Hey, it's your old pal. I am still alive, still here, and still participating in golf-- at least as much as the fragile, volatile ecosystem of Earth will allow these days. It's been a long time since Ms. L has played any golf, so we fired up the old rental car, threw a dart at a map of the tri-state area, bundled up and headed out about an hour east to a tiny town called Pompton Plains in rural Sussex County.
Sunset Valley GC is a venture of Billy Casper Golf, and anyone who's into the history of golf knows that the Billy Casper name is associated with winning a lot PGA Tour events and a love of wild game meats. But it's also associated with integrity and doing things the right way, so naturally I'm going to expect a good daily-fee golf experience. I am pretty sure Billy Casper would not stand for 90% of the shenanigans that go on daily in NYC public golf.
I started the round cold, and stiff, with a really bad topped fairway wood off the tee. Then I topped the next one from the rough. That flashed me right back to my newbie days, feelings I haven't felt in a long time. Nobody likes to top one shot never mind two in a row, but you know what, it's not entirely bad. It's like ice water in the face--sometimes your dopey ass needs it. It definitely snaps you right into the moment.
The mercury hovered around 40º F all day with a side order of wind chill. We are up a couple hundred feet above sea level, so it's a lot more Decemberish here than in the city. There are snow piles all around, some rather fresh looking. The Winter That Will Not Die lives another day.
Frosty ponds too.
In this kind of weather, you might expect the course to be pretty empty. But no; it was lousy with--who else?--Koreans. That got me thinking--about all the Koreans I've seen on golf courses over the years, whose numbers seem to be growing every day. And then wondering--what if that great folk hero Se Ri Pak had never picked up a club, won the women's U.S. Open and inspired all those millions of people to start playing golf? What would the landscape of daily-fee golf in the Americas look like right now? Taking away all these people, being brutally honest with ourselves, that's a whole lot of open spots on the tee sheet. Let's face it if not for the enthusiasm of those people, a lot of the golf courses we hold dear would not exist in 2015. So maybe instead of griping about them and always looking at them with the suspicious side-eye, we should treat them with respect and some gratitude even.
This group in front of us is taking too damn long. Every last one of them is playing with the deliberation of a journeyman LPGA pro. Forget what I said. These people are bad for the game and something needs to be done about it.
That's me wearing a large detachable goose down insulated hood. Point and laugh all you want, but this is the only the latest great discovery anyone has made in the war against cold weather. I call it the "helmet of warmth" and it's pretty much an essential item in the wintergolf armory now.
I like this shot, it kind of looks like I am trying to slay an orc with an elvish blade.
Here's the 17th hole. 433 yards, a par 4. Under the circumstances, that is a lot of real estate to cover with four measly shots. And yes that is a big ice floe sitting in the middle of the hazard reminding us all how wonderful it is to be outside in the springtime. (I would've taken an up-close photo of the ice but I was completely preoccupied trying to play out the hole and not have an emotional breakdown.) Went left off the tee, then into the trees right, but thanks to a chip-shot that was both prudently conceived and skillfully executed, and some enthusiastic lag putting I escaped this extremely tough hole with a bogey, for which I was pretty proud.
I sound like a broken record and I trust me I hate myself for it, but it was another tough round. I shot a 94. What do you want me to do, it was freezing cold, kind of windy, and the ball was sticking to the soggy turf.
But here's some good news. I only needed one ball to play all 18 holes of this tight, 130-sloped course. When I started the round I was feeling pretty intolerant, because it was freezing, and the foursome ahead of us played slowgolf from the very get-go. But in this case the foul mood was actually constructive--today I simply couldn't be bothered to be mince around and fret over something as stupid as a lost tee ball. Muttering no fear to myself and to Ms. L several times throughout the day, I even pulled out the driver a few times and flailed it around, and the ball didn't even come close to getting lost.
Even though I kept forgetting the name of the course, even while I was playing it, I really like it here at um, Sunset Valley Golf Course. The sight-lines are great from every teebox. It demands you hit it straight, but there's some room to put misses. All in all a civilized course, one that needs not resort to cheap trickery to make things challenging. I've sung the praises of golf in Sussex County, NJ but you know what, Morris County, just to the east is no slouch either. If the whole of New Jersey was like it is in these here places, it would be considered one of the best states in this great union. Top 20 easy.