Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Story of Re-Birth

The front page of today's Philadelphia Inquirer sports section had a great story, "With the labor of love, Juniata on way back," by their golf writer Joe Logan. The story details the transformation happening at Juniata Golf Club, which I consider my home course. As I have recounted in previous posts, the course is now being run by a non-profit foundation created by a few of Juniata's regulars since the beginning of the year. This is because Billy Casper Golf, which is now managing four of Philadelphia's six municipal courses for the Fairmount Park Commission, declined to take over operation of Juniata and Walnut Lane Golf Club. I have also noted in previous posts that Juniata is in the best shape I have encountered in several years, the old cart barn converted into a servicable clubhouse, new carts paths have been added, bridges have been refurbished, new hole signs have been posted on each tee box and new benches are present around the course. Kudos go out to Bob "Wheels" Wheeler and his staff at Juniata for a job well done. Keep up the great work!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Becoming a Range Rover

Fishers Glen Driving Range
4717 Fishers Lane
Philadelphia, Pa

Tonight I made what is becoming my weekly pilgrimage to the driving range, where I hit my usual small bucket of balls. My usual stall on the far right side of the lower level was available, so I staked out my spot and went to work.
Tonight I used a piece of pvc pipe to aid with my alignment (see picture below). I worked mostly on developing some rhythm and tempo in my swing. Hitting 10 balls a piece with my short irons and wedges, I worked from my 53-degree Solus wedge, to my gap wedge, to my pitching wedge to my 9-iron. My sole swing thought was swinging to a tempo of 1...2...3...4, 1...2...3...4, 1...2...3...4. I finished off by hitting eight shots with an Adams Redline RPM 4-wood that I put in the bag; four balls off the tee and four balls off the mat. I was striping the balls with the 4-wood, so I think I might have to keep it in the bag for a bit.
As I described in my earlier posts, Fishers Glen won't remind you of a posh country club any time soon. In fact, the only thing missing was Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy and his trusty caddie, Romeo. But it is a great place to quietly work on your swing. A small bucket (approximately 50 balls) is $5, a medium bucket (approximately 70 balls) is $7, and a large bucket (approximately 110 balls) is $10. Fishers Glen is a true Muni Golfers paradise.

Photos by The Muni Golfer

Sunday, May 25, 2008

This Practice Round was a Bethlehem Steal

Bethlehem Golf Club/Executive Course
Bethlehem, Pa.
Yards: 4906, Par 68
Score: Practice Round
Date: May 24, 2008

While doing the "family thing" in the Lehigh Valley over the Memorial Day weekend, I got an opportunity to get in an 18 hole practice round at the Bethlehem Golf Club's nine-hole Executive Course on Saturday. The course is part of a the City of Bethlehem's magnificent golf facility located along Illicks Mill Road. In addition to the Executive Course, there is a 36 bay Driving Range (second picture below) and an 18-hole course that plays over 6200 yards from the white tees (down from its original 6674 yards). But with my lack of on-course experience this season, I decided on a practice round at the Executive Course, which I considered a steal at only $14 for green fees.
Like most nine-hole courses, Bethlehem's Executive Course features split tees: white for the front nine and blue for the back nine. The front plays shorter at 2325 yards, while the back nine plays from 2581 yards. There are seven Par 4s and two Par 3s for a Par of 34 per nine holes. Total, the Bethlehem Executive Course plays to an 18 hole Par 68 at a total of just over 4900 yards. While the course is fairly wide open, several holes play either uphill or downhill, and the greens are small, raised, undulating and very fast; it's almost like trying to putt on uneven linoleum. Because of the recent rains, the rough was also a bit thick.

For this particular practice round, I left my 3-Wood out of the bag, opting instead for my 15-degree Nickent 3DX DC Utility hybrid. I drove the ball fairly well off the tee, but because there are no yardage markers on the fairways, I often found myself under-clubbing on my second shots. The windy conditions didn't help matters, as it was often difficult to judge what direction the wind was coming from. My short game was also extremely rusty and putting was a nightmare. But it felt good to be out on the course hitting shots and trying to get the ball in the hole.
Here's a short breakdown on the holes at Bethlehem's Executive Course (the yardages are listed for the front and back nine):

Hole #1/10, 319/338 yards -- A slight dogleg left (first picture above), the fairway is guarded by pine trees on the left and right. Two bunkers guard the raised green.

