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.

My Latest Favorite Golf Accessory

In May, eleven buddies and I spent a week playing golf in Ireland, and one of the guys on the trip, Mike B., brought a travel accessory I’d never heard of: a pair of cigar-shaped electric boot dryers, which he takes on ski trips. When I’m traveling, I usually dry wet golf shoes by balancing them upside down on the shade of a bedside lamp in my hotel room (a method made both less hazardous and less effective by the death of the incandescent bulb) or by wedging them between the dashboard and windshield in my rental car and blasting them with the defroster. At home, I’ve always leaned wet golf shoes against a wall in front of a small portable fan.

We had such great weather in Ireland that Mike never had to use his boot dryers, but they got me to thinking. Recently, I bought a larger, at home-version: a shoe-and-boot dryer made by a company called Peet. It stands just under two feet tall and consists of two cylindrical plastic chimneys mounted on a sturdy plastic base. You place wet shoes upside down on the chimneys, and by morning they’re dry and toasty, inside and out. The device is silent, and it’s so gentle that it won’t harm fancy leather, but it thoroughly dries even shoes you’ve worn while playing all day in the rain.

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When I bought my Peet dryer, I expected to use it only on golf shoes I’d worn in crummy weather, but since then I’ve realized that it’s great for shoes and boots of all kinds, and that even on nice days ordinary perspiration can make the inside of your shoes damp to the touch. Dry shoes last longer, and they don’t get stinky. My wife now uses my Peet dryer on her hockey skates, too. In fact, before long we may have to trade up to the two-pair model.

Playing Golf, and Counting Steps, With a Microsoft Band

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This past spring, eleven friends and I took a week-long golf trip to Ireland. Shortly before we left, Microsoft sent us four Band 2 activity trackers to field-test. Addison, Matt, Peter, and I wore them for the entire trip, then took them home. I’ve worn mine every day since we got back, and the other guys have worn theirs, too. One thing I like about the Band is that it’s sleek and futuristic-looking—a major difference from the Apple Watch, which to me looks like it was designed for preschoolers: My First Wristwatch.

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During our Ireland trip, we mainly used our Bands to measure how far we walked. We played 36 holes every day but two, and I was especially interested to know whether longer, wilder hitters (Matt) walked farther than shorter, straighter hitters (me). And they did, by a noticeable amount—although the difference was blurred by the occasional willingness of the shorter, straighter hitters to detour into the dunes to help the longer, wilder hitters look for their ball. Overall, the four of us averaged about 15 miles a day, and roughly 100 miles for the week—a good workout. The longest day was the last (34,250 steps and 17.7 miles during 36 holes at Enniscrone) and the shortest was the fourth (21,336 steps and 11 miles during 18 holes at Connemara plus an afternoon hike along the shore of Lough Inagh).

Lough Inagh. (Photo by Mike Bowman)

Lough Inagh. (Photo by Mike Bowman)

Setting up our Bands was pretty easy. You download a smartphone app called Microsoft Health, and pair the Band to the phone. For some of the Band’s functions—email, messaging, current-weather updates, Cortana—the phone needs to be within Bluetooth distance; for tracking walks, hikes, runs, bike rides, workouts, heartbeats, sleep quality, and so forth it doesn’t.

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The Band is not waterproof, although it’s something more than water-resistant. I’ve accidentally worn mine in the shower (many times), in the swimming pool (once, for fifteen minutes), in the hot tub (not as often as in the shower, but almost), and in the rain (several times) — and I haven’t destroyed it yet. I’ve gotten better at remembering to take it off, but I do worry that someday I’ll go too far and it will self-destruct, the way my wife’s iPhone did when she dropped it in the toilet. I assume that if there were an economical way to make fancy electronic gadgets fully waterproof they’d all be fully waterproof. If I were in the fitness-tracker business, I’d have a team of geniuses working exclusively on water.

That's Matt on the right. His Band is the thing on his wrist, not his head.

That’s Matt on the right. His Band is the thing on his wrist, not his head.

