Just took a trip up to the Cumberland Gap from Bristol after a nice, quick round in Virginia this morning, and have found a McD’s to write in while the rain passes. I’ve been really fortunate with regards to precipitation thus far on the trip. I hadn’t felt any rain on the course until this morning, and then it was only a gentle misting. While the skies were welcoming upon my entry into Kentucky, they have opened up and it is raining steadily at the moment. There is no lightning though, and I will certainly play in the rain if it fails to pass by the time I get up to Pineville. That’s it for the brief update on the where and what, now back to the continuation of my day two days ago (You can read part 1 here).
So yes, my friends Willie, Milan and Andrew were going to be joining me for my round in Maryland, and we were all looking forward to a fun round. I kinda felt that my last detailed entry reached a nice stopping point shortly after I finished waxing nostalgic about college years with Willie, and began talking about Milan. I wasn’t going to have the time of the day or the attention spans necessary to finish that entry and keep it successful, and I was also able to use the break to more cleverly title this entry.
Whereas the old man in Rural Retreat, VA asked me if I golfed while he full well knew that I did, the first time I asked Milan if he wanted to golf I wasn’t sure if he would want to. Like I said in my previous entry, we worked together and I was a few years older than Milan. I subconsciously and unintentionally acted as a role model for the dude, and he turned into a stellar human being. As I was rummaging around through old score cards a few months back during a visit to my home in PA, I came across a card from the defunct South Hills “Country Club.” The round recorded on the card was just Milan and I, and it was obvious I was playing some good golf at the time while he was just learning.
South Hills was a great place for beginners, and it’s where I truly cut me teeth on the game. It was a 9 hole dump of dumps sitting below the VA Hospital in Lebanon, PA. It was sitting there for years, available to be played by the residents of the Hospital, but in a desperate state of disrepair. Around about 1996 or 1997, some amalgamation of the VA, the township and maybe a private investor took hold of the course and fixed it up a little bit, opening it to the public.
Even at it’s finest, South Hills was a flaming heap of garbage. Raw garbage. With sewage poured on top of it. Then baked for 4 hours and topped with fecal material. There was no delineation between rough and fairway, and grass itself was hard to find. The bunkers were either dry or stocked with the same sand that they had been stocked with in the 60s or whenever the course was built, and the browns were lumpy, burned out and rolled about as true as shag carpeting.
Still, I believe that it is still the course where I have logged the most rounds. It’s opening was fortuitous for me, as I had begun playing golf shortly after the course had opened. It was $5 to walk 9 holes for a number of years, only beginning to increase significantly in price closer to the time when it ended up closing. In the fifteen or so years of it’s operation, the course had added carts, had the clubhouse renovated by the local high school’s Vo-Tech, and began running some junior programs. In the end though, the township no longer wanted the relationship, and funding for the course was pulled. It is now merely some tree lined pastures with a few small circles of grass where the greens once grew. I still remember each hole fondly, from the 540 yard par 5 1st hole, complete with a gigantic oak tree in the middle of the fairway about 150 yards out, to the 125 yard par 3 8th hole, with it’s green literally the size of 4 king beds arranged in a square. I loved the place.
Anyhow, Milan and I were chilling some summer afternoon, and either I asked him if he wanted to golf, or his knowledge that I was a golfer moved him to ask if we could go golfing. Of course we decided to play, and with such cheap rates, South Hills was the best place to play, particularly because Milan was a beginner.
I don’t remember much of the detail about the round, but according to the card, I had shot a 74, scoring 37 on the par 36 9 each time around. Milan was equally consistent, having scored a staggering 70 on the 9 each time around for a 140. So there you had two teenagers (or maybe 1 kid in his young 20’s and a teenager, my memory of the exact timing of the round is hazy) just playing a little golf, 1 flirting with an even par round, 1 struggling to keep it under 150. I remember that Milan was in awe of my game. It was my best round ever to that point, by a pretty significant margin, and it was his first round ever. Milan had no previous experience on the course, and my main concern was that he wouldn’t expect such a brilliant performance from me the next time, or from himself or other golfers in a short time span. I didn’t want to spoil him on good play.
