We Have a Winner; Plus, Good Shoes for Winter Golf

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On New Year’s Eve, I challenged readers to identify a golf course and an intriguing locker-room accessory, based on a photo similar to the one above. There were several pretty good guesses regarding the locker-room accessory, but only one (by email) that nailed the golf course, too. That golf course is D. Fairchild Wheeler, known to regulars as the Wheel, a muny owned by the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut (although it’s actually next door, in the town of Fairfield).

P1110513The winner was Dave Malloy, a reader in Trumbull (another neighboring town). He wrote: “That’s the locker room at the Wheel. Red Course is open all year. Black Course is a diamond in the rough. Oh, function. Drinks, baby! Ashtrays, too, at one point, I was told. Always loved that locker room.”

P1110371-001There are other uses, too, as the photo above shows. And according to Stephen P. Roach, the head pro, regulars also treat the things as stand-up card tables—a great idea. I asked Malloy to tell me about himself and his golf. He wrote:

I am an 18-handicap hack who can lose balls impressively deep in the woods, both hooking and slicing. Fifty-two years old. Most of my golf is nine holes late Saturday or Sunday afternoon at Tashua Knolls, in Trumbull. Three kids and a full sports schedule kill golf until late June, then sports start up again in September. Grew up in Stamford playing Hubbard Heights and Sterling Farms. Occasionally enjoy away rounds at Smith-Richardson, Longshore, Oxford Greens. Play Highlands and Pines in Dennis, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Took one lesson, and at the end of it the pro gave me a free can of tennis balls. 

As promised, a disappointing prize is on its way to him, Winter Storm Hercules be damned. Meanwhile, my friends and I have played three rounds at the Wheel in the past week, including our final round of 2013 (on New Year’s Eve) and our first round of 2014 (on New Year’s Day).

The Sunday Morning Group visits the Black Course at the Wheel, January 1, 2014.

The Sunday Morning Group plays the Black Course at the Wheel. First tee, January 1, 2014.

When we teed off on New Year’s Day, at 9:30 or so, our cars were still the only ones in the parking lot. Where was everybody else? Home fretting over their New Year’s resolutions, maybe.

IMG_0027Playing golf in bad weather is easier if you have the right equipment. Remarkably, my friend Hacker (real name) and I both received winter golf shoes for Christmas. How did our wives know? It’s like a short story by O. Henry. My new shoes are Nike Lunar Bandon IIs:

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They look a little like ski boots, but my winter golf clothes increasingly look like ski clothes, so I shouldn’t complain. They’re not as slipper-like or as comfortable as my beloved True Linkswear shoes, but they seal up tight, and, so far, I have nothing bad to say about them. I also like to wear them when I walk the dog in the snow.

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Santa brought Hacker’s new shoes all the way from England. They’re made by a company called Stuburt, and they also look like boots:

stubur bootHacker loves them, but when he got home on Saturday, the first day he’d worn them, he discovered that seven of the cleats had fallen out while we were playing.

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Cliff Dews.

Cliff Dews.

He emailed the company to complain, and, a couple of days later, heard back from Cliff Dews, a representative of the distributor. “From your description,” Dews wrote, “I can only assume that you did not notice the label on the sole unit which explains that the studs are only hand tight during the manufacturing process and that they should be fully tightened before use.” I love England, but the only other country I can think of where they do things this way is Canada. If you’re willing to go to the trouble of printing up labels and sticking them to the soles of shoes, why not spend another ten seconds and screw the things all the way in?

stuburt boot spikesBesides, as Hacker pointed out, there had been no such labels on the bottoms of his shoes or, indeed, anywhere in the box, which had contained just “the shoes and bubble pack.” At any rate, Dews did the decent thing, “despite our instruction label not being actioned,” and promised to send Hacker a new set of studs. And that’s the end of it—or so I hope.

Travel Crisis: Missing Golf Bag

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Three pieces of luggage failed to make it to Austin, Texas, on the nonstop flight I took from Newark, New Jersey: a young family’s car seat; some guns (in a case) that belonged to two young hillbillies; and my golf clubs. As we filled out claim forms in lost-luggage office, I performed mental triage, assigning highest priority to the car seat (for humanitarian reasons) and lowest to the guns (since there was at least an outside chance that the hillbillies were planning mayhem).

