Cart-only Rules Should be Against the Rules

richtercarts

My home course isn’t open yet, but spring is finally truly here, and last weekend 16 of us played at Richter Park, one of the best munis in the United States: great course, stirring scenery, terrific pro, committed regulars, you name it. There’s just one problem: Richter doesn’t allow walking on weekend mornings, even if you pay the cart fee. The thinking, presumably, is that carts are good for pace of play. But, as anyone who walks regularly knows, four golfers on foot will almost always play faster than four golfers in two carts, because four golfers in two carts will almost always spend most of their time either doing nothing (because they’re waiting for someone else to do something) or aimlessly driving around. (The U.S.G.A., which is studying pace of play, should test this. And why not? They spend money on stuff that’s way dumber.)

wehatewalkers

We actually ended up walking almost as far as we would have if we’d walked, because on Sunday Richter was cart-paths-only. The starter had told us that weekend rounds usually take about five hours, and I expected the cart-path requirement to make things worse. But even the slowpokes ahead of us beat five hours, and by a wide margin. I’ve thought about that since then, and I believe the reason, paradoxically, is that having to keep carts on cart paths forces riders to think more like walkers. They plan ahead, to some extent, and that speeds them up. Still, I’ll be happy to be back on my home course, where even three and a half hours is considered dawdling—like these guys, who were sunning themselves in the lateral hazard to the left of the fairway on Richter’s sixteenth, a claustrophobia-inducing par 5:

richterturtle

Burgers, beer, and the Masters afterward, of course.

richtergrill

The Muny Life: Mayfair Country Club

Recently, I wrote about Mayfair Country Club, a muny in Sanford, Florida, and its interesting connection to Moe Norman. But wait! There’s more!
mayfairsignnew

The driveway at Mayfair is flanked by enormous live oaks. They were planted in in 1847, when the property was part of a citrus plantation. The city of Sanford bought 152 acres in 1922 and created the Sanford Golf Club, which at first had just four holes.

liveoaks

Later, the city leased the course to a variety of outside operators, among them the New York Giants baseball team. The Giants ran it from 1953-’61 and renamed it the Mayfair Country Club, after Sanford’s Mayfair Inn, which the team also owned. (The Giants used the inn as a dormitory for minor-leaguers, in addition to running it as a resort.) From 1955-’58, the club was the home of the Mayfair Inn Open—unofficially known as the New York Giants Open.

winnersign

In 2009, a guest at a raucous graduation party shot and killed a young man standing at the bar in the clubhouse. (According to the guys I had lunch with, the shooting was an accident, in the sense that the shooter was trying to kill a different young man, who resembled the victim from behind.) But the murder was an anomaly, and Mayfair has survived an economic downturn that many other Florida courses haven’t. The city of Sanford and Integrity Golf have made major improvements to the course and the clubhouse, including these slightly unnerving showers:

MayfairShowers

I played in Mayfair’s regular Sunday-morning game, which has two components: a Stableford and skins. (One of the guys in the game referred to the club as St. Mayfair, because it’s where they all go on Sunday.)

mayfairguys

Jean-Pierre Ely, the club’s general manager, was in my group. He’s was born in Germany, and his grandmother knew Bernhard Langer’s parents. His family moved to the United States in 1998 after his mother won a green card in a lottery. He’s 28. His ambition is to play on the PGA Tour. That’s him on the right,with one of the club’s starters:

starterjp

There’s something cool about playing a golf hole that Ben Hogan had a definite opinion about (the fourth, a sinuous par 4, which he once described as one of the toughest bunker-free par 4s he’d ever played), and, later, buying a sleeve of balls in a golf shop that Sam Snead used to drive over while taking a shortcut to what was then the 10th green.

