Thursday, October 8, 2009

Course Review: PB Dye Golf Club

PB Dye Golf Club, which opened in Ijamsville, Maryland in 1999, is currently the 11th ranked course in the state according to Golf Digest. "PB" is the son of legendary course designer Pete Dye and this is touted as his "only signature course". Greens fees run $79 during the week and $99 on the weekends.

Last week I got a text message from a friend of mine that he received a special offer email to play PB Dye for $30 per person. The catch was that we play at 8:00AM on a Monday. Not being one to pass up a bargain, I took the day off from work and we made the trek to Ijamsville (which is about an hour west of Baltimore) bright and early on Monday morning.

The setting is beautiful, especially in the morning as the sun rose over the mountains of Western Maryland. The weather this past Monday was just about perfect, with the temperature in the low 50s to start the day and gradually creeping up to around 70 degrees. I played in pants, a short-sleeved shirt and a wind vest, which was helpful with the wind gusting over 20 mph at times during the morning round.

The facility is nice, with a modern clubhouse that is basic but more than adequate. It's pretty much exactly what you expect with any newer course that's not quite a "country club for the day" type, but isn't exactly a municipal course either.

The range was definitely a disappointment, as the bent grass portion was not opened and we hit off of the absolute worst mats I have ever seen at any driving range. That's quite an accomplishment because I hit balls a couple times per week at a Baltimore City run driving range near Pimlico that hasn't gotten new mats or balls in at least a decade! The mats at PB Dye were obviously stored outdoors all the time and were water-logged, uneven and distorted to the point that you couldn't even keep a ball from rolling all over the mat when you were trying to hit. With that said, we weren't there for the range, so I didn't let it bother me.

The putting green was the exact opposite of the driving range, as the Penn-G2 bent grass surface was lightning quick and perfectly manicured. My club is renowned for firm and fast greens, but these were the absolute fastest public course greens I have ever seen!

Standing on the first tee, we decided to get the full PB Dye experience and play from the tips. We're three 20-somethings who play to single-digit handicaps, so 7,036 yards with a par of 72 shouldn't present an unreasonable challenge. With only three players we opted for a modest skins game and set off to enjoy the beautiful setting, perfect weather and take each others money.

I won't go blow-by-blow and bore you to tears, but the first hole basically sums up my round and the entire course. I hit a great drive right down the center of a massive fairway followed by a solid approach to the middle of an extremely large green. I was then faced with a putt that you usually only find when there is a windmill or clown's mouth on the putting surface, leading to three putts and a bogey.

The fairways and greens are massive. There is almost no trouble on the entire course and very little thought is required on any tee shot. The greens, however, are completed tricked out, mini-golf nonsense. I'm probably bitter because I hit nearly every fairway and every green and didn't have the slightest clue as to how to putt these greens. However, I wasn't as impressed as I expected to be.

There were definitely a few memorable holes at PB Dye, with the par-3 11th hole, pictured above, standing out. It's 169 yards straight downhill to a green surrounded by water. Visually, it's a gorgeous hole and the 20 mph wind directly in our face made it play very difficult.

The 448 yard 9th and 442 yard 18th holes are the two best par 4s on the course. They both end at the clubhouse with two ponds and a waterfall between the greens. The setting is very picturesque from both greens as you look out at the changing leaves on the trees on the surrounding hills. The holes are both tough, but fair; giving you the opportunity to make birdie with two great shots, but punishing you for a bad shot. That's the kind of holes I like and would have liked to see more throughout the entire course.

After finishing our morning round, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and played another 18. The replay rate is only $25 and we figured a little experience with these greens would go a long way.

We were paired up with a local yokel, who basically epitomized everything that drives me crazy about playing public course golf. After complaining incessantly about the pace of play, he would then proceed to take eight practice swings before each shot. Every bad drive resulted in a mulligan and each putt got the full Ben Crane treatment. Brutal!

Regardless, it was still a very enjoyable day. In the future, I would probably pair a morning round at PB Dye with an afternoon round at one of the other nearby courses. It was a nice layout, but it's not even close to the 11th best course in the state of Maryland.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Learning how to warm up...

Tiger Woods warms up for 45 minutes prior to playing golf and states the following: "Ideally, you should stretch until you break a sweat, so you go to the course warm. Without a doubt, it helps performance and nerves on the first tee."

