On The Search for a Private Club

In fourth grade, I was 4’11” and 155 lbs. I’m not sure if it was the weight, or the start of puberty, but I’ll just come out and say it here: I struggled with body odor. I was aware that deodorant existed, but no one taught me how to use it. The fact that I only had two shirts that I was willing to wear only made things more complicated.

I’m recoiling at this remembrance, so here’s the most succinct version. No one would play with me at recess. We lived in Parker, Colorado, and I attended Northeast Elementary School. Northeast’s playground abuts the Pinery Country Club’s lake nine. During recess, I would stand at the northern boundary of the playground and watch people play golf. While I watched them, I’d dream about my future. I would think to myself:

Someday, I’m going to have a beautiful wife. We’re going to live in The Pinery, and I am going to play golf at The Pinery.

Let’s flash forward 24 years.

I have a beautiful wife. We’ve been back in Denver for two years, after a three year stint in LA. I’ve spent those two years scratching and clawing my way from a minimum wage job as a golf professional to two jobs. One, where I produce a movie is directly related to my graduate degree. One, where I “produce” podcasts has a misleading job title, but it pays pretty well.

It’s April of 2020, a month after the first wave of the COVID pandemic hit Colorado. My wife and I have just closed on a five bedroom house that is a little bit east of where I envisioned myself in Denver, but the house is beautiful. We’re 13 holes into our round at The Pinery with a dentist named Dennis. Dennis has a MAGA hat clipped to his golf bag. Any time there is a lull in the conversation he tells me, or my wife, “We gotta open the country back up.”

When Dennis is out of earshot, my wife tells me, “We’re not joining here.” Even if the houses in The Pinery weren’t dated, she doesn’t want to live in Parker, ever. The vibe at the club, and in the entire town is really Republican. The club is far from the house we just bought.

I don’t see any of that. What I do see, at even par, 13 holes into our round, is that The Pinery is a fucking cupcake. I don’t want to play golf here every day. I have outgrown my elementary school dreams.

It’s a strange feeling, as over the last 24 years I had, on occasion, been able to play The Pinery. 

In high school, I got the invitation with my dad a couple of times. During college, when a friend, a “bad influence” who my parents had disallowed me from hanging out with in high school worked his way up from waiter to The Pinery’s food and beverage supervisor. (He was later fired for stealing alcohol, and caught on as the food and beverage supervisor at a MUCH nicer country club.)

Strange how in all those visits, I had never noticed how easy the course was. Mostly, I just felt lucky to be playing there. And this was before they redid the clubhouse. Great job, Pinery. Your clubhouse is very nice now.

This round was different because COVID had recently turned the world upside down. Lower tier golf clubs like the Pinery were trying to get ahead of whatever came next by offering CRAZY membership incentives. The gym that I went to was closed, charging full dues, and significantly more expensive than Arcis Golf’s incentivized 27 holes at The Pinery, 18 holes at Pradera, free carts for one year, and a locker for you and your wife, membership.

I had played a prospective member round with my father at Pradera when it opened in 2006. It’s further south than The Pinery, impossible to walk, and a great test of links golf if you think of Jim Engh as an architect, and not as someone who uses heavy machinery to force ball funneling valleys upon the earth. In 2006 I checked both of those boxes. I begged my dad to join.

The membership – then equity – began with a $45,000 initiation fee. Fourteen years later, the incentivized COVID deal was so good for someone that grew up 20 miles east of Pradera that for most of that week, I fought, futilely, against my wife’s strenuous objections.

I did not win that fight. We went to look at another club.

In college, I interned at Colorado Avid Golfer Magazine. The editor of that magazine was a 15 handicap who wouldn’t play with me, and a member of Boulder’s Lake Valley Golf Club. The only thing I remember him saying about Lake Valley is that he had been waiting years for his club equity to be refunded.

Still, in April of 2020, there was NOTHING to do. Restaurants weren’t even offering dine in service. I was working from home in our 700 ft sq half of a duplex where I had to hear our neighbor, who I still hate more than anything else in the world, alternate between coughing fits and screaming at his girlfriend.