P1110931

Ely won the Stableford, while the best that I could manage was to prevent someone else from winning a skin on the third, a short par 4. Sorting out the prizes took time, because for a while the pot appeared to be $10 light. Billy Griffin, a regular, scanned the crowd near the bar and said, “I can look at somebody and tell if he hasn’t paid.” The problem turned out to be that one participant had accidentally signed up twice. “In that case,” someone said, “you need to put in another ten.” I said something at some point, and Griffin said, “Hey, new guy. Sit down.” So I sat down. Here’s the group’s official record-keeper:

mayfairaccounting

John, one of the regulars, used to work for the tour player Mike Souchak. A friend of his told me, “John has 42 clubs in his bag. When he lifts the bag out of his truck, the truck rises.” John said, “I’m down to 16 or 18. But I’ve got a few beers in there, too.” Here’s a board that one of the regular groups at Mayfair uses to make up teams, or something:

cardboardsquare

Nice course! Nice club! I’d like to go back.

Ladies OrlandoP1110959IMG_0689Photo 1P1110939IMG0798IMG754

mayfairsignback.jpg

Moe Norman Slept Here (Richard Nixon Did Not)

The Canadian golf legend Moe Norman had a wide stance, a short takeaway, a lumberjack motion, and a finish that made him look like he was dangling from a rope, yet many knowledgeable players, Tiger Woods among them, have ranked him with Ben Hogan as one of the greatest ball strikers of all time.

Moe Norman Golf World 9-2-66

Norman also almost certainly suffered from autism. He worked in a rubber-boot factory early in his career, and, although he won more than 50 amateur and professional titles in Canada, he felt like an outcast when he played in tour events in the United States (including the Masters, twice). His finances were precarious until the final decade of his life, when Wally Uihlein, of Titleist, learned of his distress and gave him the kind of retirement he deserved.

moenormanswing

Norman spent his winters in Florida, and, until Uihlein stepped up, supported himself mainly by hustling and giving exhibitions. At one point, the pro at Mayfair Country Club, a muny in Sanford, let him stay, rent-free, in an apartment on the second floor of the clubhouse. I visited Mayfair last winter. The stairs to that apartment had been removed in a renovation, so in order to show me the place Mike Kenovich, the superintendent at the time, had to find a ladder.

moeladder

Then he and I and Jean-Pierre Ely, the general manager, climbed to the roof, while Bernie Haas—who competed with Norman in several tournaments in Florida in the 1960s and was inducted into the Northern Ohio PGA Hall of Fame in 1995—steadied the ladder by keeping a foot on the bottom rung. That’s Haas in the red hat in the photo above, and Kenovich starting to climb. And those are Ely’s feet disappearing up above. Here’s Haas in the club’s Oak House Restaurant, later, with one of his golf scrapbooks:

haasscrapbook

Haas was an assistant pro at Burning Tree, in Washington, D.C., in the late 1950s. One of his students there was Vice President Richard Nixon. Nixon’s boss played so much golf that Nixon figured he’d better learn, too, and because he had no friends he would invite Haas to play with him. “He wasn’t a very good golfer,” Haas said, respectfully. Nixon once told Clifford Roberts that he wouldn’t mind being a member of Augusta National, and Roberts, who didn’t like him any better than Eisenhower did, said, “I didn’t know you were that interested in golf.” And that was the end of that.
Anyway, here’s what’s left of the apartment where Norman stayed:
kenovichely
mayfairsink
mayfairkitch
mayfairshower
mayfairapt
The walls were crumbling, but I could picture Norman, whom I spent some time with in the mid-1990s, standing at a window and waiting for the sun to come up so that he could tee off again.
mayfairclubhouse
Mayfair has a long, interesting history. I’ll have more about that—and about Moe Norman—soon.

IMG_0661

IMG_0735

Beating the Snow, Plus Exclusive Footage of a Rare 86-stroke Penalty

forecastscreenshot

The forecast for Sunday was terrible, but the one for Saturday was pretty good—“snow and ice, then rain; fog”—so we shifted our Sunday game to Saturday. There were several guys standing around outside the golf shop at Candlewood Valley when we arrived: never a good sign:

P1150276

The problem was that the temperature was only a few degrees below freezing, and the superintendent was worried that the greens might not be frozen solid enough for him to ignore the frost. He went out to inspect the course, and we went out for breakfast, at a diner down the road. Then we came back and hung out in the golf shop, to await the superintendent’s verdict:P1150279-001

We also chatted up some of the other guys who were waiting. This guy, whose name is Greg, showed me a gadget called a PutterDart, which he sells and may have invented. It has lots of uses. There’s no PutterDart webpage, and Greg doesn’t seem to be on Facebook, but if you’re interested in learning more you can get in touch with him at PutterDart@aol.com.

