A long and fun day of sports

I almost never miss my life as a sports writer. That’s been pretty well chronicled in other spots on this blog.

But I do kind of miss Final Four Saturday. In part for the atmosphere, but also in part for the fun. It was kind of my unofficial start to the golf season.

With the first game of the day beginning at 5 or 6 p.m. (depending of the time zone of the host site) and no pregame access, there’s a good bit of time to kill. So what to do? Make a day in which I would have to cover two games on deadline (even the first game was a deadline event because of Sunday state edition press times) even longer by getting up early and playing golf.

So the goal was to tee off around 9-10 a.m., play 18 holes, grab a quick lunch afterwards, zip back to the hotel, clean up, head to the game, cover two games, write two game stories and finish about 11:30 p.m. At that point, I’d meet fellow reporters in the hospitality room, have a few cold beers and fall into bed totally exhausted. I did this for five consecutive years.

Most years, we played again on Monday morning (though not as early) before the national championship game. A couple of years, I played on Thursday afternoon before things really got going on Friday or I played Tuesday morning before catching a plane back.

In 2003, I played a place called Willowdale CC in Lulling, Louisiana before a night at the Superdome (Kansas crushed Marquette in one semifinal and Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony beat Texas). We were going to play on Monday, but it poured that day. On Tuesday, I played the very solid Money Hill Golf and Country Club across the lake in Abita Springs, LA. I also had a nice lunch at the Abita Brewery brewpub before catching a flight back.

In 2004, my friend Herb and I played a very solid public course in San Antonio called The Republic before heading to the Superdome to see UConn and Georgia Tech win games. I think UConn beat Duke and GT beat Oklahoma State, but I’m too lazy to look it up. I remember flying to Austin instead of San Antonio that year because I got a better fare. I played The Golf Club at Circle C in Austin on Thursday, we played the very strong The Bandit (Keith Foster design) on Monday and I played Briggs Ranch (a Golfweek top 100 modern) before heading home.

2005 saw the Final Four in St. Louis. I played GC at Pevely Farms after landing, Stonewolf GC Fairview Heights, IL on a cold Saturday and Gateway National (which is quite good) on Monday afternoon before North Carolina beat Illinois.

In 2006, the weather was a little sketchy in Indianapolis. I played the quite good Trophy Club just northwest of Indy on Thursday afternoon. On Saturday morning, my buddy Herb and I joined some of the people from AP in playing at Brickyard Crossing, the upscale public course that has a handful of holes inside the track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That was a really cold round. There was no golf on Monday or Tuesday because of cold and rain. That was a bummer because I had a hookup to play at Crooked Stick on Tuesday.

The trip to Atlanta in 2007 was my last Final Four and I got three rounds in. I played  Cobblestone GC, a pretty good public course in the northwest suburbs on Thursday. On Saturday morning, we joined the AP guys and played a place called Eagle Watch GC, which is one of the Cannongate clubs. On Monday, my friend Herb and I played at Wolf Creek, a pretty decent public course near the airport that was designed by Mike Young.

So I’m not going to lie, I kind of wonder where I would be playing if I was in Houston right now. I’m sure I’d be knocking it around somewhere. That doesn’t mean that I wish I was in Houston right now. I’m in a much better place.

 

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Best news of the day: A MN course opening

I just got an email from a course called Wedgewood Cove Golf Club in Albert Lea.

The news: They are opening for the season on Saturday.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first that I’ve seen of  a Minnesota course opening.

I have not played Wedgewood Cove, but a friend has and he said it is decent. It’s fairly new, so it probably has decent drainage. In terms of a golf course, it can’t be too awful as the Minnesota Golf Association is going to hold a State Amateur qualifiying event there this summer.

Will I tee it up in Albert Lea on Saturday? The weather forecast right now doesn’t look super great, but I’m not going to rule out the possibility.

The 2011 golf debut: A road trip to Des Moines

Course: Waveland Golf Course

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Course stats: 6,544 yards, par 72.

Website: wavelandgolfcourse.org

The first round of golf in 2011 kind of came out of nowhere. I had certainly had enough of winter.

blogged about the idea of driving to Iowa last week. I didn’t really think it was going to happen. It seemed a little bit crazy to be honest.

On Friday, I didn’t think it was going to happen. I was planning on hanging out on Saturday, going to GolfZone and hitting some balls and wishing I was playing golf. But my friend Jason sent me a message on Friday afternoon saying that he was down for the drive, he would pick me up at 7:30 the next morning.

Crazy? Perhaps. Fun? Absolutely.

As we left, there were actually some snow flurries in the air and we didn’t have a tee time in Des Moines. By the time we reached Mason City, the snow was gone and I had secured us a tee time just before noon at Waveland.

