(Written by Jim Allen) … The dedicated golfers of Golfest have traveled to some pretty awesome destinations over the past six years. Premier locations such as Pebble Peach and Pinehurst, to Bandon Dunes and Myrtle Beach, and Michigan and Illinois have dished up more than their cherished share of “once in a lifetime experiences.” Each had their individual nuances and unique personalities that made them memorable in their own right. Some presented the aura of history and tradition, which others were purely memorable and extremely enjoyable. And when you mix those ingredients into your atypical group of avidgolfers, it sometimes becomes a blur. Which brings me to Golfest 2010-Florida, the continuing annual quest to pursue and play the Top 100 Public Golf Coursesin the United States. All of those killer glossy photos seen in all of our favorite golf publications came to life as Florida dished up all of its best attributes for our week long adventure. And yes, it was a blur, because it flew-by. But it was a much needed blur … in a world that is filled with so many negative visions, ranging from the economy to oil spills and just about everything bad in between. Golfest 2010 – Florida fulfilled our ongoing mission to WORK HARD and PLAY HARD. So in the words that follow, here is a rundown of the 145-holes and sidebars that we squeezed into on of the fastest paced 168-hours in golf.
5/25 – Travel Day – DESTINATION ORLANDO … It’s not often that people fly all the way across the country to Orlando, get within 1/2 mile of the front gates of Disney World, and never visit the place. But then again, I did use the word “atypical” to describe our group. If Mickey has standing between us and the first tee of Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club, that big rat is getting a severe beating with a seven-iron. Get out of our way — this is Golfest 2010 baby! By some not so strange coincidence, 10 of our 14 golfers ended up on the same connecting flight from Phoenix to Orlando. That part was pretty entertaining, but the poor baggage handler who volunteered to move our luggage and clubs from the claim area to the rental car area earned every dollar of his huge tip. Dinner for most of us was served up at the Lone Star Restaurant, where they quenched the huge void left by the three bags of Southwest Airlines peanuts. It’s obvious that this group was ready and raring to swing some clubs. Two others in our group were scrambling to get to Florida, one by the most unfortunate of circumstances. Mark Suzda, who had actually packed his shirts in the order he was going to wear them, had to cancel the night before liftoff. His 42-year old sister passed away. That is not a call you ever want to have to take from a friend. First time Golfestian Mike Calahan had more of a planned delayed departure. He did the right thing and went to his kids graduation ceremony today. He then took the “red-eye” and arrived at 6:30 a.m., an hour and a half before our first tee time. In a last minute scramble, Mark’s spot was inherited by another Mark, this one a Pickering. He improvised at the last minute with a $500 plane ticket and arrived at midnight. The only reason he was able to go on two-hours notice, was due to the fact he was laid off the week prior. In his situation, “vacation approval” only required spousal endorsement.
6/26 – Reunion Resort Golf Club – Legacy Course – Reunion, FL … The first round of the Golfest 2010 was set at the Reunion Resort and the Arnold Palmer’s designed Legacy Course. The course staff was very accommodating despite being overwhelmed by four vehicles that pretty much showed up at the same time to unload our golf weapons of mass destruction. With our high profile custom shirts, they stated we looked like a NASCAR pit crew. But they were envious, because they wanted to know if they could get one of their own. We look good! The Legacy Course, which make up 18 of the 54-holes on the property, was built on a former citrus grove and opened in 2004. It was a great track that looks wide-open and includes 15 different varieties of native grasses, azaleas and camellias. However, despite the wide open “look”, level lies were definitely in short supply. This course has more hill, humps, and gullies than your average motocross course and some scorecards reflected that fact. That wasn’t a bad thing, as much as it made things entertaining. Bob Potts stuck an iron shot inside four feet to win the closest to the pin and finished with an 83. Mike Rittner had an 86. From there, we raced to …
5/26 – The Bay Hill Club & Lodge – Orlando, FL … Our morning round ran a little long and we arrived just five minutes before our first group was due to be summoned off the first tee. However, the Bay Hill staff was very accommodating with all of our needs, especially securing forecaddies, food, bag tags, cocktails, and photographs. By the way, never show up here with CASH, because they don’t take it – even if you give it to them. When you check into the Lodge, you are assigned a card. Everything you buy … and I mean everything … is signed and charged to your room. You couldn’t spend a $20 bill here if your life depended on it … which must be the main reason why Arnold’s tournament is sponsored by MasterCard. Along those lines, it was really cool playing on a course that hosted the popular (32nd annual) Bay Hill Invitational just two-months earlier. This was a good day to hit a fade, because it always seemed there was water on the left. Arnold authorized a full-course remodel in 2009 that included changing out all the greens with Emerald Bermuda grass. They also tweaked the bunkers. Either way, it looks different in real life than from my sofa.
