Unfamiliar Courses

There are few things in golf that I enjoy as much as trying out a new course.

A restless soul, I rarely play the same track twice in a row. This summer alone, I’ve played eighteen new clubs, completing my goal of playing every public course in Washtenaw County, Michigan. I’ve also played courses in West and “Up North” Michigan, in Maryland and at Torrey Pines in San Diego. In all, I’ve played twenty five different courses (some I had played in previous years).

Unfamiliar courses are an adventure. Like an explorer with an incomplete map, a player can get an approximate lay of the land from a scorecard, but never really know. To find the source of the Nile, Speke and Burton actually had to make the journey. A new course begs to be explored in the same way.

Standing on the first tee, I always wonder what’s in store. Will the course be a beauty, or a dog? Hard to conquer or easy? Memorable? Forgettable? Fun? Frustrating? A day at a new course always is filled with possibilities.

And it’s the possibilities that draw me onward. Each hole offers a new experience; a new view; a new test of golf. Balls land in unexpected places. Traps are closer – or farther – than they seem. Water unexpectedly comes into play – or doesn’t. Seemingly flat greens reveal themselves to be multi tiered.

There are regrets on the journey. Putts take unexpected turns. Playing cautiously, I often underclub. Or, arriving at my ball, discover that there was a better way to play the last shot.

But there also are triumphs. To play a hole perfectly on the first try is exhilarating. Discovering that the ball has landed in the center of the fairway on a blind shot makes me grin.

Finding a course’s soul is part of the adventure. Corporate, resort, real estate development, family run or traditional – each has its own distinct flavor. On a couple, I could almost see men in white sport coats and women in beehive hairdos standing on the clubhouse porch. I have a real fondness for the older, family-owned tracks that were laid out by the founder, and still are maintained by his grandchildren.  Ernie Els’ first design – Whiskey Creek—seemed to reflect his personality. A few lacked any soul at all, having apparently been built solely for the purpose of boosting the value of nearby housing lots.

But in my explorations, I’ve found that nearly every course has at least one hole that makes the trip worthwhile. Sometimes it’s the scenery; on others it’s the strategy. A few I like simply because I can just grip it and rip it.

On the very best courses, the good holes come in bunches, and the atmosphere and character are palpable. Those are the tracks that I take note of, and plan to visit again.

But not tomorrow. Tomorrow a new course beckons.

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