This is a GPS unit, in a golf cart. I had heard of such luxuries before, but had never personally encountered one. Yesterday was the first time I had experienced this supposed aid to the game, and my reaction is a decidedly negative one. I had heard lovely accounts of how the unit would give me the precise distance from my ball to the center of the green and to other maladies such as bunkers, water hazards and OB. What no one mentioned to me was how restrictive on my movement the things would be. Much like a Viper pilot from Battlestar Galactica, I have a free and independent spirit when navigating my golf cart betwixt the holes and to my ball. I have never crashed one, and am generally respectful of sensitive areas (I have gotten stuck before – I think all golfers who’ve played enough do this once or twice. “I push, you drive!”), so imagine my frustration at remote controls of my golf cart from some electro-mechanical Cylon force in the skies! On the very first hole, I drove out to hit my approach shot, and while still a SOLID 80 yards from the green, noticed that my cart was slowing down. Then I heard a beeping. I looked at the screen and the damn thing was telling me that I was entering the “Green Complex” and was to reverse my cart and proceed immediately to the cart path. 80 yards out? Christ almighty. Terrible for pace of play. 30 yards, sure, I’d get it. 80 yards? Many, many players will be doing far more walking than they ought to when they’ve paid for a cart. But this wasn’t the only problem I had with the GPS unit. Every time I got to a place with even a slight elevation change, it would beep and boop in warning of what was ahead, should my eyes have deceived me. Most infuriatingly though, was that the cart would be governed when I got to these areas. A stupid little speed limit sign would appear in the lower left corner of the GPS screen. I have it figured out. Cruising speed, as rare as it was, was 14 MPH. Minor elevation changes had speed limited to 10 MPH, while more significant ones slowed the cart to a walker’s pace of 7 MPH. Severe slopes actually stopped the cart before allowing you to proceed at far less than 1 MPH. Took a full minute to go 30 feet on one of the holes. It wasn’t much past the third or fourth hole when I wanted to just rip the fuckin thing off the cart and throw it in the weeds. I thought better of it though, and played on.
Now that I’ve talked about what was bad with Four Oaks Country Club, in Dracut, Mass., I will talk about what was good: Everything else. The course is a new one, having been built in 2010. As I learned from some locals, it was closed for the duration of 2012, and is now under new ownership who are trying to keep it above water. I hadn’t planned on playing at Four Oaks, and was instead looking at some publics closer to Haverhill. As it turned out, every single course in NE Massachusetts had leagues on Tuesday afternoons, Four Oaks included. They were, however, most accommodating to me as far as making sure I could play an uninterrupted 18, and after already calling at least four or five courses, I was so relieved to find out I could simply play there that I overlooked the obvious difficulty of the course and made my way there. To boot, it was only $40 with a cart – a welcome change from New Hampshire and Maine’s more expensive rounds.
With a par of 70, but a course rating of 70.2 and a slope rating of a whopping 130 from the middle, blue tees, Four Oaks was the hardest test of golf I have experienced on the trip, at least according to the USGA. The course was meticulously maintained, and very well designed. It blended shorter par 4s, all of which required shot making, very short par 5s, and generally easy and approachable par 3s to add up to a length just south of 5800 yards. Don’t let the length fool you though, this was a tough course. Water, OB, bunkers, trees… you name it, the obstacles were there, and they were well placed. If you couldn’t hit it straight, or at least kinda straight, you were up the creek without a paddle. Bad news for me.
Or so I would have guessed. A thoroughly eviscerated drive on one found the fairway, and my round was off. On the first tee, I met two fellas, Bernie and James, who seemed really intrigued by the trip. Just a minute or two to explain what I was doing, and their interested was piqued. They would’ve likely been great playing partners, but were waiting for another twosome, so I bounced. I played the front 9 in 42, which was actually really good considering I hit my ball into water hazards on BOTH par 5s, and ended up making a 7 on hole 2, and a 6 on the other par 5.
Making my way to the tee on 10, I encountered a single player who was waiting for his buddy. They asked if I wanted to join them or play by myself, and after a moment’s hesitation, that Massachusetts accent convinced me that I had some good dudes to play with. Dave and Charlie they were, and both were players. Probably the best players I’ve run into on the trip so far, I didn’t have much trouble believing Dave when he said that his handicap fluctuates between 5 and 15 depending on how he’s doing. Pretty damn good for a 50 year old. They were very friendly and welcoming players, almost “nurturing,” in a weird way. Older guys imparting their golf wisdom on a kid like me. Dave was like a Caddy during the back 9, giving me advice on how to approach each shot, and always in a tone and demeanor that indicated he was really giving me the most honest hints on how to play well. Excellent guys to play with.
