The Perfect Winter Adjunct to Golf

I have a short article in the current New Yorker about curling, a sport that most people think about only during the winter Olympics, if then. Curling is actually distantly related to golf, as you’ll see. But even if it weren’t it would still be the perfect winter game for golfers whose golf courses have been unplayable since virtually Thanksgiving, as all the ones near me have been.

I didn’t mention this in my article, but a common rookie mistake in curling is failing to anticipate that, because of the crouching position that curlers assume as they begin a throw, the middle-aged-male wardrobe malfunction known as plumber’s butt could also be called curler’s butt. Also, novices tend to fall down. But it’s a great game, and I wish my golf club would build a couple of “sheets”, ideally where the tennis courts are now. There’s a curling club next to a nine-hole golf course in a town about an hour north of here. That’s not as far away as the club I wrote about, although it’s still pretty far. Or maybe not.

Anyway, the photo below is of Aysha and Angela, the two young women I mention in the article. We took a lesson together, and when we finished they were at least thinking about signing up.

My Favorite Golf Hat Ever

Allan Stark, in the photo above, went to the same high school I did, in Kansas City. He was way, way older than I was then, but we’re the same age now—how did that happen? Almost a decade ago, he and his golf buddy Chuck Hunter started a small tournament, called the 1502. They also created a website, through which, among a few other things, they sell golf hats like the one in the photo above.

What’s the meaning of the logo on the hat? In 1457, the Scottish parliament, at the request of James II, banned golf (and football), out of fear that Scottish soldiers weren’t spending enough time practicing their archery. This wasn’t the first indication that James was a dangerous demagogue; five years earlier, he had dealt with a rival, the 8th Earl of Douglas, by stabbing him twenty-six times and throwing his body out a window.

The golf ban was affirmed twice during succeeding decades. But in 1502 James’s grandson James IV lifted it. (Later the same year, he spent fourteen shillings on golf equipment for himself.) Allan’s hat therefore celebrates the year in which golf ceased to be illegal in Scotland—a turning point in world history. The hats are nice, too! I’m wearing mine right now.

I have one suggestion for Allan and Chuck: add a line of 1457 hats, for people like my wife.

My Round of Golf With a Nobel Prize Winner

In the current issue of Golf Digest (February, Tiger on the cover), I have an article about a day I spent with Richard Thaler, a professor at the University of Chicago and the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics. Thaler and I and Steven D. Levitt—a co-author of the Freakonomics books and also a U. of Chicago professor—played golf at Beverly Country Club, not far from the university, where both of them are members. Eugene F. Fama—Beverly member, Chicago economics professor, Nobel Prize winner—had wanted to join us but was stuck in Austin.

I liked Thaler and Levitt a lot, and I’m sure I’d have liked Fama, too, if he’d been able to back out of his Texas commitment. Thaler and I had all day to talk, so there’s stuff I didn’t have room for in my article. One is Thaler’s idea for giving tennis a rough approximation of golf’s handicapping system. (He used to be a tennis player.) This is a real issue in recreational tennis—which, unlike recreational golf, pretty much can’t be played with enjoyment by people who aren’t roughly equal in ability. Thaler’s idea, which he calls Equilibrium Tennis, is to replace normal tennis scoring (15-30-40-Game) with tie-breaker scoring (1-7), which is easier to adjust.

He explained: “Let’s say that, based on how we’ve played in the past, we decide that you should be giving me two points. So we play a tie-breaker in which I start out ahead by 2-0. If you win two tiebreakers in a row, we move the spot, so now I get three points. Eventually, if we play regularly, we’ll know the right spot, and we can adjust it further by moving the serve. So maybe I get two points and the serve, or I get three points and you get the serve.” And there are other possible tweaks (these are my suggestions, not his): the better player doesn’t get second serves; the worse player gets to hit to the doubles court.