Shortly after this round, it was back to college or something and we haven’t really played much together in our lives. Still though, he was another kid who just tried the game and ended up enjoying it. He plays a few times a year now, and I was thrilled that he wanted to join up with me for a few rounds.
Being a Saturday morning, I had to make a tee time in advance, and our motley grundle (I’m starting a hard push to have a group of young men up to no good referred to as a “grundle”) secured the 7:52 tee time at Maple Run Golf Course in Thurmont, Maryland.
The round began with a smashing drive by Milan right down the middle on 1, while the rest of us had varying degrees of duffer shots. By the time we finally made it to the green, we were dejected enough. What we didn’t need was a massive, undulating and fast green. Can’t always get what you want, won’t always get what you need. The greens on the front 9 at Maple Run were exactly what plague beginners the most: HUGE and full with all types of slope. Thankfully, they were not that fast. We had a fighter’s chance. My start wasn’t as heinous as I’m making it sound, as I bogeyed 1.
The next couple of holes were treacherous, and I sat at a miserable +10 after 6 holes. On pace for over 100, I was headed for by far my worst round of the trip. Previous incarnations of myself would have mailed it in at this point; the goofing off would have been nonstop, and the expletives would be flying in all directions at all times, rather than steadily and slowly following only bad shots as they did. I put my nose to the grindstone though, and ended the front 9 with 3 pars, and made a birdie on 10. The round had been salvaged, and I ended up shooting an 87. Willie shot a 97 and Milan shot a 117. A little high of his goal of breaking 100, but for his first round of the year at a toughish course, not too bad for someone who doesn’t play that much. I’m not sure what Andrew had, as his rough first few holes had him stop keeping score. To his credit, and much like myself, he pulled it together though, and had a strong back 9. Strong enough to convince him to join me for my round in West Virginia in the afternoon.
The round wasn’t all that noteworthy other than for the fact that we had the most awkward round, pace wise, of my trip. We had the 7:52 tee time, and arrived on the tee at just about that time. The gentleman and two ladies on the tee admitted they had the 8 o’clock time, and after each group tried to have the other lead off, we took charge. The man promised us they would have held us up, and insisted we play first.
As it turned out, everyone was held up. Directly in front of us was a foursome of very deliberate players. They all took significant time to plan each shot, and accordingly didn’t put much pressure on the group ahead of them. Even if they did, I don’t think anything would have come of it, though, for the group in front of them was a sixsome. I’m not talking about a fivesome here, but a sixsome. Three carts with two fellas each. Playing the same hole, at the same time, together. Unbelieveable.
Every hole on the front 9 was spent waiting for the numerous hackers in the group to duff their ball down the fairway, and we finished the front 9 in some ungodly figure of time. So shitty in fact, that I didn’t even bother to note how long it took.
Thankfully, two of the duffers bounced at the turn, and the foursome that remained moved on pretty well. Well enough to leave our group, itself laden with beginners, in the dust by the 14th hole. It was around this point that a pair of old dudes caught up to us. We immediately reviewed the situation, and determined that we should let them play through. Of course, we would do this on the next par 3. After we had made all of our putts on the hole preceding the next par 3, we drove over to the tee, hit our shots and waited for the fellas to come over to the tee. All the while, we watched in astonishment as the twosome lolly gagged their way through the hole. They were in no apparent hurry. They waited to putt until we had already teed off.
Fine by me. You play at whatever pace you want, as long as you let faster players through. What got me though was that they would tee off immediately after we had vacated their range, and they would proceed to stand around and wait for us to clear out before hitting their 2nd shot. But they never actually got their shit together around the green to catch up to us to play through.
They either didn’t want to play through, or were absolutely horrific at expressing their desire. We were more than willing to let them through, but were not waiting to be asked. All you had to do guys was catch us, and we would have offered to let you play through. But you can’t be fiddling around on every green. We weren’t going to wait forever.
The whole experience reminds me of one of my favorite phrases “act like you’ve been here before.” These guys may have been the best golfers in the world, but they had no idea how to get someone to let them play through. By the 3rd or 4th hole of their shenanigans, Willie said it best: “fuck ’em.” We were willing boys, but you were not.
