Captivated by the Challenge of Championship Courses

In golf your strengths and weaknesses will always be there. If you could improve your weaknesses, you would improve your game.

Harvey Penick

As I dip in and out of watching the early rounds of the Farmers Invitational, I know that it has been something of a desire for many to play our local Torrey Pines course. I know the familiar coastal views and the lush green fairways appear even more majestic now that we cannot travel in hordes of rowdy fans trailing Tiger, DJ and Brooks to rival our Phoenix Open golf bros with this COVID-19 fan restriction, but the course still appears to be challenging from what I have seen on TV so far. All those in contention for the lead (or even a share of the lead at the least) have one thing in common: they’re all playing the same course and facing similar challenges.

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The Course is Both Challenger & Competitor

I see the course as both challenger and competitor. It has been designed to not simply offer too many “gimme” holes in the form of easily reachable in 2 par 4s or simple par 5s that are just a mere 15 to 20 yards longer than the longest par 4 on the course. Course design of late has seemed to taken a less is more approach that somehow leaves most Saturday and Sunday golfers seething with some sort of sadistic sensation of seeking more as their course designs dumbfoundedly develop desires as they both defeat and dissatisfy the average duffer at the same time. In other words, plenty of folks are not getting plenty of pleasure out o these course designs but they keep coming back for more like gluttons for punishment.

It is simply by design now and more apparent when we see championship courses that might have boasted of a challenging par 5 last year that the tournament committee has unanimously and hilariously opted to convert to an extensive par 4 for this year’s tournament. Course design typically pits a full roster of FedEx Cup chasers against the course and its course designers and groundskeepers. Those pin placements are so intricate and whatever clipping or trimming level that they are using for these greens with this mixed in sand are enough to keep your head spinning from day to day. But whoever created island greens or bunker-guarded greens just plain has some aggression issues that need to be worked out. I can only imagine what it does for these guys seeking FedEx Cup points who have braved courses from Dubai to Mexico in the off season, only to face the return of the PGA Tour season with a kickstart in Hawaii and the newly-COVID-cleared West Coast Swing kickoff at Torrey Pines (and we’ll see from there).

So what does that mean for us so-called regular golfers?

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Past Championship Courses Still Present Challenges

I played Carlton Oaks many times before I realized that it had hosted PGA and Canadian Tour Qualifying Tournaments, NCAA Western Regional and Championship events, Junior World, The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) and many other professional, collegiate and amateur events. One guy remarked when I got my first par on the course a few years ago that scoring well on that course and keeping it in the low 90s is feat within itself for a weekend golfer. I shrugged it off, but then later I began to realize how much playing practice rounds and multiple tournament rounds does to a golfer’s advantage within a week.

I guess if a few of us played the same course again and again, even something like Carlton Oaks, we should see some marked improvement over our scorecards, too. Some would get a better feel for the course in general, other would hone in on those special touches around the green to get that to work for them. In other words, we would have time to tackle the course based on past and present experiences and make note in our own little yardage books that very same hole where the fast greens veered to the right now have a sudden speed drop within 2 inches of the hole.

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Chisel the Course into Chunks

Armed with that knowledge, I would probably shave a few strokes off here and there. My problem is that it took an article in Today’s Golfer to open my eyes to what a round of golf really come down to in terms of strokes. “Golf’s Most Wanted Shots” opened my eyes like I said to how much short game focus would be required to shave strokes off the scorecard quickly and repeatedly.

Golf Shots as Today’s Golfer expertly broke down

The main shot of any round is putting. Say what? Every hole doesn’t require a drive off the tee. Every hole doesn’t require an approach shot or layup. But each and every hole requires you to putt. So, if that’s the case, improve your putting skills and start to improve your scores. Combine wedge shots, chip shots and bunker play and you have another 13 strokes or so added to 35 putts which makes for 48. Well, man, I shot that on the back 9 alone a few times on a good day.

What I am saying is that we look at the game from the wrong perspective. We tend to rally behind DJ, Brooks, Tiger and a few others because they crush that ball off the tee and send us into a frenzy over what is not even a major factor in the scoring calculation of a full round. Driving counts. It just doesn’t count as much as we make it seem like it should.

If you are serious about your game, sooner or later you’ll play Ben Hogan.

If we chisel down the course into chunks, then we can approach each hole with analysis and anticipation. We can design a strategy (Plan A) for if we take care of business and launch a solid tee shot into the fairway at approximately 200+ yards. But, if need be, we have a recovery strategy (Plan B) where we select a long distance hybrid after a weak tee shot landed us at an odd angle 180 yards from the green and just off the fairway in the early signs of the rough that our fairway woods won’t be able to cut through at all. That way we keep the emotions out of it. That way we don’t lose it and toss clubs into lakes or trees. We simply assess the results of our last attempt and make an adjust prior to taking action with our next attempt. Other ideas on how this can help lower scores are out there in the blogosphere.

Conquer the Course: Hole by Hole

If we could do that for every hole, review and revisit it as we play, and remain calm enough to continuously refer to it, then I believe that we could see results trickle in over time. It’s just like that elephant that the consultant spoke about during your last strategic planning session or team training that you attended. You’ve got to take it one bite at a time, so chunk that 18 holes into sets of 3 holes. See each hole within that set as a separate attack plan with a sequence of anticipated actions in mind.

