Playing the Pro: Slices of life

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Dustin Hart
  • 347th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
(Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series on Moody’s Quiet Pines Golf Course.)

As springtime grips Moody with warming temperatures and the first signs of green are appearing in the grass and trees, more and more people will find a magnetic pull toward local golf courses. 

As an average golfer who has been known to break 90 on a few, very select occasions, doing a series on Moody’s Quiet Pines Golf Course and getting to play while on-the-job seemed like a great idea. 

So over the next four weeks, I will meet weekly with new Quiet Pines course director and golf professional Dumas “Ben” Bennett. 

Each week, we will take an in-depth look at three holes of Quiet Pines and discuss the best way to play each hole. Then I will take on Bennett at each hole and see how I fare against the pro. 

My great idea may have become a little less great. 

But before we play the course, I spoke with Bennett and discussed ways the average golfer should prepare for returning to the “links.” 

The first thing golfers should look at before returning to the course after an extended layoff is their equipment, said Bennett, who took over the course director position in January. They need to see if their equipment meets the needs of their game. 

“If not, then you have to ask yourself, ‘What type of golf do I want to play’ and then make an investment you feel comfortable with,” he said. 

Bennett recommends golfers, who have the financial ability, should have clubs custom-fitted for their personal style. This will help prevent buying a set of ill-suited clubs, which may lead to the development of bad habits or having to buy an additional set. 

In addition to the clubs, golfers should consider updating their accessories, including a pair of spikeless golf shoes and tight-fitting glove, he said. 

Stretching is another key element Bennett said all golfers should do before hitting that first drive. 

“Back injuries are common in this game,” he said. “Stretching and working out your back can not only prevent injuries but add power to your game.” 

In addition to back stretches, he added golfers should stretch their legs, triceps, rotator cuffs and torso areas, allowing easier body rotation, a requirement when swinging a club. 

“Golf requires a person to be physically and mentally healthy,” said Bennett, who carries a two handicap. “If you have a body problem, you are not going to be able to play golf as well as you would like.” 

Warming up
After stretching, another important factor is hitting the driving range. 

“To be honest, I am not a big fan of practicing because all my good shots are gone on the range,” Bennett said jokingly. “It is important, however, for those who don’t strike the ball well to practice hitting balls. It also helps get the body loose.” 

The key to hitting on the range is to start slowly, he said. Begin by hitting a high iron, like a seven- or eight-iron, and practice making solid contact with the ball. 

“The two most important factors to consider when hitting balls are to have a loose, relaxed grip and, most importantly, a balanced stance and swing path,” he said. 

To prove this point, Bennett took me to the driving range for a quick lesson. After reviewing my grip, stance and swing, he made several corrections to increase my balance. 

For those golfers who want expert help with their game, Bennett said lessons are available at Quiet Pines. 

Taught by Addie Cobb, a contracted golf instructor, course customers can purchase individual or group lessons by contacting the course pro-shop at 257-3297. 

Lessons are generally held on Saturday and cost $30 for an hour session or $80 for three one-hour lessons. 

Bennett added the course is also planning a series of clinics beginning in April. 

After dusting off my clubs, learning a few new stretches and getting some helpful pointers at the range, I guess I am now ready to take on Bennett and the first three holes of Quiet Pines next week. 

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series on Moody’s Quiet Pines Golf Course.)

As we approached the first hole’s tee-box, reality quickly sunk in as I considered the task at hand. 

Play three holes against the course director. No sweat, I tried to tell myself. But facing me were two prominent opponents. 

After providing me with several tips to improve my game last week, Quiet Pine’s Golf Course director and golf professional Dumas “Ben” Bennett now served as my challenger. 

Bennett, who is now 64, didn’t begin playing the game until he was 38. A 22-year Army veteran, he picked up the game while stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas. 

“My first round, I shot a 120,” he said. “I am a very competitive person, so there was no way I was going to take 120 shots to do something that was designed to take 72.” 

So Bennett continued to improve his game, constantly practicing and learning about the game from different books and manuals. He improved quickly and was soon playing in professional events in Europe, where he lived for more than 22 years. 

