Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force. At the start of the week of May 22 there were 21 days and sixteen courses remaining to complete my one-year quest to play the Golf Digest 100 Greatest Courses in America for 2017-2018. I was in motion all week traveling to three states to play five courses in four days. The week started with a Monday evening flight to Illinois to play at Shoreacres on Tuesday morning, Olympia Fields North on Tuesday afternoon, and Butler National on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday afternoon I flew to New York for a Thursday morning round at Garden City. After my Garden City round, I hopped in an Uber for a ride across the city and over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Newark Airport for a flight to Cincinnati, Ohio to close out the week with a Friday morning round at the Camargo Golf Club.
My path to playing at the Camargo Golf Club was just as circuitous as my travels were for the week. After failing to meet a Camargo member during my quest, I called Tom Cecil the Head PGA Professional at Camargo. Tom was very friendly and said he’d be happy to help but would not be able to accommodate me until early July. I thanked him for his willingness to help and said, “no worries, I’m sure something will work out, I’ll see you sometime in May.” I didn’t know how things would work out, but I had faith that if I claimed it out loud to someone, somehow it would.
The first opportunity for things to work out happened when I met Joe Wohlscheid, an assistant PGA Pro at the Cassique Golf Course on Kiawah Island. I was playing in a retirement outing for a friend. The friend told Joe about my quest. Joe asked if needed any help with any of the remaining courses. I mentioned Camargo. He offered to contact a friend who was a member at Camargo on my behalf. Unfortunately, his friend lived in Florida and wasn’t planning to be in Cincinnati until later in the summer. I again said, “thanks and no worries, I’m sure something will work out.”
A second opportunity came when Chris Abernathy, the Head Pro at Double Eagle offered to help when I was playing there. Again, the member that he asked to help lived in Florida and wasn’t planning to be in Cincinnati before my June 11th deadline for completing all 100 courses. I thanked Chris for trying and remained hopeful that if I kept trying something would eventually work out. My whole life has been about never giving up and I wasn’t going to give up now either.
As the days before my deadline continued to speed by, I sent out a request for help to all the people who followed my blog. I got an immediate response from my new friend Kevin. To find out how Kevin and I were reunited during my quest after a brief and chance meeting over 20 years earlier, please read the beginning and end of the blogs on The Golf Club and Muirfield Village. Kevin introduced me to E.J. who introduced me to his friends George and Kim. They were members of Camargo who lived in Cincinnati, not Florida. E.J. and George are attorneys who once worked together at Proctor and Gamble. E.J. now works with Wendy’s and George is a Managing Partner and Chairman of a national law firm. George and Kim agreed to host me on the best date that worked on my calendar. It was a long road with many twists and turns, but my faith in never giving up had again paid off.
My heart sank as the baggage claim carrousel stopped without my golf clubs coming out of the chute. Playing back to back rounds of golf in multiple state has its hazards and I had just encountered one – missing golf clubs. I walked to the baggage claim office where the agent did that typing thing that agents at airports do while looking down at the screen. Without looking up, she said, “your clubs are still on the dock at Newark, they will be on the next flight. What I thought would be a restful evening ahead of my round at Camargo turned into an evening on the telephone with United to track my golf clubs and an opportunity to chat with strangers whose lives briefly intersected with mine as I sat in a Starbucks at the airport awaiting the arrival of the next flight.
In middle America I found that most people were going about their lives working hard and enjoying time with family and friends. I talked with several college students. Some were hopeful about their future and some were not. All were courteous and open. It was great that in the land of Jerry Springer I could have civil conversations with people who saw the country as a hopeful place just like I see it and people who thought America was a dark place, without it devolving into mean spirited name calling. The only mean-spirited name calling came from me after I discovered that my golf clubs were not on the next flight. I had a few choice words for United Airlines. None were laced with profanity, but I probably could have gotten to the point more efficiently had a thrown a few in. After letting United have a piece of my mind and getting assurances from the appropriate level of management that my clubs would definitely be on the next flight, I drove to my hotel on the waterfront. I stood at the window in my room and looked out at the spectacular view of Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ball Park across the Ohio River. Later that night I returned to the airport and retrieved my clubs.
