John and I met in July when I was at Merion. Malcolmn, my host for my round at Merion had been delayed due to a business issue that had arisen that morning. We had planned to play the West Course at Merion that morning and the Top 100 East Course that afternoon. I was minutes away from Merion when Malcolmn called to inform me that he would be delayed. He suggested that I pass the time at Merion’s world class practice facility. It was while I was at the practice facility, that the stars aligned and John’s life and my life intersected.
John and I were the only two people in the short game area at the practice facility. We greeted each other and struck up a conversation. I asked John whether he was a member at Merion. He explained that he had purchased a round for four during a charity auction and was here with some friends to play the course. He then asked if I’d played the course before. I told him that I hadn’t and was there with a member to play Merion as a part of a quest to play the top 100 Courses in the country in one year.
John then asked why I’d want to do such a thing. He said that if I’d asked him about it, he would have advised me to play the top 50 courses in the top 100 and not worry about the bottom 50. He said trying to play all 100 in a year would require way too much travel. He then said, “but if you are going to do such a stupid thing, I might as well help you.” He told me that he was from Columbus, Ohio and was a member at Muirfield Village, Scioto, and the Golf Club. He asked me for my contact information and said he’d contact me in September with some dates that I could come to Columbus to play the courses. He said it wouldn’t be on a Saturday though because Saturdays in September were reserved for Ohio State football.
I then looked at him and told them that I needed to disclose that my household was a Michigan football household. I told him that my wife had attended the University of Michigan for her graduate degrees and asked him if that was going to be a problem. He looked at me and said, “forget everything I said. I can’t help you!” He paused and then said, “ok, if you are going to do this stupid thing, you really need a lot of help, so I will go ahead and help you.” I don’t think he ever really considered not helping me. I think he was just pulling my chain. I’ve come to learn that John is a great guy who is very thoughtful, kind, and generous, but he also like to pull people’s chain. All in good fun.
Sure enough, when the calendar turned to September, I received an email from John with some dates. He said the weekend of September 29th would work. He had arranged for a friend and fellow member to host me at Scioto on that Saturday afternoon and for another friend and fellow member at the Golf Club to host me on that Sunday morning. He said he would host me at Muirfield Village on that Sunday afternoon.
I was already scheduled to play at the Country Club of Brookline on Friday, September 29th. That last weekend of September was going to be a busy one. After agreeing with John on the dates for the courses in Columbus, I then arranged to play a couple of courses in New York during the days preceding my round scheduled for the Country Club. My plan was to play six top 100 courses in three different states, in five days. This was going to make September my most productive month. It was an ambitious plan, and everything had to go off like clockwork for me to pull it off.
Well, it didn’t go like clockwork. First, Hurricane Irma hit Florida. I received an email from John to let me know that we might have to reschedule the rounds at the courses in Columbus. He and the other guys that were hosting me had homes in Florida that were in the path of Irma. A couple of days later, he sent me a note to let me know that all their homes were fine, and that we were still on for the scheduled dates. Then the next issue arose, my host from one of the New York courses was now scheduled to be out of the country. I then had schedule some other courses in the area to fill my schedule. Finally, on the Monday of that last week in September, my host for my round at the Country Club of Brookline dislocated his shoulder. We were going to have to reschedule the round there for the Spring.
The week didn’t unfold like I’d expected, but things still turned out fine. I got three courses done and the New York area and now it was now Saturday morning and I was in Columbus preparing to play at Scioto. I had flown from Atlanta to Newark on Wednesday morning and attended the morning practice rounds at the Presidents Cup. I then drove across New York City to Croton-on-the-Hudson to play Hudson National. On Thursday morning I played at Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey and then that afternoon I drove across New York City again to Farmingdale on Long Island. I played the Black Course at Bethpage State Park on Friday morning, attended the Presidents Cup on Friday afternoon, and finally flew from Newark to Columbus on Friday night. To say every part of my body and mind were fatigued would probably be an understatement. I was surviving on pure adrenaline.
