It was 6:45 on a Sunday morning in June. That evening I was due at my in-laws' for an early dinner. So what was I doing lacing up my golf shoes in the parking lot of the Hanover ( N.H.) Country Club, a six-hour drive from their home in New Jersey? Did I have a death wish?
Hardly. I was seeking a golfing victory. I was not trying to break 90, which I accomplished years ago, or 80, which I have done once, or even to break par, which would take a miracle that I would rather hold in reserve for the Boston Red Sox or the Chicago Cubs. I was in search of something more elusive than par: to play a round of golf in a reasonable amount of time.
Sliced drives, skulled iron shots and chunked chips can make golf a frustrating game, but what bothers me most is how long it takes to play 18 holes. If you play regularly, you know that the four-hour round has gone the way of the niblick. Last spring, snail-paced play on a Sunday forced me to pick up after 17 holes. Six hours and I still couldn't get in a full 18.
So I was delighted to discover the Flyers Club, an antidote to slow play cooked up by Hanover pro Bill Johnson, who has also been the Dartmouth College golf coach for the past 30 years. "I'm very concerned about the pace of play," says Johnson, who started the Flyers Club six years ago because a lot of people love to play golf on Saturday or Sunday but can't afford to lose a five-hour chunk of their weekend.
Johnson's solution? Invite players to tee off between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and reward them by nipping $10 off the normal weekend greens fee of $31 provided they hole out at 18 in no more than three hours. There's one additional catch: Should players fail to reach the 10th tee in 90 minutes, the ranger tells them to skip ahead to the nearby 16th tee and play in from there.
I was game. I lined up a friend, Chris, awoke with the sun on that Sunday in June and after signing in at the clubhouse, received the following advice in a thick New England accent: "If ya keep up with that foursome in front a ya, you'll get around in two and a half hours." The young fellow behind the counter pointed to four jackrabbits, Flyers Club regulars in their late teens or early 20's, who soon strode down the 1st fairway with their bags slung over their shoulders.
Chris and I entertained no such perambulatory notions. We commandeered a cart to help keep us on schedule, especially through several holes I recalled as wickedly steep from my undergraduate days at Dartmouth in the early '70s. We both hit the fairway with our drives, then we hopped aboard. My watch showed 6:55.
After I two-putted for a bogey, I again checked my watch. Ten minutes had elapsed. So far, so good. Right on schedule. We waited a minute or so on the 2nd tee for the foursome in front to hit their second shots. They were so swift that we would wait no more. Chris and I settled into a brisk and enjoyable game of golf. After a couple of pars heightened my concentration, I forgot about the clock till we headed toward the 9th green. No problem: We made it to the 10th tee with five minutes to spare. We had completed the front nine in one hour and 25 minutes. It was golf as it ought to be played.
Maybe it was the pace. In any event I found a groove and parred the 12th, 13th and 14th and holed a 10-footer to birdie 15. Chris, meanwhile, bogeyed 13 and 14, and double-bogeyed 15. Even after bogeying 16 and 17, I could bogey the par-5 18th and still break 40 on the back nine. Moreover, we had 10 minutes remaining on our Flyers Club clock.
Then we caught a bad break. We had to wait on the 18th tee—not for golfers in front of us but for a foursome 12 holes behind us on a hole that is adjacent to 18. To return to the clubhouse, we had to hit over a yawning gorge we had earlier crossed from the 6th tee. The right-of-way signs instructed us to give way to golfers playing the 6th hole.