I‚??m perched at a picnic table out here on Montauk Point ‚?? right at the tip of Long Island ‚?? on a beautiful Monday morning, catching up on blog duties. ¬†There‚??s not a cloud in the sky; in front of me is a lighthouse commissioned by George Washington Himself, and the Atlantic Ocean; and I‚??ve just been for a dip. ¬†Life‚??s good.
It‚??s with great fondness that I look back on our day last Thursday at Somerset Hills ‚?? one of the most relaxing and enriching of the year. ¬†After a week down in south and central New Jersey this would be the first of our days spent in and around New York, building towards the climax of our US leg. ¬†After Pine Valley the day prior, and Merion the day prior to that, Somerset Hills was in good company. ¬†As were we.
Our charismatic host was a gentleman by the name of Rory Corrigan. ¬†A well read, cerebral chap, Rory was an equities salesman in The City ‚?? and he did well enough to retire at 52 to a beautiful slice of paradise in the woods outside Morristown. ¬†Rich Oelkers (my partner at Baltusrol; father of Ryan The Great, our host there) put us onto Rory. ¬†I could tell from the email correspondence leading up to our visit that Rory had a sense of humour very much along my wavelength, and that we were going to get on well. ¬†
We left the bar at Pine Valley bound for Morristown, a couple of hours up the road. ¬†On arrival we came across this bear of a man, who identified himself as Rory. ¬†A deeper and more rumbling voice I may never have heard. ¬†The bear led us into his quite breathtaking house and introduced us to his charming wife Debi. ¬†Their twin boys also emerged from the stairwell and we all sat up over a glass of wine chewing the fat. ¬†Our impression of the Corrigans was of a very successful but very grounded family: the sort of family I myself would like to raise when the time comes.
Mike and I awoke to a beautiful morning like this one, and to a fine breakfast that Rory had prepared. ¬†We sat out on his deck overlooking the woodlands below, with a cup of Joe in hand, and reflected. ¬†Mike beat me to it: both of us were thinking that we could have been in New Zealand. ¬†A beautiful spot; no humidity; you couldn‚??t hear one car. ¬†The squirrels darting around the oak trees were the only ones that gave the game away.
Somerset Hills was just two miles down the road ‚?? a shorter commute than we‚??re used to. ¬†Dodgy got a rest for the day; instead we travelled in style in Rory‚??s Jeep. ¬†Along the way we got a little local history on the area, as well as a few other pearls of general wisdom. ¬†When you‚??re in Rory‚??s company you can‚??t help but absorb the fruits of his readings.
It‚??s a quite magnificent piece of property, Somerset Hills. ¬†A long driveway curves gracefully around the perimeter of a few holes on the front 9, and drops you near the top of the hill, overlooking A W Tillinghast‚??s masterpiece below. ¬†Behind the pro shop, further up the hill, are a dozen or so grass tennis courts (which by the time we made the turn were swamped with little ‚??uns decked out in their whites, tearing it up). ¬†The locker room is understated and cosy ‚?? here they‚??re not too fussed about gold plated handles or rich mahogany lockers; they‚??ve got everything they need.
On the wall in the locker room is a photo of a famous lighthouse, not too far from where I‚??m sitting right now, at The National Golf Links of America. ¬†It‚??s iconic in the golfing world, and a sight I hope to see in the next few days. ¬†Anyway Rory‚??s grandfather built it. ¬†His father helped too. ¬†Apparently the team that did the work was composed of both Anglo Saxon Americans, and a few lads of Native Indian extraction. ¬†They didn‚??t get on too well ‚?? there were a few fisty cuffs every now and then ‚?? and so the work was divided to keep them separated where possible: the white guys worked up top (the Indians were scared of heights from memory) and their counterparts down below. ¬†Interesting stuff.
Up by the pro shop we met Adam Machala, the Head Pro, who was to join us on course. ¬†A more affable and gentle natured guy you will not find ‚?? he was also my partner in the haggle and so I‚??m morally bound to say nice things about him. ¬†Which is not hard. ¬†Our caddies were Alex and Evan, two of the best we‚??ve had. ¬†(I‚??m aware that at this point this blog is gushingly positive and full of superlatives ‚?? be assured that this is not because I‚??m in a particularly good mood, but because really it was a perfect day).
The front 9 sit out below in the pro shop, almost in full view. ¬†They‚??ve cleared hundreds of trees here in recent years (I think in part at the direction of their new superintendent, who came from Merion) - something that‚??s a big ‚??no, no‚?Ě in New Zealand. ¬†Aside from improving the course, by all accounts, it also means you can stand at several vantage points and admire Tillinghast‚??s genius in its full splendour. ¬†Distinctive bunkering and green complexes are for me the hallmarks of his design ‚?? particularly those bunkers 40 yards of the green that look like they‚??re greenside. ¬†Adding to the character is a racetrack ‚?? about a mile long ‚?? that runs throughout the front 9. ¬†In days gone by members would bring their horses down and gun round it; apparently there was a spot of polo too. ¬†
We had cool sunshine; a healthy helping of wind; and plenty of laughs. ¬†Adam and I were one up at the turn, and looking dangerous. ¬†
The back 9 takes you into the trees, and past a gorgeous lake. ¬†It‚??s also more undulating and requires a bit more concentration. ¬†With the sound counsel of our hosts and caddies, we knocked it around without a care in the world. ¬†On holes like 10, 12 and 14 ‚?? and 15, 16 and 17, come to think of it ‚?? you just look around and admire the beauty of Somerset Hills. ¬†Mike and I reflected afterwards that it‚??s really the type of course you would never tire of playing. ¬†I asked Rory whether he‚??d ever come down here not to play golf, but just for a walk. ¬†In the winter he does, with the dog (ironically named Bear); I would too.
Adam and I held on up the uphill 18th for a 1up victory, much to the dismay of the ever competitive Goldstein. ¬†I‚??d left myself a 2 foot downhilll left to right putt for par, which would‚??ve been for The Win had Adam not rolled in an 8 foot uphiller before me. ¬†Thank God he did; I didn‚??t fancy being put under that type of pressure after such an enjoyable day!
Rory very kindly took the 3 of us to lunch in the Grill, which like the locker room is an understated but tasteful affair. ¬†He was also kind enough to gift Michael and I a souveneir belt each, which will be worn ‚??most every remaining day of 2010 I would speculate. ¬†I‚??m wearing it now, actually. ¬†In the pro shop we met Kylie, a fellow Kiwi, who hails from Great Barrier Island. ¬†These Kiwis turn up in the darndest of places...
On our way out we met Oscar, the gentleman who looks after the locker room and members‚?? shoes. ¬†Oscar‚??s nephew Oscar was the star of Paraguay‚??s most recent victory in The World Cup, something Oscar Senior was quite rightly very proud of sharing. ¬†He showed us a newspaper cutting and all. ¬†On our way out we also met one of Rory‚??s friends, a lady named Joan. ¬†Later Rory told us that Joan plays bridge with Warren Buffet (who‚??s apparently ‚??very smart, but bids senselessly...‚?Ě!).
A surreal day indeed. ¬†Rory and Adam couldn‚??t have been more affable and generous hosts; Somerset Hills is Tillinghast at his best (quite different in character to San Francisco GC and to Winged Foot, which we played on Saturday (blog to come shortly)); and our golf wasn‚??t as bad as it can be. ¬†What more could one ask for?
Late in the afternoon we boarded a train bound for NYC, for a night of mischief in The City. ¬†That‚??s another story...
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