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Golf at Emerald Dunes

Today I played at Emerald Dunes, a widely revered course that features an American linksy design (by Tom Fazio). Rated as one of the "Top 100 You Can Play" in the US by Golf Magazine, I played after 2pm during the summer for $40. The course features a "SuperDune" on which you'll find three tees, three greens, and "unlimited panoramic views." Uh huh.

I wasn't nearly as impressed as I thought I might be. The course is similar to The Links at Madison Green, but at least Madison is smart enough not to label anything on their course as "SuperSomething." Anyway…

After an abbreviated warmup session (it was hot, I wasn't into it, eh), and a few minutes putting and chipping, I headed out to the first hole, a 478 yard par 5. I drove it with a slight fade up the right-hand side. I pull-hooked a 4I a little to the left, which is actually the ideal position, and hit one a pitching wedge to 25 feet. Putted to 2 feet and tapped in for par - always a good way to start the round.

My two swing thoughts today were as follows: at address, light grip pressure. I also worked on abbreviating my preshot routine, and including a practice swing or two before lining up the shot, but mainly focused on grip pressure. The more I waggle and the longer I stayed over the ball, the tighter I'd grip the club. My second swing thought was the same as the other day: start the downswing with the arms dropping to the inside. It is not true that the arms actually start the downswing - that starts with a shifting of the weight to the left side, separation of the knees, and so on - but I wanted to feel as though I was starting down with the arms. I hit a few quick hooks today, which pleased me, and only one real ballooning shot out to the right. Duck hooks I can fix rather easily. They are, to me, a good problem to have.

The second hole is a short par 4 at 363 yards. I caught a 3W a little thin and had a shot from 148 to a back right pin. I caught an 8I a little thin as well, but landed the ball on the green. (These two shots brought on my "loose grip" swing thought. I hit the ball a little thin when I grip the club too tightly because the tightness goes up my arms and into my shoulders.) I put the 40-footer over a rise in the green to two feet and tapped in for the second par.

Three is also a short par 4 at 380 yards. I flew a driver at the bunkers on the right-hand side but drew it a little too much (ahhh, such a nice problem to have!) off the toe and found myself right at the 95 in the course illustration (but in the rough). I fluffed a PW short and left of the green by a few feet and pitched to five feet. I sunk the downhill putt for a par.

The fourth is the first in a series of very nice par threes. At 155 yards and with a little wind in my face, I chose a 6I. I tend to hit the ball one club shorter off of tees and wanted a smooth swing. I put the ball on the front left of the green to a back right pin after playing just about the shot I wanted: start it at the pin and if it draws, so be it. I planned on a little more roll than I got - the greens, regardless of club or spin, would stick all day long. I had a large bending 35-footer that I "lagged" to five feet. I made the right-edge come-backer for a fourth par in a row.

Five is a gorgeous par 5 with water down the left-hand side. Big hitters would have to hit a great drive to consider going at the green, missing right if anything. At 555 from the tips and 530 for me, I was comfortable playing it as a three-shotter. I hit a gorgeous drive that flew over the bunkers to the right and drew back to the right-center of the fairway - 270 yards, all carry (my ball divot was a foot or two away). I hit an easy 4I between the bunkers, leaving myself a short PW to the green. I put my wedge to 7 feet and faced my first real chance at birdie for the day. It's very rare to be one under through five, and today was not one of those times. The putt grazed the left side of the cup and came to rest one foot behind the hole. I tapped in for par.

I began bleeding on the sixth, a short dogleg right and 370 yards long. I hit a driver dead straight into the rough at the far edge of the right-hand bunker (caught it a smidge towards the heel, I think). I had a PW to the green but skulled it over into dead grass and hay. I didn't hole the putt left by my mediocre chip to 30 feet and had a bogey.

The seventh didn't ease my pain either: I hit a great 3W up the middle of the fairway and faced a 150-yard shot into the wind from an awkward lie. Awkward = difficult = tense. Forgetting my "light grip" swing thought I came up 20 yards short on a slightly thinned 7I and pitched to 20 feet. I really need to work on my short game - it's in an absolute shamble right now. Bogey.

Another beautiful par three found me at eight. The wind pushing slightly to the right and in, I chose a 5I on this 191 yard hole. I wanted to start the ball right of the pin and draw it to the back left. If I came up short right I'd still be on the green, and if I pulled it I'd be on the fringe. I hit a crisp, easy shot with a little draw that held itself against the wind, leaving me a 10 footer for birdie. It lipped out and I tapped in for a par.

I double-crossed my 3W tee shot on nine and found myself behind the bunker, 200 yards from the pin on the 420 yard par 4. I didn't trust the yardages on the in-cart GPS system, having intended to start the ball at the sand and draw it back to the fairway. My body bailed and closed the clubface a little. Facing a sidehill lie, I played the ball at the right edge of the green, confident that it'd draw back to the pin tucked back left. It flew dead straight and splashed into the back bunker. I blasted short - wow, a bunker with sand in it, unlike some other courses I can think of - and missed the 30-footer (yeah, ok, I blasted quite short) for par.

