I woke up a little later than I would have preferred this morning in Hendersonville, and was hopeful that I’d be able to squeak on somewhere for a quick round. I called up Crooked Creek GC, the first of the courses I’ve played at which does not have a website, and confirmed that I would be able to get on sometime around 9:30. I made the drive out to the course, pulled in and was ready to go. I got my debit card out to pay for the round, and the sweet older lady behind the counter informed me it was a cash only institution. I should have known from the fact that the rates were tacked on in little white plastic letters to one of those brown plastic boards that you only see at the most rustic of locales that the place would not take my plastic.
In addition, the kindly lady advised me that it was going to be a sloooowww round, as there was both a women’s league out and a few groups of old guys holding things up. I asked for a recommendation for a course elsewhere in the area where I might get a quick round in, and explained to her what I was doing and my need for a quick round. Stubbornly, she would make sure that I played nowhere else! She told me where the nearest ATM was, and said she would see to it that I could be dropped off somewhere on the back 9 to finish those holes quickly to be on my way. How could I say no to someone who was willing to go to such lengths? I couldn’t. To the ATM and back in 15 minutes, the lady had a cart guy waiting for me upon my return. Ten minutes later, I was teeing it up on the 17th tee with clear skies ahead.
I parred 17 and 18, and moved to 10, as instructed, and parred that. On the fringe of the 10th, I found a small, light sand wedge. I presumed it was a woman’s club, or maybe a junior’s, but being the golferly man that I am, I threw it in the cart with plans on giving to the pro-shop when I made the turn. Not a hole later, I spotted an older man and a young kid backtracking across the course, that side to side sway of the cart and exasperated expression of yearning on their faces, it was obvious they were looking for a lost club. I gave the club to the kid, while doing my best to fit in by saying “here y’are pardner.” Probably better reserved for Texas, but hey, I tried! Anyhow, I moved through the next few holes before I caught up with this twosome again. They were being held up by some old farts in front of them, and asked if I wanted to join them. I let them know that it would only be for a few holes as I had already played 17 and 18, and everyone agreed. We were off.
Gary was Jake’s grandfather, and according to Jake, 12, his grandfather had taught him how to play. The kid was off to a good start. He had a nice swing, and while he didn’t necessarily make the best contact on each swing, he wasn’t far from being okay. I made sure to be extra complimentary to the kid, congratulating him on shots even if they were only fair rather than good. He more than returned the favor on the 16th tee. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
I hit a low hook down the left side, not one of my more scenic shots, but far farther than Jake had ever hit one, and farther than his grandfather had in at least 40 years. The ball wasn’t more than 50 yards off my clubhead when Jake, who I know was 12 because he looked 10 but told me he was 12 when I asked him, said “Jesus man! You murdered that one!” At 12! Jesus man! This kid is going to turn out fine.
As it turned out, they were both from Central Michigan, visiting with some family who had moved down to North Carolina about a year ago. After my par on 16, I split for the back 9, sitting at a cool +1.
The back 9 was slow, as I caught the ladies’ league that I had been warned of prior to teeing off. The cart guy cautioned me, saying “don’t dare ask to play through – more often than not they’ll let you know you aren’t going anywhere.” Not exactly consistent with their reputation, one of the ladies kindly approached me on the 2nd green, and asked if I knew I was in the middle of a league. The pace was horrific, and I would have killed to play through, but what was I going to do? I just answered that I did know that, and that they were playing at a fine pace; not to worry ladies – take your time.
In actuality, they played a somewhat expedient 9 holes of golf, and from the time I teed up on 17 until I tapped my final putt in on the 9th green, my 18 holes were completed in well under 4 hours. My flirtation with an even par round continued through to the 8th (my 17th) tee, where I stood still just +2. I was way too aggressive on the tee, and was trying to drive the green on the short par 4 rather than play a smarter shot to the middle of the fairway. In chainsaw land, I could only punch out, and made a bogey. I bogeyed 18 too.
Ended up with a 76. Great round. Kinda shitty to end bogey / bogey, but still one of the best rounds of the trip, without a doubt.
The course wasn’t quite as picturesque as some of the other courses I’ve played in recent days, and it wasn’t quite as difficult, either. Mostly flat, there were some holes with slopes. Mostly open, there were some holes with trees and streams. It was in good shape though, and at just $29 to ride, the price was right. The price has been right everywhere in the south.
I hopped in my car, called the next course to confirm I’d be able to get on, and zipped my way down to South Carolina. As I meandered slowly further south, the beautiful scenery and invigorating drives of the last few days slowly gave way to rolling hills and gentle slopes; I was leaving the foothills and entering the Piedmont. Rest, my Jetta, for we still have plenty of fun driving left! It’s not all over!
I ended up playing at Oconee Country Club, just outside of Seneca, South Carolina. The course was built on an old farmstead in 1948, and features two wildly differing 9s. The front 9 is a par 37, and measures nearly 3400 yards from the tips. The back 9, by contrast, is a par 34, and is under 2700 yards from the tips. All play today was going off the back, and I got off to a quick par/par start. There were a couple twosomes in front of me, and the one immediately in front of me asked me to play through as I was approaching the 2nd green. The green was elevated, and I had to lug my fat ass up there to putt. I wasn’t quite sure if they expected me to just leave my ball there, because as I gestured to the green and was beginning to accept their offer, they drove off to play 3.
