Forrest Fezler has passed away, but his impact on golf and on me will be felt for many years to come. I was fortunate to get to know Forrest in recent years and after a few meetings he agreed to let me tell his story. Forrest was a world class player, a risk taking entrepreneur, talented golf designer, and all around good guy. He lived a life in golf that was always played slightly out of bounds. Like his best friend and partner Mike Strantz, he was a maverick until the end.
I first met Forrest when I was President at Capital City Country Club in Tallahassee, Florida. Forrest had taken a liking to Capital City in his final years and we talked him into building a few bunkers for us. I had long known the highlights of his life story but I was curious to know more. We scheduled a lunch that turned into a long afternoon conversation about his career. That conversation led to another lunch and even more conversations about golf.
I asked Forrest if he would mind me writing his story and he agreed. Through a few months of chats and texts I got a great sense for who he was. The story became a narrative about his life, the life of Mike Strantz, and how the fates brought them together to build some of the most interesting new courses in golf. Together they made Maverick Golf Design one of the most cutting edge firms in the game.
I spent a couple of months building out their story and I couldn’t wait to share it with Forrest. The day I sent him the final draft was the day he told me about his tumor. I remember sinking in my chair when I read his message. I could tell it was a bad diagnosis from his tone.
Forrest was struggling to read the story due to the effects from the tumor, but he trusted me to go ahead and release it. I published the story and it quickly became the most read piece I had ever written. A few days later I got a text from Forrest. He had finally gotten through the story and he let me know what it meant to him.
This is what he sent me:
“It has brought tears in my eyes all night.
Especially reflecting on this new chapter in my life. Your kind words are more healing now than you will ever know or appreciate
That means the world to me.
Thanks for being there when I needed it so.
I’ll never forget that text and I’ll never forget my talks with Forrest.
I’m so glad that I got know his story. I found Forrest to be a humble man with many talents and someone who clearly loved everything about golf. He was a champion in the sport but he will likely be best remembered by friends as someone who championed them and the game many of us adore.
If you’d like to learn more about Forrest Fezler, his life, and career you can check out the story here.
A good caddie never stops believing in his player. I brought a caddie to my club championship and even though he was 16 years old he taught me a lesson.
My country club doesn’t have a caddie program, but occasionally I like to find a friend to carry for me in some of our annual tournaments. Usually, that means employing the services of a player from the local high school golf team.
For our recent club championship, I secured the services of a young local golfer named Mason. We struck up a quick friendship over a chat about golf and made a deal for him to caddie for me in the tournament.
Mason met me at the driving range before our first round tee time and the wisecracks from my golf buddies immediately ensued. These guys roll their eyes at me a lot and the smack talk is in keeping with the true spirit of our club. Besides the enjoyment of walking my home golf course with a caddie, part of me wanted to do it just to give everyone a stir.
“Oh here comes the tour pro with his caddie” and “I sure hope he’s paying you well for this misery” were the kind of things Mason heard as we walked to the first tee. I was feeling pretty good despite not playing much of late, but our first tee is right next to the practice facility. Each player in the tournament started their round amid the glaring stares and snickering comments of their fellow competitors who were warming up to play. It’s a difficult theater to perform in.
The first tee jitters are real at our club, but I can usually handle it just fine. Not so much this go round. I would love to know what Mason was thinking as I made a hefty swing with my three wood and sent the ball rocketing straight up in the air. I hit a dreaded first tee sky ball and it quickly made for a few chuckles in the peanut gallery. I looked down at the fresh dummy mark on the club head and handed it back to Mason with a nervous smile. The game was on and it was ugly front the start.
I managed to keep things somewhat respectable for a bit by making a couple redeeming swings and a few pars to balance out the early onslaught of bogeys. Mason was full of encouragement even though the bad breaks were starting to mount against us. I could really feel the wheels getting shaky as I had to line up my third putt on the sixth hole. The golf gods were calling my number and not in a good way.
Mason kept rooting me on, but the problems persisted. A hard hooked hybrid at the eighth hole made for a double bogey and I soon matched it with another thanks to a fried egg lie on the eleventh. Twelve was a disaster and I lipped out another par on fourteen. I then bogeyed the easiest par five in America and followed it up with a triple-bogey 6 on the seventeenth where I missed my tap in for a double.
