Our course was closed for the women’s eighteen-hole member-guest, so Addison, Rick, Other Gene, and I played a round at our enemy club, on the far side of town. We have a semi-reciprocal arrangement with them, and some of their holes have nice views of our state’s second largest natural lake, but I don’t love their course. You can read more at this blog’s new home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new. And, if you’re willing to wait a month or so, you can find complete versions of all my old posts on this site, too, by paging down until you reach them.
The first round of match play in the world’s second best amateur golf tournament—the U.S. Amateur—was on the Golf Channel on Wednesday, but they switched to a boring pro-tour “round-up” before it was over. In the Amateur, some guy had just birdied the seventeenth hole to square his match with some other guy, and the two of them were the only players still on the course, and I was angry because I wanted to know which one of them would advance. I tried to look up the result later, online, but I couldn’t remember the name of either guy. If the Golf Channel ever decides to cover the world’s best amateur golf tournament—my club’s men’s member-guest—stuff like that won’t happen, I promise you. Incidentally, I would happily watch anyone’s member-guest on TV, in preference to, say, the Champions Tour.
You can read more at this blog’s new home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new.
A little over a year ago, Peter P. was in a terrible car accident. He was in intensive care at a big university hospital for weeks and weeks, and for a while his doctors worried that he wouldn’t walk again. He obviously couldn’t come along on our regular fall golf outing to Atlantic City, less than two months after the accident, so Reese and I made a life-size stand-in, called Flat Pete, using the color plotter in Reese’s office and a sheet of foamboard. One interesting thing we learned on the trip is that, if you want to make a favorable impression on female bartenders, it doesn’t hurt to be a half-inch thick:
The real Peter P. played in this year’s Men’s Member-Guest, his first official appearance in a club event since his accident. You can read more at this blog’s new home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new.
There was heavy rain in the forecast all weekend during my club’s member-guest, but hardly any rain actually fell. My brother and I used our umbrellas to protect our golf bags before we teed off on Saturday morning, but that was pretty much it for the bad weather. Most of the rain that did fall fell on Friday night, making things much easier for Gary (our terrific superintendent) and his crew. For the most part, the rain went either north or south of us. I take partial credit, because I’ve developed a number of effective techniques for warding off golf-threatening storms. You can read more at this blog’s new home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new.
The day after the member-guest, Addison and I realized that we were still golf-deprived, so we went out at five in the afternoon for a Two-Hour Eighteen™. I played pretty well but felt like a chopper because Addison made five birdies on the front nine alone, even though he was tired from the weekend and from hitting a couple of hundred range balls that morning while getting fitted for new clubs. We had to play through one pair of slowpokes but were otherwise unimpeded, and we finished our round, walking, in just under two hours. Among the topics we discussed was the stuff other people had worn during the member-guest. You can read more at this blog’s new home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new.
My club held its annual men’s member-guest tournament this past weekend. My brother, John, and I repeated as the winners of our flight but not as the winners of the whole thing, because in the shoot-out we both bogeyed the second hole, which even the guys with strokes seemed to have no trouble parring, if not birdieing. But we had a great time, as we always do, and Brian taught us something no one had ever seen before. You can read more at this blog’s new home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new.
Hacker (real name) came up $15 short on Sunday — something that hardly ever happens. He doesn’t count the money when he collects it before the Sunday Morning Group tees off, and he doesn’t keep track of who has paid and who hasn’t, yet the total is almost always exactly right. I know that I wasn’t the one who forgot to pay, because I’ve been on Martha’s Vineyard with my family. I’ve played golf just once, at Farm Neck Golf Club, the course I shared last summer with my close personal friend the President of the United States. You can read more at this blog’s new home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new.
Less than an hour up the Lancashire coast from Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where the 2014 Open was held, is the village of Formby, which is the home of two terrific courses, Formby Golf Club and Formby Ladies Golf Club. (It’s also the home of a forgettable Florida-style golf course, called Formby Hall.) Formby Golf Club abuts the Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve, one whose attractions is a small plot on which farmers grow asparagus, a once significant local crop. A man I met during a trip to the region last year told me that banquets for area golf-club captains held at Formby Golf Club had once been “ordeals by asparagus,” because diners had to be careful not to drip butter onto their red-silk tailcoats. I visited the Ainsdale dunes one afternoon between rounds, and, among other things, studied an informative historical display.
I also bought a cup of coffee at a mobile stand, which was operated by a middle-aged couple.
The man, whose name was Phil, noticed my golf cap and invited me to play golf with him and his son, Sean, at Southport & Ainsdale, a few miles farther up the road, where he was a member. We played a day or two later. The course is one of my many favorites in the area.
Phil is a retired Merseyside policeman. At lunch after our round, I asked him what his toughest case as a cop had been, and he told me about a forty-three-year-old woman who had died under mysterious circumstances. “I attended her autopsy,” he said, “because she was from a tough neighborhood and there was a presumption of foul play.” The pathologist was baffled, but then, as he was finishing up, he noticed something odd in her throat and gripped it with a clamp—like that scene in “Twin Peaks” in which Special Agent Dale Cooper finds a typed letter “R” under Laura Palmer’s fingernail. Phil said, “It was a piece of bacon rind, six or seven inches long. She had choked to death on a bacon sandwich”—an unsettling thought, since that’s what I was having for lunch, and since bacon is pretty much the No. 1 nutrient of the Sunday Morning Group.