Car-seat guy. No, that's not his car seat at the left.

Car-seat guy. No, that’s not his car seat at the  lower left.

I myself was headed to San Antonio (by rental car), to play a municipal golf course there, on assignment for Golf Digest. The woman on the right in the photo above told me that my clubs, assuming they arrived on the next flight from Newark, would have to be flown to Dallas and then to San Antonio before they could be delivered to me at my hotel, sometime the next day, even though San Antonio is just an hour and a half from Austin by car. She said that Southwest would reimburse me for a sleeve of balls, a glove, a pair of shoes (up to fifty dollars), and rental clubs. This has happened to me before, and I wasn’t too bummed. But that evening she called to say that my clubs had arrived in Austin and would be sent by car after all, although they wouldn’t be at my hotel until three or four in the morning. Hooray!

I told the clerk at the front desk that my golf clubs would be delivered after midnight, and asked him just to hold them for me until I picked them up. “Right,” the clerk said. “We’ll call you when they get here.” I said, “No. Please listen. They’ll be arriving at three or four in the morning, and I’ll be sound asleep, and I don’t want you to call me. I won’t need them in the middle of the night, and I won’t need to know that they’ve arrived. Just hold them at the desk and I’ll pick them up in the morning.” The clerk said, “Right,” and in large letters I wrote PLEASE DO NOT CALL ME on the form he’d asked me to fill out.

A little after three that morning, the phone in my room rang. “Your golf clubs are here,” the clerk said.

Well, maybe I’d have done the same thing if I’d been stuck behind a hotel reception desk at three in the morning, with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company. When I was twenty, I spent a summer working on the lawn-maintenance crew at an apartment complex in Colorado Springs, and we used to drag our shovels across the parking lot each morning at six-thirty, to make sure the residents were awake, too.

I was sound asleep when the clerk called because I had taken several critical steps to keep down the noise and light levels in my room. Among other things, I had pushed a chair against the curtains to keep them fully shut, turned off the wheezing fan in the room’s HVAC system, and unplugged the empty mini-refrigerator under the TV, to prevent the compressor from repeatedly cycling on and off:

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I had also disabled the electric eye on the bathroom light switch:

P1100923The electric eye turns on all the bathroom lights whenever it detects motion. That may or may not be a good thing during the day, but it’s a nuisance in the middle of the night, because, if you are only getting up to take a whiz, the last that you want (or, at any rate, the last thing that I want) is to be suddenly blasted with daylight-level illumination, as though you had been caught trying to cut your way through a barbed-wire perimeter fence. Hey, why not turn on the TV and the radio, too, and have the desk clerk call to make sure everything’s O.K.?

Here’s how I foiled the electric eye, before going to bed, by using the Kleenex box and a hand towel:

P1100924Other than that, all was well. I’ll have more to say about my trip later, both here and in the magazine.

Video: Myrtle Beach Golfer Hits Self With Own Ball

Jim Coleman (left), showing a friend the video below, George Wright Golf Course, Boston, May, 2013.

Jim Coleman (left), showing a friend the video below, in the grillroom at George Wright Golf Course, Boston, June, 2013.

Back in June, I played a round at George Wright Golf Course, a muny, in the Hyde Park section of Boston. Among the people I played with was Jim Coleman, a caterer, at left in the photo above. Coleman runs the clubhouse grillroom, and after our round we had a terrific lunch, during which showed us a video, on his phone, of a friend hitting himself with his own golf ball during a trip to Myrtle Beach:

Coleman also showed us a video of the same guy taking an unusually large divot with a fairway wood:

Coleman has transformed the grillroom, and made it a popular hangout. He had the brilliant idea of turning several tabletops into scoreboards for the complicated golf games played by George Wright’s regular leagues. They’re thick slabs of slate with grid lines painted on them, and you can write on them with chalk:

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“K of C” (at the top of the grid on the tabletop above) stands for “Knights of Columbus.” George Wright also has a Polish League, although most of the guys in it nowadays aren’t Polish. (“They were running out,” one member told me.) Everybody in the grillroom is a Bruins fan, though.

