The challenges of Pikewood faded as rapidly as a falling star flaming out in the dark night’s sky, replaced by a delightful evening reuniting with a special friend. During my college years, I worked as a field associate for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) while also completing an engineering internship in Gaithersburg, Maryland at what was then the National Bureau of Standards and is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It was during that time that I first met Joe and Carole Dobrick, financial supports of FCA who became moral and spiritual supporters for me. Carole lost Joe in 2015. She and I reminisced over dinner about Joe and our times together.
Carol and Joe were educators, those pillars of America society who influence young minds. When we met in the early eighties, they were both teaching High School in Rockville, Maryland. Joe, a World War II veteran, was in the first wave of soldiers who stormed the beach in Okinawa. He went on to become an accomplished high school football coach were he led a team in Pennsylvania to an undefeated season. Carol shared with me that one of Joe’s proudest moments was when several of the players from that team attended and spoke at his induction into the Quaker Valley High School Hall of Fame.
Joe and Carole’s support and friendship during my teenage and early adult years had an enduring impact on who I am and how I live my life. I last saw Carole in 2006 when I bought my wife, kids, and mother-in-law to visit her and Joe at there home in Morganstown. It was great to break bread and fellowship with her again. These are the moments in life that really matter. Years from now, I will long forget that I shot a 105 at Pikewood National, but memories of my evening with Carole will live forever.
The next morning David, Mike, and I headed south of Morgantown to Bridgeport to play the Pete Dye Golf Club. Beau, a colleague of David’s had arranged for us to play the course. He also rounded out our foursome. The course, built on the grounds of a former coal mine, still had remnants of the bygone days when coal was king.
With the night’s chill in the air and fresh morning dew blanketing the ground, we approached the first tee. We chose to play from a much shorter distance than we had played from on the day before at Pikewood. The Dye tees measured just 6400 yards with a 71.3 rating and a 131 slope; mere child’s play compared to Pikewood.
This was a day on which we would encounter very few simple straight fairways. Such things are not the style of the man who designed this course and for whom the club was named. Unlike Pikewood National, there would be few bunkerless fairways. This after all is Pete Dye course with the normal compliment of bunkers and undulating fairways. Mr. Dye is a man that moves a lot of dirt to create his courses.
The tee box on the 360 yard par four first hole is aligned with the left edge of the fairway. The fairway flows straight before making a strong turn to the left and then one back to the right as it heads to an uphill green. The bunkers that dot the left side of the fairway appear more decorative than menacing. Trees line the right side just beyond a ridge running parallel to them. The bunker in the inside of the “u” that is formed by the fairway bending to the left and then turning back to the right as it approaches the green is menacing.
With a wide open fairway in front of me, I tried to erase the dark memories of Pikewood and over swung on my first drive, sending the ball into the deep rough off to the right.
I took an unplayable and a penalty stroke. I hit my third shot to the fairway and then hit onto the green before two putting to open my round with a double bogey. I paused for a moment to clear my head of Pikewood National. It was now in the past. I could not allow it to impact the future.
The 375 yard par four second hole sets up with the tee box on the left side of a creek and the fairway on the right side. The fairway is shaped somewhat like a drumstick with the first part of it being very wide before narrowing for the last 100 yards or so leading to the green. In a rare display of generosity by Mr. Dye, there was just one fairway bunker. It was cut into the right side of the fairway at about 240 yards from the tee.
A creek runs between the tee box and the left side of fairway before continuing to the green. Rough and a couple of bunkers fill the area between the creek and the fairway. I hit my drive toward the single fairway bunker. As expected, it landed short but rolled off the fairway and just into the rough.
I left my approach shot just short of the green. I chipped on but missed my par putt and had to settle for a bogey.
If there was any doubt about being in Pete Dye country, it all faded away as we stared at the 120 yard waste area along the right side of the fairway on the short 335 yard third hole. My drive landed in the waste area.
The toes of the sock shaped green pointed to the right, aligning with the waste area. My approach shot landed on the green but well shot of the pin positioned on the back left. What followed was an ugly three putt for another bogey.
