A Tale of Two Opens

I am forced to admit that this summer I have spent a lot of time watching golf on T.V.  The 100 degree + temperatures (why-always on the weekends?) have driven me inside to the air conditioning and my trusty recliner.  Not able to afford the airfare to be there in person, I watched both the men’s US Open and British Open while avoiding the heat outside waiting to do me in.  The contrast between the two championships as far as venue and T.V. coverage was eye-opening to say the least.

Although Erin Hills, built on perfectly good farmland in Wisconsin, and Royal Birkdale, built on the shores of the Irish Sea, are both links-style courses, the viewer at home had a much better view of the game in England than she did the tourney in the USA.  Because the USGA chose yet another treeless links-style course where the fairways were not defined and almost every shot was a blind shot from the television viewer’s perspective, the tournament was hard to watch.  No matter how many shot tracers Fox used, this course gave us no perspective as to where the target was.  We could not follow the ball nor could we tell where the player was aiming and most times where the ball ended up. On the other hand, watching the action at Royal Birkdale was like watching an old friend. The fairways were clearly defined by the sand dunes which belonged there and the tall fescue and heather rough.  From the tees the camera clearly picked up the landing areas in distant fairways.  The only blind shot that was really noticeable was Jordan Spieth’s on #13, but of course a shot should be blind if it is hit from the practice area back to the green.

NBC’s coverage and camera work at the British was far superior to Fox’s at the US Open. NBC never failed to pick up the location of both accurate and wayward drives.  I recall seeing many approach shots to the green at Royal Birkdale.  Sadly, Fox’s cameramen seemed to be just as confused as we television viewers’, often not picking up on the location of drives and not making approach shots a priority.  I can’t recall seeing a green target on any approach shots other than short chips or pitches.  However, the fault was not in ourselves, dear golf lovers, but in the course.

Royal Birkdale is comfortably suited to the terrain it was given while Erin Hills appears to have forced its links-style on a Midwest corn field forgetting that it is in Wisconsin, not on the shores of any great body of water.  The USGA seems to believe that the “modern” golf course does not require trees: note the location of the last three US Opens.  However, the T.V.  audience loves the definition of tree-lined fairways in order to follow the action. Perhaps we television viewers were were more comfortable in our air-conditioned homes even in our collective state of confusion.  I feel sorry for both galleries and golfers searching for non-existent shade in the sweltering heat of a Wisconsin summer.  British seaside courses like Royal Birkdale, working with the dunes and heather they were given, have created playable courses without trees.  Then again, the climate and changing weather conditions don’t require trees for shade or for obstacles.

I would much rather be playing golf than watching it on T.V., but if I am watching, I’d like to be able to follow the play as I was able to do much more easily with the British than with the US Open.

Note: Perhaps you are wondering why we did not comment on the Women’s US Open. We were unable to watch it from our recliners as we were busy driving our air conditioned car on a road trip (see “Golf Montana Style” and “Shopping at Fiddler’s Green” blogs).


Shopping at Fiddler’s Green

Fiddler’s Green Golf Center is literally filled to the rafters with golf merchandise.

After a long two-week road trip that would have made Thelma and Louise proud and a particularly stressful day in I-5 traffic, there it loomed in front of us – the “Promised Land” in Eugene, Oregon – Fiddler’s Green Golf Center, home of the largest on-course golf shop in the USA.  We felt the tension drain from our tired bodies; we were about to go golf shopping!

We opened the front door and walked into a cavernous whole new world of all things golf related.  The store (it seemed as big as a football field) was an attractive warehouse with rows of colorful golf clothes for women.  I’m pretty sure it carried men’s clothing as well.  Toward the back around the 50-yard line, a cornucopia of golf clubs, all brands and all shiny and new, waited for a lucky player to select them.  At the far end zone was a wall of attractive (too attractive) golf shoes.  Fiddler’s Green also had separate rooms attached to the main large room, one dedicated to golf bags and one dedicated to wedges and putters, enabling a customer to make her choice away from the general hubbub created by the masses of shoppers.  As we wandered around the sidelines, we found everything a golfer could possibly need, including the latest technology.