A lot of the public golf courses were closed, which made it very difficult to secure a tee time at the ones that were open. To have something, ANYTHING, to do on the weekends was an extraordinary luxury. We went to Boulder to check out Lake Valley.

I didn’t think that we would mind the commute. I went to college in Boulder and we go up there a lot – to four or five football games a season and to all of the basketball games when we’re not away skiing. I love visiting Boulder. The town has changed, but I love looking at the places that are still familiar to me and remembering.

Lake Valley is just north of Boulder in Niwot, a town whose only sentimental value to me is golf. As an undergraduate, I would sometimes go to Haystack Mountain, a homespun, 9 hole executive track. The course charges $10 for 9 holes, doesn’t take tee times, barely mows, and continually fights with the county over land usage and water rights.

When we arrived, gale force winds had emptied the course. We made our way to the first tee where I, being no stranger to wind, offered my wife in depth instructions on how to bank a golf ball off the prevailing cross wind. After I executed the shot she didn’t congratulate me or attempt the shot herself. Instead, she told me, “I’m just going to walk with you.”

Hole one and hole 18 make a loop back to the clubhouse at Lake Valley, so it was a short walk. She got to watch me make two pars. 

My first impression of the club was that it was also homespun, but it was clear that this course was built by, and now managed by people who took enormous pride in the track. The difference between Haystack and Lake Valley is the difference between a sweater your grandmother knit you by hand and the sweater your grandma, who had spent her whole life weaving, made for you on a loom.

What I mean by that, is a course can be homespun and meticulously maintained. This was no short order – remember that we live in Colorado, there was still a month before summer began in earnest. The greens rolled fast and true, thick rough was severely delineated from lush, closely mown fairways.

I compared these courses to a sweater, and not say a hotrod, or intricate metal work because nothing about the course is tricked out or dangerous or beautiful. Lake Valley is an American style inland links course. It’s wide open, but long and burly. The rough is penal, but playable. There are no blind shots or tricky bounces. If you’re able to control your distance and execute full golf shots, then for better or for worse, there are no surprises.

I love this style of golf. I also loved Lake Valley’s total lack of pretension. The clubhouse was extremely modest, there were a bunch of kids running around everywhere, and the neighborhood surrounding the course was shabby. In a vacuum, these are not positives.

But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If we’re thinking long term, and being totally and completely honest, my three big wants from any club, ranked in reverse order, from least to most yearned for were:

3. To incentivize myself to play golf. I was tired of not going to the range because I didn’t want to pay $9, or to forgo a Sunday morning round because of the $80 green fee.

2. To get my wife, who hits the shit out of the ball, but isn’t comfortable playing with strangers, more involved with the game.

1. To allow my future children to get involved with junior golf without becoming assholes.

With the lowest monthly dues for a family membership, Lake Valley checked all of those boxes. However, it was, as my wife pointed out, also far from our house. Even when there was no traffic because of COVID, the course was very far from our house.

When I asked the membership director about our proximity to the club, he told us not to join. To his great credit, he told us that nearly all of the club’s membership lived in the neighborhood surrounding the course. He also reinforced, as if we didn’t know, what a large purchase club membership was. He said, “Really take your time and find the right club.”

We heeded his advice.

Later that week I played golf with my friend Chris, and his father, Steve, the caddie master at Columbine Country Country Club. As of last year, I still caddied for Steve. This year, it has been a great point of pride to me that I don’t, for the first time in the last 11 years, caddie to supplement my income. Steve still texts me sometimes. I can’t bring myself to text him no, because it’s insane to me that I can turn down $200, but I actually don’t have the time. The messages sit on read.

I thought it would be weird for me, his sometimes contractor, to talk to Steve about my own search for a golf club but he didn’t think so. When he overheard me telling Chris about my quandary with The Pinery he said, without hesitation: Valley. (He had to know that Columbine is nowhere near my price range.)

My vague awareness of Valley stemmed from some truly bizarre interactions with the club’s head professional from when I worked in the golf industry. He was a nice enough guy, but he introduced himself to me five or six times over my two years as an assistant pro. That’s innocuous enough, you meet a lot of people at section events, except that each interaction ended with him handing me a business card.

