RSG-Ohio  2008

Dave Tutelman -- September 15, 2008

(Click on the thumbnails to view the full-size pictures.)

Thor does it again!
Not only did he host a great RSG-Ohio -- again -- but managed to vanquish some of the worst weather ever to threaten a Schmajor.

I just got back from Ohio yesterday. OK, technically it was today; it was 1:00am, but let's not quibble. I'm tired, aching, and happy. All golfed out -- well, at least until Wednesday morning.

When I left, I was hoping the weather would allow us to play at least a round or two -- the forecast was that bad. Every night when I called home, my wife said, "I was watching the weather channel. You didn't play today, did you?" After I assured her we got in all the golf, she followed with, "Well, you're certainly not playing tomorrow." Hey, we have Thor on our side. We played all 81 scheduled holes, only two in really serious rain. Probably fewer than a dozen in any kind of drizzle. And sun-block was called for starting during Saturday's morning round.

The huge rain dregs from Hurricane Ike in the Gulf were being sucked north up the great plains and then blown east by the jet stream. Every day the forecast for Ohio was wet, wet, wet. And, oh yeah, windy. At least the weather forecasts got the wind right; Sunday was an impressively windy round of golf. Those who flew to the event had lots of trouble finding a return flight that was not cancelled. Mostl had to stay overnight and work their way home today. Those who drove reported gusts over 60mph on the return drive. And those who stayed in Columbus were repairing wind damage. For instance, Thor e-mailed us,
Glad everyone is making it home safe. I was scared thinking
about all of you getting on planes! It was bad enough looking
out the window and watching tree branches smash into my house.

-- Thor "Cleanup Time" Himself
But the Thor magic we have come to count on worked during the hours on the golf course. Yes, the courses were playing wet, soft, and very long with no roll at all. (More than one of my 5-wood shots backed up upon landing.) Yes, we needed dry shoes and socks as soon as we got off the course. Yes, none of us (except perhaps Thor) believed on Saturday during the drive to the course that we would have any golf time at all. And yes, we did get a hard, soaking rain for two holes Friday morning. But -- bottom line -- we played all our golf and had a great time at it.

The Gang

After Match Play Madness, we got one of the clubhouse employees at Clover Valley to snap a picture of the group -- or at least as much of the group as hadn't left for the parking lot already.

And here's a photo-montage of what RSG-Ohio is really about: Thor surrounded by his friends at a golf course.
(DaveT montage using Thor's photos.)

The People


Guy Cooper is my oldest in-person RSG buddy. We met at his RSG-Hershey back in 1995. But that's not the reason we have to travel and room together. As everybody probably knows by now,
  • I am a compulsive punctual.
  • Coops is not. Left to his own devices, he will show up thirty seconds before the group's last tee time.
So I'm the on-time cop. My job is to see to it that Coops gets there on time.

They say that the older you get, the more you become like yourself. I suppose we're suffering from that now. I am more antsy than ever about punctuality. Coops misses times with greater regularity. If I didn't enjoy his company so much, one of these years...

Another Coops story. My home state has a law against using a hand-held cell phone while driving. I support that law; cell phones are a major distraction -- and dealing with the user interface is even more distracting than just holding the phone and talking. So, on the drive home, Coops (at the wheel) spends ten minutes composing a text message on his cell phone -- at 65mph on the Interstate. About a minute into this activity, he says, "In the glove box is a pair of reading glasses. Could you please hand them to me." And he wore them while he finished the message.

Papa Pflum and Roger Georg

When I go to an RSG event, I'm usually the oldest one there. And I've been going to RSG events for 14 years. I'm a lot older now than when I started, so it should be more likely that I'm the oldest. But not this RSG-Ohio. Jack Pflum is spotting me five years, and Roger Georg a year. Not only that, but both of them were at the event with their sons -- with whom I've been playing golf for years. (In the case of Mark Georg, Roger's son, we first played together over a dozen years ago.)

But I wasn't even the third oldest in the field. That distinction belongs to...

