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An Idiot’s Guide to Golf at Northwood


An Idiot’s Guide to Golf at Northwood

By Vinny Schwartz

The best way to learn what makes any golf course different is a personal confrontation. Get out there with a set of clubs and become intimate with each fairway and green. But if you’d rather be reading than golfing at the moment, I’ll take you around nine at Northwood with me - if you promise to be very quiet.

Here it is, 5 p.m. on a Monday. The weekday green fee drops from $25 for nine holes after 3 p.m. to $22 for “twilight unlimited play” if you’re walking, and is $8 more if you’re riding. The slanted rays are draped languorously across the swale and there’s not a duffer in sight in front of me, A good thing because all the awards I’ve won for patience would fit on a fleas knees.

The first hole, 319 yards distant, dog legs to the left - so you can’t see the red flag marking the hole, and is a par 4. Par is the pre-determined number of strokes that a scratch (or 0 handicap) golfer should require to complete a hole. ‘Dog leg’ refers to a hole which takes an obtuse angular turn and Northwood has its share, some more obtuse than others.

For many the first tee is the hardest because it’s within a few feet of the clubhouse and the restaurant. You can feel a thousand critical eyes boring into you and gleefully logging every klutzy move you make. Also, it takes a few confrontations with the ball before that initial tension ebbs and you’re comfortable (if not confident) about being there.

Some 80 or so yards from the tee and on the left side of the fairway is a little mucky area with a small dense growth of sedges that often manages to extend itself far enough to catch and swallow passing golf balls.

Today I’m lucky and get a fairly respectable first shot off. My ball is right up ahead. With my second shot I don’t extend my arms far enough and subsequently top the ball instead of hitting it solidly. At least it goes , more or less, in the right direction.

Here we go with shot number three. Good one, but I connect a little more solidly than I expected to and it flies clear across the green into the hairy fringe on its far side. It takes me four shots to sink my shiny white Maxfli (they name balls like they’re military jets), and except for a German Shepherd on a porch, who I swear grinned, I’m glad I wasn’t seen.

Here’s hole #2, 377 yards into the future and another par 4 Actually ‘par’ is what you’re expected to get if you earn a Mil a year coaxing stationery balls around manicured lawns with a stick.

The ‘course rating’ for pros at Northwood is 67.5 strokes for men and 71.5 strokes for women. It sort of parallels Life Itself. Women enjoy it longer so they get to take more strokes.

The third-longest hole on the course, #2 gently curves around to the right and has a skinny fairway with thick trees on the right and several houses that front Northwood, on the left. Most of these have screens or netting to keep the wayward ball from mingling with the margaritas. They also have attractive, well-sculpted landscaping, raised porches under which wayward balls find a foster home. I hit a low line drive off the second tee (a clean base hit) well away from the two Giant Schnauzers whose hobby is to intimidate duffers within earshot. They live in the first house on the fairway and really help to improve our aim. I often take my second shot with a 4-iron because I happen to own one.

Because Northwood is an undulating course, there are low, grassy rises which may obscure the sight of your ball even though it’s lying there, right in front of you. But I’ve heard golf wouldn’t be ‘golf’ without the frustration, so I’m enjoying looking for lost balls instead of letting these endless searches upset me. I simply poke around, feeling blessed by the surrounding beauty while muttering under my breath. Oh wait! There it is up ahead - they cost a buck a piece (after all) and it’s bad manners to keep another golfer waiting. If I can remember to keep my left elbow straight, keep my head down and try not to kill the ball, it should head in the right direction. Whoops! When you miss the ball entirely and instead gouge out a small section of turf, it is proper etiquette to chase after the grassy patch (the “divot” and tamp it back into the naked soil to which it was attached.

The ubiquitous signs reminding golfers to “replace your divots” are probably unnecessary , but with an open tavern Northwood does not take courtesy for granted.

My focus slipped at the last possible nano-second and now I’m replacing my first divot. There’s a couple on the green ahead of me so I’ll wait until they move on before I take my third shot. I’ll use my five-iron, attempting to hit the ball gently and give it some loft, and if I do it right, the ball should land on the green, not too far from the cup.

The errant ball sailed to the right, hit a bunker, or small hill and took a fortunate roll in the right direction so I’m in decent shape. Actually the ball came to rest a scant 15 feet from the cup so I could conceivably make a par 4 on this one.

