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Is there something wrong with me?

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Is there something wrong with me (or even you)? Quite possibly. As a boy I lived right next to one of the holes on Bend of the River 9 hole Golf Course in Hadley, NY. I have never had the opportunity to play a round there. Not as a kid and not as an adult. 

As a golf course goes, it’s really nothing all that special, its uniqueness lies in that it was my first experience with golf. Just like many of you (you do have one don’t you?), I have a "must play" golf course list. Actually, it is an excel spreadsheet. This list is a constant work in progress, I always seem to be adding new courses, yet never crossing off enough of the ones I have played.

The courses in black have been played (see inset pic) , the courses in light gray are waiting (impatiently) to be played. So much golf to play and so little time to do so. Surprisingly, my list is void of Pine Valley, Augusta National,Winged Foot, Seminole (this is my Augusta), Olympic Club, Riviera, Oakmont, Merion, and the like. I am a realist and I understand that about as close I’ll get to playing those historic venues is owning a scorecard from there! No, my list has golf courses, both public and private, that I hope to get a chance to play. Of course, if someone from Seminole called and invited me to play, I would be there tomorrow, maybe even sooner. My list is almost 100% accessible, my only handicap or obstacle is money and time or even both. I seem to be on a mission to play as many "new" courses as possible and at times I get disappointed when I have to play the same course over again. This may be why I have been reluctant to join a private club. I’ll join one eventually, but for now I have a pressing need to make a dent in my list.

Resort golf courses? Sure, got a bunch on there; TPC Sawgrass, Sea Island, The Greenbrier, Whistling Straights, Pebble Beach and friends, Kiawah Island, and about 30 courses near Myrtle Beach. Courses that you may never have heard of; Cape Arundel in Maine, Rip Van Winkle Country Club in the Catskills (NY), The Presidio in California, Miami Shores GC (Donald Ross’ last designed course), Hyde Park Country Club near Jacksonville, Florida (I have to best Ben Hogan’s 11 on a par 3 there), both Donald Ross courses on Fort Bragg, NC (Stryker and Ryder) and The Bayonet and Blackhorse courses at the now defunct Fort Ord in northern California just to name a few. Overseas? Ireland, Scotland and England, I won’t even go there, that list is way too long. I may never want to come home once I golf there. We’ll be going to Northern Ireland soon, on a family vacation. Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, here I come. Alaska? I went there for three weeks a few years back to camp and hike all over. I passed up on playing golf at 2am in the morning, I am still kicking myself for that one.  Unfortunately for me, I have pretty much "exhausted" all my choices in the greater Cincinnati area, both public and private. Ultra exclusive Camargo Club (#55 on America’s 2007-08 Top 100 Private Courses that you can’t play), it is Cincinnati’s toughest course to get on, and I played it twice. Fortunately, I still have Columbus and Cleveland to make a dent in. Heck,  Kentucky is right across the river and Indiana is a hop, skip and a putt away.  Luckily for me, my in-laws live in Michigan and we frequent there fairly often. In case you didn’t know it, Michigan is chock full of incredible golf courses.  Maybe more golf courses than you could actually play in a lifetime. My goal this year was to get in 40 additional "new" golf courses. I am stuck at 27 with a slim hope of making it to 35 before winter. Of course, I played no less than 10 courses that I have already played in the past as well. I’ll be passing through northwestern Pennsylvania at the end of the month.  I am meeting up with a few old friends from Connecticut to squeeze in a few rounds of golf in a weekend before winter finally sets in. We are playing Scottish Heights, Treasure Lake Silver and Bavarian Hills. Never heard of them? Neither have I. They’ll get me to 30, but still ten short of my goal of 40 new golf courses. My friends don’t know it, but on my way back home I’ll stop and play America’s oldest continually operated golf course, Foxburg Country Club.  They have been playing golf there since 1887. A classic, old school  9 hole course, complete with postage stamp sized greens and a golf museum in the clubhouse. I don’t think I am anywhere near an obessive-compulsive disorder (am I, or are you?) with my excel spreadsheet of courses, after all I still haven’t typed in Augusta National. The number one course I want to play in the USA? That’s easy, Bend of the River Golf Course. It’ s been over 31 years since a young boy of 9 sat on the tee box selling golf balls to guys teeing off, watching them in their funny plaid pants joking around, (being with your buddies is a big part of golf) and hitting their drives (many of which sliced into the treeline and I later found their golf balls only to sell them to another foursome the next day or a few hours later) up the hilly fairway. I am thinking that after I play there, I just might let go of this ever increasing golf course list, err spreadsheet. Well, I doubt it, because I’ll surely discover four more golf courses that I’ll need to play on the way home! Reality tells me that I’l never come close to playing all the courses on my ever growing list. It’s just not possible. However, my motivation tells me that I’ll go down swinging in an effort to do just that.

