green, I determined that it was playing about 225 yards to 230 yards. The only saving grace is that the course architect took pity on us poor golfers and didn’t put any trouble around the green.
My approach shot landed well short of the green. I pitched on, but missed my par putt and made a bogey on the hole. A bogey on the toughest hole on the course probably goes to the golfer, so hole 4 – Jimmie!
On the fifth hole, I hit another good drive. I hit a power fade along the left tree line to the middle of the fairway, leaving 195 yards to the green on this 415 yard par four with a narrow tree lined fairway. The hole is beautiful.
The fairway ends at a creek that bisects it and the green. The green, in addition to being protected by the creek, also has bunkers along the left and right sides. I overswung with my 5 wood on my approach shot and hit the ball fat. It traveled only 55 yards. I then shanked my next shot to the right, pitched on to 15 feet and two putted for my first double bogey on the front nine.
The sixth hole is a short par five which plays slightly less than 500 yards. The fairway sort of zig zags with bunkers in the zigs and the zags. I hit a high drive straight down the middle of the fairway, but only 215 yards, it was all carry. I laid up to 110 yards.
I then hit my approach shot over the back of the green. I followed the long over the back of the green with pitch back of the front of the green. I then pitched on to 3 feet and made the putt for bogey. I was a little frustrated at making bogey after being on 110 yards out in two. With that performance, the sixth hole went to Canyata in the Jimmie versus Canyata versus Jimmie match.
As I walked off the green, Mike drove up in a golf cart with his bag on back. He said he was already to join me when a problem occurred in the pump house. He stated that he still planned to join me for the back nine, but needed to take care of the pump problem first.
I moved on to the seventh hole. It is a short par four at only 320 yards. It has a generous fairway that narrows at about 250 yards from the tee, but widens again as the fairway approaches the green. There is a long bunker that runs along the right side of the fairway from about 100 yards into the green to past the right side of the green. There is also a small bunker on the left front part of the green.I hit a popped up with my 5 wood for my tee shot that left 180 yards to the pin.
My approach shot landed on the green, but 40 feet below the hole. I made a good putt that went four feet past the hole. I made the comeback putt for par. Hole seven – Jimmie.
The eight hole is a 210 yard par three. It has a rather large bunker on the left side of the hole. This bunker caught my attention and then caught my ball. My sand shot landed short of the green. I chipped on and then two putted for my second double bogey on the front nine. Hole 8 went to Canyata.
The ninth hole offers a nice challenge to finish the front nine. The right side of the hole has water from the tee box all the way to the right side of the green. The right side of the fairway has several bunkers. There is also a bunker in the middle of the fairway about 250 yards from the black tees. I didn’t want any part of the water on the right, so aimed to toward the bunkers on the left side of the fairway, expecting my normal fade. There was no fade. The ball went dead straight and rolled into the second bunker, leaving 165 yards to the pin.
I caught the ball cleanly from the bunker, but that slight fade that didn’t appear on the drive, decided to show up on my sand shot. My ball hit just off the front right of the green and kicked into the water. I took a drop, pitched on and one putted for a bogey to close out the front nine with a 44. While this hole went to Canyata, I still won the front nine on the Jimmie versus Canyata versus Jimmie match.
As I made the turn, Mike was at the club house waiting so that he could join me for the back nine. During the front nine, I had played a very leisurely round as the sole golfer on the course. I took several pictures and took detailed notes. This was not to be the case on the back nine. My entire pace of play changed as Mike joined me.
On the par five 10th hole which was playing 580 yards, I hit a nice drive along the left side of the fairway just short of the fairway bunker. Mike and I both saw the ball bounce toward the bunker, but couldn’t find it. I took a drop, hit my third shot into the trees on the right side of the fairway, pitched out and hit an iron to the green from 140 yards out. It was a good shot, leaving a 12 foot putt for a bogey.
I missed the putt and opened the back nine with a double bogey. Mike birdied the hole with a 12 foot putt. I told him that was just not right. He was the golf course superintendent so he new exactly how the hole was cut. That would not be his only easy birdie of the day.
On the long par four 11th hole, which was playing 440 yards, I hit an excellent drive to the right side of the fairway. As I stood over my ball preparing to hit my approach shot to the green, I could tell that my tempo had really picked up. I tried to slow down my tempo and take a relaxed swing. In doing so I topped my approach shot. My third shot went into the fescue way right of the green. I flubbed my fourth shot and then just picked up and recorded a double bogey. I told Mike that I needed to take a step back and regroup. This is the second of the two times that I mentioned earlier where I needed to regroup.
After taking a moment to regroup and reset my internal tempo clock, I stood on the 12th tee of the 208 yard par three. I hit my 3 hybrid to 15 feet. I misread my birdie putt, but made an easy par.
The 13th hole was a short par 4 similar to the short par four 7th hole on the front nine. It had a generous fairway that narrowed in the landing zone and widened near the green. I made an easy par on the hole with a draw to the middle of the fairway, and an approach shot to the green, followed by a two putt.
