I’m happy to announce that I have an article in the current issue of Fairways Magazine, the official magazine of the Utah Golf Association. Though I’ve logged over 3,500 blog posts here, the Fairways article is the first “printed” golf piece for me. It is very cool to see your work printed on actual paper and I thank Randy Dodson from Fairways Magazine for asking me to do the Solstice Golfathon gig. I hope it isn’t first and last. I’m anxious to see what my fellow Utah based golfers think of the piece, since all 30,000 of them will be getting a copy of the magazine in their mailbox this week. Below is the digital version of the article for you to enjoy:
Solstice Golfathon – 4 Courses, 4 States, 72 Holes, ONE DAY
On June 22, 2011 I had the rare opportunity to play 72 holes of golf with a special group of eight endurance golfers, or maniacs (pictured below), who had devised and implemented one of the craziest and coolest ideas I’ve ever heard of, the “Solstice Golfathon.”
Solstice Golfathon Overview
The Solstice Golfathon is a marathon day of golf, taking advantage of the longest day of the year, summer solstice. The solstice golf concept isn’t new. Golfers have celebrated the extra sunlight on this day for decades. All a golfer needs is a little excuse to take a day off from work and golf from dawn to dusk. But unlike other solstice golf events which typically take place on one course, the Solstice Golfathon spanned four states (California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah), four courses and 72 holes in a 17 hour period.
Cedar City resident Mark Leavitt, (yes, brother of Utah’s former governor Mike Leavitt) is a co-founder of the Solstice Golfathon with his brother Eric and cousin Rod. While sitting in a in insurance industry board meeting, cousin Rod mentioned that summer solstice was coming up and suggested that they golf that day. The board meeting escalated into a discussion regarding just how much golf they could play that day and where. “As we ran the math utilizing nautical twilight, we realized we might have a chance to pull this all off and play in four states,” said Mark. “We thought the Golfathon would be 90% work and 10% fun, but it ended up being the inverse.”
Given that today’s 18 hole rounds sloth along at the insanely slow pace of 4.5-5 hours for 18 holes on public course, it doesn’t add up that one could play 72 holes in one day, let alone in four states. For the event to be completed, pace of play would have to be sped up considerably. Players couldn’t read putts from 12 different angles like they’re sizing up the final putt to win the U.S. Open. Minimal practice swings. No searching for lost balls for the normally allotted five minutes.
Other ways we sped up play included playing ready golf, having multiple players tee off at the same time and cutting our pre-shot routines down to nothing. That last one was tough for me, as my normal golf buddies know I can be quite deliberate on the putting greens.
A huge factor and big time saver was the help of the courses and their wonderful staffers. The staff at Primm was there bright and early before 4:00am to have our carts ready for us to take off at our 4:16am tee time. I’m still amazed they agreed to do that!
Casablanca and Palms Director of Golf Operations Scott Sullivan was instrumental in our success, sending marshals out in front of our groups to clear the regular course players out of our way. There’s no way we could have finished in time without that luxury.
The staff at Coral Canyon stuck around after normal hours and allowed us to roll in quite late, in near darkness.
The 2nd big challenge was simply darkness. The first 4-5 holes in Primm were nearly pitch black. For those holes we used golf balls which had internal flashing lights which turned on when the ball was struck. The lights stay lit for five minutes. Players in the group used flashlights to light up the tee box and cell phones to illuminate the ground when searching for golf balls.
It is a very scary experience to drive a golf cart in the darkness of the desert, near lakes which you know are there but can’t see, fearing that you’ll drive into them, into cacti, into rocks or off of cliffs. Fortunately the only casualties of the darkness were a few lost golf balls.
Without a doubt the hot desert conditions were the toughest challenge of the Solstice Golfathon. Temps in Mesquite when we started our 2nd round at about 9am were 109 and when we finished our round in Arizona at the Palms the gauge was at 112. It seemed quite silly but the 108 degree temps when we started round four at Coral Canyon at 6pm felt like a nice reprieve.
During those 17 hours in the hot and dry desert I consumed TWO gallons of Gatorade, along with several bottles of water. My black shirt (not a good idea) had white streaks through the body and shoulders. I’d sweated so much that my black shirt turned white from the sweat and salt.
The day started with a 3:15am wake up call. Then we were off to course #1, Primm Valley’s Lakes Course for our 4:16am tee time. The Lakes is one of two wonderful Tom Fazio designed courses in Primm, the other being the “Desert” course. The courses sit on the California side of the Nevada/California border. It is too bad that the first 4-5 holes at this course course were played darkness as the course is a beautiful track. When the sun came up, morning lighting was amazing.
At 5:39am I made my first birdie, then followed it up with a 2nd at 5:48am. I was amazed in my own play, that I could manage a 75 having played the first four dark holes in +3. It is quite interesting to play golf with no idea what direction to aim or what club to use. Visibility is overrated.
We completed round one at 6:48am and were on the way to course #2 by 7:00am.
At 7:39am we’d grabbed a not-so healthy breakfast in Vegas and arrived at Casablanca Golf Club in Mesquite, Nevada by 8:49am. Casablanca was in great shape and the staff started us on the first open hole, the par-3 16th. Though the heat was starting to get to us, I stayed steady and shot a very satisfying 74 at the “Casa.”
At 11:57am we completed round three and drove down to the Arizona side of town and the Palms Golf Club. At the Palms we took a short lunch break and consumed what is perhaps the best hamburger I’ve had.
By 12:40pm we’d teed off on #10 at the Palms and were off and running. The heat was getting very tough to handle. Even in the shade of the cart barn the temps were over 100. My swings started becoming weak. Drives started going shorter and shorter and 3 foot putts started to wander off line considerably. The heat was making concentration tough.
We completed our round at the Palms by 3:50pm, picked up some fuel and headed up I-15 to our final course, beautiful Coral Canyon in Washington, Utah.
At 6:08pm the fourth and final round was under way at Coral. By this point we were all showing sings of heat stroke. My swing was very weak and loose. Normal putts under five feet which I always made missed badly. I started to find walking a straight line difficult and lost my balance just “standing there” a few times. I could see the sunburn and the effects of the heat on my fellow players. As tough as the conditions where, nobody gave one thought to quitting.
Nearly 17 hours after the first tee shot was struck, the final putt was holed at 9:04pm. There was actually quite a bit of playable light left and we joked about playing a few more holes. My score at Coral was not good for me (82) and I decided to forget about the number and just concentrate on staying conscious. At this point a headache was raging from the heat and sun. That headache would not subside until two long days later.
2012 Solstice Golfathon?
Discussion about the future of the Solstice Golfathon includes ideas like turning it into a full fledged charity tournament or challenge. I love the idea, especially the charity aspect. It would take quite a feat of logistics and participation on many levels from courses to management to sponsors. If there’s anyone who can make that happen, it would be the Leavitts.
Time: 17 hours
Rabbits spotted: 348
Gallons of liquid consumed in 17 hours: 2.75
Scores: 75, 74, 75, 82
Double bogeys: 2
Lost balls: 3
Average temperature: 108