“Hi Claire, any chance you’re interested in attending the Walker Cup media day at Seminole (yes, round of golf included!)?”
As far as Monday-morning emails go, that’s about as good it gets. After weighing the pros and cons for a second or two (Pros: playing Seminole. Cons: none), I told my boss, Alan Bastable, that I was in. My golf game was rusty — I played on my high school team but spent less time on the course in recent summers — but with an opportunity to play at GOLF’s 20th-best course in the U.S., it was time to clean the clubs, borrow a travel bag and get to work.
I had very little idea of what to expect upon arriving at Seminole. To me, a lightly-traveled New Englander, it was a new golf course in a new town in a different state, which was daunting. But I was comforted by a sense of familiarity as I approached. It was just a golf course; a tall metal gate flanked by hedges, a crowded parking lot next to a stunning pink clubhouse. The visual cues and the ritual of a great golf morning — park, eat breakfast, warm up — gave a sense of routine I’d gone through before, many times over. This time it just happened to be at one of the world’s most exclusive courses.
Only a dozen or so media members were in attendance, so it somehow felt even more exclusive. We sat outside the clubhouse on a patio overlooking the course. I can’t imagine a better place to snack on fruit, yogurt and granola. As I watched one group tee off on 10, it started to sink in that soon enough, I’d be in the same spot. Then we headed down by the putting green where Stewart Hagestad, Tyler Strafaci and Nathaniel Crosby answered questions about the course and this week’s Walker Cup.
After that, it was game time. I walked to the range, where my clubs were waiting and I met my caddie for the day. My tee time wasn’t for another hour, so I had plenty of time to warm up, get acquainted with my playing partners and double-take at the other figures on the range. To my right, a member was getting a lesson. Down to my left, Justin Thomas and his father Mike were hitting balls with Gerry McIlroy, Rory’s father. It was 75 degrees with a light breeze, the perfect Juno Beach morning after a long New England winter.
Then it was time to take to the first tee for an unforgettable walk. So what was it like, and what makes Seminole different? I’ll talk about the day for years to come, but for our purposes here I’ve boiled it down to six main takeaways.
1. The mystique is real
From the outside, Seminole feels secret and mysterious, but once you’re inside, you’re really in. It was reminiscent of my first trip to Fenway Park. There was the big reveal: emerging from the walkways and getting a glimpse of that bright green outfield, perfectly raked infield and the looming Green Monster. It hits you all at once and it’s a moment of magic. But then you take your seat and chat with the people around you and things quickly feel normal and comfortable, like you’ve been coming there your whole life. Seminole is the same way.
2. The greens are the fastest I’ve ever seen
Really fast. Think pool-table fast. Hockey-rink fast. Sidewalk-fast. And just because your caddie keeps reminding you just how fast they are doesn’t mean you won’t blow a few past the hole on your first nine. Reaching the green doesn’t mean your ball is going to stay there — my approach shots rolled off the back on a majority of the holes. Be comfortable with the fact that you won’t figure them out, and get used to three-putting. Donald Ross wasn’t messing around here.
3. Bring your sand wedge
If there’s one thing you want to practice before heading to Seminole, it’s your bunker game. There’s waste area on almost every hole and if you miss a green, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be in some sort of sandy situation. Even the most purely-struck iron shots have a fair chance of rolling into a bunker at Seminole. The fairway bunkers are relatively shallow, but the greenside traps are a different story.
4. The course is tough, but not impossible
For an average golfer like me, you’re going to remember the course a lot more than your score. It’s tough, but you won’t be losing many balls, thanks to both the vast fairways and the experienced caddies. I hit some good shots, plenty of bad ones and visited enough bunkers for a lifetime in just a few hours. But the thing about Seminole is, despite the growing pile of sand in my shoes, you enjoy walking up to even your worst shots.
5. The caddies at Seminole are as good as you’d expect
My caddie, Eugene, has been looping at Seminole for 20 years and has even fired a 61 at the course. He said Seminole loopers are allowed to play the course every evening after work. When Seminole closes for the summer, most of the caddies head north to work at similarly top-notch clubs like Merion or one of the Hamptons classics, returning in the fall when the Florida heat subsides.
6. Everyone is focused on your experience
This may sound trite, because of course Seminole will want media members to have a great day, but these folks are masters of attention to detail. Club president Jimmy Dunne, one of golf’s more influential figures, waited at the turn, curious for our thoughts on the course. Head pro Bob Ford pulled up alongside us as we played a par-3 to check in on our round. Michael in the pro shop helped me pick out a shirt for my dad. The woman operating the snack shack offered to drive a sandwich out to a player in my group. You’re in really good hands when you arrive at Seminole.
When you spend weeks envisioning a destination, like I did with Seminole, it was no surprise when the day itself flew by. I’d shaken off my early-round jitters to play a round I was proud of (but not proud enough to share my score!) and enjoy every minute of the day. Just as I felt the Florida sun wearing me down, we arrived at the 16th green, which overlooked the adjacent beach, waves rolling in off the Atlantic. The wind off the water cooled us off and the view reminded us exactly why Seminole is the place that it is.
The round was fast; our caddies kept us on pace for a three-and-a-half hour 18. I couldn’t help but drag my feet on the way out; I lingered in the pro shop as long as I could before strolling reluctantly back in the direction of my rental car.
There are some places you just don’t want to leave.