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One Perfect Day in Kohler

8/28/2006 0 comments

Ahh…Kohler. One of my favorite places on God’s green Earth. Herb Kohler is the man.

For those of you who don’t know, Kohler, Wisconsin is a small town about 40 minutes north of Milwaukee. It’s home of the Kohler Co., the kitchen and bath fixture company. Every building in the area has the name Kohler attached to it. Kohler is also home of the American Club, one of the nicest resorts around. And most importantly, Kohler owns and operates four of the premiere public golf courses in the country, including the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, host of the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships and the 2020 Ryder Cup (yes, they feel the need to name these things 15 years in advance).

The first course out at Kohler was Blackwolf Run, which was built in the late 80’s and was later split into two courses, Meadow Valleys and the River course. The River Course is one of the best plots of land for a golf course, with big elevation changes and the Sheboygan River winding like a snake through most of the holes. Meadow Valleys is a little more open and user friendly, but the holes that were part of the original 18 are amazing (when Blackwolf Run hosted the US Womens Open in 1999, they used the original layout).

The River Course is probably the one course in the U.S. that I could play for the rest of my life and never get bored, it’s that good. I prefer it to the Straits course. My love affair with ‘the Wolf’ started in 1996, when I was fresh out of school and Jefe and I headed up for a day of 36 at what was then Kohler’s only two courses. And we’ve been going up there just about every other year on average until the prices went through the roof and pretty much priced us out of the market. We were there the first month that the Straits course opened in 1998 and again not long after the Irish opened in 2000. Including yesterday, I’ve played a total of 17 rounds on the 4 courses: 6 on Meadows, 6 on River, 3 on Irish and 2 on Straits.

Now, if Jefe’s brother Jimbo is the President of the Pacific Dunes fan club, Jefe would easily be the President of the Blackwolf Run fan club. As Vice President, I can serve in both camps. Each of the holes out there has a name, which generally is pretty hokey unless you have a course that backs it up. Jefe and I generally don’t even talk about the holes like ‘Meadow Valleys #15’, ‘River #9’ or ‘River #16’, we just refer to them as ‘Mercy’, ‘Cathedral Spires’, or ‘Unter Der Linden’. Most of the names just seem to fit the holes well, really showing the character of the course. It’s to the point that I could utter nothing but ‘Maple Syrup’ to Jefe in the middle of something unrelated, and he would instantly know what I was talking about, quickly pulling out every shot he ever played on that hole (Meadow Valleys #17) from his memory banks. If that’s not the sign of a good course, I don’t know what is.

To get the juices flowing for the trip, I had a little side project for Jefe and I to prepare for…coming up with a compilation course of 18 holes from the 4 Kohler courses, choosing the best 1st hole, 2nd hole, etc. A nice topic of discussion for the 2 1/2 hour trip on the way up…more on the results later.

As I mentioned, the prices at Kohler have gone through the roof, especially since the Straits course opened. A round at the Straits will cost you $325 with caddie, not including tip. River is $214 with cart. It was never cheap, but it has forced budget-minded golfers like myself pretty much out of the market. Thankfully, they do have some deals from time to time. In 2004, they had a 4th of July special and Jefe and I jumped at the opportunity to play Meadow Valleys and the River course in one day. And about two weeks ago, Jefe was sent an e-mail with a 2-for-1 offer during the week on Meadows or Irish, the two ‘lesser’ courses. We were originally slated to play a new course in Wisconsin called Erin Hills, a course that is already getting US Open buzz, on Saturday Aug 26th, but we scrapped plans to play there and opted for 36 at Kohler on Monday Aug 28th for $10 less. What a bargain! Erin Hills can wait until next year (we had been thinking of postponing regardless because the initial feedback is the conditioning of the course is rough in spots, almost as if they opened the course too soon).

So all was fine and dandy until a week ago when I get the following e-mail from Jefe:

“As I write this I am back in the office but in some serious pain. Right now the outlook for Kohler is bleak. I have shooting pains down my neck, shoulder, and into my back. Last night was brutal. I'm going to try and go to a chiropractor and see if I can get it worked out because I don't anticipate it getting better on its own to the point by Monday that I'd be able to take a full swing with a club.”

Because of the 2-for-1 deal and the fact that Jefe invited the two other guys, his former boss and this dude’s buddy, all of our hopes of Kohler golf hinged on the condition of his neck. It was a tense couple of days. I was confident that he’d get on the mend, and the chiro must’ve done the trick because by Thursday he had done a complete 180. It’s official…we’re in! Here’s the blow-by blow:

3:45 AM: Scheduled departure time to make our 7:00 AM tee time. The only thing that could get me up this early is golf. I set my alarm at 3:30 and as soon as it went off I was up immediately and getting ready. Good luck getting me up before 6:30 any other day. Would you get up before 4:00 AM, drive 2 ½ hours and walk 36 holes in one day? Jefe and I discussed this and decided that his brother and my wife (which is one of the primary reasons I married her) were the only ones we knew that would do this, albeit reluctantly. If you answered ‘Yes’ to this question, you are instantly my friend.

5:58 AM: First primal wolf howl of the trip, by Jefe. The first official sign that you are getting close to Blackwolf Run. Lame, I know. But that’s the effect that this place has us.

6:14 AM: Second primal wolf howl of the trip, by Jim as we enter the gates of the course. I couldn’t help myself. We haven’t changed in ten years.

We eschew the bag drop (a Colton/Tang tradition going 8 years strong) and head straight for the parking lot. Get checked in and head for the range, which as a rare treat was on the opposite end of the range…unchartered territory. Pretty quaint over there with just a handful of bays and a giant tree in the middle of the teeing area. They have the little mini-golf bags stocked with range balls and tables set up with towels, sunblock and little copper kettles with free tees…a nice touch. Jefe and I obviously jump at the chance to abuse the system by grabbing gobs of tees before heading out (and then some more at the starter’s house). It quickly becomes a contest to see who can gather the most tees. I think the four I grab off the cart we borrowed to get to the range put me over the top. I fully expected Jefe to grab the kettle, open up a zipper on his bag and dump them all in.

6:50 AM: Head back to the clubhouse, meet up with our playing partners John (Jeff’s former boss) and Jerry (John’s buddy), who had just arrived with only about two hours sleep. They opt for getting a caddie, who lugged both of their bags. Jeff and I hoof it on our own, but it’s about a mile and a half to the first tee so we bring the cart over there and drop it off.

6:58 AM: Starter begins his spiel about being ‘his’ most important group on the course…the pacesetters. I tune him out because I’ve heard the same spiel hundreds of times before.

7:00 AM: We’re off. Jefe finds fairway. I hit a good drive that goes through the fairway and into the fairway bunker. Breakfast ball…same result. Oh well.

7:12 AM: First triple bogey, by Jefe on the first hole. “Welcome to Kohler, Mr. Tang. Sincerely yours, Pete Dye” (Note: this is about an hour after Jefe’s personal mandate that he has to avoid making the big numbers).

Somehow, I manage to get off to a good start, parring the first three holes including a nifty up and down on the par 3 3rd hole. Then I birdie the par 5 4th hole to get into red numbers. Nice. Follow it up with routine pars on 5-7, missing a short birdie putt on #7 after being right in front of the green in two. I wish I had the putt back because I promptly hit in the water on the par 3 8th and make double. And it’s looking pretty grim after I hit in the large fairway bunker on #9, then hit the lip with my approach shot which sends the ball into the water again. But I somehow manage to get up n down with a nice wedge shot from 130 yards out and a 10-foot save for a bogey that felt like a birdie. Solid 38. Jefe bookends his triple on the 1st hole with a matching one on the 9th for a disappointing 45.

9:18 AM: First brat of the day, consumed by Jim. I half-jokingly ask the halfway-house girl if she had any brats ready and she answers with a ‘Yes’ that is more like ‘of course’, so how could I possibly pass? I guess this is how they roll in Wisconsin. Brats for breakfast. Of course, I’ve been up for almost six hours already so this might qualify for lunch. Quality brat regardless.

9:20 AM: First tee shot of the back nine, on ‘Quiver’, a ridiculously tight par four. I’ve played the course five time previously and I don’t think I’ve been anywhere other than in the trees. I manage to find the fairway. Hallelujah! Jefe too. This must be some kind of miracle. We both make par…my birdie putt from about 45-feet just lips out. I won’t complain about making 4 here.

I bounce back nicely on the 11th by successfully playing up the rough on the adjoining 16th hole (not intentional), hitting my second shot close to the green and almost chipping in before settling for a 3-foot birdie putt to get it back to one over. On #12, I have another great save after driving in the fairway bunker and being unable to advance the ball very far. Looking good…until the tough stretch of holes 13-15. I make a dumb bogey on #13 from the middle of the fairway with wedge in my hands, then make triple on the extremely tricky but awesome 14th hole, then fail to get up and down from just off the fringe on the brutal par 3 15th. From one over to six over in a flash. The dream is dead.

