Great Golf Course on TV This Week: Kingsbarns

The British Women’s Open is on this week, and it’s being held on one of my favorite courses: Kingsbarns, in St. Andrews. The Golf Channel’s coverage so far seems to be limited to putts, commercials, and talking heads, but occasionally the camera drifts past a few holes, on its way from the leaderboard back to the commentators’ booth. I’ve played Kingsbarns only once, and that was thirteen years ago, but I still often think about it, and I want to go back.

Kingsbarns looks like a links course but is actually an optical illusion. It was carved (by an American! in 2000!) from a featureless swath of seaside pastureland—but despite its lack of an ancient pedigree it’s a terrific course and it’s unusually fun to play. In addition, the clubhouse is the right scale (small), and it has a good bar with the most amazing panoramic windows, plus leather chairs you could sleep all night in.

During my single round, in 2004, we were held up on every shot by a painfully slow group ahead of us. On the suggestion of our bus driver, we complained in the bar and were given all our drinks for free (then left a tip that was big enough to cover pretty much the entire tab). That night, we ate at a restaurant recommended by the same driver, who had overruled the recommendation of our caddies. The suspicion on the trip was that the driver was receiving kickbacks from the restaurants he took us to, although I was inclined to trust him, having eaten in a few caddie-recommended pubs over the years. Here’s the Kingsbarns clubhouse:

The Clubhouse at Royal Birkdale

The clubhouse at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, where the Open is being held this week, was designed to look like an ocean liner cruising through a sea of fescue. Here’s the original conception, in a watercolor sketch that was submitted to the club in the early 1930s by the Liverpool architect George Tonge. (The painting is on display in the clubhouse):

The club has monkeyed with the building since it was built, by removing a number of the original Art Deco details and adding boxlike extensions, but the basic idea is intact. The building’s design influenced other architecture in the region, including this house, which is just up the road from the club:

And this one, which is across the road from the house in the photo above:

The Birkdale clubhouse also very directly influenced the design, by Alfred Ernest Shennan, of the clubhouse at Childwall Golf Club, in Liverpool, twenty-five miles to the south. The Childwall clubhouse, which was built in 1938, actually retains some features that were later removed from the Birkdale clubhouse, including its nautical-looking decks and railings:

One possible addition for both buildings: a few lifeboats suspended from the roof? A closer look at the Childwall clubhouse:

One nice thing about the Birkdale clubhouse is that you can see it from distant parts of the course, and can therefore use it to orient yourself as you wander through the dunes. A tiny bit of it is visible in this photo (of Ray), from a great trip that the Sunday Morning Group took to Lancashire in 2010:

Ideal Accommodations for a Golf Trip

Photo by Mike Bowman.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the resort at Cabot Links—on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia—comes close to my conception of the ideal. I’ve written before that all you really need on a golf trip, in terms of accommodation, is a comfortable bed and a good shower, and that, in fact, the ideal arrangement might be a good shower with a comfortable bed in it. My room at Cabot wasn’t quite like that (although the shower was big enough to hold a bed), but it had many other desirable features (photos at the bottom of this post), among them:

  • It was neither too large nor too small.
  • Like every other room at Cabot, it looked across the golf course to the water and the setting sun.
  • There was no rich-guy idiocy, as there is at Streamsong (where my room had a pair of enormous swiveling back-to-back flat-screen TVs).
  • The bathroom floor was heated.
  • There was a nice coffee maker, and instead of powdered non-dairy coffee “whitener” there were little containers of real milk and real half-and-half.
  • The distance from the door of my room to the golf shop, bar, restaurant, reception area, bag drop, and first tee was less than the distance from the back door of my house to my mailbox.
  • There was a nightlight in the bathroom, but it was positioned below and behind the hand-towel rack, so that people who don’t like a lot of nighttime illumination (me) could easily block it with a hand towel.
  • There was a putting target on the floor, and good fast carpet to putt on.
  • There was an ice cream stand across the street, within easy walking distance.
  • WiFi was free and fast.
  • All prices were in Canadian dollars, making everything seem to be on sale.

And pushcarts and lockers were free, the caddies were fun to be with, the restaurants were nice but not too nice, the staff was almost unbelievably cheerful and accommodating, there were chocolate-chip cookies on the first tee, and we saw bald eagles every day.



