A Ghost Course in Southern New Jersey

The Great Trial, Blue Heron Pines East, October, 2003.

The Great Trial, Blue Heron Pines East, October, 2003.

On the morning of the second day of the Sunday Morning Group’s fourth annual autumn golf trip to Atlantic City, in 2003, Hacker (real name) gave everyone printed driving directions to Blue Heron Pines East, the course we were scheduled to play that day, but then drove himself and Harry, his navigator, to a course called Harbor Pines, which we weren’t playing until the next day and which was twenty-five minutes from Blue Heron. We had to shuffle the tee times while we waited for them to realize they’d screwed up. Then, after the round, we held a trial in the clubhouse—there were several lawyers on the trip—and sentenced the two of them to buy everybody’s lunch. Harry never fully understood why he was being forced to pay for so many bacon cheeseburgers, but everyone else, including Hacker, thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

That's Hacker in the middle and Harry on the right. Harry claimed later that he'd been represented by incompetent counsel.

The reading of the charges. That’s Hacker in the middle and Harry on the right. Harry claimed later that he’d been represented by incompetent counsel.

Blue Heron Pines East, which was designed by Steve Smyers, was one of our favorite golf courses, but in 2007 a real-estate developer bought it, and announced a plan to build an enormous condominium complex right on top of most of the holes. A year later, the global economic implosion helped to kill the condominium project, but the golf course remained closed and was allowed to revert to New Jersey. Earlier this month, during this year’s S.M.G. trip, Hacker and I drove over to have a look at the ruins, after playing a round at what used to be called Blue Heron Pines West. (It was designed by our close personal friend Stephen Kay and is still doing business, as Ron Jaworski’s Blue Heron Pines). Here’s what used to be the sign at the entrance of the East course:

P1100102And here’s the old driving range and part of the old parking lot:


And here’s the ramp leading down into what used to be the cart barn:


And here, through the opening in the trees, is what was once the fairway of the first hole, a really nice short, uphill par 4. The green was on the rise in front of that bank of trees in the distance:


And here’s the patio outside the clubhouse. We held the trial on the other side of those double doors, in what was then the grillroom:


And here’s another view of the clubhouse, and of what used to be the entrance of the golf shop:


We learned during this year’s trip that the property has a new owner, who just received approval for a new condominium plan. That means, I guess, that people aren’t suddenly going to come to their senses and give us back our golf course. We like the surviving course a lot, but it would be nice to have both. And if the condominiums really do get built we won’t even be able to explore the remains.


A few years ago, for The New Yorker, I wrote about another ghost course, on an island in the Outer Hebrides, in northwestern Scotland. You can read about that lost golf course here.

Golf on Martha’s Vineyard With the President of the United States

Making the turn, Farm Neck Golf Club, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, August 11, 2013.

Making the turn, Farm Neck Golf Club, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, August 11, 2013. The thing the guy in the blue shirt is holding isn’t an attache case.

I knew the President was about to arrive on Martha’s Vineyard because my cell-phone reception suddenly went from no bars to three. The Obamas are staying about two miles down the road from where my wife and I are staying, and because their house is close to the road all traffic is being diverted around it. That has made the road much quieter than it usually is—a second benefit. And this afternoon Alan, Leslie, Wendy, and I played golf nine holes ahead of him, at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs.

Leslie, twelfth hole, Farm Neck.

Leslie, twelfth hole, Farm Neck.

We finished just before the President made the turn, and we stood near the cart path leading to the tenth tee, hoping to see him. While we waited, a Secret Service guy searched my golf bag, had a look at the stuff in my pockets, and waved a metal-detecting wand over my back.

Two Secret Service guys.

Two Secret Service guys keeping a close eye on the divot mix.

There were also lots of guys wearing bulletproof stuff and driving around in golf carts. The things strapped to the back of their carts were not golf bags, presumably.


I could see lots of Secret Service guys, and one of them told me that there were lots more I hadn’t noticed: on boats, in kayaks, on paddle boards, in the woods. The ones I could see were wearing sunglasses, ear pieces, microphones, and little star pins near their shirt collars, like miniature badges. Their eyes were constantly moving.


They also had a bomb-sniffing dog, and they checked absolutely everything—including a wooden trash barrel that looked like the sort of place where Wile E. Coyote might try to hide from the Roadrunner.

