Useful Golf Terminolory

From “The Rules of Golf [Revised],” edited by Francis Ouimet, 1948.

The word stymie—which means “prevent or hinder the progress of”—was originally just a golf term, having to do with a ball that blocked another ball’s path to the hole. The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1857; it concerns wooden putters, which, apparently, could impart enough sidespin to a nineteenth-century golf ball to cause it “to pass the stimy.” The rule book changed in 1953, the first year a player could require another player to mark and lift an obstructing ball. My Sunday-morning golf buddies and I have kept stymies alive, sort of, by employing them in playoffs.

We also have added several terms of our own to golf’s lexicon. An Underwood, for example, is a shot that appears to be heading into the trees or out of bounds but hits a branch, root, stone, golf cart, squirrel, or low-flying aircraft and ends up in the middle of the fairway. It was named for a many-time club champion, who has a long, bothersome history of lucky bounces (in addition to a long, bothersome history of being the club’s best putter, chipper, driver, and so forth). The rest of us will often shout “Underwood!” just before a shot of ours reaches whatever trouble it’s heading for; sometimes, that works. Fifteen or twenty years ago, a member named Pickett resigned after deciding he had used up his lifetime’s allotment of Underwoods and therefore had no reason to continue playing. He thus became the first member of our club to be Picketted—in his case, self-Picketted.

Underwood, Royal Birkdale, May, 2010.

A Gillen is the opposite of a skin—it’s a negative skin. It’s what you get, in our version of the game, if you make the unmatched worst score on any hole. Gillens were invented by Tim, who had been irritated by Gillen’s habit of playing miserably for nine or ten holes and then scooping up all the carryovers with an improbable net birdie. The most astonishing Gillen ever recorded was earned by Gillen himself, on a day when five of us were playing together. On our seventh hole, a short-par-three, Gillen hit a good tee shot and made an easy par, while all four of the rest of us—after a remarkable succession of long bombs and chip-ins—made birdies. Gillen thus became the first person ever to receive a Gillen for a three.

Tim, inventor of the Gillen, Old Course at St. Andrews, May, 2008.

On that same hole on a different Sunday, I played in a group that included Schoon. He had a one-foot par putt, which, for some reason, no one had given him. He made a bad stroke and advanced the ball just four inches. The remaining distance—0.2032 meters—is now treated locally as a unit of golf measurement, called a Schoon. (A two-foot putt is three Schoons long.) Schoons are especially useful in setting the official gimme distance. Before we tee off, for example, Hacker (real name) might announce, “Mulligan on the first tee, play everything down, and Schoons are good for everyone but Schoon.”

A First for the Sunday Morning Group

A nearby muny reopened on the last day of February, making this past winter the shortest one ever, but then almost immediately we got a couple of feet of snow and everything shut down again. Now, finally, my home course is open for good. I missed the official first day, last Friday, because I was traveling, but I was there on Sunday for the first 2017 meeting of the Sunday Morning Group. The best thing about being home again was that we could play in less than three and a half hours, instead of the five and a half hours our last off-season round took.

Our course was in great shape, and a number of improvements had either been implemented or were under way. Our seventh hole, at 120-140 yards, has always been a surprisingly challenging par 3—in a four-man scramble once, my team’s best tee shot was short of the front bunker, which is well short of the green—but the back of the tee box is being pushed ten or fifteen yards, onto what used to be a cart path:

More important, S.M.G.’s dining-and-beer-drinking terrace is being enlarged, and will soon cover part of the executive parking lot. When the stonework is finished, we’ll have a second sitting area, a built-in grill, and a butt-high stone wall that guys who’ve had too much to drink can fall off the back of:

Opening Day lunch was provided by Keith and his father, Jim. Because Keith is a new member, he didn’t know that we have a rule against salad:

But a few guys tried it anyway, maybe figuring that if they did they wouldn’t have to eat anything green for the rest of the week. And the salad turned out to be good! Keith and Jim also brought hors and chocolate-chip cookies. So Hacker (real name) told them they have to bring Opening Day lunch from now on.