I have included part of my process for planning my play that i used in 2017 and 2018 as I began to approach golf with a different mindset. These are visuals that I use based upon the current scorecard available on www.greenskeeper.org and most discount tee time sites. This process helps me develop my attack plan hole by hole in a planning mode that I try to translate onto the course without losing my way or getting too cocky if it’s going good. Much like other golf bloggers out here, I can admit when I lose sight of the goal or focus on the immediate action in the moment.

As I continue to work on my game, I am going to watch Brooks and DJ clobber those tee shots. I am going to shout and howl when that titanium plate makes contact with that dimpled synthetic ball, sending it to heights and distances that even send the most popular golf shot trackers out of orbit. But I will know deep down inside that I need to watch those putting techniques from the types of John Rahm, Patrick Reed, Kevin Na and Webb Simpson

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Owning the Course

Be sure to read my article on owning sports & entertainment stocks to get the full list of stocks.

When it comes to playing in your zone, you are said to own the course. In other words, you can’t do wrong. And if somehow something does go wrong or awry, you end with such a sweet recovery that it all just seems so meant to be somehow. You play with an ease that keeps the yips at bay. You play with such a laser-like focus that your clubs work like magic from hole to hole and your scorecard shows it.

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Own the Course Beyond Your Play

I recently wrote an article about my sports-folio, the portion of my investments that I dedicate to stock in sports and entertainment companies. This was a follow-up to another article I published earlier the same day on Medium. Some of what I own spans the sports world from sports teams like the Atlanta Braves and Manchester United to entertainment and media companies like Disney and Comcast, but owning some of the golf companies is real hoot.

I have been investing for years now and it has saved me from some real low times in my life. My most recent investing has me weighing heavy bets on the dividend-paying stocks of the Dogs of the Dow and a major index -driven ETF position of DIA (Dow 30), SPLG (S&P 500), and QQQ (Nasdaq 100). However, I do get to dabble in what I call my sports-folio. It literally lets me own the course in a few instances with some relevant golf stocks.

While there are plenty of sports-related stocks, I try to manage and hedge my bets. I like owning a piece of the action. I like being able to say that that’s my team and I literally mean that’s my team. I use Robinhood and Stash for these portfolios split almost evenly between both accounts. If you join and add cash to Stash now via my link, you will get $20 sign-up bonus and I will receive a $20 referral bonus. Join Robinhood via my link, and we both get a FREE share of stock.

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Got Golf Stocks in My Sports-folio

My sports-folio got a wide array of sports and entertainment stocks that include Disney (DIS) and Comcast (CMCSA) as well as Barclays (BCS), Manchester United (MANU) and Madison Square Garden (MSGS).

Acushnet Holdings (GOLF) gives me a piece of the action with some highly recognized names in golf today. Considering that GOLF is associated with some of the biggest names in the sport like Titleist, Vokey and Scotty Cameron, I have to admit that it seems like the Amazon of golf stocks to me. It just has everything in its wheelhouse. Wedges, putters, and all of the equipment and one of the most popular balls on the PGA Tour and among weekend golfers with the Titleist ProV1. This one is just a winner all around.

VIVI Properties (VICI) is a diversified real estate company formed as a REIT with a handful own golf properties in its portfolio that are featured on the PGA Tour. The company is truly engaged in entertainment, hospitality and more, including Caesars Palace. VICI owns four championship golf courses among its portfolio of properties and stands to keep investors happy with its consistent dividend payments going forward.

Another blogger did an excellent job laying out similar golf stocks, including the ones that elected to not add to my sports-folio. It is well worth the time it takes to read.

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Why These Golf Stocks and Not Others

Nike (NKE) and Callaway (ELY) are still involved in the golf equipment and apparel markets. Why not NKE, a major leader among sports retailers on a global scale? Why not ELY which represents one of the most popular brands of golf equipment and apparel on the market today? because I am looking at the stock and not for a new driver. I have a different strategy for evaluating stock ever since I started reading and listening to Gerald Peters. Those stocks do not fit my plan right now. And, to be truthful, they may never fit and I can live with that. Investing should not be based on emotions and sentiments. It should make sense for making you wealthier day by day with increased valuations and price as well as dividends or other perks.

At the end of the day, I feel good of where I am with this sports-folio. I am hedged my risk. I am positioned to say I own a piece of the action in both sports and entertainment. And I know that may not say something to someone else, but it makes me feel like I am really owning the course. And in some cases, I am really owning the course.

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Finding Time for Fitting in Fitness

My back is aching. Not my whole back but my lower back seems to carry the brunt of the issue. My morning ritual has been disrupted by a sinus headache and I wonder if I am feeling the effects of the sudden change in weather or just the lack of preventive care for an ongoing problem. Despite all of this, I wake up and work out.

100 +100 +100 Just to Start

I start my morning workout with a mini stretch session that by most standards is not enough to relieve me of my lingering back pain. It is more of a warmup than a stretch at less than 3 minutes, but it gets my blood flowing a little bit and keeps me motivated for the morning workout.

