The Early Days

I originally took-up the game when I was about 10 years old - at my father's urging. I took a few lessons and played at a local municipal course until I was about 13 (when I simply tired of the time commitment required to play 18 holes).  In retrospect, I regret the lay-off: I wasn't bad, occasionally able to break 90 (something my Dad always envied - as it was he simply found the game maddening).  Had I stuck with it I might well have enough ability to now be a scratch or at least a very low-handicapper.

Clear your mind... yeah... right...

I resumed playing at about age 27 when I got into the insurance business. It may be stereotypical, but it really is almost part of the job description that insurance folk play golf.  After all, where else can you spend an uninterrupted five hours with a potential client?  At any rate, I got serious, regularly playing in the Houston area with a several co-workers who are now scattered across the country (we still try to meet once a year at different spots to play for 3-4 days - shown below over a meal near Pinehurst NC, and me teeing-off on the Blue Monster 18th at Doral in Miami FL).

Ken Llewellyn, Randy Kuehn, David Presley, and Gerry Ball
Teeing-off on the 18th at Doral's Blue Monster

When I moved from Houston back to Atlanta (where I grew-up), I wrote the property & casualty insurance portfolio for a local country club - and, after a couple years of prodding, eventually joined the Berkeley Hills Country Club as a member. Nothing fancy - a 27 hole Gary Player design that requires controlled shots to negotiate the narrow fairways. I managed to stay between an 8-10 handicap as I played about once a week.  When my father passed-away in late 2004 - and I put into motion my plans to move to southwest Florida - I formally resigned my membership at Berkeley.

I now live in a place with more golf courses than the famed Myrtle Beach, SC... and find myself regularly playing at least once a week throughout the year.  That frequency has allowed me to post my lifetime low score of  one-under-par 71 (on a challenging Arthur Hills-designed course).  Yes, as I now seem to shoot in the 70s as often as the 80s, I'd have to say that life is good. :)

David Plays...

 

Golf Across the Pond... Scotland

In late April and early May of 1996 (WOW - well more than a decade ago... where has the time gone???), the British American Business Group in Atlanta took a golf trip to Scotland. I emphasize golf, because that's really all we did each and every day. Pictured below left and center is my favorite course from Scotland, Royal Dornoch. Tom Watson considers it the finest course in the world (and I'm inclined to agree - it was stunning!). We got-in 36 holes that day, with the afternoon round being a Ryder Cup-style match against the locals (and we Yanks were soundly trounced!).

With the first part of our trip based near Inverness we also played Nairn and Moray; we then drove a few hours to the southwest to playPrestwickRoyal Troon (the Portland course in the morning and the Troon course that afternoon); we then headed east across the highlands to play PanmureMonifiethLeven Links, the Lundin Golf ClubCarnoustie, and the St. Andrews Old Course.

Royal Dornoch in North Scotland

Leven Links in East Scotland

Royal Troon in West Scotland

I would offer a word of advice on Scotland (that I fully intend to take myself in a few more years): if you're golfing, late June, July, and early August are the ONLY times to go! When we were driving across the highlands on May 1, it snowed about 4". Except for the last day (isn't that always the case?), we had to wear several layers of clothes - with our rain suits on top - to be even moderately comfortable in the cold and the wet. The locals even commented that it seemed peculiarly cold during our visit (figures!).

You don't think that weather plays a significant factor in Scottish golf?  At Troon I shot a 46 on the front side and a 39 on the back - can you guess which way the wind was blowing?  The highlight of that round was absolutely CRUNCHING my drive on the last par 5, requiring only a 3-iron to reach the green in two... the caddies kept muttering that it was one of the biggest hits they'd ever seen, including the pros (FYI, I only scored par, having gotten myself in bunker trouble on my second shot).  And it was so cool watching the pros play there at the 1997 British Open... having trod the fairways (and plenty of heather) myself just a year earlier.

 

The Promised Land... Pebble Beach

Friday, October 13, 2006
Arrival - The Inn at Spanish Bay, Monterey, California

Having now fulfilled one of my lifelong fantasies, I've been asked "was it worth it?" (referencing the extremely high cost to go there... from $650 per night rooms to the $450 round of golf at Pebble)  In a word, yes, it was.  And then some.  It was everything I could've hoped-for and more.  I've likened it to a combination of great sex and a religious experience... and while I'd love to convey that feeling through the words and photos below, there's simply no way.  As the saying goes, "you had to be there."

