The notification came across my Apple Watch. It was the first indication that this was a week in which the best laid plans would go awry. The notification indicated that darkness had engulfed the world’s busiest airport. The Atlanta Hartsfield Airport had lost power. I was having dinner with my wife and kids at our club in Atlanta. I was scheduled to play golf in less than 24 hours at Mayacama in Santa Rosa, California. In fourteen hours I was to fly from Atlanta to San Francisco and make a two-hour drive to Santa Rosa for a 1:00 pm tee time. There was no margin of error. I had to arrive and tee off no later than 1:00 pm to finish the round before the sun dropped below the horizon across the Pacific Ocean.
My teenage daughter, who usually has something to say in every situation, asked what my backup plan was. As usual she was looking for an opportunity to find an inconsistency between my words and my actions. She knows how much I’ve stressed the importance of having contingency plans. I hesitated in my response. She ceased on the hesitation and said, “oh you don’t have one.” She was right. I didn’t have one. I thought surely the airport would be back up and operating by the time I was scheduled to fly out on Monday morning.
An hour later, the next notification came. This one was from a United Airlines stating that my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco had been cancelled. I immediately called the secret Global Services number to work with United to figure out a way to get to San Francisco.
Finally, a bit of good news, there would be some flights taking off on Monday morning. I was rebooked on a flight from Atlanta to Chicago to San Francisco. The bad news was that I would not arrive in San Francisco until 12:30. There was no way that I’d be able to get to Santa Rosa in time to play a round of golf before sunset.
I needed to rethink my schedule for the week. I was also scheduled to play at The Olympic Club on the day after I was scheduled to play Mayacama. As I was thinking through options that would allow me to play both courses, I received a call from United Airlines to inform me that the flight to Chicago that I’d been rebooked to was going to take off three hours later than it was originally scheduled. I would now miss the connection to San Francisco. The next call informed me that I had been rebooked on a later flight out of Chicago and would arrive at SFO at 4:30 pm on Monday.
The Atlanta airport stayed down for eleven hours. An underground fire had knocked out the primary power supply and the backup power feed. My daughter didn’t call them and lecture them on contingency plans on having more than one contingency plan. The airport was chaotic when I arrived at 6:00 am on Monday morning. People were sleeping in chairs, on the floor, on the luggage carrousels, in the shoe shine chairs and anywhere else they could find. There were news cameras all over the place to capture the human misery and drama.
What a way to start the week. My journey to play the 55th course on my Quest to play the Top 100 courses on the Golf Digest 2017-18 list in one year was a circuitous one, but never-the-less I eventually arrived in San Francisco and amazingly so did my golf clubs.
Upon arrival in San Francisco, I contacted the assistant pro at Mayacama and asked if I could reschedule my round from Monday afternoon to Wednesday. He was able to accommodate my request. I then made the calls to United to change my return flight arrangements, to National Car Rental to extend my rental by a day and to Marriott to get a hotel for Tuesday night. It was chaotic, but it was all going to work out.
I awoke to a beautiful Tuesday morning in San Francisco, but by the time I arrived at The Olympic Club the beautiful sunny morning had turned into a breezy overcast day. The guard at the entrance asked if I’d been to The Olympic Club before. I told him that I had not not. He handed me a card with the cell phone policy for the club. He then said, “you are going to love this place, it’s special!”
I followed the signs and made my way to the golf club drop where I met Tommy. He took my clubs and asked whether I wanted them on a cart or not. I told him that I would be taking a caddie. He then said that he’d likely be my caddie since he was next up in the queue. He directed me to the Pro Shop and told me that he would take care of my car.
I met Brian in the Pro Shop, he took took me to Chris Stein’s office. Chris is the Head Pro at The Olympic Club. Chris and Mark Mongell, the Director of Golf at my home club in Atlanta had once worked together. Mark called him and arranged my round at The Olympic Club. After chatting with Chris, Brian led me to the men’s locker room. The men’s locker room is in the basement below the first basement in the clubhouse. I really liked the clubhouse house. Like several of the other historic clubhouses I’d been in, it had a lot of character and a lot of history. I learned that both Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller had links to Olympic.
