Thursday, July 26, 2012

Junior Golf

I come from a large family. With ten brothers & sisters, I have relatives spread across the United States. Two of them live in the Minneapolis area. We visited my sister and her husband in Minnetonka on Thursday. After playing golf at Interlachen, we drove north to Champlin where my brother and his wife reside, Joe & Mary Herring. We sat out on the screened porch and drank a few beers as the sun set. Screened porches are a necessity for enjoying the outdoors in the land of 10,000 lakes and 10 billion mosquitoes, especially when the house backs up against small pond. We were able to enjoy the warm weather as the evening wore on.
 Joe & Mary's home

View of the back yard marsh & small pond

Mary & Joe

Joe had planned to take me golfing at the Edinburgh USA course early Saturday morning while Mary & Julie visited some quilt shops in the area. The plan was to meet up around noon for lunch at a Thai restaurant in Osseo. The plan changed after we awoke to thunder storms and lightening. The rain did not stop the women from their shopping, but we lost a few hours before the weather broke enough to play golf. We kicked in Plan B - - - play a quick round at the nearby 9-hole Eagle Lake Youth Golf Center.

Round: #1 on a junior golf course
Location: Plymouth, MN
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: Not ranked
Date: 21 Jul, tee off at 10:30 AM
Conditions: cloudy, 3 MPH wind, 82 degrees
Lost balls: 1
Score: 65 on a par 62
WIth a break in the weather, other players were streaming into the parking lot as we showed up at the course. We knew the round of golf would be leisurely after watching a family of four with two young players tee off ahead of us, which is what you would expect to see at a junior golf facility. Since we were playing as a two-some, we decided to play two balls on every hole to maintain a slower pace of play. It worked out quite well.
Bother Joe standing on the hole #6 tee box

This was the first time I had played a junior course. There were several notable differences from a normal golf course. First, the length of the course measured 1,808 yards from the black tees, 1,278 yards from the orange tees. We played from the black tees, making it seem like an 18-hole course with a length of 3,616 yards with two balls in play.  A normal course for me would be 6,500 yards in length. Second, the shorter par 4 holes presented the potential for tee shots to roll through the fairway on holes that dog legged (i.e., turned left or right). I lost one ball that flew straight over the fairway into the brush on  the dogleg left hole #4. The straight par 4 holes had reachable greens for players that can hit longer drives than me. Third, the par 3 holes were shorter than usual with fewer bunkers, but you still must hit an accurate shot to hit the greens.
The golf gods showed up again. I was swinging the club with a smooth confidence that allowed me to score quite well. The greens were rolling very slow by comparison to the average course I have been playing, which reduces the break enabling direct putts at the hole. I did manage to hit two shots within close range on the hole #3, but still missed both birdies putts. It was a nice round of golf with the lowest score I have ever had on a golf course, even though you do not usually play two balls on nine holes to arrive at such a score.
 125-yard par 3 hole #3

 292-yard par 4 hole #4

 156-yard par 3 hole #6

 126-yard par 3 hole #8

 300-yard par 4 hole #9

View of approach shot to the green from the hole #9 fairway

We met the ladies for lunch on schedule, filled up on some good Thai food, and got on the road for the 380-mile drive back to Bettendorf.  38 states completed, 12 to go!

Reuan Thai Restaurant in Osseo

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Round #38: Minnesota - Interlachen Country Club

The drive into Minnesota did not take us very far past the southern border before our first stop at a quilt shop: the Calico Corner Quilt Shop in Hayward -  population 249 people. A classic reflection of Small Town USA was on the corner just outside the quilt shop - a self-serve vegetable stand featuring Gene’s Sweet Corn. Several local people were stopped by to make a purchase as I sat in the parking lot. Gene relied on an honor system for the cash transactions at prices that were 50% of what I had just paid back in Bettendorf. 
 Gene's Sweetcorn stand in front of the Calico Hutch Quilt Shop

