Golf writer walks an 18-hole course in Florida in June, lives to tell the tale

I like to play golf.

I like to walk.

I do not like to walk while I play golf.

With apologies to the titanium driver, or the GPS range finder, or the gopher head cover, the best invention in golf was the golf cart. The golf cart opened the game to millions of people who previously thought it silly to hit a ball 250 yards then walk after it. But if you can drive after the ball, well that's another story.

Walking a golf course is a lost art. Sure, the pros do it every week, but they have a caddy. And you certainly don't see them doing it in Florida during the summer.

Which got me to thinking: How bad can it be? Why not carry the sticks for 18 holes on a regulation course in the middle of a June day? Granted, there are people who build homes or landscape for a living who would laugh at the thought of this being hard. But area courses are practically empty in the summer, and those who are playing usually aren't walking.

Time to find out why.

The plan

I was going to play with my sister, Lisa McFadden. Not only is she good at golf and a triathlete, but she is also the only person I could find who wasn't working on a Monday afternoon.

We had to find the right kind of golf course. It had to be a par 72 so nobody thought we were cutting corners. It couldn't be in the areas of Pasco or Hernando counties because those courses are crazy hilly and most don't allow walking anyway.

That led us to the Tides Golf Course, a par-72 track in Seminole that is basically flat and is 6,200 yards from the blue tees. It sits on Boca Ciega Bay, which we were hoping would provide a breeze as we walked from hole to hole.

"We've got some regulars who walk the course every week,'' Tides head pro Darryl Spelich said. "But not too many do it. It's pretty hot out there.''

As a colleague said a few days ago, it's like walking through a fire.

Teeing off

It is 11:25 a.m., and we are standing on the 10th tee (our first hole). We are wearing wicking shirts to soak up the sweat, shorts, hats and loads of sun screen. It is 92 degrees, with a feels-like temperature we estimated at 128.

Our golf bags have straps that allow us to carry them like backpacks. Still, with 14 clubs and pockets full of balls and tees, the bag weighed about 20 pounds. That would be a factor later.

The first few holes were a piece of cake. In fact, we both birdied the 11th, and after six holes we were just 1-over par. But the par-4 16th hole was a killer. My drive went into the water, as did the second drive. The approach shot also found the pond, and I snaked in an 8-footer for a nine.

So my thoughts of shooting par on the back nine (I'm a bogey golfer) quickly vanished. Now I'm more aware of the heat. The stifling heat coming up from the fairway and soaking my shirt.

The two water bottles I brought were now empty, but I was able to fill them up at the water stops. By the time we made the turn, every article of clothing was soaked. But we were still standing. A quick Powerade, and it was time to tear up the front nine.

Down the stretch

The front nine at the Tides is not difficult. It has several short holes, and some border the bay. But around 2 p.m. the wind died. It was like playing in a pizza oven. We smelled like 3-day-old cat food out of the can, and there were still four holes to play.

The last four holes are basically long and wide open. After a long drive on the sixth hole, it felt like a mile down the fairway. The bag suddenly looked like Al Czervik's in Caddyshack. My hips were aching.

When I finally got to the ball, I was breathing hard. It was harder and harder to concentrate. I started to think about what I would do if I ever met the guy who decided golf should be 18 holes instead of, say, 14.

Then came a cruel reality after playing the seventh hole.

"I think the eighth hole is all the way back there,'' Lisa said, pointing to the tee box 500 yards down the fairway.

We had to trek all the way down the fairway to the eighth tee box, hit our drives, then walk down the same fairway again. I was not happy with the course designer.

But the ninth hole brought us renewed energy. We were going to make it. I knew my sister would. She completed a triathlon a day earlier, for crying out loud. But I wasn't so sure how I would do.

I was going to end in style with a Tiger Woods-like stinger 300 yards down the middle. But I instead topped the ball just past the women's tee. As the final putt dropped, I mock collapsed next to the hole.

In conclusion

Our handy GPS showed that we walked a total of 4.35 miles. Our pedometer said we took 12,365 steps. I lost three balls (but found two others) and shot the same score I usually do, 89. My sister shot 84, but she played from the women's tees, and I'm pretty sure she didn't take a penalty shot on the back nine. It took us just under four hours to play, probably an hour longer than it would have had we used a cart.

Except for fatigue, and the fact that it took an hour after the round just to stop sweating, it wasn't too bad. Golf really can be a workout.

Maybe next time we'll try one of those Hernando courses.

Rodney Page can be reached at page@sptimes.com.

Walkable courses in Tampa Bay

Many courses built in the past 20 years were not made with walkers in mind. These courses were usually built through housing developments and there are long stretches between holes. In fact, a lot of the modern courses don't even allow walkers.

But older courses are much more walker friendly. Here are some in the area set up for those who like to make golf a workout as well. Be sure to check with the courses. Some don't allow walking early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

1. Clearwater Country Club: Built in the 1920s, the course is still about the same length it was nearly 90 years ago. The tees are next to the greens, and at its longest it is 6,200 yards.

2. Dunedin Country Club: Another classic old course built by Donald Ross, Dunedin is a great challenge as well as a good walk. It is basically flat and winds through a nice area.

3. Rocky Point Golf Club, Tampa: A par-71 course with flat fairways but enough length (6,300 yards) to make it a good walk. The Tampa Sports Authority runs two other courses, Babe Zaharias and Rogers Park, and all three are walker friendly.

4. Pebble Creek Golf Club, Tampa: A good walk through grandfather oak trees as well as streams and lakes. A course in the 6,000-yard range with not much elevation.

5. USF Golf Course: It has some length, it has some nature and the course setup makes sense for walkers. It hosts college golf tournaments, so it makes sense that it is set up for walking.

Golf writer walks an 18-hole course in Florida in June, lives to tell the tale 07/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 8, 2010 8:22am]

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