Saturday, May 26, 2012

Round #23: Iowa - The Harvester Golf Club

As you might expect, four of the top five golf courses in Iowa are in the Des Moines area. It is interesting that the Iowa side of the Quad-Cities (Davenport & Bettendorf) do not have any courses listed in the top ten. It is surprising that the #2 rated club is located in Rhodes, a town of 293 people located an hour’s drive northeast of Des Moines. I have previously played at the Harvester Golf Club a couple of times, but decided to make it my Iowa destination since Julie’s sister lives nearby, if you consider a distance of 50-miles as “nearby”. We drove to Joni & Tom Samp’s home on Sunday afternoon. 
Tom is a veterinarian and Joni is a retired school teacher. Their home in Eldora sits in a wooded cul-de-sac on the east side of town. I was testing the navigation system on a new BMW so I followed the instructions provided, in spite of knowing quite well the road to their house. I reverted back to self-guidance after the navigation system lead us into a dead-end road.
 The gate was locked to prevent people from driving down the road.

The road looks passable in dry weather.

Samp residence 

The deer really like their yard.

Tom and I arrived early for our 10:00 AM tee time the next day. We pulled into an empty parking lot; we became the 4th vehicle in the lot. The driving range was empty, we teed off ahead of schedule after warming up. There were a few other players within sight on the course, but none close enough to impact our pace of play.

Round: #23
Location: Rhodes, IA
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #2
Date: 14 May, tee off at 9:20 AM
Conditions: sunny skies, 1 MPH wind, 64 degrees
Yardage: 6,430
Lost balls: 3
Score:  85 on a par 72
One of the more memorable holes at Harvester is #6; a par 5 downhill that requires a lay-up 2nd shot followed by a pitch shot over a small pond to reach the green. The wind was gusting into our face making the 3rd shot a little tricky (in other words, my ball landed in the pond!). 
515-yard par 5 hole #6 

View of the approach shot from the #6 fairway 

View from the #6 green looking back up the fairway

Tom told me he recalled playing hole #7 after his chip shot rolled off of the green and came to a stop 60-feet down the hill. He had the same experience once before when he played at Harvester, but he set a new record this time after watching his ball roll back to him on 4 successive attempts to hold the green with a chip shot. At least he did not have far to walk between shots!
 350-yard par 4 hole #7

 View from the rough on hole #7

Tom hitting a chip shot to the #7 green

The lake does come into play on several holes. The wind did not seem to be a factor when my tee shot landed in the fairway on hole #9. I can not say the same thing about holes #17 and #18 where a southwesterly wind seemed to push my tee shots into the water on both holes. 
410-yard par 4 hole #9 

155-yard par 3 hole #17 

525-yard par 5 hole #18 (green is at far right edge of the picture) 

View from the #18 green back across the lake toward the tee box 

We completed the round of golf shortly after 12:00 PM. Julie & Joni told us we were on our own for food, so we stopped for lunch in the clubhouse. Our green fee was good for unlimited golf so we headed back out for a 2nd round. There was one foursome putting on the #18 green when we walked up to the tee box on our first round. I thought we might be slowed down by playing behind them but they had called it quits after only 18-holes. We began the 2nd round with no players in sight on the front nine.
145-yard par 3 hole #3 

 300-yard par 4 hole #5

165-yard par 3 hole #8

With the temperature warming into the 70’s, we decided to add start drinking beer at the turn. Perhaps I should have started drinking earlier as I managed to avoid the lake on hole #18 on the 2nd time around round (although I still hit the water on hole #17). The beer might have also also impacted our judgment; we decided a 3rd round of golf sounded like a good idea after walking off of the #18 green for the 2nd time. We did stop by the clubhouse to re-stock the beer cooler. At this point in the afternoon, the beer was being consumed for medicinal purposes only along with a few ibuprofen tablets.
340-yard par 4 hole #11

