Let’s Have a Look at Those Famous Merion Showers

Men's locker room, Merion Golf Club.

Men’s locker room, Merion Golf Club.

Like any sensible golf fan, I’m at home playing with my friends and, between rounds, watching the Open on TV. I visited Merion back in March, though, and while I was there I took a close look at the club’s famous showers, which have heads the size of manhole covers. Using one is like bathing in a car wash—in a good way.

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The showers require not just oversize supply pipes but also oversize drains. In the nineteen-forties, as the club struggled to overcome the economic impact of both the Great Depression and the Second World War, the house committee replaced them with conventional fixtures, in the hope of reducing the club’s water bill. J. Howard Pew, who was the president of the Sun Oil Company, demanded that the old fixtures be put back, and instructed the committee to add the club’s water expense to his own house account—as it did for years. (Merion didn’t retire its mortgage until 1971.)

The view from below. Don't try this while the water is flowing.

The view from below. Don’t try this while the water is flowing.

Merion-style shower heads have become standard fixtures at go-to-hell golf clubs all over. Pine Valley (which was founded by pretty much the same group of guys who founded Merion) has them. So, surprisingly, do a few clubs in the British Isles, which may be the source of this grooming arrangement:

If this were England, there would also be a nail brush and a nail file hanging from a chain.

If this were England, there would be a nail brush in there, too, plus a nail file hanging from a chain.

When Merion remodeled its women’s locker room, the women decided they wanted Merion-style showers, too. But then one of them realized that if they had them they would no longer be able to avoid getting their hair wet, so they stuck with wall-mounted fixtures. Their loss.

Merion’s men’s locker room has two levels, whose residents compete every year in an upstairs/downstairs tournament. (Winged Foot members do the same.) The current titleholder is indicated by a clock-like dial on the upper level, although I was told, confidentially, that members of the vanquished side will sometimes move the pointer.

IMG_0575On the wall outside the downstairs shower room are several framed scorecards. One of them commemorates a round in 1964 during which a member named Andrew J. Davis, Jr., played the first seven holes in two over par (after hitting a ball out of bounds on the second) and then made ten consecutive 3s. He finished with what must, by that point, have seemed like a disappointing 4, on the club’s 450-yard closing hole, for a score of 65.
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On a winter evening a decade ago, a member named Edward Slevin, Jr., organized a dinner for a small group of his golf buddies in the bar on the second floor of the Merion clubhouse. They were marking time till spring and, not incidentally, trying to spend down their food minimums. In the years since then, their informal gathering has evolved into a monthly off-season party, and it’s now so popular that the only club space large enough to accommodate it is the men’s locker room. I attended the March dinner, two weeks before the East Course was scheduled to reopen for 2013. Slevin sat at the head of a very long table, which was almost a full lob wedge from end to end, and when dessert and various announcements were over much of the group reconvened downstairs, in the bar. Here’s what the table looked like before we all sat down:

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Hey, how about a shower before dessert?

Tips for Overseas Golf Travelers

Royal Liverpool Michael Brown

I’ve taken quite a few golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, and England during the past twenty years—including my recent one to England’s “Golf Coast,” in Lancashire (see above)—and I’ve figured out a few things. Here are some of them:

1. The cure for jet lag is golf. You take the overnight nonstop from Newark, arrive bleary-eyed in Glasgow at 8:00 in the morning, drag your clubs past the bomb-sniffing dogs in customs, stumble into a men’s room designated “loo of the year,” change a tall stack of American dollars into a short stack of British pounds, drive fifty-five miles through Robert Burns country while trying to remember to admire the sheep-dotted hillsides, reach Turnberry in a daze—and tee it up on the Ailsa course, where Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus fought their legendary Duel in the Sun, at the British Open in 1977. You haven’t slept since what seems like the day before yesterday, but your tee shot somehow finds the fairway, and a little mental arithmetic reveals that your colleagues back home are arriving, just now, at their desks. Suddenly, you feel happier than you’ve felt since the birth of your first child, or since the time you and your brother nearly won your flight in the member guest. (Not to worry: The cure for excessive cheerfulness is also golf.)

