I headed to the Golf Club in New Albany as the sun rose on a beautiful Ohio morning. The darkness of night was giving way to a light orange glow on the horizon. The tints of orange and glimmers of light signaled the start of a new day filled with hope. There was a gentle quietness and stillness to the morning along with a slight chill in the air as the season continued its march from summer to fall. The scenery transitioned from urban to rural as I approached the club in my Uber on a winding road lined with a white fence. We took a left into what seemed to be a well-maintained park. The crews were out performing their early morning maintenance. The grass was still covered with the morning dew.
As I got out of the Uber I was greeted by Matt who took my clubs and directed me to the men’s locker room. I stopped by the Pro Shop and purchased a couple of items. The assistant pro who was helping me was having trouble with my card. I told him that I was going to head to the men’s locker room and would pick my card up on my way back through.
As I entered the locker room, I was met by the locker room manager, John, who introduced himself and showed me to my guest locker. The men’s locker room was open and spacious. It was reminiscent of a hunting lodge. I changed into my golf shoes and headed back to the Pro Shop. As I entered the Pro Shop, Kevin arrived and introduced himself.
John, who I’d met at Merion and who had organized my rounds in Ohio had arranged for Kevin to host me at the Golf Club. John had introduced us via email and Kevin and I had talked over the phone, but we had not met in person. When I saw Kevin, he looked very familiar. I bushed off his familiarity after I learned that he was a West Point grad. I figured that he looked familiar because he had want I considered that standard black male military officer look. He was tall, clean shaven, had a short haircut, excellent posture, and looked very poised.
Kevin had worked in the energy industry, we were able to quickly identify several people that we both knew, but as far as we knew, our paths had never crossed before. Kevin is also related to the Dean of the business school at NYU. The Dean of the NYU Business School(Stern) and my wife are friends as they are in the same field. So, there were several connections between Kevin and me. John had done well to bring us together.
Soon after meeting Kevin, Charles and Michael arrived. They were the other two golfers that would be joining us for our round. Charles had worked with Kevin at one of the largest public utility company’s in the country. Michael was a former NBA Player who played twelve seasons in the league. He and Kevin were friends and were both members at The Golf Club. Have you noticed that they like to start things with “The” in Ohio? As in “The Ohio State University,” and “The Golf Club.” What’s up with that in The state of Ohio? Anyway, this was by far the tallest foursome on my quest to play the top 100 golf courses in “The” United States as ranked for 2017-18 by “The” Golf Digest magazine.
After our introductions, the four of us jumped on carts and headed to the driving range. The morning air still had a chill in it and the ground was still damp with dew. We all hit a few shots and then headed back to the club house. We met our caddies, Matt and Derek then headed for the first tee to make our 7:30 start time. Matt was on my bag. He was from Cleveland and had a son who played basketball at a Division III school. On this cool morning, we chose to play from the gold tees which measured just under 6600 yards with a rating of 71.6 and a slope of 136.
The course opens with short par four. The first hole plays 325 yards. The fairway starts out narrow with trees on the left and the right but opens up as it crosses a creek and doglegs to the right. There is a cluster of bunkers on the right around 100 yards from the green. The green has a couple of bunkers on the left. I hit my three wood off the tee to the right side of the fairway, about 120 yards from the flag.
My approach shot missed the green to the right.
The flag was position on the back left portion of the green. My chip rolled past the flag and into the rough off the left side of the green. I chipped back onto the green. The ball stopped 3 feet short of the hole. I made the putt to open the round with a bogey.
The second hole is wide open, but long. It measures 390 yards and plays slightly uphill. There are two large waste areas (a.k.a. large flat dirt or sand areas that Pete Dye loves to include on his courses). There are no fairway bunkers on the hole. The hole plays straight, but the green is not visible from the tee box. Kevin and Michael pointed to a tree on the right that I could use as a line for my drive. I hit a short drive to the fairway, leaving 215 yards to the green.
I looked up during my approach shot and shanked the ball to the right. This was probably the worst shot that I could have hit. I was left with an 80 yard shot over a cluster of bunkers on the right side of the green. My third shot landed in the bunker and do did my four shot. I hit onto the green with my fifth shot and one putted for a double bogey.
The third hole is a long and challenging par three. On this chilly morning in New Albany, it was playing 200 yards to a pin positioned at the back of the green, just short of a bunker with the traditional Pete Dye railroad ties. Most of the terrain between the tee box and green was covered with rough, but the last 50 or so yards were a part of a pond. The place to miss on the hole was the right side of the green. The area on the left side of the green was bunker laden. This hole did not set up well for me. I decided to try to hit a cut with my five hybrid. I was concerned that my three hybrid would land on the green and roll into the back bunker. I caught the ball cleanly and started it over the water expecting a fade. The ball flight was just as I’d imagined it, the only problem was that on this cool morning, the ball didn’t travel the expected distance. The ball landed on the front of the green and kicked left into the water.