Yet Another Tick-Related Golf-Ruiner

Penny (left) and golf-antagonistic arachnid

I felt increasingly tired and achy, and several times at night I’d wake up in a sweat, then get the chills. I’ve tried to be really careful about ticks—and I’d managed to avoid tick-borne illnesses for eleven years, after missing my daughter’s college graduation with Lyme and ehrlichiosis—but my symptoms felt depressingly familiar. My doctor agreed, and put me on Doxycycline, the preferred Lyme antibiotic, without waiting for the results of the blood test.

People often say that once you’ve had Lyme you’ll always test positive, but that’s not true. Lyme antibodies can remain in the blood for months after treatment, and in some cases for a few years. But they eventually disappear. And, in fact, when my test results came back they were negative for both Lyme and ehrlichiosis. But they were positive for babesiosis, which the New York Department of Health describes as “a rare, severe and sometimes fatal tick-borne disease.” WTF!

Babesiosis is caused by a parasite that attacks red blood cells, and is therefore similar to malaria. My friend Ed was hospitalized with it a couple of years ago, and was very seriously ill, but sometimes it’s so mild as to be symptom-free, or virtually symptom-free, and in those cases the Centers for Disease Control recommends doing nothing but paying close attention. (The treatment is semi-nasty, and different from the one for Lyme.) Anyway, my doctor decided that I probably have Lyme, too, even though it hadn’t shown up in the blood test yet—you can get a full banquet of tick diseases from a single bite—and that I should complete my three-week course of Doxycycline. That means playing golf in long sleeves, long pants, a huge hat, and lots of sunscreen, because Doxycycline makes your skin extremely sensitive to the sun. In fact, Gene’s daughter once went skiing while taking it, and high-altitude solar exposure caused the whites of her eyes to temporarily turn brown.

On the other hand, I’ve had four of my best rounds of the year since I started taking the pills.

Reese in Doxycycline-driven golf gear, July 10, 2015.

Why Howard Was Completely Wrong About Our Buddies Trip to Nova Scotia

Eight friends and I recently spent four days playing six and a half rounds at Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia. There would have been twelve of us if three of the five lawyers in the original group hadn’t dropped out. The first lawyer to bail was Howard, whose principal objections were: (a) traveling to Cabot takes longer than traveling to Scotland; (b) playing two golf courses three times each is a waste of a good golf trip; and (c) overseas golf itineraries should consist solely of famous old courses that have been famous for a long time.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

It’s true that Cabot is slightly tricky to get to. Unless you have your own airplane, you fly to Halifax and then drive for three hours. But the flight is a breeze, especially by comparison with any flight to the British Isles—it’s less than two hours from either New York or Boston—and the drive, which follows the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is pleasant in itself, especially if, as in our case, you’re being driven in one of Cabot’s fleet of eleven-passenger Mercedes vans. And once you’ve arrived at Cabot you don’t have to travel again until it’s time to go home. (There’s an ice-cream stand across the street, but you can walk.)

As for repeatedly playing the same two golf courses, I think three rounds could be considered the minimum ideal exposure to any great golf course. Repetition on that scale is hard to pull off if you’re racing death to the end of your bucket list, but you can’t fully appreciate a course until you given yourself opportunities to make up for bad shots and stupid decisions in earlier rounds. Besides, the best courses improve with repetition.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

Both courses at Cabot also belong on the surprisingly long list of new and relatively new courses that hold their own in any comparison with the great courses of the past. (Cabot Links was designed by Rod Whitman, a Canadian protégé of Bill Coore’s, and Cabot Cliffs was designed by Coore and Ben Crenshaw.) And Cabot comes very close to my conception of the ideal golf resort.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

Our rooms—all of which overlooked both the golf course and the water—were nice, but not too nice. The food was good, but not ridiculous. The staff was unfailingly friendly and accommodating without ever seeming overbearing. The week after our visit, one of the members of the women’s version of our club’s Sunday Morning Group went to Cabot with a friend. They liked it so much that, before they left, they signed up for a return visit, in the fall. All the guys on our trip are going to go back, too, Howard be damned.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

Is This the Best Overseas Golf Itinerary?