P1150287

We got the all-clear, finally, at 10:00. Ed Slattery, the head pro, said we could play as a fivesome. He also let us start on the tenth hole, so we had plenty of empty golf course ahead of us.

P1150306

Addison was wearing shorts, so, in accordance with our winter rules, he got to be a 2 instead of a 0. But his socks were so tall that they functioned almost like pants, and to keep them from sliding down to his ankles he was holding them up with the rubber bands from two bunches of asparagus—which provided exactly the right amount of tension, he said. At some point, I guess, the Committee will have to rule on maximum sock height, as well as on artificial support.

P1150329

The Housatonic River, which runs through the course, was flowing, but the puddles and ponds were all frozen:

P1150320

On our ninth hole, Other Gene incurred a rare 86-stroke penalty, for repeatedly grounding his club after hitting his tee shot into a hazard:

We kept a weather eye on the weather with Raindar, my favorite Android precipitation monitor:

P1150339

And, luckily, despite our one-hour frost delay, the snow didn’t reach us until we were making our way up the fairway on our seventeenth hole:P1150387

Even on our eighteenth, putting was still possible:

P1150405

P1150414

P1150415

A final swig of Jagermeister, the official cold-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group, in the parking lot:

P1150439Then lunch at the Cookhouse —where, once again, we ran into the PutterDart guy. He was hard to recognize without that hat:

P1150457

P1150452

Unbroken (by the Stupid Weather)

snowfromcar

My home course has been closed since shortly before Thanksgiving, so we’ve been playing around. I was traveling (without golf clubs) two Sundays ago, but everyone else played at Tunxis Plantation, which is about an hour from where we live, and last Sunday we went back. I rode with Other Gene. Snow was falling when we left home, and it continued to fall as we drove, and when we were maybe fifteen minutes from Tunxis I realized that it was probably going to keep falling and not melt by the time we got there. And that’s what happened. So we held a conference in the parking lot:

parkinglotmeeting

We called every golf course we could think of and discovered that Fairchild Wheeler, in Fairfield, was not only open but “with greens.” The Wheel is just an hour from Tunxis, so that’s where we went. Tim showed up as we were pulling out, but he decided to be a good husband by returning home and giving his wife holiday-related opportunities to be angry at him in person. When the rest of us arrived at the Wheel, a maintenance guy with a leaf blower was removing snow from a putting surface:

leafblowsnow

We played the Black. The young woman at the desk in the golf shop let us go out as a fivesome after Hacker (real name) assured her that we would play faster than any threesome on the course. And he was telling the truth, because there was a threesome directly ahead of us and we waited on pretty much every shot, including this one, on a long par 3:

P1150173

Hacker and I took on Gene, Gary, and Kevin (who was visiting from law school). We beat them by three shots, but rather than pocketing our winnings we used them to pay for most of everybody’s lunch.

vazzys

During the cheeseburger course, Gene suggested that we adopt some kind of ongoing off-season competition, analogous to the FedEx Cup, and we all agreed that that was a good idea. Recently, I wrote about some guys in Massachusetts who call themselves the Winter Tour because they play all winter. Borrowing that name seemed easier than making up a new one, so that’s what we decided to do. Hacker, as always, will devise the format and the scoring system; my assignment is to talk to the people who make Jagermeister—the official cold-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group—and persuade them to become the Winter Tour’s lead sponsor.

jager

If they give us just hats, say, we’ll agree to call ourselves something like “the Winter Tour of the Sunday Morning Group (in association with Jagermeister).”

jagerhatorange

But if they give us shirts in addition to hats, plus maybe some actual Jagermeister, we’d be willing to go as far as “the Jagermeister Tour (in association with the Sunday Morning Group).” Their choice. And if they’re really accommodating we’ll add their logo to all our other branded merchandise, including our regular hats and our bumper stickers.

mxjagermeister

The company’s headquarters are closed till after the New Year (when the Winter Tour will be playing at Shennecossett, in Groton ) so the actual negotiations won’t begin until then. I’m assuming there won’t be a problem. I’ll post an update as soon as I have the details.