My typical morning workout finds me doing this regimen:

  • 100 modified push-ups
  • 100 bodyweight squats
  • 100 jumping jacks

I try to down a full glass of water along with that regimen to get started. Otherwise, I dive right into my coffee and I can see my water intake getting thrown off track throughout the day. Combining the water intake with the workout makes me feel like I have conquered something, as if I have overcome a challenge or leaped a major hurdle.

I’ve got my reasons.

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Problematic Pandemic Conditions

Pre-Pandemic, I would go to the gym at least three times per week, shooting hoops 2-3 times per week and doing walk-jog-run intervals on the treadmill every time I hit the gym door. I would walk at least 3 times per week and do a 5K distance run on Sundays weekly. That was my routine. I found the time to make it work for me and add jumping rope and other exercises within my gym sessions and seemed to have my weight under control, making gains on my weight loss goals month by month.

Then came this coronavirus curveball. . .

I had to start working from home remotely. Joining Zoom sessions every other hour and organizing emails along with responses to emails in the midst of coordinating and calibrating with others on my team at work. By the time that I got this figured out, I believe that my routine had been severely thrown off course.

Gym closed. Parks closed. Golf courses closed. Cities and counties went on lockdown with curfews. States declared pandemic regulations and provided updates daily from the governor and leading public health officers. In the meantime, my waistline expanded and my weight loss crept back to prior numbers and beyond as I just tried to figure out what working from home meant and how it worked for me.

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Finding the Right Fit for You

I have spent a great deal of time trying to make fitness fit into my schedule. It can be a challenge, but it can be done. What I truly learn in the midst of all of this confusion is that you have to make certain things a priority in order for them to get done throughout your day or week.

  • Schedule fitness breaks throughout the day
    • Use your smartphone’s alarms
    • Set reminders on your wearable tech like your FitBit or other device
    • Create and post a schedule on your fridge or mirror for you to reference throughout the day
  • Keep your water bottle filled and close by
  • Take a walk for 10 to 15 minutes before your lunch break
  • Stretch and walk around the house every 30 to 45 minutes
  • After work, take another walk or do some form of indoor workout before dinner

You have to find the right fit for you. The most important thing is that you work in some time to get your fitness in and make it happen. Don’t give up. You have more to lose by not making it work than you do by not doing anything about your health.

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So I Walk 9 Holes

You got to start somewhere. If I mix in walking 9 holes with my regular routine, I am doing okay. Yeah, my goal with golf is to break 90 on a consistent basis. That’s my goal. Does walking 9 holes fit into that? It helps me practice and get into a rhythm. Does walking 9 holes make me more fit? It certainly does that, too.

My next move is to get a cart for when I walk. I have seen some pretty good deals on them, so I would like to snatch up a good deal before spring comes along. That would keep me from slinging my bag across my back (right where the pain seems to sit) and pushing through round after round. by the time I get to spring break, I would like to walk 18 on a fairly flat course on a regular basis like biweekly. That way I can walk 9 on the alternate week when I am not walking 18. After all, in some places golf means walking-only these days.

It’s a start. You got to find the right fit and right the right time. I just have to remain consistent with it. I just have to tick with it and commit to making it happen.

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MLK Day: A Day Off, A Day on the Course

I rarely pass up a good deal. And, when it comes to good deals on a round of golf, I am usually game. That’s what I came across online for walking 9 holes at Carlton Oaks Country Club at 7 AM on MLK Day. I took that with a quickness.

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Carlton Oaks Country Club (Santee, California)

Located in the midst of a residential area, Carlton Oaks Country Club is tucked away between the 52 Freeway and the single family homes of this eastern suburb. In an era where many courses seem forsaken by management and groundskeepers alike, this course still retains its luster as the morning sun pushes up from behind the nearby hilltops and shines upon the dewy fairways. Even with the morning mist rising from grassy open areas, this course offers plenty of built-in challenges embedded within the front and back. It also includes water coming into play on some key holes, especially a forced layup for most golfers on the final 18th hole.

Play to Your Strengths

My switch back to the TaylorMade Burner with the 10.5 degree head has been awesome off the tee. I am seeing more lift in my drives with less drift and pull. Right now, I am just under 40% of fairways hit. I expect that to bump up on my next outing for a similar course. I can gain a little bit more control extending my arms through impact and following through further. Plus, if I can be honest, I could truly have utilized my 3 wood off the tee to have given myself a better second shot in a few places. Implement that strategy on 2 holes, and then I am busting over 60% fairways hit.

Maybe next time.

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More Par Opportunities and Close Calls

After my play at Cottonwood, I knew one of my struggles was not giving myself enough of a chance at making par. What does that mean? If I average two putts when I make it to the green, then my best shot at par is to get to the green with at least a birdie opportunity. For instance, I took some time to read and watch Today’s Golfer’s instructional article and video on scoring better on par 5s. I am not there yet, but I am getting closer.

My par on the 15th was after my third shot with a hybrid landed above the hole just off the green. By following that up with a light chip shot that rolled within inches of the hole, I was in the prefect position for par. Fast forward to the next hole and I found myself in a familiar position at the same hole I had chipped in for par my last time on the course, but this time fate killed my chip shot just inches from falling into the hole and forced me to take a bogey. It was a heartbreaker, but like I said before, you limit your chances for making par when you force an all-or-nothing shot for par off the fringe or at an extensive distance.

