Wisconsin Day 2 – Of Vikes & Men
Wisconsin - Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
The continental buffet breakfast at the Carriage House at The American Club Resort is all I need to get me ready for a day of golf and football. Juice, coffee and one of my breakfast favourites – smoked salmon with capers, red onion and dill sauce. It should be on every breakfast buffet table.
Unfortunately the weather forecast is not that great – misty with periods of rain and it gets worse as the day goes on. We have an 8:30 tee time for two groups of four at the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run, but Don wants his 13 year old son Oliver to play if he can and we are accommodated as three threesomes without any problem. That seems to be becoming a theme at this place – if you want something we can provide it, we don’t consider it a hassle.
The American Club has a large stable, if that’s the right word, of caddies available at all four of its courses, but you are only required to hire one at The Straits course. On the other three you can walk or take a cart. Our group sans me, having already played The Straits course, are sold on the value of a good caddy so Brian MacLellan, who will be playing the four courses with me and I plan to utilize a caddy each day. Brian has arranged for Scott Scheurell, who he has used for the past two days to meet us at the clubhouse.
Scott is a very affable guy who Brian says, has a plethora of great golfing stories and not surprisingly is a rabid Packers fan. This should be interesting – I’m a Vikings fan, Brian’s a Bears fan and Scott’s a Packers fan – three of the strongest rivalries in the NFL. I’ll keep an open mind and follow Scott’s advice on anything golf related, but not football.
The third member of our threesome is Chuck Johnstone, the ever tireless organizer of our summer Olympics and co-ordinator with me on the golf/football trips. Traditionally he is a much better golfer than Brian and me, but he can have his off days, especially if his driver goes south.
A word about of the course and its designer Pete Dye, and then we’ll tee off. As a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada I’m supposed to know something about course design, which I really don’t, but I do know that of all the golf course architects of the late 20th and early 21st century, Pete Dye is considered by most who do know, the standard by which others are measured. He is an innovator of astounding originality and has designed courses that are meant to challenge and in some cases, bring to their knees, the very best players in the world. His designs at TPC Sawgrass with its famous 17th island green, Sea Pines at Hilton Head with its iconic lighthouse on the finishing hole and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island where the 1991 Ryder Cup became known as ‘The War on the Shore’, are all now considered to be modern classics.
I never miss a chance to play a Pete Dye course and in the past year added a couple of new to me courses at Mystic Rock at the Nemacolin Resort near Pittsburgh and the Dye Course at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The links are to my Trip Advisor reviews.
At The American Club Resort Pete was given carte blanche to design four courses in two completely separate settings. The River and Meadow Valleys courses at Blackwolf Run where the Sheboygan River and Wisconsin hardwood forest are the dominant landscape characteristics and The Straits and Irish courses at Whistling Straits where the shores and winds off Lake Michigan offered the opportunity to build a true links course and a heathland course in a setting much more reminiscent of the British Isles than the U.S. By all accounts Pete has succeeded magnificently as the Golf Digest rankings have the Straits rated #2, the River course #14,the Irish course #39 and the one we are playing today #60 of courses open to the public in the U.S. Four of the top sixty courses in four days at one resort – priceless.
The two courses at Blackwolf Run have been combined on two occasions to host the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and 2012 so I have to expect U.S. Open type greens that are notoriously fast. Chuck and Brian confirm that this was the case yesterday on the River course. This combined with the fact I have played virtually no golf since July in P.E.I. gives me all the excuses I need to expect a shitty score, but there is one more. Because of heavy rains last night the course is cart paths only. Normally I hate cart path golf, but with a caddie giving you the yardage from his range finder the usual problem of not having the right club is not an issue.
OK enough already – let’s play some friggin’ golf!
We are the first of the threesomes to tee off and immediately notice that the group in front of us are hackers. They do have one caddie for four of them, but seem to have the uncanny ability to put four balls as far apart from each other as humanly possible. The poor caddie, who Scott identifies as Pete, will end up walking a few extra miles today courtesy of this bunch who insist upon playing from the green tees which are way too long for these guys. They should start from the women’s tees, because after a few holes it is obvious that two of them can’t reach these tees from the greens. It could be a long day.