genekevindavebob

Reader’s Trip Report: Bethpage Black and Yale

wintertourbethpagefirst

Alex Nosevich, a reader, is a member of a club-with-a-club at Shining Rock Golf Club, in Northbridge, Massachusetts. “Our group calls itself the Winter Tour,” he told me recently, “because we play through the winter. However, as soon as our home course closes for the year we call ourselves the Arctic Tour. Probably more complicated than it needs to be.” Here’s what Shining Rock’s fifth hole—a long par 3, called Quarry—looks like when it isn’t covered with snow:

shiningrockfifth

It’s called Quarry because that granite outcropping near the green really is the remains of a quarry. According to the club’s website, “The abundance of granite in these hillsides made ready access to materials needed to construct the nearby Blackstone Canal or for foundations for the massive mills which blossomed along the river in the 1800′s.”

Back in October, at around the time the Sunday Morning Group was celebrating the Crystal Anniversary of our annual autumn golf trip to Atlantic City, the Winter Tour took a similar trip to Bethpage Black, Bethpage Green, and Yale. Excerpts from Nosevich’s report:

Twelve guys, two days, seventy-two holes. Beer, whiskey, bourbon, cigars. We arrived at the Bethpage parking lot in a fleet of cars around 10:30 Monday night, and secured the first spots in the lot—critical in getting the opening three tee times on the Black. Bethpage Lesson No. 1: Domino’s delivers to the Bethpage parking lot.

bethpageparkinglot.jpg

Paul, our President of Domestic Events [far left in the photo above], told us ghost stories all night about how difficult the Black would play. Bethpage Lesson No. 2: If you’re over six feet tall, do not volunteer to sleep across the back bench of a minivan. And remember to bring a pillow.

Bethpage Black is long, but I found it to be very playable. Three guys broke 80, and I was very happy with my 82. Of course, we played from the whites, the rough wasn’t that deep, and conditions were ideal. I played in shorts and short sleeves. Awesome. [That’s Nosevich in the yellow shirt in the back row in the photo at the top of this post.]

After a quick lunch, we played the Green. We finished in darkness, headed for a local place to eat, then drove to a hotel in Connecticut. I have never, ever been happier to see a full-length mattress. The next day, we played thirty-six holes at Yale. I think the consensus favorite hole was the ninth, the famous par 3 whose green is bisected by a tributary of the Grand Canyon. Here’s Darren on that green. He’s the one who got us on the course:

darrenninthyale

The hole we liked the least was the eighteenth, a par 5 that forced many of us to lay up off the tee with a 3-wood, then hit a blind second shot seemingly straight up in the air. But that’s a minor complaint. We got to play two of the best courses in the country, and my team won the first day’s matches.

bethpagedrivercover.jpg

This week, the Arctic Tour is headed to Rhode Island. Report to follow if they survive.

Two Easy Ways to Speed Up Golf

golfladies

My golf course closed for the season on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The day before that, thirteen guys showed up for the final 2014 home-course meeting of the Sunday Morning Group. I wasn’t there, because I was on my way home from a non-golf reporting assignment in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California—poor life-management on my part. The following Sunday, though, Hacker (real name), Mike B., Gary, Ray, three of Ray’s friends from other clubs, and I played at Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a 36-hole facility owned by the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut:

sundaywheel

The Wheel (as it’s known to friends) is the main winter golf hangout for a lot of guys in our region, because it’s so close to the coast that it doesn’t get much snow. It’s where S.M.G. played last year on New Year’s Day:

newyearswheel.jpg

The Wheel is also the home of an extremely successful chapter of The First Tee, which served more than 600 kids last summer:

IMG_5279

One of the volunteer coaches is Richard Hunt, an honorary S.M.G. member. That’s him at the far left in the photo below, which was taken at Twisted Dune during S.M.G.’s fifteenth annual golf trip to Atlantic City, in October:

P1140676

Each summer for the past ten years, Richard has spent his Saturday afternoons at the Wheel introducing youngsters to golf. This year, his First Tee chapter named a trophy after him: the Coach Rick Award, which goes to the scoring champions in the Ace/Birdie division. (He’s also pretty good at teaching grownups; he’s a marketing consultant in Manhattan, and he oversees the Venture Creation Program at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, where he is a mentor-in-residence.)