More often than not, the holes rated as the easiest holes on a course are the par threes. While two of the par threes at the Pete Dye Golf Club are among the four easiest holes on the course, other two are not. The first of those two is the 180 yard fourth hole with water along the left side from the tee box through the green. Shaved collection areas short of and behind the 40-yard deep and 25-yard wide, two tiered green funnel toward the water. A large irrregular shapped bunker sits ahead of the front collection area to ensnarl short tee shots.
Wanting nothing to do with the water off the left side of the green, I hit my tee shot toward the right. The ball landed on the front of the green before rolling just off, leaving a very long putt from the lower tier to a pin positioned on the back upper tier.
I struck the ball well and sent it rolling along the intended line, but it ran out of speed five feet short of the cup. What followed was simply a lack of focus. For the second hole in a row, my par putt slide along the edge of the cup leading to another bogey.
If you ever find yourself playing golf at the Pete Dye Golf Club, you should know that Mr. Dye is very interested in your suggestions on improvements to the course. He is so interested that he has put a suggestion box on a tiny mound of rocks in the middle of the lake to the left of the green. I’m sure he is ok with you swimming out to the mailbox to to drop off your thoughts.
The tee boxes for the par five fifth hole are positioned between a creek that runs along the left side of the second hole and the pond that was in play on the fourth hole. The creek makes a u-bend around the fourth hole and runs along the right side of the tee boxes, the oddly shapped fairway and the green on the fifth hole. The first 300 yards of hole are aligned with the tee boxes and the green. The last 200 or so yards are offset to the left of the left side of the first part of the fairway. There is a narrow swath of fairway that connects the first part of the fairway to the elevated second part of the fairway.
The area beyond the first part of the fairway contains several bunkers including six that are clustered together just beyond the end of that portion of the fairway and a very long one that starts about 70 yards before the green and runs up to the green. There are also fairway bunkers along the left side of both portions of the fairway. The deck of the elevated second part of the fairway is not visible from the first portion of the fairway.
I hit my drive 250 yards to the middle of the fairway leaving about 260 yards to the green.
The second shot on this hole requires some thinking. The green was visible from my ball, but the straight line to it was wrought with peril. The bunkers, rough, the creek and more bunkers certainly gave me pause. They were enough to convince me that there was no future in hitting a ball along that line. I laid up with a six iron to the upper fairway leaving 105 yards to the green.
My wise lay up didn’t eliminate the danger, but it left me with a more controlled sand wedge shot to a back right pin. The ball landed 15 feet below the flag. Still struggling to figure out the speed of the green, I left my birdie putt two feet short of the cup. It took five holes and twelve putts, but I finally made my first par of the round.
The fifth hole is followed by a short and simple par four. The sixth hole with a fairway aligned to the right of the tee, measures just over 300 yards. A dry bed creek runs along the left side of the fairway. An embankment leading up to line of trees, runs along the right side. The undulate fairway has a bunker off its left side. My three hybrid got away from me a little bit. The ball landed in the deep rough off the right side of the fairway, leaving 120 yards to the middle of the green.
I muscled my approach shot out of the rough to just inches off the left front portion of the green.
I then returned to leaving the ball well short of the hole on my first putt and missing the cup on my second, leading to a disappointing bogey.
We drove through an abondon mine tunnel to get from the sixth green to the seventh tee box. It was little something out of a Disney ride.
The 150 yard par three seventh hole is rated as the second easiest hole on the course. The biggest challenge on the hole with its downhill green is the infestation of bunkers. There are three leading up to the green and off its right side, another off the front left and several off the back. Most of the ones off the back are hidden. I was so focused on the colonies of bunkers that I topped my tee shot sending the ball inot the rough off the front of the green.
I hit my second shot out of the deep rough to the right of the green. I then chipped to one foot of the cup aand tapped in to escape with a bogey. That tapped kept me in the round. I would likely have gotten down on myself after missing all those earlier par putts and lost focus.