IMG_1613The banner in the photo above, which is displayed next to an Irish flag, looks a lot like the ones that hang from the ceiling at the Boston Garden. Coleman acquired some time ago, under circumstances he didn’t fully describe. “I kind of swindled it out of a guy,” he said.

IMG_1606George Wright Golf Course, incidentally, was named after a star player for the Boston Red Stockings—who, among numerous other accomplishments, batted first in the first National League game, on April 22, 1876.

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The Muny Life: Swope Memorial, Kansas City

Clubhouse, Swope Memorial, Kansas City, June, 2013.

Clubhouse, Swope Memorial Golf Course, Kansas City, June, 2013.

My Muny Life column in the current issue of Golf Digest is about Swope Memorial Golf Course, in Kansas City. The course and the huge urban park that contains it were named for Thomas H. Swope, who gave the city thirteen hundred hilly, wooded acres in 1896. (Five hundred more acres were added later.) Swope died in 1909, and many people suspected that he had been poisoned by Dr. Benjamin Hyde, who attended him in his final illness and was the husband of one of his heirs, a niece. Swope’s body was disinterred and checked for strychnine, and Hyde was tried for murder but not convicted. In 1918, Swope was reburied, about a hundred and fifty yards from the tenth tee, under a monument that overlooks downtown.

IMG_1750Among the people I played with was James Armstrong, at right in the photo above. He spent thirty-eight years in the shipping department at Hallmark Cards, a job that was good for his game, because his shift was late. He’s one of the best putters I’ve ever seen, including on TV—his nickname at Swope is Drano—so I was surprised when he said, toward the end of our round, “This year is going to be my last.” I asked him how he could even think of giving up golf when he was still playing so well, and he said, “No, this is the last. Starting next year, twice a week is going to be it for me.” I asked him whether he really considered playing twice a week to be quitting. He thought about that for a moment, then said, “Sometimes I might squeeze in three.”

Drano, sinking a long one.

Drano, sinking a long one.

Like me, Armstrong believes in customizing his gear. Here’s his pushcart, a Sun Mountain Speed Cart, which began as a castoff from another player:

Note the improved cupholder and pencil caddie.

Note the bespoke cupholder and pencil caddie, which he made from an old headcover.

Armstrong has added distance off the tee by giving his driver an improved paint job:

P1070243Two days later, I played with Joe Cutrera, a Vietnam veteran, who owns a liquor-and-grocery store not far from the golf course. The store is in a high-crime area, he told me, but he hasn’t been robbed since 1984.

Joe Cutrera, Swope Memorial.

Joe Cutrera, Swope Memorial.

Cutrera’s job, like Armstrong’s old one, leaves plenty of time for golf, since he doesn’t need to be in his store all the time. He had customized his pushcart, too:

P1070354Swope Memorial was redesigned by A. W. Tillinghast in 1934. The city thoroughly refurbished it in nineteen-nineties, and when I visited it was in extraordinary condition. On one hole, an assistant superintendent was watering a new bunker, to de-fluff the sand. Do they do that at your club?

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Swope’s fairways are zoysia, just like the fairways at the Kansas City Country Club, another Tillinghast project, and the whole property is beautiful and beautifully maintained—as you can see from the photos below.

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The Muny Life: Orlando, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Elsewhere

Winsteads

I’m just back from Kansas City, where I grew up. Among other things, it’s the home of Winstead’s, which makes the best hamburgers in the world. When I was a kid, you could order from your car by shouting into a thing that looked like a speaker at a drive-in movie theater, and then a waitress would bring your stuff on a tray, which she would hook over a partly rolled-down window. There’s no more curb service at Winstead’s, but there’s a drive-through window, open 24/7. You can also eat inside. When you go, here’s what to order (no substitutions, please):

Double cheeseburger with extra P.M.K. (pickles, mustard, ketchup) and grilled onions.
Single cheeseburger, ditto (for topping yourself off—just take my word for it).
Fifty-fifty (half onion rings and half fries; ask for the fries to be “well done”).
Large cherry limeade (or, if you insist, large diet cherry limeade).
Frosty (technically speaking, this could be considered a dessert, but the proper way to eat it is as a side dish).