Front nine: 0,0,0,0,0,1,2,2,3 = 39. Total number of putts: 15 (better, but if it could have easily been 13).

I made the turn at ten three over but confident in how I'd been playing. I promptly pulled a 3W to the left on the 400 yard par 4 in much the same fashion as I had on 9. Facing another 5I up a hill, I left myself 35 feet short of the pin and 25 feet short of the green. Putting from the fairway, I rolled by the hole four feet but made the come-backer for a par.

Eleven, with an elevated tee on the lameass "SuperDune," is a reachable par 5 at 472 yards. I drove nicely down the right-hand side (determined not to scare re-create my last two tee shots), a rather stupid thing to do with all the water. I faced a 200-yard shot to the green and chose a 4I. I'm not sure that the yardage reported by the GPS system was horribly accurate or whether I was just hitting a bit short today, but I came up 20 yards short of the green. I decided to try to lob a sand wedge to the front pin placement but chunked the ball nicely only 15 yards. I really think I might get a 60° wedge with no bounce for these situations - my sand wedge has too much bounce for any sort of tight lie. I putted from off the green again, this time to two feet, and made the putt.

Even par now on the back, I stepped to twelve wanting to get back some of the shots I wasted on the front. I hit a great drive 40 yards short of the green in the middle of the fairway before fatting a wedge. I rolled the putt from 15 feet off the front of the green to a foot (hey, I'm getting good at putting from the fairway :-P) and tapped in for a par.

Thirteen was an odd hole. It set up unusually for me - my distance perception was off. At 366 yards, I couldn't drive it. I choked down on a 3W and drove it solidly. A PW to 25 feet led to a two-putt par.

Fourteen was another of the beautiful par threes. The pin was front left and playing into a right-to-left wind. I felt that a 6I would get me there, played the ball back a little, and tried a little punch draw. It punched, it drew… a little too far left. Just in the left rough, I chipped to four feet and sunk the putt for a par.

Even through the first five on the back, I came to fifteen ready to take advantage of the short hole. Instead, I hit a 3W down the fairway and hit an 8I a bit thin. The wind caught the weak duck and landed me pretty short of the green. Facing an awkward chip, I tensed up and thinned it to 40 feet - there would be no par save on this hole. Bogey.

The last of the par threes is sixteen, measuring 165 yards. That's right around my normal 7I distance, and the hole was playing short because the pin was up front - say 155. I teed up a ball a little higher than normal and the wind was pushing back to the left slightly. I started the ball at the right edge and let the wind take it back to the left a little. It was high in the air and landed six feet from the pin. Needing to make the putt, I marked the ball with my French coin. Right in the heart of the cup - perfect break and speed. Back to even par!

The next, seventeen, is a long par 5 that prevents anyone from going for the green because it's tucked behind trees. I played a conservative drive at the right bunkers, drawing it back into the fairway. I caught a 5I a little thin, but that ended up being perfect as I'd have gone through the fairway otherwise. From the dot near the "95" on the hole map, I put a wedge to about 20 feet. Having a good line on the uphill/downhill right-to-lefter, I put a good roll on the ball and it dove into the cup for another birdie. One under going to eighteen! (For the back, anyway.)

Eighteen is one of those holes that look much more difficult than it is. At 419 yards, it's not a long par four. You add 30 yards just by driving the ball into the wrong side of the fairway as I did. I should have backed off from the tee shot when the mower darted across the fairway, but I did not, blocking the ball to the right. From the rough just beyond the 184 I caught a 4I fairly well but came up 15 yards short of the green. I pitched to eight feet and lipped out the par putt, a tricky left-to-right downhill putt. I tapped in for an even par 36 on the back: 0,0,0,0,0,1,0,-1,0: 36 (and 15 putts)

36 + 39 = 75 (+3). Total putts: 15 + 11 = 26. Now that's what I remember! Tack on the three putts from off the green and I'm still only at 29 - a very shapely score indeed.

I played well, and when I remembered my two swing thoughts, I played really well. My short game is horrible - chipping, blasting, pitching - and needs a lot of work. I hit a few little hooks today which tells me that I'm really getting into the groove with my swing. I hit some effortless drives, giving me confidence in my driver, and I had a good trajectory with most of my 3Ws (hitting a draw with it helps - fades balloon into any breeze at all).

A 75. I didn't think I'd do that this year. I certainly didn't think I'd do it a month after picking up the game again. It's a very good feeling. Of course, this is golf, so there's nothing to say I won't shoot 85 the next time out, but this one's in the books.

Emerald Dunes is a passable course, and I'd play it again. It didn't live up to the hype - perhaps it truly plays best in the winter months here in Florida - and for $40 I would rather play Madison and have a few bucks left over, or play two rounds at Delray.

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