I wake on the futon of a guest bedroom where my host has already left for work.
Tonight I’ll be home, but I’m still looking for that capper for the trip. First stop is Loriella Park in Spotsylvania, Virginia.
No, first stop is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which is not only under construction but also has a traffic jam caused by a stalled out car.
After inching over the bridge, I finally get off to look for ice, only to find the store is out. It’s getting hotter as I move farther south.
Loriella is just off Route 3 on the outskirts of Fredericksburg, where I went to college. The area has gone from college town to metropolitan suburban clone (i.e. it looks just like Fairfax, especially along route 3).
I wonder if this course was here while I was in school (it wasn’t, PDGA says it was founded in 2001) and how my life might have been different had it been. I mostly played Ultimate in college, could the butterfly effect have changed that much?
My records indicate I have played Loriella before, at a tournament. I arrived late, play was slow, it rained some, and I have no recollection of the course at all. This is odd. Two years later, I still remember the route to Warwick Town Park, and several of the holes in great detail. Loriella, I remember not at all. .
A weird thing happens when I’m warming up. I have the car doors and trunk open and am doing my stretches, when a child, who apparently speaks no English, wanders into the parking lot, giggling and pointing at my vehicle. There is a playground about 75 yards away, but not an adult in sight. She walks up to my car, and, trying to be polite, I say “hello” a greeting she takes to mean we are now friends and my toys are her toys, so she climbs into the driver’s seat and begins playing with the steering wheel.
All of a sudden, this chance encounter gets very, very awkward. There is still no adult in sight, and it is maybe 11:00 on a Friday. I have a rental car in a half empty parking lot with a child in the front seat. I immediately think of a 10 and 13 year-old in Harrisonburg who stood by the 18th Hole of the new park and asked golfers finishing a round to give them a ride home so that they could save the dollar for the city bus.
I decide that the best course of action is to move a healthy distance away from the car so that I can still see everything but can’t be mistaken for having sinister intentions. Do I live in a different world from these people? Have I seen too many episodes of Law & Order: SVU? Eventually a mom or a nanny or somebody comes up and whisks her away, apologizing a bit too profusely and I feel safe to approach my own car again and get my discs.
After I warm up and go -1 on the first two holes, I wonder if maybe my notes are wrong and I played The Grange. I simply can’t imagine I was in the high 60s on this course, rain or no rain. In between the second and third hole there is a fenced in portion of the park. A plaque informs me that this is a slave graveyard, formerly marked with wooden crosses, now deteriorated. There is no record of who these slaves were, when they were buried, etc. For just a moment my mind shoots back to the NO ILLEGALS graffiti I saw at Calvert. I can’t help think, as well, about the other grave I visited earlier in my trip and how the accidents and circumstances of history lead us to different places.
The course itself is rather uninspiring. It’s a bit long for me to birdie, with a lot of open holes, especially on the front 9. Not too much trouble on any of these holes (I do bogey the one tight alley hole), but not much hope, either, unless you can throw farther than I do. There is a distant feeling that reminds me a bit of Rose Lane in the early days, where one could feel as though one were the only person on the course or indeed in the world, but it’s not quite enough to make up for the pedestrian nature of the course.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with the course, but there are none of those moments where I finish or approach a hole and think: “you know, some thought went into that pin placement,” or “I wouldn’t have thought to put a hole there, but it worked.” Instead, the course has the annoying competence of a Woody Allen movie; it’s hard to point to obvious technical errors, but I’m never really in any serious danger of enjoying myself (much less being inspired).
I’m bored and in a hurry to leave, so I rush to the 18th tee and drive my shot into the ground, turning a long hole into a “5” when I miss my putt and a possible 59 into a 61.
I shrug, and yet…I hate to end such a great trip with a mediocre round on a mediocre trip.
And so, I decide as routes 95 and 85 diverge south of Richmond to take a right turn towards Durham and stop at Valley Springs.
It is appropriate that Valley Springs is in Durham, because I call it the 87 Blue Devils Course. This team was the one of which Jim Valvano said you look at it and say, “I can beat them.” Then you lose. You walk off and say, “I’m glad I’ll get another shot at them, because I’m still not convinced they are better than me.” Then they beat you again. You say, “Well, I hope I get them in the tournament, because know that I know their tendencies, there should be no problem.” Then you get them in the tournament and they beat you again. And so it goes.
I arrive at about 5:20 and decide to try something different. I’m warmed up from earlier in the day, so I start. Hole #1 is a short birdie hole, which I deuce, and I chip in from a good 75 feet on Hole #2, so I think it is my day.
The first time I played Valley Springs, on a visit to Durham for a seminar, I was -1 after 17 holes, only to let my drive go too early on 18, kick it off a tree into the woods for a 5 and a round of +1. Since then, I’ve always felt the same way about Valley Springs that Valvano felt about Amaker, Dawkins, and company. I KNOW I can beat this course.
I just never do.
The last time I was here, a few weeks ago, I was -3 after 9 holes and still managed to finish +1. Today, I get to -3 after 8, but I bogey 9 and make the turn at -2. Then, I take a bogey on 14 to go to -1, then I push the Valkyrie right on 15. I think it is coming out; I don’t hear a hard crash, but I search the area for 20 minutes with increasing desperation. I turn over rocks. I shake trees (getting dirt on my sweaty, sleeveless arms), I pray. No disc.
Finally, reluctantly, I take a drop, assess the penalty stroke for a lost disc, and approach for my body to go to par. As I turn to the 16th hole, I see my disc lying beside a tree about 45 feet from the hole. It had indeed kicked out of the foliage. I am ecstatic. Since this is not a tournament, I go ahead and play the original lie (no time limit when nobody’s waiting on you), save my par.
I am redeemed.
I have a second chance.
