There’s something special about playing a golf course for the first time – in the early morning – that really sets the experience apart from playing any time later in the day, regardless of how accomplished you are as a player. Golf’s unique social aspect is at its quietest, with the Pro Shop staff and Superintendent’s crew being the only folks there until other early-minded golfers arrive. Much like how fishermen enjoy the activity brought by a changing tide, I enjoy the “awakening” of a course as the nocturnal wildlife recedes into the shadows and the early birdsong is the only sound echoing through the silence.
That’s how the morning turned out for me here at Hanover Country Club, a private facility outside of Ashland, Virginia. As an employee of the managing entity Billy Casper Golf, I was fortunate enough to get to play here last Friday. The dew was heavy, to the point of looking like frost for a moment as the sun rose on the range and putting green when I took this photo. I’m more serious about my golf than I am about any aspirations of professional photography, but even with an iPhone all you really need is an eye for composition and a little luck with the lighting. The best photos I’ve taken are the ones like the putting green; they require no adjustment or hokey embellishments in an image editor.
But back to golf, Friday was just a beautiful day for golfing. Seventy degrees by mid-morning, and not a breath of wind. Along with appreciating the wakening wildlife, playing morning golf also allows the course to “reveal” itself over the first nine holes. Until the sun is fully above the treeline you really don’t know what color the grasses are or the variety of trees lining the fairways – although they are all around you and under your feet from the first tee. Dark green and golden tones of dawn gave way by the fourth hole to this Virginia early fall splendor:
I hit my drive about 260 yards off the tee in a low trajectory shot that landed smack in the middle of the fairway at the extreme right of the photo. Being a down-home Farmville, Virginia boy, I took a special delight in how the horse track in the distance reminded me of my childhood. That’s another post entirely, but perhaps it was the relaxation I needed to slow down and take a nice, easy pass at the ball.
Speaking of relaxing, by the time you get to number nine shown to the right, you better be in the groove and ready to pound it straight! This is a serious gun-barrel shot from the back tees, and a very intimidating drive that helps put his hole at #5 on the handicap rating.
The flock of geese dead-center over the fairway was a lucky touch 🙂 but with NO mulligan I absolutely crushed it. We were hitting two tees up from the whites, but my ball landed beyond the shadow visible in the dogleg. By the scorecard, that was a 320 yard poke, not bad for an amateur, but also a factor of the extreme elevation drop [remains humble].
Either way the ball hung in the air a long, lonnnnnng time and was just a dream drive straight down this canyon of a golf hole.
With a drop in elevation like this, you might expect water hazards to start appearing. Here at Hanover that’s just what happens on #13, where the fairway is bordered on the right its entire length the murmuring South Anna River. With just enough current and rock structure to produce a constant water sound, the ambiance is nothing short of soothing as you tee off. How can you not hit it well all relaxed like this! I hit a three iron to the center of the fairway, and made a point to snap a few shots of the South Anna before the course took us back towards the clubhouse.
So those were the highlights of my round, which was a non-spectacular 93 I admit. Total score, however, is but one facet of the game of golf. Wildlife, the golden solace of daybreak, memory-invoking vistas, calming rivers and CRUSHED DRIVES are a few of the others, and why I will always love chasing (and losing) expensive little white balls in this countryside.