I may have overdone it a little bit. One nine at Forest Park Golf Course, another nine at Highland Golf and Tennis Center followed by a Cardinals game that night, and that was followed by a visit to Ballpark Village, which is a whole other story for another time.
The next day Normandie Golf Club presented 18 holes of really, really hard golf. Oh and, it was super hot and very humid, and well I guess that part was predictable, but still, it shocked my system a bit, yeah, I may have overdone it a little bit.
My son Eric came along with me on this trip. You may remember he was with me for the Van Cortlandt Park golf adventure. That trip was a little different, back then he was getting married in a few weeks and I wanted to get him and I out of town to just unwind for a bit. He had never seen his favorite baseball team play at home so I ponied up for tickets and took him to New York City to see the Yankees at home.
Knowing we were headed to The Bronx I couldn’t help but slip in a round at Van Cortlandt Park. So we went to New York for Baseball and squeezed in a round of golf. This time we were going for the golf and we squeezed in a baseball game.
So Eric likes to explore cities…on foot. I have logged several miles walking slightly behind him as he leads us on a somewhat of a wild goose chase looking for some historic monument, popular vista, or a local eatery. I’ve learned to adopt a “alone for the ride” attitude when we are off on one of these urban hikes. One weekend in April a few years ago we were on a college scouting trip looking for colleges he might transfer to. We were in Indiana and not far from Chicago, and yeah, he wanted to “check out” Chicago.
We drove into the the city, parked in some random lot and headed out for his quest, this time it was to find “The Bean”. At the very same time we begin our rather brisk paced journey it began to snow - a lot. One hour later, 6 inches of snow, and no maps to guide us we successfully stalked and hunted "The Bean”, and I have to say besides the frozen toes, it was worth the journey.
New York was the same. In New York he was on the hunt for The 9/11 Memorial Pools. We had to incorporate a subway ride into this journey, but again with no map, and with little error we found our way. If you ever have a chance to see the pools, please do.
Upon our arrival into St Louis we saw The Gateway Arch from our hotel hallway. That instantly became the beacon for our city quest, and after a quick change into shorts we were off.
The Arch was too far to walk to, and thanks to the mass transit Gods St. Louis has a great light rail that takes you straight into the heart of the city. We hopped onto a perfectly good air conditioned light rail train and in about 20 minutes we hopped off that perfectly good air conditioned train out into the full front of St. Louis in the summertime; hot and humid. Being an ex-East Coaster I do miss a good hot and muggy day. There's something about the way the air just wraps around you like a warm wet(ish) blanket that feels good-for a little while. My body was feeling a little concerned and was wondering why we would leave the air conditioned train. After a few moments all bodily functions were settling down and we were headed to our destination. We made it to The Arch quite easily proving that Eric has an incredible big city street sense, which I think is a very good skill to have. The Arch is pretty cool and it’s gigantic. We only stayed a short while, and began our walk back to the hotel when a new path presented itself to us.
Doors to Sin City
When we are walking we are talking about all kinds of things like; work, golf, and just general stuff. We are observing things like; architecture, historic locations, and basic city fun facts. We were looking for a place to eat, if we turned left we would walk toward the baseball stadium, and we were going to the game the next day so we wanted to save that area for tomorrow's discovery. So we went right instead of left and walked and talked for another 10 or so minutes just keeping our eyes open for some sort of sign that we were closing in on a restaurant. My scanning for food was interrupted by Eric stopping and saying “is that possible, could it be…”. I’m looking around for an “Eat at Joe’s” sign or something. He starts fumbling through his pockets and as he pulls out his wallet he points to a small structure across a fairly busy intersection, and all I can see is a set of three doors, nothing else.
He flashes a Caesar’s reward card at me, “Can it be” he says. I’m thinking, A casino, does St. Louis have gambling, also why does Eric have a Caesars reward card, why don’t I have a rewards card, wait, does he gamble that much??