Note the coyote-height eye hole in the trash barrel.

Note the coyote-height eye hole in the trash barrel.

The President was playing from the blue tees—just as I had done!


Just before he teed off, a couple of Secret Service guys in a huge black SUV pulled up right in front of me. Luckily, the windows lined up pretty well:


President Obama wasn’t the only famous person on the golf course. We also saw my close personal friend Larry David, on the practice range. His warm-up routine has two parts. Here’s the first:


And here’s the second:

P1080271And here’s a last look at Farm Neck (the fifteenth, a par-3):


And also at the President:



The Muny Life: Hidden Art Treasures of New York City Golf

Hacker, Pelham Bay, Bronx, New York, March 1, 2013.

Hacker, Pelham Bay Golf Course, Bronx, New York, March 1, 2013.

Hacker (real name), Rick, and I played in Pelham Bay Park, in the Bronx, on Friday. There are two golf courses, both owned by the City of New York—Pelham Bay and Split Rock—and they share a clubhouse, which you can see in the background in the photo above. It was built in 1936, and it has a cobblestoned driveway and front courtyard, and it has neoclassical columns made of white Tuckahoe marble. Here’s what the building looked like when it was under construction (beyond the sign):

Pelham Bay, 1936.

Pelham Bay clubhouse, under construction, 1936.

And here’s what it looked like when it was finished:

Pelham clubhouse, 1936.

Pelham Bay clubhouse, 1930s.

The first time my friends and I played Pelham and Split Rock, in 2004, the clubhouse was a mess. Glass was missing from many windows, and the front door had a hole that was big enough for rats to walk through on their hind legs. The Parks Department had bolted cheap outdoor floodlights to a pair of hemispherical hammered-bronze light fixtures in the Club Room, and it had installed an institutional drinking fountain in front of one of two basalt-and-marble fireplaces. The building was no longer heated, if it ever had been, and on one frosty winter morning we saw piles of construction debris burning in both fireplaces—Irish guys in front of one, Korean guys in front of the other. Here’s what the Club Room looked like in the 1930s:

Club Room, 1930s. The Parks Department later bolted flood lights to the Art Deco light fixture at the top of the picture, and installed a drinking fountain in front of the fireplace.

Club Room, 1930s. The Parks Department later bolted flood lights to the Art Deco light fixture at the top of the picture, and installed a drinking fountain in front of the fireplace.

A year or two after we first played there, American Golf, which operates both courses on a twenty-year lease from the city, spent millions to restore the clubhouse. The architect was Page Ayres Cowley, and she and her colleagues did an extraordinary job. Here’s what the Club Room looked like on Friday:

Club Room, 2013.

Club Room, 2013. The floodlights have been removed from the hammered-bronze light fixtures. Why don’t you quit fooling around, and rent the clubhouse for your daughter’s wedding reception?

When the Pelham clubhouse was built, the artist Allen Saalburg created a Surrealist mural for the wall above each mantle. (Saalburg was a friend of Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman, Robert Benchley, and other early New Yorker contributors.)  His murals—one of which is visible in the 1930s Club Room photograph—were still there when my friends and I first played the courses, but today the spaces they occupied are filled by a pair of hokey recent paintings, which depict what are supposed to be period scenes. The murals, Cowley told me, haven’t been destroyed, unlike similar ones that Saalburg painted, at around the same time, for the restaurant Tavern on the Green. But they need significant restoration work before they can go back up. Here is one of Saalburg’s sketches for the murals:

P DSCN5451

There’s not a lot of golf iconography in there, at least as far as I can see, but I hope somebody rich steps up and pays for their restoration. (Hey, Donald Trump!) And here’s how Saalburg visualized the fireplace wall you can see in the photos above:

P artist rendition2

The round windows, and their wavy muntins, are still there—and they have glass in them now. Cowley told me she thinks some of the original bunkers on the course may have been designed to echo the shape of the windows, or vice versa. Here’s one of them, from the 1930s:


Maybe so. Anyway, Hacker, Rick, and I arrived at 10:30, and teed off almost immediately. (My greens fee was $39, walking; theirs, because they’re seniors, was $20.) There were pretty many other golfers, although we weren’t held up too seriously. We played skins and Ball Marker Stymies, and we finished in less than four hours. These guys were teeing off on the first hole as we putted out on the ninth:

IMG_0386The big rusty thing you see in the woods beyond them is part of a commuter rail line, which separates the two courses. And the grass you see through the trees is the eighteenth hole at Split Rock, which was closed—probably because it has more trees and takes longer to dry out than Pelham Bay does. I got home at 4:30 and took the dog for a nice long walk.

