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Korea Here We Come
Professional Caddy, Mark Huber, at the Songdo IBD Championship
Posted Sep 21, 2011 by Mark's Kaddy Korner
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Foreign trips are usually a hassle especially when it’s only one week and you’ve never been there before, our trip to Korea was the exception. The Champions Tour, Korean Airlines, Gale International, Songdo IBD Championship and Jack Nicklaus Golf Club coddled and pampered everyone all week, from the time we boarded our 12 hour Korean Airline charter in San Francisco Sunday afternoon to when we stumbled from the plane Monday morning jet-lagged from the confusing 16 hour time change, folks from every direction took good care of us. Some players claimed we had the better hotel but they had the first class seats on the plane.
We arrived Monday evening, worked out the kinks and jet lag Tuesday morning during an arduous practice round trying to figure out the Nicklaus design intricacies. I don’t think we ever did and hit the wall about the twelfth hole stumbling to the clubhouse. A couple of cold “Cass” beers, a Korean sauna and early bedtime was the perfect prescription. The hotel bar was expensive but the grocery store a few blocks away offered cold quarts, fresh squid and octopus, black dog and sushi. I stuck with a cold quart and sushi most nights because they fed us so well at the course.
There was always a polite Korean smile and bow when we walked in the clubhouse or Songdo Park Best Western Premier hotel, the finest Best Western I’ve ever seen, and most of Korean people, especially those who grew up during the Korean conflict, were graciously thankful we were there and appreciated what the U. S. did for them in the early 50’s.
Alex, our animated hotel manager made sure we were well fed, well oiled and showed a few of the boys a good time in downtown Songdo City, a ten year old high rise community developed on land fill by Gale International and only slightly populated. It felt like early morning Las Vegas empty, beautiful but eerie.
I lived vicariously through the youngsters who roamed the streets with Alex but one evening we discussed the Korean War, his childhood experiences growing up in North Korea and how grateful he was our parents sided with the South Koreans. Tears welled in his eyes as he passionately described his memories and the small group gathered at the hotel bar listened quietly without drinking, you don’t see a silent group of caddies very often. The fervent history lesson was much more memorable than our golf this week.
The Jack Nicklaus GC Korea developed on 228 acres overlooking the Incheon waterfront 40 miles southwest of Seoul was opened last year one year after Songdo City IBD was completed. The city is a modern marvel with its recently fashioned parks, waterways, high rise business complexes and a subway system so clean sleeping on the floors is possible. There’s only one issue, it’s been built but no one is coming. Sponsor financial difficulties nullified the Champions Tour three year contract and the future three week swing through Korea, Japan and China is in jeopardy.
The course was immature last year but ready for play this trip. The demanding layout doesn’t exactly reward the best golfer, maybe the luckiest. Jack’s design team incorporated way too many fairway humps, bumps, moguls and swales. If you hit the wrong side of a mound you end up standing on your head trying to hit a four iron from the middle of the fairway to a green complex one tour official described as “Lay’s potato chip greens”. His design theory for the brutally sloped greens, “They drove around tossing Lay’s ruffled chips where the greens were supposed to be and instructed the shapers, build them like this.”
Thursday I bumped into Jack and Jackie walking through the magnificent clubhouse. Jack, dressed in jeans, running shoes and a wind shirt, was surrounded by dignitaries and well-wishers; Jackie was alone 15 seconds behind the entourage. He faintly recognized me so I introduced myself and we discussed the course. Jackie was sincerely interested in my observations and said they would be smoothing the green contours within a year.
Like I said the golf wasn’t memorable, actually we played pretty good but the breaks went awry and we had trouble putting. We never had a good lie in a bunker; the new silica sand was heavy and trap edges provided hanging lies in heavy grass, not exactly Nicklausesque. We struggled Friday shooting even par leaving us middle of the pack then three putted three times the first five holes on Saturday. Bob’s left knee was throbbing and it restricted his follow-through; we had trouble with our long irons and didn’t make any putts, an invitation for 47th.
When you make a trip like this you spend a lot of time with groups of caddies and players. We get bussed to and from the course, eat two out of three meals together every day, hang out at the course a little longer, and the hotel lobby and bar sees a lot of action. The camaraderie goes both ways, you make a couple new friends and may upset a few others. I must have disturbed a couple caddies Wednesday evening when I was the big poker winner because an official approached me Thursday during the pro-am questioning my BogeyPro Plain White Tee-shirt.
The pro-am was quite boring so the disturbance was welcomed. The Champions Tour rules and regs call for a collared golf shirt or mock tee, earlier in the year my BogeyPro shirts were approved but since someone was raising a stink, alterations must be made. I think I’ll wear my Plain White Tee over a golf shirt next tournament or attach a priest’s collar. The rules officials were fine with my attire; I gave them coupons and an instructional “Club Break” tee shirt to the head official. Apparently BogeyPro garb is for those who want to have fun on the course, not the serious professional.
It’s amazing. I left Korea Monday afternoon at 1:00 p.m., landed in San Fran Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. then caught a flight to Minneapolis where my buddy Rich picked me up, drove me to my van resting peacefully at his home and I made a quick drive to Decorah, IA dropping off Cassie’s Xmas gifts, the Clay Matthews autographed picture and a collection of “Cass” beer bottles, cans and glasses, now I’m sitting in a Cedar Rapids Motel 6 sipping Icehouse and munching BBQ Fritos. Penthouse to the outhouse in little over a day with a few stops in between.
I’ve got a week off before our last three week swing and a few family issues to deal with; hopefully Bob and I will be ready to make about a hundred thousand getting us into the Tour Championship.
- Mark Huber