I pulled into the parking lot and parked along the far side of the clubhouse. My Invicta read 7:00 am. I opened the door and stepped into the warm and humid Carolina summer and popped open the trunk. I retrieved my bag and laced up my Footjoys like I have done thousands of times before, but this morning was the first time since 2001 they would carry me around the course in competitive play.
The Gillespie Invitational is held annually in Greensboro NC at (you guessed it) Gillespie Golf Course. In its 23 years and counting, it has attracted some of the top amateur golfers in and around the Piedmont of North Carolina. The course is a unique 9-hole layout with 18 tee boxes stretching a little over 6,400 yards in length and a par of 72. Don’t let the $15 price tag and address off of MLK blvd fool you. Difficult hole locations and sneaky tight tee shots provide players the opportunity to go low or go home humble. The most interesting characteristic about the course is the 9 extra tee boxes that produce the back 9 turning some par 5’s into par 4’s and par 4’s into 3’s. Now, back to my story…..
When I crossed the parking lot I checked in at the first tee. Billy sat behind the table and greeted players with an enthusiastic “good morning”. The first day was a shotgun start. For non-golfers out there, that does not mean any firearms were used. It is simply when all the players begin at the same time on different holes so that everyone can finish at the same time. I started on number 3, a 560-yard par 5 with a sharp dogleg right, and a water hazard running all the way down the right side.
I was paired with two good players, Chris and Brent. Chris, oddly enough played at Methodist College with a guy from my hometown back in the early 90’s. He hit the ball very consistently and could putt lights out. Brent was native to eastern NC and had played with a lot of the guys I had competed against over the years. He BOMBED it! Brent was 6′ 3″, built like a linebacker, and hit the ball extremely long (including driver and 9 iron into the 530 yard 18th). Brent shot 69 and was one stroke off of the lead after day 1.
I played pretty well considering the rusty competitive gears. I was 1 under par through 13 holes despite missing sub 10-foot putts on 7 of the holes completed. No bogeys though which kept the round in check. My 14th hole was dogleg right par 4 and I opted for a 3-wood off the tee. I picked my target, set up, and swung. As I watched the ball sail over the fairway…. and the out-of-bounds fence…and the MLK blvd I reminded myself that a practice round would have been a good idea. Double Bogey. I stood 1 over par on the 14th, with the competitive fire burning like white flame as I hit a driver down the left side of the fairway finishing around 280 yards removed from the white peg it sat on seconds before. With a wedge in my hand, I manufactured a shot to within 8 feet. My putt rolled to within a rotation of diving into the cup but once again denied. My 15th hole I hit a 9 iron to about 30 feet on the downhill par 3. I addressed my putt with all the determination I could generate and rolled the ball into the cup dead center. Back to even, and on to the 16th. After a three strategic shots I had left myself 15′ for birdie. “One more,” I told myself, as I lined up and stroked the left edge putt. Yes, back to red numbers. “One more” as I stepped onto the 17tht ee and hit a tee shot down the middle of the fairway. A mediocre second left me with a 18′ for 3 birdies in a row. I read the line addressed the ball and rolled the putt at the left center of the cup. It expired over the lip on its last gasp like a marathon runner crossing the finish line. I pared the final hole for a 2 under par round of 70.
I was pleased with the way I finished, two off the lead going into the final round. Final round results coming soon…