I woke up on Tuesday morning to a beautiful sunny day in Southern Ohio. George and Kim were at Camargo waiting for me when I arrived. We ran into Tom Cecil, the Head Pro, just outside the Golf Shop. Tom and I talked about my quest and I delivered warm wishing to him several of the other Head Pros that I’d met over the last few weeks like Eden Foster, Head Pro at Maidstone, Peter McDonald, Head Pro at Shoreacres and Dan Colvin, Head Pro at Fishers Island. I also thanked Tom for his willingness to host me in July. He remarked that he was happy that things worked out for me. I told him they worked out because the golf world is filled with so many kind people. People like Kevin, E.J., George and Kim. I’d lie to thank Kevin for the introduction to E.J., E.J. for the introduction to George and Kim, and George and Kim for hosting me.
After EJ arrived, we walked over to the driving range to warm up before heading to the first tee on the 89th course of my one-year quest and the last of the six courses in Ohio. George, EJ and I chose to play from the blue tees which measure 6361 yards with a 70.4 rating and a slope of 128.
I love the simplicity of Seth Raynor designs with their generous fairways, large greens, narrow bunkers and template holes. I stood on the first tee and surveyed the 380-yard par four hole with its 40-yard wide tree lined fairway. The 10 yards of rough between the trees and edge of both sides of the fairway looked ominous. I hit my drive along the left edge of the fairway expecting the ball to fade back with the slight left to right bend at about 200 yards out. The ball moved a little farther left instead and landed in the rough leaving 180 yards to a middle right pin.
The 40-yard by 40-yard green is straight along the front and the sides. The back of the green is slightly curved. The green has a steep slope down to a long and narrow off its left side. I hit my approach shot directly at the flag. The ball landed short of the green on the upslope and rolled back down, stopping a few feet off the front of the green.
I chipped onto the green but left the ball well below the flag. My par putt stopped 3 feet from the cup. I made the next putt to open my round with a bogey.
The second hole is the shortest of the two par fives on the course. It measures just 491 yards. The fairway makes a hard dogleg right at about 270 yards off the tee. There is a small bunker inside the turn off the right side. The trees off the left side are a little thicker and tighter than the ones on the first hole. The fairway slopes down into the trees on the right side. I hit my drive to the left rough again, but the ball traveled far enough to leave a straight shot to the green.
With 295 yards remaining to the middle of the green, I pulled the ball on my lay up. It took us a few moments to find it nestled in the left rough. As I prepared to hit my approach shot, George called over, “you don’t want to be long on this green.” I hit my pitching wedge to the front of the square uphill green avoiding the two small bunkers short of the left front. My birdie putt stopped well short of the cup and so did my par putt. As we walked off the green I glanced over the back and saw the steep drop off that led to George’s warning before my approach shot.
At 305 yards, the third hole is the shortest par four on the course. 150 of the yards is all carry over a ravine. The fairway starts out below the tee box but rises back close to even with it for the last 70 yards to the green. There is a bunker off the left side at the crest. There is a tight tree line on the left. The right side of the fairway slopes off severely. I got too steep with my three hybrid and caught the ground before the ball. The ball barely reached the fairway leaving 146 yards to the pin on a well bunkered green.
I needed to get off the bogey train. I tend to pull my short irons, so my eyes were fixated the bunker that wrapped around from the left front to the back left of the green. I consider the bunker along the right side of the green to be decorative like the towels hanging in the bathroom that my wife says are off limits. My approach shot fly right on line with my line of sight, into the left bunker. It came to rest pin high but very close to the bunker wall.
I opened the club face a little more than usual to ensure I cleared the face of the bunker. The ball stopped 15 feet short of the flag.
My par putt burned the edge of the cup. I tapped in for my third bogey in a row.
The most difficult hole on the course follows the shortest par four on the course. The fourth fairway looked tame and peaceful as I looked beyond the 140-yard carry over the rough to the start of the fairway that seemed to go forever as it flowed between the trees off both sides, the two bunkers off to the left and the long bunker off to the right. I hit a low drive that slammed into the slope off the left side of the fairway.
With 280 yards remaining to the middle of the green I chose to lay up to my approach wedge distance of 115 yards. I pushed a six iron to the right. The ball landed in the rough about 20 yards short of fairway bunker that was just under 100 yards from the middle of the green.
Unfortunately, the pin was positioned on the back of the green, just a few paces off the right edge. My 115-yard approach wedge shot had turned into a 130-yard pitching wedge shot. I took aim to the left of the flag to avoid the risk of going it to right bunker. I caught a slight flier out of the rough. My ball landed pin high and rolled a couple of inches into the fringe on the back of the green.
I two-putted for my fourth bogey in a row. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the positive of not having any double bogeys rather than the negative of having blown four reasonable par opportunities in a row.
