Henry David Thoreau said that he went to the woods because he wanted to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if he could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when he came to die, discover that he had not lived. My purpose for going to the woods was not so noble. I went to the woods to seek revenge on Kevin and Richard for the “Bout in the Bluegrass” that had taken place at Valhalla back during the summer. I went to the woods to dish out a “whuppin’,” yes not a whipping, but a “whuppin’.”
Sadly, that is not what transpired. I thought I was well prepared. I had spent time practicing during the Thanksgiving holiday week on Kiawah Island. I had scored in the 80’s on my last three rounds at Congressional, Pinehurst #2, and Eagle Point. Kevin and Richard knew that they couldn’t compete with me on straight up golf. So, they didn’t spend time practicing their swings. They spent time colluding on how to get in my head and knock me off my game. Yes, colluding. I don’t think that there were any Russians involved, but I won’t put it past them. Richard is a former federal prosecutor.
Kevin, Richard and I worked closely together for years, so they knew exactly what to do to knock me off my game. They threw me off my routine. It started from the moment I arrived. They started rushing me. I didn’t have time to talk with the Head Pro about his son, Dylan whom we had met when Kevin, Richard, and I were at Valhalla. Dylan is a great kid and a student in the golf program at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He was interning at Valhalla when we met him. I had also learned when I was at The Honors Course, that he would be interning there during the upcoming summer.
Kevin and Richard also won’t allow any time for me to hit balls on the range. They rushed me to head over to the par three course. We played the par three course, but in all the rushing, we somehow missed our tee time. This resulted in confusion on when we would actually tee off. Kevin had arranged the round through his Head Pro at Carlton Woods. He did all the planning and knew the arrangements. I had no control over anything that was happening. This round didn’t seem like it had anything to do with my quest to play the top 100 courses in the country as rated by golf digest. It seemed more about Kevin and Richard getting into my head.
I had invited, Kevan, another former work colleague, to join us for the round. As unaccompanied guest, we were required to play with one of the assistant pros. This turned our group into a fivesome. I often have trouble maintaining my swing tempo when I am playing in a foursome, so you can imagine how difficult it was going to be for me to maintain it in a group of five. This was another part of their master plan to throw me off my game. For the record, Kevan was an innocent bystander to this collusion by Kevin and Richard.
There was finally an opening for us on the first tee. We hurried to the tee because there were groups behind us. We were joined by Quinn, the Assistant Pro that was assigned to play with us, and by our forecaddie, Richie. Richie was a student in the golf program at Sam Houston State. He knew Dylan and Jacob, the intern I’d played with at Cherry Hills Country Club just south of Denver.
The tee boxes at Whispering Pines are delineated by the number of pine trees on the tee markers. We chose to play from the markers with two pine trees at a distance of 6450 yards with a rating of 74.1 and a slope of 145. As we stood on the first tee, it wasn’t obvious which line to take on the drive. The first hole is short at just 325 yards, but it has a hard dogleg to left. There are thick trees and a creek from immediately off the left side of the tee box, to the start of the fairway. There is a 210 yard carry over rough to the fairway. Once the fairway starts, there are waste areas with and native vegetation along the left side all the way to the green. The right side of the rough leading to the fairway and the fairway itself is line with trees that are about 10 yards off the edge.
Quinn gave me a line and a distance to hit my tee shot. Visually the distance seemed shorter than what he gave me. He said I should hit a 220 yards club at a tree that was on the right corner of the start of the fairway. I hit my five wood straight, but just slightly right of the line he gave me. The ball traveled 220 yards but went through the fairway and the rough onto the dirt under a tree. Quinn had given me a good line. I just failed to execute.
I slipped on the dirt and pulled by approach shot way left of the green into the waste area off the left side of the fairway, and short of the green. I pitched onto the green with my third shot, but the ball rolled off.
It took me three putts from there to get the ball into the cup for a double bogey. I hadn’t truly concentrated on a single shot during the hole. I was off my routine. It was like I was there but wasn’t.
Since we were a group of five, the group behind us was already pressing up against us. As guest, it was our duty to ensure we moved along and didn’t hold up the course. I play fast, but I was already worried that we weren’t playing fast enough. I abhor holding groups up on the golf course. It is a cardinal sin to me. When I first learned to play golf, the guy that taught me the game told me that you can play poorly, but never play slowly. I don’t.