I limped home to an earth-shattering 86 in round one. My score was so bad that it probably won’t even count for my handicap. Mason walked with me from the scoring table to the parking lot and somehow was all smiles. When he loaded my clubs in the car he looked at me and said, “Maybe we will flip that number around tomorrow. 68 sounds like a winner.” The pep talk was much needed.
I wasn’t angry or embarrassed about my poor play, but like anyone who cares about competing, I was disappointed. My caddie made sure I didn’t sulk though. He tells me, “I shot an 86 in a tournament a few weeks back. No big deal. Tomorrow is a new day.” Mason still believed.
I don’t get to play golf on back to back days much anymore. My wife and young child don’t yield that kind of time for me. Quite frankly, I was lucky to be playing in the club championship at all so for me to let one bad day bring me down is just dumb. When I pulled up to the course on Sunday I kept that in mind. I arrived with a smile and a sense of joy derived from the wisdom of a teenager. It was indeed a new day and I was going for a walk on my favorite course.
The golf didn’t start much better for the final round as I made a double bogey straight out of the gate. I shrugged it off and told Mason, “Not my hole, but the next one may be.” My swing started to settle after the first hour and things gradually improved as we walked our way around the course. I made some good swings that day and as the round progressed I earned a couple of solid fist pounds from Mason. A few birdie putts even burned the edge of the cup and he reminded me that things were looking up.
When you shoot a big score in your club championship its easy to get down on yourself and a bad attitude will make you miss out on how wonderful it is to be able to play at all. I’ve got an awful lot to be grateful for and there was something about having Mason walking with me that reminded me of that. I suppose youthful optimism can rub off on you when you listen to your caddy.
Mason was upbeat and he had a positive attitude from start to finish. During our Sunday walk, we talked about all things in life and golf. I kept looking for birdies and we both had a bunch of laughs listening to jokes from my over-served playing partners. We were a mile behind the leaders, but I’m thinking our group had the most fun.
By the time we made it to our final hole I was much improved from the first day, but still without a birdie for the tournament. We walked up the steep hill on the eighteenth hole and found my ball in a great place to attack the pin from. Mason looked at me with a grin and said, “Let’s get one for the road.” I liked what he was thinking.
Despite all the missed shots and messed up bounces Mason was there to make sure I powered through. I’m not much for quitting and we both wanted a birdie to finish. “I think you’ve got about eighty-five yards here and you are straight into the gas” he said. “Let’s stuff that sand-wedge,” he told me as he handed over the club. After a long weekend of bad swings, I finally flushed it.
We crawled up to the green to find that I had an uphill ten footer for birdie. I called him in for the read and made sure to give the putt my purest roll all weekend. A smooth stroke landed the ball in the back of the cup and a raised putter and fist pump soon followed. Mason’s smile grew across his face and with a firm handshake, I thanked him for sticking with me.
The birdie didn’t help my position on the leader-board much, but it damn sure made lunch taste better. My game was in shambles most of the weekend, but I had a great walk with some good company. Most people saw me bringing my own caddie as a cheesy gimmick, but it turned out to be my saving grace. Mason reminded me about the many reasons why golf is the best game there is. His adolescent optimism even made me feel better about the future of our country. When the whole world is still ahead of you shooting an 86 doesn’t seem to matter so much.
There were many reasons for me to give up over the course of the club championship, but Mason kept me in the game. I could have quit, but his persistent support kept me in it. He was the only caddie on the course and luckily he had my bag on his shoulder. Mark Twain’s famous line was that “Golf is a good walk spoiled”, but with Mason’s help, I didn’t let bad golf ruin a great walk.
This month I announced a new partnership with MacKenzie Golf Bags. I’ll be sharing a number of dispatches from my travels on their company blog as a way to invite their fans further into the MacKenzie lifestyle. The star of those stories will be my beautiful new MacKenzie Golf Bag(pictured).
If you are unfamiliar with MacKenzie bags I would highly encourage you to browse their website a bit and get to know their work. Each of their golf bags is carefully crafted by the skilled hands of their team members. MacKenzie bags are perfect for walking golfers. Light weight, durable, and timeless.