We just finished our round before the rain. Those old farts got rained on. Their fault, not ours. It was a nice first round of the day, great to catch up with Willie and Milan, and to continue catching up with Andrew.
Milan, Andrew, Myself and Willie hamming it up for a photo in the clubhouse at Maple Run GC
Milan had planned on following me out to West Virginia, while Andrew adopted a wait and see approach. Thankfully, he had a nice back 9, found some of his game, and decided he’d be coming along for the “back 18.” We took a quick look at the clubhouse radar at Maple Run, and it didn’t really look too promising. There were scattered lines of activity to our northwest, and they were turning to the southeast. Eternally optimistic as golfers are, though, we decided we would have no problem, and soldiered on.
The drive from Thurmont to Hedgesville, West Virginia, was a gorgeous one; defined by curvy, hilly roads interrupted by brief sprints on the Interstate. The highlight of the trip was this sign:
Seriously, Charleston, if you want West Virginia to stop being the butt of so many jokes, you can start by campaigning the citizens of Paw Paw to consider a name change. Paw Paw, West Virginia. It doesn’t get more yokel sounding than that. I’m sure there are some educated, sophisticated people there, and I’m sure civilization has been in Paw Paw for some time. But that name. PAW PAW. It’s laughable. I come from Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where we have towns called Intercourse, Blue Ball, Bird-in-Hand and Paradise, so I’m familiar with ridiculous place names. But Paw Paw is on another level entirely. Paw, West Virginia would be good enough. Paw Paw. I love it.
After giggling like a school girl about Paw Paw, we eventually made it to The Woods Resort, where we teed it up on the Mountain View Course. Willie had family obligations, and was unable to make it for the second round. Fortunately, my buddy Luke was able to make it, and we had another full foursome. Luke is an athletic guy, and was on the track team at Shippensburg. We played a bunch of intramural sports together, and would have played even more together if chugging beers was sanctioned by the school. Alas, it was not, and our official status as teammates was limited to softball, soccer and ultimate frisbee. He just picked up the game a few years ago, and has managed to get to the point where he can figure out his way around a regulation length course, although he still has a way to go.
The foursome was set, and we were off. The Woods Resort, as I found out later at the 19th hole, is a private club rather than a vacation destination. There were beautiful homes, most of which were log cabins, nestled in between the holes, and it was my assumption during the round that these were rental properties for visitors to the resort. Turns out they were all owners homes; all the homes of people who live year round near the resort. Those folks need not join the club either; but of course may, and I’m assuming many do. While the club is private, the golf course around which it is centered is open to the public, and it is gorgeous.
Cut right out of a hilly forest, the Mountain View course was not overly long, but required accuracy and finesse around the greens to be successful. The course was very nicely maintained, and featured some great views of the nearby mountains as well. Despite being cut out of a forest and having tree trouble on every hole, the cut outs for the holes were actually somewhat open in a lot of places, and it was harder to lose balls than I would have imagined from the first tee.
Our front 9 plodded along at a slow pace, punctuated by the on course lowlight/highlight of the trip, depending on your perspective. The 6th hole was a short par 4, with homes running the length of the right side. Andrew, Luke and I all hit our balls somewhat straight, showing Milan the way. He smoked a high slice out to the right, and as the ball spun in the afternoon sky, the kid in all of us came out, all of us rooting for a collision with a house. A loud thud seconds later did not disappoint us.
Applying strength in numbers philosophy, we drove over to the homes, sans Luke, who was matriculating his ball up the fairway, and checked out the situation. Acting as intimidation only, I remained on the cart while Milan and Andrew looked for the ball. Not 20 seconds into the search, Milan approached me pale as a ghost to let me know that a sketchy old dude was staring us down from his porch. The man hollered out at Milan, told him where the ball was, and chided him to always check if he broke a window. “Always make sure you didn’t break a window – that’s the courtesy of golf.” I’ve been golfing a long time, and I’d never heard the phrase “courtesy of golf,” and even if I had, I wouldn’t have applied it to window breaks.