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Next Time I Play. . .

  • I will have on some lightweight golf shoes
  • I will consider my 3 wood on some holes surrounded by hazards
  • I will try to shave 2 strokes off my score
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Reviewing My Winter Golf Game

Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.

John C. Maxwell
I’m loving using the garmin Golf App

Main Key to Everything Golf: Consistency

I have been building up my confidence through consistent play. I get more out of playing a round of 18 on a par 3 or walk nine holes on a par 72 course rather than swing like crazy with a bucket of 100 range balls on a turf mat. I went so far as to return my TaylorMade 10.5 degree Burner Superfast driver to my bag for my last outing at Cottonwood Golf Club. It worked out when my back wasn’t aching like crazy and forcing me to chop rather than swing the club with my entire body, especially my torso. my best remedy for that is either to go CBD for relief and recovery from the pain or to keep it old school and keep popping the Advil. Either way, that Lamkin grip feels just right when I am in the swing zone and make solid contact with the ball off the tee. If I fight the pain and fatigue from overplaying too many rounds too close to one another, then I can really get back on track with some decent scores. Aside from the flubbed chips and pitches with the shanked and misguided approach shots here and there, I do see some progress.

Game Improvement

I say I have seen some improvement despite shooting 49 on the front nine of the course where I have shot both an 83 and an 85. My progress has been in areas where I can see a difference being made and where I can see my overall game coming together with solid consistency.

  • Golf Shoes: I desperately need to replace my golf shoes with a lightweight upgrade like Skechers or FootJoy. My current golf shoes are clunkers and definitely give me grief since I started walking the course more. If I am going to walk a full par 72 by march, I need to lighten the load on my feet a bit with some new golf shoes. It’s been way too long.
  • Walking Cart: I have seen some unique walking carts and I believe that I am ready and in the position to make the investment. After I read a few more reviews, I will grab one that is easier to pop open than a new age baby stroller and walk more. My back will thank me for making the move and my budget could take the hit. Bye-bye, Christmas Bonus!
  • Short Game Practice: I am going to schedule at least 2 rounds of short game practice at local par 3 courses before March. My ability to wage war with a gap or pitching wedge within 100 yards has answered some serious questions on approach shots. I need to increase that accuracy approaching the hole and keep working the magic around the green. I see my practice routine shifting in the coming months and making adjustments based on what translates to the 18-hole par 72 rounds in the near future. Honestly, my lob wedge and that dreaded sand wedge have hardly left the bag, even when I have found myself in the bunker. It all comes down to how you plan your play.
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Golf Fitness & Nutrition

I recently did a 10-day detox challenge in December and I am headed that way again. I could stand to lose around 30 pounds to safely play at a healthy but hefty weight. The CDC’s standards according to my BMI will have me listed somewhere between overweight and obese even if I got down to my playing weight from when I was a junior in high school on the basketball court. For me, I need to detox and get back to eating 75-80% living items like green veggies and fruit while eating out less than 10% of the time. My workouts need to increase and I believe that i have learned my ways to manage that despite COVID-19 and its repercussions. Walking, running, dancing and more will serve as my means for staying active beyond walking the course. Put it all together and you have a combination for getting better sooner than later.

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Playing Rounds of 18

Within the next 2 months, I will play Cottonwood and Carlton Oaks at least twice. I will add a round at Mission Trails and maybe one at Sycuan (Singing Hills). Eastlake is being used as a qualifier for the PGA’s Farmers Insurance Open, so playing there again for any sort of redemption is out of the question for a while.

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My measure of play comes down to both fairways hit and greens in regulation (GIR) much like the Grateful Golfer shared in his post. If I do not give myself an opportunity for birdie while I am averaging two putts per hole, then I am not giving myself a decent shot at par either. Ultimately, by the time I get to my spring break in late March, I believe my consistent play and game improvement will add up to some lower scores and some good times on the course.

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If all else fails, I know two things that will remain consistent. I am going to keep swinging and having fun while doing it.

Facing Facts from My Final Round During Winter Break

My Final Round for the Week and My Winter Break at Enagic Country Club

I planned my final round according to my Golf Planning Resources and still felt as if I had left something to chance. Playing Enagic Country Club in Eastlake was a familiar layout that takes you in and out of street traffic on a course interwoven into the Eastlake residential community. The course is laced with some challenging holes such as its signature usage of waterways on hole #9 and #12. In particular these two holes are guarded by water and bunkers, making accuracy a key factor in approaching the green.

My goal was simple: finish the week and winter break on a high note and possibly take note of where I leave off to take my game to a higher level upon my return to regular play.

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Don’t Play Yourself

I found things different at the course since I last graced its tee boxes. As I sought to keep up with the long-driving and power-hitting younger trio of my foursome, I felt like the odd man out. In some cases, I knew what I was doing wrong and I was just struggling to get out of my own head with weak tee shots forcing long distance recovery and scrambling for a shot at par. Even saving bogey was tricky at times. My best play came using my putter off the green to trail my Callaway Super Soft along a prickly fringe to bend onto the green and end up within an inch from the hole. Close but no cigar, just another bogey. Beyond that my short game research came into play and helped me save some strokes within 50 yards and at times within 100 yards. One key to my play was fatigue. I played myself out. I played a lot of golf and by the time that I got to this course I was not having as much fun and I felt the physical strain of it as I struggled in various parts of my game.