Golf in Florida is about as varied as the population at your local zoo. There are some really fascinating and highly interesting stops, but there is also a lot of stuff you just pass by because you’ve seen it somewhere before. Some Florida courses are expensive and not very good and others are cheap and incredibly enjoyable. There are great private enclaves with prestigious courses and there are plenty of low key munis. Golf in the Sunshine State is a total grab bag. As a lifelong Floridian and an eighth generation native of the state, I find it part of my duty as a citizen to help educate folks on where to look for the good stuff.
That being said, I’m kicking off a new series called “Florida Field Trip” where I’ll show you a few interesting stops while I’m scooting around my home state. To kick things off I take you to the private club of Black Diamond Ranch which is home to the renowned Quarry Course. The Quarry at Black Diamond Ranch is a Tom Fazio design that has been recognized as one of the top courses in the state and heralded for its scenic routing around a unique landscape.
I was invited to visit Black Diamond Ranch as part of a charity event benefiting the Florida Coastal Conservation Association. Events like this can make for a great way to experience otherwise private clubs like Black Diamond. The club is located in the town of Lecanto, Florida which is about an hour north of Tampa. I made the trip down and back from Tallahassee in a day but felt the drive was well worth it to see such a heralded course. I’m certainly glad that I made the trip.
The Quarry course at Black Diamond Ranch is very much a part of a housing development. The project was built in the late 1980s as an upscale community for retirees and the Quarry course is the centerpiece of that strategy. Developers hired fabled course designer Tom Fazio to craft a course that could incorporate the varied landscapes of central Florida along with a former rock mining quarry. In addition to the Quarry, there are two other Fazio courses on property.
I arrived at Black Diamond Ranch on a cold December day, but I was warmly greeted by friendly staff and delightful bloody Mary. The club and its trappings are certainly top notch and its appeal to retirees, local club members, and seasonal guests is certainly evident upon arrival. After a quick warm up and a brief browsing of the clubhouse, we suited up for some golf.
Ideally, I would prefer to not play a course with a reputation like the Quarry in a scramble format, but I was pleased to be invited to participate and the tournament was run quite well. Like most charitable events, the teams were ushered onto the course in a shotgun start. I was surprised to see that our squad would be headed straight to the quarry holes to begin our day.
The quarry itself is a massive crater filled with a sprawling lake at its center. This startling land-form is one of the most interesting sites I’ve ever come across for golf. I’ve simply never seen anything like it. Holes 13 through 17 cross, enter, climb, and bend around the quarry making for the most visually stunning five hole stretch in Florida.
I began my round at Black Diamond Ranch in the midst of the quarry holes where we teed off on number 15. It is hard to decipher which of the quarry holes would be the “signature” hole for the course, but 15 would likely get a lot of votes. The tee shot is from the rim of the quarry and a well struck ball will fly high and mighty to a tight fairway that straddles the crater lake. The green sits tucked beneath the quarry wall and any hollers of joy will echo through the limestone canyon. The routing is meant to reach a crescendo here, but for my group it felt like we jumped right into the guitar solo of a rock anthem.
The fun doesn’t stop at 15, The 16th hole snakes around the top edge of the quarry and players are dared to take off as much as they can handle. Miss your mark and face certain doom. This par four wraps around the quarry and provides stunning views of the preceding hole. From this perch the wilder side of Florida golf is well within sight.
The final hole in the quarry is the 17th. A one shotter played across the back end of the quarry to a green in the most troubling of hollows. There is simply no room to miss. The shot requires precision and is made even tougher because the views are decidedly distracting.
The quarry holes came to and end quickly in my round, but I knew I would get to revisit the remaining holes there later in the day. After leaving those curious cliffs the course turns back to the prevailing features of the property and finishes with a fun par five in a parkland setting that is much more on par with the norms of other nice courses in the state.
Leaving the quarry and returning to a more lush and predictable setting for golf is jarring. Holes 1 -12 and 18 are vastly different from the showstoppers on the quarry and they can seem quite pedestrian compared to the stars of the course. These holes are in immaculate condition and are not without interest, but you can’t help but feel that you have played two wildly different courses that happen to share the same scorecard.
