Have you ever had one of those days where you were able to take your practice range game to the course? That is exactly what I did at Rich Harvest Farms. It was one of those days where my ball striking on the course was remarkably identical to my ball striking on the range. I came to Rich Harvest to play the 93rd course in my quest to complete all 100 of the Golf Digest Greatest Courses in America in one year. It is one of the courses that got postponed due to a scheduling conflict with Bill, who had asked a Jones Lang LaSalle colleague to host me. Bill and I met when we played together at Augusta National. He also helped me with Oakmont and Medinah.
The security guard at the gate directed me to the clubhouse where Clint, who Bill had asked to host me, and Yaz, his business partner was waiting. After introductions we headed to the driving range where every ball I struck either went right or hugged the ground. I tried adjusting my grip, my posture, my tempo and anything else I could think of. Nothing worked. All the adjustments did were create different ways of striking the ball poorly. My best guess is that I was still tormented by my poor play at Chicago Golf Club. I lost total confidence in my ability to swing a golf club.
When we arrived at the first tee with our caddies, Alex, Mike, and Matt a thousand and one thoughts were racing through my mind like a pack of rats trapped in a maze. We played from the member tees which measure 6716 yards with a slope of 148 and a rating of 75.0 making it one of the more difficult courses in the top 100. The course has two nines, the Gold and the Silver. We started on the Gold. Alex took my bag.
On any normal day, the 411-yard par four first hole with a fairway that bends slightly to the right would fit my eye and my swing perfectly. I would aim at the bunkers off the left side of the fairway at about 220 yards off the tee and let the ball fade back to the middle of the fairway. On this day I struck the ball just like I’d done on the practice range and my fade turned into a slice. The ball landed in the rough between two clusters of trees off the right side of the fairway.
With trees between my ball and the 220 yards to the middle of the green, this would normally be a perfect opportunity for my patented driver from the rough shot. A shot that starts out low and rises steadily as it bends to the right. Unfortunately, my ball had settled deeply into the rough. I pitched out to the middle of the fairway leaving 85 yards to a well bunkered green.
I caught my lob wedge a little thin and turned it into a gap wedge. The ball sailed over the flag and rolled to the back of the green leaving a 65-foot putt.
I judged the speed well, but we overread the break. The ball stayed out leaving 18 inches to the cup. I made the putt to savage a bogey.
I struck the ball much better on my drive on the 540-yard par five second hole but didn’t get rewarded. The hole has two sets of tees separated by trees. We played from the tees on the right. I hit a straight drive that flew 225 yards before landing in the last of the five bunkers clustered in the right side of the fairway just beyond the trees.
My ball came to rest on the upslope. I opened my club face and concentrated on getting the ball up quickly so that it would clear the lip. The ball came out high but to the right and landed in the rough behind the trees to the right of the bunker. I was able to get my club on the ball and sent it hurling toward the flag. It hit between the right front of the green and a bunker then kicked back into the bunker.
A smooth swing sent the ball toward the cup riding on a bed of sand. The ball landed and rolled to twelve feet past the hole.
Alex and I both had watched the ball roll past the flag. We agreed on the line. I stroked the putt. I knew when I hit it that I’d hit it too softly. The ball stopped two feet short of the cup. Bogey.
On the way to the third tee box, I noticed a tree that had two benches carved into it. “What’s that, and what’s does ‘Snead’s Crotch’ and ‘3 Gold mean?’ I asked. Clint responded, “Sam Snead and Jerry Rich, the owner of the course, were longtime friends and that’s a reference to Sam Snead.” Clint went on to tell me the story of how during a round between Mr. Rich and Mr. Snead at Rich Harvest Farms, Mr. Snead had asked where to hit the ball on this hole. Mr. Rich pointed to a large oak tree in the middle of the fairway and said, “Right at the base of that tree.” Mr. Snead hit the ball right into the crotch of the tree. He then hit the ball backhanded out of the crotch and made a par on the hole. Clint told me that a couple of months ago the tree had to be cut down, but they turned it into a bench to commemorate Mr. Snead’s feat.
Even with the tree removed from the middle of the fairway, the trees tight off both sides made for a harrowing drive through a narrow chute on the 351-yard hole with a hard dogleg left bend. The trees on the right were pushed back a little farther from the edge of the fairway past the bend, but the space between them and the fairway was filled with bunkers. I hit a three wood off the tee and found the fairway.
