Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Round #47: Illinois - TPC at Deere Run

You might think that I would have already played the states closest in proximity to my home, but that was not the case. My original target in Illinois was the Medinah Country Club in Chicago, which may have been possible if I had tried to get on earlier in the year. Medinah is hosting the 2012 Ryder Cup in September, an event that was already consuming their attention in early July when I started to arrange a tee time. Attempts to contact them through the Crow Valley pro went unanswered, so I moved down the list to TPC at Deere Run. One other reason to play Deere Run was one of my retirement gifts was a gift certificate that had been gathering dust for the past year - - - it was time to use it. Playing Deere Run was not a difficult task; it is open to the public. I arranged a tee time within 24-hours of play, and it was a short 17-mile drive from my home.

Deere Run is situated on a piece of property with a history that includes Native American settlements, farming, coal mining, and most recently – one of the top horse and cattle breeding programs in the country. A man named Erskine Wilson built a stone house and farm on this land at the very same time a man living 70-miles upstream named John Deere was starting a plow company. Participants in the course design felt that it was important for every visitor to understand the historical significance of this piece of ground – and so they named each hole on the course after the land’s rich heritage.

157-yard par 3 hole #3

Erskine Wilson's stone house (now serves as the office for the JD Classic tournament director)

One such piece of history is told on a plaque beside the hole #2 tee box, appropriately named “Colonel Davenport”. Davenport, one of the Quad Cities on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, is named after the area’s first permanent settler, George Davenport. Colonel Davenport was attacked and murdered in his home on July 4, 1865 by a group of bandits. Rumor has it the bandits fled from Rock Island and took shelter in the barn whose foundation is still visible behind the hole #2 green. From here they made their escape using the Rock River ferry crossing. They were all captured and brought to trial by October that same year.  

 501-yard par 5 hole #2

Hole #2 (view from the fairway of one of the old farm buildings situated behind the green)

For more than 40-years, William & Patricia Hewitt owned the property that Deere Run sits on.  The property served as one of the top Arabian horse-breeding operations in the country under the name Friendship Farm. Patricia Hewitt was the great, great, granddaughter of John Deere. William Hewitt served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Deere & Company from 1955 to 1982, a period of time when the Company grew into its prominent position as the #1 supplier of farm equipment globally. A lone oak tree in the middle of the hole #4 fairway is now known as “Hewitt Tree”. It recognizes the Hewitt family’s good stewardship of the property - - -  a constant reminder for any golfer facing the oak tree obstacle as they prepare to tee off on the hole named “Friendship Farm”. 

 417-yard par 4 hole #4 (Hewitt Tree is sitting in the middle of the fairway in front of the distant sand trap)

Hole #4 (view from the rough looking out over the green at the Rock River below the bluff)

Designed by D.A. Weibring, TPC Deere Run preserved the natural, rolling landscape along the Rock River to create a championship golf course beautifully framed by oak trees and accented by small ponds & deep ravines. Deere Run has hosted the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic tournament since 2000. The course is recognized by Golf Digest as #82 on America’s 100 Greatest Public golf courses and at #13 on the Best-in-State Ranking for Illinois. 

The clubhouse at Deere Run 

Round: #47
Location: Silvis, IL
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #13
Date: 18 Aug, tee off at 12:27 PM
Conditions: sunny, 6 MPH wind, 77 degrees
Yardage: 6,426
Lost balls: 1
Score: 85 on a par 71

My playing partner was my son, Jack. He is the Supply Chain Controller at HNI Corporation, the 2nd largest manufacturer of office furniture in the world and the leading manufacturer & marketer of fireplaces in the USA. With a 45-minute commute to his job in Muscatine, Iowa he does not find much time to play golf by comparison to his retired father. That is a good thing since he can hit the ball much farther than me. I need to play often to maintain a slight advantage in the short game (chipping & putting). He was also at a disadvantage going into our round with very little warm-up time. We were quite surprised to arrive at a course with a great practice range while being provided with a bag of 15-balls for our use. Perhaps it was someone’s dumb idea for saving the club some expense as it is customary to have unlimited range balls for use at any of the better rated courses I have played.


Our practice time on the putting green was cut also short when the starter prodded us into moving onto the nearby #1 tee box to start the round. In any event, my short game advantage started to show up immediately after making par putts on 3 of the first 4 holes while Jack started the round with a string of bogeys. I was maintaining a 2-stroke going into hole #9 where he made par and I shot a double bogey. We were tied at 42 going into the turn.

 359-yard par 4 hole #1

 Hole #1 (view of approach shot to the green from the fairway)

 411-yard par 4 hole #5

 Hole #5 (view of approach shot to the green from the fairway)

 332-yard par 4 hole #6

185-yard par 3 hole #7

Jack quickly gave me the lead again on the par 5 hole #10 when his 2nd shot found the green side bunker which gave him problems getting out and onto the green. I landed on the green in regulation and 2-putted for a par; his double bogey returned the match to a 2-stroke advantage for the Old Man! After playing even up over the next 3-holes, he erased my lead again with back-to-back pars on hole #14 and #15 where I could do no better than a pair of bogeys. We were tied again after 15-holes of play.

