Ski Caps, Surfboards, and Sawgrass – A Father/Son Journey

Ready to tee it up at TPC Sawgras

Ready to tee it up at TPC Sawgrass

Thrill seekers will often regale an audience with tales of death-defying stunts, high-speed antics, and the type of activities that bring them a rush of adrenaline as they risk everything for a few seconds of breathtaking excitement.

I prefer the slower, quieter route. That’s why I golf. But make no mistake, the game provides a lifetime of memories that no other past time can match.

For this dad, it’s hard to describe the tremendous thrill of fulfilling a “bucket list” moment while having your son alongside. It’s one thing to enjoy a special golf moment from a solo standpoint, but an entirely new level of joy to know that there still are experiences that can drop the jaw of a 17-year old who loves the game.

That’s the backdrop for our latest Father/Son journey – a trip to Florida and the snapshot moment of a long held wish being fulfilled.

With the PGA Show serving as a beacon of hope for a January golf escape from the frigid Michigan winter, we began in November to assemble a master plan that would allow us to: find sun and warmth, soak in the history of the game, play an iconic course with the ultimate tee shot challenge, take in the PGA Merchandise Show, and spend some time with family in the Orlando/Lakeland area.

This journey had a lesser known subplot to it as well. As both father and son get older, I count our time together as something very precious. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family and my son is a true joy to be around. No one knows how many more of these trips we may take together, so I wanted to soak in every moment of this journey. Little did I know how many special, unexpected moments there would be.

 

DAY ONE: Ski Caps, Surfboards, and History

Welcome gift from WGV!

A warm welcome gift from WGV

As the journey began, we drove to St. Augustine for a couple days at World Golf Village. It had been nearly 15 years since my last visit to this special place. Every time I see the commercial with Gary Player doing snow angels on a bed of golf balls I’m reminded that for anyone who truly loves the game, WGV and the Hall of Fame should be mandatory road trips.

We stayed at the beautiful Renaissance World Village Resort and couldn’t wait for our morning tee time on the King & Bear. Not only were we going to break off some winter rust on a great course, but arrangements had been made for Bo to ride a Golfboard during the round. He was excited to try out (and review) this rather unique innovation.

 

To say it was a brisk morning would be like describing Super Bowl 50 as an offensive showcase. Simply put, it was freezing. Literally. Temperature at tee time was 37 with 23 mph winds. The wind chill was 28. Back home, the actual temp was 26. Something was not right. This old man went into the pro shop and purchased a ski cap that now rests in the bin of 3.4 million ski caps I already own.

A new ski cap for the collection!

A new ski cap for the collection!

As we played the second hole on King & Bear, a familiar form of precipitation began to descend on us. It was white, flaky, coming in hard. We laughed about it and then headed in, hoping to one day return and finish the round that barely started.

After a brief stop back at the Renaissance to regain feeling in fingers and toes, we headed over to the World Golf Hall of Fame and began to soak in the wonderful displays that weave together the unmatched history of the game.

Swilcan, Hall of Fame style

Swilcan, Hall of Fame style

The journey started with the “Shanks for the Memories” tribute to Bob Hope and never really stopped as we made our way through the displays and tributes. There were multiple times when I looked over at Bo and found him taking pictures of a display or reading an inscription. In all, we spent nearly three hours touring the Hall and came away with an even deeper appreciation for the development of the game through the years.

From the Hall, it was time for a journey to the Murray Brothers’ Caddyshack Restaurant for lunch. While the movie continues to live on in timeless “two thumbs up” excellence, the restaurant delivered a B- meal. The atmosphere is still fun and energetic, but it doesn’t appear they’ve maintained the same enthusiasm for great food. As the letter grade indicates, it was good…just not great.

Back to the Renaissance for a quick workout and then we decided to take in the IMAX Theater showing of Star Wars. Whether you enjoy that movie or not (it was Bo’s 6th time seeing it), that experience is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Stunning, bone-jarring audio and visuals in a 3D level of clarity unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. Wow!

The movie wrapped up a day that started with flurries, moved to history, and finished with the Force. Not a bad way to kick things off!

 

DAY TWO: TPC Sawgrass

If you’re serious about the game and decide to make the trip to World Golf Village, then do it up right – include a round at TPC Sawgrass in your schedule.

Fine art depicting a fine moment

Fine art depicting a fine moment

Yes, it’s expensive. Let’s address that reality up front. It costs a pretty penny to cross items off your golf bucket list. I realize that not everyone can pull it off. We were invited guests and I will forever be thankful to those that extended the invite. But once we arrived, we were no more special than any other guests on the property. Everyone is treated like royalty and the entire place over-delivers in quality of service, course, food, clubhouse, and memories.

Since our time at TPC Sawgrass was the pinnacle of our Father/Son trip, I’ve asked Bo to walk you through the journey from the (wide) eyes of a 17-year old…

 

I have played only one tour course in my life, and that was last summer in Mississippi, at  Fallen Oak. It was one of the most unique experiences I can remember, seeing the members’ locker room, with lockers adorned with big names I usually would only see in represented in pixels on TV or computer screen. The course itself was beautiful, the greens were the fastest and smoothest I had ever played, and everything was manicured, cut, rolled, and grown to perfection. In a word, it was beautiful, and I thought I’d never see anything like it again. That was before Sawgrass.

