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A tale of two idiots who didn't come in from the rain on one of the world's longest courses

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Editor’s note: Two idiots didn’t know when to come in out of the freezing rain while playing a beautiful golf course in Alabama from what clearly was the wrong set of tees on one of the longest tracks in the world. This is their story, as told by one of those idiots – the instigator.

This was a bad idea from the start. I know that now, and I blame the cold weather for any flaws in judgment. After years of advocating that most players should happily move up a tee box to better enjoy a shorter course, a severe case of brain freeze clearly occurred the first week of January just a short drive south of Birmingham, Alabama.

Ross Bridge, one of the best and most scenic courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, was wide open, not a player on the tee sheet. With good reason. It was 39 degrees and blowing sideways with several miserable Forrest Gump kinds of rain. “Little bitty stingin’ rain, and big ol’ fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath,” the noted Alabama native said, and the central part of the state experienced all of them that morning.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the skies parted. The sun shone in all its silver-lining glory. I’ve been around golf all my life, and I recognized these signs of a “sucker hole,” with just enough of a tiny clearing on the radar to lure me out of my palatial hotel room next door at the Renaissance. I didn’t care to heed the meteorological warnings – maybe it was the changing barometric pressure as a cold front swept down from the North Pole to impair my thinking. I was in Alabama to play golf and write about several courses, and this parting of the skies was just the encouragement I needed to keep me away from the 300 emails waiting in my inbox.

Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa near Birmingham, Alabama, as photographed on a normal day (Courtesy of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail/Michael Clemmer)

Did I mention the course? Ross Bridge is lovely, even during its winter hibernation. Bold shaping, room to swing away, interesting green complexes where putts roll true. It ranks No. 3 on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public-access courses in Alabama, and there are plenty of arguments available that it could be tops on that list. If it hadn’t been such an alluring course, we wouldn’t have left the hotel that day.

But those back tees. Why? Dear golf gods, please answer me. Just why?

The black tees at Ross Bridge stretch the course to 8,191 yards, making it one of the five longest courses in the world. Nobody needs to play a course that long, even on a sunny day. It would take a special kind of golfing moron – is that an oxymoron or just a redundant phrase? – to play from those tee boxes in a gale.

This moron had a complicit partner. Matt Matin of Winter Garden, Florida, had joined me for the round, and while he didn’t seem thrilled by the idea of playing from almost 8,200 yards – only about 80 yards per hole more than we should have tackled on a summer day – he proved susceptible to goading and false promises. On a past trip he had been talked into playing another top-rated course in what turned out to become a hailstorm, and he should have known better. So I had to lay it on thick.

Matt Matin tees off on No. 3 at Ross Bridge just before the rain starts. (Golfweek)

“I don’t think the heavy stuff is gonna come down for quite a while now,” I said in my best Carl Spackler. “It’s an adventure. When will you ever get the chance to do this again? … Don’t worry about the score. … If it gets nasty, we’ll go inside. … I bet we can both break 100.”

He’s a grown man. His decisions are his own. In other words, I didn’t feel too bad dragging a buddy out there in the wet and cold.

Besides, we’re both low single-digit handicappers. What’s a little rain and a few more yards? It sounded like fun at the time … with that time being before we started.

We weren’t the first to try this, and we won’t be the last, even though we probably should have been. The only saving grace is that we were the only ones daft enough to be out in those conditions that day, so at least we didn’t slow down anyone else’s game.

With the clouds still parted, the first hole was simple enough. Or at least as simple as can be expected for a 620-yard par 5 around and over a lake, with a semi-blind second shot to lay up. Sure, Matt lost a ball, but after my drive and hybrid layup, I knocked an 8-iron to 25 feet and just missed the birdie putt. That was downwind.

The second hole gave a precursor of what was to come. Playing 467 yards steeply downhill but right back into a wind that rattled the flagstick and puffed up my rain jacket like a balloon, we both made casual bogey 5s.

Then came the rain, turning its cold eye to vengeance. The “sucker hole” had closed around us.

From the back tee, the 470-yard third hole requires a carry of some 225 yards over a lake just to reach the start of a fairway that stretches along the shoreline – anything short or left, and it’s a reload. On a normal day, neither Matt nor I would have blinked twice. But the wind was blowing at least 25 mph into our faces, with gusts that exceeded 35. Matt drives it farther than I do, normally capable of 280 without a second thought, and he attempted the crossing. His typical low screamer made the carry and found the rough, short and right of the fairway.

I just didn’t have it in me to lose a ball so early, so I bailed right. Way right. I aimed at and managed to hit a hillside that probably had never been the intended target on that hole since it was built. Safe and dry, I had a mere 315 yards left to the flag, never so pleased to find a ball in heavy rough and 18 inches above my feet.

Golfweek’s Jason Lusk aims way to the side on No. 9 at Ross Bridge in a nearly freezing rainstorm. (Golfweek)

I won’t bore you with all the details, but that is how much of the rest of the day went. Find a target that didn’t require a forced carry of 230-plus yards into the wind, get creative, try to make a bogey and keep moving. There were plenty of 3-woods on par 3s, 5-iron third shots into par 4s, a few glorious pars and even a couple reasonable birdie putts, none of which found the cup.

The sixth tee was worth noting. The par 3 measures 207 yards on the scorecard, the shortest hole on the course. With a back flag, it was playing 221. The wind was howling, the pine trees shaking. The rain might have been sleet. Some of it might have been snow. It was hard to tell, because my contact lenses were basically frozen to my eyeballs.

I hit first, a driver straight into that tempest with contact a little low on the face. That ball normally would have gone about 240 in the air, but in those conditions it finished just short of the green. Matt then steeled himself and knocked his driver onto the green, 30 feet short of the hole. It was the shot of the week. Par for Matt, bogey for me, and we somehow kept moving.

The rain let up after a few more holes to be merely miserable, but that seemed to encourage the freezing gusts as Weather.com reported a “feels like” temperature of 33. I wouldn’t know, as I was too numb to feel much of anything at that point. Matt wanted to quit after 13 holes when his hands turned blue, so like the great friend I am, I loaned him my backup pair of dry FootJoy winter gloves and prodded him onward. Of course, I could have given him the gloves several holes earlier, but we did have a $5 Nassau to consider, and I was 1 up.

Golfweek’s Jason Lusk watches his third shot to the par-4 18th green in the rain and wind at Ross Bridge. (Golfweek)

We wrapped up on 18 – a 487-yard par 4 over and around another lake into a wicked side wind – with my winning bogey and Matt’s double. We raced to the parking lot, me to count my winnings and Matt to hug the car heater. A lonely bagpiper – a tradition at Ross Bridge – played from within a covered shelter, too smart and too cold to expose in full force his kilt to that kind of weather. The music seemed appropriate, but I’m not sure even a golf-crazy Scot would have been out in that storm.

Final tally: 88 for me, 89 for Matt. I proudly call it the best 88 I have ever shot, with five greens hit in regulation. It was my highest score of the week by more than 10 shots, but also the most memorable. Or at least I assume memorable. Several weeks later, I still haven’t thawed out enough to be sure.

What did we learn from this day on the links? Absolutely nothing. Again quoting Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/02/03/ross-bridge-golf-alabama-playing-rain/

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