Hole #2/11, 274/300 yards -- From an elevated tee, the hole plays downhill with the fairway sloping to the right. The green (below) sits atop a mound, with a bunker to the right.
Hole #3/12, 276/303 yards -- This hole plays uphill, with a row of pines protecting Illicks Mill Road down the left side. The fairway slopes to the left and the green is also raised, with a shallow bunker short and the right of the green.

Hole #4/13, 265/288 yards -- From an elevated tee, the hole straight downhill to a green that is a slight dogleg left. Rough protects the whole left side, with a bunker short of the green to the left. Behind the raise green is an extreme drop-off and certain death for any approach shot that is long.

Hole #5/14, 109/127 yards -- The first Par 3 is a wide, but shallow green that is raised and slopes severely from right to left.

Hole #6/15, 360/372 yards -- The longest Par 4 on the course, it doglegs left. Rough and trees hinder shots on the left that don't reach the dogleg or run through the fairway on the right. The green is two-tiered with a severe back-to-front slope.

Hole #7/16, 320/350 yards -- A fairway bunker on the right side can collect short tee shots, but the fairway is generous. The green is again raised and undulating; second shots should land short and run up on the green.

Hole #8/17, 132/151 yards -- An uphill Par 3 (below) that features a small raised green that slopes severely from back to front. A bunker short right and three large pines can interfere with stray shots.
Hole #9/18, 324/352 yards -- A straight away Par 4 that plays slightly downhill to another raised, undulating green. A few pine trees left and right of the fairway can hinder approach shots if you stray far enough from the fairway.
Photos by The Muni Golfer

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Range of My Golf So Far

Fishers Glen Driving Range
4717 Fishers Lane
Philadelphia, Pa

I feel like one of those rookies on the PGA Tour who survive through Q School to get their cards, but then have a hard time actually getting into the field at early season tournaments. So far, I've been limited to a mere 27 holes of golf this season because of the weekend commitments and unusually poor weather.

So once again this week I ventured over to Fishers Glen to hit a small bucket of golf balls. Having recently picked up two Nickent 3DX DC Utility hybrids in 15- and 17-degrees of loft, I worked with exclusively with my lower lofted hybrids. I already have a 19-degree 3DX DC Utility hybrid in my bag, and all three have the Aldila NV-75 in them. Hitting off the mat rather than the tee, I made solid contact on most of my shots; I can feel confidence beginning to build. I am almost contemplating replacing my 3 wood with the 15-degree hybrid. What I give up in distance I am hoping to make up for in accuracy by hitting more fairways.

This was my fourth time to the practice range this season, a new record for me. But it has been more necessary this season as I have been finding it more difficult to take my game to the actual golf course.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Future LPGA Member Has Arrived...

Congratulations to my fellow blogger PerfectDrive at Confessions of a Hacker on the birth of his daughter on May 13. He reports that the baby and mommy are both doing fine.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy Birthday to The Muni Golfer Blog!!!!

Ooops!!! I totally missed that yesterday marked one year since The Muni Golfer was launched. I hope you have received as much enjoyment reading this blog as I have had bringing it to you.

Bridgestone's New e6+ Rates an A+

I have just completed my testing and survey of Bridgetsone's new e6+ golf ball for the PGA Tour Partners Club. Named to Golf Digest's 2008 Hot List, the e6+ has a suggested MSRP of $38 and retails on The Golf Warehouse, Golf Galaxy and Dick's Sporting Goods for about $24.99 a dozen.

