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Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Mental Game At The Ryder Cup

A guest post about the Ryder Cup from Mike Diffley, Head Pro at Pelham Country Club, and frequent speaker on the power of the mental game:

Mike Diffley, Pelham CC
Mike Diffley, PGA

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog" --Mark Twain

Keegan Bradley, from his 330 yard tee shot down the middle on Hole #1 to rolling in everything he looked at on the first day, showed he might be the mentally strongest player in the world.

Phil Mickelson--now known as Keegan's partner--said the more the pressure the better Keegan plays.

The intensity, focus, determination are incredible. He embraces the pressure and doesn't hide from it. He wants the chance to go. We cannot deny the adrenaline flowing through our system but we can learn to channel it to focus and strength.

Not everyone is the same. Keegan can't hide his emotions through those eyes and facial expressions, that's him. It's important that he knows that and obviously he does. Some players just smile or give a small fist pump and that's their way of expressing their emotions.

The most important time is the 10 to 20 seconds before you hit the ball to find your own zone or comfort level. Keegan found his yesterday and hopefully keeps it through the weekend. Do you know yours?

Positive self talk and visualization are the key. Keegan told us last year that's what he does!!! Go USA!

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Concord's Monster Still A Ball-Eating Beast

Concord's Green Monster
photo courtesy of the course.
Everything you've heard about the Monster is true. It's longer than long. It's hard. It will test every part of your game and make you cry for your mama. It's one of those courses you need to play at least once in your life. And, if you're lucky enough to live within a two hour drive, the Monster is worth the trip several times every year.

Course conditions are excellent and the layout hasn't changed since the day Gene Sarazen walked off the course and declared it a monster while warning the owner to not change a thing. The moniker was well-earned. From the tips, the Monster plays an astonishing 7,650 yards with a course rating of 76.8 and slope of 137. Move up to the blue tees and you're playing 7,471. The whites are almost manageable at 6,989. Two shorter tees (green at 6,068 and red at 5,201) are available for sane golfers. Length notwithstanding, the layout itself is challenging and fun.

Water is in play on half the holes, there is a good mix of short(er) and long holes at all three pars, and you'll see enough elevation changes, bunkers, and contoured greens to keep you from being bored. There are even a couple of reachable par fives--depending on which tees you play. The first hole may be the easiest par you'll have all day. At 522 yards (all my distances are from the white tees), a long hitter can get there in two and even a regular guy like you and I can make a birdie with a wedge. The first really big hole you face is the fourth, a 585-yard par five (632 from the black tees!). Watch out for the water on your left from the tee, then carefully plan your second shot because that same water splits the fairway, then cuts across it about 100 yards from the green. Depending on the pin position, you might want to play the left fairway by hitting over the lake with your second shot.

The par threes are all killers. The fifth hole is 207 yards to a green surrounded by bunkers. The seventh is a place to seriously think about laying up, since you're playing 216 yards to a steeply-elevated green with a gigantic bunker in front and a rock-faced cliff on the left. On the back side, the one-shotters are shorter (both are about 160 yards) but both are all carry over water and both have false fronts that will send inadequately-struck balls back into the drink.

The back nine on the Monster is a little shorter than the front but plays tighter and rewards good strategy.  The tenth hole is only 352-yards but it has water, water everywhere to punish hooks, slices, and under-clubbed shots from both the tee and the fairway. The seventeenth, a 405-yard par four, is a confusing mess from the tee. It has pine trees in what looks like the middle of the fairway (it's not), a forced carry of nearly 200 yards over a lake to what really is the best landing area, and a lay-up option to the right that is surrounded by water and will leave you over 200 yards to the green if you choose it. Then you get a two-tiered green with three-putt written all over it to finish the hole.

