Writer wraps up second leg of 'PGA Tour'
The life of a touring pro is not as glamorous as it seems. Sure, there are the gourmet meals and spa treatments, all courtesy of the Superior Telegram sports department's unlimited expense account, but the travel becomes a grind.
Following grueling days on the road, I headed west. My destination: Superior's Nemadji Golf Course. My host for this stop on the tour was PGA Club Professional Mark Carlson, who, along with Steve Flagstad, leases Nemadji from the City of Superior and manages operations.
After a cordial greeting by Carlson, and prior to hitting the course, we talked about the course and its operations. Carlson was quick to point out that his partner, Flagstad, was responsible for the excellent quality of the course.
Carlson also told me that the first 18 holes opened in 1932 and the West course was completed in 1983. The facility offers 36 holes of inviting challenges, a driving range, putting and chipping practice areas and a three-hole practice course.
He also said the goal at Nemadji was to offer country club conditions at public course prices.
"After 35 years of improvements we have made that goal come true," Carlson said. "We continue to be profitable in these tough economic times, at no cost to the tax-payer."
With 70 part-time employees and gross revenues of about 1.6 million dollars, Carlson uses local vendors whenever possible, stimulating the economy of Superior.
It was time to play golf. I asked Carlson to bring me to three signature holes. After a moment of contemplation, Carlson told me he regarded signature holes to be different for everyone. "It's a hole you remember, either because you made a great shot, or because of its challenge," Carlson said.
As Carlson strapped his tour bag to the back of the cart I noticed him eyeing my canvas bag with an assortment of hickory shafted niblicks and imitation persimmon. At that point I knew I had him. He was jealous and probably afraid of my game.
With Carlson at the helm, we motored down the asphalt cart paths and arrived at hole No. 9 of the North nine. This hole is a 130-yard par-three from an elevated tee to an elevated green the size of a postage stamp. Off the green was nothing but trouble. That starts with "T" which rhymes with "G" and that stands for golf. (Apologies to The Music Man).
Carlson put his tee shot on the back left of the green. My 8- iron shot drifted left and found itself among tree roots under a tree. Under Carlson's careful watch using a foot-wedge was out of the question, so I pulled out a wedge and duffed a shot halfway up the bank of the green. Another wedge put me on the green. Both Carlson and I two putted. Par for Carlson, double-bogey for me. But the sun was in my eyes.
Next we motored to hole No. 14 of the West. This hole is a dogleg right, 209-yard par 3. Carlson, having honors, drove the green and following, I ended on the fringe. Up and down I carded a three and Carlson also parred the hole.
We popped right over to No. 15. This would be a bit of a test -- 327 yards, a fairway garden, two fairway bunkers and more sand than on Park Point.
Forgetting the play for a moment, I realized that there were several flower beds scattered about the course. These well tended amenities add a welcoming visual calmness to the game as well as a soothing fragrance that wafts across the fairways.
Mark and I both tee'd off to the flash of lightning. The flash was well over the Duluth area, so I estimated we had about 15 minutes to finish the hole. After our second shot, that 15 minutes disappeared with a lightning bolt right over our heads. The air-horn sounded from the clubhouse. I sensed Carlson was afraid of losing the hole when he suggested we both score a bogey and head to the clubhouse. Not wanting to insult my gracious host, I agreed. I could always come back during a tournament and wax him.
Over coffee in the clubhouse, Carlson told me of the 100 or so tournaments hosted by Nemadji each year that raise more than $50,000 for charities. He told me the approximately 800 members combined in the men's and women's clubs facilitate leagues and social events, and 1,000 passes are given to schools to encourage children to golf. He also told me of the fully stocked and staffed pro shop.
With the meticulous care of the grounds by Flagstad, and the operational acumen of Carlson, it's hard to imagine anyone not putting Nemadji near the top of their list for their own golf tour.
Next I headed to Botten's Green Acres in Lake Nebagamon. Family owned and operated since it was built in 1968, the nine-hole, 2,880-yard course is situated on 60 acres. At the clubhouse, I spoke with Brad Botten, who told me the course is home to several leagues and is noted as a friendly place to golf. With a fleet of 16 rental carts, advance tee times are not necessary.
For my play, I was paired with a rare gentleman, Larry Pearson, who golfs at Botten's three to four times a week and certainly knows the nuances of the course. We agreed on three holes to play to showcase the course.
Our first stop was No. 3, a 150-yard par three. There was water to the left and left rear. Anything over the green was trouble. I drove left of the green with my 8 iron. Pearson fared not much better. Two chips and two putts later I was ready to mark my five, Pearson besting me by a stroke. I noted that the greens were great, hard and fast.
