Note: One of my first golf course reviews.
Ours was not a power trio in the mold of rock groups Rush, Cream or Triumph. It was, however, the Evening Sun’s initial grouping for the first of 10 weeks touring the Southern Tier’s golf courses.
Destination one: Afton Golf Course.
Our illustrious threesome, a pre-round Tour de Force, included yours truly, Bob “Kenny Venturi” McNitt, and Sergio Hakitotili (name altered slightly to protect the innocent), who is henceforth dubbed just Sergio.
On our outing this past Wednesday – and by mere coincidence – other “alleged” newsmen with golf accutriments were feigning golf swings and putting strokes. Our presence was inconspicuous to this rival group, but I sense some fur – and maybe some clubs – flying down the road. Perhaps an inter-tour matchup, a crossing of uncrossable lines, may play out. One can only imagine such a momentous matchup, but ah, that is for a later date.
Two things we knew about Afton coming in: One, the breakfast special. Two, the course has water.
The former of course was perhaps my most successful venture of the day. I had little trouble placing the egg and ham breakfast sandwich in my mouth. Little did I know that trouble would ensue quickly on the greens when the little ball seemed to avoid the three-inch hole at all costs.
On the latter subject of prior knowledge, Afton installed a state-of-the-art irrigation system in 2001. Those who haven’t played Afton in years remember burnt-out fairways, rough, choppy tees, and inconsistent greens. Those defects have since gone by the wayside. “It’s all automatic,” said David Dawson about the water system. David one of three Dawson brothers running the course along with David’s son Craig.
David and his brothers Guy and Bob were clearly the best power trio on the course Wednesday, as they are every day. In what is perhaps the most uniquely managed course, the three Dawsons are all Class A PGA golf professionals. Each has his own strength and niche in the business, and they work together beautifully. Craig, a fine player in his own right, may some day join the ranks of teaching professional, but that is for another article.
“All I have to do (to irrigate) is set the computer to the time I want,” David added. “It’s a very efficient way of watering. I can allocate less or more water depending on what we need.”
And water is not in short supply. In a matter of four days, David said he can pump a million gallons of water onto the course.
Even the uncooperative weather this month hasn’t affected the course in the least. Chenango County has absorbed six inches of rain over the last three weeks, yet Afton G.C. remains well-drained and dry at every corner. “I’m sure some people know that this course was built on a gravel mine,” David said. “When we got four inches of rain, never did we have to close down, stop play or stop the carts from going out. This course drains great.”
It was clear from the start of our day that his was indeed a new and improved course. The layout remained the same, the holes are the same length, but the course’s playability is significantly improved.
It’s a shame I didn’t bring my A, B or C game. I did have the D game, D as in driving. I managed to hit 12 of 14 fairways, some of which are generously cut. On the flip slide, I managed just four greens in regulation among those 12 successfully hit fairways.
It was a day of inconsistency. McNitt, though, brought his midseason game to this mid-June outing. Before our festivities began, McNitt was throwing disclaimers our way faster than a Roger Clemens high-and-tight fastball. “This is my first time out and you don’t know what is coming out of the box,” McNitt said.
Pushaw. McNitt challenged for an opening-day victory until a couple bogeys late in the round allowed Newell to hang on for a two-shot victory.
An 83 the first time out for “Bob The Natural” was highlighted by pinpoint driving, chipping, and putting. Even a busted driver and a twinge in his lower back failed to deter McNitt.
“The greens were quite forgiving,” McNitt said. “Even if you make a bad putt, it doesn’t run by 10 feet.”
Bad putts were few and far between for “The Natural Venturi.” As someone who takes pride in his putting, it was demoralizing to watch a first-time-out-of-the-boxer wear a hole in the bottom of the cup.
Meanwhile, I was burning edges, lipping out constantly, and gladly accepting gimme-putts. Mind you, I had a laundry list of excuses for my short stick shortcomings. “The greens are slower than I’m used to” or “a black fly flew into my ear when I was following through.” My favorite line, one I mumbled to myself often, “now I know how Phil Mickelson feels.”
My personal highlight was maybe my all-time ugliest par. Racking my memory through 20 years of golf, I couldn’t remember a more hideous four.
On the 320-yard fifth hole, a slight dogleg left, I snap-hooked my driver into the woods out of bounds. Putting the driver away, I pulled out the 2-iron and safely placed a provisional about 90 yards from the green. A moment passed as my partners whaled away. Bob surpassed my errant tee shot – his only bad drive of the day – pulling the ball dead left out of bounds. Watching the ball fly, my eyes traveled right where I noticed a ball in the fairway about 190 yards away. “Was that ball there when I teed off?” I thought.
Venturing out, sure enough it was my ball. What sheer dumb luck. “The way that ball was hooking, I can’t believe it kicked out,” Sergio said, clearly distraught.
Laughing inside, my thought: “Good luck seems to follow good players.”
With new life and around 130 yards to the green, I air-mailed a nine-iron over the green on the fly. Gauging distance was another shortfall on my day.
The pin was cut toward the back of the green and I had an uphill 15-yard chip with little green to work with. Opening the blade of my sand wedge, I hoped to land the ball just on the putting surface and let the ball curl up nice and tight. The pre-shot visualization was completed and I anticipated executing the shot. I executed the shot all right – badly. Like most hackers are prone, I caught an early peek of the ball flight and my club stubbed the ground first propelling it all of 10 feet. My partners remained silent. They noticed the shot – barely – and resumed lining up their putts. Now situated on an upslope to the green, my goal now was to get the ball close enough to save bogey.
Again, I mishit the sand wedge, only this time it was half-skulled. For some reason, the ball – like a heat-seeking missile – hit the back of the flagstick and dropped in. “That, was one ugly par,” Sergio said.
I couldn’t disagree. It was all-world ugly, but my four on the card read the same as his four.
Of our threesome, Sergio brought in the most experience with some 300 rounds this season (a statistic enhanced for effect). His game was well-oiled and his first tee comment was, “Patrick, I’ve been striking the ball really well. I think I’ve got things all figured out.”
The golf gods clearly spat on Sergio’s pregame cockiness, er confidence. A well-oiled game to start needed a couple cans of WD-40 by hole 18. Sergio struggled with his trusty driver and couldn’t avoid the dreaded snowman on the par-5 seventh hole. Still, he finished a respectable third shooting a 14-over-par 86.
Our foibles as would-be golfers aside, Afton Golf Course is a course quickly making a name for itself. “We feel we’re taking a public course to the next level,” David Dawson said. “It’s competitive with most private clubs, yet we’re dedicated to keeping prices down.”