Good Scores, Good Vibes and Good Tries

I shot a 97 at Pala Mesa & a 93 here

My struggles did not translate to the scorecard as much as I felt. My mulligans had to come in to use on a few holes, but I can live with that. I was not playing for any type of wager and I certainly was not going for the club record, so I can roll with it. After all, I was having a good time and I was feeling those good vibes like when you are first introduced to Bob Marley or Steel Pulse.

I felt like my prior score on a par 3 was a more productive round, but I can still recall some highlights of this round making me realize why I come out to play. That feeling of punching a stinger across the fairway and getting that favorable bounce at the edge of a bunker that sends your ball swirling around the green to leave you with a four to five foot putt is hard to recreate on one’s own. Those types of shots keep you coming back for more and eagerly seeking out almost any opportunity to work in some new technique that the club pro or a golf buddy has shown you to give your game an edge.

I find it amazing that I could feel so inadequate about my game. I knew that my body was tiring from more consistent play than usual. I loved being in the company of some guys who could pound it off the tee and maneuver around the course. The number of double bogeys alone would amount to dropping four strokes if they bogeys and 93-4= 89. Playing bogey golf alone would it make a major difference in scoring. But if I had gotten at least 3 holes where I landed on the green rather than to the right or on a fringe, I would have had both green in regulation (GIR) and a shot at birdie which would have me with a greater chance at par than bogey due to my 2 putt average per hole. With so many options for breaking 90, I need to revisit my game strategy and execution for next outing.

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Playing a Par 3 to Strengthen Short Game

If you visit Colina Park Golf Course, you will come face to face with a sculpted bust of Ernest H. Wright, Sr., the founder and chairman of Pro Kids Golf Academy & Learning Center. Pro Kids was founded in 1994 by former AFL/NFL player Ernest H. Wright, Sr. and a group of community leaders, who saw the game of golf as a way to help underserved youth develop the character and life skills required to find success in school and in life. In addition to the course and training center in central San Diego, there is a Pro Kids-First Tee center in Oceanside in North San Diego County.

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Working on Wedge Shots

Have you ever overpacked for a trip? Or, you have at least traveled with someone else who does it? That’s how I felt armed with 3 wedges and a putter on a par 3 course the other day. It was like I had overpacked and I was toting an extra load.

Solution: pick one wedge and work that the whole course. For this course in particular, with hole yardage spanning an average of 60-80 yards, you could work on any of a variety of wedges to your heart’s desire. Think of trying varied ball placements in your stance as well as different levels of swing adjustments such as a half swing or three-quarter length swing rather than a full swing. I would also to be sure to consider the bounce and roll or the bump and run effect. Some people work on Phil Mickelson-type wedge shots such as the famous flop shot using a lob wedge or higher degree club. I would like to think more along the lines of Lefty’s handiwork on distance control with wedges coming in handy for this type of course along with his basic steps on chipping shots. Beyond Dave Pelz’s short game instruction, Lefty’s demonstrations on wedge shot lessons are remarkable.

Scores Tell Some of the Story

So +7 on a par 3 sounds good, especially when your last words before stepping up to the tee box are: “Let me see what happens if I . . .” You have a few surprises and head scratches, but you know that you should have had more greens in regulation (GIR) and par holes. There’s a story that goes along with that.

  • At least 2 holes I shorted the shot. I don’t have any other excuse except that I can barely guess the yardage of my gap wedge in the middle of my stance when using a half swing.
  • I overshot the green 4 times as I toyed with somehow controlling my pitching wedge on 3 holes on the front and my gap wedge on the 12th hole. My pitching wedge was dead weight after the front nine.
  • Switching back to the Callaway Super Soft was beneficial for my putting in general. My major issues with putting tended to stem from fast greens on the front nine which would have saved me at least 3 strokes.
  • Tee boxes are turfed mats so there were no divots as I chipped and pitched my way from hole to hole.
  • Upon check-in, they provide you with a divot tool to repair the ball marks on the greens.

Anticipating Playing Eastlake Wednesday

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Having prepaid for what seems like my final round of golf for winter break, I am eager to loosen up, check in, and attack the course. Playing Colina Park helped me discover the shortcomings of my short game. With six holes that were misjudged, that’s 1/3 of the course and you can’t help but to expect that to translate into some lost strokes. Unless you pick up some strokes with some miracle putts, that’s just natural outcome.

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Can I squeeze in a weekend round before everything officially starts back? I am hopeful, but I am not banking on it. I realize that I can stretch my frugal dollars a little further if I simply take the time to plan out my play in advance and find some of the hot deals and the bargain discount tee time available out there. Some sites and courses allow you to book up to a week in advance, so if the price is right, then the early bird might just get the biggest worm in the bunch.