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  1. Brook Siudy

    Aug 31, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    Did you ever happen to know some one about your age named Mark Siudy or maybe the Siudy family? They all grew up in Hadley and played Bend of the River. I am Mark’s 17 year old son, small world huh.

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Courses

Ocean Dunes: Golfing in the Wild Waves

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On the last day on King Island, we were excited to see what its other golf course had to offer. While we first missed the small entrance to Ocean Dunes from the road, we finally got it right and approached the course on a small gravel road taking us up to the golf club parking.

When we walked from the car parking heading down to the temporary club house, we were facing large dunes and a beautiful big ocean. “What a site for a golf course!” That was our first impression. And after a quick look out on the short par-3 down below us, we knew that this would be a good day.

The iconic 4th hole. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Ocean Dunes opened in September 2016 and is designed by Graeme Grant. It’s actually for sale at the moment, and if I had the money I would honestly consider buying it. It’s currently ranked as the fourth best public golf course in Australia. We met one from the staff before our round, and she told us that Ocean Dunes is like Barnbougle Dunes on steroids. Although we haven’t reached Barnbougle yet, we immediately understood that this was a good thing.

No. 3, a tough par 4 (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

We later played 18 holes, and we were almost alone out on the course. I love that feeling when you’re able to play in your own pace and don’t have to wait. Just hit, look and plan for your next shot. It was a very windy day, and it wasn’t in the normal wind direction. A lot of our approach shots just wouldn’t stop on the firm greens.

Waves crashing in behind Johan. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

My highlight from Ocean Dunes was definitely the fourth hole, a lovely and beautiful par-3 where the big waves crashed in. It has a Cypress Point vibe about it. I also enjoyed playing the third hole, a long par-4 (425 meters) that runs just next to the ocean with a tricky fairway sloping down toward the ocean. It all ends with a very complex green. It’s a great challenge from the backtees.

Sunset highlighting the shapes of Ocean Dunes (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Overall, I would describe Ocean Dunes as a challenging, risk-reward course. It’s a bold and perfect complement to Cape Wickham Links on King Island. At Ocean Dunes, there are 17 holes with water views. All 18 holes have bent grass greens and a lot of variation. They’re highly memorable. We truly enjoyed our round and had a lot of fun. But if you’re able to visit King Island, it’s not fair not to treat yourself just to one course. You need to play both Cape Wickham Links and Ocean Dunes.

The 7th green. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next destination for us will be Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm in Tasmania. They’re two world-class courses that looks amazing in the photos I’ve seen so far. I can’t wait to get there and share our experience. We will also meet the owner himself, the potato farmer Richard Sattler. Don’t miss it!

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The Long and Winding Road to The Old Course

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St. Andrews holds a special and historic place in every golfer’s imagination. Anyone who has the faintest chance to play St. Andrews should do whatever it takes to get there. My journey to The Home of Golf was a circuitous one, filled with random twists and colorful characters along the way. It all started with a wedding. This is my story.