In one of the rarest occurrences of the day, I caught my approach shot flush. I stood watching as the ball sailed over the flag and landed off the back of the green. Where was that swing during my warmup session?
I hit a high flop shot the ball came down and stop four feet left of the flag.
In an act of pure generosity, I was given the putt for a par. Good thing because my attempt to make it didn’t end well.
My driving range swing returned on the 185-yard par three fourth hole with a green defined more by the bunkers off its front left side and back, than by its putting surface. Neither of those bunkers caused a problem for me. My nemesis was the large bunker short and right of the green. I made a half-hearted swing pushing the ball into that bunker which had water in it.
I dropped outside the bunker and hit my second shot to the middle of the green.
Two putts later I walked off the green with another bogey.
The three-hundred-seventy-three-yard fifth hole has a double dogleg fairway that winds through the trees to a peanut shaped green with bunkers off the front and the back. I ignored all that for a moment and tried to concentrate on making a good swing. I made on of my best ones of the day and put the ball in the left side of the fairway well short of a bunker off the left edge leaving 165 yards to a naughty peanut shaped green.
I tried to fade my approach shot off the left edge of the green to the middle flag position. The ball stayed left and landed on the green before rolling just off its left edge.
I didn’t hit my first putt nearly hard enough. The ball stopped 12 feet from the cup. I missed the next putt then tapped in for a bogey.
The only reason I could figure that the sixth hole isn’t rated as the number one handicap hole on the course is that you can’t have two holes rated as the toughest. The hole measures 453 yards from the member tees. The fairway cuts through tight trees then has Lake Katherine off to the left and a bunker off to the right as it narrows to land bridge width before widening again just short of the green. Imagine a jack hammer with a knob (the green) above its handle and you’ll get the picture. It was so much to look it that I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I topped my drive and sent a low worm burner into the right rough leaving 250 yards to the green and all the trouble that came with it.
With overhanging tree branches in front of me and Lake Katherine looming in the distance, I played it safe and pitched out to the fairway leaving 172 yards to the pin.
I got lucky and caught my third shot flush and unlucky when it flew long and over the green.
I chipped on and made the putt to save bogey.
A bad round got even worse starting with the 187-yard par three seventh hole. I hit my tee shot far enough to carry the marsh between the tee box and the green but sliced the ball to the right. It was the worse shot I’d hit so far and with all the bad shots I’d hit, that is saying something. We searched for the ball in the area where we saw it land but couldn’t find it. I took a penalty and a drop before hitting onto the green and two-putting for a double bogey.
Bill, who’s plane had been delayed joined us on the 8th tee box where thoughts of my swing on the seventh hole took up residency in my head so that they could haunt me for the rest of the round. I made double bogeys on the final two holes on the Gold nine. The 414-yard par four 8th hole is rated as the toughest hole on the course. Its fairway starts out wide but then narrows at about 115 yards from the green as Lake Clyde cuts into its right side. The 504-yard ninth hole has a fairly wide fairway but also has a tree in its right side at about 200 yards off the tee.
We left the ninth green and walked over to Plantation House where there was a gathering of old men having lunch. Clint introduced me to Jerry Rich, the owner and designer of Rich Harvest Farms and his son Keith who is the General Manager of Rich Harvest Farms. They were having lunch with Al Hansberger, the owner of Ram Golf and his son Gary. Mr. Rich is one of the few remaining amatuer designers of a top 100 course. He showed me some photographs and talked about the history of Rich Harvest Farms and his commitment to collegiate golf. He also mentioned that Tom Watson uses Ram Golf Clubs which were made by his lunch guests. It was great to spend a few moments with men who have long been passionate about the game of golf. I thanked them for allowing me to interrupt their lunch as we headed back to the course.
The Silver nine at Rich Harvest Farms plays shorter than the Gold nine but while I found refuge from the heat by finding a place to slip off my long pants and slip into a pair of shorts, I found no refuge from my poor play. My drive stayed right and dropped into the deep rough on the 393-yard par four first hole with a long carry over wetlands.
We found my ball but after taking two hacks to get it to the fairway, I picked up and watched while Clint, Yaz, and Bill completed the hole.
The 482-yard par five second hole has a wide-open fairway free of trees and bunkers for the first 270 yards. I thought surely, I could par this short hole. I hit my drive down the left side of the fairway expecting a slight fade, it drew instead and landed in the fescue.
