HHH 2016: A Double Dose of Doak
Two weeks ago, I did something I swore I would never do again: complete two Hundred Hole Hikes in four days. In 2013, I had the crazy idea of doing four hikes in 3 1/2 weeks, with the last two being on a Monday (in Canada) and Thursday (in Scotland). Since then, my left ankle has been hanging on by a very thin thread.
But this year the opportunity presented itself to do another two hikes, on the same Monday/Thursday timeline, and it was simply too good to pass up. On June 20th, I did my traditional hike at Ballyneal with some fellow members and good friend Brandon Urban. Then on June 23rd, I ventured up to northern Michigan to do a hike at Forest Dunes, along with architect Tom Doak, Matt Ginella from Golf Channel and Ashley Mayo from Golf Channel. The Forest Dunes hike were some of the very first rounds on The Loop, Doak's revolutionary REVERSIBLE golf course (the only one of its kind).
Last year, I had the chance to tour and play some holes in the dirt up while The Loop was under construction. Given the lay of the land and uniqueness of the concept, I casually mentioned to Tom that day, "This would be a great course to do a Hundred Hole Hike".
He immediately responded, "I would be up for that". And the wheels were officially in motion for the HHH at Forest Dunes this year. The optimal timing for the resort was June 23rd, right before the course was set to open officially to its members and for guest play (their member-guest grand opening was the following day).
It's worth noting that the week of the two hikes corresponded to the 5-year anniversary of the original Ben Cox marathon, the main thing that started it all. It's been amazing to see the growth of the hike over that time period, now with over $2.5 million raised for nearly 200 different charitable causes. My initial theory when I started the event was that there had to be other golfers out there, like me, crazy enough to try something like this and armed with the willingness and ability to do it for causes that were close to them. It turns out that hunch was right, at least for a few hundred lunatics out there (though I suspect there are more that just haven't been found yet).
HIKE 1: BALLYNEAL
Although this was my sixth golf marathon event at Ballyneal (and I've caddied for two others), each one is uniquely different and stands out for various reasons. A lot of these reasons have to do with the weather, which can vary wildly in NE Colorado. One of our hikers, John Penny, recently got married at Ballyneal and his best man Michael reminded wedding-goers of when he caddied for John in the 2012 hike when it was 108 degrees (and windy and humid). One of the lasting images of that hike is immortalized on the Hundred Hole Hike website, bottom row fourth from the left below, with John completely spent and contemplating whether he could continue (he did).
The weather forecast was definitely a concern as this year's hike approached. Many of us played 36 holes on Sunday, where the temperature was a sticky 100 degrees. The forecast called for more of the same. The day after the hike it reached 102 degrees. But thankfully Monday turned out to be pretty much ideal, with overcast skies most of the day and temperatures that never got higher than 83 or 84. Storm clouds started brewing just beyond the course in the mid-morning and there was some thunder in the distance, but again we lucked out as eventually that gave way to a sunny afternoon. As an added bonus, the skies were clear and the moon was bright, allowing enough light to tee off a little earlier than usual. The night before, the five of us hiking decided to meet up at the pro shop at 4:30 A.M. I went outside and immediately realized that it was already "golfable", so rushed to get things arranged and to the first tee as quickly as possible. This is me hitting the first tee ball at 4:40 in the morning:
Once again, I was armed with two caddies at all times, in a well-honed system that has helped me tremendously since the first marathon. Even better, there were some familiar faces along the way, such as Chris, who caddied three loops for me last year. And later there was the brother and sister combo of Tristan and Brenna, who I later determined were the younger siblings of my friend and former caddie Cierra. I was fortunate to have a lot of basketball fans on my "bag" (in spirit only, as there were eight clubs with no bag, split between the two caddies), so the Cavs Game 7 victory/Warriors epic Game 7 meltdown and the upcoming NBA draft was a continual topic of conversation and easy distraction to the grind of playing 150+ holes and walking 50+ miles in a day.