Even though they had aerated Bay Hill the week prior to our arrival, it was in better shape than most local courses that are in (alleged) pristine condition. Some in our group struggled to score low, even though we had implemented a two-putt rule prior to our arrival. Some consumed too much swing lubricant and had to dig deep to find the endurance to survive the first day 36-hole marathon. Jeffrey Adkins and Mike Rittner managed to post matching 86’s to take low score honors.
Dinner was served on the back patio of the Bay Hill Lodge. In fact, we had the whole patio to ourselves on this beautiful night, which probably was a good idea since most of us were alcohol-enhanced. The food was excellent and there was no “choking incidents” to report. Mike Barbone and Kirk Dragmire would have been classified as intoxicated in all 50 states. Barbone sported a stagger worthy of a sailor who had just sailed rough seas. Did I mention we ran the cart girls out of vodka twice on the course today? Mike Rittner is looking a little rough around the edges with a five o-clock shadow that is 48-hours old.
The Golfest 2010 Florida Nerve Center was located in the room of Todd Baltzley and Jim Allen. With the Magic-Celtics game on in the background, the two were busy updating the daily leaderboard, plus posting updates on Facebook, Twitter and the Golfest website. By request, everybody at home was being kept up to date. Jeffrey’s score vaulted him to the top of the Golfest Leaderboard.
5/27 – World Woods Golf Club – PIne Barrens Course – Brooksville, FL … Some of us ate breakfast at the Lodge, while others opted for something that was served up via a drive-thru window. After checking out of Bay Hill, we headed Northwest 78 miles to a town called Brooksville, home of the World Woods Golf Club. Opened in 1993, the facility has two Tom Fazio designed courses; with Pine Barren’s labeled as their crown jewel. It was voted the best new course in the United States when it opened and comes in at number 26 on the current Top 100 list in the U.S.
Everybody assumes this place has some tie-in to Tiger Woods, but that is not the case. It was originally designed as a huge golf destination, but it never gained enough momentum to make it a “World-renown” resort. But that might be a good thing, because when you play here, you are one with nature – hence you are in the “Woods.” You can’t hear a car or truck driving by, or a plane overhead – just birds and the breeze rustling the pines. In fact, if someone didn’t tell you that you were in Florida, you might guess you were in Michigan or North Carolina. Pine trees, rolling hills, gullies, and lots of rugged looking waste bunkers accent a natural postcard setting. The greens are large, but extremely FAST-FAST-FAST! On top of that, they had subtle undulations that caused balls to ROLL-ROLL-ROLL! It wasn’t uncommon to start with an eight-foot putt for par and end up with a 10-footer coming back for bogey … then double-bogey.
Utah’s Bob Potts lit up his scorecard with a 79 in a round that featured an eagle and a pair of birdies. That would turn out to be the best round of the week. Getting the best value per stroke was Mike Calahan who grinded out a 108.
Afterwards, we aimed our front bumpers for Ponte Vedra Beach in search of the Sawgrass-Marriott, a 175 mile jaunt from one side of Florida to the other. Depending on the vehicle, it was your classic road show with stops at ATM’s and liquor stores to restock. Dinner came in a variety of forms ranging from not eating, to a $30 fly-by stop at Taco Bell, to a down-under stop at Outback. If you knew a bad joke, this was the time to tell it. Most of us arrived around 11:00 p.m. The rooms were spacious and had those super-comfortable mattresses that you can sink into and disappear for a couple of days. But that wasn’t going to happen, because tomorrow … we’re playing the highly anticipated Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
5/28 – TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL … Sometimes our sport gets lost in the actual act of hitting a little white sphere around a glorified park. While that is good in one regard, the spirit of the game may get lost in the shuffle. Today, we not only experienced golf at its finest, but we also experienced the history and traditions that the sport really stands for. That happened at TPC Sawgrass, the home of the annual (and very popular) Players Championship.
