I should have seen it coming. All the elements were aligned. First I shot my personal best at my home course. I'd struggled with my game from the first time I placed a ball on a tee and swung a club at Cherokee. I'd often scored in the eighties, but shot in the low 90’s more often than the low 80’s. I'd shot 80 a few times, but had never broken 80 on either of the two courses at Cherokee. All of that changed on a nice cool Sunday morning that started the week that I would play golf at Pikewood National Golf Club.
On that Sunday morning I would breeze around the course with my caddie, Melvin. All the elements of my game came together like a finely tuned watch. I drove the ball long and straight, driving it in the middle on all but two fairways. Approach shots landed on the green. Putts found the bottom of the cup. Practically every shot, the good ones and the few bad ones I made, landed in good places. On this cool sunny Sunday morning, I had peaked. I shot an easy 76 with an eagle putt that missed by a fraction and several birdie putts that stopped short of the hole. There was nowhere for me to go now but down. And down I went!
The other elements forming the perfect storm included a short night. I usually play my worst after a long travel day. On this day, I had arrived at my hotel at 1:30 am, after flying from Houston to Pittsburgh and making the one hour and a half drive to Morgantown, West Virginia. Then there was the course. Let me be very clear. The sign that they have at Bethpage Black should be relocated to Pikewood. This is the hardest course I’ve played. This course has the power to make grown men buckle in the knees and breakdown and cry.
We chose to play from about 6950 yards. The slope was 151. The rating which I think is understated, was 75.6. About now a reasonable person might ask why we chose to play so far back on a such a difficult course. And I'd like to say it’s because I like a challenge, but while I like a challenge, I like challenges that are realistic, like playing the Top 100 golf courses in a year. We chose to play almost 7000 yards because there are only two sets of tees. The other choice was 7650 yards with the USGA maximum slope of 155 and a rating of 79.3.
So yes I should have seen it coming, this wild and wonderful West Virginia Experience. I was wild and the course was wonderful. It is a beautiful and well designed course. The tee boxes, fairways and greens are situated with vistas that provide breathtaking views of the beautiful terrain that is West Virginia. If my eyes had been as fixated on my golf ball as they were on the beautiful scenery, I probably would not have needed 105 strokes to complete my round. How do you shoot a 105? By missing the five-foot putt that would have given you a 104!
Upon arrival at Pikewood National with David, Mike, and Jimmy with a “y”, I should have just left my golf clubs in the car and taken a beautiful unspoiled walk through Pikewood. David, aka Turbo was our host. Mike and I had met when we both were at Prairie Dunes Country Club. He has become a critical part of my quest. He has generously used his extensive connections to assist me with access to some of the most exclusive clubs across the country. Clubs with very few members. Pikewood was our first opportunity to play together. He flew in from Austin, Texas on the day before, at a much more reasonable hour. Jimmy is a former airline guy who works with Turbo. Mike and Turbo know each other through a mutual friend who happens to be Turbo’s business partner.
Turbo informed us that there were only two rules at Pikewood that we should be mindful of. First there was no swearing. Not a problem for me since I prefer the more verbose form of the English language rather than the efficient use of colorful metaphors. To ensure you are clear by what I mean by that, your sentiment about a person can be expressed clearly and without ambiguity in two words if you use a color metaphor with the first letter of the first word being an “F”. I on the other hand without colorful metaphors in my vocabulary, I need at least an entire sentence to express that sentiment. But on this day at Pikewood, my vocabulary came close to being expanded. “Gosh Darn” and “Poop Occurs” just didn’t fully capture the moments as well as some of those colorful metaphors could.
The second rule at Pikewood was no hats in the clubhouse. That one I had to constantly remind myself of, but I was able to adhere to it.
I've already mentioned that I counted 105 strokes during my round. I won't make the reading of this blog as torturous for you as taking that many strokes were for me by describing all 105 of them. I will highlight a few and focus more on the wild and wonderful experience that is golf at Pikewood. Just know that my round at Pikewood was the best round of 105 strokes that I've ever played.