According to Bridgestone, the ball's features include:
  • A multi-layer design with innovative anti-spin/extra velocity inner cover
  • Is engineered for players seeking a straighter ball flight with longer carry distance and roll
  • Has an enhanced low compression design
  • Provides an extra soft feel on all shots and a smooth roll off the putter
  • 330 Seamless dimple design
Although I normally play a Maxfli golf ball -- either the Fire, Black Max or Noodle, I played my first two rounds this season with the e6+. While it was comparable to current golf ball, I found that it lived up to its billing by providing exceptional distance and a nice soft feel around the greens and off the putter. It definitely felt like I was playing with a higher-priced, premium golf ball. I think both low- and high-handicappers would benefit from using this golf ball. The only negative thing I can say is that I noticed it seemed to scuff just a bit when I hit it off my sand or lob wedge. But overall, I give the Bridgestone e6+ a good rating. The e6+ is an A+.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Moving Outside My Usual Range

Burholme Golf Center
401 Cottman Avenue
Philadelphia, Pa

Once again this week I ventured to the driving range to hit a small bucket of golf balls. This time, I found myself at the Burholme Golf Center because Fishers Glen had run out of available golf balls. It seems their golf ball picker was broken and they couldn't pick up the balls off the range. Burholme is a nice facility, with numerous hitting bays -- including about a dozen under cover; a miniature golf course; batting cages and a pro shop. There is a real family atmosphere at Burholme and it is quite popular, particularly the driving range and batting cages. Because of this popularity, the range balls at Burholme tend to be a bit more worn, but they do keep the facilties in pretty good shape. A small bucket of balls is $5 and you often have to wait for a hitting bay to open up. Because of the overcast skies, it wasn't as crowded as I have come to expect and I had a choice of several locations.

After stretching and warming up with my Speed Stik, I hit five wedges, then proceeded to alternate five balls a piece between my Power Hitter and my TaylorMade Burner Drive. After two sets of each, I finished with seven 3 woods off the mat. I think I need to plan and organize my sessions at the range a little better, but at least I'm rounding my body and swing in shape as I start playing more rounds. This is already the third time I've been to the practice range this season, which is about two more times than I went all last season.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Mighty Wind

Juniata Golf Club wasn't the only place where wind was a factor on Sunday. THE PLAYERS Championship at the TPC Sawgrass was also being battered by high winds, wreaking havoc on the nest golfers in the world. As Briny Baird stated after shooting a final round 72, "I don't care who wins the tournament, the wind won. It kicked everybody's butts." It certainly kicked my butt yesterday at Juniata.

To play effectively in the wind, you want to keep the ball down by hitting lower or what is referred to as "knockdown" shots. As I stated in my earlier post, I tried to play "knockdown" shots on several occasions yesterday without much success. One of the best at playing this shot is Phil Mickelson, who won the 2007 Players Championship. Mike Bender, one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers, explains that to play this shot, you want to play the ball back in your stance; take a one or two extra clubs; slightly open your stance; put your hands slightly ahead of the ball and your weight more on your left side; and take an normal swing, but abbreviate your follow through to keep the ball flight flow. Try to land the ball just short or just on the green to allow for the extra roll because of the lower ball flight.

Watch here as Bender demonstrates how to properly hit a "knockdown" shot into the wind.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Calendar Said May, Weather Said March

Juniata Golf Club
Philadelphia, Pa
Yards: 4805, Par: 66
Rating: 63.2, Slope: 106
Score: 49/44 = 93
Date: May 11, 2008

Better late than never. I finally played my first official full round of 18 holes this season at Juniata Golf Club. The weather was more like March than May, very cool and very windy, making club selection and shots extremely difficult. I tried to play some knock down shots that I'm just not accustomed to yet, but will come as I play more often. My tee shots were somewhat disappointing; several tee shots with my driver went straight right, while several tee shots with my 3-Wood were pull hooks. And the wind was a big factor, often knocking shots down or off line. I was able to make some adjustments on the back nine. I also lost three balls today; two on shots that should have been easy to find. I did make two pars -- at the Par 4 3rd and the Par 4 14th -- and had a few more par putts that wouldn't drop. My ball striking wasn't the best, but that's because I haven't been playing much. My putting was pretty solid; several times I had the right line, just not the right speed to get the ball all the way to the hole.