And it’s starting to look like I might not even break 80, as I hack and slash my way up the par 5 16th, but I hole a crucial downhill double breaking 25-footer for par to keep hope alive. I get through #17 with a pretty routine par, so breaking 80 looks pretty good as long as I don’t completely screw up 18. The 18th at Meadow Valleys is a sweet hole that has the river running down the right side of the fairway before crossing in front of an uphill green framed by large trees. It’s 395 yards but plays longer because you have to lay-up off the tee. I hit a nice hybrid off the tee, leaving me with about 175 yards to a back pin placement. It’s all or nothing. I smoke a beautiful looking 7-iron that draws in towards the flag, landing about pin high about 15-feet left of the stick. Yes!

11:35 AM: I roll in the birdie putt for a 38-39 77. What a great hole to birdie. This one’s going into the memory banks for good. I’m just thrilled to have bounced back from what looked like it was going to be a monumental collapse.

Jefe plays a little better on the back but ends up with a 45-44 89. It seemed like he was going to get it going on the par train on multiple occasions but a couple wayward shots and the inability to scramble (normally his strong suit) derailed him.

Although it gets much less pub than its highly touted sister, Meadow Valleys is an excellent golf course. It seems to be improving with age as well, growing in and getting some serious teeth. It’s probably the most forgiving course of the four, but that’s not saying much. The course rating from the back is still 74.6. The course was in absolutely immaculate shape when we played it – the greens were some of the smoothest and purest greens that I’ve ever played. It’s a travesty that Meadow Valleys fell off of Golf Magazine’s recent Top 100 Courses You Can Play (it was #56 two years ago). I’ve played enough golf to know a top 100 course when I see one…and Meadow Valleys qualifies. I demand a recount!

11:50 AM: We’re in the car and on the way up to Whistling Straits, which is about 10 minutes northeast of Kohler. I keep myself preoccupied copying the scorecard so we end up taking the scenic route to get there. No u-turns needed though…probably our first road trip without one in a long, long time.

12:15 PM: Check-in with plenty of time to grab a bite to eat, do a little shopping and hit a few putts before a teeing off at 12:50. At the front desk, they have shiny new yardage books for both the Irish and Straits courses. In 2002, the last time I played the Irish, I ended up shelling out $50 buying the old versions of the yardage books for Jefe and me at $12.50 a pop. The old yardage books are as voluminous as they were useless, just humungous spiral bound things that had two overhead views of each hole yet provided very little information. Seriously, you needed to adjust your swing accordingly if you carried one of these things in your back pocket. They must’ve heard the negative feedback because the new ones are absolutely fantastic, probably the best yardage book I’ve seen…and a relative bargain at only $10 each. I ask the attendant if I can trade a new one for this old behemoth that I slapped on the counter, but no dice. However, they did treat Jefe’s like it was some kind of ancient artifact.

12:25 PM: Second brat of the day. Very good. Although they have a little outdoor grilled area that was serving up freshly grilled burgers, chicken breasts and DOUBLE brats. That’s twice the brat! Unfortunately, I didn’t notice it in time. Maybe for dinner.

12:45 PM: We’re off to play the Irish Course. For some maintenance related issue, they have us teeing off on the back nine first, so we have to take a shuttle over to #10 although it’s not that far away.

12:46 PM: John claims that he likes Meadow Valleys even better than the River Course, and Jefe and I instantly jump all over it. ‘No way!’ Jefe screams. ‘Blasphemer! Blasphemer!’ I yell. Even John’s buddy Jerry turned on him. It was eerily similar to when my father-in-law Ken claimed that he liked Bandon Dunes best out of the three courses in Oregon, and Jimbo and I beat him to a bloody pulp.

12:50 PM: We’re off for round no. 2. After grabbing some more tees, Jefe belts one down the fairway to get off the good start. It’s a slight dogleg left so I ask him if I should try to hit a (dreaded, low probability and generally disastrous) fade. He advises against it but I try anyways, launching one about 310 down the left side of the fairway. No breakfast…or lunch ball needed.

First, you need to understand that the Irish course and I have some history. I’ve played it twice before, and to say that the Irish course ‘owned’ me would a major understatement. My two previous scores: 86, 84. Ugh. One more less-than stellar round and I would’ve been resigned to the fact that it was just one of those courses that I could never play well. It’s probably the toughest of the four courses out there, just because of the quirks and tricks that Pete Dye put out there. To compensate for the lack of Lake Michigan frontage, Petey pulled out all the stops. He even admits to using every trick in the book on the Irish. If you veer even slightly from the beaten path, the Irish will jump up and bite you (just ask Jefe, who ended up going 43-45 88).

So with that as our backdrop, I head down the 10th fairway with hopes of redemption but only mildly optimistic about posting a decent score. But I'm off to a good start on #10, only about 110 yards and a lob wedge left to an uphill green. I hit my approach shot a little phat, but it makes it to the front of the green. Jefe is kind enough to give me a 'DiMarco', which is particularly nice in this instance since the putt is up then down this huge mound. Jefe runs his lag about 12 feet past the hole, so I play it conservatively with about 5 feet of break and it ends up within tap-in range.

Number 11 is a long par 3 surrounded by trouble and I smoke a 5-iron right at the flag and it ends up about 10 feet past the hole. Man, I've been hitting my long irons and mid-irons well. Roll that bad boy in to get it to red numbers again. Always good to get off the birdie schnide early. I get the monkey off my back and it frees me up to make more. Usually if I go deep in the round without making one, I start to press a little bit, which is never a good thing. Recently I've been hitting the ball great and putting terribly, which has been extremely frustrating from a scoring perspective.

On number 12, Jefe takes the scenic route to the green, driving right and caroming off the cart path to give himself an opportunity to hit at least one shot off the Straits course which is right on the other side of the mounds here (the 14th and 15th holes). I'm glad he did because we got to see the black sheep that graze the property...they've all convened around the 14th green. Check out the picture below. I don't know what you'd do if there were a bunch of sheep blocking your hole. Do you just soldier on? Can I get a ruling?

Meanwhile, I keep up my solid play with fairways and greens, fairways and greens. Again, a lot of missed birdie opportunities. I miss 10-footers on #13, #14 and an excruciatingly painful 4-footer on #15 after a beautiful approach that dances around the cup. That hurts. On #16, I make my first mistake of the round, leaving my approach too far left and it stays up on this mound instead of catching the slope and feeding towards the hole. Bogey...back to even. I finish #17 & #18 with routine pars for a solid 36. 8/9 Greens in regulation. 6/7 fairways hit. Numerous birdie opps. I'm not complaining.

One thing about the 18th...I love Pete Dye but this has to be one of his worst designed holes. It's a 550 yard par 5 with little or no risk or reward aspects. I hit a monster drive about 300 yards only to be left with the prospect of having zero chance of reaching the extremely uphill plateau green. There's a creek that winds across the fairway around 75-100 yards out. Across the creek is a huge uphill slope with basically no flat spots. Come up short and you're probably going to roll back to the 75 yard mark again. And you don't want to be hitting a 3/4 wedge to this green either. Staying short of the creek is no bargain because there is just a sliver of fairway that winds in front of the creek. I had nearly every club other than putter and driver in my hands at some point trying to figure out where to hit my second shot. Finally I decided on hitting SAND WEDGE to lay-up short of the creek, leaving LOB WEDGE for the third shot. Driver...Sand Wedge...Lob Wedge. Not much risk-reward there. Not much fun either.

3:30 PM: (Yes, 2:40 minutes later) We take the shuttle over to the front nine, where it's fortunately more of the same for me. I'm hitting the ball a long way off the tee and it's setting up no more than pitching wedge into the greens. I hit gap wedge to about 15 feet on #1, ram it past the break but made the 3 1/2 footer coming back. Flirt with the water off the tee on #2 with a 3-iron, but this leaves only lob wedge to the green and I hit it to 15 feet again. Downhill putt that looks like it's going to roll forever but I somehow manage to leave about 4 inches short. Then on #3, a short par 3 that I'm 0-for-2 lifetime in hitting the green, I hit gap wedge to about 20 feet. Jerry manages to saves par with a 40-foot bomb that went up and down a giant ridge, with bonus points for his creative commentary before, during and after the stroke. Then I proceed to follow his lead by holing out for birdie (with equally creative commentary and a Tiger Woods-inspired haymaker). Back in red numbers! Good times.

#4 is a tough 450 yard dogleg par 4 and I hit a decent drive but it's still about 180 yards out. I hit 6-iron a little fat and it ends up short of the green close to the bunker. Jefe and I are a little stunned because it's the first mishit I've had in awhile. I have a tricky little up and down put I play a mini flop shot that scoots by the hole and ends up about 4 feet past. Huge, huge putt here to keep this party going. It's amazing what a big up and down can do for a round. 4 feet feels like 10 feet but I manage to hole it out center cut. Keep the dream alive!

So I'm feeling good about the big par save and get up and rip it on the par 5 5th. I take the aggressive line that shortens the hole tremendously. I have 201 to a tucked right pin and I hit 5-iron towards the center of the green the checks up about 25 feet from the hole. Eagle putt! For some reason this green is sanded over...that's not cool. I line it up, say my prayers, but it slides just by on the left. Tap-in birdie. Two under, four holes left. Yikes!

