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WALKER CUP MAGIC AND THE MYSTIQUE OF SEMINOLE GOLF CLUB

Lafayette, LA – May 11, 2021 (written by Logan Ray, LGA Executive Director)

I was checking work emails on my cell phone on a Friday afternoon, March 5, 2021 to be exact, when one email in particular made me stop scrolling and gave me goosebumps.  The subject line read “Championship Invitation: 48th Walker Cup Match.”  I immediately opened the email to confirm that my eyes had not deceived me, and I was in fact invited to serve on the Rules Committee for the 48th Walker Cup.  This was an unexpected moment, and I was immensely grateful for the opportunity.  In many ways, being invited to serve on the Rules Committee for the Walker Cup is just as rare as being invited to compete as a player.  There were only 26 spots on this year’s Committee.  I have worked diligently for years learning the Rules of Golf, and it was an honor and a privilege to earn the invitation and represent the Louisiana Golf Association on the global stage.  I knew I could be an asset to the Rules Committee and uphold the high standards for USGA championships.  The fact that this year’s Walker Cup would be conducted at the lauded and revered Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida made me feel an even deeper gratitude for the opportunity.  This is the story of my experience at the 48th Walker Cup.

Before I could officially commit, two phone calls needed to be made.  The first phone call I made was to my wife Jessica, who is expecting our second child in the coming weeks.  I needed to get her blessing to attend something out of town in such close proximity to her anticipated due date of May 30.  After hearing the excitement in my voice, Jess said “absolutely go!”  She is the best.  I only wish I could have taken her and our daughter along for the ride.

The second call I made was to Louisiana Golf Association President Mike Ameen.  The Walker Cup was scheduled for the same weekend as the 32nd LGA Senior Amateur Championship at Oakbourne Country Club in Lafayette.  My first priority is always with the LGA, and I wanted to be sure that we discussed the conflicting dates before I committed.  President Ameen was thrilled to hear about my invitation and shared the same sentiments as my wife that I should 100% go.  I am fortunate to have the support of a tremendous staff and Board of Directors at the LGA.  I was confident that our team and volunteers could conduct the Senior Amateur without my presence at a club that was very familiar to us.  We are a small association and it’s “all hands-on deck” at championships, so a huge thanks goes to Jacob, Kyle, Carr, Ben, Caroline, and Oakbourne Country Club for their efforts and giving me the confidence to know the LGA Senior Amateur would be a success. I followed the LGA Senior Amateur live scoring each day, and I was eager to check in through text or calls to see how the event was going.  Kudos to the LGA team for providing all Senior Amateur competitors a first-class experience.  

I arrived in Palm Beach on Wednesday evening, May 6.  The Walker Cup hotel headquarters was at The Breakers, just over a half hour drive from Seminole Golf Club.  In preparing for this illustrious bi-annual competition, the USGA had hoped to create a healthy bubble for players and officials, but as you likely heard a horrendous stomach bug created gastrointestinal issues for a number of players from both the Great Britain & Ireland and United States of America Teams in the days leading up to the start of the Walker Cup.  It even caused some players to be scratched from select matches.  Fortunately, there were no COVID-19 issues and the Walker Cup was able to be played as scheduled.  I stayed healthy during my time in Florida.

Andy Priest, Executive Director of the Alabama Golf Association, and myself headed out to Seminole Golf Club on Thursday around noon to get our credentials and walk the course.  Mother Nature had other plans that day.  Seminole received over an inch of rain on Thursday, so we did not get to walk the course.  We met up with USGA staff, and got a glimpse of the clubhouse before heading back to the Breakers Hotel. 

The Rules Committee meeting was Thursday evening, and it was very informative.  We received hole by hole notes to provide assistance with how the course was marked.  We also received our assignments for Saturday and Sunday, but with the uncertainty surrounding player health, we did not know who would be playing in the matches we were working until the last minute.  The Committee had a dinner that evening at The Breakers, and it was great to catch up with some old friends and make new connections. 

