A Back-Yard Putting Green in Brooklyn

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.)

Reader’s Trip Report: Whistling Straits

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.

A Better Way to Measure the Power of Hurricanes

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.

Great Golf Course on TV This Week: Kingsbarns

The British Women’s Open is on this week, and it’s being held on one of my favorite courses: Kingsbarns, in St. Andrews. The Golf Channel’s coverage so far seems to be limited to putts, commercials, and talking heads, but occasionally the camera drifts past a few holes, on its way from the leaderboard back to the commentators’ booth. I’ve played Kingsbarns only once, and that was thirteen years ago, but I still often think about it, and I want to go back.

Kingsbarns looks like a links course but is actually an optical illusion. It was carved (by an American! in 2000!) from a featureless swath of seaside pastureland—but despite its lack of an ancient pedigree it’s a terrific course and it’s unusually fun to play. In addition, the clubhouse is the right scale (small), and it has a good bar with the most amazing panoramic windows, plus leather chairs you could sleep all night in.

During my single round, in 2004, we were held up on every shot by a painfully slow group ahead of us. On the suggestion of our bus driver, we complained in the bar and were given all our drinks for free (then left a tip that was big enough to cover pretty much the entire tab). That night, we ate at a restaurant recommended by the same driver, who had overruled the recommendation of our caddies. The suspicion on the trip was that the driver was receiving kickbacks from the restaurants he took us to, although I was inclined to trust him, having eaten in a few caddie-recommended pubs over the years. Here’s the Kingsbarns clubhouse:

Ideal Accommodations for a Golf Trip

Photo by Mike Bowman.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the resort at Cabot Links—on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia—comes close to my conception of the ideal. I’ve written before that all you really need on a golf trip, in terms of accommodation, is a comfortable bed and a good shower, and that, in fact, the ideal arrangement might be a good shower with a comfortable bed in it. My room at Cabot wasn’t quite like that (although the shower was big enough to hold a bed), but it had many other desirable features (photos at the bottom of this post), among them:

  • It was neither too large nor too small.
  • Like every other room at Cabot, it looked across the golf course to the water and the setting sun.
  • There was no rich-guy idiocy, as there is at Streamsong (where my room had a pair of enormous swiveling back-to-back flat-screen TVs).
  • The bathroom floor was heated.
  • There was a nice coffee maker, and instead of powdered non-dairy coffee “whitener” there were little containers of real milk and real half-and-half.
  • The distance from the door of my room to the golf shop, bar, restaurant, reception area, bag drop, and first tee was less than the distance from the back door of my house to my mailbox.
  • There was a nightlight in the bathroom, but it was positioned below and behind the hand-towel rack, so that people who don’t like a lot of nighttime illumination (me) could easily block it with a hand towel.
  • There was a putting target on the floor, and good fast carpet to putt on.
  • There was an ice cream stand across the street, within easy walking distance.
  • WiFi was free and fast.
  • All prices were in Canadian dollars, making everything seem to be on sale.

And pushcarts and lockers were free, the caddies were fun to be with, the restaurants were nice but not too nice, the staff was almost unbelievably cheerful and accommodating, there were chocolate-chip cookies on the first tee, and we saw bald eagles every day.



Why Howard Was Completely Wrong About Our Buddies Trip to Nova Scotia

Eight friends and I recently spent four days playing six and a half rounds at Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia. There would have been twelve of us if three of the five lawyers in the original group hadn’t dropped out. The first lawyer to bail was Howard, whose principal objections were: (a) traveling to Cabot takes longer than traveling to Scotland; (b) playing two golf courses three times each is a waste of a good golf trip; and (c) overseas golf itineraries should consist solely of famous old courses that have been famous for a long time.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

It’s true that Cabot is slightly tricky to get to. Unless you have your own airplane, you fly to Halifax and then drive for three hours. But the flight is a breeze, especially by comparison with any flight to the British Isles—it’s less than two hours from either New York or Boston—and the drive, which follows the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is pleasant in itself, especially if, as in our case, you’re being driven in one of Cabot’s fleet of eleven-passenger Mercedes vans. And once you’ve arrived at Cabot you don’t have to travel again until it’s time to go home. (There’s an ice-cream stand across the street, but you can walk.)

