I am not a retiree who plays golf.
In my past, I played enough golf to have a semi-respectable 17 handicap, but long ago gave up the sport for a variety of reasons…money among them. Even though I no longer play golf, I remain a devout fan the PGA Tour and have attended three Masters Tournaments and two PGA Championships. As someone who has played the game, I’m astounded to see professional golfers do things with a golf ball that mere mortals can’t even comprehend.
In July or August of last year, I received an email offering the opportunity to place my name in a drawing for tickets for the 2017 PGA Championship in Charlotte, NC. I had received the same email twice in previous years and had entered, but was never successful. Nevertheless, I’m always on the lookout for another road trip and retirement activities of a different sort so, what the heck, right? I entered my name once again and the third time was the charm. A few months later, I received an email from the PGA that I had been drawn and could purchase tickets.
While reading through the fine print, I came to a paragraph announcing that all active and retired veterans with a valid military ID card could enter for free. For us old retired folks, it doesn’t get better than free. I knew there had to be a catch, so I called the PGA to verify what I had just read. A lady with a very pleasant voice answered my call and when I explained that I was a retired Army officer and would love to accept the offer of free tickets, but I wanted to make sure that there were no restrictions.
She first thanked me for my service and then went on to say that I could bring one guest and would be granted tickets for the practice rounds and all four days of the tournament even if there was a sellout. That’s a heckuva deal, and I was all in.
I offered the tickets that I was allowed to purchase to our longtime special friends and traveling companions, John and Debbie, both avid golfers. Not only did they accept, but Debbie did a grand job at the thankless task of arranging dinner reservations, shuttles to the golf course and even found lodging at the lovely home of friends who would be out of town on vacation. This trip was getting better by the minute. Our plan was to attend the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday then travel back to Asheville for a day of exploring the city and an evening of good food.
We arrived at Quail Hollow, the site of the tournament, around 9:30 on Thursday morning. Although predicted rain chances faded, humid conditions greeted us. The championship had a crowded field of players, so the first tee times began at 7:20 with threesomes starting on both the first and the tenth tees. Our tournament experience was off to a great start when we walked up to the 18th green where Ernie Els, Hideki Matsuyama, and Ian Poulter were completing their first nine holes. I have always been a fan of Els, and Matsuyama is ranked number two in the world. Both he and Poulter would later be in contention on the final day.
After the threesome finished at number 18 we hurried to catch up with the featured group of Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia, and Brooks Koepka who were about to tee off on the adjacent fairway, number 16. With a win, Spieth could become the youngest golfer to win the four major championships, and he is a class act at the age of 24. I was eager to watch him play. While he wasn’t having his best day, he played steady golf, and we were able to follow his group for several holes on both the front and back side. Sergio was falling apart, and Koepka was hitting drives into the stratosphere. It was a treat to be in the gallery.
For those who have never attended a golf tournament, it is nothing like watching it on television. Because there isn’t the ability to switch from hole to hole as you do when watching television, you only hear the loud roars from far in the distance when someone makes a dramatic shot. That is a disadvantage compared to TV. On the other hand, television does not provide the viewer with the challenges faced by the players trying to sink putts. Quail Hollow had very challenging greens.
In addition to the view of the greens, television does not give an adequate representation of how far these guys hit a golf ball. At times we would be standing well down the fairway thinking that we were out of the way when a ball would land almost in front of us. I would glance back at the tee box and could barely see the outline of a player bending over to pick up his tee. Drives of well over three hundred yards were common occurrences.
Throughout both days of the tournament, we were witness to a who’s who of golf as we stood along the fairways. Players like Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Rory McElroy and Ricky Fowler all strode by us as they demonstrated their amazing skills. Not being a sports writer, I won’t attempt a total recap of the day, but trust me when I say it was a truly delightful experience for one old golf fan, and something I hope to do again. In the end, Justin Thomas, age 24 and another class act who is good for the game, won the championship. He was tested throughout, but handled the pressure like a seasoned pro, and walked away with the Wannamaker trophy.
While in Charlotte we treated ourselves to two great food experiences. On our first night, we dined at Reid’s, a small supermarket and restaurant that served a delicious hamburger. The second night we went all out and chose Stagioni, an Italian eatery that offered fish and pasta dishes that were incredible. While waiting for our table, one of the most charming and professional bartenders I’ve ever encountered, welcomed and entertained us. He went into the menu in great detail while preparing a variety of complex libations.
In addition to the above, we had a scrumptious breakfast at Little Spoon, a breakfast café near where we were staying. On Thursday afternoon when play paused due to a small storm, we did what anyone would do and headed for a pub to watch the tournament when play resumed. While there, we ran into Monica, the energetic young server from our breakfast spot. Seated next to her was the Little Spoon chef. My guess is that something is cooking between these two besides food. Just sayin’…
Before closing, I want to encourage our readers from Military Living Publications to take advantage of the offer for veterans to attend other PGA tournaments throughout the season. In addition to this tournament, the US Open extends free tickets to Veterans for the practice rounds, but not the tournament. Nevertheless, that is still a bargain for the golf fan.
Next week, we’re off on Bertha’s first extended road trip to the coast of North and South Carolina and Georgia. Please come back, and we’ll fill you in on the first few days.
Thanks for joining us on our golf adventure…we’ll be Easin’ Along for now…I’m gonna work on my short game.