I’m just blasting right on through from where I left off yesterday. Before I move from Bristol, though, I wanted to just say a few more quick things about my time at the course. Jim the flagstick guy was an extremely friendly guy. I talked to him for about 5 minutes before teeing off, and as he was working his way backwards across the course to fill up the water jugs, he always stopped in to check on how my round was going, and to give me some tips on the upcoming holes. I learned that his son lives somewhere in Upstate New York and that his daughter-in-law is a superintendent of a school district. He thought it was somewhere near Buffalo, but I wasn’t going to hold him to it. Upstate New York runs almost 450 miles from Jamestown to Plattsburgh, and the fact that he brought up his family members who lived kinda sorta a little bit near where I did was good enough to prove to me that Jim was a stand up guy. Further, he gave me a tip on where to stay and play in Morristown, Tennessee the next day.
As I finally got back to the cart drop, Jim told his fellow course workers that I was from Buffalo. This prompted one of the wry old fellas to state that he was from a woman while winking at me. I responded in kind that I was a miracle of modern medicine, and was indeed half human – half Buffalo, but felt that I had turned out okay, without too much of my Buffalo nature showing through. A few laughs later, the guys all wished me luck and encouraged me to come back and bring friends next time. As nice as the course was, as friendly as the staff was and as right as the price was, there is no doubt that if and when I am back near Bristol, I’ll be sure to play Clear Creek.
I was off to Kentucky, for my longest trip off the roughly clockwise circle around the country. Kentucky was going to be a problem from the start, as it’s central location, and largely east-west orientation meant that it was going to be a dip in state. As I figured, it was going to be far easier to hit from the south than the north, as I was going to be all the way up by Michigan for most of my return trip east through Ohio, and today was the day for the bluegrass state.
Most of my drive to Kentucky continued to be through Southwest Virginia, but I did eventually reach Pineville, complete with a trip through the Cumberland Gap Tunnel. Only a few more miles to the north, and I had arrived at Wasioto Winds Golf Course, one of a dozen 18 hole golf courses which comprise the Kentucky State Parks Golf Trail. I had city and county owned municipal courses, but never state owned munis before. I didn’t bother to ask the 18 year old checking players in to confirm that the course was owned by the state, as I doubted he knew the answer. From the looks of their website though, the course is at least strongly affiliated with the state, and is an integral part of the Pine Mountain State Park.
I paid my $29.75, picked a cart, and was off. Making my way to the first tee, I was greeted by this friendly gentleman:
Just a great sculpture to find at a golf course. A young caddy, schlepping some clubs around the course, bag in one hand, umbrella in the other. Golf has always easily translated into art, and the beauty of the game was particularly well represented at Wasioto Winds.
The course was built on a parcel of relatively flat land in a narrow valley near the Cumberland Gap in the Valley and Ridge region of the southern Appalachians, and the views were breathtaking from nearly every angle on the course.
The round itself figured to be one of my most challenging of the trip. I was slightly fatigued, my right thigh was sore, and the course was one of the more difficult ones I was to play on the trip. For being plopped down in the forest, the course was essentially wide open. Not to say you could spray it though, as streams meandered everywhere and ponds dotted the countryside. Two of the par 5’s on the front were well below 475 yards from the tees I played from (#2. The course named their tees from 1 (over 7000 yards) to 5 (5000 yards? I didn’t take notice and don’t have the card)), and featured little in the way of tree trouble. Yet they were still intimidatingly difficult. Both had trouble on both sides. One of the holes did have some trees out to the right, and a creek which developed into a pond by the green to the left, creeping ever nearer the fairway down closer to the green. I was so intimidated that after I smashed my drive down the right side, I just hit a 100 yard pitch shot down the fairway to set up my third shot, rather than risk the double or worse for the slim chance of a good shot.
I ended up shooting a 43 on the front, and was quite pleased, considering my physical state and the difficulty of the course.