 512-yard par 5 hole #10

 Hole #10 (view of the green from the fairway - bunkers on left, pond on right)

178-yard par 3 hole #12

The last few holes have been the determining factor in determining a winner of the John Deere Classic in each of the last 2-years. Perhaps it was destiny, but the same challenges would also determine the outcome of our friendly father-son competition. I gained an advantage with a par on the short par 3 hole #16 to return to 1-up after he bogeyed the hole. We both made par on #17 with 1-hole remaining in our match. 

 127-yard par 3 hole #16

 Hole #16 (view of the green looking out over the Rock River)

490-yard par 5 hole #17 (view of approach shot to the green from the fairway)

Both of us found the fairway with our drives on hole #18, he out-drove me as expected. My approach shot failed to reach the green, but it was good enough to insure a victory after his ball hit the bank and bounced into the pond. A mere 1-2’ to the right on Jack’s approach shot would have likely enabled him to make par and tie the match as I finished the hole with a bogey.

One last insight into Deere Run’s history is in the name given to the 18th hole: “Conquistador”. A plaque beside the tee box contains the following inscription:
The Spanish word conquistador means “one who conquers”. This has special meaning here on the 18th hole. The foaling barn for Friendship Farm used to sit on the ridge that overlooks the right side of the fairway. It was here where the farm’s internationally recognized Arabian horses were born and took their first steps. One of the Farm’s prize breeding horses was named Llano Grande Conquistador. He sired countless prize-winning offspring throughout the years. Tournament participants of the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic contested every year at the TPC at Deere Run have to walk over the same ground as Llano Grande Conquistador to lay claim to the same title - CHAMPION.

 428-yard par 4 hole #18

 Hole #18 (view of the green from the right side of the fairway)

 Hole #18 (view from the green looking back up the fairway)

Jack & Jim on the 18th green

Instead of a foaling barn, the clubhouse at Deere Run now sits atop the ridge above the 18th fairway. The grassy knoll underneath the stately oak trees was set up for a wedding ceremony that evening. Tests of the sound system provided the music of Kenny G while we were completing our round of golf. The music and wedding preparations brought back memories of 2005 - when we attended Jack & Heather’s wedding reception on the same ridge. 

 Wedding on the ridge at Deere Run: August 18, 2012

Jack & Heather's wedding reception on the ridge at Deere Run: June 11, 2005

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Round #46: Nebraska - Wild Horse Golf Club

The drive from Sutton Bay into Nebraska was due south through the central portion of both states. The deer, antelope & pheasants we had been seeing in South Dakota disappeared as the rolling grasslands showed little sign of anything aside from herds of cattle. The countryside became very desolate on the 300-mile journey to North Platte. After hitting two quilt shops in Pierre, SD (population 13,860), the road passed through only two other towns: Mission, SD (population 1,209) and Valentine, NE (population 2,760). The only other sign of human habitation along the route was a casino on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, just inside South Dakota across the border from Nebraska. It was evident from our drive that working windmills provided water from ground wells for the cattle, as there were no power lines to supply electrical power.

The Rosebud Casino on the South Dakota / Nebraska state line

 Sign in parking lot designating the state line (Rosebud Casino is in the background)

 A working windmill on the Wild Horse course (inscription on windmill vane: "The Aermotor - Chicago)

Windmill driven water pump

My first choice for a course in Nebraska was the Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen. It was similar to Sutton Bay in South Dakota from the standpoint of being located in a very remote area of the state. The Sand Hills Golf Club is rated as the 9th best golf course in the USA by Golf DIgest. Although the club has members, it is actually owned by a small group of investors who maintain tight control over the number of guests allowed to play the course. My attempts through two different members failed to gain entrance to the club; phone calls to the General Manager from one of the members went unanswered. I had no other choice but to select a different course in Nebraska. 

Designed by Dan Proctor & Dave Axland, the Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg opened in 1999. An advertisement along roadside leading to Wild Horse indicated that it is ranked in the top 20-courses in the USA, but it was not clear who provided the ranking. Golf Digest rates the course as the 4th best in Nebraska. With its proximity to I80, it was an easy stop on our route back home. I was ready to play.

Roadside sign leading to the course

Round: #46
Location: Gothenburg, NE
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #4
Date: 15 Aug, tee off at 9:00 AM
Conditions: sunny, 2 MPH wind, 66 degrees
Yardage: 6,335
Lost balls: 0
Score: 77 on a par 72

Sometimes it just happens. The golf gods show up to provide me with a smooth swing and Lady Luck makes her presence known at the same time. It happened in Nebraska. 

I was scheduled to tee off at 9:50 with two other players, just ahead of a group outing. I was anxious to tee off early with Julie wanting to quilt shop in Nebraska that afternoon and planning to meet with an old friend in Des Moines the following morning. Another motivating factor was to complete play before the afternoon temperature climbed to an estimated 99 degrees. The pro shop said I could tee off at 9:00 AM by myself; I jumped at the opening.

