As I approach age 60, it’s nice to know I’m still getting better in golf. Last fall, I had separate nine-hole scores of 39 and 41. For the first time, I began to believe that I might actually break 80 someday. I’ll never break any course records, mind you. But golf is a sport of infinite hope and possibility. Every time I play, I wonder if this will be the day a miracle occurs, when the planets align and everything goes right for me.
My coach, Marlene Davis, is a big believer in the VISION54 method of noted golf teachers Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. It’s an approach that helps students realize their peak performance in golf and in life, the equivalent of making a birdie on every hole and shooting 54.
So I thought it would be fun to create a personal course record by recalling some of my most memorable holes. Each corresponds to an actual numbered hole on an area course. It wasn’t easy. I’m not sure I’ve had 18 birdies in my life. But here’s my dream round. I’ll call it VISION64.
1. Country Club of Buffalo, 389 yards, par 4
In July 2008, I got to play CCB with Ward Wettlaufer, one of the best amateurs this area has produced.
Nervously, I popped my third shot over a trap and onto the green, then made a 10-foot putt for par. I could have quit right there. In fact, we played only one more hole until rain washed out the round. Listening to Ward tell golf stories over lunch was better than playing, anyway.
2. Niagara Falls Country Club, 360 yards, par 4
Playing in a media outing for the Porter Cup, I smoked a fairway wood just short of the green after a mediocre drive, then got up and down for par. When I see the young guys birdie this hole with relative ease, it makes my par seem a lot less noble.
3. Brighton Park, 473 yards, par 5
On a September day in 2010, I had two birdies in one round. Hitting from the left rough, I knocked a 4-hybrid onto the green and drained a 15-footer for the bird. What made it even more memorable was that my News colleague Dan Herbeck also birdied the hole. You’ll have to read on to find out about the second birdie.
4. Terry Hills, 533 yards, par 5
Bogey was my friend on Dec. 4, 2001, when I broke 100 for the first time, accompanied by the late Allen Wilson. I was happy to walk off the fourth, the No. 1-rated hole, with a bogey six. There’s an elevated tee over a little pond, a hard dogleg right and woods along the right edge of a fairway that slopes to the right, drawing balls like a magnet. I was barely inbounds with my first two shots.
5. Glen Oak, 552 yards, par 5
Playing with my favorite bartender, Jack Gray, I parred the No. 1 handicap hole at Glen Oak. Jack remembers it well, because the hole goes right past his house. I hit two solid shots and avoided the water with my approach. Then I chipped it close and made the short putt.
6. Sheridan Park, 105 yards, par 3
I think of this short hole as compensation for some of the dastardly holes on the back nine. I finessed a 9-iron to 10 inches and tapped in for a birdie. Playing with Jerry Obstein, the Harvard Cup coaching legend, I shot a career-best 95 at Sheridan.
7. Cross Creek, 153 yards, par 3
I was trailing in my match against Andy Gianiodis when I hit a 6-iron to three inches for a tap-in birdie. It was one of the fondest moments of my annual golf trip to Pennsylvania – along with a couple of my motivational speeches in the week’s big event, the two-team scramble.
8. Moon Brook Country Club, 173 yards, par 3
This one actually went in the hole. Playing in a foursome with Steve Gustafson, the bass player for the 10,000 Maniacs, I made my only hole-in-one. People still ridicule me for using a 3-wood. Hey, it counted. Try rolling up a 3-wood sometime.
(All right, so I had three straight par-5s, followed by three consecutive par-3s. I never claimed to be Robert Trent Jones.)
9. Grover Cleveland, 380 yards, par 4
My son, Jack, took up the game last year at 15. He was with me when I made a 20-foot putt for birdie to turn the first nine at Grover in 39, the first time I broke 40 for nine. I had visions of breaking 80. Jack showed no sympathy when I blew up on the 10th en route to an 86.
Out, Par 36. My score, 31.
10. Locust Hill Country Club, 414 yards, par 4
On the media day outing for the LPGA event last year, I got up and down from about 40 yards for par. I generally mutter “Thank you, Marlene” after knocking a wedge close, because she taught me the proper technique. By now, you’ve probably noticed that I’m rarely on the green in regulation on par-4s.
11. Harvest Hill, 385 yards, par 4
It occurs to me that many of my best golf shots came in September or later, what we call “bonus golf” in these parts. In October of ’09, I made seven pars and shot 90 at Harvest Hill. Mike Schmand says my wedges were amazing that day.
12. Elma Meadows, 417 yards, par 4
I played Elma a lot with my buddy Stan Pikul back in the day. I never broke 90. But I once bogeyed all nine holes on the back nine. I was pretty proud of myself. Bogey golf has always been my modest goal. If I could take all my blowup holes and turn them into bogeys, I’d have broken 90 a lot more often.
13. Orchard Park Country Club, 360 yards, par 4
One of the few times I birdied a par-4 in regulation. I drove into a tight fairway with water on the right, smacked a 5-wood to 10 feet and sank the birdie putt. Rick Hamister, who swears I’m a good putter, says I made all the 10-footers that day. I shot 90, despite needing four swings to get out of one sand trap.
14. Sheridan Park, 393 yards, par 4
The horror show I spoke of earlier. It’s not a hole, it’s a carnival ride. I’m surprised there’s not a windmill on the green. You have to hit over water and then make a sharp right turn up a hill with an equipment shed on the right. I made my first par the day I shot 95 and thought I’d won the Masters.
15. Terry Hills, 305 yards, par 4
One of the reasons I love Terry Hills is forgiving holes like this one. I got on the green in two and rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to win a $20 skin from Jim Kwitchoff and Dennis Danheiser a few years back. Jim says you have to enjoy playing for money. That was one of the rare times I agreed with him.
16. Cherry Hill Club, 122 yards, par 3
One of the few highlights of my challenge match with Ann Luhr in September 2003. She hit from the men’s tees. I played the women’s. She beat me by 18 strokes. After Ann made a 20-foot birdie putt on 16, I said, “I might as well get one, too,” and canned a 15-foot bird of my own.
17. Beaver Island, 437 yards, par 4
I’ve never birdied this hole, a slight dogleg right with a yawning water hazard beckoning on the right. It has sabotaged many a fine Sunday round by my North Buffalo pals. I treat it like a par-5, content to stay left and avoid the drink. I parred it once and felt like calling a press conference.
18. Brighton Park, 468 yards, par 5
The other birdie from that magical round in September 2010. I was so worried about Bruce Andriatch trying to break 90, I didn’t realize how close I was. I left my third shot on the front fringe and pulled my putt left.
Luckily, I found the line and made a 30-footer for birdie. Imagine my surprise when Dan Herbeck informed me I had shot 89 and broken 90 for the first time.
In, Par 36. My score, 33
Total Par 72, My score 8-under 64