Experience of a Lifetime or The Perfect Trip

Experience of a Lifetime or The Perfect Trip

Howard W. Taylor, D.D.S.*:
This, ladies and gentlemen, was the first tee, whence we commenced our adventure in the company of those amazing caddies.

As dentists, we all deal with perfection on a daily basis. The pursuit of perfection is at the core of our lives: the perfect margin, perfect alignment, the perfect shade ... Although true perfection may not be attainable, the appreciation of perfection takes on significant meaning when other people recognize and appreciate the achievement.
Early this fall, specifically September 17, six Saint Paul dentists were participants in a “perfect trip”.
The perfect trip begins with a great idea and builds. Something
like this:
• A golf trip
• A golf trip to one of the finest golf destinations in the world
• Great traveling companions who love golf
o Paul Kirkegaard (PK)
o Bob Marolt
o Todd Thayer (Papa Bear)
o Brent Fredrickson
o Craig Sulzdorf
o Howie Taylor
o Andy Duckett
o Ron Kent
• Spectacular weather
o 72º Fahrenheit
o 72º Fahrenheit with a five mile per hour breeze
o Blue skies
o For four days!

The Right Stuff
The experience of a lifetime began with Paul Kirkegaard (PK) conceiving the idea to have a fall golf trip to Kohler, Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan, to play Whistling Straits, Black Wolf Run, Erin Hills, and The Bull at Pinehurst Farms golf courses. Each of these courses has an unsurpassed reputation for beauty, challenge, and one-of-a-kind design characteristics.

The group had all the critical components for fun and excitement. The mover and shaker who gets everyone to his destination — that would be Todd Thayer, affectionately dubbed Papa Bear. The gracious brunt of most of the jokes — that would be Brent Fredrickson. The caretaker who subtly makes sure everyone is having a great time — that would be PK. The members-at-large who provide enthusiasm, excitement, and humor — those would be Craig, Bob, Howie, and our friends from Alabama, Andy and Ron.

Greener Than This You Don’t Get
Once in Kohler, Wisconsin, getting to Whistling Straits, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, requires a drive through a few miles of very flat farm and pasture land. As you drive through the gates at the entrance to the golf course, you are enveloped by immense hills and mounds covered with tall grasses interspersed with sand dunes. As you approach the quaint club house, you can see the caddies in white jumpsuits greeting their golfers. The landscape is magnificent, and very reminiscent of the rugged seashore in Ireland. Throughout the grounds you can observe the black-faced sheep who are permitted to graze on the fairways that are heavily bordered by sand dunes, tall fescue grasses, and rugged rock formations with deep ravines. As you take in all of this, you know that something special is about to happen.

 

"Is this great or what?" we all proclaimed. Some of us voted for "or what."

The first step in this journey was to be introduced to our caddies. They are skilled in their profession, and their many years of experience become very evident as the day progresses. Then you discover each tee box, too, is special and unique. The first tee box is marked indelibly in my brain. My caddie pointed out the depression between two distant mounds surrounded by tall grasses as my target. Now, I must confess that many of my/our tee shots were so inaccurate as to give the impression of several unruly students challenging the authority of their teacher. However, as time passed, nervous excitement gave way to a calmer exhilaration that allowed the beauty of the golf course to be better appreciated - and the advice from the caddies to be followed.

The first green was gorgeous. The green undulated from front to back with a modest dome effect in the middle. The color was a light green and cut very short. After my caddie gave careful directions regarding the nuances of the break, the slope, and the speed, I successfully sent my putt off like a rocket heading to Jupiter. I was entertaining visions of a 30-foot return putt when instead my ball slammed into the back of the cup, popped up, and dropped in! Magic was in the air, and I knew this was an inspired trip.

Stimp Meter Be Gosh-Darned
Each day presented golf that seemed so spectacular that it could never be surpassed, only to be outdone the next day. Erin Hills is a newer golf course, accurately ranked by Golf Digest as a top course in the United States. It is a rugged course and therefore a difficult course to walk. All the tee boxes are elevated to fairways that are bordered by wastelands and tall grasses with the occasional ravine. The greens ran at about 11.5 to 12 on the stimp meter, which means that while the ball never stops rolling, it rolls very true. These were great greens and a lot of fun
to play.