Playing to my competition, I rattled off 4 pars in a row from 11-14, and was looking at my best round of the trip. By the last few holes, I was beginning to feel just a little bit tired, but was still able to keep it to bogey golf. I was +11 heading to the 18th tee, and really liked the way my round had progressed. Not going to bore you with details, but just know that I built myself a snowman on 18. Devastating ending to an otherwise sparkling round. Given the toughness of the course and that it was my first time there, I’ll take the 85 all day though.
This was my second round of the day, and if the backwards nature of the entry offends your sensibilities, look no further than the Cylons. That damn GPS getting to us again…
My first round was at the much more traditional Biddeford Saco Country Club in Saco / Old Orchard Beach, Maine. BSCC was built in the first quarter of the twentieth Century, and has retained both it’s difficulty and beauty. A very tight course, you pretty much have nowhere to miss on all but a very few holes. The clubhouse said “community,” and I can see why when a local would join, he or she wouldn’t need to go anywhere else. The price was steeper than I wanted to pay, at a staggering $68, but I wasn’t going to bother leaving and finding somewhere else. I was paired with a club member in excellent standing, Norm, who was an elderly French Canadian turned Mainer, and his son and son’s friend, who were visiting from San Francisco.
What better person to ride around with in Maine than an old French Canadian fella! I always imagined Maine to be full of people like Norm, and he was a blast to ride around with. As a member, he was very familiar with the course, and was able to give me every hint I needed. More impressive though, was his own ability to manage his own game and his intimate knowledge of the course, particularly the greens. He knew exactly how every putt was going to break, and made nearly everything inside 10 feet, on his way to a… make sure you’re sitting down… 77! A spectacular display of the “old man golf” that my buddies and I always comment on – he hit his drives between 180 and 220, and always right down the middle or just slightly off the line. His second shots were also straight, for the most part, and his touch around the greens was likewise impressive. A carpenter (who “taught everything he knew to his son,” who is now a contractor himself in San Francisco) who moved to Maine in, I believe 1961, he only took up golf about 20 years ago. How good could he have been at my age? I guess it’s only hypothetical. That’s the beauty of the game though, you can pick it up at any age, and work to become as good of player as you can be.
His son and friend were not nearly as dedicated golfers, but were entertaining to play with nonetheless. I heard my first few farts of the trip, and while I was hoping to add to the show myself, was unable :(. Farts are a wonderful part of the game, and anyone who would shun such polite activity on the course simply doesn’t get it, and would never be truly accepted in my foursome.
Each of their first time on the course for the year, they held their own. Norm’s son, Mike, had a nice swing and made really good contact with the ball, and had pretty nice touch around the greens as well. He obviously has either played a bit more before in his life or is simply a natural athlete. If he played somewhat consistently, no doubt the guy would be a player. Mike’s bud, also named Mike, hadn’t played as much in his life, and that was evident by his swing. He was out there to have a good time, and by all accounts he did just that. For not playing that much, he did manage to hit a bunch of nice shots, and also remained cognizant of pace of play, picking up his ball a few times on the green so the group could move on.
As for my round, I shot a 90. Could’ve been okay, but I ended with a 7 on 17, and an 8 on 18. Pitiful ending to an otherwise decent round. I had my putt of the trip on 10, a 25 foot downhill bender for birdie which trickled in the center of the cup. That makes 3 birdies through 5 rounds. I was hoping for closer to a birdie per round clip, but thankfully I have 44 more rounds to get some more tweeters.
In all, it was a great group to play with.
Myself, Mike the beginner, Mike the player, and Norm the champ of the group
In all, day 3 was a smashing success. Having a great time so far, and I’m holding up well. I’ve got abundant energy, and the only physical complaint I have is the growing golf blisters at the inner base of my left middle and ring finger. I’m hoping they pop in the next day or two so I can clean ’em out and get some neosporin in there. Other than that, I’m in good shape.
New England, you’ve been great so far, and with my rounds in Rhode Island and Connecticut today, I will be done with the region and moving on to the Mid-Atlantic for a round on the Rutgers University Golf Course tomorrow morning.
Regarding the “maintenance” parts of the blog – stats, thank yous, calenders etc. I will do the best I can to update these daily, but will always be prioritizing things with the writing at the forefront. That other stuff can wait, this stuff will build up and be forgotten quickly if not memorialized – and so that’s what I will do. Look for substantial updates on that front on the off days.
Okay – I’m getting a later start than I would have wanted today, but Richmond CC is wide open, and I’m looking forward to giving it a go!