The sixth is another short par 3 and I hit gap wedge again...right over the flag. Jefe provides the commentary: 'Radar. Locked and Loaded'. It looks closer but is actually about 15 feet past the hole. My birdie putt slides by right for a tap-in par. Still two under, only three holes left.

I'm feeling pretty good right now. Not too worried about falling apart like at Prairie Landing (see my Diary of a Golfer here) a month ago, where I was 4-under through 10 holes and missed a 6-footer on the last to shoot 72. Things are looking promising because 7 is pretty short, 8 is a par 5 and 9 is probably just a wedge if you hit a good drive. But I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself. I hit 3-iron off the tee but it ends up left and gets hung up on the lip of one of Pete Dye's 1,100 bunkers (call it bunker #894). I hack my way out w/ 8-iron but it's still 80 yards from the hole. Unfortunately, no up and down magic here. Bogeyville.

And #8 isn't much better. Maybe I am feeling a little tight under the collar. I yank my drive right and it ends up in the tall grass. I try to punch a 9-iron over to the 9th fairway, but it's in the rough and I can't really see the green or tell how far away it is. I opt for 9-iron but it's short and left. Bogey. Back to even.

Thankfully, I manage to bounce back and rip one about 300 on #9. Only 80 yards left and I hit lob wedge to about 15 feet. He's got a chance!!! But the putt slides by left, but a simple tap in for a 36-36 72. Not my best golf score ever, but easily my best round of golf ever (confirmed by Jefe). 14 Greenies. 10/14 fairways. And the smooth, sweet taste of vindication! Jefe understands the struggle, the journey and the gravity of the situation and we awkwardly embrace like Tiger and Stevie (without the tears...but it was getting misty). All is good in the world.

This round was also validation of everything that I've been trying to accomplish this golf season. Validation that the round at Prairie Landing wasn't a fluke. Validation that I still need to work on closing out a round when I'm under par. But I fully expect that it's going to happen with increased regularity, and soon I won't have to bore you with all of the details when it does.

Two weeks ago I was ready to hang em up after a horrible two-week period of rounds in the low-to-mid 80's, capped off with an agonizing 82-83 in the Prairie Landing Club Championships. Then something snapped and I've been playing extremely well since. My last six rounds: 75-76-75-76-77-72, all with little to no contribution from the short game. This is literally the best ballstriking period of my life. Could be a fluke, but I hope it's a trend.

And I can't really pinpoint any one cause for this dramatic turnaround, but I have a few theories. First, I bought a Medicus training aid (the one with the hinge in it that collapses when you're off plane or take it back too quickly). Normally I'm not too into training aids but I got paired up with some guys who swore by and I was desperate for something to get me back on track. Seems to work...best $80 I ever spent on ebay.

Also, seeing Tiger win a major in person (see my blog from Sunday at Medinah here) had at least some effect on me. Seeing him so focused and so committed on every shot, despite all of the hoopla surrounding him and the magnitude of the event is what really impressed me the most. Tiger probably has more talented playing left-handed than I do, but there's definitely one aspect that I could try to mimic. John commented that I was just going about my business, to the point that he was dying to get at least one sign of approval from me. My telling him 'nice roll' on a quality lag putt pretty much made his day.

On the evening before we left, I got the opportunity to take my son Jordan out to play a quick nine holes after dinner. What a blast! Jordan rode along in the cart, chipped a little, putted on every hole, watched me through my laser range finder, walked through numerous bunkers and even mimicked the Sergio jump from the 1999 PGA Championship. He even played his first real hole from beginning to end, scoring an 11 on the 14th at Prairie Landing, a short par 3 from the forward tees. Pretty good for a 4 year old! Watch out Tiger.

Two things I learned from Jordan that evening. First of all, it just renewed everything I love about the game in getting to share it with my son. At the end of the day, you should be having fun (as most golfers can attest, this is easier said than done.) And second, I learned that playing with a four year old is probably the best way to build some mental fortitude. Try making a solid stroke with a toddler yelling, 'Look Daddy! An airplane!!!' in the middle of your backswing. I played the ten holes with Jordan even par.

So thank you Jordan. Thank you Tiger. Thank you Mr. Medicus. Thank you Herb Kohler. And thank you to Jefe's chiropractor. This round's for you.

The Kohler Dream 18:

As I mention, Jefe and I independently worked on coming up with a compilation course taking the best 1st hole, 2nd hole, etc from the 4 Kohler courses. Not surprisingly, our courses were not that dissimilar from each other, but there were some key differences. I tried to keep mine a traditional par 72 with 4 Par 3's and 4 Par 5's. Jefe didn't constrain himself at all, which led to a par 71 (5 par 5's and 6 par 3's). Here are the results:

JIM Par YD NAME HOLE JEFF PAR YD NAME
River 5 564 Snake 1 River 5 564 Snake
Irish 4 372 Giant's Leap 2 Straits 5 592 Cross Country
Straits 3 183 O'Man 3 Straits 3 183 O'Man
Straits 4 455 Glory 4 Straits 4 455 Glory
River 4 419 Made in Heaven 5 River 4 419 Made in Heaven
Straits 4 391 Gremlin's Ear 6 River 4 361 Jackknife
Straits 3 214 Shipwreck 7 Straits 3 214 Shipwreck
River 5 521 Hells Gate 8 River 5 521 Hells Gate
Straits 4 415 Down N Dirty 9 River 4 337 Cathedral Spires
Straits 4 389 Voyageur 10 Meadows 4 382 Quiver
Straits 5 619 Sand Box 11 River 5 560 Rise and Fall
Meadows 4 461 Ledge Walk 12 Straits 3 166 Pop Up
Straits 4 403 Cliff Hanger 13 River 3 205 Tall Timber
Meadows 4 423 Nature's Course 14 Meadows 4 423 Nature's Course
Meadows 3 227 Mercy 15 Meadows 3 227 Mercy
River 5 560 Unter Der Linden 16 River 5 560 Unter Der Linden
Straits 3 223 Pinched Nerve 17 Straits 3 223 Pinched Nerve
River 4 469 Dyehard 18 Meadows 4 458 Salmon Trap

I could've easily gone with any of the holes that Jefe chose instead of mine, and I seriously considered using his choices for #9, #10, #11 and #18. But I'm pretty happy with how mine turned out. I did throw the Irish course a bone by having at least one hole from that course. Jefe didn't have any. The Irish a solid course, but hole-by-hole it has a hard time stacking up to its big sister.

Because Jefe says I always take everything a step too far (which is true), I created a layout for my course as well. How would you like to play this course?

More pictures:

Ryder Cup Points System

8/27/2006 0 comments

Raise your hands if you've heard of Brett Wetterich. Raise your hands if you think he's one of the top 10 golfers that should be representing the U.S. in the upcoming Ryder Cup. Yeah, me neither.

Nothing against Brett Wetterich. I'm sure he's a nice guy. But there's no way that he should've qualified for this team. He had to sweat it out during the PGA Championship as he missed the cut with guys like Stewart Cink and Davis Love off to decent starts and an opportunity to take over his shaky 10th slot. But none of the contenders finished in the top 10 in the PGA to get any points, and Wetterich was in. Captain Tom Lehman select Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank (sorry Trip) the following day.

The PGA's points system is to blame. It's only one step up from the villified RPI used by the NCAA tournament committee. Here's the description on pgatour.com:

"The 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup Team is chosen on the basis of points accumulated from Aug. 22, 2004 (World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational) through the PGA Championship, which concludes Aug. 20, 2006. Points are awarded for top-10 finishes at PGA TOUR co-sponsored events as follows: 2004 and 2005 PGA TOUR events: 75, 45, 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5; 2005 majors: 450, 225, 200, 175, 150, 125, 100, 75, 50, 25; 2006 PGA TOUR events: 375, 180, 160, 140, 120, 100, 80, 60, 40, 20; 2006 majors: 675, 360, 320, 280, 240, 200, 160, 120, 80, 40. The top-10 finishers on the points list qualify for the 12-man team, and U.S. Captain Tom Lehman will select the two final players to complete the team."

The change in the system was designed to reward those golfers who were playing well recently, by heavily weighting performance in 2006 over 2005. Definitely a good idea, but the system has quite a few flaws:

1. Treats all PGA Tour non-majors the same. Everybody knows there are three types of PGA tour events 1) those that Tiger plays in, 2) the ones that Tiger doesn't play in, and 3) the ones that run opposite of the ones that Tiger plays in. So John Rollins can earn 375 points for winning the BC Open when all of the world's best golfers were competing in the British Open. Rollins earned more points that week than Chris DiMarco, who was the only guy to give Eldrick a run for his money at Hoylake. And Rollins win at the BC is worth as much as a win at the Memorial or the Western. Doesn't really pass the sniff test, does it?

2. Only gives points for the top 10. Seems logical on paper until you realize that finishing 11th in the US Open is worth the same amount of points as missing the cut in the Chrysler Classic in Tucson...zero. Plus with the slew of international players on Tour these days, it's quite possible that only 2 or 3 guys actually earn points in a given week.