The eighth hole is the second of the two par fives on the front nine. The slightly elevated tee box provides a clear viewof the small bunker just short of the beginning of a fairway that flows a little to the right as it leaves the bunker and then bends back to the left around several bunkers off the left side. It then bends right and then sweeps back to the left before heading for the green. A long bunker along the right comes into play starting at about 100 yards out from the green and continues along the right side of the green. There are also several bunkers around the green. My drive landed in an area in the fairway that was marked as ground under repair.
I took a drop and hit my second shot to the rough off the right side of the fairway, well short of a large bunker that ran all the way to the green.
My approach shot came to rest fifteen feet below the hole.
I just couldn’t shake my putting woes. Another three putt and I had again snatched a bogey out of the jawas of a par.
The front nine ends with the longest par four one the course. The ninth hole with a creek separating the tee boxfrom the fairway, measures 445 yards. A bunker is cut in the middle of the fairway at about 250 yards off the tee. My drive landed about 20 yards short of the bunker.
The left to right bend of the fairway set up perfectly for my patented driver off the deck. At least that what I thought. My ball easily cover the 220 yards to the green but without the expected fade. It stayed left and between the green and the three bunkers off its left side. I chipped on and followed with a two putt for my seventh bogey of the front nine. The good news was that I had avoid double bogeys following the one the openning hole. The bad news is that several of those bogeys were the result of three putts leading to a disppointing 45 on the front nine.
The front nine on the course plays entirely in the area in front of the clubhouse. The back nine is played on the area behind the clubhouse and except for tee box on the 10th hole and fairway and green for the 18th hole, is played on the other side of a creek that runs behind the clubhouse.
The 10th hole is a 390 yard par four. The fairway is set to the left of the tee box and across the aforementioned creek. The creek is below the fairway and runs along its right side. There is rough, a long bunker, and a waste area between the creek and the right side of the fairway. The cart path borders the fairway on the left. There is a rock bed and small waterfall to the right of the two-tiered green. I hit my drive to the left in the fairway.
For the second hole in a row, an expected fade on my approach shot failed to materialize. My ball landed in the rough just off the shaven area along the left of the green.
I chipped onto the green and two putted for a bogey.
While I’d mostly held things together after the first hole, disaster struck on the 530 yard par five 11th hole. Its a hole that is similar to the eighth although it’s about 50 yards longer. The fairway is slightly offset to the right of the tee box. There is a small strip of fairway connecting the narrow first part of the fairway to its wide second part. There is one fairway bunker to the right and one to the left. I topped my ball off the tee. It wasn’t clear that I’d be able to find the ball so I hit a provisional to the right side of the fairway and ended up playing it after we failed to find my first ball. I hit what was essentially my fourth shot to 90 yards out. My fifth shot landed short of the green. I chipped on from there and made the putt to avoid a triple bogey. It was my first double since the opening hole.
At 315 yards, the twelfth hole with its wide fairway bordered by a plethora of bunkers off to the left and close trees off to the right, is the second shortest par four on the course. The green has four bunkers of varying shapes and sizes off the left side and a couple of more at a good distance off the right side. The ball sprang off the face of my three hybrid while it was still in an open position and flew to the right, landing near a tree right off the cart path.
The only reasonable option was to pitch back to the fairway. My third shot went a little long and rolled off the back of the green. I chipped on and after struggling mightly with my putter on the front nine, the ball were starting to fall on the back nine. I saved bogey.
The easiest hole on the course is the 160 yard par three thirteenth hole. With the green set to the right of the tee , the hole calls for a shot that carries a lot of rough and a rather massive bunker. My ball landed on the green, but sixty feet short of the cup.
My birdie putt (ok go ahead and laugh, but technically it was a birdie putt) stopped 15 feet short of the cup. My new found putting prowess delivered another ball to the bottom of the cup for what was only my second par of the round.
The 435-yard fourteen hole was my best played hole of the round.The fairway sweeps right to left and then back to the right as it approaches a green that is aligned with the tee boxes. There are two fairway bunkers off the left side of the fairway and three off the right side with the third of the three starting at about 60 yards out from the green and following the contour of the fairway up to and along the right side of the green.
