David Brailsford, a former competitive cyclist, became the performance director of the British national team in 2003. British Cycling had stunk for most of a century, but Brailsford believed he could turn the team around by applying an idea he’d begun to formulate while earning an MBA—an idea he later described to the Harvard Business Review as “a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains.” He was convinced that, if he and his cyclists broke down everything they did into small components and then improved each of them by just 1 percent, the cumulative impact would be a significant enhancement of their overall performance. Brailsford’s ideas helped his team win the Tour de France in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. They also point the way to a painless approach to beating slow play, as I wrote in an article in the September issue of Golf Digest—which you can read here.
I’ve owned or tested a number of pushcarts, and so far the one I’ve liked best and would recommend for most golfers is the Clicgear 3.5+. It’s a substantial piece of machinery, yet it folds down into a reasonably compact unit, which I have no trouble fitting into the trunk of my car as long as there’s nothing much in my trunk other than my golf bag and my pushcart.
The Clicgear does have an annoying design flaw, though—as you can sort of see in the first and third golf carts in the photo above: some bags sit so low on the cart that they come very close to the front wheel, and even scrape. The reason is that each cart’s bag rest, a padded metal loop, doesn’t stick out far enough and is at least an inch too close to the wheel. Clicgear has acknowledged that this can be an issue for “tour and large size golf bags,” but it actually affects small bags, too. I’ve got a lightweight Sun Mountain carry bag, and after about a year the wheel began to rub. I dealt with the problem at first by resting the bottom of the bag not on the bag rest but on the little folding arms above it, which are meant to secure the bag to the cart, but when I did that the bag wouldn’t stay put. More recently, I gave up and spent ten bucks for Clicgear’s solution: a “booster clip” that clamps onto the bag rest and is supposed to add an inch of clearance.
At least part of the issue with Sun Mountain and similar carry bags is that their bases are beveled, to accommodate the lever that pops out the legs, and the Clicgear bag rest doesn’t extend far enough past the bevel: it’s too short to engage the actual bottom of the bag.
I hate the idea of spending ten dollars on a piece of plastic that must have cost a millionth of a cent to manufacture and that wouldn’t be necessary if Clicgear had ever bothered to correct its own design flaw. (The bag rest has been the same since the beginning, in models 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5+.) And even the booster clip is poorly designed, since it has a rounded front that reduces its effective thickness for bags like mine. A much better solution would have been to redesign and replace the bag rest itself. But the clip does lift my bag just high enough that it no longer scraps—for now. We’ll check back in a year.
I have a story in the current New Yorker about building a putting green in the back yard of an executive editor at the book publisher Simon & Schuster. The photo above is of the owner chipping to the finished green from a “teeing area” below his deck; the photo below is of the construction site when the project was nearing completion.
The green was built by Michael Lehrer, whose company, Home Green Advantage, has built hundreds of greens, golf holes, and other artificial-turf surfaces in the metropolitan area—including this one, on a terrace on a high floor of a tall building in Manhattan:
Lehrer also built the awesome floating green at GlenArbor Golf Club, in Bedford Hills, New York—which I wrote about here. (That’s Bob G., an honorary Sunday Morning Group member, in the photo below.)
A couple of months ago, Adam Sachs, a reader in Kansas City and a peripatetic occasional contributor to this blog, visited Whistling Straits, a course that’s been on my golf to-do list for a long time. Excerpts from his report:
I won a couples package to play Whistling Straits in a charity raffle fifteen or so years ago, but could never figure out a time to schlep up to Wisconsin to cash in on my luck. I goaded a client into inviting me to the PGA Championship two summers ago, and was awestruck by the beauty and seeming impossibility of the golf course. This summer, after a business meeting in Milwaukee, I finally played it.
Sachs was not predisposed to love the course, which had struck him as excessively artificial, in the classic Pete Dye manner:
To me, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore represent the be-all and end-all of modern golf course design. I love that they had the vision and confidence to move so little dirt when they built Sand Hills, one of the finest golf courses on the planet, and that they considered about a hundred and eighty different possible holes before landing on their favorites.
Nevertheless, he loved Whistling Straits, and describes his visit there as “one of the most beautiful and pure golf-course experiences of my life.”
The last four holes are magic. The photo below is of the seventeenth, a par three called Pinched Nerve. The bunker with the wispy fescue patch above it in the photo below guards the right front of the green, leaving only a narrow window for running up the ball.
I guess maybe it’s time to start thinking about booking a flight to Milwaukee.
. . . is being forced repeatedly to watch the PGA Tour’s guys-standing-in-line-with-pint-glasses-commercial for the Charles Schwab Cup. It would be bad enough if it were merely incomprehensible. I’ve gotten pretty fast at hitting the mute button when it comes on, but I will never be able to unsee Bernhard Langer’s leering grin.