We certainly could have played a course that is a little more upscale than Waveland. But Jason grew up playing this parkland course. I didn’t really care where we played, I just wanted to get out and knock the little white ball around.

Playing golf at Waveland is like going back in time. This summer is the 110th anniversary of the course, but it is more than that. In some ways, it is like going back to what public golf used to be prior to the boom of golf course construction in the late 80s, 90s and 2000s.

On the wall of the pro shop is a framed Golf Digest page. I couldn’t see a date on it, but I’m guessing early 80s. The page featured the top 50 public courses in the United States. Waveland was on it. The guy behind the counter then showed me this coffee table book from that same era that had pictures and words about great courses. Again, Waveland was featured.

The actual golf course at Waveland sits on a nice piece of rolling property as you can see in the photo above. This is the fourth hole, a 371-yard par 4 that doglegs to the left. The fairway slopes from right-to-left off of the tee and if you end up in the left rough, you will be forced to hit a draw/hook and will have at least something of a blind shot.

I didn’t really take a lot of photos from Waveland as the weather wasn’t awesome and I was simply trying to work the rust off of my game. Without a driving range, it took a little while to get comfortable. I actually hit the first two greens in regulation and then bombed one off of the planet on the third hold and made a smooth 8.

With all that rust and with the wind blowing like crazy for much of the day, it was tough to get a full sense of the place. Aside from the first par 5 which forces players to essentially hit it down a hallway off the tee before an awkward second shot, I though the rest of the par 5s were good. Unlike a lot of municipal courses, these required a little strategy in terms of where to layup, etc. (getting to these greens in two wasn’t really an option as the course was not firm and fast and because of the cool temperature).

I also liked No. 8, a 182-yard par 3 in which you have to hit it over a valley to a green that appears to sit a little above tee box. This played into the wind and probably played about 200 yards.

How good is this course? First, I must preface by saying we paid $20 to walk. I thought it was a pretty good municipal course. It was much better than any of the Minneapolis city courses. A Twin Cities comparison would be Keller from my perspective. Was it the greatest course I ever played? Not even close? Was it fun? Certainly. There are a number of good holes, a few bad holes (note to Waveland, cut some trees on No. 14 so you don’t have to hit a duck hook off of the tee) and a few holes that aren’t really memorable.

But I got the added bonus of Jason pointing out where a dog once stole his ball and where someone had relieved him or herself on a green. How can you go wrong with that?

The only real complaint I had was that the greens needed some work. There was still quite a bit of top dressing on them (including some rocks to go along with the sand). Because of that (and because I doubt they had been mowed since last fall), the greens were super, super slow. It reached the point where missing the green turned into a better strategy than hitting them.

But it was fine for a season-opening round. While not firm, I was pleased/surprised that the course wasn’t a muddy mess. There were a few mud balls, but nothing major And after getting a bunch of snow here in Minneapolis last night, I would gladly putt this weekend on sandy, slow greens. In a second.

After our round, we stopped and got some food and made our way back to Minneapolis. About 13 hours after leaving, I was back at home. The trip back in time was complete and my first round of 2011 was in the books. I slept great that night and was certainly a little sore in spots after the first 18 holes (walking and carrying) of the season.

Yes, a one-day down-and-back trip to Des Moines for a single round of golf might be a little excessive. But it hit the spot and allowed me to get a little bit of a fix as I patiently wait for spring to arrive here.

A funny golf story

This one landed in my inbox today complements of my friend Dan.

The Golfer
He left  home around 8:30 to play golf with his friends. 
On the way  out the door, he answered his wife’s “What time will you be home?” question with
“Probably  around 1:30 – I’ll have lunch at the club.”
 
1:30 came  and went, 3:00 passed, 6:15, still not home.
Finally at  about 7:00 PM he rolls in the driveway, leaves his clubs in the garage, and  presents his wife with a pizza, and begins the apologetic story.
 
“We  finished our game about 11:30, had lunch and I started home, when alongside the  road I saw this attractive girl with a flat tire on her car.  I stopped to  help, got the tire changed, and looked around for a place to wash my  hands. 
She  offered money, but I refused, so she suggested that I at least allow her to buy  me a beer. 
She said  there’s a tavern just up the road, and they have a restroom, you can clean up a  bit. 
I agreed  to stop, we had a beer, then another beer, then a couple more, and I realized  that this girl was not only pretty, she was very friendly, and a good companion  to spend time with. 
Before I  knew it, we were in the motel next door having sex. 
And that  is why I am so late getting home.”
 
