Six of us descended down the first hole at Hooper Golf Course for the third time that day. Behind us was 18 holes of best ball and alternate shot. In front of us was a nine-hole skins game. Above us a few rain clouds collected to provide us with the third season of the day. Our pockets were $20 lighter, hoping to refill them with a bit more when we return with scorecards dotted with birdies and maybe even eagles.
September can be a funny golf month in the northeast. The weather is beautiful, but there's that bittersweet feeling because of what's on the other side of these cool, comfortable day. The season is coming to an end, although most golfers refuse this fact. Typically, the best, most consistent golf is behind us as fall activities and obligations interrupt the golf schedule.
With rounds a bit more spread out, September golf can feel a bit like a grind. My game dips a bit around Labor Day from playing too much in August (woe is me...). Those swing thoughts and feels can cross that thin line from helpful to disastrous, but the demons of bad golf don't just go any after a few weeks of not picking up the clubs.
Sometimes the golf demons can only be chased away by doing something dramatic and out of our normal routine. The Golfer's Journal event at Hooper Golf Course was exactly that. A 6:15am pick-up, Dunkin' coffee and breakfast in hand, and a 2 hour drive up to idyllic Walpole, New Hampshire.
Maybe sharing the course with 64 like-minded golf fanatics who drove from far and near to play Hooper (including David Jones from Oklahoma) was the shock my system needed. Or maybe it was the beautiful setting or maybe it was the two-man format and getting to spend the day with my friend Eliot, but all the late summer golf struggles melted into the chilly air. I felt reconnected with the game. Refreshed.
I don't think I was the only one healed by the powers of Hooper. The smiles and laughs started before 8am as eager participants rolled up and waited for the 10am shotgun start and continued until past 6pm when a group decided to take on a few more holes in a one-club challenge before the sun set.
Playing best ball, alternate shot, and then skins in one day scratched every itch I had. A little bit of competitive pressure to make a score with my own ball (with the benefit of a partner to bail me out), then the pressure of alternate shot and trying to keep my partner out of trouble, and finally chasing birdies without a care in the world.
I don't often play three different types of golf all in one day. Usually it's 18 holes, keep score, maybe sprinkle in a money match and some trash talking. I hadn't played alternate shot in more than a decade, and I'd never played in a sixsome (surprisingly, the extra two people on each tee box adds a bit of pressure).
Saturday's trip to Hooper was a giant reset button for my golf game. I woke up the next day itching to go play again, replaying holes and shots from Hooper in my mind. Picturing the steep dive down from the first tee to the second green and the car rolling down the road that bisects the course or the wonderful sixth green perched in the middle of the property giving up a touch of, dare I say, Augusta vibes.
I'm sure the cocktail of great people, a well-organized event, and an exceptional golf course didn't just impact me. The joy for the game oozed out of everyone's pores. During lunch the preeminent question (after "How'd you play?") was "Are you going back out to play skins?" Some couldn't because of other plans and others were firmly on the fence, enjoying the feeling of a seat under them and a plate full of delicious food in front of them. But once the plates emptied, the first tee's gravitational pull strengthened and groups of 4,5, and 6 teed it up and went back out for more. It was hard to pass up the siren song of more golf with golfers that just wanted to hang out and enjoy the walk.
Even as a light rain fell on us during that final spin around Hooper, it was impossible to not feel grateful to be exactly where I was. It was a fabulous walk around an outstanding course with five other guys that appreciated it, too.
As the season winds down in the northeast, I would encourage every golfer to find a day like the one I had at Hooper. Days like these carry me through the winter months. Who knows, if we all have something like it to dream about, maybe it'll make the snow melt a little faster.