Monday, January 31, 2011

The Perfect Sports Day

Sunday was a sports day. Hiking in the early morning with SO, golf in the afternoon with the Gardener and floor seats at the Suns basketball game in the evening. It does not get much better than that! The weather was cold in the morning when we went hiking, but it warmed up to about 70 degrees with clear skies by mid-afternoon. Perfect golf weather!

I have got the Gardener into a physical fitness routine. His wife bought him a pull cart for his golf clubs and we have been walking the golf courses. He has become a bit of a pull cart snob. A few weeks ago we played at ASU Karsten Golf Course and the course would not allow him to use his pull carts so the Gardener decided to spite the course and ride in a cart rather than walk and carry his bag. I have absolutely no idea why a golf course would not permit pull carts other than golfers may pull them through the sand bunkers or across the green. I guess you need to make rules for the lowest common denominator. This week we played at Aguila Golf Course in South Phoenix. In the areas within 25 yards or so of the greens there were signs prohibiting golf carts from getting any closer to the greens, which is normal. But there were also signs prohibiting pull carts around the greens. As a pull cart snob, the Gardener was a little miffed about this rule. Of course, he understood not to pull his cart over the green or even the apron around the green, but 25 yards from the green, come on!

Aguila is the newest of the Phoenix municipal courses. It is a really nice track (see photo gallery)that plays to more than 7,000 yards from the black tees. There were three or four holes where the course was adding additional tee boxes to lengthen the course that were not yet open. Thank goodness! The course was designed by Gary Panks, who is one of the most prolific golf course designers in Arizona, with credits for The Golf Club at Chaparral Pines, Firerock Country Club, Whirlwind Golf Club (Cattail Course) and Whirlwind Golf Club (Devils Claw Course), among many others. Aguila is an interesting layout because there are two drivable (not for me) 300 yard par-4 holes and one short par-3 hole, which means that the par-4 holes are monsters. There are 5 par-4 holes that range from 433 yards to 471 yards. The course rating is 72.4 and the slope rating is 129.

The course was closed for a few months recently to redesign the bunkers because the golfers complained about the number and size of the fairway bunkers, the depth of the greenside bunkers and the lack of sand in the greenside bunkers. I never played the course with all of the bunkers but Matt, our playing partner on Sunday, pointed out a number of the bunker locations that are now grass. The only disappointing part of the golf course are the newly-renovated greenside bunkers. Matt said they used to be deep and difficult to escape. Now they are flat and serve no purpose. I actually putted out of three of the greenside bunkers with no difficulty. I would have liked to play the course as originally designed.

I played very consistently. I was generally hitting my driver straight down the middle of the fairway and hitting my hybrids and long irons okay. I only had two double-bogeys, one where I hit the ball into the water and another on a par-3 where I just mishit my tee shot and took a penalty stroke. I made a birdie on a par-5 hole and had 4 pars for an 86. On Saturday, I worked on my flop shot at the practice facility. After hitting about 30 flop shots without mishitting one, I was really comfortable hitting that shot. I hit three flop shots on Sunday from difficult positions out of the desert or over greenside bunkers. One was close enough that I did not need my putter and the other two were in the makeable putt range. The Gardener played really well in long stretches, but had a few erratic holes that killed his round. He shot a 90.

After golf, we washed up and headed to U.S. Airways Arena to see the Suns play the New Orleans Hornets and Chris Paul. Our seats were in the third row on the floor behind one of the baskets. The Suns played really well for 47 minutes and 30 seconds and then almost blew an 8 point lead in the last 30 seconds, but held on to win the game. The floor seats under the basket are really cool because you can see all of the action up close and you can see how big, athletic and physical the players are. If I had a choice of any seat in the house for a full season I would not want to sit in these seats because a small portion of the court is obstructed by the basket stanchion and you are peaking from one side to the other, but for one game it was a lot of fun (and the price was right).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Over the last few months there has been a rash of high-profile penalties called on players by television viewers, some of which have led to disqualifications because the players inadvertently signed incorrect scorecards before learning of the rules infractions. This past week Camilo Villegas on the PGA Tour and Padraig Harrington on the European Tour were both disqualified for rules violations that were reported after they signed their scorecards. Villegas tapped down a divot as his ball was rolling back down a slope toward the divot. Harrington replaced his ball on the green and the the ball rotated forward two dimples. Both players were gentlemen about the disqualifications, but it is getting to be ridiculous.

