Starting today, this blog really is moving to the Golf Digest website. (I ran into a couple of snags when I first made the switch, ten days ago.) A link to each new post will appear here, on myusualgame.com, too, so if you continue to “follow” this blog right here you’ll be notified each time there’s something new. You can also link directly to my posts on golfdigest.com by using this link (http://www.golfdigest.com/blogs/the-loop/my-usual-game/). Eventually, I hope to archive all posts back here as well. I’ll figure it all out eventually.
On Sundays during the majors, my friends and I pay homage to the big boys by using scorecards from the course where the major is being played. Usually, Hacker (real name) finds the card online and prints copies, but he couldn’t find an Augusta card with handicap ratings on it. Luckily, I had some old Augusta cards from the nineteen-nineties, when I was working on my book about the club and the Masters, so I scanned one and printed enough for the Sunday Morning Group.
In 1996, I told Jackson Stephens, who was Augusta’s chairman at the time, that I thought the club ought to print a silhouette chart of the members’ jets on the back of the scorecard, so that a golfer on the course could identify whichever Gulfstream or Falcon or Challenger was passing overhead, on its way to Bush Field, and which friend, therefore, might be available for a second round, in the afternoon.
Stephens didn’t take my suggestion, for unknown reasons, and continued to list the names of the holes instead:
Even so, the Augusta scorecard has some interesting features. One (you will notice) is that all the yardages are given in multiples of five. That’s because Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and first chairman, thought it was ridiculous to claim more precision, given the daily variation in hole and tee locations. Another interesting feature is that the handicap ratings are based on yardage, not on what TV commentators refer to as “difficulty.” I agree strongly—and if you want to have an argument about that I’m ready. One more thing to notice is how much shorter the course was from the Masters tees throughout the nineties. The eighteenth, for example, was 405 yards; today, it’s 465.
Anyway, Masters Sunday was the first 2014 home-course meeting of the Sunday Morning Group. Because we never give strokes on par 3s, no one got a stroke on the fourth hole, which is a par 5 on our course but a par 3 at Augusta and therefore a par 3 for us on Masters Sunday. That caused mental problems for some of the guys, who couldn’t help thinking of a 5 on that hole as a round-destroying double-bogey. My group (Mike A., Rick, Slade, and me) had no trouble with that, for some reason—maybe because we weren’t paying attention. Anyway, we won, by a stroke, at 12 under par, no problem. Hacker brought lunch. The kegerator was full. The water was back on in the clubhouse. The course was in great shape, after our worst winter in a decade. And the sun came out while we were sitting on the patio afterward.
We had nine guys at Tunxis Plantation Country Club on Sunday, and we played a game that we invented eight or nine years ago, called Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers. Nobody was actually related to anybody else (except Barney and Stanley, sort of). We just went by age: the three youngest guys versus the three guys in the middle versus the three oldest guys. We originally got the idea because Nick (who’s in his mid-seventies) often tells waitresses and beer-cart girls that Gene (who’s about eighty) is his father.
I’m four months older than Tim, so I ended up on the Fathers, with Hacker and Barney, and Tim ended up on the Sons, with Kevin and Doug. We must have been goofing around, or something, because the starter let the four guys on the left in the photo at the top of this post sneak out ahead of us. They were the kind of guys who walk fifty yards from their cart to have a look at their ball, then walk back to their cart to get a club, then hit a shank. We ended up doing a lot of waiting:
Two of the guys in the slow foursome were especially slow: the one on the far left and the one on the far right in the photo below:
On one hole, the drive of the guy in the red jacket and shorts stopped safely in front of a water hazard, which was thirty or forty yards in front of the tee. He drove up to check it out:
A little later, the same guy hit the shot of the day. You kind of had to be there, but the guys on the right in the photo below are laughing hysterically because the guy in the shorts and the red jacket has just hit his tee shot maybe eight yards, into one of the gold tee markers. The guy on the far left, who is partly hidden by the first cart, is bending over to examine pieces of the shattered marker:
We finished eventually, and the winners, as usual, were the Grandfathers, who had complained so much on the first tee that we let them play from the senior tees and have handicap strokes on par 3s. Never again. But everything sort of worked out, because the two oldest Grandfathers either forgot to come to lunch or got lost on the way, so they couldn’t win any skins. Anyway, the good news is that our own course is going to open on Friday, and that means that on Sunday morning we’ll be drinking beer on our very own patio and making lunch on our very own grill.