Then my luck had run out. The skies opened, and it started raining heavily just as I was driving up to the 10th tee. I got up there and massacred a drive down the right side. As I was going back to my cart, another group was heading in to the clubhouse, and advised that I do the same. I asked if there was any electricity, or just rain, and they shrugged their shoulders. I hadn’t seen any lightning, or heard any thunder, and I soldiered on. It rained pretty steadily for the remainder of the 10th and 11th holes, but by the 12th had begun to let up. The umbrella was put away, and I could finish my round.
As you can see from this view from the 12th tee, this place was beautiful. The clouds hung amongst the trees in the mountains, and I could hear and see the rain just to my east before it began raining on the 10th. Although the rain stopped, the clouds didn’t lift immediately, and I was treated to beautiful vistas for the remainder of the round.
I finished with a par on 18, making for a 43/43 split and an 86. In all, a pleasing round.
I left the course hungry as hell, and began heading South towards Morristown in hopes of finding somewhere quaint to eat. I feel now is the best time to admit that I have a soft spot for fast food. I know it’s terrible for me, I know that it hardly qualifies as food, and I know that the methods used to procure the “food” are less than ideal. I know all that. I was a vegetarian for a year while I was in college. Believe me, I know. Despite all that, fast food is awfully alluring. If you want something quick, hot and relatively cheaply, fast food is perfect. Years of slaving away at a 9-5 only furthered my relationship with fast food, as I never wanted to cook after a day in the salt mines. Many a drive home was interrupted by a quick stop to fast food. However, it isn’t just the purely pragmatic aspect of fast food that is appealing, there is also the romantic appeal of the regional fast food chains, and of how treasured they are to the locals. Mighty Taco, for example, is a small chain in and around Buffalo, New York. There are perhaps 20 locations. Western New Yorkers love it. I love it. Rather than shredded cheese, they put a full slice of American cheese on the bottom of the shell, then fill from there. The national chains are all well and good, but in the regional and local chains, culture can be found. As bad as it is, I had decided to give fast food joints I had never seen or tried before a try on the trip. Can’t wait for In-and-Out Burger in California.
I’m sure you see where this is going. I was just about a mile north of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, and I saw what appeared to be a grungy fast food joint called Krystal. I pulled in, and soon became excited at what I saw – it appeared to be something similar to White Castle… sliders were the name of the game here. I walked in and was waited on by a friendly young girl, but one who unfortunately was the poster child for Kentucky. A massive gut overhung her belt, and she had either never been to a dentist or chose to ignore all of his or her advice. What sort of place had I walked into? I glanced at the menu, but needed only get to combo #3 before making up my mind. Combo #3, for those of you who don’t know, was 5 “Cheese Krystals,” chili-cheese fries, and a Coke. All for $6.50ish. A “Cheese Krystal” is their flagship sandwich. It’s a tiny slider burger. The bun was steamed, and the burger itself (which tasted remarkably like Steak-Um) was topped with American cheese, a single pickle slice and mustard. Onions were fused right into the meat. The things were delightful. I scarfed them down like we were running out of food. I can see what Krystal is all about. I did a little perusing of the interwebs, and found out that the chain has been around since 1932, and is now based in Atlanta. It operates in Southern states, and has about 360 stores. While I won’t rule out going to another one, I think I’ve had my fill of their wonderful little Krystals. There will certainly be more fast food reviews to come.
I plowed on South, and as I entered Tazewell, Tennessee, I encountered this shining beacon on the hill:
A massive building on a hill to the right of the highway, with a large “LMU” laid out on the lawn in front of it. The sun was setting behind the mountain. It was beautiful. I was drawn to the building like a sailor to sirens. It reminded me of a Bavarian Castle, minus the imposing architecture. I drove up to the building, and found myself just behind a man in a Passat TDI. I parked a few spots over from him, rolled down my window and asked him what paradise I had found. It was the DeBusk School of Osteopathic Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University. I had assumed I was at a school, given the LMU emblazoned on the lawn, but had never heard of the school. I had a ten minute conversation with the gentleman, who had noticed the sign in my window and mistaken it for my occupation. I laughed it off and moved on with the conversation. He educated me on the relevance of the Cumberland Gap, winced when I told him I had just eaten at a Krystal (according to him, there was some good eating to be done in Morristown), and gave me a little more information on the school.
