We hit our first drives at 6:41 a.m.
Exactly 11 hours later, I stood on the fourth tee box at Walden on Lake Conroe with the club's owner, Dan McIntyre.
"Can you believe we're about to play our 100th hole?" I asked him.
"No," Dan said. "I can't."
I'm still having trouble processing what happened.
Eleven hours, 100 holes. For my part, there were nine birdies, 49 pars and one dead squirrel.
The golf marathon was a part of Golfers Against Cancer, the annual charity tournament started at Kingwood's Deerwood Golf Club in 1997. It's spread to places like Denver, Boston, Greensboro, N.C., and Walden on Lake Conroe. The efforts have raised more than $22 million for cancer research. One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly to the researchers instead of to a foundation where half of it is tied up in overhead.
When McIntyre, a former ClubCorp executive, bought Walden in 2004, he started a GAC satellite tournament. The eight annual Walden tournaments have netted more than $450,000 to the cause.
Last year, McIntyre wanted to do more. See, in 2009, he was diagnosed with cancer. From May to July that year, he underwent the horribly taxing, painful chemotherapy treatments. He lost every stitch of hair on his body. The treatments worked and he recovered completely. Today he has a full head of hair again. I told him that kind of pisses me off, seeing as I'm balding faster than the setting sun.
But I digressed.
McIntyre wanted to do more. He and club board member Greg Carter came up with the idea to host a golf marathon on the Summer Solstice. Golfers would attempt to play 100 holes or more and have people sponsor them with pledge-per-hole donations. Last year's inaugural event raised more than $40,000.
When Dan and Greg asked me to participate this year, I didn't hesitate.
I also didn't know what to expect. Greg told me of the blisters and sunburns suffered by some last year. I prepared myself for the worst.
Turns out it wasn't nearly that grueling. Dan and I played faster than you can imagine. No practice swings. Never pulled a pin. Here's how it went: Hit the ball. Drive to it (in separate carts). Check yardage, grab club. Hit the ball. Repeat...for 11 straight hours.
We averaged less than two hours per loop. We stopped once to change shirts, socks and shoes. Volunteers drove the course with water, sports drinks, snacks, sandwiches and even iced-down, mango-scented face towels.
As a group, we raised about $55,000. My 24 sponsors donated almost $2,500 of it. I'm blessed to have so many generous friends and family members.
Then there was the tragic squirrel incident. While all my supporters made financial sacrifices, Mr. Squirrel made the Ultimate Donation.
It happened late in the day, probably 10 hours in. It's hard to say because everything was blurry at that point.We were in such a hurry to get out of the sun—we foolishly predicted a 3 p.m. finish—that we refused to wait on any groups ahead of us. If we ran into traffic, we simply turned around and motored to an empty hole.
I roasted driver on the gorgeous, par-4 seventh hole, and was off in my cart. Hauling serious tail. I saw the little guy—one of about 10,000 squirrels on the course—up ahead on the cart path. I swerved to the left to avoid him, and he suddenly jumped that direction.
I felt horribly about it, but I had to keep moving. Hopefully he's in a better place, somewhere heavenly where even blind squirrels can find nuts. He will be missed.
In the end, I accomplished almost all my goals. I wanted to raise at least $2,000. I wanted to make at least one birdie an hour. Fell a little short there. My other goal was to never complain about feeling uncomfortable in any way. I was playing alongside a man I respect, whose friendship I cherish. This man underwent months of chemotherapy treatments and beat cancer without blinking. He's back to jogging in the mornings and often walks and carries his bag while playing his scenic, challenging golf course.
Think I was going to gripe about being a little sunburned and sore? Not a chance.
What I will do is commit to play in next year's GAC Summer Solstice Marathon at Walden on Lake Conroe. Only this time, I'll raise more money and make more birdies.
And I'll avoid all the squirrels. TL
* You can still make a donation. Even $10 helps. Go here: www.gacsummersolstice.com
* For more information on the GAC Summer Solstice, go here: www.gacsummersolstice.com
* For more information on Golfers Against Cancer, go here: www.golfersagainstcancer.org
Raveneaux Sneek Peek Outing, April 11, 2011.
The Monday after the Masters, nearly 40 Houston-area golfers gathered at Raveneaux Country Club for a sneak peek at the private club experience. None of the golfers were Raveneaux members, but because they bought certificates through TexasGolfOn.com, they all were treated like they were.
Before we teed off at 9 a.m., the group hit range balls and practiced on the silky-smooth putting green. The chatter was about Tiger Woods’ front-nine dramatics at Augusta National and Rory McIlroy’s back-nine meltdown. Everyone was in the mood for great golf, and that’s exactly what we experienced.
Raveneaux head professional Thomas Brinson had his staff available to look at swings and give tips before we got going. That was a bonus and certainly appreciated. Almost none of the players in the outing had played the unique, Robert von Hagge tree-lined course. We found out quickly that shot-shaping and keeping your ball in the fairway was paramount to making pars and birdies.
A brief rain shower passed through about 45 minutes into the round. After it was over, the air cooled, the sun came out and gave us brilliant weather for the rest of the day. Unfortunately for my group, the rain came as we teed off on the picturesque, par-3 fourth hole. From the back tees, it’s 176 yards, but we played it at 167 yards.
Either way, it’s an all-way carry to a peninsula green supported by a wooden bulkhead. Dave Schroedle, our group’s A-player, made an easy par as the rain came down. The rest of us—Lonnie Williams, Steve “Gibby” Gibson and Massoud Tabrizi—took bogeys and ran for cover under a nearby bridge.
The rain passed as quickly as it came, and it was a glorious day. Raveneaux members, as we learned, are spoiled with some of the purest, best-conditioned greens you’ll find anywhere in Texas. Even though it’s located in the Champions area in north Houston, the course is surprisingly secluded. The majority of the holes are free from homes, and the houses that are on the course are all set back as to be unobtrusive.
The tricky, fun course requires much thought, as there are few straight holes. All of the par 3s are at the same time challenging and interesting.
If our group was any indication, everyone at the Raveneaux outing had a fantastic time. No one had more fun than Lonnie, our resident sand-bagger. He said on the first tee, “Don’t write anything about my golf game!”
Then Lonnie went out and parred the first two holes, narrowly missing a birdie on No. 1. He and Gibby seemed to have their own private game going on, and it mostly consisted of good-natured trash-talking and long-drive contests on every hole.
After we putted on out No. 18—one member of our group birdied the 509-yard par 5—the Raveneaux staff had a scrumptious, chicken-and-steak fajita buffet ready for us in the beautiful, upstairs dining room. Raveneaux has a beautiful clubhouse and a young, friendly staff.
The golf course, however, was the star of the show. It’s a classic, old school parkland track that will test every club in your bag, as well as your course management skills. It’s a course that the public normally never gets to play, but the special offer through TexasGolfOn.com made it possible for this group.
Stay tuned for the next “sneak peek outing” at Raveneaux and for many other similar special golfing opportunities.