Sand Valley Timeline

12/17/2014 0 comments

The KD's: My 2014 Hundred Hole Hike

7/06/2014 0 comments

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.

I turned 40 last fall and suddenly turned into a giant sap. It's like somebody flipped the switch to my waterworks "on" position, then the lever broke. I'm like Kevin Durant trying to give his MVP acceptance speech a couple months ago. Has anyone else experienced this?

With that in mind, it should be no surprise that as I walked down the 18th fairway of Ballyneal on Monday June 23rd, my 144th hole of the day, tears were rolling down my face. There was a lot that went into that moment, it is hard to really explain it adequately. But it was a moment for sure; the culmination of a lot of little things that led to a tidal wave to the tear ducts.

To keep this from being the single most depressing golf blog post ever, I'll keep it light by announcing the winners of the inaugural KD awards, awarded to the real MVP's of my 2014 Hundred Hole Hike.

The KD for Best Use of Neoprene goes Mueller ankle brace.

Truth be told, about a month ago I seriously considered backing out from my Hundred Hole Hike.

As fun and memorable last year's four hikes in 2 1/2 weeks were, I underestimated the toll that it would take on my body. What started as some mild pain in my left ankle during the first hike at Pinehurst gradually got worse by the end of the St Andrews hike 550 holes later. I figured I would just bounce back, but it just never got any better over the off-season. Combine that with an awful winter in Chicago and increased hours and stress at work, I lost the motivation and the time to stay in shape. It created a vicious cycle for my ankle. I climbed up stairs like I had a peg-leg. If I did anything remotely active like shoot around or play catch with my kids, I'd pay for it the next day. I'd been reasonably healthy, active and athletic for my entire life. Then I turned 40 and everything went to hell in a hand-basket. Emotionally and physically, I was collapsing faster than Tiger Woods's chase for Jack's 18 majors.

To make things worse, my golf game went along for the ride. The awful spring meant virtually no opportunities to get back into a groove. I played in a fourball event in mid-May as a part of a pre-HHH tune-up and was quite literally the worst golfer in the 32-man field.  I am fairly certain that our team would've scored more points if I had just caddied for my partner, because my only tangible contribution was reading his critical putts. I was playing dial-a-swing thought, trying to find something to hold on to. Every once in a while, it would work. Then the next swing with the same thought would go 80+ yards offline. Frankly, it was pretty embarrassing and, limping around, not a whole lot of fun. The prospect of stepping up to the tee box 150+ times and having no earthly idea where the ball was going to go did not seem very inviting. And even if I could hit the ball like Martin Kaymer, there was uncertainty whether I could physically walk that many holes in a day.

The only hope I had of making it 100+ holes in a day was with this black Mueller ankle brace that I bought prior to the Pinehurst hike last year. It was with me for all 550 holes last year and was a constant companion on my night stand during the offseason. I even consider sleeping with it on but never went quite that far. By now, it's a bit stretched out and loose, so it's hard to tell what good it does beyond a placebo effect and creating weird, uneven tan lines between legs. But without that added support, there's no way I would've even attempted 100. For helping me get to 144, Mueller Ankle brace...

KD for Most Valuable First Time Hiker...Matt Payne

My good friend Matt Payne left his post as head pro/GM of Ballyneal last winter for a similar post at True North in Harbor Springs, Michigan (yes, I cried when he told me). Matt has helped me tremendously and has been instrumental in making HHH what it is today. First of all, he was supportive of letting me essentially have the course for the Ben Cox 155 and the first two hikes at Ballyneal in 2012 & 2013. There is a reason we call Ballyneal the home of the Hundred Hole Hike, and that's largely because of Matt's early support. Additionally, Matt caddied for 108 holes in the Ben Cox marathon and came to my rescue in 2012, caddying the final 20 holes when temperatures reached 108 degrees and I wasn't sure if I could make it. I was thrilled when Matt wanted to hike at True North for the Michael J Fox Foundation to honor a friend with Parkinson's.

As sad I was that Matt left Ballyneal, I was happy to have him relatively close in Northern Michigan. A couple of weeks prior to the hike, when I was really uncertain about my ankle and my ability to do 100 holes, I spotted a cheap fare to Traverse City and put together an improptu golf weekend. It was really going to be the test of my game and my legs.

Getting "Enghy" with Matt at True North was great fun, even if we did get "Stephen Ames'd" in a fourball match (our ground games did not translate well there). More importantly, we realized that we were both were entering our respective hikes with the same mindset we had back in 2011 -- with no real idea how many holes we could play and whether 100 holes was even possible. That uncertainty was in some ways refreshing. I left Michigan after three days with a renewed energy and optimism to simply do the best I could. For that, Matt...

The KD for Most Valuable Nine-Hole Hiker in a Cart...Ben Cox

I knew this summer's hike would be extra special for two reasons: my family would be there and Ben Cox would be back hiking again. Ben played 7 1/2 holes of the front nine back in 2012. This year, he was determined to finish all 9 holes of the back nine.

Ben hiked on Sunday morning, the day before our main event. At dinner the night before, he talked about his hike preparation, equipment changes and swing thoughts, just like any other golfer anxious before a big round. He asked about my ankle -- I tried to downplay it, but he sensed it was an issue. He offered up some encouragement, saying, "a chiropractor told me, 'pain is in the brain'". After spending time with Ben and being reminded of his passion for life, his faith, his wife Steph and the passion that still burns for golf, there was no way I was going to fall short of 100 on Monday. Ben had been through far worse than a little ankle pain and was still chugging along, in many ways better than ever. 

Of course, Ben killed it during his HHH on Sunday. I think he was determined to show off for his wife by draining some long-range putts. Here is a great pic of Ben ripping his first drive of the day.

For your encouragement and inspiration, Ben...

The KD for Most Valuable Hiker Dad...Kenneth Cox

I can't mention Ben without mentioning his Dad Ken. These two are like Frick and Frack.

The set-up process for each and every one of Ben's shots in his adaptive care is a lengthy one. Ken served as his caddie and swing guru, dutifully setting him up for each shot.

You really need to watch this video in its entirety to start to get an appreciation for what is involved in getting Ben set-up. Then multiply that by 50-60+ times to get a sense of what is involved for Ben to hike nine holes.

 I wrote about this at length back in 2011 in what is probably my favorite blog post (see here: I actually read it every Father's Day just to remind myself how far I have to go. There is patience that you and I deal with on a daily basis and there is next-level patience that only comes out of true love and a special bond between father and son.

 For showing us the difference time and time again...

(And for giving us the photo of the year...)

The KD for Most Valuable Non-Hiking Lefty...the previous owner of my Mizuno MP-54 Irons

Possibly the only silver lining about being a struggling golfer is that you can always blame the arrow and not the Indian. Why actually work on your game when you can just buy a new one?

I had reached that stage of desperation leading up the hike and was eyeing some new irons. It's tough being a lefty and finding/trying golf equipment. I usually only buy used clubs to avoid making an expensive mistake.

I was eyeing some used Titleist AP-2 irons that seemed almost too-good-to-be-true easy to hit. A Father's Day family outing to the golf store (yes, this is what we do on Father's Day and my birthday) led me back to the used club section. Lo and behold, the Titleist irons were still there AND all used clubs were 25% off.

