Today was uncharacteristically beautiful, sunny and not all that cold (low 50s F), and I couldn’t stand the thought of not taking advantage of an opportunity to get in a round. I spent the late morning and early afternoon trying to scare up someone to partner up with, but to no avail The only times I’ve ever golfed solo were at a par 3 course near where I work, but I decided to go for it today.
I picked our local muni, a Robert Trent Jones course named Valley View because the panorama lives up to the name. Here’s a link:
In typical RTJ fashion there are numerous and massive elevation changes (the course goes all up and down a hillside) and the greens are generally severely contoured. Playing it is like a putting clinic, and it’s responsible for most of the improvements in my putting game (such as it is). The course slope is 118 and at par 72 it rates 69.2.
By the time I got there it was a little after 2:00 and the starter would only let me go out for 9 holes. Even this early in the afternoon up here the sun was already low in the sky, glinting off the grass tips and making finding your ball in the rough a dicey proposition (not even counting the fallen leaves everywhere). The course was practically empty, though, probably by virtue of the lousy weather forecast that had today suffering rain showers and maybe even some snow. They really blew that one!
I did a little stretching, mounted up and off I went.
Hole 1: This is a pretty straightforward par 4, 340 yards from the whites. The only real trouble is if you pull or hook it badly, there’s a road close by on the left and an intervening gulley that swallows balls. Given the thick leaves everywhere you really don’t want to go there–so of course the first thing I did was pull my drive right into the danger zone. I got lucky, it stopped in a nice level spot short of the gulley and I was able to find it with reasonable effort. Good lie, too. I didn’t have a view of the green, too many trees, so I fired up the 3 wood and gave it a good smack out in that general direction. I made good contact, only a slight fade, and ended up with a satisfactory lie just off the right of the fairway and inside the 100. My approach chip was left and a little short, leaving me a bit of a bump-and-run from the fringe. This is where I usually employ a 9 iron; I hit it a little strong and had a lengthy bogey putt ahead of me. I got a pretty good read on the contour and lagged it really close; tap-in for double bogey. Nothing special, an average hole for me.
Hole 2: This is the only par 5 on the front nine. It’s pretty much the same as hole 1, just longer (480 from the whites), with the same danger left and lots of trees around. This time I avoided pulling my drive, but sliced it instead. It took me a few minutes to find it in the rough and amid the leaves, but find it I did. I hit a couple of mediocre 3 wood shots, managing to keep them both in the fairway, and had a short (~70) chip approach for my 4th shot. Hit my gap wedge a little too strong and it rolled off the back edge of the green, but close enough to use the flat stick to get on in 5. Didn’t lag it close enough, alas, and had another 2-putt for a second double bogey. Still not too shabby, my goal at this stage of my game is still averaging double for the round. I’m content.
Hole 3: This is a ball breaker. Number 1 handicap hole, also called “cardiac hill.” Par 4, 394 from the whites. The tee box is extremely elevated, there’s a carry over a creek at about 130, and from there it slopes dramatically uphill again to an elevated green that you can’t even see until you’re right on it. Golf carts can’t usually get up the slope except by crisscrossing, and within about 70 yards you can’t take a cart up it at all, rather have to use the paved path up one side. Bogey on this hole is great, and for the ladies it’s listed as a par 5 (they have to use the same tees here). I tee it up, and let fly. It’s a beauty! Long, picture-perfect and straight, well over 220 yards (which for me is exciting). I’m now in the center of the fairway and about 175-ish from the green. I hit a pretty good 3 wood, but as happens with this hole it bounces into the hillside and rolls to a stop about 50 yards from the green, on a severe uphill lie. I fire up the PW, because there’s still so much elevation to gain and I know the lie will add loft. I hit it really nicely, and it arcs up and out of sight, but on a line that tells me I probably made the green. I find it on the green, all right, but well left as the slope drained it that way. Long putt left with several contours to navigate. To make a long story short I 3-putt for yet another double. It’s okay, I tell myself, I got on the green in 3 which ties my personal best for this hole. I’ll take the six!
Hole 4: One of my un-favorites. It stretches across the side of the hill, so everything drains severely right, downhill and then over a ledge into no-man’s-land. You simply do not want to be too right on this hole, ever. It’s just at 400 from the whites, and there are bunkers guarding the left of the green which drops off steeply on the right edge. What do I do? I slice my drive. Sigh. I arrive at the last place I saw it, and am rewarded with a gift: it clipped a branch on the way down (the broken-off branch was there as mute evidence) which caused it to drop straight down. It’s playable and even with a good lie. Thank you, golfing gods! I play my 3 wood left of the green to allow for the inevitable right drift and roll, and it drops nicely near the left edge of the green, maybe 30 yards out. Here’s where my short game deserted me: My chip is too strong, off the back of the green. My come-backer is also too strong, and I have a long bogey putt which I just miss. Another double. At least I’m consistent!
