The tradition at most private clubs is to close on Mondays. This gives the staff a consistent day off every week. It also affords the club the opportunity to do maintenance work on the course without dodging golf balls or interfering with the play of members and their guests. So what's a retiree to do on Mondays? Do work or maintenance around the house ( you know - knock out some of that backlog of honey do's ). Catch up on personal paperwork? Finalize those remaining vacation plans? Of course not - Mondays are for playing golf at municipal golf courses.
There are several historic and outstanding municipal golf courses through out the country. These courses are generally open 364 days a year (closed only for Christmas). Some of the most famous Munys are Bethpage Black in New York (on my list of top 100 courses to play), Chambers Bay in Washington (home of the 2015 US open), and TPC Harding Park and Torrey Pines in California. I learned to play golf in 2005 at Terrell Park, a municipal golf course in Beaumont Texas.
On Monday, June 12, I was in Washington, DC. That morning I showed up at the East Potomac Park Golf Course on Haines Point along the Potomac River. The Park has three courses - the Red Course (a 9 hole par 3 course), the White Course (a 9 hole executive course), and the Blue Course (a 18 hole course). I played the Blue Course.
I arrived at the course around 7:30. As I approached the club house, I noticed a threesome teeing off on the first tee. After paying $24 for the greens fees and a push cart, I headed out to the first tee. By the time I got to the tee, the threesome was making their way off the first green and toward the second hole. The first hole is a short 350 yard par 4 with a generous fairway, but a big tree about 40 yards out from the front right of the green. My tee shot sliced to the right bringing that tree into play. The ball landed in the rough, 140 yard from the flag. I figured my 8 iron could clear the top of the tree. I figured wrong. I clipped the top of the tree. My ball landed 35 yard from the flag.
As I prepared to pitch onto the green, one of the grounds keepers arrived to set the flag for the day. He became my gallery for that hole. I pitched on to the green within 12 feet, made the putt to his applause and comment that I must have played this game before. This became his routine for the morning, moving the flag to its new position after I'd played the hole. I moved on to the second hole and again the threesome in front of me was finishing the hole as I approached the tee box. The second hole is a long 418 yard par 4 with trees that come into play on the left (not usually a worry for me) and high vegetation on the right ( always a risk for me). I hit a 250 yard drive that drifted just off the fairway into the rough. The flag was in the middle of the green. I hit a five iron to the left side of the green, expecting the a fade. It turns out in golf when you try to hit a fade, the ball goes straight! Yep just off the left side of the green but still puttable. So a Texas wedge, followed by a 5 foot putt and I'm even par after two holes.
I have now gained some ground on the threesome in front of me. They had just teed off as I approached the 3rd tee box and were just ahead looking for a ball. I asked if I could tee off and join them. They yelled back that I could, but only if I could keep up with them. They were riding in golf carts and I was walking using a push cart. I never worry about keeping up with anyone on a golf course, my speed of play is never a concern and at 6'4", each stride covers a fair amount of ground. Nevertheless, I would later see the wisdom of their riding and the folly of my walking.
The third hole is a 565 yard par 5. I ripped a drive right down the middle of the fairway, which after a nice roll, left me about 300 yards from the middle of the green. I join the threesome in the fairway and Mike, Richard, and James (who they called Pops) introduced themselves to me. A driver off the deck as my second shot left me 50 yards from the flag. A pitch to 8 feet and a missed birdie putt, but an easy par, eased their concerns about whether I could keep up with them.
Now, I'm thinking why can't I play this way at my home course in Atlanta? Well its actually pretty simple. The only elevation changes on the Blue Course at the East Potomac Park are the mounds for the tee boxes. The fairways are quite flat and the greens are only slightly undulated and in most cases quite flat too. Its like hitting on the driving range where every lie is the same.
The fourth hole is a 150 yard par 3. I hit a 7 iron within 5 feet and sunk the putt for a birdie. One under after four. The fifth hole on the course is the second easiest hole on the course. A short 280 yard wide open, no defense par 4. Well, no defense except the over confidence of the average golfer. I'm aware of this, so now at 1 under, I decide to play the hole conservatively. I take out a 5 hybrid with the intent of leaving myself a sand wedge shot into the green. I hit it poorly, which left me 120 yards from a back right pin. A pitching wedge pushed to the right left me with a poor lie and a short sided pin. A pitch and a chip later, I'm lining up for a 12 footer just to save bogie. Well bogie wasn't saved. With my first double bogie, I went from one under to one over par.
