Pinehurst – finally!

As I have mentioned in previous posts I am an avid golfer. I grew up in a family where you learned to play golf and ski or you find a new family. I decided I liked my family so I didn’t fight it when parents put me on my first set of skis at age 3 and put golf clubs in my hands at age 6. I skied until about 10 years ago, when I decided I liked my body in one piece and risking the slopes with an aging body was no longer a smart play. Golf, although mentally taxing, is a little kinder on the body and has given me opportunities to see some of the most amazing tracks of land across this great country of ours.

I played my first tournament at age 8, and made golf my focus from that age on. I spent the summers on the golf course, while all my friends were hanging out a block away at the local pool. They were working on their tans and I was trying to hide my golfers tan. But that’s what comes with the territory of being a serious golfer. Living in Minnesota we had a very short golf season, but that didn’t deter our desire to play this crazy game. We spent our winters fixing clubs, hitting into nets and creating our dream courses on large pieces of tag board. Minnesota had one of the strongest junior programs of any state in the country, so we had plenty of tournaments to play in once the snow melted and the courses opened.

Our family of six had a standing tee time every Saturday and Sunday at our local course. My dad never missed a Men’s day and my mom – who got us started in this crazy game – never missed a Ladies day at the club. My Mom grew up in Duluth, and way back in the day, to earn a little summer fun money, she caddied for little known Patty Berg, one of the founding members of the LPGA. If Mom had only known back then what an icon Patty would become she would’ve stayed on her bag a lot longer.

My two next oldest brothers and I spent from sun-up to sun-down working on our games. If we couldn’t play, we took multiple shag bags of balls and headed to the largest fields we could find and pound balls hour after hour. Then head to the putting green and work on our putting, short game, sand game, and trick shots! Hey I took hot dog lessons when I was a young skier – so for golf I had to learn to hit every trick shot my brothers threw at me. They were pretty cool to let their little sis tag along, but they gave me one rule to abide by – ‘keep up’ – because they weren’t waiting around for me. So I learned to hit the biggest ball my 110 pounds of body mass could muster. It wasn’t anywhere near as long as they hit it, but it was enough to ‘keep up’ with them.

My oldest brother was more the team sport guy – baseball, football, basketball. But the stud athlete he was allowed him to play a pretty solid game of golf. My middle two brothers were the golfers of the family. They both had scratch handicaps for most of their high school years. One summer, the older of the two shot the course record of 63 on our home course. The next week, the younger brother topped that feat and beat the newly set course record by one.

Golf was such a huge deal in our family that for our high school graduation my parents gave us a choice between a week of golf at the most renown golf resort in the country, Pinehurst, or help in buying a car. My oldest brother took the car, but the two golfing brothers chose trips to Pinehurst. In the seven years since my oldest brother had graduated from high school, I put my all into the game of golf. My intent from the age of at least 12 was to become a professional golfer. I put the time and effort into achieving this goal, even moving to Arizona in my junior year of high school so I could practice year round. But what quickly became evident was that I was good, but probably not good enough to play at the pro  level. Or if I was good enough it would be a constant struggle of just trying to make cuts. I became burned out on the game and sadly hung up my clubs at age 18 for the next 5 years. No Pinehurst for me.

In the ensuing years I picked up my clubs again, and other than another 5 year break when my kids were born, I put enough effort back into my game to keep my handicap in the middle single digits. My husband took up the game after we got married. He played sparingly over the years with a very busy work schedule, but he was a strong athlete and made strong enough progress that in the last 20 years we have been able to enjoy some of the most amazing golf tracks around today: Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Pasatiempo, Bandon Dunes, Sahalee, Interlachen, The Ocean Course – but the one that kept eluding me was – Pinehurst.

Even though I willingly gave up the game of golf for a time, I never let go of the dream of one day wanting to play Pinehurst. Partly because Pinehurst was part of our families golf legacy, partly because of its place in history in the game of golf as a whole. Earlier this year we were invited by friends who belonged to Pinehurst to come play this iconic golf mecca. It took me all of 3 seconds to accept.

This has been my longest standing bucket list item – golf related or not. After 37 years of bypassing my opportunity to play Pinehurst for my graduation gift from my parents, last week I was finally able to check Pinehurst off my bucket list. We could not have hit better weather – 75 and sunny every day. Pinehurst now touts 9 courses in its’ line-up and was the location of the World Golf Hall of Fame from 1974-1998. Back when my brothers went, there were 5 courses with the 6th just about ready to open. My husband and I only had a few days, so we let our hosts pick the courses they recommended playing – as long as one of them was #2.

Pinehurst #2 is where it all happens. This is the course that has played host to several iconic US Open Championships and a myriad of other major tournaments. Champions list includes: 2014 US Women’s US Open and Men’s US Open played back to back – Michelle Wie & Martin Kaymer; 1999 US Open emotional winner Payne Stewart – there is a statue in his honor at the 18th green; 1951 – Sam Snead captained the winning Ryder Cup team.

The fairways are tightly lined with towering Loblolly Pines, and where their pine needles don’t fall in mats of slippery undercover, there are unending seas of waste areas consisting of the local sandy base with native wire grasses sprouting up like landmines. Not a hilly course, no water, but keeps your attention.

The greens are small, undulating, crowned and fast. We had a tough time keeping the balls on these upside down bowls – they were running at about 11 on the stimpmeter. For US Opens they run about 12.5-13. One of golfs most notorious sayings is ‘Drive for dough, putt for show’ – but at Pinehurst you need to put the ball in the fairway so you can hit your approach shots with the highest lofted club possible to have a chance of hitting a landing area about the size of a dime and keeping the ball on the green. Then work on your breathing – a lightly tapped putt is all you’ll need to have a chance of it dropping. Or take your lag putt and run to the next tee!

