Golf:

I returned Tuesday to the site of many memories — including the one I want to shy away from in embarrassment — and where I met the game of golf.

Mission Viejo Country Club hosted the Big West Conference men’s golf championship, where UC Irvine won the team title and Anteater senior John Chin captured his second conference crown.

I took a cart around the course, going back and forth from Chin’s group to UCI junior Shaun O’Meara’s group. It’s appropriate I took a cart since I worked in the cart room during high school from the spring of 1994 to June 1997.

We spent hours taking carts and bags to members, collecting balls on the driving range, pouring sand in the divots on the range, cleaning bags and carts — oh, cleaning bags. We lined up bags along the wall. If it was a busy day, the clubs could mound into a pile “three deep” along the wall. It was going to be a long day if that happened.

It was tough manual labor. The cart room stood below the clubhouse, so, when golfers finished their round, you had to walk up a hill to take the carts back to their home.

It was good job for a high school kid. I was outside, around golf, and, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it provided a good workout.

The job also allowed me to play golf. When it wasn’t busy, take a Tuesday afternoon for example, I could go and play nine holes. It was on the range where I took my first lesson with Jeremy Dunkason, head pro at the time who was my supervisor once I began working there. I was about 13 or 14 when I started.

Some things have changed since I was there. The clubhouse is being reconstructed, so the pro shop is a portable. One member I spoke to said construction started last September and is scheduled to finish in time for a November re-opening.

On the course, the par-three third hole has a tee box that stretches at least 50 yards, providing a bevy of tee options. They lengthened the par-four fifth by moving the green back.

The bunkers looked different. They had more “fingers” of grass poking inside, creating amoeba-like shapes. The same member who spoke about the construction called these fingers “teardrops.”

Tee boxes and greens were immaculate. The tee boxes were mowed so precisely that they gave off a striped pattern in the bright sun.

The course stood up to the moniker “Mission Impossible” used to describe its difficulty that floated around. I sometimes refer to it as “The Mish.”

The course has variety from elevated tees to shallow valleys fronting some greens, ready to catch any short shots. Then there’s the length. This course requires some long shots. The course played 7,052 yards for the final 18 holes and, coupled with what two UCI players called fast greens, made it a difficult scoring round. Only two of 45 players shot under par for the final 18 holes.

I drove across the “infamous” creek on hole 10 that was the site of a memorable moment. Memorable might be an understatement.

When it rains, the creek turns forceful. To lock gates on the course, you have to drive across the creek on hole 10. So it was raining one night and I decided to take the range picker to lock gates.

The picker stopped about four feet into the running water. I stepped out and water went above the top of my shoe. A buddy and I tried to pull it out using another cart and rope but were unsuccessful. I think we called a colleague, searching for help.

We left for the night with wet clothes and worried minds. I barely slept that night.

The picker wasn’t there the next morning. The picker ended up in the middle of the first fairway, about 150 yards away from where I left it.

Both of us walked in and told Jeremy what happened. He didn’t look up as he sorted through papers. He didn’t go ballistic or fire us. He said, “Don’t let it happen again.”

What? Where was the long speech or punishment? I was so relieved. That was an act of grace that I didn’t appreciate until I wrote this. Thank you, Jeremy, for being compassionate.

There was no rain Tuesday. The creek gently trickled under the bright sun. I didn’t even play, but I left with that smell only a sunny day on a golf course can bring — fresh-cut grass mixed with sunblock and skin.

I guess you could say I worked for a day again at “The Mish” and, until I showered, had the smell to prove it.

 The UC Irvine women’s golf team will be vying for its third trip in four years to the NCAA championships when it begins play in the NCAA West regional today through Saturday at the Stanford University Golf Course in Stanford, Calif.

The Anteaters will make their sixth straight trip to the West regional, a 54-hole competition that also includes UCLA, Alabama, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Stanford among the 24 teams.

The top eight teams will advance to the NCAA championships May 18-21 at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C. The top two individuals from non-advancing teams will also qualify for the NCAA championships.

Junior Hillary Packard, an All-Big West Conference first-team honoree this season, leads the Anteaters with a 75.25 scoring average, which is second in the conference.

Sophomore Lalita Patipaksiri, a second-team all-conference selection, carries a 76 average. Patipaksiri, who leads the country in par-three scoring average (2.92), and teammate Mariko Makabe each tied for seventh as the ’Eaters placed third of seven teams at the Big West championships.

UCI finished tied for fourth at last year’s West regional — its best showing in six appearances.


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