Mark Bloomer has served as a caddie at The Ocean Course for 16 years. As one of the longest tenured caddies on the course, he knows all the varied nuances and beguiling snares Pete Dye cleverly disguised throughout. He has also grown to appreciate how unique many of its attributes are compared to any other U.S. golf course — natural elements that add to its intrigue and launch it to the top of every golfer’s bucket list. Knowledge of these elements can conjure a level of mystique growing to legendary proportions in many a golfer’s mind. To help curb the yips before you ever even hit the the driving range, Mark offers his tips for tackling The Ocean Course.
GET YOUR MIND RIGHT
Have confidence. The mental game is such a huge part of the game on any course, but especially this course. Accept that you’re going to make some bad shots, but remember you’re here to have fun and enjoy playing one of the best courses on earth. When you make a bad shot, forget about and just focus on the next shot.
We meet golfers at the driving range and talk up each golfer to prepare them for the round. Then we go to the putting green to get them a solid feel for how the greens are playing.
Keep a positive attitude and manage your expectations. Just savor the fact you’re playing on a bucket-list course, and that it’s ranked as one of the hardest — if not the hardest — courses in North America.
HANG ONTO YOUR HAT
Ten of the course’s holes skirt the ocean, so wind is one of the most critical — and temporary — elements on the course. It makes it a different golf course every day. You place the average golfer in a 25-mile-per-hour wind and it blows their mind. People say Texas courses are windy, but that’s gusty. The Ocean Course gets constant wind, although it can shift directions. It can make an eight club difference on the same hole from one day to the next — or even from morning to afternoon.
A few Sundays ago, a scratch golfer had only 120 yards to the hole, but because of the wind it wound up playing more like 180 yards. That blew him away.
On the subject of weather, if you don’t live in a hot, humid region, get mentally prepared for those conditions. Drink tons of water the day before and before arriving. In the middle of summer, I can down 20 to 25 bottles of water over the course of one day.
CHECK YOUR PRIDE AT THE DOOR
A lot of guys want to play the black tees, but it’s critical to play from the right tees to fit your skill level and handicap. Remember Pete Dye designed these back tees to test the world’s best golfers. The course is hard enough as it is. Don’t let pride become another needless obstacle.
Speaking of pride, listen to your caddie. We know every inch of the course and how to approach shots from just about any situation. Trust our club and shot selections. Remember, we assessed you on the driving range, and we take that into account when you’re on the course. We also know the wind and how it can affect your shot. If you typically have a solid 150-yard 7 iron, but we notice the wind is blowing straight in at 10 miles per hour and hand you a 5 iron, trust us. It never ceases to amaze me how many golfers will argue with their caddies and think they know the course better than we do when we’re on it every day in every kind of condition. Remember, we’re here to help you.
BRAINS OVER BRAWN
On par fives, play smart and lay up. Be conservative, and don’t try to grip it an rip it. Take number 11 for example. It’s a target hole, and the hardest hole on the course. It’s well protected. Pay attention when your caddie points out those spots and do your best to hit them, or you’ll find yourself in real trouble.
IT’S A DIFFERENT ANIMAL
The Ocean Course is different than any other U.S. courses. The waste areas are different. Remember that it’s a very natural course, so you can remove a lot of types of loose impediments that you don’t normally encounter on your home course. But also remember that the cart paths are sand, so you don’t get relief if you land on a path. A lot of golfers forget that. You don’t want to sacrifice needless strokes because of a penalty.
Remember the wildlife factor, and that the course is certified by Audubon for being friendly to the native wildlife. Don’t just stick your hand in tall grass to retrieve a ball. Pop it out with a club instead. We do have venomous snakes, and water moccasins are the ones we most commonly see. Be aware around ponds also, because we have some very large alligators. As a general rule, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them, but if a large gator feels threatened it can get aggressive.
PAR THREES WERE MADE TO MESS WITH YOUR MIND
Of the par threes, 17 has all the history because of the Ryder Cup, but 14 is actually harder because it’s elevated, so it gets more crosswind. Seventeen is visually harder because you have to carry water the whole way. But 14 is elevated to the same height as the sand dunes, and the course turns back eastward, which means you’re more likely to get a headwind. The silver tee lies only 160 yards from the green, but you might need a 2 iron to hit it from there.
Again. remember to be prepared to use every club in your bag. A par three might be a 6 iron one day and a hybrid the next.
WEAR YOUR WALKING SHOES
The Ocean Course is sort of a throwback because Dye built it to be a walking course designed for play with a caddie. It’s a six and a half-mile walk. It helps that the holes are close together, so not a long haul from one green to the next tee like it would be on a course designed for carts. It can be harder in the summer due to the heat. In the hot months I often see golfers start showing signs of fatigue on the last five holes, especially playing into the wind on those holes.