I’m Blaming Trump for This, Too

Ordinarily I’m not a language snob. Does it truly matter if people incorrectly refer to concrete as “cement,” or say “fortuitous” when what they mean is “serendipitous,” or use “enormity” as a synonym for “immensity,” or complain about their “arteriosclerosis” when what they actually have is atherosclerosis (unless it’s the other way around)? Life is too short for brooding about the vocabularies of strangers.

And yet.

Surely you, too, have noticed that at least half the people in America unashamedly use golf as a verb: Do you golf? My brother-in-law golfs. Did you ever see Tiger Woods golf? My wife and I golfed on our honeymoon. I’m thinking of teaching my cat to golf.

The problem has been exacerbated by having a president who, even by presidential standards, spends a remarkable amount of time playing golf. When reporters who aren’t sportswriters report on his weekend activities, they say that he “golfs.”

People who use that word in that way are almost always non-players or neophytes. It’s your great-aunt, not Jordan Spieth, who asks you if you “golfed” over the weekend. The pro at your club doesn’t “golf.” The other members of your foursome don’t “golf.” And Ben Hogan never “golfed” in his life.

This linguistic form is unique to our game, incidentally. Nobody tennises, or baseballs, or billiardses, or soccers. The people who use golf as a verb could cite the dictionary in their defense, but the dictionary is not enough. Using golf as a verb is like using sex as a verb (a usage permissible only for people who hold certain unglamorous jobs in the poultry industry). Using golf as a verb demeans golf.

I don’t mind golfer (although a few purists insist on player). I can even stand an occasional golfing. But the entire conjugation of to golf makes me want to grab a four-iron and golf somebody in the head with it.

While we’re on the subject of golf-related annoyances, let’s spend a moment on ball washers. Beginning players are always easy to spot: They keep their tees in wrist bandoliers, and they can’t pass a ball washer without using it. You hear them pumping as you tee up your first drive of the morning; you hear them pumping as you consider your final putt of the afternoon. These new golfers need to be told that ball washers serve a decorative function only, and are never to be used. Real golfers clean their balls by spitting on them and rubbing them on their thigh, making a permanent stain near the pocket, and identifying them as players, not as people who golf.

The Joys of Golf, No Matter the Weather or the President

A few years ago, a Google app on my phone offered to navigate me to “work.” I didn’t know what to make of that, because my office is in my house, so I clicked the tab and discovered that Google had deduced, based on how I spend my time during a typical week, that I must work at 10 Golf Course Road—the address of my golf club. Google must also think I get laid off every winter, because between early December and early April I hardly ever go to the club. I live up in the hills in western Connecticut, a hundred miles north of New York, and our course almost always shuts down within a week or two of Thanksgiving.

You can read the rest on the website  of The New Yorker, right here.

Critical Weather Tool for Winter Golfers

Each winter, my friends and I patronize several public golf courses within a hundred-mile radius of where we live. The courses are ones that stay open through the winter as long as they aren’t covered with snow, but sometimes it’s hard to know for sure whether they’re open or not, because we have to leave home before anyone is likely to be in the golf shop to answer the phone. That means we sometimes arrive at a course only to discover that we won’t be playing there that day after all:

Tunxis Plantation Golf Course, December 21, 2014

Actually, on the day shown in the photo above, we found a course that really was open, after making a bunch of calls from the parking lot. Recently, I discovered a trick that would have saved us a lot of driving that day. The Wundermap feature of the website Weather Underground includes links to webcams associated with many of the public and private weather stations in its vast network. If there’s a functioning webcam near a course you’re hoping to play, you see check the actual conditions, in real time, before you leave home, like this:

Oops—no golf today.

