Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My round at The Gallery

Watching the Accenture Match Play at the new venue, The Gallery, outside Tucson, reminded me of my memorable round there in 2000.

Here it is, retrieved from the Inquirer data base...


By Joe Logan

Looking back, I was probably a fool. I stood to lose a
little money and even more dignity.

I refer, of course, to getting fleeced in a skins match with
a very fast crowd.

I got myself into it thanks to my obsessive desire to play
yet another fabulous golf course. Pinehurst No. 2, Medinah,
Merion, Pebble Beach and the Old Course at St. Andrews, to
mention just the brand-name tracks, weren't enough for one
year. I needed more.

So naturally, when I was in Tucson last week trailing Mike
Schmidt in his failed quest to qualify for the PGA Senior
Tour, I couldn't help myself when a golf-writing buddy
remarked: "Before you leave town, you've got to play this
new Tom Lehman course, the Gallery. It's the one with the
725-yard par 5. Unbelievable course. "

Excuse me, I thought you said a 725-yard par 5.

"Yeah," he said, "Golf Digest did a piece about it. "

Suffice it to say, three days later I was standing in the
pro shop at the Gallery, fretting that an unusual frost
delay was going to push back my tee time so late that I
would not get in all 18 holes.

"You're in luck," said the pro, turning to me as he hung up
the phone.

Some guy named Don had just called to cancel because of a
bad back. The rest of his threesome was off in 10 minutes,
and I could take his place.

In no time at all, I was standing on the first tee trying to
take in the beauty of the clubhouse, the greenery of the
course, and the surrounding desert and mountain, as well as
introducing myself to Tom and Jim, a couple of Michiganders
down for a week or so of Arizona golf.

Tom, like me, was in his mid to late 40s. Jim was younger,
maybe 30, and a strapping specimen to boot. They were sorry
to hear that their buddy Don, who I gathered lived in
Tucson, couldn't make it. They were also wondering whether
our fourth, some guy named David, who was coming with Don,
would show. There was nothing to do but go ahead and tee
off. If David showed, he could catch up.

Meanwhile, as we were taking a few cuts on the tee and
sizing up the first hole, Jim said, "Same game as yesterday,
Tom? "

Tom shrugged. "Yeah, why not? "

Then Jim turned to me. "We're playing a little skins game.
Nothing too rich. A buck a skin, two bucks for birdies. Want
in? "

Now, I am not opposed to a friendly wager on the golf
course. Even the late, legendary Harvey Penick suggested
some sort of match, if only for a soft drink, just to keep
the competitive juices flowing. But I am also a firm
adherent to the old Dave Marr adage: "Never bet anyone you
meet on the first tee who has a deep suntan, a 1-iron in his
bag, and squinty eyes. "

They were from Michigan, so neither had a deep suntan or
squinty eyes. And only I was packing a 1-iron.

What could I lose? A maximum of $36, if they birdied every
hole. "Sure," I said.

With that, Tom poked his tee shot straight up the fairway -
it wasn't long, but you couldn't place it any more in the
center of the fairway. A bit rusty from a week layoff, I was
pleased that I, too, kept my first tee ball on the short
grass. Jim, the young guy, flat-out bombed it - his shot
landed on the fly well past where my ball had come to rest.
I raised an eyebrow.

Thank heaven there was no blood on the first hole. I
3-putted from 30 feet for bogey - what else is new? - but
Tom and Jim both parred. At the second hole, just as we had
reached our tee shot, a cart appeared back by the tee,
headed our way.

"This must be David coming," Tom said.

It was. David was a nice guy, all smiles and handshakes, and
probably not even as old as Jim. Tom and David had never
met; they had this mutual friend Don, who, by the way, David
said, sent his regrets. Tom explained our little skins match
in progress and invited David to join in. Why not just drop
a ball right there in the fairway alongside ours and play
from there?

Fine. David dropped a ball and, with little ado, pulled his
9-iron from his bag and, with only a couple of practice
whiffs, absolutely stuck it.

It was about that moment that I noticed David's golf bag. It
was one of those big, black-and-white Titleist bags. I'd
seen them before. Davis Love 3d has one just like it. So do
David Duval and Tiger Woods.

I also noticed that on his, in fancy-looking stitching, it
said: "DAVID HOWSER. "

"So how do you know Don? " David asked Tom.
"We played together on the University of Arizona team
together a lot of years ago," Tom said.

"Hey, I played for U of A, too," David said. "Graduated in
'94. "

"Great," Tom said. "What do you do now? "

"Some Nike Tour, mostly the Hooters Tour," David said.
That's when I sidled up to Tom. "Who is Don? "

"Don Pooley," he said.
"The tour pro? "

"Yeah," he said.
With that, Tom, Jim and David all drove off toward the
green, leaving me standing there in the fairway shaking my
head. Terrific. I had somehow gotten myself into a skins
match with two former big-time college players - one of them
is now a pro - and some other guy who looks to be better
than both of them and hits the ball farther than all of us.