Some moron re-contoured several greens at Pelham by driving an R.V. over them.  This one didn't  look too bad.

Some moron re-contoured several greens at Pelham by driving an R.V. over them. This one didn’t look too bad.

Great Golf Course: Riviera

2008 Joann Dost All Rights Reserved

In 1947 and 1948, Ben Hogan competed in two Los Angeles Opens and a U.S. Open at Riviera (where the Northern Trust Open is currently being played). He finished first, first, and first. He would have won again, at the 1950 L.A. Open, his first tournament following his car accident, if Sam Snead hadn’t closed with consecutive birdies to tie him in regulation, then prevailed eight days later in an anticlimactic rain-delayed playoff. No wonder they still speak of Hogan’s game in the present tense at Riviera. His portrait hangs in the clubhouse over a fireplace that is always lighted, like an eternal flame.

Hogan, Riviera, 1950.

Hogan, Riviera, 1950 L.A. Open.

Riviera opened in 1926, in a flood-carved canyon in what was then sparsely populated farmland west of Los Angeles. It cost almost a quarter of a million dollars to build, and for a time it was the second-most expensive golf course on earth (after Yale). W.C. Fields, Douglas Fairbanks, Olivia De Havilland, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, and Howard Hughes all played there regularly. Will Rogers, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy competed every weekend on the polo grounds, which are the source of the kikuyu grass on the golf course. Elizabeth Taylor and Greta Garbo, whose house overlooked the thirteenth fairway, were often seen trotting along a bridle path that encircled the course. Television didn’t exist, and martinis and cigarettes weren’t bad for you yet, and golf at Riviera was a party.

Katharine Hepburn, golfer.

Katharine Hepburn, golfer.

The Los Angeles Open was a very big deal in those years—more of a major, in many ways, than some of the majors.  Humphrey Bogart, who in his prime was close to scratch, used to sit under a tree near the twelfth green and sip bourbon while Hogan, Mangrum, Snead, and Nelson played by.

Bogey, scratch.

Bogey, scratch.

I played quite a few rounds at Riviera in 1995, on assignment for Golf Digest. The P.G.A. Championship was going to be held at Riviera that year, and I was working on a preview article. I arrived in L.A. one afternoon, checked into my hotel, and, because it was too early to eat dinner, decided to make sure I could find the course. A guard waved me through the gate, A tournament official let me through the fence and told me I should meet the club’s greens chairman, who had just finished playing and was having a beer with friends. We chatted for a few minutes, and then he asked, “Where are your clubs?” I ran back to my car. We teed off maybe five minutes later, and got in twelve or thirteen holes before it was too dark to see. When we’d finished, my new best friend asked me where I was staying, and when I gave him the name of my hotel he said, “You ought to be staying here.” So I moved into a lovely bedroom in the clubhouse, overlooking the eighteenth green. I woke up the next morning to the sound of members rolling putts on the practice green, and after a quick shower I ran downstairs and joined them.

My home away from home for four days.

My home away from home for four days.

Over the next few days, I played with two lawyers, who met in court while representing opposite ends of a personal-injury lawsuit; a guy whose company publishes hotel room-service menus; a guy who had recently retired from the garment business; the actor who played Frank Fontana on “Murphy Brown”; the father of Robby Krieger, who played guitar for the Doors; and Larry David, the co-creator of “Seinfeld” (and later the star of his own show).

My close personal friend Larry David.

My close personal friend Larry David.

I also met Walter Keller, who was Amy Alcott’s teacher. He said that he first met Alcott on the practice tee at Riviera when she was a young girl. “I fell in love with the kid right there,” he told me. “She hit a beautiful shot, and I said, ‘Hit another.’ She did. ‘Hit another.’ She did. I turned to her mother and said, ‘You are a blessed woman.'” Keller arranged for Alcott to become a member of the club. She had a difficult relationship with her father, he said, but club members looked out for her. “She had twenty fathers here,” he said. “Dean Martin would see her on the driving range, swing by in his cart, and say, ‘Hey, Amy, let’s play nine holes.”