A big part of the fun of playing the Monster is imagining what it would have been like to take it on using a persimmon driver, forged blades, and a balata ball like the golfers who tackled it in 1963 when it opened. Even though it was never chosen as a tour stop, nearly everyone in the game played it during the resort's star-studded heyday. Dashing and debonair Jimmy Demaret was the official club professional when it premiered. Raymond Floyd held the course record (67) solo for many years. Sam Snead, Jackie Burke, Jr., Gene Sarazen, and Lee Trevino all frequented the resort along with entertainers like Bobby Darin and Englebert Humperdink.

The legendary course has gone through some rough times, closing during a recent bankruptcy and reopening only a couple of years ago without its hotel and clubhouse. The current owners have preserved the most important part of the facility--the golf course itself--and are preparing a major overhaul of the amenities and other attractions to re-establish the property as a major tourist attraction. In the meantime, you can still enjoy--or at least endure--one of the toughest rounds of golf you'll ever play for just a few dollars.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why Smart Golf Beats The Bomb

The Five Inch Course by John Lloyd Retzer
John Lloyd Retzer tells it like is on both GolfBlogger.com and in his new pull-no-punches golf instruction book, The Five Inch Course: Thinking Your Way To Better Golf. The book resonated with me because I've played, studied, and written about the game for more than four decades so I don't have any more delusions about my game. The majority of golfers, though, will probably read The Five Inch Course and decide its lessons really don't apply to them. All they need is another $400 driver, a few more hours of the Golf Channel, and another great swing tip from the attendant at the gas station, and they'll shoot par every time. Who knows? Maybe the Champions Tour is within reach!

It's not, of course, mainly because the majority of golfers won't play the intelligent take-fewer-chances brand of golf Retzer espouses. And that's a shame, really, because we could all play much better golf if we just dialed back our testosterone and followed his advice to adopt realistic expectations, play within ourselves, and stop pretending we can make a 160-yard wedge shot bend backwards out of the trees just like Bubba Watson. I rant about many of the same topics in Weird Golf.

Retzer hooked me in his introduction when he said:
"...this doesn't mean that lower scores are out of your reach. It just means that you have to play better golf with the swing you already have." 
He goes on to remind us that
"Four ugly strokes equal four pretty ones [on the scorecard]." 
His goal throughout the book is to teach us to work our way around the course in the least number of strokes, not with the longest drive. That often means leaving the driver in the bag, laying up on that long par four so you take double bogey out of the equation, and maybe even bunting a low runner 120 yards down a narrow fairway instead of taking a full swing that brings OB into play.

Retzer says some of his buddies call this "old man golf." I call it "smart golf."

The Five Inch Course is a collection of short mental game tips organized into chapters on practical topics like what to do before you play, how to think about what you're doing on the tee, what should be going through your mind in the fairways, and common-sense ways to save strokes on and around the green. The style is straightforward and highly readable with a bit of humor thrown in here and there.

Retzer's approach doesn't preclude taking risks or attempting that one-in-a-hundred shot over the water to a tight front pin. He just reminds us that we're going to be really, really sorry if we play that way on every shot in every round. Have some fun, he says, but remember that conservative play is the way to lower your score.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hudson Hills Tops The Crown

The crown jewel of the six golf courses operated by Westchester County is Hudson Hills, 7,000 yards of  impeccably-maintained fairways and greens woven into rugged hilltop terrain in Ossining. From the stone pillars marking the entrance to the cheerful attendant who greets you at the bag drop to the smooth and fast rolling greens, your experience at Hudson Hills resembles nothing so much as a round at one of the county's many top-notch private clubs.

The quality of play ranks up there, too. Hudson Hills stretches 6,935 yards from the tips, although the green tees at 6,323 with a 71.0 rating and 129 slope provide plenty of challenge. There are two other sets of tees to make the course enjoyable for players of all levels. The course is laid out up, down, around, and about one of the highest hills in the county, making your travels around the course an exercise in distance control through elevation management as well as shot direction. And here's a tip if in doubt about the line of your putt: it will always break away from the huge white water tower in view from just about everywhere. Something else to keep in mind on the front nine is that it wraps around the course clockwise, which means there's out of bounds and other trouble to the left on almost every hole.

