North Hills CC 2nd Annual Long Drive Competition

Last year, long-time North Hills Country Club veteran Ron Carey convinced the club to host an annual long drive competition. At the time, there were a couple dozen younger members and only a few guys in the under-50 division with a legitimate chance to win.

We fast forward to 2016 and North Hills’ recent new member promotion brought in more than 60 players under the age of 50 (almost all under 35), and a plethora of single-digit handicap players. The long drive competition has been long awaited, for sure, and was stormed out the first time around.

In last year’s competition, my buddy Ross Chawansky had some of the longest drives in the preliminary round but failed to get a ball in the fairway in the playoff against Ryan Isherwood. Isherwood, a 3.0 index player, is a great ball-striker and had a lot of money invested in him in this year’s competition.

Chawansky and John Ziemer were heavy favorites in this year’s competition. In a normal round, Ziemer (a +1.4 handicap) typically out-drives me by 30-60 yards every hole. The first round we played together, in fact, I witnessed him drive the 341-yard par four eighth hole, go driver/8-iron on the 519-yard par five ninth, then put his tee shot on the 323-yard uphill, dogleg left par four 15th eight feet below a back-right pin – completely blind from the tee. He is an epic hitter of the golf ball.

17 of the 19 guys competing were single-digit players – I was one of the two outsiders. To say I was an underdog is an understatement, but why not throw my hat in the ring!?

The field for the under-50 competition:

  1. Scott Nelson (13.6 index)
  2. Rick Fuller (9.6 index)
  3. Charles Buhrow (3.0 index)
  4. Jim Mirsberger (4.0 index)
  5. Paul Seifert (10.1 index)
  6. Nick Zellmer (3.5 index)
  7. Kyle Tendick (4.1 index)
  8. Ben Pilgreen (3.9 index)
  9. Ben Bernhard (8.8 index)
  10. Mike Tate (5.2 index)
  11. Ryan Isherwood (3.0 index)
  12. Dan Vilione (6.6 index)
  13. Levi Lura (4.3 index)
  14. Blake Jenkins (+0.4 index)
  15. Dan Benedum (+0.4 index)
  16. John Ziemer (+1.4 index)
  17. Ross Chawansky (4.5 index)
  18. Bryan Johnson (5.5 index)
  19. Vince Suter (5.4 index)

Benedum is the defending Club Champion, and Tendick is playing against Jenkins for this year’s title and the coveted parking spot. Quite a few of these guys played college golf, and seven of them have competed in the past couple of weeks in the State Am qualifers, State Open, Mid-Am qualifiers and so on.

I had nothing to lose, so I figured I’d just go out there and swing hard and hope the ball went straight. I bought some Titleist Velocity golf balls before the competition, and marked them above the number 77 with small teal-colored circles. Velocity is a harder golf ball than the ProV1 or ProV1-X, and I figured I’d take every slight advantage I could get (a few others were playing the same ball).

The competition is held on the tee box of the tenth hole, 20 feet from the gorgeous patio and bar and with a whole lot of people watching. Music was blasting through the speakers, and Ron Carey was announcing the competition over the loudspeakers.

The wind was slightly in, even though it didn’t feel like much. The fairway on ten goes slightly right-to-left, and falls off a little toward the right side past the right-side fairway bunkers. Drives had to end up in the fairway in order to be counted.

If settling in the fairway, tee shots are measured by holding up a flagstick and being laser’ed from the tee box. North Hills Head PGA Professional and one of Wisconsin’s all-time greatest golfers Eddie Terasa called out the numbers.

I was a little nervous getting on the tee for the first round and was fifth to go. My first ball went right and the second felt like it wasn’t even hit – long, high and right down the middle for 301 yards and an early lead.

My early lead held up until Ziemer took the tee, surpassing my  301 with a respectable 315. Chawansky hit one 309 next and I was hanging by a thread with Bryan Johnson and Vinnie Suter still to go.