I was all set to buy them when I spied another set of lefty clubs out of the corner of my eye. They were leaning against the rack instead of on it, so I flipped one over to see what kind of club it was. Mizuno MP-54! The one set of clubs I would buy if I going to buy new. My buddy Tom and I drooled over these things at the PGA show back in January. I can't even describe to you how random finding these clubs at that store at that moment was (there are only two sets of these on eBay right now). And better yet, they were $150 cheaper than the Titleist irons.

I'm happy to report that although many parts of my game were erratic during the hike (my scores were all over the map: 82-89-75-80-92-86-83-80, with 10 birdies), my iron game was consistently strong. My lower scores towards the end of the hike were a result of abandoning the driver for the most part and simply hitting four-iron where possible. Hmmm...something to be said for that.

So for giving these up for adoption, unknown left-handed west suburban golfer...

The KD for Most Valuable Caddies...Deyten, Olivia, Xander, Brad, Tito and Jesus

I discovered early on that one way to get this out-of-shape lug around the course a little quicker is by employing two caddies at the same time. One carries that irons, forecaddies and yells out yardages. The other carries the two wedges, putter and driver or club needed for the next tee.  With only 8 clubs split between two people, I don't bring a golf bag. It's an interesting sight having a caddie entourage follow you around for some mediocre golf. And though it's not essential, given how wild I am off the tee, having someone locate my drives before I get there is a big time saver. Kudos to each for going multiple rounds, especially Dayten for being there at 4:40 AM for the first shot. 

For keeping me pointed in the right direct and sane at the same time...

The KD for Most Valuable Pledgers...Ross, Matt B, Alan, Jaeger, Todd, Ben, Frank, Gary, Neil, Chris, Jeff, David, Bill M, Jake, James, Geoff, Norm, Jerry, Nick, Teddy, Matt S, Kevin, Shane, Scott, Rob, Howard, Bill S and George

Thank you for your support and partnership in this journey. I would've liked to have made it to 155 holes and would've really like to have made a few more birdies and a couple of eagles, but I did the best that I could. Together, we raised over $11,000 for the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy and the Evans Scholars Foundation. That is going to have a real impact on giving kids opportunities that may never have had that chance. All through our shared passion for this great game, a lot of miles and a bunch of three-putts.

For anybody who wonders what it is like to play and walk 100 or more holes in a day, I've found it to be a Molotov cocktail of the power of adrenaline, perseverance, prayer, physical challenge and fear of failure with a lot of golf in between. The pledges are the fuel that keeps you going, knowing that every hole means money for a good cause.

For being that fuel, fellas...

[Note: this award is open-ended and has plenty of room to engrave more names. If you want to add your name to list, there is still time to pledge your support. Just follow the link below or click on the 'Pledge Thru Me' button on my HHH profile page:]

The KD for Best family

As I mentioned, this year's hike was extra special because my wife and kids were out there with me for the first time. Hundred Hole Hike has become a big part of our family life, often the focus of our dinner-time conversations and night-time prayers. I'm very much a work in progress as a husband and father, but I think discovering HHH as a vehicle to use my passion for the game as a way to help people has been a life-changing event.

Though they didn't really play an active role during the hike, the kids managed to show up at just the right moment to offer encouragement. "Dad!" I hear from a distance and see these kids bounding towards me to give me a big hug. They asked how many holes I had played or how many more I had to go. 

As I was on the back nine of my 6th round, I received a text from my wife Sue. "We are headed out on hole 1". I was excited because this meant that I'd probably run into them on the golf course, by my estimate the 3rd or 4th hole of the next round.

About 35 minutes later, I hit a 6-iron down the left side of the first fairway to start my seventh round. As I reached the fairway, I noticed a foursome of golfers in the far right side of the fairway -- it was Sue and the kids! In 35 minutes, they had played 1/2 a hole.

"Dad!" I can replay the sound of those voices over and over in my head. You fathers surely know what I'm talking about.

"You are literally the sixth group to play through us on this hole," Sue mentioned.

After a day of playing a golf hole literally every five minutes, I stopped to smell the roses for a bit. Instead of just playing through, I played the 109th hole of the day as a fivesome at a snail's pace. It was the highlight of the day, by far.

One thing that I haven't mentioned yet is the weather was absolutely perfect all day. Quite possibly the nicest day of golf I've ever experienced at Ballyneal. What a God send! It was 78 degrees, blue skies and very little wind. The perfect day for walking 40-50 miles. With the weather, a good early pace, no blisters (thanks Kentwool!) and an ankle that was holding up, I started pacing myself. I had 155 in my sights the entire time, but was really just trying to finish up by 8:30 PM. It allowed for the little siesta with the family on the first hole.

What I had taken for granted was just how quickly the weather can change in the Chop Hills. As I reached the back nine of round 8, the sky turned ominous and storm clouds were brewing just south of the golf course. A laser-light show was going on just past the 13th green as we got there.

I had a decision to make. I had played 155 holes in each of the first three marathons. It was looking like that wasn't going to happen this year. I feared mostly for my caddies. I contemplated dropping them after round 8 and finishing the last 11 by myself, with most of the front nine further north of where the storm clouds were. Finally after reaching the 16th green in the far southeast corner of the property, I realized the storm was too close for comfort. I called in to Sue and told the caddies that we'd be stopping at 144 holes.

One funny thing about the hike is that each hole becomes a bit of a story in and of itself. It's like a 8- round boxing match. There's an ebb and flow to each hole as you reach it, remembering what you had done up to that point, trying to repeat past successes and avoid past pitfalls. Case in point, during the course of the day I had hit six excellent shots on the par 3 15th hole. I even hit the flagstick during one of the early rounds. I had a 8-15 foot putt on similar lines just past the hole nearly every round, and every single time I misread the putt. Every time it defied the laws of physics and broke back right near the hole. Every time I chastised myself for not getting it right.

So finally on the 15th hole of Round 8, I knew it was my last shot and was determined to make a birdie. I put a great swing on the ball, reach the green and saw it was four feet behind the hole and rammed it in the cup. Vengeance!

Even sweeter, fellow hiker Bill Straub tweeted a special bonus pledge of $50 per birdie during the 8th round. I responded by playing some of my best golf of the day, birdieing the 2nd hole (a rare event) and narrowly missing one on the 3rd. I followed the birdie on the 15th with another on the 16th. Suddenly I was only 4-over par. I even hit two good shots on the brutal 17th hole but made a dumb bogey (after hitting the green in the first round and making a special pledge based on the 17th-hole greens-in-regulation, I didn't come within 120 yards of a GIR for the rest of the day until barely air-mailing the green in Round 8).

The 18th hole was one 8 round fight where Ballyneal was Mike Tyson and I was Glass Joe. I blocked my drive into the junk left in six of the first rounds, duck hooked into the junk right in the other one. Knowing this was my last hole of the day, I dusted off the driver one last time and gave myself a pep talk, "Cmon, just one good swing." And by some miracle, it actually worked. I gave out a primal scream as the ball soared down the left side of the fairway. Let's par this sucker, record a 76 and call it a day.

