There are days in life when the Gods really smile on you; when you can‚??t quite believe that you‚??re in the moment you‚??re in, just how lucky you really are. ¬†Today was one of those days. ¬†The first thing I want to say is a heartfelt thank you to Craig, the gentleman who kindly hosted us as his guests at Cypress Point ‚?? one of the most phenomenal places on earth. ¬†I hope some day I‚??m in a position to make possible experiences for other people like Craig did for us on 18 May 2010. ¬†Really we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
The second thing I want to say, before I launch into a gushing rant about this hallowed parcel of golfing paradise, is another thank you ‚?? this time to a man whom we‚??ve known for even less time than we have known Craig. ¬†I mentioned Liam Doust in Monday‚??s blog; he‚??s the gentleman who contacted us out of the blue a few days ago, after reading about us in the SF Chronicle, offering his hospitality. ¬†Well on this fine morning Liam rose at the crack of dawn with us, cooked us an amazing ‚??you‚??re-about-to-play-the-best-golf-course-on-earth‚?Ě omlette, ¬†brewed us a strong coffee and gave us directions to the course. ¬†When we returned in the early evening, Liam took us down to The Beach Club (a private club he belongs to that sits adjacent to the 17th at Pebble) for a beer, swim, spa and shower (we also had a dip in the Pacific, on a strip of beach between the 4th and the 17th holes...more about that later). ¬†Then he cooked us up a barbeque dinner at his home and shared with us a beautiful bottle of pinot noir that his family vineyard ‚?? in the Awatere Valley of New Zealand ‚?? produces (Doust-Cimino). ¬†Truly some of the most amazing hospitality I‚??ve ever received ‚?? again, from a guy we‚??ve known for a couple of days. ¬†Liam, thanks again ‚?? hopefully we can repay your hospitality next time you‚??re down under.
And so to Cypress Point, ranked #2 in the world by Golf Digest. ¬†Mike‚??s put together a video blog of the day, which will tell a better story than a few hurried words of mine can. ¬†The atmosphere and beauty of the place can‚??t be captured by my modest vocabulary, or even by our pretty flash camera. ¬†But we‚??ll do our best to paint y‚??all a wee picture. ¬†(When we get ‚??round to writing a book after we complete this journey we‚??re on, I expect 18 May will have a whole chapter devoted to it; this is the abridged ‚??on the run in the back of a car en route to LA‚?Ě version).
We head to Cypress along 17 Mile Drive via Pebble Beach, where we grab a couple hundred bucks out of an ATM for the compulsory caddy fees (c. $70-$100 each). ¬†We‚??re running on time, but only just. ¬†It‚??s a misty morning but the sun‚??s trying to break through. ¬†The past few days have been freezing cold and foggy; we‚??re praying those clouds lift. ¬†As we pull into the car park, they do (well, not at that very minute ‚?? I‚??m not suggesting clouds part for us...but you get the picture, things started looking up).
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but we‚??re pulling into the very small car park ‚?? right in front of the starter‚??s hut, putting green and clubhouse ‚?? in Dodgy, our 1988 Dodge Ram Family Wagon. ¬†There aren‚??t any other cars like ours in sight ‚?? just a few Mercs, BMWs, and the odd Toyota. ¬†Maybe not a grand entrance, but an entrance all the same. ¬†Dodgy is parked smack back in front of the clubhouse. ¬†We‚??re worried that if we step out of the car a gentleman will appear out of nowhere and politely suggest that we‚??re in the wrong place; that we should turn around. ¬†He doesn‚??t appear, and we reach the starter‚??s hut unscathed. ¬†So far, so good.
Our pal Robert Kaufman‚??s in there, with his buddy Steve who would join us on the day. ¬†Robert‚??s been playing pranks on Steve for years, telling him he‚??s got them a game at Cypress. ¬†Very cruel. ¬†When Robert called a week or two ago to let him know about today, Steve doesn‚??t believe him...you know, the boy who cried wolf and all. ¬†But here they both were, just as excited as we were. ¬†This place‚??ll do that to you. ¬†The other non-members ‚?? who are all members‚?? guests; you can‚??t just turn up and play here ‚?? are in the same boat; smiles all round.
Keith and Riley in the pro shop are incredibly relaxed and welcoming, and put us instantly at ease. ¬†Once you‚??re here, you‚??re treated like royalty ‚?? whether you‚??re a CEO of the Bank of America or a janitor from Oakland. ¬†I like that. ¬†With half an hour until our tee time, we take our time to change our shoes in the locker room; grab a few cards, ball markers, pencils, etc; and have a putt or two before we get started.
