What a superb day of camaraderie and golf at the prestigious Dallas National Golf Club. I drove up to Dallas from Houston on the afternoon before. After dinner with a former ExxonMobil colleague, I joined Dr. Gerald Bulloch and his wife Lynn for the rest of the evening as they graciously opened their home for me, saving me some of my Marriott Reward Points. After sharing stories and laughter late into the evening with Gerald and Lynn, I retired for a rare night of sound sleep in preparation for my 10th course in the quest to play the top 100 courses on the Golf Digest 2017-2018 list, in one year.
Gerald did the detailed work to coordinate the round with his dear friend, Dr. Walter Young who became a member of Dallas National while the club was still under construction. Gerald and Walter arrived in Dallas over 30 years ago as budding new physicians, fresh off their specialized training for cardiology and gastroenterology, respectively. I wish that my drives carried as many yards and as Walter’s specialty carries letters! Gastroenterology is about the longest word that I’ve used in my blog. It was Walter who got Gerald, who had been an avid tennis player, interested in golf. They are friends with a history and a bond.
Walter also asked a fellow member to join us since our group for the round consisted of five non-members, me and four of the guys that I play in the Black Jacket tournament with every year. I have mentioned in the past that I play in a tournament each year on Kiawah Island with a group of 32 guys. The winner of the tournament is determined by calculating which golfer shoots the best scores over three rounds relative to his baseline. The baseline is determined by the average points per round using a Stableford scoring system. The winner gets the black jacket. Gerald is the reigning black jacket winner. The golfer who scores worse relative to his baseline is presented with a pair of pink stiletto pumps encased in an acrylic box. The shoes must be displayed in a public place in his home for one year. As you can imagine, there is a lot more focus during the tournament on not winning the pink pumps than there is on wining the black jacket. Ken Moon who is one of the other black jacket members that joined us for the round at Dallas National, was the 2014 winner of the pink pumps. He was very happy to past them on to the 2015 winner.
Gerald and I were the first to arrive at the club. As we entered the property, our attention was immediately drawn to the construction activity on our left. The club was redoing the practice range. Walter later told me that there are touring pros who are members of the club who wanted to practice under playing conditions that matched what they experience on the tour. As such the club was adding fairways with Bermuda grass to the practice range along with landing areas that mimicked greens. This area is a temporary imperfection on an otherwise pristine facility. While the construction was going on to the left as we entered the grounds, everything to the right was prefect and picturesque. Well, almost. During the round, they were adding sand to some of the tee boxes. This had no effect on our round, other than making the tee boxes look less picturesque.
As we approached the club house in style in Gerald’s 2000 Signature Series Lincoln Towncar Touring Sedan (a prized classic that Gerald says his oldest son has not yet shown the appreciation for one day inheriting), we were greeted by attendants whose sole focus seemed to be to ensure we had an outstanding experience at Dallas National. They took our clubs and Gerald’s keys to his prized automobile, then handed us off to Sal. Sal led us to our lockers in the Men’s Locker Room. Our lockers had name plates for us, that matched the name plates of the members of the club. It was as if we were members for the day. But I’ll come back to that later, because there was one moment during the round where it was clear that Walter paid dues here and I didn’t!
I realized that I had not brought golf socks with me. I asked Sal to direct me to the Pro Shop where I could purchase a pair. He asked my size and said he would take care of it for me. He left for a moment and returned with a pair of socks. He told me that if I had not worn these types of socks before, once I put them on, I’d never want to take them off. He was right. These were the most comfortable golf socks that I’d ever worn. If you have never donned a pair of Balega Hidden Comfort socks on your “puppies”, you should try them. They felt so good on my feet, that after the round, I really didn’t want to take them off.
After changing into our golf shoes, Gerald and I headed to the short game practice area. As your recall, the practice range was under reconstruction. What a nice facility. There were no tight lies here. It was as if the ball floated on a series of invisible micro tees. The ball sat up nicely for chips and pitches. I would later discover that these conditions were matched in the fairways on the course.
As Gerald and I practiced our short games, Walter, our host, and Kenny Frank and Ken Moon arrived. We were also introduced to Bernie McCaskill, the other Dallas National member that Walter had asked to join us. The only person missing now was Peter Lewis, the final Black Jacket member that was planning to play. Peter joined as we neared our 8:00 tee time.
Bernie, Peter, and Gerald formed the first group. Walter, Kenny, Ken and I made up the second group and were joined by our forecaddie Tommy. Despite my putting performance on the day, Tommy was the best reader of greens that I’ve seen so far on my top 100 tour. If you putted the ball on the line that he indicated, the ball was guaranteed to make that lovely sound we hear as it drops in and rattles around on bottom of the cup.