The fifth hole is the first of the par threes and the first of the template holes, Eden, that Seth Raynor normally includes in his designs. Eden holes are par threes that usually range from 160 to 180 yards with a well bunkered green that slope back to front. This one measures 167 yards and has deep bunkers off the left and right sides along with a pot bunker off the front left. The green is shaped almost like a quarter-circle with a slightly wider front than back. My tee shot landed 30 feet to the right of a pin that with a hole cut just left of center and just past the middle of the 45-yard deep green.
I was left with a dangerously fast putt. George warned that I needed to ensure that the ball didn’t roll more than a couple of feet past the flag. He said if it got beyond that point it would likely roll off the green and down the steep slope into the bunker. I made a gentle stroke. The ball creeped toward the hole and curved away to two feet right of the hole. With my next stroke I finally found the bottom of the cup for my first par of the round.
From the tee box of the 357-yard par four sixth hole, I could see the entire hole, all way to the green with only the bunker cutting in to the right side of the fairway at 150 yards out, interrupting my view. The tree lines on both sides made the fairway look narrower than what is typical for Seth Raynor designs, especially as it approaches the open front of the green. I decided to hit my three wood off the tee for accuracy. I striped the ball right down the middle leaving 150 yards to a back left of center pin.
I surveyed the green as I stood behind my ball looking at its open front and slight right to left bend. The usual compliment of narrow bunkers followed the contour along both sides. I hit a high approach shot right at the flag. The ball fell from the sky and landed with a thud just short of the green. It then rolled a few feet back down the slope.
I chipped on to 12 feet pass the hole.
I stroked my putt on the intended line and watched the ball roll toward the hole, stopping one foot short. I tapped in for yet another disappointing bogey.
The trees just off the front and to the left of the seventh tee box were casting their shadows across the fairway under the sunny light blue skies as the morning moved on. The trees along the sides of the fairway made it look narrower than it was. The length wasn’t an illusion. At 417 yards, the hole is the second longest par four on the course. While I hadn’t played my best golf, I also hadn’t tensed up. E.J., George and Kim, were very easy going so I felt very relaxed even though I was on a golf course with three people I’d never met before. I got the sense that they felt as blessed to be on the course as I felt. I made one of my best swings of the day and sent a high-flying drive right down the middle of the fairway. The ball landed 170 yards from a pin that was positioned just past the middle of the punch bowl green with two bunkers guarding its front. Punch bowl greens remind me of the city of New Orleans which is below sea level and surrounded by levies to keep out the Mississippi River.
I caught a bit of the ground on my approach shot. The ball flew straight toward the flag but landed in the bunker just short of the front of the green. It took me seven holes, but I accepted that my approach shots were not traveling as far as they usually did. I was leaving each approach shot short of the green.
I wasn’t going to make the same repeated mistake with my bunker shot. I left the ball well short the cup on my fourth hole sand shot. I made a big swing. The ball fell over the flag, landed, and rolled into the fringe off the back of the green.
Guarding against a double bogey, I hit a lag putt that somehow found the bottom of the cup. It was just my second par of the round.
I scratched my head a little as I looked out at the 207-yard par three eighth hole. Mr. Raynor was playing tricks with my eyes. As if one square 35 yard by 35-yard green didn’t seem daunting enough, there seemed to be two, one behind the other complete with long narrow bunkers along the sides. But alas there was only one green. What looked like the first green was simply a closely mowed area in front of the one true green. I flared my tee shot out to the right. The ball landed just short of the narrow bunker along the right side of the green.
My pitch shot to the front right pin got away from me and rolled 30 feet past the pin. I two-putted for another easy bogey.
The front nine ends with a 417-yard par four with a short 130-yard carry over a ravine to a fairway that slopes up from a ravine toward two small back to back bunkers off its right side. A thick grove of trees stands just past and to the right of the bunkers. The left side of the fairway is wide open. My drive faded and didn’t clear the bunkers.
With my ball close to the lip of the bunker, I hit my pitching wedge to get to the middle of the fairway. I caught the ball thin, it caught the lip of the bunker and kicked into the trees.
The tree just a few yards in front of my ball caused me to do some real head scratching. The green was 200 yards away and I had to decide whether I had a better chance of reaching the green with a hard off the left side of the tree or a softer fade off the right side of the tree. Not reaching the green was not an option. That could lead to my first double bogey. With all those missed par opportunities I could ill afford a double. I stood over the ball for a moment and visualized a low shot that started just right of the tree and curved slightly to the right before landing and rolling onto the green. I took my three hybrid, addressed the ball with an open stance and made the best cut swing I could. The ball missed the tree, stayed under the branches, landed in the fairway about 30 yards short and then rolled onto the green to about 40 feet below the hole which was cut just a few paces from the back. It was pure magic. That one shot that comes off just as we had imagined. It what keeps us from throwing our clubs in a lake. Well that and the cost of replacing them.