When he talks about "stretching", he probably doesn't mean he bends down to touch his toes for 45 minutes. He uses an elite trainer, like the guys at Athletes Performance, who have designed the Core Performance training program for golfers (they train numerous pros from the PGA & LPGA tours, MLB & the NFL).

I typically arrive at the club about 15 minutes before I tee off, head to the locker room to change into my golf shoes, swing the Momentus weighted club about ten times, and then hit a few chips and few putts. This is probably why I always hit the ball much better on the back nine than the front nine!

Now I have begun the 12 week Golf Training program through Core Performance and use this routine before I play golf and to begin each workout.

It definitely gets me sweating a little bit before I hit the first tee and actually readies the muscles that are used in the golf swing. I still swing the Momentus and try to get a feel for the speed of the greens, but the movement prep will serve as the centerpiece of my pre-round and pre-workout routine moving forward.

The goal of movement prep is to awaken your muscles for the remainder of the day, while traditional static stretches (like touching your toes) simply relax your muscles for a short period of time. Static stretching is good for you, but should be done after you play golf or complete your workout.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back to the grind...

Labor Day always comes with a little bit of a letdown for me. While the best golf weather of the year is still ahead of me, most of the competitive golf season is over.

Our Club Championship is contested on Labor Day and the course is aerated the day after. I decided I would take a couple weeks away from the game and took my wife to the beach.

I was back on the course over the weekend and had modest rounds of 78 & 80, but felt pretty good about the way I was swinging the club. I think the two weeks off definitely helped my mental state.

Today I turn 28 and my determination to improve is greater than ever. My goal is to be a scratch golfer by next weekend the time I turn 30. I think it's definitely within reach, I just need to spend my time working on the right things.

Until the season is "officially" over on November 15th, I'm going to strictly work on physical fitness. I'll still be going to the range, but I'm going to wait until 11/16 to start more intensive work on overhauling my swing. I plan on including some video on the blog when I start this process.

Until then, I'll detail my workouts, try to document any physical changes and let you know how that translates to the course. I'm curious to see if I'll notice a difference in my game based strictly on improving my physical fitness.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Winning cures everything...

There is a saying in sports that "winning cures everything". I don't know who said it, but I do know it's true!

After a few weeks of golfing misery, I had a great weekend. It served as a nice reminder of why I love the game and continue to commit so much of my time, energy & money to it!

Saturday was a busy day, but it went as well as I could have expected. My first round club championship match was at 7:30AM and then our club was participating in the state team inter-club playoffs, which began at 1:00pm at a club about 25 minutes away. This scheduling snafu caused a lot of grief for the 12 players trying to fit in their first round matches and still play for the team.

With that said, there's nothing wrong with having a good reason to play 36!

My morning round got off to an interesting start: After missing the green with my approach to the easy, par 4 first hole; I had to make a 12 footer to save par and halve the hole. From there, something clicked and I proceeded to hit all but two of the remaining greens in regulation. It was as pure a ball-striking day as I have had this season. Oddly enough, I made absolutely ZERO putts and even had a three-putt, but was pretty satisfied with a 73 and, more importantly, the 4&2 win over one of our clubs most notorious trash-talkers.

After finishing my morning round, I hopped in the car and headed out to Chestnut Ridge Country Club, where the afternoon's playoff was being held. The format is foursomes, with two points being awarded for winning the front, back & overall (for a total of six possible points). Six two-man teams from our club play two-man teams from each of the other five clubs involved, and the point total earned by all of the teams from each club is then added to the season total. The season total was accumulated during club vs. club matches held previously throughout the summer.

My partner and I came to the ninth hole after having won the 8th to pull the match back to square. With a miracle up-and-down by my partner, combined with a brutal three-putt by our opponent, we stole the hole and won the front nine.

From there, we cruised to victory on the back, collecting all six points. My solid play from the morning round continued and there is definitely an added element of joy when you win a match with a partner. The rest of our team also played well and we easily won the event. Unfortunately, as the points were added up for the season, we ended up a mere two points out of the two final spots that would play for the season ending championship (to be held at the immaculate Caves Valley Country Club).

Usually that would have left me feeling bummed out, but after 36 holes of really good golf, I settled into the couch and watched the Baltimore Ravens dominate the Panthers while the starters were in. This was a good day!