I was the first to tee off in the second group. I showed Kenny, Walter, and Ken one of the golf balls given to me as a retirement gift by some of my colleagues at ExxonMobil. It was Callaway warbird with a picture of my face with a Stetson topping my noggin. While I am a Texan by birth, I’m an East Coast guy by nature. The image was from a picture taken during “Go Texan Day” in Houston a year earlier. One of probably two to three times in my life that I’ve ever worn a cowboy hat. I informed that group that I usually tee off with that ball and then change to ProVI’s after the first hole. Kenny asked if I’d ever lost one. I told him that I had not. I followed that statement with a poor swing and a lost golf ball. Since there was no practice range, I was granted a breakfast ball. I then hit my “real” drive to the left rough but was only 81 yards out.
I left my approach shot short of the green, but since I was in Texas, I used a Texas Wedge (aka, putter from off the green) to roll my ball to with in six feet of the cup. I hit my putt on the line indicated by Tommy. The ball rolled into the center of the cup for an opening par on the 333-yard par 4 first hole. We had decided with Walter’s guidance to play the II tees which measured 6250 yards. The II tees are the third set of tees and were sure to provide us with enough of a challenge while not preventing us for having some fun.
On the Par 5, 501-yard 2nd hole, I hit my drive 240 yards, but again missed the fairway and even worse, left my ball just outside the bunker. Tommy had told me that my ball position was good. As I stood in the bunker to hit a ball about 18 inches above my feet, I laughed and told Tommy the he and I had a different definition of good. I did manage to hit a shot to the fairway, just 95 yards from the flag. I guess Tommy’s definition of good, wasn’t so bad after all!
My third shot to a back middle pin, came to rest pin high, leaving a 16-foot putt for birdie. Tommy again provided an excellent read, but that was some thing that I only came to realize after intentionally hitting my putt just outside the line he recommended. Had I followed his recommendation, my ball would have dropped into the cup for a birdie rather that sliding by the hole. I tapped in for my second par. Walter on the other hand, who had hit an excellent approach shot, followed Walter’s advice on the line and made a birdie. That was the last time in the round that I intentionally hit my putt on a different line than the one Tommy indicated.
I double bogeyed the par three third hole as I hit the ball long and into the hazard on the right side of the green. We found my ball, but Tommy recommended that I just take a drop rather than try to hit out of the hazard and hurt my wrist so early in the round. I followed his advice. A double bogey is much better than an injured wrist.
On the par 5, 4th hole I hit my drive into the hazard right of the fairway. The 4th hole is the number 2 handicap hole on the course. At Dallas National, the even numbered handicap holes are on the front 9 and the odd numbered handicap holes are on the back nine. What makes this hole difficult is the narrow fairway. Most of the holes at Dallas National have generous fairways, reminiscent of the generous fairways at Augusta. The 4th hole does not. I took a drop and one stroke penalty after hitting my drive into the hazard. I then popped my third shot up across the fairway into the left rough. My fourth shot was a rare thing of beauty from the rough. The rough is a challenge. The ball either sinks and settles deep into it, making it difficult to get down to the ball, or it sits up creating the risk of going right under the ball. The rare shot I hit flew onto the green and rolled right by the flag leaving a 12-foot putt.
I missed the intended line and had to settle for a two-putt bogey. One that I would have been very pleased about after hitting my drive into the hazard, had I not missed a very makeable putt.
I bogeyed the par 3 fifth hole after missing the green and made a double bogey on the long 420-yard par 4 sixth hole after hitting my drive in the left rough and my second shot out of bounds. Walter hit a ball into the woods on this hole and it bounced out into the fairway – the proverbial member’s bounce. It was at that point that I asked why I didn’t get that type of bounce. Both Walter and Kenny were quick to point out that I don’t pay dues at Dallas National!
By the time we arrived at the short Par 4, 7th hole, it donned on me that all the holes played thus far, were unique. There have been times on some of the previous courses where it felt like I had played a hole already. Not so at Dallas National. Every hole feels different from every other hole. Each hole also feels like it’s on its own course. There were of course the normal architectural features reminiscent of a Tom Fazio design – false fronts on the greens, various shapes of bunkers, and the way the course seemed to blend into the environment. What was also interesting is that the name of the course and the architectural style of the club house are the only indicators that his course is in Dallas, Texas. While out on the course, it looks and feels like it could be anywhere in the world.
Dallas National is as challenging as any Fazio designed course, but it is very playable. There are several places on every hole where you can find a safe zone to hit the ball to, but you do need to hit the fairway. The rough is not your friend. There is also no water on the course. That is, no water that comes into play. There must be water somewhere that is used to maintain the course. It is one of the greenest courses I’ve ever played. Also, as I mentioned when describing the short game area, the ball sits up nicely in the fairway and around the greens. There are really no tie lies.
