The last week of September had been planned for over a month. The plan was to play Bethpage Black on Wednesday, Quaker Ridge on Thursday, the Country Club of Brookline on Friday. I was then scheduled to fly from Boston to Columbus, Ohio on Friday night to play Scioto, The Golf Club, and Muirfield Village over the weekend. The plan started to unravel during the week before. The person who was hosting at Quaker Ridge was no longer available that week. Then on Monday my host for the Country Club of Brookline dislocated his shoulder and had to cancel our round for Friday. I then misunderstood the timing for playing Hudson National which was being substituted for Quaker Ridge. I also needed to find a replacement course for the Country Club of Brookline.
Since I was going to be in New Jersey, I called Somerset Hills and Plainfield Country Club to see if they would allow me to play unaccompanied if the Pro from my home club made the request. Both said they would, but Somerset Hills could not accommodate me because they had an event scheduled for that week. I then called Will from my home club, he contacted Scott, the Head Pro at Plainfield Country Club to arrange for me to play a round there.
After finishing my round in the dark at Hudson National, I made the drive from Croton-on-Hudson, NY back across the Hudson River to New Jersey so that I could play golf at Plainfield Country Club the next morning. On a beautiful Fall New Jersey morning, I made the short drive from my hotel through the small towns in Middlesex County to the bucolic settings of the Plainfield Country Club. As I made the final turn onto the property, it was as if I was going back to a simpler time when the living for some was easier. I could imagine that during that time this was place for those who came about their wealth earnestly in the days of the robber barons of the roaring twenties.
Bernie met me at the bag drop and took my clubs. He was a kind and gentile man who’d lost his wife and was very happy to spend his days working as an attendant at Plainfield. I had some time before my round, so we talked about his life and his belated wife whom he loved so dearly. He then directed me to the locker room and the pro shop. After I’d changed my shoes in the locker room and settled up in the pro shop, he drove me to the driving range. He let me know that he’d keep an eye on me and if I signaled him, he would come and drive me back to the putting green.
After finishing my warm up, I made my way to the putting green. I appreciated Rudy’s earlier offer, but decided to make the walk from the driving range to the putting green. After getting a good feel for the greens I approached Dave, the starter, he called up my caddie and we headed to the first tee.
My caddie was Zach. He is a nice kid who had grown up in the area. He was studying Business Management at a local community college. He planned to complete his associated degree by the end of the year and transfer to Kean University to study economics in the Fall of 2018. As I had done with Thomas at Bandon Dunes a couple of months earlier, I talked to Zach a lot about business and investments. He asked a lot of insightful questions. Our discussions filled the space between shots.
Zach and I made our way to the first tee. I decided to play from the Plainfield or blue tees. They measured just over 6600 yards with a rating of 73.0 and a 139 slope.
The first hole is a 421 yard par four. The fairway plays flat and straight except for a hill on the right hand side that starts at about 250 yards out. The hill slopes from right to left. There are trees sparsely lining both sides of the fairway. I hit my drive about 260 yards to right side of the fairway onto the hill leaving 180 yard uphill shot to a back middle pin position.
My approach shot was a solid strike with my five iron that drew as expected. The ball landed 25 feet below and left of the flag, leaving an excellent birdie opportunity.
Zach provided an excellent read for my putt. I hit the putt with the perfect speed. The ball approached the hole and slide by on the amateur side of the cup to one foot past the hole. I tapped in for an opening par.
The second hole is a long par four that measured almost 440 yards. The fairway is shaped like an old-fashioned hand held can opener that made “v” notches to open the can. It starts out a little narrow and then gets narrower at about 300 yards out. There is a bunker on the right side at about 200 yards from the tee box and a couple of more on the left side at about 280 yards out just before the fairway starts to narrow. The trees that line both sides of the fairway are even more sparse than the ones on the first hole.
Zach told me to hit the ball to the right side of the fairway. I said’ “no worries, my miss is usually to the right.” With that my ball stayed left and landed in the rough, about 20 yards short of the bunkers on the left. This left 205 yards to a back right pin position on a green that was guarded by several bunkers.
I hit my 5 hybrid a little fat and the ball landed short of the green on the left side. It kicked left and into one of the bunkers. I had this pattern of making par on the first hole and then digging a hole by making a double bogey on the next hole or two. I wanted to break that pattern. My ball was close to the lip of the bunker. The flag was at the back of the green. My priority was to eliminate the potential for a double bogey by getting the ball out of the bunker on the first try.