In the fading light, I could see people walking down towards the green in the distance. Sue, the kids, one of the other hiker's family and a couple hikers were there to greet me and the other hikers who were wrapping up right behind me.

"Yeah Dad!"

I was floored. That's when the wave of emotions hit me. Walking up the fairway, I thought about how this almost didn't happen. I thought about about the brain HAD conquered the pain. I thought about how this little grassroots golf marathon idea has raised $1.4 million in four years and has made a real impact on people in need. Most of all, I thought about the hug I was about to get from three rugrats and the kiss from one beautiful, supportive woman.

But first, I have to hit this shot on the green, two putt and get out of there. Or skull it into the face of the front bunker, chip over the green into the thick junk, advance the ball a foot, hit the next shot two feet swinging right-handed, chip up and make a snowman. Take a guess which happened. I found out the hard way, it's hard to hit a golf shot when you're crying.

But in the end, it didn't really matter. The reward was the same...

For pushing me to want to do better and be better every day...

I came away from this Hike with a real sense of accomplishment and a renewed sense of energy. I am firmly committed to blowing the doors off in 2015 and making it the best year in Hundred Hole Hike history. In some sense, I want to see how much more growth we can handle, find the "right" number of fellow hikers, turn over every stone in our collective golf and media network and try to reach as many people as possible. And I'm going to find out what's up with my ankle and get it right during the upcoming offseason.

There's no way I can manage this alone, so it will likely require finding an efficient way to split up some of the duties. I hope that you can find a way to help make next year's hike a smash success. 

[Please consider pledging your support to my Hundred Hole Hike for the Solich Caddie & Leadership and the Evans Scholars Foundation. Both are worthwhile causes that provide opportunities for young people through caddying. 100% of your pledges go to these organizations and you can choose to give to one or the other or split amongst the two.

You can pledge by clicking on the 'Pledge Thru Me' button on my Hundred Hole Hike profile page here:]

#Hackgolf: My idea for growing the game

5/08/2014 0 comments
At the PGA Show in January, I attended the unveiling of TaylorMade's #HACKGOLF initiative focused on growing the game. Admittedly, I was initially skeptical about TaylorMade's apparent sudden streak of altruism. From this outsider's perspective, for years it seemed that golf's shrinking pie wasn't much of a concern to the TMAG CEO Mark King, as long as his piece of that pie kept growing at the expense of other manufacturers. Eventually TaylorMade must've realized that wasn't a sustainable long-run business strategy. Eventually, they'd have to focus on growing the size of the pie.

Almost four months later, and @HackGolf has about 2,600 followers and its website has 1,400 ideas submitted on its website (which I looked at for the first time just now and it does look pretty slick). I'm not sure what Mark King's expectations were but those numbers seem low to me.

It seems that the ideas were currently running with are the 15-inch golf hole and the soccer/golf mash-up Footgolf. Although I'm pretty far down the purist spectrum, I'm not really opposed to either idea. However, one thing that has been eating at me lately is this: how in the world did they settle on 15-inches as the right number? That just seems absurdly big to me, to the extent that it would actually do a disservice to chip-in's, hole-out's and even aces. My 12-year old son who has played less than 10 rounds of golf in his life and could not break 130 would have a hole-in-one if he had played on a 15-inch cup. But is that really a good thing, or does it cheapen the accomplishment? (as my kids have entered the youth sports stage, I'm growing more and more frustrated with watered-down accomplishments. What I call the Lowest Common Denomi-nation.) What if he had hit a perfect shot that would've been an ace on a regulation hole, only to be downgraded to golf's equivalent to shooting fish in a barrel?

Playing with my kids, I can see the merit in a larger golf hole. One of the most frustrating things as a kid (and sometimes as a parent) is that they often zig-zag the golf hole when putting because they can't get any putt started on-line. Often times they zip the ball past the cup and wind up further away then when they started. The margin of error is just too thin for beginning golfers on four and five footers. I've seen my kids have a reasonable chance at an elusive par, only to 11-putt from less than 20 feet. This usually leads to frustration. Sometimes it leads to tears. A 15-inch hole definitely solves this problem. But I would argue that a 6-inch hole might very well be good enough.

So while these outside-the-box ideas might make a dent, my take is the basics of the game don't have to change in order to save golf. Part of the appeal of golf is the size of the hole seems just about perfect to me. I happen to like putting. I happen to be pretty good at it. There is a sense of accomplishment when correctly reading a 20-footer and demoralizing your opponent at the same time. If anything, slowing the greens down, introducing some contours into the greens and make putting fun as opposed to terrifying might just do the trick (see Bob Carney's take on

But I digress.  Instead of focusing on the size of the golf hole, I wanted to revisit my initial reaction to the #HACKGOLF launch:
Four months later, my stance hasn't changed. I caddied one summer at St. Charles Country Club outside of Chicago. My love of the game was cemented on Monday mornings that year. Many of my best golfing friends were introduced to the game in the same way. Some of these guys didn't have parents who played and never would've been exposed to the game otherwise.

More subtly and perhaps more importantly, caddying at a private club exposed me to a world that I was completely unfamiliar with. St. Charles CC was by far the nicest place I had ever set foot on in my life. Suddenly, I was faced with having to interact and have semi-intelligent conversation with successful adults on a regular basis. Some of that must've had an impact on me. That last point is probably even more important today, considering a 13-year old kid could go a whole week without making eye contact with anybody.

The truth was, I was a miserable caddy. I was hooked on playing the game to such an extreme that watching others play golf for four hours was torture. Especially getting up at 5:30 AM to do it. I only lasted one summer, but I was hooked with the game for life. But I can look back at caddying that summer and say it was a life-altering experience that in many ways shaped who I am today.

Over the past two years, I had been thinking quite a bit about how to grow the game and wondering if there was a way to use my One Divot charity to support these growth efforts. Last winter, we sponsored an auction fundraiser and raised over $18,000 for the Midnight Golf program in Detroit. I continue to seek out those types of opportunities to partner with junior golf programs. Personally, I am also looking to start a junior golf club at the middle school in town, something that received an enthusiastic response from the faculty members that I brought the idea to. Hopefully we can get that up and running next fall.

Still, the majority of my recent grow the game thoughts have centered on the caddies. If the rise of carts and the decline of caddies is a root cause of the decline of the game, is there a way to reverse that trend? Is the horse already out of the proverbial cart barn (sorry)? Are U.S. golfers so far gone the proverbial cart path (last time, I swear) that there's no turning back? Are courses today so overwatered and expensive to maintain that they absolutely need the cart revenue to survive? Is anybody in the golf industry willing to invest in an initiative that might take 15 years before it starts paying off?

I am fortunate to live in Chicago, the epicenter of caddie golf in the U.S. Thanks to the work of the Western Golf Association and the Evans Scholarship Foundation, the caddie-club culture is still going strong here. I was thrilled to do my four Hundred Hole Hikes last summer for both the Evans Scholars here and the Solich Caddie and Leadership Academy in Denver last year, and I'm planning to hike for the same two causes again this summer (see for more information).

Last summer, I got to spend some time with members of the WGA and meet some prospective Evans Scholars at Cantigny Golf Course in my hometown. I got to see the great work that the WGA is doing and how it is literally changing the lives of those who get the scholarship. I knew I wanted to hike for the Evans Scholarship and help in any way that I could.

