DUMFRIES, Va. -- The D.C. beltway is a freaking nightmare. Morning, noon or night, there's a spot on the nearly 60-mile loop that's practically a parking lot. It's usually the same spots. I'm driving, or more aptly sitting, through this beautiful freeway after dropping my kids off at school and day care, headed to Potomac Shores Golf Club in northern Virginia to take part in the Turkish Airlines World Golf Cup. The airliner puts on a series of 100 tournaments around the world as feeder qualifiers for a final championship event, naturally, in Antalya, Turkey, an area which has emerged as the nation's golf getaway of choice. It's also home to the host of the European Tour's Turkish Airlines Open, one of the final three events on the tour's schedule.
I'm about to cross the beltway border from Maryland to Virginia when I realize I have practically no gas left in my car. I rarely drive these days other than the morning routine route -- maybe the occasional loop to one of the area airports. I don't think about gas much. Now I'm fretting. I'm worried I'm going to miss a 9 a.m. start and the whole point of this story.
Fortunately, my car is hardly moving, giving me time to Google Maps a gas station and divert accordingly. I weave my way off the beltway, into a part of town known as Cabin John, get 5 gallons of gas and still manage to wind through a sprawling, still-developing residential community to land at the bag drop with about two minutes to spare for the 9 a.m. start.
It's fitting for me to arrive last minute to something that came together somewhat last minute. I hop into a cart, sitting next to a smiling woman I've never met, and after I change shoes in about 45 seconds, she hits the pedal. It's go time.
This is a shotgun affair, and my new friend Beth drives us out to the fifth hole. We're playing the gold tees today, so I'm salivating at the idea of starting on a 335-yard uphill par 4 that feels pretty wide.
Potomac Shores is managed by Troon and designed by Jack Nicklaus. It's billed as the D.C. area's only public Nicklaus Signature design. It winds through forest and a little bit of marshland, and the routing is typical Nicklaus: lots of doglegs, some more dramatic than others, to set up approaches to above-average-size green complexes with modest bunkering. There's a fair amount of unexpected undulation, and Nicklaus uses it to effect on many second shots. The course also has the unique distinction of having Bermudagrass fairways in a part of the world where Bentgrass and, to a lesser extent, Ryegrass are king. The project was undertaken in July, converting from Bent to a Bermuda strain which should thrive in the humid mid-Atlantic climate. There's only one problem: In the preceding 11 weeks from sprigging to pegs in the ground, it had rained about 3 feet. Plenty of courses in the region were overwhelmed with the incessant precip, and it's mighty difficult for newly seeded fairways to keep up. Needless to say, it was a tad soggy.
Further, the club was planning some work just weeks later to renovate all the bunkering. Practically washed out by the rain, they weren't looking their best that day. But those weren't known knowns when going to the other cart and shaking hands with Mandy and Vipin, my other two playing partners for our round. Vipin is a retired gentleman who has a membership at Potomac Shores, so he figured why not play. Mandy worked in the military and now is in the human resources world. Beth is an intellectual property attorney, and several people with her firm are playing in other groups. We're a motley crew, and there's some natural trepidation that comes with meeting strangers and then competing with them, even if it's in a pseudo-hit-n-giggle.
We all clear the carry over a small ravine, and we're off and running.
So why does Turkish Airlines do this? Networking.
The series is billed as the largest corporate golf event in the world, with more than 8,000 golfers taking part. The 18-hole qualifying events are played under the Stableford scoring system, and the top three players earn prizes. There are also prizes for the best gross score as well closest-to-the-pin competitions for men and women. The winner at each site flies business class on Turkish Airlines to Antalya, stays at the Titanic Deluxe resort in Belek and plays a 36-hole event to determine the grand champion. The grand champion gets to stick around and play in the pro-am for the Turkish Airlines Open. Not a bad deal at all.
Not a person in our foursome thought about all of that as we played. Frankly, I played poorly and hit driver through way too many doglegs. Beth and Mandy had chops to play well, but they didn't play often enough to shoot a net score in the 60s. Vipin was a master of finding his ball and recovering from pretty much any terra firma; however, that didn't translate to low scores.
I was 10 over through nine, and that was after I was even after two. Driver was not the right choice to get around a 6,300-yard golf course. It usually isn't when the Golden Bear is involved, but I'm stubborn. I rallied and played 2 over the rest of the way. I can attribute part of the improved play to being a whole lot less invested in my final score after that, um, unpleasant stretch. However, I also will credit having a great time with three very different people in substantially different places in life. We talked about golf, getting into the game, making sure we get the most out of it. We had beers and snacks and searched for balls together. We cheered our on-course successes and demurred when it came to the bad shots, of which there were plenty. That there is the best part of golf: its ability to bring four people from strangers to some sense of camaraderie in the space of four or five hours.
Beth and I chatted about patents and designs, and that just so happened to be a topic I nerd out on when reading golf IP. I wound up reading a blog post she shared on a variety of fascinating patents outside of golf.
At the end of the round, hats off and handshakes led to some quick reminiscing in the lovely Tidewater Grill inside the Potomac Shores clubhouse. There would be prizes and feel-goods for the participants, complemented by a rich spread of handhelds and desserts. The tournament was well-run in service of the broader goal of making corporate connections Turkish Airlines no doubt hopes leads to suits in seats on their planes.
Unfortunately, I had to get going. I was on my way to my son's soccer practice, and I'd be racing against the clock going the other way. As I went to my car, I pulled up LinkedIn and sent a request to Beth. We networked. It worked.
Golf takes you to some strange and amazing places.