This motherfucker had his entire resume printed on the back of the card. No one had ever told him to condense this resume. If I’m remembering correctly, the first tiny scripted entry on the top left of his card read: 1981 SECTION PLAYER OF THE YEAR. An invitation to play Valley accompanied each business card; I never took him up on it.

But, Steve was emphatic in his recommendation, “It’s Valley, and don’t even think about it. The membership director is a friend of mine.”

The membership director was also named Steve. In his emails, membership director Steve was gregarious and deferential. These are great qualities, unless you’re making the second largest purchase of your life (my wife has a very nice engagement ring). I forced myself to proceed with caution. 

When Chris pointed out to me that the membership director’s initials were S.O.B., my skepticism came more naturally. My first inclination that I was in huge trouble at Valley should have come when the club’s head pro was completely normal in his introduction to me. He didn’t remember me from my time as a club pro, but he also didn’t hand me a business card.

The clubhouse was really fucking nice. Not just nice for our price range, but one of the nicest buildings that I’ve ever been inside, on par (if you’ll pardon the pun) with some of the clubs where I had caddied. These clubs were exponentially more expensive than Valley.

The range was massive, and included a practice course. The course conditions were not as nice as Lake Valley, but it was clear that the greenskeepers were very proud of Valley. Which brings us to, drumroll please, the course.

Prior to the round, S.O.B. casually name dropped Billy Bell as the architect. I made a mental note of this, because at Valley’s price point, that was impossible. Maybe a consultant? A redesign that they never paid for? Sometimes those debts are forgotten over the years. It could have been a different Billy Bell, or in what I hastily decided was the most likely scenario, my own mishearing of a similar name.

During the round, our player host said it clearly when he expounded on the benefits of the course. He said, “Colorado’s only Billy Bell course.” This was the first thing I googled when I got home. Billy Bell was indeed the architect, but it was William F. Bell, son of golden age stalwart William P. Bell. So not the designer behind Bel-Air Country Club – that designer’s son.

If you dig just a tiny bit deeper, this is still very impressive. William F. Bell built both Torey Pines courses and the Ike course at Industry Hills. The Ike Course is, of course, a public gem. Torey Pines is controversial on Twitter, but if you take a closer look at the commentary, most of the east coast golf snobs trashing Torey Pines as an U.S. Open venue are actually arguing against the Pacific Time Zone.

Valley utilizes every inch of its flat expanse of land in the suburban wasteland south of Denver. While there is an actual valley – it’s a very small one – it houses only the 18th hole. The rest of the course is mostly flat but visually, it’s fucking insane.

Elevation changes are exaggerated with steep grades, the bunkering is strategic, water features are placed perfectly. The effect of this is mesmerizing, especially the first time you play Valley. It goes something like this:

At the start of my round, I was standing on the first tee box and praying desperately for good course conditions while I looked at what appeared to be a dated, out and back parkland layout.

The first thing that made me question my initial impression was the contours of the first green, which were subtle, to the point of imperceptible, but really moved the ball.

Somewhere around the fifth or sixth hole I missed the fairway, and found myself on a lower tier, with a bunker separating me from a fairway that was elevated five or six feet over the ball. I addressed the ball and looked up to find a line, but all I could see was sand, deep rough, and more bunkers. On misses, this was a theme for the rest of the round. Junior or senior, Billy Bell did a great fucking job with the design.

In 2018, I was finishing graduate school. My biggest, in the words of Tony Soprano, “fuck you” dream, has always been a club in the Nebraska Sand Hills. Not Sand Hills, obviously, but Dismal River had been on my radar since they opened in 2006. I sent them an email inquiry after I defended my thesis.

They freely admitted to being bankrupt, but offered me the deal of a lifetime, with the caveat that they might not be around next year. I took advantage of this deal and three years later, the club is thriving. My wife’s halfway jokes about us being the club’s poorest members get slightly less funny every time we drive her 2012 Subaru Forester past a fifteen million dollar plane parked on the club’s airstrip on our way in.

The club experience at Dismal is A+ level, as good as anywhere else. This is the only club experience that my wife has ever known. It was clear from the very get go that Valley was offering something like Dismal. She gave me the same instructions as my friend’s father, “Join here, this is a no brainer.”

