World Am update: Not ready for ‘Couples’ golf

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — I played golf today in Bolivia.
All right, Bolivia, North Carolina. It was an hour drive from World Amateur Handicap Championship tournament headquarters here at the Sheraton Convention Center (home of the broken toilet handle in my room for the second straight year) to Carolina National.
I don’t know where Bolivia is exactly. I don’t know how I got there. All I know is that I made it despite another heated exchange with the Tom Tom witch who inhabits my navigational device. I knew I should’ve gotten the one with John Cleese. You don’t need to know the details, but I think you’ll agree with me that if you’re going to turn right ahead, you should probably keep right, not keep left.
Upon arrival, it was a disconcerting sight at Carolina National to see the bag-drop guys all wearing caddie bibs with the word “COUPLES” on the back. What, is there a couples league event going on here? No, all three nines here were designed by tour player Fred Couples. Yeah, that’s different.
The nines are named after local waterfowl — the Egret, the Herron and the Ibis. After today’s play, we renamed them the Regret, the Swearin’ and — well, let’s skip the last one. I didn’t play the Ibis but I did see the diagram of its finishing hole, a dreaded two-fairway par 4 separated by a massive jagged bunker to a green across a pond and guarded by another deformed shamrock-shaped bunker.
I can tell you this about Fred Couples, golf course designer: He likes bunkers. He really likes fairway bunkers. Those come in handy when you don’t have any other design features or ideas. They’re also useful in slowing down the pace of play and increasing maintenance costs since it takes manpower to keep them raked, or — after a heavy rain — restore them when they get washed out.
The ninth hole on the Regret nine is a good example. I can’t adequately describe the hole but it’s a par 5 dogleg left with two gaping bunkers guarding the front of the landing area and another shamrock-shaped bunker on the far side. One big tree stands astride a bunker. A marshy area guards the approach, with several tall trees serving as blockers. A second tiny piece of fairway floats off to the right, at 1:00 on the hole diagram, and it serves as a potential layup area. A third piece of fairway sits left of the marshy area just short of the green, at 11:00 on your map, leaving a pitch over a gaping bunker to an elevated green.
There’s a lot going on here but it seems unnecessary. It’s just a short par 5, 486 yards. I’m no big hitter but I drew a drive around the corner and then drew a 6-iron around the tall trees to 20 feet and just missed an eagle putt. Andy, another member of the threesome, hit a short iron to the green and missed his eagle putt. Dave, the third member, hooked his tee ball into the trees and made a bad number.  But the hole sure looked like a mess from the tee, and as we drove our carts out to the fairway to get a look at where we were supposed to hit our drives.
No doubt I’d feel more comfortable with Fred’s track a second time around, but even with a yardage book and a laser rangefinder, I still made several errors in club selection and lines of attack, which cost me precious strokes. Fred may be hearing from my attorney soon.
I shot 79 in the World Am’s third round. I am told I was in eighth place after two rounds but I never confirmed that. I can confirm that I have dropped to 18th after three rounds. Who knows why you can be a ball-striking machine one day and a ball-missing machine the next? It’s one of the game’s great mysteries. Despite not having my best stuff, I scraped it around reasonably well. I played 16 of the holes in two over, but five over on the other two. I had two disaster holes, a thinned shot from a bunker over a par-3 green that I didn’t get up and down, leading to a double bogey, and a blocked 6-iron shot into a pond at another par 3 that led to a triple bogey on my final hole.
Scores were not good at Couples National. The low gross round was 73. That was partly due, no doubt, to the slow greens. They’ve got bent-grass greens that are pretty stressed out after a long, hot summer, so they don’t dare mow them short. I’d love to know today’s Stimpmeter reading. It was probably about 5. The recurring joke among our threesome was how we kept leaving putts badly short, even on the closing holes. We never adjusted very well to that, which was odd, because normally I don’t mind slow green speeds.
The day’s grim news came from my Sports Illustrated colleague, John Garrity. He played Wednesday at the Fazio Course at Barefoot Resort, the site of my flight’s final round Thursday, and reported the greens were lightning fast, had extreme slopes and three-inch collars of bermuda rough.
Uh-oh. It sounds like Thursday’s final round may be a six-hour deathmarch of bogeys and others. Which might be right up my alley. Or not. I just have to hope the Tom Tom witch can find the damn place.
Maybe I’d better leave a little early.