Brian introduced me to Rich, the head of the locker room. While Rich was directing me to my guest locker, I asked him what one piece of advice he would offer for playing the Lakes Course at Olympic. He said I should avoid the bunkers.
My 10:50 tee time was now rapidly approaching. I rushed from the locker room back up several flights of stairs and back up the hill to the driving range. I was exhausted. It is quite the strenuous hike to go from the Men’s locker room to the driving range. There is a significant elevation change.
I had time to hit about five balls with my 8 iron and three with my driver. I then rushed to the putting green and hit a couple of putts. From there I went to the first tee where I met Will and Byron. I had been paired with them for the round. Will was a member and Byron was his guest. He and Byron worked together in the software industry.
I’d only been randomly paired with a member at a couple of the private clubs that I’d played. Usually when I play with a member it’s because I know the member or have been introduced to the member by a friend. The Olympic Club was probably the busiest private club that I’d played so far during my quest. Baltusrol had also been busy, but not as busy as The Olympic Club. There are three courses at the Olympic Club and it looked like all three get a lot of play. I think I was paired with a member because it would not have been sensible to have me go out as a single.
As Byron, Will and I stood on the tee box there was still a chill in the air but some of the clouds had given way to patches of blue sky. We played from the blue tees which measure 6600 yards with a rating of 73.7 and a 136 slope. The Lakes Course opens with a 525 yard par five with a fairway that bows from left to right as it makes its way through the trees that line the left and right sides. The trees on the right are just beyond a ridge than runs along the fairway. After hitting my drive, I wasn’t sure where the ball landed. It was hard to see the ball against the gray sky with small patches of blue. Tommy who was taking a photo of my tee shot, so he didn’t see it, although he thought he saw the ball go to the left. That surprised me because it felt like the ball came off the club face and went right.
We searched for the ball on the left and couldn’t find it. As I headed back to the tee box to hit my third shot, Tommy walked to the other side of the fairway just in case I was right about the ball coming off the club to the right. Sure enough, he found my ball just over the ridge along the right side of the fairway.
I had a good lie. I hit my second shot back to the middle of the fairway leaving 120 yards to a pin that looked like it was tucked behind a bunker off the left front of the green. The two bunkers short of the green were Tillinghast style greens. They offer the illusion of being just off the front of the green when they are about 30 yards from the front of the green.
I ignored the bunkers and hit my approach shot right at the flag. The ball landed 30 feet below the flag.
My birdie putt tracked to the hole the entire time, but with a little too much speed. The ball hit the back of the cup and kicked out. I tapped in to open my round with a par.
The second hole is the Lake Course at the Olympic Club on full display. The hole measures 380 yards. The fairway is elevated above the tee box. It ripples and turns continuously and narrows on the way to a green that makes you think that bunkers must have been on sale the day it was built. The upside-down tear drop shaped green is surrounded by six bunkers. I hit a short drive to the right rough leaving 195 yards to the green.
I hit my approach shot fat. The ball landed in the right rough 50 yards from a back left pin position.
I pitched over the bunkers and onto the green. I two-putted for a bogey.
The third hole is a par three that plays downhill to a green that is 215 yards away. You can see parts of San Francisco behind the green. The green is protected by bunkers on the left and the right, but the front is wide open. I hit my tee shot to the left of the green.
I duffed my first chip. My second chip landed on the green. I again two-putt for a double bogey.
The next three holes form the heart of the front nine. They start with the 420 yard par four fourth hole. It is rated as the third most difficult hole on the course. Trees in front of the tee box frame the beginning of a fairway which slopes severely from left to right as it bends from right to left. The fairway plays down from the tee box but up to the green. I hit another drive to the right rough.
I hit my approach shot to just off the right side of the green.
I putted from off the green to five feet short of the flag.
I missed my par putt and tapped in for a bogey.