Holes 6, 7, and 8 were pars. I approached the ninth tee box with the thought of recording my lowest 9 hole score ever as I was still just one over par. As normally happens when you are thinking about scoring rather than making a good swing, I made a bad swing that left me 120 yard out, with the left side of a tree partially blocking a back left pin. I attempted a slight fade around the tree, the ball hit off the back left corner of the green. I pitched on and two putted for my bogie resulting in a front nine score of 38.
As we made the turn, the temperature was really starting to heat up. Hole 10 is the third easiest hole on the course at 302 yard, but can be reduced to about 270 yards if you go over the rough, straight at the flag rather than taking advantage of the generous right side of the fairway. I chose to take the short cut and hit down the left side with my 5 hybrid. I struck the ball well with a slight unexpected draw. I'm now 100 yard from the flag, but smack dab in front of me is this big tree which stands between me and the green. Now this is where being an engineer comes in handy. Golf is a counter intuitive game. You hit down on the ball to get it to go up. You swing easy to get it to far. You aim right to go left and aim left to go right. Its good to know that the laws of physics still prevail in golf. If you place your club on the ground and step on the club face, you will be able to determine the launch angle of the ball. I used this technique to determine that a shot with my sand wedge would clear that big tree in front of me. So I swung with confidence, didn't lift my head and the ball cleared the tree and landed on the green, pin high, 10 feet to the left. Unfortunately, even when you know physics, geometry, calculus and trigonometry, you still have to execute! I didn't execute on the putt for birdie as the ball slide by the hole.
Hole 11 is a par three and was playing 150 yards with a pin tucked on the back left, at what had to be the legal limit for how close you could place a pin to the back edge of the green. Not too far off the back of the green was a big tree. I didn't want to end up under the tree so I played my 140 club rather than my 150 club. I pushed my tee shot to the right and ended up pin high on the right side of the green over 60 feet away. A putt of 60 feet just right of the cup left me with a tap in par.
By now the wisdom of Mike, Richard, and James riding in a cart was beginning to become quite evident to me. The heat was really starting to get to me. I had drank two large bottles of Gatorade and several bottles of water, but I was starting to have chills and a slight headache. It was at this point that Richard "suggested" that I ride in the cart with Pops. My fatigue was clearly visible to everyone, the temperature was now about 96 degrees. As fatigue took hold, my swings got more loose and my scores increased. After making par on 12, I made double bogies on the next two holes, 13 & 14, including having a lost ball on 14. I rode those 3 holes on the cart with Pops. This allowed me to regain some strength and make good shots on 15, 16, and 17, which gave me pars on those holes. My scorecard on the back nine now showed six pars and two double bogies.
One more par onthe final hole and I would break 80. But, alas, some of us just don't learn! As I mentioned while recounting the 9th hole, when you think about scores rather than about making a good swing you usually end up with neither a good score nor a good swing. I hit a pop on my drive which seemed to travel almost as far vertically as it did horizontally. A 170 yard drive landed in the middle of the fairway, but left me with 200 yards to the flag. I chose a 3 hybrid for the approach shot. Still thinking about breaking 80, I pulled the ball to the left. Balls hit left seem to travel a whole lot farther than balls that fade. My 200 shot traveled 215 yards to the left of the green over the tee box for the 10 hole, which is adjacent to the 18th green. Worst than being past the green and 40 yards away was that a solid wall of tall hedges stood between me and the green. I could not see the green, let along the flag.
A sixty degree wedge shot over the trees landed on the green but rolled to the right front of the green. This left me with a very long putt to the back left side of the green where the hole was cut. I tried to get the groundskeeper to move the hole closer, but to no avail. A three putt and the resulting double bogie ended my round on that hot Monday morning on the Blue Course at East Potomac Park. Final Score 80.
Mike, Richard, James and I shook hands and said our good byes, but not before snapping this picture of our foursome.
Next up, Kinloch Golf Club right outside Richmond Virginia.