Anyhow, I finished the back 9 having shot a 40. Surely it was punishment from the gold gods for the 76 I shot this morning. 40 isn’t a bad score, but on a short par 34 9, I’m capable of far better. Whereas Crooked Creek this morning was not as visually stimulating as some of the other courses I’ve played on the trip, OCC was easy on the eyes.
The 10th green in the distance. The tee is far to the left, and up a massive hill. A tempting hole with a big risk for a big reward. This photo was taken from the 1st fairway, with the 9th fairway in the foreground.
Most of the course sloped away from the clubhouse, and some of the slopes were severe enough to add or subtract upwards of 50 yards to or from a drive. Tree lined fairways, appropriately places bunkers and water hazards, OCC was a fair test of golf. The biggest challenge for me, however, was the greens. They were small, rock hard, and fast. The opposite of the greens I played this morning. Couldn’t fly anything on the greens… I had to bump everything up from short of the green. I was able to do it a few times, but also chunked many approaches trying to be too cute with shots.
The round was proceeding well enough, and I finally caught caught the twosome in front of me, I’m talking like we were both waiting on the 5th tee waiting to go. They asked if I wanted to join, and I was more than happy to oblige. Charley and Tony were there names, and they were decent golfers. Wearing a bright orange shirt not more than 10 miles from Clemson University, they were both kind of shocked when I told them that I had never played the course before and had never even been to South Carolina before. One of them had to double check, asking me “you didn’t go to Clemson?” I confirmed it again, and we were off.
They were both really friendly guys, and were both pretty good players too. Tony parred 5, 6, 7 and 8 before bogeying 9, while Charley did the opposite, bogeying 5-8 before parring 9. My round went to hell in a hand basket, as I was +5 over the last 5 holes, ending up with an 83. Of course, my trip came up, and they both wished me well on my way. Tony was the pragmatic one, and immediately needed some answers.
“How old are you?”
“What do you do?!”
“I quit work to do this!”
Tony chuckled, then Charley roared with an approving laugh.
“I’m with you there – I just quit my job 2 months ago! Not playing as much golf as you, but trying!” Charley said.
I asked what their handicaps were and why they weren’t playing from the blue tees, and their answers were fair enough. They only play once a week, and don’t want to venture from the blues, and they don’t keep a handicap. I advised that they should start – particularly because they weren’t bad players. The handicap system is great, and is truly the only way to easily tell another golfer how skilled you are. Average really means nothing. Handicaps adjust for the tees you play from and the difficulty of the course. I’m a 10.8 Handicap, and that’s my ‘cap regardless where I’m playing. That being said, Tony asked me to guess his average after I surmised that he was a pretty good player. I looked him over once more and ventured a guess at 82-83. Pretty close Charley confirmed, he was a mid 80’s player.
They both wished me luck as we departed from the 18th green, and advised me to stay safe!
As I was leaving the course and heading down to Georgia, I was passed on the highway by a late 90’s domestic truck. It had loud exhaust pipes, and confederate flag stickers all over the back bumper. The driver was an unkempt good ole boy, wearing a beater and trucker hat. He was obviously curious what this slick New Yorker in his black German sedan was doing here, as he slowed down to match my speed, then sped up again as I did so. He wanted to get a view of the signage on my car.
As he made his final pass, he gave me a smile and a wave. A quick recognition of what I’m doing and his well wishes. This is the good ole boy with the loud truck with confederate flag stickers all over it. I hesitated before responding, as I was deeply disappointed with the confederate flag stickers. You see, Tony and Charley were black guys. There wasn’t going to be any need to mention that until this truck driver made his appearance in my trip.
I had just played 5 holes with two exceedingly friendly, savvy black dudes in rural South Carolina, and not one of us thought anything of it. We had instant camaraderie on the course, sharing in good shots and commiserating over bad ones like we’d been playing together for years. A shake of the hands on the 9th green, and I was really happy to have played a few holes with them as I’m sure they were to have played with me.
I was leaving the course feeling great about the whole experience, feeling as if the South, or at least this part of it, had turned a massive corner. It seemed to me, at least at Oconee Country Club, that race really didn’t matter.
Then the confederate flag truck good ole boy goes roaring by. Say what you will about the flag representing heritage rather than more sinister things. In the end, it takes a certain type of person to put that sticker on their car. It was deflating at just the wrong time.
So here I was, wished well by the good ole boy. As I said, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I felt as if a wave back would make me a turncoat to my new friends Charley and Tony. In the end, I waved back at the guy. Misguided as some of his affiliations may be, he saw enough in me to acknowledge me, and I felt that deserved a wave back.
I don’t have the exact quote handy, and was unable to find it in a five minute google search, but Luke Skywalker says something to the effect of, somewhere in the expanded Universe, that it is “important that the Jedi not become so caught up in matters of galactic importance that he overlooks the needs of the individual.” I think that’s fitting here.