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Welcome to my blog.  I am documenting my quest to play the top 100 golf courses in the US. Hope you enjoy sharing the journey with me.

Hudson National - A Race Against Darkness

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When I first planned my golf schedule for the week of September 25th, there were six top 100 courses on it.  That changed at the beginning of the week when the friend that was hosting me at one of the clubs that week dislocated his shoulder.  This ended his golf season for the year.  It also meant that we would need to reschedule our round at his club for the Spring.  Up until this point, I’d been very fortunate to have my hectic schedule work out.  Given how tight my schedule has generally been, it was inevitable that eventually something would not work out as planned.  I wished my friend well in his recovery and got to work adjusting my schedule for the week.  Somehow in my haste to adjust, I made an error on the date that I was playing at Hudson National, a course which itself was a replacement for Quaker Ridge. Quaker Ridge had to be removed from the schedule due to a conflict for the host. When we made the swap, I mistakenly thought that we had changed the date to play, from Wednesday to Thursday.    

I realized my mistake when my host sent me a note on Tuesday afternoon, stating that he was looking forward to seeing me on the next day. Once I confirmed with him that we were playing in less than 24 hours, I quickly started processing thoughts on how to manage my blunder.  I first sent a message to my wife to inform her of the change since this meant I couldn’t take the kids to school on Wednesday morning. I then made a call to a friend to disappointingly cancel our round of golf schedule for my club in Atlanta on early Wednesday morning. Then finally a call to United Airlines to change my flight from 6 a.m. on Thursday to 6.am. on Wednesday. I had the option to do this at no cost due to my frequent flyer status with the airline.

The last-minute change did lead to another one of my long days and short nights.  I’ve realized that my worst rounds on my Top 100 Tour have usually followed long days and short nights.  After going to bed around midnight, I awoke at 4 a.m. to start my day.  After the short two hour flight from Atlanta to Newark, I headed to Liberty National to meet my host James to watch the Wednesday morning practice rounds for the President’s Cup.  Over the previous weekend, I’d attended the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.  I recognized the golfers that I’d watched at the Tour Championship, but I don’t think they recognized me! 

 Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson at the Tour Champion ship

Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson at the Tour Champion ship

I enjoyed walking Liberty National with James as we watched Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and Kevin Kisner in a more relaxed environment than the one that exists during competitive play.  They took mulligans, putted to different pin positions and didn’t always play it as it lies. 

 Phil teeing off at the Presidents Cup with Dustin and Matt watching.

Phil teeing off at the Presidents Cup with Dustin and Matt watching.

James and I also followed one of the European foursomes for a couple of holes.  There were glimpses of Tiger, David Love III, Ernie Els, Nick Price and several of the other greats of golf.  Tiger still looked fit to the tee with one exception, there was a slight overhang around the belt.

While wondering around Liberty National, James and I bumped into the other two players in our foursome, David and Paul.  It was David who got us access to Hudson National.  We discussed our plan to leave Liberty National around noon to make the one hour drive to Hudson National.  We all left around noonish in our separate cars, but due to a major accident along the route, it took much more than an hour to get to Croton-on-the-Hudson, the home of Hudson National.  The later than planned arrival led to a later tee time which pushed our finished slightly past dusk into the dark of night.

Hudson National sit atop a plateau at a bend in the Hudson River.  Upon my arrival, I made my customary trip to the Men’s Locker Room where Russell showed me to my locker.  We took a moment to chat about the course and about my quest.  Upon seeing my golf shoes, Russell volunteered to clean them up for me before my round.  Following my time in the locker room with Russell, I made my way to the golf shop.  There I met Julia and purchased my cap and medallion from Hudson Night.  I also asked Julia if the Head Pro was around.  Julia took me to his office where I met Mark Parisi, the Head Golf Pro at Hudson National and two of his Assistant Pro’s, Tank and Del.  We spent a little time talking about my Quest and which courses were my favorite.  Mark asked that I keep him informed on my progress and let him know at the end what my thoughts were on where Hudson National is ranked.