I setup in the bunker with 60 degree wedge all the way open and slide the club face into the sand behind the ball. The ball popped straight up and landed on the front of the green before rolling back to just short of the green.
I putted from there to 3 feet and made the putt to save bogey.
The third hole is a 160 yard par three. The tee box is aligned with a pond that starts in front of the tee box and fills the area to the right of the green. This creates a carry from the tee box over the pond across the right side of the green. There was an oblong bunker along the left side of the green. Like the first and second hole, the pin was positioned on the back portion of the green.
There was a group in front of us on the green. They motioned for me to play through. With the pond on the right, I hit my ball along the left side of the green expecting a fade. Like my drive on the second hole, the ball didn’t fade. The ball carried the bunker on the left side of the green and landed in the rough left of the green and pin high.
With the foursome now serving as a group of spectators, I pitched onto the green. The ball rolled across the green to the right side about 20 feet past the hole. I missed the par putt and settled for a bogey on the hole. With the group that teed off before us, now behind us, it was clear sailing.
The fourth hole is the shortest par four on the course. The hole measures a mere 300 yards. Interestingly, the fairway is probably the widest one on the course. There are dense woods off the left side of the fairway. I think this is the eastern boundary of the course. There are also a series of bunkers on the left between the edge of the fairway and the tree line. The right side of the fairway is wide open.
I hit my three hybrid off the tee and pulled the ball to the left rough. This left me with 140 yards to the green. It was a very disappointing tee shot, especially since I thought I was hitting a club that I could easily put into the fairway.
The flag was on the middle right portion of the green, tucked behind a bunker that started on the front ride of the green and curved around to the right side of the green. The was also a bunker running along the left side of the green. I took dead aim at the flag with my eight iron from the deep left rough. The ball came out of the rough and off the club face on a line straight toward the bunker on the front right of the green. The line was only about 2 to 3 yards right of my intended aim. The ball hit on the slope above the bunker and rolled into the bunker.
Like on the second hole, my ball was not far from the face of the bunker. I visualized the same shot that I hit on the second hole. Again, the ball popped straight up but hit in the grass on the face of the bunker and rolled back to my feet.
With a little more ump on the second shot, I landed the ball on the green and it rolled to the hole and stopped. I tapped in for a bogey.
As we walked from the fourth green to the fifth tee box, I noticed just how much this course is snuggled in to a tight area. We had played just four holes, but we were completing the square. We had walked off the first green and played the second hole with a fairway that was 90 degrees from the first hole fairway. The third hole played along the same line as the second hole. The fourth hole played 90 degrees to the third hole. Now we were playing the fifth hole with a fairway along the southern border of the course and at a 90 degree angle to the fourth hole fairway. I could see that there were several holes to the right that ran parallel to the fifth fairway.
The fifth hole is a short par five. It, like the first and second holes, played straight. The middle of the green was straight in front of the tee boxes, 510 yards away. To the left of the fairway was the aforementioned southern border of the course. Dense trees formed a wall between the course and the adjacent property. There were fairway bunkers along the right side that started at about 225 yards from the tee box and a couple on the left that started around 300 yards out. The fairway ends short of the green. There are bunkers between the end of the fairway and the green, and along the left and right sides of the fairway as it ends. The green also has bunkers that curve around the right front and the left front.
I hit a low drive down the left side of the fairway. The ball landed in the fairway on the left, but rolled to the right side of the fairway stopping 290 yards from the middle of the green.
I laid up with six iron. I pulled the ball and it landed in the left rough, 130 yards out. I hit my approach shot approach shot to pin high just off the right edge of the green. I then took a long walk in the short grass to the green.
Carrying the putter for 130 yards must have strained my arm muscles. I missed the birdie putt and made par on the hole.
As Zach and I walked to the tee box for the par three sixth hole, it occurred to me that I would be exactly one -third of the way through my quest once my ball dropped into the cup on this hole. The hole was playing 150 yards. I told him about my goal of getting a hole-in-one during my quest. I thought it would be special to do it on the sixth hole of my thirty fourth course. The sixth hole seemed jammed in between the right side of the first fairway and the green for the fifth hole and the tee boxes for the seventh hole.
