11 surefire ways to improve your golf game in 2018 (that you can actually afford)

Nuther-Duffer likes to begin a new year with a list of goals for the coming months. Goals are so much friendlier than resolutions. They’re flexible, for one thing (so you avoid the experience of breaking a resolution during the second week of January then spending the next 50 weeks feeling like a failure). And progress counts — if you tried and came up short, you still get to feel good about yourself. And goals grow out of aspiration, not desperation (i.e., “My goal is to break 80 this year” versus “I have got to lose 50 pounds before the reunion”).

Nuther-Duffer wishes he could resolve to play St. Andrews in 2018. Or resolve to break 80. But he knows he can’t afford the former (barring a winning lottery ticket) and likely doesn’t have the skill (or the practice time) to attain the latter.

What he can do (and so can you) are each of the items on the following list: Nuther-Duffer’s Golf Goals for 2018 — 10 Surefire Ways to Improve* Your Golf Game. (*”Improve,” in this case, refers more to increasing enjoyment than it does to reducing scores.)

  1. Don’t ignore your favorite courses. Write a list of your six or nine favorite courses (depending on how often you play) and think about the best time of year to play them. Then put them on the calendar and make those outings happen. You’re likely going to play some of them anyway, but you don’t want to get to the first snowfall (or freeze) and end up thinking, “I wish I’d played ….”
  2. At least once, drive 50 miles or more to play a round of golf. Sure it’s a long way and it’s going to turn a round of golf into a daylong outing. But Nuther-Duffer guesses that one of your favorite courses is that far way. And if not, make it a goal to try someplace new.
  3. Once a month, go to a golf course and play a round with strangers. You might make friends. You might learn something. Maybe even something about golf.
  4.  Play a round in under four hours. You’ve seen the signs, right? “Golf is a four-hour game.” But have you ever actually accomplished it? This might require some planning — get stuck behind the Saturday blitz and you’re … well, stuck behind the Saturday blitz. Talk to the course pro. Tell him or her what you want to do and find out the best time and day of the week to make it possible. Then go do it. And when you finish, think about how much more enjoyable your round was.
  5. Keep up with the group ahead of you. It reduces your stress level, and the stress level of everyone behind you (which further reduces your stress level).
  6. Compliment the course pro on the condition of the course (even if you have to overlook a few blemishes to do it). Best way to improve your golf game? Improve someone else’s day.
  7. Come autumn, implement “the leaf rule” — if you can’t find your ball because it went into a pile of leaves that wouldn’t have been there in summer, take a free drop. In the spirit of the game, take it no closer to the hole.
  8. Walk.
  9. When you walk, don’t walk like you’re window shopping. Aim for a pace somewhere between a casual stroll and having a drill sergeant screaming in your ear. (See No. 5.)
  10.  At the end of the golf year (whenever that arrives for you), write a golf gratitude list. Yep, jot down a handful of golf things you’re grateful for. That hole in one, for example. Or that time you played an entire round without losing a ball. Or that outing where you spent 90 minutes driving to the course, four and a half hours playing, then driving another 90 minutes home — sharing the whole experience with three people you like.
  11. Remember that spending time with people you like, or getting to know someone new, really is — for most of us — what this game should be about.

Covered greens and a frost delay

The original plan was to sneak in a round at Ocean View today — the forecast promised upper 40s and occasional sunshine, the one warm day in two weeks of where’s-the-global-warming-when-we-need-it cold — but ….

If you have a tendency to slice, check the traffic before you tee off on 15.

The good folks at OV called yesterday to let us know many of their greens were staying covered and only temporary greens would be available. That was good of them. It was also good of them to arrange a 9:20 a.m. tee time for us at Kempsville Greens Golf Course in Virginia Beach — another of the courses in the world’s cheapest membership package.

But it was nowhere near 40 degrees at 9:20 and a frost delay remained in effect. They said it would be about another hour. They got that just about right … and then the temperature rose quickly and the sun came out … and all in all it turned out to be quite a nice day of golf. (Parring five of the last six holes does improve one’s evaluation.)