John had arranged for Dave to host me at Scioto. Dave was one of the guys that was at Merion with him on the day we met. Back in early September when John and I were planning the trip to Columbus, he recommended that I take advantage of Uber while I was in Columbus, so I didn’t rent a car. It was probably prophetic that he made that recommendation. As fatigued as I was, it made a lot more sense for me to not have to worry about staying alert while driving in a city that I’d never been to before. I took an Uber from my hotel to Scioto.
I arrived and Scioto and was directed to the men's locker room and shown my locker for the day. My locker was located next to Arnold Palmer's locker. He had been an honorary member at Scioto.
Dave was already on the driving range when I arrived at the course where the Golden Bear learned to play golf.
Scioto is in a well apportioned neighbor just west of The Ohio State University and just east of the Scioto River. Mr. Nicklaus grew up in a very affluent area. While at the range, Dave introduced me to Steele. Steele was joining us for the round. Also joining us for the round was Danny, one of the Assistant Pros from the Club.
Our Caddies joined us on the range. My caddie was John. He was born in Pittsburgh but grew up in Cleveland. He was now attending The Ohio State University. By the way, I didn’t mention it before, but I must admit, that I was impressed at the size of The Ohio State University campus. I was hard to determine where the University ended, and the city began.
We played from the blue tees. They measured just over 6500 yards with at 72.3 rating and a slope of 136. The first hole is a 400 yard par four. It has a fairway that is lined with trees on both sides. There are three fairway bunkers clustered together on the left side that start at around 250 yards from the blue tees. I hit my drive 245 yards to the right rough, leaving 155 yards to the pin.
Branches from one of the trees on the right side of the fairway prevented me from aiming directly at the flag. The flag was positioned on the left back portion of the green. The green was protected by bunkers on both the left and right sides. I aimed just to the left of the leaves on the tree and just right of the left green side bunkers. My ball faded a little sooner than I wanted and clipped the tree but caught more air than tree. This slowed the ball just enough for it to fade a little more and stop pin high on the green, about 15 feet to the right of the flag.
My birdie putt started on a good line. The ball was tracking directly to the hole but snapped to the left just as it got to the cup. I tapped in for an opening hole par.
The second hole is the number 1 handicap hole on the course. It is also rated as one of the top 100 golf holes in the country. The hole plays 435 yards. A creek runs along the front of the tee boxes, separating them from the fairway. There is a bunker along the right side of the fairway at about 240 yards from the blue tees. The fairway bends slightly to the right. Trees sparsely line both sides of the fairway. The hole was playing into a slight breeze. I hit my drive 235 yards to the left side of the fairway, leaving 200 yards into the breeze to a green with bunkers off the left and right front portions.
The pin was on the left side of the green. I set up for a draw and aimed the ball just inside the right front bunker. I made good contact with my three hybrid but pulled the ball rather than drawing it. The ball landed in rough off the left side of the green, short siding myself.
With much more rough than green between my ball and the pin, I needed to ensure I got the ball onto the green. I chipped the ball past the flag, but with no spin, the ball didn’t stop until it was 35 feet past. I missed my par putt but made the next putt for a bogey.
The third hole is a 370 yard par four with a wide fairway that makes a slight shift from left to right at a fairway bunker that is about 100 yards from the left side of the green. The right side of the fairway has thick trees and the left side has some sparse trees. I hit my drive 250 yards and just to the right of the fairway into the first cut of rough.
My 125 yard approach shot to a flag that was a few paces onto the green, hit onto the front of the green and then rolled off the green and down the slop to about 10 yards off the front of the green.
I chipped on to three feet right of the hole. I made the putt for par. I had been concerned that my fatigue would adversely affect my game after such an exhausting week. At this point in the round, I was feeling good about my swing. I think the level of fatigue was just enough to improve my tempo. I was pleased with my two pars, one bogey start. For the most part, I was controlling the ball.