As for repeatedly playing the same two golf courses, I think three rounds could be considered the minimum ideal exposure to any great golf course. Repetition on that scale is hard to pull off if you’re racing death to the end of your bucket list, but you can’t fully appreciate a course until you given yourself opportunities to make up for bad shots and stupid decisions in earlier rounds. Besides, the best courses improve with repetition.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

Both courses at Cabot also belong on the surprisingly long list of new and relatively new courses that hold their own in any comparison with the great courses of the past. (Cabot Links was designed by Rod Whitman, a Canadian protégé of Bill Coore’s, and Cabot Cliffs was designed by Coore and Ben Crenshaw.) And Cabot comes very close to my conception of the ideal golf resort.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

Our rooms—all of which overlooked both the golf course and the water—were nice, but not too nice. The food was good, but not ridiculous. The staff was unfailingly friendly and accommodating without ever seeming overbearing. The week after our visit, one of the members of the women’s version of our club’s Sunday Morning Group went to Cabot with a friend. They liked it so much that, before they left, they signed up for a return visit, in the fall. All the guys on our trip are going to go back, too, Howard be damned.

Photo by Mike Bowman.

Is This the Best Overseas Golf Itinerary?

I have an article in the summer issue of Links called “England’s Golf Coast.” It’s about a remarkable thirty-mile stretch of linksland that runs along the Lancashire coast between Liverpool and St. Annes, in northwestern England. The Golf Coast includes three of the ten courses on the active Open Championship Rota—Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale (where this year’s Open will be held), and Royal Lytham and St. Annes—but you could skip all three and still have an unforgettable trip. I’ve visited the area several times, most recently in 2013, and my friends have been talking about going back ever since our first trip there as a group, three years before that. The courses are so closely spaced that you can park yourself and your luggage in one place—no need for a coach and driver. In 2010, nine of us stayed mostly in three three-bedroom apartments in this building, in Southport:

The cost worked out to less than fifty dollars per man per night. The longest drive we had to golf was about an hour, and many of the courses we played were just a few minutes away. Here’s Barney in the living room of one of our apartments:

Below are photos of courses and people I mention in my Links article, taken during various trips over the years. First, St. Annes Old Links, which is next door to Royal Lytham and includes ground that was once part of its routing. Here are two members I played with. We wore rainsuits not because we expected rain but because the wind was blowing hard enough to shred ordinary golf clothing:

This is me in 2010 at West Lancashire Golf Club, known locally as West Lancs. It opened in 1873 and was the first Golf Coast course built north of the River Mersey. As is true of many courses in the area, you can travel to it by train from central Liverpool:A great guide to golf courses on the Lancashire coast is Links Along the Line, by Harry Foster, a retired teacher and a social historian. He rode along when I played Hesketh Golf Club, where he was a member for many years. (He died in 2014.)Hesketh isn’t my favorite course, but a couple of its oldest holes, on the second nine, are among my favorite holes. This view is back toward the clubhouse (the red-roofed white building near the center):

Hesketh has both a fascinating history (ask about the Hitler Tree) and a cool address:

In 2013, Foster and his wife joined me for dinner in the dining room at Formby Golf Club, one of my favorite courses anywhere. I actually spent several nights in the Formby clubhouse, in this room:

The Formby course encircles a separate golf club, Formby Ladies. Don’t skip it, as I did until 2013, to my permanent regret. Among the women I played with was Anne Bromley, on the right in the photo below. Her father was once the head professional at Royal County Down:

Formby Ladies isn’t long, but if you aren’t careful it will eat you up. The club has an excellent history, which you can study over lunch in the clubhouse (known to members as the Monkey House):At a nature preserve down the road from Formby, I met a retired Merseyside policeman and his wife, who own a coffee concession. He invited me to join him and his son, an aspiring professional, for a round at Southport & Ainsdale, which hosted the Ryder Cup in 1933 and 1937 and the British Amateur in 2005.The first hole at S&A is a par 3, and it’s a corker:Right next door to S&A, on the other side of the railroad tracks, is Hillside:

And right next door to Hillside is Royal Birkdale, whose clubhouse was designed to look a little like an ocean liner:

Birkdale is one of my favorite Open courses. I played it with a young member who had a lot less trouble with it than I did. In fact, he shot pretty close to even par:

In both 2010 and 2013, I spent one night in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham and St. Annes—part of a stay-and-play package that’s one of the greatest bargains in links golf. The view from my bedroom was across the practice green (and through mist) toward the clubhouse and the eighteenth hole:Here’s what the wind at Lytham—which wasn’t blowing when I took the photo below—has done to the trees. Many years ago, I wrote an article for Golf Digest whose opening line was “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.” The copy editor, who had apparently never heard of Bob Dylan, changed “weatherman” to “weather report.” I was mortified, but it turned out that none of the magazine’s readers had heard of Bob Dylan either. Anyway, leave your umbrella at home:You should play Royal Liverpool, of course, but don’t overlook Wallasey, just a few miles away:Wallasey was the home club of Dr. Frank Stableford, who in 1932 invented the round-rescuing scoring system that’s named for him. Here are the eighteenth green and the clubhouse:And, of course, if you somehow get tired of playing golf you can take any of a number of interesting side trips:

My Amazing Eagle at Cabot Cliffs This Morning

Look closely at the edge of the cliff on the right side of the photo below, which was taken by Gene’s caddie on the sixteenth tee at Cabot Cliffs this morning:
Here’s a closer look:

And closer still:
Bald eagles are practically as common as robins in Inverness, Nova Scotia—one of many reasons, though by no means the only reason, to take a golf trip to Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, as a detachment from the Sunday Morning Group did this past week. More about that later.

The End of Sand

I have an article in this week’s New Yorker about sand—and there’s some actual golf in it. Here’s an excerpt, about a round I played in Dubai:

One day, I played golf with an Australian who worked for a major real-estate developer. The course, like Dubai itself, had been built on empty desert, and I commented that creating fairways and greens in such a forbidding environment must be difficult. “No,” the Australian said. “Deserts are easy, because you can shape the sand into anything you like.” The difficult parts, paradoxically, are the areas that are supposed to be sand: deserts make lousy sand traps. The wind-blown grains are so rounded that golf balls sink into them, so the sand in the bunkers on Dubai’s many golf courses is imported. Jumeirah Golf Estates—on the outskirts of the city, next to the desert—has two courses, Fire and Earth, both designed by Greg Norman. The sand in the bunkers on the Earth course is white (the most prized color for golf sand) and was bought from a producer in North Carolina. The sand on the Fire course is reddish brown—more like the desert across the road. Norman’s company bought it from Hutcheson, which mined it at its quarry in Ontario, sifted it to make it firmer than volleyball sand, kiln-dried it, dyed it, and loaded it onto a ship.

Bonus golf-related sand trivia (not in the article):The white sand in the bunkers at last year’s U.S. Open, at Oakmont, and Ryder Cup, at Hazeltine, came from a single quarry, in Ohio. It’s a trademarked brand called Tour Grade Signature Blend, from Fairmount Santrol, a Michigan company that also produces sand for molds used in metal-casting.

The photographs above and below are of an Army Corps of Engineers beach-nourishment project on the Jersey Shore—which I also wrote about. The metal boxes in the photo below are for unexploded munitions, which the Army dumped off the coast after the Second World War and the dredges sometimes slurp up.

Shouldn’t We Just Get Rid of Golf?

I traveled to Colorado, Arizona, California, and Utah without my golf clubs recently, promoting my new book, Where the Water Goes. Among other things, I gave a talk in the Mark Taper Auditorium at the Los Angeles Central Library.

There was a Q & A period at the end, and one member of the audience asked, in effect, whether a good way to cope with drought in the West might not be to get rid of golf. I gave my usual defense (“Blah, blah, blah, blah”). Later that evening, though, I thought of a different answer: Why not cut down all the palm trees in Los Angeles? None of them grow there naturally, and they consume a lot of water. Most people assume that palm trees (and citrus trees) are indigenous to L.A., but they’re not, and they’d die without irrigation. Here’s a photo of a palm-tree planting project in the city in the nineteen-twenties:

Better get rid of the gardens, too:

Nothing you see in the photo above is a native species. The climate of Los Angeles is semi-arid, and without irrigation the city would look like the set of “Rawhide.” There are places in the United States where watering fairways is clearly irrational, but if we’re sane about costs and trade-offs most regions can manage a variety of irrigated outdoor recreational facilities, including parks, athletic fields, and golf courses. More about that in my book.