So, I never got to Toledo this past golf season. I talked about Toledo, I booked Toledo, I canceled Toledo, end of story. Why am I so obsessed with Toledo? Toledo and its Ottawa Park is the home to the second oldest 18 hole golf course to open specifically for the public. What's the first oldest 18 hole golf course to open specifically for the public you ask? Here’s a hint…that’s right, Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course,
which shares its name with and resides in New York’s Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. This is a bit of coincidence because the golf course in Toledo’s Ottawa Park is named Ottawa Park Golf Course. I imagine back in the day the committee responsible for the naming of these two courses were working closely together. I bet the meeting to decide on a name was pretty short. "Hello everyone, what shall we name this new course in Toledo , where does in reside? "Right smack dab in the middle of Ottawa Park". "I see, let's name this golf course Ottawa Park Golf Course. All in favor say Aye." "Aye!!" "Good day's works everyone, how about lunch at the new course?"
I do have a strong urge to get there this year, just for that naming thing alone, and I feel like these two courses have a stronger bond with each that hasn’t been discovered yet.
The reason I had to cancel Toledo was due to an oversubscribed work load, in other words our group was slammed and I couldn’t just duck out for a long weekend of golf. Believe me I waited until the final moments to cancel the flight reservation. I mean isn’t that when you’re supposed to leave on vacation, when it’s the busiest time of the year, knowing when you’re putting out for that bogey save the team is back in California working late into the night. Yeah, but...I couldn’t do it. I determined it wouldn't be worth the icy cold reception I would get on my return to work on Monday morning. Besides, I’m pretty sure the Golf Gods would be on me hard, and I would be putting out double bogey even triple saves all weekend long, if I was lucky. I canceled the trip.
Turning a negative into a positive
I fly Southwest. I like the laid back nature of the flight schedules, customers, and crew. It feels like we are all on a spontaneous road trip together. We hop in, take off, fly for a few hours, and then land in a new city. Sometimes it’s your final destination, sometimes it’s your newly discovered riding companion’s stop, or it could be a short layover before you head to your final destination. All and all you are traveling for the day and at the end, for me at least, I feel like I took a car ride with a bunch of folks we picked up along the way. Another reason I like Southwest is that they let you cancel your flight 10 minutes before your departure time. So I did in fact have my finger over the cancel button right up to the last day I could cancel. Not quite minutes before the cancellation deadline, but I did like the option and suspense that I could have waited until the very last (10th) minute of the flight to cancel…it was almost Bond-like!
Now I had travel points to burn. My Wife was out of town on a work trip to Europe and I was home searching “great golf destinations” using the Southwest US route map as my destination guide. This was just before Thanksgiving, it may have been a rare rainy day so I had lots of time to study various routes. I was thinking about the Western US for sure, mostly because lots of the country's courses were closing or closed due to winter conditions. My thoughts were leaning toward desert golf, and bam I found it.
My search didn’t take very long, Southwest flew directly to this destination, Laura could arrange to have her return trip land in the same location. Before I new it I was trading in my “Toledo” rapid reward points for a “road trip” to
Bucket list realized
I have always been interested in visiting Palm Springs. As a kid I thought it was so cool that there was this real life oasis in the middle of a desert. What an idea, and can you imagine the pitch meeting way back when someone said, "I know, let's build a city two hours out in the middle of desert and people will come to relax. Not only that, I think it will be a vacation destination for years to come". You have to love visionaries.
As I got into golf later on in high school and college I would see golf tournaments on TV that were being played in Palm Springs and it looked amazing. Again I would always think, golf in the desert…why, how? Then I moved to California, and it doesn’t rain for half the year, I began to understand how they can play in the desert. Now throw in that Mid-Century architecture, decor, and lifestyle they try and maintain there, that’s very cool. It always looked like a place I would like, and now after a short 90 minute flight me and my fellow Southwest “road trippers” were making our final approach into Palm Springs, which by the way I learned is known as the Golf Capital of the World, I knew I liked this place!
Right out of the plane you are met with an open air walk through a very small airport steeped in mid-century decor, right down to the font on the signs directing you to baggage claim. It all seemed very quaint and easy. The rental car was sitting right outside the exit door,
I loaded the clubs into the trunk, and off I went for my 20 minutes drive to the rented condo sitting on the 16th fairway of the Desert Falls Golf Club.
Well, while in Palm Springs you didn’t think I was not going to put myself as close to a golf course as I could. I had to ask myself...What would Frank Sinatra have done??
Sights and Golf
I woke early the next morning excited to see the sights and get to a 10am tee time at Desert Falls. As I walked up to the pro shop I was met with an incredible mountain panorama that framed the course perfectly. First impression, excellent.
After checking in I took my small bucket of balls and headed to the range. I found myself hitting off an elevated grass tee box into a mountain landscape. Second impression, excellent. Arriving at the first tee and being matched up with two very friendly playing partners that made our pre-round chat very relaxing.
I was asked what tee I was hitting from, whites for me I said, and they responded with gold for us. I thought for the sake of pace of play I would join them at the gold tees. These folks were here from Canada and where two weeks into a month stay in the Desert. They have played this course 3 times already so I had my “local” knowledge to help me around the course.
