PARK CITY — There it laid in the low morning sun, a triangular stone with the number 718 etched in the center.
I'd heard about it but hadn't ever seen it until Friday when a group of media folks, including some members of the Deseret News sports department, were invited to play the Painted Valley Golf Course at the Promontory Club. It was a promotional-type outing for media members to play the longest golf course in America on the longest day of the year.
The setup called for the course to run out at 8,357 yards. In the world of golf, that’s the equivalent of taking a bunch of hot dog-fed, diet drink-guzzling sports writers and broadcasters and asking them to get in the ring with Mike Tyson and last three rounds.
My co-worker, Deseret News golf writer Mike Sorensen, had done this before. He survived to write about it and eloquently pointed out in 2010 that this Jack Nicklaus course, at 8,357 yards, was 1,300 yards longer than Pebble Beach, which hosted the U.S. Open that year, and 900 yards longer than Augusta National, where Adam Scott won the Masters this past April.
The first hole is 718 yards on the stone and card, but with all flag sticks this day planted just a few paces off the back of every green and tee boxes from the tips moved to the very end of the launch platforms, the par 5 played more like 740 yards.
If you love the game and understand what a 740-yard par 5 is like, you quickly get it that unless you are John Daly, there is no way you are going to get on the putting surface in regulation. To attack this hole, to get on in regulation, you’d have to average 246 yards on your three shots while navigating over a ravine, sand traps, a lake and a dogleg that runs to the right after your tee shot. All have to be precision shots to avoid going into the sage brush, into a bush or into the water.
Our caddie for the day was an energetic jumping bean named Mike Coopen, a former University of Utah golfer who hopes to qualify for the Utah State Amateur this summer. Coopen said he knows plenty of scratch golfers who can play from the tips on this course and be happy with a 78. So, our mission was to be happy breaking 100.
I was very weary this day, standing on the first tee box after looking at the stone mocking me with the 718. This past April, I injured myself getting into a golf cart at Alpine Country Club when my buddy pressed the accelerator on the cart while I was half in and half out. It almost split me in half, and the resulting grade-three groin muscle tear has been nagging me for seven weeks. So have the hundreds of dollars in medical bills. But that doesn’t stop summer golf.
You see, as my feelings of trepidation hovered over my mind on No. 1, I reviewed my fears and balanced them out with my hopes.
I took this injury to Lake Tahoe, Nev., in May, limped around for a week, shot a 93 at the tight Carson Valley Course one day and then two days later made 10 pars and a birdie on the last hole for a 78 on Carson’s Silver Oaks Golf Club. I splayed the ball all over the place at Hobble Creek one day for a 92 with neighbors, but in a final round at Orem’s Cascade before it got plowed under in late May, I missed two birdie putts inside 7 feet and shot a 1-under 34. I’d never shot par on that layout in 40 years.
So, I had faith.
I teed it up and hit the best drive of my summer, an arching, ravine-carrying draw to safety. I then hit the best 3-wood I could muster, right where the caddie told me to go. But when we got to the landing area, the ball was nowhere to be found. Coopen apologized for not guiding me to aim more left. I was in the lake. After a drop, I had a 258-yard approach shot. Instead of laying up like Sorensen, I hit the 3-wood again. I pulled it through the fairway and onto the mountainside. I took an eight.
The next hole, I made a 35-footer for par. I made just one more par the rest of the day. Halfway through the front nine, our group, humbled, moved to the blue tees. By the turn, we crept to the white tees when the wind came. That is when most of the TV guys in the fivesome ahead of us bailed.
By No. 11, I was hurting all over. Even the cheap suction cup on the end of my putter to aid in a non-squat pickup of the ball out of the cup didn’t help. Our group struggled. Sorensen started missing fairways; the cellphone of my boss, Kent Condon, started buzzing and his game abandoned him. Colleague Michael Black and I? Well, our spirits soared when the cart girl rolled by with food and beverages.
Mentally, we'd been whipped. Physically, we felt it.
On No. 16, my Fairways Magazine friends in the group behind admitted they’d moved up to the blue tees. Like us, they looked like Tyson was winning with uppercuts, kidney jabs and a few combos.
And so it ended. The longest day of the year on the longest course. I hit it in the water on 18 and picked up. I tipped Coopen. It wasn’t his fault I stunk it up.
When my Deseret News comrades piled in their car to escape the parking lot, the engine wouldn’t start and they were stranded.
The golf gods really did have the last laugh.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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