Augusta National’s twelfth hole is just 155 yards long, for both club members and Masters competitors. Nevertheless, Jack Nicklaus once called it “the toughest tournament hole in golf,” and Lloyd Mangrum said it was “the meanest little par 3 in the world.” During the first two rounds of the Masters in 1980, Tom Weiskopf played it in twenty strokes—fourteen over par. In the photo below, Seve Ballesteros is stuck in the flowers above the green, after pulling his tee shot long and left:
The twelfth was the hardest hole on the course to build. When an engineer saw that the plans called for a bunker in front of the green, he thought that the drawing must be in error, because the slope was so steep. The green was created by covering an exposed rock ledge with five thousand cubic yards of earth, which had been excavated on the opposite side of the creek. During that process, two tractors and eight mules became stuck in the mire and had to be pulled out with long ropes drawn by all the other tractors.
The twelfth green has always been shallow and treacherous; in the early years it was even more so. The right side of the green, where the hole is usually cut for the final round of the Masters, was enlarged in 1951 because, Bobby Jones explained, the hole had been “possibly a little too exacting.” (The front right corner of the green had settled toward the creek, exacerbating the problem.) “I think we should build this up so as to provide the maximum level putting surface,” Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, explained in a letter at the time. “To do it right, logs should be used the same as when we extended the front of the left side of the green. While we are about it, we might provide another yard or two of depth. When the pin is on the right the hole is too damn tricky for fair tournament play especially since that area is subject to gusty winds. Also, we can never eliminate the bad feature of the damp bank back of the green in which a ball will bury. A good shot that is only a shade too short or too strong means a 2 stroke penalty—not one. Now that #11 is exacting such a surprising toll [because of the new pond] I wouldn’t mind easing up a trifle on the boys at #12 green.”
The creek in front of the twelfth green was a factor in a match played by Roberts, Ed Dudley (the club’s pro), Jerome Franklin (a local member) and Dwight Eisenhower shortly after Eisenhower had been elected president. Eisenhower’s tee shot landed short of the green, and his ball ended up on a sand bar next to the water. “You can play that ball off the sand bar,” Roberts said as they walked to the green. Eisenhower climbed down the bank to his ball and sank past his knees in what turned out to be quicksand. Two Secret Service agents jumped in after him and pulled him out by the arms. The match was delayed while the president went back to his cottage to change clothes. When he returned, he told Roberts that he would never again take his advice on any matter concerning golf.
You can read today’s post, about the hardest hole to build at Augusta National, here, in Golf Digest’s new blog section, called The Loop, or you can read it right here, at MyUsualGame, just above.
I have an article about high-tech golf clothing in the April Golf Digest. While I was working on it, I spent most of two days at the Natick Soldier System Center, in suburban Boston, where the Army creates and tests just about all the gear that’s used by members of all branches of the armed forces. The head of the base’s public relations department told me, “If soldiers wear it, eat it, sleep under it, or have it dropped on them, it’s researched and developed here.”
Among the most useful things I learned at Natick is that you should never, ever use fabric softener or dryer sheets on any synthetic sports clothing, including your rainsuit, and that you should wash your rainsuit periodically, and probably also run it through the dryer at low heat or iron it with a warm iron. The reason is that almost all rainsuits have an outer layer that’s treated at the factory with what’s known as a durable water-repellent (D.W.R.) finish. This isn’t what makes your rain jacket waterproof—that’s the function of an inner membrane, made of Gore-Tex or some comparable material—but the D.W.R. finish contributes to the jacket’s breathability and overall comfort, by causing water on the outer surface to immediately bead up and slide off. Gentle washing makes the D.W.R. finish work better, and gentle heat (whether from the dryer or a warm iron) can revive a finish that’s wearing out.
