31st Annual Dove Hunt

Members and their guests come from all across the country to play in the Dove Hunt.
People come in from all across the country to play in the Dove Hunt.

By far, La Paloma Country Club’s most important event of the year is its annual men’s member/guest tournament, the Dove Hunt. La Paloma is Spanish for Dove, and the story goes that when the club was looking for new members back in the day, someone said, “Let’s go hunting for doves!” and the name stuck.

Just because we were already nearly at capacity (450 members) and didn’t necessarily need to generate any new members this year didn’t mean we still didn’t go all-out. The service is especially top-notch, which means 14-16 hour days for staff members are commonplace.

To give you an idea of just how big of a deal Dove Hunt actually is, the course is closed exclusively to these 60 members and their guests for the better part of three days beginning Wednesday afternoon. Almost no expense is spared, and the goal each year is never for the club to make money but simply to break even.

These guys are treated like kings. There’s a slightly different tournament format each day with meals, a skins game, putting and pitching contests, daily closest to the pin competitions, and finally, a horse race. Members begin arriving at the club on Wednesday morning to register and play a practice round with their guests. During the practice round, there’s an optional skins game. The buy-in is $20 for gross and $20 for net, so it’s a decent purse, and a player’s full course handicap is used.

That night, there’s a huge Welcome Gala for members, guests, and their spouses beginning with a cocktail hour. The appetizers and drinks at the cocktail hour were almost better than the dinner itself. There were crab claws, a shrimp cocktail ice sculpture, ceviche, and even oysters on the half shell to go alongside a gourmet cheese board. Again, no expense was spared. There was also a live band and plenty of pre-tournament wagering.

The Titleist/FootJoy Concept Shop
The Titleist/FootJoy Concept Shop had items for people to buy or special order.

The fun continued following Thursday morning’s breakfast buffet. While players were waiting around to tee off in the 11:00a shotgun, they could enter a Putting Contest (top five qualifiers advance to that night’s finals) and/or peruse the Titleist/FootJoy Concept Shop.

We set-up one of the member dining rooms like a store, and members and their guests could walk through and pick-out whatever they wanted right there on the spot – everything from clothes and clubs to shoes and shirts. If we didn’t have it, we could always special order and ship it.

The Dove Hunt field is divided into six flights based on handicap named after some of the greatest players ever to play the game: Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan, Snead, Watson, and Player. Thursday’s Opening Round shotgun started at 11:00a, and the format was a 2-man Shamble, one Best-Ball of two.

In a shamble, one Best-Ball of two, each player plays his own ball throughout the round, and on each hole, the low score or best ball serves as the team score. Each player receives 80% of his course handicap, and there’s a six drive minimum per player. Lunch was grab and go at the turn.

As the sun begins to set, the air begins to buzz with anticipation for that night’s festivities. There’s the Putting Contest finals, then a buffet of mesquite-grilled ribeye steaks, porterhouses, and smoked beef short ribs, whole pig porchetta (Italian pig roast) rubbed with fennel, and cigars and scotch leading-up to the main event: the Pitching Contest. Rented lighting stanchions were set-up, and everyone gathered around to watch guys try to hit brand new Titleist Pro V1s from in front of the Member’s Dining Room up above onto a target on the Hill Course’s illuminated 9th green down below.

On a cold and windy night, not only is it a pretty difficult shot at just 85 yards, the newly overseeded ryegrass really pops under the lights as you watch that little white ball float through the air in hopes of reaching its final destination. Meanwhile, there’s an emcee roasting practically every man who steps up to the tee. He’s got to hit the shot – and the target – in front of all his buddies. When it’s all over, the guys go into the Dining Room to play Texas Hold’em late into the night.

The Pitching Contest
The course for the Pitching Contest was lit by rented lighting stanchions.

Friday is a little more laid-back with guys still nursing their wounds from the night before. Again, there’s a breakfast buffet, but the Round 2 shotgun starts at 8:30a. The format this time is a Scramble. Each player tees off, and the best shot is selected. The process continues until the ball is holed for one score per hole.

Thirty-five percent of Player A’s handicap and 15% of Player B’s handicap are totaled to form a team handicap. Again, there’s a six drive minimum per player. Lunch is served at the clubhouse, and then the Horse Race begins.

If you’ve never played in or seen a horse race, you don’t know what you’re missing. Flights 1 & 2, 3 & 4, and 5 & 6 are combined, and each two-man team heads out to the 5th hole of a different course (La Paloma has three nines). When it’s all said and done, each of these holes has 20, two-man teams, each playing alternate shot… at the same time. That’s a total of 40 guys on each starting hole!

Teeing order is determined by each team on the first teeing ground. The five highest-scoring teams are eliminated at the end of the 1st hole, and any ties are broken by chip-off, closest to the pin. The ball does not have to finish on the putting surface to be closest to the pin, and the other players waiting to chip-off have to turn around so they can’t see which way the chip breaks. In a horse race, once everyone gets onto the green, the team closest to the hole putts first.

I’ve never seen anything like it! Five teams are eliminated after the 1st hole of play, and four more teams are eliminated after the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th holes until there are just three teams battling it out on the 9th and final hole as the sun goes down. The early holes are especially wild with each team in their golf cart jockeying for position while the next team hits its shot into the green.

The first few holes of the Horse Race were pure chaos because of the number of players on each hole.
The first few holes of the Horse Race were chaotic because there were so many guys.

Saturday’s schedule is exactly like Friday’s, except that the tournament format goes back to a Shamble and now both balls count. In a shamble, each player tees off on each hole and the best ball of the two tee shots is selected. Both balls are then played from the spot of the best ball. From this point, the hole is played-out as stroke play with all members of the team playing their own ball into the hole.

Again, each player receives 80% of his course handicap, and a minimum of six drives must be selected per player. Lunch and awards in the clubhouse follow tournament play. The gross and net winners from each flight get trophies and also take home a little cash.

From a staff perspective, the Dove Hunt is an exhausting three-and-a-half days, but it’s also a fun and rewarding experience. The guys are loose and relaxed, and you can tell that they really enjoy being out on the golf course all by themselves. It’s the kind of country club experience that all of our members deserve.

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