Golfing at Weaver Ridge

Checking the weather for the third time in as many hours I’m disappointed to see that the forecast has continued to worsen. For the past week tomorrow has seemed like it would be lovely, but beginning last night the forecast took a turn south and as of today it’s looking like weather only a frog could love.

I call my buddies and we decide that it’s not worth trying to push through. The plan isn’t just to fly, though even that doesn’t look all that enticing. The front heading in is reported to have turbulence from the surface all the way to the reaches of the highest jets. Our destination is Weaver Ridge, just a hundred miles away in Peoria, IL for some golf. 50 and raining might be acceptable to fly somewhere important, but it’s no fun for golfing. We make the decision to postpone.

It’s always disappointing to have to scrub a flight. No longer worried about my personal minimum, 12 hours bottle to throttle, I release a beer from the bondage of its can and complain to Beth about how things have panned out. Predictably she isn’t sympathetic.

The next morning the process of rescheduling begins. We’re again going to try to go on a weekday. That’s really for the benefit of my schedule. Our weekends generally tend to get booked a month or two ahead of time. This complicates the process as our threesome needs to get scheduled around multiple weekday calendars and their associated business meetings. After an hour or so of back and forth text messaging we are able to settle on a date only a week out. I cross my fingers, this isn’t the first trip that has gotten cancelled for various reasons.

The bulk of the flying I’ve been trying to do lately centers around a new airplane in our fleet. The club has recently acquired a Piper Archer with a fantastic glass panel and autopilot setup. I’ve been reviewing the manual in preparation for getting checked out in this new plane, but have had zero luck actually getting it done. There has been a steady stream of mechanical and weather reasons leading to cancellation of three attempts. In fact, during the week that passes between golfing attempts another check out on the new plane gets cancelled leaving me frustrated and grounded yet again.

The night before the new date for golf I’m again checking the weather. This time things are looking absolutely fantastic. There is a huge high pressure system over the midwest and the next five days are all supposed to be sunny and 70 degrees. After letting my golf partners know that we’re looking good, I make sure to brush all the dust off my flight gear and charge everything that needs to be charged.

One thing no one warned me about was the amount of gadgetry and quickly accumulates once one decides to do more than just casual flying. Like all instrument rated pilots I’m entirely capable of safely piloting my aircraft from point A to point B with just the gear attached to the airplane and ten pounds of paper charts, but having an iPad with ForeFlight, a nice set of noise canceling headphones and a back-up radio makes for a much more pleasant experience. It’s also not just rationalization to claim that those ‘toys’ also make for a safer flight. Improved access to information, improved communications and an insurance policy on the radios is always a good thing.

Waking up golf morning, things look as forecasted. Skies are clear (CAVU, clear air visibility unlimited, in nerd-speak) and it’s a nice cool morning. All the prep for the trip was done last night, so all I really need to do is throw everything in the car and head to the airport.

Arriving at the airport I pre-flight the plane and get a text message that my co-conspirators are running a few minutes late. I decide to go ahead and take those few minutes to finish getting everything setup. This turns out to be an important decision as I grab my flight bag and reach for the case with the spare headset, but it isn’t there. When I packed the car earlier I failed to grab it off the bench. Crud.

Jamming the button to lower the hanger door doesn’t actually make it lower any more quickly than simply pressing it normally, but the human brain is hardwired for a different environment than the one in which we live today so I stand there pressing it firmly running some Neanderthal subroutine that worked better when pushing harder meant the difference between catching dinner and going hungry. The moment the door hits the ground I jump in the car and start a dash back home for the extra headset.

For those readers that haven’t been in a small plane, they are quite loud. For tens of years pilots flew without the benefit of headsets that both protect ones hearing and allows for more clarity in communication, but few people would fly without one today. Beyond that, since I have two headsets in my flight bag there would be only a single person without one. They would be left out of the in-airplane communications completely. They wouldn’t be able to hear what the other two people were mumbling into their microphones and they wouldn’t be able to yell loudly enough to be heard inside the headphones.

Finally, I get back to the airport, grab the guys and we head back to the hanger. The last thing we have to do is offload about 60 pounds of fuel to get down to the maximum weight for the plane. This is a consideration that is taken into account on every flight regardless of the type of plane, it’s just handled behind the scenes when flying commercially. In the case of this flight we have to do it ourselves.

We get on board the plane, taxi and take-off. Everything added together we launch 45 minutes behind schedule. Bummer. Oh well, in my planning spreadsheet I built almost an hour of time in for the driving range and extra time to drive from the airport to the course.

The flight itself is fantastic. The plane runs perfectly and the air is like glass, even as low as 3,500 feet. We stay low and enjoy the scenery rolling by beneath us as the leaves fade from green to yellow and gold under a brilliant sun.

We land at Peoria International Airport and the fine folks from Byerly Aviation come dashing out to guide us to parking. Given that we have golf clubs they also go fetch the rental car and drive it right next to the plane.

Unfortunately the winds weren’t super favorable, so we’re now an hour behind schedule. Once in the car, I phone the golf course and they are able to accommodate us with a change in tee time so we don’t have to worry about missing our spot.

None of us have played this course, but the website makes it look elite. Zagat rated it the best public course in Illinois. We arrive and, indeed, it does look very nice.

The practice green is challenging. They have elected to have three different sorts of target. The first are two or three regulation size holes. Second, they have a few flags that have been stuck into the green like tent pegs. The upshot of these is that one has to be very precisely on target to hit them. Finally, they have a couple holes that are substantially smaller than regulation. The target ends up being about the same level of required accuracy as the flags, but with a sight picture more like that of a typical hole.

This variation in design makes the warm up interesting, but I’m not convinced that I like it. I’d prefer to practice how I’m going to play, with regulation holes. Still, it’s something different so I try them all many times.

Talking with the starter, he lets us know that the pins are at position 5 today and shows us what that means on the map of the greens. He also lets us know that the greens will be a bit rougher than the practice greens. Apparently they get a lot of group outings and those folks don’t clean up their ball marks as consistently as they should.

The starting hole is a par 5 and we all elect to try and pound a driver down the middle. None of us achieve that goal, but everyone is in decent shape. My second shot is similarly errant, but I manage to scramble and eventually one putt for a par. When I used to play golf regularly I would call myself a bogey golfer, though my average was a couple strokes higher at more like 92-93. Now that I’m not playing frequently I cherish pars. They are my birdies.

Astoundingly I also manage to par the next hole. And the next. Even when I played regularly I can’t remember ever getting three pars in a row in my entire golfing career. But now I’m getting in my own head. I’m currently reading Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, so I know that a big part of sports performance is to not think too hard about what’s going on. Doing so engages the wrong part of your brain and you cease to use the parts that have been trained for the job. Walking off the green I instead think about bowling.

I step up to the par four on the next hole, take a swing and watch the ball rocket perfectly straight down the center of the fairway. From the fairway I manage to pick the ball cleanly and land within 10 feet of the pin. Another one putt gives me a birdie. Maybe the small targets on the practice green really did help some.

I manage a par on the next hole and am sitting at one under par five holes into the round. All good things must come to an end, and they do on the sixth hole, but I’m well ahead of my usual pace.

Working through a couple really bad holes I end up with a 43 on the front. The back is much more consistent and I shoot another 43 without the highs and lows of the front. My 86 for the round beats my previous best by two strokes. This isn’t a bad way to spend a day playing hooky.

We head back to the airport and the smooth skies favor us again. For a small bit of fun we do a couple steep turns and eventually make our way to an unexceptional landing.

All in, it was a fun day.

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