"Swing From the Inside"
I have two things I need to get off my chest because I'm feeling rather guilty tonight.
First, the weather in northern Michigan was absolutely ideal for the Hundred Hole Hike. I'm reading post after post about 100 degree temperatures, hail storms, and other difficult conditions. It was about 55 degrees when we teed off at 5:30, the temperature peaked around 75, and there was only strong wind for maybe 27 holes worth of golf. The only complaint about weather might be that there wasn't enough cloud cover, but let's face it that's a stretch!
Second, I had one of the most enjoyable golfing days of my life on Monday.
I have been somewhat worried about this event for months now. As the weeks and days leading up to the event dwindled, I was growing more and more concerned as work, youth baseball, and family were commanding 110% of my time. My free time was largely spent organizing the Hundred Hole Hike at Kingsley - coordinating with the staff at both Kingsley Club and at the Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center - and focusing on my fundraising efforts. Very little time was left for training. It became clear I was going to need to rely on adrenaline and enthusiasm (for both golf and our worthy cause) to get me through the day. It didn't help that I was reading post after post about "the grind" and the physical demands involved with the 100 Hole Hike.
I arrived at Kingsley Club on Thursday, and my long warmup weekend went something like this...
Thursday: Fly to TVC, play 27 holes of golf with a new friend that was experiencing Kingsley Club for the first time. Eat. Catch up with Matt Schmidt upon his arrival late that evening. Sleep less than 6 hours.
Friday: Wake up early to head to the studio for a radio interview to promote our event. (Hopefully the podcast will be available soon). Eat breakfast. Play 9 holes of golf. Eat lunch. Play 18 holes of golf. Eat dinner. Play 9 holes of golf. Stay up too late catching up with Matt Schmidt. Sleep less than 6 hours.
Saturday: Wake up. Eat breakfast. 18 holes of golf. Eat lunch. Play 27 holes of golf, including a "dress rehearsal" 18 with Matt walking at a 2 hour pace just to get the feel for what we'd be doing Monday. The pace felt manageable. 6 rounds (my goal) still seemed absurd. The last nine of the evening, Matt introduces the idea of changing my swing plane less than 30 hours prior to the scheduled start of the HHH. I can honestly say that in 20 years of playing the game, I have never once thought about my swing plane before this day. Sounds like a great idea to completely wreck my game one day before I am trying to walk 6 rounds of golf. I ended the evening by staying up too late with Andrew Lewis and Matt Schmidt. This naturally included a quick tune up with the driver where Andrew recommended a further modification to the already modified swing plane. Sleep less than 6 hours.
Sunday: I was committed to limiting my golf to only 18 holes at all cost. Matt and I headed to the grocery store, twiddled our thumbs, welcomed our final two companions for the hike - Bill Seitz and Chris Hufnagel, and then twiddled our thumbs some more. Sunday was easily the most difficult day I've ever spent at Kingsley Club. The course was begging to be played, and I was ignoring the call. I went to the driving range to hone my new swing and for the first time in my many visits to Kingsley Club I discovered the joys of a driving range with a built in stereo system. I'm not sure if it was the new swing plane or the music, but I was striping the ball at that practice session. Finally, late that afternoon the 5 of us headed out for an enjoyable 18 as a fivesome. Sunday night I found it extremely difficult to sleep. While I was in the bed for approximately four and a half hours, I'm not sure I actually slept 3 hours the entire night.
Monday morning I got out of bed around 4:45, and arrived at the clubhouse around 5:15 with the others. We had one staff member (Brian Conklin, our General Manager) and one volunteer from the Children's Advocacy Center (Sam) waiting for us when we arrived. I was fortunate enough to be one of the two golfers that was paired up with a caddie (the aforementioned Brian Conklin) for the first round. We took a photo of the five golfers (shown here) and all five teed it up on #10 together to start the journey. As we began to spread out to singles I was the last in the rotation. Unlike the four skilled golfers in the group, I was a bit worried about losing my golf ball in the little daylight that was presenting itself at this hour. I made the fateful decision to use a red LED ball and 3 strokes later I recorded what I believe to be the first and only Hundred Hole Hike birdie using glow-in-the-dark technology. Mr. Lewis and Mr. Hufnagel were long gone by the time the three was holed, but Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Seitz were on hand to witness the momentous start. Matt appropriately demanded that I mimic the sound that the "Bird Man" made when interrupting the US Open post-round interview, and a new tradition was born. Matt played the 11th on his own, and it would be the last time I'd see any of the hikers other than Bill on the golf course for quite some time. Part of me still believes that the other three golfers went to a Monday matinee. OK, not really.