2. Alternatively, take a flight that arrives at night. I did this once on a non-golf reporting trip to London. I left New York mid-morning, arrived at Heathrow in the dark, took a taxi to my hotel, and immediately went to bed, at roughly 11:00 p.m., local time. I forced my brain to ignore the fact that even two-year-olds were still awake at home, and I slept all night and woke up refreshed, at a normal hour. If you travel all day instead of all night, you sacrifice a full day of potential golf, but you do less violence to your body clock—a possibly worthwhile trade-off for traveling golfers who aren’t as young as they used to be.

3. No matter when you travel, don’t go to sleep (after you’ve arrived) until it’s dark—not even a wee nap. My wife is incapable of doing this. In her view, a nice hotel room in Paris is the ideal place to spend several days recovering from the ordeal of traveling to France. Be strong! Go straight from the airport to a golf course and play thirty-six holes instead!

4. Beware of weekends. The toughest day of the week on which to get visitor tee times is usually Saturday; the second toughest is Sunday. If you plan a week-long trip that involves leaving for the British Isles on a Friday night and returning two Sundays later—something my friends and I have done several times—you’ll miss just five days of work but your golf itinerary will include the maximum number of nuisance days. And the problem will be compounded if your week also includes a “bank holiday” Monday—the equivalent of a three-day-weekend Monday at home. The solution is to miss a little more work. And you can check the bank-holiday schedule online, through the magic of Google. (On my recent trip, I left on Sunday night, arriving early Monday morning, and returned home the following Tuesday.)

5. Look into poor man’s business class. On my flight home, I paid United $99 for an “Economy Plus” seat, in an exit row. It had so much leg room that I could fully extend my legs without touching the seat in front of mine, and when I went to pee the guy sitting between me and the aisle didn’t have to get up and barely had to move his legs. I took a window seat so that I could lean against it to sleep and, as I had hoped, the middle seat stayed empty, because no one had been willing to pay extra to sit in it. I had so much room that I was able to comfortably type up all my notes from the trip—like getting a free day! And I could plug in my laptop, in an outlet under the seat, when the battery got low!

What’s In My Bag: Jack Chesnutt

Royal Birkdale, May 19, 2013.

Royal Birkdale, May 19, 2013.

Today, I played Royal Birkdale with Paul Jones, a young member and a terrific golfer, whose swing finish you see here:

P1060461Before we teed off, I bought my wife a sweater in the golf shop and decided not to buy myself an enameled ball marker. Then, during our round, I found an enameled ball marker that was even nicer than the one I had decided not to buy. The exact same thing (except for the part about my wife) happened to me a year ago, at Cruden Bay, in Scotland. The ball marker I found there turned out to be one of the luckiest I’ve ever owned, for about a month. Fingers crossed!

And that brings me to Jack Chesnutt, a reader in Colorado, who recently wrote:

I found the ball markers below (along with one from a course in Ireland I have since lost) on a fairway at Pacific Dunes in 2008. They did not seem to have been dropped accidentally from someone’s pocket. They were arranged in a small triangle with a well-worn repair tool in the middle. The last act of a frustrated golfer after watching one more drive arc toward the rocks and surf? Or maybe a little memorial to a departed golfing buddy? The view from that point in the fairway was wonderful.

photoAs I do with all the markers I keep in my golf bag, I rotate the Arrowhead marker in and out of my game. The first three-putt sends it into time-out. But I never use the Old Course marker. I don’t want to lose it. Maybe I will find the owner or his/her son/daughter someday.

Before claiming that these are yours, be prepared to reveal some telling piece of information that only you and Chesnutt could possibly know. Meanwhile, here’s what Chesnutt has to say about his own game:

I caddied for my dad back in the early sixties, but a huge banana slice and indifferent putting convinced me that tennis was more my game. When I turned fifty, my brother-in-law the pilot-golfer (what else do they have to do when they are not driving a 737?)  persuaded me to play a round. I shot 99. I was hooked. My wife (hey, it was her brother who got me into this) made fun of my golf habit. “Why would any human being need more than ONE pair of golf shoes?” Luckily for me, she took up golf, became a 9-handicap, and soon bought her third pair of golf shoes. The trip to Bandon was our first big golf vacation together. The first round, at Pacific Dunes, was memorable not only for the stunning setting but also for finding the ball markers. It was so windy that my stand-bag blew over—twice. I’m now sixty-two years old, and my index is 4.5, and I keep about ten ball markers and three repair tools in the rotation. The repair tools don’t seem to have the same cosmic effect on my putting as the markers. I’m also up to four pair of golf shoes. 