After a quick stop back at the bloody Mary bar, we were ready to take on the remaining parkland holes. Most of these holes are pretty good and on the day we played the course was presented incredibly well. As we made our way through the more pedestrian holes at Black Diamond we were eagerly anticipating a return trip to the quarry.
We reached the Quarry again when we climbed the steps to the 13th tee box. Peaking over the hill top of the 13th revealed a remarkable view of the entire quarry ecosystem. Despite the quarry being a man-made landscape, its features feel as if they were carved by god for the express purpose of building a golf course. I was glad to return to that corner of the course.
We finished our round on the 14th hole. The 14th is deceivingly difficult par five that plays alongside the cliffs of the central crater. We took our time and took in the views as we approached the final green. The angle to the putting surface is semi-blind and the shots required to score well there are demanding. Although the routing does not typically end at this point of the course, I’m glad we saw it this way.
Before heading for the clubhouse we decided to play the 15th one more time for good measure. We backed up to the tips and let a big drive go over the cliff and towards the fairway. As the course cleared of teams in the scramble we walked down one last hole in the quarry. A few swings and a yell to test the echos of the canyon walls was a good way to end it.
Back at the clubhouse we had a cold adult beverage to settle ourselves and collect a few thoughts on the round. The team came up short in the scramble, but somehow I managed to win the long drive championship. I got a nice plaque to pair with some good memories from the day. Shortly after a quick meal we said our goodbyes and prepared to part ways from Black Diamond Ranch, but before I could leave I had to pay my respects to Tommy Bolt.
Tommy Bolt was the 1958 U.S. Open champion and in his fading years he called Black Diamond Ranch his home. Lecanto, Florida sounds like an obscure place to settle in for the sunset of you life, but after a turn around the quarry holes I can see why Tommy made his final years there.
Black Diamond Ranch is home to one of the best five hole sequences in golf. The course is more than just those holes around the rocky edges, but make no mistake they are the main attraction. Tom Fazio’s portfolio contains both the wonderful and the unheralded. That does not make him unique, but his eye for building world class landscapes is always worth seeing in person. Black Diamond is a fine example of Fazio’s range as an architect and I’m glad I finally got to see it.
I’ll always remember 2018 as the year I became a father. It’s also the year I learned a whole new appreciation for golf. My daughter Winnie was born in January and this past year has been the best one of my life. When fatherhood found me, I discovered a whole new way of looking at the world. Becoming a dad has not only made me a better man, but it’s making me a better golf patron.
Being a dad is incredible, yet the duties of fatherhood tend to make long days on the golf course an increasingly rare occurrence. For those fathers of young children who are golf-obsessed like I am, you’ll know what I mean. Having kids creates endless hours of enjoyment, but also many hurdles to playing golf regularly.
Every golfing dad finds that the co-existence of a passion for golf and the love for one’s family can be frustrating at times. Hours of free time become scarce, being on the course for long stretches makes you feel guilty, and despite your desire to be out playing with friends most times you just can’t. As a golfing parent, the lack of playing time can make you cranky, cause you to cancel the country club membership, or even lead you to sell your clubs on eBay for diaper money. It’s tough to get out and play as a dad, but I’m here to tell you that this shift in perspective can actually work out to the betterment of your golfing soul.
When I found out that we were going to have a child, I was in the middle of the best competitive golf season of my adult life. My handicap got down to scratch for the first time since high school and I won five tournaments that year. I knew it was my last chance to perform at such a level until after my unborn kids get out of college so I gave it all I had and it paid off. After the ultrasounds started piling up and the nursery got painted I knew it was time to adopt a new strategy for how I would enjoy the game in the years ahead.
When my daughter was born I took to reading and writing about the game as much as possible. I found a great deal of inspiration and made it my new mission to discover the spirit of the game rather than constantly testing my skills in it. Through that process of self-discovery, I have found a winning formula for fathers who golf.
My first year as a father has yielded five revelations for finding more joy in the game of golf. They are as follows:
1) Play less tournament golf
I love competing in golf, but when Winnie arrived it closed the window on me spending hours practicing for tournaments. I was playing in at least 10-15 two day golf tournaments each season and since she was born I’ve cut that to about 3-5 events at most. Tournaments are expensive, time-consuming and unless you are playing well can be a real grind. I gave up almost all tournaments except a few at my home club and to be honest I’m happier as a golfer. I’d rather spend time and money on a unique golf experience than sweating over four-foot putts with a pro shop gift certificate on the line.
