Oh Appalachia, I’m Going to Miss You… (Part 1)

The last three days have been full of excitement, and I’m going to do my best to keep this entry as brief as possible.  That will be hard though, given all that has passed.  For the most part, this entry will be comprised of a chronological retelling of my rounds during the last three days, interspersed with vignettes from my travels.  Be sure to at least read the first sentence of each paragraph if you’re a skimmer – there will be equal parts golf talk and travel musings in this one.

I never wanted to get quite this far behind with my updates, but at just two and a half days, it’s not impossible to overcome.  I did a lot of driving, and golfing, and I also had some general maintenance work to do around the site the last few days, and never found a good chunk of time for writing.  I do apologize.  I swear, this entry will make up for it.

So I awoke in Harrisonburg, Virginia on Sunday, having just played 12 rounds of golf in 7 days.  Needless to say, I was just a little exhausted.  An entire day off awaited me though – the only task I had was to drive to where I would be playing the next day.  After an analysis of the maps, I decided to get as far Southwest in Virginia as possible, as I would be playing in both Virginia and Kentucky the next day.  Bristol, a town split by the Virginia / Tennessee border, was the goal.

I didn’t get off to the earliest start though, as my day off just happened to coincide with the final round of the British Open.  I kept an eye on the tele as I updated things around the blog in the morning, before checking out and making my way to the hotel’s lobby, where I immediately got the tele on and tuned into the Open for the end.  It was an anticlimactic ending, as Phil took control of the tournament with several holes to play. After what transpired at Merion a few weeks ago at the US Open, it was great to see lefty spin some magic and capture that first British Open.  He’s now got 3 of the 4 majors, along with 6 2nds at the US Open.  If and when he finally wins that, I think all the golf balls on the planet will explode.  Golf will be over, and I will have to find another hobby.

The British has always been my favorite of the Majors, largely in part due to Jean van de Velde’s historic collapse on 18 in 1999.  Needing just a double bogey on the final hole, he fumbled and bumbled down the hole, eventually making a triple bogey.  He would lose the tournament in a tie-breaker to Paul Lawrie.  I was 13 years old at the time, and was in my second summer of golfing.  What I was watching was the ultimately tragic loss.  On par with Billy Buckner, Scott Norwood and Mitch Williams, van de Velde just blew it.  At the most crucial time of his professional career.  A Frenchman with his name literally already etched on the Claret Jug, what could have been more perfect for him?  A Frenchman had won the event only once before, in 1907, and I’m sure van de Velde had all of Paris in a tizzy, berets at the ready for tossing and champagne being prepped to be uncorked in celebration of their triumph over their most hated historical enemy.  Then he made that glorious 7.  A Scotsman won.  No French golfer has been relevant since.

While the ’99 Open was the hook, the line and sinker in succeeding years were the other elements that always make the Open special.  The big yellow scoreboard and 4 AM EST starting times are nice touches, but what I’m getting at is really how different the golf is from American golf.  You won’t find any trees on links courses, but you will find plenty of those heinous pot bunkers, brutal heather and extremely massive greens.  Players will have to know how to play the ground, as the seaside courses are frequently whipped by the wind and rain.  So frequent have poor conditions at the Open become, that anytime it begins raining on a course, somewhere someone is saying “hey-o, British Open conditions!”

I couldn’t miss the Open, and am glad I got to catch the end of it, even if it meant I had to drive through “British Open conditions” for the first few minutes of my trek Southwest to Bristol.  I left Harrisonburg around 2, and had about a 250 mile drive down to Bristol.  I could either hop on 81 or make my way down the US 11, locally known as the Lee Highway.  Of course, I took 11, and very much enjoyed my trip.  The route ran next to a chain of mountains, and offered many opportunities to get off the highway and crush some scenic roads.  I’ve always loved driving, and feel at home behind the wheel of a 3 peddler carving up some bends and hills.  What a treat I was in for here in Appalachia!  My first significant drive was down a road called South Buffalo Road, roughly a hundredish miles Northeast of Roanoke.  The road was hardly wide enough for two vehicles, had no marked lines, and didn’t feature any stretch of straight, flat road longer than 50 yards.  It went for a good 20 miles or so, and the driving and scenery were phenomenal.  I grew up driving on some fun roads in Central PA, and moved to a place where fun roads simply don’t exist.  It felt really good to see some S-bend signs.

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My Jetta stopped on S. Buffalo Road in rural western Virginia, at the base of the mountains, and across the street from a farm.

I hopped off and on 81 and 11 and back to country roads a few times, but by the time I was approaching Roanoke, I was getting hungry, so I decided I would find something in Roanoke to eat.  As I hope many of you were as well, I was fascinated with the Roanoke colony when I was a child.  I watched some History Channel special about the colony when I was but 6 or 7 years old, and the “History Channelization” of the facts, along with some spooky music and a carefully selected wise narrator had me enthralled with the “missing colony.”  Needless to say, I have always wanted to visit Roanoke, despite the complete lack of any sort of connection between the colony (which was in North Carolina) and this mountain city in the western stretches of Virginia.  The name along invokes a spirit of curiosity within me, and sends chills down my spine.

