The cool morning in Ohio turned into a very pleasant afternoon. After finishing my round at the Golf Club in New Albany, I hopped in an Uber and headed across town to Dublin for an afternoon round at Muirfield Village with John. John and I met in the short game practice area at Merion. He had graciously offered to set up rounds for me at the Top 100 courses in the Columbus, Ohio area where he was a member. He had arranged for a fellow member and friend to host me at Scioto Country Club on the previous Saturday afternoon and for another fellow member and friend to host me at the Golf Club on that Sunday morning. He was hosting me for my final round of the weekend at Muirfield Village.
Muirfield Village marked the end of the most golf filled week of my life. It started the weekend before with my attendance at the 3rd and 4th rounds of the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta followed by attendance at the morning practice rounds at the Presidents Cup at Liberty National in Newark, NJ on Wednesday. That afternoon I drove across New York City to Croton-on-the-Hudson to play at Hudson National and then drove back to Plainfield, NJ that night so that I could play at the Plainfield Country Club on Thursday morning. Following my round on Thursday morning, I drove across New York City again to Farmingdale to play Bethpage Black on Friday morning. After my round at Bethpage Black, I made one last cross island drive back to New Jersey to catch the final groups for their Friday afternoon matches at the Presidents Cup.
As if that wasn’t enough, I hopped on a plane in New Jersey and flew to Columbus, Ohio on Friday night, arriving slightly before midnight. To prove that at 58, I still have stamina, I got up on Saturday morning and headed over to Scioto for my round with Dave. It was now Sunday afternoon and I’d had a rough go of it at the Golf Club. I was hopeful that I could maintain my concentration for 18 more holes.
John and I met in the clubhouse. He provided me with a mini tour and introduced me around. We then headed to the pro shop so that I could buy a cap and a medallion. When I got ready to pay for them, I noticed that my charge card was not in my wallet. I immediately remembered that I never got it back from the assistant pro at the Golf Club. I’d given it to him to pay for my cap and medallion for the Golf Club while I went to the men’s locker room to change my shoes. When I returned to the Pro Shop, I met Kevin, my Golf Club host and completely forgot about my card.
John made a call to the club. They confirmed that they still had my card. I made a call to Kevin to see if he could pick it up for me. Kevin agreed to pick of the card and then he invited me to join his family for dinner at their house that evening. That would allow me to meet his family, pick up my charge card and pick up the scorecard from our round, which I forgot to get from him that morning. After much back and forth between John, Kevin and me, we settled on that as the plan.
John and I then grabbed a cart and headed to the practice range. John had done a lot for me to make this week happen. He thoughtfulness continued as we readied ourselves for our round. We were initially going to walk the course. John in his infinite wisdom decided that we should take a cart to ensure we could finish before sunset. I’m sure he was also thinking that after my long week, no amount of stamina was going to be enough to get me through 18 more holes. As much as I like to walk courses, I will be forever grateful to him for his thoughtfulness. It almost ranks right up there with all he did to arrange the weekend for me. This I know after my time with him, he is one of those folks that is just the salt of the earth. He adds much flavor to life. I am so thankful for what he did for a complete stranger that he met on a golf course in Pennsylvania.
This quest to play the top 100 courses as ranked by Golf Digest for 2017-18 is an amazing journey. The people that I meet along the way continue to reinforce how much good there is in this world and in this quilt of a country that we call the United States of America. There is so much more that unites us than there is that separates us. I am a man most blessed to have this opportunity to spend a year experiencing the goodness that binds us.
After our warm up on the range, John and I connected with our Caddie, Brad, a.k.a Spider. I think his Dad is the real Spider, so maybe he is Spider Jr. Anyway, he is a full-time caddie. He told me that he goes down to Florida to caddie during the winter months.
We headed to the first tee. I had played several courses up to this point in my quest with storied histories that include the Golden Bear. I’d played just the day before at the course where he hit his first golf ball. I’d played several other courses with plagues that commemorate his play there. I was now at the course he built. This course probably more than any other is the house that Jack built. This is the course that they all come to recognize and honor the legend that he is. This is the home of the annual Memorial Tournament and there I was on the first tee about to hit my drive.
Before we hit our drives, Brad told me that this course was something like a home course for Jason Day. He lives in Ohio not too far from the club. Ohio is also where he met his wife.
John and I played from the white tees. They measure 6300 yards with a rating of 72 and a slope of 143. Like all of Mr. Nicklaus’ courses, this was going to be a challenging course. The first hole is a 390 yard par four. The fairway has a slight dogleg right. There are trees close off the left side of the fairway. The fairway is fairly open off the right side after you get past the trees near the tee box. There is a cluster of three bunkers off the right side of the fairway in the inside radius of the dogleg turn. I hit my drive 225 yards to the right rough leaving 175 yards to the hole.