The fourth hole is the first par three on the course. The hole plays 185 yards to a well bunkered green. There is a small bunker in front of the green on the left and some rather large bunkers on the left and right sides of the green. I hit my first really bad shot when I pulled the ball off the tee. The ball landed just short of the comfort station that was across the cart path to the left of the green.
I worsened the situation when I tried to hit a flat shot to bump the side of the green. The shot I’d envisioned was one where the ball hit the slope, hopped onto the green and stopped near the flag that was positioned on the left side of the green. That didn’t quite work. I left the ball short of the slope and it just died in the rough. I then chipped on and two putted for a double bogey. A double bogey that was due to my bad decision making, not my fatigue.
That one hole got into my head. I had gotten off to a good start but killed my score with three more successive double bogeys. The next one came on 430 yard par four fifth hole. The hole has a wide fairway that runs down to a creek that crosses it at about 280 yards out. There is a pond to the right of the hole, but it would take a hard slice for it to come into play. The hole started innocently enough with a nice drive down the middle of the fairway.
My approach shot landed to the right of the right green side bunker. I pitched the ball over the bunker and onto the green. The ball rolled across the green and off the other side. I chipped back onto the green and two putted for my second double bogey.
The sixth hole is a short par five. It plays just under 490 yards. The fairway is very narrow and lined with trees on the right. There are also a few trees sprinkled along the left side of the fairway. The fairway makes a dogleg to the left at 200 yards from the tee box. I sliced my drive to the trees on the right. I hit a nice three wood out of the trees to first cut on the right side of the fairway, 122 yards from the flag.
My back foot slipped during my swing on my approach shot and the ball came up short of the green landed in the left rough.
My short game went to heck in a handbasket and it took me four more shots to get the ball to the bottom of the cup from about 20 yards out.
After three double bogeys, I started to over swing and went on to make my fourth double bogey on the short seventh hole, after hitting a short slice off the tee. The hole is a simple hole. The fairway plays straight, has heavy trees on the right and is reasonably open on the left. The are bunkers on both sides of the fairway at about 100 yards short of the green.
After slicing my drive to the right rough, I left my approach shot short of the green and to the right of the right green side bunker. My third shot landed in the bunker. I hit out of the bunker and two putted for the double bogey.
Things got a little better on the 500 yard par five eighth hole, but the damage was already done by then. The hole is very open. There are just a few trees on either side of the fairway. A creek divides the fairway at about 140 yards from the green and feeds a pond that runs the full length along the left side of the remaining fairway and the green. I missed the fairway on my drive and decided to lay up short of the creek with my second shot.
My approach shot missed the green. I pitched onto the green and two putted for a welcomed bogey to stop the double bogey madness.
The front nine ends with a short par three of 145 yards. The ever-present creek divides the area between the tee box and the green in half. The green has irregularly shaped bunkers surrounding it. I hit my tee shot into the bunker, hit my sand shot onto the green, and then two putted for a bogey to finish the front nine with a disappointing 47.
I tried to recompose myself on the back nine. The 10th hole is a 400 yard par four. The fairway starts out very narrow, but widens as it passes the bunker on the right that is about 200 yards down the fairway. I hit a short drive to the middle of the fairway, leaving more than 200 yards to the green.
With that ever-present creek crossing in front of the green, I decided to lay up short of the creek rather than going for the green on my second shot.
I hit my third shot to the green and then two putted for a bogey to open the back nine.
The 11th hole is the second of the two short par fours on the course. It plays just 340 yards. There are a few trees sprinkled along the sides of the fairway and a bunker on each side of the fairway at about 80 yards from the middle of the green. I managed to hit my drive to a spot in the left rough that left me with trees blocking my shot to the green. I tried to split two trees on my approach shot. I have often been able to hit nice recovery shots during my quest, as long as I could visualize the shot. This time I was not able to execute the shot that I’d pictured in my mind. My ball hit one of the trees full mask and kicked backwards, but into the fairway. I went from being about 130 yards from the green to being 160 yards from the green.
My third shot landed on the green, just one foot left of the flag and rolled 15 feet past. I missed my par putt and settled for a bogey.