As soon as I got home from Natick, I washed all my rain gear with Nikwax Tech Wash, which is formulated for waterproof, breathable fabrics, and then I beefed up their D.W.R. finishes with Nikwax TX.Direct, which is a D.W.R. finish that you apply in your washing machine. You can order both (and lots of other stuff) from R.E.I., among other places.
At Natick, I also learned that you should never, ever use fabric softener or dryer sheets on a rainsuit or any other synthetic sports apparel. Fabric softeners can smother fabric treatments, such as the ones that promote wicking, and they can ruin raingear, which can also be harmed by detergent residue (a reason to use modest amounts or a product like Tech Wash, and to follow the instructions on the care label).
The Masters tee on the eleventh hole was originally positioned above and to the right of the tenth green, not far from the seventeenth green. The hole ran downhill and played considerably shorter than its measured distance, which was a little over four hundred yards. In fact, until about a decade ago the green was at least theoretically drivable from the members’ tee, which was on the old line, although the shot was blind and called for a powerful fade.
The hole was first changed in 1950, when the club built a new tournament tee, below and to the left of the tenth green. The change was suggested by Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman and co-founder, and endorsed by Bobby Jones. The change was made both to lengthen the hole and to eliminate a gallery bottleneck between the tenth green and the eleventh tee. “Under the new arrangement,” Jones wrote at the time, “the spectators will have ample room on the high ground to the right of the fairway to observe play, all the way from tee to green, without going on to the fairway at all. It will be substantially the same arrangement as is provided at number 13, where everyone can get a clear view of all shots played without following the contestants down the fairway.” The Masters tee is even farther back today, and the fairway has been reshaped. The hole measures a little more that five hundred yards for the tournament, and when you stand on the tee it looks like a thousand.
The eleventh hole’s most conspicuous feature is the pond to the left of the green. Roberts, in his book about the club, which was published in 1976, wrote that the pond had been his idea; Byron Nelson told me in 1998 that it had been his own. “There was already water behind the green,” he said, “because Rae’s Creek ran back there. But not many people went over the green. So I told Cliff that I thought he ought to dam up the creek and let the water make a pond to the left of the green.” (Nelson’s memory that the creek passed only behind the green wasn’t not quite correct. The water also looped near the front left, almost as close to the green as the pond is today—as you can see in the photos above.) The dam was built in 1951.
In mid-October 1990, Augusta got more than a foot of rain in just thirty-six hours. Rae’s Creek flooded, and took the eleventh green and much of the rest of Amen Corner with it:
Hord Hardin, the club’s chairman at the time, said they were lucky the flood hadn’t occurred right before the Masters. “We probably would have had to play four sixteen-hole rounds,” he said. The green was rebuilt using data from a 1982 survey, and the bunker and the pond were recreated from photographs. The hole was back in play not just for the Masters but for the Thanksgiving member party, six weeks later.
In the early years, there was a small pot bunker in the center of the fairway at roughly the distance of a reasonable drive, invisible from the tee. The bunker was Jones’s idea. He wanted the course to have a hazard that could be avoided only with good luck or local knowledge—the sort of seemingly arbitrary booby trap that is plentiful on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Jones’s father, Colonel Bob Jones (photo above), drove into it during his first round on the course, in 1932, and when he found his ball in the sand he shouted, “What goddamned fool put a goddamned bunker right in the goddamned center of the goddamned fairway?” or words to that effect. His son, who was playing with him (along with Roberts), had to answer, “I did.” The bunker was eventually filled in, though not till many years later.
Each spring, on either St. Patrick’s Day or the Saturday immediately after St. Patrick’s Day, the World’s Second-Best Golf Club conducts a tournament called the McCormick Irish Open. It’s a five-man scramble, flighted by handicap. Mike Riley, who runs it, told me, “Every team gets their total handicap divided by ten. That’s not very fair, but I’m bitter.” The tournament is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Byron H. “Doc” McCormick, who died in 1998. Before this year’s tournament began, a participant sanctified Doc’s memorial plaque, near the lower putting green, by pouring Irish whiskey on it:
There was golf, too, of course. But there was also a raffle. The winner was Pat, who bought lots of tickets and wore a kilt:
My friends and I celebrated the first day of spring the same way we celebrated the last day of 2013 and the first day of 2014: by playing a round at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a muny about an hour from where we live. As you can see by comparing the photo above with the photo below, playing conditions had improved dramatically in just eleven weeks:
There were still a few lingering signs of winter, including a large patch of non-liquid casual water along the left side of the ninth fairway:
Overall, though, the course was in decent shape. The gates were closed when we arrived, a little before nine, but the parking lot had begun to fill by time we finished, and the temperature had climbed to the mid-forties.
