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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Robert Trent Jones: A Walk on the Wild Side

Shirley and I spent our second day at Hilton Head playing the Robert Trent Jones Course which, in addition to offering a superb round of golf, also provided a naturalist's feast.  The course is an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and with fairways wrapped around canals and and lagoons there's an abundance of natural habitat as well as a continuous golfing challenge.

We took one look at the course map and agreed that we were going to need to focus on direction.  There was water everywhere!


Almost every golf course I've ever played has provided a home for local wildlife.  I've enjoyed the companionship of prowling mountain lions and casually strolling deer in northern California, an impressively large iguana in Palm Springs, lazily snoozing alligators throughout the Carolina and Georgia Sea Island courses and menacingly snoozing rattlesnakes on sunbathed rocks along the Mare Island fairways, as well as flocks of bold crows and noisy woodpeckers on my home course.  I had two encounters during our round on the Jones Course that were so special they are seared into my memory.

The first took place on the par 3 8th hole.  It's about 130 yards from the red tees to the green, and like other par 3s on the Fazio as well as the Jones, it's all carry.  To make matters a bit more challenging on the 8th hole, some sadistic course designer had placed a large, deep bunker on the face of the hill that runs up from the lagoon wall to the green.  A short shot across the lagoon followed by an easy chip to the green wouldn't work.  And there's another devilish bunker on the back of the green so a long shot wouldn't work either.

Robert Trent Jones, Par-3 8th Hole 
Shirley and I aren't Tour players.  We're little old ladies and we needed to take some time to sort out our options, so were stood on the tee box together, trying to decide how to take our shot.  She was favoring going right, to avoid all sand, and I was favoring left, to avoid a steep uphill chip.

Just as I thought I'd come to terms with the water, the bunker, and the distance, a solitary black swan glided into the center of the lagoon, came to a stop, and positioned herself directly between me and my target.  She was gorgeous!  I was mesmerized, and so very grateful that the course wasn't crowded, because I had the leisure to disrupt our pace of play and take just a moment to absorb the beauty and serenity of what lay before me.  Then I teed up, lined up my shot, and prayed that I wouldn't kill the swan, who showed no signs of moving from her central position.  Thankfully, I hit the left side of the green!

As she'd planned, Shirley went right, also avoided the swan and the center bunker, and we finished the hole feeling very competent.  As we drove away I looked back over my shoulder.  The swan was still sitting there, in the middle of the lagoon, undisturbed by our passage through her territory.

Robert Trent Jones, Signature Hole
We played on, made the turn, enjoyed the Jones's signature 10th hole, a par-5 that ends on a green overlooking the Atlantic, paused to enjoy the view and hustled to the 11th tee.  We'd been lollygagging and the group behind us was beginning to catch up.

The 11th hole, a simple little par 4, turned out to be simpler for Shirley than me.  She played it perfectly and was on the green, about 4' from the cup, lying 2.  I, however, was lying 2 over in the right rough, perilously close to the edge of yet another canal that was edged by a marsh.  Shirley took the cart up to the green and, with my pitching wedge, sand wedge and putter -- my standard 3rd shot assortment pack -- in hand, walked over to my ball.  I was glad it was cold, reflected on the sluggish alligators I knew were lurking just a few feet from my ball.

As I neared my ball I was greeted not by an alligator but by a small flock of adolescent egrets who'd been hunting in the marsh.  First one, then another, then a third and a fourth and a fifth poked their heads out from the long grass, eyed me curiously, gathered courage by their own numbers, and stepped out of their sanctuary for a better look at the intruder.  They apparently decided I wasn't a threat, came closer.  I came to a complete stop.  They were everywhere.  I felt as though I'd joined the flock!
Shirley's birdie putt

This is the joy of winter golf, uncrowded courses and the leisure to savor the habitat around me!  I could have stayed much longer in the midst of those teenagers, but Shirley was looking at a birdie putt, the group behind us was coming off the 10th hole, and my pace of play needed to pick up.  I took my stance, barely able to concentrate, chipped up badly, and managed to end the hole with a 2-putt.

Shirley, however, who'd been carefully lining up her putt throughout my egret encounter, fired her ball right down the line and into the center of the cup, carding the only birdie either of us had during our Hilton Head escape.  I still think it was the leopard earmuffs that made that putt possible!

We played on, finished the round well ahead of the group behind us, and agreed that we needed more oysters.  I won the round and Shirley bought the oysters!