I’ll put up more What’s In My Bag items as soon as I’m back in the States. I’ve got several in the hopper, but there’s room for more. Keep ’em coming—and include at least one photo and a golf-oriented description of yourself.

This Should be the Patron Bird of Golf

Eurasian Skylark, Wallasey Golf Club, England, May 14, 2013.

Eurasian Skylark, Wallasey Golf Club, England, May 14, 2013.

If you’ve ever played links golf in the British Isles, you’ve seen and heard Eurasian skylarks, which nest in tall grass and sing while hovering above the ground, often in strong winds, sometimes for as long as an hour.

At Wallasey Golf Club (virtually next door to Royal Liverpool) I got closer to a skylark than I ever have before:

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The U.K.’s skylark population has fallen by something like ninety percent in the past thirty years, primarily as a result of changes in British agricultural practices which I don’t completely understand. One environment in which they continue to thrive is linksland, and their singing has provided the soundtrack for many of my favorite golf rounds during the past twenty years.

Wallasey Golf Club. Music provided by skylarks.

Wallasey Golf Club. Background music provided by skylarks.

At Formby Golf Club, yesterday, I didn’t see any skylarks, but I did see this, near the seventeenth tee:

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She was hunting for mice, and when she spotted one in the rough she jumped:

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I also saw these—which, for some reason, were sitting in the grass. (Maybe they were trying to hatch golf balls.)

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And I saw lots of these, especially on the practice green:

wagtailThat bird is called a wagtail, because—duh—it wags its tail.

 

Never, Ever Take One of These on a Golf Trip to the British Isles

You won't need one of these if you travel to the British Isles to play golf. Royal Lytham & St. Annes, England, May 13, 2013.

You won’t need one of these if you travel to the British Isles to play golf. Royal Lytham & St. Annes, England, May 13, 2013.

I’m in northwestern England playing golf this week. I didn’t bring an umbrella, and I’m glad I didn’t, even though there’s rain in the forecast for every day from now until the end of time. The trash can on the second tee on almost any links course in England, Scotland, and Ireland often looks like the trash can in the photo above, because American golfers typically come to the British Isles prepared for the rain but not for the wind. One hole is usually enough to destroy almost any umbrella. And carrying a “wind-proof” model isn’t the solution, because if your umbrella can’t be turned inside out it will carry you to sea, assuming you’re strong enough to hang on. Here’s why:

Wind-sculpted trees, thirteenth hole, Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Wind-sculpted trees, thirteenth hole, Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

The wind was blowing hard yesterday, but the trees in the photo above look that way on calm days, too. Even scrubby little bushes get squashed in the direction of the prevailing wind. (I first wrote about the terrific golf courses of northwestern England almost twenty years ago. The opening sentence of my article was “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.” A Golf Digest copy editor, who apparently had never heard of Bob Dylan, changed “weatherman” to “weather report”—and that’s the way it ran.)

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Not carrying an umbrella will lighten your luggage by a couple of pounds, and it will spare you a lot of annoying housekeeping while you play. And you won’t miss it at all, if you have a rain suit, a rain hat, and a pair of rain gloves. The rain gloves are especially important, because if you have a pair of those you won’t need to even think about trying to keep your grips dry. In fact, if you have rain gloves you almost don’t need to carry a towel. And after my first trip to Scotland, in the early nineties, I stopped carrying an umbrella at home, too. Way too much trouble!

How to Pack for a Golf Trip to the British Isles

ebags

Quite a while ago, Tom Reynolds, a reader in Atlanta, asked me to suggest a packing list for a golf trip to Ireland. I said I would, then forgot all about it, and recently he asked again. So here it is.

This packing list is the result of two and a half decades of thoughtful experimentation. In making it, I’ve assumed that no spouse or health-department official will be in your group, and that you will buy at least one souvenir golf shirt, one souvenir golf sweater, and one souvenir golf hat while you’re abroad. I’ve also assumed that you are not planning to do anything rash, like meeting a client or going to a play. My strong preference with rain pants (which are also useful as wind pants) is to wear them as pants, if possible, rather than over pants. If the weather is nippy, I wear them over long johns.

The reason for minimalist packing is not to avoid airline luggage charges; the reason is to reduce the tonnage of the gear you have to lug from place to place, and to make the most efficient use of the storage space in whatever vehicle you’re traveling in. Packing light also leaves space for all the overpriced golf stuff that you are almost certainly going to buy and lug home.