We began the 3rd round in a slightly different format. Tom & I had been playing from the white tee boxes, which made the course 6,430-yards long. For the 3rd round we pulled a numbered golf ball out of a hat to determine the tee box we would play from. The course plays 7,365-yards from the black tees, 6,840-yards from the blue tees and 5,120-yards from the red tees. My tee shots do not travel far enough to make the black tees playable; the red tees are normally referred to as the women’s tees due to the shorter distance the ball must travel from tee to green.
Although a random drawing seemed like a good idea at the time, the law of statistical averages let us down. We played from either the blue or the white tee box for the first 8 holes before drawing the black tee box on hole #9. We did not draw a red tee box until hole #12, which turned out to be the only time we played from the shorter tee boxes. As luck would have it, the next 5 draws each sent us to the black tee boxes starting on hole #13. It was impossible to reach some of the greens in regulation (2-strokes on par 4’s; 3-strokes on par 5’s), especially when hitting a shot into the wind. 
 380-yard par 4 hole #12 (played 120-yards shorter from the red tees)

550-yards par 5 hole #15 (played 100-yards longer from the black tees) 

435-yards par 4 hole #16 (played 95-yards longer from the black tees)

The absence of players enabled us to place an interesting wager on who would buy dinner that evening (remember, we were still on our own for food!). The tee box on hole #14 sits above the #18 fairway. We decided that the person who could hit the longest ball into the #18 fairway from the #14 tee box would get a free dinner. Tom teed off first and hit his ball into the lake. I hit my shot into the fairway, but it did not stop until it rolled into the rough. On the 2nd attempt, Tom hit into the lake again and I rolled into the rough for the 2nd time. Luckily, my 3rd attempt stayed in the fairway after Tom landed in the lake for the 3rd time. We were starting to run a little low on golf balls!
 195-yards par 3 hole #14

Tom standing in front of the #14 tee box looking out over the lake and #18 fairway

We completed our 3rd and final round of golf at 7:15 PM. After 54-holes of golf in 10-hours, we drove into Marshalltown where Tom picked up the check at a Mexican restaurant.
After doing some crazy things together over the past 42-years, playing 54-holes of golf together in one day seemed kind of normal! However, neither of us felt like playing any more golf when we awoke on Tuesday morning. Age is creeping up on us - - - but we will never admit it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Saga of Flat Stanley Comes to an End

As you may recall from my earlier blogs, I received a Flat Stanley in the mail from a  grandson of my sister, Jo Ann Presley. Jackson Dodson is in the 2nd grade at Sacred Heart in Anniston, Alabama. His class read the book Flat Stanley written by Jeff Brown. The book’s story is about a young boy named Stanley who is accidentally squished “as flat as a pancake” when a bulletin board falls on him. Stanley is very, very flat but otherwise fine. The book tells us of Stanley’s adventures as a flat person. He is able to slide under doors and even fold himself up small enough to fit into an envelope, thus enabling him to be mailed to exciting places for visits. With that thought in mind, Jackson made his own Flat Stanley and which he mailed to me in early November. He requested that Stanley travel with me, and asked that I report back on Stanley’s travels. The 2nd grade class would track Stanley’s travels on a wall map in their classroom. What Jackson did not know was that I had set the goal of traveling to all 50-states in one year to play golf. His timing was was perfect.

Julie & I had the opportunity to visit the Sacred Heart 2nd grade class as we traveled through Anniston last month. I promised to send Flat Stanley back after I returned home. Jackson received 4-reports and 86-pictures from me over the past 5-months that illustrated the many places Stanley has visited. A final report was sent back on 30 April, in time for the class to map his latest adventures before the school year ends.
As you would expect, Flat Stanley visited a number of golf courses. He did find the time to experience a number of other items as you can see in the listing below:
  • visited 26 states
  • played on 28 golf courses
  • walked on 3 beaches (Oahu, Oregon, Delaware)
  • saw 2 oceans (Atlantic & Pacific)
  • drove 4 large pieces of John Deere equipment
  • traveled through 3 airports (San Francisco, Denver, Chicago)
  • visited 2 race tracks (Churchill Downs, Indy 500)
  • rode across 2 famous bridges (Golden Gate, Chesapeake Bay)
  • played the slots on the Las Vegas strip
  • walked on lava fields in Utah and flew over active volcanoes in Hawaii
  • dropped in on the Special Operations Forces at Fort Bragg
  • ate Coca-Cola cake in Charleston & caramel apples in Queenstown
  • climbed the California redwood trees
  • toured Buffalo Bill Cody’s homestead
North Shore beach on Oahu