Kern Singh

Kern is a very calm, smart, take-charge guy. He is never flustered, and always willing to tell you what you need to do. I played in his foursome in Match Play Madness Saturday afternoon, where he proved that it is possible to understand the gemme intellectually, but you don't really know it until you play it several times. A few things he did during the nine-hole match:
  • At one point, he conceded a putt to my opponent.
  • When I was reviewing the state of the matches on the second tee, he said, "Don't worry, I have a scorecard and I'm writing it all down."
  • Best of all... We had just gotten to the first green, and Kern said sternly to my opponent, Matt Brophy, "Remember, you cannot mark your ball. Just leave it there and don't touch it." While Kern was saying this, he was mentally on autopilot -- marking his ball, picking it up, and wiping it off.

Kelly feeding Taylor.
Reed waits his turn.

Kelly Newell

If you've met Kelly Newell, you wouldn't put the adjective "domestic" in the same paragraph with her name. She's ribald, irreverent, and as naughty as she can get away with.

Well, she's a mommy now. Twice -- she's got twins. Here's Kelly at the usually raucous Saturday night dinner at Hoggy's. And you're seeing a Kelly you've never even imagined before. But she's only on best behavior when the twins are around. Otherwise, she's the same rowdy we know and love.

Matt Brophy

Matt and Fred

Matt's first RSG event was a decade ago, when he was fourteen. He is Fred Stluka's nephew, and Fred brought him along on the 1998 RSG Pinehurst trip. He slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of our hotel room, and spent most of the weekend caddying for Fred and Thor. But he did play a little golf, too. The first golf I ever played with Matt was at Pine Needles, one of my favorite courses ever -- and Matt played it before he was even fifteen. Which brings us to...

Meryl Freeman

I never met, nor even heard of, Meryl until this trip. Turns out she, like me, was born in the Bronx. The other side of the Bronx though, so we have nothing in common. Today she finds herself living in North Carolina. And her all-time favorite course is ... Pine Needles. So I guess we do have something in common.

When Meryl said she lived near Raleigh, I took a hot guess at Cary, a big residential suburb. Got it! I mentioned that Terry Easton and I had stopped there for lunch several times on trips between the Raleigh-Durham airport and Pinehurst. We always made it a point to eat at Gypsy's Shiny Diner. Meryl screeched, "Gypsy's Shiny Diner?!?!? I ate breakfast there once. I'll never go there again."

Pine Needles. Gypsy's Shiny Diner. One out of two ain't too bad.

The Golf

Friday AM - Kyber Run

It was already drizzling when we left the motel for breakfast; no good could come of this. But, once we pulled into the Kyber Run parking lot and saw people arriving and unpacking, we noticed that the rain had mostly stopped. We said our hellos, many to friends we hadn't seen since last September.

I played with Thor, Phil Chapekis, and Roger Georg. We were the first group off; in fact, I hit the first shot of RSG-Ohio 2008. We got through two holes and, as we walked to the third tee, the light barely-drizzle increased to a substantial rain. After we teed off, it rained even harder -- very hard, in fact. I hit my second shot by dashing out from under my umbrella (my Speed Cart has a built-in umbrella stand), hitting it with no practice swing, and dashing back to the shelter of the umbrella. In spite of that, it was a pretty good shot just short of the green. Once we were on the green, putting was a joke. The green was covered with puddles, especially around the hole. We each took one whack at the ball (which naturally failed to get to the hole), and picked up.

When there's enough rain to
drip off the bill of the cap
when I address the ball,
it's rally-cap time.
(Thor photo)

By the time we got to the fourth tee it was still raining pretty hard, though not the deluge it had been while we played the third hole. This hole is a 175-yard par-3 with water from tee to green, trees left and right, and nowhere to bail. You fly it onto the green or lose the ball. Given the rain, I was surprised I managed to focus well enough -- but I put it deep on the green. When we got to the very wet green, Thor bet Phil and me that neither of us could get it to the hole. He was right. No matter how hard you hit the putt, it was going to stop short of the hole in the deep puddles around the hole. Maybe if I used a wedge instead of a putter... (That reminds me of a Bill-PA story from RSG-Hershey.)