Amy Alcott, Walter Keller, and Tony Sills (who was also a student of Keller's) and a significant collection of junior-golf trophies.

Amy Alcott, Walter Keller, and Tony Sills (who was also a student of Keller’s) and a significant collection of junior-golf trophies.

Alcott won the first of her twenty-nine LPGA Tour events in 1975, when she was nineteen. Keller died in 2003, at the age of ninety-five.




My Close Personal Friend Moe Norman

Moe Norman Scorecard

Many golfers nowadays look blank when you mention Moe Norman, who died in 2004, but to those who were lucky enough to see him play he was a legend. Lee Trevino ranked him with Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson as one of the greatest ball-strikers of all time. Paul Azinger first saw him hit balls on a driving range in Florida in 1980, when Azinger was in college. “He started ripping these drivers right off the ground at the 250-yard marker,” Azinger told Tim O’Connor, a Canadian sportswriter, “and he never hit one more than 10 yards to either side of it, and he hit at least 50.” In 2005, Tiger Woods told Jaime Diaz, now the editor of Golf World, that Norman and Hogan were the only two golfers in history who had “owned” their swing, and that one day he hoped to own his, too.

Moe Norman Golf World 9-2-66

Despite such accolades, Norman spent much of his forty-year competitive career in obscurity and poverty. He played almost exclusively in Canada, where he was born, and made only a brief attempt, in 1959, to play on the American tour. He sometimes carried his own bag in tournaments, because he couldn’t afford a caddie, and he sometimes slept in bunkers on the courses where he competed. He often hitchhiked to and from tournaments, and he had to juggle his competitive schedule with a succession of dreary factory jobs, including one stitching rubber boots. He spent the winter before the 1956 Masters, to which he had been invited as the reigning Canadian Amateur champion, setting pins in a bowling alley for a few cents a line. For years, he supported himself partly by selling the prizes he won in amateur tournaments, and as his confidence increased he sometimes sold the prizes before the tournaments began. (According to friends, on at least five occasions he intentionally finished second because he hadn’t been able to find a taker for the first-place prize and had been forced to sell the second.) In the late nineteen-eighties, he was so broke that only the last-minute intervention of friends prevented a bank from repossessing his car.

Moe Norman, 1950s.

Moe Norman, 1950s.

I watched Norman hit golf balls on a practice tee at Foxwood Country Club, in Kitchener, Ontario, his hometown, in the fall of 1995, when he was sixty-six. He warmed up with a pitching wedge, although “warming up” doesn’t really describe any part of his routine: the first shot was perfect, the second was identical to the first, the third was identical to the second. Then he switched to his four-iron. His swing—to all appearances, an effortless half-swing—was the same as it had been with the wedge. “How far you hitting those?” a spectator asked. “One-eighty,” Norman said. The shots were within a couple degrees of dead straight, despite a stiff cross wind, unless he announced ahead of time that he was going to hit a draw or a fade. The divots were identical, and surreally shallow.)

Moe Norman, 1990s.

Moe Norman, 1990s.

He switched to his driver. If you had looked only at his arms and hands, you wouldn’t have known he wasn’t still swinging his wedge. He would watch each ball in the air a moment, then bend over and place another on the tee—and I mean place it. The tee never moved. “I hit balls, not tees,” he said. On a driving range once, he hit 131 drives in a row from the same tee without having to straighten it. In tournaments, he sometimes entertained galleries by hitting a drive from the mouth of the Coke bottle from which he had just been drinking.

Moe Coke Bottle.bmp

In December, 1995, I got to play a round with Norman and his friends Gus Maue and Todd Graves (who calls himself Little Moe and teaches Norman’s highly unorthodox swing) at Royal Oak Resort and Golf Club, in Titusville, Florida. Royal Oak may no longer be a going concern—its website has been shut down for lack of payment—but in 1995 it was a favorite winter hangout of the Canadian P.G.A. The first hole was a 400-yard par 4, dogleg to the right. Maue, Graves, and I hit tee shots up the middle, and then Norman hit his over a row of trees to the right, toward a lake that ran the length of the hole. I thought, Hmmm—this is one of the greatest ball-strikers of all time? But it turned out that Norman always played the hole that way. There was a strip of grass, maybe ten yards wide, between the trees and the water, and from there he had an easy 9-iron to the green, while those of us in the fairway needed four-irons or five-irons.