Helicopter ride over volcanoes on the Big Island

Eating caramel apples in Queenstown

Driving his favorite big green tractor

I suspect there was more than one person who wondered what I was doing over the past few months when I stopped to take pictures. It has been interesting to note the large number of people who knew of Flat Stanley and have done the same thing for their kids or grandkids in the past. It has been fun to travel with Flat Stanley, especially when we visited the 2nd grade class and were peppered with all of their questions. I suspect Flat Stanley had a nice nap after his return to Anniston; naturally he arrived folded up in an envelope in the same manner described in the book.
Visiting Churchill Downs

Caden Johnson, Jackson Dodson & Flat Stanley

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Round #22: Kentucky - Big Spring Country Club

The #1 ranked golf course in Kentucky is the Valhalla Golf CLub in Louisville. Designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and opened for play in 1986, Valhalla is one of only four sites in the nation to host a Senior PGA Championship, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. It has also been named the host site of the 96th PGA Championship in August 2014. I called the club to see if I could play and was surprised to learn they were closed for the season. The course is undergoing renovation.
The #2 course in Kentucky is also in Louisville: the Big Spring Country Club. A few last minute contacts were able to get me into the club with a 11:50 AM tee time. After driving out of West Virginia, Julie & I had planned to get a hotel room at the last minute in Lexington. A country music concert and a horse show changed our plans after we failed to find any available rooms. We stayed in Mount Sterling with a 110-mile journey to Louisville on Saturday morning. Naturally, the weather forecast was calling for afternoon thunderstorms with the possibility of severe weather.

Round: #22
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #2
Date: 28 Apr, tee off at 11:30 AM
Conditions: partly sunny, 6 MPH wind, 60 degrees
Yardage: 6,579
Lost balls: 0
Score: 76 on a par 72
Upon arriving at the pro shop, I was given the option to tee off by myself at 11:50 as scheduled or hurry off to the practice range and pair up with a club member for an 11:30 tee time. I chose the later option and met Dr. Norris Jennings. It was a good choice.
Doc was a 68-year old family physician who had cut back his office hours to 13-days/month after 41-years in the business. A native of western Kentucky who grew up in Paducah, he attended the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington before settling into Louisville. When he learned that I had just traveled through eastern Kentucky, he shared his opinion of that section of the state: “they don’t make enough whisky to live in eastern Kentucky”. He is married with two bachelor sons, aged 37 and 41. He tells his wife to spend their money on herself as it does not look like she will ever see the day when she is shopping for grandchildren.

Dr. Norris Jennings

We caught up to a foursome on golf carts playing ahead of us by the 9th hole. Doc knew all of the members in the group; he referred to one man as a “buffet veteran” and described him as a man who is as broad as he is tall. Doc enjoyed walking the golf course; over the years he has witnessed first-hand the impact lack of exercise has had on his patients.

