I had what I thought was going to be a relatively uneventful day ahead of me yesterday. The goal was simple: play a round of golf in both Alabama and Florida, and move on to Mississippi by day’s end. It was to be my last 36 hole day until Tuesday, and my 5th last of the trip. I had spotted some cheap courses way back when when I planned the trip, and it was my assumption that I’d have quick and care free rounds yesterday afternoon. I was partially correct.
After leisurely awaking at an hour later than was prudent, I made my way down to the breakfast area and met up with an old Santa Claus looking guy. I knew immediately from hearing his voice that he was not from the South or the Northeast, and asked where he was from.
AF: What are you doing all the way down in Dothan, AL?
SC: Just checking in on little Susie Jones. I heard she hit her brother, and I need to verify that. Christmas is still months away you know, but there’s only one of me. Really, it’s more than a full time job.
SC: Yeah, the benefits are okay. My pension plan isn’t as good as the previous Santa’s was, but I can’t really complain. The celebrity never gets old though.
AF: I see. So Santa, a quick question. I wasn’t the most well behaved kid. I had tendencies towards rambunctiousness. Why always presents and never coal?
SC: And your name young man?
AF: Alex Feeman
SC: ….. Alex Feeman ….. the Alex Feeman?
SC: From… Leban..
AF: Yes, from Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
SC: (Gasp) I thought you were just a legend. We heard the rumors and couldn’t possibly believe them. Rather than have the elves work round the clock on your leads, we took the easy way out and always just threw you some random assortment of presents.
AF: Gee, thanks Santa. I really kinda appreciate that. Looking back though, I coulda used coal one of those years.
SC: Yeah well, I ain’t perfect. You seemed like you turned out okay.
AF: You know what Santa, you’re an alright dude.
SC: Thanks – you too.
You can choose to believe whatever you like from my breakfast encounter with Santa.
After my chat with Jolly Old St. Nick, I went back to my room and called the course I had lined up in Alabama. The kindly young belle on the other end of the line confirmed it was and would remain wide open. Having no immediate rush, I lolly gagged through my morning blog, and by around 12, I departed for the course.
My choices in and around Dothan varied greatly. The Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf trail had a stop in Dothan, and if I was willing to spend $82, I could have played on what surely would have been a wonderfully designed test of golf. On the other end of the spectrum was a dog track called Green Hill Golf Course. Never been there, and never played it, but read enough online reviews to know it was run down. I targeted something in the middle, and landed at Kilgore’s Roundabout Plantation in nearby Cowarts, Alabama.
A pasture style course, Roundabout, as it’s known by the locals, was only $28 to ride, and featured nearly 6600 yards of golf from the longest tees. Largely open, there were a few holes which delved back into some woods, and there were a few nicely placed water hazards. The fairways and rough were in nice shape, as were the greens. The greens, however, were very, very slow, and felt as if they hadn’t been mowed in days.
The view from the 18th tee at “The Roundabout,” with the famous blue Silo mentioned in their local TV commercials in the background.
I paid my greens fees, hopped on a cart, and made my way to the blue tees on the first hole, which were set back a solid 40 yards from the white tees. Just as I had reached the blues, a young fella up at the white tees hollered out at me inquiring if I was playing alone. I responded in the affirmative, and he asked if I wanted to join him. I agreed, asked if he was playing from the white tees, and upon his confirmation that he was, told him I’d be happy to join him up there.
He introduced himself as Blake, and before I had my name out of my mouth, asked how old I was. I told him I was 27. He told me he was 23, but was used to playing with older guys. He went on to tell me that he’d been playing since he was 6, and was pretty good.
Naturally, I asked if he kept a handicap. He responded by telling me that he’s played in several Hooters Tour events, and in several other professional mini tour events, and his handicap currently sat at 4. My bullshit radar sounded a faint signal, as a 4 handicapper, while a very, very skilled golfer, is not likely to get anywhere near any type of professional tour, even the lowest ranks of pro tours. Still though, I thought it was possible that he got local exemptions or something, and maybe was going through a bad stretch. Anything is possible.
I did ask why he was teeing off from the white tees rather than the blues, and his answer was curious. He told me that “they don’t play the tournaments from back there,” and that “this is where the men tee off from.” My suspicion was steadily growing, yet I hadn’t seen the kid hit a shot yet, and decided to hold off judgement until I’d played at least a few holes with the kid.