While all of the elements of a high score were aligned, so too were all of the elements of a great day on the golf course. Turbo, Mike, and Jimmy are just a fun group of guys to play a round of golf with. Neither took themselves nor their golf games so seriously that they forgot we were playing a game and a game can be fun regardless of how well you perform because it is just a game. And all had single digit or near single digit handicaps. Turbo had his speaker on Bluetooth to his iPhone. We played the entire round with wonderful music in the background. How cool is that. And then there were our caddies, Nathan and Randy. What a couple of great guys. They were expertly skilled at their jobs and about as witty as any set of caddies that I've had during my quest. You would think that after a round with a 105 strokes, you’d be elated to see it end, but because of the elements I just mentioned, I was actually sad to see the round end. I would have been fine with my long torturous death on Pikewood National continuing.
So now let’s talk a little golf. At 6950 yards, every hole is long, so we can dispense with the “this is a long hole” thing and just get right down to business. Also, every fairway is narrow with thick deep rough and trees. Every hole also has a name. The first hole is called the Full Nelson.
The hole plays close to 400 yards. The fairway doglegs left. The only bunker is the one off the front left of the uphill green. There are very few fairway bunkers on the course. With thick rough and tight trees, every hole is already hard enough. Adding fairway bunkers would have just been mean. I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway.
I missed the green to the right with my approach shot.
I pitched over the bunker toward the hole. The ball rolled 15 feet past the cup. I two-putted for a bogey. Five stokes down, only 100 more to go.
I got seven of those one hundred on Brassie, the second hole. The hole plays 400 yards that are a straight shot to a green that looks like it falls off into a horizon with endless beauty. This was jaw dropping beauty. There was one fairway bunker on the right on this hole.
I played military golf on the hole, pulling my drive to the left rough, before punching out the fairway, then hitting into that one bunker on the left. I hit out of the bunker to the right rough and then on the green on the left. My other two strokes were a chip and a putt.
The beautiful scenery continued on Finster, the 212 yard down hill par three. The hole has a green with long bunkers along the left and right sides and beautiful mountain scenery for a backdrop. I hit my tee shot to some really thick rough to the right of the right bunker.
I then hit into the bunker, onto the green and two putted for a double. Three holes and 17 strokes down. Fifteen holes and 88 strokes to go.
Pott hole, the 460 yard par four fourth hole plays down hill to a fairway that cuts through the trees as it bends slightly to the right. There is one bunker off the right side of the fairway at about 270 yards from the tee. The green on this hole is framed by trees with bunkers short and to the right and off the left front. I hit my drive to the right rough about 15 yards short of the bunker.
It took four more strokes to get the ball to the bottom of the cup. I made a double on the hole.
The fifth hole, Mow Green, is a 165 yard par three. 45 of the last 65 yards are over a small pond. My tee shot cleared the pond and hit left of the green. I chipped on and two-putted for a rare bogey. Five holes and 27 strokes, see that wasn’t so painful…for you!
I picked up six more on “On the Rocks.” This is the 360 yard par four sixth hole. The fairway has no bunkers and ends at about 270 yards from the tee. The green is at almost a 90-degree angle from the end of the fairway. This hole is one of only two par fours that are shorter than 400 yards, the first hole was the other. In addition, it has what is probably the widest fairway on the course. It also has a first cut of rough which I hit my drive to. With all of that, you would think I could take advantage of the hole – NOT!
I had a good drive and hit a great approach shot right over the flag. The ball carried just a few yards too far into the deep rough just off the back of the green. From the fairway, I didn’t realize how bad this news was.
It was very bad news, and a clear opportunity to expand my vocabulary. The green was a two-tiered green that sloped back to front. The green was also 45 yards deep. There was no way to stop the ball on the top tier when chipping from the deep rough off the back of the green. My ball landed on the green just short of the flag with a very slow roll. But it just kept going and going and going. It didn’t stop until it was almost to the front of this 45 yard green. From there I three putted for a double bogey. Like I said, this course will bring you to your knees and make you cry like a baby.