I arrived by plane at the Monterey Peninsula Airport late Friday afternoon; my brother (Robert) drove-up late that night from Santa Barbara (where he was working on the Bob Zemeckis computer-movie "Beowulf").  Before leaving the subject of cost - to unwind before bed we decided to go to the lobby bar and each get a glass of red wine... just a nice, house-brand California red (i.e. nothing at all extravagant or noteworthy)... cost?  $38 plus tip.  Bring a suitcase filled with money if you go!

For those who're curious, here's what $650 per night buys you:

Entering Room 1024 at The Inn at Spanish Bay Room 1024's Vanity area Room 1024's Bathtub Room 1024's Bathing area Room 1024's Shower facilities
Leaving Room 1024's Bathroom area Twin Queen Beds in Room 1024 Room 1024's Wet Bar and Desk Room 1024's Sitting Area (with working gas log fireplace) Entering Room 1024 at The Inn at Spanish Bay
Room 1024's Patio The view from Room 1024's Patio Looking back at The Inn at Spanish Bay The Inn at Spanish Bay, as seen from the 2nd Green The History of the Name...

12:10pm Saturday, October 14, 2006
The Links at Spanish Bay

After a first-rate breakfast at First Awakenings in Pacific Grove, followed by the obligatory circumnavigation of 17-Mile Drive, we arrived around 11am at The Links at Spanish Bay only to discover they have no practice range... so we spent quite a lot of time chipping and putting before joining our two playing partners on the first tee (interestingly, Jim and James were a father/son from the Atlanta area... small world, huh?).  5-1/4 hours later, here were my damages: 

Hole 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Out 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 In  
Yardage 495 300 340 176 411 390 412 152 367 3043 477 353 421 119 546 372 191 376 524 3379 6422
Handicap 9 13 5 15 1 11 3 17 7   8 14 6 18 2 12 16 4 10    
Par 5 4 4 3 4 4 4 3 4 35 5 4 4 3 5 4 3 4 5 37 72
My Score 7 6 5 3 4 6 6 3 4 44 7 4 5 4 5 4 3 7 5 44 88

Spanish Bay is a really lovely links-style tract carved out of environmentally-protected areas behind The Inn at Spanish Bay.  The 72.0 course rating and 137 slope rating (from our Gold tees) is mainly attributable to the undulating greens.  Most courses I play have one or two of these - I jokingly refer to them as "the 18th at Putt-Putt" because this kind of design has very severe (bordering on unfair)undulations - frequently requiring you to putt quite a bit uphill towards the hole (hence my reference).  But this is the first time I've seen all eighteen holes with this kind of design feature - what one of the caddies called "Carnival Golf".  In retrospect, I loved the course but that love is tempered by the really peculiar greens.

==========> Golfers - how often do you get to see THIS on your GPS?!?!! <==========
How often do you get to see THIS on your GPS?!?!!
Robert, on the 1st Tee at Spanish Bay Robert, on the 2nd Fairway at Spanish Bay Robert, on the Par 3 8th at Spanish Bay
Robert, on the Par 3 13th at Spanish Bay David, on the 14th Tee at Spanish Bay Robert, on the 15th Tee at Spanish Bay
Deer roam everywhere at Spanish Bay! David and Robert on the 17th Tee at Spanish Bay
Robert, teeing-off on Spanish Bay's finishing hole David's drive on the 18th at Spanish Bay
Sculpture overlooking the Spanish Bay Golf Links David at the conclusion of his round of golf at Spanish Bay The Bagpiper concludes every day at Spanish Bay
A view of The Inn at Spanish Bay from the water The closest we got to a sunset all weekend... Robert comforts this sad little man (not allowed into the 19th hole at Spanish Bay)

After cleaning-up, we took the caddy's recommendation and had dinner at The Sardine Factory in Monterey.  Wonderful seafood, but a bit on the pricey side (since we had the ability to leave the grounds in my brother's car we didn't have to pay resort prices for meals).  Were I to do it over again, consensus among several others was that The Fishwife at Asilomar Beach is the way to go - at half to one third the price!

 

9:20am Sunday, October 15, 2006
The Pebble Beach Golf Links

Honestly, I had forgotten what it felt like when I was very young and awoke on Christmas morning... but those feelings returned on this particular Sunday.  I couldn't sleep, had no real appetite, and couldn't wait to get to the course!  We arrived 8-ish, leaving plenty of time for a light bagel/cheese breakfast (as well as time on the practice range).  The weather was cool (upper 50s) and overcast (as it was our entire time there) - after meeting our caddies I selected a four-iron to begin my day... and had to take several deep breaths before my hands stopped shaking.  It worked... as you can see from my card below, I played WAY above myself through the first seven holes... until my personal thermostat kicked-in to return my normal scoring (we played to a 72.3 rating and 137 slope):

Hole 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Out 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 In  
Yardage 345 460 337 308 142 484 97 389 441 3003 413 349 187 376 560 373 383 172 532 3345 6348
Handicap 8 10 12 16 14 2 18 6 4   7 5 17 9 1 13 11 15 3    
Par 4 5 4 4 3 5 3 4 4 36 4 4 3 4 5 4 4 3 5 36 72
My Score 4 5 4 4 4 4 3 6 7 41 6 4 4 5 7 4 5 4 6 45 86

Pebble Beach is that religious experience I mentioned at the outset.  The round took one minute longer than five hours - but it felt so much faster.  Every step you take you either cannot believe the vistas or suddenly recall a great moment in golf history.  You walk with your mouth hanging open at the incredible beauty, and keeping your mind in the game is the biggest challenge (the caddies said this is normal - and why many golfers redouble their efforts to come back for a second round so you're not as overwhelmed).

One thing that did surprise me was the size of the greens.  They're old school small.  Think Pinehurst No. 2 without the crowning and you're in the ballpark.  As an example: the famous 18th - on television, when they hit back left and the pin is front right, it looks to be an 80'-100' putt... in reality, it's half that.  The 14th has the smallest green I've ever seen (including The Postage Stamp 8th at Royal Troon and the just-played 7th at Pebble Beach) - after proclaiming such I was informed that it's the smallest green on the PGA tour.  But they roll very true, and (unlike the prior round at Spanish Bay) are eminently fair... just very, very difficult.

I was also surprised by some of the tee boxes.  On No. 3 they put us back to the pro tees (making our 337 yard hole one of 390 yards... which doesn't sound like much until you're standing back there looking at your impending shot).  Same story on Nos 7, 8, and 9.  Maybe the greens keeper had it in for us that day?  lol

At any rate, Pebble provides a first tee webcam so friends and family can see their loved-ones teeing-off on their dream round.  Click here to see an animated GIF of yours truly, courtesy of my niece (and computer wonk) Courtney...

Course Layout for the Pebble Beach Golf Links
David, teeing off with a 4-Iron on the Par 4 1st Hole at Pebble Beach David, holing a par putt on the 4th at Pebble Beach (my caddy was Roy, NOT Fluff! lol) Robert and David on the 5th Tee at Pebble Beach... with the Lone Cypress in the background David, teeing-off on the long Par 4 6th hole at Pebble Beach
A view of Stillwater Cover + Pebble's 17th green and 18th hole from the 6th fairway David, teeing-off on the Par 3 7th at Pebble Beach A view of the approach shot on the Par 4 8th at Pebble Beach Looking-back from Pebble's 8th Green down the fairway...
Robert, with his approach to the 10th Green at Pebble Beach David and Robert on the 14th Tee at Pebble Beach Robert's tee shot on the 14th at Pebble Beach Robert and his Caddy - contemplating his next home purchase! ;-)
David just missing his bogey putt on the No 1 Handicap 14th at Pebble Beach An angry David (from the prior double-bogey) laying-into his tee shot on the 15th at Pebble Beach Robert walking towards the 16th green at Pebble Beach Robert and his Caddy walking from the 16th Green to the 17th Tee
Recreating (somewhat) the famous Nicklaus Photo... I sported that same silly-grin through most of the round! David, teeing off on the 18th at Pebble Beach (it went about 270 down the left edge, precariously close to the water) Robert and Tom walking from the 18th Tee at Pebble Beach Robert's finish of his 2nd shot on the Par 5 18th at Pebble Beach
David's Third Shot on the 18th at Pebble Beach David in the Champion's Locker Room, at the Pebble Beach Golf Links David, just outside of The Lodge at Pebble Beach The refined way to watch golfers finishing their round at Pebble Beach...
David, by the Champion's Wall, beside the 1st Tee at Pebble Beach David and the (obligatory) Clock photo, just after finishing play at Pebble Beach David and Robert, about to leave "The Promised Land"... we'll be back!

My photos - and what you see on television - simply do not convey the elevation changes at Pebble.  Hitting up towards the green on No. 6; hitting down towards the green on No. 7; hitting up towards the fairway on No. 8... and many others... it all seems so flat in the  photos.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  And I never would've believed I could drop $450 for greens fees and $140 for a caddy (fee plus tip) and be chomping at the bit to go back.  But I am.  I don't know when it will be, but if the day comes for me to depart this world and this was my only round then I will leave wanting more.