I wished I could say I played some of my best golf. I wish I could say that I made 22 birdies and an eagle (that was Gary Albrecht in our group). I wish I could say I played some of my fastest rounds ever. But none one of those statements were true. But it was still good enough. Like Dory, I just kept swimming. Just kept swimming. All of my rounds were in the 80s. I made eight birdies overall. And the pace was in the 1:25-1:30 range with very small breaks in between rounds.
I like to say, "Like they always say, the fifth and sixth rounds of the day are always the toughest." That's usually when one hits the grind during the hike, when mentally you started to count down the number of holes left, focus on how much daylight is left and how much your feet hurt, and that's pretty much all you can think about. For whatever reason, I never hit the proverbial wall this year at Ballyneal. I was making great time, and 155 was well within reach, with time to spare.
When pledging my support to Brandon, I half-jokingly commented, "See you for Round 9". During last year's hike, I shamed/jedi-mind tricked Brandon to continue on an extra round during the twilight hours well after he had decided to quit after 126 holes. It worked last year, but I didn't really think he'd take my round 9 suggestion seriously. That was until I finished my 8th round, got up to the clubhouse and saw Brandon marching down the 10th fairway on his 145th hole! Brandon started the day on the back nine and I hadn't seen him all day until that point, so I knew he was on a good pace. But when I saw him marching down the fairway, I realized that he was actually a half-hole ahead of me.
I quickly switched gears and decided to start round 9 on the back. Then I tried to catch up to Brandon, and it wasn't until the 13th hole when I could finally get close enough to get his attention. The guy was an animal (a point that will become even clearer later on in this blog). Brenna was on his bag at this point and we zipped around the back nine and then headed back to the front.
My M.O. has been to stop at 155 holes in deference to the original Ben Cox marathon. But finishing on the 2nd hole didn't seem like a great idea. And more importantly, the course was just glowing on a perfect summer afternoon. I don't care if it's your 157th or your 7th hole of the day, if you're anything like me, there's no way that you'd see a view of a golf course like this and not keep playing. The golden hour was in full effect.
At one point, we broached the subject of possibility stretching it to 171 holes, matching the hike record held by our good friend Rob Rigg. But at the bottom of the 4th fairway (okay, rough), I started to feel a little woozy and light headed, to the point that I had to sit for 10 minutes or so at the 6th tee box. At that point, 162 holes seemed like a perfect good and reasonable number. 9 rounds in one day. Not a bad day's work. We realized that there was no way the two of us could flash the traditional post-hike digits, so my caddie Oscar (who went the last four rounds) got the much-deserved '1' in the picture below.
All in all, it was a fitting end to a beautiful day at Ballyneal. We had a great crew of five hikers and even had a friendly multi-round skins game going to add interest and raise an additional $720 for our charitable causes (I won one, Brandon won one and Gary won two). Together, the Ballyneal hike raised over $23,500 for charity. I am honored to call these guys fellow hikers and friends:
HIKE 2: FOREST DUNES
After six years of 100+ hole golf marathons, I always tend to judge how things are going by how many holes do I think I could play the next day. I woke up Tuesday morning after the Ballyneal hike and played a quick nine holes, as I found that getting up and getting moving helps with the recovery process. I told Brandon that I could probably play 100 holes that next day, but it wouldn't be pretty. Maybe back-to-back 100's is an idea for a future year.
Months ago, Brandon agreed to accompany me to Michigan to help out with the hike at Forest Dunes, proving once again what a great supporter of the hike and true friend he is (kudos also to my lifelong buddy Jimbo, who also made the trek to help out). Primarily, I think he was really excited to see Doak's new reversible course. Secondarily, he'd get the chance to meet golf luminaries and social media mavens Matt Ginella and Ashley Mayo, who along with Doak rounded out the featured foursome. Also, like Jerry Seinfeld's bit about the Best Man in the wedding, he could easily step up and finish out the 100 if I collapsed and died somewhere on the 8th fairway (it's okay, I would've wanted them to go on).
