May 1973. That was the last time I saw Duke. He was crouched behind the plate, 90 feet from where I was standing at first base. The setting was Snell Field on the Aurora College campus and it was my last college baseball game on a fun and talented team.
May 2023. The reunion is on the first hole at Tryon Country Club in Tryon, NC. In those 50 years just a few things have changed. Two hip replacements make it difficult for Duke to crouch behind the plate; I’m dealing with a case of plantar fasciitis, so getting from home plate to first would be a major accomplishment; however, we both still have the full (but greying) head of hair of our youth. Our host, John, was another 1970’s athlete at Aurora College. He graced the soccer field with my brother, and the last time I saw him was in 1978 as we stood side-by-side at my brother’s wedding. It was hard concentrating on golf as we reminisced about those crazy 1970’s college days.
At Hole #1, we were still 90 feet apart as Duke blasted his drive well past mine. I was not a power threat back in 1973 and things have not changed in 2023. We played from the green (front)/brown (back) combo tees boxes. A par 5 of 391 yards with a dogleg to the left, and from this set of tees it is important to keep your tee shot to the right. Any wayward shot to the left could (and will – trust me) find the stream that bisects the fairway or the deep woods to the left. A beautiful opening hole with the mountains in the background. The green slopes from back to front, so it’s better to be short on your approach – no issues there because I am almost always short (not playing in the Mile High city anymore)!
You find that same stream at Hole #2 that traverses the entire course. At 346 yards, most of us will find a generous fairway in advance of the water. However, the long ball hitter can risk clearing the stream by striking down the right side. It’s probably not worth the risk but it is always fun trying. You find a nice, short (121 yards) par 3 at the third hole. A bunker guards the left, and a bunker and two large trees guard the right. The stream “shouldn’t” come into play, however, if you shank one into the trees your ball could end up on the bank of the water. Then you have to play your next shot under a tree limb and over the bunker to secure a bogey. That’s not how I envisioned playing this hole!
Hole #4 is a par 4 of 361 yards with a fairway that slopes gently from left to right. There is tree trouble down the left side, so a good miss is out to the right. Have your sand wedge ready if your approach shot is erratic! Hole #5 is a par 5 with a dogleg to the left. It’s imperative that your tee shot finds the right side of the fairway. Any wayward shot to the left may find the woods or the stream that bisects the hole. The right also gives you a much better angle to the uphill green location. A fun hole in a beautiful setting.
I’m going to combine Hole #6 with Hole #15 (if playing 18). Number 6 is a straight par 4 of 300 yards which plays to a small Donald Ross two-tiered green with bunkers back left and front right. Any wild shot to the right may find the undetected pond. Now if you are playing the “brown” tees at #15, the independent green is located to the right with a slight dogleg in the fairway.
The seventh hole is an uphill par 4 and rated the number one handicap hole. The fairway is invisible from the tee box and any straight shot will find the landing zone. The green is large, but there is trouble both front and back. If your approach shot is short, you will see your ball trundling back into the “Valley of Sin”. I found myself there twice! Past the flag will produce a slippery downhill putt.
Hole #8 is a par 3 of 169 yards from an elevated tee box. The small green is guarded by a bunker on the left. The ninth hole has a fairway that slopes almost unfairly from left to right. However if you aim too far to the left, you find a plethora of trees and out of bounds. At least if you are too far to right when your ball decides to finish rolling, you have a shot from a parallel fairway. A tricky way to complete a round, and I’m sure a lot of money has unexpectedly changed hands at this hole!
Rating – Ace (56 out of 60): Another Donald Ross beauty – what more can I say. This is a private course and a little off the beaten path in western North Carolina, but if you find a way to visit this course – do it! It’s a short trip south of Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since we can no longer play the long ago abandoned 9-hole course at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville…
…Tryon CC represents a good golfing adventure from a bygone era. Originally designed in 1914, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2013.
393 Country Club Rd., Tryon, NC 28782; 828-859-9561; www.tryoncountryclub.com