He pulled out a fairway metal on the first tee. This was the first sign that he was a player. It was a mid-length dogleg right par 4, and a massive hitter may have had trouble to contend with if a drive was lambasted through the fairway on the left. He got up there, methodically proceeded through his routine, and took a nice controlled, slow swing at the ball, and popped it up. Not a terrible pop up, but not a pro shot. It went about 200 yards, and straight. Okay, I thought, maybe the guy’s nervous… maybe he didn’t warm up.
After this shot, he felt it timely to mention that he was very erratic and alternates between shooting 69 and 89, depending on the day. He had supposedly shot a 73 the day before. I chuckled again, saying I’m the same, but that I vary between 79 and 99, just to set nice low expectations for him.
We both took dumps on the first hole, with my second shot finding water, and my chip up to the hole left well short on the tremendously slow greens, I walked away with a putred 7. He made what I counted to be a 6, but he recorded vocally as a bogey. Keeping his facade up, he picked up my ancient Beckley Ralston chipper on the first green, asking what that dang thing was. Before I could get an answer out, he commented that it was a “nice little club for an amateur to get started with,” indicating that he was a professional, while I was a lowly amateur.
By the 4th hole, it was plainly obvious that I was playing with my first bullshit artist of the trip. “Artist” is a loose term here, because he wasn’t very good at constructing his story. I’m not sure he parred even a single hole on the front, and my score, 41, was easily 10 strokes better than his. Mediocre shots of mine were met with excited cheers from him, and one particularly domesticated drive had him advise me that I should be out there on the minitours with him.
It was laughable. Any suggestion that I belong anywhere near a professional golf tournament is ludicrous, and any professional golfer, at any level, would be the very first person to tell you that. No doubt, I’m a far better than average player, but my swing is all discombobulated, and I am extremely conservative around the greens. I can play, but I don’t have anything like the game required to be even a hack on any sort of tour.
He kept his charade up though. The only part of his game which was professional was his heinously slow pace. Two of us, on carts, took well over 2 hours to play the front 9. The course was deserted. He walked out to his ball on each shot, with just one club and his yardage book. If he needed a new club, he had to walk all the way back to his cart to get one, and as the course was cart path only, this added seeming years to the round. He meticulously recorded the outcome of every shot in the yardage book, and studied every shot for a minute before playing it. Fucking dreadful pace.
I know I’ve explained that I’m better than he was, and that he was full of shit, but I want to give you just a brief insight into his game, compared with mine.
Off the tee: I averaged about 270, hitting with a pretty consistent draw to hook. I blocked 1 drive on the front 9. He hit it about 200, with a slight fade. He popped 2 drives up on the front.
With a fairway metal: I only used it once on the front, and hit a low piercing hook about 185 yards. Not a great shot by any stretch of the mind. He failed to get his fairway wood off the ground more than half of the 6 or 7 times he used it on the front.
With irons: I hit massive, massive hooks or hit the ball straight. As I’ve been playing very consistently, distance is being added to my shots. I’m hitting a W 145, 9 155, 8 165 7 175 and so on. He used a 5 iron from 160. He aimed straight, but either hooked or sliced the ball badly.
Around the greens: I bumped and ran everything. Loft was my enemy, but on the lone hole where I did need to get it up there in the air to get to a pin tucked behind a bunker, I was able to do it, getting the ball to within 15 feet. He used a 56 degree wedge for all greenside shots, regardless of proximity to the green. He rolled some on the green, he bladed some long and he generated no spin on the ball when he did hit it in the air.
On the greens: I had a tough time reading the slopes at Roundabout, and had an even tougher time judging the speed, as these were by far the slowest greens on the course. I repeatedly mentioned the slowness of the greens, asking if they were always this slow. He responded that some were slow and some were fast. (None were fast – they were all worse than putting on shag carpeting) He read the putts fairly well, but didn’t make anything over 5 feet the entire front 9.
By the 9th tee, I was ready to pull my hair out of my head. I got off to a later start than I had intended, and owned that fact, but still had hopes of finishing my round at Roundabout in under 43 years to get a round in somewhere in Florida that afternoon. I was going to ask him to play ahead on the back 9, but thankfully, he himself came to the realization that I saw through his ruse, and he released me from his tractor beam of slow play, freeing me for a quick back 9.
In between the bullshit spewed forth on the 9, I learned that he worked in a nearby chicken plant, and smoked a lot of weed. That was all I really figured out about the kid. Nice enough and well intentioned, but ultimately ignorant and naive.