Painted horse shoes marked the tee boxes (black-tipped = 6,335 yards)

Horse skulls were used for the 150-yard markers

After starting with a par-bogey, I left a birdie putt 6” below the cup for a par on hole #3. I followed with another par-bogey on the next 2-holes. My tee shot on the par 5 hole #6 landed in the fairway; my 3-wood carried the next shot through the fairway up into the rough. Lady Luck was on my side when a 110-yard approach shot from the native grass hillside stopped 3’ from the cup. I made the birdie putt this time. After a bogey on hole #8, my tee shot on the par 3 hole #9 missed the green. The chip shot rolled over the edge of the cup but failed to drop. It did stop short enough for an easy par putt wrapping up the front nine with a 38.

 527-yard par 5 hole #6 (view of the approach shot from the native grass hillside)

143-yard par 3 hole #9

The back nine started with a drive that stopped short of the trap on hole #10. After making par-par, it was hole #12 that really told me Lady Luck was helping me out. After a foursome let me play through on hole #11, I was determined not to hold them up on #12. I walked onto the tee box where an obstructed view prevented me from being able to determine a good target. I did what any good engineer would do in the situation: make a guess! Good or bad, the drive was straight on the chosen target over a native grass hilltop. I drove down the fairway to discover the ball had kicked off the hill, past a hidden fairway bunker and rolled to a stop 120-yards from the green. An easy approach shot and 2-putt gave me the 4th par in a row. 

 382-yard par 4 hole #10

393-yard par 4 hole #12

Hole #12 (view of the green & bunkers from the fairway)

The view from the hole #14 tee box was just as bad as #12, but catching up to a twosome assisted me by providing visibility of their golf cart. I was also helped by very wide fairways - I walked across the #14 fairway to estimate it’s width at 96 yards. The course really consisted of wide fairways separated from the native grass roughs by a single mower width of a “normal” bluegrass rough. Lady Luck continued to help when a poor shot from the 14th fairway stopped 3’ short of a fairway bunker. I tapped in the par putt after the chip shot stopped 6” from the cup. 

 490-yard par 5 hole #14

Hole #14 (view of the 2nd shot from the fairway)

Apparently my quota of good luck was exhausted by the time I played hole #18. After reaching the green in regulation, a mis-read resulted in a long birdie putt that broke away from the hole. A 3-putt resulted in a bogey finish to a great round of golf.

I avoided hitting into the bunkers for the entire round. That was a very good thing when you see the hazards they posed.

 Fairway bunker on hole #4

 Fairway bunker on hole #8

 Fairway bunker on hole #16

Fairway bunker on hole #18 (the top of this bunker was ~10' above the fairway)

The natural, rustic setting at Wild Horse was further enhanced by unpaved cart paths.  

Cart paths

The distant sound of truck traffic on I80 and freight trains rolling down the tracks were subtle reminders of the dramatic changes brought to the Great Plains within a relatively short period of time. Buffalo herds that once roamed the area were estimated to have numbered 50-million. An army of hide hunters almost drove the buffalo to the point of  extinction in a little more than 10-years.

After playing golf at Wild Horse, we visited two sites in Gothenburg that provided insights into the past. The Pony Express that began in St. Joseph, Missouri in April, 1860 utilized “way” stations every 10-miles along the route to Sacramento, California for riders to change horses. One such way station, the Midway, is located on its original ranch site just south of town. A 2nd station, the Sam Macchette, was relocated to the center of Gothenburg in Ehmen Park. The Sam Macchette station served as a fur trading post and ranch house along the Oregon Trail prior to its use for the Pony Express from 1860-1861. The cost of maintaining 500-horses and 200-men on the Pony Express proved to be prohibitive. It ceased operations after 18-months upon completion of the Overland Telegraph. We were able to mail post cards to our grandkids from the Sam Macchette way station after dropping them into a “mochila” (mail pouch) hanging on the station’s front door.

The Sam Macchette way station

 Pony Express historical plaques

 Historical map of the Pony Express trail & way stations

The mochila used to collect outgoing mail

The 2nd site that attracted our attention was a replica sod house. Constructed as a memorial to the area’s first settlers, the site features a barn, sod house, windmills and life-sized barb-wire sculptures. Such houses were built by the settlers on the prairies from thickly rooted prairie grass. Sod was used in the absence of standard building materials such as wood or stone. The houses were naturally very cheap to build and surprisingly well insulated, but were susceptible to rain damage and dampness.

 Replica sod house

Inside view of the sod house

Barb-wire sculpture of a buffalo (constructed from 4-1/2 miles of wire)

A rest stop along I80 inside Iowa provided a visual display of the disappearing topsoil in the Great Plains region. The 14” layer that existed in 1850 declined to 11.5” by 1900, with a further decline to 7” by 1975. Perhaps we are missing out on the natural fertilizer left behind by 50-million buffalo!

Representation of soil composition on the Great Plains in 1900