2) Forget about score
Once I put most tournament golf behind me I began to realize that score was much less important than I had always made it out to be. Golf isn’t really about what score you make. The game is much more about where you are playing and who you are with. Once I was able to let go of the scorecard, I was open to enjoying varying ways of playing golf. Most times when I play these days I only use seven clubs in my bag. Not only is the bag lighter on my shoulder, but I have less thinking to do and I play faster. I even started playing with vintage clubs including persimmon drivers and some hickory irons. I stopped playing for score and started playing for fun again and I that has made a huge difference for me enjoying the game as a golfing dad.
3) Make every trip a golf trip
I’m fortunate to be able to travel from time to time for golf trips, but those are also growing rarer. Since becoming a father I’ve looked for creative ways to make every trip I take one that involves golf. When golf time at home decreases you have to find ways to play on the road. Whether I’m traveling for business, to see family and friends, or even just to get away, I always bring my clubs. Every city has something unique to offer a golfer and I always plan carefully so that I can get a few holes in while away from home. Some basic internet research will usually reveal that no matter where you are there is an interesting golf course worthy of experiencing. Even the act of seeking them out is part of the fun.
4) Find the course within your course
When the time for golf gets cut by time for the family it can become difficult to play even nine holes much less eighteen. Fortunately, at my home course, the routing is such that I can play a wide array of loops that allow me to play in even the shortest of timeframes. My course has loops of 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 16 holes all available to me and ending up near the clubhouse. Many courses, particularly those built before 1950, have similar routing features. It is a blast to go out and play two holes on my lunch break or to walk five holes early on a Saturday morning before meeting the girls for breakfast at the club. I have even found ways to play cross-country through one corner of our course and creating new holes entirely. It takes a little imagination to find some routing options that can be played in less than an hour, but sharpening those creative tools will save you time and put you on the course more often.
5) Walk the dog
Multitasking is a great skill set for dads. I’ve learned to make the absolute best use of my time so that I can still enjoy the many facets of my golf infatuation. I listen to golf podcasts while washing baby bottles, I work on my putting while watching Winnie play on the floor, and most importantly I play golf while I walk the dog. I’m lucky to have a wonderful club that allows me to take my labradoodle Leon with me when I go out to play. I was unsure about trying this at first, but once I saw that Leon was great at tagging along I became hooked on having him with me. Playing golf with a dog is one of the great joys a golfer can experience. Dogs are man’s best friend and I have discovered they are also the perfect playing partner. Take the pup with you and consider yourself marking off an item from your ever-growing list of dad chores.
Being a golf dad isn’t easy, but if you are willing to suspend the habits that you have previously ingrained in your golf lifestyle you can find an even better appreciation for the game while still being a great dad. I encourage you to treat your shrinking windows for golf as an opportunity to explore the variety of the game. My methods may not be perfect for everyone, but if you are a busy dad looking to get back on the course these tips can serve as a great starting point for your own model. There is no easy way to quit a full blow golf addiction cold turkey so you will need to open your mind to trying something new as a means for getting on the course.
Becoming a father is the best thing to ever happen to me. It just so happens that being a dad is also making me love golf more than ever before. Maybe next year, I’ll show Winnie how to putt.
I hope your golf adventures have been fruitful of late. You may know me from something you read once or perhaps you came across a post I made somewhere, but either way I’m glad to have your eyes come to rest here for a few minutes. If you have followed my golf writing for any amount of time you may have noticed that I have not had a website until now. A man without a country of sorts. That changes today.
I have built JayRevell.com as a hub for all my musings and way to share even more regular stories and thoughts with you. Golf is a never ending story (shoutout Falkor) and I’m glad to now have a home in which I can tell my side of it more often.
Stop by from time to time and I think you’ll find a few interesting and intriguing tales coupled with some rhymes and figurative language that I suspect will pair nicely with each other. I want to write pieces for you that will be perfect for a short morning read, a laugh on your lunch break, or even a long rain delay at your favorite course. I hope you’ll join me for the fun.
Keep chasing the ball my friends. Swing, walk, and repeat.