The course was about what you’d expect given the weather. Brown fairways, a bit shaggy. Bunkers still frozen at the beginning, not bad at the end. Now, about those greens….

The par-three 17th hole. Go up a club if it’s cold!

First, that frost that delayed the round ran quite deep. On the first par three, Nuther-Duffer hit a nice lofty nine-iron to the center of the green. The ball bounced 10 to 15 feet in the air — it looked like it had hit a cart path — and ended up 15 yards or so beyond the green. The green was frozen solid — it felt like a car path when you stepped onto it.

And thanks to some combination of ice and a few days of missed maintenance due to sub-freezing weather, they were slow slow slow. Putts came up short all day long (for everyone, not just Nuther-Duffer, just to be clear).

The other joy about frozen ground — trying to get a tee in the ground. You had to hold the tee with two hands, then put most of your body weight on it — a pretty sight. Someone really needs to invent a threaded tee for days like this, something you can screw into the tundra. (Go ahead and steal that idea, just be sure you call it the Nuther-Duffer TwisTee. You could design it so that it worked with a spike-replacement tool.)

Not where you want to be hitting your third shot on 18.

But, by day’s end, the greens had thawed, as had the bunkers and tee boxes (and the scores, which had been in a serious deep freeze) and it began to feel like a round of golf. We began to think about taking off a layer or two.

Then the wind came up. And the clouds came out. And the temperature began to drop. And winter returned. And we high-tailed it to the parking lot.

Now, six hours later, it’s 36 degrees — which happens to be the highest temperature in the forecast for the next eight days.

Top Golf, anyone?

Tis the golf deal season

It’s 29 degrees outside (optimistically) and the greens, at least at Ocean View Golf Course, are covered with tarps.

Perfect conditions to be thinking about golf deals. Here are a couple that showed up today:

The Winter Player Pass at Riverfront Golf Course in Suffolk. It’s good through March 31 (anytime weekdays, after noon weekends and holidays). For $99, you get four rounds, cart included. 25 bucks around is not a bad deal at Riverfront (or a lot of other courses). Buy the pass at the clubhouse, or call 757-484-200. You can also request one by emailing newsompga@gmail.com.

Play ProV1s? Click here to get a dozen personalized and delivered from The Golf Warehouse for $39.99. Buy three and you qualify for free shipping. Offer ends this week, they say.

 

Boxing Day: As good as it gets (this week) at Ocean View

Today’s scary weather headline: Will 2017 end with a snowstorm?

Clouds over the first tee.

The answer seems to be, well, maybe. So if the low 40s are the best we’re going to see this week, we thought, might as well take advantage of the sunshine! And so Nuther-Duffer found himself at Ocean View Golf Course here on Boxing Day 2017 — with none of the usual “& Co.” who were at home warming themselves in front of the microwave.

The cheap membership effect was in evidence: When Nuther-Duffer called to ask if there was room for a single, expecting to be told as he has been so often in the past “Sure, come on out,” he was told instead, “I can add you to a twosome at 1:04.”

The good news about 1:04: That’s about the time the high temperature was going to arrive. But with sunset around 4:30, it was going to chill off in a hurry and perhaps get too dark to continue after about 15 holes.

Nice day when the wind’s at your back.

The good news about the chill: It apparently kept a lot of people home who had made tee times. Cuz the course was pretty much wide open, for a change, and Nuther-Duffer and the twosome covered 18 holes in three and a half hours — beating the darkness by a good 20 minutes.

The course itself seems to be holding up well to the weird fluctuations in temperature and to the increased number of rounds being played. It’s all brown, of course, but the fairways were tidy and the greens were in decent shape, especially for the day after Christmas when (presumably) the grounds crew got a day off.

The Ocean View bunkers, on the other hand, are still, well, the Ocean View bunkers. The best you can hope for these days is about half an inch of sand on top of the clay lining. Your wedge is going to ricochet off the clay and your ball is going to end up on the far side of the green.

Long shadows at the end of the round.

Today’s tip: If your ball’s in a Ocean View bunker, play it like it’s sitting on hardpan and try to pick it clean.

