The U.S. Open 2017

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I was at the beach with my wife and we were talking about her schedule for the upcoming month. She told me that she had a layover in Madison, WI on June 17th but she was going to try to swap another employee for a different trip. The wheels in my head immediately started turning knowing the U.S. Open was in Wisconsin this year. I immediately googled how far of a drive it was from Madison to Erin Hills- just a little over an hour. Next I looked to see if I could even get a ticket to the U.S. Open. I checked out the USGA main page and saw that I could still get a one-day gallery pass. This plan was coming together pretty easily. I went ahead and bought a ticket- 142 bucks after taxes and convenience fees. All I had to do was book a hotel and a rental car for the weekend and my plans would be set, assuming that there was an open seat on an ATL-MSN flight.

I had thought about going to the U.S. Open before I found out my wife had a layover but it was never a serious consideration until I knew I had a guaranteed hotel room Saturday night with her. I knew I could fly to Milwaukee or Madison but once she had a Madison layover on her schedule, the decision was made for me. I looked for a Hyatt near Madison so that I could transfer some credit card rewards points from Chase to my Hyatt account. The Hyatt Downtown Madison was available for 8k points so I booked it straight away. Next was a rental car, which cost me 55 bucks for the weekend. So far I had a ticket to the U.S. Open, a hotel room in Madison booked, and a rental car for the weekend and had only racked up a tab of 200 dollars. For this plan to fall into place, I still had to make my flight on June 16th or risk losing 200 dollare as none of my reservations were refundable.

The entire week leading up the tournament had me glued to the weather app on my phone. It was calling for storms in the beginning of the week and severe storms on Saturday, my only day. I probably checked it 15-20 times a day to see if it was going to change. On Thursday night, I packed my raincoat and got my head right for spending all Saturday with wet clothes and soggy shoes. I had the same experience when I was soaked at Royal Troon in Scotland for the better part of the day, so I felt like a seasoned spectator. I also already made up my mind to go straight to the merchandise tent to buy an umbrella to help stay somewhat dry while walking the course. A club level ticket would be really nice if it started raining but those were completely sold out (I’m not sure I could have pulled the trigger for $295 anyways). All I could do was pray that it was only rain and not the severe storms they were calling for. After all, I had already been rained out of the first major of the year.

Friday came and I was packed up and ready to leave straight from work. I left work around 5:45 and headed to the airport. It would take me about an hour to get the airport, which would get me there in plenty of time to enjoy a few drinks in the Sky Lounge before my 9:40 flight.

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It’s hard to beat free Sweetwater draft beer and free Wi-Fi. I got some snacks and a beer and put the remaining coverage of the U.S. Open on my iPad. I was a little bummed to see the players that wouldn’t be around for the weekend. I always enjoy watching the big hitters play and I knew at least three of them would be there (Jason Day, Rory, and DJ). The time came to head to the gate and hopefully get a seat assignment. The flight turned out to be pretty empty and I was given the last seat in first class- always a bonus. Jack and Coke zero is my go- to on the plane, so I enjoyed one of those as I made my way to Wisconsin.

I landed and went to pick up the rental and head to the hotel to check in. Once in my room, I went over my itinerary for the morning drive. I checked my GPS to see how long it would take me to get to the parking lot and figured out what time I needed to leave by. I set the alarm for 7:00 and went to sleep- not before checking the weather one last time. 60% chance of storms all day long, typical…

I woke up and left Madison around 7:30 after having some breakfast, complimentary at the Hyatt Place. It took me around 40 minutes to get to the parking lot where I would get on the bus to ride out to the course. The traffic into the lot was backed up further than I anticipated. It ended up taking me almost an hour to drive 1 mile into the lot. I then had to stand in a 30-minute line to go through security and to get onto the charter buses. Once I was on board, I sat next to a patron that had a weekly pass and got some tips about seeing the course. He first told me to check out the American Express tent to pick up the earpieces they were giving out which allowed you to listen to what was going on around the course. He also highly recommended on the club level tents where the drinks and food were included….I unfortunately only purchased a daily gallery ticket. When I bought my ticket, all the hospitality tickets were sold out anyways, but if I were going for more than one day I could definitely see the value in purchasing a more expensive ticket.