I take a six on the next hole, a hole I’ve birdied before. I hit a tree off the tee. I try a flick and my flick hits a tree and bounces backwards farther into the woods. I miss my putt. I finish the round at 57.
It is now 6:15, so there is no doubt I will play another round, and somehow this round takes on imaginatively high stakes in my head. I know this is my last chance to finish the trip on a high note. There are no motels rented, no other courses tomorrow. There is only daylight for one more round. It is now or never to pluck out this thorn in my flesh. The icing on the cake that is this trip will be defeating par at Valley Springs.
So it is back to the car for Gatorade and one last trek to close the circle. I’m tired. I’ve played 36 holes today in humid, southeastern heat. I’ve played close to 20 rounds in the last 10 days. My shins hurt. I feel a blister coming where my toe chafes against my sweat saturated sock. I so what any self-respecting amateur golfer does: I pretend it is the last round of the last day of the Ryder Cup and everything is up to me. My opponent will shoot a 54. All the previous rounds were leading up to this moment.
I get my birdie on one and a par on two, then I get a tree maybe 10 feet away from the tee on a 225 foot right curving hole. For a moment I think of wilting; I think of returning to the first tee to start the round over. (It’s now 6:30—will I have daylight?)
But no, my imaginary teammates are counting on me and my imaginary opponents are smirking. There are defining moments in every golfer’s imaginary career and this is one of them.
I pull the JK Valkyrie out of my bag.
I breathe in and out.
I check my footing and balance.
And, in the most important shot of the entire vacation…I flick.
Two hundred and fifteen feet later, the disc comes to rest snugly under the basket for a tip in three. I have saved par, but to paraphrase The Wolf in Pulp Fiction, let’s not start…um..congratulating myself just yet. There are 15 holes to play, and I’ve been -3 on this course before.
I immediately deuce Hole 4, and I consider moving into course management mode, but I’m not sure -2 will be enough of a cushion. Hole 8 presents a classic risk/reward conundrum with a right to left that is more open for the easy three but a narrower alley on the left that, if I split the tree can give me a deuce opportunity. Another moment of truth.
Out comes the Valkyrie and I split the trees dead center with good spin. Easy deuce. I’ve reached -3. The rest is managing the course.
Hole 9 goes uphill. Three
Hole 12 is a long right that is too far to throw the Stingray but which can give me grief if I yank the Leopard (to try to turn it). I must throw it hard enough to get the distance, but not yank it, and not let it fade too far away from the hole. Three.
By Hole 14, I’ve caught up with some guys playing doubles. They let me play through, and I let go of the Leopard too early, putting me in a world of trouble. Short and in the woods. I could pitch out and try a long approach for a 4, or I could try a tight alley along and out of the woods. It’s a harder shot and missing it puts a 5 in play, but making it gets me close enough for an easy four. I flick and it clears the woods, well short of the hole but leaving me -2 with four holes left.
Hole 16 is where I got the 6 last round. It all starts with the drive. Just keep it in the fairway. You’ve got two strokes as a cushion but Hole 18 is a long uphill hole. Just keep it in the fairway. I do. Three.
Hole 17 is a blind shot that looks harder than it is. It has a bit sharper hyzer than you think, but there is a lot of space on the right, so the trick is to take an overstable disc and leave plenty of room to turn. I let the Valkyrie fly, and although I let it go a bit too early, it clears the bend with about five feet to spare and lands to rest about 10 feet from the hole. I’ve been putting real well, but I finally choke one, letting go of the disc with no spin. I could have shut the door with a birdie, but instead I head to the 18th.
There, the other group of doubles players awaits to let me play through.
You know, I laugh at the guys in the World Series of Poker who say, “Just one time…” They remind me of Rich Mullins: “Everyone I know says they need just one thing, / When really what they mean / Is they need just one thing more…” Yet here, I am, on the fairway, thinking, “Just one time; just this one time.”
The difference being this time it is not a prayer to an indifferent poker god but a reminder to myself to think of nothing but the present moment; this one time; this one shot. I have a stroke to play with, so all I need is to make sure I get good pull. There is a tree on the right edge of the fairway, but it is far enough that were I to hit it, I would have enough distance to still get a relatively easy four. The only real danger of a five here is letting go too early and chunking it to the left or really yanking it.
A nice straight throw with a lot of snap.
Just one time…
And then the disc is out of my hand, spinning hard and pushing right (as the Leopard does), not yanked, but at good speed. It misses the tree and heads off the fairway to the right, but far enough, and it doesn’t hit a tree but keeps going, coming to rest a good 50-60 feet from the hole on the fringe of the right rough.
The actual crowd is respectfully impressed.
The imaginary Ryder Cup of Disc Golf crowd goes nuts.
I approach with the Stingray, overshooting the pin by about 12 feet, leaving me two putts to finish under par. For good measure, I bury the par putt for a 52.
I can go home.
Later, as I pull onto 85 south towards home, the Kingston Trio is singing “Lonesome Traveler”:
”Well one of these days, I’m gonna stop all my traveling,
Well one of these days, I’m gonna stop all my traveling,
Well one of these days, I’m gonna stop all my traveling—
Well, I’ve been traveling long.”
One of these days.
Only 35 more days until the Georgia State Championships at Rose Lane.
3-2-4 4-3-3 5-3-4 OUT (31)
3-3-4 3-3-3 3-3-5 IN (30) 61
VALLEY SPRINGS PARK
2-2-3 4-3-2 3-2-4 OUT (25)
3-3-3 3-4-3 6-3-4 IN (32) 57
2-3-3 2-3-3 3-2-3 OUT (24)
3-3-3 3-4-3 3-3-3 IN (28) 52
New Courses: 8
Number of Times I've Played Valley Springs Under Par: 1