The beautiful 435 yard par four fifth hole is rated as the most difficult hole on the course. The tee box is aligned with the beginning of the fairway, but the fairway makes a quick left to right turn. This puts the tee box almost perpendicular to the rest of the fairway which slopes right to left. The fairway narrows considerably as it slopes down from the apex to the green. The elevation changes and twists and turns of the course really do a job on your perception, but this was a hole shape that set up perfectly for the way my ball was moving on this day. I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway.
I left my approach shot well short of the green.
I pitched onto the green to near the hole, but the slope of the green took the ball to the left edge. I two putted for another bogey.
The sixth hole measures 425 yards. It is the last of the tree par fours that I believe are the heart of the front nine. The hole is rated as the seventh hardest hole, but Tommy told me that during the 2012 US Open, it played as the toughest hole in the tournament. The trees in front of the tee box frame a narrow opening to a wide fairway. Well it’s wide until about 100 yards short of the green. It telescopes from that point to the front of the green. The hole has the first fairway bunker on the course that is in play off the tee. It cuts into the left fairway about 250 yards from the tee. I hit my drive to the left, go figure! The ball landed about a yard short of the fairway bunker.
For the third straight hole, I left my approach shot just short of the green. I chipped on to 15 feet but missed the par putt and made bogey on the hole.
The 285 yard par four seventh hole was a nice break from the long par fours. The hole plays up hill, but the trees along the fairway are pushed back. The fairway slants left to right and is wide up to about 55 yards from the green. There are also no fairway bunkers until about 50 yards short of the green. I was all set to hit my three hybrid off the tee, but Tommy said that this was a driver/wedge hole and that’s how I should play it. I put the three hybrid away and ripped a drive down the middle of the fairway leaving 60 yards to a middle pin.
My pitch shot from sixty yards out landed a few yards short of the green.
I putted from off the green to four feet from the cup and made the putt for only my second par of the round.
The eighth hole is a 170 yard par three that plays up hill to a green with a small bunker off the left front, a very large bunker off the right front and another large bunker off the back right. I hit my tee shot to the right of the large bunker off the front of the green.
I made an almost perfect pitch shot over the bunker and onto the green. The ball spun out of the cup and rolled six feet away.
My par putt caught the inside of the cup just like my pitch shot did and spun out. I tapped in for a disappointing bogey.
The back nine finishes with a long par four. The hole measures 425 yards. Like several of the previous holes, there are trees framing the beginning of the fairway. The fairway bends to the right as it slopes toward the trees off the right side. There is a lot of room off the left side of the fairway, but I didn’t take advantage of it. My drive hit one of the trees on the right and kicked into the 18th fairway.
The 18th hole is adjacent to the 9th hole but runs in the opposite direction. With all the very tall trees between the 18th fairway and the 9th fairway, there weren’t any good options for getting back to the fairway. I decided to hit my second shot toward the 18th tee box where there were open lines to the green. This left me with 120 yards to the green.
I pulled my third shot and missed the green. I chipped on and two-putted for a double bogey to finish the front nine with a 43.
While there is a turn between the 9th and 10th holes, the official turn with a snack bar occurs following the 10th hole. The tenth hole reminded me of the second and fifth holes. It has a fairway that is wide at the beginning but narrows as it curves to the right and approaches the green. I hit my drive to the left rough.
My approach shot to the uphill green guarded by bunkers on the left and the right, landed short of the green.
I hit behind the ball on my chip shot. The ball landed in the fringe on the front of the green. I two putted from there to open the back nine with a bogey.
As we moved from the 10th hole to the 11th hole and past the snack bar, Tommy, Will, and Byron encouraged me to try a burger dog. They were a specialty at the Olympic Club. Burger dogs are hamburgers that are served on hotdog buns rather than hamburger buns. I told them that I’d had a full breakfast but would try one after the round.
The 415 yard eleventh hole is similar to the 10th hole but has a little more undulation and not as much of a left to right curve. I hit my drive to the fairway, just left of center.
