September 18, 2009
On September 13 I participated in the annual club championship at Shawnee Country Club.
I stress the word “participated” because, thanks to a few holes and their bunkers, there was not much chance I could use some other word, such as “won”.
Our group included the eventual winner of our flight, Milford psychologist Dr. Joe Zingaro, a very pleasant playing companion. As we walked toward our first tee, Dr. Joe was a bit prescient about the risks of landing in Shawnee’s bunkers, a day after the course had been closed to try to recover from torrential downpours. If I recall correctly, he said, “I sure hope I don’t land in one of them.”
We began play on the twelfth hole. By the time I reached my second shot on the par-4 fourteenth hole, I knew exactly what he meant.
The grounds crew worked very hard to make the course tournament-ready, but they weren’t able to clear up everything. I learned this when my ball landed in a deep washout gully in one of the fairway bunkers.
The ball nestled tightly against both sides of a miniature canyon, whose valley pointed off toward the fairway for the fifteenth hole. Any successful long shot from that bunker would present its own challenges for the approach shot to the fourteenth green.
Before the tournament began, head golf pro Devon Peterson reminded us that we could take relief if a ball landed in the casual water that partially filled some of the bunkers, as long as the ball remained in the bunker for the next shot. He hadn’t said anything about these gullies, however.
I knew I could take an unplayable lie under Rule 28, with a stroke penalty, but I also thought I should try to get out of the mess without taking that option.
Perhaps I should have rethought that decision.
I took a swing, and the ball popped out of the bunker and landed a foot or so above the edge.
Then the ball spun backward, and fell into the bunker a second time.
It came to a gentle stop in a puddle. I took my permitted relief, and banged a seven-iron shot out of the bunker, leading to an eventual triple.
The fun didn’t end there.
On the fifth hole, my five-iron approach shot landed on the bank between the green and the bunker, and then fell slowly backward into the casual water covering most of the sand. My free drop stopped on a very hard patch of a smooth, concrete-like surface.
I took my usual bunker swing, but the ball didn’t listen. It banged into the bank a second time, and rolled back into the bunker. For the next shot, I kept the clubface far more perpendicular to the swing path than I usually do, and hit into the sand far closer to the ball. This time it popped out and rolled onto the green, where I took an eventual six.
There were more sand shots that day, some far more successful than others.
I later chatted with Peterson about the bunker shots on 5 and 14. He confirmed there was no other relief from the gully ball other than the unplayable lie option, with the penalty stroke. He also suggested a very different method for playing on very hard sand.
Peterson said I should use my pitching wedge or 9-iron, with the clubface slightly open. I should then hit into the sand only an inch or so behind the ball, and not worry too much about a full follow-through. With my normal sand wedge bunker shot, there’s just too much chance for the flange of the club to bounce off the hard pack and smack the ball.
That shot will take some practice—and an inch or two of rain the day before.
The seventeen-year cycle
Dr. Lynn Walsh surprised himself and his playing partners during the Shawnee CC club championship, with his second-ever hole-in-one.
Walsh, a popular Milford-area chiropractor and former club president, used his handmade 5-wood on the 201-yard par 3 tenth hole for his newest ace.
He said his only other hole-in-one occurred on Shawnee’s par-3 fourth, in 1992. When I noted that seventeen years had passed between shots, Doc laughed and said, “Just like cicadas!”