What she didn’t know was that Valley represented the tippy tippy top of our price range. It wasn’t so expensive that touring felt opportunistic, but if clubs weren’t offering COVID incentives I would have left this one off.

S.O.B. was not offering incentives. He was nice about it, but he also wasn’t budging a fucking inch. At one point, with my wife’s approval, I just threw my cards on the table and told him if he let me finance the 10k initiation fee over three years I would join the club. He said this was fine, but tacked on 2k in finance fees.

He wasn’t mad or even slightly disturbed when I told him this was a deal breaker. He just kept inviting me back to the club, offering another round of golf, or an introduction to some other members. All of this is a credit to the club, and a credit to his salesmanship. We both know that if I had gone back, I would have joined. Eventually, I would have scrapped up the 10k, or swallowed hard and paid the finance fee. I didn’t go back.

Instead, I went to Meridian.

Meridian is a links course; early career Nicklaus in all of his early career glory. Everything on this course is massive: tee boxes, fairways, hazards, features, greens, the grades on those greens. Even with no trees, the challenge of this course is also massive.

I like links golf, I like Nicklaus, and I like a challenge. Meridian’s practice facilities were also MASSIVE and extremely impressive, with an amply sized grass range, a dedicated area for chipping and putting, and three practice holes.

This price point here wasn’t terrible. Which meant, as I was coming to learn, that joining Meridian would entail some sacrifices. In this case, the clubhouse was absolute garbage.

I played my prospective member round with two older gentlemen, one of whom was nice, even if his golf skills left something to be desired. The other would not shut the fuck up.

Surprisingly, both of these long time members pointed out some of the club’s flaws. We were barely off the tee box when the talker asked if the planes were going to bother me. Meridian is practically on top of Centennial Airport. I like planes; I told him they were not going to bother me. Although, as the round wore on, this guy’s ceaseless nattering really started to get on my nerves.

When Bobby Blabbermouth sunk his teeth into Chris, who was tagging along on the prospective member round, the quieter, worse-at-golf member asked another insightful question, “Where are you coming here from?”

He laughed out loud when I told him the Denver Athletic Club.

“Have you seen our locker room?”

Unlike the planes, this was a great point. Beyond being fucking beautiful, the locker room at the DAC was staffed by four attendants, offered laundry service, a keg, snacks, juice and soda, hot tub, steam room, sauna, and a cold plunge.

The locker room at Meridian had an attendant, numbers on the lockers, one cheap looking TV, and some very shitty furniture. This was actually a selling point for the club, multiple times it was described to me as “real working class.”

I have heard that description from three people:

The head professional at Sanctuary, who was my boss, and for some reason slightly embarrassed to be a member at a golf club.

A young guest who I was caddying for at Cherry Creek. He was touting the understated nature of the club while bemoaning the fact that none of his friends could play golf on weekdays (this was before COVID).

And from the membership director at Meridian, who touted the description repeatedly. In hindsight, I will assume this was a selling point.

This membership director was the epitome of what a club golfer would think of as working class. Irish name, tall, sturdy. When he lured me back to his office for a post round timeshare-esque- ACT NOW sales meeting it seemed like he would be equally at home shoveling coal into a furnace.

Honestly, a big part of my resistance to joining was this man’s lack of salesmanship. He was the opposite of the membership directors that I had encountered before, I felt lucky to leave his office without an aggressive finance plan for a 2013 Mazda 5.

I really don’t like to think of myself as a person who needs a fancy clubhouse. When I think of Meridian, and think of why I didn’t join, I think about high pressure sales and I think about looking at massive features and hazards, and thinking to myself that this was absolutely not a course that my wife would enjoy.

Still, take heed here, reader. The clubhouse is nothing to write home about. On to the next one…

Bear Creek is lauded as one of Arnold Palmer’s best designs. It’s out in Lakewood, but this course, and membership at this course, is coveted at the same level as Denver Country Club and Cherry Hills. The membership is still by invitation only, but that’s more of a wink and a smile policy. As of last summer, the membership director is inviting anyone who inquires.