An Election Day Golf Game

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My regular golf buddies and I don’t need much encouragement to leave work early. On Election Day in 2008, six of us decided that filling in circles on machine-readable ballots was all the hard labor that we could manage on an unseasonably balmy November afternoon, and that no one could blame us for spending the rest of the day on the golf course. Tim—who is the inventor of several of our core concepts, including negative skins, “shooting your pants,” and the mathematical formula by which we predict the winning team score in our regular Sunday morning games (13 minus the lowest handicap in the field, times -1)—said that he would come up with an appropriate competition by the time we teed off.

Tim (left) and Gary (our terrific superintendent).

Tim (left) and Gary (our terrific superintendent).

What he came up with was the Presidential Special. He assigned each hole an electoral-college value equal to the sum of its number and its handicap stroke index. Our fifth hole, for example, is our tenth handicap hole, so it was worth 15 electoral votes (5 + 10 = 15). We called it North Carolina. The most valuable hole was No. 16, California, which is our seventeenth handicap hole (16 + 17 = 33); the least valuable was No. 4, Delaware, which was worth just 5. The entire course added up to 342 electoral votes, 172 needed to win.

Before we began, we divided into two three-man teams by throwing balls, then assigned the candidates by flipping a tee. (No one else was on the course, so we played as a sixsome.) I drew McCain, who promptly lost the first hole, Pennsylvania, worth 13 electoral votes. McCain won the second, but picked up only 7—Arizona. Then Obama went on a run, crushing drives and sinking putts from everywhere, and McCain didn’t take another hole until the tenth, Texas. The election was technically still up for grabs, since the back nine was worth 60 percent of the total, but Obama didn’t let up, and he clinched the match on the twelfth, Ohio, a par-three worth 27. It was over before the polls even opened in Hawaii. We switched to skins for the remaining six holes, since Tim couldn’t figure out how to play for cabinet appointments.

Undeniable Signs That the Local Golf Season is Drawing to a Close

International Leaf Rule now in effect:

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Acorns everywhere:

Ominously large collection of half-empty condiment containers on the Sunday Morning Group’s shelf in the clubhouse refrigerator:

Furniture from the SMG’s official Patio and Burial Ground moved to the clubhouse porch:

Different hats:

Daylight savings time:

Hungry wildlife emerging from the woods:

No more bunker rakes:

Frost delays:

Atlantic City Country Club: Great Golf Course, Great Locker Room, Great Bar

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Every autumn, the Sunday Morning Group takes an end-of-season golf trip to Atlantic City, which, in addition to being a cesspool of sin, depravity, and despair, is a terrific low-cost, high-quality golf destination. During this year’s trip—our seventeenth—we added a new course to our rotation: Atlantic City Country Club. It’s now one of our all-time favorites, along with Twisted Dune, the Bay Course at Seaview, Renault Winery, and Scotland Run—courses that would stand out anywhere. Here are a few reasons to visit ACCC, which has been open to the public since 2007:

  • The club was founded in 1897, so next year will be its 120th anniversary.
  • In the olden days, a bell was rung to warn golfers that the last trolley back to Atlantic City was about to depart. Timing was an issue because high tide sometimes covered the tracks, making the schedule irregular. Also, everyone was drunk.

  • The term “birdie,” in its golf application, was coined there in 1903, when Abner Smith, a member from Philadelphia, hit his approach stiff on the what was then the twelfth hole. He exclaimed that he had hit “a bird of a shot,” and the term caught on, partly thorough his own encouragement. (That hole, with a different green, is now the second. The original second green has been preserved, for historical reasons, as a remote practice area.)
  • The men’s locker room is one of the greatest male sanctuaries on earth:

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  • The U.S. Amateur was held there in 1901.
  • The U. S. Women’s Open has been held there three times. In 1948, it was won by Babe Zaharias, who celebrated afterward by playing the piano in the club’s Taproom.
  • Arnold Palmer played there often in the 1950s, when he was in the Coast Guard and stationed nearby, and he has an honorary locker (which was shrouded in black, to mark his death, during our visit):

