Imagine Golf Blogs

In the Wake of the Tornado

Professional Caddy, Mark Huber at Shoal Creek

Posted May 12, 2011 by Mark's Kaddy Korner

shoal creek

I thought Monday would be a leisurely drive from Mobile to Birmingham, AL then a stroll around the course later in the afternoon. Early evenings are my favorite time to check a course; most everyone is gone except for the maintenance crew and I have the greens and fairways to myself. As I was checking into the antiquated StudioPlus Bob called wanting to play a quick nine before sundown. The last I’d heard was we’d play some time Tuesday but cold weather and rain was expected; he wanted to squeeze in nine and then another nine early in the morning before the front came through.

Tornadoes ravaged the Birmingham area the week before, devastation was everywhere, you sensed and witnessed it as you drove north on I-65. I couldn’t complain about weather changing my schedule a bit. We’ve been coming to this gem of a city since 1993 and I’ve become deeply attached to this southern community with its avid sports fans, hospitable folks, golf fanatics and down home atmosphere. It was tough seeing a bit of energy sapped from the community. They love their golf here but there were more important things to take care of than golf pros and caddies this week.

Jack Nicklaus designed Shoal Creek back in the late 70’s, he carved it out of deeply wooded valley southwest of Birmingham and fashioned it after Augusta National. There are Augusta nuances everywhere and the Regions Tradition is trying to pattern their tournament after the Masters right down to the white caddy jumpsuits, green hats, white tennis shoes and green lines denoting the spectator crosswalks. There have been two majors held at Shoal Creek, the 1984 and 1990 PGA, and the Bruno Event Team did a fine job hosting their first Champions Tour major. I’m just not sure if those monkey suits will wear well if we catch a hot spell.

Bob is still struggling with a sore right shoulder so we kept our practice to a minimum but I spent a lot of time on the course. We played 18 Tuesday morning with Bill Glasson and he called it a day after a short practice session. I charted the greens on the front nine with my Exelys digital greens reader dodging the rain showers and cold northerly winds then barely made it home for supper. It was a quick turn around; I had to be back out the next morning before the pro-am started at 7:00 am so I could finish up the back nine.

It was another long day, Bob showed up late for our 10 o’clock practice session and I had to wait for the pro-am to finish before I charted holes 10-13 on the back nine. While I was hanging around I chatted with the volunteers. If they hadn’t been directly affected by the worst tornado in history they knew family or friends who had been. There was more talk about tragedy and Bin Laden than sports and golf. Everyone thanked us for coming; we thanked them for their determination and support, not only for the tournament but their community.

The pros brought clothes from home for the tornado victims and the volunteers set up a donation center in their headquarters. Every volunteer I talked with was also helping Tuscaloosa and the surrounding area recover in any way they could. It was quite moving watching a community come together and still have time for a golf tournament. Every hotel was filled with tornado victims, relief workers, golf pros, fans and caddies. We shared stories in the parking lots, lobbies, bars and coffee shops. I think we may have helped in a small way; they definitely made us realize golf was a back burner item. Many pros visited some of the communities without press recognition and Sunday morning Mike Goodes and Fred Funk hosted a church service for the victims on the 14th tee.

We did manage to play some golf. Thursday and Friday weren’t very pretty but we were consistent shooting 78-78 which earned us an early tee time Saturday. We were paired with the good and bad the first two rounds, Dan Forsman and Allen Doyle. Dan is as cordial as can be but playing with Allen is a two stroke penalty. He’s constantly complaining about everything, abusing his caddy, his daughter this week, and you have to wait for him to settle down after every shot before you can play. I had to motion for him to be quiet at least 2-3 times each day.

Our early tee time provided pristine greens and we took advantage Saturday making 6 birdies and 3 bogies for a smooth 69 passing about 20 pros. We had birdied 2 of the first 3 holes Friday but my Golf Channel buddy, Arlee Reed, showed up on the 4th tee box and we bogied the next two. He showed up Saturday on the 14th, we bogied 14 and 15 so I chased him away and of course we birdied the next two holes. He never came around on Sunday. Golf is funny like that; little mental things wreak havoc with a round.

Fuzzy and John Jacobs were playing in front of us, not very well, in fact horrendous and they were laughing about it on the clubhouse veranda afterwards. Usually I head straight for the caddy shack but I couldn’t resist having lunch with them. Fuzzy sipped his drink and signed autographs for the kids, only after giving them a good natured hard time, and JJ told everyone who walked by about his 8 on a the par three fifth hole. On the 7th tee he had to shoot even par to break 80. These old guys can laugh about their terrible rounds; I don’t think the flat bellies on the PGA Tour have that ability yet.

Sunday we paired with Fred Couples. Usually, if you’re with Fred it’s late in the day which means you’re playing well, but his back was bad and the interest wasn’t there. Coming off the 14th tee he said he didn’t know when he was playing again, his lower back felt like a toothache every time he swung. To keep his interest up on the back nine he bet his caddy, Joe LaCava, he’d hit every fairway. We fore-caddied the 18th and Fred missed the fairway right. As Fred strolled down the fairway Joe was standing next to the ball with his hands grasping his throat. Fred got a good laugh, finished up a dismal round then signed autographs all the way to the clubhouse. He also gave his wedge away to some kids and made sure every ball and glove was handed out.

It was a tough week for the central Alabama area. Hopefully we provided a bit of respite, a few laughs and I know when we return next year the galleries will be a lot deeper with a few more smiling faces.

- Mark Huber

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