 

Not allowed. Paul Kirkegaard attempts a backwards shot. Meanwhile, the greenskeepers ruminate on the folly of man...

An Honest Day’s Play
At Whistling Straits, we began our experience with a half-hour lesson from the course’s teaching professionals, folks who were, of course, very competent and also savvy enough not to try to overhaul anyone’s game, but rather to provide appropriate limited assistance. This, of course, left us with the heady feeling that we were all primed to take Whistling Straits to it knees.

Both of the courses at Whistling Straits welcome their guests with an extensive display of wind-swept sand dunes. Experiencing a golf ball in a sand dune, up against the lip of the grass, would repeatedly challenge our skills about escaping from a hazard. At different times we all hit shots that went off of the fairway and into the rough, either 30 to 40 feet above the fairway or 30 to 40 feet below the height of the fairway. I recall Bob Marolt missing the fairway right. He descended out of sight, only to reappear some 200 yards down the fairway, where he commenced to successfully hit onto the elevated green and save par! We all experienced similar walks, but not necessarily with so sterling a result.

Scoring was elected to be optional, but we all did keep score. PK created the scoring method of calling out a number, such as four or five, or, at the individual’s discretion, the letter “p”, which would be called out for “plenty”. The overriding emphasis was to soak in the full experience. If keeping score would detract from the experience, then you weren’t required to keep score.

‘P’ is for Peninsula
On the Straits Course, I played with PK, Bob, and Craig. We were following our other foursome. Several of the holes played along a very rugged shoreline of Lake Michigan. We watched Brent tee off on a 210-yard par three with a green that was located on a peninsula jutting toward the lake. If you missed left, your ball either ended up in Lake Michigan or in one of several sand dunes about 30 feet below the green. A miss to the right resulted in your ball being in the sand dunes among the rocky crags. A ball that fell short was in a ravine that fed into Lake Michigan. Brent hit a beautiful shot that kept slowly hooking left and dropped into the dunes 30 feet below the green. Our laughter heightened as we watched Todd block one right into the rocks. When it was my turn, I was relieved to see my shot land short but on the front edge of the green, only to discover I had really landed in a bunker with a seven-foot-high wall between me and the green. I was pleased to clear the wall, only to discover I had flown the green and was now below the green where Brent had been earlier. During this round PK played below the radar. He had no errant shots, nothing that made you notice his play. However, at the final hole he turned in a great score of 75, with no ‘p’s.

Sweet
Black Wolf Run and The Bull at Pinehurst Farms are absolutely spectacular courses. They have beautiful mature trees lining deep green fairways that often played along small rivers. The doglegs, long carries, and remarkable solitude contributed to our experience of a lifetime.

Call Them Other Shining Moments
No description of this trip would be complete without recognizing that Kohler, Wisconsin is the home of Kohler plumbing fixtures, and the golf courses and hotel rooms showcase the Kohler product line. We experienced showers with five shower heads, and each could be individually adjusted for direction and intensity. Even the restrooms on the golf courses merited a stop to gaze and marvel at the effort that was put into the design and display of the Kohler products! Our hotel was built on a small lake and had rooms that were beautiful yet understated, conveniently located near the golf courses.

 

(L) The Par 3; and Brent at the Par 3. (R) All anyone could say was, "How special is this?" (Lower) The fortunate ones at one of the great 19th holes.

And Be Merry
Our eating opportunities were optimum, and we made the most of them as well. We enjoyed very fine restaurants, and the post-golf celebration cocktails were unmatched. The various clubhouses had spectacular views to compliment the great ambiance. Brent proved to be knowledgeable about fine wines. Craig was the Scotch connoisseur. Bob, PK, and Todd knew their beer and ale. We all enjoyed the storytelling and camaraderie.

As the four days and five rounds of golf came to a close, we all knew we had been the recipients of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We had been gifted with absolutely spectacular weather. We had enjoyed unmatched golf at world class golf courses in pristine condition in the company of great caddies. We had indulged in wonderful food and beverages which were savored in exceptional ambience. But best of all, six dentists from Saint Paul thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of each other as the final element in their perfect trip.

 

*Dr. Taylor is a general dentist in private practice in Saint Anthony, Minnesota. Email is taylor.hwt@gmail.com.