Because of that, only 746 total points would get you in the top 10. That’s little more than a 2006 win and a couple of top 5’s. And that’s how you end up with Brett Wetterich on the Ryder Cup team. Overall, Wetterich has had a career year, including an impressive win at the Byron Nelson and a second at the Memorial. All of his points were earned in a six week span that also included a T4th and a T6th. Other than that, he has missed the cut in 9 of the other 15 events he has played in, including 5 of the last 8. And add to this the fact that Wetterich had to go back to Q-School after a 2005 season where he missed the cut in 17 of 27 events.

Compare Aaron Oberholser’s record to Wetterich’s the last two years and decide who you think is more deserving of a Ryder Cup spot.

Player Events 1st 2nd 3rd TOP 10 TOP 25 Made Cut Cut WD
Ober06 18 1 -- -- 3 9 15 2 2
Ober05 21 -- -- -- 4 6 13 6 2
Wett06 19 1 1 -- 4 6 10 9 --
Wett05 28 -- -- -- 2 5 10 17 1

Despite a more solid and consistent performance over the last 12 and 24 months, Oberholser was 16th in the Ryder Cup standings and not even on the Lehman’s short list of potential captain’s picks.

Or how about Lucas Glover? The guy has 13 top 10’s and 21 Top 25’s and he finishes 13th in the Ryder Cup standings.

Player Events 1st 2nd 3rd TOP 10 TOP 25 Made Cut Cut WD
Glov06 24 -- -- -- 6 12 16 8 --
Glov05 28 1 -- 1 7 9 16 12 --

So, how do we fix the system? I think the PGA of America could use a golf version of the JCI, something that factors overall performance relative to a golfer’s ‘strength of schedule’. Beating Tiger is worth more than beating Matt Kuchar. Thankfully, I don’t even have to do the legwork because Golfweek already has something similar in its Sagarin rankings, which combines performances of all of the major tours worldwide and ranks performance over the last 52 weeks. Certainly they could tweak it to suit the PGA’s needs by looking at the last two years while still overweighting the last year. Here’s what the Ryder Cup team would look like if they used the Sagarin ranking as it’s expressed today:

Automatic Qualifiers:
1. Tiger Woods
3. Phil Mickelson
6. Jim Furyk
8. Arron Oberholser
15. Scott Verplank
16. Chad Campbell
22. Vaughn Taylor
23. David Toms
30. Bo Van Pelt
31. Stewart Cink

Surprisingly, Chris DiMarco ranks 93rd. But this list puts Cink and Verplank on as automatic qualifiers (along with Oberholser and Bo Van Pelt), replacing DiMarco, JJ Henry, Zach Johnson, and Brett Wetterich. Lehman would’ve been able to pick amongst DiMarco, Love, Glover, Johnson, Ben Crane and others for his captain’s picks. Either way, I think it leads to a stronger team with a better chance of reclaiming the Cup in September.

Brett Wetterich’s rank in the Sagarin? 208. Right in between Brett Rumford and Todd Fischer. Here’s a telling statistics…here’s a comparison of each player’s win-loss record head-to-head against other players in the top 100 over the last year.

Player W L T Win%
Arron Oberholser 469 293 26 0.612
Bo Van Pelt 685 540 69 0.556
Zach Johnson 639 572 54 0.526
Ben Crane 560 505 42 0.525
Davis Love III 580 529 45 0.522
Lucas Glover 606 720 56 0.459
Brett Wetterich 342 612 51 0.366

Other golf notes:

I played golf on Friday out at Prairie Landing to help celebrate my buddy Wego's birthday, which is quickly becoming an annual tradition. Last year, we played 36 holes at Foxford Hills. This year it was the PL, although I had to bail after the first round (actually after 22 holes). This year's feature foursome was Wego (16 handicap), Zorn (15), Clooney (17) and myself. To make things interesting, we had a little match play going where it was me versus their best ball. Despite Clooney piggybacking his teammates with a stellar 40 on the front nine, Jimmy C again asserted his dominance with a 9 straight pars on the front en route to a 76 and a 3 and 2 victory.

Playing on Wego's birthday seems to suit me, because I always seem to play well. Last year I dropped a 75/73 on Foxford Hills, and my 76 at Prairie Landing was pretty solid from start to finish. Next year, Wego's birthday is on at Saturday, so there's talks of a potential weekend trip. Stay tuned.

Tomorrow, I'm off to Kohler with my buddy Jefe for a day of 36 on Meadow Valleys and the Irish Course at Whistling Straits. They were offering 2-for-1 deals for a limited time, and it took Jefe and I a combined 2 nanoseconds to decided we were going to do it. Can't wait. The Irish Course owned me both times I played it, so I'm definitely looking for a measure of revenge. Look for some pics later this week, as well as Jim and Jeff's compilation 18 holes of the best of the four Kohler courses.

Observations from Sunday at the PGA Championship

8/21/2006 0 comments

I was there for #12. I scored two tickets for the final round of the PGA Championship at Medinah, aka Tiger Country Club. Although it was pretty much over before it started, it was still awesome being there. Getting to witness history being made.

Mu buddy Jefe and I entered the gates around 11:00 and after watching Phil miss about 25 40-footers in a row and seeing Ernie Els tee-off on #1, we worked our way backwards from #18 to check out the course and see some action along the way. Here are some observations from a long day at Medinah.

- These guys are good. People have been ripping Medinah because it played too easy, but it looks pretty darn tough to me. Tight corridors to tight fairways, surprising elevation changes, sharp doglegs and smallish greens. The only thing is the greens were too soft and the pros were treating Medinah like a giant dartboard. If it were a little more fast and firm, you would've seen more of the gnarly rough and collection areas around the green come into play. But it never happened. Combine the soft conditions and perfect weather conditions (Sunday was probably the nicest day of the summer in Chicago...high 70's, zero wind), and you've got yourself a birdiefest. The pros really distance themselves from you or I with their precision iron play and amazing short games to be able to attack a course like Medinah when it's defenseless like that.

- We made it back to the 13th hole, which is a brutally tough 244-yard par 3 over water. It was actually playing a little bit into the wind. Most pros handled it pretty well, with the exception of David Howell who hit a wounded duck 5-wood that never had a chance of clearing Lake Kadijah. It literally landed at least 50-yards short and right of where he was trying to hit it. We purposely waited (and waited...man some of these guys are slow) for Corey Pavin's group because we thought that Pavin might have to hit driver off the tee. He was playing with Stewart Cink (who has to be the biggest dude on tour...most of them look much smaller in person). Cink hit 3-iron left and long, but Pavin disappointed us by hitting 3-wood (the wind had died down). He smoked that 3-wood, starting it right up the chute of the green and drawing it towards the hole. Amazing how a short hitter like Pavin can make the cut on a 7,500 yard course. Tells you how good his shotmaking skills are.

- We got up close and personal with Nathan Green, Tim 'Lumpy' Herron and JB Holmes who all happened to hit in the rough right around us. JB Holmes is an amazing creature who only takes about a 3/4 swing but somehow still manages to generate about 130 mph swing speed. Seriously, his ball speed off the driver must be around 200 mph. Unfortunately, he must not have been hitting it very straight because when we saw him later, he was +7 for the day. Ouch!

- Speaking of Lumpy (has there ever been a more appropriate nickname?), if Kramer and Frank Costanza had ever settled on 'Bro' or 'Manziere', Lumpy (d-cup) would've been their first PGA sponsor. Quickly followed by Joey Sindelar (d-cup) and Phil Mickelson (solid b-cup moving to c).

- We made it back to #2 to grab some overpriced food and take a break, just as Phil was teeing off on the par 3. The crowds were really starting to build as you could sense that the tournament was finally unofficially underway. People were standing around the 2nd green to the point that you couldn't see anything. I tried to get as close as possible to see what was going on and the closest I got was to able to see the top of the flagstick. Why people still stood around this hole without a view is beyond me...maybe just to be a part of the cheers and the groans. #2 is a sweet hole but we'd have to move on.

- As we were enjoying our $6 hamburgers, Jefe shrewdly identified Phil's wife Amy walking right past us, alongside Phil's short-game guru Dave Pelz. Until Tiger married Elin, Amy had a ten-year run as the ultimate tour wife. Even now, the best part of Phil winning is getting to see Amy run out onto that 18th green (bonus points if you know Amy's maiden name). You wouldn't believe how short Amy is, especially compared to Pelz, who is a giant bear of a man. We actually ended up walking behind Amy, Pelz and Rick Smith (Phil's long game guru who's is amazingly only a couple inches taller than Amy) on multiple occassions (half by accident, half on purpose). And the whole time, Amy didn't stop talking Pelz's ear off. You could tell he was just nodding in agreement, clearly having tuned her out hours before, wondering if this was included in the job description and whether it was worth all of the money that Phil was paying him. I was tempted to butt in and ask Pelz a question about bunker play just to save him from slitting his wrists.

- Unfortunately, we didn't get to see Elin. I'm not sure she was walking along or not, although she was there on #18. It's pretty funny that not only has Tiger completely dominated Phil in every golf-related category, he completed trumped him in the hotter wife category as well. Jefe and I observed that Tiger landed the 'Grand Slam' of tour wives: Elin is A) Swedish, B) a former nanny, C) a former bikini model, and D) has a twin sister. How do you top that? An average guy would be thrilled to get one out of four (Amy Mick gets one point for being a former Phoenix Suns dancer). But four for four? Way to go, Tiger! And given the fact that he's the most recognizable athlete in the world and rakes in $80 mill a year, you would expect nothing less from him. I wonder what Joanna Jagoda is up to these days.

- I really don't blame Elin for not walking the course with Tiger, because it's just a madhouse when he's playing. And it's like this every round of every week that he tees it up. The place is zoo when he is around. Just throngs of fans and media. In order to get a good glimpse of him, you need to have a well-devised plan of attack. Jefe and I were up to the task, and came up with a good plan to stay a few holes ahead and watch the groups leading up to Tiger. Since #2 was already a warzone, we headed up to #5, which is the shortest par 5 on the course. Looked like a promising place to see some birdies and potential eagles. We found a great spot off the sixth tee where we could see the action on the 5th green and watch the guys tee off on #6. Up close and personal with Phil & Ian Poulter (and his pink-striped pants and matching shades), Lumpy & Holmes, Sergio (he'll never win a major as long as he's wearing yellow pants on Sunday) and Shaun Micheel, Wier and Oglivy (sweet swing), and finally Elvis and 'Luuuuuke' Donald (even sweeter swing). And the crowd slowly builds and builds until Tiger arrives.

- Tiger hit 3-wood on the 6th hole, which is a 478-yard par four. There's one thing I can guarantee...I would never hit a 3-wood on a 478-yard par four. Maybe that's one reason that Tiger has 12 majors and I'm just a dude with a blog. Tiger has figured it out. Just get the ball in play and let you superior shotmaking and short game take over. Pick your spots to be aggressive.

- It's chaos after Tiger tees off, with people scurrying for position and off to find their next strategic locale. And this is probably one of the reasons that nobody can beat the guy head on. He's used to this level of chaos. He's probably got 2+ strokes on the guy from the start just from this factor. Poor Luke Donald never had a chance (not that anyone honestly thought that Luke could take Tiger down to begin with...probably not even Luke himself).

- We scurried over to #7 with a plan to make it to #10/#11 as our next vantage point. Didn't see Tiger finish #6 but didn't have to...the roar of the crowd told us everything we needed to know. Birdie...-17. It is wasn't over already, it is now.

- We purposely lollygagged our way down #7 because I knew in the back in my head that if Tiger were to miss, it would be right. No sooner do I complete those thoughts do I hear a golf ball rustling through the trees. Tiger's ball ends up about 10 yards from where we're standing. We're right next to Tiger as he chips back out in the fairway. I was disappointed that Stevie didn't yell at anybody or beat anyone over the head with their camera phone or noisy water bottle. Jefe and I joked that the 'Tiger lovefest otherwise known as the CBS Golf team' were probably going on and on about how amazing Tiger's chip out is.

- We made it over to #10/#11 but it's not a great place to watch the action. #10 green is real tight against Lake Street and there's not much room for spectators. We waited for Tiger, anyways and saw him narrowly miss birdie there and hit another tee ball right on #11. We quickly headed for #14 and along the way heard the roar on Tiger's next shot. His approach shot from the rough ends up less than 15 feet from the cup. We were close to the 11th green so decided to wait to see Tiger putt out. Jefe was dying to see a Tiger fist pump. Smart move as Tiger jars the birdie putt and the place goes nuts. Nineteen freakin' under and a five stroke lead! Unbelievable. A little more than 24 hours before, ten guys were tied at 8-under par and a day later Tiger has already lapped the field.

- We had to wait to cross the fifteenth fairway to get to #14 but it turned out to be a good thing. The #15 and #12 share a tee box, and Phil/Poulter teed off on #15 just as Tiger and Luke tee on #12. They were literally right there at the exact same time. Jefe and I hoped that Tiger took the opportunity to do a little trash talking to Phil, like using hand gestures to signal, "You: 3. Me: 12." We were far away from the tee box but had a great angle on Tiger's tee shot for one of the few times he hit driver. He absolutely bombed his drive, launching it into the stratosphere. Man, did he launch that thing. The highlight of the day for me was seeing him toe tag that sucker. 'That's long...and strong!'

- The 14th green turned out to be too crowded to be of any use so we headed down to #17, the last of the three heroic par 3's over water. We found a nice little spot on the slope below the tee box to watch the action on #17 and see the guys tee off on #18. The pin on #17 was dangerously close to the water, but most of the guys handled it pretty well. Weir completed his fold down the stretch by adding a bogey here, but basically everybody was on the green with 2-putt pars. Tiger strolled through and played it extremely safe, airmailing the green and making bogey from the bunker (only his third bogey of the entire tournament). By that point, it was just a nice walk in the park with 15,000 of his closest friends. I screamed 'We're not worthy!' as he walked down the slope to cross Lake Kadijah for the last time.

- #18 was crazy so we took the long way heading back to the clubhouse but still ended up getting caught in the swarm near the 18th green. We couldn't really see anything but I did see Tiger's approach putt on the final green by hopping up and down repeatedly. I offered to hoist Jefe on my shoulders so he could get a better view, but he declined. There's probably a 'Man Law' against giving another man a piggyback anyways. Tiger tapped in for the title and it's bedlam again. This time it's pure joy from Tiger instead of the heavy heart, emotion and awkward hugging w/ Stevie that we saw at the British Open.

- Jefe and I speculated as to what cheesy/hokey/sappy saying the ever cheesy/hokey/sappy Jim Nantz would so eloquently come up with as Tiger sank the final putt. My guess was 'It's a Tiger's dozen!' and Jefe's was 'He's going to party like it's 1999!' I like Jefe's better but thought it was much too clever and hip for Nantz. It's quite possible that he's never even heard of Prince. It turned out that I was a little closer, Nantz said: 'Another win by Tiger...and he's getting better by the dozen.' Nantz tries to pretend that he doesn't come up with these the night before.

- The question about Tiger passing Jack for 18 majors (although it was always 20 -- counting the Amateurs -- when I was growing up) has officially changed from an 'if'? to a 'when?' There's no doubt that Tiger's going to pass Jack, and it looks like it's going to happen sooner rather than later. If I had to speculate, I'd guess that it happens sometime in 2010, when the US Open is at Pebble Beach and the British is at St Andrews. 19 majors before the age of 35. 26+ total majors for his career looks like a doable number: 10 Green Jackets, 7 Claret Jugs, 6 Wannamakers and 5 US Opens. That's 28. Gaudy numbers. Almost incomprehensible. But at this point, would you bet against it?

- Really the only thing left for Tiger to do is to win the real Grand Slam, all four in one year. It's quite possible that he could do it next year (although 2008 and 2010 look like stonger possibilities based on the courses played). But right now, he's just a whole lot better than everybody else. Remember the Big Five? Singh, Els, Goosen all look like they're on the slow decline. Phil is his main competitor now but he's at least a half-notch behind and has the baggage. There doesn't seem to be any young guys on the cusp that can dethrone him. Sergio, Adam Scott, Luke Donald. All very good players that may someday win one or two majors. But do they have what it takes to stare Tiger in the face and take him down? I don't see it happening. Tiger's best competition is probably from some kids who we haven't heard of yet. Somebody who's been influenced by the man himself. Even then, Tiger's got the next 5+ years to himself. Prepare for domination. Heck, he could win them all in '07 and you'd have to consider him the all-out favorite for Augusta (just like every other year) and the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008. That would be eight majors in a row. That fact that I can even write that with a straight face says a lot.

- Yesterday I saw the greatest golfer of all time. I was there for #12.

Golf Digest Places to Play

8/09/2006 2 comments

I started adding courses to my list in earnest back in 1997, the year after I graduating from college. The first list I ever constructed has 42 courses on it...and it’s pretty comical to see where some of those courses rank 10 years later.

Course19962006
Blackwolf Run (River)13
World Woods (Pine Barrens) 2 9
Blackwolf Run (Meadows Valley) 3 15
World Woods (Rolling Oaks) 4 17
Geneva National (Palmer) 5 58
Cobblestone 6 84
Sugarmill Woods 7 163
St. Charles Country Club 8 148
Cog Hill #1 9 204
Geneva National (Trevino) 10 173
Seville 11 174
Gateway 12 184
Southern Woods 13 185
World Woods Short Course 14 188
Edgebrook Golf Club 15 214

Fueled by friendly competition with my golf nemesis Jefe, I took it to another level in 1997, playing 100 rounds and adding as many new courses as possible. Originally, Jefe had a few more courses than I, but when he went on his honeymoon, I played a different course each day to finally pass him, thinking it was for good. I had a pretty sizable margin on him when he decided to take it to the next level...by moving to Pittsburgh. He ‘claims’ it was for a new job, but to this day I still believe the motivating factor was to enter an unchartered territory of new course potential. How do I know this? You have to understand that I am a die-hard Pittsburgh Pirates fan (although now it’s hard to admit in public). Back when they were actually good, I used to follow them religiously. By definition, the Pirates were Jefe’s most hated team. He hated everything about them...there’s no way he would ever consider moving to the city associated with them. It would just evoke to many bad memories of me spouting off my mouth about Bobby Bonilla, Barry Bonds, and the Bucs. The fact that he actually did definitely was a low blow, but I have to admit a very shrewd maneuver. At least I got to go to some games at PNC Park. Well done, Jefe. You are a worthy adversary.

It took Jefe about three years to play just about everywhere worth playing in the P-Town era, so with no other reason to stay (I know he felt dirty just being there), he decided to move back. Great for me since I have my by-default golf partner back, but also because he’s back on his home turf where he can’t do much damage. But then the dude takes it to the next level again...before moving back for good he decides to go on a three-month, cross country road trip, playing 70+ rounds and knocking off most of the heavy hitters like Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, etc. How could I possibly compete with that? This guy is a mastermind. Upon completion of the trip, he’s 30 years old and right around the 300-course mark (he’s at 308 now). There are so few gaping holes on his list, that if he had been hit by a bus the next day, you couldn’t help but think the guy had lived a full life (Note: you can see out updated rankings here).

Back when we started on this mission to play every quality golf course on the planet, the only things we had to go on were the Golf Digest and Golf Magazine rankings and Golf Digest’s Places to Play, aka the bible. This is before the days of mass internet access and the broad dissemination of information. Before the days when every course had a website with course layouts and virtual tours. The Places to Play book was it...the source.

Back in the day, a 4.5 or 5.0 star rating in the Places to Play meant something. Those were the best of the best. You knew you were getting something special, Even a 4.0 star rating course meant something...you were probably getting one of the top 10 or 15 courses in the state.

Golf Digest issues a new volume of PTP every two years and with the rise of the Internet, each edition since 1997 has gotten more watered-down and less and less relevant. There were tell tales signs along the way. Ballot stuffing was clearly an issue when a course in Michigan called Timberstone (there’s a reason you probably haven’t heard of it) got a 5-star ranking. Pebble Beach, Blackwolf Run, Pinehurst No. 2, and ...Timberstone??? Sounds fishy doesn’t it? (Note: I once played a round in Michigan with a couple that knew the owner and they confirmed that the ballot stuffing was true) Also, somewhere along the way, Golf Digest decided let Zagat put together the book, which had the effect of further watering down the user comments section, which had previously been very insightful.

Then to top it off, for a stretch Golf Digest completely abandoned their ranking of the Top 100 public courses and switched to solely use (and plug) their 5-star rating system. Given the difficulty in trying to compare courses with different styles, topographies, geographies, prices, etc, I can understand the move away from the rankings, even though I would classify the move equal parts cop out and shameless plug. However, if you move to just using the star-rating system, each one of those stars better mean something.

In reality the stars don’t really amount to much. In the 2005-06 publication, there were TWENTY-ONE 4.5-star rated courses and FIFTY-SIX 4.0-star rated courses in Illinois. That’s 77 courses in the state of Illinois that the folks at the Zagat Institute believe are worth playing. I know Chicago is a hot bed of quality public golf courses, but I can tell you first hand that there aren’t 77 public courses in Illinois worth spending your hard-earned money on.

Either Jefe or I have played most of the courses ranked 4 stars and above and we’ve played enough golf to know the difference between quality golf and not-so-quality golf. So here’s a comparison between those Golf Digest’s 5-star ranking and our combined ranking on a 10-point scale.

4 1/2 STAR COURSES LOCATION P2P RATING (5-STAR) JIM/JEFE (10-PT)
Cog Hill Golf Club: - No. 4 Dubsdread Lemont, IL 4.5 9.6
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa: - General Galena, IL 4.5 9.5
TPC at Deere Run Silvis, IL 4.5 9.0
WeaverRidge Golf Club Peoria, IL 4.5 8.6
Kemper Lakes Golf Club Hawthorn Woods, IL 4.5 8.5
Cantigny Golf Wheaton, IL 4.5 8.2
Pine Meadow Golf Club Mundelein, IL 4.5 7.8
Harborside International - Starboard Chicago, IL 4.5 7.5
The Glen Club Glenview, IL 4.5 7.1
ThunderHawk Golf Club Beach Park, IL 4.5 7.0
Chalet Hills Golf Club Cary, IL 4.5 6.6
Mistwood Golf Club Romeoville, IL 4.5 5.9
Stonewall Orchard Golf Club Grayslake, IL 4.5 5.8
George W. Dunne National Oak Forest, IL 4.5 5.8
Oak Grove Golf Course Harvard, IL 4.5 4.3
Shepherd's Crook Golf Course Zion, IL 4.5 4.3
Annbriar Golf Course Waterloo, IL 4.5
Bolingbrook Golf Club Bolingbrook, IL 4.5
Gateway National Golf Links Madison, IL 4.5
Piper Glen Golf Club Springfield, IL 4.5
Rend Lake Golf Course: - East/South Whittington, IL 4.5

4.5 stars should equate to roughly a 9.0 on the 10-point scale, but you can tell right away that the list is watered-down. They got Dubsdread, The General and Deere Run right (although you might consider Dubs a 5-star, which it has been in the past), but the average 10-pt ranking of the courses on this list that we’ve played is 7.2. Of the ones that we haven’t played, I haven’t heard anything that would lead me to believe that any of them should be rated 9.0 or above (and according to Jefe’s brother, Bolingbrook is probably no better than a 7.0). The biggest travesties on this list are George Dunne, Oak Grove and Shepherd’s Crook, which are nice courses but would be stretches even if they were 4.0 stars.

4 STAR COURSES LOCATION P2P RATING (5-STAR) JIM/JEFE (10-PT)
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa: - South Galena, IL 4 8.3
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa: - North Galena, IL 4 8.1
Prairie Landing Golf Club West Chicago, IL 4 7.7
Harborside International - Port Chicago, IL 4 7.4
Orchard Valley Golf Club Aurora, IL 4 6.9
Heritage Bluffs Golf Club Channahon, IL 4 6.7
White Deer Run Golf Club Vernon Hills, IL 4 5.4
Golf Club of Illinois Algonquin, IL 4 5.2
Ruffled Feathers Golf Club Lemont, IL 4 5.0
Spencer T. Olin Golf Course Alton, IL 4 4.8
Cog Hill Golf Club: - No. 2 Ravines Lemont, IL 4 4.8
Plum Tree National Golf Club Harvard, IL 4 4.7
Klein Creek Golf Club Winfield, IL 4 4.5
Prairie Bluff Golf Club Lockport, IL 4 3.9
Steeple Chase Golf Club Mundelein, IL 4 3.9
Cinder Ridge Golf Links Wilmington, IL 4 3.8
Pinecrest Golf Course Huntley, IL 4 3.6
Odyssey Country Club Tinley Park, IL 4 3.5
Cog Hill Golf Club: - No. 1 Blue Lemont, IL 4 3.5
Marengo Ridge Golf Club Marengo, IL 4 3.0
Cog Hill Golf Club: - No. 3 Red Lemont, IL 4 3.0
Blackberry Oaks Golf Course Bristol, IL 4 3.0
Aldeen Golf Club Rockford, IL 4 2.7
The Oak Club of Genoa Genoa, IL 4 2.4
Randall Oaks Golf Club Dundee, IL 4 1.5
Belk Park Golf Course Wood River, IL 4
Big Run Golf Club Lockport, IL 4
Edgewood Golf Club Auburn, IL 4
El Paso Golf Club El Paso, IL 4
Far Oaks Golf Club Caseyville, IL 4
Fox Creek Golf Club Edwardsville, IL 4
Gibson Woods Golf Course Monmouth, IL 4
Green Garden Country Club: - Blue Frankfort, IL 4
Green Garden Country Club: - Gold Frankfort, IL 4
Hickory Point Golf Course Forsyth, IL 4
Hickory Ridge Golf Center Carbondale, IL 4
Hilldale Golf Club Hoffman Estates, IL 4
Ironhorse Golf Club Tuscola, IL 4
Kankakee Elks Country Club St. Anne, IL 4
Lake Shore Golf Course Taylorville, IL 4
Lick Creek Golf Course Pekin, IL 4
Newman Golf Course Peoria, IL 4
Old Oak Country Club Homer Glen, IL 4
Old Orchard Country Club Mt. Prospect, IL 4
Palatine Hills Golf Course Palatine, IL 4
Pontiac Elks Country Club Pontiac, IL 4
Prairie Isle Golf Club Prairie Grove, IL 4
Prairie Vista Golf Course Bloomington, IL 4
PrairieView Golf Course Byron, IL 4
Schaumburg Golf Club: - Tournament Schaumburg, IL 4
Seven Bridges Golf Club Woodridge, IL 4
Silver Lake Country Club: - South Orland Park, IL 4
St. Andrews Golf & Country Club West Chicago, IL 4
The Den at Fox Creek Golf Club Bloomington, IL 4
The Orchards Golf Club Belleville, IL 4
The Rail Golf Club Springfield, IL 4

So, a 4-star rating should equate to about a 8.0 rating on the 10-pt scale, right? Well, the average rating for the courses on this list that we’ve played is a paltry 4.7. Clearly, courses like Eagle Ridge, Prairie Landing, Orchard Valley and Heritage Bluffs are more deserving of a higher ranking than some of those courses on the 4.5-star list. These are universally considered some of the better public courses in the area. What is a bigger travesty is the fact these courses have the same ranking as courses like Randall Oaks (#251 out of 265 courses that I’ve played), Aldeen (#205), and Cog Hill #1 & #3 (#204 and #210 respectively).

I add this post not to bash some of these low-ranked golf courses, but solely as a service to golfer’s who may be visiting Chicago for the first time. An outsider may do the search on golfdigest.com, read the summaries of 4-star Randall Oaks and 4-star Orchard Valley and end up picking Randall instead of Orchard. And maybe they come away sorely disappointed with the course and conclude that golf in Chicago ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. How can I sit here in good conscience and let this happen? If somebody’s coming to the Windy City for the first time, why not show them the best golf that this great city has to offer.

So with that said, I’m going to combine forces with Jefe in the near future to post the Definitive Guide to Chicago Area Public Golf Courses. No agenda. No politics. Just a ranking of the top courses in the area. It’s just our way of giving back. Stay tuned.

[By the way, even with the rise of the Internet, there’s still no definitive source of quality course information. Golfcourse.com may very be the best source, but it’s slow and cumbersome to use, forcing you to click on every comment about a specific golf course. Golfdigest.com had a decent travel discussion (where Jimbo Tang often posted and was viewed as a god amongst men), but posts would disappear after a certain amount of time, and eventually they just shut it down completely. Somebody has to step in and take over the course review game. Please.]

From the vaults:

I dug up this old footage of Jefe making an eagle at Eagle Ridge resort way back in September 2000. We have 33 lifetime eagles between the two of us, including 2 hole in ones, but this is the only one caught on tape. Enjoy!



The Pilgrimage: Oregon Golf Trip Recap

8/05/2006 1 comments
The trip is over. Six days, 12 rounds. Beautiful weather and great golf on some of the best courses in the world. I am a beaten man. I have played golf for 11 days in a row, logging in 19 rounds over that time frame. That’s a whole summer’s worth of golf within a week and a half. I think I’ll take a couple days off.

Bandon Dunes was everything I thought it would be and then some. Pacific Dunes is an amazing course. Mike Keiser really built something special...something that will stand up to the test of time. Plus, the guy owns a bunch of additional land. The word on the street is that the fourth course just southwest and inland of Pacific Dunes is in the initial stages (look for an announcement of the next architect soon), and the fifth course will occupy land that is further down the coast where the current ‘Sheep Ranch’ is located. That’s all I need...two more reasons to come back.

I didn’t score as well as I had hoped, especially considering I had been playing my best golf ever. Actually, I hit the ball remarkably well all week. It’s just that the holes at Bandon were so demanding. Any mis-hit and you were staring double bogey in the face. The greens were so fast and firm, it was difficult getting your approach shot close to the hole, putting a lot of pressure on your short game. Unfortunately, my short game was a C- all week. Still, I can’t complain about 21 birdies in six days.

One more thing...you might be reading this blog and asking where in the heck was this Jefe guy on the trip? Normally, Jefe is a regular on the annual golf trip, but there was really one and only one thing that could keep him away from the course. Jefe became a Dad for the first time last Tuesday and his daughter Olivia was born. Congratulations to Jefe and Natalie. It’s crazy to think that we planned this trip about a year ago and the baby was born on the exact day that we were playing Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes. Fatherhood is sure to put Jefe’s golf game into a tailspin, but it’ll all be worth it. And even though Jefe wasn’t with us, he was definitely there in spirit, and most of our conversations were spent making fun of him, so it’s almost like he was there. This daily blog was developed primarily to keep him in the loop.

With all of the changing dynamics of the annual golf buddy group, this might be the last trip we ever take together. Jimbo alluded to the fact that this might be his last hurrah...and later in the trip his level of frustration got to the point where he was talking about hanging it up all together (we’ve all been there). I hope it’s not true, but if it is, what a place to finish. But the fact is there’s still a bunch of courses that I need to play, and I only have so many years of good golf left in me. Maybe I should start taking application for future golf buddies...there’s a lot of golfers out there, but how many would or could keep up with the type of agenda we had this week. So if this blog really struck a chord with you, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. I’m always looking for fellow die-hards, especially if you’re in the Chicago area.

More pictures:


Jim holds his head high as the inaugural Colton Cup champion.


My nemesis...the 17th at Pacific Dunes. Impossible pin to get to with the gale-force wind. I started a 3-wood even further left than the edge of this picture and my ball sailed right over the flag.


Bunkers designed by Crenshaw, Coore...and Tang. Jimbo wants design credits for (accidentally) altering the look and feel of this bunker at the 13th at Bandon Trails. Ironically, two days later Ken hit his approach shot into Jimbo's footprint that was still there.


Jimbo shows off his Pac Dunes hat clip, proudly displayed as the President of the Fan Club.

The Pilgrimage: Oregon Golf Trip, Day Six (Myrtle Creek / Pumpkin Ridge)

8/04/2006 0 comments
Day Six is a death march. I think we’re all suffering from post-Bandon syndrome, and the withdrawal symptoms are severe. Either that or we’re all just dead dog tired. We’re all just kind of going through the motions here. Unfortunately, Myrtle Creek wasn’t the most inspirational course, especially coming right off the heels of Bandon Dunes. It was a mountain course in the middle of nowhere (or God’s Country as my uncle Ron would say). A couple of cool downhill par 4’s on the front nine, but overall a bunch of back-and-forth quirky or downright wacky golf holes. It was what Jimbo and I described as a ‘throwback’ course. Very little land was moved, lots of parallel holes, no yardage markers to speak of other than the 200-150-100 marks on the cartpaths. The three of us decided that the motto for Myrtle Creek should be ‘the course you need to play more than once, but you wouldn’t want to’. It’ll come out somewhere ahead of OGA, but not by much. At least we were able to take carts.


Ken on the 7th at Myrtle Creek


Definition of a throwback. Put your lunch order in on the 9th tee from this payphone.

As I alluded to, I was beat and didn’t play great. None of us did. But I did keep it together pretty well on the back and ended up with 42-38 80. Jimbo took a trip on the double-bogey train for three holes in a row on the front nine and battle back problems to a 44-43 87. I think Ken was half expecting his caddie Lisa to be standing there on the first tee. He could’ve used her around the greens...he ended up with a disappointing 49-49 98. Myrtle Creek was not a difficult golf course.

Our three was whittled down to two as Jimbo had to bail out early due to back problems. Bandon claims yet another victim. We dropped Jimbo off at the airport and had to high-tail it over to Pumpkin Ridge to make our 3:40 tee time. We made it out there with about two minutes to spare. I’ve been wanting to play out at Pumpkin Ridge for a long, long time. The private course, Witch Hollow has hosted some USGA events like the US Women’s Open and a US Amateur awhile back, and is hosting the US Women’s Am next week (I’m sure most of the players from the Curtis Cup at Bandon stuck around for the week to play in the Amateur). The public course, Ghost Creek, has continually been rated as a top 100 course.

Perhaps my expectations were a little too high. We started on the back nine for some reason and the back nine is pretty pedestrian. Things don’t really get interesting until the 17th and 18th hole. However, the front nine more than makes up for it...it’s great. The holes are tight and very wooded, and many holes have the Ghost Creek bisecting or running alongside. It’s a wonder that they don’t flip the nines permanently...both nines start and end pretty much right next to each other, so it would be pretty easy to do.

One of the benefits of having the 36-hole private/public split (this must be a Portland thing, because nearby Reserve Vineyards has the same deal) is you get quality conditions consistent with a private course. Pumpkin Ridge was in great shape, with firm and lightning fast greens (although they take this to an extreme, with a ridiculous permanent cart path only policy. What a joke). That was quite a problem with the smallish greens, as I had problems holding the greens and was just off the fringe on at least half the holes. It was actually quite an adjustment getting back to normal parkland golf after three days of pure links golf...my first instinct was to just use the putter from off the green. Instead, at Pumpkin Ridge you needed to those high-touch pitch shots with the lob wedge, sometimes only 15-20 feet from the hole on a firm and fast green that’s running away from you. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the energy to try to grind it out and finished the trip with a 43-41 84 in a round where I actually hit it much better than my score would indicate. Ken struggle again but managed to somehow keep it in double digits...51-48 99.

Final Birdie Count: Jim 21, Jimbo 5, Charles 3, Ken 1

The Pilgrimage: Oregon Golf Trip, Day Five (Bandon Trails / Pacific Dunes)

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Our last day at Bandon Dunes. I think I’m going to cry. I don’t want to leave this place.

Playing 54 holes yesterday was great, but the only downside with that plan is getting up to play 36 the next day. We played Bandon Trails in the morning and there were three tired pups on that first tee. Unfortunately, my swing was in a serious funk on the front nine -- I just couldn’t get full use of my facilities and kept duck hooking it off the tee. The result was an extremely lackluster 43 on the front. The back nine got a little better as I managed to par the first 5 holes on the back, but again the beastly last 4 holes into an increasing wind got me again. I played the last four +4 to finish with a 43-39 82.

I did manage to get up and down three times out of the sand, which must be a personal best. Also, I parred the last hole from the clubhouse. My approach shot got caught up in the wind and bounced off the brick path and bonked the deck overlooking the green. Fortunately, I got a free drop from the path and managed to get up and down.

