You never know what you might find when you try out a course

Our great game is one of exploration, and not just when we hit a wayward drive.

Part of the fun is playing courses for the first time and discovering fascinating holes. You never know where you will find them. The tiniest little nine-hole course might have a shot you just have to attempt, but you might have to go on a bit of a safari to find it.

I had that experience recently, and it’s one of the darndest things I’ve ever seen.

I was visiting suburban Chicago, where I grew up, and kept noticing the golf course on the side of the highway near my mom’s place. I have passed it dozens of times in the last three years, but all I could tell while going 65 miles per hour is that the only hole in clear view is next to a big lake.

No big deal, right? Lots of holes are along a lake.

“Looks like a par-3,” I thought. “Nice hole, but there’s just not enough space in the rest of that area to fit in much of a golf course.”

I was right about most of that. Twin Lakes Golf Course in Palatine, Illinois, is on a tiny tract of land. Two of the holes are shorter than 100 yards. There are only two par-4s on the course, and neither measures more than 300 yards. The rest are short- to medium-length threes.

When I had a little extra time on the final day of my trip, I decided to investigate. Maybe I’d want to play this little track sometime, just for fun. What does it cost? Is the course really as well-maintained as it seems from the highway? Does it have any interesting holes?

As I walked to the clubhouse, I was startled to see a tee that seemingly had nowhere to go. I discovered two tee boxes, one for the whites and one for the blues, pointing out toward the very large lake and in the direction of that green I had seen while driving by.

With a severe headwind on this day, the green and the fairway leading up to it seemed very far away. My first thought was that this was like starting your round at Cypress Point by playing the famous No. 16 – 233 yards, all carry, over water.

The starter was sitting there in his golf cart, so I had to ask: Is that really the first tee? Yes, it is, he answered proudly, explaining that he aims left when he plays it because it’s about 180 yards in that direction.

Perfect. That’s what you do on the 16th at Cypress if you can’t hit it at the green – you go for the bail-out fairway on the left.

I had another question for him: How far is it if you want to go for the green? About 220 yards was the answer.

Perfect again, I thought. In the strong wind on this day, that would be a terrifying shot. Not only do you have to get it over the water – you also have to hit it the right distance to stop it on the narrow fairway, which has a large bunker, trees and out of bounds on the other side. Hitting it over another big bunker and getting it to stop on the narrow green would be absolutely heroic (and, for most people, impossible).

Yes, there are red tees on the other side of the lake – the tees I had seen from the highway – for people who don’t want to start with a monstrous challenge, but what’s the fun of that? I resolved that the next time I’m here, I have to play this little course. I have to play that shot.

You can apply that same sense of adventure to all the great courses on the West Coast. There are so many of them, including many near you. You most likely haven’t played half of them, let alone all of them.

What are you waiting for? Where’s your sense of adventure? The fun is in the discovery, and Pacific Coast Golf Guide helps you find them – and makes them affordable.

I know a guy who tries to play a new course every time he travels around the West Coast. He doesn’t plan it. He just sees a course that looks interesting, pulls off the road and sees if he can get on.

I’d like to do the same thing someday, and I’d like to do it a lot more than once. I will never tire of playing new courses. I will never tire of hitting challenging new shots.

You can find them just about anywhere. Even in a tiny little course on the side of the road. It’s like finding that wayward drive when it seemed like a goner. Sometimes, you just have to keep looking.

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