There was one other thought that I came away with that day: what about the caddies that don't get the Evans Scholarships? What happens to them?

That might seems like a negative take on the WGA, but I don't intend it to be. They have limited spots and go through a rigorous process to select the most deserving candidates. I'm sure there are young men and women that they agonize over having to turn down. I couldn't help but think about the kid whose only real hopes for college were pinned to getting the Evans Scholarship. What if he or she felt short? Was there a way to help someone like that, or more generally, help caddies save money for college?

That is when I landed on my idea for #hackgolf: Caddie529

As its name suggests, Caddie529 would be a 529 college savings plan geared for caddies. Essentially, it is a way for caddies to decide to set aside a portion of their caddie fees to go directly into a 529 savings plan. A few key points:

- For the caddie, it is a public declaration that the he or she is serious about investing the future.

- Golfers/members can request a "529" caddie for loops and know that they are likely getting someone who is responsible and committed, as well as knowing that some or all of the fee that they are paying will go directly into a college savings fund. Maybe knowing the money is going to a good cause leads a golfer to try walking with a caddie instead of automatically taking a cart. Maybe that golfer realizes that he can, in fact, walk 18 holes and enjoy it. Anything that could lead to more golfers walking is a plus in my book.

- The program would have to start at the club level -- club's could differentiate their caddie programs and attract responsible young caddies by being a part of the caddie529 network.

- Some percentage of funds set aside by the caddies would ideally by matched by the caddie's home club, One Divot and corporate sponsors, offering return on investment right off the bat. The club could set aside a fundraising day geared towards raising money for matching funds for its caddies -- either a Hundred Hole Hike, charity outing, auction, or other fundraising method. 100% of the money raised by a given club would be distributed to its caddies. Centrally-raised funds would be distributed to all caddies on a pro-rata basis.

- The program would not compete with the Evans Scholars, as someone who is awarded an Evans Scholars could use funds for a 5th year in college or for graduate school studies. 529 funds can also be transferred to other beneficiaries.

- One key aspect of 529 plans is they can be used for a wide range of post high-school education programs, such as trade schools or technical schools. Similarly, Caddie529 could be used by anyone looking to invest in his or her future.

- I'm a firm believer in a good logo. This is what I scratched together -- the 5,2,9 is meant to represent the look of blade irons as a caddy is presenting them to his golfer (though no caddie worth his salt would have those three clubs next to each other). The caddie part would look like that old cursive script you'd see stamped on irons from the 60's and 70's.

- Is it caddie529 or caddy529?

One big draw that I see with caddying is that it offers one of the earliest opportunities for young people to work, with most starting at or around 13 years of age. With respect to college savings, obviously the earlier someone starts the better. Hopefully families are already saving for their kid's education, but for some caddie529 participants, it could be their first foray into investing and financial management. There would seem to be a good opportunity to partner with organizations or financial institutions to teach these young men and women about financial literacy.

If the club and corporate matches are significant, I could envision a big push (perhaps by parents, but that's okay) into caddying as an employment option. Some portion of those new caddies are going to fall in love with the game. Some may be future members of the clubs that they caddie at. Hopefully clubs can take the long-view and get behind this concept.

The idea is admittedly still in its infancy and there are questions about how it would work logistically and how to structure it in order to take advantage of the tax benefits already inherent with 529 plans. I honestly do not have the expertise or the resources to take this idea to the next level. One aspect of the #hackgolf initiative that I did enjoy is the open-source format of it. Instead of sitting on this idea and trying to find time to make progress on it, I'm hoping that brainstorming about it here might lead to someone running with the idea and bringing it to fruition. I'm happy to discuss any thoughts on this idea -- you can comment below or reach me at to discuss further.

Dream Another Dream

4/26/2014 0 comments

Final routing, 8/21 Update
12/3 Update: David McLay Kidd was selected to design the second course at Sand Valley. The northern section of his course cuts across the middle of my propose routing.

Routing 2.0, 4/29 Update
Original Routing 4/26

More Google Earth fun...this course is in Wisconsin.

Dream a Little Dream: A Second Golf Course at Ballyneal

4/17/2014 0 comments

It has been one long, long winter in Chicago. Usually the Masters signals the unofficial kick-off to the golf season in Illinois. This year...not so much. Snow on April 14th and 15th. Lovely.

Despite a relatively lackluster Masters tournament this year, the juices were still flowing. What does a golf addict do when it's too cold to play outside? Work out? Maybe tomorrow. Post on golfclubatlas? Lurking gets old fast. How about scoring Google Earth for hypothetical golf holes? Bingo!

Over the course of the last year, I've been enamored with a plot of land in the Chop Hills south of Ballyneal. Over the summer, I carved out a little test plot, created a crude topo map and tried to find some golf holes. I slapped something together (see below), but ended up reaching a dead end. I felt that I had to go scour the actual land to get a better feel for the size of the hills and what was golfable land vs. too choppy to be of much use.

So early one morning last May, I borrowed my buddy Brandon's car, drove a couple miles south of the Ballyneal gate, turned off on a sandy road, realized I was in the wrong spot, tried to turn around I mentioned last year, five minutes into my design career and it was over before it even started.

Any time I get the design bug, Brandon is quick to remind me what happened last time. This past week, in an act of golf desperation, I took a fresh look at putting together another 18 holes at Ballyneal. Armed with some better topo information, I quickly realized that a lot of what I put on paper last time wouldn't work. It was back to the drawing board for at least two-thirds of the course.

As silly as it sounds, routing a hypothetical golf course is tough! It can be an all-encompassing exercise. I couldn't sleep. I stared at a small version of the topo on my phone until I got too frustrated that you couldn't zoom in past a certain point, borrowed my wife's iPad and stared at it for hours on end. Somehow I managed a work trip to New York and coherently presented to bank regulators. On the plane, I used a sketch app to draw lots of criss-crossing lines representing potential routing options.

Eventually, I landed on something. Originally I purposely staked out land that avoided a proposed course that Bruce Hepner did for Ballyneal a few years back. I envisioned my course as a third course for the club. However, as I started to think about different options, I gravitated towards using a combination of holes between my original routing and Bruce's proposed routing. With his blessing, I started exploring that as a viable options. Then the pieces started to come together. In the version below, holes 4-11 are from Bruce's routing.

Counting golf club atlas design contests, this is the fourth full course that I've tried to route on paper (I'm sure it shows). I highly recommend any golf course architect fan to give it a shot, because through the process you'll gain a heightened respect for the guys who actually do it for a living (and think about other things like water, costs, environmental concerns, construction, etc). At a minimum, you'll get a glimpse at some of the trade-offs involved when trying to piece together a 18-hole golf course. There's been a lot of talk about golf course architecture "ideals" lately, and you won't get very far until you're faced with making a compromise. For example, in the latest iteration of the routing below, I ended up scrapping a potential par 5 that would've been the best hole on the property. I just couldn't get to that spot and finish with 18 holes or without making a sacrifice somewhere else. I'll keep thinking on that one, for sure, as well as making other changes to the course over time.