The fourteenth hole presents a nice challenge. It plays 415 yards from the black tees, has a dogleg left with water all along the left side of the fairway. The right side of the fairway starts out with tight trees to about 170 yards out from the tee box. It then continues with a series of bunkers and fescue.
I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway. Hit my approach on line, but fat, so the ball stopped 60 yards short of the pin. I pitched on to the green past the pin. I got help from the slope behind the pin. The ball rolled back to about 12 feet.
With a little help on the read from the golf course superintendent, I made a confident stroke and sent the ball rolling toward the hole. If dropped in the middle of the cup for my third par in a row. Mike commented that my refocusing worked. I’d parred every hole after opening the back nine with a couple of double bogeys.
My improved play continued on the fifteenth hole with my fourth par in a row. The 15th hole is a 555 yard par five. It has a narrow fairway lined with bunkers and fescue on both sides. There was a wide spot in the fairway about 250 yards out from the tee box. I decided to aim for the bunkers on the left side of the fairway, and fade my ball to the wide spot. Remember that on this course, where the ball lands is where the ball ends up. Hitting that spot would have also set me up for a nice second shot straight down the middle of the fairway. I had a nice strategy, but the execution wasn’t as nice. My ball flew straight as an arrow, sans the fade. Fortunately, my ball flew the first bunker and landed just to the left of the second bunker.
I hit a nice layup to the middle of the fairway about 120 yards from the pin. I then hit my approach shot onto the green, 30 feet to the right of the flag.
My birdie putt broke a little more than I had expected, but I made the remaining three footer for my fourth par in a row. I had made a full recovery now from the disastrous start of the back nine.
The sixteenth hole is the shortest par four on the course, but you had better put your thinking cap on before you swing the club. Mike explained that I had a couple of options on how to play the hole. The first one was to hit about a 220 to 230 yard shot to the area past the massive 100 yard bunker on the left side of the fairway. This would leave a 60 to 70 yard shot to the green. The second option was to hit a 200 yard shot down the right side of the fairway toward the opening between the trees that were on the right side of the green.I chose the second option and hit a perfect tee shot to the middle of the opening in the trees at the end of the fairway.
This left 95 yards to the pin. The only issue was that I had to carry a dry ravine to get to green. I chose to hit a sand wedge for the shot. I was a little concerned about carrying the ravine with the sand wedge, so I looked up a little too early and topped the ball into the ravine. Fortunately I found it and was able to save bogey on the hole.
As Mike and I were playing the back nine, I learned that his only child, a son, had played golf at The (with emphasis on the THE) Ohio State University. It was clear that there were some good golf genes in the Bordeaux family. Mike was playing the back nine either at par or just under. Mike told me that his son had played with Kevin Hall at Ohio State. Kevin is an African American golfer, who lost his hearing as an infant. I know this because at the front of our house on Kiawah Island in South Carolina is a stature of Charlie Sifford swinging a golf club as a boy. Charlie was the first African American on the PGA Tour. One of the events he won was at the Riviera Country Club. Kevin played in the Genesis Open at Riviera this year on a Charlie Sifford exception. I look forward to playing Riviera during my top 100 tour.
As Mike and I stood on the tee box of the shortest of the par threes at Canyata, I mentioned that I had come close to two holes in one during my Top 100 Tour. I stated that it would be great to get one at Canyata. The pin was upfront and accessible. Mike hit first. His ball looked really good in the air. It looked like he would be the one who made a hole in one. His ball hit short of the pin and did what almost every ball hit to the fairway or green had done all day. It stopped.
I hit next, my ball looked even better in the air. It was on a line directly toward the flag. It landed in the fringe about eight inches from the green, but unlike Mike’s ball, it didn’t stop. It rolled.
Unfortunately, it rolled down the slope in front of the green rather than onto the green. I chipped up and made a two footer for par.
My round ended unceremoniously on the 18th hole. The hole plays 400 yards from the black tees. The fairway slants from right to left about 30 degrees and ends at a deep ravine that separates it from the green. The best drive is on to the left side of the fairway. So, what I do, I popped my drive up to the right side of the fairway, leaving a 200 yard shot to the green, requiring a shot that hugged the tree line on the right side of the fairway.
I struck the ball well, but to close to the trees, my ball hit the trees and drop straight down. Unfortunately, while I found 100 other balls (that may be a slight exaggeration), I did not fine my ball and had to take a drop. A local rule at Canyata is that all Native Grass and Wooded areas play as Lateral Hazards.
I hit my fourth shot from the woods and two putted for a double bogey to close the back nine with a 43 and an 87 a total score. Between the two opening two double bogeys and the double bogey on the final hole, I played some good golf. I really enjoyed playing the course and gained some confidence at playing a very hard course from 6800 yards.
I’d like to thank Tony Rodems for setting up the round and Mike for playing the back nine with me. Canyata is a one of a kind golf experience. Next up is Milwaukee Country Club.