We played Pinehurst #6 first – this Tom Fazio designed course was the most benign of the three we played, but it still demanded big drives and aggressive approach shots. A wayward tee shot easily turned into a double bogey just getting back in play. But a good course to prepare for what was to come on #2, which we played on our second day at Pinehurst. We finished our tour playing Pinehurst #9. This Jack Nicklaus design incorporates every discipline available to this imaginative course designer – tons of water; winding, rolling, lush, tight fairways; deep bunkers with wet heavy sand; long narrow undulating greens; towering pines lining the fairways with beds of slippery pine needles.

My Pinehurst mission is replete. I came, I saw and I got conquered – mainly by #2. I would love an opportunity to go back, knowing what I now know of the course, and give it another whack!

I generally intertwine my pics throughout the post, but there was a story that needed to be told, supplanted at the end with a few photos of the adventure that was Pinehurst. More pics available to view in the Global Gallery.

Played #6 in our first round at Pinehurst. Shot a respectable 78 with 3 double bogeys. Should’ve stopped after this round.

The end of October #6 & #9 will play host to the LPGA Q-School Finals. Good luck gals!

The drive into the entrance of #2 just oozes iconic golf course.

One of the famed waste areas on #2. Try and hit out of it to a crowned green with a landing area the size of a dime.

Sure you can hit that fairway. And you better hope that you do, as the green is about the size of a nickel and sloped at a weird angle.

By the 12th hole, our scores were in the stratosphere, so we decided to have some fun and have a head to head – literally – putt off.

Still smiling after the round and enough energy left to do the famed Payne Stewart fist pump!

Uphill, long, dog-leg, tree-lined hole at #9 had us all taking the esteemed Jack Nicklaus name in vein.

But alas, we made it to through with our dignity and love of the game intact. Shooting a 41 with 2 double bogeys on my last 9 at Pinehurst was a bit of salve on the wounds from the previous 27 holes.

Luckily they make a tasty and strong margarita at the Ryder Cup bar at the Pinehurst Resort. All is well that ends well – at the 19th hole.

Golf: Oh the places it will take you!

The front image of my blog is of a golf ball lying inches from the hole – the closest I have come to having a hole-in-one in 42 years of trying. The image is an inspiration to keep trying. It’s the journey – not just the destination. This goes for everything in life – not just golf. As my smart-alack friends keep telling me – “…aim at the hole.” And one day that little white ball will go in.

The closest I've come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

The closest I’ve come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

Golf has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. In my family you learned to golf and ski or be very lonely while the rest of the family was hitting the long ball or shooshing down the slopes. Growing up in Minnesota was always a challenge to be an avid golfer. During the first signs of spring my three older brothers and I searched the large open fields in our small town for a patch of grass to show through in the piles of snow. We dropped our shag bag full of balls and hit balls into the snowy fields, preparing for the upcoming golf season.

My summers were spent, sun-up to sun-down at the golf course. If I couldn’t play, I was chipping and putting. While all my friends hung out at the public pool a block away perfecting their golden swimsuit tan lines, I was working on my ‘farmer’s’ tan. You could always tell a golfer at the pool. The weekends were sacred family golf time. Our family of six had two standing tee times – one on Saturday morning and the other after church on Sunday. A family bond was created that still binds my family together to this day.

As the years wore on, golf became my main sport. I played tournaments ranging from the local club championships to the USGA National Junior Girls Championship. In my junior year of high school I moved to Arizona so I could have the opportunity to play golf year round to see if that was what I wanted my life to be full-time. Instead I felt burn-out, and at age 18 I hung up my golf clubs – for about 5 years.

After that much-needed break from the game I returned with a refreshed outlook and desire to play golf – for fun. Golf had taken me to some amazing locations in my youth. But because of the tension tied up in trying to play well in the tournament that took me to these places, I never got to fully enjoy the surrounding area.

For me, golf is as much about getting to experience new places as it is in trying to play a great round of golf. Because of the years I spent as a youth working on my swing and my knowledge of the game, I have a strong foundation from which to tee it up with every time I step to the first tee. I’ve been able to hold on to hitting a long ball and keeping my handicap around a 5, but I’ve let go of getting upset with a bad shot. My frustration lasts only until the next shot instead of ruining my whole round, because I figure there are a lot worse places I could be at that given moment.

Over the years, my love for the game of golf has taken me to places that even the most ardent of non-golfers could appreciate. During the winter months in Minnesota, my brothers and I would take large sheets of tag board and design our own golf courses. If I had to do it all over again, I would have followed through on those dreams and become a golf course architect.

Instead, now I get to witness the creativity of some of the world’s top golf course developers and architects by playing golf courses like: Pebble Beach (California) with the rugged beach property that lines so many of the holes; Gleneagles (Scotland) with its deep gorse and wild grasses and naturalized setting; Interlachen (Minnesota) with its lush thick grass and towering trees that line every hole; Calusa Pines (Florida) with untouched swamplands and grasslands; Firerock (Arizona) a true desert golf experience with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Phoenix valley.

Mark Twain may have said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But he either needed an attitude adjustment on how to enjoy the game or was playing the wrong courses.

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The thick long wild grasses and gorse at Gleneagles, Scotland

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

The naturalized swampland and grasslands of Calusa Pines Golf Club, Florida

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

First and second holes of Firerock Country Club nestled into the desert landscape with the Phoenix valley and mountains off in the distance

Even though most traveling I do these days does not revolve around playing golf, most golf vacations I take do revolve around the location being appealing to the senses. If I am going to spend the better part of five hours in a specific area, it better offer me more than a just long strip of greenish grass with a tee box on one end and a 4 1/4″ hole on the other end.