The Roanoke I visited was thoroughly modern though.  I passed a German restaurant, which was closed, about 20 miles north of the city, and also a BBQ joint, also closed, just within the city limits.  Having passed these enticing eateries, I was wanting something with some flavor, and so when I saw “El Rodeo Authentic Mexican,” my mind was made up.  It was just about 5 o’clock, and I was the only patron in the place.  I sat at the bar, and began munching down some chips and salsa.  There was a TV behind the bar, and it was showing the CONCACAF soccer match between the US and El Salvador.  The broadcast was in Spanish, and the restauranteurs were just as interested in the game as I appeared to be.  I woofed down chori-pollo, which is of course grilled chicken topped with diced chorizo.  It was magical.  The US ended up having a massive 2nd half against El Salvador, and I left when the score was 5-1.  The only interaction I had with one of the workers was when he walked out of the back, looked up at the TV, saw the score was 4-1 then looked at me, smiled and said “US 4 goals!”  I smiled back and gave a thumbs up.  I do enjoy watching soccer, although I’m not hugely into the sport.  What I enjoyed the most was the goal call.  After each of the 3 US goals that I saw, the announcer did exactly what I always imagined he would do.  He yelled “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAL!   EEEEEEESSSSSSSTTAADOOS UNIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDOS!”  At least a minute in length.  Perfect.

After Roanoke, I hustled down to Bristol, where I encountered my first 50 foot lit up cross of the trip, just off of 81.

JESUS

In case I had forgotten, I was thoroughly within God’s country.  I haven’t seen a Catholic church, Synagogue, Mosque or any other place of worship other than Protestant denominations in days.  I didn’t really expect anything to the contrary, but to be honest with you, I haven’t run into any pushy religious types thus far.  Just a bunch of friendly people who either assume I’m a bible reading, god-fearing young man, or just don’t care.  I’m pretty sure they just don’t care.  For every religious crusader, there are 20 believers who make more of their lives than religion; these people are easy to talk to and can be as charming as you allow them to be.  The conversation is focused on anything else but their religion, and so much common ground is to be found.  I think it’s fair to assume that nearly everyone I run into in this part of the world believes in God.  The topic hasn’t come up once; the vast majority of people are more concerned with pragmatic issues.  Most people judge you by the way you carry yourself and how personable you are rather than some belief system you may or may not have, even in the South.

With that in mind, I made my way to Clear Creek Golf Club, in Bristol, VA, early in the morning for a quick round of golf.  I arrived early enough that there was only 1 other car in the players’ lot.  The course was ready to go though, and I paid my $31 and got ready to go.  As I was walking back to my car, another fella had pulled in and taken notice to the signs I have in my back windows.  He told me I sure was a travelin’ man, and asked the normal questions about the trip and also made a few suggestions about other places to play in the area.  As I was soon to find out though, he wasn’t the only fella in the area who was full of curiosity about this big hair having, horn rim glasses wearing, “New Yorker” coming to their slice of the world to golf.  The guy who was responsible for putting the flags in the cups, as well as for replacing the water jugs on the course immediately recognized by my voice that I wasn’t from around there, and asked me where I was from.  His comrades looked me over too, wanting the answer, and I was happy to oblige.  They thought what I was doing was excellent, and were eagerly looking forward to my thoughts on their course.

The main emotion I had after playing Clear Creek was jealousy.  Jealous that the fine residents of the greater Bristol area are lucky enough to live in an area where they have municipal courses on par with the privately owned (yet still open to the public) ones I’ve experienced in other parts of the country.  CCGC is a municipal course, owned and operated by the city of Bristol, VA, and it cost only $31 to ride when I played!  As I learned from the flagstick guy, an exceedingly friendly gentleman by the name of Jim Dutton, the course was built to be private in 1994, but within the year was purchased by the city.  In the last 20 years, the course has filled out nicely.  I ended up deciding to tee it up from the blue tees, and after a long birdie putt on 2, found myself -1 after 2.  Of course, I couldn’t maintain such a pace, and ended up shooting an 85.  The course featured narrow fairways, significant sloping of several fairways and much of the rough on many holes, and a massive lake, which formed a water hazard for the half dozen or so holes which circled it.  A few holes required shots over inlets in the lake, and these holes along with the others around the lake, offered very nice views of the course.  There were also some holes up in the mountains, seemingly as far away from the lake as possible.  These holes had significant elevation change and narrow fairways.

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As you can see in this picture of the 3rd hole, many of the greens were well protected, either by bunkers, water, or in this case, by a significant elevation change.  I made 2 birdies during my round, on holes 2 and 11, and given that it was my first time at the course, walked away pleased with my 85.

Alright, this one’s going to have to be wrapped up later.  I am very tired, and have 36 holes to play tomorrow.  I didn’t get to as many of the smaller stories as I had hoped to, but will be sure to include them in my next entry, which you can expect either tomorrow morning or tomorrow afternoon.

Cheers!

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