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Twenty minutes into the race, I’m feeling like a thoroughbred.

My only competitor and I have been running neck and neck, matching each other’s pace at every turn. But now, I’ve pulled ahead, and my lead continues to grow. My stride is true and I feel as though I could run like this all day. If so, I think, he’ll never catch me.

Too bad my heart is pounding so much that I can’t get my golf ball to stay on the tee. OK, good, there it is. Now take a deep breath. … DOH! I just hit my tee shot into the woods. That’ll cost a stroke, but at least I won’t lose time. That is, until—CRAP! I just hit my second shot into the sand trap! Stupid 6-iron. That’s going to take me at least 10 seconds to rake before … oh, great. Now he’s passing me.

Stupid Speed Golf!

A regular round of golf can last anywhere from about four to five hours. Either way, that’s brutally slow. So when NBC-17 morning anchor Penn Holderness recently asked me to play a round of speed golf at Brier Creek Country Club, I jumped at the chance to play 18 holes before most people have finished their Cheerios.

Watch Penn’s report of our round here.

The game is played just like traditional golf, except that players run between shots and scores are calculated by adding minutes played and strokes. Just like in regular golf, players are responsible for raking sand traps and fixing ball marks and are expected to adhere to the standard dress codes of the club where they’re playing. The only other major difference is that players carry only one or as many as six clubs.

For our round, I chose my 3-wood, 6-iron, 9-iron, and a putter. Of course, since I hadn’t picked up one of my clubs in about 16 months, I might as well have carried a rake. It would have been lighter, and I could have used it to simultaneously hit the ball and rake myself out of sand traps. Knowing that I’d be a little rusty, I also chose a wardrobe—consisting of a running jacket with zippered pockets and cargo shorts—that would accommodate plenty of spare balls and tees.

Aside from a Wikipedia page and a small website, there’s not an abundance of official information about speed golf, which seems to be most popular in Illinois, Chicago, and Canada, where a few tournaments are held. From the bits of info that I’ve gathered, golfers don’t play together in speed golf. That is, in tournament play, you won’t see two golfers tee off at the same time.

However, that makes for dull TV, so Penn and I decided to play together. As a result, our round turned into more of a race than a proper round of speed golf. Honestly, I think it was better that way.

I was able to keep up with my score for the first four holes, but things got fuzzy after that. That will happen when you’re hitting a fairway shot at the same time that your competitor is hitting out of a bunker 40 yards behind you and you’re in his line of fire. After nine holes, I had completely lost track of my score. Penn told me that I was two shots behind him, but I’m pretty sure it was more like four.

Incredibly, we kept the same pace for nearly the entire round—until my third shot on No. 17 landed in a crater-like sand trap. It took me two shots to make it out (probably because my club handles were nearly ungrippable as they were covered in dew and grass from constantly throwing them on the ground). I had to rake over most of the trap, and by the time I made my putt, Penn was already on the 18th tee. Lucky for me, his second shot landed in a water hazard, and since he wasn’t wearing cargo shorts with an endless supply of spare balls, he had to borrow one from me. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop me from sailing my third shot well over the green into another water hazard. On his next shot, Penn made it to the green. From there, he two-putted roughly two seconds before I sank my final putt.

We had covered 18 holes and a little more than three miles in 68 minutes.

If I’d been smarter, I wouldn’t have rushed things at the end. Speed golf, after all, is a combination of strokes and minutes played—it’s not just a race. If I had focused more on those last few shots and avoided the water, so what if it took me an extra minute?

Except that I wouldn’t have been in a great position to argue about my score, since I had sort of stopped paying attention to it again. Instead, I could only guess that I was still two shots behind Penn, who finished with an overall score of 172. That was good enough to claim the course record (if only because we were the first people to play speed golf at Brier Creek), but plenty of strokes and time off the world record set by Christopher Smith, who shot a 109 at the Chicago Speedgolf Classic in 2005.

Of course, I’ve read that lots of speed golfers say playing the game faster makes them better golfers. They say it keeps them from second guessing everything they do. For the most part, I found that to be true during my round. So maybe a few extra seconds on those final shots wouldn’t have made a difference, after all. Those were probably bad shots because I’m just bad at golf.

No matter what, I’ve never had more fun being bad at golf. I finished a round in a quarter of the time it takes most people to play and I got a great workout. Not only would I play speed golf again, I think I’d rather play speed golf than regular golf.

So when a speed golf tournament finally lands in my neck of the woods, my rake and I will be ready.

(In case you skipped the link above, go here to watch Penn’s story about our speed golf round. And check out the following video for my post-round interview with the new speed golf course record holder.)

(Blogger’s note: If you are an e-mail subscriber and received a post that appeared to be a draft, please accept my apologies. I’m just getting the hang of of blogging on the iPad and accidentally published a draft.)

After one year of pursuing some of the oddest contests I could find and traveling all over the country to reach them, Carie and I did something completely insane last week: We went on a vacation focused solely on rest and relaxation.

It was fantastic to go away without an agenda, but I did spend a fair amount of time thinking about and preparing for future events. Here’s a quick look at what’s in store in the weeks and months ahead.

– Co-national egg toss champion Mike Hepp and I are still plotting a path to the World Egg Throwing Championship in June. We’re still wooing potential sponsors, but we’re confident that we’ll make it to England to defend the honor of American-laid eggs. Unfortunately, I’ve had to waste some time monitoring the Wikipedia page for the National Egg Toss Championship. Last week, some hackers erased our names and added the names Wells Winegar and Yaj Jacobs as the winners of the 2011 championship, which has yet to take place. Wells and Yaj, if you’re reading this, and if you want to challenge the champs, drop me a line. But please, respect the sanctity of our Wikipedia page.

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– While it wasn’t an official contest, I recently tried an incredibly fun new sport. NBC 17 morning anchor Penn Holderness invited me to play a round of speed golf, which is just like regular golf, except you run between shots and combine your total strokes with minutes played to tally your final score. I’m not yet sure when Penn will air the story, but I’ll keep you posted and write more about our round later.

– I’ve been challenged by a reader to compete in his upcoming 999 Challenge, in which competitors must eat 9 hot dogs and drink 9 beers during 9 innings of a baseball game. Although I keep saying that I’ll never compete in another eating contest, especially after my miserable failure at the Krispy Kreme Challenge, I simply cannot turn down an invitation to drink beer and watch baseball. It would be un-American.

– On May 21, Carie and I will compete in the National Potato Peeling Contest in Elizabeth City, NC. Of course, I said the same thing last year and we never found two more teammates. But this year we will not be denied. If you think you’ve got what it takes to join our team, so long as your name isn’t Wells or Yaj, let me know.

For now, I have a Wikipedia page to monitor.