Killing time before my late-afternoon tee time at the Grey Goose World Par-3 Championship
By Ted McIntyre
“What lovely woodwork.”
“What a spectacular chandelier!”
“Could I eat a second breakfast?”
These are the sorts of things that occupy one’s mind as you nervously pace the carpet of the lobby of the stately Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda, desperately trying to contemplate ways to kill six hours before your afternoon tee time at the resort’s Turtle Hill golf course, one of the world’s most spectacular par-3 layouts.
I had no expectations yesterday, Round One of the two-day Bacardi (now Grey Goose) World Par-3 Championship. I was merely one of two token golf writers invited to experience the pressure of actual competition during a late-March media junket to this glorious little island, a brief two-hour, 40-minute flight from Toronto. You have to possess a legitimate handicap to compete in the annual competition. I was around an 11 at the time, and looked the part on my opening nine holes, shooting a very pedestrian six over par, but scrambled madly to par the back nine for a total score of 60 on the 2,684-yard, par-54 course—easily one of the best rounds under pressure I’d ever shot.
At dinner that night, I walked over to see where I stood on the leaderboard. There were several other players mulling about, all asking the same question: “Who the f*&% is this Ted McIntyre guy with the so-called 11 handicap?!”
They clearly assumed I was a sandbagger. But had they seen me in previous competitions over the course of my life, particularly my junior days, when no house bordering any fairway was safe, they would have known otherwise.
Now allow me to fast forward seven years. This year’s Grey Goose tourney—March 7-10—will make the 10th anniversary of Bermuda’s signature golf event, operated in partnership between the Bermuda Tourism Authority and the PGA of Canada. Golf Channel personality Charlie Rymer and four-time PGA Tour winner Chip Beck will be back as the hosts, along with five-time European Tour winner Barry Lane and 19-time Ladies European Tour winner Trish Johnson.
Considered the world’s premier par-3 tournament, with a total purse of $50,000 for those teeing it up in the pro division, the event is expected to attract 150 participants from more than 10 countries, including a number of noted professionals and celebrities.
If you’re not used to playing golf in that ‘strict rules of golf’ tournament environment, it can be a little intimidating at first—particularly when an enjoyable no-pressure Round One turns into an ‘everyone’s-watching-you-including-the-odd-TV-camera’ Round Two. And trust me, if you’re not used to a final-round last tee time of day, it’s the sort of mental torture that would make the CIA shudder.
Some players handle it with aplomb. Others, not so much. Take the famous story of the night preceding the 1919 U.S. Open playoff between Walter Hagen and Mike Brady. In the wee hours, Hagen was spotted partying it up like it was New Year’s Eve. “Walter, shouldn’t you be turning in? Mike’s been in bed for hours,” a friend begged.
“Mike may be in bed,” Hagen retorted, “but he ain’t sleeping.”
Hagen won the playoff the next day.
Even for the most accomplished of players, sleeping on the lead and killing time the next day while the rest of your competition has been playing for hours is a unique, sometimes surreal challenge. “It’s the longest day you can ever imagine,” two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw once observed about his 3 p.m. tee time in the final round at Augusta National.
“It took a little while to develop the late pre-round routine that worked best for me,” Tiger Woods wrote in an email to USA TODAY a few years back. “When I was younger, I’d run several miles before a round. Typically, I’d get up early even with a late tee time.”
I’ve heard of other players going out to movies. Putting on the headphones and listening to music for hours. Playing with their kids, if the family was around. But for me this was entirely new territory. I don’t sleep well at the best of times. And this was not the best of times. I tossed and turned the entire night, before finally surrendering to the morning sunlight streaming through the curtains just after 7 a.m. I could have been going to the moon at 2:15 p.m. and would not have been more nerve-racked.
I changed into my golf attire and wandered down to breakfast. Then wandered back to my room. Then changed into a bathing suit and wandered back down to the lobby and stood there admiring the British colonial feel of the architecture and grand staircase.
“Maybe I can check out the Willow Stream Spa and that cool indoor/outdoor pool with the waterfall?” I contemplated. “Or I could walk the beach—that glorious stretch of pink sand fronting the cliffs beyond the Fairmont’s private beach goes on for miles! Should I wander over to the course early, watch some of the competition and take some pictures of the beautiful ocean views? Or maybe a little more breakfast? I have been up for hours now, after all!”
And so that’s what I did.
ALL of them.
I was exhausted by the time I teed off. Which might, in retrospect, have been a good thing. The nervous anxiety was now burned off and the pitter-patter of my heart returning to its normal rhythm.
With nerves out of the way, only my lack of skill could plague me on Day Two. Which it did. Paired with two locals—who, perhaps strategically, were careful to make me feel as much of an outsider as possible—I was continually reminded how God intended me to actually play baseball, or ping pong, or hockey—or anything other than golf—as I made my way around the scenic, undulating Turtle Hill layout is.
My sizeable lead had shrivelled to two by the time I stepped to the tee at the 216-yard 14th, where I promptly shanked a hybrid so far right that I doubt any member of the greenskeeping staff had ever stepped foot there. I attempted to hack my second shot through a patch of bushes, but only succeeded in killing some native plant life. There was another stand of trees directly in front, with the uphill green somewhere beyond. I had no way of knowing the distance for sure. You’re not going to find many yardage markers on a par-3 course—especially when you’re this far off the beaten path and with no GPS rangefinder to save you. “Let’s guess 95 yards,” I figured, before hammering a pitching wedge barely over the trees, through a stiff breeze and into a bunker at the back of the green. That left a steep downhill, downwind sand shot from the downside of the bunker slope. No score was out of the realm of possibility at this point. For me, the tournament was all but lost. Except that I chipped in—one-hopping it off the pin for a miraculous bogey.
I played the final four holes in +1, winning the tournament by two shots.
For my men’s amateur division efforts I earned a bottle of rum, a $200 gift certificate in the pro shop and a little media coverage in the local paper the next day. But it all paled in comparison to the thrill of victory.
Not to mention how well I would sleep that night.
As part of the 10th anniversary festivities, the Fairmont Southampton is offering a discounted Grey Goose World Par-3 Championship package of $897 US (plus taxes, gratuities and resort levy). The limited-edition experience package includes your entry fee, three nights luxury accommodations at Fairmont Southampton, full breakfast and lunch on tournament days, an exclusive event at the Bacardi Limited headquarters, the opening-night celebration at the resort, premium Grey Goose championship tee gifts and a prize reception after the tourney, as well as an opportunity to take part in the $1 million (US) hole-in-one contest.