The top three moved on to the finals, which was a great coincidence considering Ross, John and I met up at Ally’s Bistro across the street for a beer and some food with John’s family before the competition. I put $5 on John to win, and wish I would have put a few bucks on myself just for kicks.

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John, me and Ross before the final round

THE FINALS:

As the low man on the totem pole, I hit first and went right on my first of two attempts. My second was striped right down the middle – no draw, no fade, just high and long, and I knew it was great. 309!

Ziemer hit last, and his first ball went left. I knew all he had to do was get a drive in the fairway, though, and John’s a competitive player who relishes in the big moments. The moment he hit his second and last ball I knew I was beat, then just had to wait for the measurement… 312 yards.

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North Hills CC Long Drive Competition, Final Round

I never expected myself to be in the mix, and watching all the other guys hit balls in the fairway I was amazed that they weren’t 20 yards longer than me. Levi Lura, for example, played at Nebraska and hits an insane hard draw that runs forever. Each ball he hit I felt would beat me out, until Eddie would announce “286 yards,” or “290 yards.” Blake hit some shots that looked incredibly long, but the call still came to “296 yards.”

I had no idea what I would do if I succeeded, and when my shots were flying long and straight I felt like I had to do SOMETHING – the video is hilarious for me to watch as I dropped the club and goaded my drives further on down the fairway. The crowd seemed to approve, and it was just so much fun feeling like a big hitter and a factor in this competition.

Even though I did not come away with the W it was an awesome experience that I was happy to be a part of.

 

See my YouTube channel for videos of all the other contestants’ drives in the 2016 North Hills Country Club long drive competition

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MCC Takes Back #1 Spot

Even though I was very impressed with the course the first time I played Milwaukee Country Club, I then played Pine Hills a handful of times since then and in my mind moved Pine Hills ahead of Milwaukee.

It had been a few years since the last time I played Wisconsin’s most prestigious private golf club until last week. We had a beautiful Friday afternoon to enjoy the Colt and Alison gem, and I was excited to be invited out by my boss along with one of his MCC golf buddies, our co-worker Preston, and for nine holes his son.

The thing that hit me immediately was the conditions at Milwaukee Country Club. Everything near the greens is shaved to first-cut length, and there was not a blade of grass out of position.

Our caddies were attentive and enjoyable to spend the day with, and I loved the updates that have been made to the course over the past year. The added bunkers nearing the green on three and the remastered putting surface there fit beautifully, and I think having the opportunity to play it without photography enhanced my overall golfing experience.

The back nine is absolutely sensational over and along the Milwaukee River, and the front nine is an excellent test of golf, as well.

In addition, I think the ninth and eighteenth holes are two of the best finishing holes in the state – the ninth is quite simply a tremendous golf hole.

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Hole 9: Par 4 (332/300/262)

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Hole 18: Par 4 (444/391/362)

I played pretty well there, shooting an 83 that could have been considerably lower. I hit most fairways and greens and putted well. I just had a hard time getting out of the green-side bunkers that are a bit heavier than the ones I have become used to.

Another factor that enhances the MCC experience is the food and beverage. Their daily buffet in the beer hall-like men’s locker room is fantastic, featuring carving stations, brats, burgers, sides and desserts.

For the quality of the course and the overall golfing experience, I have decided to move Milwaukee Country Club back to the number one spot in my rankings of the top private golf clubs in Wisconsin.

Private Golf Club Review: Milwaukee Country Club (October 2013)

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Golf Course Review: Racine Country Club

Let’s start out by saying that I (and my fellow buddies from North Hills Country Club) loved the Racine Country Club experience.

The course is classic with small, lightning-fast greens, and the clubhouse and facilities are beautiful. I don’t think I’ve seen a club in Wisconsin with better amenities, in fact.

The food was fantastic. I got a dozen chicken wings before our round (I’m not a warm up on the range kind of guy), and a massive fish filet afterwards. The wings were meaty and the buffalo sauce was perfect. The fish was delicious, as were the sides and drinks.