I ripped my drive to the right fairway, leaving 140 yards over the right green side bunker to a back flag. I nailed it with 9 iron shot that carried the left side of the bunker and then cut toward the flag leaving a fifteen foot putt for birdie. It was one of rare shots that comes off just as I’d imagined.
Unfortunately, I missed the 15 foot birdie putt, but tapped in for my second par in a row and third of the round.
All you need to know about the 495-yard par five fifteenth hole is that there is water all along the right side of the fairway from the tee box through the green. The hole plays fairly straight. I hit what I thought was a good drive down the middle of the fairway. The wind started pushing the ball to the right. The ball hit on the right side of the fairway and bounced several times before going into the water.
I took a drop and hit my third shot to short of the green. I pitched on and two putted for what I consider to be a good bogey.
As I approached the last three holes on the course, I was in a good position to break ninety. As with several other recent courses, I buckled down and tried to concentrate on every shot. One thing I’ve gained a greater appreciation for during my quest to play the Top 100 courses as ranked by Golf Digest for 2017-18 is the ability of professional golfers to concentrate on every shot for 18 holes on four consecutive days. Trust me, it is a chore to stay in the moment on every shot. There have been several courses where I have finished strong by making pars on the last three holes of the round.
The first hole of the final three is the other par three that’s not rated as one of the four easiet holes on the course. The180-yard sixteenth hole has a green set below the level of the tee box. A large bunker dominates the right side of the green. With the set on the back of the green, I stripped a five iron to fifteen feet below the hole.
I again had lost my touch with my flat stick. I missed the 15 foot birdie putt but made a par to start my final three holes on the right note.
The 17th hole is a short par four. It plays just 350 yards. The fairway starts out a little narrow but widens considerably in the landing zone and then necks down to a narrow strip just before it reaches the green. The tee boxes are offset to the left of the fairway but are aligned with the green. The area in between the tee box is filled mostly with bunkers and rough. Past a set of four bunkers, there is a portion of the fairway that jets out to the left. There are then additional bunkers between that portion of the fairway and the left side of the green.
I setup and aligned with the left side of the fairway expecting a slight fade to the generous fairway. I hit a three wood off the tee that went as straight as an arrow and landed in the middle bunker off the left side of the fairway.
I now had my work cut out for me if was going to par the second of the final three holes. I knew I hit a really good bunker shot when I saw my ball land and stop 15 feet from the pin. I didn’t know how good until I walked up to the green and saw the undulation on the green. I had hit the ball to the only flat spot anywhere near the hole.
My putting was not nearly as good as my bunker shot. My flat stick failed me again. I missed the birdie putt and again settled for a par.
As I looked out over the 410 yard par four eighteenth hole, my singular thought was to not pull the ball into the creek that runs along the left side of the fairway. The fairway is across the creek from the tee boxes. There are no fairway bunkers on this final hole at the Pete Dye Golf Club. It was me against a creek on the left and rough on the right. I hit my drive down the middle of the fairway.
As I rode in the cart toward my ball, it became quite clear that the drive was the easy part of the hole. The green was on a ridge above the right bank of the creek.
I now had a new concern. My singular thought became don’t pull your approach into the creek. I often welcome challenges and the opportunity to craft a shot on a golf course. Not on this day. While I didn’t have a great score, I’d played a solid round. I didn’t want to ruin it with a blow up hole to finish the round.
I approached my shot to green with more trepidation than opportunity. My thought process went from how do I make par on this hole to how do I ensure I don’t make a double bogey or worse. I hit my approach shot short and to the right. The ball ended up it the right rough.
The pin was positioned in the middle left portion of the green. I again played with fear. The opportunity to hit past the flag and into the creek was still lingering. I pitched onto the front of the green.
I lagged the ball on my first putt and made the second putt to close out my round with bogey and a score of 42 on the back nine. This gave me an 87 for my total score. This was nothing to write home about but it was one stroke per hole better than my score at Pikewood.
I’d like to thank Mike for the introduction to David and David for working with Beau to arrange for us to play the course. I’d also like to thank Beau for getting us on the course.
Following our round, I watched a beautiful sunset as I drow through the scenic West Virginia and Western Maryland country side in route to Dulles airport for my flight to Atlanta.