Whenever I'm asked if I get to play a lot of golf since, ya know, I write about golf, I always have the same answer: "No, I don't have any time. And it costs too much anyway.'' But is that really true?
If I'm willing to play nine holes on a shorter course, does it really take that much time and cost that much money?
It's time to put that claim to the Golfact Test (idea unashamedly stolen from Politifact.com).
I played four nine hole courses in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando Counties in one day. The experiment took place on Tuesday, when the weather was partly cloudy and about 65 degrees. We'll see how long it takes, how much it costs and how the claim stands up to our Truth-o-Meter (idea unashamedly stolen from Politifact.com).
City: St. Petersburg (Pinellas)
Tee off time: 8:55 a.m.
Time to play: One hour, 18 minutes.
Cost to walk: $10.70.
Summary: Rain from the previous night made the course soggy, and winds make the temperature feel colder than 62 degrees. But that didn't keep groups away from this traditional executive course.
It has nine holes and all of them are par 3s. Aside from a few water hazards and sand traps, Cypress Links has little trouble. It is generally flat and short, with no hole over 170 yards.
I manage to tee off by myself, but by the third hole play gets backed up and I join a twosome that includes 82-year-old Bob White of St. Petersburg. He plays twice a week at Cypress Links, usually 18 holes.
"I like it because I can play nine holes in an hour, hour and a half at most,'' White said. "I tee off at 7:30, get in 18 holes and then go have breakfast with my wife.''
The first two holes take about five minutes each to play (par, bogey). But for the rest of the round we have to wait for the foursome ahead of us to clear the green. That slow down, coupled with a howling wind, act as my excuse for the bogey-fest that follows. I couldn't use the greens as an excuse because they were in top-notch shape.
After another chunky chip and two-putt bogey on No. 9, the round was complete. I say goodbye to Bob, walk maybe 10 yards to my car and head to Temple Terrace for round two.
Final score: A very mediocre 7-over, 34.
Terrace Hill Golf Club
City: Temple Terrace (Hillsborough)
Tee off time: 11:10 a.m.
Time to play: One hour, 15 minutes.
Cost to walk: $13.91
Summary: At this particular time, Terrace Hill is wide open. I'm not the only one on the course, but close to it. Unlike Cypress Links, this course mixes in three par 4s. The first hole is an uphill par 4, which means I can break out the driver for the first time. There's nobody around, the wind has died down and the fairway is huge. Time to let out some shaft.
And yank it left into the eighth fairway.
The beauty of playing alone is that you can mutter to yourself while walking to the next shot. By the end of my bogey 5 on the first hole, I had called myself every name in the book.
One of the negatives of playing alone happened on the par 3 third hole. My perfectly struck 8-iron lands 2 feet from the hole and checks back a couple of inches. Tap-in birdie. But there's nobody to high-five. At least my swing flaw is figured out.
Until the next hole, where my five-wood slices over the trees, lands on the road and bounces into someone's back yard. The 8-iron was clearly a fluke. By the sixth hole I felt like walking off, but two easy pars on the last two holes save the round.
Playing from the back tees, Terrace Hill is 1,854 yards. That's over 500 yards longer than Cypress Links and probably why it took about as long to play. It's now around 12:30 p.m. Off to New Port Richey for another nine holes.
Final score: 6-over, 36 (including a mulligan or two).
Summertree Golf Club
City: New Port Richey (Pasco)
Tee off time: 2:05 p.m.
Time to play: Two hours, five minutes.
Cost to walk: $8.
Summary: Here comes the first glitch in the plan. The course is packed and there is a foursome waiting to tee off on the first hole. There is also a foursome in the middle of the first fairway. If this round takes over two hours, there's no way to make my last stop in Brooksville.
I hook up with Barry Gooderham, Mike Shepherd and Bill Cline, who just finished playing nine holes in two hours. The threesome is from Niagara Falls, Ontario and they are trying to get in as many rounds as possible before going back home on Friday.
Summertree only offers nine holes, but it is close to regulation. It is a par 35 with two par 5s and measures 2,836 yards from the tips. It should take about 90 minutes to play, but with the course backed up it's going to take a solid two hours.
"A course like this is perfect for us,'' said Shepherd, 62. "It's not too long and it's in decent shape. It doesn't take all day to play.''
Once we tee off the play is not that slow. We hack our way down the fairways and manage to stay between the foursome in front of us and the foursome behind us.
"I'm playing Army golf,'' Cline, 70, said. "Left, right, left.''
By the time we finish zig-zagging our way down the course, the round takes just over two hours. If I hit a good shot, I'm not aware of it. It's 4:10 p.m. and there is one more stop to make.
Final score: 6-over, 41.
World Woods Golf Club
City: Brooksville (Hernando)
Tee off time: 4:50 p.m.
Time to play: One hour, 18 minutes.
Summary: Glitch No. 2: I make it to World Woods with plenty of sun still left. But the par 3 Short Course has been rented out to a Japanese Golf Academy. They offer to let me play the three practice holes (yes, they have practice holes) for $6. I can play them as much as I want.
So Plan B becomes playing the practices holes three times. If I had played the Short Course, it would've cost $10, but that will have to wait until next time.
It should be noted that World Woods practice holes are tougher than most course's real holes. The first is a par 5 that winds down a hill with trees on either side, fairway and greenside bunkers and a green that is slicker than a hockey rink.
As I'm set to tee off, all I can think about is Allen Iverson, who famously said "Practice? We talking about practice? Practice, man.'' There is absolutely nobody around. Just squirrels and birds and lots of trees. And behind one of those trees is where my first shot lands.
I have to hit a low slice around the tree to get it back in the fairway. If I don't execute the shot, it's going to bounce off the tree, hit my forehead and kill me instantly. It would take until the morning before somebody found me. Just in case, I whip out my cell phone and call the wife to tell her I love her.
After that close call, the par 4 second hole is a little better. It's an uphill dogleg right with a green protected by a large bunker. I manage to hit the fairway and green in regulation. But the lightning fast green and my inability to adjust results in a three-putt bogey.
The last practice hole is a short par 3. After playing it three times I was 1-under par. I own that hole.
By the time I finish playing the practice holes it is 6:08 p.m. The sun is below the tree line. My car is one of the only ones left in the parking lot. The mission was accomplished: 36 holes in four counties in one day.
Golf doesn't have to take a lot of time or money. We rate the claim that it does: Khaki Pants on Fire.
Final score: 24-over, 152 (including a 5-over, 41 at World Woods).
Total cost: $38.61.
Total time played: 5 hours, 56 minutes (one hour, 29 minutes per nine holes).