If you're curious as to what magical change helped bring me out of my funk, I'll share it with you: S-L-O-W

When you feel as though you're taking the club back really, really SLOW... go SLOWER.

I tend to get very quick either midway through my takeaway or in my transition, robbing myself of power at impact. You want the clubhead to be at maximum speed at impact, not before. When I focus on taking the club away slowly, it helps my timing and helps me accelerate through the ball.

Different swing thoughts work for different players and what works today can fail miserably tomorrow. However, this one can never hurt you and helped my balance, rhythm and timing all weekend long.

Friday, August 28, 2009

There's no "I" in TEAM, but there's M & E

Those who did not (or chose not to attempt to) qualify for the championship flight of the club championship are sorted into flights by handicap and compete in the flight championships. Each flight has 16 players and is single elimination match play. With my 6.5 index, I am the #12 seed in the first flight and play the #5 seed in the first round this Saturday.

Our state team inter-club playoffs also start this Saturday, so after playing my first round match at 7:30am, I'm hopping in the car to head to Chestnut Ridge Country Club for a 1:30pm shotgun start there. Six clubs, including ours, are sending six two-man teams to compete for the chance to continue in the playoffs.

Usually I would be ecstatic to have this kind of day ahead of me. However, with my game in the tank, I'm less than thrilled.

Luckily, playing poorly has only added to my motivation to work hard in the gym and I have stuck to my Monday, Wednesday, Friday workout schedule thus far. I did not experience nearly as much soreness this week as I did last week, which I attribute to additional stretching as well as my body adjusting to the routine.

Wednesday night I played a quick nine after work and then I hit a small bucket during lunch on Thursday. I'll probably hit balls again today at lunch and then work on my short game after work before heading to the gym tonight.

I would love to say that I'm more excited for the team match than my individual match, but then I would be lying! Winning the first flight at Rolling Road is tougher than winning a lot of other clubs' championship flights and would definitely be a big deal to me. We always play two-on-two, four-on-four and other team formats throughout the year, so the chance to compete as an individual is something I always look forward to.

Which do you prefer? Team competition or individual competition?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's gotta be the clubs...

I had a long, descriptive blog written up to describe my attempt to qualify for the championship flight of my club championship this past weekend. Luckily for you, I came to my senses and realized that nobody would be all that interested in a shot-by-shot recap of 36 holes of misery bad golf.

My very first hole of the tournament saw a 15 foot, uphill, right-to-left birdie attempt turn into a bogey 5 and it only got worse from there. I shot 82 on the first day, vowed to shoot 72 the next day, and was a beaten man after my 72 turned into an 87. I missed the cut by 15 shots and immediately put my irons and putter on eBay!

I didn't include that the clubs were clearly cursed in my description in the eBay listing, only that they were in excellent condition and I had only been using them for a few months.

Left with a decision to make on which new irons to buy, I did some research.

I went to Golf Galaxy to try out both the new Ping i15 and the Adams A7 since my pro didn't yet have the demos in stock. I liked them both and they fit the type of club I like to play: workable, but forgiving. They both have moderate offset and the sole and topline aren't too thick. The Ping is a "prettier" club in my opinion, but I like the fact that the A7's come with two hybrids.

In the past I have only carried one hybrid (typically 18* or 19*) and hit my long irons very well. I also need a long-iron because nobody hits a 4-iron "out-from-under-a-tree-with-a-30-yard-hook-only-four feet-off-the-ground-190 yards" quite like I do! Scott Van Pelt needs his grooves and I need a 3 or 4 iron!

However, in doing some research, I found that the lofts of the Adams irons are a little strong and the 5-iron will play like your standard 4-iron (25*). They are set up this way because your average #3 hybrid usually doesn't replace a 3-iron at all, it goes 20 yards further. So this set has a 20* & 23* hybrid, a 25* 5-iron and then goes in 4* increments to the 45* pitching wedge.

I could always have the Ping irons ordered to these specs, but would still be left with having to find two hybrids that I like. From my demo sessions, I couldn't find any hybrids that I liked more than the Adams A7. I recently bought the '09 Rescue (#3 - 19*) from Taylor Made and that's headed to eBay as soon as I finish typing this blog!

