From the moment Lin’s Challenger 350 touched down at the West Palm Beach Airport, it was clear that is was a world that I rarely encountered. The FBO was surrounded by private jets and luxury vehicles. We deplaned and made the quick drive from the airport to Seminole Golf Club. Along the way we past the PGA Headquarters and several golf courses.
We arrived at Seminole and were greeted by attendants whose job it seems is to make you feel as special as possible. Everything is handled for you. Your only responsibility is to ensure you enjoy the experience. As our attendants handled our equipment, we headed to the dressing room.
Fourteen years ago, when I was first learning to play the game of golf, I was on a public course in Beaumont, Texas with my good friend Kevin of “The Battle in the Bluegrass” and “The Whuppin’ in the Woods” fame. We came up two co-workers who were playing as a twosome in front of us. Both were named Dennis. Dennis number one invited us to join them on the tee box at the par three eighth hole for the rest of the round. I was standing behind and to the right of Dennis number two. He took a practice swing, looked back at me said in a not so friendly way, “your standing in my line of sight, move.” Thus, begin one of the most important relationships in the development of my golf game.
I went on to play golf many times after that with Dennis number two. He called me Mr. Jimmie because of our work relationship and I called him Mr. Dennis because there was no reason for him to call me Mr. Jimmie. Mr. Dennis became good friend and my primary golf instructor. Often you will read about my use of the driver off the deck. Mr. Dennis taught me that shot on the par five 11th hole at Terrell Park in Beaumont. I was within range to go for the green in two but had a tree with over hanging branches blocking the shot. Mr. Dennis told me to just hit my driver. He said the ball would stay low, curve to the right and roll upon to the green. He demonstrated the shot. I then hit the shot and have been hitting the driver off the deck ever since.
That however was not the first and most important thing Mr. Dennis taught me. The first thing he thought me was about speed of play. He said, “Mr. Jimmie, golf is a game where everyone who plays it has played poorly at one time or another. No one will refuse to play with you because you play poorly.” He went onto to tell me that one of the biggest reasons someone would not want to play with me would be if I played slowly. Mr. Dennis drilled it into my head that one of the biggest sins in golf is slow play. Anyone who has ever played golf with me can attest to Mr. Dennis’ effectiveness at drilling that message into my head.
While in the locker room at Seminole, I notice a sign that reads “Play well, play fast. Play poorly, play faster.” I was finally home. Mr. Dennis’ first lesson fourteen years earlier had prepared me for the pace of play at Seminole. The members here were my kind of golfers.
We went for the locker room to the range to warm up and then to the first tee.
I had come to Seminole with Danny and Lin whom I’d played with at Augusta National and Lin’s son Nick. As we stood on the first tee we were greeted by the legendary Bob Ford. Bob spent many years as the head pro at both Oakmont and Seminole. In 2016 he retired from his role at Oakmont to work full-time at Seminole. In 2017, he received the USGA’s highest honor, the Bob Jones Award. It is given to individuals in recognition of their distinguished sportsmanship in golf. By the way, while visiting the USGA Museum back in October, I noticed that Mr. Jones’ name was always shown a Bob Jones. I asked why that was. They told me that it was because it was the name he preferred.
To say I was nervous standing on the first tee, playing with a US Mid-Amateur champion and US Amateur Runner-up and with Mr. Ford watching, would be an understatement. Hitting my drive on the first tee at Augusta National was a piece of cake compared to this. We played from the blue tees which measure 6600 yards. There is no course rating or slope on the score card, but this is a hard course. It is especially hard when the wind is blowing, and the wind is always blowing.
The first hole at Seminole is a 370 yard par four. There is sand between the tee box and the start of the fairway. The fairway has several bunkers along the left and right sides. Fortunately for me and my tense nervous body, the trees along the left side have a lot of space between them. I pull a short drive to the left. I was also fortunate to have the ball roll through the first fairway bunker, leaving 215 yards to the flag.
