I'm so glad I visited Mission Valley Country Club in neighboring Laurel, since it truly is a hidden gem when it comes to pure golf clubs versus the country club scene. In the words of general manager Brian Matt, "We are an old-style club that's not associated with home development, and what's more, we allow golfers to walk as well as ride in powered carts."
Originally designed by David Wallace and since modified by Ted McAnlis and John Sandford, the 38-year-old 18-hole championship layout is cut out of the woods and looks nothing like a typical modern-day Florida course featuring water hazards on just about every hole and condos and homes bordering the fairways.
"The Valley" is a quite a short course, playing only to 6,438 yards from the championship black tees. However, as head golf professional Jim Duval (uncle of PGA Tour player and former British Open champion David Duval) says: "This track makes you shape and think out shots off the tee and into the green, and this allows for a bigger challenge and a fun day."
The course features an array of dogleg left and right holes, so you must curve the ball around oaks, palms, and pine trees, plus avoid fairway bunkers, to land the ball in the short grass and put yourself in position to hit an approach shot at the hole. The greens are quite small, so if you hit one in regulation you'll have a good chance to score birdie. However, a couple of greens feature two-tiers and tilt dramatically from back to front, so to score par you must hit a pinpoint iron shot or depend on an excellent short game. All in all, the holes are very fair. In short, you will be rewarded for gambling and hitting the shot as planned and punished if your shot does not come off as planned.
My favorite hole on the front nine is the short par-four sixth (306 yards from the black tees) that requires a draw off the tee with a long iron or fairway metal club. On the back nine, I really like the par- five 17th. This hole only plays to 480 yards from the black tees, 467 from the blue markers, and 405 yards from the white makers, yet you must avoid a huge water hazard to shoot a good score.
Mission Valley's golf amenities include driving range, putting green, chipping area, practice bunker, and fully stocked pro shop. Lunch and dinner are served in the clubhouse. A variety of memberships are also available, including golf equity and social types. For further information, telephone Christine Bolton, director of marketing, at (941) 488-9863.
Mission Valley Golf and Country Club
Mission Valley Boulevard, Laurel
Pro shop: (941) 488-7747
When visiting one of our town's superb public or private clubs, you're likely to be part of a foursome that includes at least one good player who speaks the language of the links-Golf-speak. Take this crash course so you can figure out what the heck a fellow golfer is saying, learn to talk the talk, and have more fun on the course.
Good golfer: "I've got to bomb one here to have a chance of getting home in two."
Translation: I must hit a solid drive to put myself in position to reach the green on my second shot.
Good golfer: "I'm going to have to get steep and go down after this one to recover from this junk and hit it stiff."
Translation: I'll need to swing the club back on a more upright angle and hit down more sharply, to recover from this deep rough and hit the ball close to the hole.
Good golfer: "I'm going to take one less club to compensate for this down-wind condition."
Translation: I'm going to take a more lofted club (i.e., a nine-iron instead of an eight-iron) to allow for the wind blowing toward the green and carrying the ball 10 yards farther in the air than in calm conditions.
Good Golfer: "I've got to be careful not to hit this putt through the break and three-jab."
Translation: I must hit the ball at just the right speed, so that it takes the curve in the green and finishes close enough to ensure a two-putt-not a three-putt!
Golf has been played for nearly 600 years, and during that time there have been great advancements in equipment technology. There are also an increasing number of golf training aids on the market, as well as instructional magazines and CDs available to the golfing public. Yet, ironically, many amateur players still fail to hit the ball powerfully and accurately off the tee and cannot shoot a score below 95 for 18 holes. Why? Most golf coaches instruct players to control the swing with the left side instead of their natural right side.
Tommy Armour, the first golf professional at our own Sara Bay Country Club, and Greg Norman (who has visited Sara Bay) have won five major golf championships between them, due largely to understanding the value of letting the right side control the swing.
If your driving game is off, trigger the backswing and create power by turning your right hip clockwise about 45 degrees (like Norman), then vigorously rotate your right hand and forearm counterclockwise at the start of the downswing (like Armour), to unleash that power and hit the ball far down the fairway.
Golf is an honorable game, and one way to keep it that way, as well as return an honest score and establish an honest handicap, is to know the rules set down by the United States Golf Association. Knowing the rules will also save you penalty strokes. So learn what steps to take in common course situations like this one involving taking a drop from a cart path.
Situation: Player A finds his ball on a cement cart path and knows that a free drop is allowed by the rules of golf.
Common mistake: Player A correctly considers the area of nearest point of relief before dropping the ball within one club-length from that point and no nearer the hole. However, after the drop, the position of the ball is such that he has to keep one foot on the cart path to play the shot. He decides to play the shot anyway because the lie is so good. The ball lies on one of the few areas of grass in a very sandy area.
Player A is not allowed to keep one foot on the path after his drop, according to Rule 24-2. This same breach will cost you a two-stroke penalty.
Correct procedure: When taking relief from an immovable obstruction (anything artificial, like a cement cart path), you must take complete relief. In short, in this case after the drop both of Player A's feet should have been off the cart path.
I met mega movie star Jack Nicholson over a decade ago in Miami, at the Turnberry Golf & Yacht Club. Shortly thereafter, when Jack came to New York to work on a movie, I played with him at the Garden City Golf Club on Long Island, where guests are required to wear jackets in the clubhouse and write their name and address down in a big, fat, old leather book that's been the tradition since the club opened in the late 1800s.
A few days before our scheduled round of golf, I told Jack about wearing a jacket, and he just laughed. So I figured he'd show up with a casual Armani shirt and test the club rule. But on the day of the game, he did show up wearing a sport jacket. The only thing is, it was bright canary yellow like the one he wore in the movie Prizzi's Honor.
A couple of minutes later we were greeted by our host, member Jim Dunn, who like me and the rest of the club members, was dressed in a classic blue blazer. After Dunn took one look at Jack, whom he was meeting for the very first time, he ushered him into the locker room and simply said: "It's kind of hot, Jack, so it's okay if you want to take your jacket off." Being "The Joker" that Nicholson is, he waited a while before removing his jacket, just to see the expressions on the faces of the other members.
According to our mutual friend, restaurant owner Tom Baratta, Jack's planning to visit Miami this spring, and there's a good chance he'll shoot up to Sarasota to play some golf-a sport he's crazy about, by the way. He should feel right at home in our colorful city.
Specialty Of The Clubhouse
More and more golfers are flocking to the Ritz-Carlton's Ca' d' Zan bar after playing a round at one of our private or public courses. The reason: head bartender Peter Whitley's imaginative martinis, such as the Raspberry Lemondrop that I recently tried-and loved!
To prepare, mix and shake together two and one-half ounces of raspberry-flavored vodka with one and one-half ounces of sour mix (preferably, a homemade mix of freshly squeezed lemon juice and cane sugar). Pour into martini glass, then "sink" three-quarter ounces of Chambord through center of drink. Run raw sugar around the rim of glass. Garnish creative concoction with lemon twist and fresh raspberries. Drink.
SARASOTA'S JOHN ANDRISANI, author of the best-selling book, The Tiger Woods Way, recently received the United States Teachers Federation Media Award for outstanding golf instructional writing. Send questions and comments to John at email@example.com.