Next we were off to the 301-yard, par 4 fifth hole. This was a fairly straight forward hole. It was still early in the morning, but I was warming up. My drive had a good lie in the fairway. Pearson hit an enviable fade that graced the middle of the fairway. My second shot was short of the green, as was Pearson's. A chip and a two-putt put the pressure on Pearson. He succumbed to the pressure and double-bogeyed the hole.
The par 4, 300-yard eighth hole was next. This was a devil of a hole. Dogleg right then up, over a hill guarding the unseen green. I thought my best option was to just close my eyes and hit the ball. Safely in the landing area, I chunked a pitch to the right of the green. A little chip onto the green got me home with a one putt, scoring par for the hole. Mr. Pearson did not fare quite so well and carded a five. I had beaten the club favorite by a stroke.
Under PGA rules, (Paul's Golf Adventure) my lost balls and mulligans don't count so I stand by my will.
At the clubhouse there were several golfers milling about. I thought they probably heard I was there and wanted an autograph. I learned later that the group was preparing for a scramble that is played by whoever shows up, usually every morning. Pearson invited me to stay and join the scramble. That gesture is indicative of the welcoming attitude and friendliness at Botten's Green Acres. I also extend my apologies to Larry, Jack and Roger, who got stuck with me as their partner for the morning.
Poplar Golf Course is a course I often play. However, since this was the "Tour," I asked co-owner Larry Zimmerman to join me for his three favorite holes.
We played the 470-yard par 5 first hole for a warm-up. As a "Tour" player, I seldom need a warm-up, but I indulged my host. We won't discuss the results of that hole.
We ended up playing the front nine of the 4,098-yard 18-hole course, so I will share three of the memorable holes.
No. 6 is a 150-yard par 3 that shares a boarder with the beautiful Middle River. With a forward sloping green, a golfer wants to hit the green and stop the ball. Well, that didn't happen for me. I drove pin high but right, chipped and two-putted for a bogey. Zimmerman scored a par for the hole.
The seventh hole is a dogleg right, 245-yard par 4, protected on the left and back by the Middle River, on the right by trees and just in front of the green is a bunker. This hole is indeed a test of many aspects of the game. I bogeyed the hole and Zimmerman asked me not to print his triple bogey, so I won't.
The eighth hole at Poplar is my favorite. While only 105 yards, this par three forces a pitch over the river to an unseen elevated green. Trouble left or right is trees. Larry bogeyed the hole while I scored par.
The home stretch to the clubhouse turn is a 205 yard par three. We both doubled the hole which put me 1 up on the golf course owner.
PGC welcomes golfers of all abilities with its friendly, helpful manner. Within a few rounds, the staff will be calling you by your name as you order from the grill or full bar. Finding a tee time is not a problem, and the 18 holes are challenging enough for even the seasoned golfer, yet playable for the novice. A beverage cart cruises the course for guests and the driving range is always open. According to co-owner Mike Lattery, "Poplar Golf Course makes golf affordable for everyone."
No tour would be complete without a stop at Hidden Greens North in Solon Springs. Upon arrival, I met with club house manager Krista Martineau, who has been with the operation since 1997. I was immediately struck with the friendliness and warmth emanating from Krista and the staff. The course employs 25, hosts seven leagues, sports a fleet of 44 carts and has two junior programs. With a full kitchen and full bar, the spacious club house is available for weddings, reunions and other events. Fully irrigated, the 3,058 yard 18-hole course is a delight to play.
My play at Hidden Greens North was with course ranger Nate Ahlberg, who has been affiliated with the course for eight years. During the non-golfing season, Nate is an elementary school teacher, so he was well prepared to be my guide for the day.
At this point I would usually tell you about my play. I won't. Suffice to say it was more of a train wreck than normal.
It was the end of a seven-course tour and I was tired. It was a warm day. The sun was in my eyes. I'm sure my editor has redacted the rest of my excuses. I had more hits than the Beatles, playing Hidden Greens North. On one hole I had three whacks just to get to Nate's drive.
None of this had anything to do with the playing conditions, however. The fairways seemed like putting greens. Trees separating parallel fairways were manicured and trimmed and, if like me, you found yourself beneath a fairway tree, your shot has a lie that is still playable. Fairway border tree lines and shrubs are trimmed vertically, so there is little to interfere with your shot should you be near the edge of the fairway. Nate pointed out to me that golf in the autumn is spectacular at Hidden Greens North with the firestorm of colors of the hardwood trees.
The driving range at Hidden Greens North bears mention. This range has target greens rather than distance markers. Greens at 200, 150, 100 and 50 feet, allow for more realistic practice. While my game was in a temporary hiatus on my visit to Hidden Greens North, I want to return soon to enjoy this fabulous course.
Note to Telegram sports editor Ken Olson: I still have the sports department's AmEx Card. I think I'll hold on to it until curling season. That should be a great sport to learn.