A couple of holes later, I started some silliness that lasted the rest of the round. My ball walked on water. Not just once. Four times!
  1. The seventh hole has a pond that the tee shot must carry. Or not! My skulled drive splashed twice before climbing the bank and rolling at least 20 yards up the fairway.
  2. The par-5 twelfth hole has a pond in front of the green. My approach came up short, and looked to be wet for sure. It landed just short of the pond. Still sure to be wet, because the soggy course was not giving a lot of bounce. But this one got enough bounce to clear the pond and roll onto the green. (And off the back a bit, unfortunately. But I don't want to complain; after that bounce, it would really piss off the golf gods.)
  3. The par-3 fourteenth crosses a small creek; you probably didn't even notice it. I didn't until my slightly short tee shot headed straight for it. It landed in the middle. But no splash, a "bonk" instead. It hit a rock in the creek, and bounced straight to the other side.
  4. I know you didn't notice the pond off the eighteenth tee; it would take a really bad shot to bring it into play. I hit a really bad shot. It skipped on the pond and then climbed out on the other side -- far enough so I had a good lie and stance for my next shot. I played the rest of the hole well enough that I almost made my birdie putt.

Thor's a big guy, we know.
But removing and replacing
Kyber's short flagsticks.
made him feel even bigger.
(Thor photo)

(I did it once more that day, in the afternoon at the New Albany Links. The crazy twelfth hole has a green-front pond that is in play if you approach from the left side of the fairway. I did, landed in the pond, and skipped up close enough for a chip-and-a-putt for par. I think the golf gods were messin' with me that day.)

After the sixth hole or so, Phil really found his game. In addition to better shotmaking than he started with, he began making chip-ins and putts from everywhere. And Thor was reducing his handicap for The Main Event every time he did. I think Phil was down to a seven or so by the end of the round. (Perhaps we should start calling him "Mr. Seven".)

I love Kyber Run! It isn't as "polished" as the other courses we played, but it's a challenge with a lot of variety from hole to hole. In that regard, it reminds me of Stoughton Acres, one of our favorite Pittsburgh courses. And, like Stoughton, Kyber is a family-owned and -run course with a very modest greens fee. There are three wonderful, challenging par-4 holes on the back nine: 13, 15, and 16. Well, #15 says par-4 on the scorecard, but it's closer to a five. The others can be reached in two, even by this old guy, but it takes two solid, well-placed shots to do it. The first time I played here, I hated these holes; now that I understand them, I love them.

Friday PM - New Albany Links

Meryl Freeman discovers
the joys of a residential
golf course.
(Thor photo)

This is my third time playing New Albany Links. I hope it's my last. I suspect it's a pretty nice course, if I could only get past a few fatal flaws. One is the long carries to the fairway. Even from the whites, there are quite a few holes where an OK but not great drive down the middle will be a lost ball. Ouch!

But far troubling for me is that the Links is a residential course, and carries the ills of that curse. Worst of these is the long green-to-tee walks. I'm sure I walked 27 holes to play 18. The course was designed for cart golf, not walking golf.

I played the front nine with the big hitters: Sparky, Tex, and Wee Mon. They played from the blues (6600yd) and I played from the whites (6200yd). Even with the difference in tees, I was still nowhere near their drives on most holes; the only way I reached their grouping was a big drive on my part, and a fairway wood off the tee for them. (It did happen a few times; the course is tricky and often calls for placement rather than power.)

Speaking of power, Sparky was fun to watch. Except that he got a little spooked on the second hole. It is over 400 yards from the blue tees, with a bunker on the corner of the dogleg left. The bunker was not in play for me from the whites, not even close. But Sparky and Patrick cleared it with ease. In fact, Sparky's drive was so long it was lost in the creek in front of the green; the drive was well over 300 yards and exactly where he aimed it, but ended badly.