We definitely needed a guide in this place that so easily overwhelms the senses, and Raymond Moore, a personable manager, came to our rescue.  He was eager to fill us in on the history of the golf center while he tempted us with various “good buys.”  Zeke, another personable and successful employee, was content to help Mary buy her first pair ever of full-priced golf shoes.

Raymond explained that the current owners founded Fiddler’s Green in 1976 when they took over a small, rundown golf course by the Eugene Airport.  Over the years they built addition after addition to the pro shop until golfers now enjoy the current behemoth they see today.  Fiddler’s Green still maintains the 18-hole, 2315-yard short course originally in place.  In addition, it has added a driving range, not only for warming up but for testing prospective purchases as well.  The original pro shop in the back is now a small coffee shop for both players and customers.  To get to the coffee shop from the shopping center, Raymond led us past an in-house embroidery shop, a golf club repair shop, a shipping/receiving space, and Mary and Zeke trying on shoes.  judging by all the services available, Raymond justifiably boasted that “customer service is primary” at Fiddler’s Green.

I know the big questions all you readers are asking are “did you buy anything” and “was it a good deal.”  The answers, of course, are “yes” and “yes.”  How could we resist?  I bought a golf watch that also counts steps, and Mary bought a new, longed-for pair of Footjoys. The purchases did not break the bank.  We will chalk them up to our road trip budget.

Hope to see you again soon, Fiddler’s Green.

Address: 91292 Highway 99N, Eugene, OR 97402.

Golf – Montana Style

Even power lines can’t spoil the natural beauty surrounding Montana’s River’s Bend Golf Course.

The hardest part about playing golf in Montana is playing golf in Montana.  The sky is bigger, the mountains are taller and still capped with snow, the fir trees seem to jut up to the sky, and the rivers are wider and swifter.  Focusing on one’s golf game becomes secondary in importance.

From the first tee at River’s Bend Golf Course at Thompson Falls, Montana, I knew we had some distance problems.  Everything in Montana is so expansive that long distances look close up.  We chose to hit irons to the 90 degree dogleg to avoid hitting into the swiftly-flowing Clark Fork River.  Feeling rather foolish, we realized that we could have hit our drivers all day long!

River’s Bend is a picturesque layout, its first 3 holes following the banks of the river and its last 6 holes wandering among the tall Montana pines. Many of the holes are sharp doglegs, making the wandering all that more difficult.  We definitely needed a knowledgeable Montana guide.  However, errant tee shots and misjudged approaches allowed us to focus on the beauty around us rather than our scores.

My cousin, Dale, who thought he looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy in his “golf” shorts (his son was afraid he might get beat up at the gas station) and who plays golf twice a year, won the putting contest on the last hole, so we headed into the clubhouse to buy him a beer.  The clubhouse/coffee shop/pro shop provided a wealth of information about golf here.  Our young host/golf assistant could not have been more charming.  The bulletin board advertised a weekly men’s league, a women’s league, and guided fly fishing trips.  A scrapbook described the 1989 Ladies Invitational, a 9 hole affair that offered 6 carts for use to the 8 members and 56 guests.  Photos on the wall bragged about the championships of the Thompson Falls Bluehawks golf team.  We noticed that high school girls were part of the teams as well as boys.  The focal point of the room in addition to the expansive view of the Clark Fork River, was the set of antlers mounted on the wall, a well-used persimmon 3 wood woven among its prongs.

Our game at River’s Bend proved to be a relaxing time for us in Montana.  We felt at home among its beauty and its people.  Located on scenic State Highway 200 between Missoula and Sandpoint, Idaho, it is a memorable and refreshing 9-hole stop in a truly beautiful state.

Two California tourists on the tee in front of River Bend’s clubhouse.

