A Stroke of Heat at National
By Stephanie Wei under General

I was having one of those awesome weeks that only come along every so often. In fact, it was almost too good. I played at Bayonne on the Fourth of July and felt like my game was starting to come around. I received confirmation that my media credentials for the British Open were approved, so I was being sent to St. Andrews by a highly-respected, international, English-language newspaper. And then I was invited by Scott McConnell to play National Golf Links of America on Friday. (I mean, opportunities like that are so rare that some of my veteran golf scribe friends haven’t even played there before.)

So, it was only a matter of time that something had to go wrong, right? Unfortunately, right. And, of course, it just had to be the day I was getting to play National — which is practically the holy grail of golf in the US. It’s a link-style course and many of the holes are designed to resemble and play like the most famous ones in the UK.

As I mentioned on Friday, I came down with heat exhaustion/heat stroke (whichever one it was, but either way, it was awful). Scott McConnell (on right in photo above), a reader who I’ve intermittently exchanged emails with in the past year, is a member at National and graciously invited me to NGLA on Friday. We were joined by his friend who is also a member, David Murray.

Scott suggested I play from the Green tees, where the total yardage is 6,505. From the White tees, which are 5,771, the rating/slope for women is 74.6/144. So, basically, from the Greens, it would probably be something absurd like 80/162 (I just pulled those numbers out of nowhere). But I was up for the challenge. After all, I had been hitting it so well.

I was a tad nervous on the first hole and I felt like a tourist because I was just astonished by the beauty of the place. Even as I was pulling up, my jaw dropped a few times. I’d never seen anything like it before. I had a feeling I’d like the course because it was designed by CB MacDonald, the architect behind the Yale Golf Course. That said, I knew it would also be tough — lots of blind shots, elevation changes, tight lies around the pins, target golf, etc. — especially playing for the first time.

I think it was the fifth hole, where I started feeling a little queasy. I’d been a little shaky since the first hole, but I figured I was just woozy from the excitement. But being a guest, I didn’t want to be a bother, and whatever, I was playing National!

On the 7th hole, the one that is modeled after the Road Hole at St. Andrews, I was huffing and puffing as I walked up to the green. I’m out of shape, but really? I mean, it wasn’t like the hill was very steep. I figured it was just the heat and humidity.

Because I was delirious (one of the symptoms of heat exhaustion), I don’t remember much. I do remember five-putting the fifth hole (I think). I was just short of the green and I was putting up the hill to the front pin. I didn’t get the ball far enough up the hill and it rolled right back down to where I started. Awesome!

By the 9th tee, I felt like I was about to faint. I was mortified. I kept trying to play it off, but I guess it was pretty obvious that something was wrong. Scott had me sit in the shade at the halfway house and got me some Gatorade. David pulled out an extra hat for me to wear. After a little rest and some liquids, I was feeling revived. Kinda. Enough to keep playing at least. Had I been at any other course, I would have already walked off.

Like I said, I wish I could talk more about the course, but I could barely stand up. Even though I probably shot like 100, I still had fun. It reminded me of Yale in some ways. They’re totally different, but I’ll put it this way: I could tell I was playing a course designed by the same architect.

I remember having a nice par on the 13th hole, a par 3 that replicates the 11th hole at St. Andrews. Otherwise, I hit my driver decently, but didn’t do much else right. What else…oh, the wind was a huge factor. Duh.

Basically, I felt like a zombie. David played really well, though — he went on a birdie streak on the back nine and shot a 74. Scott posted around an 84. Afterward, it was obvious I was in no condition to drive back to the city.  Scott and his wife were kind enough to let me nap at their home until I felt well enough to make the trip. It was really mortifying. I guess it could have been worse.

I’ve been drinking Gatorade by the gallons all weekend so I’m hydrated for my trip to Scotland. I wish I could remember more to share, but I do know that the course is unbelievably awesome. Believe the hype!  Hopefully I’ll get another shot at it when I’m not dealing with heat exhaustion/heat stroke.

A huge thanks to Scott for everything. I enjoyed playing with both Scott and David, and I apologize for being such an inconvenience and just sucking on the links.

I’ll leave you with some pretty photos — both groups shots were taken on the 17th tee.

I think that’s the 7th green.

Finally, here’s the clubhouse. Thanks again Scott and David!