I got the first round off to a solid start with a 43 on the back nine (our front nine for the hike). I added my second birdie of the day on my 15th hole of the day (#6 on the scorecard) and it would be the first and last round of the day where I'd make two birdies in one round. Mr. Conklin capably steered my frequently mis-guided game to a steady 87 to start the day. By the 3rd hole he could tell me exactly what club to swing and how hard to hit it. He could pretty much provide a read on putts without even lining them up. 18 holes down.
I played the second round without a caddie. Carrying one's own bag makes the golf marathon experience significantly more demanding, even with a light golf bag and only 9 clubs. I was fortunate that I only had to carry my bag for 36 holes on this longest of golfing days. My second round had me in a groove. I was all alone, consistently within one hole of Bill, a theme that would hold true for nearly 17 hours. Seven holes into the 2nd round, my golf bag broke. The strap snapped and fell right off my shoulder. I was fortunately only a hole and a half away from the clubhouse. A few minutes later I put in a call to the shop from the 18th fairway, and Justin Mack, our head pro, had a brand new bag waiting for me. A quick pit stop and I was back up and running. I made no birdies in round two, but I also made no worse than double bogey, which is a rarity for me. I carded a pleasant 85 and felt really good about the start. Both rounds had taken less than two hours, and I was well on my way to achieving my goal of playing 108 holes. May my favorite left-handed (yes, seriously) golf bag Rest in Peace.
The third round was the toughest round of the day for me. I was still figuring out how to balance eating throughout the course of the day. I think my blood sugar dipped a tad below ideal for a few holes, but I grabbed a few snacks out of my bag and got things right again. I had a wonderful caddie that was volunteering her time for the Children's Advocacy Center. As mentioned before, taking the weight off the shoulders between shots makes a big difference. I shot a 48 on the first nine holes of this round. After beginning the 2nd nine with a double bogey, I rattled off the next 7 holes in only 2 over par. I was on pace to bring the third round home in under 90, when a triple bogey on the short #9 derailed my hopes. I posted an even 90.
My face was probably glowing when Brian Conklin came out of the clubhouse to greet me for my 4th round of the day. After a shaky double bogey to begin the round, we played holes 11-17 in one over par, easily the best I've ever played that difficult stretch of holes. Unfortunately, I closed out the nine with one of my few quadruple bogeys. Still, a 43 was a good start to my 4th round of the day. I matched that effort with a 43 on the front nine, and posted an 86. Seventy two holes in the books and I had broken 90 three out of four rounds. It felt pretty good.
The fifth round began with my best drive off the 10th tee all day... and it was recorded by a TV camera. After a brief interview to provide information about the event, I walked to my ball in the fairway. Only the next day did I learn that they chose to broadcast not my finest drive but instead an extremely awkward approach shot swing I took from the 10th fairway. It was a painful swing to watch. David Plassman, our Director of Golf and Membership, filled a three hole gap as my caddie to begin the round. On the 4th hole he was relieved by Tyler, a new employee on the maintenance team at Kingsley Club. Tyler was a great addition to the day and we hit a good stride together. I shot a fairly steady 87 and birdied the final hole of the round (and 90th of the day) with him on the bag. 5 rounds done. Each round had taken less than 2 hours. I think I had about 6 hours of daylight left at this point. Based on my experience, finishing the 5th round was the first time I began to mentally congratulate myself. I felt very little could get in the way of completing 100, or even my personal goal of 108 at this point. The fact that the muscles still felt pretty good was a bonus.