4th of July Fact

Feeling patriotic. Teeing it up at Mather’s red, white, and blue tee markers.

We learned so much history about the former Mather Air Force Base when we played Mather Golf Course that I thought I would share a little-known fact with you in honor of the 4th of July.  Mather was not the original name of the air field.  It was christened Mills Air Field, named after the community Mills Station where it was located.  Built in 1917 in preparation for World War I, it was one of the original Army Air Service training camps in the United States.

Enlisting in one of the first training classes, Second Lieutenant Carl Spencer Mather proved himself a talented and well-liked pilot.  Sadly, while continuing his training in Texas, he was killed in a mid-air collision on January 30, 1918.  The remainder of his class requested that Mills Field be renamed in Mather’s honor.  Mather Air Field eventually became Mather Air Force Base and continued under that name until it was decommissioned in 1993.

Over that period of time the military also built a golf course named after 2nd Lt. Mather. I wonder if he ever played golf.  Probably not – he was too busy flying.

Let the Scorecard Be Your Guide

Another lost ball! Playing from the wrong set of tees can be dangerous.

If you are in a position to choose the set of tees from which you will play, use the tees that match your abilities.  Ask yourself questions like – How many holes can I reach in regulation? How long are the par 4’s? Are the par 3’s reachable?  Haggin Oaks suggests that if you hit drives over 200 yards, you can play a 6,000 yard course; 160 to 199 yards, a course around 5,300; and 159 or less, a course under 5,000 yards.

The course distance rating/slope numbers can also help you choose the tees that will provide the most fun and better scores.  Remember, the distance rating, such as 71.2, tells you what a scratch player (one with a 0 handicap) should shoot on that tee.  The Slope number tells you how difficult the obstacles are.  Note: the average slope obstacle rating is 113.  See Mary’s post under “Course Rating” for more details on Slope.

In playing so many different courses, we have noticed some mistakes and omissions on printed score cards, especially for women.  For example, Turkey Creek has a misprinted rating number for the white/gold combo tees.  If a player posts using that number, she will see some surprising changes in her handicap.

Update: Turkey creek has corrected their scorecards.

Bartley Cavanaugh shows a woman’s rating/slope for only the forward tees which are very short.  Most women will probably choose the white tees at 5,393 yards. Unfortunately, these tees only show a men’s rating.  Be sure to use the rating for women, which is shown on the computer when you post.

Most important, no matter which tees you choose from the scorecard, have fun using them!

Mary adds:

Don’t forget, one of the factors to consider when selecting tees is the number of golf balls in your bag and the current price of a dozen balls.

Turkey Creek: The Sequel

The concentric circles of a golf ball gone astray at Turkey Creek Golf Club, a turtle, the only witness.

Our second visit to Turkey Creek last Friday presented us with an epiphany: a woman golfer really can have more fun “playing it forward.”  Some women players look at forward tees with a certain disdain.  At times I have found myself part of that group, but Friday we were a foursome of women players with a wide range of handicaps who all wanted to play from the same tees.  Also, we remembered as we played that we should not be “ashamed” of playing a shorter course because the USGA has told us that a 4800-yard course has the same distance difficulty for women that a 6000-yard course has for men.  From the forward tees we all felt good about our games, our scores were a little lower, and we enjoyed our good shots and even our bad ones.  Needless to say, a good time was had by all!

We noticed right away that the shorter length presented plenty of challenges.  The doglegs required us to choose clubs other than our drivers in order to avoid going through a fairway or to stay short of a water hazard.  Interestingly, the slope rating (123) of the gold tees at 4,897 yards was fairly close to the gold/white combination tees (127) that we had played earlier this year at 5,490 yards.  Similar slope ratings meant that the obstacles we encountered from both tees were almost equal in difficulty.  On the other hand, the par 3’s were all reachable for our higher handicap players.  Turkey Creek has also chosen a kinder design by supplying escape routes or bail-out areas on holes where greens are difficult to reach in regulation.  A short hitter will breathe a sigh of relief when she can choose not to carry the 130 yards of water on the par 3 number three. Note: Jack Nicklaus once said that a golfer should be able to play a golf course with a putter.  Turkey Creek took his advice.