Modifications like these would make tennis at least slightly more golf-like—a good thing, I would say, although avid tennis players (who tend to be prickier than avid golfers, in my experience) might disagree. But there’s only so far tennis can go in becoming a true handicap sport. The former tennis superstar Ivan Lendl belongs to my club’s enemy club, on the other side of town. He plays in their golf club championship, which he has sometimes won. I once asked him what would happen if he played in the tennis club championship as well. He said, “No one would be able to return even one of my serves.” And he has a bad back!

The Ideal Food for Golfers, Made by Former Caddies

My third favorite food, after bacon and coffee ice cream, is jerky—and of those three only jerky remains edible after being forgotten in a pocket of your golf bag for an entire season. I am theoretically capable of making my own jerky, because a couple of years ago my wife bought a dehydrator. Her intention was to use it to dry sliced fruits and vegetables, which she would then sprinkle on salads and so forth, but it can make jerky, too.

In truth, though, the only thing we’ve used her dehydrator for, so far, is rescuing her iPhone after it spent almost an hour soaking in a grande latte, which she had spilled into a cake pan on the floor of her car. When she finally realized what she’d done, she put the phone in a bowl of uncooked rice, the way people always say you’re supposed to. Suddenly, though, I thought of her dehydrator (which by then was in storage cabinet in the basement). I baked the phone for a week—and it recovered! The dehydrator she owns is currently selling on Amazon for sixty bucks. That makes it almost worth buying just so you’ll have it on hand the next time you drop your phone into a toilet.

Even if you own all the right equipment, the easiest way to acquire jerky is to buy it. My favorite brand at the moment is Chef’s Cut, a company started by two caddies, who virtually overnight went from making jerky between loops to being pretty rich. Hundreds of golf clubs now stock their products, and if yours doesn’t do that yet you can look for Chef’s Cut at the grocery store or order it online. My favorite version is Chipotle Cracked Pepper, but there are others.

And, if you are one of the many men who prefer to take their nourishment in Slim Jim form, Chef’s Cut offers that, too:

Every Golf Club’s Men’s Locker Room Should Have Urinals Like This One

The best pizza within half an hour of my house comes from Bohemian Pizza, in Litchfield, Connecticut. One of the keys to the greatness of the pizza is that they bake the crusts ahead of time. (My favorite combination, a creation of my own: bacon, chicken, andouille sausage, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts, with olive oil instead of tomato sauce.) I’d always simultaneously loved the restaurant and wondered how they passed their health inspections. Then, last summer, the owner demolished virtually the entire structure and rebuilt it with new everything, including plumbing (see photo above). Why would any man ever want to pee into anything else? The only way to improve it would be to fill it with shaved ice from the bar.

The photo above, from someone’s Instagram, is a little fuzzy. Here’s the same idea implemented at another restaurant not far from here, El Coyote. I haven’t peed there, but Hacker (real name) has, and he sent me this:

And here’s a truckload of raw material, which I spotted at Ballybunion, in Ireland, on a buddies in May, 2016. If we go to work now, we could have a complete inventory ready by spring:

Happy New Year (Boohoo)

Ordinarily, I’d be playing golf right now. For many years, the Sunday Morning Group has managed to find snow-free fairways and greens somewhere within driving distance of home. Last year, we played at Pelham Bay, in the Bronx (photo below); the year before that, we played at Fairchild Wheeler, in southern Connecticut (photo above, featuring Mike B.).

We played at Fairchild Wheeler in 2015, too, and Chic brought New Year’s glasses for the entire group:

We give two extra handicap strokes to anyone who wears shorts after December 1; as you can see in the photo, only Fritz got the bonus that day. He says his legs never bother him, but that day was so cold that we had more than the usual amount of trouble getting tees into the ground:

The year before that, we played in Brooklyn, at Dyker Beach, which not only is a very good course but also has swell views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge:

In 2012, for the first time ever, we played on our own course, which Gary, our awesome superintendent, didn’t close for the season until we were finished. (I wore shorts that year, as did Fritz and Mike A.)