After the turn, we had a long wait on the tenth tee. (We had been waiting on the group ahead on almost every hole.) The threesome behind us caught up and waited with us. They were playing the white tees, and asked if I wanted to join them to streamline things. I was having a good time with Tex, Sparky, and Patrick, but was starting to feel a little overwhelmed and holding them up. (The latter was impossible, since we were always waiting anyway. But that's what it felt like.) So I accepted their offer and joined Roger (that's twice in one day), Kern Singh, and Gary Hayenga. Hey, Gary, you're the youngest in the group by a mile.

I felt that I played better on the back nine, but it was only by one stroke. I parred more holes and didn't lose any balls on this nine, which is probably why it felt better. But I had enough blowup holes to keep the score pretty similar. Kern's game is interesting. He hits it very reliably, very straight, and does not give up much distance at all. He has a short swing, but it is very sound and repeatable. I'm impressed.

Debazon and Meryl.
In case you're wondering, the
name tags say, "Thor's Whores"
(Thor photo)

Debazon and Meryl deliver
the prize to the winners.
(Thor photo)

The first foursome had an interesting beer match going. Thor and Scott Newell played a better-ball against Debazon and Meryl. They all played from the red tees, and Thor and Scott were limited to four clubs. (I don't know which four clubs they decided to carry. I'm guessing Thor took a putter, a wedge of some sort, a 7-iron, and a 5-wood.) Since it was a beer match, Thor's team won. Naturally!

Saturday AM - Clover Valley, The Main Event

In real life, Meryl is a golf-
specialty physical therapist.
Here she give Neal Bell a
flexibility lesson.
(Thor photo)

When we woke up, nobody was giving odds that we would play even one hole on Saturday. Going into and out of MacDonalds for breakfast, it was a deluge. The windshield wipers were at double-speed all the way to the golf course. Then something happened. The rain stopped!

No more rain for the entire weekend! By the middle of the morning front nine, Fred was applying sunblock. (No, I am not tan. That's rust.) The tournament round teed off only a few minutes behind schedule, giving the grounds crew and a few early foursomes their necessary head start. The greens were receptive and perhaps a bit slow, but much more true and predictable than you'd guess knowing the rain they took the past few hours and days.

Thor and Jacob Collard

I played the tournament round with Pflagstick, Pfred -- whoops, that's Fred -- and Jacob Collard (Thor's fourteen-year-old son). It was a fun group. By the third hole, none of us harbored any illusions about winning, so we could settle down to just enjoy the golf.

Speaking of the third hole, we collectively hit seven tee shots. Jacob hit the green of the par-3 and I was chipping from the fringe. But Fred and John had hit dangerously close to the woods on the left and hit provisional balls. Fred hit a second provisionals when his first "pro" was lefter than his original tee shot. As it worked out, both first balls were found. (Fred lost his first provisional, though.) The bad news was that Fred found his first ball -- well, John found it for him -- in the woods in a lot of poison ivy. Fred decided to play it rather than take an unplayable. That was [probably excessively] brave because:

Thor displays the fabled
Coffeemaker Trophy. The
Quaich is lower right.

  • It was a tangled mess. It took him a few strokes to actually get out of the woods.
  • If you've played with Fred recently, you know he plays in open sandals and no socks. And that was poison ivy. He was fine though; guess he got away with it.
On the fifth hole, I hit my ball into the tall grasses on the right, but John found it and I hit it -- a sand wedge back to the fairway, and about 60 yards closer to the hole. Probably saved me at least a stroke. ... Which I sorely needed. I had four pars, which is about what you expect when your course handicap is 15. But unfortunately I also had seven double bogeys, so I didn't shoot anywhere near my handicap, and was three over bogey. Not good scoring, but a round well worth having played. The company was great and I love the course.

My putting has been pretty good since I switched to left hand low a few weeks ago. This round confirmed it, because I had to hole everything out. Only one three-putt, and that was sheer inattentive carelessness. I had a five-foot par putt, which I just barely missed; it caught the lip and finished inside a foot from the cup. Rather than set up and putt it like I was serious about it -- as I had with all my other short second putts -- I just stabbed at it, and of course missed.