Sunrise at Sawgrass

Sunrise at Sawgrass

We arrived on the property early in the morning. It was a chilly day in Florida, probably about 50 degrees, and I was rather tired. I woke up immediately once I saw the clubhouse. The word “clubhouse” doesn’t quite do what I saw that day justice. It was a massive affair that looked more like a large hotel than a golf clubhouse and proshop. Walking inside, we were immediately greeted by large paintings of some of golf’s most iconic moments. There was Tiger’s “better than most” putt at 17, Jack Niklaus sinking a bomb, and Jerry Pate jumping into the water on 18 after winning. It was a spectacular way to see some of the most thrilling moments in golf.

It's at our house!

It’s at our house!

We continued to move through the clubhouse, exploring everywhere we could. At every turn there was some piece of golf history displayed for us to look at. One of my favorites was the Fed-Ex cup display case, with a small plaque inside of it that read “The Fed-Ex Cup is currently traveling.” Wow.

Eventually, we arrived at the member’s locker room, and went inside to put our shoes and and jackets into the locker we had been assigned. I was surprised to see that, unlike at Fallen Oak, there were no recognizable names in this locker room. They were all random people who had one way or another gotten a membership at Sawgrass. I was slightly disappointed, but I figured I was still playing a tour course, and I was in a clubhouse the size of a Marriott, so there was not much room to complain.

I had no inkling of what was about to happen next.

As we exited the locker room, we were stopped by the attendant, who’s name was Joe.

Joe was an older man, with a face that somehow told me he had seen a lot of people come and go through these clubhouse doors. We talked to him for a bit, and though he had no idea who we were, or that we were there for a story, or that my dad had a television and radio program, Joe asked us a question I will never forget.

“Wanna see something you’re not allowed to see?”

The answer to that question, of course, was yes. We embarked on a tour of the TPC  Sawgrass clubhouse that was simply unbelievable. Instead of trying to find the adjectives to describe the tour, I will simply tell you where we went, and let you try to understand the magnitude of what we saw for yourself. Our first stop was the Champion’s locker room, where only tour members who have won at TPC are allowed to keep their things. A big “Restricted: Do Not Enter” sign greeted us on our way in. Inside, we saw the lockers of Jack Niklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Tom Kite, Greg Norman, Rickie Fowler, and any other tour professional who had ever won at TPC. Joe regaled us with stories I will never forget about many of the champions and his personal interactions with them.

We left the Champion’s locker room and moved on to the regular member’s locker room, only this time, it was the locker room for Tour players. This room contained lockers of players who both have and haven’t won at TPC. Here, I saw Jordan Spieth’s locker, Jim Furyk’s locker, as well as lockers of Presidents, athletes, actors, and celebrities. Again, Joe told us many stories of the place, which tour players are nice and which ones are not, and how he has a personal relationship with many of them.

After these stops, we saw the player’s lounge, where players will just hangout before their tee time, and the players’ workout room, where they all go nowadays, as Joe told us. Our final stop on the tour was simply one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life. Each time a player wins at TPC, they ask him to leave a club. There was a wall, lined with clubs from past champions, simply sitting out in the open. Jack, Arnold, Tiger, Phil, KJ Choi, Adam Scott, they were all there, and I made sure to touch each one of them, thinking some of the magic would perhaps rub off on me.

After the tour of a lifetime was over, it was time to actually play some golf. The course was obviously manicured beyond what I thought was possible. It played similarly to the only other tour course I have ever played, with the greens being speedy, the fairways being very trim, and the rough being thick and unforgiving. There is a fair amount of water at Sawgrass, if you didn’t know, and I managed to find it quite often. Luckily, my anger at my poor play was softened by the spectacular beauty and views all the water provided. TPC Sawgrass truly was one of the most beautiful courses I have ever played in my life.

A 3-putt for dad...Bo's score remains a closely guarded secret

A 3-putt for dad…Bo’s score remains a closely guarded secret

And of course, the dreaded number 17. I won’t tell you what score I got on the iconic hole, but I will tell you this. When you play at TPC, a bag tag souvenir is provided to you at the end of the round, and your score on number 17 is inscribed on the bag tag. Suffice to say, the score inscribed on my bag tag, which is attached to my bag as I write, staring at me, taunting me, is not a score you would typically want inscribed anywhere. Putting two balls in the water at one of the most iconic holes in golf will tend to yield ugly results.

When the day was over, I left TPC feeling incredibly accomplished. I played very ugly

golf, and shot a score I hoped I waved goodbye to around the 7th grade. However, I had just played a course that I had previously only drooled over on television, and walked the exact paths some of my heroes and role models have walked. That would have been more than worth it just by itself, but getting the opportunity to tread the halls they trod, sit in the chairs they have sat in, and touch the clubs they won with, made the whole experience an absolutely over-the-top memory that will go with me the rest of my life.

I only wish I had scored better on 17.

 

Thank you, Mr Funk!

Thank you, Mr Funk!

Bo left out one HUGE aspect of the TPC experience – dinner. Whatever legacy Fred Funk leaves on the game of golf, it will pale in comparison to the nachos he has inspired in the TPC clubhouse. My tummy and cardiologist will forever remember the moments spent devouring the wondrous mountain of caloric excellence that capped off day two.

I’ll close this story with a mini sermon to fathers…a PSA of sorts.

Dad, take time to do something special with your son. It doesn’t have to involve a flight or resorts or great expense. It just needs to include a dedicated block of time where you clearly demonstrate his importance to you. This very thankful dad will remember this trip for far more reasons than a lame 3-putt on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Sure, it’s engraved on a pewter bag tag and will torment me for decades…but having my son there to rinse a couple of shots and laugh with me is the memory that will last even longer.

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