A twist of fate dropped the ball in the cup and then wrenched it out! More muttering.

The third hole is a sensible 157 yards, par 3, and one of my favorites.

You can actually see the red flag from the tee so it’s not quite so intimidating.

My first shot is a ridiculous slice to the right, so with no one waiting impatiently behind me, I treat myself to another shot, equally ridiculous, and to the left. My third try, however, deposits the ball within acceptable parameters, so I approach it with confidence and strike it smartly with my 5-iron.

A bit overzealous perhaps, my shot sends the ball scooting across the green where it finally comes to rest in an inch of fringe.

I see a carpet of turkey vulture feathers in this area and recall that it was here that I saw a flock of about 60 vultures roosting one evening.

It was during an Audubon Society Christmas bird census, and hopefully, no one begrudges them their excellent choice of neighborhood.

Just barely missing the cup with my next two shots, I morosely accept a “five” and advance to the fourth tee.

I almost always lose a ball here, but this time I manage not to, and get within striking distance of the green with two strokes. I see a quartet playing canasta in a Klassic Kountry Kitchen about 20 feet from where I’m taking my shot but they appear oblivious to my presence.

There goes the ball under someone’s porch but without much trouble I manage to track it down and surreptitiously kick it out into the open where the green is at least in sight.

Terrible third shot! Maybe my karma is catching up with me! The ball finally lands on the sloping green and rolls down, down the hill, right past the cup. It takes three more shots for me to sink it.

The fifth hole is a 493-yard monster, a par five and the flag is out of sight on the other side of the continent. If you allow it to, the fifth will intimidate you. I hit it very solidly, however, but instead of heading for ‘noon’ my ball makes a bee-line for two o’clock and skirts a pair of perfectly matched redwoods.

After ten minutes I give up the search and drop another ball somewhere in the vicinity of where my first one disappeared. I connected well but I didn’t hit it as straight as I wanted to. Got to concentrate on not bending that old left elbow.

I hear a hunting Osprey calling, another feature that makes Northwood so attractive. Lots of juncos, robins, Steller’s jays and acorn woodpeckers. Of course this lasts’s derisive laughter (“Jacob! Jacob! Jacob!) is no doubt directed at me, but that comes with the bird’s territory.

Eight unmemorable shots later I scoop the ball out of the cup and head over to 292-yard # 6 which, although never having parred it in four, I seem to have decent luck with.

The sixth green is next to the restaurant and golfers have been known to duck in for some quick refreshment before teeing up on the seventh. Today #6 doesn’t treat me with much hospitality.

I am totally pleased with my shot off the seventh tee and count how many paces I must take to reach my ball. It’s actually more than half the 365 yards to the green and I eagerly cast my eyes about looking for hidden TV cameras. But they remain hidden. I fail to keep my head down (again!) and my second shot suffers for it. The third is a bit better and I manage a “bogie” five. A bogie is one stroke over par. ‘Birdies’ are much more desirable. They’re one stroke over par. I wonder if “Bye Bye Birdie” was the work of an ex-golfer?

The 158-yard eighth is par three and downhill all the way, but there’s some very jungley growth on the left that is so thick both Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa might be secreted in there. After a weakish tee shot I take another and get on the green with the very next stroke. My third is too aggressive - not enough to break a club over, but very irritating.

Time to move on to the killer ninth! This cross-country trek, Northwood’s only other par five, is 579 yards long. A third of a mile!

In the late afternoon sun, it’s almost impossible to follow the trajectory of your ball. You just strike out in the general direction it traveled and hope you’re lucky enough to stumble across it. The number of strokes it takes me to complete this one is often in the ‘teens’ and a single-figure score means self-congratulations are in order.

My first shot doesn’t climb the rise and go out of siht so I’m able to track it down after a few short minutes. My second shot escapes into the woods where it rests quietly hiding. Miraculously I propel my ball onto the green in only four shots and sink it in two more.

My leaps of boundless joy are witnessed by residents of the manse near the ninth green who have no doubt seen this act before.

Now, if you’re not too drained by our 3,068-yard expedition, you can go ahead and make all the noise you want. After you’re done, it’s your turn to play, and this seasoned duffer will watch you!