Three Air-Travel Stories Tangentially Related to Golf

New Yorker Owen

I had an article in last week’s New Yorker about fancy airplane seats.  Here’s something about air travel I’ll bet you didn’t know: the rule of thumb for in-flight entertainment systems is “$1,000 an inch”—meaning that the small screen in the back of each economy seat can cost an airline $10,000, plus a few thousand for its handheld controller. You can read the rest of this post at my blog’s new home, on Golf Digest’s website.

Mean Weather and the Value of a Shank-in-One

This is what the ninth green looked like on the morning of April 16. Unfair!

This is what the ninth green looked like on the morning of April 16. Unfair!

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.

How I Won the Masters, and So Forth

My club's equivalent of the Eisenhower Tree, on our seventeenth hole. We cut it down last year.

My club’s equivalent of the Eisenhower Tree, on our seventeenth hole. We cut it down last year.

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.

Nineteen-nineties scorecard from Augusta National, used by the S Sunday Morning Group on Masters Sunday, April 13, 2014.

Nineteen-nineties scorecard from Augusta National, used by the Sunday Morning Group on Masters Sunday, April 13, 2014. Check out those last-century tournament yardages.

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.

planes silhouette

Stephens didn’t take my suggestion, for unknown reasons, and continued to list the names of the holes instead:

ANGC 2

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.

Chic (our chairman) and Slade (victorious) at lunch.

Chic (our chairman) and Slade (co-victorious) at lunch.

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.

From left to right: Fritz, kegerator, Corey (our pro), and the new padlock, installed by order of the Board of Governors.

From left to right: Fritz, beer fridge, kegerator, improvised pitcher, Corey (our pro), and the new padlock, installed by order of the Board of Governors.

Some Shots You Won’t See This Week at the Masters

Kevin, Tunxis Plantation, Sunday, April 6, 2014. That's Hacker (real name) in the red jacket, studying our receipts. You'll hear more about the foursome in the background on the left in a little while.

Kevin, Tunxis Plantation, Sunday, April 6, 2014. That’s Hacker (real name) in the red jacket, on the right, studying our receipts. In a little while, you’ll hear more about the foursome in the background on the left.

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:

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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:

The guys on the right seem to be looking far into the distance, but this tee shot actually traveled about a hundred feet.

The guys on the right seem to be looking far into the distance, but this tee shot was actually very short–too short to be measured in yards.

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:

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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:

P1110981If the guy in the red jacket and shorts was actually trying to hit the marker, his aim was above average. I don’t know whether that’s his tee. Could be. If so: again, well done.

P1110985We 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.

The driving range at Tunxis. You should never watch strangers hit practice balls, especially when there are still little piles of snow on the ground.

The driving range at Tunxis. You should never watch strangers hit practice balls, especially in early spring.

Masters Countdown (Updated): The Hardest Hole to Build at Augusta National

ANGC 12-001

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:

Seve 12-001

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 in 1935, the year of the second Masters.

The twelfth green in 1935, the year of the second Masters.

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.”

Got dirt?

Got dirt?

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.

That's Eisenhower swinging, and Bill Zimmerman, Billy Joe Patton and Roberts looking on. Nobody seems impressed by the President's swing.

That’s Eisenhower swinging, and Bill Zimmerman, Billy Joe Patton and Roberts looking on. Nobody seems impressed by the President’s swing.

Why You Should Wash Your Rainsuit, and Maybe Even Iron It

Barney and his raingear, on the day we played anyway. October 6, 2013.

Barney and his raingear, on the day we played anyway. October 6, 2013.

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.”

Annette LaFleur, the team leader of Natick's Design, Pattern and Prototype Team, next to a prototype sniper uniform (which the Army ended up not using).

Annette LaFleur, the team leader of Natick’s Design, Pattern and Prototype Team. That’s some body armor on the left and a prototype sniper uniform on the right.

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.

Luisa DeMorais, the leader of the Army's textile materials evaluation team and a D.W.R. expert.

Luisa DeMorais, the leader of the Army’s textile materials evaluation team and a D.W.R. expert.

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.

nikwax

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).

IMG_3431At some point, I’ll have more to say about my visit to Natick—which was the coolest field trip ever. Right now, though, I’ve got to run off to Denmark for a few days.

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Masters Countdown: Bobby Jones’s Father, the Great Flood, and the Eleventh Hole

Eleventh green, twelfth tee, twelfth green, Augusta National, early 1930s.

Eleventh green, twelfth tee, twelfth green, Augusta National, early 1930s.

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.

Alister MacKenzie's original routing, showing the location of the eleventh tee, between the seventeenth green and the old tenth green. The modern tee is somewhere back near the red X in the upper right hand corner of the image.

Alister MacKenzie’s original routing, showing the location of the eleventh tee, between the seventeenth green and the old tenth green. The modern tee is somewhere back near the red X in the upper right hand corner of the image.

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.

Eleventh green, 1930s.

Eleventh green, 1930s. No pond yet.

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.

There's that pond. Look out.

There’s that pond. Look out.

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:

amen corner flood 1990Hord 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.

The Colonel, Bobby Jones's father.

The Colonel, Bobby Jones’s father.

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.