I got off to a nice par / par start on the back, but fucked up hard on 13 and 14, making a double and single bogey on two very short and easy holes. For the first time on the trip, I was playing just to play, and to finish my round. The front 9 had nearly ruined my day, and by the time I was teeing off on 16, I had serious doubts about whether I would get a second round in. Adding to my frustration was the fact that I wasn’t playing particularly well, and was on pace for one of my worst rounds of the trip. I decided to buckle down, focus, and finish strong. I parred 16 and 17, but pissed away a truly strong finish by missing a 5 footer for par on 18.
I had ended with an 84, from the pedestrian white tees. Blake had warned me that the course was very difficult, but with a course rating of 69.5 and a slope rating of 121 from the white tees, the course easily should have yielded a much lower score to me.
Dejected and doubting if I would make the second round, I trudged into the clubhouse to wash up and ask someone how long the jaunt down to Bonifay was. I asked the girl behind the counter, and she wasn’t sure, so an older man chimed in. He was giving me the old turn by turn directions, but there was an authenticity in his willingness to help. I couldn’t in good faith just tell the guy I only really wanted a time estimate, not exact directions, as I had a phone with GPS. He gave me a few course suggestions as well. Of course, it came up that I was looking to play that day, and that I was going on a massive golf trip across the country. A twinkle came to his eye, and he wanted to know where I’d already been. I mentioned the regions of the country I was in, and before I knew it, I was there giving my life story to three eager, friendly and open older folks. An older couple had heard I was in New England, and interrupted to ask where, as they had lived in New England many moons ago. I mentioned the cities, and it turns out that the old guy had played at some of the same courses I had. I shared my motivations for the trip and the new perspectives I’ve been gaining while on the trip with these three kind souls, and they seemed to me to be nothing but happy for me and what I was doing. They were extremely personable, and were exactly the type of people I needed to give me a brief pick me up – Alabama had been redeemed!
Rejuvenated, I hopped back in my Jetta and called a few courses down in the panhandle. Both places I called were fairly open, but required that I have the cart back by 7:30. It was 3:40 in the afternoon, and Bonifay was 75 miles away. I was going to have to hustle.
In my younger years, I burned furiously when on the interstates and Penna Turn Pike. The trip from my home to my various apartments and dorms at Shippensburg should have taken an hour fifteen minutes to an hour twenty minutes, but I routinely made the trip in under an hour. My friend Ben and I always made the goal of our trips to and fro Shippensburg and Lebanon to not be passed by anyone, for any reason. Extended periods of 90 MPH driving with bursts well up into the triple digits were common. Amazingly, I was never apprehended for these antics betwixt Ship and Lebanon. I have calmed down significantly over the years, and am now widely regarded amongst my friends as a notoriously slow driver. I regularly fail to reach the speed limit.
My trip from Dothan to Bonifay, however, was going to require a trip to the vault. I dusted off my old driving gloves, and hauled serious mad ass. I earned those middle fingers and “you ding dang New Yorker!” yells I got. While others may have had time to putz around, I did not. I burned down to Bonifay at an average clip somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 MPH. There is only a short stretch of interstate on the trip, and most of the trip was on two lane rural highways, interspersed with sections of 4 lane highway.
My closest call of the trip thus far with regards to the local constabulary came on my way down to Bonifay. Some dude in a pickup was going at a measly 65 MPH in a 65 zone, and I was hankering to get a move on, so I dropped a gear and raged past him, getting up close to 90 MPH in the process. Shortly after I completed the pass, and still blazing a clip well above the speed limit, an Alabama state trooper passed me in the opposite direction. A straight, flat road, he had certainly seen the pass, and likely also my New York plate as well.
FUCK. I thought. I thought it was over. To my astonishment, he just kept right on driving, however, and after a few miles of keeping it within 10 of the speed limit, I was back to full fury driving. I had golf to play!
I made it down to the town wherein the course lay, and noticed a tendency towards rural dirt roads in the area. Assuming that the course would not lie on one of these, I ended up blowing past the unmarked dirt road which led to the trail which led to the course. There were, of course, no signs for the course, and if I didn’t have my iPhone, I never would have found the place.
The main road leading to Dogwood Lakes Golf Course in Bonifay, Florida.
Upon arriving at the club house, I saw that there were only four other cars in the lot. It was 4:35, and I would have no trouble making it around in 2 hours and 55 minutes.
