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An (Open) Lesson in Toughness

I'll start by saying the following: if I EVER get an invitation to play in The Open Championship, I now have a much greater appreciation as to what I can expect from the weather conditions.

And all I can say is ... ouch.

In years gone by, a good friend of mine and I would make an annual trip to Niagara Falls for a round of golf (or two, depending on the deals that were available at the time) at Thundering Waters. After a few years off from our little tradition, Dan and I revived it but elected to head somewhere new.

Enter #LegendsontheNiagara. We teed it up on the Ussher's Creek side of the 36-hole public course on Labour Day, and to call our round a wild adventure would be underselling it. While some nasty thunderstorms had been in the forecast, we caught some luck by missing those completely; what remained wasn't so lucky for us.

The wind wasn't bad at the start, as it was at our backs for the first three holes while we moved among the tree-lined part of the course. It didn't take long to see that we were going to have to deal with those winds -- in fact, we only got a three-hole reprieve. As we teed off on Hole #4, it became clear that the best score of the three of us playing was going to be from the guy who was the quickest to figure out how to keep his shots out of the wind as long as possible.

The course itself is amazing. Playing off the white tees, we were faced with 6185 yards on paper and I would guess closer to 6500 yards total when you factor in the extra clubs necessary to combat the ever-shifting winds. Ussher's Creek has a feature that should be of particular note to first-timers: several of the green complexes are guarded by National Audubon Society wetlands and habitats which are off-limits to golfers. When you mix that together with an almost three-club wind as I had to on the 11th hole ... well, you just take your medicine, drop a ball and keep going.

As we walked around the course, each of us made the comment a number of times that under better conditions (a little rain with less breeze, or a nice calm day with some cloud cover), Ussher's Creek would be a better course to play with more scoring opportunities available. But even saying that, Ussher's gave us plenty of chances: the par-5 6th hole that was framed by water on the left was gettable if you were smart about making it a three-shot approach hole; the par-3 3rd hole offered up good birdie looks to two of our group; and the par-5 14th (at a short 484 yards, even with the wind) was there for the taking.

The course itself is very walkable, but keep in mind there are a few lengthy treks from some greens to the next tee area (the longest being from #8 green to #9 tee). That might very well have felt longer because of the wind -- I can only imagine what it feels like at The Open when the wind begins to howl across the wide-open fairways there: at least with Ussher's you have some shelter on a good portion of the course. Those sheltering trees just make life all the more interesting when the wind whips down from the treetops and along the fairway...usually during your backswing when you're going to end up being a club short.

This is without a doubt a course for shotmakers, as you need to be at your best with your scoring clubs in conditions like the ones we played through. And while I will say that #ThunderingWaters remains my favourite Niagara-area course, Ussher's Creek is going on the list of courses to make a point of playing again sometime soon.

As a side note, I should point out this was not my first visit to the Legends property. Almost 20 years ago, I had the privilege of playing the Battlefield course with my friend and sometime mentor Norm Woods. It was one of the first times I'd played golf anywhere in the Niagara region, as Norm would also introduce me later on to Thundering Waters. We had talked about going back to Legends to complete the experience and play Ussher's Creek, but that was something we never got the chance to do together. His passing in 2011 left a hole in Canadian golf journalism and in my life as well, and I do what I can to honour him every time I tee it up. You can read more about my friend by going here.

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