My second shot of the round was one of my few shining moments. I hit my three hybrid between two trees and drew it toward the middle of the green. The ball landed short of the green, then ran through the green and off the back left side. That it ran through the green was a little bad luck I was willing to accept given when I put my drive.
I putted from off the back of the green to 10 feet from the cup. My par putt stopped five inches short of the cup. I tapped in to open my round with a bogey.
The second hole is a slightly longer par four than the first. It measures 380 yards with a tee shot over water that shouldn’t be in play to a fairway with a large bunker on the right, two small ones on the left between the fairway and a strip of water.
I hit my drive to the first bunker on the left. My second shot caught the lip and landed in the second bunker. I made my first double bogey after my third shot landed 80 yards from a back pin position, my fourth shot landed just left of the green, and my bogey putt missed the cup.
The third hole is the first par five on the course. The hole measures 500 yards with a fairway that slopes right to left and bends left to right. There are bunkers and waste areas on both sides of a fairway that narrows significantly as it approaches a green with a small bunker off the left front and two along the right side.
I finally found a fairway with a nice long drive that rolled even farther leaving just 220 yards to the green. Well placed trees blocked my path to the green. I laid up over the trees with my pitching wedge but landed in the waste area on the right when the ball didn’t draw, leaving just 80 yards to a front right pin.
I caught a little too much sand on my third shot. The ball landed in a bunker on the right just a few yards from the green. My bunker shot rolled 30 feet from the pin, leaving a fast downhill right to left breaking putt. I skimmed the hole with my par putt and tapped in for another bogey. I wasn’t playing well, but I wasn’t playing disastrously either. I was trying to keep my nerves in check.
Danny told me that the fourth hole and the sixth hole are his favorite holes at Seminole. The fourth hole is a long par four. It is a 440 yard par four that is not only a beautiful hole, but also a challenging one with bunkers that add to both. The fairway rises slightly from the tee box, but slopes down toward a well bunkered green that is shifted slightly to the left.
I hit another nice 250 yard drive down the middle, leaving 200 to the hole. I flared my approach shot to the right into the waste leaving 60 yards to the flag. I pitched on to 8ft from the hole. I started my putt a little right of the hole. The ball caught the inside edge of the cut and rimmed out. I tapped in for yet another bogey.
The first par three on the course is a long one, not the longest of the par threes, but long none-the-less. The hole is along the perimeter of the course with hedges against the tee box on the right that run past the right side of the green. The tiny green looks like the back of a turtle whose head is the bunker off the front of the green, four legs and feet are the bunkers off the left and right sides of the green and tail is the bunker off the back of the green.
I hit my tee shot to the bushes on the right and had to take a drop. I pitched on and made the putt to continue my string of bogeys.
The sixth hole is famous for being Ben Hogan’s favorite hole. Along with the fourth hole, it is Danny’s too. It’s a 375 yard par four with sand between the tee box and the start of the fairway. The fairway has bunkers on left that blend into the waste area. There are also several along the right, two about midway from the tee to the green and two that along with the waste area on the left, make a sandwich out of the narrow strip of land that serves as the last 80 yards of fairway before the green.
I got lucky on my drive when the ball stopped just short of the hedges along the right side of the fairway. I couldn’t make a full swing, so I pitched out to fairway, 75 yards from a middle pin position. My third shot went long and landed on the back of the green. I two putted for fourth bogey in a row and fifth is six holes.
The seventh hole is the third most difficult hole on the course. It looks like it from the tee box where you see more sand and water than you do fairway. The hole measures 410 yards. The drive requires a carry over a waste area and a couple of bunkers to reach a fairway with intimidating bunkers along the left and right sides. The fairway slopes down and ends at a pond that sits between it and the green. There is just no where to miss with your drive on this hole.
To make matters worse, on this day we were hitting drives into a two club wind. All things considered, I hit a good drive which left 205 yards to the middle of the green. With that big pond in front of the green, there was no way I was going to go for it. I laid up with my sand wedge well short of the pond, leaving 130 yards that was playing 150 yards to the flag.
