Winged Foot may just be the coolest name in golf. ¬†And one of the coolest places I‚??ve ever been. ¬†You can use a word like ‚??cool‚?Ě when you‚??re talking about Winged Foot too, because it‚??s unpretentious and I reckon it‚??s how half the members would describe the place. ¬†A bunch of solid New Yorkers inhabit this domain, this Mecca for serious golfers. ¬†On a fine afternoon last Saturday our host was Terry Toll Jnr., a well set man who hits the ball further than Daly, and who rightly is proud of his family‚??s long held ties to The Foot. ¬†¬†What a phenomenal host he was too.
Winged Foot can lay claim to having one of the best pairs of golf courses in the world, if not the best. ¬†By that I mean that both courses are world class (and are always ranked in the Top 100). ¬†They play The US Open on the West Course ‚?? the last one was held back in 2006, when Geoff Ogilvy won ‚?? so it‚??s regarded as the big brother of the two. ¬†The East Course however is just as interesting and indeed the preferred track for many of the members. ¬†Tillinghast really had some fun with both of ‚??em. ¬†Some people like to make the comparison with Baltusrol (which he also designed), and reckon The Foot is really Baltusrol on steroids. ¬†Certainly it has more undulation than The Lower Course, but I‚??m not sure that it‚??s more intimidating. ¬†Anyway.
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive is the gothic looking clubhouse. ¬†Apparently the same chap that designed the hut at Mountain Ridge did this one too. ¬†I‚??m a big fan. ¬†It‚??s some building. ¬†Probably the best vantage point to admire it is the 9th fairway on West, or 18th fairway on East. ¬†It‚??s a real thrill standing over your approach shot, glancing up to the green, and picturing that perfect 6 iron dancing around the pin for the amusement of the lunch crowd looking on. ¬†I can confirm that I hit no such shot.
Speaking of lunch, Terry treated us to the WF lunch experience in the Members‚?? Grill (no longer the ‚??Men‚??s Grill‚?Ě in these times). ¬†Being a Saturday afternoon the place was buzzing, and sitting next to Terry in that Grill is like sitting next to Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill. ¬†Everyone knows him. ¬†Terry Senior flew past and said g‚??day, as did about 36 other members. ¬†All the staff knew him well, and knew what he‚??d be ordering to drink. ¬†A well liked member by the looks of things. ¬†Apparently most of the staff have been at The Foot for years ‚?? a sign of a healthy club. ¬†Terry likes to sit at one of the four corner tables, so he can people watch across the room. ¬†If walls could talk...that place has seen some antics over the years, some of which he shared with us (but which I won‚??t be sharing with you lot!).
Fuelled up and raring to go, we stepped out into the oven. ¬†It was hot. ¬†The range balls are Pro V1s embossed with the club logo ‚?? class. ¬†Not those nasty tinny Callaways, or even worse those yellow numbers. ¬†When the time came to blast off, we were advised to play one forward from the tips ‚?? and for once we listened! ¬†The sight of that tangled (probably triple seeded) rough was enough to convince us not to go All The Way Back. ¬†A good call. ¬†Terry (pictured below, left) and I teamed up against Mike and Terry‚??s pal Greg (pictured below, right). ¬†Greg was quite the College sportsman back in the day, and played several sports at an elite level. ¬†A football injury however put the cat amongst the pigeons: no longer could he swing the golf club right handed. ¬†So he switched and is now a lefty! ¬†Quite amazing. ¬†Poor Greg had just had a lesson earlier in the day, which inevitably meant he wasn‚??t swinging it as he usually would ‚?? he saw more of the course than most.
The course played fast, which we really enjoyed. ¬†As Terry said, that‚??s how Tillinghast designed it to be played. ¬†Drives run through doglegs if you‚??re not pinpoint accurate but you can play wee runners up to the greens. ¬†I spent the entire afternoon marvelling at the green complexes; at Albert‚??s artistry. ¬†A favourite was the 2nd (pictured below), which is split into two quadrants offset from one another. ¬†The hole would play totally different were the pin in the back, which is guarded by a huge overhanging elm tree. ¬†
On the 3rd the history started flowing from our hosts. ¬†In a US Open many moons ago Billy Casper laid up every day of the tournament, and pitched on. ¬†It‚??s a 200 yard hole, but is guarded fiercely on both sides by sand traps and the green is menacing to say the least. ¬†Billy took trouble out of the equation and made four pars! ¬†I got under my 4 iron and left it short left, prompting the ‚??Billy Casper‚?Ě quip. ¬†(Only difference was he did it on purpose; oh, and he made par too!). ¬†
Juan and Jorge our caddies were pretty sharp at reading the greens, which helped considerably. ¬†At least, it helped when I could understand them! ¬†Good characters.