The clubhouse sprawls. It looks nice from the front, but amazing from inside and behind. It actually reminds me of the clubhouse at Blackwolf Run when viewed from the course, which I consider to be the prettiest clubhouse in the state.

The club’s facilities are plentiful and tastefully done. The pro shop is adequate, and the locker room is world-class. Each locker is dark wood with the RCC inscription engraved. There is a bar in the men’s locker room – a feature I always like – and it is manned by Gene who is a bit of a celebrity, himself. Gene retired from Case more than fifteen years ago, and took the job as the men’s locker room assistant for something to do. He has been there ever since, and provides the experience every country club strives to find someone to deliver.

We were told to make sure we get a drink from Gene, who makes a solid concoction but more than anything provides customer service that is second to none.

After getting to the club, Scott and I went to the bar upstairs and I ordered my wings. Kyle and Nick texted us that they were at the locker room bar downstairs, so we made the journey to the men’s locker room and I told the bartender upstairs and he had them delivered there. When we made our way back to the upstairs bar, my wings were already delivered downstairs. I made my way down there and Gene said, “No, sir I will carry them for you,” to which I told him I was happy to carry it. He gave me every excuse why it would be better for him to carry them, including that it will look better to my friends, and we were on our way back to the upstairs pub. I tried giving him five dollars for his inconveniences, but he wasn’t having it.

Private golf clubs are all about the golf, followed by customer service and experience, if you ask me. Racine Country Club excels on all fronts.

Enough about buffalo wings – I didn’t even mention the huge game room downstairs including a billiards table, four bowling lanes, tons of card tables and lounge areas. I also didn’t mention the awesome lounge in the men’s locker room, the beautiful upstairs bar and numerous dining areas, the fitness center, pool or tennis courts… Let’s just say I was jealous and wish my club had the space to catch up!

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Two of the four bowling alleys in the basement at Racine Country Club

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Billiards table in the downstairs game room at Racine Country Club

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Fitness center in the basement at Racine Country Club

We had a great foursome for Saturday’s round, including my friends Kyle, Nick and Scott, who are all 4-handicaps. I got 6 total strokes on the day, and our game du jour was wolf. In wolf, foursomes keep a rotation where the last player to tee off has to decide after each tee shot if he/she wants to partner with that person. If passed, that player cannot be picked. Sometimes it ends up that they pass on the first two and the third player to tee off duck-hooks one in to the water – in that case, they can choose to go alone and risk losing two points, but also have the opportunity to earn three.

I was chosen several times because of great drives. After the majority of those, I hit green-side bunkers next. Normally that’s not a big deal since I pride myself in my sand game, but the traps at Racine Country Club are nothing like the ones I’ve become used to. The traps at Racine are deep and with heavy sand, very similar to the sand at Bandon Dunes. It’s the kind of sand that feels like it was taken from a beach, and swinging with arms will not get the job done.

The course at Racine Country Club starts out in glorious fashion, with steeply elevated tee boxes adjacent to the pro shop and overlooking a narrow but short opening par five. There is a little more room to the left than it looks, and none to the right.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (473/459/445/432)

The fairway bends hard right at about 400 yards, so the second shot will either have to carry out-of-bounds to the right or else be played safely left toward the elbow.

The first hole initiates players to the greens at Racine Country Club, which are… Fast. And small. I was told putting here is like putting on concrete more times than I can remember leading up to our round, and the actual experience did not disappoint.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (473/459/445/432)

The second hole is a little intimidating from the tee, as the left-to-right dogleg par four is mostly hidden and the river that runs through the fairway mostly blends in to the playing surface. A solid drive over 200 yards should carry the water with ease and leave a manageable approach.

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Wisconsin’s 18 Toughest Par 3 Holes: The Long Holes

The Beasts (> 185 yards from the first tees in):

1. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys #15 (227/196/189/150/103):

Depending on the distance, this is the hardest par three maybe in the world! From the back three tees, this signature par three on the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run tees up from well over 180 yards usually straight in to the wind and over a massive prairie with one of the widest multi-sectioned greens outside of Lawsonia’s Links course!