The staff at TPC Sawgrass rolled out the red carpet for us in an incredible way. Whether it was an engraved bag tag or personal locker, setting us up with fully-engaged and informative forecaddies, to filming every shot on the 17th island green, to taking us on a private tour of the entire clubhouse … TPC Sawgrass had us covered! No loose ends, nothing left to question … just the ultimate golf experience on a perfectly manicured golf course. Call it what you want … two thumbs up … a perfect 10 … or golf excellence!
Our compliments go out to Assistant Golf Professional Jennifer Heinz who had all aspects of our perfect golf day dialed in. Unlike many golf courses that we have visited, the staff at this TPC venue doesn’t just go through the motions and mail in their 8 to 5. There is a huge sense of pride for all of the associates who work here! We felt like we were celebrities for the day. Our compliments!
As far as the Stadium Course goes, it was perfect in a way normally reserved for a facility like Augusta. Every plant and seemingly, every blade of grass was perfectly maintained. It’s one of those things you appreciate when playing, but had a deeper appreciation when perusing the photographs afterwards. Nothing is out of place – anywhere! It’s definitely a shot-makers course. If you don’t hit your shots where they need to be, you will find yourself recreating every sand shot you’ve ever played, or dropping more balls than a lottery drawing. This is not an easy course.
Now the million dollar question that all of you at home are dying to ask: How did we do on the most famous hole of golf – the 17th hole island green? We played it from the same tees as the PGA tour at a yardage of 137-yards. Sound pretty simple …, eh?? Sure it is — if you are playing it on PlayStation 3! There are a couple of things that make it more difficult than it is. First off, there is a certain adrenalin factor that comes into play. You’ve seen it, you’re determined to master it, and before you know it, you’re swinging your eight-iron like Albert Pujols at a home run derby. Secondly, the best way to describe this hole is to call it an optical illusion. Big green, but in a bigger lake, that from the tee box presents the appearance you’re hitting onto something the size of a trampoline. However, once behind the hole, you can only wonder how in the heck you missed it. Only five of our 14 golfers stuck it on the island, while nine other balls were suicidal in nature, opting to go the drowning route. Bob Potts and Art Taylor stuck it within 13 feet of the pin. No matter how you slice it (or hook it) all of our Golfestians left TPC Sawgrass with a bounce in their step and a sense of pride in the sport we play. It was a great day in paradise.
The evening was spent at the hotel. Activities were varied. Some could be heard snoring through the walls, others cooled off in the pool, a few got comfortable at the bar, a handful searched out food options, and other enjoyed a Monte Cristo on the back patio – or a combination of all of the above. After 72-holes of golf in the past 72 hours, we slept very hard. Advil and Motrin were dispensed like Milk Duds.
5/29 – Cimarrone Golf Club – Jacksonville, FL … The Memorial Day weekend started with what can best be described as a “change of pace” day. It was a good change-up from the weekly series of events. The plan was to get to the Cimarrone Golf Club early and enjoy some leisurely breakfast, but some GPS systems had ulterior motives, resulting in 30-mile detour that gave us a better chance of getting mugged than finding a clubhouse. We still had enough time to wolf down a breakfast burrito!
Cimarrone served up a decent challenge, featuring water hazards on 17 of the 18-holes. Or better put, only one hole didn’t have water! However, a low-profile scramble took a lot of pressure off the “avoid the water” game. It was more about having fun, telling more bad jokes and hitting some PGA-quality shots every once in a while. The winning team was Bob Potts, Jim Allen, Pat Calahan, and Greg Haeussler, four strokes better than second place. Much of that was due to Calahan’s iron play, which was hotter than a goats butt in a pepper patch. He stuck everything tight and all the rest of the group had to do was tap ’em in. An entertaining trash-talking putt off playoff broke the tie for second. That’s another 18 holes down on this trip.