He now maintains a two handicap, meaning he averages scoring two strokes over the course’s par rating. He has also taught golf lessons for several years and considers teaching the game to children one of his greatest joys. 

“I tell them golf is not a sport,” he said. “It’s a math problem, with several different factors, including wind speeds, shot angles and ball trajectories. Your goal is to solve the problem in the fewest amount of strokes.” 

There is a reason why I am a public affairs officer and not a rocket scientist and math played a large role in that decision. 

If this wasn’t going to be tough enough, I also faced a course Bennett said is deceptively challenging. 

“When I first played this course, I thought I would eat it up and bring it to its knees,” he said. “This is a difficult little course. I haven’t seen anyone bring it down to its knees. 

“You have to work the ball and if you don’t hit the ball straight, you are going to be in trouble,” he added. 

Solving math equations plus hitting straight shots equals big trouble for my golf game, but there was no backing out of the challenge now.

Hole 1- Par 5, 528 yards
Quiet Pine’s opens with a long, dogleg left par five with trees lining both sides of the fairway. 

“In my opinion, this is a very hard hole to start on,” Bennett said. “It requires an accurate and placed drive to put you in a good position for your second shot. 

“Psychologically, it is a lot more difficult to start the first hole than any other hole,” he added. “If you don’t work the ball how and where you want, there are trees on both sides to catch it.” 

Bennett recommended hitting a drive down the center of the fairway, 10 to 20 yards right of the first fairway bunker. The left dogleg comes into play approximately 220 yards from the tee. 

From here, the entire fairway is open for a second shot, which should be hit anywhere between 120 to 150 yards from the green. Bennett also cautioned golfers to avoid the drainage ditch, which is approximately 180 yards from the green. 

For the third shot, concentrate on hitting the center of the green, which provides a short putt regardless of the pin placement, Bennett said. The hole features a difficult two-tiered green so reducing the putt length is important. 

I obviously didn’t listen to his advice on hitting a straight drive. My first shot went left, straight into a tree and bounced across the fairway, stopping behind several trees on the right side of the hole. Second shot, another tree and unfortunately, a trend began. 

By the time I put my ball in the hole, I posted an eight, including hitting four trees. 

Bennett, on the other hand, played the hole exactly as he advised. He hit a straight drive and a solid second shot which set him up for a beautiful third shot which he landed within five feet of the hole. He easily sank the putt and birdied the hole with a four.

Hole 2- Par 3, 132 yards
The second hole is the complete opposite of hole one. The short par three requires an accurate iron shot, usually no more than a six- or seven-iron. 

“Most people underestimate this shot and hit it short of the green,” Bennett said. “Others hit it flush, or use too much iron and hit it over the green.” 

The green is protected by bunkers on both its left and right side. 

The first half of the green slopes toward the tee, the second half slopes away, requiring a highly accurate shot, he said. 

While we both hit solid shots, neither ball wound up on the green. This turned the hole into a chipping and putting contest, which I quickly lost as I hit two terrible chips.
Bennett chipped his ball within five feet of the hole and easily made par. I two-putted and took a double-bogey five. 

Thankfully we only had one more hole to play.

Hole 3- Par 4, 451 yards
Our final hole for the day was also the hardest on the course. It features a severe left dogleg and elevated fairway, which requires a straight drive or the ability to draw the ball,which is to curve it to the left, Bennett said. 

This came as great news to me since I generally have no ability to draw a ball and based on my first two holes, it appeared I wasn’t going to hit it straight. 

Bennett recommended hitting a three-wood off the tee to try to keep the ball straight and avoid making the long hole even longer by pushing the ball to the right. On the second shot, Bennett said to lay-up to the front of the green and then try to chip the ball close to the hole to make par. 

Once again, it seemed I was completely ignoring Bennett’s advice when I sliced a three-wood into the right-side rough. But my next two shots were solid and straight, and I two-putted to salvage a bogey on the hole. 

Bennett again drove the ball to the exact spot he wanted. His second shot, however, fell short of the green, which required him to chip up within 10 feet of the hole. Two putts later, and a minor miracle occurred as we tied the hole with bogey fives. 