The green on the eleventh hole is protected by two bunkers off the left and one off the right. My approach shot missed right. The ball hit very hard just right of the bunker and kicked way right. We figured that to kick as far right as it did, it had to have hit a sprinkler head.
I hit good pitch shot but cut it too close to a tree. The ball skimmed the tree and kicked into the bunker. I hit from the bunker to the green and two putted for a double bogey.
The 400 yard twelfth hole is about as straight of a par four as you will find on the Lake Course at the Olympic Club. The only curvature is a slight move to the right, just before the green. The trees on the hole are also more sparse than most. Especially on the right. I hit my drive to the right rough.
I’m not sure what is was on this day, but my approach shots were all landing short of the green. It was no different on this hole. My approach shot landed short, and this time it was way short.
My pitch on the third shot was also short, but I was able to putt the ball close from off the green and make the bogey.
The 180 yard par three thirteenth hole starts a string of holes along a public street. There is a lake just beyond the street and beyond that is the San Francisco Golf Club. The course boundary is immediately left of the tee box and the green. There is a hazard along that boundary. I pulled my tee shot. It looked like it might have gone in the hazard.
My ball was in the hazard, but it was playable. The thirteenth green has a large bunker that wraps around the front and a portion of the left side of the green. My ball was past the part of the green guarded by the bunker. I chipped out of the hazard just short of the left side of the green. I chipped onto the green with my third shot and made the putt for a bogey.
Starting with the fourteenth hole I started to struggle with my drive. I think with all the up and down walking due to the constant elevation changes, fatigue had started to set in. Maybe I should have grabbed a burger dog at the turn. The hole is a 400 yard par four with a sweeping right to left fairway with the customary narrowing as it approaches the green. I popped my drive up short and to the right.
With over 240 yards remaining to an uphill green which was guarded by the also customary bunkers on the left and right, I decided to hit my driver from the rough. It was a good shot that landed and stopped rolling about 20 yards from the front of the green where several grounds people were working. I pitched on and two putted to save bogey on the hole.
The fifteenth hole is the final par three on the course. It is an intimating hole. At 140 yards, it is the shortest of the par threes on the course. But, what it lacks in distance, it makes up for it with the large deep bunkers that protect the green. The green is elevated from the tee. The highest points on the bunkers are elevated even higher. My tee hit about one too far to the left of the green. The ball hit just inside the right wall of the left green side bunker and rolled down to the bottom of the bunker.
It took two shots get ball high enough to get over the lip and onto the green. I then two putted for a double bogey.
Throughout my quest I’ve had several occasions to replicate both famous and infamous shots made during some of the most historic tournaments in PGA history. Whether it was hitting my drive right next to the plaque on the 18th hole at Merion that marks the spot where Ben Hogan hit his famous one iron shot, or putting my approach shot in the water just short of the green at Cherry Hills and hitting out of the water like Mr. Hogan did there also, or finishing in style at Valhalla like Jack Nicklaus did on the last hole of his final major.
The sixteenth hole on the Lakes Course at the Olympic Club presented me with an opportunity to replicate yet another of these shots. The hole is the first of two back to back par fives. It plays 580 yards from the blue tees. The tee box and the green are virtually aligned, but the fairway needs to curve like the shape of a big smile of the face of a 14-year-old boy after his first kiss for the two to connect. The fairway curves around the trees along the left boundary of the course and along the inside of the trees that separate the sixteenth hole from the seventeenth and eighteenth holes. The turn that starts the curve is abrupt. There are no bunkers to worry about but be assured that the trees are not your friend.
Jim Furyk came to this hole tied for lead in the final round of the 2012 US Open. He had led until he bogeyed the par three 13th hole. He hit his tee shot into the bunker and failed to get up and down for his par. Web Simpson who was tied with him had finished his round and was in the clubhouse. The hole on that day was playing shorter for the pro’s than it was playing for Byron, Will, and me on this day. It was playing 570 yards.
