Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stealing Some Practice in Bethlehem

Bethlehem Golf Club/Executive Course
Bethlehem, Pa.
Yards: 4906, Par 68
Score: Practice Round/Front Nine
Date: May 30, 2009

Saturday we were in Easton, Pa., to watch our nephew's middle school matinee performance of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. Following the play, while the rest of the family were doing the barbecue thing, I grabbed my clubs and headed off to Bethlehem Golf Club's Executive Course for a nine-hole practice round. The Executive Course is part of the City of Bethlehem's municipal golf complex, which includes the 18-hole Monocacy Course, the 9-hole Executive Course and a 36-bay Driving Range. The Monocacy Course, which I've played three times, has been rated four stars by Golf Digest. Greens fees for the Executive Course range from $16 for non-Bethlehem residents on weekends and holidays to a $9 weekday twilight rate for residents. Since I didn't arrive at the course until 5 p.m., I paid $13 to walk.

Bethlehem G.C. Executive Course Scorecard

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. They weren't as fast as usual given the recent rains, but they were a bit firmer and harder to hold than I expected. Because of the recent rains, the rough was moderately thick.

1st Hole, a 319 yard Par 4

I met up with Bill, a local resident who works for the City of Bethlehem's water department on the 3rd Tee and we played the rest of the nine together. Bill and I enjoyed our pairing, although we each struggled off the tee and with club selection due to the wind. Because Bethlehem Golf Club's Executive Course sits atop and hill and is rather open, wind is often a factor during a round.

The 4th Green from the fairway

As I mentioned, I struggled off the tee, and often came up short on approach shots. One reason for the shortness with my irons is the difficulty in finding yardage markers and determining yardages. My pitching and chipping was fair, but I missed too many short putts. I seriously need to devote a practice session to chipping and putting.

The 7th (foreground) and 5th Greens from the 9th Tee

Overall, the Executive Course is a great place to practice your game. But keep in mind, because of the rates, and the fact that the Executive Course is not a bear like the neighboring Monocacy Course, it gets a lot of play from higher handicappers, beginners and junior golfers, so rounds can very, very slow.

Bethlehem Steel Building looms over the Practice Range
Photos by The Muni Golfer

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Divine Nine at Juniata

Juniata Golf Club
Philadelphia, Pa
Yards: 2735/2070 - 4680
Par: 34/31 - 65
Rating: 63.2, Slope: 106
Score: 48 (Front Nine)
Date: May 28, 2009

I only had a half day's work today, so despite the call for afternoon showers, I made an effort to play nine holes at Juniata Golf Club late this afternoon. The sunshine and warm temperatures gave way to cloudy skies and cool breezes as I teed off around 5:15 p.m. I wasn't quite short what to expect after Tuesday's horrible experience at the practice range. I switched my irons to an old set of TaylorMade LCGs for the round, hoping they would help me on my search to recapture my old swing and draw. While I didn't find any miracles, I did find enough to keep them in my bag for at least one more round.

1st Hole/Par 3/150 yards: I hit 7-iron a little fat off the tee, but because it is a downhill shot, my ball took a nice bounce forward and rolled to the front fringe. I two-putted for par.

2nd Hole/Par 4/260 yards: Hitting a 2-Hybrid over the creek on this short Par 4, I pulled my shot into the left rough about 50 yards from the green. I pitched the ball with my gap wedge onto the left side of the green. My first putt stopped 2 feet right of the hole, but I pushed my par wide for a careless bogey.

Front Nine Scorecard

3rd Hole/Par 4/390 yards: I hit driver off the tee with a slight fade into the right rough about 155 yards from the green. My approach with a 5-iron landed just short and hopped up onto the green, where I two-putted for another par.

4th Hole/Par 4/415 yards: My 4-wood off the tee was pulled well left into the 3rd fairway, leaving me with an approach of about 165 yards that needed to go over trees separating the fairways. I hit a 6-iron that cleared the trees and rolled into the rough about 5 yards in front of the green. I chipped to 3 feet above the hole, then lipped out my par putt for a bogey.

The 1st Hole, a downhill Par 3

5th Hole/Par 4/360 yards: I hit a wicked duck hook off the tee with my driver. The ball crossed the adjacent 3rd fairway and into the left rough. From there, I hit a 6-iron a bit fat, but got it to 15 yards in front of the green. My pitch shot with a wedge was hit thin and the ball hit into the sloping front of the green and ran all the way through to the back right fringe. I putted with my hybrid to about 6 feet. Two more putts and a double-bogey 6.