From the hustle and bustle of the caddy squadron camped by the starter‚??s hut emerges Ray, who would ‚??double bag‚?Ě for Michael and me today. ¬†Ray is an amazing chap; I could write a whole blog just about the man himself. ¬†Anyway he‚??s been caddying at Cypress for 33 years (some have been there for 50+), so knew exactly how we were feeling, and importantly what to do to put us at ease. ¬†Namely, make a lot of jokes. ¬†He was hilarious, from start to finish. ¬†Not to mention a dam fine caddy, on the golfing front. ¬†Granted he‚??s the first caddy I‚??ve ever had, but I can‚??t imagine they could get any better. ¬†Just a true gentleman, and a barrel of laughs. ¬†It‚??s not overstating the case to say he lifted a special experience up a notch or two, to a once-in-a-lifetime one.
When the time comes, Mike steps onto the blue tees and takes counsel from Ray on what on earth he should do. ¬†The mist is still hanging low, but the sun‚??s doing its best to burst through ‚?? creating a luminescent, almost blinding glow, straight ahead down the 1st. ¬†Over the Cypress tree on the right, or just inside it, are the instructions. ¬†Mike blocks one O.B. and takes the permitted mulligan (it‚??s tradition here to have a mulligan on 1 if you need it) and flushes it 280 yards down the middle. ¬†I take aim then hook one onto the 14th fairway; take my mulligan but hook it less severely into the trees; and end up taking the first ball from the wrong fairway. ¬†Playing the courses we‚??re playing we don‚??t have the nerves problems your Average Joe gets when he tees off 1 at a good track ‚?? but today was a different story; we could hardly hold onto the club we were so wired!
The first few holes are a bit of a blur. ¬†At that time we‚??re trying to absorb the experience; get a feel for the course; and play some decent golf. ¬†Mike succeeds and is 2 under par after 5 holes (including a couple of lip out birdie putts that could‚??ve seen him 4 under thru 5 on another day!); I make up the numbers but am having a whale of a time with Ray & co. ¬†Robert and Steve are getting to know their caddy ‚?? Louis, who‚??s been at Cypress a month longer than Ray ‚?? and doing their best to hit the ball properly. ¬†But as I said, a blur.
After number 1, 2 thru 7 snake up and down through the forest before you see the Pacific again. ¬†They‚??re all great holes, but 4 is a pretty remarkable one. ¬†From the tee you see a swathe of bunkers that frame a gentle double dogleg which climbs some 10 yards or so. ¬†But when you get to the green (hopefully in one piece, for two), you look back down the hole towards the ocean and can‚??t see one sand trip. ¬†MacKenzie at his best. ¬†Apparently the bunkers were used as camouflaged cover during the war ‚?? a story that I‚??m not sure whether to believe or shoot a wry smile at. ¬†It came from Ray so you never know.
Anyway 8 and 9 are some of the best holes I‚??ve ever played. ¬†On 8 you hit a blind tee shot over the dunes to a sunken fairway that climbs sharply upwards and right to the green. ¬†There was a lovely moment when Ray gave Michael his instructions from the tee, which went something like this: ‚??Now Tiger and Duval took it over that right hand tree, all the way to the green, from back here... But we‚??re gonna try a different line...‚?Ě ¬†His comic timing would rival the late Tommy Cooper, so he had us all in stitches. ¬†To be fair the wind was puffing slightly in our faces, so the Tiger line was never on anyway. ¬†Ha!
Once you reach the fairway ‚?? which is sandwiched by white sandy scrub on both sides ‚?? you play a short iron or even a wedge up to a small bowl like green, from which you can look out over the rest of the course. ¬†Just a beautiful spot. ¬†I underclubbed; ended up just off the front edge; and had the ineptitude to take 5. ¬†Mike had 8 feet down the hill for birdie but missed low side. ¬†Never mind ‚?? a truly great golf hole.
On 9 you have a couple of options. ¬†At 289 yards gorillas can get there, but there are risks involved (of course). ¬†The lay up isn‚??t easy either, with said scrub on both sides, and a couple of waste bunkers in there too just to remind you that you‚??re at Cypress. ¬†The green seems only a few paces wide; is raised about 5 yards from the fairway; and runs at 45 degrees from south-east to north-west on my imaginary compass. ¬†At this moment the mist was still flirting with us, adding to the mystique of this magnificently designed wee number. ¬†
When we reached 12 Ray said, ‚??now the golf‚??s really about to start‚?Ě - as if playing the first 11 holes at Cypress Point was somehow just a warm up hack in preparation for what was to come. ¬†Looking back I can see where he was coming from.