Tim Finchem, PGA Tour Commissioner, intends to ask the USGA to review the Rules of Golf, but he is not advocating that the penalty related to signing an incorrect card be changed.
He said he wants a “full and thorough review” of the rule, so golf officials can ask if there is a better way to penalize players. Interestingly, Finchem did acknowledge that the professional tours have a right to set their own rules for a tournament, but he would rather retain the USGA as the rule-making body.

One suggestion is to assess the two-stroke penalty even after the card has been signed, provided the player was not aware he had broken a rule, but not disqualify him. This creates some problems if it affects the cut line or the winner of the tournament, in addition to making a subjective determination as to whether the golfer knew or should have known that he violated a Rule of Golf, but it is clearly better than the present Rule. My suggestion is to retain the honor system among the players and not permit television viewers to call in rules infractions. If a golfer blatantly violates the Rules of Golf and does not report himself or herself or has a number of unreported, unknowing violations, suspend the golfer. If the unreported violations continue, then ban the golfer from the tour for a number of years or for life, after giving the golfer all of the due process protections that are appropriate before denying a person his or her livelihood.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Golf Masochism

Last weekend I unintentionally agreed to a masochistic golf endeavor. Chad Feldheimer was feeling very good about his golf game and he wanted to conquer The Karsten Golf Course at Arizona State University, the home of the storied ASU golf program. Instead of working, he studied the course layout and mapped out his strategy for shooting par. We also talked the Gardener into playing. Karsten, from the professional tees, is a bear! On the scorecard, the course is 7,002 yards long but plays to a par-70 with only two par-5 holes! The number 1 handicap hole is a 493-yard par 4 and the number 2 handicap hole is a 498-yard par 4. There are three other par-4s over 450 yards. The course rating from the professional tees is 73.8 and the slope rating is 131.

The front 9 is a par-34 with no par-5 holes and is only 3,251 yards. Pete Dye moved a lot of dirt to design this course on a flat, ugly piece of land. If you miss the fairway on your drive, you can generally find your ball but it may have rolled over a small hillock and you oftentimes cannot see the flagstick so you are hitting into a blind green. Theoretically, it should not make any difference if you know the distance to the flagstick and the location of the flagstick, but psychologically not being able to see the flagstick throws you off-stride and affects your perception and your swing. Also, the lack of any par-5 holes takes some of the fun out of the game. The mid-handicapper can usually hit the green in 3 strokes on a par-5 and may even have a reasonable opportunity for birdie and at least have a good chance for a par. Seven par-4 holes become boring. I know this sounds like sour grapes and it is! I shot bogey golf on the front 9 for a 43.

The last time Chad Feldheimer and I played Karsten we had the good sense to play the back 9 from the champion tees, which are 3,395 yards. Not this time. The back 9 at Karsten is like a death march. It is a par-36, 3,751 yards, but at least there are two par-5 holes. There are 3 par-4 holes over 450 yards and a 248 yard par-3. It is brutal. I shot a 48 on the back 9 for a 91 total. Chad Feldheimer shot a 79 and the Gardener shot a 90. I played the seven par-4 and par-5 holes in 6 over par, which was not bad, but I tripled-bogeyed both par-3 holes to ruin my round.

I think it will be quite some time before I go back to Karsten again!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

71 Holes!

This past Monday was Martin Luther King/Civil Rights Day so SO and I took a mini-vacation to Palm Desert in California. Palm Desert is about 4 hours by car from Phoenix. It is in the Sonoran Desert so the topography, scenery, temperature and rainfall are similar to Phoenix. I think there are more golf courses per capita in the Palm Springs area than anywhere in the United States!

We stayed at The Westin Desert Willow Villas. It is a new Starwood/Westin timeshare project. Because I have a Starwood Preferred Guest card (although I have almost no points on the card), I was invited to the project for a very reasonable price. The amenities are constructed and the first phase of the project is completed. There will be five phases when the project is completed. It is located between holes at the Desert Willow Golf Resort, which is a city-owned 36-hole golf complex. Desert Willow Villas is not affiliated with the golf courses, although we were told that guests get a small discount on the daily fee. The Firecliff course at Desert Willows is ranked as one of the best public golf courses in Southern California.

On Saturday, I played The Golf Club at Tierra Lago - North Course (formerly the Landmark Golf Club). The course was in good condition and the fairways were cut very close so you got a lot of roll off of the tees. However, because the lies were so close in the fairway you really had to concentrate on hitting the ball first and taking a divot in front of the ball. I played my best golf. I played from the professional tees, which are 7,060 yards with a course rating of 73.7 and a slope rating of 137. I was hitting my tees shots in the fairway and the ball was rolling so I had a lot of mid-iron approach shots. I had 3 pars and 2 double-bogeys on the front 9 for a 44 and 4 pars and no double-bogeys on the back 9 for a 41 and a total of 85. Because of the high course rating and slope rating, my differential was 9.3, the first time I broke double digits! Also, I played another 18 holes without losing a golf ball. That is 54 holes in a row without losing a ball! As an admission against interest, on the 183-yard par-3 15th hole, I hit a low line drive tee shot that landed in the pond in front of the green and skipped onto the grass. That is clean living!