5/29 – World Golf Hall of Fame – St. Augustine, FL … About 10 minutes up the road from Cimarrone in St. Augustine is the World Golf of Fame and the World Golf Village. It is also home of the PGA Tour headquarters. If UFO’s landed here, they might come to the cnclusion that planet earth revolves around the game of golf. (For some of us, it does!) A “take me to your leader” request would have most of us pointing at Tim Finchem, the PGA Commissioner, who occupies an office here.
After some lunch, we enjoyed a 2 1/2 hour tour of the WGHoF. Call it a walk through golf history, beginning when a balata ball was beat around a field with a stick in the early 1800’s, to the high-tech equipment and players of today — and just about everything in between. It’s amazing how much technology has changed, especially in the past 20 years. How the heroes of the past were able to accomplish what they did with the gardening tools they were given is truly remarkable. I wouldn’t use half the stuff for a walking stick, much less a golf club.
Also on the agenda at the WGHoF was a chance to play the challenge hole, a clone of the 17th green at TPC Sawgrass. We also tested our putting skills in an 18-hole tournament on their putting course. Jim Dee mastered a gusty wind to claim the closest to the pin contest – something he really wanted to do on the authentic #17 yesterday! The tourney took about an hour to play and Jeffrey Adkins walked away smirking as the winner. Three aces pretty much clinched it.
Dinner was served up at Caddyshack, the Murray Brother’s personal tribute to their hobby and movie exploits. If you ever get a chance to visit the World Golf Village, do so! It makes for a entertaining day! At this point in our Golfestian adventure, we finally got our first cherished glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean as we headed down the 95 freeway on our way to Palm Coast and the Ocean Hammock Resort.
5/30 – Ocean Hammock Golf Club / Conservatory Course – Palm Coast, FL … Our accommodations at the Ocean Hammock Resort were over the top. Collectively, we had four units on the top floors of this 11 story herculean resort. The three larger suites were three bedroom, four bathroom, with full amenities numbers in the 3000 square foot range. It gave everybody a chance to spread out and kick back; even unpack our bags for three nights. By the way, to work in the gratuitous plug for one of our sponsors, each unit came with Trane air conditioners that worked extremely well. Some of us turned the thermostat down to freeze and ended up waking up in the middle of the night shivering like a shaved Chihuahua. That might have been a good thing because we became need to absorb some of that cooling at the Conservatory Course.
The Conservatory Course should be regarded as a hidden gem in the Southwest. In fact, many of us with extensive Top 100 course experience felt it should be rated on a national level. This is one of those places where it looks like Tom Watson never needed a bulldozer to designed it. It’s a course form-fitted into the natural surroundings; one that was very pleasing to the eye and dished up more than its share of screen savers. They also have an “over the top” classy looking clubhouse that features an attrium in the center.
The course features a lot of water and sand, but you had to hack around pretty badly to find yourself in either. From the tee box and the fairway, the greens looked normal, but in fact were very large. It was possible to be on the green and still face a 100-foot putt. Once you figured out pin placement locations, the putts got shorter. This is by far the best 18 of the two courses bearing the Ocean Hammock name.
Standing on the first tee box, we experienced the true definition of the word … “sultry” … like in, “it was a sultry morning in Florida.” Temperatures and humidity were racing each other to 90 and my forehead was dripping more than a leaky faucet. About nine holes into our adventure, Florida weather went psycho on us. Sultry turned into breezy, then a 15-minute rain delay, before reverting back to hot and sultry. When we finished, the temperature/humidity guages were back in the 90-90 range.
From the course, most of us headed to a local hole-in-the-way called JT’s Seafood Shack. In typical Golfest fashion, we took over the bar from one end to the other and wolfed down anything from Tuna filets to deep-fried oysters. Of course, that was chased down with many beers and the official drink of Golfest 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 & 2010 — Vodka-Cranberries. All this with the Indy 500 on the tube.