The green on the sixth hole was almost completely surrounded by bunkers. There was a crescent shaped bunker in the front of the green, two smaller bunkers on the left side of the green, and one final bunker on the back right side of the green. There was no safe place to miss, but I wasn’t planning on missing. I took dead aim at the flag. I was juiced with adrenaline. I took the club back and made a good swing. The ball headed directly for the flag. It flew the front bunker and then flew the flag. The ball landed on a slope on the back of the green and rolled back toward the flag leaving a 20 foot putt for birdie.
So much for my hole-in-one, but at least I had a makeable birdie putt. I hit the ball on a good line and it looked as if the ball would get to the hole. It stopped a foot shot. Zach and I smiled and moved on to the seventh tee box.
The seventh hole is rated as the toughest hole on the course. At just over 470 yards, it is the longest par four. I made my first double bogey of the day on the hole. The hole is nestled in between the fifth and eight holes. There are several bunkers just off the fairway on the left hand side. The fairway is trouble free off the right hand side. You would think that I would naturally and intentionally favor that side. I could not get my ball to fade. I again hit my drive to the left side. The ball landed in the rough short of the first bunker.
Other than not fading, it was actually a very good drive. The ball traveled 260 yards and went dead straight. This left me with 210 yards to the green, but I was blocked out by a tree. I got under the ball and popped it straight up. The ball cleared all but the last of the group of bunker clustered together. I now had no shot. The ball was very close to the lip of the bunker and that tree from my second shot was still a problem.
I pitched out pitched on into the fairway, then onto the green and two putted.
The 8th hole offered an opportunity for redemption. It is a short par five at just under 500 yards. The fairway is a little stingy, but besides a couple of small fairway bunkers that are barely in play and some sparse trees, it is trouble free. This time, I hit my drive straight down the middle of the fairway, but not very far, just 220 yards.
I laid up to 130 yards and then hit my pitching wedge to 15 feet below the hole. I left my birdie putt short, but made the par putt.
To get to the ninth tee box, we had to walk behind the first green. The ninth hole played parallel to the first hole, in the opposite direction and it looked like several of the other par fours. The hole measures just under 360 yards. My drive hit a tree along the left side of the fairway and bounced back into the rough leaving 220 yards to the green. My second shot landed in a bunker that was one of three bunkers in notch that cut across the fairway from the left to within just a few yards of the right side of the fairway. It took me three more strokes to get the ball to the bottom of the cup. It was a very disappointing double bogey to close out the front nine with a score of 43.
The back nine opens with a short 350 yard par four. The fairway is at least as wide as the fourth fairway and ends about 20 to 30 yards short of the green.
I hit my tee shot to the right rough, wasted my second shot and put my third shot into the bunker in front of the green. I made a double bogey on the hole.
I made bogey on the shortest par three on the course. The 11th hole is one of the prettiest holes on the course. The pin was positioned on the front left portion of the green over two front bunkers, and just beyond a false front. My tee shot was right at the flag. The ball landed just a couple of inches short of the green and rolled back into the bunker.
I hit my sand shot onto the green past the flag and two putted for a bogey.
The next four holes contained some of my best golf of the round. I put together a string of four pars. It all started with the 560 yard par five 12th hole. The hole has a long and narrow fairway, but one without any trouble until almost 350 yards from the tee box where there is a bunker off the right side. The trees that are along each side of the fairway are very sparse.
I hit my drive to the rough just off the left side of the fairway. I hit my lay up across the fairway and it landed in the right rough about 150 yards out.
I wanted to stay short of the creek that ran diagonally across the fairway from right to left separating the fairway from the last 100 yards of the fairway that was connected to the green. I hit my approach shot pin hit, but into the bunker off the right side of the green. My short irons usually have a draw ball flight, but not this time.
My sand shot landed on the green and rolled to five feet. I made the putt to start my string of four pars.
The thirteenth hole is probably the most interesting hole on the course. It requires some thinking on how to play it. Most of the other holes can be played with a grip it and rip it approach. The hole plays 410 yards. It has a fairway that shifts slightly to the right. The trees on the left and the right seem strategically placed so that you must think about them on your drive if you want to position the ball well for the approach shot to the green. The green is at a 120 degree angle to the fairway. The approach shot requires a carry over a pond to reach the green. As I had done on practically every other hole, I hit my drive to the left. My ball caught the leaves in one of the trees to the left of the fairway. This took some momentum off the ball. It landed in the left rough, 180 yards from the pin.