The second hole is a 500 yard par five. The fairway starts off aligned with the tee boxes and then slants to the left before curving around a waste area off the right side of the fairway. The waste area starts at about 280 yards from the tee box and continues through the right side of the green. There are bunkers on the right at about 160 yards from the tee box and on the left at about 220 yards for the tee box and just before the green.
I rushed my tee shot. I hit the ground behind the ball and popped it up and to the right. The ball hit on the bank just past the first fairway bunker on the right and kicked into the bunker.
I hit a pitching wedge for my second shot to make sure that I got the ball out of the bunker. I was left with 205 yards to the green. I still had an opportunity to salvage the hole with a nice third shot to the green. That opportunity evaporated when I missed the green way right. The ball landed on a mound covered with weeds in the waste area to the right.
My fourth shot didn’t make it over the bunker. I hit from the bunker to the green and two putted for another double bogey. I’d played two holes and made two double bogeys. Richard and Kevin were feeling pretty good about now. Kevan was feeling bad about the unraveling of my game.
The third hole is 180 yard par three. The hole has a pond on the right about 60 yards from the front of the green. There are two very large bunkers off the left and the right front of the green and one behind the green. My tee shot was short and to the right. A rake prevented the ball from rolling into the bunker.
I might have been better off had the ball rolled into the bunker. I had a bad stance with the ball well below my feet. I managed to chip the ball onto the green, but three-putted for my third double bogey in a row. Kevin and Richard salivated.
I needed to regroup. This was disastrous. As we stood on the fourth tee box, I took a step back and composed myself. The fourth hole wasn’t going to be an easy hole to start my comeback. The hole is rated as the third most difficult hole on the course. It measures 420 yards. The fairway starts very narrow and is lined with trees right off the edge on both sides all the way through the green. There is a small round bunker in the fairway on the right at about 40 yards from the front of the green. There are no bunkers guarding the green. I took a deep breath and hit my drive 250 yards down the middle of the fairway. It gave me a small sense of satisfaction and a rush of adrenaline.
That adrenaline was on full display on my approach shot. With the flag on the front of the green. I hit a five iron flush. It was too much club and I hit it well. The ball flew over the back off the green and rolled even farther away.
I chipped onto the green and two putted. I’d wasted an excellent par opportunity, but I’d gotten off the double bogey train.
The fifth hole is another 500 yard par five. It has an hour glass fairway that bends slightly from left to right. There is water on the left. The narrow portion of the hour glass is in the landing zone. I hit my drive to the right just off the right side of the cart path. My ball was nestled in a clump of weeds. I could have taken a drop since the ball was so close to the cart path, but it wasn't clear that I would end up with a better lie.
My club got caught in the weeds on my second shot, keeping the face open. The ball stayed right of the cart path. It landed in the rough in what was an even worse lie.
I hit my third shot back to the fairway.
My fourth shot landed just off the green. I putted onto the green to 8 feet from the cup and made the putt for bogey.
The sixth hole is the second of the short par fours on the front nine. The hole measures 340 yards. There is a narrow alley formed by trees between the tee box and the start of the fairway. The fairway makes a hard dogleg to the right. There is water off the right between the edge of the fairway and the trees. The trees along the left side of the fairway are about 10 yards off the edge. There are no fairway bunkers but the small green looks like a trip plate in the middle of animal trap with bunkers serving as sawtooth jaws. I hit my five wood down the left side of the fairway leaving 130 yards to the green.
My approach shot was long and slightly right. The ball landed in the right bunker.
I hit my sand shot to eight feet but missed the par putt and made a bogey on the hole.
I was doomed on the seventh hole right from the start. The hole measures 410 yards. It’s rated as the hardest hole on the course. And for good reason. The fairway flows through trees on the left and the right. While the fairway is 50 yards across at its widest point, there is very little room between the edges of the fairway and the trees. There is a pond that starts at about 90 yards from the green that eats into the right side of the fairway, making it even more narrow as it approaches the green. Balls hit to the right side of the fairway leave shots that must carry a bunker, the pond, and another bunker to reach the green. There are also two bunkers off the right side of the green. I hit my drive way right into the trees.
My second shot was ill-advised. I tried to do too much from a tough lie and I paid the price for it. Richie recommended that I pitch the ball out sideways just to get back to the fairway. I didn’t want that long of a third shot to a green that was as tough to hit as this one. I tried to advance the ball 100 yards. My ball landed in the bunker that was 30 yards in front of me. I needed just two more yards to clear it.