The past few months have been truly horrible around here, golf-wise. It’s been so cold that a small herd of local Lyme-disease vectors began spending the night in my backyard:
But in the past few days things have finally started to turn. Last Sunday, Hacker (real name), Doug, Mike A., and Tim played at Pelham Bay Golf Course, in the Bronx—the only open course within a hundred miles of where we live:
I couldn’t join them, because I had a work deadline I couldn’t put off, but I did take time out for lunch with nine other members of the Sunday Morning Group. There are six artificial knees in the photo below, if you count all three of Frank’s (one of his had to be redone):
That’s March Madness on the big screen behind them. If we hadn’t needed to get home for our naps, we could have hung around all day.
Philip Mills Herrington, a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of Virginia, wrote to me to point out a couple of factual errors in a recent post of mine about Augusta National’s early plan to tear down the building that serves today as its clubhouse. I’ve now corrected those errors, leaving no trace of my mistakes. I had said that the house was built in 1854, but the actual completion date was 1857. And I’d described Redmond as an “indigo planter” rather than as the nurseryman and fruit-tree cultivator that he actually was. (If books were as easy to correct as web pages, I’d fix my Masters book, too.) Herrington wrote, “I don’t know who originally made this up, but unfortunately it has made its way into just about everything on this property. Indigo was a colonial-era crop that did not survive the Revolution as a profitable commercial enterprise in South Carolina and Georgia. Redmond experimented with many different plants, but there is no record of him having an interest in indigo.”
Herrington published an entire scholarly article about Redmond and the property in the November 2012 issue of The Journal of Southern History. It’s called “Agricultural and Architectural Reform in the Antebellum South: Fruitland at Augusta, Georgia.” It’s somewhat longer than a blog post, but reading it will give you something productive to do while you wait for winter to end. Here are some samples, to whet your interest:
At a time when the South was engaged in a process of regional self-definition that reinforced slavery’s cultural and economic centrality, Fruitland suggested an alternative southern agricultural landscape: a big house without slaves, without cotton, and perhaps without a plantation.
By 1856 [Redmond] had begun to make plans for the construction of a new dwelling for himself, his wife, and their daughters at Fruitland—his model southern country house.
A double-pitch pyramidal roof topped the structure, capped with an eleven-foot-square cupola that looked out over at least two adjacent buildings—a kitchen and an intriguing “negro quarter” that was fifty-two feet by fourteen feet. The cupola, which functioned primarily as a giant flue to release hot air, overlooked acres of apple, peach, pear, and other fruit trees.
The interior layout of the Fruitland house emphasized efficiency, health, personal improvement, and the active role of the landowner in agricultural operations. The ground floor, referred to by Redmond as the basement, contained “the dining room, pantry, store-room, office, bathing-room, fruit room, and ice-house—in short, all the working rooms, or apartments for every day practical use.”
The most surprising feature of the Fruitland house was certainly its concrete construction—a deliberate choice by Redmond to use the most modern and innovative construction methods possible. Redmond wrote that the “walls are of concrete, or artificial rock—a material which possesses many and striking advantages over the perishable and combustible wood generally used for outside walls, and, if properly put up, is superior to brick in many respects.”
In 1858 Redmond sold the property to the Berckmans family, Belgian horticulturalists who had recently moved from New Jersey to Augusta and set up an adjacent nursery at “Pearmont.” The Berckmans family combined Fruitland and Pearmont, expanding the Fruitland Nursery and operating it into the twentieth century, ultimately fulfilling Redmond’s ambition of providing fruits and flowers for the South.