The West Course though long is not a slogger‚??s track. ¬†There are quality short par 4s like the 6th, and short par 3s like the 7th. ¬†Ironically though these holes are just as likely to ruin your scorecard as the brutes ‚?? because what they lack in length they make up for in trickery. ¬†Tillinghast knew how to get his man (but also how to let him play). ¬†The 6th green for example (pictured below) is kidney shaped and as shallow as Paris Hilton; the 7th is raised up to the heavens like one of Donald Ross‚?? tabletops at Pinehurst No.2.
It‚??s really quite something standing on 9 tee which, as I mentioned before, looks down the hole to the clubhouse. ¬†What a sensation. ¬†Come the end of the year I‚??m going to put together a video blog of the grandest holes we‚??ve played ‚?? number 9 at The West Course will be near the top of the pile, I can tell you. ¬†As will 18 at Royal Sydney, Baltusrol, San Francisco, Olympic, Riviera and Commonwealth. ¬†A few from Scotland might make it in too (St. Andrews anyone?)...
The back 9 on West is pure. ¬†The shamrock bunker on 14; mind boggling green on 16; graceful dogleg right on 17; and approach on 18 were all memorable features. ¬†My partner Terry smoked a 7 iron out of the fairway bunker on 18 to 12 feet to close out the match ‚?? a shot he won‚??t forget for a while. ¬†That was after Mike rolled in 30 footers on 17 and 18 to apply unexpected pressure, the rascal.
It was 6.30 when we walked off, and the sun still had some juice in it. ¬†So we grabbed a beer; hopped in a couple of carts; and shot out to play the back 9 on The East Course. ¬†Why not? ¬†We had the place to ourselves, on a glorious Saturday evening. ¬†Pure golf indeed. ¬†An interesting chap by the name of Neil Regan ‚?? who happens to be the club historian ‚?? introduced himself as we were teeing off, then joined us a few holes later. ¬†He was out playing solo, with his favourite caddy, a dark skinned gentleman who looked like he‚??s been carrying bags since Moses Struck The Rock.
We zipped round 11 thru 18 at a frantic pace in probably an hour. ¬†Some very cool holes, like the 14th, 15th (pictured below) and 17th (Davis Love's favourite hole). ¬†Although what stuck most in my mind was the group of glamorous women at a garden party by the 14th green! ¬†Neil‚??s climbing low cut with a driver off the deck on 16 deserves special mention too. ¬†Oh, and the approach to 18 I mentioned before.
Neil pointed out where they‚??d made changes to the course in recent years, after having brought in Gil Hanse the restoration mantis. ¬†Getting back to original designs is very much en vogue right now, it appears. ¬†
Terry assured me the showers were as good as any ‚?? even those huge wide brim numbers at Merion and Pine Valley. ¬†He wasn‚??t fibbing. ¬†Not quite as wide as the aforementioned, but probably a faster flow. ¬†I could‚??ve stood there for days. ¬†Although I would‚??ve got those manky wrinkles. ¬†Terry being the consummate host also pointed us towards a little beaker of liquid that you‚??re supposed to chuck on y‚??er paws before dousing them in talcum powder. ¬†Sensational stuff ‚?? similar feeling to menthol shampoo. ¬†
WF gift bags also appeared in our lockers ‚?? each containing a Winged Foot polo shirt, a dozen Pro V1 Xs (WF embossed, of course) and a WF bag tag. ¬†We were very embarassed to say the least. ¬†Suffice to say Saint Terry is among the most generous characters we‚??ve come across this year; he couldn‚??t possibly have made our experience at The Foot any better.
Since none of us had to be anywhere, Terry floated the idea of dinner in the Grill. ¬†As if lunch; 18 on West; 8 on East; those showers; that foot solution; and Terry‚??s gift bags weren‚??t enough of a treat... ¬†The 3 course meal I inhaled would be right up there with the most memorable of the trip. ¬†If you told me the club was hiding a Michelin starred chef back in the kitchen I‚??d believe you. ¬†We must‚??ve sat there telling lies for a couple of hours, after One Hell Of A Day.
A huge thank you to Terry ‚?? you‚??re the greatest. ¬†Looking forward to showing you a huge day at Paraparaumu Beach when you make it down our way!
We left The Foot late in the evening bound for a place called Bethpage. ¬†We slept in Dodgy in the carpark, on one of our last few nights with the old fella. ¬†Terry had his pro phone ahead to get us a tee time, saving us the trouble of having to queue up. ¬†We would play the Black Course in the morning, our 2nd US Open course in two days...
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