Hudson Hills #2
 photo courtesy of the club
Hudson Hills offers a steady diet of risk and reward, although you'll want to bring an extra sleeve of balls if you're an aggressive player because the rough can be gnarly and there are more than a few blind shots where it comes into play. The first opportunity comes on the second hole, a 502-yard par five with a semi-blind tee shot you should aim well to the right to take advantage of the severe side slope that will push your ball to the left. A good drive to the end of the landing area will put you 230 from the green, but beware the water hazard on the right front: it's only 195 away and the fairway reverses camber to feed into it. Left is no bargain, either, since an impenetrable lateral hazard lines that side of the hole.

The five par threes range from 127 to 174 yards and elevation, as you might expect, plays a big role in club selection. Five of the nine par fours are over 400 yards. Most of them offer generous fairways, although the short fours demand high precision off the tee. The 368-yard eighth hole is particularly devilish, featuring a fescue-covered hillside on the right and a lateral hazard on the left the entire length of the fairway. Don't lay back too far from the tee, though, or you won't be able to see the green around the sharp dogleg.

Rates at Hudson Hills are slightly higher than those at the other county courses, but still quite reasonable for a course of this caliber. You can also buy an annual pass that brings Hudson Hills even closer to the country club experience.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Play Morgan Pressel At Shackamaxon CC

If you've ever dreamed of playing head-to-head against a professional golfer in front of a gallery of enthusiastic fans, now is your chance. On Oct. 2, 2012, Shackamaxon Country Club will host the inaugural Garden State Tour Pro Challenge, a charitable event that will pit six lucky amateurs against LPGA star Morgan Pressel in a series of three-hole matches on the club’s Tillinghast-designed course.
Morgan Pressel
Morgan Pressel
photo courtesy of Shackamaxon CC
The “Challenge” will benefit the New Jersey Golf Foundation, the official charity of the New Jersey section of the PGA. Qualifying tournaments are currently taking place at 20 private and public clubs around the state. The entry fee is $20. For more information on how to enter one of the remaining qualifiers, contact The New Jersey Golf Foundation at (732) 465-1212.
The qualifers in five categories (Ladies Net, Ladies Gross, Men’s Gross, Men’s Net and Men’s Senior Gross) will compete in a playoff round at Shackamaxon Country Club on Sept. 24. The winners in each category will advance to face Morgan Pressel on Oct. 2nd.  A sixth spot will be reserved for a qualifier from the First Tee, the internationally respected youth organization that promotes life skills and leadership through the game of golf.
Morgan Pressel is one of the LPGA’s brightest stars. In 2011, she recorded eleven top-10 finishes and has over four million in career earnings. She is undefeated in U.S. Solheim Cup competitions and was the runner-up in the 2005 U.S. Women's Open (as an amateur).
The “Challenge” will feature a full day of exciting activities at Shackamaxon.  The day begins with an 18-hole celebrity pro-am that features participants playing alongside former NFL greats, as well as New Jersey PGA professionals. Each foursome will meet and take photos with Morgan Pressel, enjoy a continental breakfast, a barbecue lunch and awards ceremony. Individual pro-am spots are $500. Visit www.shackamaxoncc.com or call (908)233-1300 ext. 230 to reserve your spot in the field.
While the action takes place on the course, The New Jersey PGA will conduct a ladies golf clinic on the putting green followed by a Ladies Benefit Luncheon/Auction featuring Morgan Pressel as the honored guest. The luncheon is open to the public. Tickets are $100 and proceeds will benefit the Ashley Lauren Foundation, a charitable organization that was created to assist families of pediatric cancer patients with emotional support and financial assistance. To register for the Ladies Clinic or Luncheon, contact Jennifer Gerhart at (908) 233-1300.
At 2 pm, the “main event” will take place as Morgan Pressel begins her head-to-head matches against the lucky New Jersey amateur qualifiers on Shackamaxon’s historic A.W. Tillinghast-designed masterpiece. Gallery Tickets to watch the action at the afternoon’s Pro Tour Challenge are only $10 and may be reserved by calling (908) 233-1300 ext. 230. Tickets will also be available on-site at the club on Oct. 2
Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Inside The Mind Of Golf Architect Jim Urbina

Paramount Country Club 18th Hole - photo by Larry Lambrecht
The restoration of Paramount Country Club's classic Tillinghast golf course enters its final phase this fall under the direction of Jim Urbina, named along with Tom Doak in 2010 as "Architect of the Year" by Golf Magazine. I wrote about the project earlier and Urbina reported on his progress at Paramount at a recent Metropolitan Golf Writers event.