Norman won his first tournament in 1949. “I didn’t know anything then,” he told me that day. “I didn’t even have a full set of clubs. Only had a driver, three-wood, three-iron, five-iron, seven-iron, nine-iron, and a putter. Didn’t even have a wedge. But one day everything fell into place and I shot a sixty-seven—four under.”

I said I was amazed he had played with so few clubs.

“Oh, I couldn’t afford them. Heck, when I was a kid you were lucky to have one club. And if you had a club your friends were always saying, Hey, can I use yours? Can I use yours? If someone had a driver we would hand it around—three of four guys playing together. If somebody had a nice putter, we all took turns putting with it. Goodness, back in Moe Norman youngthose days, there wasn’t a golf shoe in the foursome. And if the grass was wet your right foot would do a whirlwind, like a twist. But back then golf wasn’t a sport. It was just an exercise game. In fact, I was called a sissy by my father and my brothers, right at dinner. They would make big ears at me and call me a sissy. ‘Come on, play a man’s game,’ my father used to say. ‘Play baseball, or hockey—do like your brothers.’ I said, ‘No, Dad, I’m too light.’ I was a little skinny kid then, not over a hundred and thirty pounds, and I couldn’t play any other sport and be good at it, so I kept playing golf. But I had to hide my clubs under the front porch. My father was fat and I was real skinny, so I could dig a hole that he couldn’t get his head through but I could get my body through, and if I would push my clubs in far enough he couldn’t reach them.”

I wrote about Moe Norman in Golf Digest in 1995, and you can read that story here. The date in the opening anecdote is wrong, since Porky Oliver died in 1961. But other than that. . . .


Golfer to Watch: Isabelle Lendl

Ivan, Isabelle, Crash, and Marika Lendl, Bradenton, Florida, May, 2006. Photograph by Martin Shoeller.

Ivan, Isabelle, Crash, and Marika Lendl, Bradenton, Florida, May, 2006. Photograph by Martin Shoeller.

A week and a half ago, Isabelle Lendl, who is a senior at the University of Florida, won the women’s division of the Dixie Amateur, at Heron Bay Golf Club, in Coral Springs, Florida. She was five back after fifty-four holes, but shot 66 in the final round and won by four. Among those she beat was her younger sister Daniela, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, better known as Crash, who shot 67 and tied for sixteenth. It was Isabelle’s fourth win of the season.

Isabelle, Crash, and their sister Marika used to be junior members of my club—it’s where they took their first golf lessons, from our pro at the time, Fran Hoxie—and when Isabelle was eleven she and I played a nine-hole ladder match. (Since then, my club has abandoned ladder matches, but we still have the ladder and at some point I’ll explain how it worked.)

We played our match just before Isabelle’s game took off, at probably the last moment when a not-completely-terrible middle-aged guy could still beat her. She praised my decent shots and graciously conceded short putts, and we spent a very enjoyable hour and a half together. She said that her twin sister Caroline, whose main athletic interest was horses, was attending a birthday party that afternoon, and we agreed that that was a waste of a nice summer day. I said the thing about golf that grownups always say to kids, that it’s a game for a lifetime, and I also said that no matter what Isabelle and her sisters ended up doing with their lives I was certain that golf would always be part of it. I told her about my brother, who was the captain of his golf team in both high school and college and went on to work in advertising and sometimes got to play with clients. “No,” Isabelle said firmly, as we walked up the fifth fairway. “I’m going to play on tour.”

And she clearly will. I’ve played with her a couple of times since then, and she is not only terrifically talented (and nice!) but also mentally well-equipped to play competitive golf. When she was in high school, her father—the former tennis star Ivan Lendl, who now coaches Andy Murray—thought that on a golf course she was sometimes too eager to take unnecessary risks, but she has managed to tame that without becoming any less imaginative or aggressive. At the Dixie Amateur, playing with the young woman who had begun the day with a five-stroke lead, she birdied the first three holes, and, on the second nine, made three birdies in four holes exactly when she needed to.

