IRVINE, Ca. – In all my years of playing golf – 41 and counting – I never before experienced a 6 a.m. tee-time.
But on a recent trip from Seattle to Pasadena with superwife to visit my son, daughter-in-law and 13-week-old grandson, the itinerary included a round of golf at one of Southern California’s finest public courses — Strawberry Farms Golf Club.
If you ever get a chance to play the course, by all means do it!
I had played Strawberry Farms once before, shortly after it opened in 1997. What I remember most was how lush it was and how difficult it played. I also remember that by the 10th hole, one of my playing partners – another sportswriter covering the Mariners – had run out of golf balls and went “fishing” for some in a reservoir that borders the left side of the 10th fairway.
He found enough balls to last another couple of holes, but lost them as well and basically was a disgruntled spectator for the final six holes. But being disgruntled was one of his specialties.
Anyway, Strawberry Farms Golf Club is a par-71, 6,700 yard course set amid canyons and wetlands, offering picturesque vistas across the 35-acre reservoir, large rolling greens surrounded by wildlife and natural vegetation and scenic hills studded with granite boulders and natural waterfalls. It was developed by Doug DeCinces, former Major League (Orioles and Angels infielder) infielder, and on a wall leading into the pro shop there are several photos of former big league players including Bret Boone, one of my all-time favorites.
His 8-by-10 photo was a little fuzzy, but I figured it had more to do with our blurry-eyed 5:45 a.m. arrival than the photograph itself. The driving distance from Pasadena to Irvine is a little less than one hour without typical SoCal traffic. Our 4 a.m. wakeup call was a rude awakening to say the least.
The best thing about the drive: good conversation and clear sailing on I-5 heading south.
My attorney son, Scott, and I were the first to arrive at the course. Then it was Mike Gable, a dentist and son of Scott’s long-time dentist near San Diego. Mike also is a nephew of Tom Gable, whom I spent a year with in Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division Public Information Office. About a minute before our tee time, Dr. Jeff Gold, a pediatric neurologist and my son’s best friend, arrived. Jeff is one of the funniest people I have ever met. His 35-minute, non-stop “toast” to the groom at Scott’s wedding in Scotland last year – without using notes – was classic.
The match was set up: Writers vs. Doctors with the losing team picking up the breakfast tab.
Scott and I held our own for the first few holes. I miraculously saved par on the 390-yard par 4 first hole. My drive was down the right side, closer to the road leading to the clubhouse than the fairway leading to the green. A 6-iron second shot nestled about 15 feet from the pin, leading to a two-putt par.
Jeff birdied the 377-yard par 4 second hole, giving the good doctors a one-hole lead. He also birdied the fourth hole, a 420-yard par 4, and suddenly we’re down by two.
A par by Scott on No. 5, 429-yard par 4, cut our deficit in half and an 8-footer for par on No. 6, a 499-yard devil-of-a-hole, squared the match.
It was clear by now, however, that Mike was the premier golfer in the group. He had yet to birdie, but his drives were straight and long. A couple of short chips went awry, costing him a couple of strokes, but I sensed that it was only a matter of time before he would take charge of the match.
Sure enough, his game starts clicking at No. 7 – a 153-yard par 3. A towering 7-iron landed softly on the green, five feet from the pin. Birdie!
No. 8 is a 292-yard par 4. My drive was straight and pure, stopping about 20 yards from the green. Jeff and Scott both went left into the trees — O.B. Mike’s ball, also straight and pure, rolled onto the dance floor. I chipped to within 3 feet of the cup. Mike hit a putt that had a little more speed than he wanted, but it curled to the left – right smack into the middle of the cup for an eagle.
Shocked beyond words, I missed my birdie putt.
Good night, Irene.
The doctors also won the next two holes to take a four-hole lead. They clinched the match on the 15th hole, so we decided to switch it up: the long pants (Scott and Jeff) against the short pants (Mike and I). The shorts won two of the final three holes.
We finished the round in less than four hours (all rounds should last four hours or less) and headed for the clubhouse for some breakfast – and conversation.
One topic was the Olympics and Jeff had difficulty grasping some of the events – such as the backstroke in swimming. Jeff reasoned that if someone can swim backwards and upside down for 200 meters, then why can’t sprinters run backwards for 200 meters?
Good point, I guess, but no one had an answer.
Jeff also said he favors scrapping all current employer insurance programs with automobile insurance-like policies where insurers can select the items that pertain to them. “Why does a single man need childbirth coverage?” he asked.
Yet another good point.
By 11 a.m., Strawberry Farms Golf Club was in the rear view mirror as Scott and I headed north to Pasadena. In a matter of minutes after reaching I-5, we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic – 11:15 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
Give me Seattle any time. Also, that 6 a.m. tee time wasn’t so bad after all.
(Editor’s note: Strawberry Farms Golf Club currently is listed No. 5 among Southern California courses by golferswest.com . For further information go to “Road Holes” on the home page, put the cursor on “California” and click “Southern Cal”).