6th Hole/Par 4/360 yards: I made the most difficult hole of the course more difficult when I hit my driver left and couldn't find the ball. I took a drop on the left at the top of the first crest where I last saw my ball hit. My third shot with a 4-Hybrid squirted right and rolled into the rough about 70 yards short of the green. My uphill pitch shot with a wedge was short of the green. I chipped on and two-putted for a 7.

7th Hole/Par 4/275 yards: With the tees on the lower level of the two-tiered tee, I hit my 4-Hybrid right. It hit a tree on the right side of the fairway and bounced back to wards the tee, leaving me with a long approach shot. I tried to muscle another Hybrid out of a poor lie, but it squirted across the fairway and into the wetlands. I took and drop and hit a wedge short. I chipped up the sloping green and two-putted for another 7.

The 4th Hole at Juniata Golf Club

8th Hole/Par 3/200 yards: Trying to play a draw with my 2-Hybrid over the trees on the right side of the fairway, I hit the trees and again, could not find the ball. Three lost balls in three holes; not good for your score. I took a drop and chipped out to about 30 yards in front of the green. My pitch onto the green was a little strong and the ball rolled through the green. I chipped on and missed another short putt for another 7.
9th Hole/Par 4 380 yards: Determined to stop my string of 7s and finish on a positive note, I hit my driver with a slight draw up the right side of the fairway. Catching the slope of the fairway, my ball kicked left into the middle of the fairway, 97 yards from the green. My uphill approach shot with a wedge found the green, 30 feet from the hole. I two-putted for par.

The three 7s were disappointing, but I chalked those up to the lost balls as much as I do the poor tee shots. I did make three pars, and if I could have made two short putts, I would have had five. Overall, I played some of my best golf to date and I'm definitely feeling more and more confident with my shots.
Photos by The Muni Golfer

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Rain is a Pain for Practice

Fishers Glen Driving Range
4717 Fishers Lane
Philadelphia, Pa

Despite the cold and drizzle I decided to head to Fishers Glen for some practice on the driving range. I especially wanted to hit my Nickent 3DX DC hybrids to get a better feel for them. Because of the weather--it felt more like early April than the day after Memorial Day--I only got a small bucket of approximately 40 balls. I was really surprised to see another golfer finishing up as I staked out my spot on the lower level of the range. I probably would have done better to stay home and watch The Golf Channel. I didn't hit the ball well and I didn't seem mentally prepared for this practice. I hit a few good shots, but mostly hit shots as bad as the weather. I'm just going to try to forget tonight's practice even happened.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Bird is the Word at Juniata

Juniata Golf Club
Philadelphia, Pa
Yards: 2735/2070 - 4680
Par: 34/31 - 65
Rating: 63.2, Slope: 106
Score: 49/47 = 96
Date: May 24, 2009

Memorial Day weekend found me playing my second round of the year at Juniata Golf Club. I thought I might be playing up in the Lehigh Valley while visiting family, but those plans fell through. So after a long drive back from Central New Jersey in the morning, I headed off to Juniata for my round. It was sunny and hot at the start of the day, but I had to wait for early afternoon showers to move through before I was able to tee off around 3:30 p.m. The sun was again shining brightly and the rain only served to move the humidity up a notch or two. I carried two new clubs in my bag for the round, both Nickent 3DX DC Ironwoods: one was a 15.5-degree 2+ hybrid, while the other was a 21.5-dgree 4+ hybrid. Both have a UST Proforce V-2 hybrid graphite shaft. They replaced my 7-wood and 4-iron for the round.

Juniata Scorecard -- Front 9

I played well for the first six holes, making pars at the 260-yard 2nd Hole and the 360-yard 5th Hole, both Par 4s. I was driving the ball better off the tee, but my irons and chipping were not as good as I would have liked. This was especially true at the 4th and 5th Holes, where I had short iron approach shots, only to come up woefully short of the green each time. At the 7th Hole, the wheels came off. I pushed my tee shot right into a small stand of trees on the right side of the fairway. With no shot to the green, my attempt at chipping back into the fairway hit a tree and cam straight back, leaving me with a longer chip back to the fairway. Once in the fairway, I pulled my fourth shot into the bunker to the left of the green, then blasted out over the green into the rough. I fluffed my chip--I'm now 7--then preceded to three-putt for a 10! I trudged to the 8th Hole, where the tees were all the way back, making this difficult Par 3 play at 200 yards. I hit a hybrid on a line off the tee and left my shot just over the cartpath in front of the green, 23 paces from the hole, just over the crest in the front of the green. I pulled out my sand wedge and chipped it up...two hops and into the hole...a birdie! What a turnaround from the last hole. I closed out the front nine by pulling my tee shot around the large tree just over the Tookany Creek that guards the left side of the 9th fairway and into some very deep rough. After I search, I took a drop and finished with a 7.