RichardAC2014

A couple of weeks ago, Richard attended the U.S.G.A.’s Pace of Play Symposium, at which two dozen speakers spent two days talking about how to make golf go faster. “I thought the event was quite valuable,” Richard (who took the photo below) told me. “This is exactly the kind of thing they need to do ‘for the good of the game.'”

usgaequationyawn.JPG

Richard’s report:

Turns out, there are way more problems than your buddy plumb-bobbing his third putt. A major culprit is tee-time spacing, which is way too short at most public courses, and even in professional events. The L.P.G.A. did a test this year, and was able to reduce playing times an average of fourteen minutes per round just by moving tee times slightly farther apart, from ten minutes to eleven, and asking players to keep up with the group in front of them. Easy stuff. In addition, course setup, design, and facility management policies are all either part of the problem or part of the solution.

When I was in Arizona, I had dinner with my old friend Shelby Futch, the world’s greatest golf teacher, whose company owns several courses in the Scottsdale area. At one of them, Shelby reduced playing times by offering forty dollars in grill-room credit to each day’s first group if they finished in less than four hours, and by asking the groups behind them to keep up. Easy stuff.

I asked Richard whether the kids he teaches play quickly—and, sad to say, he said they don’t:

Trust me—we don’t teach them to play slow. Yet on late summer Saturday afternoons, during our team matches, my young charges struggle to beat darkness every week. I myself blame CBS, NBC, and the Golf Channel. Maybe Fox will only show golfers in action next year, instead of repose.

Easy stuff.

DSC05311.JPG

Last Year’s Golf Water: Is It Safe to Drink?

Mounting created BloggifLast summer, I played in a tournament called the Danbury Amateur, along with several other guys from my club. We got two rounds at Richter Park, a semi-free lunch each day, and a really nice insulated water bottle, which I used for the rest of the golf season. 

P1120069

I forgot about the water bottle during the winter, though, and for several months it rolled around in the trunk of my car, along with a golf-ball box containing six or seven loose golf balls. The water bottle and the ball box made quite a racket when I cornered hard, etc., but as soon as I had parked my car in my garage they stopped rolling around and I forgot about them.

P1120073

This spring, I put my golf clubs back in the trunk, and brought the water bottle inside my house, to refill it. When I opened it, I noticed that there was a little bit of water still in it, from last year, and suddenly I wondered whether anything bad would happen to me if I drank the leftover golf water instead of pouring it out.

Was this a dumb idea? I don’t know. Check back in a few days and see if I’m still here.

Golf on the Vernal Equinox

My pushcart at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, New Year's Eve, 2013.

My pushcart at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, New Year’s Eve, 2013.

My friends and I celebrated the first day of spring the same way we celebrated the last day of 2013 and the first day of 2014: by playing a round at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a muny about an hour from where we live. As you can see by comparing the photo above with the photo below, playing conditions had improved dramatically in just eleven weeks:

My pushcart at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, March 20, 2014.

My pushcart at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, March 20, 2014.

There were still a few lingering signs of winter, including a large patch of non-liquid casual water along the left side of the ninth fairway:

Pro's advice: aim right.

Pro’s advice: aim right.

Overall, though, the course was in decent shape. The gates were closed when we arrived, a little before nine, but the parking lot had begun to fill by time we finished, and the temperature had climbed to the mid-forties.

P1110473

The past few months have been truly horrible around here, golf-wise. It’s been so cold that a small herd of local Lyme-disease vectors began spending the night in my backyard:

IMG_1128

But in the past few days things have finally started to turn. Last Sunday, Hacker (real name), Doug, Mike A., and Tim played at Pelham Bay Golf Course, in the Bronx—the only open course within a hundred miles of where we live:

Hacker Pelham 2

Mike A. attempting a rare steeplechase bunker shot. Degree of difficulty: 10.

Mike A. attempting a rare steeplechase bunker shot. Degree of difficulty: 10.