So below is where I'm at right now. Over time, I'll add to this post hole-by-hole details and any iterative changes. Feel free to reach out to me with feedback or suggestions. In the meantime, does anybody have a few million dollars to spare?

UPDATE: A new addition to the property. Introducing Cattle Ranch: the 7-hole, multiple configuration golf course with an 18-hole putting course.

5/4 Update: Made changes to the 6th and 14th Holes

Food for Thought: Would this be the best 18 hole golf course in the world?

3/30/2014 0 comments
There's been some interesting and sometimes heated debate on about the whether a golf course needs to finish where it started. One recent example of this "open-jaw" routing is the Red Course at Dismal River, a Tom Doak-design that opened last year.

That led me to wonder if some of the top courses in the world could be improved if they didn't have returning nines or didn't finish close to where you started. It didn't take long for my head to hurt. But one thing I did land on...could you come up with a composite course at Bandon Dunes that made sense from a routing standpoint and maximize on some of the best holes at the resort.

Below is what I've come up with? It uses two holes at Old Macdonald, twelve holes at Pacific Dunes and four holes at Bandon Dunes. It starts on the 6th hole at Old Macdonald and finishes with the glorious 13th at Pacific Dunes.  There seems to be good variety, pacing and moves back and forth to the ocean throughout the round. There are six par 4's in the middle of the round. The routing seems perfectly walkable with few awkward transitions.

1: 6th at Old Mac (5)
2: 7th at OM (4)
3: 14th at Pacific Dunes (3)
4: 15th at PD (5)
5: 16th at PD (4)
6: 2nd at PD (4)
7: 7th at PD (4)
8: 8th at Bandon Dunes (4)
9: 4th at BD (4)
10: 5th at BD (4)
11: 6th at BD (3)
12: 11th at PD (3)
13: 12th at PD (5)
14: 4th at PD (4)
15: 5th at PD (3)
16: 6th at PD (4)
17: 3rd at PD (5)
18: 13th at PD (4)

Might this be the best 18 hole golf course in the world? Discuss.

Characters: Hundred Hole Hike featured in Links Magazine

3/22/2014 0 comments

Hundred Hole Hike was featured in the Spring 2014 issue of Links Magazine. Jeff Neumann did a nice job describing the history and the motivating factors behind our little charitable golf event. Above is the picture of me in my den that ran in the magazine.

The Hundred Hole Hike is well underway and we are looking for more golfer, more venues and more charitable causes to support. If you'd like to join the army of hikers this summer to raise money for a charity of your choice, please contact me at

To read more about my four-pronged HHH adventure last year at some of the best golf venues on the planet, please check out the following:

More Hundred Hole Hike:
Part One: Pinehurst
Part Two: Ballyneal
Part Three: Cabot Links
Part Four: St. Andrews

Hundred Hole Hike in February 2014 Golf Digest

1/16/2014 0 comments
In case you flipped right to Phil's 4 steps to land drives in garbage cans and lead the PGA Tour in plunked fans, or checked out the Korean-invasion in the magazine's first foray to rank the Top 100 golf courses in the world, you may have missed the Hundred Hole Hike mention on page 14 of the February 2014 issue of Golf Digest. Akin to Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd, Golf Digest attempts to highlight "Golfers Who Give Back" by using golf as a vehicle to help others.

Hopefully this will help generate interest in the event and drum up more future Hundred Hole Hikers. We are off to a great start in 2014 with 21 golfers hiking at 13th Beach in Australia on January 23. And there are many other exciting possibilities that I hope to announce soon. If you're interested in learning more about the HHHike, please go to or email me at

Here is the screen grab from the digital issue of the magazine. Have fun determining which guy has the biggest forehead:

While We're Young: My 2013 Hundred Hole Hike (Vol. 4 St. Andrews)

7/15/2013 0 comments

There it was, in big, beautiful, upper case letters at the top of the page:

OLD COURSE - Thursday, 04 July 2013


Though the St Andrews Hundred Hole Hike was months in the planning, the reality didn't hit home until I saw my name at the very top of the Old Course ballot. I was wrapping up my fourth and final leg of this 17-day adventure with 100 holes at the Home of Golf. On the 4th of July. With arguably the world's greatest living golf-course architect (and personal favorite) Tom Doak? How the heck did this happen? This was more than just a golf event for charity; it was like a fantasy camp experience.

Just getting on the Old Course ballot in the first place is tough enough. The process seems to be a deeply shrouded secret. Getting out as the first group on the Old...that was a dream come true.

My friend and fellow hiker Josh was the point-person in organizing the hike.  He's worked with the University of St. Andrews over the past few years and has close contacts with the Links Trust. The Links Trust set up a great plan to get us to 100 holes.  First, an early start at the 9-hole Balgove, then the aforementioned Old Course, then over to play the Eden and Strathyrum (I still can't pronounce it correctly), then rounds on the Jubilee and the New Course. Those are the six courses managed by the Links Trust that are in the middle of town (the Links Trust recently added the Castle course just outside of town, but that wasn't on our agenda).  The in-town courses got us to 99 holes -- the plan was to finish late in the day with the first hole of the Old Course to get the group to an even 100.

Rounding out the foursome was David Watt, an instructor for the Links Trust and the golf coach at the university. Both Josh and he were raising money for a new golf scholarship at the school, named after CB Macdonald. Throughout the day, David had honors off the tee by default, and showed us other hacks the general path to follow.

Of course, the star of the show was Doak, recent Michigan Golf Hall of Fame inductee, noted author and arguably a member of golf course architecture's Mount Rushmore (discuss amongst yourselves). Doak counts six world Top 100 courses to his credit: Pacific Dunes, Barnbougle Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, Old Macdonald (w/ Jim Urbina), Ballyneal (boom!) and Sebonack (site of the recent US Womens Open, co-designed with Jack Nicklaus).

I leaned on Tom about hiking back in January, joking that he was contractually obligated to participate as the 2012 Walking Golfer of the Year. Honestly, it didn't take much arm twisting. I've found Doak to be very supportive of charitable golf efforts, particularly those that expose our great game to young people who might not otherwise get the chance. For example, his firm built a three hole practice course in inner-city Detroit, and he donated a prize in the fundraising auction we did for the Midnight Golf program there. CommonGround in Denver was another huge success story, turning a nondescript former Air Force course into arguably the most fun public tract in Denver. Like me, Doak decided to hike for the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy at Common.

A hike at St. Andrews was also a big selling point for Doak. As part of a grant he received from Cornell to study the world's great old courses over 30 years ago, he caddied at St Andrews for a couple months and spent a good chunk of that time picking the brain of the old superintendent. The Home of Golf holds a special place in his heart, with the Old Course as the origin for much of his design ethos.

An interesting sidebar to the hike at St Andrews were the recent changes made to the Old Course, designed to protect against someone shooting a 59 in the Open Championship held there once every five years. Bunkers were moved and contours were altered and the famed Road Hole bunker was modified in the first grand scale changes to the course aside from lengthening in nearly 100 years.

The changes were covertly announced the day after Thanksgiving by the R&A and started immediately after, with little opportunity for public debate on the need for such changes. Many likened the changes to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa (a phrase R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson himself used to describe new tee boxes added in 2002). A #savetheoldcourse twitter campaign was launched (by me) and gained some steam. Purists argued that instead of carving up these cathedrals of the game, why not finally slow down the golf ball and/or equipment?

