Hickory bliss amid the palms
By Hugh Menzies
(Editor’s note: SoHG member and Metropolitan Hickory Golfer founder Brian Schuman thought it might be fun to invite a few pals down to warmer climes for a resurrection of the grand golfing life with a 1920’s flavor. Hugh and Enid Menzies accepted Brian’s invitation and enjoyed their stay in lovely Miami. Hugh shares the following about the 2013 Florida Hickory Swing Invitational.)
When Brian Schuman first bruited the idea of a mid-winter hickory event in south Florida my ears pricked up. Winters aren’t terrible in Pinehurst, N.C. but it can be downright nippy in late January. What better than to escape for a few days to balmy Coral Gables and participate in the inaugural Florida Hickory Invitational Swing.
So, on the morning of Monday Jan. 21, Enid and I shook off the after-effects of the previous night’s red wine tasting, backed Esmeralda (a 1999 Toyota Avalon) out of the garage, and headed south. Two days and 12 hours of driving got us to the magnificently-restored Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Brian had negotiated a favorable rate for this time of the year but the tab still came to about $300 a night. Enid, who has watched her pennies over the years, likes her comforts at this stage of life. And who am I to disagree, especially as my lousy eyesight means she has to do much of the driving. So the Biltmore it was.
By six on Tuesday evening most of the group were breasting the bar beside the gargantuan pool in which Johnny Weissmuller once disported himself before swinging through trees and pounding his chest for more money. There were 10 players: Host Brian, Rich Grula, Rob Birman, Matt Dodds, Asher Fried, Tim Alpaugh, a trio of Mikes – Policano, Stevens, and Henderson – and myself. Two ladies, Enid and Asher’s friend, Susan, rounded out the group.
The broad appeal of hickory golf was wonderfully reflected: Impresario Brian, a professor of film, a regional orchestra CEO, a golf pro, a couple of writers, a New York lawyer, a semi-retired business executive, and some bloke from the wilds of West Virginia. While there were no youngsters the age range spanned several decades.
Brian’s concept was to re-enact the winter-time lifestyle of gentry from the turn of the 20th Century. Great weather, great friends, great food and great (hickory) golf. Four different hickory era courses, four different formats utilizing four different balls – a gutty, a mesh, a small dimple and a bramble. And then finishing it all with a day at the races. How civilized.
The first day at the Donald Ross-designed Biltmore course featured individual stroke play using the Victor mesh ball. The sky was blue and the temperature in the balmy 70s; eat your hearts out those of you north of the Mason-Dixon line. Like most Miami courses, this layout was essentially flat with small undulations. The wide variety of trees flanking the fairways provided sufficient scenic variation to avoid visual or shot-making boredom.
My wife, gaining a reputation as a hickory groupie, rode around with me as she usually does. This day, she watched what a two-month layoff from hickory golf, and just about all golf, can do to the game of an individual that is eccentric at best. A cool 95 hardly flattered even my generous 21 handicap.
Others did better with Mike Stevens taking honors for low gross and Mike Henderson, whose hobbling around on a cane no longer fools anyone, doing the same for low net.
Later that afternoon, the fittest of the group – not including yours truly – got in another nine holes of gutty golf at the nearby Granada Country Club course.
Come dark, we repaired to Monty’s on the Water in Coconut Grove. For several decades, Enid and I spent a week or so – usually during school spring break – with her parents at their winter home in Miami Beach. During such visits we made a point of indulging in that local delicacy known as stone crabs. Monty’s featured a raw bar so we re-lived past times at $8 a claw.
Day two saw us at Miami Shores Golf Club. The city of Miami is booming with skyscrapers dotting the horizon and more going up. So heavy is traffic, even in the ’burbs, that it can take an hour to travel five miles during rush hour. Well aware of this, Brian set the first tee time at 11 a.m. And a good thing, too
Miami Shores has seen better days. Fairways were a bit bare, bunkers not at their best, and rakes in short supply. At one stage, several in our foursome mishit shots from unusually good lies. “Clearly,” cracked one of our group, “we‘ve forgotten how to hit off grass.”
Rich Grula had to work and Asher Fried, having hurt his back the day before, spent the day recuperating by that inviting Biltmore pool. So eight of us teed up small-dimple balls and had at it on another chamber of commerce day. A blind draw at the end of the round had Team Vardon, comprising Matt Dodds, Mike Henderson, Mike Stevens and Rob Birman, handily accounting for Team Jones. Brian Schuman took out low gross with Mike Policano winning low net.
Brian’s significant other, Patrice Golde, joined us and managed to take out both the women’s low gross and low net. Being the only woman in the field may have had something to do with it. Hey, Brian has his priorities right. If you want to play mucho hickory golf while still a working stiff, being considerate of your lady counts for virtue.
Dinner that night found us at Villagio’s Italian restaurant located in a very new, very snazzy development in Coral Gables. There was one notable absentee. Mike Henderson couldn’t find a parking spot large enough for his truck and dined in solitary splendor at a Taco Bell, where he discovered that English is a foreign language in Miami. It didn’t seem to do his golf game any harm.
The final day we sallied north to Miami Springs Country Club, where breakfast had been promised but was not forthcoming. Miami Springs also has fallen upon hard times but the clubhouse honor board bears a Hall of Fame listing of Miami Open winners from days of yore. Leading the list is a gent who is called Sammy Snead on his first victory but Sam thereafter. Presumably, Mr. Snead considered “Sam” more genteel. Oh, and a fellow named Eugenio Saraceni won from 1927-30; better known to later-day golfers as Gene Sarazen.
The game this day was a scramble featuring a bramble ball. Each of the two teams of four – Asher sat out again – picked their best drive and played their own ball in. The team of Mike Henderson, Brian Schuman, Rob Birman and Policano eked out a victory on the 18th green.
Then it was off to Hialeah Park to lunch in the Nashua Room and watch quarter horses run. Brian had prevailed upon Hialeah management to name the seventh race “The Hickory Classic” and we all gathered in the winner’s paddock for a photo op with the winning jockey. Mike Policano displayed either a shrewd knowledge of horseflesh or dumb luck to pick winners in both the races we watched.
The race done, Brian presented prizes in the form of medals and ceramic copies of the flamingos that call Hialeah home. Mike Stevens, he of the graceful swing, took out overall low gross. Mike Henderson, he of the deadly short game, waltzed away with the aggregate low net.
Dear reader, you may have noticed that your humble scribe played in three separate events and came up empty in all. He was thus rendered even more humble. But nobody loses at a Brian Schuman event. Mine host called Enid and I up to receive the double-flamingo trophy for “most outstanding couple.” (Asher and Susan were in the running but lost out because Asher played only one match. Asher got “most frustrated golfer” for his pains, so to speak). Matt Dodds of Burlington, Vt., was runaway winner for the award given to the “golfer who came from the coldest place and traveled the furthest.”
The inaugural Florida Hickory Swing was deemed so successful that a repeat is planned for 2014. Given Miami traffic, next year’s event will be known as Brian’s
Palm Beach Party and held further north at the revitalized PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. The observant might note that this is not too far from Brian’s West Palm Beach home. And why not, he did all the heavy lifting to make it so much fun for the rest of us. For which, those who attended thank him mightily.
Heading home, Enid and I heard that the Pinehurst #7 Polar Bear Open had been cancelled due to sub-freezing temperatures and ice on the course.