In November, 2005, I watched Isabelle, who was fourteen, compete in a big junior tournament on the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club, in Georgia. (The year before, at thirteen, she had been the youngest player to qualify for match play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.) The wind was blowing so hard on Seaside that the clubhouse flag, which was approximately the size of the one that Francis Scott Key saw flying over Fort McHenry in 1814, was sticking straight out. Isabelle wasn’t unhappy, though, and afterward she told me, “I like playing in wind and rain better than in normal conditions. It’s more fun, and nobody else likes it. I think I trust more shots than other people usually do. If I have a shot that I want to hit, it really doesn’t matter if I haven’t practiced it, because I can just picture it and then I can hit it.”

There are five Lendl daughters, and all of them are more competitive than you and I are. Marika—who graduated from Florida last year and is now working in sports management—was a junior-tennis star before she switched to golf. Her tennis teacher was Kenyon Clark, who was then the pro at my club. Clark told me that, during one early lesson, he and Marika were using tubes to pick up practice balls. Without saying anything, he began picking up the balls faster, and Marika immediately went faster, too—an unspoken race, which she won, then exulted about. Clark’s wife, Manny, was sitting by the court with Marika’s mother, Samantha, and as they watched the race Manny said that her husband was the most competitive person in the world. “No,” Samantha said. “Mine is.”

Samantha grew up playing Scrabble with her family, and at some point she taught Ivan. “I beat him once, and that was it,” she told me. Ivan realized, as they played, that his wife’s strategy—trying to make the longest words possible—was not optimal. He bought a Scrabble dictionary and memorized every every two- and three-letter word in it (he has a near photographic memory), and since then he hasn’t been beaten. “He couldn’t stand losing,” Samantha said, “even in English, which is maybe his fifth language. And he’s the same way with the kids. He just hates to lose.”

I wrote about the Lendls in The New Yorker in 2006. You can read that article here.

Marika, Isabelle, Crash, and their coach, 2009.

Marika, Isabelle, Crash, and their coach, 2009.


My Close Personal Friend Mike Keiser and his New Golf Course, in Nova Scotia

Back in May, I went to dinner in Chicago with my close personal friend Mike Keiser, the founder and owner of Bandon Dunes. The restaurant was Moto, which serves a four-hour tasting menu (see above) accompanied by fifteen different wines. Our “Spring Lamb” course was actually a tasting menu in itself: a thing of lamb paté, a thing of lamb sausage, a thing of smoked lamb shoulder, a thing of “baconized” lamb, a thing of leg of lamb, and a couple of other lamb-based things, all served on a chef’s cleaver. “Explosion” was a stick of dynamite made from white chocolate and filled with a syrupy liquid that I wouldn’t have minded drinking a quart of, plus a cherry-stem fuse—and the waiter made it explode by dropping it on its plate. He said that my explosion was the best one he’d done so far, and that he was still working on his technique because the dessert was so new. “After Dinner Menu” was the actual menu printed on a slab of marshmallow, which was brought to the table in a saucepan of liquid nitrogen, then placed on top of three kinds of fruit and three kinds of mint and broken to pieces with spoon. Most surprisingly good thing: beet meringue.

Moto’s famous Cuban pork sandwich, which looks like a cigar and is served in an ashtray. It wasn’t on the menu the night Keiser and were there, I’m sorry to say.

The next day, Keiser and I played a round at Chicago Golf Club, which was built in 1895 and is the oldest eighteen-hole golf course in the United States. (The club was founded in 1892, on a different site.) The course was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald and later tinkered with by Seth Raynor, among others. There’s a convent next door, and one of the guys we played with told a funny story about a golfer who took a whiz in the bushes next to it, but I didn’t write the story down and now I don’t remember any of it. Take my word for it, though: that story was funny. C.G.C.’s motto is “Far and Sure,” which is also the motto of Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where Macdonald had lots of friends. In fact, when Macdonald’s new Chicago friends realized how much they loved golf he had his old Liverpool friends send him six sets of clubs.