The honor system at work

We made it to Minnetonka in time for dinner with my sister and her husband, Rose & Frank Homan. We enjoyed a great dinner at “Jimmy’s Food & Cocktails”; apparently there are some men named Jim who’s culinary expertise extends beyond peanut butter sandwiches. The highlight of the evening for Julie was comparing notes with Rose, who also enjoys quilting. Rose operates a one-person quilting “sweat shop” in her basement.  Julie and I were amazed by her ability to work a full-time job as a tax accountant while managing to cut, sew and quilt 125-quilts over the last 3-years. She donates the fruits of her labor to Quilts for Kids, an organization who distributes them to children suffering from cancer and other life threatening illnesses.
 Jimmy's Food & Cocktails

Rose & Frank's home

 The quilting "sweat shop"

Rose & Frank Homan

We had time the next morning to visit one more quilt shop before driving to the golf course. It has been interesting to see the variety of quilt shops that exist. The Eagle Creek Quilt Shop in Shakopee was located in an old railroad station. I do believe Julie is  experiencing as much variety in shopping for quilt fabric as I am in playing different golf courses. She is out-pacing me though, by an average of four quilt shop visits to every one golf course I have played.
 The Eagle Creek Quilt Shop in Shakopee

It was easy to select Interlachen from among the number of fine golf courses in Minnesota. It’s long history dates from November 1909, when several members of the Bryn Mawr Golf Club decided to found a new golf club. They purchased farmland alongside a suburban Minneapolis streetcar line where they opened a 9-hole course in July 1911. In 1919, the club decided to redesign the course. The new 18-hole course, which is largely the same as today, was designed by Don Ross and opened in 1921. The course is consistently ranked on Golf Digest’s list of the 100 best courses in the United States.
The first major tournament held at Interlachen was the Western Open in 1914. The club was the site of the U.S. Open championship in 1930 and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in 1935. It was scheduled to host the 1942 U.S. Open, but the event was cancelled after the outbreak of World War II. More recently, Interlachen hosted the 2002 Solheim Cup in 2002 and the U.S. Women’s Open in 2008.

Round: #38
Location: Edina, MN
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #1
Date: 20 Jul, tee off at 1:40 PM
Conditions: sunny, 4 MPH wind, 80 degrees
Yardage: 6,515
Lost balls: 2
Score: 89 on a par 72
I became acquainted with Joe Loftus through his work as a consultant to John Deere executives on corporate stock benefits. He works for UBS in Minneapolis as a Vice-President-Investments. His wife, Jessica, is employed as the City Administrator in Orono. They have one daughter and are expecting the birth of their 2nd daughter in September. It was natural for me to contact him regarding golf at the Interlachen Country Club. I suspected he might know a club member who would be willing to host me for a round of golf. My hunch paid off. 
Upon our arrival at the front entrance to Interlachen, Julie & I were met by a young man who offered assistance with the golf clubs and valet parking. I informed him that I would be a guest of John Dovolis and I knew immediately from his reaction that I was set to have a great afternoon. John was a close friend of Joe’s who I met for the first time at lunch. He was a former club president who greeted members non-stop as they walked pass our table. John was born & raised in Edina, where he currently lives off of the 4th hole at Interlachen. His parents were members at Interlachen; he worked at the club as a golf caddy in 1958. It was an easy decision to accept putting advice from him during our round given his 54-years of experience in reading the same greens!  John owned a heating & air conditioning business prior to selling it in 2005. He currently works as a consultant to the heating & cooling business, manages the Spartan Group enterprise in Minneapolis and is involved with development in the Bakken Shale area of North Dakota. I was glad to see he had some time left over to play golf!
John’s wife of 43-years, Dianne, owns the Wholesale Fashion Shoes store in nearby Richfield. Apparently the business of selling women’s shoes for $10.99 and handbags for $16.99 is a good business. No surprise!
John & Diane had two sons. At 34-years of age, their oldest son Jim is a bachelor who works in the family businesses. John said Greek men are slow learners when it comes to marriage, and their son is no exception. Their 2nd boy, Nick, passed away unexpectedly in July 2008 from heart failure. You understand the kind of gentlemen I had the pleasure to play golf with when you read the following excerpt about Nick:
Nick Dovolis '02 applied to one college: the University of St. Thomas. During his first 12 hours as a freshman, he introduced himself to everyone he encountered, explored two campuses, and was invited to six parties and ten organizational meetings, recalls roommate Josh Mahlen '01. Once classes commenced, Nick made friends at every turn while pursuing a degree in entrepreneurship with passion. 
After graduation, Nick partnered with his father and brother Jim to create the Spartan Group, a distributor of environmentally friendly products. He excelled in sales and customer development. Outside of work, Nick loved to golf with his grandfather, father and St. Thomas friends. 
Joe Loftus '01, Nick's closest friend and roommate of ten years, initiated the idea of an annual memorial golf tournament, with proceeds going to establish and support the Nicholas J. Dovolis Endowed Scholarship at St. Thomas. For generations to come, entrepreneurship majors will benefit from this permanent scholarship. 
Endowing a scholarship was a fitting way to remember his friend who was always giving to others and sharing his brilliant smile, infectious laugh and love of life, Joe says. "We wanted to carry on Nick's legacy, and we've combined his love of golf and having a good time with giving back to St. Thomas."
The 3rd member of our group was Mark Kenyon. Mark is a Director at UBS where he in involved in the training of branch managers. His job entails significant travel; having been on the road 25-weeks thus far in 2012. Mark was Joe’s former boss when they both worked at the branch office in Minneapolis. Mark walked the course with a caddy named Tref. This was not the first summer that Tref had caddied, but it was the first year he had worked at Interlachen. Tref attends DePaul University in Chicago where he is majoring in advertising & marketing. He has worked 2-years as an intern for the Chicago Bulls professional basketball team and will begin a permanent assignment with the Bulls as a Senior Marketing Director upon his graduation from DePaul.   
The boys standing on #9 tee box: Mark Kenyon, Joe Loftus, & John Dovolis