For someone shopping at my price point, it’s spendy, but exponentially cheaper than Cherry Hills or DCC. Their under 40 junior membership is $660 per month with a $15,000 initiation fee. They also offer a year long trial membership for a $1,000 initiation fee and $660 a month for eight of the twelve months that you are a member.

If you’re thinking there’s a catch here, you’re correct. It’s a big catch, at least for me. The club is men only. Still, I had to see the course.

The clubhouse was large and well kept, but it was dated. During the tour, the membership director made sure to note that on Mother’s Day, women were allowed in the clubhouse for brunch. The bar in the locker room was huge and staffed by two bartenders. The pro shop was owned by the head professional. Yearning for a bygone era, the head pro sold all merchandise, including hard goods, at a 10% markup.

Outside, the practice facilities were magnificent. This was the first range I had seen on grass since the start of the pandemic. Bays were spaced to 10 feet and there was still tons of room for everyone to hit. There was a separate range for lessons, which are included in a $60 per month administrative fee that also covered your GHIN and your locker.

They had cavernous putting greens and an impressive and undulating area to practice chips and pitches. I was a little bit miffed when the membership director abandoned me to the practice area while he finished up some paperwork from a previous sale, but I could have stayed there all day. Honestly, I was a little disappointed when it was time to go tee it, not that the membership director had to drag me out to the course…

Our round started strangely, with the membership director telling me just to relax. He said we were going to have fun, that no one cared how I played at Bear Creek. I actually may have been a little nervous, because I drop-kicked my first drive into native grass on the left side.

“Wow, NICE DRIVE,” said the membership director. Incredibly, he seemed legitimately impressed

When I told him I drop-kicked it, he said, “YOU MUST HIT THE BALL REALLY WELL.”

When I accepted his offer of a breakfast ball and split the fairway, the membership director let it slip that he was the reigning club champion. This didn’t track. Like the clubhouse, he was old as shit.

I of course challenged him to a match, which I won by three strokes. (If you must know, the reigning, old as shit, club champion threw up an 84.) Like the clubhouse, the course was sturdy and impressive, but a bit dated. It was also tricked out. Think Sanctuary, if Sanctuary were built to challenge players rather than to keep them on pace.

Still, and I guess this is a knock on all Palmer’s designs, even the lauded ones, some of the fairways were landing strip thin and some of the severely graded greens were the size of pinheads. Architecturally, this course has not stood the test of time. The par threes are very short.

At the end of the round, the membership director told me that someone with my game would have the absolute time of his life at Bear Creek. He offered me a significant discount on membership based on my playing ability. If this was a sales technique it was an effective one, because the flattery, along with the practice facilities, had me all but sold.

Were it not for Taylormade’s Driving Relief Challenge this year, I probably would have joined. I know that’s a weird statement, so allow me to explain. I have a problem with some of the exclusionary policies at Seminole.

As you would imagine for a world top 10 golf course punching and scraping for all they’re worth to stay off the national and the international golf ranking radar, Seminole has a strict no Jews policy.

My grandmother summered in Palm Beach until she retired there, so I have been uniquely situated to observe this policy both as a golf fanatic, a refugee from the golf industry, and as someone with deep family ties to Southeast Florida.

In 2007, when I was interviewing for a position in the bag room at Seminole, they asked me if Tull was a Jewish name. When I told them it was, they were forthright about that disqualifying me. I was stunned, but not so stunned that I didn’t immediately question the legality of my disqualification. The bag room manager said:

“There are no Jews here. You can work as a caddie, and you’ll make more money, but the other caddies are black.”

Somehow, this didn’t deter me from seeking to play the course as a member sponsored guest when I was visiting my grandmother in 2009. The club called me a few days before the round and this time, without asking about my name, they told me that they couldn’t accommodate me. When I asked about the last minute refusal the explanation was:

“Palm Beach Country Club (the Jewish club in Palm Beach) is a nicer facility.”

With their hosting of Taylormade’s Driving Relief Challenge and the 2021 Walker Cup (God willing), I’m sure this policy has changed in the decade since I was denied access. Still, I know what it feels like to be excluded from a golf club.

Beyond that, I love playing golf with my wife. What if I had a daughter…

I could go on about this all day, (I did, you can find my rant on Twitter) but the end result of all this was even with the sweetheart offer, I didn’t join Bear Creek.