Because linksland weather is highly unpredictable but within a relatively narrow range—I’ve played in shirtsleeves in Northern Ireland in November and been hailed on in Scotland in June—my list doesn’t change a whole lot from month to month. Think in terms of layers, and be prepared to allow time for wet items to dry out—especially shoes. Mike B. took his plug-in ski-boot driers on our most recent trip to Ireland. He never needed them, because our shoes never really got wet, but taking them wasn’t a terrible idea. On a golf trip to eastern Ireland twenty years ago, I took two rainsuits and needed them both.

It’s possible to pack more than this, of course. It’s also possible to pack less. My friend Tony gets by with just his rain pants and one pair of chef pants, and some people believe that he never changes his shirt. A few years ago, Golf Digest sent me to play all fourteen courses where the British Open has ever been held, and I realized toward the end of the trip, which lasted two weeks, that although I’d brought two pairs of pants I could have gotten by with one. The great thing about microfiber is that you can launder it with a hotel wash cloth, even if you’ve gotten chocolate on it. I recommend black.

Tony in chef pants, North Berwick, Scotland, May, 2008.

Tony in chef pants, North Berwick, Scotland, May, 2008.

On my first golf trip to the British Isles, twenty years ago, I took a full-size suitcase. Now I take just a carry-on bag: a Mother Lode TLS Mini 21-inch rolling duffel, by eBags, which is currently selling for $190, shipping included (see photo at the top of this post). This is my favorite suitcase ever, even for non-golf trips. No matter what kind of suitcase you use, I recommend buying a selection of eBags Packing Cubes, which are soft, box-shaped modules that simplify intra-suitcase organization and make it easy to use your golf bag’s travel case for overflow packing.

Here’s what I take:

In the carry-on bag:

1 pair dark polyester microfiber pants (and a second pair worn on the plane—and I recommend black for both, because they never look dirty and you can remove stains, even chocolate, with a hotel wash cloth)
1 golf shirt (and a second one worn on the plane—and in cooler months I would make one or both of these shirts long-sleeved)
1 sweater (worn or packed, depending on the weather
1 pair of Under Armour-type long johns
1 long-sleeve Under Armour-type undershirt or turtleneck
1 tee shirt (to sleep in and serve in a pinch as an extra layer)
1 pair of “house pants”—fleece pants or nylon hiking pants or something similar (for lounging around, and for emergency duty under rain pants if the weather turns really foul, and for wearing on the trip home)
1 pair of shorts, maybe (something I’d never thought about before 2016, when sunburn was a bigger threat than rain in western Ireland)
Lots of cotton handkerchiefs (my new favorite golf accessory, useful for nose-wiping during wet, cold, windy, or allergen-dense rounds)
As many pairs of underpants and (wool) socks as I can cram into the remaining space

In the golf bag or golf-bag travel case (along with my golf clubs):

2 pairs of waterproof golf shoes
1 rain suit (the jacket of which, in combination with an undershirt, shirt, sweater, vest, etc., should be plenty of cold-weather protection, even for winter)
2 regular golf gloves and 2 pairs of rain gloves
1 Seattle Sombrero (or other truly good rain hat)
1 regular golf hat
1 knit cap
1 super-lightweight down vest, in its little stuff sack (weighs nothing, and is easy to cram into a golf bag; mine is by Uniqlo and is a recent addition to my packing)
As many golf balls as you think you’re going to need, because they’re cheaper here (a reasonable number is two balls a round; a couple of guys lost more, but some lost almost none)
A full box of Band-Aid or Compeed “blister cushions.” You won’t need them if you’re careful about the golf shoes you take, but if you have them in your bag you’ll be a hero to someone on your trip
Toiletry-type crap (if you put your toiletry kit in your checked bag you won’t need to worry about decanting your gels and liquids into tiny bottles and setting them aside in a Ziploc bag)

Other stuff:

1 or 2 twenty-four-inch bungee cords, for strapping your golf bag onto a pushcart (known abroad as a trolley), to keep the bag from falling off when you drag it into the dunes
1 water bottle (because on-course water isn’t common outside the United States; you can fill your bottle each day in your hotel room or in a golf-club locker room)
1 UK-and-Ireland-type plug adapter. Household current is 230 volts, but all your electronics will run on that with just the plug adapter—no need for a voltage converter. If all you’re going to need to charge is your phone, you can probably find a 110-volt shaver outlet (for an American-type plug) in the bathroom of your hotel room
1 mini-power strip (if, like me, you have a lot of stuff to plug in—mine’s made by Belkin—because no hotel room on earth has enough outlets, especially in other countries)
1 sleep mask (for creating darkness where there is none)
Earplugs (doubly useful if the locals are holding a Dallas-themed “Oil Barons’ Ball” in the main dining room—as happened to me in England a few years ago)

Travel clothes:

If you are going straight from the plane to a golf course—and that’s what you should be planning to do, in my opinion—you should wear golf clothes on the plane. For the trip home, it’s nice to have clean stuff. In my case, I flew home in a bought shirt, a bought sweater, and a pair of lightweight nylon pants that I hadn’t worn during golf.
If your golf shoes have nubs on the soles instead of spikes, you probably don’t need any other shoes—although you may be required to strip down to your socks in some parts of some golf clubs. On a recent trip to Ireland, I took a pair of “après-golf” shoes—which were actually just non-waterproof golf shoes—but wore them only a couple of times, because my two pairs of “working” golf shoes were just as comfortable and never really got wet. Tim brought two pairs of golf shoes plus a pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs, which he wore on the plane, on the bus, and when we weren’t playing golf—an idea I intend to steal next time

If you prefer to receive your packing instructions in video form, you can do so here:

For many years, I’ve accessorized my rain paints with farmer-type suspenders, my first pair of which I ordered from the Vermont Country Store. (I now use a different kind, which you can order here.) Suspenders eliminate the main problem of rain paints, which is that they creep down every time you put wet hands into the pockets. I also own, and sometimes use, a pair of Velcro bicycle clips, which are handy if the legs of your rain pants are so long they drag on the ground, as many are.

Vermont Country Store suspenders with rain pants, Scotland, 2004.

Vermont Country Store suspenders with rain pants, Scotland, 2004.

On a golf trip to England in 2010, my friends and I had to take sports coats so that we could eat dinner in the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Hacker (real name) took a crummy old one, intending to abandon it there—a plan I foiled by spotting it in a closet on the day we left and returning it to him at the airport. But the concept is brilliant: clothes you can wear to extinction, then leave behind.

My bedroom in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, May, 2010. My sports coat is in that pile somewhere.

My bedroom in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, May, 2010. My sports coat is in that pile somewhere.

On our trip to Scotland and Ireland in 2014, Peter A. brought many pairs of super-cheap socks, and threw away each pair after a single use. This seemed smart in the abstract, but he ended up being the only person on the trip who got blisters. For this most recent trip, he brought more expensive throwaway socks (roughly a dollar a pair versus roughly fifteen cents) and didn’t have a problem. My personal preference is to pack the best wool socks I feel I can afford, and lots of them.

I’ve always thought it was crazy to take shorts on a golf trip to the U.K. or Ireland, because indigenous golfers hardly ever wear them and some golf clubs have semi-ridiculous rules about them—like Hillside, in England, which allows shorts only if they’re worn with knee-height socks. (Dress codes abroad are kind of unpredictable. In 2016, the starter at Lahinch asked Matt to roll down the cuffs of his pants, which he had turned up maybe an inch, but let a local kid tee off in surfer shorts and an untucked tee shirt.)

It’s possible to pack more than this, of course. It’s also possible to pack less. On a non-golf trip to Europe a few years ago, my wife surprised me by packing lighter than I did. You don’t need to plan a lot of different “looks.”

Golf on the Winter Solstice

This isn't the Sunday Morning Group, but it's close. It's a bunch of self-styled Druids celebrating the 2012 Winter Solstice at Stonehenge, an archaeological site not far from the Salisbury & South Wilts Golf Club, which was founded in 1888, a year before my club at home. This photo is from the National Geographic website.

This isn’t the Sunday Morning Group, but it’s close. It’s a group of modern-day Druids celebrating the 2012 Winter Solstice at Stonehenge, an English archaeological site not far from the Salisbury & South Wilts Golf Club, which was founded in 1888, a year before my home club. (This photo is from the website of National Geographic.)