12 is (or was) Ben Hogan‚??s favourite hole. ¬†(You‚??ll see these all labelled in Goldy‚??s video segment, so I won‚??t bore you with details about every hole). ¬†13‚??s a classic that‚??s pretty similar to 12 ‚?? a downhill short-ish par 4 that veers to the right (although each has a very different dynamic around the greens). ¬†Coming down 13 fairway you‚??re staring down the Pacific Ocean, and pinching yourself ‚??cos you know what‚??s about to confront you.
14 might just be one of my favourite holes in the world (it‚??s up there with 6 at Royal Melbourne West). ¬†By now you‚??re playing parallel with the rocks, and heading along the coast until the 18th tee. ¬†The fairway ahead is wide, but it‚??s all about angles, so you need to play your tee shot middle-left to open up the green up the hill. ¬†A couple of amazing old Cypress trees frame the gap; one of them has a branch that dives into the ground and emerges again as if it were a different tree. ¬†Mike ends up under a greenside Cypress labyrinth but manages to dig it out to 10 feet while I‚??m standing behind him filming with one hand and taking a pee with the other!
On the walk to 15 our hearts start to race a bit more. ¬†As Ray quips, ‚??the greatest walk in golf‚?Ě. ¬†When you get round the corner and the infamous hole reveals itself, a 6 feet wide grin grips us each of us ‚?? and being in America, we all throw a few high 5s around. ¬†Ha. ¬†The camera, of course, gets a good work out, before we get down to business. ¬†I knock a wedge to 20 feet and Mike flies the green. ¬†Check out the photos on Mike‚??s segment...even with our inadequate photography efforts, they‚??ll blow you away.
16‚??s up there with 17 at Sawgrass and 17/18 at St. Andrews as being one of the most famous holes in the golf world. ¬†At 240 yards over the ocean to a green perched on a narrow isthmus ‚?? with drop offs on both sides, and on this occasion into the wind ‚?? it‚??s a monster. ¬†Between 15 green and 16 Ray points out an old ‚??hobo hut‚?Ě in the forest ‚?? right on top of the rocks ‚?? that someone he knows used to live in for 6 months a long time ago. ¬†Modest it may have been, but the view when that chap woke up every morning couldn‚??t have been too bad. ¬†He also points out the members‚?? suggestion box: a rocky atoll about 800 yards from shore...
I need to hit my 3 wood right out of the screws, without draw or fade, if I‚??m going to get the ball up there. ¬†As fate would have it the ball draws off to the left ‚?? aided by the wind ‚?? and ends up on the beach of a little cove (where I find a few other balls too...). ¬†Mike‚??s 2 iron drifts left too, but catches the ice plant 10 yards from the green, leaving him a tricky hack out. ¬†Robert flushes a driver to the front of the green ‚?? pre-empting another few high 5s ‚?? but 3 putts disappointingly for 4. ¬†He won‚??t forget that drive in a hurry though. ¬†Steve drives it on there on his second attempt ‚?? a shot he won‚??t forget any time soon either. ¬†I should add that after my first attempt I had another two ‚?? neither of which were any more successful! ¬†Ne‚??er mind.
By now the adrenalin is really pumping, and we‚??re wishing the moment wouldn‚??t pass us by so quickly. ¬†But there are members behind, and holding them up on their course is like leaving the toilet seat up: you just don‚??t do it. ¬†17 is just as good as the holes before it, but I‚??ll spare you the rant. ¬†18 gets a lot of flack for being weak, but I liked it. ¬†When you climb up the fairway to the green and look to your left, the beautiful clubhouse is perched between a few trees and the 16th sits out there below you. ¬†An amazing place, truly. ¬†You can‚??t go in there unless you‚??re accompanied by a member, and have a jacket and tie. ¬†We weren‚??t and didn‚??t, so the hut was off limits ‚?? maybe a nice thing, to leave a little bit of mystery at Cypress, keeping us guessing.
On 18 I have 8 or 10 feet; my last chance to snatch a birdie, after having played and putted like a donkey all day. ¬†I miss. ¬†Mike makes a good up and down for par, and shoots a glorious 75 (3 over par). ¬†He lost 3 shots in the last 4 holes, and lipped out a bit on the front 9 ‚?? so you have some idea of how he played. ¬†Robert, Steve and I were on a different planet, but had an absolute ball nonetheless. ¬†Between the beauty of this land; Dr. MacKenzie‚??s brilliance; the company of my playing partners; and Ray‚??s banter, it was a few hours of absolute bliss I will never forget.