Instead, I dragged my wife to The Ranch, a club that I had seen a few times, but had never been inside. More damningly, I had never heard anything about the golf course. I asked Chris, who gets to play everywhere because he’s an extremely good player, his review was succinct: “It sucks.”

That didn’t immediately disqualify the course. Chris and I sometimes disagree about golf courses, usually shorter golf courses, because he hits the ball a million yards. I checked the yardage, just under 6,700 yards from the tips, and thought that I might be onto something.

The first thing I noticed when we pulled up to The Ranch was that this club was really making the most of its weird location. Great clubhouse, great landscaping, visually appealing in a way that screamed classic country club. Nice restaurant, nice patio, the two pools were amply proportioned and adequately situated. They had allocated a ton of square footage to tennis, which, okay, maybe I could learn to play tennis.

On the tour portion of the club, the only thing that gave me pause was the locker room. It was tiny. There were 50 small lockers, all of them had nameplates. I asked the membership director if there was a waitlist for a locker and she told me there was, and it was 30 people long. This was not a club that seemed transient, they were offering some COVID incentives, but the initiation fee was 10k, the same as Valley.

The range was also tiny, both in width and in length. The balls were flight restricted, there were maybe 12 slots to hit. The shop was amply stocked, beautifully merchandised, and criminally overstaffed. It would have seemed overfull at double the size. I was shown a Trackman for winter practice, the simulator was housed in a Tuff Shed retrofitted with a tall ceiling.

That brings us to the golf course. In Denver, 6,700 yards is minuscule. I’ve played some short courses that I like, but never at The Ranch’s par of 71. Until I played The Ranch, I had never encountered a course with five par threes and four par fives. It was unsettling. Honestly, I felt cheated.

Full disclosure here, I only played the front nine. Beyond my dislike of the three par threes, the routing on the front nine was wonky. The side was split into two sections with a par five bisecting four outward holes and four inward holes. In theory, this is a genius way to route a compact course. In that theory, the par five would be the fifth hole. At The Ranch, it is not. In any situation, crossing over a hole to get to another hole is fucking terrible. 

I don’t hit the ball that well, so I typically seek out a yardage around 6,700 yards but here, at 6,700 yards I didn’t feel challenged. I played this round with an assistant pro, (WHO I SKINNED) and a member, (WHO MY WIFE SKINNED) both of whom told me this course really defends itself on the greens.

The greens at The Ranch are small and severely contoured or tiered. Without tooting my own horn, (I WAS A CADDIE FOR 11 YEARS) this doesn’t present the same amount of challenge as subtly contoured greens. With severely contoured greens, the break there for you to read. 

When the greens are smaller, severe contours present even less of a challenge. GOLF TIP: believe it or not, it’s possible to read greens when you’re chipping. Also, less total space gives you less room to three putt. All of this is to say that the course, or at least the front nine was nothing to write home about.

Still, I loved the atmosphere, loved that they sent me out with an assistant, and wonky routing or not, loved that the course was walkable. What I loved most was that my wife was included in the membership. Shredding the front nine ( TWO OVER 37!) from the tips was a bit boring, but I could see that from the forward tees, at maybe 4,500 yards, this course could be a great place for my wife to learn to love the game.

She disagreed. To her mind, inclusion in the membership was a negative. She didn’t want to feel pressured to play, she wasn’t interested in taking up tennis. She also didn’t like the pricing structure, with monthly site improvement fees, food and beverage minimums, and a lot of other alacarte billings. I was crestfallen when she issued the hard no.

In the end, this entire process, the second biggest purchase I’ve ever made in my life, came down to spousal approval. When the negotiations with Valley failed, she pushed me towards Inverness, a club in the Tech Center that is exponentially cheaper than every other club that we’ve toured. I’m not exaggerating when I say exponential, the first year costs of Inverness are less than half of the costs at The Ranch, the second cheapest club that we toured.

I know Inverness. They hold the price down by being semi private, the course is open both to members and to guests of the Hilton attached to the property. This course has been in my life for a very long time. Some highlights:

When I was eight, we lived at this hotel while my parents re-did the kitchen. I didn’t yet play golf, but Bill Clinton was staying at the hotel while he visited Denver. Some Secret Service agents invited me to watch President Clinton putt-out on 18. They were amused when I was critical of his game.