When he first saw the course, Urbina said, he was struck by the views. "I went up to the highest points, over by the first green and second tee and over by the sixth green. It's somewhat masked by the growth of trees but you can tell it has a sense of scale." Many of the trees have been selectively thinned out during the renovation, restoring the vistas of High Tor and the Hudson Valley. Urbina's work has also revealed the scale of the property, giving the player a better feel for Tillinghast's concepts.

"Tillinghast had ideas that were very important to him," Urbina said. "For example, he writes about a true three-shot hole, and sure enough, Paramount has that." Even in 1920 when Tilly laid out the course for Adolph Zukor, the original owner of the property, he stretched the second hole to nearly 600 yards. "He talks about having a variety of par-threes so you should be able to hit every club, and sure enough, Paramount has that," Urbina pointed out.

"Paramount also has subtleties that we just don't do anymore in modern architecture," Urbina added. "It's the gradual slope of the greens and their locations, what's in the background. Or look at the routing. It's that up-and-down, up-and-down style of golf where some holes are a test and some are breathers." Urbina thinks Tillinghast had a message for the architects who followed him: "Don't get stuck on length. Make sure the hole still has character. Find out what's important. Make sure you're hitting every club."

Urbina and course superintendent Brian Chapin have accomplished much in the last eighteen months, but a few tweaks remain. "I'm putting back bunkers on the 250-yard par-three thirteenth hole," Urbina said. "When the hole was 240 yards, Tilly talked about a one-shot hole where you had to use a wood driver that required the player to execute a long shot. A hole with that length was unheard of then but Tillinghast knew the game was changing and even in that era, the ball was traveling farther."

The eleventh and fifteenth holes will also get a do-over, shifting the fairways a bit, adding some bunkering, and putting the greens back to their original size to give the player more choices, another mark of good design.

Urbina is known for this restoration of classic courses like the San Francisco Golf Club (Tillinghast), Pasatiempo (Alister MacKenzie), Yeamans Hall Club (Seth Raynor), and Garden City (Devereux Emmet and Walter Travis). His work at Paramount will stand up to the best of them.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Monday, September 10, 2012

Paula Creamer (Beauty) vs. Gary McCord (Beast) at Forsgate

If, like me, you're old enough to remember when top female tennis player Billie Jean King defeated the motormouth chauvinist Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973, you won't want to miss  the big event coming to Forsgate Country Club in Monroe, NJ. Now, nearly 40 years later, another fun but epic battle looms between LPGA Star Paula Creamer and CBS Sports Commentator Gary McCord  on Oct. 6-7, 2012 in a match to raise money for Make-A-Wish New Jersey and other local charities supported by the Forsgate Foundation.

Gary McCord
photo courtesy of Forsgate
As if the match itself weren't reason enough to attend, irreverent Golf Channel star David Feherty will provide live color and analysis of the head-to-head stroke play match for a purse of $10,000. Creamer and McCord will be hitting from the same tees on the renowned Banks Course at Forsgate.

“When I heard I was playing Paula, I thought of advice my dear mom gave me when I was a kid,” McCord said. "She told me to always play nice especially with girls….I never listened to mom. Beating Paula will be fun and another win in my already memorable career.” Much like the hustler Riggs, McCord is known as much for his bluster as for his play, although he boasts a long professional golf career on both the PGA and Champions Tours. But, while he may have faced the likes of “The Golden Bear” and “The Shark,” McCord has never teed off against “The Pink Panther.”

