Last week, I finally did something that I have been trying to do for 23 years: I shot even par for a full nine-hole stretch.
Visiting Portland for the Oregon Healthcare Association annual conference, I attended the conference and spent the afternoon visiting facilities. Afterwards, I found myself in Oregon City, nearby Stone Creek Golf Club, a course recommended to me by a client of mine.
I had my clubs in the rental car, and nothing else planned for the day, so figured I might as well take advantage of the situation. I spoke with their Head Golf Pro, Doug Suse, and got out on a beautiful late afternoon 25 minutes outside of Portland.
I made my way to the driving range before teeing off. I was shaving under everything seven-iron or lower, and my back was in considerable pain following a hotel fitness center morning workout. I was starting to second-guess my decision to play golf.
I made my way toward the first tee and was paired up with Mike, a pre-med student at Portland State who hadn’t been on a course in two years. Mike was a really nice guy and a novice golfer, and was very interested in game improvement and appreciative of simple tips: Narrow your stance, stay down on the ball, putt through it on the greens… Standard beginner’s advice that will help anyone new to the sport start hitting more cleanly and begin getting the ball airborne.
Stone Creek is a very scenic course designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy that opened in June of 2002. A certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the course uses the natural land, ponds and forests artfully, and features some very challenging elevation on the back nine, especially.
I chose the blue tees, which measure 6,525 yards, and got my round underway in a very normal way: A sliced tee shot right of right, but with decent distance. I found it near the eighteenth fairway on the far side of a large mound, got my distance and hit a well-struck eight-iron to about 15 feet of the pin. That felt nice, and I two-putted for par.
Hole 1: Par 4 (407/381/341/291)
Sand traps to the left of hole 1: Par 4 (407/381/341/291)
A mid-range par three of 156 yards, I hit another eight-iron on two to about 20 feet below the hole, and sank that for birdie. Now we’re talking!
Hole 2: Par 3 (182/156/134/108)
The third looks tight from the tee, with statuesque trees on each side of a narrow fairway. My drive was a bit thin, but found the right side of the fairway setting up another eight-iron in. Two putts. Par. Still minus one.
Hole 3: Par 4 (396/376/364/287)
Four is a short par five that plays back alongside the third hole fairway, and is again tree-lined. My drive was sliced toward the woods, and I would take my medicine to chip over a dead tree and back in to the fairway. My three-wood would then come up just short of the greenside bunkers on a downhill lie. I played a wedge between the next two traps and rolled it on from about 25 yards for a two-putt that put me back at even par.
Hole 4: Par 5 (498/478/443/397)
My tee shot on five then went right again, but caught a tree branch and bounded back in to the right side of the fairway, impeded heavily by the overhanging trees. I pulled my eight-iron again, and thought to myself, “Thankfully, ‘trees are 90 perfect air.’” An old wive’s tale one of my friends jokes about often. True to form, though, it flew through the branches beautifully and landed just over the right-side trap and safely on to the front-right of the putting surface. Two putts for par.
Hole 5: Par 4 (429/410/377/333)
Six is a gorgeous par three over water, with a raised green and short approach area found right. From 151 yards, I hit eight-iron again and was about ten yards right of the green. Pitched on to eight feet and drained it. Still even.
Hole 6: Par 3 (180/151/134/109)
My tee shot on seven would find a deep right-side fairway trap about 140 yards out. With a clean pick, I hit the front-left and would three-putt for bogey. Plus one, maybe it’s not meant to be. Oh well…
Hole 7: Par 4 (366/348/313/270)
Eight is a par five that finishes uphill. My drive went left, on a heavy right-to-left slope next to the green of the par three second hole. I would hit this shot fat and lay up successfully to about 40 yards out in the fairway. My wedge from here was about 25 feet above and left of the pin, on a slippery slope that looked next to impossible. Miraculously, it slid down the slope right into the middle of the cup, and I was back to even par. What’s gotten in to me?
Hole 8: Par 4 (527/508/474/427)
With a split fairway on nine, the hole measures 376 yards from the blue tees and doglegs left and downhill. I took a line straight toward the green and hit my best tee shot of the day, bounding off the left side mound to 20 yards short of the green in the middle of the fairway. Second guessing myself, I played a knocked-down seven-iron and left it short on the uphill fringe. From there I hit a knocked-down nine to twelve feet. Disappointed in that, too, it hit me that this was a fairly pedestrian putt compared to what I’ve been making. Slightly uphill, not much right to left. Straight in the middle of the hole.