Although I now trailed Bennett by six strokes after only three holes, tying him on the last hole gave me the sliver of hope I need going into next week’s challenge.

(Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series on Moody’s Quiet Pines Golf Course.) 

While tying a golf professional on one hole isn’t something to bank a future playing career on, last week’s minor miracle increased my confidence as I prepared to tee-off on the next three holes of Quiet Pines Golf Course. 

To briefly recap, I recently challenged Dumas “Ben” Bennett, Quiet Pines course director and golf professional, on the nine holes of Moody’s course. Last week, we played the first three holes. After falling behind by six strokes after two holes, I somehow tied Bennett on the third. 

“During the first couple of holes, people are really anxious to play,” Bennett said. “It takes a couple of holes to calm down, concentrate and play good golf.” 

Preparing to play this week’s holes, I was confident about my chances of playing well. 

Whatever confidence I brought over to the week, however, soon would be squashed as we approached the fourth hole.

Hole 4 - Par 4, 394 yards
Quiet Pines’ fourth hole is fairly straight and short, but provides the course’s only major water hazard, a pond which runs along the left side of the fairway. 

“People make this hole difficult by trying to drive the ball when it really isn’t needed,” Bennett said. “The water is intimidating because you don’t want to hit your drive left. If that’s the last thing you are thinking before you hit the ball, that is exactly what will happen.” 

The best play is to keep the ball in the fairway due to the water on the left and a fairway bunker on the right, he added. He even recommended hitting a four- or five-iron off the tee to set up a medium-length shot to the center of the green. 

The key to the fourth hole’s green is to ensure an uphill putt, Bennett said. The green tends to be fast especially in the summer. 

Although Bennett recommended not hitting a driver on this hole, I felt confident, based on a few practice swings, I could hit the ball straight. This would be the first of many mistakes I would make on Hole Four. 

First, I pushed my drive far right of the fairway. 

“At least you took the water out of play on this hole,” Bennett joked. 

Unfortunately, he didn’t realize the skills of a truly inconsistent golfer, because after hitting a tree on my second shot, I hit my third shot dead left and into the pond. When I finally putted the ball in the hole, I set a new “Playing the Pro” record, scoring a nine on the par four. 

Bennett, on the other hand, continued to demonstrate why he is an expert on the course. He hit a perfect drive and matched it with an approach shot within five feet of the hole. He easily putted the ball in for a birdie three and in one hole, doubled his six-stroke lead. 

“This is really an easy game,” Bennett said. “People make it difficult by swinging too hard. You have to let your club do the work.” 

At least I had two more holes to work my clubs and try to recover a little of the pride I lost on this hole.

Hole 5- Par 5, 485 yards
Quiet Pines’ second par five is the course’s second longest hole and features a right dogleg. 

While this hole presents an easy opportunity for a birdie or par, Bennett said the goal is to play the ball down the left side of the hole, keeping the fairway open and avoiding a right side full of trees. 

“If you drive the ball right and short on this hole, it takes away a lot of your options,” he said. “You have to play good shots to get a birdie.” 

Bennett recommends playing the ball down the left side of the fairway with the first two shots. 

To approach the green, he said to play the ball toward the front of the green because the back half slopes away from the fairway. 

For the first time in this series, my drive precisely followed Bennett’s advice. I hit it long and to the left side of the fairway, but it rolled behind a tree. My next shot, however, stayed low, avoided the tree and was only 50 yards from the green. 

I chipped the ball 10 feet from the cup and found myself staring at a solid birdie attempt.

Bennett, on the other hand, struggled for the first time in the competition. After two average shots, however, he hit his ball on the right fringe of the green setting up a long birdie putt. 

“These are two really tricky putts,” Bennett said of our two birdie opportunities. 

By now, I had learned Bennett’s assessments were generally right on, so it came as no surprise when both of us three-putted and posted matching bogey sixes. 

Although I was disappointed with the bogey, I finally felt I was competing with the pro.

Hole 6- Par 4, 350 yards
The final hole of the day was the short, downhill sixth hole. Only 350 yards long, the hole appears easy. 