Because Thursday was washed out, I decided to get up early on Friday and do as much as possible.  I drove to Seminole at 8 AM Friday morning to get my first tour of the golf course, and it did not disappoint.  There were no players and only a handful of fans and volunteers out on the course at that time setting up the trophy club.  It was mainly myself and the maintenance crew that was working to get the course in championship condition following the previous day’s rain.  That crew deserves a big shout out because they did a tremendous job preparing the course each day.  Seminole brought in additional maintenance volunteers and had 6-8 eight crew members working each bunker at a time.  The greens were rolled 3-4 times a day, and by Sunday they were pushing 15 on the stimpmeter.  The course dried out quickly, and with the wind blowing from the East off the Atlantic Ocean, it played difficult with firm and fast conditions.  I saw dozens of shots over the course of play on Saturday and Sunday that only missed the target by a few feet but ended up rolling off the greens… and when it rolls off the greens at Seminole, the ball typically doesn’t stop until it comes to rest well away from the fringe or in a deep bunker. 

A perfect example of this was the 18th green on Sunday morning that repelled several approach shots and caused balls to roll downhill and to the right of the green, finally settling on the practice range fifty yards away.  The best amateur golfers in the world had trouble getting up and down around the Seminole greens, so you could see the frustration on their faces when they hit a shot onto a green and the ball refused to stop because they knew what was coming next.  I saw John Pak (more on him below) hit a shot from the back right green side bunker on the 14th hole to a back-middle hole location.  The ball rolled into the front left green side bunker after catching the downslope.  If you ever get the chance to play Seminole, work on your bunker game prior to arrival.  You’ll need it.  Barclay Brown from GB&I was the best out of the bunkers that I saw.

Walking Seminole is incredibly refreshing and unrivaled.  They don’t make golf courses like this anymore and haven’t for some time.  I am a huge fan of the old school Donald Ross layout.  There are two defining ridges running north-south, parallel to the Atlantic Ocean.  Those ridges are separated by a low area that used to be a swamp.  The ridge to the east brushes up against the ocean and sets up dramatic vistas around 13 green, 14 tee, 16 green, and holes 17 and 18, with the whistling wind and ocean waves offering soothing sounds.  When you get to the top of the inland ridge and look out over the golf course, it is breathtaking.  Two of my favorite views were on the same hole, #14 (from the tee looking out into the panoramic horizon of the Atlantic Ocean and then looking back across the course from behind the green).  The routing constantly changes the angle of direction, ensuring that you are both helped and hurt by the wind on different holes.  The set of par 3s at Seminole are a mix of length and precision.  

Another beautiful thing about this Donald Ross masterpiece is that it is conducive for excellent pace of play.  A sign reading “Play Well, Play Fast. Play Poorly, Play Faster.” hangs in the pro shop, just steps from the first tee.  The Walker Cup is foursomes and singles so only two balls are in play.  The pace of play time given to competitors for each match was 3 hours and 59 minutes, which was generous.  We did not have a single issue with pace of play throughout the event.  Seminole truly was the perfect venue for the Walker Cup.  It’s a great match play course and provided a stern but fair test for competitors.  The golf course conditions were on the edge but never crossed it.  I talked to several members who were pleased with the way the course was presented on the tv broadcast.  The Atlantic Ocean was a rare aqua color during the Walker Cup, and the aerial shots of the course really made it aesthetically pleasing.

One of the highlights of the week was the flag raising ceremony.  That is when the significance of the moment really hit me.  The 43rd President of the United States, George Walker Bush, was in attendance and addressed the crowd.  His great grandfather, George Herbert Walker, was the USGA’s president in 1920 and started the international team competition that would deepen the ties between the USGA and the R&A.  Walker donated the trophy that would bear his name and it is an impressive cup.