So I emailed my pro with my specs for the Adams A7 hybrids & irons this morning (2* upright, Dynamic Gold Super Lite R300 steel in the irons, UST Mamiya AXIVCore stiff flex graphite in the hybrids, New Decade White/Black grips) and will impatiently wait for them to arrive. I'm pretty pumped up about the purchase and am shocked that Adams Golf came out with a set of irons I would even consider.

Having worked in the golf industry for most of my life, I would honestly consider myself a snob in regards to golf equipment. If it isn't Mizuno, Taylor Made, Ping or Titleist, it's just not for me. However, I nearly bought the Adams A4 Tech Forged irons last year, but opted for the Taylor Made Tour Preferred instead. This was mainly because I just couldn't see myself playing Adams irons. In retrospect, it was a mistake and those clubs really signaled Adams' arrival (in my mind) as a major player in the irons market.

With the new A7, I think they have a winner. I'll let you know how I like them after they arrive.

Now if only changing my swing could be so easy...

Monday, August 24, 2009

I want my name on the wall...

There are four "majors" at our club each year. There's the three-day Member-Guest, the Medal Play championship, the President's Cup (2 day, 2-man team event), and the Club Championship.

While our club is not the most prestigious in Maryland (which is tough with Congressional, Baltimore Country Club, Caves Valley & TPC Avenel in your state), our golfing history is quite rich. As you walk down the main hallway to our grille room, there are three large boards on the wall with the names of our club champions dating back to 1919. Former club champions have played in the Masters, US Open, PGA Championship, and US Amateur, played full-time on the PGA Tour, won the Mid-Atlantic & Maryland Amateurs, the Maryland Open, the Baltimore Amateur, and our team won the state championship in back-to-back years in 2002 & 2003 (beating Congressional & Avenel in the finals).

Our reigning club champion holds the nine-hole record at Pine Valley (29), which counts many Tour players as members and is currently ranked #2, behind only Augusta, on Golf Digest's list of the 100 best courses in America. He played college golf at Wake Forest and, by all accounts, is at most the 4th best player at our club! I could go on and on, but you get the drift. We have had and still have a lot of guys that can really play!

I've stared at the wall in the hallway for 20+ years; looking at the different names, counting the number of times Spencer Overton won (22!), and dreamed of the day when my name would go on that wall.

It was a pipe dream five years ago, but as I started playing & practicing more and my handicap drifted into the mid-single-digits, I have become more optimistic. If I can go from a 12 to a 4 handicap in just a few short years, clearly I can go from a 4 to a +2 handicap, right???

Maybe it doesn't quite work that way, but I was optimistic heading into this past weekend's 36-hole qualifier. The format is as follows:

Last year's champion is exempt and is the #1 seed, while the remaining field (of 40 players this year) compete for 15 spots in the championship flight. Single elimination match play (where #1 plays #16, #2 plays #15, #8 plays #9, etc) follows for the next two weekends, culminating with a 36-hole match play final on Labor Day. At our club, this tournament is a big deal and it's not unusual for 200+ members to watch the final match.

My performance in the "majors" this year has been pretty solid. Although I would say I'm having a disappointing season overall, my play in our big events has been quite good. Maybe I'm just a gamer and it takes a big event to bring out my best! ;-)

My partner and I led the Member-Guest heading into the final day and I shot between 36 & 38 in each of the five 9-hole matches. We ended up losing our lead with a missed short putt on our final hole, but finishing 2nd was a nice accomplishment and winning a lot of side bets helped ease our sorrow!

In July's Medal Play Championship, with the course playing brutally tough, I managed rounds of 76-78. It matched my best 36-hole tournament score, which was 80-74 in the 2008 Medal Play.

In the President's Cup, my partner & I played well, but two 5 handicappers are always going to have a tough time winning this type of event. Despite an even par best ball (gross) and -10 (net), we really never had a chance. High-handicap sandbaggers always cheat their way to the Best Net score and our elite golfers set the Best Gross score at a level that I am still aspiring to.

So with some solid golf under my belt in the first three of our four "majors", I was optimistic heading into this weekend. I played a final practice round after work on Friday: Seven pars, one birdie & one double bogey for 36 (+1).

With my game seemingly falling into place at the right time, all that was left to do was pick out my outfit for Saturday and cruise through the qualifier!

(To Be Continued...)