I lost my virginity on a cold December morning in the mid 90's.
I had traveled on Planes, Trains and Taxis to get to the event. And I was so far out of my depth, I didn't even know how far that "far" really was. I arrived for the date about 6 hours early. When I woke up from a seemingly short nap on the morning of, I had so much performance anxiety that I was unable to eat. "I should go home," I thought to myself.
I was to meet her just around the corner from where I was staying. She was older than what I was used to. And I had been properly briefed as to what to expect.
Cobblestones under my feet as I walked closer, I met her first with my eyes. Before me. A beauty. A stunning example that, to this day, has no equal. I got closer and my eyes examined her. I said nothing. Nothing needed to be said. And then I smelled her. And as I was now as close as possible, my entire nervous system felt her. I stayed, still. Examining everything that would fill my often short attention span. There wasn't anything familiar about this. Nothing. It was all new. All encompassing. She was exotic. And rough. And beautiful and spectacular. This moment, unforgettable. I was standing, literally, in the Valley of Sin.
The fescue oriented golf playing surface isn't something that you can read about to really understand. I have spent the last few days trying to cobble up some words that might help you understand about what you are about to see at this year's United States Open Golf Championship. It's proven to be really tough. Chamber's Bay is going to be wonderful. At the skilled hands of Eric Johnson (a veteran of tours at the helm of Spyglass Hill and Bandon Dunes) and Josh Lewis (who came up at Bandon Resort and Pasatiempo), the experience at Chamber's Bay represents another loss of virginity. A US Championship played on Fescue. Hooo Ahhh!
That morning of my virginal awakening came as I walked right into the feature they call, "The Valley of Sin", a sinister little contour right in front of the 18th green at The Old Course at St. Andrews. I was stunned. I was taken back as far as I could be on my heels. It was clearly the best golf surface I had ever seen, smelled, touched or walked on. Much less hit a shot from. Just a few minutes after the Old Woman had her way with me, I was wretching my guts out from the nervous understanding that I was about to talk about this surface with the long time caregiver of St Andrews, Walter Woods. Walter used to joke with me, saying he took my fescue virginity. And I would politely remind him that it was her, and not him that did the deed. And again, I wanted to just go home.
Walter and I and Paul Miller and Stuart McColm and Robert Price had been assembled as the "team" to determine some key agronomy coming into the construction of Kingsbarns Golf Links. Mark Parsinen was our mule musher. Kyle Phillips the creative designer. It was a heavy scene. And I figured my best contribution to this brain trust was to boil water for tea and keep from saying anything stupid. I did pretty well at both.
No longer a fescue virgin, I was asked to meet unborn, young and old fescue oriented golf courses and help. It felt silly sometimes because what I knew, a lot, was that I didn't know. A lot. But I was engaged with the passion in my loins and I think a lot of good work was done, and shared. And often, when someone was telling me what I was thinking about may not work, I asked them if they had been kissed in The Valley of Sin. If that hadn't, it was likely they would never understand the work or the words. And really there weren't many wells to get water from when it came to fescue knowledge in the US.
I can't say enough good about the fescue oriented playing surface. It really is beyond special. In fact, my own game has been put on the shelf a lot because I simply don't love any other playing surface. I guess you never fully forget your first.
The photo on your right is from The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in England a few years back. It's a great representation of what is possible with these grasses. Yes, I know, the weather in Palm Springs isn't the same as England. Duh. But now we are going to be able to say that a US Open will be played on a similar surface and that's a big step. But getting down with brown is just a great thing. That grass isn't dead. It's way happy. It's about to smoke a cigarette after the big event happy.
In a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Eric Johnson really perfectly represented the idea that you cant go to school to grow fine fescue. True. The work has been in the field. Free of eggheadism and in many ways free of nay sayers. When Eric was at Bandon Dunes as super, people came and had a fabulous time. And probably not many of them wanted long verbal make out sessions about fescue. I like them. But that's me. And at the direction of Ken Nice, the Bandon Golf Resort has stood up for something. And now, we have places like Chambers Bay, Ballyneal and Teatherow to add to the seduction.
My hat goes off... way off to Mister Johnson and Mr. Lewis. Way before the event ever happens. It's like a form of family planning, getting ready for the big event way before the backseat is filled. Because in truth, i don't really care if all the golfers at this year's US Open love it or not. I love it. Josh and Eric love it. A ton of people do love it. I hope a grateful european golf community will visit and play it. And I hope that the folks buzzing about sustainability will meet the woman that took my virginity as well.