On Sunday I played the Firecliff course at Desert Willow. Firecliff is a city-owned course. Palm Desert residents pay $45 per round. The "rack rate" is $175 per round. I paid $125 using I would highly recommend this site if you are traveling to the Palm Springs area. The listed courses and prices were better than and The website also lists other cities, including Phoenix, but it simply defaults to the site for Phoenix. I was paired with a father and his two sons visting from Michigan. The course was extremely lush with wall-to-wall turf. The scorecard says that the course is irrigated with reclaimed water as part of a conservation effort, but it is still using a lot of water.

We played from the Blue tees, which are 6,676 yards with a course rating of 71.7 and a slope rating of 133. Because of the lush fairways the course plays longer because you get very little roll in the fairways. The course is known for its more than 100 bunkers/waste areas and I was in a lot of them! I started off reasonably well and was playing under bogey golf through 6 holes and shot a 45 on the front 9. On the back 9 I did not think that I played that poorly but I shot a 49 for a 94. It was my worst scoring round in quite a while, but I did not feel that I hit the ball badly. It was simply a difficult course with which I was not familar and I did not play my best golf. Most importantly, through 16 holes I was still playing my Titleist Pro V golf ball. But on the 71st hole, a 204-yard par-3 with the pin tucked into the right-hand side of the green, I aimed to the center of the green and hit my 1-hybrid, but the ball faded a little more than I wanted and barely landed in the water pin high. Good bye old friend!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Breaking the Barrier!

I think that I may be peaking too early for my journey to St. Andrews! I have played two rounds of golf so far in 2011 and I am playing my best golf ever. I shot an 84 at Papago Golf Course two weeks ago and an 86 at the Gold Course at the Wigwam Golf Resort last weekend. Hopefully, I have turned a corner and I can continue to shoot in the mid-80s and I just did not catch lightning in a bottle for a glimmer in time.

There are a few things that give me hope that this is not just a passing fad (I hope I do not come to regret those words in the future). First, I have played the same Titleist Pro V golf ball for 36 holes, which I am sure is a record for me. I am driving the ball straighter and longer than ever before. It is amazing how much easier it is to play when you are hitting your second shot from the fairway and do not need a driver to reach the green in regulation. Second, I was one over par through the first 7 holes at the Wigwam! (try not to do the math for the remaining 12 holes). I lost 5 shots on two holes because of two lob wedge shots that came up short and landed in the greenside bunkers. I either need to figure out how far I can hit the lob wedge and when I should use it or take it out of my bag forever. The lob wedge used to be my favorite club so I am not willing to give up on it yet.

Chad Feldheimer and I played Papago Golf Course. After my previous experience playing from the black tees, we moved up and played the blue tees. Papago is still a very good test of golf from the blue tees. It is 6,771 yards with a course rating of 72.0 and a slope rating of 125. Chad started out birdie-birdie and it looked like this might be the round that he shoots par or better and loses his "Chad Feldheimer" moniker. But he triple-bogeyed a short par-4 hitting a short iron into the greenside bunker and taking two strokes to get out of the bunker. He shot a 79, but hit the ball much better than his score indicated. I shot an 84 with two double-bogeys and 8 pars. I had a number of makeable birdie putts but did not hole any of them.

Last weekend The Gardener and I played the Gold Course at the Wigwam Golf Resort. We played from the Championship tees that are 6,830 yards with a course rating of 72.3 and a slope rating of 130. In the summer when the temperature is higher and the ground is harder and the ball flies and rolls further, we may try to play the “Monster” tees, which are 7,430 yards with course rating of 74.5 and a slope rating of 135. The Gardener had an off-day so I will not announce his score to my many followers. On the other hand, I was keeping the ball in play and hitting it pretty straight. I was one over par through 7 holes. On the par-4 eighth hole I was in jail and had to chip out into the middle of the fairway. I had 60 yards to the green and was thinking about making a bogey and moving on to the next tee. Against my better judgment, I pulled out my lob wedge and dunked the ball into the greenside bunker and made a 7 and shot a 41 on the front 9. I birdied the par-5 tenth hole and then proceeded to shoot 10 over par on the next eight holes for a 45 on the back 9 and an 86 total.