Wednesday, October 31, 2012

“She’s Gone Country”

The road home from New Mexico took us through Kansas. We missed visiting my sister Mary Lou during our prior trip to Kansas last March when I played golf at the Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson. Although Mary Lou lives in Topeka, we learned she spends much of her free-time on the week-ends in the Hutchinson area. She bought a house in nearby Langdon where her son, Robert, lives. You may recall my mention of Robert in an early blog titled “San Francisco Houses & Flat Stanley”. Robert lived in one of the San Francisco houses shown in the blog. I expect he underwent a huge culture shock in the move from San Francisco to rural Kansas!
The Langdon property includes a small field where Mary Lou plans to start a vineyard. That was quite surprising to me since I can never recall my sister having ever planted anything in her life. Now she is preparing to grow & care for a vineyard in the middle of Kansas (a land that is best known for endless wheat fields, not so much for vineyards). She started off her venture this past summer with a vegetable garden. Growing watermelons and pumpkins in the hot, dry Kansas summer is not something I would have thought of tackling as a first project, especially when she would only be able to water the garden on the week-ends. She proudly showed off a watermelon and a pumpkin that missed being run over after she  mowed the field down at the end of the summer. She is planning to install a drip irrigation system after she plants the grape vines. 
 The Langdon property

 Future site of Mary Lou's vineyard

You know the house is in Kansas it's adjacent tornado shelter
 Proof that she can grow watermelons in Kansas

Not so much proof that she can grow pumpkins!
Mary Lou has a friend, Dave, who is a week-end wheat farmer in the area. He was planting winter wheat when we stopped by for a visit. Hopefully, she will be able to get some advice from him as she moves forward with her projects. He obviously knows what he is doing - - - exemplified by his choice in farm equipment. The John Deere 4020 tractor he was driving was one of the product lines our father, Ardis, helped design & build during his career with the company. The JD 4020 model tractor helped propel John Deere to the #1 position in agriculture over it’s long term competitor, International Harvester. The JD 4020 was in production from 1964-1972, making Dave’s tractor over 40-years old. Dave commented that he could plant all day on only 15-gallons of fuel. The tractor was in great operating condition, making it easy to understand why the JD 4020 enjoyed such a sterling reputation among customers, many of whom often requested it be brought back into production. Dave pointed out there is a web site devoted to its current fan base:
 Dave drilling winter wheat with his John Deere 4020 tractor

Mary Lou and her John Deere 755 tractor
We let Dave get back to work while we drove over to Arlington where Mary Lou was in the final stage of buying yet another property (her 4th). She intends to rent out the house until she retires and moves to the area on a permanent basis. She was attracted to the Arlington property since it contained enough room to build a cellar for her future wine production. I would not be a Herring if I did not jokingly point out that she might be crazy - - - my sister is certainly not afraid to venture down the road less traveled and we can all agree that she does indeed plan ahead! Her pursuit of organic gardening reminded me of an advertising logo I observed on the side of a street vendor’s truck in San Francisco: “Frozen custard made with fresh, natural, local, organic ingredients.” I can almost envision reading the label on one of her wine bottles already!
 The Arlington property

Future site of Mary Lou's wine cellar
The warm, sunny skies made it an easy decision to play golf in Kansas before continuing the drive home. I mentioned in the last blog that my next goal was to play all of America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses. I already have a good start on the goal having played 26 of them already. It has proved difficult to gain admittance to many of the private clubs included on the list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. So while the new goal is to play all of the top public courses, I do intend to chip away at the top private courses whenever the opportunity arises. Such an opportunity arose when I contacted the Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, a suburb of Wichita. They agreed to let me play, making it the 18th course I have played from the list of the greatest golf courses. 

Round: 18/100
Location: Andover, KS
Golf Digest “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses” Rank: 75
Date: 30 Sep, tee off at 2:00 PM
Conditions: overcast skies, 5 MPH wind, 73 degrees
Yardage: 6,394
Lost balls: 0
Score: 74 on a par 71

The golf course at Flint Hills is in the midst of a private gated community. The fall decorations at the front gate, entrance roadway and walkway leading to the club house were vivid reminders that my season was coming to a close. They also indicated that I was in for a treat, although playing golf on a Sunday afternoon meant I would be playing alone. The majority of any members wishing to play would have played earlier in the day so they could catch the pro football games on TV in the afternoon. I was surprised to learn the club would be hosting a member-guest tournament the following day; I suspect my home course would not allow any un-accompanied guests to play the day before such a tournament. The course was in excellent condition as you might expect.