My lay up paid off. I hit my eight iron to 20 feet. I missed my par putt one foot to the right and tapped in for a bogey.
The eighth hole is the longest and most difficult of the par threes on the course. It measures 225 yards and plays across a small portion of the pond that was on the adjacent 8th hole. There is a bunker on the right well short of the green and four around the green.
I hit my tee shot way right to one of the fairway bunkers off the left side of the 8th hole. My bunker shot landed well short of the green. I pitched my third shot over the bunker onto the green and two putted for my second double bogey of the round.
The back nine ends with a short par five. The hole measures 485 yards from the blue tees. The hole has water and bunkers off both sides of the fairway. The creek on the right is between the fairway and the hedges that border the perimeter of the property. The water on the left is an extension of the pond that is on the seventh and eight holes.
I made double bogey on the hole after hitting my drive to the water on the left, my third shot after taking a drop to the right bunker, my fourth shot short of the green, my fifth shot onto the green and two putting.
I finished the front nine with a 48 after making three double bogeys and no pars.
The back nine opens with a 360 yard par four that has a waste area followed by water on the left and a couple of bunkers on the right. The fairway is one of the widest ones on the course until it reaches the water on the left where it narrows significantly.
I pulled my drive so far to the left that I had to hit back over the water off the left side of the fairway to get to the green. My second shot barely made if over the water and rolled back to a sandy area along the water. I was so concerned about getting the ball out of the sandy that area that I hit it too far and over the green. I pitched back on and two putted to start the back nine the same way that I ended the front nine, with a double bogey.
In keeping with Seminole’s spirit of “Play well, play fast. Play poorly, play faster,” my notes got a little sparse during holes 11 through 15. I focused on just playing rather than all the other things I do when I’m the golf course to support developing a blog. So, I will summarize my play and then follow that with a summary of the holes.
I made bogeys on all five holes. And had reasonable par opportunities on all but the 15th hole. On that hole as with hole number 14, I drove the ball well and into the fairway. I tried to go for the green in two but topped the ball with my three wood. The ball came out low, skipped across the water and sank. After taking a drop just short of the water, I only had 180 yards to the pin. I put my fourth shot on the green and two putted for the bogey.
The eleventh hole at Seminole is rated as the second hardest hole on the course. It is a 390 yard par four. It is the drive on this hole that makes it so difficult. It is wrought with peril. In the first 200 yards, there is no safe harbor save the narrow strip of fairway between a pond on the right and a lagoon and bunker on the left. The remaining 190 yards has water on the right and mostly bunkers and a waste area on the left. The green has several bunkers and some waste areas protecting it in the front and on the sides. You definitely need your A game to par this hole and I clearly left mine on the plane or back in Atlanta.
The twelfth hole is slightly easier. To begin with it measures just 360 yards. The hole is squeezed into the northeast corner of the course. With hedges and a narrow strip of water on the left, there is absolutely no room on the left for a ball that’s not in the fairway. The hole also has one fairway bunker off the left and right side, but they are much closer to the green than the tee box. The green is a bunker infested delight. There’s no place except the green to put the ball and not be in trouble. Still it is a much easier hole than the 11th.
The thirteenth hole is the easiest par three and overall easiest hole on the course. I still couldn’t find a way to make a par. The hole measures 165 yards and plays over a waste area to a green riddled with more bunkers than some courses have on all 18 greens combined. The hole might as well have been on the beach that sits behind it. I hit my tee shot into one of the left bunkers and failed to get up and down for a par.
The fourteenth hole is the first of two successive par fives. It measures 500 yards. It is supposed to be an easy hole. And it is, if you can avoid the water and bunkers on the left and the bunkers on the right with your drive. You then must get on the elevated green without landing in one the bunkers that have it surrounded. You get the idea. There are no easy holes at Seminole. The easy ones are still hard.