I topped my second shot and then hit my third shot onto the back of the green. The ball rolled off and into the rough. I chipped on to three feet and made the putt to open with a bogey.
At 400 yards, the second hole plays slightly longer than the first. The hole is straight forward. The tee boxes are elevated from a fairway that starts just beyond a narrow creek. The fairway has trees that are very tight on the right side and trees that are slightly set back on the left side. The only bunkers on the hole are those that are around the green. I hit my drive to the right rough.
I left my approach shot short and then pitched over the back of the green. Fortunately, the ball stopped and didn’t roll into the creek behind the green. I chipped back onto the green to five feet of the cup but missed the bogey putt and made a double bogey on the hole.
The third hole is rated as the 10th toughest hole on the course, but I think the lay out makes it more challenging than some of the holes that are rated as more difficult. The fairway starts just beyond a creek that is about 100 yards from the tee box and ends at about 100 yards from the green at a pond that continues past the right side of the green. While there is a stretch of rough that runs along the left side of the pond, up to the front of the green, the approach shot requires carrying at least a portion of the pond. The left side of the green is lined with three bunkers.
I hit my drive to right portion of the fairway. This provided a nice angle to the green. Shots to the left side of the fairway could be blocked to the green by trees off to the left and at the very least would require a carry over more of the pond. My approach shot carried the water, but, rolled back in after landing just short of the right front portion of the green. I made a double bogey after taking a drop, pitching on to the green and two putting.
The first par three on the course is the 160 yard 4th hole. While it’s not the shortest par three on the course, it’s the easiest one. There is no water or other trouble to carry to reach the green. The front of the green has open fairway leading up to it. There is a horse shoe shaped array of bunkers that start on the right side of the green, bends around the back and then runs along the left side.
I left my tee shot a few yards short of the green in the short grass.
I then used to a Texas wedge to get to five feet of the cup, but then missed the par putt and settled for a bogey.
At 475 yards, the fifth hole is a short par five, but it is not without its challenges. The hole looks innocent from the tee box. Just over halfway from the tee box to the green, a creek cuts crosses from the left side of the fairway and then runs down the middle of the fairway cutting it half. The creek widens the closer it gets to the left side of the green. I hit a 240 yard drive to the right rough.
At 240 yards from the flag, I took out my seven iron expecting to lay up to 80 yards, leaving a lob wedge shot to the green. I caught a slight flyer and ended up with a shot that traveled 10 yards further that I expected, leaving me in the fairway, but with 70 yards to the pin.
I took a little off my lob wedge shot. The ball was on line with the flag but ended up 10 feet past it. John hit his third shot to five feet.
We both missed our birdie putts and made pars on the hole. It was John’s second par and my first.
The sixth hole is a grip it and rip it hole. It has a wide fairway that is unencumbered by trees. The fairway does narrow as it approaches a pond that separates the end of the fairway from the front of the green. There are fairway bunkers off the left and right sides of the fairway, but with such a wide fairway, they shouldn’t be in play. My attempt to grip and rip my drive resulted in me topping the ball. My eyes were bigger than my swing capability. The ball did, however make it to the fairway.
I laid up with my second shot to 115 yards out. I hit my third shot to 18 feet to the right of the pin. I then two putted for a bogey.
The seventh hole is a 520 yard par five. It has a long and narrow fairway but does have a generous buffer of rough between the edges of both sides of the fairway and the trees that line the hole. There are dual sets of bunkers on the left and right sides of the fairway at about two-thirds of the way to the green. I hit my drive to the fairway and then got into trouble when I tried to hit my driver off the deck, I topped the ball and wasted a shot.
I laid up with my third shot and then hit my fourth shot over the bunkers on the right side of the green to the rough off the back of the green.
I got up and down for a bogey.
The eight hole is the shortest par three on the course. The only reason it is the second easiest par three rather than the easiest is because it has a well bunkered green. The green is almost completely surrounded by bunkers. There is a long one that starts off the front right green and wraps around a portion of the left side of the green. There is another long bunker along the right side of the green that wraps around the back of the green. There is smaller bunker along the left side of the green that covers almost all the area on the left side not covered by the other two bunkers I mentioned. The best bet is just put your tee shot on the green and you don’t have to worry about all that. I hit my tee shot right at the flag, but not far enough. The ball carried the bunker and landed 10 yards on the green and spun back rather than kicking forward, leaving a putt of over 100 feet.
Miraculously, I two putted from that far away distance and made a par on the hole. It was one of those rare holes during the round where both John and I made a par. John hit his tee shot to almost pin high but missed the green slightly to the left of the flag. Somehow the ball hung up in the rough and didn’t roll into the bunker. He chipped on to eight feet and drained the putt for par.