I now had a chance to save par. It was a small chance, but a chance never the less. If I could hit the green from out of the rough behind a tree 200 yards away, certainly I could make a little 40-foot putt…NOT. The ball rolled a foot past the hole. I tapped in for a bogey and a front nine score of 42.
The back nine at the Camargo Club starts with what could arguably be the toughest hole on the course. The 441-yard tenth hole is rated as the second most difficult hole, but that’s probably because it’s on the back nine. The difficulty comes solely from the length. At just 35 yards across, the sweeping right to left fairway is narrow by Seth Raynor standards. There is just one bunker along the fairway off to its right at about 230 yards from the tee and very few trees other than the cluster on the right that starts to encroach at about 120 yards from the front of the green. My drive faded and landed in the right rough about three yards off the fairway.
I popped my approach shot up. It landed in the first cut on the opposite side of the fairway leaving 100 yards to a back right pin.
My third shot landed on the left middle portion of the green leaving a 70-foot putt. My ball rolled two feet past the hole. I made the putt to save bogey.
The 11th hole is a nice treat. It’s a short 131-yard par three with a wide green. The pin was just to the right of the middle of the 35-yard wide and 40-yard deep green, essentially taking the bunker off the front and the one along each of its sides out of play. I hit an easy pitching wedge right at the middle of the green. The ball landed 45 feet left of the flag.
My birdie putt missed the hole by two feet to the right. I rolled the two-footer in for par.
After the short par three it was back to the long par fours. The 12th hole measures 410 yards and requires a tee shot over a ravine to the uphill fairway that starts 150 yards from the tee. The fairway moves from left to right away from the trees tight along its right side before splitting at 50 yards before it reaches the front of the green. The right fairway is separated from the left fairway by two long bunkers, one after another. I hit my drive to the left rough leaving 230 yards to the middle of the green.
I got under the ball on my second shot and popped it up. I left my third shot short, then pitched onto the green and two-putted for my first double bogey of the round.
I stood on the 13th tee box, took a deep breath and tried to regroup. The 369-yard hole is rated as the second easiest par four on the course. The fairway starts 130 yards from the tee and makes a hard dogleg right. Sparse trees and high fescue stand at 10 yards off each side. I hit my drive at the trees off the left side of the fairway and let the curvature of my natural fade bring it back to the fairway. Unfortunately, the fairway slope left to right. The ball rolled off the left side of the fairway and into the rough.
125 yards remained to a back left pin on an open front green with bunkers off its left and right sides. My approach shot landed on the green but 100 feet below the hole. This left a long and difficult putt to the lower tier back left side of the green.
I thought I hit a good putt, but the ball broke much more than I expected as it creeped down the slope. It curved to the right and stopped four feet short of the cup.
I missed the easy straight four-foot putt and settled for a three-putt bogey. It was not the recovery that I was hoping for.
At 380 yards, the par four fourteenth hole is slightly longer than the 13th hole but has a much slighter right to left bend. It plays uphill from the tee with ample room between the sides of the fairway and the deep fescue and trees that line both sides. My drive landed in the left side off the fairway just right of the edge, leaving 185 yards to a green with only one bunker short and right of it.
I pushed my approach shot to the right. The ball landed to the right of the front right bunker.
I pitched over the bunker. The ball rolled to three feet below the cup.
I took my time, made a good stroke, and watched the ball roll in the cup. I welcomed the par.
The 176-yard par three fifteenth hole is another one of the template hole. This Redan hole messes with your eyes. The shaved apron distorts your depth perception as you stare at the severely right to left sloping green. There is a deep bunker off the left side which was eager waiting to collect balls putted too hard to stop near the hole that was cut just a few paces from the left edge. My tee shot landed on the apron well short of the green.
Using a Texas wedge, I hit the ball directly toward the flag from fifteen yards off the front of the green. My butt cheeks tightened as I watched it roll down the slope from the middle of the green past the flag toward that deep bunkering looming just off the left edge. The golf gods must have felt sorry for me as the ball somehow defied gravity and stopped on the steep slope.
I chipped to one foot, saved bogey, and walked off the green feeling very blessed.
