Last week, a television crew from a Japanese news program interviewed me about Donald Trump, who was about to play golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The frame above depicts the moment, in 2012, when I momentarily mistook Trump for a bag-drop attendant and nearly slipped him five bucks. Here’s the whole segment:
A few years ago, a Google app on my phone offered to navigate me to “work.” I didn’t know what to make of that, because my office is in my house, so I clicked the tab and discovered that Google had deduced, based on how I spend my time during a typical week, that I must work at 10 Golf Course Road—the address of my golf club. Google must also think I get laid off every winter, because between early December and early April I hardly ever go to the club. I live up in the hills in western Connecticut, a hundred miles north of New York, and our course almost always shuts down within a week or two of Thanksgiving.
You can read the rest on the website of The New Yorker, right here.
Last week, the weather around here turned severely golf-antagonistic. In the photo above, which I took this morning, you can see my principal snow-depth gauge: the table on the patio in my backyard. Poking up just beyond the table is a dome of snow on my back-up snow-depth gauge, my Weber grill. And to the right you see my latest piece of meteorological equipment, my step ladder. During the summer, I used the step ladder to make sure that wrens hadn’t (again) evicted the nesting bluebirds from the bluebird house hanging from the eaves of my screened porch, and when winter came I forgot to put it away. In addition to aiding anyone who wants to break into the second floor of my house, it now provides supplemental snow-depth readings. What instruments we have agree: we won’t be playing golf again for at least a few weeks.
I’ve passed the resulting down time in a variety of ways, including by being interviewed by a reporter from a television station in Japan. President Trump and Prime Minister Abe were about to play golf together in Florida, and, because I myself have played golf with Trump in Florida, the reporter had a few questions about what Abe might expect from the encounter.
Most of those questions had to do with Trump’s skill as a golfer and, specifically, with how far he hits his driver. I didn’t let the reporter pin me down, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t give away any classified information. One thing I noticed is that, for a native Japanese speaker, the name “Mar-a-Lago” is more than slightly problematic. I asked the reporter what people in Japan generally think about the Trump presidency, and he said, “[long, long pause] . . .interesting.” I suggested that maybe Abe could do the world a favor by keeping Trump distracted and occupied for a while—say, four years.
I’ve also passed the time by studying the misfortunes of other golfers, among them one who is suing a local golf course over quicksand. I spent much of my childhood thinking about quicksand, probably because of Tarzan movies and television episodes, but I get the impression that many people nowadays don’t necessarily know how to get out of it, or even what it is. This guy says he stepped into some on a course that my friends and I often play, and that he sank to his chest and had to be pulled out by other golfers. As a result, he says, he suffers or has suffered: left knee pain; a left-knee MCL sprain; difficulty walking; difficulty standing; difficulty ascending and descending stairs; a change in gait; left-knee effusion; left-knee swelling; fear for his life; and general suffering, both physical and mental.
Hmmmm. I have all those things, too. They weren’t caused by quicksand, though, because unlike the guy who filed the lawsuit, apparently, I know that being pulled forcefully out of quicksand is the surest way to be injured by it. Just stay calm, and move slowly, and sort of swim to the edge (on your back if necessary), and slowly climb out. Contrary to popular belief, quicksand doesn’t draw you toward the center of the earth. You float in it, as you do in water—which is what it mostly is.
I’ve played many rounds on the golf course in question and never noticed any quicksand—although there are a number of clearly labeled wetland areas that golfers are required to stay out of. The complaint says the quicksand was in the rough, under some leaves, but doesn’t identify the hole. I learned about the lawsuit on one of my favorite websites, which belongs to Rob Harris, an avid golfer who also happens to be an avid lawyer. Regarding the quicksand case, he writes that, assuming the plaintiff’s allegations are supported by the facts, the most likely outcome will be a settlement, because “being swallowed by a golf course, while not an unprecedented event. . . will not play well in front of a jury.”
Each winter, my friends and I patronize several public golf courses within a hundred-mile radius of where we live. The courses are ones that stay open through the winter as long as they aren’t covered with snow, but sometimes it’s hard to know for sure whether they’re open or not, because we have to leave home before anyone is likely to be in the golf shop to answer the phone. That means we sometimes arrive at a course only to discover that we won’t be playing there that day after all:
Actually, on the day shown in the photo above, we found a course that really was open, after making a bunch of calls from the parking lot. Recently, I discovered a trick that would have saved us a lot of driving that day. The Wundermap feature of the website Weather Underground includes links to webcams associated with many of the public and private weather stations in its vast network. If there’s a functioning webcam near a course you’re hoping to play, you see check the actual conditions, in real time, before you leave home, like this:
Oops—no golf today.