I took a drop and hit my next shot into the bunker behind the green, nullifying my rationale for not hitting the here hybrid off the tee. I got up and down from the bunker for second double bogey.
The fourth hole is a 525 yard par five. The fairway is narrow but opens up once it gets past the cluster of trees on the right. The fairway is also free of bunkers until about 30 yards from the front of the green. There two bunkers just of the left side that cover the approach to the green. A few trees also come into play on the right side of the fairway as it approaches the green. I hit a short drive to the right rough.
I hit my second shot back into the right rough, 190 yards from the green. My third shot well short of the green. I pitched on to 30 feet and three putted for my third double bogey in a row. I was off to an awful start.
The fifth hole is 355 yard par four. The fairway is wide but sandwiched between trees on the right and a waste area followed by rough on the left. The fairway ends at a creek that cuts cross the front of the green. I hit a three wood off the tee that didn’t travel very far and landed in the left rough leaving 165 yards to the green. My second shot landed in the creek. I took a drop, pitched on to pin high.
I two putted for yet another double bogey. At this point I was not feeling good about my golf. I was enjoying the time getting to know Kevin, Michael, Charles and my caddie Matt, so it was great to be out on the course, but I couldn’t find my rhythm with my swing. I think the week was starting to catch up with me, mentally. Physically I could still swing the club, but I wasn’t concentrating enough. It just reminded me again of how mentally tough professional golfers must be to grind it out for 18 holes for consecutive days in a row.
The sixth hole is rated as the toughest hole on the course. It plays 425 yards. The fairway bends around a thick grove of trees that hug its left side. The right side of the fairway is fairly open. There is a creek that bisects the fairway at about 150 yards from the tee. The green is over a creek and tucked bend the trees that hug the left side of the fairway. I finally kept my head in the game long enough during my swing to remember to keep it down. I made good contact on my drive, but unfortunately the ball ran through the fairway and up against a tree. I had to pitch out to the fairway, leaving 110 yards to the pin.
The green was virtually bunker free. There was one small round bunker squeezed in between a ridge to the left of the green and the left edge of the green.
I hit my third shot to 20 feet below the flag. I missed my par putt, but, put an end to my string of four double bogeys. This ended what had been one of my roughest stretches of golf during my quest.
The seventh hole is the second of the two par fives on the front nine. At 525 yards, it measures the same distance as the par five fourth hole. The fairway is narrow, and tree lined. There are no fairway bunkers. I hit my drive to the left rough.
The ball was sitting up cleanly. I hit my driver to the fairway leaving 135 yards to the pin. I shanked my third shot to the rough near the trees to the right of the right green side bunker. The lie was not very good. I pitched the ball over the bunker and over the green into the small bunker on the green side.
My sand shot got caught up in the rough short of the green. I chipped my next shot into the cup to save bogey.
The eight hole is a nice short par three. There are trees to the left and to the right just off the tee box. The green is tear drop shaped and has water across the front and along the left side. There are three bunkers around the green, but it would require an extraordinarily poor shot for them to be in play. This is especially so with the pin on the left front portion of the green. The green had two tiers and dropped off severely past the flag. The hole was playing just over 135 yards, but a shot of that distance put you at risk of have the ball roll down the slope onto the lower tier at the back of the green. With water to the left of the green and the green side bunkers far to the right, I aimed at the right side of the green and hit a slight draw with my pitching wedge. The ball stopped 40 feet right of the flag.
My birdie putt had good speed, but, was slightly off line. The ball stopped one foot right of the hole. I tapped in for my one and only par on the front nine.
The front nine closes with a 410 yard par four. The fairway bends around trees on the left side and is extremely narrow immediately off the tee box. Like most of the holes on the front nine, there are no fairway bunkers to contend with. There are three small bunkers along the sides of the long narrow green. Two of them are on the right side of the green and a very small one is on the left side of the green. I hit my drive straight down the middle of the fairway, but only 210 yards, leaving slightly over 200 yards to the green.
The flag was pushed onto the left side of the green. I started my approach shot on line with the middle of the green. The ball drew slightly more than I intended and landed in the rough just left of the green.
I chipped on to 15 feet. I hit my putt on a good line but didn’t hit it hard enough. The ball stopped one foot from the center of the cup. I finished the front nine with a bogey and a score of 48.
The back nine opens with a 385 yard par four with trees tightly hugging the right side of the fairway. The trees on the left side have a strip of rough between them and the fairway. The tenth hole is totally bunker free. I hit my drive left of the fairway leaving 190 yards to the pin.