But OV is still OV — cozy and close and comfortable and a bit like the bar on “Cheers” — when you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Kiln Creek was a great place to play the last (warm) round of the year

Nuther-Duffer & Co. spent Saturday hacking around Kiln Creek Golf Course in Newport News.

No one shot their age, and no one shot the high temperature for the day — and all of those numbers were somewhere around 70.

Setting the scores aside — as Nuther-Duffer & Co. generally do — it was a beautiful day, spent on a beautiful and challenging course.

Nuther-Duffer had some concerns about Kiln Creek a while back. It had been one of his favorite courses for quite some time, but then a dispute set in between the developer/owner of the course and the homeowners association that serves the surrounding community. The dispute ended when the homeowners association bought the golf course and took over management.

The concern? That the care of the course had fallen during the dispute, and that the homeowners association would focus more on frugality than on repairing and maintaining a quality golf course.

There’s good news to report: The course is in better shape than it’s been in for years — the HOA isn’t just maintaining, it’s improving.

On Saturday — after a fairly wet week with typical December temperatures right up to Saturday morning — the fairways were immaculate and the greens fast (really fast) and smooth. The bunkers (and Nuther-Duffer tested several) were uniformly fluffy and well tended.

The first hole at Kiln Creek is basically a welcome mat — wide, straight and open. Enjoy it. Things change in a hurry.

Kiln Creek fairways tend to run along the crests of hills — like long, thin mesas. Be forewarned: Hit the ball to the left or to the right and, on many holes, it’s either gone or in someone’s yard.

Most devious hole? Perhaps the third — a short par four. It’s devious because about 180 yards out from the tee box (yes, that would be the white tees), there is a wide, steep, stone-filled ravine on the left side of the fairway. It’s invisible from the tee box. You may hit a nice draw to avoid the bunkers along the right side of the fairway, only to end up with a lost ball.

Prettiest hole? Let’s go with the No. 1 handicap eighth. It’s a long, gentle dogleg with bunkers on the left and water on the right that runs the length of the hole — right up to the huge bunker that guards the right side of the green. It’s beautiful. And should you par it, you’ll feel good about your day no matter how many disasters you have on other holes.

One more warning: As much as Nuther-Duffer likes Kiln Creek, it can be a horrible experience if it’s cart path only. The paths tend to run along the bottoms of the hills the fairways lie on, so you are constantly guessing if you’ve driven the right distance to get to your ball. And if you happen to hit a ball off the fairway on the side opposite the cart path, you’re often looking at a steep climb up a hill, a walk across the fairway, a steep descent of the other side of the hill, then a search for your ball. If you’re lucky enough to find it, you often have a blind shot to get back to the fairway.

And then you have the walk back to your cart.

Nuther-Duffer has played Kiln Creek on a cart path-only day just once. And hopes to keep it that way. Took his legs two days to recover.

But for a warm, sunny December day, it’s hard to beat. Even on one of those days (they happen) when you come close to shooting your age on the front nine. And the back nine. Fortunately, Nuther-Duffer still has a ways to go before he becomes a septuagenarian.

The thieves were in the palace!

The thieves were in the palace on Sunday.

At least that’s what it always feels like when, thanks to the magic of Groupon or Living Social, Nuther-Duffer and friends manage to cross the great divide between players of city-owned public courses and the upper crusty players (if not necessarily the better golfy players) of the area’s private country clubs.

This week’s trip to the other side took us to Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club in Portsmouth, where the club and the surrounding working-class neighborhood are divided by a long driveway and the letters EMGCC writ large in evergreen topiary. We didn’t notice a members-only sign, but the policy became pretty clear when we got to the parking lot and the first car we passed was a Maserati.

(Which was parked next to a Lexus, which was parked next to — this is true — a Kia. Which suggested one of two things — either we weren’t the only fence-jumpers that day, or members and employees share a parking lot. Your guess?)

First, let’s address the obvious question: There’s a private country club in Portsmouth?

Yes, there is, and the explanation is that it’s been there a long time.