As we tee off it is overcast with a mild drizzle, but it’s not really cold and I have rain gear on. Unfortunately this makes for lousy picture taking weather so I don’t have a lot of good shots of this course, but I have borrowed some from the resort’s files. This is the first tee with water all down the right side. As you can see the tee box and fairway are immaculate and that set the standard for this course for the rest of the day. If course conditioning is important to you, then this course won’t disappoint.
Here is the view of the approach shot.
The greens are in quite simply wonderful condition and because of the rains are actually not as treacherous as I anticipated. However, without Scott giving me the reads it would have been a very different story. The breaks are subtle. We are all happy with a 5 on the first hole. Then things go downhill for a few holes, but luckily nothing worse than a 7 on the par 5 second.
Unlike most Pete Dye courses this one is not overkill on the bunkers. They are in strategic places, but not to the point of ridiculousness. If you are in them the sand is quite fine and getting out is not a two shot proposition, which is a lie because it took me two to get out of the very first one, but only the once I swear.
The first hole of real note is No. 5 Tree Stand where the green is guarded by mature trees on both sides that make it appear as if it is impossible to reach, but as usual with Dye it is an optical illusion and there is in fact room to avoid the trees. This is the approach to 5 assuming you’ve hit a perfect drive.
No. 9 Deer Hunt will make you feel like a deer in the headlights as you try to avoid water, sand and woods on a 400 yard + hole. Considering we’ve been watching the clowns in front of us for over two hours in a continuing drizzle, the canteen at the turn is a welcome sight, serving up great Wisconsin brats and locally brewed Spotted Cow ale.
The fun on this course really starts on the back nine as Weeden Creek comes into play on a lot of holes. No. 14 Nature’s Course is a stunning hole with a peninsular green surrounded by trouble everywhere.
No. 15 Mercy is an all-carry par three with a big green that feeds a good shot to the hole which we all hit and Brian and me get pars while Chuck, who is having an off-day, three putts.
Between 15 and 16 they have preserved this old milking barn that now doubles as the washrooms.
At this course Pete has saved the best for last. No. 18, Salmon Trap is the one I noticed yesterday that shares its green with No. 18 on the River course. This hole requires a difficult carry over the Sheboygan River . I layed up and it paid off with a bogey while Chuck and Brian hit the drink with their attempts to cross on the second shot. As we approached the river I could immediately see why this hole was called Salmon Trap – it was loaded with huge salmon that were attempting to migrate up the river to spawn. While I have seen migrating Atlantic salmon on various Atlantic Canadian rivers, I have never seen fish in the numbers that were here today – there were hundreds of them. It turns out that Pacific salmon were only introduced into Lake Michigan just over fifty years ago and have been a roaring success. Often introduced species cause more harm than good, but in this case over fishing of native lake trout had decimated the population of large fish leaving few predators for alewifes and other smaller species that exploded in numbers. With a ready made source of food the salmon took to Lake Michigan like a fish to water.
After three years in the lake the salmon return to rivers like the Sheboygan to spawn and like all Pacific salmon, die in the process. It was hard to fathom that all these beautiful, sleek looking fish would be dead in a matter of days, driven to exhaustion by an instinct over which they have no control. Looking into the river I could see that there were already a few dead ones in the Salmon Trap. Here’s a picture of the river and if you look closely you can see the shapes of the salmon on the left hand side.
Crossing the bridge to the 18th green there is not only a great view of the river, but the great log clubhouse as well.
Here’s the view you would get if you were a spectator on the clubhouse balcony.
Despite the drizzle and somewhat slow pace of play it had been a great round of golf, enlivened by Scott’s many stories and banter between us on how the Vikings were going to do tonight at Lambeau Field. Brian and I will be returning tomorrow to play the River course so we left our clubs here.
This was the final round of golf for the rest of group and Chuck oversaw the packing of the rented Suburban they had and my Charger and we were all off to Appleton where we were going to stay that night. He had us booked into a Microtel which is micro on price, but also on amenities. The towels weren’t much thicker than tissue paper, but it was only for one night so no big deal. I had the Carriage House to look forward to the next two nights.
We unloaded the Suburban, left the Charger and headed for Lambeau. Despite leaving many hours before game time it was a slow crawl up #41 to get there, partly because of construction and partly because everybody in Wisconsin seemed to be headed to the game.