As we get closer to this small cluster of doors that seem to be placed on a small island in the middle of a freeway intersection. “How strange”, I’m thinking as we waited for traffic to whiz by, I can now see it says A Caesars Property very small over the right hand corner of the last door on the right. It was almost like - if you see this you have found the secret entrance to the door to sin city. We make it to the door and Eric says should we go in, and I’m like “no” in my head…I answer out loud “of course” we reach for the door thinking along they will be locked, and with very little effort they open. We step in and we are met with a long stairway that descends down into a dimly lit lower floor that is covered in classic multi-swirl red and black casino carpet. We both say at the same time, “is this real”, as we reach the bottom we now have to navigate a very long, super wide, and yes, dimly lit hallway. There are no sounds of activity, there are no signs of activity, There was just the two us blindly walking down a tunnel to nowhere.
Has everyone seen The Shining? Do you remember the scene when Jack follows the “hubbub” noises down a long hallway and he turns a corner and discovers a large reception in mid-swing in the Grand Ballroom at the Overlook Hotel. In the movie we learn quickly that the room is actually empty and Jack is among ghosts of previous guests of the hotel. We were experiencing the same thing, we are hearing sounds but still we were not seeing anything, and all along we were convinced this all was some long ago closed casino and we found the only open door. Maybe we were hearing ghosts, so naturally we kept walking toward the “hubbub”. The sounds were getting louder and we picked up our pace, one more long hallway to travel down, we too turned a corner and there it was.
A fully open, completely functional, and quite nice Casino. Could this be real?!? We walked onto the casino floor, sat down at a blackjack table, and lost 10 bucks on our first hand, it was real. We discovered The Horseshoe, and yes, to Eric's delight it was a Caesars property.
The Triple Play
We kicked off day one of the two days of golf with two nine hole rounds, the first nine was at Forest Park Golf Course and the other round was at Highland Golf and Tennis Center, and both courses were located in Forest Park, St. Louis's giant city park. It always supersizes me as you enter a large city park like Central Park in New Your City and Forest Park in St. Louis. The city noise almost instantly disappears. As you enter you are surrounded by traffic, sirens, and construction noises. We drove through the Forest Park gates and curved around to the right for about 100 yards and all the noised were gone. By the time we arrived at the course we could have been transformed to a park 100 miles away from the city.
Heading to the first tee was easy enough and things were looking pretty good. We were standing on the first tee eyeing a flat wide open fairway, and by the look of things the course was going to offer up pretty much the same look and feel for the entire round. We got paired up with a single, Derick, who went by Deek.
Eric and I had a pretty slow start to the round due to late night city discovery’s, lack of sleep, and it was hot and our bodies were second guessing this adventure for the moment. Deek was great he didn’t mind our slow start, he was out for a light stroll and a morning round of golf. He had played this course a few times, which is helpful to folks like us who never played the course. Everyone was keeping pace with each other and we were sharing a few laughs a long the way, just the way you would want to draw up a round.
Eric is starting to catch me…I can still out play him over 18 holes, but he’s coming, and every so often I get very clear evidence of this enviable take over. It was still early in the round and Deek could sense our friendly completion, mostly because of my sighs of relief when Eric would miss hit a drive, is wide on an approach shot, or misses a short putt. Yeah, it’s come down to his inconsistency versus my skill level. We stepped up to the 6th tee box, it’s a 493 par five, with a straight and wide fairway. Everyone is hitting driver (duh). Deek pulls his drive a little left, and it’s playable. I hit a good drive right of center and in the fairway, I hold the follow through just a bit longer then usual just to make my point to Eric. I sneak a glance at Deek, I nod and smile thinking I got him. It was now Eric's turn. The sound of the club hitting ball was nothing I ever heard from any swing he has ever had. The drive was hit pure and it was straight, dead straight.
He held his follow though a little longer than usual, I got the point. It was not a matter if he out drove me it was about how far he out drove me. His second shot was long and slightly right of the green, the green side pitch landed 7 feet from the pin, and his birdie putt was dead center. Oh by the way he out drove me by 50 yards. Yeah he’s coming to get me.
Our second round was in the same park and only about one mile away from each other but they could not have been any more different.