As I drove to the next tee box, I wondered if I had wasted too many par opportunities. I’d avoided double bogeys on all but one hole, but I’d also missed too many makeable putts. Two of the final three holes at the Camargo Club are rated in the top half of the toughest holes on the course. If I could par all three, I could still finish with an 82. First up was the wide-open 378-yard sixteenth hole whose only trouble is a lateral bunker that cuts into the left side of the fairway at 180 yards off the tee.
I hit a low pull off the tee. The ball landed in the rough on the upslope of the bunker.
I popped my second shot up. It landed in the middle of the fairway, but I was left with 150 yards to the square green protected by a large bunker short of it and a long bunker along its left side.
My third shot missed the green to the left and landed in the long bunker.
My sand shot landed on the green and rolled up the slope to the upper tier on the back of the green and stopped six feet from the hole. I made the putt to save bogey. So much for parring the last three holes. I now needed to finish with a birdie and a par to get to that 82.
It’s probably not coincidental that the second par five on the course is the penultimate hole on the course. I think Seth Raynor likes symmetry. The first par five on the course is the second hole so it makes since that the final one of the two is right before the last hole. The 17th hole measures 498 yards from the blue tees and curves like a meandering river from the tee box to the green. The trees and the tall fescue are pushed far enough off each side to offer beauty but no risks. I hit my drive to the right edge of the fairway leaving about 280 yards to the middle of the green.
Needing a birdie, I looked out over the wide fairway at nothing but air and opportunity between my ball and the green. I decided to try my patented driver off the deck shot to see if I could reach the front of the green and give myself a shot at a two-putt birdie. My only concern was the small bunker off the right side of the fairway just short of the green. I addressed the ball, aimed toward the bunker along the left side of the green, relaxed my arms and let it rip. The ball sprang from the club face, curved toward the middle of the fairway, landed and rolled to 40 yards short of the front of the green.
While the ball was still 40 yards short of the green and sixty yards from the left center pin, I was happy with the shot and still had a good opportunity to make that desperately needed birdie.
As I approached my ball, Kim pointed out the beautiful pattern on the ground just in front of us cast by the shadow of a crooked pine tree. It reminded me of my travels during the week and the year as I scurried across the country trying to play all 100 of Americas Greatest Courses in twelve months.
My pitch from 60 yards got away from me. The ball rolled 25 feet past the pin.
My birdie putt stopped short of the cup. I tapped in for a par. The 82 was looking improbable now.
The view from the 18th tee at Camargo is simply exquisite. We asked one of the guys on the maintenance crew to photograph us as we stood on the tee box with the slightly left to right sloping 18th fairway behind us as it bends from left to right past bunkers off the left and heads to the green.
I hit a high drive right down the middle of the fairway on this 415-yard par four closing hole, leaving 210 yards to a front pin position just left of center on an almost rectangular green with a curved back. The green has a long narrow bunker along the left side and a shorter but wider bunker off the right side.
I stood over the ball with my three wood for what I hoped would be my final swing of the day. When I started my quest, my goal was to break 90 on every course. That would lead to completing all 100 courses in less than 9000 strokes. As my handicap improved, I changed my goal to shooting an 85 or less. With 210 yards between my ball and the bottom of the cup on the 18th green, it was unlikely that I would birdie the final hole, but I wanted to at least make a par and keep my score well under an 85. As I prepared to make my swing, I thought about the elements of a good golf swing. I needed to take the club back slowly and make a full turn while maintaining my spine angle. I then needed to let the club drop back down to the ball from the inside out. The ball sprang off the club face and never deviated off its line toward the flag. It landed a couple of feet short of the green and kicked left before rolling two feet farther from the green.
My putt from off the green rolled to three feet below the hole and slightly to the right. I made the easy straight putt to finish my round with a par and an 83.
EJ had to get on the road for his drive back to Columbus, but George and Kim invited me to join them for lunch on the patio right outside the clubhouse. We ate and talked about our families, golf, faith, and the country we loved under the beautiful blue skies.
Over adventurous four days, I covered three states and played five courses. My goal was within reach. I had played 89 of the top 100 golf courses in less than twelve months. It was an unprecedented feat, but it wasn’t enough. I still had eleven courses remaining and no firm tee times at Shinnecock Hills and Pine Valley.
America is a vast and beautiful country. The four-hundred-and-sixty-mile drive from Cincinnati to Atlanta took me through heart of horse country and the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky and along the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. The drive gave me plenty of time to reflect on the week and develop my plans for completing my remaining rounds.