Bill and I agreed to play the 6th round as a twosome so we could cross the finish line together. It seemed fitting since we had been within eyesight of one another the entire day. Tyler expressed interest in a 2nd round, so I was excited to have him on the bag again. That was, of course, until I was informed that Tyler would actually be caddying for Bill this time around. Much to my surprise, Brian Conklin stepped out of the clubhouse, grabbed my bag for a 3rd round, and off we went. The 6th round will be the most memorable for the foreseeable future for some time. It was the milestone round. My new favorite caddie in the world was on my bag. Little did I know at that time that it would also be memorable based on the golf that would be played and witnessed. I started the round with a bogey and then made a birdie on #11 (our 2nd hole of the round). #11 was the one and only hole I played under par for the day. One birdie and all the rest pars. After a few tough double bogeys and an inattentive miss for an easy birdie on #14, I finished the nine with a 44. I'm not exactly sure what Bill's score was at this point, but it was really good and he was hitting all of his irons to very short distances from the pins. Our 100th hole was the first hole at Kingsley. We crossed that important mark in style - I made a nice one putt par and Bill had a birdie! It was with four holes left that I realized two things: first, I had a really good round going and had a chance to shoot my best round of the day in my 6th round and second, Bill had a legitimate chance to break par on his 6th round of the day. I made par on #6 and stepped up to #7 realizing it was the only hole on the course I had not parred throughout the course of the day. Brian said, "You still aren't going to have a par because you are going to make a birdie." While it turned out that he was a bit optimistic, I did have a nice birdie attempt and was left with a tap-in par. I finished the round with four consecutive greens in regulation, and I posted my best nine of the day - 40. I had just shot an 84, my best round of the day, six rounds into the Hundred Hole Hike. Even more impressively, Bill finished with a 70. One under par on his 6th round of the day. That was strong and it was really fun to watch. We played the round in about 2:20.
After about a 30 minute break, my first of the day, we had about 3 more hours of daylight remaining. Andrew and Chris went off to play #9 one last time before calling it a day - they had played so quickly they were already at 117 holes and had taken a few breaks. Apparently, averaging less than two hours a round, as I did, is the new slow pace in golf. Matt, Bill, and I decided that we'd play the front nine one more time. Since I hadn't seen Matt all day, and I was having serious doubts that he had played more than 36 holes, I was excited to join him. He pulled off just the right balance of limping and complaining about his achilles tendon to convince me that he may have played 54 holes. This nine, largely due to the break, turned into a big grind for me. Carrying the bag made the uphill and downhill stretches doubly hard this late in the day. Ironically, Matt's swing plane that had carried me through the day, failed me in his presence. I shot a 48 with two doubles and two triples. The most notable moment came on the 4th hole, when I missed my shortest putt of the day. The putt was approximately 4 inches from the hole and I never gave it a chance. Luckily, I made the 2 inch come-backer. Fortunately (for my swing) Matt decided to call it quits after that nine. With only Bill and I left and about an hour and 15 minutes of daylight, we decided it would be a bad idea not to play more golf. We weren't sure how many more holes we'd complete, but we agreed to do as many as the remaining light would allow. I started the last nine with new life - par, par, par - and a dream of breaking 90 for the 6th time in 7 rounds. After a bogey, double, bogey stretch I found myself standing on the 16th tee with very little daylight, and needing to shoot +1 on the final three holes to break 90. I made a par on #16. As we walked down the 17th fairway, we noticed a group on the 17th green. We had to wait on our approaches, and as they waived us through, I heard shouts of "Swing from the inside, Tim" from the nearby cottages. I'm pretty sure it was pure mockery, but with Matt's and Andrew's advice in mind I went on to par the 17th hole. We officially played through the last group on the course on the 18th tee, our 126th hole of the day, at about 9:55 PM. I went on to make my bogey putt and to shoot 89!
Back to my original point. Was the day grueling? Yes. Was it a mental grind and a physical challenge? Absolutely! Did I have it easier than some of my fellow hikers around the country due to favorable weather? Without a doubt. Still, as I finish typing this memoir that is probably more for me than any other reader, the thing that stands out in my mind is how much FUN I had throughout the day. It was special in so many ways.
Everyone at Kingsley Club and from Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center was remarkably supportive throughout the day. I could go on listing the numerous people that made a difference. Most have already been named in this blog, but there are so many more that contributed to this wonderfully successful day.
I will leave you with the one thought that will stand out above all others when my memory for the details has long faded.
Brian Conklin = MVP of Tim Bert's Hundred Hole Hike. Brian, I couldn't have done it without you!
Thank you so much to everyone that pledged to or supported any of the Hundred Hole Hike events. The golfers are such a small part of the real story that is developing and gaining momentum here.
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