From 227-plus yards from the tips, this is as hard of a par three as it gets.

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Hole 15: Par 3 (227/196/189/150/103)

To make the challenge of hitting 3-wood or more off the tee more palatable, the forward tees have probably the most breathtaking view of any hole in the state of Wisconsin to look back on:

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A look back from the forward tees on the 15th at the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, WI

2. Whistling Straits, Straits #17 (249/223/197/165/131):

This hole has decided the outcomes of PGA Championships!

At over 240 yards from the tips, and with Lake Michigan bordering the entire left side, there is nothing simple about this Alice Dye created hole – a large mound protects the right side of the green and one of the most ridiculous volcano bunkers outside of the Pete Dye Course at French Lick means absolutely anything errant is punished to the enth degree.

Dead zone lies between the tee and green, and anything other than hitting the green leads to bogey or worse.

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Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/137)

3. Blackwolf Run, River #13 (231/205/192/150/101):

Blackwolf Run’s River course boasts one of the most demanding tee shots in the entire state of Wisconsin: From over 200 yards, it’s all carry over the Sheboygan River with a draw, or else one hell of a high fade over the tall oak trees that front the green on the thirteenth hole.

To add to the difficulty level, fly fishermen regularly fish this stretch of the river and pay little to no attention to golfers, making players hopeful that if their tightly drawn shots are miss-hit that they’ll at least not hurt anybody.

Fortunately for us during the below round, there was only one fly fisherman in the river, and none of us hit him (see below photo).

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Hole 13: Par 3 (213/205/192/150/101)

4. University Ridge #17 (250/192/164/130):

The seventeenth at University Ridge tees up from 250 yards from the tips (one of the most popular tournament courses in the state, as well as the University of Wisconsin’s home course and site of the PGA Champion’s Tour American Family Championship), and plays directly over a pond that not only includes all-carry, but also has out-of-bounds directly left and right.

There is literally nowhere to miss on this hole, and even from the first tees in is a ridiculously challenging one-shotter.

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Hole 17: Par 3 (250/192/164/130)

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2016 Lombardi Classic Follow-Up

As I wrote in a previous post, the Vince Lombardi Golf Classic at North Hills Country Club is a huge ordeal, and we had an unbelievable amount of fun at this year’s event.

My fiance, Kelly, and I had a wedding downtown on Friday night, and I had a golf outing on Sunday morning at New Berlin Hills (Terry Fritz Memorial Golf Outing), so Saturday was our opportunity to experience the action.

Our new house is off the sixth hole at North Hills in Menomonee Falls, which is quite convenient for the event. I was given a media pass to wander and take pictures, tweet to #LombardiClassic and do media-y things, in general.

One of the cool aspects about the Lombardi is that when you go year after year you start to develop little friendships with the participants. Some are more friendly than others, but guys like Micah Hyde, Mason Crosby, Jarred Abbrederis, Lynn Dickey, Greg Matzek, Jerry Kramer, Tim Masthay and Gorman Thomas are really nice, genuine people. It makes cheering for the ones still playing professional sports really easy.

Just a few photos from Saturday at this year’s event:

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Ex-Brewer Greg Vaughn, Norm and Dan on the 6th tee

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Packers TE Casey Pierce with Sam, Keith, Ken, Doug and Tom

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620 WTMJ sports anchor and talk show host, Greg Matzek, tees off on 6

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Green Bay Packer Micah Hyde with my friends’ Jim and Mandy’s kids

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Mandy and Hailey with baseball legend Bob Uecker

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Lombardi Golf Classic chairman Mason Crosby speaking to the crowd on the patio

There are few $10 sports experiences I can think of that rival spectating at the Lombardi. Put the first Saturday of June, 2017 on your calendar early, and make sure to stop by North Hills Country Club for next year’s 47th annual Vince Lombardi Golf Classic.