Happy New Year (Boohoo)

Ordinarily, I’d be playing golf right now. For many years, the Sunday Morning Group has managed to find snow-free fairways and greens somewhere within driving distance of home. Last year, we played at Pelham Bay, in the Bronx (photo below); the year before that, we played at Fairchild Wheeler, in southern Connecticut (photo above, featuring Mike B.).

We played at Fairchild Wheeler in 2015, too, and Chic brought New Year’s glasses for the entire group:

We give two extra handicap strokes to anyone who wears shorts after December 1; as you can see in the photo, only Fritz got the bonus that day. He says his legs never bother him, but that day was so cold that we had more than the usual amount of trouble getting tees into the ground:

The year before that, we played in Brooklyn, at Dyker Beach, which not only is a very good course but also has swell views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge:

In 2012, for the first time ever, we played on our own course, which Gary, our awesome superintendent, didn’t close for the season until we were finished. (I wore shorts that year, as did Fritz and Mike A.)

One of the best was 2009, when we thought we might have to drive north, to Buffalo, to find grass, but then learned that the Bay Course at Seaview, just outside Atlantic City, was open. Gene, Hacker, and I drove down (four hours) and spent the night in the hotel, which is a lot nicer than the places we usually stay when we travel. Two days of unlimited golf plus a room cost just a hundred and seventy dollars — and we had the place to ourselves, because it was crazy cold and everything was frozen solid. Here’s Hacker (real name) and me on the Bay Course, dressed for the weather:

But this morning there’s still snow on the ground all over the Northeast, and the temperature at my house when I got up was -2. There was some talk about simply showing up at Ray’s place, in Florida, and throwing ourselves on the mercy of him and his wife, but in the end we decided to stay home, for once, and dream about spring.

This Golf Accessory is a Ripoff, but it Kind of Works, So Far

I’ve owned or tested a number of pushcarts, and so far the one I’ve liked best and would recommend for most golfers is the Clicgear 3.5+. It’s a substantial piece of machinery, yet it folds down into a reasonably compact unit, which I have no trouble fitting into the trunk of my car as long as there’s nothing much in my trunk other than my golf bag and my pushcart.

The Clicgear does have an annoying design flaw, though—as you can sort of see in the  first and third golf carts in the photo above: some bags sit so low on the cart that they come very close to the front wheel, and even scrape. The reason is that each cart’s bag rest, a padded metal loop, doesn’t stick out far enough and is at least an inch too close to the wheel. Clicgear has acknowledged that this can be an issue for “tour and large size golf bags,” but it actually affects small bags, too. I’ve got a lightweight Sun Mountain carry bag, and after about a year the wheel began to rub. I dealt with the problem at first by resting the bottom of the bag not on the bag rest but on the little folding arms above it, which are meant to secure the bag to the cart, but when I did that the bag wouldn’t stay put. More recently, I gave up and spent ten bucks for Clicgear’s solution: a “booster clip” that clamps onto the bag rest and is supposed to add an inch of clearance.

At least part of the issue with Sun Mountain and similar carry bags is that their bases are beveled, to accommodate the lever that pops out the legs, and the Clicgear bag rest doesn’t extend far enough past the bevel: it’s too short to engage the actual bottom of the bag.

I hate the idea of spending ten dollars on a piece of plastic that must have cost a millionth of a cent to manufacture and that wouldn’t be necessary if Clicgear had ever bothered to correct its own design flaw. (The bag rest has been the same since the beginning, in models 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5+.) And even the booster clip is poorly designed, since it has a rounded front that reduces its effective thickness for bags like mine. A much better solution would have been to redesign and replace the bag rest itself. But the clip does lift my bag just high enough that it no longer scraps—for now. We’ll check back in a year.

 

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.)

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.

The Clubhouse at Royal Birkdale

The clubhouse at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, where the Open is being held this week, was designed to look like an ocean liner cruising through a sea of fescue. Here’s the original conception, in a watercolor sketch that was submitted to the club in the early 1930s by the Liverpool architect George Tonge. (The painting is on display in the clubhouse):

The club has monkeyed with the building since it was built, by removing a number of the original Art Deco details and adding boxlike extensions, but the basic idea is intact. The building’s design influenced other architecture in the region, including this house, which is just up the road from the club:

And this one, which is across the road from the house in the photo above:

The Birkdale clubhouse also very directly influenced the design, by Alfred Ernest Shennan, of the clubhouse at Childwall Golf Club, in Liverpool, twenty-five miles to the south. The Childwall clubhouse, which was built in 1938, actually retains some features that were later removed from the Birkdale clubhouse, including its nautical-looking decks and railings:

One possible addition for both buildings: a few lifeboats suspended from the roof? A closer look at the Childwall clubhouse:

One nice thing about the Birkdale clubhouse is that you can see it from distant parts of the course, and can therefore use it to orient yourself as you wander through the dunes. A tiny bit of it is visible in this photo (of Ray), from a great trip that the Sunday Morning Group took to Lancashire in 2010:

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.



Yet Another Tick-Related Golf-Ruiner

Penny (left) and golf-antagonistic arachnid

I felt increasingly tired and achy, and several times at night I’d wake up in a sweat, then get the chills. I’ve tried to be really careful about ticks—and I’d managed to avoid tick-borne illnesses for eleven years, after missing my daughter’s college graduation with Lyme and ehrlichiosis—but my symptoms felt depressingly familiar. My doctor agreed, and put me on Doxycycline, the preferred Lyme antibiotic, without waiting for the results of the blood test.

People often say that once you’ve had Lyme you’ll always test positive, but that’s not true. Lyme antibodies can remain in the blood for months after treatment, and in some cases for a few years. But they eventually disappear. And, in fact, when my test results came back they were negative for both Lyme and ehrlichiosis. But they were positive for babesiosis, which the New York Department of Health describes as “a rare, severe and sometimes fatal tick-borne disease.” WTF!

Babesiosis is caused by a parasite that attacks red blood cells, and is therefore similar to malaria. My friend Ed was hospitalized with it a couple of years ago, and was very seriously ill, but sometimes it’s so mild as to be symptom-free, or virtually symptom-free, and in those cases the Centers for Disease Control recommends doing nothing but paying close attention. (The treatment is semi-nasty, and different from the one for Lyme.) Anyway, my doctor decided that I probably have Lyme, too, even though it hadn’t shown up in the blood test yet—you can get a full banquet of tick diseases from a single bite—and that I should complete my three-week course of Doxycycline. That means playing golf in long sleeves, long pants, a huge hat, and lots of sunscreen, because Doxycycline makes your skin extremely sensitive to the sun. In fact, Gene’s daughter once went skiing while taking it, and high-altitude solar exposure caused the whites of her eyes to temporarily turn brown.

On the other hand, I’ve had four of my best rounds of the year since I started taking the pills.

Reese in Doxycycline-driven golf gear, July 10, 2015.

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.