The seventh hole is named Nadine. It is a 495 yard par five. Nadine looks pretty and innocent from the tee box, but don’t be fooled by her beauty. There are two segments to the fairway. The first 280 yards of the hole is on the first segment. The second segment starts before the first one ends and continues to the green with the first 70 yards overlapping to the right. The two segments are separated by thick rough. I hit my drive to the first cut of rough off the right side of the fairway.
What followed was similar to what follows that famous three words, “hold my beer,” nothing good. I made a triple bogey on the hole.
The eighth hole is also a par five. It is called Audacity and it is the mother of all par fives. It is not the longest par five I’d played so far, that honor belongs to the 18th hole at Erin Hill, but the layout makes it the toughest. On a straight line, the tee box and the green are separated by a mere 350 yards over a deep ravine. Audacity plays 530 yards. The fairway bends along the edge of the ravine, going from left to right and then back to the right. The only bunker on the hole is the one on the right side of the green, which puts it between the tee box and the green. I guess this is just in case Dustin Johnson showed up and tried to drive the green.
I don’t know for certain why the hole is named Audacity, but I can guess it is because some people have the audacity to believe that they can cut off the corner. From the tee box it looks like you can, but trust me, you can’t. The shortest line requires a 240 to 250 yard carry. I tried twice and failed. I put two balls into the ravine and wrote an 8 on my scorecard and called it a day.
The only sensible shot is to hit the ball toward the trees on the left. This is exactly what Turbo and Jimmy did. A 250 yard drive on that line leaves you with a 230 yard carry across the ravine and over the bunker to reach the green. Again, the smart shot is not along that line, it is a shot of at least 180 yards along the tree line on the left. That leaves a 100 yard shot into the green.
That is what my strategy would be should I play the course again.
The 3500 yards of terror on the front nine ends with Richard. A 410 yard par four up an elevated narrow chute that some would call a fairway, I call ita hiking trail. I made a double bogey on the hole to finish the first nine holes with a 55.
Having seen my front nine score, I’m certain it isn’t lost on you that I had 10 percent fewer strokes on the back nine.
The back nine starts with “Old Bastard.” I guess you can use colorful metaphors as names of the holes, you just can’t utter them while playing the holes. Which in itself is a cruel irony. This 420 yard par four has what could be the narrowest fairway on the course. At its widest point it is probably less than 30 yards across. The hole is rated as the second hardest hole on Pikewood. The fairway starts after a 160 yard carry over a pond and some rough. It then bends a little from right to left and ends at a green with a long bunker on the left side and two small ones on the right. I hit my drive to the right rough.
I advanced the ball to the first cut of rough to the right of the fairway about 50 yards from a flag positioned in the middle of the green.
I pitched onto the green and two putted for a bogey.
After “Old Bastard” we moved on to Leven, a 440 yards par four with a fairway that wiggles it way to a small green with more of wild and wonderful West Virginia as a back drop. On the 11th hole, in a rare display of golf ability on this beautiful Fall day, I hit my drive down the middle of the fairway. And guess what, when you do that it doesn’t matter how wide it is nor what is along the sides.
My approach shot landed in the fringe off the front left of the green.
I chipped on the five feet. I missed my par putt and bogeyed the hole.
The par three Hagge’s Knocker does cause your knees to knock. The 12th hole plays 180 yards, almost all of it is a carry over a deep ravine. The left side of the green slopes into the ravine. The right side of the green borders along a tree line. I tried with no avail to use a little body English after my swing, to get the ball to bend more to the left.
My ball landed in the only safe area where you could miss the green. It landed just off the fairway to the right of the green.
I chipped on and two putted for my third bogey in a row on the back nine. I’d missed three good opportunities to make a par.
The tee box on Beaver, the 405 yard par four 13th hole, offers an expansive view of the West Virginia country side. It is simply breathtaking. It alone is worth the pain of all those strokes it took to get here.
