Most regular golfers – and, let’s face it, most golfers are regular (or maybe irregular) – look at the great golf courses of the land and hurt with envy.
They see them on television and in the super-slick golf magazines, where the color green jumps off the pages like neon, and great waves of desire roll forth.
Imagine playing No. 7 at Pebble Beach.
No. 17 at Sawgrass.
Any hole at Augusta or Pinehurst.
For most regular golfers who might occasionally shoot 80 but are more likely to shoot 94, playing on these magical landscapes is pure fantasy. Many of the world’s top courses are private, of course, so the likelihood of Joe or Jane Duffer teeing it up is quite slim. Then there are courses that are very public but also are very costly – examples being Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines and Pinehurst. At these spots, your score might be in triple figures. Your costs certainly will.
This brings to mind the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. It’s the only super-special, magnificent, stunningly beautiful, crazily expensive course I’ve ever played. Hard by the Atlantic Ocean with a grand layout that makes golf almost secondary to sightseeing, the course is an American gem. It has hosted the Ryder Cup and is scheduled to welcome the PGA Championship in May.
I challenged the course quite a few years back, thanks to the kindness of Ken, a buddy who had connections there. He invited three of us to join him for a round. The cost was free, a price that prompted no negotiation.
Our gallant trio – me, Tom, Dennis — drove five hours from home to arrive on the edge of the continent well before the appointed tee time. There waited Ken, a Charleston, S.C. resident who loved golf and the people who played it and who probably had sent golf balls into the air on most of the great coastal Carolina courses.
Neatly dressed attendants loaded our bags onto carts, with Ken suggesting that we tip them well, an idea that seemed more than appropriate since we were playing one of the world’s great courses for no charge.
It was a spectacular day, particularly for early December. The temperature was moderate. On many days, the Ocean Course is hammered by strong winds off the Atlantic, making an already tough course even harder. Strangely enough, the wind barely blew on this day, and there were very few other players on the course. The only other humans we saw were course maintenance people, none of whom were as memorable as the monster alligator resting close to one of our balls on a par four. None of us considered our iron play strong enough to challenge the gator, so that ball was left to the resident reptile community.
Remarkably, I parred the first two holes – a par four and a par five. Aware that this was unusually good for me, Ken, with a clever grin, asked if I wanted to drive back to the pro shop and check on the course record. I told him there was no time for that, and, besides, I clearly was on a roll. No detours.
Of course, I eventually crossed the century mark in shots tabulated for the day. It didn’t take us long to reach the seaside holes, a chamber of horrors with sand everywhere and greens that weren’t exactly flat. Additionally, we had to deal with that problem of the scenery being a major distraction.
By day’s end, we had lost a few balls to the sea gods – and to that alligator, and all of our scores were a shade embarrassing, but it was a wonderful adventure. If you win the lottery or discover a stack of $20 bills on the sidewalk, I highly recommend it.
Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.
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