Hole 9: Par 4 (397/376/342/296)
Having shot 39 a number of times in my life on nines, I admittedly didn’t think I had it in me. But, somehow, managed to shoot three strokes better than I had ever done, and for the first time in my life, shot even par through nine holes.
Like a pitcher in the seventh inning of a no-hit bid, I never said a word to Mike. But after that putt, he was taking off from his nine-hole day and I said to him, “Mike, I wasn’t going to say anything, but that was just the first time I have ever shot even par through nine holes in my entire life.” I was obviously elated, and immediately realized my mistake which would be brought to fruition when I shot seven strokes worse for a 44 on the back.
Admittedly, the front nine is much easier than the back. The back is considerably tighter, and the majority of the front nine plays well for a cut drive.
Mike took off and I made the turn to the back nine. The tenth is a nice par four of 415 yards, and I put the ball right down the middle of the fairway, and long. I would then miss the green short but two-putted for bogey.
Hole 10: Par 4 (432/415/376/318)
Eleven is a tough par five. Running parallel to the par four third hole, the eleventh is tight between trees and has a deep swale before the green. I hit the fairway with no issues, then hit a bomb of a three-wood to thirty yards out and below the green. I shaved under that with my 56-degree wedge and would then put my fourth shot on the back-right of the green leaving a fast and curvy downhill putt. I three-putted for bogey and went to plus-three.
Hole 11: Par 5 (537/512/482/436)
Twelve is a tough hole. The entire left side is heavily wooded and drops off into oblivion just off the fairway. I would lose my tee shot out of bounds, and then hit a tree left of the approach area to set up a short approach that would get close for bogey. Plus-four: Time to quit counting.
Hole 12: Par 4 (419/397/372/302)
Thirteen is the number one-handicapped hole on the course, and for good reason. The driving area is tight and guarded on both sides by trees. The fairway then ends before a creek and goes straight uphill to a green that is approached from almost 200 yards. I hit a long five-iron and wound up right of the green, would chip on and take another bogey.
Hole 13: Par 4 (441/417/388/330)
Hole 13: Par 4 (441/417/388/330)
Fourteen played to a temporary green directly downhill and under 100 yards. The back side is entirely wooded and would result in lost balls, so I hit a knocked down wedge and one-putted for par.
Hole 14: Par 3 (141/133/123/102)
Fifteen features another intimidating drive, with stately pines running the length of both sides of the fairway. I over-cut my drive, hitting a tree on the right side and fortuitously caroming off the branch and back in to the fairway. I was short with meager chances of hitting the uphill green, but would lay up nicely and get on in three, then take three more putts to hole out.
Hole 15: Par 4 (427/412/368/343)
Hole 15: Par 4 (427/412/368/343)
Sixteen is a short par three with an undulating green and a back-side that drops in to wasteland. I thought I over-hit my nine-iron, but found it in the middle of the green to set up an easy par. I would actually par or birdie all four par threes at Stone Creek this day.
Hole 16: Par 3 (143/143/125/115)
Seventeen is a neat hole. A 408-yard par four, the tree line fades down the fairway and gives relief to an open shot at a green that is bordered on the right by sand.
Hole 17: Par 4 (431/408/370/302)
Stone Creek finishes nicely with a 504-yard par five that runs straight away. Sand traps abound in the fairway, but three good shots left an easy par for a solid [for me] 80.
Hole 18: Par 5 (520/504/463/415)
Hole 18: Par 5 (520/504/463/415)
I was very happy I stopped at Stone Creek. With very nice conditions, an interesting and challenging layout, and very reasonable greens fees, I highly recommend checking it out the next time you are in the Portland area.
This was one of the most memorable rounds of my life. Never have I felt more like I was in complete control of my game as I was on the front nine, and the excitement of playing the best nine consecutive holes of my life was something I will not soon forget. Now I can set my sights on a couple of new goals: Eighteen holes of even par golf, and a full nine holes under par. It is pretty amazing to know now that I am capable of it!
Now for the follow-up to this story… That hurting back that I had in the morning that had me hitting everything awful and painfully on the practice range before going out and playing the front nine in even par fashion actually ended up being a very serious injury. Over the next year I had to get chiropractic help three to four times a week, along with several epidurals to cloud over the pain from having ruptured C6, C7 and C8 vertebrae and all of the neural issues that this caused.
For at least half a year, I could only sleep on my right side, was applying biofreeze like it was going out of style, and was heavily medicated to the point that I was nearly falling asleep at work.
The million dollar question: Was that all worth it to shoot even par for the first and only time [so far] in my life? Yes.
I have since shot 37 over nine holes a number of times at North Hills and other area clubs, but haven’t shot even par again. Hopefully this season!