W I D E Open: Seriously big-hole golf something of a laughing matter

by Tim Gavrich


        Anyone who has played golf for a long time knows the game will find cruel and unusual ways to crush high expectations.  And one good round does not always beget another.  I was reminded of this over the course of 18 holes at Pine Needles Golf Club on March 11.

        My humiliation started with a triumph on March 1 when my college golf team, the Division III Washington & Lee Generals, completed our second spring tournament,PineNeedlesWideCup the Pine Needles Invitational in Southern Pines, NC.  The team finished seventh out of 10 at the event, but I was able to put together solid rounds of 76 and 72 to take the top spot in the event individually.  I mention this because my solid play 10 days earlier helped push my expectations to Icarian heights for my March 11 round.

        About a week ago I read a tweet from Golf Digest Senior Travel Editor Matt Ginella containing a link to a short article advertising an upcoming magazine-sponsored tournament, the W I D E Open at Pine Needles, the Donald Ross gem in the sandhills of central North Carolina.  The article raised the question, “Ever wonder what you’d shoot if the golf hole were a lot larger?”

        The W I D E Open Championship was billed as a normal romp around Pine Needles, save for cups that, instead of the standard four and a half inches, were to be 15 inches in diameter, just three inches smaller than a basketball hoop.  (In other words, enormous.)

        Can’t miss, right?  That’s what I thought too.

        I was able to recruit my friend and former teammate Nathaniel, a student at W&L School of Law.  We set out from Lexington, VA, excited and expectant about how the enlarged targets would affect our rounds — how many strokes it would shave off of our typical scores, what length of putt would be a gimme, etc.  As we speculated, my heartbeat quickened at the idea of shooting a seriously low score.  Something in the mid-50s even, I thought.

        When we arrived at Pine Needles, we were greeted with a crater-like hole on the practice green.  Nathaniel and I cackled at the size of it.  Visions of a sub-60 score continued to dance through my head.  They only grew when I noticed the scoreboard bearing a 58 from a player in one of the first groups.

        I was further heartened as I stood about five yards short of the green at the par-five first hole, having hit a long drive and good five iron.  Peering up the green at the absurdly wide hole, I was already imagining marking myself down for an opening eagle.

        Most golfers would agree that this is where I doomed myself, of course.  In my excitement, I played an aggressive pitch shot into the back fringe some 20 feet long and then I missed the putt, turning a three into a five and my excitement to private rage.

        Most of my fellow golfers recognize the trap that anger can set for you on the golf course.  In my tizzy over the missed opportunity and size of the holes, I proceeded to make a parade of bad swings.  I managed only one birdie — from my lone green in regulation — in the first nine holes while Nathaniel, who has always had an enviably even keel, made five birdies, chipping in a few times along the way to a 67 that included only 15(!) putts.

        I righted the ship somewhat on the back nine, managing a few birdies against yet more maddening disappointments.  In the end, I was faced with a 40-footer on 18 to climb all the way back to even-par 71, but I left the putt an inch short of the massive cup.  Naturally, the 72 I shot matched my score in the “real” competition a couple of weeks earlier.

        Despite my foul mood at having gotten so far ahead of myself, I could only laugh as I filled out the questionnaire on the back of the Golf Digest-produced scorecard.  It asked how much fun we had.  I could not remember laughing more on the golf course during a crummy round.  The sheer size of each hole lent an air of absurdity and humor to every sand shot, chip and putt.  This made the round fun in its own way, and Nathaniel and I agreed it was a day well spent.

        But it was certainly not the type of golf I would want to play very often, as the huge cups sapped the Pine Needles greens of their nuances and devalued skillful putting.  If one bashed a putt at the hole, it was going in.  Virtues such as reading breaks and lagging putts were deemphasized to the point of being unnecessary.  Even so, the event was something even the most tradition-oriented golfers ought to put on their bucket lists, if for no other reason than to try to channel the anticipation of a low score into, well, a low score.  Good luck.

        For more photos of the Pine Needles event, click here.  For our previous article on the W I D E Open event, click here.


Can't Miss Opportunity?  The basketball-hoop sized hole at the 18th at Pine Needles, and all the other holes, seemd like a slam dunk for birdie.  Photo by Tim Gavrich.

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