I hit my approach shot right of the green into some very thick rough. It took me a couple of shots to get out of the rough and onto the green. I then two putted for a double bogey.
The 11th hole is a simple 165 yard par three. It has a large green with a long bunker running along the right side and two small circular bunkers on the left side. I hit my tee shot to the right of the green. I chipped on and missed my par putt when the ball stopped on the lip of the cup.
I hit one of my best drives of the round on the 385 yard par four twelfth hole. The hole is wide open off the tee, but, has a cluster of trees along the left side as it approaches the fairway. There are three bunkers sprinkled around the green. My 230 yard drive to the left side of the fairway left me with 155 yards to the green.
My approach shot landed below the flag and then rolled 20 feet past. My birdie putt skimmed the hole. I tapped in for my par.
I failed to take advantage of the short 360 yard par four thirteenth hole. The hole is wide open. Unfortunately for me, there was water along the left side of the green. I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway, leaving just 140 yards to the hole.
I pulled my approach shot. The ball hit on the left side of the green and kicked into the water. I took a drop, pitched on and two putted for a double bogey.
The fourteenth hole is the longest hole on the course. It’s a par five that plays 630 yards from the tips and 575 yards from the gold tees where we were playing. I hit another good drive to the middle of the fairway, but, was still 330 yards out.
With a pond along the left side of the fairway, I hit a nice lay-up away from the water to the left side of the fairway, leaving 135 yards from the pin. My third shot land on the green and I then kicked myself after three putting for a bogey.
My final double bogey came on the fifteenth hole. The hole plays 390 yards and has all the fairway bunkers that were not included on the other holes. I hit my drive through the fairway on the left. The ball rolled behind the only tree could present a problem. I had to hit out to the right. Mr. Dye must have anticipated this because my shot went across the fairway into the bunker on the right side. Why wasn’t this a bunker free fairway! I took two shots and two putts to find the bottom of the cup.
The sixteenth hole is 185 yard par three with a green that has a steep bank on the left that drops into the woods. Any miss on the hole definitely needs to be to the right. My tee shot was long and to the right. I chipped on and two putted for a bogey.
After struggling for most of the round, I closed out the last two holes of the round with pars. The first one came on the 510 yard par five seventeenth hole. I nailed my drive 260 yards down the middle of the fairway. The hole is pretty open but does have fairway bunkers on each side of the fairway at about 130 yards or so from the green and water along the left side all the way past the green.
I laid up on my second shot to 115 yards out and put my approach shot onto the green, 20 feet right of the pin. I then took a long walk in the short grass with my putter in hand and Kevin walking along side with his putter also in hand.
I missed my birdie putt, but was happy to walk off the green and head toward the 18th tee box with a par.
The eighteenth hole at the Golf Club has a generous fairway but makes up for it by requiring a carry over a pond on the approach to the green. The fairway is probably the widest one on the course. The fairway ends at the pond that must be carried on the approach shot. The pond covers the front and the left side of the green, leaving the right side of the green as the only survivable miss. There are no fairway bunkers. I hit my drive to the right center portion of the fairway.
As you can probably imagine, I aimed away from the water and to the right side of the green. The ball landed on the right edge of the green and rolled to pin high. I thought it would roll down toward the flag, but it just stayed on the slope 30 feet from the hole. Matt handed me my putter and I made the walk around the pond toward the final green on the course.
The walk to the green was much better than my birdie putt.
I stayed on line, my ball didn’t. I tapped in for a par to end my round with a 45 on the back nine and a 93 total score.
Our round took a little longer than expected. As soon as we finished, I called for an Uber so that I could head to Muirfield Village for my afternoon round with John. The Uber ride was a very interesting ride. During the ride the driver asked me what I did. I told him that I had just retired after almost 35 years in the energy industry. He then mentioned that he used to trade energy at a utility company. It turned out that it was the same company that Kevin had worked for. I then mentioned that my host at The Golf Club had once worked for that company. My driver asked his name and sure enough he used to work with Kevin. Now if you think the fact that my Uber driver used to work with Kevin, makes it a small world, you are going to really be blown away once I tell you what happened after my round at Muirfield Village. Let me give you something to think about while you anxiously await the posting of my summary of that round.
Do you remember that I told you that I left my charge card with the assistant pro as I headed to the men’s locker room. After getting to Muirfield Village, I made a purchase in the Pro Shop and discovered that I didn’t have my charge card. I immediately remembered that I never got it back from the assistant pro at The Golf Club. I will finish the story during my summary of my round at Muirfield Village. This is exciting, its my first cliff hanger!