Paula Creamer
photo courtesy of Forsgate
“I’m playing against Gary McCord? You mean the CBS golf commentator? I didn’t even realize he played golf!”  Creamer said with more than a bit of sarcasm. Creamer, an 11-time professional tour winner and 2010 U.S. Women’s Open Champion, is currently ranked No. 13 in the world.

As for his opinion, Feherty, host of The Golf Channel’s highly rated show of the same name, put it bluntly: “Battle of the Sexes? It’s more like Beauty versus the Beast. My money is with Paula…there was a reason McCord was 0 for 422 in PGA Tour Tournament wins. Plus, I love pink.”

The Forsgate “Battle of the Sexes” features two days of golf and entertainment and a myriad of opportunities for involvement. The event begins on Saturday evening, Oct. 6, with a cocktail reception and live and silent auction featuring unique sports memorabilia, travel packages and “dream” days. The energy in the room will reach a fever pitch as LPGA superstar Creamer will come face-to-face for the first time with the devilishly-mustached McCord.

David Feherty
photo courtesy of Forsgate
On Sunday, Oct. 7, registrants will enjoy a morning 18-hole golf tournament that includes photo opportunities with the stars. Forsgate Country Club will open to the public at 2 p.m. when Feherty will host a skills demonstration with Creamer and McCord. At 3 p.m., the action moves to the first tee of the celebrated Banks Course for the opening shots of the “Battle of the Sexes.”

Golf Tournament Participant packages (both individual and foursome) are available and include admission into all of “The Battle of the Sexes” activities. Raffle Tickets for the chance to win a new 2012 Mercedes Benz C-250 are $12.50 each or 10 for $100. Individual Gallery Tickets for the skills demonstration and “The Battle” are $10 each or $25 for individual clubhouse passes. For more information on registration, to buy raffle or gallery tickets, call (732) 656-8911, visit www.forsgatecc.com or www.forsgatefoundation.org.

So…whose team are you on? Pick a side and join in the conversation on the Forsgate Foundation Facebook page and on Twitter. The question of whether #girlsgolfbetter or #boysgolfbetter will be answered on Oct. 6-7, 2012, at the #ForsgateBattleOfTheSexes.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Friday, September 7, 2012

Crystal Springs Speeds Up The Game

I confess: I am a speed demon. I abhor slow play. A four-hour round of golf is a snail's pace and four-and-a-half puts me into a serious funk. My idea of a great round is about three hours and I've done it walking--in a foursome--plenty of times.

That's why I'm pumped about the Fast Track initiative at Crystal Springs in Sussex County, NJ. The forward-thinking seven-course resort makes it happen in a player-friendly way without losing any of the pleasure of the game.  “We’ve explored a lot of different methods and programs to make golf more appealing and more fun, inclusive, and more enjoyable,” says Director of Golf Art Walton. “It excites those who really like to get around the course. That gives them time to play another round, get home, or enjoy the many other amenities at the resort.”  They started the initiative at Wild Turkey and then added it to Black Bear last year. According to Walton, it's going well.

Crystal Springs Resort
Crystal Springs Resort - photo courtesy of the resort
Tee times from opening to 8 AM at the two courses are reserved for Fast Track players, who pledge to finish in four hours or less. To speed up play, “ready golf” is expected rather than following the strict honors order of play and hunts for lost balls are limited to one minute rather than five. The starters also encourage groups to play from the correct tees and players are asked to pick up his or her ball if seven strokes have been played on any given hole. If a group is slow, the course assistants often declare out of bounds to be played as lateral hazards to eliminate re-teeing.

Player assistance on the golf course is key to the system. The rangers police the pace of play with tracking sheets for each group. “When someone is five minutes off, they’ll communicate with them,” Walton explains. "They get a warning to keep up with the group in front of them. If they can’t, we relocate them to their appropriate position on the course. That’s the only way to do it.” He adds that playing through isn’t a time-saving option since it involves waiting six or seven minutes.