In my part of the country at this time of the year, avid golfers become migratory. Some fly hundreds of miles south and don’t return until spring, but most of us circle the ground closer to home, like Canada geese searching for open water. We study the sky and the Web and the Weather Channel, and when we hear rumors of snow-free fairways we hit the phones. Quite often, the Sunday Morning Group lands at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a muny about an hour from where we live. “The Wheel,” as regulars call it, stays open all year. Area golfers whose home courses are closed often winter there.
Twelve of us made the trip on Sunday. We had meant to go the Sunday before, but just enough snow fell to shut down all the golf courses within a hundred miles of our town. The Wheel has two eighteens, the Black and the Red. We played the Black, which most of us prefer, although when we started there was so much fog that it was hard to be sure which course we were playing. The fog lifted, then returned, then lifted again, then returned again—and I discovered that my laser rangefinder doesn’t work when a golf hole looks like this:
The fog burned away for good while we were playing the second nine. At the base of the 150-yard marker pole in the middle of one fairway, I found an owl pellet, containing the indigestible parts of whatever the owl had eaten recently (in this case, mostly mice). The owl must have been perched on the marker pole when he coughed it up:
In the grillroom after our round, we ran into some old friends: The Boys, a transplanted winter men’s group from other local courses, including H. Smith Richardson, also a muny, a couple of miles away. The Boys use two custom scorecards when they move to the Wheel: one for when the ground is frozen and one for when it’s not. (They change the stroke indexes of a few holes when the fairways are like concrete, to compensate for extra roll.) Here’s the back of their frozen card:
Their organizer is Mark Haba, who runs a machinery company in Bristol. He collects the money and makes up the day’s teams, using a system that involves printed charts, a zippered binder, and six numbered poker chips. “We count two balls,” he told me, “one gross and one net.” They also play what they call “Chicago” skins—which, as near as I could tell, are just skins. They had thirty-two players on Sunday; their complete roster, including alternates, lists a couple of dozen more:
The main difference between The Boys and the Sunday Morning Group is gastronomic: they eat pizza; we eat bacon cheeseburgers:
Also, unlike us, they don’t give extra handicap strokes for wearing shorts (as Fritz, Barney, and I did on Sunday).
Other than that, we’re basically interchangeable—as cold-weather golfers tend to be.
I spent one night at Mar-a-Lago back in 2012, after playing golf that afternoon with the man about to be sworn in as the President of the United States. At dinner that night, Trump served himself roughly a lobster and a half’s worth of shelled lobster claws and split lobster tails from the seafood buffet, then went back and for big plate of sweet-and-sour shrimp on rice. While we were having dessert, two giggly little girls from New Jersey, whose parents were part of a group from Trump’s golf club in Bedminster—“one of the richest places in the country”—came over to our table and asked Trump to dance. He said that he would dance with them in Bedminster. Then he asked them if they wanted to be supermodels when they grew up. (They said yes). Then he asked them to kiss him. (And they did.)
You can read a little more my Mar-a-Lago visit on the New Yorker’s website today. My New Yorker colleague Mark Singer, who has written a lot about Trump, including this book, emailed me recently: “Trump, standing on the lawn at Mar-a-Lago and hitting balls into the Intracoastal Waterway with a 3-iron, told me that Claude Harmon called him ‘the best weekend player’ he’d ever seen. Such an innocent time. . . . I suspect it won’t be during my lifetime when historians come up with a fully coherent explanation of how/why it came to this. I have no faith in my ability to predict what lies ahead; everything I thought I knew was mistaken.”
I’ve been slow about adding new posts to this blog, mainly because I’m no longer “in association with Golf Digest.” I’m not going to stop, but, after a little rest, I’m going to aim for something more like once a week. In the meantime, I’ve written an article for The New Yorker’s website about a day I spent with Donald Trump back in 2012.
I used my Microsoft Band 2 for maybe four and a half months before the wristband fell apart (clumsily repaired by me with Scotch Tape in the photo above). This is not a minor problem, because the wristband is not replaceable and the tear exposed important-looking metal innards. Nor is it an uncommon problem, as I learned from Google. What a piece of crap! I apologize for saying nice things about the Band in this post, back in July. Microsoft has announced that there won’t be a Band 3, and it’s unloading its Band 2 inventory at a discount. Don’t be tempted.