I have an article in the summer issue of Links called “England’s Golf Coast.” It’s about a remarkable thirty-mile stretch of linksland that runs along the Lancashire coast between Liverpool and St. Annes, in northwestern England. The Golf Coast includes three of the ten courses on the active Open Championship Rota—Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale (where this year’s Open will be held), and Royal Lytham and St. Annes—but you could skip all three and still have an unforgettable trip. I’ve visited the area several times, most recently in 2013, and my friends have been talking about going back ever since our first trip there as a group, three years before that. The courses are so closely spaced that you can park yourself and your luggage in one place—no need for a coach and driver. In 2010, nine of us stayed mostly in three three-bedroom apartments in this building, in Southport:

The cost worked out to less than fifty dollars per man per night. The longest drive we had to golf was about an hour, and many of the courses we played were just a few minutes away. Here’s Barney in the living room of one of our apartments:

Below are photos of courses and people I mention in my Links article, taken during various trips over the years. First, St. Annes Old Links, which is next door to Royal Lytham and includes ground that was once part of its routing. Here are two members I played with. We wore rainsuits not because we expected rain but because the wind was blowing hard enough to shred ordinary golf clothing:

This is me in 2010 at West Lancashire Golf Club, known locally as West Lancs. It opened in 1873 and was the first Golf Coast course built north of the River Mersey. As is true of many courses in the area, you can travel to it by train from central Liverpool:A great guide to golf courses on the Lancashire coast is Links Along the Line, by Harry Foster, a retired teacher and a social historian. He rode along when I played Hesketh Golf Club, where he was a member for many years. (He died in 2014.)Hesketh isn’t my favorite course, but a couple of its oldest holes, on the second nine, are among my favorite holes. This view is back toward the clubhouse (the red-roofed white building near the center):

Hesketh has both a fascinating history (ask about the Hitler Tree) and a cool address:

In 2013, Foster and his wife joined me for dinner in the dining room at Formby Golf Club, one of my favorite courses anywhere. I actually spent several nights in the Formby clubhouse, in this room:

The Formby course encircles a separate golf club, Formby Ladies. Don’t skip it, as I did until 2013, to my permanent regret. Among the women I played with was Anne Bromley, on the right in the photo below. Her father was once the head professional at Royal County Down:

Formby Ladies isn’t long, but if you aren’t careful it will eat you up. The club has an excellent history, which you can study over lunch in the clubhouse (known to members as the Monkey House):At a nature preserve down the road from Formby, I met a retired Merseyside policeman and his wife, who own a coffee concession. He invited me to join him and his son, an aspiring professional, for a round at Southport & Ainsdale, which hosted the Ryder Cup in 1933 and 1937 and the British Amateur in 2005.The first hole at S&A is a par 3, and it’s a corker:Right next door to S&A, on the other side of the railroad tracks, is Hillside:

And right next door to Hillside is Royal Birkdale, whose clubhouse was designed to look a little like an ocean liner:

Birkdale is one of my favorite Open courses. I played it with a young member who had a lot less trouble with it than I did. In fact, he shot pretty close to even par:

In both 2010 and 2013, I spent one night in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham and St. Annes—part of a stay-and-play package that’s one of the greatest bargains in links golf. The view from my bedroom was across the practice green (and through mist) toward the clubhouse and the eighteenth hole:Here’s what the wind at Lytham—which wasn’t blowing when I took the photo below—has done to the trees. Many years ago, I wrote an article for Golf Digest whose opening line was “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.” The copy editor, who had apparently never heard of Bob Dylan, changed “weatherman” to “weather report.” I was mortified, but it turned out that none of the magazine’s readers had heard of Bob Dylan either. Anyway, leave your umbrella at home:You should play Royal Liverpool, of course, but don’t overlook Wallasey, just a few miles away:Wallasey was the home club of Dr. Frank Stableford, who in 1932 invented the round-rescuing scoring system that’s named for him. Here are the eighteenth green and the clubhouse:And, of course, if you somehow get tired of playing golf you can take any of a number of interesting side trips:

My Amazing Eagle at Cabot Cliffs This Morning

Look closely at the edge of the cliff on the right side of the photo below, which was taken by Gene’s caddie on the sixteenth tee at Cabot Cliffs this morning:
Here’s a closer look:

And closer still:
Bald eagles are practically as common as robins in Inverness, Nova Scotia—one of many reasons, though by no means the only reason, to take a golf trip to Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, as a detachment from the Sunday Morning Group did this past week. More about that later.

Roberto De Vicenzo, R. I. P.

The great Argentinian golfer Roberto De Vicenzo, who died this week, at the age of ninety-four, is probably best known for his second-place finish in the 1968 Masters, an outcome that has long been viewed as one of the most heartbreaking in tournament golf. It has also been one of the most grotesquely misunderstood. De Vicenzo that year signed a scorecard for his final round which added up to one stroke more than he had actually shot. (The original error had been made by Tommy Aaron, who kept de Vicenzo’s card and marked him for a four on the seventeenth hole rather than the three he had in fact made. De Vicenzo didn’t notice the mistake at the time or when checking his card before signing it immediately following his round.) The rules of golf dictated unequivocally that the higher score had to stand. That kept De Vicenzo out of a tie for first place with Bob Goalby, who became the winner. “What a stupid I am,” De Vicenzo said. The Masters film that year showed Goalby finding and correcting an error on his own scorecard—a scene that made De Vicenzo’s moment of inattention seem all the more poignant.

