June 25, 2007

Doubling Down

Speaking of gambling golf: A couple of guys who like to take chances, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, teamed up recently.

Speaking of gambling golf: A couple of guys who like to take chances, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, teamed up recently.

There's nothing more exhaustively satisfying than golf by day and casinos by night. If only Scotland were within driving distance of Las Vegas, the golfer on this dream weekend might start out as a plump grape and end up a hardened raisin.

We rank the Top-40 Casino Golf Courses in this issue--could anyone survive playing the whole list?--and Tom Chiarella takes us on a rollicking adventure to several in Albuquerque (see Lucky Break). "Golf and casinos work together because one is the perfect relief from the other," says Chiarella. "Each person on the trip tends to like one better than the other, so there's always a reason to go--to get out, to go in, to play against one another, to play against the house. Sometimes you want to share the risk, other times you want to compete.

"My best stories involve hangovers and late-night flights home. The glory is almost always in the moment, and in the memory of it years later. The time in between is negotiable, at best."

I've done a couple of dozen golf-casino trips over the years, but the most memorable was with the late and beloved equipment editor of Golf Digest, Peter Farricker, who was in the middle stages of Lou Gehrig's disease when a foursome of friends took him for a weekend at Pine Valley and Atlantic City.

Craps was his game, and we can still remember his look of sublime contentment standing at the table, up a couple hundred, and sipping a cranberry and ginger ale. The payoff came on the final day of golf when he stepped to the 14th tee, a par 3 over New Jersey pineland and water, with a carry of about 170 yards.

Pete was a formidable scratch player in his day, many-time club champion and an athlete, but by the time he approached that elevated tee, his diminished health on top of a night at the casino gave us all pause as he stood rather unsteadily surveying the unattainable in front of him. The carry to the green was just outside his reach. The rest of the group, including our chatty caddies, grew uncharacteristically silent.

Feeling the air thicken, Pete took an iron and played a magnificent shot crisply struck down the middle about 100 yards, stopping the ball on the closely mowed grass of a 15-foot circle of drop area carved out of the wilderness. His foursome cheered. I don't know that I've ever seen a better shot. His caddie put an arm around his neck and said, "Pete, I love your style."

Now if it were Hollywood, Farricker would have knocked the next one on the green and made his putt for a 3. But it was Pine Valley.

Golf being golf, and casinos being casinos, the endings are not always happy, but the memories are non-negotiable.