PLYMOUTH, Wis. - It's not always about where you play golf. Sometimes, it's just about playing.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear and breezy. After a week of humid, sweltering conditions, a real Wisconsin summer day finally broke out. The northwesterly breeze was unmistakably bringing in drier, more comfortable air, probably from Canada. This is the kind of day that makes summertime so legendary in the Badger State.
I felt an obligation to get in some golf, but time was limited. The PGA Championship's final round was in the afternoon.
This is how I found myself at Arndt's Evergreen Golf Course on Sunday morning. It was located off a stoplight intersection and sandwiched between an AmercInn and Redeemer Lutheran Church. The parking lots for all three are pretty much interchangeable.
There's a driving range in addition to the nine-hole course, which I thought was all par 3s. Actually, there were two par 4s -- of 212 and 265 yards, but more on that later.
This is grass-roots golf, and I love it. I walked into the shop, which is spartan other than a register and a counter with baskets of balls, plus a rack for loaner range clubs. A nice lady left her card table, which was covered with pieces of a massive jigsaw puzzle she was just starting, to ring up my greens fee. Nine holes, nine dollars. Sweet. She handed me a scorecard: a piece of blue index-card-sized paper. This mighty Evergreen track is 1,414 yards, par 29. The back of the card featured crude outlines of the holes with their length, plus a series of wiggly circles that were labeled "Driving Range."
I walked past a pseudo-putting green, which was only slightly larger than a bathtub, to the first tree, surrounded by assorted trees. The course was very green, which was to be expected since Wisconsin has had a wet summer.
The park-like surroundings were pleasant. The holes were tree-lined with a surprising assortment of pines, blue spruce, oak, maple and others.
The first hole was a 150-yarder alongside N. Highland Ave. I played two balls. (Hey, I paid $9 American, so I'm going to get my money's worth. Besides, it was nearly deserted.) Without a warmup, I deposited my first shot in a greenside bunker. I use the term bunker loosely. It was a rectangle of sand on top of -- yes, on top of! -- the ground, firmly packed. There were no edges. In fact, it was angled upward toward the green like a launching pad. The sand was so crispy hard that I could barely break the surface with the metal rake left nearby. It was a perfect opportunity for the Texas Wedge. I putted the ball through the sand and onto the green. Let's see anybody try that at Whistling Straits.
The fairways were closely cropped lawns, lots of clover. What made Evergreen so challenging and fun were the greens. They were no more than 10 steps across, a little hairy, a little slow but relatively smooth. For $9, they were better than you could have expected.
All the challenge you need is to try to hit one of those tiny targets from 173 yards out -- that would be the third hole -- with a gusty wind on your back. Did I mention that the ground was still surprisingly firm in places despite the recent rains? Both my shots doinked over the third green, leaving me some tough pitches that I deftly pulled off. Evergreen is a great place to work on your short game.
Here's the question you wanted to ask earlier: How can a hole be a legit par 4 at 212 yards? Here's how. The green, surrounded by a grove of stately willow trees, was sharply tilted left-to-right and front-to-back. It, too, was downwind. Stopping a ball on that green in regulation would take sheer luck. I did it with one of my shots, only because the greens were mushy soft. I had to clean a big glob of soft dirt off the ball before I putted it.
The next hole was 265 yards back into the freshening breeze. There was out of bounds left, the driving range, and a line of trees on the right. I actually got to pull out driver, a club I didn't think I'd be using, and pounded a couple down by the green.
It shouldn't be too hard to find your way around a nine-hole par-3 course, but I managed to play the holes out of order. I saw a tee box just left of the fifth green and assumed that was the next hole. There was another hole off to the right, but it seemed like one I'd already played. So I went left. After I finished that hole, a 117-yard uphiller, I noticed the scorecard indicated the hole was supposed to be 147 yards. Yup, I'd gone right from No. 5 to No. 7. So I left my bag by the green, took an 8-iron back to the sixth tee and played the hole with that one club: tee shot, chip and putts. Made two pars, thanks to a five-footer I shook in with the 8-iron on the green.
The ninth was a mere 87-yarder back toward the clubhouse. Ironically, that green appeared to be larger than the others. I used a 60-degree sand wedge to make a pair of pars.
The final tally? Fifty-seven. Ball count? Plus one. I found a new Callaway hidden under a pine behind the eighth green. Thanks for not asking why I was looking there.
Satisfaction level? Priceless. I played two balls around nine holes in a leisurely 55 minutes on a beautiful morning in a lovely parkland setting. It's not Whistling Straits, but for $9 on a summer morning, I'd never pass it up.