That assumption, however, is deceiving, said Bennett. The hole tends to be difficult because the fairway slopes to the right, causing many balls to roll into the rough. The fairway is also lined with trees on both sides, ready to catch any errant ball. 

The most difficult part of the hole is its green, which is one of the toughest on the course because of its many breaks, he said. 

It is also difficult to keep balls from staying on the green when hitting approach shots, or even putts. 

“If you putt the ball too hard, you will hit it right off this green,” he said. 

Bennett said the best play on the hole is to drive the ball down the right side of the fairway and hit a short approach shot which can roll up onto the green. 

After hitting a three-iron off the tee, Bennett was left with a “tweener” shot. This shot, which lies between a player’s comfortable iron distance, requires a player to adjust his swing to properly place the ball. The difficult shot landed in a bunker left of the green. 

“I am still looking at this as a par,” he said. “All I have to do is hit my sand shot close and putt for my par.” 

Unfortunately, his sand game wasn’t thinking par and after two attempts he found himself on the fringe of the green. Bennett wound up with a double-bogey six, opening the door for me to possibly win a hole. 

Instead, I immediately slammed that door shut by hooking two shots directly left and over the course’s fence, causing minor damage to the many trees in my way. 

“So what is our policy on mulligans or ‘do-overs?’” I asked Bennett. 

“We don’t call them mulligans,” he said. “We call them experimental shots and go on with the hole.” 

Attempting not to lose a third ball off the tee, I hit the ball far right of the fairway behind several trees. With my experimental shots behind me, however, my second shot defied reality by avoiding every tree limb between me and the green and rolled within 15 feet of the hole. I easily two-putted and scored my “pseudo-par.” 

Famous radio personality Paul Harvey once said, “Golf is a game in which you yell ‘fore,’ shoot six, and write down five. “ 

In honor of Mr. Harvey, I wrote down my four on the scorecard and gained two strokes on Bennett’s lead heading into our final three holes next week.

(Editor’s note: This is the last in a four-part series on Moody’s Quiet Pines Golf Course.)

If I have learned anything during my golf adventure the last few weeks, it’s that the sport can be completely unpredictable and humbling. 

Over the last three weeks, I have played Moody’s Quiet Pines Golf Course with Dumas “Ben” Bennett, course director and golf professional. And for the first five of our nine-hole challenge, Bennett showed me why he was the professional and I was the average “hacker.” 

On our sixth hole, however, Bennett surrendered to a double bogey, while I, with the assistance of two “experimental” shots off the tee, parred the hole. The minor victory closed Bennett’s lead to 10 strokes as we prepared to take on Quiet Pine’s final three holes.

Hole 7- Par 4, 372 yards
This week’s challenge started with the straight-on seventh hole. Lined with trees on both sides, the relatively short hole requires a player to hit the ball straight, Bennett said. 

“This is another hole you don’t really need to hit a driver on,” he said. “Hit a three-wood or an iron; anything you can hit straight.” 

In addition to requiring a straight drive, the hole features an elevated green, which adds difficulty to hitting an approach shot. 

“The green is eight to 10 feet above the fairway,” he said. “This makes it difficult to see the pin placement and requires you to hit at least a club or two more to get the ball to the green.” 

Bennett said while the players may need to hit more club to get the ball to the green, they should be careful not to hit it over the green because the following shot is extremely difficult. 

The green, guarded by bunkers on the left and right side, contains several breaks. Putting from the back to the front of the green is also especially hard, he added. 

Following an “experimental” drive to warm up on the hole (actually I hit the ball as hard as I could way out of bounds,) I safely drove the ball down the right side of the fairway. 

I followed the drive with a five-iron approach shot which left me a little short of the green. A chip and two putts later, I recorded my bogey and moved on. 

Bennett again displayed the consistency which beat me over and over again with a perfect drive and an approach shot within 15 feet of the pin. Although he missed his birdie attempt, his par putt circled the cup and dropped, giving him a one-stroke victory on the hole.

