STORY and PHOTOGRAPHY: Randy H. Milgrom

Les (Bolstad) is More (than Just a Golf Course)

A short bus ride from the heart of the U.S. Transplant Games, in a quiet St. Paul neighborhood, lies the unpretentious Les Bolstad Golf Course, a wide swatch of rolling deep green grasses, sand-filled obstacles, and numerous ponds of varying shapes and sizes. Today the team golf event of the Games is being held in two sets of shotgun starts (i.e. each pair of two-man teams begins simultaneously on each of the 18 holes and progresses consecutively from there until each has played 18 holes). The morning round begins at 8:30 a.m. and the afternoon rendezvous begins at 1:30 p.m.

 The Competition

Following some warm-up swings at the large driving range lining nearly the entire length of one side of the course and a little bit of putting practice on the hard, smooth – and fast – greens, the Missouri/Kansas (Mo/Kan) team and one of three North Carolina teams go out together for their morning round. On the tee first for the Mo/Kan team, dressed in matching powder blue golf shirts, is Randy Newton, a 12.8 handicapper who received a new heart in 1991. Immediately following him is his partner, Mickey Robinson, with a nearly identical (and equally impressive) 12.5 handicap. By further coincidence, he also had a heart transplant, just three years later in 1994, and he wields his driver in much the same manner as Randy does: with a relatively short backswing and a fluid follow through to a high finish. Both balls are well struck, traveling approximately 240 yards along the right side of the fairway on the longish par four first hole, and both come to rest within 10 feet of one another just off the fairway in the light right rough.

Their North Carolina playing partners are 9.5 handicapper Matt Byrd, a 1999 double lung recipient, and Bill Andrews, a 5 handicapper who played scratch golf in winning the gold medal in Thursday’s singles competition with an even par 71. Both of these men appear a little nervous under the pressure of the TransWeb webcast microscope – though they also both deny it – and their drives seem to be hurriedly hit. Their balls also land within arms length of one another at least 30 yards behind the Mo/Kan duo.

In this “scramble,” or best ball, format, each team chooses which ball is in better position to be struck for the next shot, and both players hit that next shot from that preferred location. North Carolina hits first: Matt fades his approach shots into some trees short of the green before Bill asserts his championship form by standing confidently over his ball and stroking a mid-iron laser beam within 20 or so feet of the cup. Mo/Kan’s Newton follows with a well-struck ball that is only slightly pulled and thus lands in a trap that guards the front left portion of the green. Mickey hits a bit of fade that lands short and right of the green, but is in much better position for the team’s third shot, which Randy chips to within three feet – and Mike knocks in for the team’s relatively sweat-free par.

Matt and Bill are now eyeing their birdie putt of approximately 20 feet. It doesn’t appear to have much break in it, and Matt puts a good roll on it, with equally well-judged speed, but it misses just barely to the left of the cup for a “gimme” par. Now Bill can take a good run at his birdie putt without worrying how far the ball might roll by if it misses – and it just burns the left edge before rolling at least three to four feet past the hole.

So both of these teams played true to their low handicaps on this hole: relatively easy pars punctuated by sure, fluid swings that never landed any of the players in any real – or even potential – trouble.

 The Course

This is about as pleasant as it gets on Earth. The mood is tranquil, with just the gentlest of mild and slightly cooling breezes. The fairways are wide and lush, though mostly undulating, so that many well-placed fairway shots must still be struck from uncomfortable sideways or downhill lies. Not much danger lurks on this course, however, notwithstanding the few strategically positioned ponds and numerous sand traps all but swallowing up some greens, many of which are small, elevated, and crowned. Some fairways are lined with rows of trees, but there are no woods or forests on this course, and no out of bounds markers, either. Most wildly errant shots can still be played where they lie – even if that means trying to reach the green from the wrong fairway.

The gems on the front nine include the Par 5 7th hole – which is short but with a sharp dogleg right, and a large pond that edges the length and depth of the hairpin turn toward the flag – and the long Par 3 8th, whose tee box is high on a ridge and whose small, crowned green rises higher still. In between is a deep valley of rough. This hole looks much longer than it is – and plays much harder than it should.

The tour of this course had to end on the front nine. Given the beauty of the course and the grandeur of the day, every bone in the body of your reporter/golf addict was simply aching to play. And as that was not a possibility on this jam-packed course, the teasing could not persist into the back nine. It would have just been too painful.

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Last updated on: Friday, 05-Feb-2010 10:05:42 EST