MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.-- Planning and experience are the keys to success here at the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship.
I don't mean the golf. I'm talking about something way more important -- the nightly food and drink fest at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. It's called the 19th Hole and it's part of what makes this tournament special.
Here's the first thing you need to remember: Go for the ice cream first.
See, the doors swing open at 6 p.m. and hungry hordes pile in. Most of them headed for the dinner food, headlined by Rioz, a local eatery that specializes in Brazilian steaks, and Capriz, an Italian place. Those lines backed up like security at the airport before guests were finally handed a plate that had a piece of awesome steak, a bacon-wrapped hunk of chicken (it had bacon, so obviously it also was awesome), Caesar salad, tortellini with meat sauce and an undetermined cheesy pasta item. The steak was so tender the cheap plastic knife cut through it like hot machete through Jell-O.
However, outside in the convention center hallway and lobby area, Friendly's restaurant ran a stand that handed out small cups of assorted ice cream. There wasn't much of a line when I first arrived Monday night and several of us considered starting dinner with ice cream but ultimately decided, nah, too decadent. By the time we swept through the dinner line and craved dessert, the early diners had long since discovered Friendly's. Good thing the Convention Center has a big hallway because the ice cream line was monstrous.
"There's something about free ice cream that turns adults into 8-year-old kids," my SI colleague John Garrity observed. "I'm convinced the free ice cream is the highlight of the tournament for a lot of people."
I believe he is right, so we will not repeat the mistake. Tonight, we start with ice cream. The strawberry was exceptional. Garrity, a expert in this field, combined a cup of strawberry with a cup of chocolate to create his own amateurish version of Neapolitan. Of course, we waited in the long line to get it, but yes, it was worth the wait.
This is a savvy bunch, though. There are more than 3,000 golfers in this event and they learn quickly. I doubt if we'll be the only ones attacking Friendly's right away. Ice cream, the perfect appetizer.
The main convention room also featured a live band and several bars. A woman wearing devil horns worked the tables, offering samples of Fireball, a cinnamon brandy. Its clever slogan: Tastes like heaven, burns like hell. Two middle-aged ladies at our table tried the samples, gasped a few times and confirmed that the slogan is legit (mainly the burns like hell part).
In an adjacent room is a golf exhibition area with assorted small suppliers hawking their products, a long-putt contest, and a stage that features speakers like wedge expert Dave Pelz, last night's big attraction. For the long-putt, they've put together green putting carpet where attendees can try to hole a putt in excess of 100 feet. I didn't try that. Friendly's was a higher priority. Maybe tonight.
Oh, there was a second round of the tournament Tuesday. Golf was, indeed, played. I'm in the "M" Division (I'm guessing that stands for "Manly" since we're the lowest of the low handicappers). We teed it up at the delightful Parkland Course at Legends Resort. The clubhouse is surprisingly large, looks like something out of middle England and is very, very nice inside. There are two courses at the resort and the Parkland was a rolling mix of big bunkers and greens and lots of mounds. There are hazard markers or out-of-bounds stakes on every hole, our starter announced -- again, you must be so proud!
But the fairways were wide and I felt less claustrophobic that I did in the opening round at the International Club. Then again, I was Calvin Peete Jr. in today's round. I hit a 14 of 14 fairways and had a good handle on my tee shots. In fact, I struck the ball extremely well all day, missing only four greens. I shot 70, two under par, a ten-stroke improvement over the opening round, and I managed that despite hitting one ball in the water and suffering three power-lipouts for birdies.
The greens were a bit challenging. Apparently, early August is the prime time to aerate greens and they're in the late stages of recovering now. The International's greens were a little further along than Legends, which were sandier, probably bouncier and decidedly slower.
It's worth playing the Parkland course just for the ninth hole. It's a drivable par 4, a short dogleg to the right. On a straight line, there's a pond between the tee and the extremely elevated green. There is also a death bunker -- I don't know what else to call it because it is intimidating.
There are enough bunkers dotting the ninth fairway, though, that laying up doesn't look too appetizing, either. I went ahead and hit driver -- as tourists say in Scotland before they hit stupid shots that are doomed, "I didn't come 3,000 miles to lay up!" -- and hooked it just short of the front left corner of the green, leaving a 25-yard pitch up a huge slope with a front pin perched on top. It was probably an easy shot for Phil Mickelson, but I didn't go into Flop Mode. Instead, I chipped a pitching wedge into the hillside and let it run to the top, where it dribbled past the pin and I holed a five-footer for birdie.
I'd love to stand on that ninth tee with a bucket of balls and figure out how to play that monster. It's a fun hole.
No, I haven't checked out where I stand in the "M" Dvision scores. Maybe I'll do that tonight at the Convention Center scoring room area, while prepping for Wednesday's third round at Carolina National.
Or maybe I'll just focus on the ice cream.
More: Golf.com World Am website.