Among the advertisers on the Golf Channel broadcast of the current LPGA Tour event is the Duluth Trading Company, which is promoting its Ballroom Jeans. Those aren’t jeans that are nice enough to waltz in; they’re jeans that have extra room for your balls. A women’s sports event may seem like an odd place to advertise a product intended for overweight middle-aged men—but keep in mind that the main viewing audience for LPGA Tour events is overweight middle-aged men.
The photograph above is of the clubhouse at Indian Hills Country Club, in Kansas City, in about 1950. The course was designed by A. W. Tillinghast in 1927, and the photograph was taken by my father’s father, who was a member. I came across a big box of his slides recently, and for several days I’ve been obsessed with scanning them. Here’s my grandfather himself, at about the same time, during a trip to California with my grandmother:
As the father of a friend once said of Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca (the greatest golf movie ever made), “Those pants are a little tight under the arms.” Here’s a picture my grandfather took of my grandmother (feeding something to a chipmunk) during a car trip to Colorado in 1945:My grandparents traveled to Florida almost every winter, until my grandfather couldn’t drive anymore (my grandmother never learned). The picture below, which my grandfather took in the early fifties, goes a long way toward explaining why people who live in Florida have trouble with seawater even when the wind isn’t blowing a hundred and fifty miles an hour:
That brings me to Mike Riley, who is an occasional correspondent and a member of the Big Dogs, a regular men’s group at the World’s Second-Best Golf Club, in northwestern Florida. The Big Dogs are usually more weather-averse than the Sunday Morning Group is—fifty degrees and sunny is too wintry for most of them—but, to their credit, they’ve developed some useful weather-related clothing technology:
Even more to their credit, they didn’t evacuate their golf club this past weekend. On Sunday morning, Riley wrote to me, “It’s official. Big Dogs are going to play under hurricane warning. Not unprecedented, but first time since Opal.” (Opal was a Category Four hurricane that hammered the Gulf Coast in 1995.) Riley’s post-round report:
Our foursome finished in 2:29 no time for pictures. Gonna be hard to figure bets, clubhouse lost power while we were on the front nine. Gusts to 60. Pictures really wouldn’t have done much justice. Two pins snapped in the wind and oak tree fell as we were playing number 8. 18 players in the game today with 18 carts. We played during Hermine in 2016 but were on the west side of that storm which is the side to be on. It was only a cat 1 but it did a number on Tallahassee.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is kind of hard to understand, at least for me, and it isn’t a good fit with golf; Sandy, in 2012, was also just Category One, yet it wiped out several courses in my part of the world. Maybe we should measure hurricanes the way golfers have always measured wind, in terms of extra clubs required for normal shots. At Portstewart once, I hit Baby Driver on a hundred-and-thirty-yard downhill par 3 and was the only member of my foursome to reach the green, and on a couple of occasions in Scotland and Ireland I’ve played in what I would guess were seven- or eight-club winds. What’s the most a reasonably adventurous golfer could comfortably handle—a ten-club wind, gusting to twelve? Unless someone has a better idea, I’m going to call that the maximum.
My first driver—which was partly responsible for my decision, at the age of thirteen, to give up golf for more than twenty years—was a two-generation hand-me-down with a head that could have filled in as the foot of a Queen Anne chair. Nowadays, though, even seven-year-olds demand titanium. A few years ago, I played in a senior event with a guy from another club who carried an ancient Spalding persimmon 3-wood, but he was the only Luddite in the field and he never hit a good shot with it. Golfers who still use clubs with wooden heads are invariably older than seventy, and they are stubborn, cheap, ignorant, or a combination of all three. You seldom see actual wood anymore even in the golf bags of estranged wives, who occupy the lowest rung on the club recycling ladder.
The question, though, is whether this change in technology necessitates a change in terminology. Various prominent television commentators, Johnny Miller among them, have decided that it does. They refer to woods as “metals,” saying, for example, that a certain player has elected to go for the green with a “fairway metal” of some kind—perhaps a “3-metal.” Jim Nantz, on CBS, sometimes refers to a fairway wood generically as “a metal-headed club.”
There are three things wrong with this trend. The first is that it creates more confusion than it eliminates, since almost all modern golf clubs, including irons and putters, are “metal-headed.” The second is that “wood” is no more anachronistic than “iron.” (Irons haven’t been made of iron since Britain was ruled by Romans. Should we start calling those clubs “alloys”?) The third is that avoiding “wood” is excessively fastidious, like objecting to the use of the (useful) word “hopefully.” The television commentators are proposing a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.
Besides, retaining an archaic expression creates the possibility for creative revisionism later on.
“Why are woods called ‘woods’?” your great-great-granddaughter may ask you someday.
“Well, Little One,” you can explain, “there was an awfully good player back around the turn of the century. He hit the ball farther than anybody else, and he won every prize there was to win. In fact, I taught him everything he knew. Woods were named after him.”