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Final Week of Winter Vacation Golf Plans

As my free time begins to slowly dwindle away with a return back to work looming soon, I desperately have to schedule my golf outings for the remainder of my winter break. As I reference my golf planning resources and list out what I want to get done by next Sunday, I believe that I have my work cut out for me. I am already scheduled for an afternoon tee time at Eastlake on Wednesday scheduled after my Bible study livestream and a midmorning business meeting. I don’t have a lot time to work with here.

Monday

Today will include some range work on my irons and wedges. Plus, I want to try this bunker shot that I learned watching Mark Crossfield. Beyond that, I think my focus is fitness and health as I prepare for another 10-Day Detox Challenge.

Tuesday

This might be the day where I can walk an 18-hole par 3 in the morning. I have a critical business meeting later that afternoon, so I believe that would be the best time. Plus, as far as I am concerned that’s the best warmup that I can do for playing 18 on the next day.

Wednesday

With an afternoon tee time at Eastlake on Wednesday already scheduled, I am seeing this as one of the last shots at a par 72 for me before the break is entirely over. After my Bible study livestream and a midmorning business meeting, I will head to the putting surface for some practice and stretching before my round. This might be the last shot at breaking 90 over the break on a fairly familiar course and a shot a trying some of these new golf tips.

Thursday & Friday

Nothing happening here. I got all-day meetings for work in preparation for resuming remote learning with students. Not playing golf either of these days.

Saturday

Saturdays are tricky. The weekend golfers invade the local courses like a swarm and the foursomes get bunched up as the holes get backed up, so it can be a grueling time of tested patience. If I go out, it will definitely be a twilight tee time and it might have me finishing 18 all by my lonesome after the sun has gone down. Thank God for those neon yellow balls.

I would love to play Barona but we’ll see how things go.
Sunday

It all depends for me. If I didn’t get a shot at it on Saturday, I might just make a go of it on Sunday. Typically, I would not play on Sunday. I try to unwind and relax even take it easy before my last day off work. But what else is golf but an opportunity to do that? If I get out there, I will play real close to home and be prepared for a definitely twilight type of play. It’s a lot cheaper and it’s a lot more convenient when the crowd is chugging along throughout the day. Once spring break comes up, I will surely have a greater experience at twilight because of the extended hours. For now, I make the most of it and have as much fun as possible.

It Was the Best of Times. . .

No matter how I approach it or look back at it, I enjoyed this break. I got in some good rounds and saw that the pandemic had not totally crushed my golf game like it has been killing my waistline. Working from home is killing me, so I know that I will take charge of my health differently as I return to work. This will surely include walking at least a par 3 course every 2 weeks. I got to keep the rust off my game, so I am going to keep swinging like I know how.

More Lessons Learned Playing Golf During the Pandemic

According to data from the National Golf Foundation, only 26 percent of all golfers shoot below 90 consistently on regulation 18-hole courses; 45 percent of all golfers average more than 100 strokes per round. A player who shoots 85 is doing better than nearly three out of four of his golfing peers–a good score. (Golfweek)

That being said. . .

New Year’s Day at Pala Mesa Resort

I got to sneak away up the freeway to one of my favorite golf getaway spots in SoCal- Pala Mesa Resort. I used to eyeball this resort from the freeway on trips between Riverside and San Diego, dreaming of the day that I would get a chance to play there and see what this picturesque course was like. I have been here a few times in the last 2 years. I usually get to go there and play at least twice a year.

It is a beautiful course and resort that is nestled within a residential area and includes some holes that chiseled out of the rocky hillsides and sloping landscape of the area. The hole designs have you navigating doglegs with skillfully-placed sand traps and multi-tiered greens with some unforgiving slopes even on their fringe. If nothing else, I love the challenge of the layout.

Playing Lessons Learned at Pala Mesa Resort

I definitely found myself scrambling for bogey and double bogey at times, wondering what went wrong with that last shot as I tried to make up lost ground and time with some off shots. I was thinking that my better work had been around the green, but even your short game gets tested when the fast green let your simple chip turn into a rolling runaway down a slope of the fringe. Despite eating away at all sorts of parts of my ego, the course offered some real playing lessons for me as I endured the challenge and had me some fun giving it a go again.

Scorecard courtesy of Garmin Golf App

Pace of Play

I was teamed up with a group of 3 other golfers and we decided to play from the blue tees. I had just come off walking 2 rounds of playing from the white tees (I ain’t killing myself; it’s a leisure sport), so I was game for extending the course a bit. Our foursome made for a fairly good match with everyone having their own ups and downs here and there, but we kept a good pace. When there’s a holiday crowd and there are holes just backed up like crazy, you keep the pace moving steady. Learn to know when to either pick up the pace or just pick up your ball. You don’t have to putt out every hole if there’s no wager or if others a willing to give you credit for it. Pace of play makes a big difference in your experience. The longer you’re waiting on the foursome ahead of you to get off the green or even out of the fairway, the more thoughts get in your head and the more loss of focus you tend to experience. (At least that’s how it works for me) Give up on some of the kneeling and squatting to gather a read on the potential pathway of your putt and pick it up if it is within four to six feet if the pace is pressing on you and the sun is on its steady descent to where you might not finish your round before sunset.