All good things must come to an end. ¬†Don‚??t worry, this blog will come to an end soon too. ¬†
Steve very generously took us down to Pacific Grove and shouted us a jalapeno burger and beer at 17th Street Grille. ¬†We‚??ve been eating more burgers than we would care to ‚?? from a cholesterol perspective ‚?? but couldn‚??t refuse and savoured every bite. ¬†Go there, if you can, and have the jalapeno burger - with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. ¬†Do the same after you‚??ve played Cypress, and you have the recipe for an unbeatable day. ¬†We farewelled the boys and thanked them both for all they‚??d done for us ‚?? particularly Robert, who‚??d arranged 4 games of golf for us over the past week.
I mentioned before about our episode at The Beach Club with Liam. ¬†That couple of hours deserves a few partings words before I leave you. ¬†Drained and overwhelmed, we arrived ‚?? after getting very lost in the maze of streets around Pebble ‚?? early in the evening, when the sun was blazing. ¬†Liam introduced us to a few of his pals, one of whom is Ken Coleman (or ‚??The Old Mench of the Sea‚?Ě as he likes to be called). ¬†Ken‚??s a retired doctor who studied over at Trinity College in Dublin; has a severe penchant for Irish women; owns a dog called Bella that defacated on the 6th fairway during our walk out to the 7th; and lives on the 18th at Spyglass. ¬†He‚??s also a very interesting gentleman indeed (he‚??s a Mench for goodness sake!), and took a grand off Oscar De La Hoya on a casual bet that neither Oscar nor any of his pals would make birdie on 17 (at Pebble). ¬†(Ken was on the patio while they were passing by the tee, and struck up the yarn leading to the bet). ¬†Oscar‚??s agent ‚?? also in the fourball ‚?? pulled the cash out of his jacket pocket on the spot!
The four of us walked in the evening sun along 4, 5, 6 and up to the famous 7th hole. ¬†With the US Open approaching, all hell was breaking loose, with tents, grandstands and the like being erected by 6 million contractors. ¬†Amidst the melee we marched on up there to the tee ‚?? sand wedges in hand; ball each in the pocket ‚?? and delivered one down the hill. ¬†The Old Mench of the Sea, after initially refusing to have a hit, knocked it calmly to a foot. ¬†He doesn‚??t play any more these days, apparently. ¬†And do you know why? ¬†Because he made an albatross at a nearby club, and figured he may as well quit while he was at the top. ¬†On that day he was expecting the bar tab about to hit him was going to hurt. ¬†But there was only one guy in the bar...and it was Clint Eastwood (who owned the joint). ¬†So he bought Clint a drink. ¬†His order? ¬†¬†‚??Orange juice, junior.‚?Ě ¬†Classic. ¬†(Clint also has a house and land right on the coast between Cypress and Pebble, and is a partner in the Pebble Beach Company).
But I digress. ¬†Atop the 7th, just in front of the tees, I also found one of my Top 10 Spots On A Golf Course In The World To Have A Pee ‚?? a segment that‚??s going to be delivered in due course. ¬†Right now I‚??ve snapped 2 or 3 that no doubt will make the final cut. ¬†To spend a penny under the evening sun on 7 ‚?? on the day I also played Cypress Point ‚?? was memorable, if not a little sacrilegious.
Liam, Ken, Mike and me got back to The Club without being arrested, I‚??m pleased to report. ¬†We had a spa and swim in the pool ‚?? both of which are outdoors on the deck and overlook the bay, with the 4-7 stretch on your left and 17 on your right. ¬†Not a bad view. ¬†Not a cloud in the sky. ¬†Then madness overcame us ‚?? and we charge into the ocean, which can‚??t have been more than 18 degrees. ¬†Liam does the staunch thing and wades in slowly; Mike and me are less concerned about our rep and more about our health, so we get straight in and straight out.
I could go on about this day, but if you‚??re still reading this far it‚??s an amazing feat on your part. ¬†So I‚??ll leave you with this little something that I‚??ve learned. ¬†If you put yourself out there, and reach out to people, anything can happen. ¬†
Thank you again to Craig for giving us an amazing gift; to Liam & family for your incredible hospitality; to Ray for being the best caddy in the world (we‚??ll see you in Scotland in July); and to Robert and Steve for everything. ¬†You‚??ve all made a couple of ambitious young lads feel truly privileged. ¬†It‚??s only Day 138, and we‚??ve got a long way to go, but this day will stay with us to the grave. ¬†I can guarantee you that.
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