The EMGCC was organized in 1948 and the par-70 golf course opened in 1951.  It’s been the home of the Eastern Amateur Golf Tournament since 1957 (former winners include Curtis Strange and Ben Crenshaw). Among the founding members was Clarence “Ace” Parker, a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, as well as a professional caliber baseball player and golfer. In fact, the club’s address is on Ace Parker Drive and word is he lived for years in one of the really quite modest homes along the 15th fairway. 

So the place is steeped in local history and what it lacks in shiny new facilities it makes up for in comfortable charm.

The EMGCC pro shop is an unassuming little affair in a building separate from the main country club facility. The staff was friendly and helpful and not at all dismissive of we couponers, for which we were grateful.

The course — even well into December and on a day that started with a three-hour frost delay — was in terrific shape. It certainly looked like someone had been out mowing and trimming that morning, even while the frost was still on the ground.

Nuther-Duffer isn’t quite sure what to make of the layout. Elizabeth Manor isn’t a strikingly beautiful golf course, but it is consistently pleasant. It has an open feel to it, but is fitted into a fairly small plot of land — it’s not unusual for the walk from one green to the next tee to be no more than a few steps. (So you do need to be comfortable with the sound of golf balls landing nearby while you’re playing, trusting that the folks behind you are, well, better than you.)

It’s a great course for walkers — hardly a hill to be found. In fact, other than the boomerang-shaped 15th, there aren’t many holes that you would think of as doglegs. Still, and we’re not quite sure how this happens, it’s a delightfully maddening golf course. It looks like it should be as easy to play as Ocean View, Nuther-Duffer’s home muni and comfort zone. Yet somehow Sunday’s 93 at Elizabeth Manor seemed every bit as satisfying as last week’s 86 at OV. (A rare chip-in birdie may have contributed to that feeling.)

Nuther-Duffer and Co. are hoping that the good folks at Elizabeth Manor continue their Groupon offer — $195 for a foursome (that you can trim down by 20 percent or more on those special-offer Groupon days). The coupon is good for 120 days from the time of purchase, and you can buy one a month. 

That’s a hard-to-beat offer. And if no one’s looking, you can get one of your buddies to snap a picture of you with the Maserati.

The worst best deal in golf?

How could you say no to a deal like this? For $300, you get unlimited golf seven days a week (no charge if you walk; cart rental only if you ride) at five South Hampton Roads golf courses — Ocean View, Kempsville Greens, Bow Creek, Lambert’s Point and Red Wing Lake.

OK, you have to pay $25 to play Red Wing, but that’s a pretty good discount at a very nice course.

The other courses? Lambert’s Point is a great practice facility, but its nine-hole course is one of the most challenging layouts in the area … at least for those of us who struggle to hit the ball straight. Miss one of those narrow fairways and you don’t have to bother looking for your golf ball. It’s probably never going to be in high demand.

Neither is Bow Creek, but for other reasons (no disrespect).

So aside from Red Wing, you have the quirky Kempsville Greens and the wide-open, welcoming Ocean View, which is in the best shape it has been in for years under the new management of longtime Bide-A-Wee pro Andy Giles.

And there’s the problem. Lots and lots of golfers, many of them brand new to the game, flocking primarily to two courses. At Ocean View, where Nuther-Duffer has been a proud member for 10 years or so, the course is elbow-to-elbow, all day, every day. Prior to the new deal, on many weekdays you could check in at the clubhouse, head straight to the first tee and get in 18 holes in less than three hours.

On one recent Monday, with the temperature at a brisk 45 degrees, Nuther-Duffer was lucky to find an opening in the lineup and then faced a wait on almost every tee. Teed off at 11:30 and felt lucky to get a full round in before dark.

Weekends? One pair of regulars mentioned that they’d recently played a round that took eight hours.

And it isn’t just the players who are feeling some pain. Realistically, if you’re going to sell memberships at $100 a year, you are counting on making all of your money on cart rentals, equipment sales and concessions. The bad news, according to many of the starters, is that all of those new members are walking. That’s great for community health, bad for the future of these five golf courses.

Those new folks also tend to bring their own sandwiches and buy their balls at WalMart.

Nuther-Duffer hopes this works out for everyone involved. But he has his doubts.

Stay tuned.