Osteopathic Medicine is a different take on healing, and I feel it to be a worthwhile one. I took a Medical Anthropology course when I was an undergrad, and I could easily go on for hours about the reasons for effectiveness of differing medical systems. Really, what I took away from the course was that if someone wants to be healed, regardless of the approach they take, they are more likely to actually be healed. That’s not to say that Western Medicine doesn’t have scientifically proven approaches which are successful, but other medical systems also enjoy successes too (albeit to generally lower levels). I’m a resident of the west, born, raised and reared in the Northeastern United States. I want my western medicine. But there is value in alternative approaches to healing.
We talked briefly about Osteopathic medicine before the man let me know that he had to go over Anatomy 101 with some first year students and was going to have to let me go. I gave him my blog address on an index card after he asked me for a business card, and I was off.
I need business cards! Next time I have a minute to breathe, I’m going to drop into an Office Max or Staples and have a few printed up. How easy it will be from there out!
From there, I had a quick drive down to Morristown and shacked up for the night.
Fear not, my weary readers, for this Gilgameshian epic is drawing steadily to a close, but not before I share a few quaint stories with you.
I woke up yesterday hoping to do some solid updating in my hotel room, but was boondoggled by a shoddy Wi-Fi connection, and had to find a McDonald’s. For the second time in a few days, I had a memorable experience in a rural McDonald’s. I got my tea and a few cookies, and sat down to update my golf stats. I had been sitting there for about half an hour banging away on my computer, when I was approached by a toothless old man, who’s leathery skin was abused by years in the sunlight, and who’s wispy white hair was combed over in a last attempt to maintain dignity. The old fella was sitting at a table a few feet over with a young kid, about fourteen years old, for the entirety of my time at the McDonald’s, and I can only imagine that he struggled for minutes with whether or not to approach me to ask for my assistance. I had all the markings of someone able to help him: I was banging away on a computer, periodically checking my iPhone, and messing around with receipts and other paperwork in several folders in a corner of a McDonald’s.
So yes, he worked up the courage to ask for my help. He and his young mate walked over to me, with their flip phones out, and asked for me to put the younger fella’s name and phone number into the older fella’s phone. Their request was spoken with the simple naive assumption that I was an expert on all things technological, and would be able to figure out their problem within a minute. The language barrier was present though, and while I was able to explain their request to you fairly quickly, I had to ask them several times exactly which phone belonged to whom, and which number they wanted transmitted to which phone. Having not seen one of these particular phones ever, and having not seen a flip phone in years, I had the phones thrust trustingly into my lap. Going in blind, I fumbled my way through their request, and eventually did get their numbers and names into each other’s phones. I wasn’t quite sure all had gone well, and insisted that they call each other to make sure it was all set. My heart raced as the number was dialed, but quickly returned to it’s normal pace as the other phone rang. The technologically savvy North-easterner had saved the day! They thanked me and were back to their table. They stayed at the McDonald’s nearly as long as I did, and were nursing their own teas for easily over an hour, enjoying their own conversation all the while.
When I had finished all I was going to finish, I called Millstone Golf Club, confirmed I could get on, and made my way over to the course. The course was absolutely beautiful. Easily the nicest course I’ve played on thus far, it was meticulously maintained. The fairways were perfect, the rough was cleanly mowed, and the greens were low, fast and rolled true. All for $34 to ride. I continue to be amazed at the quality of golf in this area of the world, and am even more amazed at the value of the courses. To play a course of this quality in the Northeast, I’d be dropping a minimum of $50, and even more than that in most cases.