Keiser’s newest course is Cabot Links Golf Course, in Nova Scotia. Ron Whitten, who is Golf Digest’s architecture editor, has written an article about both it and Donald Trump‘s newest course, which is in Scotland. Whitten’s article will be in the February issue, and while you wait to read it you can watch this video:

The video was made in October by Don Snyder, whose company is called World Golf Movies. Snyder worked as a caddie at the Old Course, among other places, and one day he had the idea of creating video tours of the world’s best courses. Several of his videos are available as apps in the iTunes store, and more are coming. Perry Golf, the tour company, is a partner of his. “Starting next season,” Snyder told me in an email recently, “we will also shoot little fifteen-minute movies of Perry Golf’s clients out playing on their journey, and then sitting down in a pub and talking about what their trip has meant to them.”

Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, Illinois.

My Close Personal Friend (a Different) Tom Watson

Nick and Hacker (real name), Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn New York, 2006. That’s the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background.

As soon as our home course closes for the season, my friends and I pack up our clubs, say goodbye to our wives and children, and head south for a while, to a place where golf can be played on real grass even in the middle of the winter. Which is to say, we go to the Bronx.

Many people don’t realize that there is a golf course inside the New York City limits, but there are more than a dozen, and almost all of them are public courses that are open year-round. Our favorites are probably Pelham Bay and Split Rock, in the Bronx, and Dyker Beach, in Brooklyn, but there are others and, because there’s no such thing as a bad golf course, we sometimes play them, too. (You can read more about winter golf in New York here and here.)

The drive south takes us down I-684 and the Hutchinson River Parkway and past still more golf courses, most of which don’t stay open all winter. One of those is Saxon Woods, which is one of six public courses owned by Westchester County, New York. Saxon Woods is so close to Winged Foot and Quaker Ridge that some people figure A. W. Tillinghast must have designed at least part of it, too. The evidence for that isn’t strong, to say the least, but as we drive by I look at it longingly (which is how I look at all golf courses).

Not long ago, I received an email from Tom Watson, a Saxon Woods regular, who wanted me to know about a game he had invented. Here he is:

Tom Watson (real name) playing in a charity outing at Westchester Country Club, Rye, New York, 2012.

Tom wrote:

“I simply keep my best score for each hole for the entire season, and add them up for a season’s best net total. So it allows a 19-handicapper to post a ‘score’ that’s closer to the pros than to guys who put their shoes on in the parking lot. And it gives you some real rooting interest as the season wanes. I was sitting on 68 last week when I stepped up to one of the only two holes I haven’t parred all year. A good drive, a yanked three-wood, a big flop shot over a bunker, and an easy three-footer later, I was writing down par and dropping my Season’s Best to 67. It’s a number I’m not usually acquainted with—and it made the round. I didn’t quite go all Ian Poulter on the green, but there was a discreet fist pump involved. It’s the only golf game I know of where your score always goes down over time!”

Tom’s invention is actually a re-invention. A cumulative score like the one he compiled is called a ringer score, and there are lots of clubs and leagues and groups that run season-long ringer competitions. (One of them is Wethersfield Country Club, in Connecticut, where Rick and I played in a state senior four-ball tournament this year.) Ringer scores are also fun to use as a side bet on golf trips, over multiple courses. Ray, Tony, and I did that during ten rounds on three courses at Bandon Dunes, not quite six years ago. I’m pretty sure I won, although I don’t recall collecting any money.

Halloween at Augusta National

Former Secretary of State George Schultz explaining golf to the mayor of San Francisco in 2005. (Photo by Luke Thomas.)

Condoleezza Rice isn’t the only former U.S. Secretary of State who belongs to Augusta National Golf Club: George Schultz, who ran Ronald Reagan’s State Department, is a member as well. In 1983, Schultz brought his boss and Donald Regan, the White House chief of staff, to the club as guests, and in addition to playing golf they discussed the U.S. invasion of Grenada, which began three days later, on October 25.

During that visit, a forty-five-year-old Augusta resident named Charles R. Harris rammed his pickup truck through a locked gate, took hostages at gunpoint in the golf shop, and demanded an audience with Reagan, who was playing the sixteenth hole. Secret Service agents surrounded the shop, and sharpshooters set up on the putting green. (One of them told a club member that the scope on his rifle was so precise that he would be able to hit a half-dollar coin on the first green, more than four hundred and fifty yards away.)

