A Date with Ballyhack, and a Hangout with the Golfer's Journal
Unending Pursuits of Golf Perfection
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Golf is an amazingly dynamic game.
Some days, we yearn for the ability to create distractions during the backswings of our buddies while enjoying drinks, cigars, and laughter at each other’s expense, and on others, we just want to take a half bag out alone and relish the sounds of nature that drown out the noise of our daily lives. Similarly, while sometimes being a member of a private golf club seems like a god send, and on other days, the ability to be a total unknown stranger at the local golf course seems like the true privilege.
Trophy a la Scotty.
Then when it comes to organized golf, there are a plethora of events that one can partake in. Whether simulating the life of a professional golfer through local and national Mid-Am events, or being invited to select group golf gatherings, there’s a little bit for everyone.
But how do you know what event to go to? What makes a quality event? What kind of personalities would you be mingling with?
As part of our “commitment” to our membership, we are venturing out to events near and far to get a sense of what they are like and hope to relay that information to you so that you can make an informed decision as to what events to partake in. (struggle is real?)
Always travel with friends.
2020 has been a terrible year for organized events, and with obvious reason. So when it came across our mailbox that the Golfer’s Journal was having it’s Broken Tee 2 Man event at the much revered Ballyhack Golf Club, we knew we had to go.
When speaking to Casey, part of the braintrust at Golfer’s Journal, the idea was clear: connect readers of the Golfer’s Journal and create a palpable experience that provides a competitive environment for golfers to test their worth while also giving patrons the ability to kick back, enjoy the experience, and walk away with a deeper love for the game.
Wide open for us to enjoy.
Whether it’s southern hospitality, or just an embracing spirit, Matt and the team at Ballyhack were literally as welcoming as could be as soon as we stopped at the entrance of the property.
From the second we got there, we felt welcomed and part of the family.
We made the mistake of thinking this was primarily a one day event, when in actuality, even though we thought we were getting there early by arriving in the afternoon the day before, the festivities were already in full swing.
Lesson #1: make sure you sign up for the full 2 day event, to get the full experience.
Being the unfashionably late stragglers that we are, Matt, the resident Head Professional, went out of his way to allow us to get the most out of our afternoon.
No stranger to golf in the northeast, Ballyhack is one of two well-known Virginia masterpieces by Lester George. Having played RTJ Golf Club many a time, it was clear to us that Ballyhack was a Lester George-designed course. The concept of multi-tiered greens frequently broken into quadrants was a welcome sight, and one that would unequivocally necessitate a practice round before any serious scoring would be done.
But that’s where the similarities end. Lester George built this course with a focus on preserving as much of the natural terrain as possible, and it shows. Between the drastic elevation changes on many of the holes, where a look from the tee box seldom presents a green at eye level, to the drastic drop offs on the sides of many of the fairways or impending doom if a few feet astray of the fairway, it is impossible to not feel that George is walking you through the natural beauty of the land upon which the course was built on.
Whereas the front 9 seems to hide the doom that is hidden from the tee boxes fairly well, the back 9 provides more the dramatic views that make Ballyhack so photogenic.
Day 1 was setup by intention to allow people who came the day before the event to enjoy it anyway they wished. There were those who played a full-on practice round, as well as those who participated in the par 3 contest, and those who decided to enjoy the scenery and kick back.
Whatever you did, you got to enjoy the property.
See, if you go to Bandon, there is Preserve, which is a separate course. When we heard that the par 3 at Ballyhack was just a dedicated tee box on the regular course, we were prepared to be disappointed. We assumed it would be basically the up tees.
How wrong we were. More on that later.
During this time of COVID, it’s difficult for people to socialize in the same comfortable way that we traditionally associate these things. But everyone at the event was mindful of the time that we live in, and easily felt comfortable being part of the group.
Split 13 & 15 green.
Fast forward to the day of the actual 2-man event, and while we are used to being surrounded by people cut throat and hell bent on winning, we were to be around folks who had traveled near and far to enjoy the views and fellowship of other Golfer’s Journal readers.
Ballyhack’s kitchen deserves a special mention: the food was artisan, consistent with the ambiance of the club, and excellent.