While most architects toed the company line, Doak was the most outspoken against the changes. He wrote letters to industry groups, architectural societies and an open letter to the people of St Andrews, who are the true owners and stewards of the Old Course.

Including Doak in the hike here might have been viewed as a controversial decision in some circles. I imagined #savetheoldcourse picket signs, him staging a lock-in in the new Martin Hawtree bunkers on the second hole, or me offering a shoulder for Doak to cry on upon seeing the changes made to the famed 11th green. Thankfully, the event went smoothly and without issue, and seemed to be a huge success for everybody involved. For me, the entire day seemed like one supersonic blur.

We met up at the Balgove course at 5:00 am on Thursday, Josh and I pulling up in my rented Peugeot speedster with the worst GPS system known to man ("They heard he plays fast, so they gave him a sports car," Doak remarked. My knuckles were too white from driving on the other side of the road to actually enjoy it, and mostly deferred to Josh to drive.) David parked on the other side of the lot, and Doak surfaced from the early morning fog carrying a Mackenzie bag with the only six clubs he brought across the Atlantic. Five minutes later, we were hitting our first tee shots of the day.

Playing speed golf in a foursome and without caddies was a new experience for me. Playing 100 holes in a day was completely new for my playing partners. We didn't really have a game plan for day, we just kind of settled into a rhythm by trial and error. Doak struggled with the pace for the first few holes and made some big numbers. I failed to get the golf ball more than five feet off the ground, but it was going in the right general direction.

The Balgove is a 9-hole practice (or practice) course designed for families and beginners, and as a par 30 with some 245-yard par 4's, would normally be ripe for some birdie or eagle bonuses if we weren't skunking it around so much. As expected, David led the way with one birdie and a 31. I had a 34, Josh had 38 and Tom brought up the rear with a 41, but with one birdie. The 9-hole round took us 42 minutes to play.

From there, we zipped over to the famed Old Course for our main event. We arrived 20 minutes ahead of time, and a number of golfers had assembled near the starters hut to fill in open spots on the day's tee sheet. We strutted confidently towards the first tee, knowing we were in extremely rare company with a 6:20 tee time, ten minutes before the normal first time.

Standing on the one of the most famous first tees in all of golf, I was quickly reminded just how big our little grassroots efforts had grown. I the heck did this happen? To top it off, while standing on the tee, three different people approached our group and asked, "which one of you is Jim Colton?" Two of the guys, Ben and Andy, we're GCAers. Ben works as the starter, Andy was visiting from DC on a golf trip. The third guy was Allan, who brought a large bag with breakfast for each member of the group, courtesy of Herb Kohler and the Hamilton Grand building beyond the 18th green. Finally I brought some value to the foursome, even if it was just free bacon sandwiches and coffee.

Rounding out the entourage were  Chris, who overheard Josh talking about the hike at a pub the day before and asked, "wait...Jim Colton is here?" and Simon,  a friend of Tom's and, from what I could tell, Scotland's reigning Mr. Congeniality. Simon came to caddie for Tom on the Old Course and ended up sticking around for half the day -- he probably would've sucked around for all 100 if his wife hadn't been 8.97 months pregnant.

We all hit our opening tee shots -- Tom finding the burn down the right side, my worm burner ran a good 220 yards (fescue!) and finished just short of the water, and our posse set off down Broadway (how many golf blogs can work in a pre-"Baby Got Back" Sir Mix-A-Lot reference?) Chris immediately grabbed Josh's bag and headed down the fairway. About 100 yards off the tee, Andy looked back at me dragging my bag and reluctantly offered to take it, like I was the last single bridesmaid left at a wedding reception.

Just like at Balgove, my swing tempo was way too fast and I could barely get the ball airborne. I didn't find much trouble though, and managed to score well. The last (and only) time I played the Old Course back in 2000, my wife and I waited at the starter's box for five hours in 45-degree temps. Once I finally got out, I promptly double-bogeyed the first five holes. Here, I started out with five 5's, then rolled in a birdie putt on 6 and drove the green on the 7th to within 15 feet of the pin -- except it was the pin for the shared 11th hole. A three-putt par from 180 feet, followed by two 4's on 8 &9 and I had made the turn in a respectable 40. If I could match the 37 I shot on the back nine in 2000,  I'd have something to brag about.

Not so fast.  We made the turn and my fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse. It all started innocently enough on the 10th, as I hit a seemingly okay approach shot that just ran through the green. Instead, the ball got hung up in the tall grass, with my stance leaving the ball at sternum-level. I had to step up a small ledge to determine where my ball was, then step back down and blindly swing where I thought the ball was. As you might expect, this did not end well.

It turns out, I probably should've just played my tee shot on the 7th into the 11th hole and just finished in from there. When I played the hole for real, a slappy 7-iron found the Strath bunker and everybody else in the group instantly groaned.  "Your over/under is five from there," Simon remarked. "Or six," Tom quickly chimed in. I hate it when Tom is right.

The rest of the back nine was like a grand tour of all of the mysterious bumps, hollows and hazards of the Old Course. All of those bunkers that look like they are there for no particular reason at all? Well, I discovered the very reason: to add numerous strokes to my score on July 4, 2013.

The clotted cream in the tea was the famed Road Hole. There are a lot of golf holes in the world, but only a handful of Once-in-a-Lifers -- holes that you think about months in advance with shots that you really don't want to screw up. The 16th at Cypress Point probably takes the cake, but other examples include the 17th at Sawgrass, 12th at Augusta and 18th at Pebble Beach. The Road Hole has to be the Par 4 representative in this pantheon. Golfers would give up their partner's right arm for just one divinely-intervened swing that propels the ball over the shed and around the corner. Everything else in the round is secondary.

Unfortunately, this is doubly true for bad shots. I'm still haunted by my duck hook into the Pacific at Cypress three years ago. And I will now be tormented by the following topped shot that went a grand total of ten yards on the greatest par 4 on the planet.

Unfortunately, it didn't get much better from there. I managed to hack my way out of the tall rough, then played cautiously up the right side of the hole.  My fourth shot ran through the right side of the green and ended up on the clay path between the green and the Road. I then tried to play a touch shot from the path, but left it short and on the bank of the green. To this point, I had played 474 1/2 holes with a wide assortment of scores, but had yet to make a single quintuple bogey. One chip and three putts later and that streak was o-va. Add another three putt on the home hole for good measure, and my final tally made me want to pull a Bobby Jones and rip my scorecard to shreds: 40-55 95.

In sharp contrast, Doak was right at home at the Home of Golf and it showed. After a bogey on the first hole, he hit a great drive down the middle on the 2nd. His approach shot barely cleared the Hawtree bunkers (usually it's bad form to wish ill on your playing partners, but all seven of us were openly rooting for his shot to go in one of those bunkers, just for comedic purposes. Doak's birdie effort hung on the edge, which is probably a good thing -- if 10-handicappers like Doak keep birdieing it, what's next? A bunker in the middle of the green, a la Riviera?)