Unfortunately, John and I were much better at making double bogeys on the same hole than we were at making pars on the same hole. We both made double bogeys on the 365 yard par four ninth hole. The fairway is narrow with trees tightly lining the left and right sides of the fairway. The fairway ends at a creek that cuts across the front of the green. The green has irregularly shaped bunkers off the left side and on the back right. I hit my drive to the to few yards off the left side of the fairway, but it was enough to be blocked by trees. I chipped out to the middle of the fairway, leaving 175 yards to the flag.
With water in front of the green and bunkers to the left and the right, a shot to this green can be a little scary. I wanted to save par on the hole so that I could finish the front nine under 45. I decided to play the distance and go for the pin. I missed the green to the left with my five iron. I was fortunate to clear the bunker. My chipped rolled by the flag and to the front of the green. I two putted from there for a double bogey. So much for staying under 45, I shot a 46 on the front nine.
The back nine starts with the longest par four on the course. The tenth hole plays 410 yards from the white tees. It has one of those narrow fairways with buffers of generous rough between the edges and the trees. There are a couple of trees off each side of the front of the tee box, that don’t present an issue from the white tees, but they could be problematic from the farther back tees. Did I mention the fairway bunkers? Well there are two; one on the left and one on the right. The one on the right was farther down the fairway than the one on the right. As a matter of fact, it was positioned in the exact spot that I hit my ball to, and it was big and deep!
My sand shot caught the lip of the bunker and landed in the first cut of rough just off the fairway, 115 yards from the flag.
The flag was tucked behind a bunker off the right front of the green. My third shot landed on the green a couple of feet to the right of the flag and then rolled down the slop and away from the flag.
My par putt rolled over the edge of the cup. I tapped in for a bogey.
The 11th hole is a 485 yard par five. The tee box is elevated above the fairway. There is a creek that runs along the left side of the fairway and then cuts across the fairway to run along the right side before bending back across the front of the green. I hit my drive 250 yards to the middle right portion of the fairway.
I aimed down the middle on my lay up, but the ball faded toward the creek. I couldn’t see whether the ball went into the creek or stopped short. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got close enough to see that the ball had stayed in the rough just to the left of the creek, leaving 75 yards to the pin.
However, just like on the par five fifth hole, I hit my lay up a little farther than I planned. I now had less then a full club to the flag. I hit my approach shot away from the bunker and the creek on the left side of the green. I took too much off the shot and landed short of the green.
I putted onto the green to within five feet of the flag. I misunderstood Brad’s instructions on the line and hit my par putt on the wrong side of the hole. I tapped in for a disappointing bogey.
The 12th hole at Muirfield Village looked eerily similar to another 12th hole that I’d played on my quest. It is a 145 yard par three with a 10 yard deep green that has a water carry, a bunker on the front and one on the back. When I mentioned this to John, he assured me that Mr. Nicklaus had said that any resemblance to the 12th hole at Augusta National was purely coincidently. Granted, there are no azaleas and the water starts just off the front of the tee box, but I’m just say…it looked eerily similar to me!
The other similarity was my score. I made a double bogey on the hole. My tee shot cleared the pond but landed on the left front slope off the front of the green and rolled into the water. I hit my second tee shot onto the green and two putted for the double.
The thirteenth hole is a short 360 yard par four. There is a tree lined chute between the tee box and the beginning of the fairway. The fairway has a slight dogleg to the left with a fairway bunker in the inner radius of the bend. I hit my drive into the trees on the right side of the fairway and had to punch out. I hit my third shot onto the green to the left of the pin which was tucked behind a bunker off the left front of the green.
I missed the 15 foot putt for par and made a bogey on the hole.
At 325 yards, the fourteenth hole is the shortest par four on the course. The hole is somewhat like the much longer par five 11th hole. There is a creek that runs along the left side of the fairway and then cuts across the fairway before it bends to run down the right side. Unlike the 11th hole, the creek does not cross back in front of the green. It continues along the right side of the green. I hit the perfect tee shot with my three hybrid right down the middle of the fairway and short of the creek.
Unfortunately, next two shots weren’t so perfect. My approach shot barely cleared the bunker off the left side of the green.
My chip rolled way past the hole. I two putted for a bogey.
I made a complete mess of the very short par five 15th hole. The hole plays 465 yards and is one of the few holes on the course that plays up hill. I hit my drive to the right rough and was very happy to find my ball. I wasn’t sure that I’d find it after it went right coming off the tee.
I was so happy to find my ball that I looked up during my second shot and topped the ball. I then tried to reach the green with my third shot and caught the ball fat. I feared the ball had gone into the creek that ran across the rough just beyond where the fairway ends and about 20 yards short of the front of the green. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the ball had stopped short of the creek.
I pitched my fourth shot over the green, and then chipped on and two putted for my finally double bogey of the round. Unlike me, John played the hole well and made a par.
The 16th hole is a 150 yard par three. There is a pond on left of the fairway leading to the green that continues along the left side of the green. The tee box is offset to the left of the green thus requiring a carry over the pond to reach the green. I hit my tee shot to the green and two putted for a par.
The seventeenth hole is 390 yard par four. The hole is wide open with the trees on the hole set far back. There are four bunkers that frame the middle of the fairway about halfway to the green. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway. The ball rolled to the first cut of rough in between the two bunkers off the left side of the fairway.
I hit my approach over the bunker on the left side of the green. I had to pitch back over the bunker to the green on my third shot. I then two putted for a bogey.
It had been a long week. I was now standing on the tee box of the final hole of my swing though Columbus, Ohio with the man that made it possible. The 18th hole is a beautiful finishing hole. The fairway bends to the right around bunkers and a few trees. The left side of the fairway is lined with trees. The fairway ends at a well bunkered slightly up hill green that is set in front of the club house. I hit my drive to the first of the three bunkers that the fairway bends around on the right side.
I now had a decision to make. There were two more bunkers just past the one my ball was in. If I went for the green and caught the lip, I could end up in one of the other two bunkers. The safe shot was to take a lob wedge and hit the ball to the fairway. I decided to go for it. I caught too much sand on my shot and left the ball about 60 yards short of the front right pin.
John was also short of the green. We both hit very nice pitch shots to within five feet of the pin.
John made his par putt. I missed mine and closed my round with a 46 to match my front nine for a 92 for the round.
After our round, John treated me to a Muirfield tradition, a delicious milkshake. It was my second specialty milkshake during my quest. The first one was at Castle Pines. I will have to do some research on which club started the tradition. If any of you reading my blog, know the answer to that, please drop me note.
I finished my milkshake and John gave me a ride back to my hotel so that I could clean up before heading to Kevin’s for dinner that evening.
I final arrived at Kevin’s after my Uber driver got lost on the way his house. Where was that Uber driver that knew him when I need him!
Ok, here it is. The end of the cliffhanger! As soon as I walked through the door and saw Kevin’s wife Kathryne, I realized that I had met them before. I immediately said, I know you, I’ve meet you before. We then started to work on figuring out where we had met them before. First, we discovered even more mutual friends than Kevin and I had determined when we were at the Golf Club. Our lives had been intertwined with multiply mutual friends.
When Kathryne mentioned that she had studied engineering at Stanford, I thought that perhaps we had met at a National Society of Engineering Conference. But then I thought of other people that I knew who had engineering degrees from Stanford. The first one I thought of was Troy. Kevin and Kathryne said they knew him. Then It clicked. My brain took me back twenty years to Troy’s wedding in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. And I said, “that’s it! We met at Troy’s and Sonya’s wedding.”
Yes, that was it. I told them that Erika and I met them in front of the church right before the wedding. We had a conversation that we continued as we walked into the church. We then ran into them again at an Applebee’s following the wedding. It all started coming back to me. I remembered that Kevin was a West Point grad with a business degree from Wharton and Kathryne was a Stanford grad with a MBA from Harvard. Back then, they were engaged and about to get married.
So, there you have it. Thanks to John, Kevin, Kathryne, Erika and I had now been reunited after 20 years. Isn’t that an awesome story about how small the world is? I mean, I met a guy in Pennsylvania who invited me to play golf in Ohio. He then arranged for friends to host me at the different clubs. It then turned out that I had met one of those hosts twenty years earlier. Oh, I forgot to mention that Kathryne had worked closely with the wife of one of Erika’s former University of Virginia colleagues, Martin. Martin and Rachel remain very good friends. Erika and I are linked to Kevin and Kathryne in so many ways.
I would like to once again express my sincere gratitude to John for his thoughtfulness, kindness, and generosity. The weekend far exceeded my expectations.
Oh, do any of you watch the Marvel movies? You know how after the credits, they always have a final scene at the very end. I have one of those too!
On that Monday morning following my weekend in Columbus, I flew to Houston. The guy sitting next to me one the plane and I didn’t say a word to each other during the flight. During the flight I spend time working on my blog. As the plane landed, he asked if I was in Columbus to play golf. He had seen the pictures on my computer. I then told him the story about how the guy who hosted me at the Golf Club turned out to be someone that I had met twenty years earlier. He then said, “you aren’t talking about Kevin, are you?” I then said, “don’t tell that you know Kevin!” He said, “yes I do, we were neighbors in New Albany.”
I’m probably going to get notes from fifty other people that know Kevin!