FX Excursions

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Discover a Distinct Set of Challenges at University Park’s 27-Hole Course

by Francis X. Gallagher

May 11, 2021

PHOTO: © UNIVERSITY PARK COUNTRY CLUB

April/May 2021

Golf course architect Ron Garl, who has designed countless courses in Southern Florida and all over the world, designed University Park. Garl understands the tradition of the game while appreciating the playability and what is required as a course owner and operator. University Park, a 27-hole facility in Sarasota County, offers a wide range of services and a fully stocked clubhouse and pro shop. Head PGA golf pro Ashley Hayden welcomed us when we arrived. Ashley and I had already enjoyed an email banter about his roots in the United Kingdom. Ashley came to the United States when he was 14, so he claims to be an American who just talks funny. As I spent a large part of my career with a British company, we got on famously.

For the round, I was joined by Frank Wood, my neighbor in Sarasota who spends his time as an executive in the legal learning IT business. Frank and I had teed up a few rounds together over the early part of 2021. Two singles joined us: Ken Pinkerton, a retired investment guru, and Aiden McNulty, born in Dingle Town in Ireland and whose career in banking took him all over the world. It turned out Aiden and I had a lot of mutual friends, including some of our contacts at Dubai Duty Free and Jimmy Cronin, the CEO of BCA Advertising in New York City. We made an eclectic foursome in three carts due to COVID restrictions (Frank and I shared one, as he had tested negative the day before), buzzing swiftly through our game.

HOLE 19
531 yards, par 5

We started on the 19th hole, which at most courses is the clubhouse bar, but at University Park Hole 19 is a straight, long par 5. Many players suffer from first-hole jitters, and this was no different for any of us. Ken started talking trash to us from the get-go, so I felt a little boyish glee when he drove his tee shot far and right of the fairway bunkers into the woods. My tee ball was a little anemic but straight and next to the far-right bunkers. Aiden also hit one right but in play where Frank gracefully joined me on the fairway. I had some warm-up issues, finally knocking my ball on the green in four while Frank had a similar lackluster approach. Ken “somehow” came out of the woods and landed in regulation, and Aiden had a beautiful third shot, landing within a foot of the cup.

HOLE 26
479 yards, par 5

Having seven holes to warm up, the better players in me and Frank started to emerge. Don’t let the enormous waste bunker scare you; favor the left side of the fairway as Ashley the pro instructs in his tutorial. If you can get off a strong tee shot, you can take the green in two for a birdie opportunity. Instead, the four of us all had textbook shots and landed in regulation. Ken had the annoying habit of parking his cart right next to my ball, and when I asked him if that was his ball he would say, “I don’t know whose it is” — very odd. As you can tell, I was quite fond of Kenny. Fortunately, all distractions aside, we all walked away with pars.

HOLE 27

330 yards, par 4

This was a funny hole, as I really had no idea it was a dogleg right when I struck my tee shot. I assumed the hole was straight so ended up near the bunkers where the fairway turns. Aiden did the same thing but overshot my drive and landed in the sand beyond. When I asked Ken why he did not tell us it was a dogleg, he said, “You didn’t ask.” Well, he teed up and sent another ball right and into the marsh side, spewing expletives and tossing his driver in the air. I’ve seen people get hit by flying clubs, so I really dislike this behavior. Frank hit a great shot over the water and center and far on the fairway, having the benefit of our previous “course knowledge.”

My next shot in was only 110 yards, and I nailed it on the green. Kenny Boy, of course, found his ball but struggled up to the green with the others. I was able to card a par even with all the distractions.

HOLE 5
140 yards, par 3

We played this beautiful par 3 from the top placement, which offers an intimidating view over the pond to the green. Ken commented he could hit his ball longer than mine in his continual passive-aggressive mind games — but he did hit a decent 8-iron to the green. Aiden and Frank followed, and I hooked mine but stayed in bounds on the left side and chipped up for a bogey.

HOLE 6
367 yards, par 4

University Park’s pro Ashley Hayden considers this one of the more demanding par 4s on the course; trees line the left side and seem to serve as beacons for wayward balls. Frank and I drove to the center left of the fairway, Frank’s ball nearly clipping the trees on the left. Aiden and Ken took a more rightward direction, coming close to the bunker. Frank’s next shot with a 4-iron took more mud than ball as we all laughed at the crater he created. I muscled a rescue to the front of the green and tapped in for par as Ken and Aiden also achieved two great shots into the target in regulation.

HOLE 9
379 yards, par 4

On the final hole of the round, Aiden and I continued chit-chatting on the tee box about Dubai and the Middle East. This greatly annoyed Ken, so we continued. This is a fine finishing hole to the front nine and offers you the ability to swing away — but be careful, as the fairway narrows as it approaches the pond on the left. Unfortunately for Frank, he found this out and had to take a drop. I had a clear shot; and after shooing Ken away from my ball, I hit and landed to the right of the green. One chip up and I was equidistant with Aiden on the far side of the green. Frank and Ken patiently waited as Aiden and I talked about great times at the Bull & Bear in the Waldorf Astoria in New York. “Putt, already!” Ken said, interrupting us. I said, “Did you putt out?” and he said, “Yes, five minutes ago.” And I said, “You played out of turn, and that is a penalty.” Everyone but Ken laughed. After the round, we enjoyed a few cocktails without Ken, which was quite nice.

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