The fifteenth hole is the second of the successive par fives and although shorter, is the more difficult of the two. It measures just 475 yards, but those yards are packed with almost more water and sand than fairway. Your drive must carry the water and land in a fairway that can’t be too much more than thirty yards wide, and not land in a series of bunkers along the left side. I did all of that well, by hitting a perfect tee shot with my three wood. But rather than playing it safe, I tried to reach the green in two. I’ve already told you how that ended. The green is probably one of he easiest ones on the course. It has just three bunkers and is open in the front. That’s probably why I was able to save bogey after going in the water.
The sixteenth hole is another difficult par four. It measures 395 yards with a fairway that doglegs to the right. The first 220 yards of the hole which occur prior to the dogleg are relatively trouble free. There is a waste area to the right, but there is also a nice buffer of rough between it and the right edge of the fairway.
The last 175 yards which occur after the bend to the right, are where the problems start. There are bunkers and a waste area all along the right and bunkers and a waste area along most of the left. The green is also surrounded by bunkers with only a small space in front and one between the bunkers on the right providing any safe place to miss.
I hit my drive to the fairway. My approach shot plugged in the first and largest of the two bunkers off the left side of the green. My sand shot was one of my best shot of the round. I was able to get the ball out of its plugged position to with in 15 feet of the hole. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sink by par putt for a sand save. I settled for my sixth bogey in a row.
The seventeenth hole is the last par three at Seminole. The hole measures 160 yards. It plays along the beach and over a waste area to a well bunkered green. I hit what I thought was the perfect shot. I lined up to hit a shot that would ride the left side of the hole and fade onto the green. The shot did just that but didn’t hole the green. It rolled off the right side of the green into one of the bunkers.
My sand shot on this hole was the antithesis of my bunker shot on the previous hole. I hit it too far. It landed on the green and rolled off the left side of the green in between the bunkers. I chipped on and two putted for my second double bogey of the back nine.
We arrived at the final hole with me not having made a single par during the round. I had a rough go on a couple of holes on the front nine. If I’m honest with myself and you, I must admit that I was so looking forward to playing well with Danny and Lin after not having played with at Augusta National which was the last time all three of us had played together. While I had struggled with my game at The Quarry at LaQuinta and at Whispering Pines, the rounds immediately before those were all in the 80’s. I think I tried too hard and did as I always do under stress on the golf course and that is overswing.
I stood on the tee box of the 400 yard eighteenth hole wanting a par really badly. The tee box on the hole is sandwiched between the hedges that separate the course from the beach and the 17th green. The fairway is offset to the right with a waste area wedged between the hedges and the left side of the fairway. There are also three bunkers that blend into the waste area. The right side of the fairway has a series of bunkers.
I lined up for a fade, aimed along the left side of the fairway. The ball drew slightly and landed in the last of the three bunkers on the left that blend in with the waste area. It wasn’t looking good for finishing with a par.
Once we arrived at my ball, I breathe a slight sigh of relief. I had a good lie and was far enough from the front lip of the bunker to hit a club that could cover the remaining 165 yards to the back right pin position on the eighteenth green. It is a green with two bunkers along the left side, one on the right side and one off the back.
I stood in the bunker and thought about my shot. I decided to go with a six iron, my 170 yard club and hit the same shot I hit on the seventeenth hole. This time if I went long, the ball would roll off the green between in a space between the right bunker and the back bunker.
I stood over the hole and summoned my best swing of the day. I caught the ball cleanly and it flew with a ball flight just as I had imagined. The ball landed in the middle of the green and rolled to eight feet below the hole and slightly right.
My caddie Matt handed me my putter and I joined Danny who also had his putter in hand, for a long walk in the short grass to our balls on the eighteenth green.
Sadly, I missed my birdie putt, but made an easy par to avoid a par free round. My score on the back nine was two strokes better than the front nine. My total score was a disappointing 94.
I’d like to thank Danny and Lin for making possible for me to play Seminole and for their continued assistance and support during my quest.