Fred had a classic PBFU. (Don't know what a PBFU is? I won't tell you, but read on, think about it, or ask someone.) He birdied the fifteenth hole beautifully: a long drive in the middle of the fairway, a short iron to a foot and a half, and a tap-in. On the next tee, he dead-topped his drive into the tall grass between the tee boxes and the fairway. We found his ball, and he decided to hit it rather than declare it unplayable. Probably reasonable, because the lie wasn't all that bad; I wedged out of a worse lie back on #5. But John and I could only stare and shrug as Fred pulled out a fairway wood, not a wedge. He was lucky to move the ball, and even luckier to move it to a better lie (though just a couple of feet away). He hit a good shot from there, but the tone was set for his hole. He carded a moose.

Tex was the official scorer.

A photographer asked Neal
to kiss the trophy. Neal is
a passionate golfer.

We had excitement again on the seventeenth hole, a par-3 with water up the right side. Given that, the bunker left of the green was a popular spot. But the hole was cut so you couldn't get close to the hole from the trap -- short-sided and sloped away from the bunker toward the water. Jacob was one of three in the bunker. Nobody told him you couldn't get it close from there, so he did -- then tapped in for a sandy par. ("We owe Jacob a beer." "He's fourteen." "OK then, a root beer." The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.)

Tex was the scorekeeper for the tournament, since he had written a spreadsheet to compute everything, net scores, skins, the works. When the tally was done, Neal Bell walked off with all the marbles. His gross 78 won The Quaich (hope I spelled it right; I know I can't pronounce it), and was also plenty good enough for the net win. (Neal is listed as a 12.2 index. I guarantee he won't be next year. Several people are already calling him "Mr. Zero". Hey, this is his third maroon jacket.)

Saturday PM - Clover Valley, Match Play Madness

Gorse tee markers

Thor has acquired special tee markers for Match Play Madness. They are of Gorse wood. (Gorse is a plant that makes it painful to miss the fairway on a Scottish links course.) The first foursome set the tees and the last foursome brought them in. They could be set in some strange places, and John Pflum did so. No need to stick to the conventional teeing grounds. For instance:
  • There was a tee under a fairly low-hanging tree. It didn't get in the way of my swing, though it might have if I were taller. It was definitely a psychological presence.
  • On a few holes, including the eighth hole, a par-3 over water, the tees were set all the way back on the championship box.
  • On the ninth hole, a par-5 that for most golfers was normally a layup off the tee, the tees were set close enough to the creek to go for it.

My opponent was Matt Brophy, and we played with the Fred Stluka / Kern Singh match. Our foursome had our share of MPM moments, but perhaps not as many nor as dramatic as some in the past. We certainly had balls lost and their owners out of the hole. We had a couple of dramatic comebacks to halve or win a hole. (There were two holes I could [should?] have won that Matt caught or passed me, and one that went the other way.) We had a forgetful golfer mark his ball on the green. We had one ball splash and its owner say, "I think I'll see you clear the lake before I concede." All the usual stuff, but not much unusual for a veteran of MPM.

But there was one MPM moment that might have decided the match. Matt and I got to the last hole all square. The last hole would decide the match. Matt was just a wedge from the green after his second shot. (Inadvertently so, but intentions don't matter in golf. He went for it with his second shot. If he had hit it straight, it would have drowned in the big pond short of the green. He was lucky he hooked it away from the green -- and the pond.) I was a short iron from the green, but dead in the middle of a paved cart path. (How can a ball even stop in a position like that?) I didn't think I could hit the green from that lie, so I laid up. We both crossed the pond safely, but my extra shot made it no contest.

Here are some classic MPM lies from other groups, taken with Thor's camera.

In the end, Ohio prevailed. By a lot. By even more, in fact, than can be explained by Thor's algorithm for "honorary Ohio" players. (For instance, past champions of RSG-Ohio are deemed to be Ohioans for MPM purposes. Think about it.)