Palm Desert, California 2006. I was living the charmed and unglamorous life of a club professional. My soul was slowly being crushed by too many Couples Twilights and Ladies’ Guest Days. The love I once had for the game was waning and I needed something authentic to rekindle the passion. One day my friend Aaron called from Minneapolis with some exciting news: “Dude, my cousin Paul is getting married in a castle in England next month and we…” I cut him off with a quickness. “Forget the castle. We have to go play St. Andrews.” My response didn’t surprise Aaron one bit. His mind was already heading in the same direction, and he knew what I was going to say before he picked up the phone. We started forging a plan for the trip.

Aaron and I were both fairly seasoned travelers, but we weren’t without our limitations. There were family and work obligations to consider, as well as Aaron’s recently rebuilt knee. He was going to be a game-time decision for every round. I’m not saying Aaron is Brett Favre, but he’s a pretty tough guy so I felt good about our chances.

Our limited itinerary called for a Friday arrival, a Saturday groom’s dinner and a Sunday night wedding — all in the company of the wildly entertaining Reid and McIllrick clans. After that, if we survived, there would be golf: Monday at 7 a.m. on the Old Course, Tuesday at Carnoustie and Wednesday’s game at Loch Lomond before heading home. The difficult feat was going to be leaving from the wedding on the outskirts of Leeds, England around midnight and getting to the first tee at St. Andrews by 7 a.m. the next morning. Make no mistake; this was going to be intricate work.

You should know a little bit about the cousin/groom Paul Reid. A successful aviation executive and a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, he is perhaps best known for being the older brother of former Hibernian Football Club Goalkeeper Chris Reid. As teenagers the Reid brothers would visit their Minnesota cousins, and we all became fast friends. Paul and his bride-to-be Kay didn’t actually invite me to their wedding, but they knew I was coming as a guest; albeit a guest with ulterior motives.

We landed in Glasgow and drove to York, England (mistake) to meet up with the rest of the wedding party. The first two days was a boisterous blur of pints and greasy fish ‘n’ chips. I don’t remember much, but I do recall a few things; most notably, the groom’s dinner that featured a James Bond soundtrack. Not James Brown: James Bond. I’m a pretty solid dancer, but there’s only so much you can do with “A View to a Kill.” But it’s the groom’s night; if it’s Duran Duran he wants, then it’s Duran Duran he’ll get.

When Paul and Kay’s wedding finally came, it was a beautiful and lavish affair. Truth be told, I couldn’t get out of the place fast enough. When the clock struck midnight, Aaron and I hit the road. We were stone-cold sober and in front of us lay a cold, wet, five-hour drive through the dark Northern night. There was no place else in the universe I would have rather been.

The road less traveled

It didn’t take long for doubt to start creeping in. Keep in mind, back in 2006 the car rental GPS systems were suspect. We were rolling through the rural countryside with MapQuest print-outs on the left side of the road in the driving rain. And don’t forget we were powering through a 3-day hangover fueled solely by adrenaline. This was nothing short of a herculean challenge.

Every good road trip has a soundtrack, right? Somehow, somehow, the only CD we had was by a band called Granddaddy. “Rear View Mirror” was their only jam. Late night/early morning Scottish radio offered little relief as “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley was on every time we sought refuge on the FM dial. There was no Belle and Sebastian, no Big Country, no Simple Minds (thank God) and not even Teenage Fan Club. Just Gnarls Barkley every single time. I’m not making this up.

Three hours into our journey, we were starting to fade hard. Luckily, we came across a roundabout that had a 24-hour gas station/convenience store. Stepping out of the car I realized that what I thought was a light drizzle was actually rain. It wasn’t enough to keep you from playing golf, but it was a legitimate stop-a-Little-League-game type of rain. And it was cold. I bought a few extra-large coffees that tasted about as bad as you would expect rural Scottish gas station coffee to taste at 3 a.m. and headed back to the car.