We were called to tee off, and of course, I would tee off last in the group, no pressure. As we made it to the tee box I was told we had a dog leg left and the fairways ran out at about 180 yards at the dog leg. 5 iron for me. Judy hit driver straight out toward the mountain framed fairway and the ball settled out there at about 170 yards. Mike hit driver and hit almost the same shot. Two beauties, and now I settled over the ball. I hit a carbon copy shot of Judy and Mike’s drive, and I have to say it was really special watching the ball fly through the air with mountains as your backdrop to track the ball. After my ball landed near everyone else we all looked at each other and exhaled together, and with a laugh we were off for the day. Third impression, excellent.
What’s Old Is New Again
Somewhere around the third or fourth hole out of nowhere I flared a shot right, like way right, and after a brief 60 yard flight the ball rolled up and rested next to the cart path. Without thinking ant thing of it I said, well at least that’s good cart path management I won’t have to walk far from the cart to play my ball, and I got a good laugh from Mike and Judy.
And they pointed out how great that shot choice was because it was after all cart path only at the course. We all had a good laugh and moved to play our second and third shots. A few holes later I'm now standing on an elevated fairway about 220 yards away from the green. This was my second shot of a par 5, there was a group making their way onto the green up ahead. I'm thinking, Do I lay up or do I try and go for it…I decided to go for it…but I have to wait, and the group up front was playing slow. Mike and Judy were still making their way up the fairway and when they passed me I told them of my intention. They were fine with that and continued playing forward. I just stood there waiting, practice swinging, waiting, and practice swinging. Finally the group ahead finished making what must have be very "high stakes" putts based on the time each one took to putt. Now it was my turn. Well, we all know what happened. I topped the shot and the ball rolled up the fairway for about 80 yards. Slightly embarrassed, but not surprised that it happened, I made my way to my ball relizing now that it wasn’t a bad lay up after all.
As I passed Mike and Judy I casually told them I had imagined a much more majestic ball flight. They both laughed out loud, and I thought for the first time about what an advantage it is to play golf with strangers. All my tired golf quips, all four of them, are fresh and new to them. Now that I know this I will be better prepared for this golf season so I can take my comedy act on the road with me. I just hope I don’t have four bad shots early in the round. All my material will be dried up by the third hole and I will have to turn my attention from comedy gold to playing golf.
I played two rounds of golf while out at what is truly a real oasis out in the middle of the desert and it could not have been a better experience.
Great golf condition, great company, and the views were remarkable. The entire experience was something else. The 60's vibe, restaurants, and of course golf all felt very very natural, I never felt like I was being force fed an experience. The energy all around had this swagger that either you went with the flow or you didn't. Either way the town didn't care as along as you promised to try to slow down a little and enjoy the scene...if you can.
I feel like this energy could have effected my game. I have to say I played well and I think I might have to "force" myself back to Palm Springs just to make sure my play in the desert wasn't a flook. When I do go back I will make sure I pack a Fedora.
What A Return
After a COVID two plus year suspension 2022 marked the return of the journey to play the oldest public golf courses in the US and it did not disappoint. At Foxburg Country Club I was so lucky to share this adventure with some friends that have been in my life for nearly 50 years! The entire experience was and still is very hard to articulate. Laughing until you think you might pass out, catching up and finding out life is working out well for each of them, and while on the course we managed a few good shots, but mostly we just talked. St. Louis marked the return of my Son to the journey. We played three courses; Forest Park, Highland, and Normandie in two days. We learned to never underestimate a golf course-I see you Normandie Golf Course. That course is why we went to St. Louis and it’s one of the oldest public courses in the country. It was really hard and very hilly. Lot’s of blind shots, we could not process how folks back in the 1900’s got around on this course and what their experience have been like. It was so hard!
Each trip was so relaxing and it really helped me better understand why I’m on this journey. The golf is always good no matter what, it could be 95 degrees and 97 humidity (thank you St. Louis) or the course is in need of a little TLC, golf will always be a good thing. To me it’s about mingling with the folks that live in the area, playing with strangers that during the round becoming short term friends that you wish well and maybe exchange contact info at the end of the round. It’s about folks coming out to play a round with me after learning that I will be at a “nearby” course and thinking it was nothing to drive 4 hours to meet me to play some golf. Thank you Scott and Tom! It’s about sharing this game with my Son on the road, and him sharing his historical knowledge of each city we visit. It’s a great partnership, I gain a better understanding and appreciation for the city we are visiting, and each time we play a round of golf he inches ever closer to one of his goals, beating me.
Not yet, but some time soon this will happen, until then pay up!
Entering 2023 I look forward to continuing to play with strangers and leave with new friends. I look forward to more friends (and strangers too) meeting up with me at one of the historic courses and getting out for a round. Maybe we can get two foursomes out there?!? And I look forward to more golf trips with my Son and continuing to out play him for as long as I can. I hope that will be at least one more year, one can hope for a great new year! And of course I look forward to seeing you all on the course.