After playing 63 holes in two days in wet conditions, we were understandably worn down. But Rock Pyle was more positive than most about dealing with it. After the MPM round he stood in ice cubes to cool his feet. Then he conned a physical therapist into giving him a shoulder massage. Smart!

Sunday - Tartan East

We woke to bright sunshine and no threat of rain -- in spite of what the national weather map said. But there was wind, and a lot of it. Thor is great at protecting us from rain, but wind is outside his area of influence.

Since the tee times were an hour later than usual (9am instead of 8), we had time for a big sit-down breakfast. Coops and I met Fred, Matt, and Terry at Bob Evans and had wonderful breakfasts. (In my case, the three-egg western omelet carried me through to a 5pm dinner with no hunger pangs at all.)

Sir Plow tees off, watched by
Wee Mon, in Sunday's
traditional International Match.
(Thor photo)

I played Tartan East from the blues with a bunch of young, strong guys. Neal Bell hits everything big with a draw, and Rock Pyle hits everything high and long. Matt Brophy doesn't trust his woods and seldom uses them (never uses a driver), but hits his 4-iron off the tee almost as far as I can hit a driver. It was not a testosterone day for me, but it was a lot of fun watching these guys handle the course.

Tartan East is a wonderful course, but it is too much course for me, at least from the blues. I struggled -- except for the par-threes, where I had two pars and two bogeys. I struggled especially with the par-fours. I can point to a few things to explain it:
  • At first, I thought it was because the par-fours were longer than average, at the expense of par-threes and par-fives. Well, the par-threes are a little short, true. But the par-fours and par-fives are just about the same on average as Hominy Hill and Howell Park, the two most comparable courses near me. So that's not the reason.
  • The wind! For some reason, the wind was more of a factor on the par-fours. Most of them were into the wind, and the wind was huge Sunday.
  • Unfamiliarity with the course. I can think of a bunch of extra strokes because I didn't know where you must not miss. I'd like to have another shot at it sometime.
  • I wasn't driving the ball well. I was keeping it straight for the most part, but without much distance.
Anyway, I could reach all the par-threes easily and there were no dangers not visible from the tee, so I came away with two pars and two bogeys. On the other holes, I averaged more than a stroke and a half over par. On the par-fours, there was only one hole (a downwind one at that) where I had an iron for my second shot. And there were only four (out of ten par-fours) where I was on in 3 strokes -- none in regulation, of course. Not going to score well that way.

Matt actually made the shot,
advancing the ball to a
playable lie.

Rock splits the uprights.

The trees are a factor on this course. There are lots of big, old-growth trees in play. And they can distract even when they are not in play. The wind was blowing so hard that a tree blew over several holes from where we were; the crash could be heard all over the course. These pictures show some of the effect of the trees on the golf.

I realized something about Neal during this round. After he took both the gross and net trophies yesterday, there were a few murmurs of "sandbagger". Actually, Neal is an unconscious sandbagger. I've played a bunch of rounds with him, and he is a different golfer in tournament rounds and casual rounds. He just doesn't focus on every shot the way he does in the tournament. He jokes and goofs a lot more. (And he's an absolute riot during MPM rounds.) I always enjoy golf with him, in either type of round. But I understand why his handicap is so much higher than his tournament performance suggests. The handicap includes a lot more casual rounds.

The finishing hole is a beautiful
par-5. I parred it, a great way
to end a great weekend.

Scott relaxes with the twins as
the later foursomes come in.
(Thor photo)

My two best shots of the day were a pair of 150-yard six-irons. One got me a par three at the third hole. The other was my approach shot on #18, which landed near the flag and rolled maybe 15 feet toward the the middle of the green; another par. (I got precious few pars that round.)

There is a big mound behind the eighteenth green. This should be a requirement for every RSG-Ohio course. It gives everybody a place to gather and watch the rest of the crowd play in. With eight foursomes on the course, there was plenty of time to relax, reminisce, and say our goodbyes. Or, more accurately, hasta la vista -- until we meet again -- next year at RSG-Ohio.

Thanks, Thor! Had a great Ohio.