When I was in high school, my friends and I occasionally ate four meals a day at Winstead’s. You’d be crazy not to go, even if you weren’t planning to travel to Kansas City. Between trips there last week, I visited my mother and played three rounds on two terrific municipal golf courses, which I’ll write about in the September issue of Golf Digest, in my regular monthly column. Here, in the meantime, is a photo of the putting grip of one of the guys I played with, who I’m pretty sure is one of the three or four best putters in the world (his friends call him Drano):

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My Muny Life column in the May issue of Golf Digest was about Dubsdread Golf Course, in Orlando, Florida. The photo below is of two of the guys I played with there: Fletch, a semi-retired accountant, and Brian, his son-in-law, who is in the building-supply business. Brian lives near the course and gives Fletch hybrid clubs and gentle swing advice, plus the occasional grandchild.

Fletch and Brian.

Fletch and Brian, Dubsdread Golf Course, Orlando.

During another round, I watched a guy on the driving range talk on his phone, which he was holding in his right hand, while hitting one-handed wedges with his left hand and smoking a cigarette. As Dr. Johnson said, in a different context, “It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

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In the June issue, I wrote about Cobbs Creek Golf Club, which is just down the road (and creek) from Merion Golf Club, where the Open was held last week. Here’s the maintenance building at Cobbs Creek, which, like the clubhouse and the course, dates to the early nineteen-hundreds:

Cobbs Creek Golf Club, Philadelphia.

Cobbs Creek Golf Club, Philadelphia.

After one of my rounds, I met Hank Church, a regular, who didn’t play but dropped by the clubhouse to see his friends. “I had ten inches of my large intestine removed sixteen days ago,” he said, and he lifted his shirt to show the scar, which was barely visible. He wasn’t ready to swing a club yet, he said—but almost. And, like many of his friends, he served as a marshal at the U.S. Open, in his case on the eleventh hole, which is the one where Bobby Jones closed out Eugene Homans in the 1930 Amateur, thereby completing his Grand Slam.

hank Church, Cobbs Creek Golf Club.

Hank Church, Cobbs Creek Golf Club, Philadelphia.

For the July issue, I wrote about Dyker Beach Golf Course, in Brooklyn, where my friends and I often go to play during the winter, when our home course is covered with snow. A few months ago, eight of us set out a little before five in the morning so that we could get to Brooklyn in time to play as guests in the regular Sunday-morning game of Shore View Golf Club, a men’s group that plays at Dyker. John Perez, the club’s president, supervised the picking of the teams, using a handicap-based method that he referred to as Captain and His Men. It was kind of dark in the grill room when he did that, so one of the guys used his cell phone as a flashlight when it was his turn to choose:

That's John Perez at the far right. Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn.

That’s John Perez at the far right. Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn.

That day, my friend Hacker (real name) and I played with Ronnie Clyne, who works for a headhunter. “I grew up on the Brooklyn waterfront,” Clyne told us. “If you played golf, we beat you up and took your lunch money.” Like most Shore View guys, he’s self-taught and deeply addicted. “I had a hole-in-one once, at a course in the Catskills,” he said. “As I picked the ball out of the hole, a tear rolled down my cheek. It was the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience.” Here’s Ronnie cleaning goose crap off his golf shoes on one of the tees:

Ronnie Clyne, Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn.

Ronnie Clyne, Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn.

And here’s Hacker (looking very serious) with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background:

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On the morning we played with the Shore View guys, I picked up Other Gene. and Gary, our superintendent, at Gene’s house. They were waiting in front when I arrived, at 4:45 a.m., and when I opened the trunk of my car Gene’s dogs, which are huge, started barking inside his house. Gene was worried that the dogs would wake up his wife, so he kept saying “Shhhhhh, shhhhhhh, shhhhhh”—very quietly, so as not to make matters worse. I was standing next to him and could barely hear him, so I assume the dogs heard nothing, their famous ears notwithstanding. At any rate, they kept barking and, if anything, got louder. Miraculously, though (we learned later), Gene’s wife slept through the whole thing.