“It was not an easy initiative," Walton says. "The communications chain that has to be executed has many steps along the way. Our central reservations department needs to know what the program is and be able to describe it to those booked into that time zone. They must be able to finish in four hours or less. That has to be fortified along the way. When the player checks into the pro shop, the person greeting them has to re-iterate that and make sure they understand. The same with the starter. What you don’t want is a group that says ‘I wasn’t told.’ The burden also extends to the golfer booking the reservation, who has to make sure everyone in their group understands the expectations.”

I applaud Crystal Springs for making a concerted effort to move the game along. Slow play equals bad golf. But the opposite is also true: fast play equals good golf, just like you'll find at Crystal Springs.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ballyowen Lends A Celtic Flair To New Jersey

photo courtesy of the course
Ballyowen is the crown jewel of the Crystal Springs Resort collection of seven golf courses in the New Jersey highlands. The links-style design by Roger Rulewich has won accolades from Golfweek and many other publications, all well-deserved. You may argue whether it's like playing a links course (it's not), but you can't disagree with the simple fact that Ballyowen is an excellent test of your golf game.

The course sprawls over 250 acres atop a plateau surrounded by rolling farmland and craggy knolls giving it a wide-open, wind-swept feel. It is virtually treeless and fairways are defined by yellow fescue and other native grasses that literally eat errant shots, further giving the course a Celtic feel. Both greens and fairways are generally wide and welcoming, however, so well-played shots are rewarded. Just don't expect much links-like roll from the lush fairways.

Ballyowen measures 6,508 from the gold tees, which is as far back as all but the pros should play. With a 71.5 rating and 130 slope, the gold tees provide plenty of challenge. There are five sets of tees in total, ranging from 7,094 to 4,903 yards.

Birdie opportunities abound for the player who can keep their ball out of the gnarly rough and put it in the right place on the sprawling greens. Only two of the par fours are over 400 yards, two of the par fives are under 500 yards, and the longest par three is 180. It's the accuracy of your approach shots that will make the difference on even the two short par fours (#2 at 312 yards and #12 at 328) since neither one is drive-able.

The longest par five, the third hole clocking in at 546 yards, is a fascinating three-shot test, playing uphill on the approach and generally into the wind. The fairway is serpentine with bunkers guarding every turn and impossible rough lurking not far off the line. Aim right off the tee to bring the landing area for your second shot into view. A massive bunker--nearly fifty yards long--splits the fairway directly in front of the green, so make the right strategic choice on your second shot to set up your third.

The sixth hole, a 174-yard par three, is a card-wrecker that comes early in the round. The tee shot is all carry over water, which also wraps around the right side of the monstrous green. There's not really any bail-out area, either: the left side of the green is home to a huge bunker. Even if you avoid all the trouble, just landing your ball on the wide but shallow green doesn't guarantee a par since you could easily have a first putt of well over 100 feet.

Speaking of demanding putts, watch out for the the eleventh hole, a seemingly benign 161-yard one-shotter. You absolutely must put your tee shot on the same level as the cup on one of the three severe tiers to avoid a near-certain three jack--or worse.

The Back Nine At Ballyowen. Photo courtesy of the course.
Ballyowen's sixteenth hole brings together all the challenges you've faced so far. At 420 yards, it requires an accurate drive with a forced carry over the fescue to a fairway pinched by two gleaming bunkers on the right. Your second shot will be uphill to a long, narrow green guarded by a false front and yet more bunkers on both sides. The green itself is a roller-coaster ride where double-breakers are normal.

Ballyowen may not play like a links course, but it feels like one. Fairways are surrounded by mounds and hillocks and the big, big greens invite long running chips and pitches. The wide-open layout and views of the golf course around you reminded me of Kingsbarns Golf Links southeast of St. Andrews, where every time you look up after your own shot you can see other golfers in the distance. It's a course well worth the day trip from New York or Westchester or even a golf weekend where you can sample some of the other attractions--including the six other courses--within the Crystal Springs community.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf