Ballyneal 2009


I was wrong. I've been wrong all along. And contrary to what my wife might tell you, I'm not afraid to admit when I am wrong.

For years, I thought that there were no other golf-obsessed dorks out there like my homies Jefe and Jimbo. No other guys would skip all meals between sunrise and sunset in order to not waste time better spent golfing. No other guys would walk 54 holes, wake up at 6 am the next morning and do it all over again (and again). No other guys could tolerate my rapidly declining golf game and increasingly erratic behavior towards my rapidly declining golf game. No other guys would refuse to go to the doctor after breaking their foot while teaching their daughter how to long jump while barefoot in the backyard, simply out of fear of missing a big golf trip. On second thought...Jefe probably IS the only one capable of doing that one.

Heck, I even pitched a reality-show to the Golf Channel just to help us find a guy to join our group (and what a grand prize that would be! You get paired up with 3 middle-aged golf-a-holics that might have a nervous breakdown at any moment. Plus you'd likely have to share a queen size bed with Jimbo. I have no idea why it never got off the ground.)

But I was dead wrong. All I had to do was spend a weekend at Ballyneal with 10 dudes from In case you didnt know, GCA is a group of 1500 or so golf-architect nuts that come together on the web (and in a handful of cases per year, in person) for 'frank commentary on golf course architecture' and a bunch of other golf-related (loosely defined) topics.

'Who needs a fourth?' Heck, how about a fifth, sixth or seventh? I was admittedly nervous about spending three days with a bunch of guys I've never met before. I was even more concerned about being the lone oddball who wanted to play 54 holes everyday. I even warned them in advance. Boy, was I wrong on all fronts. These guys are hard core. If Jefe or Jimbo got hit by a bus tomorrow (or went on the DL with a broken foot), any one of these guys could step up in a heartbeat. In fact, I might just go ahead and replace them. I doubt any of my GCA friends would leave me high-and-dry at a post-round Chili's (yes, I'm still bitter.)

We had guys from all parts of the country and all walks of life. A New York City cop, a doctor, an Air Force pilot, a fantasy-basketball guru (wait, that was me) just to name a few. All different personalities but with one common bond - an unhealthy addiction to the game.

Ballyneal was the perfect venue for the festivities, since it seems to be the adopted-son of GCA for embodying nearly everything that is valued by the collective group - firm-and-fast conditions, lots of options on every shot, perfect risk and reward balance, exhilirating green complexes, and most importantly, fun. Simply put, Ballyneal is the most fun you can have on a golf course. And judging by the laughs I heard from three fairways away (most originating from Brad from New York) and the 400+ times I heard the word 'awesome' in one weekend, I'm not the only one with that opinion.

Way too much to write about for the entire weekend, so I'll just cover a couple highlights:

- Holyoke has been dumped on with rain for the last two weeks. The place only gets 17 inches of rain a year on average, and they've received more than that already this year. They got 5 inches in 3 hours about 10 days ago. Still, the course was in fantastic shape although not in its true firm-and-fast glory. It's amazing how fast that course drains. It's also amazing how fast the course greens up with just a little bit of rain. Great for pictures, but the course is even more fun when it's brown.

- I never did get 54 holes in because we got rained out on Sunday evening after 45 holes. The only consolation was a spectacular sunset and unbelievable rainbow after the storms passed. Check out the pictures below.

- I continued my trend of awful play and hit rock bottom after the morning round of Day 2. Head pro Matt Payne sensed my desperation and fixed my swing in about 10 range balls. I'm slowly on the way to recovery even though I was 50/50 on good swing/bad swing the rest of the way. But I feel good about it, whereas before I was ready to start fresh and take up the game as a righty.

- Backhanded Diss of the Week: After apologizing to my caddy for constantly dragging him up to the dunes to find my errant drives, he told me 'you're not as bad as the guy I had yesterday. He only hit like 5 fairways.' 5 fairways sounded pretty good to me at the time.

- Bernie's cousin: Air Force pilot Ben had one of Bandon's famous tufted-puffin headcovers. I told him I liked his headcover, and he said, 'Thanks. His name is Murphy.' I can't decide if Jimbo really is normal or Ben is equally crazy. But after Jimbo sent me the following response: "Bernie took a look at the pic and thinks he and Murphy used to hang out at beach. He says Murphy is a good ol' guy", I'm leaning towards the latter.

- Congrats to the Lakers and all, but any comparison of Kobe to MJ is still absolutely absurd. Sorry, it had to be said.

- Speaking of hoops, Ballyneal member Matt made my day by asking if I played swingman in hoops, simply because I looked like a baller. I don't think I've ever received a higher compliment. Sadly, I had to admit that I was nothing more than a garbage player (although I did hit a game-winning shot in a rec-league game once). Combine that with the 8-stroke increase in my golf game and the sad 51 mph display on the speed pitch at the Wheaton town carnival last week, it's safe to say that my best athletic days are behind me. How depressing. I feel like a Bruce Springsteen song.

- Most of the dinner conversation revolved around three things: 1.) how awesome the course is, 2.) Justin Timberlake (all originating from Rich from Seattle), and 3.) Mike from Seattle's golf swing. This guy should charge admission to let people see his ball flight. Dead straight and like a rocket, taking off low and spiraling up like a 1990-tour player with those old balatas, except about 60 yards longer. Playing with Mike is like a constant 4-hour reminder of just how not good you are.

- Hard Shell's Cousin: I 'snapped' (ha! get it) a picture of one of the local turtles and e-mailed it to my kids, knowing my 7-year old son would get a kick out of it since he has a pet turtle named Hard Shell. Here's the e-mail response I got from them:

From my son: "Thanks for the picture - I really like it. It is like one of the best I ever saw. I like the tortoise. I wonder what kind of tortoise it is? Bye Dad."

From my 5-year old daughter: "I like the turtle. The turtle is great - I am going to get a bunny for my pet."

- Where's Jefe?: Speaking of e-mails, here's one I got from Jefe, since I know you're wondering what he was up to while I was frolicking in the Chop Hills.

"Coltrain, good to see you're getting some professional help. Your swing looks the same to me as it always has so it shows what I know.

Is the course in good shape, really firm? Sounds like you've had some rain to maybe soften things up. I was thinking as I read this email that I think you may have actually played as much or more golf than I have this year so far, you're really racking up the rounds in CO.

The difference now between Coltrain and I is that he is playing Ballyneal while I am playing The Dump. I went out to Settler's Hill [ed note: a public course built on a landfill in Geneva, IL, hence The Dump for obvious and multiple reasons.] last night, I went 43-41 84. I only had one quad this time around, so I'm improving.


- By far the biggest highlight for me was having two people approach me about the blog. One guy, Victor from Seattle, knows Jefe and Jimbo well enough now that the courts may have to issue a restraining order. After we putted out on the 7th, he asked to see the spot where Jimbo took a chunk out of the green with a misguided chip shot last year. The next morning, he admitted, 'From the time it was confirmed that I was coming here until the time I got on the plane, your blog SUSTAINED ME.' How do you top that?

- Did I mention Ballyneal is fun? Ballynizzle is off da hizzle!

Yes, that's my ball in that bunker.


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