The hole has one of the widest fairways on the course with a generous band of rough on the right along with a bunker at 150 from the middle of the green. The left side of the fairway hugs the tree line all the way to the green. I hit my drive to the first cut of rough to the right of the fairway, leaving 195 yards to the pin.
My approach shot landed to the right of the green past the green side bunker. I again chipped onto the green and two putted for another bogey.
The fourteenth hole, aptly named “Cypress Pint” is a 165 yard par three. Most of those yards are over a ravine similar to the par three 12th hole. The pin was on the left part of the green, just left of a single bunker off the front of the green.
My tee shot landed on the slope to the left of the green in some gnarly rough. My first chip stayed in the rough. My second chip made the green. I two putted for my first double bogey on the back nine.
My second through fifth double bogeys came on the closing four holes. Up first was Shotgun, a 520 yard par five. The first part of the fairway ends at a downward slope of rough at about 250 yards from the tee. This was the one feature on the course that I questioned the need for. It seems like it needlessly punishes a good drive. Shaving the rough on the slope down to the second part of the fairway could make it a more interesting hole. The second part of the fairway starts 50 yards farther and bends to the right to a green with a single bunker off the right front. I hit my three hybrid off the tee to the right rough.
The ball settled down in the rough. With the end of the fairway only about 60 yards farther, Nathan advised me to lay up short of the end of the fairway. I pitched out to the left fairway.
It literally and figuratively went down hill from there. It took me five more strokes to get the ball to the bottom of the cup.
The next double bogey came on Dino, the 410 yards par four sixteenth hole. The fairway ends about 100 yards from the middle of the green and is followed by rough between it and a shaved area in front of the green. I hit my drive to the rough off the right side of the fairway.
My ball settled down in the rough. I advanced my second shot about 10 feet. My third shot landed in the rough between the end of the fairway and the green. I pitched on and two putted for the double bogey.
The 17th hole is named Coupe Deville. There is a 220 yard carry over rough to the fairway. The fairway ends at the edge of a pond, 105 yards from the green. I followed my routine of hitting my drive to the rough. I laid up with my second shot and then hit my third shot into the pond. I took a drop and hit my fifth shot onto the green. I two putted for the double bogey.
The last hole on the course should be called Mercy, but its not. It’s called Dyke. It’s a 410 yard par four. The fairway is wide and ends 40 yards from the middle of the green. There is ditch between the end of the fairway and the green. A narrow creek runs through the ditch. I hit one of my best drives of the day. Go figure. The ball landed in the right fairway, 160 yards from the pin.
My approach shot barely cleared the creek. My third shot didn’t make it up the hill to the green. I pitched onto the green to about five feet on my fourth shot. I missed the five-foot putt that would have given me a bogey and a 104 for the round.
So, there you have it. That’s how you score a 105, you miss your five-foot putt for a 104. My putting was my biggest disappointment during the round. The greens at Pikewood are in excellent condition and roll as true as any greens I’ve played. I should have made more one putts.
Despite my score, I enjoyed the round because of the company and the beauty of the course. I think every golfer who endeavors to play the top 100 courses in a year should have at least one course where they shoot a 105. Also, any golfer that wants to test their golf skills in a beautiful and serene setting, should find a way to play at Pikewood. You won’t regret it, regardless of what you shoot.
Following our round, Turbo called Bob Gwynne, one the designers of the course and asked if he would mind joining us in the clubhouse. Bob was very generous with his time. He and I spent 45 minutes talking about the course and its design. Bob told me that this is the only course he has and will ever design. I can see why. How do you top this? Bob told also me that Tom Doak had visited the course to rate it for his book. He told me that right after Mr. Doak introduced himself, he told Bob that there was no way he could have designed a course that could be ranked higher than his courses. With all due respect to Mr. Doak and with the greatest amount of humility one can offer, I beg to disagree. This is a spectacular course! The person who was able to visualize a golf course on this pike is a golf genius in my book.
I’d like to thank Mike for introducing me to Turbo and Turbo for hosting me at wild and wonderful Pikewood National.