I made solid contact with the ball on my second shot, but the fescue grabbed the clubface and kept the shut. My ball again landed in the left rough. This time the best I could do was to pitch out to the fairway.
I hit my fourth shot over the flag. The ball landed and rolled to 25 feet past.
I two-putted to save a bogey.
Lake Clyde had plenty of water in it from the recent rain in the Chicago area ensuring the wetlands between the tee box and the green matched its name. I hit my tee shot on line with the flag on the 186-yard par three third hole. The ball carried the wetlands and a little piece of Lake Clyde but landed short of the right side of the green. Fortunately, it was also short of the bunkers between Lake Clyde and the right edge of the green.
I pitched on to twelve feet and two-putted for another bogey.
It is a daunting tee shot to get the ball to the narrow tree lined fairway on the fourth hole, too daunting for me. I pulled my drive into the trees on the left. The ball hit on the bank and kicked into the creek that runs left of the trees.
Fortunately, there was an opening in the trees with a line to the right side of the green. After taking my drop, I hit a real golf shot. I drew the ball around the trees and over the bunker off the front left side of the green. The ball landed just past pin high.
I missed my par putt but saved bogey again.
The fifth hole on the Silver nine is a beautiful 170-yard par three. Its all water from the tee box to a bunker off the front of a very shallow green. I hit my tee shot on a line slightly left of the flag. The ball landed in the rough about 15 feet behind the flag.
It looked like it would be an easy chip for a birdie. My ball skirted the edge of the cup and rolled to 8 feet past. I missed the comeback putt and settled for another bogey.
At 334 yards, what the sixth hole lacked in length, it more than made up for it with bunkers. From the tee box I could see more bunkers than grass in the jigsaw puzzle of a fairway. I managed to find some of that of that grass with my tee shot.
My good fortune was short lived. With a back left pin, I somehow found the bunker off the front right portion of the green.
I hit my sand shot onto the green and two-putted for my sixth bogey in a row.
The seventh hole like the second hole on the Gold nine offers to sets of tee boxes separated by trees. We hit off the member tees on the set to the left which points toward a narrow fairway framed by trees off its left side and bunkers and trees off its right side. Accuracy off the tee is a must and accurate I was not. I hit a short drive of just 200 yards into the middle and smallest of the three bunkers off the right side of the fairway.
I was far enough from the lip of the bunker to hit my three hybrid. The ball flew straight and landed in the left side of the fairway about 120 yards from the flag.
Eyes wide open and licking my chops at the prospect of finally making a par on the Silver nine, I hit my approach at the flag which was just a few paces off the front of the green. I was a club too short. The ball dropped into the water just short of the bunker off the front of the green. I took a drop and pitched my fifth shot on to the green well past the flag. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
From high atop the hole, I two-putted for a double bogey.
The eighth hole looked innocent enough from the tee box with a narrow fairway that sweeps through the trees and makes a slight dogleg to the right. I managed to miss the bunker off the left side of the fairway and hit my drive to the short grass. My second shot landed just right of the large bunker off the left side of the green. I didn’t get as lucky with my pitch shot. It landed in the bunker as did my first sand shot. I hit my fifth shot onto the green and two-putted for a triple bogey.
By the time we made it to nine Silver I was ready for my long nightmare to end but first I would need to get my tee shot over the water and into the fairway from the left set of tee boxes on another harrowing treelined bunker infested hole. Nothing to it, a high flying 240-yard drive landed in the right side of the fairway leaving just 175 yards to the pin. Make that 175 bunker infested yards. I finished with a bogey.
After posing for a photo with our foursome, we made our way back to the clubhouse where I had the opportunity to spend some time with David Kubiak, the head pro. If I take away the eighteen holes of poorly played golf, it was a great day. I made some new friends, got an opportunity to talk golf with a couple of legends who’d been around the game for a long time and got an invite back which I will definitely take advantage of so that I can play the course the way it was designed to be played rather than hacking my way around it.
Ninety-three courses in the bag. Eleven days, six states, and seven courses left to reach my dream of playing the 100 Greatest Courses in the Country in a year. However, I have no time to reflect now. I must head to O’Hare to take a flight to Rochester, New York to play course number 94. Let me say that again, “94.” That’s a lot of courses and I still won’t be done.