World’s Second-Best Golf Club, Part One: The Big Dogs and their Dogfights

Jim, a Big Dog. Mike Riley writes: "Jim is the only person I have ever seen fall down after a practice swing. In his defense, it was his first practice swing of the day and it occurred after a night at a Mississippi casino." The photo was taken (by Riley) last Christmas Eve. Jim's pants were dragging on the wet ground, so he fixed them."

Mike Riley writes: “Jim is the only person I have ever seen fall down after a practice swing. In his defense, it was his first practice swing of the day and it occurred after a night at a Mississippi casino.” This photo, of Jim’s lower legs and feet, was taken (by Riley) last Christmas Eve. Jim’s pants had been dragging on the wet ground, so he fixed them. “Southerners use duck tape to fix anything,” Riley told me.

The world’s best golf club, I think we can all agree, is mine. Recently—thanks to Mike Riley, a reader—I’ve learned quite a bit about the second best, which is in northwestern Florida and has a course that was designed in the nineteen-twenties by Donald Ross. Riley belongs to a fifty-year-old club-within-the-club known as the Big Dogs, after their standard game, the Big Dogfight. “We play Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, plus holidays,” Riley said. “The number of players varies between twelve and thirty. Fridays and Sundays have larger crowds since college football isn’t competing for attention.”

Mike Riley (right) and the tour pro Boo Weekley, an old friend of his. Riley caddied for Weekley during the pro-am of the FBR Open, in Phoenix, a few years ago.

Riley (right) and the tour pro Boo Weekley, an old friend of his. Riley caddied for Weekley during the pro-am of the FBR Open, in Phoenix, a few years ago.

The format of the Big Dogs’ Dogfights is almost too complicated to explain, but here goes: “The team game is a one-dollar nassau in which every team plays every other team (best one, two, and three balls), with individual skins and rabbits,” Riley told me. “There is also an individual points game based on a formula we created that is somewhat akin to what might happen if you played U.S.G.A. handicaps with Stableford scoring. There are also two-dollar best-ball nassaus in which each two-man-team combination plays every other two-man-team combination. For example, Team No. 1′s captain and ’2-man’ (the best and second best player on Team No. 1) will play best-ball nassaus against every other team’s captain and 2-man.” Here’s what part of one of their score sheets looks like (Riley is the captain of Team No. 3):

Score spreadsheetThe Big Dogs play in four-, five-, and six-man teams, depending on how many show up. A member known as the Commandant makes the assignments, with help from the club’s pro. “Everyone has their own cart, and everyone rides solo, so they get around pretty fast,” Riley said. “Most carts have portable heaters and are equipped with enclosures for the rare cold days in Florida. The fastest cart belongs to Clay; it has an estimated top speed of 35 m.p.h. Some have XM radio. Almost all have ice chests. One (Jim’s) has a grill.”

Jim's cart. Note grill, cooler, heater, and enclosure. The concrete disk under the grill is a safety measure.

Jim’s cart. Note grill, cooler, heater, and enclosure. The concrete septic-tank cover under the grill is a safety device.

Anybody need a brat?

Brats in cart-001One day, Jim fell into the lake on the seventh hole while trying to hit a pitch shot from the bulkhead. “The board he was standing on broke,” Riley said. “He toweled off and finished his round. He smelled like brackish water for the next two hours. Here’s a picture of us pulling him out of the water.”

Jim in pondTo be continued.

One thought on “World’s Second-Best Golf Club, Part One: The Big Dogs and their Dogfights

  1. Though blurry as heck, that final photo, with inset blow-up, of the brackish Jim being helped out of the water hazard after his overenthusiastic practice swing, is an instant classic.

    Thank you for yet another reminder to avoid Florida at all costs if at all possible.

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