Once the full foursome was at the course, we met our caddies and headed to the first tee.  We had Greg and Lee to make the loop with us.  Greg was new to Hudson National.  While he had caddied for several years, this had been his first season at Hudson National.  He was from the Pittsburgh area and grew up near Oakmont.  He said he’d caddied there a few times when he was younger.  Lee had been at Hudson National almost since it opened as a Fazio designed course in 1998.  He knew the course and the greens very well.  This was the second loop on the day for both.

As we stood at the starter’s hut, we discussed which tees to play and settled on playing from the white tees.  They measured almost 6500 yards with a course rating of 71.9 and a slope of 141.

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The first hole at Hudson National was one my worst opening holes on my tour.  I never had a chance for par, and was lucky to walk away with a double bogey.  The hole plays 435 yards, but isn’t overly tough.  It plays straight, has a narrow fairway that narrows even more in the landing zone and has one fairway bunker on the right.

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I popped up my drive to the middle of the fairway, leaving 270 yards to the green.  My bigger problem on the hole was that I topped my next shot into the fairway bunker.  After my third shot I was still 125 yards out.  My fourth shot was a wedge to the green to about 30 feet past the flag.  I two putted for a double.  What made this one of my worst starting holes was not so much the score, but that I opened my round with three bad shots.

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The second hole is a short par 3 that was playing 135 yards up hill to a front left pin position.  From the tee box, it doesn’t look like a hard hole. There is no water to worry about and there are only two bunkers.  A very small one on the front left of the green and a large on the back of the green that wasn’t in play. With Greg’s guidance, I made a good club selection but pulled the ball just left of the green.  The balled rolled down the hill on the side of the green which left an uphill pitch to a short sided flag. 

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I hit a good shot that landed six feet short of the hole, but the green sloped away from the hole and the ball rolled to 50 feet past to the right side of the green.  I was disappointed in where the ball ended up, but Greg said it was a good thing I hit a good shot, otherwise the ball would have rolled off the green and down the hill.  I two putted for a bogey.

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The third hole has a very slight dogleg to the left.  It is a 400 yard par 4.  Like the first and second holes, it doesn’t look that difficult from the tee box.  Also like the first hole it has a narrow fairway that gets even more narrow in the landing zone.  I hit my tee shot on a great line that was provided by Greg.  As the ball was in the air, I was concerned about the first fairway bunker on the right.  Greg was not concerned because he knew that when the ball landed it would roll away from the bunker on a fairway that sloped severely right to left. 

As we walked down the fairway toward our balls, Greg told me that there was an earlier course on this site that was once the playground of gangsters during the robber baron days of the roaring twenties.  He said we would see the remnants of an old clubhouse that the gangsters burned down.  I guess they didn’t take kindly to misreads on putts by their caddies!

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My ball was in the fairway about 265 yards from the tee box, leaving a 155 yard approach shot to a pin position at the back of the green. I made good contact with the ball and it hit the green just left of the flag.  The green was very firm.  The ball  hit and hopped off the back of the green.  I

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chipped on, trying to land the ball in the fringe.  The ball brushed the top of the rough which slowed it down, leaving a 15 foot putt for par.  I missed the putt after it move left to right versus the right to left break that was expected.

As I stood on the tee box of the short par four 4th hole, I realized that it was playing only 350 yards. I preferred my three wood rather than the driver , but by now Greg and Lee were 200 yards down the fairway.  Like the previous holes, this one also seemed easy from the tee box.  It had a slight left to right dogleg and only one fairway bunker, but with a very narrow fairway. I thought about how the three wood would land short of the narrow part of the fairway but the driver was likely to land in the area with the narrowest part of the fairway.

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I was not focused during my drive and I topped the ball and hit a low screamer to the left fescue.  I double bogeyed the hole after getting to the green in four and two putting.

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The fifth holes plays down hill with, you guessed it, a fairway that narrows significantly at about 250 yards from the tee box. Greg said that we needed to hit 200 yard tee shots to the left side of the fairway because everything would roll to the right.  I aimed my three hybrid at the fairway bunker on the left expecting a fade.  My ball came off he club on a direct line to the left of the bunker.  It hit on the hill just past the bunker and rolled down the slope, into and across the fairway to the right edge, leaving 145 yards to the pin.

