Savannah: Golf Busters

01 06, 2012

Ran in Toro Magazine

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA -- While gaggles of tourists descend on this comely Southern city year-round, seduced by its wealth of neoclassical mansions, majestic steeples, ornamental iron works and other architectural aphrodisiacs, I didn’t come to ogle old buildings. I came for just two things: to play golf and hunt down ghosts, but we’ll get to the Scooby Doo sleuthing a little later.

A javelin throw across the river from downtown Savannah lies a real peach of a golf course, ranked among Georgia’s finest spreads. The Club at Savannah Harbor — a 7,288 yard par 72 (designed by Bob Cupp and Sam Snead) which a couple years back Golf Week named the No. 3 course you can play in the state, has hosted the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Champions Tour stop since 2002. The Troon-managed showpiece of the Westin Savannah golf resort & spa features sick views of Savannah’s skyline with the golden-dome of city hall and the sublime metal harps of the cable-stayed Talmadge bridge coming into view on a myriad of holes.

Standouts on this scenic marshland track include the 6th, a daunting dogleg right with a narrow approach to a well guarded elevated green, traditionally the third hardest hole through the first six months of the Champions Tour and the crescent shaped 7th, a titanic hurdle-strewn 660-yard par 5. While that front-nine twosome tend to earn most of the kudos from critics, I was most blown away by the mammoth 17,000 square foot green on Tomo Chi Chi, the 12th hole named after the seven-foot tall Yamacraw Indian Chief who gave colonists permission to settle in Savannah. Alligator Alley, the 14th, also demands attention on and off the fairway. While Stumpy (poor critter’s missing a foot), the course’s resident reptilian pet, failed to make an appearance, I did spy a baby gator swimming in a pond near the tee-box in gobbling distance of a big ass gator large enough to swallow the tot whole. The director of grounds maintenance mentioned to me that while the giant frogs who take refuge on the fairways at night are the gators’ diet staple, the adults will go cannibal on young'uns if they’re hungry enough.

Part of the thrill of playing a course on the Champions tour circuit is imagining if I could hack it against the legends of the game that compete at Savannah Harbor every spring. Ray Romano’s character on Men of a Certain Age (recently axed after a critically lauded two season run) dreamt of qualifying for the senior tour. It’s a pipe dream shared by many weekend golfers, especially those with a couple decades to hone their skills before reaching their 50th birthday.

The bad news for ambitious duffers with aspirations to turn pro in middle age is that the majority of the spots on the Champions tour are occupied by PGA players in their Grecian Formula years who are still in the swing of things, but there have been cases of late blooming amateurs elevating their game in their late forties and going on to earn their qualifying card.

While I’ve joked around with buddies about patterning my game so that I peak as a quinquagenarian, for me golf is more about teeing ’em high and letting them fly in picturesque settings than a quixotic quest to shave strokes off my scorecard. Still, hitting in the footsteps of golf giants managed to step my game up. Over two rounds at Savannah Harbor (to glean as much course knowledge as possible), my putter showed moments of brilliance, draining more than a few meandering prayers, but due to my speed reading deficiency there were far more incidents of last second lip-outs than I care to remember. So barring being possessed by the ghost of Bobby Jones, a future career on the Champions Tour may not be in cards.

Next on tap for my Savannah sojourn was Blue Orb’s City of the Dead walking tour helmed by Melissa who looked like a hybrid of Lisa Loeb and Velma from Scooby Doo. She told me her day job is as a cake maker so she has a monochromatic wardrobe, baker’s white during the day and night stalking black when the sun goes down. In the same square where my tour begins, another apparition watching affair with paranormalist Shannon Scott (a cross between Fabio and Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navvarro) with a low and slow spooky voice is also about to get going. In the war between geeks & goths this evening the black eyeliner set appears victorious with a flock of ghostbusters double the size of Melissa’s crew, all primed to blindly follow their fearless troop leader through Savannah’s dark and spooky streets.
Armed with a small flashlight and yellowed newspaper clippings detailing some of Savannah’s most chilling murders, we set about stirring up spirits while walking over unmarked graves, by freaky deaky shadowy houses of horrors and the grounds of a haunted hospital. While the material itself was innately scary, Melissa’s analytical no nonsense delivery saved me from developing a case of the heebie jeebies. Still, a random drive-by “mua hah hah” managed to ratchet up the fear factor. The story of a hag, a disembodied darkness with a penchant for terrorizing depressed women, was all the more eerie with the aid of the heckling from the peanut gallery.

While strolling by Colonial Park cemetery, Melissa, who may have noticed my versatile Ecco street golf shoes, worn just as comfortably on a fairway as while pounding the pavement on city streets quipped, “Mike…it’s Sam Snead.” She went on to reveal that Snead watched me play today. “ He saw you kick your golf ball when nobody was looking on the 11th hole.” Okay, full disclosure, I did get a little footy on my ball on the back nine somewhere around the turn but can’t pinpoint the hole.

While Slammin’ Sammy spent most of his time in his native Virginia before passing on in 2003, he did lend a hand with Savannah Harbor’s inception so who’s to say his spirit doesn’t do a little sightseeing every now and then? Besides, Savannah always makes the cut in lists of America’s most haunted cities so if you’re a ghost you wanna be among your peeps.

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