Juniata Scorecard -- Back 9

The back nine didn't start much better: a fat tee shot at the 10th, three pitches to get on and a three-putt for a triple-bogey 6. I hit a great tee shot at the 11th, but thinned my wedge approach over the green to the top of the bank behind. My second chip rolled off the front of the green and by the time I holed out, I had another triple-bogey. That was third straight triple! But I settled down at bit after that. The conversion of the 12th Hole into a Par 3 has taken some getting accustomed. Although it plays severely downhill, it seems each time I have played it so far the wind has been in my face. I three-putted the hole for a 5. At the 160-yard 13th, I came up just short of the green and two-putted for a 4. I nice drive, pitch and two putts gave me a par at the 14th, a short 240-yard Par 4. I three-putted the 130-yard 15th, mostly because I was trying to quickly get the water cooler just beyond the green before the maintenance person emptied it for the night. I made a 5 at the last three holes for a 47 on the back nine and a round of 96.

View of the 12th Hole from the tee as a Par 3

While I probably played more consistently last week at John F. Byrne Golf Club in much tougher conditions, I still feel my game is starting to come around. The birdie at the 7th Hole was a pleasant surprise and it always feels good to get the first one of the year. I just need to keep getting to the range and grooving my swing, and also sharpen my course management. If I do that, my game will be a s good as it was last season.
Photo by The Muni Golfer

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Season Opener: A Round at Byrne G.C.

John F. Byrne Golf Club
Philadelphia, Pa
Yards: 2273/2610 - 4883
Par: 33/34 - 67
Rating: 63.9, Slope: 105
Score: 45/48 = 93
Date: May 17, 2009

Feeling good with my swing following last Wednesday practice session at Fishers Glen Driving Range, I decided to really test the state of game with the first official round of the season at John F. Byrne Golf Club in Northeast Philadelphia. Byrne was designed by Alex Findley and formerly known as Holmesburg Country Club until it was bought by the City of Philadelphia in the 1960s. It is now managed for the City of Philadelphia by Billy Casper Golf. The course sits in a valley, with the Torresdale creek wandering through that comes into play on no less than eight holes. Many holes also feature severe elevation changes, rolling terrain and some tight fairways. With all of the rain we have endured this spring, the rough was as thick in many spots as you might experience at a U.S. Open. I payed $27 to walk 18 holes, and was able to use my Golf Philly Rewards Card.

The 4th Hole requires a precise tee shot

My round got off to an ominous start when I pushed my opening tee shot dead right and couldn't find the ball. After a drop in the rough and a poor third shot, I chipped my way to the fairway, then the green, before three-putting for an 8. Not the way I was hoping to start the season. But I came back with a good bogey at the 2nd Hole and made par at the 3rd, a short Par 4. The gray skies, very windy conditions and temperatures in the low 50s made it feel more like March than May, and shot selection was sometimes difficult; hit it too high and watch the wind knock your ball down or take it way left or right. The wind caused my tee shot to go left into the creek fronting the green at the downhill 6th Hole, and then I skulled the ball over the green on my third shot, but got up and down for a double bogey. I then made back-to-back pars at the 7th and 8th Holes, a Par 4 and Par 3 respectively. A chunked chip and then a three-putt led to a disappointing double-bogey at the uphill Par 4 9th Hole, and a score of 45 on the front nine. I was hitting the ball well in these tough conditions and my short game frequently saved me. I took that confidence to the 10th tee for the back nine.

