SUNSET BEACH, N.C. -- This was a serious mistake in planning. Instead of playing in the third round of the World Amateur Handicap Championship in Flight 1 here Wednesday, I should've set up a lawn chair, a cooler and a video camera at Oyster Bay's now-infamous 17th hole. Apparently, it was quite a show.
The 17th is an island-green par-3 hole. On its website, Oyster Bay brags about having not just one but two island-green par-3s. This seems similar to Quasimodo bragging about his second hump, but that's just my opinion.
This is what Pete Dye has wrought with his famous 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass -- poor imitations. If you're going to have an island green, it had better be a darned big island, and the hole had better not be overly long. Oyster Bay's 17th green is shaped almost like a triangle, with the skinniest point at the front of the green, facing the tee box. The pin was diabolically placed on the green's front edge (pretty much like the other 17 pins were diabolically placed on ledges, knobs, ridges and carnival rides). It's 165 yards to the middle of the green from the back tee. With the front pin location, our yardage today was 144 yards, but it was a very narrow target.
(By the way, the 15th is the other island par-3, and it's not truly an island. It's about two-thirds surrounded, from 9 o'clock counter-clockwise to 1 o'clock. It's also 210 yards. If you like modern golf architecture, and by that I mean island greens, greens with six-foot tiers and ledges, a fairway with a towering tree in the middle and a monster par 4 with two greens, then you will love Oyster Bay, designed by Dan Maples. The only missing design cliches were a double green, a hole with two fairways and a waterfall.)
Anyway, Oyster Bay's 17th proved to be a nightmare, at least from the stories I heard from a few of the finishers who congregated in the bar afterward to commiserate (and also to see if they cashed in on one enterprising competitor's daily skins game).
Here's how it was for our threesome. I'm withholding their names because, frankly, we're embarrassed enough as it is. The first guy up, who happens to live about 50 miles north of me in Meadville, Pa., played his usual hard draw but hit it a tad thin and splashed it in the pond just short of the green. Then I thinned a choked-down 7-iron toward the right edge, where thick Bermuda rough just over the collar grabbed it like a Venus flytrap, saving me from a watery finish, too.
Our third man, a congenial low-ball hitter from Houston, pulled his tee ball slightly. It drew, hit on the left edge of the bank and tumbled toward the oyster-shell-lined water hazard. We didn't see it splash, but the bank was pretty steep, and there was no sign of it when we approached the green.
So, my playing partners advanced to the drop zone. I saw right away that this was a bad idea. The drop zone, a forward tee box, was already badly mutilated with divots. Plus, it was a mere 52-yard shot to the front pin, which was on the narrowest strip of green from that angle. If they aimed left, toward the back-middle of the green, there was a bunker that could've served as a backstop. Otherwise, this 52-yard wedge shot from a tight lie, depending on the outcome of your drop, was one nasty shot. Meadville got his shot on the green where I would've aimed, toward that bunker, and left himself 30 feet. Houston chunked his first attempt. Splash! He retrieved another ball from his bag. He thinned a low one this time, and his ball took one bounce on the far side of the green -- near my ball -- and disappeared into the pond on the other side. That was three balls in the water.
On his next try, he got it on the fat part of the green, 20 feet away. After I nearly chipped in, making a tap-in par, Meadville left his first putt eight feet short. Then Houston, who joked about putting for an 8, left his first putt four feet short. Meadville missed, three-putting for a triple-bogey 6. Then Houston slammed home his next putt for a 9. Our group score smacked of a multiplication table: 3-6-9.
"That was a huge putt," I told him. "Huge."
"I know it," he said, "I didn't want to make a 10."
"Trust me," I said, "I'll bet you right now that you didn't make the only 9 here today. In fact, I guarantee there will be a higher score on this hole today than 9."
We finished the round. I had suffered an abysmal start, three-putting three of the first four holes. It wasn't all poor putting; it was also extreme (and I use that word to be polite) pin placements. I was seven over par after seven holes but played well the rest of the way, posting 79.
We hadn't been in the clubhouse more than a minute when a fellow competitor walked. "How'd you guys do on 17?," he asked. "I made a (bleeping) 15!"
I was going to go to find Houston to give him the good news. He was at the bar ordering a pair of Miller Lites. But before I even got started, another player came in and asked how we liked the pin at 17?
"Ten balls," he said.
"Ten balls," he repeated. "I saw a guy ahead of us hit 10 balls in the water there today. We're not sure, but we estimate that he made a 24 on that hole."
I don't know which golfer it was, and if I did I certainly wouldn't taint his name by printing it here. I also don't have confirmation that it's true. But hey, in the clubhouse bar after a round, any unverified rumor like that is too good not to repeat.
I found Houston and his Lites on the other side of the room. I told him about the 15 first, then the alleged 24. You smoked some guy by 15 shots on that hole today, I said.
He popped the top on his second can and took a hefty swig. He was smiling.