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Finally, we pulled up to the venue and I headed to will call. I purchased my ticket too late to have it shipped to me but was able to get my ticket at the booth without any complications. I passed the spectator area where the sponsor’s tents and the merchandise shop were located as I was pretty eager to get to the course.

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The walk from the entrance towards the course

The course is a long walk from the entrance and the amount of people who were already there was astounding. I immediately grabbed a tee sheet and headed up the first fairway.

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View down the 1st fairway

The first fairway was very crowded, so after a photo down the 1st fairway, I opted to make my way to the second fairway. I would have liked to go behind the 2nd tee but it was tucked away where spectators could not go. After seeing the first two holes, I could immediately tell this was unlike any other course that I had seen in America. I know there are links style courses around the country but there aren’t any that I know of around metro Atlanta. I know that the designers don’t consider this a “links style” course but with tall grass where the fairways end paired with a lack of water and tree, it’s pretty dang close to a links course.

I walked down to the third fairway and onto the 4th where I caught up with Patrick Reeds group. I crossed over the 4th fairway and made my way up to the 4th green where I could watch a few groups hit approach shots and putt. I have found that one of may favorite things to do at tournaments is crossing the fairway because you have the opportunity to look down the hole and experience it the same way at the pros. I always try to take a quick picture but it rarely turns out, as was the case this time. There was a hill on the backside of the 4th green that I found to be one of the better spots on the course to watch players come through.

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View down the 3rd Faiway

I crossed back over the 4th to grab a beer from the concession stands. The food and beverage prices were more expensive than the Masters but that should be expected considering the Masters is notorious for keeping their prices low. I grabbed a lite beer for 7 bucks and a burger for 10- reasonable for any sporting event. I went from the 4th hole over to the backside and bounced back and forth between 14 and 17 watching different groups come through. I stayed there for a long time before heading up towards number 10 and eventually out to the merchandise tent before leaving.

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View down the 10th fairway from behind the tee box

The merchandise tent did not disappoint. I wanted to get a pullover with the U.S. Open logo but in the end I settled on a hat and a flag. So far I have been able to get a hat from every major except the PGA Championship, but if all goes to plan that will change this year when I got to Quail Hallow.

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Overall, this spur of the moment trip was everything I could have hoped for. The rain held off and all of my standby flights went flawlessly. One major takeaway that I learned from this experience is that it is more fun to watch golf with your buddies. It’s definitely different sending pictures of the course to your friends, instead of discussing the course in person. All that being said, it still more fun to experience a golf tournament than not go at all.

 

The Masters 2017

It goes without saying that a Masters badge is one of the most coveted tickets in all of sports. I was fortunate enough to have a friend selected in the lottery for Monday’s practice round of the 2017 Masters. Growing up, I was able to attend 5 or 6 Masters tournaments from about 4th grade through middle school. My father would go to the Masters every year on Sunday and in 1999 he took the whole family. Taking a family of 4 to the Masters in 2017 would cost a pretty penny. In 1999, we were given 2 tickets and were able to scalp 2 tickets for face value (about a 100 bucks a piece). Today, the going rate for a Sunday ticket is upwards of $1500. I was lucky to be able to go to the Masters so many years in a row but I know that as a young boy I was not able to fully appreciate the course or the experience. Golf has become a passion for me over the last few years and I was pumped to be going back to Augusta again.

We decided to go to Augusta on Sunday to make sure we could get to Augusta National when it first opened. We knew the forecast was not looking promising so we wanted to be able to see as much of the course as possible. With a few weeks to go before the tournament, we made the decision to go early Sunday morning and play golf in Augusta. There are several courses in the Augusta area and we were able to get a morning tee time fairly easy. We settled on Pointe South Golf Club, which is about 20 miles south of Augusta National. We chose this course simply because of the price. Our morning greens fee was around 60 bucks and then a replay rate of $20 for our second round. Some of the nicer course in Augusta can go for $2400 per foursome during Masters week, so this was an easy decision. Pointe South proved to be the perfect way to spend a Sunday with the anticipation of what was coming tomorrow.