The Muny Life: Augusta Municipal (a.k.a. the Patch)

IMG_0025For my monthly column in the April issue of Golf Digest (on sale now), I played Augusta’s municipal golf course, which is known locally as the Patch—short for Cabbage Patch. There was frost when I got there, and the parking lot was virtually empty, so after nosing around a little bit I went to Krispy Kreme.

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When I returned, I played with Josh and Steve, both journeymen pipefitters, who had driven over from Aiken, South Carolina. They’ve been working as welders on the Savannah River Salt Waste Processing Facility, a job that’s likely to last another two or three years. (“Salt waste” is a semi-euphemism for nuclear waste.) There was a golf-ball-shaped dent on the bottom of Steve’s driver. “That’s from the first time I played,” he said. “It was a sight.” Here they are (Steve is on the left):

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The Patch is scrappy, but it’s a good golf course, and it has some awesome bunkers, like this one, next to the first fairway:

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Later that day, I met the guy in the photo below, who was playing with his dog. He’s forty-five years old and has been a regular at the Patch since he was twelve. I asked him how the course had changed over the years. “Not at all,” he said. “It changes, but within a very narrow band. It has been twenty percent better, and it has been twenty percent worse, but it’s basically the same.” Once, during a single week, he played all the nearby golf courses with the word “Augusta” in their name: Augusta Country Club, North Augusta Country Club, Augusta Municipal, and Augusta National. He said that he and his dog had just played twenty-seven holes in three hours—a perfect day.

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I also saw a couple of young dads, playing with sons:

IMG_0037And the next day, I played with the guys I wrote about in my column, two of whom are in the photo below:

IMG_0076In the same issue, Ron Whitten and I have articles about two days we spent in Orlando helping the people at EA Sports recreate the Augusta National course as it was in 1934, the year of the first Masters, for their new video game “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14: The Masters Historic Edition.” The result, Whitten writes in the magazine, is “the closest thing to a time machine that golfers will ever experience.” The level of detail is extraordinary. Here’s Whitten during one of our sessions at EA, pointing out an incorrectly positioned tree:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

The Muny Life: Griffith Park Golf Courses, Los Angeles

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I have a new monthly column in Golf Digest, called The Muny Life, beginning with the March issue, which is on newsstands now. For the inaugural column, I played the three courses in Griffith Park, in Los Angeles: Wilson, Harding, and Roosevelt, all named after presidents. The wildlife was almost as interesting as the people:

Wilson Golf Course, Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

Wilson Golf Course, Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

The woman in the photo above, who was playing with her husband, had to tee off over the head of that coyote:

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She didn’t hit the ball very far, and she was barely taller than her driver, but she played fast and you would not beat her in a match. Her husband used to be a member at Riviera.

Roosevelt Golf Course, Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

Roosevelt Golf Course, Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

I didn’t see any rattlesnakes, but there were deer everywhere, including the threesome in the photo below, at Roosevelt. The second one from the left, you’ll notice, is taking a whiz:

Roosevelt Golf Course, Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

Roosevelt Golf Course, Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

The guy in the photo above is Francis, who is a service manager at a car dealership. It rained hard while we played, and we were literally the only golfers on the course, but, as he said, “I can only watch so many reruns of ‘Law and Order.'” His hat says “Playboy Golf.” He got it from a friend of a former girlfriend—a woman who works at Playboy Mansion West. He’s divorced, but he and his ex-wife took golf lessons together, in the hope of getting their son interested in the game. He once took three women to a concert—three women who, unbeknownst to them, he was dating simultaneously—partly to see what would happen. The evening turned out better than you might think. He invited me to join him and some friends at another public golf course the next day, but I couldn’t go because I had to play golf—with, as it turned out, these two guys:

Harding Golf Course, Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

Harding Golf Course, Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

I’m not sure where the Pine Valley hat came from. (His English wasn’t great.)  Nice day, though. And when it was over I drove up to the Griffith Observatory, which you can see from several holes on Roosevelt:

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The observatory, which was built in the 1930s, is beautiful, and so is the view of the city:

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