John F. Byrne Scorecard

The first shot of the back nine was a bit better than the front nine, and I found myself with an approach shot from 101 yards in the middle of the fairway. Of course, I hit my second shot thin and over the green, then could do little as my flop shot rolled all the way to the front of green. I again three-putted for a 6, then took another 6 at the 11th, an uphill Par 3, when my 8-iron got knocked down by the wind short of the green. Despite the back-to-back 6's, I still was feeling pretty good as I stepped onto the tee at the 12th, a 516-yard Par 5. My Driver found the thick rough on the left side, just two paces off the fairway. I gouged a low running 6-iron down the fairway, where I was left with a 189-yard third shot. I then hit a wonderful 4-iron to 20 feet left of the hole and two-putted for another par. I again three-putted at the very short Par 3 13th Hole, then made back-to-back double-bogey 5's at the Par 3 14th and 15th Holes. My tee shot at the 16th, a 465-yard Par 5, went right but caught a three and would up in the middle of the fairway. I opted to give it a go for the green with my 3-wood, but topped it and was left with a 6-iron for my third shot. Unfortunately, I came over the top on the shot and hooked it waaaay left into the creek and took another double-bogey, this time a 7. The 17th Hole at Byrne always gives me fits. It's a 371-yard Par 4, with the creek running down the right side and narrowing the fairway as it angles in from the right. The tee shots calls for a fade, but my shot is a draw. Today, I hit it over the trees on the left into the 16th fairway. With about 170 yards to the green, I launched a 6-iron over the trees into the rough fronting the green. My chip wound up in the bunker on the left, but a popped it out and caught a slope in the green and my ball trickled to about a foot, which I tapped in for a 5. I closed with a 5 on the uphill, 338-yard Par 4 18th Hole, for a 48 on the back nine and a round of 93.

The 9th Green

I was really pleased with how I played today. Although I did hit a sporadic fade, my normal draw was very much in evidence. I was disappointed in my overall performance on the Par 3s; I need to hit more greens. My short game was good, but could still use some work. One area that needs improvement is my putting. I think instead of hitting the Driving Range this week, I will go to Juniata Golf Club and work on my putting. Overall, today was a solid round that will give me confidence to build on as the season moves forward.
Photos by The Muni Golfer

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Happy 2nd Birthday to The Muni Golfer!

Today marks two years since I began The Muni Golfer Blog. When I started this blog, it was just for something to do around my passion for golf. But it has become a part of me and my golf game. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who stops by to read The Muni Golfer, and to give a special "shout out" to those who leave me messages and words of encouragement. Thank you, and please keep checking back as I continue document my personal journey through this passion we all know and love--golf!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Range Ready

Fishers Glen Driving Range
4717 Fishers Lane
Philadelphia, Pa

Tonight I had my longest, and best, practice session at the driving range so far this season. I was anxious to work on my swing with the stronger grip, as I discovered on the golf course last Sunday. In tonight's practice, I wanted to continue hitting my draw, but I also wanted it to be meaning instead of just pounding ball after ball.
I bought a medium bucket of approximately 70 balls and set up at my usual spot on the end of of the lower level at Fishers Glen. To my surprise, there was actually one guy balls on the lower level this evening. As I was preparing to begin, he quit and approached to offer me the remainder of his bucket, which was about 30 golf balls. I accepted his generous offer.
After stretching and taking several swings with my Speed Stik to warm up, I began by hitting 10 balls with my 56-degree sand wedge. Also used my alignment sticks, which I bought last weekend at Lowe's, to help me set up with a closed stance to better hit a draw. I proceeded to work my way up through my bag, hitting 10 balls every other club through the 5-iron. I then hit my 4-iron, hybrid and the two drivers I brought with me (I skipped my 4-wood tonight).

I hit the following clubs:
10 - 56-degree sand wedges
10 - attack wedges
10 - 9-irons
10 - 7-irons
10 - 5-irons
10 - 4-irons
10 - 4-irons off a tee
10 - hybrids
10 - TaylorMade 360XD Drivers
10 - TaylorMade Burner 07 Drivers
100 Total balls hit

I made sure that I had a strong right hand grip each time I stepped up to hit a shot. This helped me produce a straight shot or draw on about 95 percent of the shots I hit tonight. I also took my time, stepping off the map, stretching or checking my takeaway between each shot. In total, I hit 100 balls in approximately an hour-and-a-half. My swing felt the best it has so far and the shape of my shots was one of which I am more familiar and more confident.
As you can see, I tested two TaylorMade Drivers tonight: a 44-inch R360XD and a 45-inch Burner 07. I didn't hit the R360XD that bad, but I hit the Burner longer and straighter. I think the Burner will remain in my bag for right now.
Photos by The Muni Golfer

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's All in the Grip

Juniata Golf Club
Philadelphia, Pa
Yards: 2735/2070 - 4680
Par: 34/31 - 65
Rating: 63.2, Slope: 106
Score: Practice Round
Date: May 10, 2009