Incidentally, Formby has foxes in addition to asparagus:
And Southport & Ainsdale has rabbits:
And Formby also has the Formby Hippo—about which I may have more to say later.
Hesketh Golf Club is an hour’s drive up the Lancashire coast from Royal Liverpool, where the Open is being played. It’s near the northern end of the resort town of Southport, and it has an enviable street address (see photo above). In 1936, the president of the German Golf Union was a brother-in-law of Joachim von Ribbentrop, who later became the foreign minister of the Third Reich. (Ribbentrop was executed for war crimes in Nuremberg in 1946.) In August, ten days after the close of the Summer Olympics, in Berlin, the golf union held an international tournament at Baden-Baden, in the Black Forest. According to English golf lore, Hitler believed that a German golf victory would soften the multiple humiliations that Jesse Owens had delivered during the Games. Seven countries participated, each represented by a pair of golfers. The format was seventy-two holes of stroke play over two days; each team’s score was the aggregate score of both its players. The English competitors were Tommy Thirsk, from Ganton Golf Club, and Arnold Bentley, from Hesketh:
After thirty-six holes, the Germans led by three strokes. According to a recent history by Derek Holden, Hesketh’s president, “Ribbentrop rashly notified Hitler that there would be a German victory. Elated, the Fuhrer set out for Baden-Baden to present the trophy to two members of his ‘master race.’” But Thirsk and Bentley dominated the final two rounds, and in the end they beat the Germans by twelve strokes and the French by four. Holden continues: “Ribbentrop then raced off by car to intercept Hitler and break the bad tidings. Hitler was furious, ordering his chauffeur to turn the car round.”
The tournament trophy—a silver-gilt salver inlaid with faceted amber disks that from a distance look like egg yolks—eventually ended up in private hands, but was put up for auction in 2012. Hesketh acquired it for roughly £20,000, raised from members, after outbidding a German golf organization. Last year, Holden told me that he had been worried, initially, that Hesketh would have to compete in the auction with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which had sent a representative, and with collectors of Nazi memorabilia. But Hesketh prevailed, and the trophy is now displayed in the main grillroom.
Bentley’s winnings at Baden-Baden included a small potted fir tree. He gave it to the club, which planted it on a small rise in front of the clubhouse. During the Second World War, members named it the Hitler Tree and used it as a urinal. You can still see it, if you visit Hesketh. (It’s now quite large, and is seldom—but not never—used as it was during the war.) The course isn’t one of the Liverpool area’s greatest, but its fourteenth and fifteenth holes are two of my favorites anywhere. Here’s the fourteenth, looking back from just beyond the green (with the clubhouse in the middle of the picture and the golf shop on the right, under the flagpole):
On Friday afternoon, all the flags, flagsticks, and cup liners were pink, because that morning the women had held their nine-hole member-guest tournament (with a field of ten). Nine of us teed off at 2:15, when it was safely over. This spring, Gary, our superintendent, switched us to red, white, and blue flags, to show front, middle, and back hole locations, and some of the guys were confused, at first, by the pink flags, which from a distance looked red. The cup liners were a pulsing, electric pink, and they were so bright that they drew my putts into the hole, I felt. But some of the other guys experienced a repellent effect.
Growing near the lower tee on our fourth hole is a big wild-black-raspberry bush:
A longtime member of our club, whose name was Ed, used to pee there regularly, to discourage poaching, but he’s been dead for several years now, so it’s safe to eat them. They’re rich in antioxidants, and so forth.
Our round was timed to keep Hacker occupied while his wife and daughters, against his wishes, made preparations for a surprise seventieth birthday party for him in the clubhouse. We made the turn exactly when we were supposed to, and we merged two of our threesomes into a sixsome when it seemed that we might finish before the guests had arrived.
The only close call came on the fifteenth tee, when Joe and I realized that we could hear Hacker’s wife giving directions to her helpers on the clubhouse porch. (She used to be a gym teacher, as did Hacker, and she knows how to make herself heard.) But Joe and I drowned her out by making a succession of stupid remarks, and the danger passed.
Hacker figured things out as we were coming down the eighteenth fairway. A large group of non-golfers was standing on the terrace above the green, and he realized that the people who for some reason were watching us play golf included his daughters, his wife’s siblings, and all four of his grandchildren.
The party food, which had been planned by his wife and daughters, included french fries, miniature cheeseburgers, and make-your-own ice-cream sundaes—all Sunday Morning Group staples.
There were also sausages, shrimp on skewers, pigs in blankets, big platters of antipasto, and lots of other things. (On one table there was a platter of vegetable-type items, but I believe they were decorations.) Hacker had thought that we were going to order pizza from Nancy’s restaurant and play night golf, so the party surprised him even more than it might have. But the night golf happened anyway, as soon as it got dark, so everything worked out.