Updated: Apr 19
Published in Hakker Golf Magazine
What started out as one of the worst rounds of my life, turned into one of the greatest achievements I have ever accomplished during a round of golf. The course was Diamond Hill Golf Club in Dover, Florida.
Dover is approximately 45 minutes southeast of Tampa and is the home to many old phosphate mines. As a matter of fact, the course itself is built on an old mine. Diamond Hill Golf Club boasts a measurement of 7002 yards from the longest tees with a slope rating of 135 and a USGA course rating of 73.8. It also has some of the longest par fives in the state! Built in 1959, by architect Chic Adams, Diamond Hill offers a unique terrain and undulation not common in Florida. The design is a challenge to the better player, while open enough for the average player to have a great time as well. The latter is where I fit in!
When playing winter golf in Florida, we try to avoid the early morning tee times because of dynamic pricing and the snowbirds. Snowbirds are folks from the north that come to Florida to escape the four months of winter up north. But we also try to avoid the alligator sanctuaries that seem to be present at every pond, on every course.
On January 31st, 2021, it was a common Tampa, Florida winter day…45 degrees at sunrise, 60 degrees by 10am and 80 degrees by 2pm. We teed off at 11:27am so the weather was perfect! The hole was their par three 15th. This hole measures 145 yards from the white tees and requires a flyover of water. But it’s a straight shot at the green. The wind was in our face at about 17 knots (or 20 miles per hour for the land lovers) so I grabbed my 6 iron because the hole was playing long.
The three guys in our group all hit before me because I am the highest handicap, so I always go last! They all landed their ball on the green without a problem. It was now my turn and the pressure was on! I was already playing poorly but I wanted to end the round on a good note and to show the guys that I can play a decent round of golf at times. With three sets of eyes on me, I stride up to the tee box and elevate my ball a little higher than normal. I wanted to be sure I got under it and would at least carry the water. So, I take my stance, stare down at the pin several times, and then take my backswing. The backswing felt a little off (probably the pressure of the group) and my follow through was not much better. I swung downwards and topped the ball. As my ball skipped across the pond, the fourth skip hit a sunbathing gator!
The skip off the gator did not seem to bother him. But it did bother ME! Not because I hit the gator (those things are indestructible) but it was because my ball landed about 5 feet away from it. How was I going to pitch onto the green with a gator in my path?? Looking toward the other three guys I said just that! But they responded with “play it where it lies”.
As a right-handed golfer the gator was positioned to my back. There was no way I was going to trust a gator I could not see! So, I break out the “old man stick” (better known as a ball retriever), extend it as far as it will extend and scooped up my ball from about 12 feet away. The gator never moved. I take a drop to a safer distance but also had to take a penalty stroke thanks to the unforgiving nature of my friends. I pitch on from about 80 yards out and then one putt from about 20 feet for the most gratifying bogey of my life.
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