The par five twelfth hole plays 500 yards from the blue tees. It is the number 2 handicap hole on the course. The fairway is narrow and has a slight bow from right to left. There are fairway bunkers on the left at about halfway between the tee box and the green. As with most of the holes on the course, there are trees to contend with on both sides of the fairway. I hit my drive to the right against a wall and underneath some trees. I was actually just happy that my ball was still in play. My only shot was a chip back to the fairway leaving 260 yards to the green.
I laid up with my third shot to 85 yards short of the green. I hit my fourth shot to just off the left side of the green. I chipped on to two feet and made the putt for my third straight bogey on the back nine.
The 13th hole is a 420 yard par four. The tee box is pressed up against a wall of trees that shields the course from a road that borders the course to the right of the hole. I hit my drive to the left and to the edge of the second cut of rough.
My approach shot hit just off the slope on the right side of the green and kicked into the green side bunker.
My sand shot skimmed the hole and rolled five feet past the cup. I missed the five-footer and tapped in for my fourth consecutive bogey.
The 14th hole is a long par three. It plays 195 yards to a lightly guarded green. The front of the green is wide open and has about 80 yards of fairway leading up to it. The greenside bunkers are set to the left and the right of the green. I tried to start my tee shot along the left side of the green and fade the ball to the right side of the green. The ball faded just a little more than I expected and rolled into the right green side bunker. I hit my sand shot onto the green and two putted for another rotten stinking bogey.
My only double bogey on the back nine came on the 390 yard par four fifteenth hole. The hole has a generous fairway. It makes a dogleg to the right and has a couple of fairway bunkers to the left of the fairway as it makes the turn in the dogleg. There are thick trees to the right. I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway.
I missed the green to the right on my approach shot. It took me two chips to get onto the green, but I made a one putt for a bogey.
The sixteenth hole is a 395 yard par four. The trees on the right side of the fairway are a wee bit closer than the trees on the left side. Still the fairway is framed by some tall trees. I think this is the only fairway on the course that is free of bunkers. I hit my drive right down the middle of the fairway. My swing was back!
That ever-present creek crossed the fairway about thirty yards before the front of the green. It was only in play if you let it get in your head. I didn’t, but I did land my approach shot just short of the green.
I putted from off the green to just short of the hole, which was 50 feet away. I made the short putt for a much needed bogey.
Jack Nicklaus’ first ever hole in one came on the par three seventeenth hole at Scioto. The hole plays 160 yards over a small pond that is feed by that ever-present creek, to a long and narrow green.
I was the only person in our foursome to miss the green. I missed by just inches after my tee shot landed just off the green in the rough between the right side of the green and the right green side bunker.
I still used my flat stick to putt from the rough. I got the ball to five feet and used my flat stick in the more traditional fashion to score a par on the hole.
It had been a round that started well but got loose for four holes on the front nine, and then got at least acceptable again. Now we were at the final hole. The eighteenth hole is long and straight with a narrow fairway that gets even more narrow halfway to the hole. I hit my drive to just short of the long fairway bunker on the right.
My approach shot landed just over the bunker on the left side of the green. I chipped onto the green to five feet but missed my par putt and closed my round with a bogey and a score of 43 on the back nine for a total score of 90.
Following our round, Dave, Steele, Danny and I posed with our caddies next to the sign that commemorated the playing of the 2016 Senior USA Open at Scioto.
We then gathered for a drink on the patio just outside the back of the club house. Bill Stines, the Head PGA Professional for Scioto stopped by and chatted for a moment about my quest and some of the other courses that I’d played. After our drink, Dan gave me a tour of the Clubhouse. During the tour he took me to a room honoring the Golden Bear. The room included historic photos of Mr. Nicklaus and a wall plaque recognizing his major champions.
It had been a wonderful day of golf and comradery, but I was utterly exhausted, I returned to my hotel and made it an earlier night so that I’d have the energy for my rounds at The Golf Club and Muirfield Village on the next day.