It felt longer than it actually was, but when Ontario's lockdown ended just prior to the May long weekend, it meant that golfers got their official 'get out of jail' cards. Clubs were spit-shined, shoes were re-laced, and tee times were booked with more frenzy than Cabbage Patch dolls were purchased during the Christmas season in 1982.
Or, to put it into parlance that any Game of Thrones fan would understand...
Yes, I bent the knee, but not just to any course. Oh no, for my first round in more than a month, I went back to a place I revere despite not getting to play there as often as I would like.
Forest City National in London. Perhaps my favourite course ever, and at least in the Top 3, welcomed me and a pair of playing pals on a bright and soon-to-be hot Sunday morning for some long-weekend flogging. It was many things, but at the top of that list has to be satisfying!
For those of you who haven't played there, I'll give you a snapshot of what you're missing: playing off the blue tees, FCN measured out at a shade over 6100 yards. Plenty of twists and turns to go with bunkers just big enough to make you notice and water in play on plenty of the holes. In fact, some of the best holes have water as the predominant feature -- including the signature #15 hole that wraps around a small lake to a green that gets very small if you try coming at it over the water. And there are plenty of peek-a-boo looks at Lake Fanshawe, as the course is nestled into a nice chunk of land on the south-east corner of the water.
For those of you wanting to play from the tips, it's only another 700 yards from where we teed up, but the blues were more than enough for us. It wasn't until the back 9 that The Thinker told me this was his first round of the season, so I did have to apologize to him for bringing him to a track this tough for his opener. The third member of our group, Fastlane Freddy, was also making his initial visit to National, and I'm more than happy to report he matched the same score he shot the day before at his home course up in Seaforth.
So, what is it about National that gets me so excited? Simple - it's simple. Don't mistake that for easy, because it's far from that in so many ways. I call it simple for this reason: it doesn't try to trick you with gimmicks, and it lays out in front of you with options that will make your round easier or harder depending on how you're able to approach them.
I would recommend, if you can make this happen, to get an early morning tee-off if at all possible. We found that playing behind the owners had some perks -- most notably the lack of having to wait for holes in front of us to clear. But playing when there is still a little dew to be seen glinting in the morning sunlight gives the course a serenity that is somewhat lacking in a lot of other courses I've been to. And you also get the benefit of slightly slower greens, which helped ole'Lefty get his putter on track before things got too quick later in the round.
Normally, I don't make a big deal out of how a course is laid out because it is rare that I found routing to be a problem. And I'm not going to say it's an issue for National -- far from it, actually. I might be tempted to switch the 9s around and have the front be your closing stretch only because with the strategic removal of a few trees you would be gifted with an amazing look out over the lake as you putt out. Plus, taking your hacks at #15 when you're just five holes into your round instead of four from the end might result in more players willing to take on the lake in an attempt for eagle.
Which is what I did. I couldn't step down from the challenge, even if I have to admit that my tee shot landed somewhere I wasn't intending. I had a line MUCH further left than where I yanked it, but my tee shot helped make my decision to go for the green in two easy. I pulled off a solid 6-iron played up against a helping wind from the south and just cleared a greenside bunker. And yeah ... I rolled my eagle putt about three feet past and just a little wide. But a tap-in birdie was just as satisfying for me and helped put a capper on another amazing round at National.
Having played at some other stadium/parkland hybrid courses in other provinces (La Tempête is the best example of this I can think of, and a course I recommend to anyone who gets the chance to play it), I would tell you that the mix is a thrill to experience when its done right. And at Forest City National, they do it right.
Nike does Lefty right
This was my first chance to lace up my new golf shoes, since they arrived just after the latest stay-at-home order took affect. And going with the Nike Air Zoom Victory Tour 2's was the right move -- comfortable and stable for me with no issues breaking them in. Consider Lefty a member of the #NikeGolf squad now. Also, I have to say that my latest birthday present to myself -- a new pair of Loudmouth shorts that my lovely significant other refers to as my 'Clown Shorts' -- looked great. You can judge for yourself to the right. What do you think, should I start a #LoudmouthLefty campaign to get some sponsorship shorts sent my way? Sounds like a plan to me!
So there you have it. Forest City National did me right yet again, and it remains firmly atop my favourite course list. Here's hoping to more visits just like this one!