At this point you may be wondering if I did play golf, or did I just drive to Minneapolis to meet up with some great guys? We hit the driving range after lunch for a quick warm-up. It was one of those days where every ball you hit on the range is long & straight but something changes after you walk onto the 1st tee. My first drive pulled left into a tree where it dropped down into the rough. It was not a good start to the round. Hole #1 was one of two only two holes revised from the original 1920 Don Ross design in 1963 by Robert Trent Jones. Mr. Jones changed the hole into a par 5 after he lengthened it and tucked the green further back into the trees. I managed a bogey after a long putt helped offset the poor tee shot.
 526-yard par 5 hole #1

View from the fairway on hole #1 (after punching my shot out of the left rough)

The 2nd hole Robert Trent Jones altered was hole #3. He shortened it to a par 3 and protected the green with bunkers in front and and a pond wrapped around the backside.  My tee shot pulled left again where it found the water. A good chip shot enabled me to shoot another bogey.
172-yard par 3 hole #3

The 2nd shot on the par 5 hole #9 has to carry over a large pond. As we were playing the hole, John told me the story of Bobby Jones in the 1930 U.S. Open tournament. Bobby had already won the British Amateur and the British Open that year prior to arriving at Interlachen. In the final round of the tournament, a noise from the crowd disturbed Bobby’s 2nd shot on hole #9. The ball hit the water where it skipped across the pond and landed in the fairway. He narrowly avoided a disastrous hole and went on to to win the U.S. Open by two strokes. Bobby completed his unprecedented Grand Slam that year with a win at the U.S. Amateur tournament.
 518-yard par 5 hole #9

 View from left side of the fairway of the 2nd shot over the pond

View from hole #9 green looking back toward the tee box

I avoided the water on hole #9 after my 2nd shot pulled left. The story of my front nine was shots that pulled left followed by a good short hame to save bogey. One exception was on hole #6 where a chip shot from the sand bunker flew over the green. The next shot onto the green did not stop until it rolled completely off. I scored a 4-over par 8 on the hole. With only one par on the front, I finished at 11 over par. 
 162-yard par 3 hole #5

 328-yard par 4 hole #6

343-yard par 4 hole #7 (view of approach shot to the green)

My driver started to work on the back nine where I began to hit the fairways. I shot three pars in a row, missed an easy par putt on #13 and shot par on #14 to get off to a good start. A poor tee shot got me into trouble on hole #16; I repeated the experience from hole #6 after a chip shot from the bunker flew over the green followed by a shot onto the green that rolled completely off. I carded a triple bogey on the hole. I managed a 41 on the back nine with five pars. I finished the round at 17 over par with 7 of those strokes coming from holes #6 and #13. I would have liked to use an eraser on those two holes.
 334-yard par 4 hole #10