  • Al Capone, Bob Hope, Willie Mays, and Joe Namath also played there and also have honorary lockers.
  • Oh, yeah, and the course—which was designed partly by Willie Park, Jr., among others, and was reworked in 1999 by Tom Doak—is swell, too:

Your Golf Course is Too Long For You

Every October since 2000, the Sunday Morning Group has taken an end-of-season weekend golf trip to Atlantic City.
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For the past four years, we’ve allowed every player on the trip to play from any set of tees. Some guys worried at first that our matches and team competitions would be unfair unless everyone was “playing the same course.” But we have discovered that, as long as you calculate the handicaps correctly, the competition actually works better if golfers are able to make rational decisions about the trade-off between course yardage and handicap strokes. And that’s true even when the skill spread is huge. (Handicaps this year ranged from 0 to more than 30.)

Our experience aligns perfectly with the findings of the USGA and the PGA of America, which in 2011 introduced Tee It Forward, an initiative that “encourages players to play from a set of tees best suited to their driving distance.” According to the USGA:

I firmly believe all of that. But there are reasons you haven’t heard much about Tee It Forward since 2011, and the main one is probably the USGA’s semi-incomprehensible two-step system for calculating course handicaps when players compete from different tees. Virtually no one understands how the USGA’s system works, including, in my experience, most PGA of America head professionals. My friends and I are able to do what we do mainly because Tim, who is SMG’s mathematician-in-residence, created an Excel spreadsheet that does all the figgerin’ in the background and eliminates a potentially huge rounding error inherent in the USGA’s method. Every player on the trip, before we leave home, receives a handicap for every set of tees on every course we’re going to play, and is then free to choose:

card-example

Another impediment to Teeing It Forward is that most golf courses stigmatize their forward tees by suggesting that they’re intended only for certain players — as at Twisted Dune, in Egg Harbor Township (a course we nevertheless all love):

It’s far, far better to rate all sets of tees for both men and women, and to give the tees gender-and-age-neutral names—as at Wintonbury Hills, in Bloomfield, Connecticut:

One discovery we’ve made during the past four years is that virtually all players, including many with single-digit handicaps, play better and have more fun if they move up — even way up. At Twisted Dune, Addison, who hits his driver 300 yards and has USGA Handicap Index of 0.4, played the black tees, from which the course measures 7,300 yards. But Brendan (8.3), Tim (12.3), and I (7.1) all played the “Senior Tees”—the yellows —from which the course is 1,500 yards shorter. When we started, Addison was so far behind us that we could barely see him. In the photo below, the red V is just above his head:

Addison loves playing from the tips, and he has more than enough game to do it. The rest of us, though, were very, very happy to move as far forward as we could.

Harry’s Last Round of Golf

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Our old friend Harry, who was one of the founding members of the Sunday Morning Group, died not long ago, and his widow told us she was going to send us half of his ashes to spread around the golf course, as Harry had wanted. The container we received was so heavy—three pounds—that I thought maybe she had sent us all of him, but Hacker (real name) said he’d Googled “cremation” and that all of Harry would have been more like six. We had 17 guys on Sunday, plus Harry. Schoonie had the only cart, so we put Harry on his team:

Joe brought lunch: pulled pork, spicy sausages, and lobster macaroni and cheese — all made by him, none of it touched by his wife—and because the Ryder Cup broadcast was about to begin we ate in the clubhouse, in front of the TV, instead of on our patio. I announced that I had stirred half a cup of Harry into the pulled pork, but no one believed me:

After lunch, Hacker borrowed an ash-distribution utensil from the clubhouse kitchen:

We put some of Harry under one of the bluestone pavers on the patio:

And some on the first fairway:

And some in the cup on the seventh hole, where Harry once had a hole-in-one:

And some in the divot mix in one of the divot-mix boxes that Harry himself built and gave to the club:

So long, Harry!

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