Whereas the course on the practice day played as if it was protecting itself from the dog days of summer, the team at Ballyhack got the greens revved up and tournament ready by morning.
The hallmark of a fast green is not only how fast the downhill putts are, but also how much sidehill putts break off the planet if the pace is not just right. Couple that speed with all the contours and undulation, and there were plenty of nerve-wracking putts to attempt.
The picture below highlights the benefits of learning the course. The par 5 15th hole, pictured from the location of a traditional second shot, has an easier path if adept at drawing the ball. From the elevated tee box, hitting a hybrid to the large tree on the right half of the frame and thus 14th fairway, will give a much shorter shot to the hole, provided you are comfortable wrapping a 190 6iron around a few limbs.
Risk reward personified.
Our team started hot, and if you were watching our iG live, you might have had a few glimpses at how we were doing. While still placing respectably well at the event, lunch was a running conversation replaying the few strokes we wish we could have had back that would have gotten our names etched into the hardware that Scotty had for us.
Typically, if we don’t place in an event, we don’t bother to stick around for the rest of the festivities, but the venue and the flexibility given to us was too good to pass up.
To circle back, what makes an event worthy of your time? And had the Golfer’s Journal done it right?
Quick side note, we paid full-fare for our entry to the event, so no paid influence here.
Ultimately, the venue is pinnacle in importance. Aside from the obvious excitement and experience that comes from playing Ballyhack, the experience of being on the property added to the experience. With lodging on site, holes converted to outdoor lit putting greens, and fresh Virginia air, spending time at the event felt like a treat the whole time.
Pin placements were carefully chosen by the GJ team, the schedule was flexible to give everyone plenty of time to make the event as efficient as possible, and the course staff was always around to help with various needs.
Oh, and a very nice selection of gear in the pro shop. And yes, the swag bag for all entrants was replete with thoughtful gifts and useful accessories.
So all-in-all, the event was all that it was chalked up to be, and while that might not sound like a ringing endorsement, most events tend to disappoint with logistical shortcomings, but we left with nothing to be critical of, aside from our own play.
Carved out golf design.
We didn’t play the par 3 course on the first day. But in the afternoon free-time during the tournament day, we explored. And are we glad that we did. It’s interesting how well hidden the par 3 course boxes are from the normal course of play. We had played the course two days straight yet still had to search for the tee boxes.
From short 50-60 yard shots semi blind to full iron shots from wild angles, the par 3 course brings a fresh perspective to the Ballyhack experience. Take this hole for example. From the par 3 course, it is a 55 yard shot semi-blind from a sideways angle, but then the following picture shows how it played during the day.
See the par 3 box in the rough?
As the sun was setting on our mini-excursion to Ballyhack, the more and more photogenic the course became. With the mix of sun and shadows accentuating all the nuance of the property, we grew more and more impressed with the grounds.
We couldn’t help but wonder how the whole course would play from the tips, so we again went out to play some of our favorite holes from way back, and again we were thrilled with how dynamic the Ballyhack experience is. The tees that the event was held out was not a watered-down version of the Ballyhack championship experience, as each box presented a different set of considerations off the tee and how those decisions would affect approach shots into the holes.
Maybe it was the fact that Ballyhack is nestled in the mountains, maybe because it was a four hour drive from our hectic lives, but the whole experience let us enjoy golf as the therapy that it can be from regular life commitments.
So with that, if an event can’t disconnect you from the grind of daily life, if only for a day or so, then it is missing its mark. The two days at Ballyhack was a similar feel to heading out to Bandon, where it is golf, the new friends you meet, your clubs, and the series of decisions you have to make to get the most out of your round. What more do you need?
Again, another nod to the event organizers, since they invited us to enjoy the course however we saw fit, so we ended up playing another 18, as well as playing the par 3 course.
The highlight was playing through the property again, chasing the sun, with the disappointment from earlier in the day behind us, and thinking about what event would be next. We knew the event was a success in our eyes because by day’s end, we were acting like kids on the golf course, trying the hero/trick shots, and the impossible putts: you know the things we all did on golf course as kids.
Thank you to Ballyhack for the amazing hospitality and to Golfer’s Journal for conducting a first-class event.