His wife  looked him right in the eye and said
“Don’t  bullshit me — you played 36 holes, didn’t you?”

Eight hours in the car to play golf? Crazy or genius?

This crazy idea started with a Facebook post from Twincitiesgolf.com. They posted Wednesday afternoon that there are now some golf courses opening in the Des Moines, Iowa area. I followed that up with a stop at weather.com that indicated a Saturday forecast of a temperature in the mid-50s with sunny skies.

I haven’t played golf or hit a golf ball since a Christmas Eve round in Arizona. I am pretty much dying to play. I can’t deny that for even a second.

And I’m going to come clean. After seeing the forecast, I immediately emailed two friends of mine to see if they wanted to experience a scenic drive down Interstate 35. One can’t do it as he has plans. The other one is spending the weekend in Palm Springs (and, yes, I used profanity upon hearing that news).

At that point, I started really thinking about this. The best option might be the Tournament Club of Iowa, which is between Ames and Des Moines. It is 241 miles from Golden Valley to Polk City, Iowa. Google maps says it is a four-hour drive. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I would probably be looking at 3.5 hours at least.

The golf course, which I played once several years ago, is pretty good. The spring rate of $44 isn’t bad.

The longer I’ve thought about it, the more I’m leaning toward staying close to home and hitting balls here. If I had somebody to drive with, I would probably do it. But I’m not sure that I want to make the drive by myself. Also, I have to be back in the Twin Cities by 4 p.m. on Sunday, making a two-day trip more of a challenge.

So as much as I want to play my first round of 2011, I’m going to have a rare moment of being responsible. If it was Mason City or Albert Lea, I would probably do it. OK, I would certainly do it. Instead, I’m going to hit balls at least once and maybe twice. I’m going to try to work off some of the rust.

And then hopefully we’ll see some courses a little closer to the Twin Cities open next weekend.

New Golfweek classic/modern rankings

If you pay even a slight bit of attention to golf, you know that everybody is in the ranking game. Golf Digest has been in the game for a long time. Golf Magazine has their own rankings. Even business journals do ridiculous rankings based only on course ratings (and are kind of worthless in my estimation).

My favorite rankings, however, come from Golfweek. The weekly publication’s biggest two rankings are its listing of its top 100 Classic courses and top 100 modern courses. I like these because classic courses and modern courses are two totally different animals. For a Minnesota example, how exactly do you compare Interlachen Country Club, which was built in the early 1900s and Spring Hill Golf Club, which is around 10 years old? One was built when technology didn’t exactly allow for a lot of earth moving, the other during a time when dirt was so easily moved that visual deception is part of the designer’s game.

I, personally, am a fan of classic courses. I love how they fit pretty naturally into the earth. I like that in many cases controlling your golf ball is as important as attempting to overpower the course. I like that classic courses are much more walkable and very few are cart-path only or feature long green-to-tee walks.

The other cool addition this year is that they also ranked the next 100 modern courses and the next 100 classic courses. So we essentially have 400 courses ranked.

For my Minnesota friends, here are some findings:

Courses on the Classic list:

52. Interlachen

61. White Bear Yacht Club

72. Minikahda

93. Northland

147. Somerset

172. Golden Valley

176. Woodhill

On the modern list:

59. Spring Hill (making its debut in the rankings)

83. Hazeltine National Golf Club

115. Windsong Farm Golf Club

What I’ve played:

Classic

17. Pinehurst No. 2

52. Interlachen

58. Lawsonia (Links)

70. Pine Needles

72. Minikahda

78. Rolling Green (Pa.)

93. Northland

101. Kirtland Country Club

136. Idle Hour Country Club

147. Somerset

159. Mid Pines Club

172. Golden Valley

176. Woodhill

188. Lake Merced

Modern

12. Muirfield Village Golf Club

46. Blackwolf Run (River)

58. Paa-Ko Ridge

59. Spring Hill

77. Kapalua Plantation

80. Briggs Ranch

83. Hazeltine National Golf Club

85. We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro)

88. Cog Hill #4 (but prior to recent renovation)

93. Valhalla Golf Club

109. Harvester

115. Windsong Farm

172. Sugarloaf Mountain

176. Musgrove Mill

It has been four long months

Four months ago — on Nov. 7, 2010 — I played my last round of Minnesota golf. It was a fairly pleasant day. It wasn’t warm, but it also wasn’t stocking cap golf.

To say that I want to tee it up again is a serious understatement.

I recently came across these photos on my digital camera from that weekend (they were actually taken on Nov. 6) and thought I would share a few. The pictures are from Southview Country Club in West St. Paul, a very fun classic course that is nearly 100 years old. Many of the holes were designed by architect William Langford.