Now I had a third shot over water from the bunker. I also had a terrible lie. The ball was just inside the left edge of the bunker. I had to stand outside the bunker and try to hit a ball below my feet, out of the bunker, over the water, and over the bunker in front of the green 140 yards away. Even though this shot required a level of golf skills that I do not possess, I attempted the shot because from time to time, I do get lucky. Well not this time! The ball almost cleared the water, but almost isn’t good enough.
I took a drop for my fourth shot, hit my fifth shot onto the green and made the putt for a double bogey.
The par three eighth hole was playing 175 yards to a back pin position. There was no water on the hole, just trees, a large waste area to the right of the green, two greenside bunkers on the right, in between the waste area and the green, a tiny bunker at the front of the green and an irregularly shaped bunker off the back of the green. With all of that happening, the hole didn’t need water to defend itself. My tee shot landed to the right of the green, in between the two green side bunkers.
I chipped onto the green below the flag. The ball barely stayed on the top tier of the green.
I missed my par putt but made the next putt for a bogey.
We had played eight holes and I hadn’t made a single par. I wasn’t tracking the match, but Richard and Kevin were likely putting a good whuppin’ on me. The worst part was how much they were enjoying it.
The final hole on the front nine is a 385 yard par four. The first part of the fairway is about 40 yards wide, but it narrows to 25 yards in the landing zone before narrowing even more as it runs up to the green. There are two fairway bunkers on the left and one on the right. The first one on the left and the one on the right are about 215 yards from the tee. The second one on the left is about 270 yards from the tee. I hit my drive 260 yards down the left side of the fairway.
My eyes got bigger than my swing on my approach shot. I topped the ball as I looked up to quickly. The ball landed about 20 yards short of the green.
The pin was on the front of the green. I pitched on to five feet from the hole and made the putt for my first par of the round. It did little to help my score. I shot a 48 on the front. My worst nine hole score since my pitiful plight at Pikewood. That was 11 courses ago. I figured the back nine had to be better. It wasn’t!
The back nine starts with a 375 yard par four. It is one of the easiest par fours on the course. The fairway is wide, and the trees are pushed back. There are large bunkers off both sides of the fairway, but they can easily be carried with a drive of 225 yards or more. There is water to the right of the fairway bunker, but it too is out of play with a drive that carries the bunkers. I hit my drive over the bunker on the right, but into the rough.
There were trees on my line to a hole cut in the middle tier of the green. There is a large bunker along almost the entire front portion of the green. I hit a pitching wedge because I knew it would carry the trees, but I’d have to hit it extremely well to get it to cover the full 135 yards to the pin.
I aimed along a line to the left side of the green to take the bunker out of play. As expected, the ball cleared the tree, but landed short of the green in the small strip of fairway between the front bunker and the left edge of the green.
I putted from off the green to five feet belong the hole. Unfortunately, I pushed my putt right and missed the cup. I tapped in for a bogey.
The 370 yard eleventh hole plays across a pond to a fairway that starts at 140 yards from the tee. It’s a tight hole with trees and bunkers very close to both edges of the fairway. I hit my drive into the trees off the right side of the fairway.
This time I played it safely and pitched the ball back to the fairway. I was left with 175 yards to a front pin on a green with a bunker in the front and one off the left side. I hit my third shot fat. The ball landed 70 yards short of the flag.
Kevin hit a shot just left of the flag. He was feeling pretty good about how close he was to the hole. I hit my fourth shot to just left of the hole. It rolled to the right, past Kevin’s ball and stopped just short of the cup. It was a small victory on an otherwise disastrous day.
I tapped in to save bogey.
Speaking of disasters, the twelfth hole was just that. The hole is another 500 yard par five with a very narrow fairway. It’s not that hard of a hole. I just got off to a bad start and never recovered. My tee shot hit a tree along the left side of the fairway and kicked back toward the tee box, but not into the fairway.
My second shot didn’t make the fairway either. I hit my driver out of the rough on my third shot. I made great contact. The ball went straight. It was my only good shot on the hole. I ultimately made a triple bogey on the hole.