The world didn’t end on December 21, 2012, although we had so much rain during the night that I occasionally worried we were done for. The storm continued through most of the morning, and, as a consequence, just three of us showed up at 10:00 for the Sunday Morning Group’s second annual Winter Solstice Scramble and Holiday Party, With Gift Exchange. Gary, our superintendent, built a fire in the clubhouse fireplace, and he, Hacker (real name), and I sat in front of it and used our cell phones to send sarcastic emails to everyone else.

Gary and Hacker: where's everyone else?

Gary and Hacker: where are Doug and Mrs. Doug, among other people?

The rain slackened after about an hour, and we could tell from Raindar that it was going to end soon. By 11:30, we had seven participants, including Mrs. Hacker, who had been delayed by a fallen tree.

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We ordered four pizzas from Upper Crust Cucina, the official caterers not only of the Sunday Morning Group but also of the Men’s Member-Guest. Then we played a five-hole warm-up round with one club each while we waited for the pizzas to be delivered. (Upper Crust doesn’t deliver to anyone but us, so don’t bother asking.)

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During the one-club, we saw six deer on the ninth fairway (photo below). When the pizzas arrived, we paid for them out of the Sunday Morning Group’s Slush Fund, which Hacker keeps in an envelope.

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The pizza was terrific, as it always is, and during the gift exchange I received, from Hacker, a coffee cup that looks like a softball-size golf ball. He hadn’t bought it—he had just found it on a shelf—but I still like it. You can see part of it in the bottom right hand corner of the photo below, between my Thermos brand coffee travel mug and the communal bottle of Jägermeister, the official cold-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group. I poured my Diet Pepsi into it, as a gesture of gratitude and respect.

P1040928After lunch, four of us played eighteen holes with all our clubs, and I lost twelve dollars, on account of having forgotten how to play golf, apparently. We got pretty close to a great blue heron, which hangs out near the stream that runs across the lowest part of our course, between the out-of-bounds woods on the right side of the fifth hole and the pond on the fourth. You can see it taking off in the photo below. It’s the gray blur above the bridge:

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Here’s one of the places where the heron had been fishing. Ordinarily, this stream is about a foot wide.

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We discussed holding a contest to name the heron. One possibility: “Uncle Frank,” after our dearly departed old friend Uncle Frank. It’s remotely conceivable that the heron actually is Uncle Frank, in bird form, although it doesn’t smoke or tell funny stories, and it doesn’t appear to be married to a retired soap-opera star.

We didn’t have as big a turnout for the 2012 Winter Solstice as we did for either the 2011 Winter Solstice (see photo immediately below) or the 2012 Summer Solstice (see photo below that). But seven is still pretty good for a day when nobody in their right mind played golf.

Winter Solstice tournament field December, 2011.

Winter Solstice tournament field December, 2011.

Summer Solstice 2012.

Summer Solstice all-day golf event, 101 holes, June, 2012.

Great Golf Invention: Improved Tournament Periscope

Steve Davis and his invention at Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks, California, December 2, 2012.

On Sunday, at Tiger’s tournament, I ran into Steve Davis, who is the guy in the photo above. He invented the contraption he’s holding: a periscope that enables him to see over the heads of people standing in front of him. It’s an improvement over other golf periscopes because it doesn’t completely block the view of people standing behind him. Also, it has a shoulder strap and a beer holder:

Davis works for a copier company. He has “wallpapered” his invention with color copies of mementos from other golf tournaments he’s attended, including the 2010 U.S. Open. If you’d like to give him a lot of money to manufacture these things full time, let me know, and if you don’t sound like a nut I’ll put you in touch.

Periscopes used to be common at golf tournaments. The photo below is from the 1965 Ryder Cup, at Royal Birkdale. (Senior Service is a British cigarette brand.)

Many spectators at the 1993 Ryder Cup, which I attended (at the Belfry, in England), had periscopes that looked like the boxes that bottles of Johnny Walker scotch come in. (Johnny Walker sponsored the tournament.) The Belfry is a terrible course for spectators, and the periscopes made things better for the people who had them and worse for the people who didn’t. The only way to improve Davis’s invention, I think, would be to add a second beer holder.

 

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 1

My luck-of-the-draw playing partners at Tarbat Golf Club, a ten-hole course in Portmahomack, Scotland, across Dornoch Firth from Royal Dornoch Golf Club. I don’t remember their names, but they lived nearby and worked in the oil industry. They were playing in a tournament but had no expectation of winning anything and so didn’t mind having me along. May, 2007.