Hole 5: This is a fairly easy hole, until you get to the green. It’s a dogleg right, 370 yards, but the green slopes all over the place and drains off into several directions at once, or so it seems. I have witnessed many a four-putt here from pretty good golfers. I tee it up, and slice my driver yet again, but not too badly. I have a decent lie but I still have the turn to negotiate and I’m on the wrong side of the fairway to have a look at the green. I select a 9 iron and punch it towards the 100 yard marker, which I can just see around the intervening trees. It’s a beauty of a shot, even a bit of a fade, and settles nicely past the 100 marker and then rolls even closer. I’m loving it! With about 70 yards to the green I decide to try my SW and see if I can stick it—which I do! It went a little long, but damned if I didn’t stick it. My par putt stops short, alas (I had a downhill putt and was afraid of draining it off the green again) but I’m left with a tap-in. My first bogey of the day!
Hole 6: This is the only par 3 on the front nine. It’s also the second-easiest hole on the course, supposedly. It normally plays 130-ish from the whites, with a huge steep bunker guarding the left side of the green, and a green that starts with a high hill on the right and then drains severely left and back. If you’re long here you end up off the rear/left edge, the only way to get it close is stick it or drop it front/right and let it dribble in. Today the whites are way back and right, right up with the tips. Odd, it’s the first time I’ve seen them here. Now it’s playing around 180, which changes things dramatically. At this range it’s an automatic 3 wood for me, and I’m usually pretty handy with it off the tee. I could have tried my 3 iron to see how far I hit it, but habit took over. I tee it up and let fly, aiming for the huge bunker to allow for the expected fade. Nope, it’s a good, clean hit and also ruler-straight, right at the bunker. I watch as it hits the sand, then with glee I note it skips the surface, flies right up the steep edge, and over! Yes! Another lucky break! I find it in the rough off the left side of the green, nearly pin high and with a nice lie. A little pop-up with my SW lands close, but a little too close and it rolls well past the hole helped by the slope of the green. I just miss the par putt, which rolls past more than I would like. It’s okay, I still manage to drain the bogey putt, to card a four. I’m stoked by now, two bogeys in a row!
Hole 7: This is the signature hole of the course. An elevated tee with a fabulous panoramic view of the valley below. The hole plays 425 from the whites, with a creek at the bottom just short of the green, which then rises sharply with a strong back-to-front slope. Long hitters really risk rolling their tee shot into the creek. Not a problem for me, of course! I play my tee shot left, knowing I’ve been slicing it badly today. It just clips a couple of leaves on the left, then arcs nicely out and right, ending up just short and right of the 150 marker. Not bad! I’m about 120 to the creek. Now, a more confident player might go for this, but I know that’s a recipe for a duff-roll right into the drink, been there/done that. I elect to lay up with a 9 iron—which I promptly duff. Now I’m only 80 from the creek and 120 to the green, and this time I decide to go for it. I select 7 iron, knowing the green is going back uphill on the other side. I duff it again! Right at the creek. Damn! Then my third lucky break of the day shows up: the creek has a wide, grassy bed and the water is only in the center of that area. My ball clears the water and is lying up in the clumpy grass, at the bottom but playable. I set up with my SW, and take a short choppy stroke at it that sticks in the rising side of the ditch. The ball takes off, and soars nearly straight up and towards the green—looks great! Alas, it comes to a stop well past the hole, and I have a long, long downhill putt for bogey. I’m pretty spooked by the slope, and leave my first putt short. Then my second. My third goes in, leaving me with a 3-putt triple bogey for the hole. Sigh. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
Hole 8: Back to reasonably level holes, albeit with one of the trickiest greens on the course. It’s kind of saddle-shaped with a strong back-to-front slope. You pretty much just try to drop it short, let it run up, and hope for the best when it stops. Playing 395 from the whites, there’s also a bit of a trend to drain right. I slice yet another drive, but have a good vantage. My 3 wood also fades just a tiny bit, but the slope catches it and it runs to the right and back off the fairway. Sigh. Gap wedge range, there’s a tree partially in the way but I can easily see the left half of the green. I clip the wedge and it feels pretty good, but I guess I still hit it fat because it arced nicely over the left side of the tree but landed well short of the green. Hmm. I don’t understand why it didn’t go further, but whatever. Next try is SW, and I drop it on the green but too far for an easy bogey putt, especially with this green. I’m proud of my lag putt, it leaves me with an easy second for a double on the hole. Okay, fair enough.
Hole 9: This is an interesting finish. Plays 405 from the whites, you’re starting uphill then it drops out of sight so your tee shot is usually landing blind unless you’re a really short hitter (or layup). The second half of the hole is all downhill, including the green, so you can expect your approach shot to drain off the back unless you stick it. I hit a respectable drive, albeit with the usual slice. This hole is thankfully wide open to the right and for my second shot I have a really good look at the green from about 190 yards out. I hit a very nice 3 wood, aimed perfectly to allow for the slight fade, and it lands and rolls right towards the green and stops close. Yes! My approach shot is the closest thing to a flop I know how to do: SW with the face open. I flip it up really nicely and it lands on the leading edge of the green right where I hoped to put it, but the slope is just too much and it rolls on past a good distance. I misread the break on my par putt and it misses left, but I easily drain the second one for bogey. Nice finish!
In the end I card a 52, and I’m really happy with it. My main issues today were slicing my driver, distance control on my chips, and missing long-ish putts. I’ve gotten pretty good at lagging them close enough for a fair shot at a second, though, and given the tricky greens on this course I’m not too unhappy with my flatstick today. I made pretty crisp contact with my irons except for the back-to-back duffs on hole seven, and for me that’s a huge improvement. I rate the day a success.