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Opinion & Analysis

Confessions of a Hacker

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By Jamie Katz

GolfWRX Contributor

Welcome to my first blog post for GolfWRX. If you’re looking for news on how you can plug your earphones to get MP3 tunes on the newest TM driver, or you want to read about the merits of nanotechnology shafts versus multi-material shafts, you’ll need to read something else. But if you’re interested in the triumphs and travails of an avid but all-too-flawed golfer and the equipment that has helped and hindered me, my close encounters with golf instructors, and the ways that golf can build and destroy a man’s peace of mind, then keep reading.

Most of you on GolfWRX are better golfers than I am—but I believe I can compete with anybody when it comes to loving the game. And I pledge to remember the GolfWRX creed: Golf is just a game. It’s not life and death — it’s way more important than that.

So what qualifies me to be a golf pundit?  Well, let’s start with my background and the golf demons I wrestle with. I am sixty years old with a lovely wife, an active teenage daughter, two dogs, a demanding job as general counsel at a major teaching hospital, memberships on three nonprofit boards, other family members to take care of, too much stomach, and a back that goes out on occasion. With all that going on, why, when I have a few minutes all to myself, do I spend it trying to figure out what clubs I need to fill the gap between my driver and my 21-degree hybrid? Why do I itch to buy a Tour Edge Trilogy hybrid that I’ve never hit, just because I found it for $49.99, or pine for an Adams XTD hybrid when I really don’t need the extra distance?

It wasn’t always this way. I played golf as a kid with Johnny Palmer clubs. Yes, Johnny Palmer—I had no idea who Johnny Palmer was, except he wasn’t Arnold (it turns out, for those with a historical bent that he was a good pro who pre-dated Arnie). I played on a local muni on the other side of town. I was happy just to play and it never occurred to me to think about changing clubs.

College ended my not-so-promising golf career. For over 20 five years, I didn’t pick up a stick. Then I attended a wedding of a brother-in-law in Florida and he set up a game for a bunch of us—including most of his five other brothers. I was decidedly unimpressive until the eighteenth, where I hit a lovely seven iron into the green on my second shot, 12 feet from the hole, in front of my in-laws. They kicked my butt on the basketball court, but on the golf course, I ruled. Out of the blue, I remembered the lure of the game and the bug came back.

I played for a few years with a small group of friends. We usually shot close to 100, but we enjoyed ourselves. Until one beautiful summer day, on an upscale course with a number of hard holes, my swing fell apart, totally, cataclysmically. From the twelfth hole on, I displayed no evidence that I had ever played golf before. My shots went short, left, right, anywhere but the intended direction and distance. I knew I’d developed something awful in my swing, something well beyond my knowledge or understanding.

I left the golf course that day determined to do one of two things–walk away from the game or take lessons and improve. So somewhere around 15 years ago, I found a teacher who revamped my swing and helped me back to occasional respectability on the golf course. And about 10 years ago, with a more predictable swing, I began trying out new clubs.

I now live very close to a driving range. I moved to a different instructor two years ago. I’ve been fitted for a driver and irons. I’m not able to play 18 holes more than once, sometimes twice a month, but I sneak away from work and family to the same muni I played on as a kid and play nine early on weekend mornings. In a good summer week, I’ll get to the range a couple of times and I’ll play over the weekend. I’ll buy some new and used clubs during the season, just to see if they’ll improve my game. What does this all add up to?  I’m the quintessential weekend hacker.

My 16-handicap game still bounces around. This summer, for example, I’ve hit a number of drives that are among the longest I’ve ever hit, despite my age. I had a score of 84 (good for me) on a twisting course with lots of elevations that I’d never played on before. And best of all, on that day, I blew away a couple of guys that I rarely beat. But I also had a couple of rounds over the summer where everything went wrong—indeed, on one hole, I hit three shanked wedges in a row. The three ugly shots each flew to the right, taking me halfway around a green. At that point, I picked the ball up and didn’t touch a wedge for the rest of the round.

I check in on GolfWRX regularly. I know my driver swing speed, more or less, and I know I need lower-spin clubs. But I don’t keep track of all my statistics, I don’t spine my clubs, I don’t do a lot of demoing on Trackman, I don’t switch my shafts, I don’t change my lies, and I don’t bother with adjustable clubs because my swing is not reliable enough to bother changing the settings.

But I love the game — seeing a nice drive soar and land in the fairway, hearing the sound of a solid iron shot, beating my brother-in-law in match play, finding a cool new course. I’ll never be a good player—indeed, given my age and the other choices I’ve made in life, I’ll never be better than I am now. But that’s OK. I get a kick out of the competition, I can make my own decisions on the course (unlike so many other areas in my life), I get to hang around outside, and every once in awhile, I come up with a really nice shot.

So back to the problem I started with—why am I worrying about the gap between my driver and 21 degree hybrid? I don’t know. I’m not even sure that the long clubs that I now have are significant problems — I haven’t kept detailed statistics about shots in the fairway, greens in regulations, putts made, or any of the important areas. Maybe I fixate on those clubs because most of the rest of the bag is pretty much set. Or maybe I just like to keep finding new clubs to fool around with. As it stands, my Rocketballz 3HL goes a long way, but I can lose it left or right too often (I know, it’s mostly the swing). A used Ping G20 17 degree I picked up recently goes left way too often (I know, it’s mostly the swing). So I need to work on the swing but while I do, I’ll keep thinking about the right clubs in between crises at work or while chauffeuring my daughter around. In the end, I’d love to fix the swing so I don’t need to buy new clubs. But then, of course, I’d find a reason to fool around with something else in the bag.

Come back, sometime down the road, and I’ll let you know what I do, or don’t do, about the hybrids. I’ll tell you about my experiences with different teachers and my efforts to get my teenage daughter onto the golf course. I’ve been a good putter, a bad putter, and fought back to being a decent putter — but now they may take away my beloved belly putter, so you’ll read about my adventures on the greens. I hope to entertain and enlighten a little. And if you, gentle readers, tell me I didn’t do too well in a particular post, well, clearly the problem is the arrow, not the Indian, so I’ll start thinking about which new computer to buy.

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum.

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GolfWRX is the world's largest and best online golf community. Expert editorial reviews, breaking golf tour and industry news, what to play, how to play and where to play. GolfWRX surrounds consumers throughout the buying, learning and enrichment process from original photographic and video content, to peer to peer advice and camaraderie, to technical how-tos, and more. As the largest online golf community we continue to protect the purity of our members opinions and the platform to voice them. We want to protect the interests of golfers by providing an unbiased platform to feel proud to contribute to for years to come. You can follow GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX and on Facebook.

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

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Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

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