Life, I discovered recently, is much shorter than it seemed to be when I was fifteen years old and waiting to get my driver’s license. I’m going to turn sixty in a little over two years, and not long ago I realized with distress that I scarcely have enough time left to paint the rest of my shutters, much less to qualify for the senior tour. And what about that twenty pounds I was going to lose?

Fortunately, I’ve already managed to accomplish more than I ever thought I would. In a club tournament a few years ago, I five-putted from six feet, turning a merely bad round into one that I’ll be able to boast about to my grandchildren. I also once spent part of a family vacation writing an apology letter to the entire membership of my golf club, after (allegedly) behaving like a man half my age.

Now that I really am my age, I intend to devote the dwindling remainder of my time on earth to telling other people what to do. Here is the first of ten important things that I think every serious golfer ought to try to accomplish before it’s too late:

1. Explore golf from the singles line. Like most golfers, I play most of my rounds with people I know already—guys I tend to think of as my best friends, even though I’m not sure where some of them work or whether they have kids. However, I’ve played more than a few of my favorite rounds with total strangers after showing up at an unfamiliar course by myself or with less than a full foursome. At various times over the years, on golf courses on four continents, I’ve fortuitously been paired with: a French real estate developer who had a weekend house in Morocco, a guy who owned and operated a souvlaki pushcart in Manhattan, the man who served as the Senate’s chief counsel during the Iran-Contra hearings, a retired Korean wigmaker, three guys who were playing hooky from their jobs on the assembly line at Boeing, a future chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a teacher who had recently started a golf program at an inner-city high school, a retired cotton broker who had once been a colleague of Paul McCartney’s father, and an unemployed carpenter who looked like George Carlin and told me that the key to golf is to “swing easy as hard as you can.” How many other relatively ordinary activities throw you together with people like that for an afternoon?

To be continued.

The ninth/eighteenth at Tarbat. This is one of my favorite golf holes anywhere: a short par-four that plays either around, over, alongside, or into a cemetery, depending on the shape and length of your tee shot.

The Best Way to Watch the Ryder Cup

No, that’s not a medical office building. It’s the premium grandstand beside the eighteenth green at the 1993 Ryder Cup, which was held at The Belfry, in England.

The best way to watch almost any golf tournament is on TV. That’s especially true of the Ryder Cup, because at any moment there’s hardly anything going on. I’ve been to just one Ryder Cup in person—in 1993, on the Brabazon course at The Belfry, in England—and it was a spectator’s nightmare. The most coveted seats, initially, were in an enclosed multistory grandstand beside the eighteenth green, and people who had passes for it began arriving long before the first match teed off. They then waited for almost twelve hours with nothing to watch except one another getting drunk, because on the first day only one of the eight matches—the afternoon four-ball between Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, for the Europeans, and Paul Azinger and Fred Couples, for the United States—made it to the eighteenth hole.

The Belfry, like most of the courses where the Europeans hold the Ryder Cup, is a dud. The nicest thing that Ron Whitten could find to say about it, in Golf Digest’s 1993 Ryder Cup preview, was that its blandness would prevent it from intruding on the golf—perhaps the faintest possible praise for a championship layout. It’s also the opposite of a stadium course. There are no hillsides or mounds for spectators to stand on, and in 1993 the trees  were way too small to climb. I saw one man standing on a paint can, which he had somehow smuggled past the guards at the gate, and I saw many people standing on small stools, also smuggled. Because the viewing opportunities were so meager, there were crowds surrounding the few available television sets. There was one in the Lloyd’s pharmacy tent, and one in the exhibition tent, and one in a rowdy refreshment tent near the tenth fairway. Medinah Country Club is far more spectator-friendly, but if you’re watching from home you should still count yourself lucky.

You should also be grateful that the broadcast isn’t being handled by the BBC. In 1993, Tom Kite would be putting for eagle somewhere, but on the screen you would see Colin Montgomerie practicing a putt he had just missed, or Nick Faldo standing by his golf bag, chatting with his caddie. The camera operators couldn’t track balls in the air and had trouble finding them when they were on the ground. The producers would suddenly cut to Barry Lane, picking him up in mid-follow-through, and the sound equipment on the course looked like Second World War surplus. The BBC has improved since then, but not enough. In the TV Cup, the USA wins every time.