We booked the Hyatt Place hotel a few exits down I-20 from where Augusta National is located. My buddy Ryan is a credit card rewards points guru and was able to book our hotel for 8,000 Hyatt points. The hotel we stayed in was going for $900 dollars a night during Masters week, so the rewards points were a nice way to cut some costs (look out for future posts about credit card rewards travel).

We woke up early on Monday and drove to the course immediately to try to get as much time inside the gates. We went in through the Washington Road entrance and walked in by the practice facility. The first thing I noticed was how perfect the grass in the practice facility was. Everything was immaculate and untouched. The spectator areas along the sides of the practice range would be trampled come Sunday, but on Monday everything was still fresh and in perfect condition.

We decided to go straight to the merchandise store to get what gear we had already obsessed over. I went with a white/blue Masters hat and a navy blue Masters logo pullover. It was hard not to grab everything in site knowing that it could be years before I returned again, but I was able to contain myself. Looking back, the only things I wish I had bought were some Masters ball markers. Maybe I’ll get lucky and be chosen in the lottery for 2018 and I can pick some up!

It took us 45 minutes to get out of the merchandise tent after waiting in line and checking out. While we were in the store, we experienced the first downpour…it wouldn’t be the last. We checked our gear and headed out onto the course. We came up to the crosswalk for the first fairway and all four of our jaws hit the grass. We were all awe struck and ready to see the course. If you ever listen to someone talk about their first time at Augusta National, they always talk about the changes in elevation that the TV cameras aren’t able to capture. Not to follow in all the footsteps of those testimonies, but it really is insane how much elevation change there is on that course. We crossed over the first fairway and into a large gallery area next to the 18th fairway. The gallery area was absolute perfection- nicer than any fairway on any course I’ve ever played. As I said before, it would be trampled on Sunday but it was still freshly cut, as it was the first day with spectators. We made our way to the first food and beverage stand for the first beer… time to start the famous Masters cup collection. With a fresh beverage in hand, it was time to find some players who were out early. We made our way to the 18th tee box so we could get a view down the shoot towards the fairway. We chatted with one of the volunteers who said that Jason Day, Sandy Lyle, and Yuta Ikeda were approaching the 17th green and would be on the 18th tee box shortly. We elected to stay put as we were right on the rope behind the tee box and would be able to watch one of the biggest hitters in golf launch a drive down the famous 18th hole. The group made it to the 18th and Jason Day walked to the far end where we were standing and was close enough that I could have reached out and touched him (I didn’t). He crushed a monster drive right down the middle that left everyone in awe. On a side note, I was watching Live from the Masters the next morning and saw Ryan and I on TV during the piece they did about Jason Day. He would be the biggest name we saw that day but we felt fortunate to get some action so early.

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This is Ryan and I on either side of Sandy Lyle. I am in the blue hat.