One downside with Trails was the greens. When we played them the first time, the greens were smooth and fast. This morning, they had been sanded over, which made them extremely slow (and sometimes not quite as slow...it was hard to judge what it was going to do). Jimbo, who’s generally a very good putter, had seven three putts in a round where he finally started to hit the ball a little better. I believe he had a 45-48 93. Ken struggled a little bit, but still managed to break 100...49-50 99.

All of us agreed that Bandon Trails was the hardest of the three courses...until we played Pacific Dunes that afternoon. The wind was howling and we all moved up a set of tees. Smart move, but it was still a beast. When the wind picks up there, you’re in big trouble. And Ken’s caddie Lisa said on the front nine that the wind was ‘just about average’ out there, a 4.5 or so on a 10-point scale. That’s crazy, because it was absolutely whipping out there, a 4 to 4 1/2 club wind. And it kept getting worse as the round went on (Lisa finally relented and said it was more like ‘a 6 or a 7’ by the time we reached the 14th tee). For example, No. 10 was playing about 178 yards and I absolutely scorched a 3-iron just over the flag. I can normally hit my 3-iron 230-240 yards! My best bet was to add 45 to the yardage and hit to that number.



This video shows how windy it was out there. This is the 11th hole, a short par three on the ocean. It was playing about 145 yards to the back pin, and I hit 5-iron. As you can probably tell from the video, I start the ball way out over the cliffs left. And the ball still ended up about 50 yards right of the flag. Unbelievable. On the 13th, my six foot putt was heading for the hole when the wind stopped it dead cold and actually blew it backwards!



Here's Jimbo on the same hole. He probably hit his best shot of the week, firing a 5-wood straight at the flag, but it ran just long off the back of the green.

I played pretty well on the front nine given the conditions. I had 39 on the front, including a birdie on the sixth hole. But the holes into the wind bit me again, doubling three holes in a row: 11, 12, 13. I couldn’t take advantage of the downwind holes and ended up with a disappointing double on 18. 39-45 84. Brutally tough conditions, but it was fun to play (or try to play) the course in that wind.

By the numbers:

Birdie Count - Jim 19, Jimbo 5, Ken 1
2 - Times Jim hit driver on a par 3 on this trip, hitting it again on the 12th at Bandon Trails.

The Pilgrimage: Oregon Golf Trip, Day Four (Pacific Dunes / Bandon Dunes)

8/02/2006 0 comments
Move over St. Andrews. There’s a new king in town.

Pacific Dunes is an amazing course. Unbelievable. Definitely one of the greatest golf courses in the world. Tom Doak probably couldn’t have signed his name on the dotted line fast enough when they showed him the land he’d be working with, and he is to be commended for doing a great job with what he was given (and not screwing it up).

There are no weak holes. I kept waiting for a let up and there was none. And the holes by the ocean are simply spectacular. Upon finishing, I was just dying to get out there again (and that’s exactly what we did...more on that later), which is the exact reaction I had after playing the Old Course. And that’s really the difference between a good course and a great course [Note: Mike Keiser said the exact same thing when defining a great course in the book behind the making of Bandon Dunes, called 'Dream Golf'). Like a classic movie, the more times you play a course, the more you appreciate it as you notice things you didn’t catch the first time. Bandon Trails is an excellent golf course, but in my opinion not a course that’s going to show you something new each time you play it. In fact, you probably only need to play it once per trip if you’re heading out there.

So, Old Course has the history. Pacific Dunes has the quality golf holes hard on the Pacific. It’s a tough call, but right now I have to give the edge to Pacific Dunes (although I’ve only got to play the Old Course once). At the end of the day, the deciding criteria for ranking courses is this: ‘If you only got to play one more round of golf in your life, would you rather play course X or Y?’ It’d be tough to pass on the Old Course, but I’d take one more opportunity on Pac Dunes. It’s that good.

So now that I've experienced all of the Bandon courses, here's my updated top 15:

1. PACIFIC DUNES
2. St. Andrews (Old)
3. Blackwolf Run (River)
4. Whistling Straits (Straits)
5. Carnoustie (Championship)
6. Pinehurst #2
7. Kingsbarns
8. BANDON DUNES
9. World Woods (Pine Barrens)
10. Arcadia Bluffs
11. Kiawah (The Ocean Course)
12. BANDON TRAILS
13. TPC at Sawgrass (Stadium)
14. Whistling Straits (Irish)
15. Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys)

One guy that I don’t have to convince that Pacific Dunes should be No. 1 is Jimbo Tang. He’s the President of the Pacific Dunes Fan Club. And after the last two days, you can call me the Vice President. Originally, Ken thought that Bandon Dunes was his favorite of the three, but Jimbo and I beat him into submission until he saw the err in his ways (actually, after playing Bandon and Pacific again, he quickly realized just how wrong he was).

The funny thing is back when Bandon Dunes opened and they just had one course, the hype for David McLay Kidd’s (an unknown rookie architect at the time) course was off the charts. And rightfully so. Bandon Dunes is a great course. But then Tom Doak comes along and completely blows Kidd away, like Jordan dunking on Patrick Ewing.

We teed off early Tuesday morning under perfect weather conditions. Very little wind. I got off to a great start, knocking it within a foot on the first hole. Off the schnide early. Then I rolled in a 25-footer for birdie on No. 7, a 4-footer for bird on No. 9, and a 45-foot bomb on No. 11 for four birdies in the first 11 holes that put me at 1-over. Then the wind picked up and holes into the wind, 12, 13 and 17, absolutely killed me. I played those 3 holes at 7-over. Brutally tough holes. But I capped the round off with a 10-footer for birdie on No. 18 for 38-40 78. Five birdies ties a personal best.

The great thing about Pacific is that the course is extremely scoreable, but it demands perfect execution of quality golf shots. You need to execute shots that you may not have tried and have definitely not mastered, figure out where to bring the ball in from in order to hold the green and/or get close to the hole, and definitely figure out what the wind is doing. Just like the courses in Scotland, the greatest defense is the wind. We got relatively lucky that the wind was pretty calm. If it’s blowing out there, you don’t have a chance.

Unfortunately Jimbo’s undying love for Pacific Dunes didn’t earn him anything on the course. He had another round where he stopped keeping a score. He’s a beaten down man, but we still love the guy. Ken continued marching along, with huge help from his caddie Lisa, and continued his inspired play. What a warrior. Charles really got chewed on by Pacific, spending an inordinate amount of time in the gorse. His caddie, Kallie, really earned her keep the last two days. She had the patience of a saint.

Speaking of caddies, I ended up making a switch for day two, which seems to stir-up a minor controversy when you bring up the subject. Nothing really against Frank but I needed to mix things up a little bit after a lackluster round at Bandon. My new caddie, Mike, who is a dead ringer for William Shatner, was a welcome switch. He lived and died with every one of my shots, gave me a lot of helpful information about how to approach the pins and obviously the breaks on the green. We had a good working relationship, and I kept him for the next morning (Jimbo just told me he was jealous of Mike and me. Part of his rough time at Pacific was attributed to his caddie Shane giving him conflicting information and automatically clubbing him..Jimbo ‘vijayed’ his caddie for day three, deciding to hoof it on his own).

In the afternoon, we went back to Bandon (Charles had to take off after the morning round). I’ve decided that Bandon will be one of those courses that just eats me for lunch. I don’t think I’ll ever play well there. The main culprit is the greens...the breaks are subtle and tough to read. Poa annua has pretty much taken over, which is baffling to putt on. The multi-colored greens (and browns) mask some of the breaks. I did have two birdies to bring my total up to 17 for the trip, but that was more than offset by five three-putts. Ugh. 41-42 83. Jimbo actually completed a round, but it was more of the same disappointment. 46-40 86. Ken kept it going with an impressive 45-48 93.

But we weren’t done yet! After grabbing some dinner at the Pub...Jimbo and I were so enamored with the allure of Pacific Dunes, that we ignored all the pain in our feet and legs and headed out for an additional quick 18 (third rounds are free!) We teed off a little after 6:30PM, and that left us with a little over two hours of daylight. To speed things up, we decided to play a friendly match play match. It was a great time...the wind died down just a little bit and the course looked great in early evening. Plus, Jimbo and I had a great little match going. We didn’t have a halve until the 8th hole and the match never went more than 1-up or 1-down the entire way. I’d love to say that all the holes were won on pars and birdies, but I’d be lying if I said that. But I did birdie No. 9 for the second time on the day and Jimbo had birdies on No. 5 (again) and No. 15.

The match came down to the wire. We were all-square through 16 holes, and Jimbo looked like he was in good shape on 17 when he hit the green and I landed in the bunker. But Jimbo ended up four-putting and we halved with doubles. That got us to 18 all-square, and I holed a 5-footer for par to win 1-up.

By the numbers:
Birdie Count - Jim 18, Jimbo 5, Charles 3, Ken 1
18 - Estimated golf balls lost by Charles at Pac Dunes, according to caddie Kallie
0 - Golf balls left in the Charles bag upon completion of the round
14 - Number of time Jimbo had to fight his caddy Shane in order to hit the shot he wanted to hit
18 - Estimated miles walked by Jim and Jimbo in one day
 
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