Microsoft and TaylorMade worked together to create a golf app, which turns a Band into a GPS rangefinder, shot-counter, and golf-related-statistics-compiler. “Stay focused on your game and forget about score tracking,” the website says. “Microsoft Band tracks your shots and measures your performance as you play. Sensors can distinguish between a practice swing and an actual shot.”

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That’s all true, sort of. I wore my Band during a round at home, before our trip, and was impressed at how good it was at recognizing real golf shots. But it wasn’t perfect. It doesn’t understand about conceded putts, water hazards, out of bounds, provisional balls, or tap-ins, and if you knock away an opponent’s ball it thinks you’ve made a stroke at your own. That means that you can’t actually “forget about score tracking,” because you have to keep count independently, on a scorecard or in your head, and double-check the Band after every hole. Correcting miscounts is easy, but if you have to do all that anyway why bother with the app? The GPS part worked fine, although it was a little slow. Any GPS device pulls hard on a battery—it’s engaged in a two-way conversation with orbiting satellites—so to use it on a 36-hole day you almost certainly need to recharge between rounds. It does recharge quickly—much more quickly than a phone—and if you aren’t using an app that depends on GPS the battery will easily last two days.

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GPS is totally worth using with the app that tracks bike rides, since it gives you lots of information, including top speed, average speed, elevation gain and loss, best split, average split, and heart rate. It also superimposes your route on a map, and shows you exactly where you cruised and where you struggled. There are similar features for runners. I’m not one of those, thank goodness, but if I were I could upload Band data to various popular run-tracking utilities, too. The hiking app also maps your route, although if the GPS is in power-saving mode it makes some funny mistakes when it makes educated guesses about your next moves. I used the hiking app on the golf course one day, and it told me later that I had walked into the center of the pond on the fourth hole, then changed my mind and walked back out. But the big picture was correct.

Strandhill Golf Club, 29,730 steps, 15.3 miles.)

Strandhill Golf Club, 29,730 steps, 15.3 miles.)

The Band has some quirks. Like some other fitness trackers I’ve tried, it counts bumps and potholes on the Hutchinson River Parkway as steps (and lots of them); you can keep that from happening by taking it off, or turning it off, when you’re driving on rough roads. If I click on the “run” tile before walking my dog, it credits me with having burned more calories than it does if I leave the Band in standard step-and-heartbeat-tracking mode, even though my route and pace are exactly the same. And the difference is bigger still if I click on the “exercise” tile before taking the same walk, or before playing a round of golf. I assume that when I do those things the Band isn’t suddenly detecting some new and previously unsuspected source of energy expenditure, but is simply applying a different formula to the same small number of detectable variables. It’s a handy feature, though. I like being able to double the health benefit of taking a walk simply by clicking an icon. Look! I just earned an entire pint of Cherry Garcia!

This is the thing we're all trying to delay as long as possible (alongside the first fairway at Ballybunion, 32,282 steps, 15.6 miles)

This is the thing we’re all trying to delay as long as possible (alongside the first fairway at Ballybunion, 32,282 steps, 15.6 miles)

In lots of ways, I’m a non-ideal user of a sophisticated gadget like a Microsoft Band. I don’t want my wrist to tell me I’ve just received an email, a text message, or a smartphone notification, or to connect me to Facebook and Twitter—all chores that the Band is able to perform but that I don’t allow even my phone to handle. I don’t want to track my sleep every night (although I did do it twice, and was interested in the results, especially my “resting heart rate”). I don’t want to monitor my weight, and not only because I recently decided that from now on I’m going to weigh myself only twice a year, if that. I don’t care how many calories my activities supposedly burn, except as a rough approximation of how busy I was being, because I don’t think anyone really knows what the numbers mean. But all the potential annoyances are easy to turn off, or not to turn on on the first place, or to ignore. And there are many people who truly do love stuff like that.