My first assignment was Observer for Match 7 in Saturday afternoon singles (3:36 PM starting time).  That afforded me the opportunity to watch a few matches from the morning foursomes.  When I arrived at Seminole on Saturday, I caught up to the opening match on #16 and followed them for the final three holes.  I was behind the 18th green with a front row seat to watch Cole Hammer roll in a 30-foot putt to win that opening match for the United States.   Hammer celebrated boisterously and so did the crowd.  I can only imagine what the energy will be like when there are no limitations on the number of spectators attending the Walker Cup.  Because of the sparse crowd, this year’s attendees had an experience that will likely never happen again in our lifetime with unobstructed views at Seminole.  And speaking of attendees, I met Larry Fitzgerald and Brad Faxon while strolling the grounds on Saturday morning.  Everyone seemed genuinely excited to be there.  Faxon and I discussed the “gentlemen’s agreement” between the GB&I and USA captains that players would play the third hole as intended and not hit their tee shots down hole #4 when playing #3.  Also, Faxon gets his clothes from a guy in Alexandria so he had a Louisiana connection.  After watching a few more matches, I grabbed lunch in the hospitality tent and watched the rest of the morning action on tv.

Singles Match 7 Saturday afternoon was Barclay Brown of GB&I against John Pak of USA.  I knew of Pak because he had played a pivotal role in the USA’s Walker Cup victory two years ago, and he was the low amateur at the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. This was a fun back and forth match.  Brown was cruising early until Pak won three holes in a row to tie Brown through 13.  Brown took control of the match again after back-to-back birdies on the back-to-back par 5s, 14 and 15, to regain a 2-up margin that led to his earning a point at the conclusion of hole 17.  Viewers may remember Brown as the young man who played with a bucket hat.  He is a sophomore at Stanford, and I impressed with his demeanor and shot making ability.  After my match concluded Saturday afternoon, I checked my watch and I had walked 8 miles that day.

My Sunday assignment was Observer in Match 1 of Foursomes (8:20 AM).  I arrived to the first tee twenty minutes before the match’s starting time to visit with former Florida State Golf Association Executive Director Jim Demick who was the starter.  Seth Waugh’s wife Jane was there, and she was kind enough to snap the photo of Jim and I pictured above.

GB&I was led by the first pair out, Mark Power and John Murphy, who won in foursomes for the second straight day.  Power and Murphy started hot against the USA’s Pierceson Coody and Pak, going birdie-birdie-eagle to win the first three holes.  Perhaps the most impressive shot I saw over the weekend was from Murphy at the par 5 3rd hole when he hit a 3 wood 282 yards up the hill, perfectly using the slope on the right side of the green, landing the ball on the fridge a few feet left of the bunkers guarding the green and letting the slope carry the ball to six feet from the hole where his partner finished up for the eagle.  Coody and Pak began to chip away near the turn, winning holes 9 and 11.  When it looked like they would pick up another on the par-4 12th, Murphy drained a critical par putt to remain 1 up.  With the match tied on 18, Murphy struck a wonderful 5-iron approach that set up a 2-putt par and the win for the Irish duo.  I was glad to see this match go 18 holes because it meant another walk down one of the best finishing holes in all of golf.  The wind was really a factor for this match on the final two holes.  There were no rules issues in this match.  It was mostly determining which player was away, granting obstruction relief, and things of that nature.   

After the match, I ate lunch in the hospitality tent with some other Committee members and then went back to the hotel to shower and change.  I returned to Seminole in the late afternoon to experience the final moments of the 48th Walker Cup.  As luck would have it, I was there for the first point on 18 and also the conclusion of the last match to make it to the 18th hole on Sunday.  We took a Rules Committee photo, and I lingered just a while longer before the closing ceremony and trophy presentation.  I was still pinching myself and relishing this incredible moment as the setting sun fell lower in the sky.  A special moment for sure, and I need to give a special thanks to Tyler Riggin, Director, USGA Regional Affairs – Southeast and the entire USGA Team for having me. Seminole Golf Club is one of those places you don’t want to leave.  The next two Walker Cup matches are scheduled for St Andrews and Cypress Point, and Seminole belongs in their company.  I know now why the Walker Cup is the pinnacle of the amateur game.  The memories will last a lifetime.