Jim Furyk pulled his tee shot way left and almost into the trees that were a mere 150 yards away. It almost went out of bounds. The best he could do was hit a short shot back to the fairway. He went on to bogey hole and drop out of a tie for the lead. He did not recover on the final two holes. Web Simpson’s lead stood, and he won the tournament.
Now over six years later, I was 10 yards farther back on the same tee box where Jim Furyk chocked. The thought of the shot he hit was not the thought I wanted as I stood there. I put one thought in my mind – hit a draw! As I took my club back, that singular thought was the only thing I allowed to enter my consciousness. I made a steep downswing, too steep and hit the ball fat. The ball traveled almost exactly 150 yards, just as Furyk’s ball had traveled. But fortunately for me, the ball drew slightly rather than hooking. It landed on the left at the being of the fairway. On this day, on the sixteenth hole, the second most difficult rated hole at the Lake Course at the Olympic club, I narrowly avoided Jim Furyk’s fate.
At 425 yards from the green, I hit my driver off the deck for my second shot to 235 yards short of the hole.
Tommy convinced me to play it safe and lay up. I was questioning my decision after I hit the ball fat and pushed it to the right. The ball landed in the rough, 135 yards from the pin. Worse yet was the long bunker along the right side of the green that stood between my ball and the flag.
I hit my fourth shot over the bunker right at the flag. The ball stopped 20 feet from the cup. I made the putt and saved my par. I had survived the Furyk hole. As we were walking off the green, Will mentioned that he had never ever reach the green in two on this hole. He has been a member at the Olympic Club for most of his life. At 580 yards, I would have been happy to reach it in three!
The seventeenth hole is the second of the back to back par fives. At 490 yards, it is much shorter. Rated as the fourteenth toughest hole, it is also much easier. The fairway is wide, and the trees are set back off the edges. Like the twelfth hole, the fairway is straight with only bunker at 70 yards from the green on the right-hand side.
As we stood on the tee box and waited for the fairway to clear, Will told me that if I was going to hit the same drive that I’d hit on the previous two drives, I didn’t need to wait. As you recall, I popped my drive up short and to the right on the 15th hole and hit it fat and just 150 yards on the sixteenth hole. Everyone wants to be a comedian. I reminded him that I was the one paying him! Now that was funny! At least until I hit the same drive as I hit on the 16th hole, fat contact and a short drive.
I hit a three wood from the fairway to the left rough leaving about 95 yards to a small well bunkered green.
I pulled my sand wedge and missed the green to the left on my approach shot. The ball landed in the front left bunker. My bunker shot barely made it out. It landed on the fringe. I putted from the fringe to just five feet from the hole. I made the putt for a bogey.
The final hole is a short par four. The hole plays 335 yards from the blue tees. The further back you land the ball in the fairway, the more fairway there is to land the ball. The last 30 yards are flat out treacherous with just a narrow strip of fairway on the left and some nasty bunkers on the right. The fairway slops from left to right.
It had been a tough day driving the ball for me at the Olympic Club, but nevertheless there was still much to enjoy during the round. As I prepared to tee off the final hole, Tommy, Byron and I shared a laugh.
I continued to struggle with my driver. I pulled the ball to the slope off the left side of the fairway leaving 115 yards to the hole.
Even with the ball well belong my feet, I somehow managed to pull the ball to the left again into another deep bunker. It took two shots and two putts to finish the round. I finished with a double bogey and a very disappointing 47 on the back nine for a total score of 90. I would have done much better if I’d been able to follow Rich’s advice and avoid the bunkers. So, if you ever play the Lake course at The Olympic Club and you don’t remember anything else from this summary, remember this – AVOID THE BUNKERS!
It was nice meeting and playing with Byron and Will. Even with my poor play, it was a relaxing and fun round. During the round, I learned that Byron has a daughter that is an excellent golfer. I wish her well. It is always great to see young kids take up the game and do well at it.
Following the round, I did as I said I would, I went to the snack bar and tried a burger dog. It was worth the stop. I’d like to thank Mark and Chris for arranging for me to play the Lake Course at the Olympic Club.