Until my Band fell apart, I actually liked it and wore it all the time, even though it wasn’t waterproof and all I really used it for was to count my steps and tell the time. Also, it barely got through a whole day on a single battery charge. I could probably cover all my personal fitness-tracking needs with a wristwatch and a pedometer, but when my Band self-destructed I replaced it with an approximate counterpart from another manufacturer: a Fitbit Charge 2 Heart Rate +. The Fitbit does pretty much everything the Band did—in most cases, better—and because it isn’t tricked out with a lot of pointlessly fancy graphics its battery lasts much longer. And the wristband is replaceable.
Recently, I read that some people who wear fitness bands are more likely to gain weight than people who don’t, apparently because they view their supposed “calorie burn” as a license to overeat. I myself have always ignored the calorie-counting feature, since nobody really knows how to count calories and the relationship between food consumption and weight gain is immensely complicated. I just like knowing roughly how far I’ve walked when I play golf and walk the dog—and, occasionally, taking a peek at how long I slept the night before (which the Fitbit tracks automatically).
Joe was out doing errands last Sunday. He drove past a public course in the town next to the one we live in, saw that there were only a few cars in the parking lot, and guessed correctly that they must belong to people he knew.
The cars belonged to Tim, Doug, Mike A., and me (plus the kid behind the desk in the golf shop). We’d already finished eighteen, but Joe borrowed a hat from me and clubs from everyone, and joined us for a few bonus holes. The course was the only one still open in our immediate area, yet nobody at all had played it the day before, and nobody but us had shown up that morning. The kid charged us half-price.
The temperature was below freezing, but there was hardly any wind, and after we’d played a couple of holes we were so hot we took stuff off. The great thing about winter golf is that your drives run forever, and if the greens are frozen you can practice the kinds of run-up shots that come in handy in Scotland and Ireland.
Mike A. had some Tommy Armour Silver Scot golf balls, which he had dug up somewhere. One cracked when he hit it—because it was frozen, we assumed:
But then a second one cracked, too:
The cracks may explain why not even Tommy Armour III plays Tommy Armour balls. (The only reviewer on Amazon complained about cracking, too, and gave them one star—maybe overly generous.) We had the course completely to ourselves until a single guy showed up and somehow got ahead of us. We waited for him on every hole!
Tim and I both wore my favorite winter gloves, Winter Xtreme, by HJ Glove. They’re thick but flexible, and they have nice grippy silicone webbing on the palms and fingers.
If the day had been ten degrees colder, I’d have worn a pair of rain gloves underneath them. But for 29 degrees they were plenty.
In an early episode of The Simpsons, Homer gives Marge a bowling ball for her birthday. She seems disappointed, so he says, “Well, if you don’t want it, I know someone who does.” (He’s already had his own name engraved on it.)
In the same spirit, you might consider giving your wife a Mizuno JPX 900 driver. I’ve been playing with one for the past six weeks, and, although I haven’t had my name engraved on it yet, I’m sure that after Christmas it will still be in my golf bag—and not only because my wife doesn’t play golf. It even sounds great when you smack it.
As with many newish drivers, you (or a club-fitter) can make a number of potentially helpful adjustments on a JPX 900: loft, lie, launch angle, hook, fade, etc. A company representative suggested that I settle on the loft first, then fool around with the other variables. I cranked it all the way up, to 11.5 degrees, and since then I’ve been trying the two 8-gram “Fast Track” weights in different positions—currently, right in the middle. To move the weights, you loosen them with the included torque wrench, then slide them into new positions and tighten them until the wrench clicks in a way that makes you think you’ve broken the club.
And you do have to turn the wrench until it clicks. A couple of weeks ago, Rick began hitting uncharacteristically lousy shots with his own driver, which is several years old. Eventually, he realized that the shaft had come slightly loose. He borrowed a wrench from the golf shop when we made the turn (this was just a friendly round), and resumed booming it down the middle.
Mizuno sells the JPX 900 with a Fujikura Speeder EVO II graphite, in either regular or stiff flex. My clubs have always had stiff shafts (except when I’ve accidentally bought one that didn’t), but I’m getting on in years and decided that it was time to try something more age-appropriate. So my new driver has a regular shaft that has been “tipped” slightly—that is, a little bit of the skinny end was removed before the shaft was installed. That made it stiffer than a regular shaft, but less stiff than a stiff one—a baby step toward the grave.
Addison, conversely, has golf clubs with stiff shafts that have been tipped, making them a little bit stiffer than stiff. But he’s 25.