Our one bit of austerity for the day was dinner - we opted for Pepper's Mexicali Cafe in Pacific Grove (again based on glowing recommendations) - and found it to be just wonderful.  A little hard to find (well, not for us - my brother's Garmin Nuvi GPS took us straight there).  Upon returning to the Inn we reluctantly packed - based on the speed of our rounds we planned on checking-out before our final round at Spyglass.  In retrospect, I'm really glad we did (reason to follow).

 

7:20am Monday, October 16, 2006
Spyglass Hill Golf Course

After surrendering our room keys at about 6:30 we drove to the course in pitch darkness for a light breakfast at the 19th hole, located near the 9th green.  By 6:55 it was light enough to find our way to the practice range and hit a small bucket of balls - before returning to the tee to greet Robert's caddy from the previous day along with our playing partner.  With the first time of the day, and playing as a threesome, we had no excuse for slow-play.  As it is, we took just a hair over four hours, where I posted my best score of the trip (on a course that, sporting a 73.2 rating and 144 slope, was easily the toughest of the three):

Hole 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Out 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 In  
Yardage 564 321 146 358 169 413 513 375 414 3273 377 491 160 423 525 120 454 312 387 3249 6522
Handicap 3 13 17 9 15 7 11 1 5   12 10 16 4 6 18 2 14 8    
Par 5 4 3 4 3 4 5 4 4 36 4 5 3 4 5 3 4 4 4 36 72
My Score 4 4 3 5 4 5 6 6 5 42 5 6 3 4 6 3 4 4 5 40 82

Spyglass starts off like Pebble - with the ocean in view - before turning inland after the 5th hole.  From that point on, it's a much more traditional design as you might see at a Pine Valley or Augusta National (have a peek at the lower-right photo below, which evokes memories of The Masters for me).  Maybe that had something to do with my scoring better - it was more what I'm used-to, and I spent more time golfing and less time photographing!

Robert, putting on the 2nd Green at Spyglass Hill Robert, teeing-off on the 3rd hole at Spyglass Hill Robert, on the 4th Tee at Spyglass Hill
A view of Spyglass Hill's 5th Hole ("Bird Rock") Course Layout for the Spyglass Hill Golf Course More Deer keeping an eye out for (hacker) golfers
Robert, after teeing-off on the 10th hole at Spyglass Hill A view of the 11th Green at Spyglass Hill (note the worker in the bunker... they are huge and DEEP!) Robert on the Par 3 12th at Spyglass Hill

Had time permitted, I really would've liked to have gone for another 9 - or possibly 18 - holes.  As it was, we finished more quickly than projected, so Robert and I decided to lunch at Bahama Billy's Restaurant in Carmel before driving south to Santa Barbara (where I had a 6:10pm departure to LAX, to connect for my red-eye return to SW Florida).  When we got back underway I wish I had paid more attention to the route that Karen (the Garmin GPS voice) was suggesting - namely, she wanted us to take the PCH down to San Luis Obispo before picking up The 101 for the rest of the trip.  Robert had never previously done the drive - I knew it would take longer because of the road conditions... what I didn't know is that my brother has picked-up our Mother's acrophobia in his middle years and found the trip south to be just this side of miserable!  

Very long story short - he was doing 85 most of the way on The 101 trying to get me to the airport in time (I really did NOT want to take him up on the offer that if I missed my flight he'd drive me to LAX).  As it is, we pulled-up 25min before my departure; after saying a fast goodbye I got my boarding pass, checked my bags, walked through security, and upon arriving at the gate was told to just get aboard.  Everyone had checked-in, and we ended-up leaving ten minutes early.  I was thinking how lucky I'd been... famous last words! (Reader's Digest Version: once in LA I discovered that my flight was cancelled, but I was able to get on the other one that left an hour later... except that it was late coming-in due to weather, and by the time we departed I would miss my connection to Fort Myers... which wouldn't be a problem except all other flights to RSW were oversold, so they had to send me to Tampa then limo me back to the Fort Myers airport where I found my bags were lost... great way to end an otherwise perfect vacation, huh?).

In conclusion: if golf is a passion - and if you can at least occasionally break 90 on your home course - you owe it to yourself to do this at least once in your life.  My mission now is to find a way to make it twice!

   
 

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