Then it happened. As I hastily scrambled to get back into the car and away from the freezing rain, I fumbled the coffee. Not in the parking lot, not the side of the car, not even in the floor of the car. I ham-fisted all 32 ounces of java directly into Aaron’s lap. Talk about furious. Aaron was sleep deprived, had a right knee as swollen as Frank Gore’s and was freshly soaked with a gallon of lukewarm coffee. To rub salt on the wound, the only MapQuest sheet that we needed was also ruined. We would have to make the last two hours to the Old Course on feel, and I wasn’t sure our friendship would last that long.

We found our way to town around 5:30 a.m. We had rented a few rooms in a house about 10 minutes from the course and the plan was to change clothes and go play. The schedule was all working out, but the weather wasn’t. It was still raining, windy and maybe 40 degrees. But we changed and headed to the Old Course, hoping at least one of the elements would relent.

It’s not easy getting the 7 a.m. tee time at The Old Course. As the saying goes, “It’s who you know that counts,” and a friend of mine who was a member of an exclusive club that somewhat guarantees members tee times at courses all over the world had set it up for us. I had no confirmation or booking number — just an email from my friend telling me to be at the first tee by 6:45 a.m. If you knew this guy, you’d realize this wasn’t as risky as it sounds. So as we parked the car and started to walk to the historic first tee, only two things were going through my mind:

  1. It is still lightly raining, windy and cold
  2. Considering it’s 6:45 a.m., there are a lot of people here

As we approach the first tee and the Ellis Island-like crowd that surrounded it, the sense of place really started to sink in. Then suddenly, like Moses parting the Red Sea, two men split the crowd and walked toward us.

“The professionals from California, I assume?” said the shorter dark-haired fellow named Robert.

“Yes sir,” I replied.

We stumbled through introductions and Robert went on to say that everything had been handled. There would be no need to pay for anything. Then he asked if we’d take a few singles to play along in our tee time. We happily agreed.

As I went to put my peg in the ground, I could hear whispers from the de facto gallery: “Look! He’s the pro from California!” I wanted to turn and tell them, “No! Look away! I’m just a hack club professional and I haven’t slept in two days! Look away!

Instead, feeling every ounce of the onlooker’s expectations, I pulled driver because it had the greatest chance of getting airborne. I swung as hard as I could and snap-hooked a line drive about 230 yards (85 yards of carry) into the 18th fairway. I was strangely content with the result. Just as we were about to walk off the tee, Robert approached and we shook hands as if to say thanks and good bye. He suddenly pulled me in closely and whispered, “At the conclusion of your round, there will be a silver Range Rover parked behind the green. Get in that vehicle.” Then he just turned and left. It was weird. The whole thing felt very covert. There was something about Robert and his sidekick that had my radar up. I wondered if the James Bond soundtrack from the groom’s dinner was a premonition of things to come.

We were paired with an Englishman who was a very solid player and another man from Houston, Texas, who was far less capable. The Texan, as we came to know him, probably shot over 150. To call him eccentric would be a gross understatement; he made Bill Murray look like Tom Kite. He sported a big, bushy gray beard and a flannel button-down shirt. The only thing guarding him from the elements was a picnic blanket he wrapped around his husky frame. My guess is he slept on that same blanket the night before, probably on the first tee. Whether The Texan was entirely there mentally was a topic of hot debate. “Nice shot,” I untruthfully said to him once. He looked back at me (through me?) for about 10 seconds before uttering, “They all are.” Curious words for a man who just shot about 150.

People will often tell you how great the caddies are at The Old Course, but they didn’t have my man Stevie. Again and again, I asked Stevie not to read the greens for me because I wanted to figure them out myself. I also asked him not to club me, but rather to just give me yardages. As we approached the 10th green, I was pleading: “Stevie… please, for the last time, please don’t give me a read unless I ask for it, OK? I really want to read the greens myself.” His reply: “You got it, sir. Sorry, sir… You got it.. This one’s right to left, sir. About half a foot.” He hands me a putter, walks away and grabs the pin.