Coming from Forest Park Golf Course, which was mostly flat and wide open, Highlands Golf and Tennis Center was very hilly with tree lined fairways. After a short break we teed it up with two other folks, they were locals and played Highlands all the time, thank you local knowledge. Both Eric and I were a bit wiped out from the first nine so our round was relatively quiet. We were taking in the surrounding and enjoying the views. We were closer to “regular” park traffic, people walking and running, folks riding bikes, and cars making their way to other park destinations. It was fun to be in the mix of sorts. Everyone was blending in with everyone else, I feel like this is what the designers of Forest Park had in mind so many years ago.
We were very reliant on our other twosome to help us with course management. Helpful tips on blind shots always make for a good golf partnership. We quickly eased into friendly conversation and started learning more about each other. It turns out they are both in the squash game, in fact they are Squash professionals for the SMT Athletic club. They train other players in the club as well as play in tournaments against other Athletic clubs all over the country. Professional Squash players…the things you learn, and this is why I am on this journey. They learned about my historic golf journey, which helped them put two and two together as to why we came all this way to play Highland. The give us a little insight into out next round at Normandie; it’s tight, has blind shots to the green, it could use some TLC. At the end of the round we shook hands, thanked them for the round, and they even invited us to stay and have a beer at the 19th hole. We had to decline, and as we turned to head our separate way they turn back and simple said good luck tomorrow….That’s called foreshadowing.
Two alone taking on Normandie
I wanted to get to Normandie Golf Course early so we had time to take in the courses energy, warm up a little, and simply not be rush into the main event. When we got to the course we could see that it was on the verge of a major over haul. The Nicholas Company is schedule to restore this gem at the end of October. In a word the course look tired. From my point of view the course was trying really hard to hold onto it’s historic charm.
It was trying to still welcome everyone who came to play her fairways. The course was putting up its best effort to honor its place in history and not be forgotten and closed like so many older courses that have succumbed to that fate. Normandie needed a nap, a little time off. She needs to rest from all the rounds played and get some TLC. Normandie just needs to be a little more patient and that time is coming in October.
Eric and I made our way the the first tee and to our surprise we were the only ones there. We did not get hooked up with anyone else. No local course knowledge, we were on our own. We turn to look up the fairway only to see we would be teeing off straight into a hill that we assumed we would need to fly the ball straight over it to hopefully a welcoming fair on the other side. Our first blind shot. 6 shots later we putted out. We nodded without saying anything knowing this round was going to be interesting.
We reached the 6th hole and we each were four golf balls down, several strokes on the wrong side of par, and absolutely confirmed we completely under estimated how hard this round was going to be. Without that local course knowledge we were quite literally shooting blind on at least one shot per hole. Scores were no longer a thing putting us into full adventure mood. We were having a great time wondering how this course must have played back in it’s historic days. The folks that took on this course must have been beasts. The hills, blind shots, fairways that roll forever and then kick every ball into the woods, and they walked the 18 holes. Every time we stepped up to a new tee box we would be amazed at the challenge in front us and remind our self’s they would walk this, we would laugh and drive the ball over another hill into a blind spot somewhere down the Fairway.
By the 17th hole we were absolutely wiped, both mentally and physically, however we were still smiling as we looked out onto this 476 par five. The sight almost knocked us to the ground, we could see all the way to the green. Yes, it was sightly up hill, of course, but the sight line was clear for the first time all round. To be honest it felt a little strange. We both teed up our last golf ball in the bag, Eric hit sky high drive that went out maybe 100 yards and I hit a low slicing drive, almost a worm burner the same distance as his shot. Eric's second shot was a beauty leaving him about 150 yards to the green. My second shot rolled up right next to his. I hit my third on the green and Eric did the same. We were in opposite sides of the flag, and we both had about 10 feet for birdie, and we both sank our putts. Our celebration was short, and well deserved. We then realized that was the first time the entire round we played a hole together.
At the end of 18 we shook hands as usual and started to walk off to the club house. I had to stop and look back at the course and give it a tip of the hat. After all these years I could see that she was smiling a little. Knowing she still have a little fire in her belly. I will return after your rest to see how well you have cleaned up, and when I do come back I will not under estimate you.
Thank you Normandi.