Gated entrance to Flint Hills

 Fall decorations along the road to the golf course

Statues in a small pond along the roadway
 Walkway to the clubhouse

Front entrance to the clubhouse

I enjoy playing a golf course that penalizes the player for a poor shot; water hazards, sand traps and long rough certainly are the types of hazards everyone tries to avoid. Hole #3 at Flint Hills added one additional element with green side sand traps cut into a steep hillside. Maintaining grass around the traps would be difficult - - - so they just let it grow. If you missed landing on the green, any ball that landed in the sand traps would be considered a blessing compared to landing in the 12” tall grass adjacent to them.

 353-yard par 4 hole #3

The sand traps and long grass surrounding the hole #3 green

Hole #4 provided the more typical challenges where patches of native grass combined with a small pond to test your accuracy on the par 3 hole.

 185-yard par 3 hole #4

View of hole #4 looking back over the green toward the tee box

While the views from many of the tee boxes were very indicative of the challenging shots, hole #10 provided the most scenic backdrop with a hole flanked by tall pine trees and flower beds.

 514-yard par 5 hole #5

 330-yard par 4 hole #6

489-yard par 5 hole #11

 150-yard par 3 hole #10

View of hole #10 green

The half-way house was located along the path between the 11th and 12th holes. Flint Hills did not miss any opportunities to enhance their beautiful setting.

Statues of children raising the flag near the half-way house

Hole #18 was a par 5 that wrapped around a small lake. After making a good tee shot, the temptation to go for the green was irresistible. I carried over the water but landed short of the green in the rough. A chip shot and 2-putt enabled me to finish with a par. It was a nice way to wrap-up a great afternoon on a beautiful, challenging golf course.

 486-yard par 5 hole #18 (view from the green looking back up the fairway)

View of the clubhouse from the 18th green

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Round #49: New Mexico - Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club

The Four Corners is a region of the United States consisting of the southwestern corner of Colorado, northwestern corner of New Mexico, northeastern corner of Arizona and southeastern corner of Utah. The Four Corners Monument is located at the quadripoint where the boundaries of the four states meet. Prior to this trip, my only visit consisted of my right foot stepping into the state of New Mexico at the Four Corners Monument (my left foot was busy visiting Arizona while my hands were touching down in Utah and Colorado). I was prepared to change that shortly.
Julie’s broken foot did cause us to make some adjustments on this trip. We stayed overnight on the property at the Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club in Colorado, enabling Julie to relax in the room while I played golf. We had a few more hotel choices in New Mexico given my choice to play the Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club, located in a suburb of Albuquerque. We opted to book a room at the Hard Rock Casino & Resort. The Hard Rock offered Julie the opportunity to relax in the room, choose from a selection of restaurants for in-house dining or entertain herself at the slot machines if boredom set in. With her needs taken care of, I was off to play golf.
In addition to it’s rank as the #1 course in New Mexico, Paa-Ko Ridge was highly recommended to me several times over the past year by other golfers. Designed by Kenneth Dye, Jr., the course is situated on the east side of the Sandia Mountains, at elevations ranging from 6,500 to 7,000 feet (note: the higher elevation will cause a golf ball to travel 10% further than the same shot would in Iowa). The layout of the course features landing areas and greens separated by arroyos, native vegetation, and rock outcroppings. Many of the holes play downhill through ponderosa, piƱon and juniper. All of the holes feature spectacular high-desert and mountain views.

Round: #49
Location: Sandia Park, NM
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #1
Date: 27 Sep, tee off at 11:10 AM
Conditions: partly cloudy, 10 MPH wind, 78 degrees
Yardage: 7,332
Lost balls: 2
Score: 85 on a par 72

There was no shortage of potential playing partners for me to be paired up with. I shared a golf cart with was Gary Blake, a 51-year old from Shreveport, Louisiana. Gary has had a very interesting career path:  he is a retired Navy man who pursued a 2nd career with MCI WorldCom and GTE. The hectic pace of a career in the telecom industry led him to his 3rd career in golf. He worked 3-years for the Golf Channel while pursuing a degree in Golf Management before moving into his current position as the Head Golf Professional at the Fox Run golf course on the Barksdale Air Force base in Bossier, Louisiana. Gary’s wife of 24-years is also retired from the Navy; she is currently employed by General Dynamics as a Senior Program Analyst providing oversight on new contract quotes.