The course continues to be in good shape especially for this time in the golf season.  It had been watered heavily, undoubtedly in preparation for the week of 100+ degree temperatures soon to come.  Lies in the fairway were still decent, but the greens had a few bumps this time due to the watering.  Finally, warming up on grass tees on the driving range is a plus – much easier than using mats to get yourself game-ready.

Turkey Creek presented itself as very woman-friendly on this Friday.  We noticed quite a few women playing early to beat the heat.  The pro shop was most friendly and informative, telling us that many women from nearby Lincoln Hills come over to play either in organized groups or independently.  The course has a large, active women’s club that has organized play and tournaments every Tuesday.

Turkey Creek, located on State Highway 193, is well worth the drive if you don’t already live in Lincoln.  The only turkeys we found there are the ones with feathers.  Try the forward tees – we guarantee you’ll have fun!


Mather – No Spoiling this Walk

The eleventh hole at Mather Golf Course invites both players and egrets.

Our first question to the pro shop when we arrived at Mather Golf Course located on the site of the former Mather Air Force Base was “Is this course walkable?”  Congenial assistant pro Billy Segall answered, “If you were going to build a course to walk, you would use this course’s design.”

Set among protected natural areas, Mather describes itself as “18 holes of tree-lined open fairways and medium sized greens.”  The description is a good one; we observed flocks of turkeys, giant birdhouses in the nature areas, wonderful bluebirds on the wing, and all sorts of other wildlife.  We also had up-close-and-personal encounters with several of the Mather trees which at times make the fairways not so wide open.  The greens were among the best we have played this year – consistent with beautiful speed and with just enough contour to make them interesting.  Mather is definitely not a “good walk spoiled.” At the end of the round we knew we had walked 18 holes, but we weren’t even breathing hard – just the right amount of exercise.

Women are most welcome at Mather.  The starter even stated that he liked women players because they play faster than men, a seldom-recognized fact that we women have known for a long time.  The scorecard suggests three different sets of tees for women although it gives women’s ratings for only two sets.  (This kind of omission is all too common on the scorecards for Sacramento area courses.)  You can find the rating/slope for the longer, 5,721-yard Navigator tees on the computer when you post. The shortest choice is the Jenny tees at 5,005 yards.  We chose the Mustang tees at 5,257 yards, 70.1/121 rating.  We found this length plenty challenging and fun.  Mather has a women’s 18-hole group that plays on Thursdays and a 9-hole group that plays on Tuesdays.  In addition, special events that include women players are listed on the website.

As always the game of golf brings people together.  By chance for this round we joined an old friend Ralph Hilber and his playing partner Ted Smith.  Ralph, a retired military officer, filled us in on the history of Mather Golf Course as we sat on the comfortable 19th hole patio after the round.  Apparently, when the Air Force decided it wanted to build a golf course in the late 1950’s, it put its squadrons to work.  Each squadron took charge of a different hole, and squadron members who received demerits were sentenced to hours of work on the golf course.  When the course opened to players, it provided each one with an old paint bucket to pick up rocks as they played.  They would empty the buckets into bins placed on each hole.  The Air Force officially announced the course’s opening in 1958 by declaring that “a golf course was found on base.”  When Sacramento County finally bought the course for $1.00 in 1994, the rocks were mostly gone.

The course that we play today is straight forward if not particularly memorable.  Many of the individual holes look quite similar; no hole stands out as a “signature” hole. Nevertheless, as a woman player I felt very comfortable here, even with the jet engines roaring in the distance as the Air Force fighter pilots practiced touch-and-go landings at the nearby air field.  We will definitely play Mather again just for the chance to walk the fairways and to putt those fantastic greens.