I couldn’t join them, because I had a work deadline I couldn’t put off, but I did take time out for lunch with nine other members of the Sunday Morning Group. There are six artificial knees in the photo below, if you count all three of Frank’s (one of his had to be redone):

IMG_1162-004On the equinox, we ate at Fairchild Wheeler, of course—along with these guys, who hadn’t played golf but, apparently, were unable to stay away:

IMG_1200

That’s March Madness on the big screen behind them. If we hadn’t needed to get home for our naps, we could have hung around all day.

P1110441

The Muny Life: The Beav, in Concord, New Hampshire

P1090355-001My Muny Life column in the January Golf Digest was about Beaver Meadow Golf Course, in Concord, New Hampshire—known to regulars as “the Beav.” The course has an unusual policy of keeping groups well away from the first tee until it’s their turn to play—because, the starter told me, “We find that people hit the ball better if no one is watching.”

P1090382

The Beav’s original nine holes were laid out in 1896 by Willie Campbell, a transplanted Scotsman, who had also laid out some of the early holes at The Country Club, in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was The Country Club’s first head professional, and then he held the same job at Myopia Hunt Club and Franklin Park Golf Course, which opened in 1896 and is the second oldest public golf course in the country. (It’s now known as William J. Devine Golf Course, and was one of the subjects of an earlier Muny Life column.)

Frederick Law Olmsted's 1891 plan for Franklin Park, five years before the creation of the golf course.

Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1891 plan for Franklin Park, five years before the creation of the golf course.

Campbell had heart problems. He died in 1900, at the age of thirty-eight, but he played golf till almost the end. According to his obituary in the Boston Evening Transcript: “Last spring, when unable to drive a ball more than seventy-five or a hundred yards, owing to his weakness, Campbell beat the best ball of two leading amateur players at [Franklin Park] simply by his marvelous accuracy in approaching and putting.” (Willie’s wife, Georgina, took over his job at Franklin when he died, thus becoming the first woman golf pro in the United States.) Campbell is memorialized at the Beav with an annual tournament in his honor:

That (Photoshopped) face isn't Campbell's, but I don't know whose it is.

That (Photoshopped) face isn’t Campbell’s, but I don’t know whose it is.

My principal guide to the Beav was Dave Andrews, a retired television news reporter. Dave swings righty but writes and putts lefty, and he was able to use his ambidexterity to his advantage with this tricky shot, from the collar of a bunker:

P1090394-001

Dave is an avid supporter of women’s golf. Beaver Meadow used to host a Symetra Tour event called the Northeast Delta Dental International, and Andrews served twice as the tournament’s (volunteer) caddie master. He and several of his friends also sometimes serve as volunteer caddies at women’s mini-tour events in Florida, where they go to escape New England winters, and at the LPGA’s Q School. That’s Dave and Hannah Yun below, at the 2011 Q School, where he helped Yun earn her 2012 LPGA rookie card.

andrews yun

Dave is the author of a novel called Pops and Sunshine, which makes good use of some of his experiences as a caddie and as a regular at Beaver Meadow. The guys who hang around with him have been big supporters not only of women’s golf but also of the book. This is Tinker Foy, who has been a Beav member for more than fifty years:

P1090440-001Tinker’s son, Denny, was Dave’s partner in a tournament that was underway when I arrived. Denny has the rarest and most prized of all golf tans, the sunglasses-stem line:

P1090331Another of Dave’s regular golf buddies is Russ Matthews. Russ sold his company when he was in his forties, and now plays golf a hundred percent of the time, Dave told me. He has been to Scotland a couple of times, and when he isn’t playing golf he’s watching it on TV. He’s part of the group that goes to Florida each winter, but Russ said he wouldn’t want to live there full time, because he likes the change of seasons. “I played hockey when I was a kid,” he said. “When I started, I just had figure skates, and I taped magazines to my legs, as shin guards.” He had a heart attack not long after I visited, but he’s doing fine now. Here he is:

P1090298

Every year, Beaver Meadow plays a two-weekend tournament, called the Beaver Cup, against a club in Phoenix, New York, called Beaver Meadows. There’s a golf club in Virginia that has almost the same name as my golf club, and one of these days the Sunday Morning Group is going to challenge them to something. In the meantime, I hope the guys from the Beav will drop by (after the snow has melted) for a round at our place.

P1090381-001