Somewhere in Heaven, Mike Strantz is Smiling

By: Jay Flemma


[Author's Note: This piece was supposed to be published as my 2007 Hootie at Bulls Bay wrap-up, but between work at both jobs, tax season and other articles, it fell by the wayside until tonight. I hope you like it.]

The members of Bulls Bay Golf Club in Awendaw, S.C., are blessed with a privilege unique in the world of golf. They belong to the only private club that Mike Strantz ever designed. Mike's portrait hangs over the staircase in the entrance of the clubhouse and, moreover, his touch is everywhere at the facility. But Bulls Bay is truly unique because the infectious love of the game that Mike had is shared by the members and staff alike. And just like Mike, whether it's Joe Rice, Hootie and the Blowfish, the golf shop staff or the rank and file members, they all realize that it's not what they do for a living that makes them great, it's what they do for others.

That's the true greatness of Strantz, that's the true greatness of Bulls Bay, that's the true greatness of the Hootie at Bulls Bay Collegiate Invitational tournament, and that's why somewhere up in heaven, Mike Strantz is smiling right now.

Mike smiled on course owner Joe Rice when he and his team of Strantz's design partner Forrest Fezler, Jamie Hollingsworth and Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan posted a scalding 25-under-par score to run away with the pro-am, cracking jokes, smiling broadly and cranking music the entire time.

Mike definitely smiled on Forrest Fezler when Forrest explained the changes recently made to the par-5 10th hole. "We just did what Mike would have done," he said as he pointed out the extended bunkering that snares overzealous tee shots along the right-hand side. That must have warmed Mike's heart like a microwave. Now if he could just do something about Fezler using that long putter . . .

Mike probably didn't stop smiling for hours during the Hootie concert on Saturday night. There was his wife, Heidi Strantz, beaming from ear to ear and boogieing in her seat to some down-home rockabilly and "bluegrock" (that's bluegrassy rock for those of you scoring at home). There was John Daly jumping on stage with the Hootie boys and playing Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." There was R.E.M.'s Peter Holzappfl sitting in for the entire set and all four encores (FOUR ENCORES!). There were 75 college golfers hanging tightly with rock legends and playing in the most unique and fun college tournament on the calendar. Most importantly, Mike was smiling when over $90,000 was raised for charity by the Hootie Foundation. That money goes to improving South Carolina's public schools.

Mike smiled on tournament organizers Doug Carnes, Terry Florence and Steve Salatan when the tourney went off without a single hitch - nary a snap, snipe or sour note the entire week. "This was without a doubt the most fun tournament I've played," said Baylor player Wes Williams. "I'm totally blown away by everybody here," echoed Florida State's Matt Savage. "If it's possible, they're having more fun than we are."

Mike even smiled on Bobby Wilson and all the other rules officials who handled tough situations with grace, tact, aplomb and the right rulings, no matter how obscure the situation.

Mike smiled on all the players and coaches. He smiled on the Baylor kids who have been remarkable road warriors slogging from one end of the country to the other as they rallied from far behind to force a playoff. He smiled on coach Nick Clinard and his players from Central Florida as they fought gamely for three days only to fall short by a hair. He most of all smiled on the grace and class they exhibited both when they were leading and in defeat. Yes, Nick and UCF, you lost this time, and yes you don't have to like it. But the sportsmanship and camaraderie you displayed (not to mention your scaring the big-name schools right to the end) was most impressive. That's a trophy that will never tarnish.

Mike smiled most of all on Webb Simpson and the rest of the Wake Forest players as they survived a horrible scare, surrendering a huge six-shot lead with four holes to play, only to triumph in an amazing triple-overtime playoff. Simpson even survived the wackiest golf shot of the tournament. On the par-3 14th, his ball hit a fire hydrant, rocketed skyward like a flare at a crazy angle, then bounced 200 yards down the course's entrance road, and then disappeared forever into a storm drain behind the spot from which Webb teed off.

Mike even smiled on Titleist the Bull, the course mascot who got loose from his tethering post and roamed the front nine in what had to be the single zaniest thing I have ever seen on a golf course. Do you actually think Mike didn't have something to do with that? You can't tell me that wasn't Mike playing a joke on us. Seriously, that bull has been tethered there day in and day out for years. It just so happened that Day 1 of the Hootie is when he gets loose?

No, Mike was up there nudging his buddies saying "watch this" and then cheering "Awright Titleist!" as the bull led us on golf's rejoinder to the O.J. Simpson slow-speed Bronco chase! Here we are in speed-restricted golf carts chasing after a trotting bull and not catching up because both we and Titleist are going at the same speed.

I mean really! Are we in Charleston or Pamplona? I went to a golf tournament and a bullfight broke out! "Lawdy!" mocked one sportswriter in a fake Southern accent. "A bull on the golf co-asse! [Author's Note: the word "course" has two syllables in Chaaaaaaaleston.] They'd nevuh allow that at the Mastuhs!"

Others were equally amused. "What do we do if he makes eye contact?" asked one Florida State player. "If he looks like he means business, be up a tree when he arrives," I replied. "And what about you" he asked. "I'll be on the branch above you," was my response.

Through it all, not only was there more fun than I have ever had at any golf tournament anytime, anywhere, but there was also a sense of community unlike any club I've ever visited. Why? Mike Strantz. One anecdote from Mike's life provides some insight. Yes, we all know that when Hurricane Hugo destroyed much of the South Carolina coast, Mike helped rebuild holes at Wild Dunes Golf resort in Isle of Palms. But did you know he also helped rebuild Sunrise Presbyterian Church after it was destroyed? While services were held in a big blue tent, Mike was designing the stained glass window . . . in the shape of a cross. When you look at it, the tiles not only resemble Jesus crucified, but also Jesus ascending into Heaven. It's more astounding than any golf hole he gave us.

Just like Mike showed you can destroy a church but you can't destroy faith, so too does Bulls Bay show that we can lose a man but we can never lose our love of him and the values for which he stood. That is Bulls Bay's rare and wonderful gift: one they blessedly share with college players and every visitor to the club.

Mike Strantz is up in heaven smiling now. Tonight, the course is filled with Mike and his friends playing a round in the moonlight. He's still there. He'll always be there. He's there when Doug Carnes and Terry Florence dot the "i" and cross the "t" to make sure they went the extra mile for the players. He's there when the Hootie guys raise oodles of money for cash-strapped public schools. He's there when Heidi takes care of a horse with special needs or the two golden retrievers. And he's there every time the members share their wonder of the golf world with friends.

Mike's proud of you, Bulls Bay. He sees you smiling up at him and he knows you can feel his smile right back at you. When you keep each other in your hearts, you'll always be together. That's the kind of inspiration that moves Bulls Bay. With that as their fulcrum, they can move the world.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.


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