Doc sits on the board of directors for Community Health Systems, a Tennessee-based firm that owns & operates 130 hospitals across the USA. One of his responsibilities is to  attend 3-days of the Kentucky Derby where he represents the company to suppliers and physicians. He also attended one day of the Masters tournament this year at Augusta National. He believed all of the corporate jets in America were parked in Augusta that week as he estimated 500 jets were sitting on the tarmac parked within inches of each other. He was surprised by the impeccable cleanliness throughout the Augusta National golf course; I was surprised by the rules involving lawn chairs that he shared with me. Every person who attends the tournament is issued rules of conduct prior to their arrival. No brightly colored lawn chairs are allowed; no lawn chairs with arms are allowed . Interesting! 
I did play golf in addition to listening to the conversation with Doc. I bogeyed five of the first six holes. The only par occurred on the 2nd hole after a chip shot from the green side bunker stopped 6” from the hole. Lady Luck showed up on the 7th hole; I wrapped up the front nine with par-birdie-par. She stayed with me through the back nine where I finished at even par after my approach shot on hole #12 landed 1’ from the hole for a tap-in birdie; on hole #16 a 40’ putt dropped in on for my third birdie of the day. I told Doc we would have to play together more often.
 163-yard par 4 hole #2

399-yard par 4 hole #5 (view of approach shot to the green from the fairway) 

 161-yard par 3 hole #6

 405-yard par 4 hole #18

View of approach shot to the green from the hole #18 fairway

I referred to hole #12 as the Young Guns hole. At 307-yards it is a reachable green for younger players and their long tee shots. It is a risk & reward proposition: landing on the green could result in a make-able eagle putt (2-under par). With a creek that wraps itself around the green, a miss could result in a loss ball and the associated penalty stroke. I played it safe with a tee shot into the fairway and was rewarded after my approach shot stopped near the hole.
 307-yard par 4 hole #12

 View from the cart path of hole #12 green

View of hole #12 green looking back up the fairway

After playing golf, we headed down to Churchill Downs to shop in the gift shop. I used to think that the Kentucky Derby was a 1-day horse racing event; it is a 3-week festival leading up to the climatic derby race. As we arrived at the Downs, crews were tearing down equipment in the main parking lot from a previous event. Cars were streaming into secondary parking lots. The posted fee for parking was $40, a little more than we wanted to pay for a short visit to the gift store. We lowered our window and asked advice from a security guard; she pointed us to a free parking lot - - - within 100-yards of the $40 lot. I liked that much better. 

Free parking just ahead!!!
It was Saturday night, one-week before the running of the Kentucky Derby. The crowd was streaming in to attend the opening race of the season. They came dressed for the occasion, and were more than happy to pose for pictures asked. 

Last minute shoppers can pick out their hat in the gift store.

I walked back to get the car while Julie finished shopping. After asking one more group to pose for a picture, they turned the tables by asking me to be in the picture. How could I refuse?

It was time to eat dinner after our visit to Churchill Downs. Another Yelp review led us to the nearby Hammerheads restaurant. The drive took us through a run-down section of Louisville where I would be nervous leaving my car parked on the street - - - but we continued to drive on to our destination. It was easy to spot the restaurant with a hammerhead shark hanging above the entrance door. We fell into line to await the restaurant opening, which immediately filled all available seats in the basement of a house once the doors flew open. The food was prepared by a group of young men who resembled hippies from the 1970‘s. The service was fast and the food was to-die-for good. Those boys either really know how to cook or they use a special hemp seasoning.

 Pork tacos & grippo fries

 Beef brisket on a pretzel roll with french fries cooked in duck fat

Chocolate brownie with bacon topping drizzled with chocolate & caramel syrup
The storms finally did arrive later that night, carrying with them golf-ball sized hail. By a stroke of luck, we happened to be shopping with our car safely parked in a covered ramp. We drove out of town that evening on a road covered with 3-4” of shredded leaves from the hail storm that had passed though the area. Lady Luck was still with me! I was hoping the owner of this unique car also saw the storm coming in enough time to move it to safety. 

You would expect to see a bubble machine mounted in the trunk!

We drove home Sunday in the rain. We traveled 4,500 miles in 17-days to play golf in 11 more states, during which hardly a day passed when our car’s windshield wipers were not in use. The rain has continued all week since we have been home. I am hoping it starts to dry out soon - - - there are 28 more states ahead yet to play!