Tom kept the party going by hitting the flagstick with his second shot on the par 5 5th, leading to a routine birdie, then rolling in a 15-footer for birdie on the short par 3 8th. This. Doak. Is on Fire!!! That could be a song, if anyone would be lame enough to write a song about a golf course architect.

Watching Doak play links golf, it's no wonder why he builds his golf courses the way he does. The dude is a short-game maestro. I think he truly does see greensites like Neo. He is deadly from about 75 yards in, usually hitting a bump n run shot with his 7-iron. He surveys the land, takes a gander at the slope right around the hole, goes back to his ball, then takes some mini-waggles with an open stance. You can almost see his bionic brain churning through all of the physics equations involved. Then he pops the ball and it always seems to take the contours the right way, propelling up any slope with just enough pace left over to finish within four feet of the hole. He's just as deft with his old-school putter, dying the ball at the hole from the high side like his good friend Ben Crenshaw. Only a surprising miss from 4 feet on the last hole kept him from posting a 79. Still, it was an impressive showing and extremely fun to watch.

We had played the Old Course in about two hours and five minutes. If I hadn't been so busy hacking it around on the back nine, we might've finished before the rains had come down. We had gotten the full assortment of Scottish weather before 8:30 AM, and we ended up finishing the last three holes in a pretty steady downpour of fat, round raindrops. Because our rounds were spaced three hours apart, we had plenty of time to get dried out and get geared up...except by the time we reached the first tee of the Eden course, the rain had completely stopped. Welcome to Scotland.

The Eden course, designed by Harry Colt, is a fun and sporty course with some good birdie opportunities. It is also personally noteworthy as the 150th course I've ever played back in 2000 (yes, i keep track of these things...I'm up to 343 now.) I decided that I needed to slow my swing down to about a third of its previous speed and start trying to hit golf shots. I was already beginning to feel like the fourth wheel, trying to keep the group score (and often falling 3-4 holes behind), usually hitting last off the tee and thus giving my partners a 25-30 yard head start down the fairway. With 180 miles already on the odometer and a minor foot injury sustained while running on the 8th hole on the Old Course, there was little chance of  me catching up.  With the wind blowing, I rarely could hear the conversation my partners were having - at one point, I know Simon told a great story about Donald Trump, but I missed about 90 percent of it. Sometimes Doak would turn his head my direction and make some comment -- for all I know, he could've been revealing his deep, dark design secrets, but all I could do is smile and nod like I understood what he was saying. My only hope was to start hitting some greens in regulation. I ended up with my best round of the day, a 40-40 80. Simon turned from caddie to track coach, and had us practically sprinting down the last hole to finish under two hours.

From the Eden, we went to the Strathyrum next door, another shortish course that was seemingly ripe for the taking.  The Strath is billed as a "friendly introduction to links golf". I'm billing it as an "unfriendly introduction to the agony of the four putt". Similar to my quintuple bogey, I had managed to go this entire saga without a four jack, then I had two of them in a three-hole span, both coming from rushed putts missed from less than a foot away. The first was painful, as it came on a par 3 that I nearly aced, my shot landing short and left of the green, bounding then rolling right towards the cup, then disappearing behind the flagstick for a nanosecond before scooting about eight feet by. From possible ace to implausible double bogey just like that. "You need to work on your shorties," Simon quipped.

Doak, on the other hand, continued his strong play, and growing in confidence, actually started overpowering the Strath course. He had some good eagle looks and was hoping to pad the stats with some "cheapie birdies". Interestingly, Doak had generously made a pledge in support of my hike, with a per-birdie kicker. He added the note, "You can make as many birdies as you want at Ballyneal, as long as you don't make more than me at St. Andrews." At the time, I thought nothing of it. I was humming along with 28 birdies and an eagle through 449 holes. Certainly, I get outplay and out-birdie Doak on the day, right?

Wrong. Doak's 78 bested my 82 at the Strath course, and he was beginning to pull away on me on birdies and score. Links golf had exposed the weaknesses of my game, and I couldn't keep up with Doak's short-game wizardry. To top it off, after nearly every birdie that I did get, David would roll one in right on top of me. It was uncanny.

However, the most humbling moment of the day didn't come on the golf course, though one might think a 97 on the Jubilee course that I'm just now taking editorial liberties to gloss over would do the trick (at least Tom shot 97 as well, though he did have the shot of the day on number 9, hitting a 5-wood to about two-feet in a 35 mile per hour crosswind.) No, I was cut down to size after the round, as we sat in the clubhouse resting before our last full 18 on the New Course. I was sitting at a table with Doak, attempting to add up the carnage on our scorecards. Tom, busy nursing some blisters, took one sideways glance at the scorecard, then faster than Rain Man could count fallen toothpicks, said, "so, I had a 44 on the front."

I was floored. Not only has this guy seen and played nearly every great golf course in the world. Not only has he forgotten more than I'll ever know about golf course architecture. Not only was he taking me to school on the golf course. He's going to out-math me as well? Do I have to spend the rest of my career looking over my shoulder, wondering if he's going to barge in the office and start building better capital models too?

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. For our round on the New Course, I proposed that we play a fourball match with the logical teams being David & Josh (Team St. Andrews) versus Tom & me (Team Solich Academy). After the grind on the Jubilee and the miles and hours starting to wear on us, plus with no real sense of urgency left -- 100 was a foregone conclusion, a match would be a welcome change of pace. And of course, I was hoping to harness some of the match play magic that I had at Cabot Links, where I waxed my buddy Harris 4&2 in my seventh round (his second).

Early on, it was all going as planned. I birdied the opening hole, and parred the third to give team Doak & Dork a 2-up lead. From there, it was a see-saw battle. David birdied the 4th hole to get it to 1-up, then it was all-square after six. Doak's game had deserted him, and I was forced to try and carry the team, not exactly my strong suit. We won the 8th hole, then Josh, who had struggled for most of the day, came alive at just the right time. All four players found the green on the majestic uphill 9th, but only Josh found the bottom of the cup in two.

We responded by winning the tenth, but David squared the match again with a birdie on the 11th. We pulled ahead on the 14th, then Josh, playing with a loaner driver from David, finally figured out his timing and started crushing the ball. The closing holes were playing into a tough right-to-left wind, never my thing, and I was faced with having to hit clutch shots off the tee.  One blocked shot, which admittedly was very likely at the moment, and the match would've been effectively over. But I was able to pull off the bunt drive that Schulte taught me back at Ballyneal, and on the 15th and 16th holes, was right next to Josh in the fairway. And on both holes, I failed to hit the green from total green light positions. I'm still dumbfounded.

There was still hope though. On the 16th, with the match all-square, I found the pot bunker short of the green. By this time, our old friend Ben was done with his shift as the starter and decided to join us the rest of the way. He was doing his best to boost my confidence and will a par out our team down the stretch. I hit a bunker shot that Ben called "Mickelson-esque"...unfortunately my 5-foot par putt that slid right on by and incredulous reaction reeked of Phil as well. All of a sudden, we were one-down with two holes to play.

The 17th hole on the New is a tough 211-yard par 3. Tom, Josh and I all hit tee shots that leaked left and ended up bouncing into the tall grass. David missed the green but was in good position to make 3. Either Tom or I had to make a par.  Only about 25 feet away, but to a pin tucked just over a steep slope, our work was cut-out for us. "This is a tough place to try to get up and down," Tom admitted. "If he's already thinking that, then what chance do I have?" I thought to myself.