The afternoon was laid back for most. Some did laundry, some held down the sofa, while others stared intently at the inside of their eye lids. It is hard to believe that a week has gone by since we kicked off this adventure. Tomorrow we will be playing our final 18-holes of the trip. All we have to do is literally walk out of the back door of the hotel and playing the 80th ranked (nationally) Ocean Course. We will be wearing RED on Memorial Day, to salute all of the people who put their lives on the line to preserve our freedom! It’s great to be an American!
5/31 – Ocean Hammock Golf Club – Ocean Course – Palm Coast, FL … The sister venue of the Conservatory Course features five holes right on the Atlantic Ocean. By design we played from the resort friendly tee boxes and almost everybody posted their lowest round of the week. We were treated with 18 scenic Jack Nicklaus golf holes that didn’t beat us up too bad … if you kept it in play. To spice things up a notch, we were also treated with the stalking presence of a few gators! Maybe they were attracted by the Money Mailer red shirts that we wore, which was a story in itself. Little did we know, but our groups golf attire resembled that worn by the help at the resort. This led to several double takes by the resort guests who tried to figure out why the help was wearing golf shoes. Others asked where they could get fresh towels, or directions to the gift shop. By the way, Todd Baltzley surprised all with an impressive 81 – a career best. When combined with a non-sandbagging 26 handicap, that would be an adjusted score of a 55!
The rest of the afternoon was spent like normal people on vacation. Wow, I didn’t know we actually did that, but you know what … it’s pretty relaxing. Our awards dinner was held later that evening in a private room at the Atlantic Grill. Good thing it was a private room, because this was a … let’s just say … a happy group. But those things happen when you rack up a $500 bar tab for 14 people in just 2 1/2 hours. The food was awesome too!
We passed out an assortment of golf clubs and prizes including Notebook computers to the NET & GROSS Golfest Champions, Todd Baltzley and Bob Potts, respectively. We also acknowledged the “newbie’s” of the trip, our first time Golfestians John Lundgren, Las Vegas resident Greg Haeussler, Mike Calahan, and Kirk Dragmire. Lundgren did something remarkable in that his scores improved with every round. He struggled at Reunion with a 104, but finished up at the Ocean Course with an 88.
Greg, who had what he described as one of his best vacation ever, took home a couple of dubious awards for the week. He earned bookends for the most triple bogeys for the week (51), and the high score of the Florida adventure (115 – twice). It was actually a good thing that Greg took home the Triple Bogey honors. Normally that award was a non-golf award, meaning it was reserved for a person who experienced or did something odd or just plain stupid. While we enjoyed our fair share of laughs and good times, nobody got hurt, arrested, half-choked to death — or at least nobody was admitting to it. That’s a good thing!
Our departure date was June 1st, which literally jumps off the calendar in the Sunshine State because it just happens to be the beginning of “Hurricane Season.” In my book, that’s a good day to depart just about anywhere. The best part about it was that we had mid-afternoon flights, which allowed us to sleep in, pack our wares, and enjoy a leisurely 75-mile drive back to the Orlando Airport.
Should have been an ordinary travel day, right? Never ever, ever, ever on a Golfest trip! We tend to be a magnet for the unusual. While attempting to pass through airport security, Todd Baltzley was pulled aside to double check his personal belongings. Apparently it looked like he was smuggling something unusual in his backpack. As it turns out … it was his Golfest trophy! After closer inspection, with their rubber gloves and high tech equipment, the Department of Homeland Security authorized the championship hardware for the flight home. Yes folks, that is our tax dollars at work — keeping our country safe!
But wait … there’s more! Art Taylor was looking forward to take a nice relaxing flight home. Turns out, his services were summoned by SWA flight attendants who needed a doctor or other person with a medical background to assist with a passenger having a seizure. Art is a Roseville, CA Fire Captain and paramedic and found himself in the middle of things stabilizing the passenger — for about two hours. Art and another fireman from Orange County, FL received a seated standing ovation (the seat belt light was still on) when we landed.
The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was named the 2010 Golfest Golf Course of the Year.