By the time we reached the historic Road Hole, my relationship with Stevie (not his real name) was beyond frayed. A good drive left me in the middle of the fairway. I asked Stevie for a distance and he clubbed me. “Just the raw distance, please, Stevie.” He clubed me again. And then again. I asked one more time and he finally relented. I took 8-iron — one more club than Stevie recommended — and hit it pure leaving a ball mark about five feet past a middle pin. The problem was the ball ended up well over the green on gravel. Triple-bogey seven. Stevie was right. The shot called for a 9-iron hit short and right of the sucker’s line I had played.

As we reached the 18th green, we all shook hands and gave our thanks, good lucks and goodbyes. I embraced Stevie as if asking for his forgiveness. I looked up and there it was, the silver Range Rover. Robert and his accomplice jogged out to meet us, grabbed our bags and loaded them in the back. “Off to the castle for lunch now,” Robert said. It was not a request, but a requirement. Our golf bags were like hostages so we followed orders.

The Mysterious Castle

Again, we didn’t know these guys from Adam and the whole scene was just a little north of uncomfortable. Defenses were slightly up. I knew Robert and his cohort wanted something from us, but I wasn’t sure what. Robert told us we were about five miles away from “the castle” where we could “have lunch and discuss a proposition.” When we got there, it was more clubhouse than castle. There was a garden, a pool and stables. It reminded me of an Oasis video. I was half-expecting Liam Gallagher to be passed out on a billiards table in the parlor.

As it turns out, Robert was just trying to sell us memberships into the club, which would be like joining all of the world’s finest clubs. It would guarantee us tee times “anywhere but Augusta National” as Robert reiterated half a dozen times. Instead of calling him to the carpet on the false promise of global tee times, I explained that I wasn’t in the market to join any club and thanked him for his hospitality. After a nice lunch and few beers, they drove us back to our car.

Aaron and I hadn’t slept in well over 24 hours and we were spent. We had plenty of daylight to play more golf, but we just didn’t have the energy. Kingsbarn, The Jubilee, maybe even a replay of The Old Course; it was all right there in front of us. But instead we went back to our rooms to warm up, dry up and rest; a decision I’ve regretted ever since.

After recharging, we dragged ourselves back into town and drank half a dozen pints as we recounted the day. There were so many surreal quirks that we had to take a mental inventory. Was that the hardest five-hour drive ever? Did we almost crash into a few roundabouts? How horrible does a lap full of coffee feel at 3:30 a.m.? Did that scene at the first tee really happen? Is The Texan is still alive? Was he even real? Was being shuttled away from The Old Course by strangers in a silver Range Rover to a castle for lunch with two kind of strange guys we didn’t know the most James Bond move ever… or the least James Bond move ever? Who knows.

But I know one thing: I’ll be back at St. Andrews someday, hopefully with my daughter if she chooses to play. I’ll show her where my smother-hook on the opening hole ended up. We’ll laugh at stories about The Texan. Maybe I’ll birdie the 18th again. As we’re standing on the green hugging, I’ll pull her close and whisper: “If you see a silver Range Rover behind the green, don’t get in. They’re just trying to sell you something.”

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Cape Wickham Links: The Treasure of King Island

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After catching an early morning flight from Auckland, we did a short stop in Melbourne before our flight down to King Island. In Melbourne, we had to store almost half of our luggage in a storage locker so we could fit into a significantly smaller plane taking us further down south to King Island and Cape Wickham Links.

Cape Wickham Links was finished late in 2015 by American golf architect Mike DeVries and Australian golf writer Darius Oliver. It was ranked the 24th greatest golf course in the world by Golf Digest (U.S.) in 2016. As a newcomer, it’s very rare to receive a ranking that high, and the course was one of the real highlights in our golf trip.