To be kept out of a Masters playoff by a clerical error concerning a score that no one disputed has always seemed so regrettable that, half a century later, sportswriters and others still brood about the ruling. A columnist in Golf World suggested in 1997 that Augusta National should have ignored the rules and thereby created a tie, or that Goalby should have refused his green jacket and insisted on a playoff, whether official or not. Others have disparaged the club for not writing a rule of its own. Charles Sifford even suggested that De Vicenzo’s second-place finish might have been the result of prejudice, against a non-American player, by Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman.

The notion that the club should have imposed a rule of its own has a certain emotional appeal but is hard to understand. Roberts and Bobby Jones cherished the club’s independence from golf’s major governing bodies, but both believed in the rule book—as they had demonstrated twenty years before, when they had helped to settle rule differences between the P.G.A. and the U.S.G.A. The Masters rules committee has always been headed by leading officials of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the U.S.G.A., the two organizations responsible for governing the game. The ruling on De Vicenzo’s score was made not by Roberts or Jones but by the tournament’s chief rules official, Isaac Grainger, who had been the president of the U.S.G.A in 1954 and 1955. Grainger—who was born in 1895 and until his death, in 1999, at the age of a hundred and four, was the oldest living member of Augusta National—told me in 1998 that the De Vicenzo ruling was “the most difficult but also the easiest decision I ever had to make.” He added, “I took the precaution—although I knew the answer—of talking to Bob Jones and Cliff Roberts about it, down in the Jones Cottage. I knew what the answer was, but I wanted to be able to tell Roberto that it wasn’t my answer alone. It was really a very sad thing, because it eliminated the possibility of his winning the Masters in a playoff. But he was quite a gentleman. I remember I had dinner with him, and when we left the dining room and separated, he said to me, ‘I sorry I cause you so much trouble.’ That shows you what a sportsman he was. It was a very sad thing for him. And I remember that, when he finished on the eighteenth hole, his wife was so nervous she took hold of my hand, and she held my hand until he had putted out.”

It is true that television cameras had shown De Vicenzo birdying the seventeenth hole. But De Vicenzo, like every other player in the tournament, was accountable for the accuracy of his own card because only he was in a position to be certain of his true score. He felt stupid about his oversight, but he agreed with the ruling—as did the Argentina Golf Association, which wrote to Roberts to say that it not only supported Grainger’s decision but had made the same ruling itself with other players in tournaments of its own.

The accusation that Roberts was out to get De Vicenzo is even more absurd. The two men were close friends, and, in fact, during Masters week, De Vicenzo and his wife often stayed in the home of Wilda Gwin, who was one of Roberts’s secretaries at the club. De Vicenzo’s birthday fell on Masters Sunday in 1968, and the tournament staff, with Roberts’s assistance, had planned a surprise party for him. Kathryn Murphy, Roberts’s tournament secretary, told me that she had sadly thrown away the birthday cake when it became clear that holding the party was now out of the question.

Roberts always held a dinner for the tournament winner at the end of each Masters, and that night he broke convention by inviting De Vicenzo to attend as well. He worried that the outcome had harmed both men—by depriving De Vicenzo of a shot at the financial bonanza that followed a Masters win and by overshadowing the spectacular charge that Goalby had made in his own final round. Like all Masters winners, Goalby received a silver cigarette case on which had been engraved the signatures of all the players in the field. Roberts quietly had an identical box made for De Vicenzo as a private acknowledgment of his ordeal. Roberts also asked J. Richard Ryan, the attorney who handled the club’s television and movie contracts, to offer his services to both men as an agent—an occupation that had just begun to have an impact among the better players on tour. He especially hoped that Ryan could help De Vicenzo make up for opportunities he had foregone.

All these gestures—none of which were public—were entirely characteristic of Roberts. The somber face he wore on television as he explained the scorecard ruling belied the personal devastation he felt for both men. The tragedy, in his view, was that two exceptional performances had been overshadowed by a single careless mistake. He never doubted the correctness of the ruling, and he never regretted that it had been made. But he quietly worked behind the scenes to make things right for both men.