 My ball is just short of the green.

My ball is just short of the green.

The greens at Hudson National were firm with balls releasing after they hit.  I hit my approach shot to just short of the green expecting it to run back to the hole.  The area right in front of the green was receptive and just held the ball.  I putted to 10 feet short of the hole.  I hit my part putt on line and the ball road the edge of the cup to the back of the cup, but didn’t fall in.  I bogeyed the hole.

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As James, David, Paul and I stood on the tee box for the sixth hole, we just accepted that this was a course where every fairway narrowed significantly in the landing zone.  I hit a drive 260 yard right down the middle of the fairway.  I then hit my second shot to 105 yards out but to the right rough.  There was a bunker on the front right of the green.  The wind was in my face. I decided to take dead aim over the bunker right at the flag with my sand wedge.  I knew that I was taking a risk, but wanted to hit a full shot. I knew a full shot with the gap wedge would go past the flag.  I didn’t clear the bunker with my sand wedge. 

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I short sided myself and tried to hit a high flop out of the bunker.  The ball hit the top of the bunker and rolled back in.  My second attempt at the shot was close to the hole. I made the putt for a bogey.

As we walked off the sixth green, rain started to fall from this one pesky cloud that seemed to be hanging out right over our heads.  We thought it would pass quickly, it didn’t.  This was concerning since we were already racing against the clock after teeing off at 3 p.m. The rain lasted about 25 minutes.  After the rain, I hit my tee shot to the left rough on the short 7th hole.  We couldn’t find my ball.  For speed of play I took a penalty and a drop. I went on to make a double bogey on the hole.

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The eighth hole was a 160 par three with a carry over a ravine with native grass.  There were bunkers guarding the hole. I hit a low shot that landed on the front of the green and rolled to with 25 feet of the pin.  I hit a good putt, but missed the cup and settled for par.

 My ninth hole drive.

My ninth hole drive.

The ninth hole was a par 5 measuring 520 yards.  I hit the fairway with my drive, laid up to 100 yards, left my approach shot just short of the green.  I chipped on and two putted for a bogey giving me a disappointing 47 on the front nine.  I missed too many makeable putts and played the short par fours extremely poorly.

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I started out on the back nine with something that prior to my round at Crystal Downs, had been rare during my tour of the top 100 courses, a scorecard killing triple bogey.  I pulled my drive into the native grass and had to drop in the drop zone. Apparently, this was common enough for the course to set up a drop zone on this hole.  My play on the hole only got worse as I tried to hit shots beyond my skill level, in an attempt to save bogey.  Instead I made a 7 on a par four hole.

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It didn’t get better for me on the 155 yard par 3 eleventh hole. I hit a good shot that landed on the front of the green, but this is a Fazio course, so of course there is a false front.  My ball roll off the green and down the slope.  My first pitch did the same thing.  My second pitch held, but I two putted and made a double bogey.  Two holes into the back nine, I was 5 stokes over par.

 The camera does a good job of providing light.  The sun was setting and darkest was starting to creep in.

The camera does a good job of providing light.  The sun was setting and darkest was starting to creep in.

The sun was setting, and it was starting to look like it might be impossible to finish the round before dark.  I hit my drive on par five, twelfth hole to the left fairway just right of the bunker.

 The shadows are starting to cover more of the course.  This is where my drive ended up.

The shadows are starting to cover more of the course.  This is where my drive ended up.

  I lined up poorly on the next shot and hit the ball to the rough on the right side of the fairway, but only 70 yards from the hole.  I pitched out of the rough to just short of the green.  I chipped on to 10 feet, but missed my par putt.  While I didn't par the hole, it did mark the start of a turnaround.

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On the short par three 13th hole, I hit a tee shot right over the flag to 15 feet past.  I hit my putt with two feet of break.  The ball looked dead on line to drop in the cup, but stopped just short of the hole.  I’d finally made my first par on the back nine.

 It is only through the magic of the camera lens that it looks as light as it does.  At this point in our round, it was very hard to see.

It is only through the magic of the camera lens that it looks as light as it does.  At this point in our round, it was very hard to see.