Our laughing and joking was just getting going though. The obvious “that’s the courtesy of not building your house next to a golf course” jokes had already expired before Milan hit his dropped shot. Under the critical eye of our friend the master of the courtesy of golf, Milan took another whack at it. Incredibly, he shanked it off the hozzle of his club, 45 degrees to his right. It just so happened that Andrew was relaxing in the cart 45 degrees to the right of Milan’s ball. A whir of white, the ball ricocheted frighteningly yet harmlessly, and therefore humorously, off the underside of the roof of the cart and back into the guy’s yard. I couldn’t help it. I busted out laughing and keeled over in my cart.
Old man golf courtesy had to think we were the biggest duffers in the world. He already looked disgusted with us, and I’m sure Milan’s display of golfing prowess only further endeared us to him. The whole sequence of events really got us going, and the “courtesy of golf” jokes flowed freely for the remainder of the round.
We struggled against the sun and bugs, but did end up finishing our round. Milan and I were bit by some fierce little bug on the 9th tee. Not sure what it was, but the sensation is best described as a needle being heated in a stove, then jabbed into your ankle. Hurt like hell for half an hour. The bite itself was bloody, and surrounded by a small white circle, which itself was surrounded by a larger pink one. We manned up and made it through though. Our front 9 took about 2 hours 40 minutes to complete, and it wasn’t only the clubhouse’s requirement that we have the carts back by 8:30 we had to contend with, but daylight as well.
I introduced the concept of and explained “Ready Golf” to the boys, and we hustled it around the back in under 2 hours. Even our need for a brisk pace couldn’t tame our desire for some photos from the 16th tee. We were told by the woman checking players in at the clubhouse that we would be able to see 4 states from the tee. Pennsylvania and Maryland were to our left, West Virginia sprawled out in front of us, and Virginia was to our right. It was a breathtaking view, a perfect backdrop for a short, downhill par 4.
Here I am, having just blasted a Titleist halfway back to Pennsylvania from the 16th tee
We ended up finishing just as the sun was setting, and grouped up for a photo from behind the 18th green.
Luke, Myself, Milan and Andrew after finishing up at The Woods Mountain View Course
Following the round, Luke, Andrew and I agreed we needed some grub, while Milan had to hike it back to DC for the evening. A lucky decision by Andrew to go get a drink in the clubhouse led to our collective decision to check out the 19th hole. As it turned out, it was a spectacle to behold. The bar / restaurant at The Woods was small, consisting of maybe 8 to 10 tables, but was full and lively on a Saturday evening. We ordered drinks and steak sandwiches, and sat back to take it all in. There was a guy in the corner banging away on an acoustic guitar and manning the karaoke machine. Karaoke night in West Virginia! Brilliant! Everyone seemed to know each other, and all ages were having a raucous good time. That being said, it wasn’t so loud that our meal was ruined, and even if it had been, the experience would have been worth it.
One guy could actually sing fairly well, and had moved through some of your classic Karaoke tunes before begging someone, anyone, else to get up there and sing a song. It was 8:56. I was so tempted to give Piano Man a go, but ended up deciding to stay low key. Everyone here knew each other, and we three stuck out like sore thumbs. We decided to just watch. Finally, a middle aged man rescued the crooner, and sang “Sweet Caroline.” Of course. A barroom favorite. Normally one of my most despised songs, owing to it’s overall terribility, even I joined in the chorus. I marveled again at the clear camaraderie that these folks all shared with each other; and it prompted me to ask the waitress if these people were guests of the resort. It was in her response when I made the determination of exactly what the Resort was that I spoke of earlier. We were the lone non-members in the joint; everyone else there were regular Saturday night folks, members of the club. That made the whole thing more understandable for me.
It was interesting to see the golf course acting as a center of social activity. The course itself was not private, and neither was the restaurant or any other element of the club; they are all open to the public. However, memberships are available, and by offering these memberships, the Resort offers a great social opportunity to the residents of the area. The opposite of exclusive, or hoity-toity, the club was welcoming and inclusive of everyone, member or not. A unique experience in my experiences, perhaps I’ll run into more of this as I get further south? We’ll see.
The trip began in earnest as I drove down the mountain under the still moonlit country evening. A thunderstorm was raging in the east, and lightning bolts were frequent as I cruised towards the interstate with my windows down. All alone in the stillness of the West Virginia evening, I couldn’t help but smile. I had had a beautiful day with beautiful people in a beautiful place.