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Play Ready Golf

I am a respecter of golf etiquette and the gentleman’s rules, but I am also considerate of the group behind me pressing to get their round in, too. Nobody has to get the honors of teeing off first unless it’s a big deal birdie or eagle on the prior hole. Get off the green, get to the next tee box, and if you are ready, tee it up and let it fly. It’s really that simple.

If your playing buddy can’t find his ball and you are ready, take your shot while he and another player give it a decent search. If he is still looking and lagging, suggest that he drop a ball and get on with it. We’ve got golf to play and not all day to get it in. Play ready golf and that promotes a steady pace of play.

Play Your Own Game

As golfers, we tend to live in the competitive zone. Egos are bruised at both the tee box and the putting green. We have to learn that are true competition is not any member of our foursome or any player on the charity tournament slate. That’s gotten into our heads and we need to crush that thinking altogether. What we are really competing against is the course itself. We are up against the intricacies of the course designers and their intricate layout of signature holes and challenges along with the course management’s pin placement for the day.

Hole by hole, we have to play our own game not get caught up in the yank out the driver for this baby and let it rip mentality when a 3 or 5 wood for less yardage and more accuracy might be the elixir for those wayward shots in the first place. Drop the idea of competing against your friends and family unless you have a list of folks like mine who talk enough trash and needle you just enough to get you to go there every so often. But once you have gone there be sure to get back to where you play the course strategically and selectively as you seek to conquer each hole stroke by stroke.

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Recognize What’s Working (And What’s Not Working)

As golfers, we could simply run down a full list of items to check here and we wouldn’t be far off from most of us statistically. Why? Because the common factors in golf remain the same if you think about it. If we play an 18-hole par 72 course, everybody has to face 18 tee shots and 18 putting surfaces with a whole lot of green grass to cover in between and we might want to appreciate the “little things” like a par or better as Lydia Ko said in a prior interview. But we don’t tend to prepare for that with our time on the driving range like Nick Foy suggests. You hear a lot of driver action on the driving range with soaring shots launched skyward like missiles, but the range has targets from within 100 yards to way back at 300+ yards as well as plenty of things in between both. Just like those targets we need to spread the range of our practice on the range or a decent walkable 18-hole par 3. Why not walk amid the morning dew, armed only with a handful of irons and a sleeve of Callaway Super Softs? I mean when the scorecard says that the yardage on the longest hole is just over 140 yards that’s better practice for you at $15 to walk than standing on a turf mat and swinging away at a bucket of 100 or so gnarly range balls.

Your play will reveal what’s working. Simply adjust when necessary and where necessary. I was getting some good drives in at around 185-190 yards on average, but I was missing the fairway plenty of times. Switching to my 3 wood on a few narrow holes gave me a more accurate drive with a little less distance, but it set me up for a decent approach shot and some work around the green. My chipping with the gap and pitching wedge was not getting enough roll to run across that thick grass guarding the green from about 50 yards out, so I modified my swing with an 8 or 9 iron to get things going again. It might have cost me some strokes along the way, but it paid me dividends in providing for less frustration as I kept battling the course. Your play will let you know what’s working and what’s not working, so remain open minded and observant as you play hole by hole.

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Embrace Change and Enjoy the Game

Like I said, I was paired with 3 other golfers at the first tee. They were not the 3 golfers that I was supposed to play with according to the starter, but they were the three that he was going to put me with once he realized this other group of folks were a no-show. So be it! I still get to play within my tee time and these guys got bumped up to start a little earlier than their expected tee time. There’s a lot to be said by just showing and being ready.

Take whatever you got from your time on the driving range or the putting practice surface and apply it where you can and how you can. This isn’t the time to go experimenting with your game. My late cousin and I used to play religiously when we lived together. He was a recovery shot machine. I mean out of all sorts of nasty situations, he could needle a punch shot with a fairway wood off of a bed of pine needles or lob a wedge shot over a willow tree’s canopy of drooping branches and leaves for a soft roll onto the green. That guy would experiment to the point where you could get high blood pressure just watching him work his way out of trouble. That worked for him, but that’s not what most of us need to do. Most of us need to tackle the course with our best game and have some fun while doing it. That’s the way I see it.

Thank you to all golf writers and bloggers featured, mentioned and linked here. You add to the life of other blogs with your content. However, this post contains 2 of my favorite golf bloggers to quote/ link: Brian Penn and the Grateful Golfer with a post on putting what you see that I linked where Brian is mentioned by the Grateful Golfer, What small blogosphere we live in.

5 Lessons Learned on My First Round of Golf since the Pandemic

I learned some real valuable lessons on my first round of golf since the pandemic hit our nation and the entire world. I wouldn’t really consider the golf tournament that I participated in this fall as a round of golf nor anything that contributes to my goal of breaking 90 consistently. It definitely helped to boost my confidence, but it was just not one for the record books. I felt that this was my first outing and I learned plenty along the way.

My outing included some lessons learned on two different courses positioned at opposites sides of East County San Diego and at opposite ends of the day. Morning started with me walking the back nine at Carltons Oaks Golf Course in Santee as clouds of mist began to subside to the rising sun. That afternoon had me facing the par 3 18-hole Pine Glen course at Singing Hills Golf Course (Sycuan Resort) in the middle of threats of rain and mild Santa Ana winds. Both courses offered me some extremely timely and useful lessons on engaging in golf since the pandemic as I walked each round with my golf bag slung across my back.