Thankfully, nobody collapsed and nobody died, as the Forest Dunes hike was a successful and extremely memorable event, for a number of reasons:
- As mentioned, these were some of the very first rounds on the Loop, the first course of its kind. A reversible golf course? I tried to explain this concept to the some of the caddies at Ballyneal and they couldn't compute what I was telling them. I had seen it last year and it still didn't make much sense to me. Heck, three weeks after playing it three times each way and I still can't quite wrap my head around it.
But in the end, I think that's a good thing. I've come to the realization that great golf courses are the ones that reveal themselves over time. Course that you have to play and want to play multiply times to unlock their mysteries. The Old Course at St. Andrews is probably the perfect example of this (I often say The Old Course is probably the greatest golf course in the world, I'm just not smart enough to have figured it out yet).
Speaking of the Old Course, eras of golf course architecture can be plotted on a timeline that is defined by truly ground breaking golf courses. St. Andrews. Cypress Point. Pinehurst. More recently: Harbour Town, TPC Sawgrass and Sand Hills. I think you can add The Loop at Forest Dunes to that list. It seems to me that people will study the intricacies and nuances of The Loop for years to come. I don't know if it will start a wave of reversible golf courses, but I imagine we will see others attempts crop up over time. And similar questions that Doak faced during construction - how to make it work, what kind of land suits best, what types of holes work well and don't work so well, how to arrange hazard and greens to work both directions, etc. will be asked and new answers may arise. As somebody interested in the design and strategy of golf course architecture, I'm excited to see what happens. Walking off the 108th and final tee, I remarked to Doak, "You did it. You actually pulled it off."
As far as potential spots for a Hundred Hole Hike go, The Loop at Forest Dunes is a Doak 10. First of all, take the climate and daylight of Northern Michigan. I don't think it got higher than 81 degrees and one could play golf until 10:15 PM or even later in mid-summer. Also, The Loop is a great, walking-only course with similar topography to Pinehurst No. 2 (what I would call the best course to walk in the U.S.) And finally, the ability to play the course clockwise and then immediately turn around and play it counter clockwise adds variation and interest to an already fun and strategically-interesting golf course (or shall I say, golf courses). I have to say 200 holes in a day is entirely possible (Hmmm...)
We didn't really push the envelope in terms of pace and holes played. We started at 5:30 AM and the plan was to simply play 108 holes -- three times in each direction. And we were playing an alternate shot format where we mixed up the pairings and played match play matches throughout. Alt-shot can really go fast if you forge ahead while your partner is teeing off or hitting. However, most of us gave up on that fairly early on as well. I have to admit, it was a bit of an adjustment for Brandon and me, as we were hard-wired to play as fast and as much as humanly possible. But the breaks did allow for some pretty epic photo journals of the day from Ginella and Mayo.
- Not only were we playing some of the first few rounds on this groundbreaking course, these were Doak's first full rounds on the Loop ever. It was very cool to be a part of him playing and observing the full course for the first time, and if my statement on the design timeline is correct, is something I'll likely be telling my grandkids about someday.
Ashley admitted that she likes to scream the architect's name whenever she gets an unfortunate break and hits into a hazard. "DOAK!!!" was a recurring theme throughout the day, proving again and again that it really is a four-letter word. Even Tom got into action by commenting, "who put that there?" after a particularly unfortunate bounce into a hazard. Then there was this beauty...