There was a huge gap between the standard white tees and the back orange tees, and I decided to play from the oranges. At 6450ish yards for a par 72, the course’s rating of 71.9 with a slope of 126 meant that I was in for a challenge. I tapped in my 3 foot bender for birdie on 2, and rolled in a downhill 25 footer from the fringe on 6 for birdie, and found myself just 2 over through 6. I rounded out the front 9 with a couple pars and a bogey, having put together my tightest 9 of the trip, a 39. Not as low as Pequot in Connecticut, but the difficulty of the course was so that I felt better about this round. I sort of petered out on the back, and shot a 44. It could have been even worse, but I was the benefactor of a fortuitous bounce on 15, which kept my ball in play when it rightfully should have been OB left.
By the 18th tee, I had caught up with the kids who were playing in front of me for most of the back 9. I had noticed a few groups of teenagers playing in front of me for awhile, and had assumed it was a junior tournament. They were playing from the Orange tees, were walking, and all looked like golfers. I walked up to the group on the 18th tee, introduced myself and spoke for just a few minutes with the kids. Turns out they were playing in a qualifying round for Central High’s upcoming golf match. To my surprise, my statement/question that Millstone must be the nicest course in the area was met with a not really, and a few other suggestions, both public and private, were thrown out to me. I didn’t want to hold the kids up from finishing their round, but had one more question born of my vanity. I needed to know if I would make the team! I asked them, telling them how my score was looking, and without blinking, they all told me I would be on the team, even asking if my +10 was for the back 9 or the entire round. I responded that it was indeed for the entire round, and they again confirmed that I would have a spot on the team. Why did Cedar Crest have to have such a good golf team? And why did I fail to at least try out as a Sophomore, Junior and Senior? Questions I do have answers for, but won’t get into now.
I didn’t think to get a pic of the guys on the tee, but managed to get a nice shot of them huddled together for their approach shots into 18, which you can see above. I caught up with them after the 18th green, asking how they had fared. One had shot a 95, while another had shot a 96, despite triples on 10, 11 and 12. I let ’em know my putt was for an 82, which they found to be not bad at all. I encouraged them all to keep swinging, and proceeded to miss my putt, tapped in for an 83, and after a minute’s reflection, made my way to the 19th hole for a bite to eat. I placed my order while the golf coach was busy chiding his team. The first thing I thought to hear was “…now if this was the district tournament, which thankfully it was not… we would have done terribly…” This comment drew a chortle from me, and several of the kids smiled at the whole thing.
A few minutes of coaching followed, mostly focused on smart golf. The coach was frustrated at the kids just picking out their 150 yard club for their 150 yard shots, rather than taking into account the wind, hardness of the ground and elevation concerns. He singled out one of the kids who nearly made an Alabaster on 2, but ended up with a 6 as his ball lumbered past the hole with reckless abandon. Coach knew it was a tough 2 putt, but couldn’t fathom how it turned into a 4 putt. The kid agreed. The coach wrapped up his coaching by making sure the Freshman all got new bags, and that every kid got his uniform.
I would have loved to somehow played the round with one of the groups, but I didn’t know of their presence until midway through the back 9, and wouldn’t have wanted to impose on their qualifying round as it was. Still though, it was interesting to talk to a few of the kids on the course, and to hear the coaching in the clubhouse. I never played high school golf and so I have nothing to base this experience against, but it seemed to me a fruitful session for the kids. They got to play some golf on a fantastic course, and were surely enjoying each other’s company out there.
As I was leaving, the three kids whom I was playing behind wished me luck again, and one of them sheepishly apologized again for almost killing me with his errant tee shot on 17. Not sure if I really appear like an adult, or if it is simply Southern rearing, but they all referred to me as “sir” and were very formal in their speech to me. Despite it, they were still clearly kids, and kids are the same all the world over. Really, seeing the whole thing made me regret that I didn’t pursue high school golf. Seemed to be a great experience.
I left the course and had an uneventful drive down to Hendersonville, North Carolina, where I stayed the night. I’m off now for a few rounds in the Carolinas before heading down to Athens, Georgia for the evening.
All caught up! By day’s end, I will have left the Appalachians behind and traded them for the deep south. My third region completed, I look forward to the fourth!