There are 1500 palm trees on the Great White course at Doral and I hit barely a dozen of them in the first half-decent round I’ve played in three weeks of hacking my way around the United States.
My playing partner was Michael Gibbons, press officer for the European Tour (if you saw Rory McIlroy’s press conference on Wednesday, he was the one running the show).
Three days earlier I had played with Michael at West Palm Beach as guests of two of his opposite numbers in the PGA of America, media specialist Una Jones and PR specialist Randy Stutzman whose hospitality was outstanding.
Their patience was even more outstanding as my golf descended to the depths of desperation. You can understand why some players walk off courses.
I’m not normally embarrassed by my golf because for me it is an everyday occurrence but even without the Florida sun my face would have been deepest red.
Una and Randy’s forbearance, sympathy and encouragement was touching and I did improve on the back nine as my swing found a bit of form. Thankfully, Michael was more the centre of attention for the way he was hitting the ball.
He hadn’t played since last July and was a touch apprehensive. He took a hole or two to settle down but then starting hitting the ball miles off tee and fairway.
Until he starts playing regularly again he still qualifies as a hacker but I’ve rarely seen one of our fraternity hit the ball so high and so far.
Despite my problems it was a very enjoyable game on the well laid-out Bay Hill Estates course (not to be confused with the Bay Hill club in Orlando where the Arnold Palmer Invitational will be staged the week after next).
The PGA’s headquarters are in West Palm Beach an area in which they run several courses and all of a high standard. Unfortunately, they do like a lot of water around the place and my stock of balls dwindled alarmingly.
Una, who is very popular with media from both sides of the Atlantic, is a very steady player off 20, hardly missed the middle of the faiway and has an enviable short game.
Randy, who had the task of driving me around in the buggy and has rarely covered more miles, is another long hitter off 14 and the only time he failed to control his laughter was when my ball hit a palm tree at close range.
I didn’t know where it had rebounded and while I was looking frantically around it landed with a thump a couple of yards away. It must gone up 20 or 30 yards.
It was all good fun and I’m grateful to my hosts who are more accustomed to looking after the game‘s top stars than a wretch like me.
. The following day we drove down to Miami for the Cadillac Championship at the massive Doral complex..
Doral sounds such a glamorous name it is a surprise to discover that it is derived from the names of the husband and wife who developed it fifty odd years ago — Dorris and Alfred Kaskel.
Myself, I would have preferred it to be called the Dorris and Alf club but that probably wouldn’t carry the same tone.
Anyway, it is an amazingly swish complex spread over 800 acres and comprising four courses and hundreds of luxury dwellings. It is now owned by the bashful tycoon Donald Trump who has massive plans for the place.
The centrepiece is the Blue Monster course upon which the Cadillac Championship is being played. On Sunday, Michael Gibbons got us onto the Great White course which was designed by Greg Norman and is remarkable place with the aforementioned royal palms a magnificent sight lining the fairways. It’s like an Arizona set-up with vast amounts of amount of waste areas. There’s also a lot of water cut cunningly into the lay-out.
Recalling my form in our previous game, Michael sportingly granted me 13 shots and it helped us to have a very good game.
I really enjoyed the course on a beautiful day and, wonder upon wonder, I didn’t play too badly and actually took the lead at the start of the back nine.
But these long courses take a toll on the shorter hitter and on some of the holes I struggled to make the carries while Michael was striking it anything up to 100 yards further.
I thought I did well to make it go to the last where he won two up. Apart from being pleased with my own efforts, I was delighted that Michael was endowed with the determination to take up the game regularly again.
I used to work on The Observer with his father, Glen, in the 1980s. Glen now writes a weekly column in a Scottish newspaper and I wrote about him last year when he seriously damaged his knee playing golf at his club, Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow.
Had he been wearing metal spikes instead of plastic he would probably not have slipped. Oddly enough, two weeks later another friend, James Mossop formerly of the Sunday Express, broke his ankle in two places slipping over with plastic spikes.
As I wrote at the time, we all have to seriously consider wearing metal spikes when the courses are so wet as they have been for months.
The pros do it, including Tiger and Rory, even when the courses are not so wet.
Only yesterday, at Doral where the course is as dry as a bone, I was walking towards the practice range when I heard the unmistakable crunch of metal spikes on concrete.
I turned around and Bubba Watson went clattering by. I rest my case.