Since Green Bay is a small city situated in a relatively flat part of the state, you can see Lambeau Field from miles and miles away. It made me think of what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon might have been like jutting up from the desert landscape and for all intents and purposes Lambeau is a modern wonder, its presence looming over the NFL landscape for almost sixty years.
Once we actually got into Green Bay it was not hard to find a parking spot in a small private lot on Holmgren Way which is just off Lombardi Drive. I guess if you win a Superbowl you are guaranteed to get a street named after you here. We walked past the Brett Favre Steakhouse to the Stadium View Bar which Scott told us was a happening place and it sure was. There were a ton of Viking fans and the atmosphere was collegial rather than confrontational. This is a great rivalry, but the fans know it’s just a game and not worth getting aggressive about. Someone should tell that to the Eagles or Pats fans. I remember years ago at a game at Foxboro drunken inbred looking Irish louts threatening to throw me and my Vikings shirt over the top row of stadium to the parking lot ten stories below. It was scary.
There is so much history surrounding Lambeau Field that it was worth braving the crowds to circle the area and take in the Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr statues as well as the numerous other reminders that this is “Titletown”. As I entered the stadium I could not help but be impressed with the giant G’s overhead.
Curly Lambeau welcomes you wearing an old-fashioned leather helmet.
One thing we didn’t like was that they would not allow anyone to take anything inside that was not in a clear plastic bag. They took Rob’s binoculars case which was ridiculous since he has been bringing it to games in at least twenty different stadiums with no previous problem. Inside you would never know that the stadium traces its origins back almost sixty years. Unlike Soldier Field which lost its iconic look when it was renovated, not so Lambeau. It looks great from the outside and inside. There is plenty of room to move around and lots of places to get food and drink although the variety is nowhere near that is some of the other NFL stadiums.
The one shocker to me is was that it still has bench seats. We paid $6.00 to rent a seat with a cushion and a back that clips onto the bench. Otherwise we would have had sore and cold asses before long. I can’t imagine what it would be like in December.
The less said about the game the better. I had been looking forward to seeing the Vikings first round quarterback pick, Teddy Bridgewater in his first start. He had done a great job filling in for Matt Cassell when he got injured the previous week and I fully expected that he would make it a competitive game. Imagine my shock and horror when the Vikes came out for their warm up and there was no Teddy Bridgewater; an apparently innocuous looking play at the end of last week’s game had resulted in an injury that saw him in street clothes on the sideline. Instead the dreaded Christian Ponder was warming up. Why the Vikings hadn’t released him after deciding to keep Cassell and draft Bridgewater was beyond me. The worst thing that could happen is that he might get into a game and tonight he was going to start.
So no Bridgewater, no Adrian Peterson who is suspended for strapping one his kids with a switch, no all -Pro tight end Kyle Rudolph, no defensive captain Chad Greenway and basically no hope. I did get this shot of the Viking offensive line to show how close to the field our seats were. It’s a good thing they were practicing with each other, because as it turned out these were the only ones they could stop.
To top it off it started pouring exactly in the middle of the national anthem and continued on and off for most of the game. As expected, every time the Vikings got anything going, Ponder would throw an interception including one run back for a touchdown by Julius Peppers. Ponder got some help in blowing the game when Ray Asiata fumbled to end another drive. Here he is on the only decent carry he made all game.
Aaron Rodgers proved why he has a Superbowl ring and MVP status with some great passes including a touchdown to Jordy Nelson that made the Vikings secondary look pathetic. It was almost like the Packers were playing a college team. It was 42-0 before the Vikings scored 10 useless points in the last quarter which I watched back at the Stadium View after persuading Brian to leave at the end of the third quarter. You could actually see the huge Lambeau Field screen quite clearly from the bar.
On the way back I stopped to congratulate a larger than life Bart Starr on the dismantling of the Vikings tonight.
Things were hopping back at the Stadium View and there were more than a few people well into their cups. One fat and terribly ugly woman managed to get no less than three different men ejected for ‘harassing’ her until I guess the bouncers caught on and tried to get rid of her. Instead she locked herself into the bathroom and had a bawling fit while the hapless bouncers, all men, tried to calm her down. As far as I know she was still in there when the others joined us after the game was over and we began the long crawl back to Appleton. Looking backwards in the dark I could see Lambeau lit up like the starship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, an immense presence into which my team had been sucked into a vortex of mediocrity.
Oh well, there’s always golf!
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