1. Walking the Course Has Advantages Over Riding

I find that walking a course toting your bag on your back can give you all sorts of lessons alone, especially when you consider issues such as lower back pain and overall fitness. The game of golf has its own lessons and walking the course teaches us plenty, too.

  • Much like running or jogging, walking the golf course during a round allows you to listen to your body.
  • You quickly have an idea of just how fit your are (or not) as you walk the golf course during your round
  • You try to keep your shot selections more selective and strategic when walking more than while riding in the cart
  • Downsizing is a practical pathway, whether it be the number of clubs or other items in your bag.
  • You feel a bit closer to nature while walking the course during your round of golf. It can be the ducks by the water hazards or the rising mist from the grassy fairways in the morning, but it is definitely a sense of serenity that comes over you as you take it all in step by step.

2. Technology Helps Track Stats More & More

I used to keep scorecards stuffed and tucked away in my golf bag’s pockets. They would come straight from the back pocket after the final hole and into a hidden place in that bag and remain there until they slip or drop out by mistake. That’s not what I am doing now.

I used Garmin’s mobile golf app on both my smart phone and my Garmin Vivoactive 3 watch. My preference is the mobile phone app for just tracking strokes, but the watch allows you to track distance to the pin as well as the distance of your last shot. Course information can be downloaded in advance for usage on the watch during a round. Another option is MyScorecard and its mobile app. The technology kept me on track as I improved my score hole by hole.

3. Muscle Memory Works Most of the Time

I hate to admit it but it’s true that muscle memory is not an absolute. It tends to fail when your nerves get the better of you and those first tee jitters get to jumping around like nervous butterflies in your belly. Yips can override any personal yearning for swinging for big yards and open fairways as I realized the reality that played out before my eyes unlike some things I read when I browse the blogs and sports articles. I definitely learned that some things are slower to change as it initially took me 3 holes to warm up at Carlton Oaks.

4. Every Round of Golf Offers Surprises

It almost goes without saying that nearly every single time I play golf that I am provided some kind of surprise. Previously playing Oak Glen at Sycuan, I learned how a wayward duck can disrupt the perfect flight of a line drive from a hooded 6 iron. While playing at Chula Vista Golf Course, I discovered how a fairway wood recovery shot could simply be shortened and cutoff by low-hanging electrical wires threaded across the otherwise wide open fairway.

This time around did not displease. Hole #16 at Carlton Oaks gave me an unjust and cruel fate handed down when my approach shot was cut short by grazing the peak of a jutting mound of earth, forcing me to chip as close as possible to the green with an explosion of sand in my face upon impact. Faced with a par shot off the fringe of the hole, I elected to use my putter as opposed to any wedge play and struck paydirt for par even to my own surprise. Like I said, I’ll take that all day long.

5. Your Game is Usually Better Than You Expect

Put all of the b.s. aside for a moment. I am not always walking the course, and I am most certainly not always one who undergoes a regimented routine of arriving at the course early and ensuring that I have things in order to have a productive and positive round of golf. Maybe that is a profound lesson learned for me, too. Things can be more productive and more positive when you decide to do more preparation for your round than just popping up and playing without a plan.

My results speak for themselves. I was +13 on 18 holes of par 3? Anyone who has played with me over the years know that I dread almost any par 3 hole. For me to make multiple pars on that course, I knew that my morning round had helped me build some confidence and recognize where I lacked strength. Prior to teeing off at Singing Hills that afternoon, I smashed range balls with my 6 and 8 irons as a warmup and a reinforcement of my own potential with my irons.

You have to understand that despite being +9 on the back nine at Carlton Oaks those irons were not my saving grace that morning. Every time I pulled them out of my bag it seemed to my detriment. I even went so far as to using my hybrid to work anything between 150 to 100 yards out and my pitching wedge for anything within 100 yards of the pin.

Knowing that I was facing 18 holes of par 3 challenges, I knew that I needed those two clubs to get my scores down and conquer those par 3s. And they delivered well and allowed me to keep pushing even when I had to use the same club where I had just flubbed a tee shot to pull off a high risk recovery shot. I learned that my application of hooded tee and approach shots with a 6 iron and sharply-chopped 8 iron rolls were enough to keep me in contention for par at nearly every turn.

I value all of the lessons that I learned playing golf again since the pandemic arose. I am eagerly awaiting my next outing this week most probably on New Year’s Eve. I am going to reference my notes and try to compensate for where I allowed my game to lack focus and get sloppy. I mean what do you call it when your second shot on a par 5 places you squarely 155 yards from the pin and your 6 iron sends a rocketed misaligned third shot approximately 25 to 30 yards off target to the left of the green? I think sloppy is a euphemism for such a thing, but it all taught me a clear lesson on the power of consistency making things easier for myself than forcing risky and remarkable recovery shots. Thank God for walking the course, bitterly condemning myself as I walked from one shot to another to regain my composure and play it strategically to keep things under a double bogey.

Until next time, keeping swinging and having fun.