 541-yard par 5 hole #12 (bordering Lake Mirror on the left side)

 179-yard par 3 hole #13 (view from the green back toward the tee box)

 406-yard par 4 hole #15

 311-yard par 4 hole #16

View from the rough of approach shot to the #16 green (after punching out from the trees on the left)

It was a great way to spend the afternoon: a challenging golf course and some great guys to play with. The only drawback to the day was being excluded from a decision involving the green fees for my round of golf. After arriving at the course early that afternoon, I stopped in the pro shop to see if I could put the green fees on my credit card. The assistant pro informed me that could only be done with the member’s permission (i.e., Mr. Dovolis). While riding with John to the 1st tee box, I asked him to stop at the pro shop where I could pay my green fees. He declined, saying that he and Joe had already decided the matter. 

I was not looking for a free ride, but that is what I got. I can only hope that perhaps they will decide to attend the John Deere Classic tournament someday and I can host them at Crow Valley Golf Club during their visit to Iowa. The invitation is open.

 The boys on the #17 green: John, Mark, Caddy Tref, & Joe

 385-yard par 4 hole #18

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

View from the #18 green looking back toward the tee box 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Home Course Advantage or Fantastic Golf Balls???

Some of you keep asking me if I have had any more holes-in-one on the heels of my lucky shot at Pebble Beach. The answer is no, although I have come close on a few occasions. As you might suspect, I do play an occasional round of golf at my home course when I am not traveling across the USA. Early morning rounds with John Quinn (another John Deere retiree) usually find us first on the tee box for a 2-1/4 hour round of golf. We could probably cut some time off the round if we used a golf cart, but walking the course is great exercise. On week-ends the normal group can include anywhere from 6-12 guys. The normal Saturday morning crowd did not show up a week ago, the day of the 3rd round of competition at the John Deere Classic tournament across town. I teed off at 7:00 AM with the only other two guys to show up that morning: Marty Wilkinson and John Dalhoff.

The round of golf started out quite well for me with 1 bogey and 4 pars through the first 5 holes. I thought my game had fallen apart on hole #6 when I carded a triple bogey. The game of golf can produce some wild swings at times. I somehow managed to shake off the poor result on hole #6, hitting two great shots on hole #7 to get within 125-yards of the elevated green. My approach shot looked good, as did Marty’s shot to the green. After walking up the hill, we only saw one ball on the green - which turned out to be Marty’s. My ball had rolled into the hole for a 2-under par eagle. (Note: a hole-in-one is a 2-under par eagle on a par 3 hole). Somehow I lost my touch on hole #8 where I shot a 3-over par 7 on the hole. I finished the front at a 6 over par 41.
 519-yard par 5 hole #7

 View from the fairway on hole #7 (creek runs the length of the hole on the right-hand side)

 View of the approach shot to the green from 125-yards out

View hole #7 green looking back toward the tee box

I continued to play well on the back nine with one double bogey and two bogeys. I finished the round at 10 over, with 8 of the extra strokes occurring on 3 just holes. 
It is interesting to note the golf ball I was hitting that morning: it was not just your normal Titleist golf ball. The ball carried a “Maytag” logo on it. As you may recall, my younger brother John used to work for Maytag. He gifted his supply of “freebie” golf balls to me last summer for my retirement. The ball I shot the hole-in-one with at Pebble Beach was also one of his gifts.
The Maytag eagle 

The Home Depot hole-in-one

To put this in perspective, I have been playing golf for over 40-years. During that period I have managed 3 eagles and 2 holes-in-one. Two of these great shots happened within the past 7-months - - - with golf balls provided by brother John. As much as I would like to think that Marty Wilkinson and John Dalhoff brought me good luck that Saturday morning, the evidence suggests something magical happens when I play with free golf balls from my brother. 
John: my birthday is coming up in a few months. . . and Christmas right behind it. My supply of lucky golf balls is running low, buddy!