Planet Golf — 22 May 2012 by Kirby Arnold
Golfapalooza: 108 holes in 4 days

I don’t remember all the scores, and that’s a good thing.

The only number that counted was 108 – the number of holes I played in a four-day span a couple of weeks ago here in Phoenix.

Well, I do recall the 12-over-par 84 I shot on the final day, mostly because it felt like a 64 considering the crappy way I played in the previous five rounds. I’m a 9-handicap who can break 80, but also capable of throwing up a 90 when my swing isn’t quite right.

There were more 90-somethings than anything during those six rounds. But the bottom line was those four days were absolute golf bliss, and in the process I learned a lot about myself. For example:

— While I didn’t have much of a handle on my short game (or my driver, or my irons), my emotion control was at its best.  Only a few f-bombs, and all under my breath.

— The sand in Arizona this time of year can be hard and crusty, but sometimes soft and fluffy. Just depends on how well the last guy raked the bunker. You’ve got to play those shots differently, and the couple dozen opportunities I had in four days taught me how.

— How many ways are there to have an unplayable lie? I don’t recall the number, but I experience them all. Well, except, getting a ball stuck in a tree.

— I can shank any club in my bag, including the putter.

— When all else fails, just step up and hit the ball. I hit better shots after I’d reached the don’t-give-a-darn stage of the weekend (you listening, Kevin Na?).

On the positive side, I learned that I’m just as enthused about golf after 108 holes in four days as I am before the first tee after a long layoff.  Not only that, but my back felt fine.

I know guys who’ve played a lot more holes than this during their golf vacations, but I’d never had the chance– or, maybe, the desire – to do it until now. Here’s how my nothing-but-golf weekend unfolded:

Alan Woodridge kept up the pace

I’d talked my brother-in-law, Alan Wooldridge, into flying in from Colorado Springs for three days of golf on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before he flew back on Monday.

One day before he arrived, though, my buddy (and fellow GolfersWest writer) Jim Street drove up from Tucson to have dinner and spend the night before he journeyed back to his home in Seattle.

My doorbell rang about 3:30 and it was Jim, a small bag in his hand and one question on his mind: “Think we have time to play some golf?”

“Hmmm. It doesn’t look too busy out there, so let me call the clubhouse and see if we can get on right away,” I said.

Thus began…

Day 1

I live within a drive and 9-iron of the Palm Valley Golf Club in Goodyear, Ariz., and within 15 minutes we were on the first tee.

I don’t recall what I shot but the point is that we played on a gorgeous late afternoon at a great course (if you’re in the Phoenix area and haven’t played Palm Valley, put it on your list. It’s a well-manicured course with plenty of challenge at a great price, especially this time of year).

Jim and I breezed through 18 holes in less than three hours, then we headed over to Majerle’s Sports Grill for a killer burger on the patio (note to staff: Just because you have a half-dozen TVs out there, not all of us are interested in the same NBA game on all of them. And for gosh sakes, turn down the damn sound!).

Eighteen holes down, 90 to go. Can’t wait for…

Day 2

Alan, my brother-in-law, was to land about 1:45 p.m. on Friday at Sky Harbor Airport, so I had a couple of courses in that part of town in mind to play after I picked him up – the Karsten Course at Arizona State University in Tempe and, if that didn’t workout, Papago Golf Course just a few miles away in Phoenix.

His flight was delayed about 45 minutes and by the time we got his bags into the car, the earliest we could get onto any course would be 3 o’clock, and that would be pushing it.  Karsten had a tournament going off at 3, so that was out, and Papago apparently was over-run with walk-ups because they could slide us on at 4 o’clock or so, but the pace was about four-and-a-half hours.  So scratch that one, too.

We wound up in Mesa at Longbow, a course operated by OB Sports (same company that runs my home course, Palm Valley). We teed off about 3:30 and, figuring it should take no more than three-and-a-half hours to play (the snowbirds have gone back north and the golfing crowds are down this time of year), we figured to have plenty of time to finish a round considering it doesn’t get dark until about 7:15.

Well, at five minutes until 7, with the sun disappearing over the western horizon, Alan and I stood on the 16th tee watching one foursome searching for balls off the fairway and another foursome still trying to hack their way to the green.  The place was packed and the pace was, well, deliberate (opinion here: It should never take more than three-and-a-half hours to play 18 holes. Period).

So we decided to skip 16 and go to 17, where we saw a group waiting on the tee, another group scattered on and off the fairway and yet another that still hadn’t started putting on the green.

No. 18 was the same, so we skipped that hole, too, and made plans for dinner.

I have a personal rule when it comes to skipping holes. I give myself a par on anything I don’t play (I know what you’re thinking. I look at it this way: I just might have birdied those holes). Even with those pars, I don’t think I shot south of 90.

Part of that’s because I’d never seen the course before. I hate playing a course for the first time. The angles, the greens, everything feel uncomfortable.

Longbow is a really nice course with a lot of desert, considerable sand and well-manicured fairways.  The greens? Firm and fast, which is fine by me. But, on the day I played, the ball rarely rolled true around the cup.  It took a firm putt to keep it on line through the footprints near the cup, but if you missed the ball might roll 10 feet or more past. I’m a fan of the course, but not those greens.