When I did start playing golf, this course was my absolute favorite. When I got good grades, my dad would take me to stay at the hotel and we would play a round.

When I was a junior in high school, my father’s office was on the 8th hole at Inverness. His law firm had a corporate membership, but I didn’t get to use any of the rounds. At this point, I had my driver’s license. I would raid their beer fridge and sneak onto the course in the late evening. (SORRY DAD.)

When I worked as a golf pro I shot a bogey-free 67 (Inverness plays to a par of 70) in a skins game at Inverness. To date, this is my only bogey-free round and my only sub-par round.

This was a turning point in my golf industry career. Immediately afterwards I reclaimed amateur status with an eye on Mid Am qualifying, and a turning point in my life – instead of Mid Am qualifying I went to graduate school. By the lofty standards of my former career, I haven’t shot a good round since.

Make no mistake here, 67 at Inverness is a good round. This course is long, just over 7,000 yards at its par of 70, and fucking difficult, with narrow, treelined fairways, doglegs flexing both ways, water everywhere, and subtly contoured, lightning fast greens.

I know you’re thinking that this course at half of market rate is a no brainer. But during my club search, there were a few things that gave me pause. The first being I literally could not find someone to sell me a membership. Emails went unreturned for weeks, there were no incentives of any kind, I had to really press them before they scheduled a prospective member round for me.

When I finally bludgeoned the head pro into letting me take a look at the track it was exactly as I remembered: beautiful – lush fairways fringed by thick rough and mature trees – and treacherous, hybrids and woods into long par fours where misses on three sides have you drawing dead.

The course winds through an office park, which is polarizing, but I, having grown up on the course, love the confusing splash of urbanity. Other things I liked were the angular holes and the proximity to my house.

At this price point there were, as I had come to expect, some things that I didn’t like. The practice facilities were not good. The range is grass, and the balls aren’t flight restricted, but it’s small for the size of the membership.

The practice green is adequate and well maintained but there’s no chipping. The area where you’re allowed to chip is tiny, with two holes cut but there’s really only enough space for one person to practice, and it’s triangulated between the hotel, the 10th tee, and the practice green, so you can only take it back maybe 20 yards, no pitch shots or full wedges. There is a dedicated area to practice pitches and longer wedge shots, but they don’t maintain a green or any type of fairway there, pitching from intermediate rough onto closely mown rough seems like a waste of time.

Time and time again, I heard that the biggest problem with this club was that there are no restrictions on when they will hold contracted events. If a wedding party wants to host an outing  on Friday or Saturday morning then it’s tough cookies for the members. During my prospective member round, my fellow competitors told me that the problem had been compacted by COVID – the tee sheet was absolutely stacked.

Still, the price of this club made the decision for me. I joined the club. It broke my heart to do an individual membership, but having a place to go during the COVID pandemic has been an unimaginable luxury. Even though I coughed up $6,000 at the start of the season, being able to go around twice without pricing out the $90 replay rate is everything that I could have imagined.

Now Inverness’ poor practice facilities are my only excuse not to practice. That’s a bad excuse, but I never practice. I especially don’t practice my short game. Why would I? It’s free for me to play…

Last week they put a soft cap on my handicap, which has gone from 4.8 to 8.3 this summer. So I’m going to allocate some time for practice. Next summer…

But maybe it’s not the lack of practice. In one of my first rounds at the club, a long time member told me not to have kids. He said my 4 handicap would go to a 9 faster than I could believe.

Kelly is pregnant.

When I play Inverness’ 8th hole I stare at my dad’s old office and remember him hoarding the rounds that came with his corporate membership. Now, I literally play the course so much that my game is suffering. At home, I stare at my beautiful wife. When she catches me, I ask to touch her stomach.

We are well into the second trimester and it’s still hard for me to believe that we’re going to have a family. I know that being a dad is the hardest challenge that I have faced to date, but I believe that I will rise to the occasion. If my handicap rises with me then so be it.

This is the happiest that I have ever been.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s