Tom hit first and hit a decent shot, the ball scooting up the slope a little bit and ending up on the front of the green, about 10-12 feet from the hole. I knew I had to do better.  I opted for the chunk and run with my lob wedge, and judged it just right. The ball rolled up over the mound to four feet away. A clutch shot under the circumstances!

Tom putted first and pulled his shot to the right. I was really, really hoping he would make it.  I had a putt on a similar line and aimed at the right edge. I'm brutal with right edge putts, but was convinced it was the right read. I had been playing too much break for most of the day. There was no way this putt could break outside the hole.

And of course it did. The putt curled sharply to the left by the hole, and just like that, the match was over. A 2&1 victory for the home team. I don't think Doak will be asking me to be his Ren Cup partner anytime soon.

The silver lining was the match was a blast and, more importantly, it had the desired effect of creating a much-needed distraction to get us from hole 82 to hole 99. Now, it was back to the Old Course to finish it off.

At one point, very early in the day, we joked about sprinting down the first fairway to see who could finish the hole first, something Tom had done once out at Ballyneal. Hours later, there was an unspoken pact not to bring up that idea ever again. Hitting into a bright, setting sun, we teed off one by one. Doak. Evenson. Watt. And finally Colton.  My drive was sliced badly, but thankfully there is a ton of room. My ball rested about 10 feet from the out-of-bounds stakes on this 110-yard wide fairway. Both David and I hurried to hit shots towards the first green while golfers on 18 tried to hit their closing tee shots.

A couple minutes later, we were putting out as a group for the 100th and final time. On the first green of the most historic golf course of them all. At that point, it didn't really matter what the scores were. It didn't really matter that I violently lipped out a 25-foot putt for par (but it still stings a little). We went into the day not really knowing what to expect, and 15 hours later, we were at the finish line. I made the final putt, and it was handshakes, smiles and hugs all around.

While Tom, Josh and David all now had a nice round '100' next to their name, I was sitting at a somewhat awkward '549'. It just didn't seem right to end then and there. So I walked over the 18th tee, approached a nice family that was just coming off the Road Hole green, and said, "Excuse me, I just finished walking 549 holes for charity, do you mind if I join you for this last hole to make it a nice round 550?"

They kindly obliged my request and I hurriedly hit one right down the middle. They were a nice family from South Africa, and had quite a posse of their own. Father. Two sons, roughly ages 13 & 17. And Grandma (she could rip it) all played. Mom and two sisters walked along, undoubtedly recording the day with 1,000 pictures. As they stood on the Swilken Bridge for the obligatory picture, I couldn't help but think that THIS is what it was all about. This was the very heart of golf. Links golf brought this out in people. Links golf is what binds us. If you couldn't help but laugh and smile at St. Andrews, no matter the weather, no matter the score, then maybe you should be taking up another game.

A lot had happened to me since I last stood on that bridge in 2000. I had just gotten married and was only a few years into a career. A couple years later, we had our first of three kids. My game ebbed and flowed. Sometimes I loved it. Other times, I hate to say I hated it. I really struggled to find the right balance between golf, family, career and faith. The Old Course was an experience, for sure, but I don't think I quite understood what it meant at that time.

In contrast, over thirty years ago a young Tom Doak walked these same hallowed grounds. He knew what he wanted to be. He just didn't know how it was going to happen. But living and working in the town, he understood what I didn't get until I was staring at three generations of random South Africans. Doak got it and set out to spread the age-old principles of the Old Course to others, notably to U.S. golfers who had been inundated with target-golf, cart-ball, real-estate driven clones. One of the courses Doak built was Ballyneal, my home away from home and one of the truest links golf experiences in the U.S.

It's not hard to see the great circle of life here. Doak lives at St. Andrews. Doak builds golf courses. Doak builds Ballyneal. Colton joins Ballyneal. Colton meets Ben Cox, walks a lot of holes for him. Colton forms Hundred Hole Hike. Colton hikes with Doak at St. Andrews.

One more the heck did this happen?

I'm not exactly sure, but I sure hope that it happens again. In the meantime, I'll be practicing my 7-iron bump and run.

Finishing with a par on the 550th hole

More Hundred Hole Hike:
Part One: Pinehurst
Part Two: Ballyneal
Part Three: Cabot Links

Note: I walked 550 holes for charity as part of the Hundred Hole Hike, a charity golf event that I founded in 2012. I am raising money for the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy in Denver and the Evans Scholars Foundation. If you'd like to support my hike, please go to the link below and click on any one of the "Pledge Thru Me" buttons on the page. Also, please review any of the 84 other hikers participating for a variety of worthwhile causes.

While We're Young: My 2013 Hundred Hole Hike (Vol 3, Cabot Links)

7/06/2013 0 comments

Walking up to the 10th tee at Highlands Links, Stanley Thompson’s masterpiece in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, I finally approached the twosome that I had been dawdling behind for most of the front nine. They were in the middle of a conversation with the woman at the halfway house (someone they obviously knew) and offered to let me play through. Of course, I obliged. As I pulled my club for this short, downhill par 3, one of the gentlemen offered, “Take an extra club…this hole always plays longer than it looks.”

That didn’t really compute, but I was on foreign soil. Maybe downhill shots played longer in Canada. Who was I to question the local knowledge? Instead of clubbing up to Pitching Wedge, I kept my gap wedge and swung as hard as I could.  The ball was solidly struck and with the help of the right-to-left wind, started tracking at the pin. “Be good,” I said emphatically (only because I thought my first choice, Hal Sutton’s eponymous “Be the right club, tu-DAY” might be lost on my new friends from the North.)

As the ball descended, I thought about how cool it would be to make an ace during my first round of golf in Canada. I thought about how a ‘1’ on the scorecard would help offset the ‘12’ I wrote down just three holes earlier (more to come on that). And I wondered how fast I would blow through my carefully-calculated allotment of International data, messaging and phone minutes --  most notably with a long-winded “EEEEAAAGGGLEEE…on a par THREEEEE” voice-mail to my buddy/adversary Jefe (seeing it’s me, and knowing generally when I’m on the golf course, he’s pretty-much stopped picking up my calls for this very reason.)

Just as I was wrapping up these thoughts, the ball landed on the back fringe, then took a mini-hop to the back-edge of the green, a good 35-feet past the hole. I stared at the ball on the green, staying in my post-shot position for a couple beats longer than normal, like a slugger who’d just been rung-up looking on a questionable strike to end a baseball game.

“Well, I guess I forgot to the factor in that you’re left-handed,” the man explained.

Hold the fort...I’m getting left-handed grief in Canada? I thought this was the land of the lefties? After 30-years of hearing every “wrong-side of the ball” variation known to man, I thought I was in a safe haven here. Nope…still singled-out, ostracized and oppressed. The story of my life as a southpaw golfer.

Why start with this seemingly insignificant golf story? Because it was really the only time I felt like an outsider during a very enjoyable and memorable four-day journey to Nova Scotia, which included the third leg of my four-part Hundred Hole Hike at Cabot Links.

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