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I do like counting my steps and knowing how many miles I walk when I play golf or walk my dog, and I like the cycling app, and I like to be able to check the local temperature and forecast by glancing at my wrist. I also like the small but surprisingly effective nudge the Band gives me throughout the day. You can even have it remind you to get off your butt if you’ve been motionless for too long. Quantifying even ordinary activities can inspire you to be more active, especially if you like to compete against people who are easy to beat, such as yourself. If I notice that I’m a couple of thousand steps short of some big round number, I’ll grab the leash. And that’s good for the dog as well as for me.

Linksland is Not Called Linksland Because It “Links the Town to the Sea”

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Despite what television announcers sometimes say (ahem), linksland is not called linksland because it “links the town to the sea.” Nor is “links” as a synonym for “golf course.” Links” is a geological term. Linksland is a specific type of sandy, wind-sculpted coastal terrain—the word comes from the Old English hlinc, “rising ground”—and in its authentic form it exists in only a few places on earth, the most famous of which are in Great Britain and Ireland.

Linksland arose at the end of the most recent ice age, when the retreat of the northern glacial sheet, accompanied by changes in sea level, exposed sand deposits and what had once been coastal shelves. Wind pushed the sand into dunes and rippling plains; ocean storms added more sand; and coarse grasses covered everything.

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Early Britons used linksland mainly for livestock grazing, since the ground closest to the sea was usually too starved and too exposed for growing crops, although even that use wasn’t always allowed. As someone in Aberdeen wrote in 1487, “No catall sale haf pastour of gyrss apone the lynkis.” When significant numbers of Scotsmen became interested in smacking small balls with curved wooden sticks, the links was where they went (or were sent), perhaps because there they were in no one’s way.

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My Favorite Golf Shoes Keep Breaking My Heart

In 2011, I became an enthusiastic unpaid shill for True Linkswear golf shoes, the most comfortable golf shoes I’ve ever worn. I now own more than a dozen pairs, and I wear them even when I’m not playing golf, and many of my friends have switched to them, too. Last October, though, my most recent pair, called True Motion, basically came apart during the Sunday Morning Group’s annual buddies trip to Atlantic City:

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After I wrote about those shoes, I heard from a reader who had had the same problem:

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I also heard from a vice president at True Linkswear, who acknowledged that the company had had “past issues” with quality, but said that it had made “a significant switch in factories” and that the next model, called True Elements, would not only correct those issues but would also be “our first breathable & waterproof shoe” and would represent “a remarkable design and construction method” that had been subjected to “rigorous testing standards.” I bought a pair in March, as soon as I could find them online, and wore them several times to make sure they truly were waterproof—as I wrote here:

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They passed that test beautifully, so I bought a second pair of Elements and put both pairs away, the newer one still in its box, to keep them pristine for an upcoming buddies trip to Ireland, in early May. And here they are at Ballybunion:

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They were the only shoes I took with me on that trip, and they performed beautifully—with one big exception: before the trip was over, both pairs had developed serious holes in their fabric covering at the points where the shoe bends during walking, on either side of the ball of the foot:

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I don’t think the holes penetrate the waterproof lining. But they’re big, and every time I wear the shoes they get bigger. That V-shaped dip in the outermost layer seems to act like a tiny pair of scissors:

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I wore the newer of my two pairs of Elements only twice on the trip—and I hadn’t worn them before, and I’ve worn them only once since. But one of those shoes already has small holes on both sides, after just a few rounds. Tim D. also took Elements on our Ireland trip, and his shoes have the same kind of holes in the same places:

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Now, we played two rounds a day, on foot, on up-and-down terrain—but shouldn’t any pair of golf shoes be tough enough to survive a week in Ireland?

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And not long after we got back from Ireland my shoes’ self-destruction opened up a new front, on the vamp, just below the laces:

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I sent two emails to the vice president who had told me about the company’s new manufacturing standards, but I haven’t heard back. Maybe I’ll hear from him now. But whether I do or not I’ve bought my last pair of Trues.

Dewar’s Profile: How About Scotch for Breakfast?