By the time we got to the par five 14th hole, the sun was dropping behind the trees.  We had five holes remaining and very little light remaining.  It was now officially dusk.  We could tell that our caddies were starting to lose interest in the round.  They said they were going to start to forecaddie, but it didn’t appear that they were watching for our balls.  Mine fortunately landed in the fairway. 

 More camera magic allows you to see my second shot and why I hit my approach shot to the left rather than at that flag tucked behind the bunker on the right side of the green.

More camera magic allows you to see my second shot and why I hit my approach shot to the left rather than at that flag tucked behind the bunker on the right side of the green.

I laid up to 160 yards, short of the pond between the right side of the fairway and the green.  I hit a fade along the left side of the green that stayed left and landed on the slop to the left of the green.  I chipped on and the ball rolled straight toward the hole.  Could it be an improbable birdie after missing a couple of makeable birdie putts?  The ball stopped six inches short of the center of the cup.  My turnaround on the back nine continued with another par.

By the fifteenth hole, we were really straining to see the course.  I again hit my drive 260 yards to the middle of the fairway.  The darkness was forcing me to focus more and to slow down my swing.  This improved my tempo and led to good ball strikes.  At least on most of my shots.  I was 165 yards from the flag. 

 My drive through a camera set at an ISO of 400,  the lens aperture open to 5.3 and shot with a shutter speed of 1/20th of a second.  Now here is what the naked eye sees...

My drive through a camera set at an ISO of 400,  the lens aperture open to 5.3 and shot with a shutter speed of 1/20th of a second.  Now here is what the naked eye sees...

 The outline of the trees should confirm that this is the same scene.

The outline of the trees should confirm that this is the same scene.

I hit my approach shot fat and it landed 35 yards short of the green. I made a good chip, but the greens were just too fast.  My ball rolled past the hole and just off the back of the green.  I two putted from there for a bogey.

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As we were walking to the 16th hole, there was just slithers of light coming through the trees.  The caddies suggested that we skip the 225 yard par three and head straight to the 17th tee box.  Paul immediately piped up and said, nope, we want Jimmie to play all 18 holes and finish with an official round.  I very much appreciated the willingness of Paul, Dave, and James to finish the round in the dark.  The hole was playing to a downhill green.  I hit a solid 5 wood.  I couldn’t see the ball land, but I knew it was headed to the right side of the green. Paul, Dave, and James also hit great shots.  As we approached the green, I saw that my ball was on the green pin high, 35 feet from the hole.  My birdie putt stopped just short of the hole.  I tapped in for another par.

Fortunately, the 17th hole was a short hole playing only 300 yards.  I again hit a good drive, but the ball rolled into the right fairway bunker, just 75 yards from the hole.  My shot out of the bunker caught the lip of the bunker and stop 65 yards from the green.  I pitched on to pin high and 10 feet left of the flag.  It was very difficult to read putts at this point in the dark.  I missed my 10 foot par putt.

 This is what it looked like as we played the 17th and 18th holes.

This is what it looked like as we played the 17th and 18th holes.

We rushed to the 18th tee box. We could see our caddies in the fairway, but not the fairway itself.  I hit my best drive of the day. Well at this point I should say of the night.  The 18th hole plays 440 yards.  I hit my drive to the right edge of the fairway, 170 yards from the hole.  We all played from my ball.  Three of the four shots to the green landed within a couple of feet of each other in the rough just off the left side of the green.  I putted from the rough to 8 feet and made the putt for par to end my round at Hudson National in dark.  I think I should pay in the dark more often!

After a disastrous start on the back nine, I finished the last six holes with four pars and two bogeys to record a 44, giving me a 91 for a total score.

After the round, we sat out on the clubhouse terrace over looking the Hudson River for some end of the round drinks and stories.  I’d like to thank James for arranging the outing at Hudson National and David for getting us access to the course.  I’d also like to thank Paul for joining us to round out the foursome.

I headed back across the bridge to New Jersey for my round the next day at Plainfield Country Club.

 

Plainfield Country Club

Crystal Downs - The Fast and the Furious