And again, I was surprised that the course was so packed late on a Friday afternoon on the last weekend of April.  I guess that’s the difference in the population density between Mesa and Goodyear (where I play at Palm Valley).

Regardless, it made me eager for…

Day 3

We had a morning tee time at one of my favorite courses – Raven Golf Club at Verrado (pictured above).  This course, at the base of the White Tank Mountains in Buckeye (about 30 minutes west of downtown Phoenix) has eaten my lunch over the years.  But regardless whether you shoot 70 or 100, playing at Verrado brings the guarantee of perfect fairways, smooth and quick greens (the putts really do break toward the valley), and plenty of opportunity to hike in the desert if you drive a ball off the fairway.

First six holes, I visited the rocks and desert flora.  Then, just after teeing off on No. 7, I witnessed something that made me never want to look for a ball in the desert again.

This five-foot rattler needed to slither away before we approached our shots.

It was a five-foot rattlesnake alongside the cart path, coiled and ready to show us some fang if we got too close. We stopped and let the snake relax and crawl across the path, disappearing among the rocks and sticks.

Meanwhile, I developed another personal rule – never walk into the desert again to look for a golf ball after hibernation season.

I played as poorly as possible at Verrado, shooting in the high 90s and lucky not to top 100. I shanked shots, chunked them fat, hit ‘em thin and generally had an out-of-body golf experience.  It clearly was my worst round in a dozen years or so.

Alan, my brother-in-law, shot 81. It was a beautiful round.

Nevertheless, it didn’t sour me on golf. In fact, after a mid-afternoon burger and a few minutes at home, I turned to Alan and asked, “Want to get in another 18?”

“Absolutely!” he responded.

Within minutes we were on the first tee at Palm Valley and, two-and-a-half hours later, had played our 36th hole of the day.

It was the perfect tuneup for…

Day 4

We had an 8 a.m. shotgun-start at the Corte Bella Country Club, a private course in Sun City West.  There were only about five other cars in the parking lot when we arrived at 7:30, which made me think there might be three foursomes for this shotgun start.

Then we walked around the corner of the clubhouse to see hundreds of men and women, along with their privately owned golf carts.  Me and Alan in our white course-owned golf cart stood out like guys wearing blue jeans at a black-tie event.

Speaking of dress codes, Alan quickly learned from one of the members that “we tuck in our shirts here. If I don’t tell you, someone else here will.”

Also, the starter told us about the 90-degree rule and that we should never, ever, drive into the dirt/rock areas off the fairways.  Such transgression, he told us, would undoubtedly result in a call to the clubhouse from a member and an ensuing visit to us from a course marshal.

Corte Bella is a nice course with firm, lush fairways and greens with lots of contours.  It also features a lot of pins tucked behind steep-faced greenside bunkers and enough blind shots to make a first-timer feel uneasy.

I played better, but still somewhere in the 90s thanks to a few shanks, balls in the bunkers, one in the water and wayward putts.

We devoured a pizza for lunch and, after sitting around for an hour at home, I had one more question for Alan. “You got 18 more holes in you?”

“Let’s go!” he said.

We both stung drives down the middle on No. 1 at Palm Valley and set out on another sub-three-hour round that was the perfect cap to a great weekend.

I even birdied No. 18, a long par-5 with water the final 200 yards that wraps around a three-level green. It gave me an 84, a nice improvement over the previous four rounds and some momentum going into the next week (my next round at Palm Valley, by the way, I shot 77. Go figure).

Monday was airport day.  Not only did Alan fly back to Colorado Springs but my wife flew in after a weekend in Seattle.

So, after 108 holes the previous four days, no golf for me. Well, except for that three-hour period between dropping off Alan at Sky Harbor and picking up my wife.

I spent the time hitting balls at the PGA Tour Superstore in Scottsdale.

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Kirby Arnold

Kirby was 10 years old when he played his first round of golf with his grandmother on the sand greens of the Versailles Country Club in Missouri, and his love of the game has never wavered. Only one thing stood between Kirby and a single-digit handicap: his job. Kirby worked 42 years as a sports writer and editor at newspapers in Missouri and Washington. He started while a high school sophomore at the Rolla Daily News in Missouri and covered a variety of events, including his own high school basketball games (he made sure his name was spelled right). He was a sports writer and editor for 10 years at the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, covering Southwest Missouri State University football and basketball, Missouri University football and basketball, and numerous motorsports events including the Indianapolis 500 during the 1970s and 1980s. He moved to the Seattle area in 1984, becoming assistant sports editor at The Herald in Everett, Wa., then executive sports editor from 1987-1998, a time when The Herald's sports coverage was recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as being among the best in the nation for newspapers its size. Kirby returned to the press box in 1999, taking over The Herald's coverage of the Seattle Mariners. He covered the Mariners/baseball beat the next 13 seasons and in 2007 wrote his first book, Tales from the Seattle Mariners Dugout. While Kirby pursued a rewarding newspaper career, one of his lifelong goals remained unfulfilled: breaking 80 on a consistent basis. Kirby left The Herald at the end of 2011, moved to Phoenix and immediately began spending more time at the golf course. His only excuse now is a 12 on the stimpmeter.

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