Never mind the money. It had become a matter of salvaging my

I won't bore you with a hole-by-hole account of the match. I
will tell you that your faithful and diligent golf scribe
did his best to hold his head high and suffer a minimum of

Sadly, as I look over my card, I see that I did leak a
little oil in places, owing no doubt to the 2,000-foot
elevation in Tucson and the sad fact that I couldn't make a
putt under pressure if my life depended on it.

There was the bogey at the par-5 sixth, where both Tom and
Jim got into trouble off the tee. That left me head-to-head
against David, to prevent him from winning another skin.
His 18-foot birdie putt lipped out for a tap-in par. Out of
the hole, Tom and Jim cheered me on, but not too effusively,
as I lined up my 15-foot downhill putt for birdie. They
tensed slightly as, moments later, I lined up my eight-foot
uphill putt to make par and halve David. They silently
walked off the green as I buried my one-footer for bogey
with authority.

"Sorry, guys," I called out.

Finally, we arrived at the ninth, the hole I came to play.
To say it is a lot of golf hole is as cliched and
understated as saying England is "across the pond. " At 725
yards, the ninth at the Gallery is, well, awesome and
intimidating, to say the least. Nobody seems quite sure if
it is the longest par 5 in the world, but if it isn't, it's
close. There is a much longer hole in Virginia, 841 yards,
but it is listed as a par 6. Naturally, we decided to play
the ninth at the Gallery from the tips.

The tee faces the clubhouse, which looks to be somewhere
between one-third and one-half mile away, which it is. From
the slightly elevated back tees, the tee shot alone requires
a 208-yard carry over desert gunch to reach the fairway. For
most golfers, that is a serious poke. After that, the hole
opens up to a very generous fairway, assuming you miss the
fairway bunker on the right, then it all falls off. That, of
course, makes the hole play shorter, but it is offset by the
prospect that the ninth usually plays into the wind.

Nobody reaches this green in 2. One guy - a mere
golf-writing mortal - told me that the day before he had hit
driver-driver-driver to reach the green in regulation.

Pooley, the Tour pro, it turns out, generally needs to hit a
3-iron on his third shot to reach the green. Even if Tiger
Woods were to smoke one of his patented 360-yard tee shots,
he'd still have another 365 yards to go. And if the distance
isn't problem enough, a dozen strategically placed bunkers
are staggered every step of the way. Also, 600 yards down
the fairway, there is a pond on the right side - precisely
the spot where any leaked second or third shots will land.
I hit my best tee shot of the day there. It carried far
enough to catch the downhill slope of the fairway and roll
forever, settling alongside David's.

"We just hit those tee shots 287 yards," David said.

I don't usually hit the ball 287, of course, but he made
that pronouncement after looking back toward the tee through
his handheld laser-beam yardage thingy that resembles
binoculars. Thin air, the downslope of the fairway, best tee
shot of the day. OK, if you say so.

Going for the green in 2 was still out of the question. It
still looked a half tank of gas away. I pulled my fairway
wood - a strong 4-wood - and reached back for all I had.

It wasn't a stone-cold top, but I didn't get all of it - the
kind of shot John Updike always refers to in his stories as
a "foozle. " Doggone it. Now I still had close to 300 yards
to the green, which, by the way, is elevated and tucked
behind five bunkers. I decided to hit the 4-wood again,
hoping to lay up short of the green and to the left of the

Pumped, determined, I hit it solid this time, but it leaked
right. Suddenly, I was reduced to begging, but the golf gods
weren't listening. The ball splashed in the left corner of
the pond.

Fuming, I pressed forward and dropped a ball behind the
pond, still a good 130 yards from the green, hitting 5.
Finally, I hit what looked to be a decent shot - looked to
be. The ball hit a sprinkler head or something and careened
to the right, settling in the fringe right of the green.
When I reached the ball, I still looked to be 50 yards from
the hole.

Demoralized, resigned to a "snowman" 8 on my card, I
chipped. The ball rolled to the edge of the shelf, broke
downhill and sideways about 20 feet, and came to a halt
about one foot from the hole.

I had not exactly brought the ninth to its knees, but it was
a stylish double-bogey, if I do say so myself.
We all stood there for a moment, looking back up the fairway
toward the tee.

"So, you've got a lot to write about this hole," Tom said.

Wise guy.

Mercifully, inexplicably, I won a skin on the back nine,
sneaking in a twisty six-footer at the cruel and unusual
par-5 11th. My day was made. Snaring a skin in this league
made my day. I was bent but not broken.

In fact, somewhat invigorated, I played much better from
there on in. At the utterly breathtaking par-3 16th, I
carved a little 7-iron in there so pretty that even David
was urging my ball, "Go in the hole! Go in the hole! "
Unfortunately, I 3-putted for bogey.

Finally, when it was over, we totaled up the damage. I paid
a few bucks and I was paid a few. My net loss, to David, for
a birdie, was $1. I smiled.

As we walked toward our carts, I shook hands with Jim, the
big winner on the day. "Sorry you got me instead of Don
Pooley," I said.

"That's all right," he said. "It probably saved me a few
bucks. "

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