Written by Bo Turocy. Photographs by Hannah Fontenot Mentz.
The 11th annual U.S. Hickory Open hosted by the Society of Hickory Golfers just wrapped up on Halloween. The 36-hole stroke play event was contested across the 1926 Donald Ross layout at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, NC. This club may sound familiar to you. The PGA Tour plays the Wyndham Championship there each year. Brandt Snedeker made fame by shooting a record setting 59 in the opening round of the 2018 Wyndham a few months ago. The U.S. Hickory Open was originally scheduled to be played closely following the tour event, but Hurricane Florence forced a month-long postponement.
I had already played in the two previous championships with mediocre to average results, finishing something like in 15th and 12th places (or so) respectively. Obviously I am the only one proud of those results. It was Walter Hagen who would always boldly announce he was playing solely for first place and it mattered not if he finished as runner up or in last place since nobody ever remembered. Also, the legendary Ricky Bobby of infamous Talladega Nights fame learned from his father that if you “ain’t first, you’re last.” I was ready to make my move into the arena of national spot light success. Besides, I’ve already enjoyed a brief, but splendid international stardom with a massive defeat earlier this year at the hands of the Europeans in the Freedman Cup matches, a Ryder Cup style tournament for hickory golf.
I didn’t have to get far into my practice round to see that the modest 6300-yard course was going to be a beast that was probably not to be tamed. The course still held most of the characteristics displayed when the PGA Tour was in town late summer – wicked narrow fairways bordered by rough that very much resembled hay. Oh, and the greens! The Stimp figure was not posted, but I’d be surprised if it was less than 10.5, which is quite difficult to navigate on firm Ross greens when putting and chipping. The par was 35-38/73, but with hickory and 6327 yards on rolling terrain, chilly temps and some wind, I figured if I could stay away from the “others” and post a pair 80s, I would be personally satisfied. Feeling uncommonly frisky, I even sent out a Facebook message challenging all my friends to take a guess at which hole and which shot I’d tie Snedeker’s 59 feat. Well, if nothing else, they did have some laughs at my expense.
So, with my sound game plan intact, the fun began immediately in the first round. Teeing off on number ten, I had a cream puff par (hickory) five to start. Drove it in the hay, laid up in a bunker, blah, blah, blah and I escape with a bogey. Felt like a double. Then I achieved my first “other”, a legitimate double on my second hole of the first round. So much for avoiding them. Made a few pars and then on the fourth tee, the good committee of the event had a whiskey station with the finest bourbon, Kentucky Par, waiting for the competitors. It felt like Mrs. Forman of days long ago whose home sat near the third green of the famed Musselburgh Golf Links of Scotland was providing her customary wee nips. My next mistake of the day was NOT actually imbibing at 10:15 AM. I posed with the bourbon, but nothing else. The round continues in misery, highlighted with very few bright spots. My ball striking was great, course management was on par, yet Ross and his course was highly agitated and took its fury out on me…and the rest of the 87 player field, too.
My ‘Snedeker’ tying shot occurred on my third stroke of my 13th hole of the day. Wow…I still had a lot of golf left to be played. My final hole featured me draining a five-foot putt…for bogey…in the shadows of the magnificent Tudor-styled clubhouse. Ten minutes later I would learn that that critical putt actually enabled me to break 90! The 89 is the second highest number I’ve ever achieved with the hickories…and I still felt that I played well! I struck a few putts after the round to work more on speed when dealing with 15 feet of side hill, downhill breaking 40 footers on slick greens, but going to the range to iron out swing issues was not a consideration. The full swing felt quite comfortable. When the rest of the field finished and the dust settled, two fine players produced a 79 and a third managed an 80. My impeccable 89 left me in 12th place but the scores across the board were uncharacteristically high for all. Misery loves company.
So, in beginning the final round, my goal was to crack the top ten by the end of the day. Find small victories, somehow. We shotgun on day two, and I begin the day’s adventure on the second tee. After I top my opening tee shot with my spoon, I’m thinking that perhaps I should have actually spent some time warming up. A mid-iron layup and solid mashie that landed pin high, 15 feet left puts me in a better mood…until I learn it runs 60 feet through the green then considerably beyond it into the rough. Oh well. Once I drain the ten footer for bogey, the game is afoot!
After five holes, I have quickly accrued several more bogies topped with a double on the vicious sixth hole. Waiting on the seventh tee box is the Kentucky Par bourbon station. I do not pass on it, this time. There is enough left in the bottle for our foursome to have a taste.
Feeling better about life now, I peg the ball and blister my mid-iron down the hill, across the creek and one hop it over the green of the scenic 179 yarder. The road and out of bounds run perilously close beyond it, but that wonderful hay-rough saves me stroke and distance. A few chips and three putts later we are recording a triple bogey six for posterity’s sake on my scorecard. I blame the bourbon.
However, starting on the eighth tee box (my seventh hole of the day) I embark upon a truly remarkable stretch of golf (for me, anyways) that would have had the leaders crumbling if we had scoreboards or runners available to relay information…and, of course, if I wasn’t 20 odd strokes behind. With some finely executed strokes and good bounces, I played my last 12 holes in one over par. Maybe the bourbon should be credited for this run of exquisite play. I am still cringing over three three-putts in that stretch, though. Part of the good fortune included a chip-in birdie on the ninth and my proud “Hagen” par on the 13th hole.
I go on to finish my round in 82 strokes. Once again Snedeker’s record is still intact. The leaders again posted another solid 79 and go to a four-hole sudden death playoff. My projected pair of 80’s would have been good for third, though still not good enough in Hagen’s mind. I did crack the top ten and achieve my goal…barely. Good for my ego, but not much else.
As I drove back to Charleston, SC, my mind swirled with a plethora of “what ifs” but with each mile driven, they were replaced with thoughts containing tremendous number of laughs, camaraderie and friendships that were created and reunited during the golf and social events of the U.S. Hickory Open tournament. And ultimately, that IS what hickory golf and just plain golf is truly about.
The 2019 U.S. Hickory Open is scheduled for June 20-22 at the historic Belvedere Club in Charlevoix Michigan. The event is sold out, but you can put your name on the waiting list by contacting Dennis Joy at email@example.com.
Bo Turocy has been a member of the PGA of America since 2001 and currently works as a golf professional at the Golf Club at Wescott in Summerville, SC. He is a passionate hickory player who rarely, if ever, plays with his modern clubs. You would think he would be a better player. He feels just as comfortable and at ease either dressed up in sharp plus four’s and a tie in the fairway or elbows deep under the hood of his 1945 wartime jeep wearing oily, greased stained OD overalls. His loving wife and two adorable kids spend most of their time rolling their eyes at him.
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