Harris eventually released all his hostages except David Spencer, the co-professional. Harris kept a pistol to Spencer’s head, and he threatened to shoot off Spencer’s fingers one at a time if Reagan wasn’t brought to see him. To prove that he was serious, he fired a bullet through a window in the front of the shop. (Today, a piece of the window frame with a bullet hole in it hangs on Spencer’s living-room wall.) Spencer was held at gunpoint for two tense hours (not twenty-one, as some Web accounts say). He managed to escape during a moment of confusion when food was sent in for Harris.

“Dave ran out the door and saw Mr. Johnson, the club’s barber, and myself standing there,” Dr. Stephen W. Brown, a member, told me in 1996, “and he more or less collapsed in our arms. I took Dave up to the clubhouse and sat with him awhile, and I told him that his wife knew he was out and all right. He said he wanted to cry. I said, ‘Well, go ahead. Nobody’s here but the two of us.’ He quickly wiped his eyes and turned to me and said, ‘Dr. Brown, I was just as nervous as if I was standing over a three-foot putt and Mr. Roberts told me I had to make it.” That’s Clifford Roberts, of course—the club’s legendary co-founder and longtime chairman.

One October evening fifteen years later—after Schultz had played a round with Nicholas Brady, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan and the first George Bush and is also a member—Schultz gave  everyone in the dining room a handmade Halloween favor: a small orange-and-black gift bag containing an orange golf ball on which he had used a black marker to draw a smiling jack-o’-lantern face. I got one because I was there working on my book The Making of the Masters. (See photo below.)

Orange and black, not coincidentally, are the colors of Schultz’s alma mater, Princeton University—which he also honored by having a tiger tattooed on his rear end.

Top-Flite jack-o’-lantern, hand-painted by my close personal friend George Schultz. (Collection of the author.)

My Close Personal Friend Ivan Lendl

Ivan Lendl is the coach not only of Andy Murray but also of the men’s team at my golf club’s enemy club, on the other side of town, with which we’re currently playing our annual two-day match. Ordinarily, Lendl would be playing No. 1 on their team, since he won their club championship this year, but his obligations to Murray at the (tennis) U.S. Open came first. Still, he drove up on Friday to give his teammates a pep talk. He’s an impressive tutor, as Murray’s record shows. My club is still ahead, historically—the match has been played every year since 1948—but we’re running slightly behind in the decade since Lendl got involved. (He and I were paired last year, and he whupped me both days.)

Lendl and his wife, Samantha, have five daughters, three of whom—Marika, Isabelle, and Daniela, who has been known as Crash since she was a little girl—are terrific golfers. Marika graduated from the University of Florida last year; Isabelle is a senior at  Florida this year; and Crash plays for the University of Alabama.

Isabelle qualified for match play in the 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur, when she was thirteen. I first saw her play two or three years before that, when she was already proficient at a shot I’ve never seen an adult amateur pull off: a low, short chip that bounced once or twice on a firm green sloping away from her, then spun to a stop right next to the hole. In Florida once, Isabelle was hitting balls on a driving range while a pro watched her. After she had methodically worked her way through one large basket of balls, she moved to the next station, kicked over the basket sitting next to it, to spill out the balls, and went to work on those. The part of her game that impressed the pro the most, he told me, was the kick: she had clearly done this many times before.

When Crash was eight, she told her father that she wanted to play ice hockey, and he let her stay up late one night to watch a televised women’s game, in the Olympics. Early in the first period, two players were pressed against the boards, trying to control the puck, and Crash asked, “Why didn’t she just smash her into the glass?” Ivan said, “There’s no checking in women’s hockey,” and Crash said, “You’re kidding.”  She watched for a few more minutes, then, disgusted, went up to bed.

One weekend a few years later, Ivan told Crash that he had to go out of town on Sunday and that if she wanted a golf game that day she’d better find someone else to play with. When he got up to go to the airport, he found her in the bathroom with a club directory open on her lap, and a cordless phone in her hand. “It was six o’clock in the morning,” Ivan told me, “and she was already up to the H’s.” One of the people she had called was a woman she had played with in the past. The woman had been to a party with her husband the night before and hadn’t got to bed until three a.m., and was not interested in golf. “What about your husband?” Crash asked. The woman said that he was asleep. Crash said, “Well, wake him up and ask him.”

I wrote about the Lendl girls here, in 2006.

Marika, Isabelle, Crash, and their coach, 2009.

(Golf-match update: My club won, 15½-14½. So we hold the trophy till next year.)