I paid the kid, grabbed a cart and made my way to the first tee. This was the dogtrack I had been looking for! Burned out and in a state of disrepair, Dogwood Lakes GC had seen far better days. The tee boxes were alright in spots, and while the fairways were actually decent, a ball off the fairway was likely to be played off of dirt. The greens featured grass nearer the sun than some skyscrapers, and large patches of cracked and baked dirt.
The layout of the course was a nice one, however, as each 9 worked out then back to the clubhouse. The furthest points from the clubhouse were around the 5th and 14th tees. A double out and back, it worked it’s way through pineforest and around Dogwood Lake and various other ponds and streams.
I sank putt after putt on the front, and made the turn at 39. I took a few minutes to speak with the kid in the clubhouse, and learned that while the course was built as a private country club in the mid 60’s, complete with tennis courts, basketball courts and a pool, it has been public and under 3 different owners within the last 20 years. The previous owner lacked knowledge of agronomy, and ran the place into the ground. 6 years ago, the kid assured me, the course was in even far more heinous shape. I wished him well, and let him know that I’ve seen even more dilapidated places turn around. I let him know the layout was there, and he agreed with me.
He sort of picked up on my wondering how the place stayed in business, and he took the initiative to explain that the majority of their business was from snowbirds in the winter. He pointed down to the sign in sheet, and indicated that I was only the 6th player to play a paid round the entire day. I was also the last player to play. When I showed up, there was a threesome on the 9th green, and by the time I made the turn, they were more than likely on the 14th or 15th hole.
Literally alone in the serenity of the course, I put together one hell of a round. Sure, I was aided by slow, and therefore, receptive greens, but I was putting approach shots close, and making putts. Was it not for my 3 lost ball penalties, I would’ve had a fighter’s chance at an even par round. As it was, I tapped in for a par and six over 78 on 18, and was delighted with the experience.
The view from the tee of one of the 6 par 3 holes at Dogwood. Interestingly, the course featured 6 each of par 3’s, par 4’s and par 5’s.
This round, while at a course upkeep, owing most likely to their lack of income, was the golf trip I signed up for. In the middle of nowhere and cheap as hell, someone had decided to purchase the course and keep it open, working back towards its former glory. All the best of luck to them; but please guys, take your time. What you have now is a treasure of public golf. A course that time forgot, it’s nestled so far in the woods as to render it impossible to find without the aid of a GPS. Indeed, after I got off the dirt road, the path split into two matted trails, 1 in to the paved parking lot, and 1 out.
By the time I had finished my 18th hole, I was literally the only human being at the establishment. The lot was empty, and the doors were locked up. The young man had judged my character well, didn’t fear that I would steal the cart, and left early for the evening.
My Jetta and Golf Cart becoming acquainted with each other in the empty parking lot as the sun set over Dogwood Lakes Golf Club in Bonifay.
The round I had just experienced was nothing short of beautiful. I was alone on a course that time had forgotten, but was still open to play, proudly challenging me with all that it had. I feel that I got the better of the course this round, but do not feel like the winner. This course, as isolated and steeped in the aura of what once was, was and always will be the winner.
Alright, I do have to get a move on, so I’m going to keep this brief from here out. I had plans of staying in Gulfport, MS last night, but as it was over three hours away, was shooting for Destin or another beach city on the Gulf Coast instead. I made it to Destin, but was unable to find a room for under $110, and decided to truck it for Pensacola.
I did stop briefly in Destin, and walked out on to the beach in the still of the night and waded into the Gulf. A warm breeze was blowing in, and the soft crashing of the waves provided a serene backdrop. There were some clouds out, and my ten minutes on the beach were not those of a storybook, but it was peaceful nonetheless. Upon getting back on the roadway, I just wanted to get out of Destin alive. I had no idea how large and touristy Destin was, but now am fairly certain I will never be going back. Everyone there was on vacation, and were accordingly driving like mongoloids. Not like the mongoloid I was driving like earlier, mind you, but like careless mongoloids.
Driving fast is fine if you are paying attention. Driving slow is never acceptable if you are not paying attention. Someone once said that you shut your brain off when you go on vacation, and I certainly ran into many zombies piloting cars down on 98 in Destin. Miracle of miracles, I made it to Pensacola, and found a room. The guy on the phone told me $74.99, but by the time I had arrived, the price had changed significantly.
$53.99. Failing to ask a question, I signed my name, and drifted off to sleepy land.