From the 18th we went around to the 10th green, walked down the fairway a little bit to see where Bubba hit his hook around the tree during the playoff. Standing down there makes you realize what an impossible shot that was. We walked down the back nine around to Amen corner and sat in the grandstands (after replenishing our beers- green cup this time) to watch a few groups come through the famous par 3. We were able to see JB Holmes put one in tight. At this point, we experienced our first downpour. We had one umbrella in the group of four so we huddled under it together and grew a little bit closer that day. The rain was short-lived for the time being and we wound up at 16, the short par 3 where Kuchar had an ace on Sunday. This is a famous hole during the practice round because the pros hit their tee shots, then walk to the waters edge and try to skip a ball across the water up onto the green. We saw several groups go through, the last guy being Francesco Molinari who has been on the top of several leaderboards within the last few months. After he hit, we heard the worst sound imaginable at Augusta. The officials sounded the siren and came over the speakers saying that the facility had to be emptied due to inclement weather. We were disappointed but our disappointment would grow by the time we made it to the line for our merchandise we so brilliantly decided to check with every other patron that day. We stood in line for over an hour trying to get our checked bags. Eventually they would close the merchandise store and transfer the line for checked bags inside thanks to the storm overhead. By the time we had our purchases in hand, the storm had passed and the sun started to poke out. Unfortunately, the volunteers were still directing us towards the exits. Once we made it to the exit the sun was back out with blue-sky overhead- an uplifting moment on the day. We stopped and talked with a police officer and asked if they were going to open the course back up. He wouldn’t say yes or no but told us it would be in our best interest to wait outside the gate for a while- just in case. We stood outside for 30 minutes or so and would eventually be allowed to reenter. We new that storms were in the area but were unable to follow the radar because of the no cell phone rule. We decided we needed another beer, shocker I know, and headed to the practice putting green near the clubhouse. We watched the great Bernhard Langer drain a few 40 footer and tried to head to the practice range after hearing it was full of players trying to get some practice in before the next line of storms hit. We made it to Magnolia Lane and were able to look down the world famous drive just in time for the siren to sound one final time. The announcement was made that the course would be closed for the remained of the day- a dagger in our hearts.

It was definitely disappointing that we didn’t get a full day at Augusta National but I didn’t walk away with a bad taste in my mouth. I was able to go the most gorgeous golf course in the world and had the thrill of watching the Masters that week knowing I had been there just days before. I would watch that tournament in its entirety feeling like I had little more knowledge of the course. As I stated before, I had been when I was younger but this trip was different for me. My passion for the sport grew that day and I only look forward to the next time I get to walk the grounds at Augusta.

 

One final note- the final cup count was 4. 2 green and 2 clear. I can only imagine the collection I would have if I had a full day…

Par Hopping

With the ridiculous amount of information on the Internet in 2017, why would someone create a blog about golf? Well… the thought has been something that has been stewing in my head for the last several months.

Like many golf enthusiasts, I inherited the golfing bug from my father. I grew up in a town in Georgia that was built around three golf courses. Our secondary mode of transportation was a golf cart, which dubbed us the “Golf Cart Capital of the World.” Needless to say, I spent every day during my childhood summers at the local golf course.

Eventually, playing baseball took over my summers while in high school and college, but I always worked to squeeze in the late afternoon round that ended at dusk. Unfortunately, golf was put on the back burner when I went to grad school in 2012. Luckily, that would all change in 2016…

My baseball teammate (and college roommate) invited me to Biloxi, Mississippi with his father-in-law and golfing buddies for a guy’s weekend. We played 36 holes a day for three days straight along with some gambling at the tables at night. It was the first time I had been on a “golfing trip.” That weekend changed the way I viewed golf. It was no longer just hitting balls outside on a summer day; it was friendship, beer, memories and community. It was the understanding that golf is carried through generations and countries. It was the desire to learn more and see more; And it was the realization that I had the ability to do just that.

You see, traveling the world to see everything golf has to offer would prove difficult for your average golf enthusiast. However, my wonderful wife has put me in a unique situation that places the world at my fingertips (mostly). My wife is a Flight Attendant for a major carrier, which allows me to fly standby to almost anywhere in the world. As an added bonus, my baseball teammate who took me to Biloxi is ALSO married to a Flight Attendant for the same airline.

Last year, our travel privileges carried us to Royal Troon in 2016 for the The Open Championship. Those travel benefits will also get us to Royal Birkdale next month for the 2017 Open Championship (more posts to follow about trip planning). After going to the Open in 2016, I have decided to take my passion for golf a step further.

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Royal Troon 2016

I’m just a guy from a small town in Georgia that is overwhelmed by this ability to travel the world to enjoy my hobby. My goal with Par Hopping is to take you with me on my journey to experience everything golf has to offer. I hope to show you first hand experiences of my travels around the world, but mostly I hope to inspire you to go out and experience it for yourself.