Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Dear Answer Hound, I saw where Golf Digest recently rated the 14th hole at Lake Junaluska Golf Course as one of the worst golf holes in America. Can this be true, that WNC has such a bad golf hole? How can that be? I know you have played that course many times. Is it really that bad, or is this a bad publicity stunt?
My answer: First of all, I’m kind of loving the title, “Answer Hound.” Arrooooooooooooo! Secondly, the first time I played this hole I thought to myself, “OK, where’s the windmill?” Seriously, it seems like a bad idea from a Putt Putt miniature golf course laden with obstacles, but it is surprisingly fun to play.
Real answer: Oh, this is for real, all right.
Golf Digest did indeed recently rank this hole as among the 10 worst in the nation, noting it’s a short par four, which usually gives “everyone from the rabbit to the tiger a chance to make a good score.”
The magazine noted that a golfer can play the hole “conventionally but unexcitingly with a 200-yard drive and short pitch, but the real fun is in cranking one 230 yards directly over the tree lined hill standing between the tee and blind green.”
Let me note here you’d have to hit a really nice draw, and probably a little farther than 230 to get it on the green. I’ve never seen anyone do it, although I have seen several golfers, myself included, nail the tall steel transmission poles.
I can report the accompanying loud “gong” sound reverberates all the way back to the tee box, alerting you that you get a free re-tee — and that you probably just lost your ball. That’s because both sides of the fairway are tree-lined.
Golf Digest continues:
“It would be a sporty little hole if overhead power lines didn’t cross directly on the ideal trajectory, threatening to swat drives out of the sky. It still might be an interesting risk-reward hole, but a local rule grants an automatic re-tee if balls hit the power lines. In fairness, the lines didn’t exist when the hole was built in 1919, but the company surveyors who later established the power-line easement obviously weren’t golfers.”
This part is not quite correct.
The course was reconfigured in the early 1990s, and Lake Junaluska built this hole around the three towering poles and transmission lines.
“The utility poles were there, and then they installed the hole,” Shannon Quinn, spokesperson for the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, which owns the course, told me. “They had to shape the hole and install it to work around the poles.”
In fairness, while the poles are on a hill that obscures the green, a nice section of fairway lies below and to the right. So if you hit a 220-230-yard drive to the right of the poles — or in between them (which I’ve done!) — you’re in great shape to get on in two.
That’s what I did the last time I played there — and then ended up with a six. Gotta sharpen up that putting, folks …
The general manager at the golf course, Fred Edwards, has no complaints about Golf Digest singling out Lake Junaluska for its unconventional 14th.
“I was glad that somebody had contacted Golf Digest about it,” Edwards said, adding that he doesn’t know who spilled the beans. “Anything in Golf Digest is good.”
As Edwards noted, the course, located in Haywood County across the street from the actual Lake Junaluska, is regularly full. In fact, the day I talked to him — the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — he said they’d run out of golf carts. So clearly, this fits into the category of “any publicity is good publicity.”
And Edwards did confirm that you get a free re-tee if you hit a pole or line, albeit most likely with a different ball.
“I’d say 8 out of 10 balls that hit a pole are lost,” he said.
Having lost two balls off the poles, I can vouch for that. One was a second shot after a particularly bad drive, so I probably deserved that one. The other was a beaut, though, that was indeed swatted out of the sky.
Jim Buchanan, a longtime colleague of mine at the Citizen Times who now works for the Sylva Herald, introduced me to the course. I most often play there with him, and he says the 14th offers intrigue and excitement to the round.
“I think it’s unjustly maligned,” Buchanan said, noting the poles have a “lovely haunting tone when hit.”
“On the other hand, I imagine some people have spent less time with their children than they have waiting to get to the tee,” he said. “I’ve seen five groups backed up there, because the green is drivable and it’s a blind shot even just to the fairway.”
In other words, if you’re a thrill-seeker, give it a shot! Just bring a few extra balls.
Got a question? Reach out to Answer Hound John Boyle at (828) 337-0941 or email him at email@example.com