Because the Sunday Morning Group has an international reputation in the marketing world, the manufacturers of golf-oriented consumer items—and especially golf-oriented alcoholic beverages—sometimes come to us for help with product positioning. Recently, the people who make Dewar’s blended scotch whisky asked us to test a drink they’d come up with, called Dewar’s Hole-in-One Cold Brew. Here’s what it looks like:

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And here’s the official recipe:

3 shots of cold-brew coffee

2 shots of DEWAR’S 12-Year-Old

½ shot of simple syrup

1 dash of vanilla extract (optional)

¼ shot of heavy cream

Add the coffee, whisky, simple syrup and vanilla extract (if using) to a cocktail shaker. Add ice to the shaker to above the level of the liquid and shake for 3 seconds. Strain the mixture into tall glass with ice cubes. Top with heavy cream, optional.

As it happens, my wife is a cold-brew nut. So with her help I mixed up a batch of Cafe du Monde Coffee and Chicory in our kitchen (and allowed it to cold-steep for 24 hours):

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Then, on Sunday morning, I took the coffee to the club, along with all the other ingredients—including a bottle of scotch provided by Dewar’s—and set up a “test bar” on the first tee:

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The guys gave it an exhaustive work-up:

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They even checked the purity of the individual ingredients. Did you know that red Solo cups came this small?

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Final verdict: all possible thumbs up. And there is no way that the vanilla or heavy cream should be considered “optional.” I had to leave the scotch out of mine, for personal reasons, but even in its virgin form Hole-in-One Cold Brew is great—like melted Haagen-Dasz coffee ice cream on the rocks. And Hacker (real name) finally had an excuse to wear his red Dewar’s fleece jacket, which he bought for $10 during a promotion of some kind at our liquor store a decade or two ago, before we had a working relationship with the company.

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Next: how about something made with Wild Turkey?

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We have lots of them in our area—including on the eighth hole, above—even though Reese periodically thins the flock:

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Incidentally, when a detachment of the Sunday Morning Group was in Ireland, last month, Reese’s foursome spotted a fox on the third hole at Enniscrone. Reese has a den in his yard at home, and he knows how to speak fox:

He fox-barked at the Enniscrone fox three times, and all three times the fox turned around. And Reese can gobble, too.

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May Was Hole-in-One Month, Apparently

I was contacted recently by a lawyer who was looking for someone to serve as an expert witness in a lawsuit involving a hole-in-one prize. After last month, I almost qualify.

Eleven friends and I played Ballybunion, in Ireland, in early May. On the third hole, Addison made a hole-in-one from the back tee: 230 yards, downhill but into a stiff wind. My group was just leaving the fourth tee, and we watched his ball roll into the hole. There’s a plaque on the third tee commemorating a hole-in-one that Payne Stewart made from the same spot in 1998, the year before he died, during a buddies trip with Mark O’Meara and Tiger Woods. Here’s Addison:

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We returned home a week later, and in an effort to outsmart jet lag I pretty much went straight from the airport to my home course (after stopping by my house, briefly, to reintroduce myself to my wife). There were five of us, and on the seventh hole, which is slightly more than half as long as the third hole at Ballybunion, I made a hole-in-one:

P1180521-001Two weeks after that, Chris, during his first round ever with the Sunday Morning Group, made a hole-in-one on our twelfth hole, which is 185 yards long. Nobody in his group could see that far, so they weren’t sure his ball had really gone in until they got to the green. In the photo below, which was taken by Mike B., he’s retrieving his ball from the cup:
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And in the photo below, which was taken by me, Mike B. is taking the photo above:

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You can’t document these things too thoroughly (I learned from the lawyer who contacted me). Here’s my scorecard:

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One thing to note: Chris is beaming in his photograph because if you make a hole-in-one during our regular Sunday morning game you receive $500 from the Slush Fund. And Addison is smiling in his photograph because if you make a hole-in-one during an SMG-sanctioned event (meaning one that everyone on the email list was invited to participate in) you receive $250 from the Slush Fund. And I’m sort of frowning in my photograph because that post-Ireland round of mine was a last-minute thing that nobody bothered to invite everyone else to—so my Slush Fund prize was $0.

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For Father’s Day: How About a $135 Golf Glove?