12th hole. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

When we later flew in over King Island in that small plane I could almost hear the Indiana Jones theme buzzing in my head as we approached that short airstrip and prepared for landing. The airport at King Island is very small, as you would expect, but everything worked out smoothly and we got our golf clubs from the plane directly. A gold Nissan X-Trail then carried us forward on some bumpy roads before we finally reached the northwest tip of the island and Cape Wickham Links.

Hole No. 1 (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

King Island is a fairly small island with roughly 1600 inhabitants. I found it to be very charming and friendly, and I strongly believe King Island soon will be on every golfer’s bucket list. It has two excellent courses, the other being Ocean Dunes.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The first thing we saw when we approached Cape Wickham was the majestic lighthouse, which is also the tallest lighthouse on any golf course in the world. This lighthouse from 1861 serves as an icon for Cape Wickham, and it can be spotted from most of the holes throughout the course.

Since I am a big fan of courses positioned on remote locations and always speak highly of the road less traveled, I really wanted to play and experience this golf course. We were fortunate to play it twice. It has so many key features, thrilling challenges and interesting twists. As a golf course photographer, it was also dream to capture through the lens.

Locals can often be spotted out on the course (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Cape Wickham Links delivers some truly fantastic holes on a beautiful location along the Bass Strait, a stretch of the Australian Seacoast that once shipwrecked many voyages. It’s not a secret that the weather can often be quite challenging, but don’t let that fact scare you off. You need to try this world-class course, as it’s one of the best golf experiences you can find anywhere.

Your round of golf starts out with a big bang as you hit your first tee shot from a tee box flirting with the ocean. It’s one of the most scenic opening holes I’ve ever came across. Just look at the view.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The routing is also brilliant, starting first along big rocks. It lets you hit your golf ball just next to the roaring coastline where the wind usually plays a big role. Then you are moving more inland at the 6th before returning to the ocean edge at the downhill 10th. After you’ve hit some tough shots among the large dunes, you will ultimately face an incredible finish with Nos. 14, 15, 16, 17 and foremost the 18th curving beautifully along Victoria Cove beach. If this does not entertain you, I don’t know what will.

The 18th hole from above. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

I also had a quick little chat with one of the designers of the course, Darius Oliver.

“The golf course routing takes you to all points of the compass,” Oliver said. “The four par-5s play four different directions, and the grass is wall-to-wall fescue on greens, fairways and tees so it’s easy to maintain the traditional links surfaces. In fact, we only have a Super and five staff down at Wickham, and they do a wonderful job. There are more than 30 hectares of turf to maintain, so twice the average area of a Melbourne Sandbelt course, and the annual maintenance costs are half the Melbourne Sandbelt. We always wanted it to be easy to keep and sustainable, which we think has been achieved.”

The 15th green in front of the lighthouse. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

During our conversation, Oliver also pointed out that it was very important to create a world-class course that people would like to return to since it’s very remote. And looking at at it, I can only say they’ve been successful so far. We have also to keep in mind that this course is still very young and will most certainly evolve over time.

A important thing to remember while you are playing Cape Wickham Links is that in most cases you should not try to go for the pin… and if you do you will probably end up long and off the green. The best thing to do is calculate your bounces landing short in front of the firm greens and use all of your imagination and creativity to master the tricky slopes. Sometimes you will need to aim left or right to let the ball bounce onto the green. That’s why I recommend you to play it at least twice so you can study and learn the course properly.

The 17th green, followed by the 18th hole that wraps around Victoria Cove (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Both my friend Johan and I lost a lot of golf balls during our first round when we were struggling hard in the wind and figuring out how we should play the course correctly. Johan even ended up hitting a ball into the WC at the 9th! Despite our bad golf, we still adored the course. It’s a true masterpiece that clearly brings something new and fresh. We would definitely like to visit again… and again.

Up next: Ocean Dunes on our very last day at King Island. A course that is rumored to look like Barnbougle Dunes on steroids.

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19th Hole

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