Sunday afternoon found me at Juniata Golf Club for my final tune up of the spring. Buoyed by my practice at the driving range last Wednesday, I expected this to be a good round. And it started that way with par at the 1st Hole. But a topped tee shot at the 2nd Hole quickly brought doubt back into my already fragile golf psyche. I plodded through the first six holes playing with the dreaded--and ever puzzling--fade. At the 7th Hole I decided that for the rest of the round I was going to rid my mind of all swing thoughts and try to do just one thing--hit a draw. And then it happened! Like the thunderbolt out of the sky or that light bulb suddenly going off inside your head. The problem was in my grip! Yes, my grip. I have always had a strong right handed grip on the club, which produced a right-to-left ball flight or draw. But it seems I had begun rotating my right hand to a neutral grip which was causing me to cut across the ball, producing a left-to-right ball flight of fade. Suddenly, with the stronger grip, I was turning my body better, striking the ball better, and hitting my reliable old draw. What a great feeling it was! And that confident feeling began to quickly invade other aspects of my game. My chips and pitches were better. Tee shots were better. I could feel my game returning. I still played a few erratic shots and holes, but on the whole, I left the course with the best feeling I've had so far this season. I can't wait to get to the driving range this week and bolster that confidence.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dinner at Island Green Country Club

Island Green Country Club
1 Red Lion Road
Philadelphia, Pa 19115

My wife and I have often driven past Island Green Country Club in Northeast Philadelphia and my wife has mentioned on several occasions that she would like to try dinner there sometime. So tonight, while driving past on our way to do errands, we decided to try dinner in the Grill & Pub at Island Green. Island Green, built in the 1990s on the site of the old Budd Plant, bills itself as "a full service, family oriented public country club conceived to enhance the quality of the lives of each of its guests." While I have played the golf course at Island Green about a half-dozen times, I had never eaten a anything more there than a burger at the bar following a round. My wife and I were pleasantly surprised by the selections on the dinner menu. She had the crab cakes, while I had the rib-eye steak. We each started with a cup of cream of potato soup, which unlike a lot of soups was not on the salty side. It had a nice texture; it wasn't too thick or too thin. Our meals came with a nice salad that included baby romaine, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and a balsamic vinegarette dressing. Along with our entres, we had roasted red bliss potatoes that were nicely seasoned and grilled zucchini and red peppers. Neither of us had an alcoholic beverage, but we did have soft drinks. The service by our host Tim was prompt and pleasant. The bill, with tip, came to $60. If you are looking for a nice place to dine, yet has a casual, relaxed atmosphere, I would strongly recommend the Grill & Pub at Island Green Country Club.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Is the Practice Paying Off?

Fishers Glen Driving Range
4717 Fishers Lane
Philadelphia, Pa

Without the washout of my practice round in Bethlehem on Sunday, tonight's session at Fishers Glen took on added significance. My one and only swing thought tonight was my takeaway--to make sure that I started by moving the club with my arms instead of with my hands. This seemed to slow my swing down and caused me to pause slightly at the top of my swing. It also seemed to allow me to hit the ball the best I've hit it so far this year. I was striking the ball crisply and getting good distance. It is the best I've felt confidence wise so far.

Working on my swing at Fishers Glen

My bag was reloaded with a lot of my old TaylorMade clubs, which I think may have provided me a comfort factor going into my practice session. I bought a medium bucket tonight, which is around 70 balls, for $7. After some stretching, I started out warming with my 53-degree gap wedge, then proceeded to work my way up through the bag as follows:

10 - 53-degree wedges
10 - Pitching wedges
10 - 8-irons
10 - 6-irons
10 - 4-irons
6 - Hybrids
6 - 4-woods
12 - Drivers
74 - Total balls hit

While this was the best ball-striking I've had this year, the only thing that still has me a bit puzzled is that I'm hitting the ball with a slight fade. This is really confusing to me since I have traditionally hit with a draw. I think what I need to do is start playing for the fade and see if my draw returns. If it does, I'll just adjust my game accordingly.

Following through on another swing
Photos by The Muni Golfer

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Practice is a Washout

My wife and I went to Easton, Pa. this weekend for a family function. I was hoping to play a practice round today at Bethlehem Golf Club's Executive Course, but Mother Nature didn't cooperate. That means getting to the Driving Range this week will be even more critical as I continue to fine tune my game for this season.