I hate Father’s Day, for reasons I won’t enumerate. (If you’re curious, go here.) So it makes sense to me that people who insist on celebrating it should have to pay up. That’s just one reason you might want to start dropping hints that the one gift you’re really interested in this year is a $135 golf glove:

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Mine was given to me not by my children—who know they aren’t allowed even to mention Father’s Day—but by Pat Morrell, the founder of FitzGerald Morrell, a company sells custom-made leather gloves for a variety of activities, among them golf. “Just ask yourself how many golf gloves you’ve had to buy at the pro shop because your old pseudo-leather glove tore in the thumb or became brittle and flaky in the palm or in between your fingers,” he has explained. “You can buy custom clubs, custom balls, custom shirts, pants and shoes… but you can’t buy custom golf gloves. Until now.” Here’s Morrell himself, wearing some of his (non-golf) products:

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Morrell sent me a sizing kit, including a hand diagram, a measuring tape, and a pencil:

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After I’d traced my hand, kindergarten-style, I used an enclosed postage-paid envelop to send everything off to a shop in England—which looks pretty much exactly the way you’d guess it would:

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There, various craftsmen used various old-looking tools to create a glove to my precise specifications:

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They also added the monogram of the Sunday Morning Group, recognized the world over as a symbol of quality and trust. I’ve now used my $135 golf glove exclusively for a couple of months (except when it was raining), including a dozen rounds on a recent golf trip to Ireland:

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Gradually, it has acquired a fine patina, like a beloved fielder’s mitt. It has also fully conformed to my anatomy—so much so that, if I ever lose my left hand in an industrial accident, the glove could serve as a mold for a replacement:

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I’ve identified just a few drawbacks. One is that, if you want to be sure all your friends understand that you are wearing a $135 golf glove, you have to refer to it as “my $135 golf glove.” Another is that the leather is so substantial that the glove is not pleasant to wear when the temperature and relative humidity are high. A third is that, if you are accustomed to losing your golf glove two or three times a round, you have to constantly watch your back:

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I’ve taken to wearing it while I’m putting—like Nicklaus—to reduce my opportunities for losing it, and so far, with occasional help from friends, I’ve been successful. I’ve also been able to tidy up the trunk of my car. It used to look like this:

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It now looks like this:

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Why, it paid for itself right there.

Golf Clothing Tip Inspired by March Madness

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ankles started bothering me shortly after the end of the past golf season. Various possible explanations occurred to me: tendonitis, arthritis, my father’s legs (poor circulation), my mother’s legs (peripheral neuropathy), too much deskwork (ha!), advancing age, incipient varicose veins (leading current theory). I read something somewhere about compression socks, and bought a version intended for runners, from a company called Vitalsox. They’re knee-height and they’re a little tricky to put on, but they immediately made my ankles feel 80-95 percent better.

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So what the hell? All sorts of athletes wear them, including college basketball players, and they’re supposed to be good for people who are stuck in too-small seats on long flights, like the one that eleven golf buddies and I are about to take to Ireland. I’ve now got four long pairs and four quarter-height pairs (meant for tennis players), and I’m about to order more. The only bad thing about them is that I can’t (that is to say, I won’t) wear them with shorts. But who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind about that, too.

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I’m not crazy about revealing what they look like on my actual legs, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Stop Filling Out Your Bracket, Right Now, and Plan a Golf Trip to Ireland

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Eleven golf buddies and I are going to Ireland in early May. I thought we were being shrewd when we bought our plane tickets, several months ago, because air fares were lower than they had been for years. But they’ve fallen further since then:

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By comparison, I paid $550 for the same flight on my first golf trip to Ireland. That was in 1992—twenty-four years ago. What’s more, the dollar is super-strong against the euro right now. In fact, traveling to Ireland to play golf is arguably cheaper than staying home, especially if you take the money from your wife’s 401k. And, if you need someone to handle the planning, you can get in touch with my old friend Jerry Quinlan, at Celtic Golf. Mention my name, and Jerry will give you the same discount he gave my friends and me. That is to say, he’ll charge you his normal rate. But you won’t have to lift a finger.

CArne