Golf at Hiawatha

map_hiawathaBY ED FELIEN

The front nine at Hiawatha is open.  It’s rough in spots. The fairways on 2 and 6 and 7 have spots that look like a moonscape, but the greens are probably in better condition than they’ve ever been.  The plus side for serious or casual golfers is that you can play winter rules all season:  “If you don’t like your lie, then move your ball.”
The grass is coming back slowly.  Of course it’s not the Bermuda or Bentgrass that you’d hope for but the swamp grass, the Rice Lake Revenge, that comes back like one giant weed at the bottom of the Lake that surfaces and clutches at your ball as you try to hit it.  Bermuda and Bentgrass provide a dense coat of thin leaves that fluff up your ball to make it easy to hit.  When Hiawatha was built the Park Board “improved” the site by dredging the Lake, and renamed it Hiawatha (from the popular Longfellow poem—which was plagiarized from the Finnish saga, The Kalevala).  The Lake was originally called Rice Lake because Native Americans harvested wild rice there.  The reconstruction used the dredged muck to fill in the golf course, but, along with the muck, they brought the swamp grass into the fairways.  A plastic mesh laid over the grass wouldn’t stop the swamp grass from fighting its way through (even a concrete cover would finally crumble to the inexorable weed), but it could flatten and even out the fairways on the back nine before they re-seed that area for next season.
The Park Board recently commissioned a study on how to improve attendance at the City’s golf courses.  The conclusion of the out of town pro was that golf wasn’t as pleasurable an experience as it could be on the City’s courses.  He wanted all sorts of cosmetic changes, and he wanted to raise the fees, and then he wanted to sell them off and privatize the system.  I would suggest a simpler solution.
I would suggest the Park Board make golf a fun experience by making it more accessible to all ages and all levels of ability.  Golf courses are almost always designed by pros who always want to make a hole as challenging as possible.  Unless you’re playing up to the level of Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy you won’t have much fun competing at their level.
Let’s examine the front nine at Hiawatha from the point of a senior golfer of average abilities.
The first hole is a 423 yard par 5.  The average senior hits a drive off the tee of 150 to 175 yards.  A good fairway wood would go 150 yards.  That leaves between 100 and 123 yards to the pin.  That’s a good hole and challenging at the senior level.
The second hole is about the same distance and is also a par 5, so it’s a good hole for a senior as well.
The third hold is a 112 yard par 3, an easy hole and fun for a senior.
The fourth hold is a 273 yard par 4.  A 175 yard drive would leave about 100 yards to the pin, so that’s a good hole, too.
Now that you’re into your groove and thinking you’re Superman, your nightmares begin.
The fifth hole is a 379 yard par 4.  That’s impossible.  A good drive, 175 yards, leaves more than 200 yards to the pin for a second shot.  And, to add insult to injury, the senior (gold) tees are only about 20 yards in front of the white tees.  The red tees are 316.  That’s much better.  A drive of 175 yards leaves 140 yards to the pin.  That’s doable.  Stop punishing seniors and move the gold tees up to the reds.
The sixth hole pushes the limits of what’s possible for seniors, but it’s doable.  It’s 320 yard par 4, so you can make it to the pin in two shots.
The seventh hole, once again, is a cruel joke.  It’s a 507 yard par 5 from the gold tees.  A 175 yard drive and a 150 yard second shot still leaves 180 yards to the green.  The red tees are 456 yards, which means you have only 130 to the green after your good drive and good second shot.  Move the golds up to the reds.
The eighth hole is a par 3, so it should be an iron shot, but from the gold it’s 164 yards which means a senior would have to use a wood.  Move it up to the red tees and it’s only 130 yards so a long or mid iron should be able to reach the green.
And the ninth hole is another exercise in cruelty.  It’s a 362 yard par 4.  That’s impossible, and the white tees are 372 yards—ten yards difference????  The red tees are 339 yards, which are just beyond the capacities of most seniors, and when you add in the elevated green (which adds another 20 yards to the hole) you have a very depressing ending to a frustrating round.  Move the red tees up another 40 yards and move the gold tees up to the reds.
Hiawatha starts off so easy and so much fun, and then it turns into an unforgettable nightmare.  If we want to encourage more play at Hiawatha, then we have to make the course suitable for seniors.  They’re the ones that use the course most regularly.  They’re the ones that need the exercise.  But they’re the ones that don’t need more character-building aggravation.

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