Hole 8- Par 3, 217 yards
“This is where your heartache and pain really begin,” Bennett said of our second hole of the day. 

Quiet Pine’s second par three hole appears more like a short par four. 

The hole plays differently depending on what set of tees a player uses, but can range anywhere from 210 to 230 yards. 

“You are normally going to hit a long iron or even a three-wood to get the ball to the hole,” Bennett said. “If it is windy, you may even need to hit a driver. Plus, if it’s wet, the ball will not carry so the hole plays even longer.” 

With trees lining the fairway and an out of bounds section to the left and back of the hole, Bennett said the key is to hit a straight, safe shot, even if it falls a little short. 

The green runs away from the fairway, which makes it difficult to stick the ball on the putting surface, Bennett said. Once on the green, putts appear flat but actually break from left to right. 

Bennett hit a three-iron, which landed a little short of the green. His chip rolled to within a foot of the cup and he easily tapped in for a par. 

For the second consecutive hole, my first shot hooked to the left and rolled into the left green-side bunker. 

“That’s OK,” Bennett said. “That is a good shot. You want to have your balls going left, because it means you are swinging through the ball properly. Now we just need to aim your shot a little better.” 

Although I felt a little better with Bennett’s reassurance, I now faced a predicament I hoped to avoid having to write about: my sand game. 

My father always told me professional golfers would rather be in the sand than in the rough. Unfortunately for me, I am no pro. So after two futile attempts, I finally escaped the sand trap, two-putted and posted a six. 

"You’ve got this game whipped," Bennett said, again trying to console his pupil as I sulked over my triple bogey. "You are putting well and if you are able to do that, the other stuff will come." 

With only one hole left to play, I started to believe the "other stuff" would have to come a different day.

Hole 9- Par 4, 347 yards
Quiet Pines closes with a relatively short dogleg right par four. Although the hole appears to appeal to many golfers due to its ability to accommodate slicing shots, Bennett said, in his opinion, it is actually one of the two most difficult holes. 

"This hole looks like a novice golfer’s dream," he said. "The drawback is if you slice too much, you are in the woods, and it is virtually impossible to par the hole from there." 

With trees again lining both sides of the fairway, golfers should drive the ball down the right or center of the fairway, Bennett said. The hole is fairly short so players shouldn’t be worried about hitting the perfect drive. 

The approach shot to the ninth green is also difficult because the green is elevated, requiring more club. The backside of the green again slopes away from the fairway, so the best shot is to hit the front half of the green to ensure the ball holds, he added. 

"Your best bet on this hole is to get on the green in two, two-putt, take your par and be happy," he recommended. 

In my experience, the funny thing about playing the last hole of the day is you will usually hit a shot that will encourage you to come back and play again. That shot occurred on my drive, as I smashed the ball down the left side of the fairway. 

"There’s your shot," Bennett said as I grinned. 

The rest of the hole, however, reminded me again that my game has a long way to go. I hit my approach shot solid, but clipped a tree limb. My third shot fell left of the green and after a chip and two putts, I scored a double-bogey six. 

Bennett also smashed his drive, but the ball rolled too far left and landed out of bounds.
I asked him if the ball counted as his "experimental" shot. 

"I can’t say that," he said. "I can call it my lesson shot, teaching me what not to do with the ball, but I don’t get experimental shots." 

The extra two strokes cost Bennett as he wound up posting a triple-bogey seven, allowing me to win my second hole of the challenge. 

"That’s what makes this a humbling game," he said shaking his head as we walked off the green. 

As we drove our cart back to the clubhouse and contemplated our extended round of golf, Bennett gave me a few tips on how to continually improve my game. 

"You are capable of playing better, so you have to decide not to let the course beat you," he said. "Make mental notes of the mistakes you made. Now you know this course isn’t that long and you don’t always need to use a driver. Play your three-wood and irons and put yourself in a position to score well. 

“Keep your focus, play with the right mental attitude and take what the course gives you,” he added. “Go out with the intention to just par every hole and then go do it.” 

While shooting par might still be far out of my reach, at least now I know the tips to the course and can continue to practice for my next opportunity to play the pro.