I hit my five iron from the rough, over the pond to the front of the green. I then two putted to record my second par in a row.
The fourteenth hole is a 185 yard par three. There are trees running along the right from the tee box to the green. There is a pond short of the green that is fed by a creek that’s off the left front of the green. I hit a 5 hybrid to the right edge of the green, just over the creek, leaving 25 feet to the hole.
My birdie putt stopped just short of the hole. I tapped in for my third par in a row.
The fifteenth hole plays close to 360 yards. There are trees and fescue off the left side of the fairway and trees and bunkers on the right. The right side of the fairway is notched at about 210 yards from the tee box. There is a cluster of bunkers in the notch. My drive hit one of the big trees to the left of the fairway and dropped into the rough, 210 yards from the hole.
With the ball deep in the rough, Zach and I decided that the best play was to lay up to my shortest full shot. I hit my pitching wedge to the middle of the fairway to 85 yards from the flag.
After sailing round the course for several holes, we came upon a group on the green of the fifteenth hole. The group motioned for me to play through. The courtesy afforded a single golfer to play through is always appreciated. But it not without its consequences. Hitting a shot to play through can be one of the toughest shots in golf. The group that lets you play through is watching, you want to hit a good shot so that you don’t slow them down, and you don’t want to embarrass yourself. This is a lot of pressure.
Under the pressure of the aforementioned factors, I took my lob wedge, made a good swing, hit a high shot to five feet to the left of the pin. The ball then rolled to within three feet of the hole.
The group on the green, said “pick it up.” With them giving me the courtesy of playing through, I accepted, and Zach raked my ball in. It was my fourth par in a row.
By the time we reached the sixteenth hole, the wind had strengthened and was in our faces. The sixteenth hole is a 580 yard par five mirror image of the par four ninth hole. The first two-thirds of the fairway is narrow. It widens past the notch on the right side that is filled with a cluster of bunkers. There is a wall of trees that encroach to the right of the fairway. To the left of the fairway is open. I hit a low drive to stay under the wind. I’m not sure whether the 220 yards that the ball traveled was any farther than it would have gone if I’d hit a move lofty drive. The ball did however land in the middle of the fairway.
With a strong wind in my face and 360 yards between my ball and the green, Zach and I decided that laying up short of the bunkers in the notch on the right side of the fairway was the best shot. My shot however, landed well short of the bunkers, leaving 210 yards to the green.
My approach shot missed the green to the right and rolled underneath some bushes. I was able to get a club on the ball and chip it on the green, 20 feet from the flag.
I two putted for a bogey to end my streak of pars.
My play on the last two holes was as unremarkable as the holes. The seventeenth hole was like all the other long par fours. The hole measured around 410 yards. The one exception to the other holes was that there had a bend in this fairway. The curvature of the fairway appeared to follow the contour of the public road just beyond the trees to the right of the hole that formed the northern border of the course. There is a cluster of bunkers off the right side of the fairway, but they are more like the pillows on my bed that I can’t sleep on or the towels in the bathroom that I can’t dry my hands on. In other words they are more decorative than they are in play. I hit my drive to the middle of the very narrow fairway, just 160 yards from the flag.
My approach hit on the front of the green, but rolled off and into the bunker.
One yard farther and I’d be putting for a birdie. Instead, I was hitting an introductory shot from the bunker. It was like when I was in college. On the first day of my Physics 1 class, the professor said, “welcome to Introduction to Physics 1. I know you think you are taking Physics 1, but most of you will fail this class and have to take it again next semester, so just consider this semester to be your introduction to Physics 1.” Fortunately, I was much better at Physics than I am at golf. While it took me two attempts to get out of the bunker, I got out of Physics 1 in one attempt. After reaching the green with my second shot out of the bunker, I two putted for a double bogey.
The final hole at Plainfield Country Club is a 380 yard par four. It is the only par four that isn’t mostly straight. The fairway makes a 90 degree turn to the left about midway out. The fairway ends about 60 yards from the turn before picking up again short of the green. I missed the fairway on my drive, but hit my approach shot to the fringe.
I ended my round with an Debbie downer when I three putted for a bogey. My back nine score matched my front nine score of 43 for a total score of 86.