We took on the 9-9-9 Challenge: Skiing, golf and baseball in one epic day
DILLON, Colo. — If any Tour pro was going to help us, it was going to be Tyler McCumber.
I was chatting with him at the Palm Springs event last January with dreams of the 9-9-9 Challenge in the back of my mind. We were inspecting his mountain-man beard and his appreciation of fly fishing. He even shared an ingenious way to watch TV on small planes. These three topics don’t align for most Tour pros but they do for McCumber, the only Tour pro who lives in teeny-tiny Lyons, Colorado, a mountain town north of Boulder that hosts about 2,000 residents.
McCumber lives there because it allows him to take “a breather from the mental taxation of the PGA Tour,” he told Colorado Avid Golfer. He hikes, he fishes and, most important for my purposes, he snowboards, which made him a prime target for a question I’d been mulling: If we wanted to play nine holes of golf, take nine runs down the mountain and catch nine innings of baseball — all in the same day — could we pull it off in the Denver area? This is what we like to call The 9-9-9 Challenge. (Check out the video and continue reading below.)
McCumber laughed at first, which is what most people do when you introduce them to this concept. He paused to think for a minute, the logistics of highway traffic swirling in his head. The timetable of intersecting hobbies was obvious. This can probably only happen in April. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“It’s totally doable,” McCumber said eventually. “But you’ll have to start with the skiing.”
He was right. The Denver area in April receives maybe 14 hours of legitimate daylight. You can watch baseball under the lights but you can’t play golf in the dark and no one lets you ski before the sun rises. Best be on the road at dawn. McCumber drew up a couple options for me and my colleague Dylan Dethier, the first one being Eldora Mountain, northwest of Denver, followed by a pit stop at the Omni Resort for nine quick holes before heading downtown. The only issue when we arrived in mid-April was that Eldora was closed.
The beauty of that was our second option was probably better than the first. We pivoted to take on Arapahoe Basin and CommonGround Golf Course, the beloved home of the Colorado Golf Association. Dethier also requested we pivot to a 9-9-9-9-9 Challenge, adding nine hot dogs and nine beers to our journey. I didn’t love the idea at first. I hated the idea at the end. But dammit if it didn’t make things more interesting.
And thus our group of four rose at 6:30 a.m. with some stove-top hot dogs fresh out the packaging. I set the Suburban in drive at 7:27 a.m. and we ran right into Mother Nature about an hour later: Loveland Pass, our gateway shortcut to the mountain, was closed, amounting to a loss of 60 minutes on our extremely tight itinerary. Fully aware our day had suddenly taken on some complications, we comforted each other with discussions about our golf, skiing and baseball-watching handicaps. (Dustin Johnson, it’s worth noting, labels himself a 2-handicap skier.)
We found Mother Nature again two hours later, this time atop the Montezuma Bowl on A-Basin’s wonderful back side. Thursday, April 17th’s impromptu blizzard whipped around us but also blanketed the terrain with some much needed fresh powder. This was not going to be fast skiing, as we had hoped. We had 2.5 hours to perform our requisite nine runs. (That’s nine full lifts up to the top — no half-runs. We would not cheat the process.) All of which meant we needed to be slugging beers, too. Our choice beverage for the day was fittingly Coors Light. When the cold mountains around you keep your cans cold enough that the mountains on ’em turn blue, that “Cold as the Rockies” marketing campaign makes sense like never before.
For the readers at home imagining how they would manage this excursion, try to be as resourceful as our buddy Stephen Upton, who brought a mobile grill and stored all those hot dogs on ice. You will be eating on the move all day long, so frying up a couple dogs from the parking lot is not just a luxury, it’s important. Nine dogs is a lot of dogs. (If we’re complimenting Stephen we should also do the opposite and point out his choice of cheap dogs — $4.99 for an 8-pack — is not the food base you want when you’re playing sports, racing around in a car and reaching your fill in suds.)
Due to the Loveland Pass closure, we arrived for our 2:10 p.m. tee time at CommonGround at precisely 2:09. Rushed to the tee, Stephen and our fourth, Matt McCarron, played the first few holes with their ski goggles on. It wasn’t a bad idea, because Common Ground is flat and exposed to whatever weather descends upon Denver from the west. Which meant the wind that met us atop the mountain met us down on the golf course, too. On the bumpers of golf season, you get that wind consistently at CommonGround. You get plenty of water hazards, plenty of O.B. and plenty of firm turf. A calm, relaxing walk this was not. But we had to get it done, and had to do it in the context of another complication: the golf course kitchen was closed. No dogs to be had. So as 5 p.m. arrived, this crew was still at just 44% of our scheduled sausage intake.
What we learned more than anything is that skiing and playing golf in the same day is not difficult. You need a devoted driver, a sound itinerary, probably a day off during the week to avoid traffic, and you also need to space out your hot dogs appropriately, which we clearly had not done. But as with all complications, there is often a silver lining. Ours was Mustard’s Last Stand, a dogs-only haven on the campus of the University of Denver. With an hour until first pitch, we pushed past undergrads and their backpacks to secure a dozen dogs to contribute to our chase of the 9-9-9-9-9 Challenge. This was no luxurious dinner, but the sun was out and we sat under umbrellas enjoying premium dogs cooked to perfection as rush hour traffic inched by on University Blvd.
“Who’s got it better than us?” I asked the group, not waiting for an answer. “No one.”
There are all kinds of challenges like this shared around social media. A much sterner version of the 9-9-9 is just nine hot dogs and nine beers consumed during nine innings of baseball. They could be nine miles, nine beers and nine dogs in an odd afternoon workout. The common thread between any of them is that nine dogs are just way more than you think. It’s a mental grind to simply open your mouth for bites 2, 3 and 4 on dogs 6, 7 and 8. You are not Kobayashi and you learn that at some point in the day. For us it came during eight really quick, scoreless half-innings. We had to push ourselves to check the final boxes of this challenge.
I like to think of it as an act of karma for the Loveland Pass closing down, but we polished this trip off perfectly lucky, racing to a concession stand as the 7th inning came to a close. It was quitting time for he college-aged kids behind the counter and they began giving away dogs for free. “Colorado tradition: buy eight hot dogs, get the ninth free,” Stephen deadpanned. “It’s just something we do here.” Our wallets appreciated it, having already spent about $100 apiece.
Only a smattering of the 24,444 in attendance remained when we polished off dog and beer No. 9. I imagine we were the only four who skied, played golf and gorged themselves all day. When the final out was made, unsurprisingly we were the only four struggling to get up out of our seats.
Check out the entire thing below: