It was 6:45 on a Sunday morning in June. That evening I was due
at my in-laws' for an early dinner. So what was I doing lacing
up my golf shoes in the parking lot of the Hanover (N.H.)
Country Club, a six-hour drive from their home in New Jersey?
Did I have a death wish?
Hardly. I was seeking a golfing victory. I was not trying to
break 90, which I accomplished years ago, or 80, which I have
done once, or even to break par, which would take a miracle that
I would rather hold in reserve for the Boston Red Sox or the
Chicago Cubs. I was in search of something more elusive than
par: to play a round of golf in a reasonable amount of time.
Sliced drives, skulled iron shots and chunked chips can make
golf a frustrating game, but what bothers me most is how long it
takes to play 18 holes. If you play regularly, you know that the
four-hour round has gone the way of the niblick. Last spring,
snail-paced play on a Sunday forced me to pick up after 17
holes. Six hours and I still couldn't get in a full 18.
So I was delighted to discover the Flyers Club, an antidote to
slow play cooked up by Hanover pro Bill Johnson, who has also
been the Dartmouth College golf coach for the past 30 years.
"I'm very concerned about the pace of play," says Johnson, who
started the Flyers Club six years ago because a lot of people
love to play golf on Saturday or Sunday but can't afford to lose
a five-hour chunk of their weekend.
Johnson's solution? Invite players to tee off between 6 a.m. and
7:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and reward them by nipping
$10 off the normal weekend greens fee of $31 provided they hole
out at 18 in no more than three hours. There's one additional
catch: Should players fail to reach the 10th tee in 90 minutes,
the ranger tells them to skip ahead to the nearby 16th tee and
play in from there.
I was game. I lined up a friend, Chris, awoke with the sun on
that Sunday in June and after signing in at the clubhouse,
received the following advice in a thick New England accent: "If
ya keep up with that foursome in front a ya, you'll get around
in two and a half hours." The young fellow behind the counter
pointed to four jackrabbits, Flyers Club regulars in their late
teens or early 20's, who soon strode down the 1st fairway with
their bags slung over their shoulders.
Chris and I entertained no such perambulatory notions. We
commandeered a cart to help keep us on schedule, especially
through several holes I recalled as wickedly steep from my
undergraduate days at Dartmouth in the early '70s. We both hit
the fairway with our drives, then we hopped aboard. My watch
After I two-putted for a bogey, I again checked my watch. Ten
minutes had elapsed. So far, so good. Right on schedule. We
waited a minute or so on the 2nd tee for the foursome in front
to hit their second shots. They were so swift that we would wait
no more. Chris and I settled into a brisk and enjoyable game of
golf. After a couple of pars heightened my concentration, I
forgot about the clock till we headed toward the 9th green. No
problem: We made it to the 10th tee with five minutes to spare.
We had completed the front nine in one hour and 25 minutes. It
was golf as it ought to be played.
Maybe it was the pace. In any event I found a groove and parred
the 12th, 13th and 14th and holed a 10-footer to birdie 15.
Chris, meanwhile, bogeyed 13 and 14, and double-bogeyed 15. Even
after bogeying 16 and 17, I could bogey the par-5 18th and still
break 40 on the back nine. Moreover, we had 10 minutes remaining
on our Flyers Club clock.
Then we caught a bad break. We had to wait on the 18th tee--not
for golfers in front of us but for a foursome 12 holes behind us
on a hole that is adjacent to 18. To return to the clubhouse, we
had to hit over a yawning gorge we had earlier crossed from the
6th tee. The right-of-way signs instructed us to give way to
golfers playing the 6th hole.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I can't claim that the delay broke my rhythm, because I hit a
good drive. But I then hacked my way to a double bogey that
wasted time as well as strokes. It was 10 o'clock. We were five
minutes over the limit. I confessed our minor transgression.
"I was watching the clock," said the assistant pro a bit
stiffly. Then he smiled. "Next time play in 2:55."
I told him I would love to.
Freelancer John Grossmann reports that he made it to dinner at
his in-laws' with an hour to spare.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN YACCANNO [Drawing of man golfing in hourglass]