A father & son team accompanied us on the round of golf. Harold Gonzales retired 17-years ago from a management position with the U.S. Postal Service after a 36-year career. He did not sit around for long - - - he began working as a real estate broker the day following his retirement. The 72-year old man can trace his ancestry back 7-generations in the Albuquerque area; his ancestors were given rights to the eastern half of the valley below Paa-Ko ridge in a land grant but the land was sold off previous to his generation.

Harold was accompanied by his son, Chris. The single, 35-year old earned a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Mexico. He has been employed by Intel for the past 12-years as a process engineer in a computer chip manufacturing facility.

Gary Blake, Chris & Harold Gonzales

Paa-Ko Ridge has 27-holes of golf; we played the last 18-holes after the starter sent us out to hole #10 (I did circle back to play the first 9-holes after the round was finished). The weather cooperated, providing a beautiful day to be outside enjoying the fresh air on a scenic golf course. I was hitting the ball on target with only a couple of exceptions, which was good considering shots that veered offline where lost forever in the thick underbrush. We did not encounter any snakes on the course but did spot an occasional rabbit and one road runner (a fitting name for the fast running bird that prefers to run at speeds up to 20 mph in stead of taking flight).

 400-yard par 4 hole #10

 426-yard par 4 hole #11

 523-yard par 5 hole #12 (view of the green)

 366-yard par 4 hole #13

 Hole #13 (view of approach shot from the fairway)

625-yard par 5 hole #15

The course was in great shape with fast greens that made for difficult putting. Club selection was critical given the longer ball flight in the thin mountain air. I scored well with 8-pars on the round but did card 3-double bogeys, 2 of which resulted from balls lost in the underbrush.

 405-yard par 4 hole #17

 213-yard par 3 hole #22

 607-yard par 5 hole #23 (view of the 2nd shot from the fairway)

 190-yard par 3 hole #24

238-yard par 3 hole #26

The round of golf at Paa-Ko Ridge brought me to the point of having played golf in 49-states within a 9-month period. My goal of playing in all 50-states within 1-year was much easier than anticipated. Since we were already on the road, I offered to drive straight to Florida and conclude the quest. Julie did not see the wisdom in my suggestion. My 2nd thought was to begin working on the next item in my bucket list. 

During the course of the past year I have been thinking of what that goal might be. Originally I was thinking of attempting to play the all of the top 100 courses in the USA. It is clear such a goal can be quite frustrating by attempting to gain entry into a large number of private clubs, many of whom have strict rules requiring that I be invited to play by a club member. That lead me to the goal of playing the top 100 public courses in the USA (I have already played 25 courses on the list). With that in mind, prior to leaving New Mexico we drove to Espanola where I could play the Black Mesa Golf Club. My goal to play in all 50 states during 2012 will not be complete until we visit Florida in December (along with a trip to Disney World with the grandkids), but I was already starting the pursue my next goal. With only 2 of the top 100 courses in New Mexico I would have covered both by playing at Paa-Ko Ridge and Black Mesa.

Round: 26/100
Location: Espanola, NM
Golf Digest “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” Rank: tied for 86th
Date: 28 Sep, tee off at 11:10 AM
Conditions: partly cloudy, 6 MPH wind, 66 degrees
Yardage: 6,719
Lost balls: 0
Score: 85 on a par 72

A group of friends from Dallas, Texas joined me on the round. They were traveling to Colorado to spend a long week-end at a condo owned by Brain, who is a dentist back home in Dallas. Dale owns a metal fabrication business and Dave is a contractor. 

The boys from Dallas: Dale, Dave & Brian

 339-yard par 4 hole #1 (the fairway was across the pond and over the hill)

 584-yard par 5 hole #3

 Hole #3 (view of the green)

174-yard par 3 hole #4

Although Espanola was less than 100-miles from Albuquerque, the terrain was much more sparse. This made finding wayward golf balls much easier. Luckily, the rattle snakes that inhabit the area did not make any appearances during my invasion of their territory. Some rain clouds threatened to cut the round short but only a few rain drops found their way to the ground in the immediate vicinity. The scenery definitely added to my enjoyment.

 456-yard par 4 hole #5

 530-yard par 5 hole #6 (view of the green)

 319-yard par 4 hole #7

 Hole #7 (view of the green)

494-yard par 5 hole #16