- One of the nice perks about being one of the first to play a course: course records are up for grabs! Although my driver was inconsistent, my wedge game and putter was pretty solid throughout the day, allowing me to post some decent scores with my playing partner:
Round 1 (Black/clockwise): Matt & I paired up to beat Tom & Ashley 6&5
Round 2 (Red/counterclockwise): Ashley & I combined to shoot 77 and beat Tom & Matt 4&2 in the
Round 3 (Black): I paired up with Nia, an alum from the Midnight Golf Program (more on this in a second) to shoot 79, well ahead of the others
Round 4/5 (Red & then Black): Tom & I paired up to shoot 83 and 87, losing both matches to Matt & Ashley
Round 6: Matt & I shot 80, defeating Tom & Ashley 3&2
[If you're keeping track at home, Doak was 0-5 on the day on his own course, but he did lap the rest of us in fundraising so it's hard to give him too much flak]
At one point, we thought the 77 on Red with Ashley and 79 on Black with Nia were the course records in both directions, but it turned out somebody did shoot 75 on Red earlier. But the 79 with Nia was in fact the course record, although it's likely been broken by now. It was a fun while it lasted. It's worth noting that this is only the second time that I've held a course record. The other one is for once missing every fairway at Ballyneal. Sadly, going 0-for-14 is one that will truly never be broken.
- I birdied the Redan hole, holing out a long putt from off the green. This was my first birdie on a Redan ever. And after having numerous triples and quads derail potential career rounds on the 17th hole at Doak's Pacific Dunes, I was pretty overzealous in my celebration in front of Doak when that putt dropped.
"That's the biggest celebration for a birdie I've ever seen," Ashley's boyfriend Jeff remarked to Brandon.
"There's history there," Brandon responded.
- As I alluded to, in Round 3 we were joined by three alumni from the Midnight Golf Program, the charitable cause that we all were raising money for. I had Nia, Tom paired with Yvette and Matty G paired with Shelby. Ashley played her own ball. All three were obviously very good players, Yvette is current playing on the golf team at Ohio Valley University in West Virginia. It was a little difficult trying to get them out of their traditional pre-shot routines, and Jimbo had to have a heart-to-heart caddie-to-player talk with Yvette about the weight of her bag, but aside from that the highlight of the day getting to spend time with them on the course and learn more about the program and what it meant to them.
[The night prior to the hike, MGP founder Renee Fluker hosted a reception for the participants and some of the MGP members and volunteers. It was abundantly clear just in that short time just how much Renee and the other MGP volunteers are pouring into the kids to help get them to college with the tools they need to be successful. They are continually going way above and beyond the call of duty for these kids if necessary. My main takeaways were that MGP or similar programs need to be in Chicago (and every city in America) and short of that, we should all try to find some young person to mentor like the MGP volunteers are doing every year. This is truly life-changing work they are doing. I feel truly blessed to be able to help them in this very small way.]
- Ginella said early on that in his experience with the hike (he did one in 2012), that over the course of the day, you'll like your playing partners at the start, hate them at some point and then love them by the end. I have to say there wasn't much hate at all, from what I could tell, as we collectively just enjoyed the day and the fun of playing this special new golf course for a great cause. There were a ton of laughs throughout the day and a lot of smiles and hugs as we finished around 9:00 PM.
Although the hike is over, there is still time to support my HHHike for the Midnight Golf Program. You can click on the "Pledge to This Golfer" button at the bottom of this post for either the Ballyneal or Forest Dunes hike. Please note my following final stats for each hike when pledging on a per hole or per birdie basis (no eagles, unfortunately):
Ballyneal Hike: 162 holes, 8 birdies
Forest Dunes Hike: 108 holes, 3 birdies
Alternatively, you can simply give directly to Midnight Golf online here: http://midnightgolf.org/support-mgp/
Thanks so much for your time and support of the hike. As always, if you're interested in actively participating in the hike next year, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have big ideas for next year and beyond and would like to keep expanding the number of golfers involved and charitable causes that are impacted.
p.s. the Hike has received some media attention lately:
Ginella talks about the Hike on GolfChannel's Morning Drive
The Wall St Journal featured the Hikes of Bill Boonn and Danie Steyn, with a couple quote from the founder. http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-play-153-holes-of-golf-in-one-day-146...
...And Fox Business Network picked up the story and had Bill, Danie and I on their Mornings with Maria last week for a short segment.