The thirteenth hole is the signature hole at Whispering Pines. The three pine trees in the logo for the course are on this hole. The hole measures 400 yards and is rated as the fourth most difficult hole on the course. The fairway is offset to the right of the tee box but otherwise plays fairly straight. There are trees along the right and water along the left. There is a long waste area between the fairway and the water. The three pine trees that form the logo for Whispering Pines rise out of that waste area. I hit my drive down the right side of the fairway. It had a slight tail on it. The ball landed in the right rough just off the fairway, leaving a nice angle to the flag.
My approach shot was a bit long. The ball landed on the back of the green.
My birdie putt was on line but stopped three feet short of the cup. I made the putt for a much need par.
The fourteenth hole is a 360 yard par four. It is one of those holes that I would play very differently if I played the course again. The hole has a hard dogleg left around a pond that is fed by the river that runs through the course. There is a tree across the pond and on the left edge of the fairway. I don’t recall the story of why, but the tree is called the George W. Bush tree. I thought I could carry the pond with a drive to the left of the tree. I hit the ball hard enough but on a very low trajectory. The ball hit the bank on the other side of the pond and remained in the hazard.
I hit my second tee shot to the right of the tree and put the ball on the right side of the fairway. My fourth shot landed on the green and I two putted for a double bogey. I didn’t need to hit a drive to the left side of the tree to set up the approach shot. Hitting a drive to the right of the tree leaves an easy enough approach shot.
The bad decision on the fourteenth hole killed the momentum that I was building for a strong finish. I carried the disappointment to the 135 yard par three fifteenth hole. The hole plays over a pond to what looks like an island green, but the green is connected to land off the back. It has water along the front, and the left and right sides. I hooked by tee shot into the water just off the left side of the green. My second tee shot landed just short of the front of the green. I chipped on and made the putt for another double bogey.
The par three fifteenth hole is followed by another par three on the sixteenth hole. It too plays over water, but at 175 yards, it’s much longer. I hit a nice tee shot. It hit on the green, but we couldn’t find the ball. What happened to the ball is a complete mystery. Everyone saw it land on the green and roll toward the back of the green, but the ball was not to be found. For speed of play, I just took a double bogey on the hole.
The seventeenth hole is the last of the par fives on the course. Like the previous three par fives, it measured 500 yards. The hole plays along the river over to the left. There is a waste area off the left side of the tee box that extends to the beginning of the fairway. There are two fairway bunkers on the left that immediately follow. There is another fairway bunker on the left about fifty yards farther up. Richard, Kevan, and I all hit our drives to the right rough.
I laid up to the middle of the fairway. My third shot landed short of the bunker off the front right of the green.
I pitched over the bunker, but my ball landed just short of the green. I missed my par putt from just off the green and tapped in for a bogey.
I was now ready for this long nightmare to end. At 430 yards, the 18th hole is the longest par four on Whispering Pines. Despite its length, the hole only has 120 yards of fairway. The first 200 yards of the hole is a narrow strip of rough sandwiched between trees on the right and water on the left. There is a large bunker off the left side of the 120-yard fairway. The bunker is followed by a grove of trees. There is rough between the trees on the right and the edge of fairway.
The fairway ends at a lake that cuts between it and the green. The lake cuts along the right side of the green. There are two greenside bunkers between the green and the lake. Yes, this is a challenging hole. It is rated as the second most difficult hole on the course, but that’s because it’s on the back nine rather than the front nine. This is without a doubt, the most challenging hole on the course. In the face of this challenge and absolutely nothing on the line, I hit my best drive ever. The ball landed near the end of the fairway and rolled toward the lake. I was very happy to find the ball in the rough between the end of the fairway and the pond. The ball had traveled 345 yards. Yes, that’s right, three hundred and forty-five yards. I wrote it out so that you would know that while it might have been a fluke, it wasn’t a typo.
I had 75 yards remaining to a pin set just beyond the slope on the front of the green. I hit my approach shot right over the flag to about 12 feet past it.
My birdie putt missed the hole a foot to the right. I tapped in to end my round with a par and a reminder that when I focus, I can play golf. I didn’t focus well during the round and never got into a sustained rhythm. As a result, I shot two 48’s for a 96.
I had come to the woods to dish out a whupin’ and ended up taking one. The day did not unfold as I had expected. I’m sure it bought Kevin and Richard much satisfaction, but they should know that the golf gods do not take kindly to that and will extract its revenge!
I would like to thank Kevin for working with his head pro at Carlton Woods to arrange our round and the team at Whispering Pines for accommodating us.