One of the best was 2009, when we thought we might have to drive north, to Buffalo, to find grass, but then learned that the Bay Course at Seaview, just outside Atlantic City, was open. Gene, Hacker, and I drove down (four hours) and spent the night in the hotel, which is a lot nicer than the places we usually stay when we travel. Two days of unlimited golf plus a room cost just a hundred and seventy dollars — and we had the place to ourselves, because it was crazy cold and everything was frozen solid. Here’s Hacker (real name) and me on the Bay Course, dressed for the weather:

But this morning there’s still snow on the ground all over the Northeast, and the temperature at my house when I got up was -2. There was some talk about simply showing up at Ray’s place, in Florida, and throwing ourselves on the mercy of him and his wife, but in the end we decided to stay home, for once, and dream about spring.

A Bicyclist Teaches Golfers How to Beat Slow Play

David Brailsford, a former competitive cyclist, became the performance director of the British national team in 2003. British Cycling had stunk for most of a century, but Brailsford believed he could turn the team around by applying an idea he’d begun to formulate while earning an MBA—an idea he later described to the Harvard Business Review as “a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains.” He was convinced that, if he and his cyclists broke down everything they did into small components and then improved each of them by just 1 percent, the cumulative impact would be a significant enhancement of their overall performance. Brailsford’s ideas helped his team win the Tour de France in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. They also point the way to a painless approach to beating slow play, as I wrote in an article in the September issue of Golf Digest—which you can read here.

This Golf Accessory is a Ripoff, but it Kind of Works, So Far

I’ve owned or tested a number of pushcarts, and so far the one I’ve liked best and would recommend for most golfers is the Clicgear 3.5+. It’s a substantial piece of machinery, yet it folds down into a reasonably compact unit, which I have no trouble fitting into the trunk of my car as long as there’s nothing much in my trunk other than my golf bag and my pushcart.

The Clicgear does have an annoying design flaw, though—as you can sort of see in the  first and third golf carts in the photo above: some bags sit so low on the cart that they come very close to the front wheel, and even scrape. The reason is that each cart’s bag rest, a padded metal loop, doesn’t stick out far enough and is at least an inch too close to the wheel. Clicgear has acknowledged that this can be an issue for “tour and large size golf bags,” but it actually affects small bags, too. I’ve got a lightweight Sun Mountain carry bag, and after about a year the wheel began to rub. I dealt with the problem at first by resting the bottom of the bag not on the bag rest but on the little folding arms above it, which are meant to secure the bag to the cart, but when I did that the bag wouldn’t stay put. More recently, I gave up and spent ten bucks for Clicgear’s solution: a “booster clip” that clamps onto the bag rest and is supposed to add an inch of clearance.

At least part of the issue with Sun Mountain and similar carry bags is that their bases are beveled, to accommodate the lever that pops out the legs, and the Clicgear bag rest doesn’t extend far enough past the bevel: it’s too short to engage the actual bottom of the bag.

I hate the idea of spending ten dollars on a piece of plastic that must have cost a millionth of a cent to manufacture and that wouldn’t be necessary if Clicgear had ever bothered to correct its own design flaw. (The bag rest has been the same since the beginning, in models 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5+.) And even the booster clip is poorly designed, since it has a rounded front that reduces its effective thickness for bags like mine. A much better solution would have been to redesign and replace the bag rest itself. But the clip does lift my bag just high enough that it no longer scraps—for now. We’ll check back in a year.


A Back-Yard Putting Green in Brooklyn

I have a story in the current New Yorker about building a putting green in the back yard of an executive editor at the book publisher Simon & Schuster. The photo above is of the owner chipping to the finished green from a “teeing area” below his deck; the photo below is of the construction site when the project was nearing completion.

The green was built by Michael Lehrer, whose company, Home Green Advantage, has built hundreds of greens, golf holes, and other artificial-turf surfaces in the metropolitan area—including this one, on a terrace on a high floor of a tall building in Manhattan:

Lehrer also built the awesome floating green at GlenArbor Golf Club, in Bedford Hills, New York—which I wrote about here. (That’s Bob G., an honorary Sunday Morning Group member, in the photo below.)