I bogeyed the final three holes on the front nine. On the 7th hole I again hit my drive into the rough and missed the green. On the 8th hole, I drove the ball to the right rough. I then hit a flier out the rough that flew over the flag and 20 yards past it. The 8th hole has a very deep green and I used all of it despite the front middle pin position. I three-putted from 60 feet for a bogey.
On the 9th hole I finally hit a fairway – Hee Haw! I left my approach shot just short of the green and three putted, including the Texas wedge onto the green, for a bogey resulting in a front nine score of 45. Walter had the best front nine. He had a second birdie on the sixth hole and parred several of the other holes. He recorded a 39 on the front nine. Kenny followed close behind with a 41 and Ken matched my 45.
The back nine opens with a beautiful 550-yard par 5. The first part of the fairway is a little narrow, but it opens up for the second shot landing area. After hitting my ball into the rough again on my drive, I’d had enough of the rough. I know you are probably tired of hearing me say that I hit my drive in the rough, but I guarantee you that you are nowhere near as tired as I am, trying to hit out of the rough. So instead of trying to hit a heroic shot again out of the rough, I played a conservative shot with a five iron to where my host, Walter had instructed me to hit the ball. This paid off, leaving me with an approach shot to pin high just off the green. From there I was able to two-putt for par.
On the 11th and 12th holes I took advantage of the generous fairway and drove my ball to the short grass. I hit approach shots within six feet of the pin on both holes, but unfortunately couldn’t covert the short putts into birdies. I left one, inches short and one slid just past the hole. Both were easy pars.
On the Par 3, 13th hole I hit short of the green, made a chip that looked good all the way until it skirted the right edge of the cup and ended up six feet past it. I went from narrowly missing a birdie to making a bogey when I missed the six-foot come back putt. I then remarked that I can usually make those putts in my sleep. And here I was, repeatedly missing them now. To which Kenny responded, that I should then probably take a nap and maybe I’d make some of them. I think he was saying that the only way I made them consistently in my sleep was that I was also dreaming in my sleep.
I made double bogeys on both the 14th and 15th holes. But as Walter and I were driving away from the green on the 15th hole, I told him that this is where I usually realize that I need to focus purely on golf and try to finish strong to savage my round. During the round, I spend time taking notes and shooting photographs for my blog. This is a distraction, but necessary to get an accurate documentation of my experience on the course.
The renewed focus paid off immediately. I hit the fairway with my drive on the long par 4, 16th hole which was playing 435 yards. I hit my 195-yard approach shot left of the green into the rough, but chipped to within two feet for a one putt par. On the par 3, 17th I missed the green. My pitch shot rolled 20 feet past the hole, but my execution of a putt on the excellent line provided by Tommy resulted in a par as the ball rolled just enough to drop into the front of the cup.
Dallas National closes with a short par 5 of 480 yards. My drive needed another two yards to clear the first of two right fairway bunkers in the landing zone.
Since I was now working on savaging my round, rather than just experiencing the course, I decided to play smart and hit a sand wedge to ensure that I got out of the bunker cleanly. The fact that this was a short par 5 helped. I was only 265 yards out. A clean sand wedge would leave me less than 200 yards from the pin. The strategy worked. After my sand shot I had 195 left for my approach shot.
I hit a 5 hybrid on a direct line to the flag. It is so much easier to hit a ball from the fairway than the rough. The rough at Dallas national is not gorse or gunch or heather or anything else. It’s just thick and deep. Playing it safe and ensuring that I hit my shot out of the bunker into the fairway was good course management. My 195-yard approach stopped 8 feet from the flag.
Unfortunately, I got a little too excited about the prospect of ending my round with par, par, birdie, that I struck the putt too hard. The ball was wide of the hole and rolled 5 feet past it. I had gone from the excitement of a birdie to the prospect of a bogey. Fortunately, I made the five-foot comeback putt for a par.
The company was great, the course was excellent, and the golf ok as I shot a 41 on the back and an 86 for the full 18. Walter unfortunately finished with his worst hole of the day. He made a triple bogey on the last hole, but still shot an 81. He played well enough to shoot in the 70’s. His rhythmic swing looks so effortless, yet the ball travels long and straight. Kenny finished with an 84 and Ken shot a 96. Mostly importantly, we all had fun. Gerald told me on the ride back to his house that the group he played with had a great time, but struggled with scoring.
After the round, we spent a few moments winding down in the grill where Amber and Richard ensured we were taken care of. Walter also introduced us to another of his normal playing partners at the club, Ed Bean. Before leaving the club, I had the opportunity to chat with the general manager for a few moments and talk about my quest to play the top 100 courses. I also found out that he knew a couple of my former colleagues at ExxonMobil. Overall, it’s days like this that make this quest an extraordinary journey. Thanks again to Walter and Bernie for hosting and to Gerald for coordinating such a superb experience.
Next up is Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.