I also played in a foursome for the second time this season. I met up with Wes and Trevor on the first tee and they invited me to join them , and we invited Ron -- who was teeing off alone on Hole #3 -- to join us as we played Hole #4. We got along great and had a really good time.

I played the first nine holes with the new Bridgestone e6+ golf ball that I am testing as part of the PGA Tour Partners Club. I will be sending them my review this week and I will also be posting a review here, so stay tuned.

I also feel the need to comment on Juniata Golf Club. It is evident that they are working hard to improve the course. As I mentioned last time, one of the bridges over the Frankford/Tookany Creek had been repainted and an astroturf walkway had been laid in the middle for golfers who walk, while a new cart path had been added at the end of the bridge. Yesterday, I noticed there were new signs and new benches (with advertising) at just about every hole. Small changes that are adding up to a nice new makeover for the course. My compliments to Bob Wheeler and the staff at Juniata.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Home, Home Again on the Range

Fishers Glen Driving Range
4717 Fishers Lane
Philadelphia, Pa

Hoping to get a nine-hole practice round in on Sunday morning, I ventured over to Juniata Golf Club, only to find the course booked with an outing. So tonight, I headed back to Fishers Glen Driving Range and hit another small bucket of golf balls. Armed with my golf bag full of clubs this trip, I took up my isolated spot on the lower level of the range. After stretching out and loosening up with my Speed Stik, I started out by hitting 10 balls with my lob wedge. From there, I worked my way up the bag, hitting 5 balls each with my pitching wedge, 8 iron, 6 iron, 4 hybrid, 3 wood and Momentus Power Hitter. I capped off my range session by hitting four balls with my TaylorMade Burner Driver. In between the 6 and 8 irons, and the 3 wood and Power Hitter, I took 10 swings with the Speed Stik. My last ball, hit with my driver, was crushed; I couldn't see it land at the far left end of the range. As I worked my way up the bag, I felt I was beginning to make more consistent contact and hitting the ball better. This weekend, I plan to play my first full 18 holes of the season.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Making the List--the 'Must Play' List--and Checking It Off 14 Times

The May issue of Golfstyles magazine (Philadelphia edition) just arrived by mail. It featured an article on the "100 Must Play Courses Open to Everyone" in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, as well as the Ocean City, Maryland area. After the reviewing the list, I counted 14 courses that The Muni Golfer has played. They include:

* Baywood Greens Golf Club, Long Neck, Del.
* Bethlehem Golf Club, Bethlehem, Pa.
* Cobbs Creek Golf Club, Philadelphia, Pa.
* Heritage Hills Golf Resort, York, Pa.
* Island Green Country Club, Philadelphia, Pa.
* Jeffersonville Golf Club, Jeffersonville, Pa.
* Pinecrest Country Club, Lansdale, Pa.
* RiverWinds Golf Club, West Deptford, N.J.
* Rum Pointe Seaside Golf Links, Berlin, Md.
* Sand Barrens Golf Club, Cape May, N.J.
* Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, Shawnee on the Delaware, Pa.
* The Bay Club, Berlin, Md.
* Water Gap Country Club, Delaware Water Gap, Pa.
* Wyncote Golf Club, Oxford, Pa.

Three of the courses--Jeffersonville, Wyncote and Baywood Greens--I played for the first time last year. Among the notable courses are Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia's first municipal course where Arnold Palmer shot a best round of 77 during a tournament in the 1950s; Jeffersonville, which was designed by noted golf architect Donald Ross; Shawnee Inn, which was designed by the legendary A. W. Tillinghast, hosted the 1938 PGA Championship and the 1967 NCAA Championship (won by future three-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin), and is where actor Jackie Gleason was introduced to the game of golf and Arnold Palmer met his late wife Winnie; Water Gap, which hosted legendary players like Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen for the Eastern Open from 1926-28; and Rum Pointe, which was designed by the father-son duo of Pete and P. B. Dye.

Hopefully, I'll be able check off a few more courses on Golfstyles' list this season.