David Brailsford, a former competitive cyclist, became the performance director of the British national team in 2003. British Cycling had stunk for most of a century, but Brailsford believed he could turn the team around by applying an idea he’d begun to formulate while earning an MBA—an idea he later described to the Harvard Business Review as “a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains.” He was convinced that, if he and his cyclists broke down everything they did into small components and then improved each of them by just 1 percent, the cumulative impact would be a significant enhancement of their overall performance. Brailsford’s ideas helped his team win the Tour de France in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. They also point the way to a painless approach to beating slow play, as I wrote in an article in the September issue of Golf Digest—which you can read here.
Nobody else could play on Saturday, so I decided to do chores and pay bills. But then I noticed that the temperature was almost 60, so I took the dog for a quick walk and went to Candlewood Valley as a single. The starter sent me out with Barbara, who had followed a similar logical path to the golf course. We were joined by Kevin and Steve:
Steve was trying to master a new 65-degree wedge, which he had ordered from an infomercial. It’s the ideal club if you want your ball to end up either almost exactly where it started or in that pond over there, on the other side of the green. Kevin started playing golf just this year. Pretty quickly, Barbara and I learned that when he was hitting the best place to stand was either a little bit behind him or to the left. Nevertheless, he did hit a few good shots, including this tricky one, on the seventh hole:
Barbara is the technology person at a private school for special-needs kids. She began her career, in the late nineteen-seventies, at IBM, and she took up golf when she realized that most of her male coworkers played. More recently, a friend from work invited her to fill in for his regular partner in his weekly golf league, which was all men. Some of the regulars grumbled, but the pro told her to ignore them, and after she had subbed a few times they invited her to join the group. Because of her experience in the business world, she understands one of golf’s darkest secrets: most of the men who play in corporate outings suck, and a women who can hit her driver even a hundred yards can end up being her foursome’s most valuable player, since she gets to play from the forward tees.
Barbara recently switched from women’s shafts to senior men’s shafts, and when she did, she said, she picked up twenty-five yards with her driver. Her mother, who is 90, also plays golf. She took it up in her fifties, and when she was in her mid-eighties she won the women’s nine-hole championship at the club she belongs to, in Florida. “I would put her chipping and putting against anybody’s,” Barbara said. Barbara has four grandchildren, and she is trying to get them interested in playing, too—so far without much success.
I went back to Candlewood the next day, with the Sunday Morning Group.
We played an old game of ours, called Fathers & Sons: the four oldest guys versus the four youngest. It was the second round of our winter-long competition, the Jagermeister Kup.
The course was crowded and slow, and we were pretty sure we were going to going to have to finish in the dark, with glowing balls, since at this time of year the sun is basically gone by 4:15—and when we made the turn, at 2:45, we saw that there were three groups on the tenth hole, which is only about three hundred yards long. But then the starter suggested that we replay the front, which was now empty except for a single two holes ahead. Plus about a million geese:
We ended up playing a four-hour round the hard way: two hours and forty-five minutes for the first nine, an hour and fifteen minutes for the second. Everybody played better, because there was less time to think between shots. And on the last hole we caught up to the single. Out of the way, pal!
The Sons beat the Fathers by a stroke, after making a miraculous charge on the second nine. Damn. But we had fun, and in the parking lot, as we were leaving, I spotted a solution to my car-clutter problem:
We’re going back on Friday, unless winter suddenly arrives.
The day after the member-guest, Addison and I realized that we were still golf-deprived, so we went out at five in the afternoon for a Two-Hour Eighteen™. I played pretty well but felt like a chopper because Addison made five birdies on the front nine alone, even though he was tired from the weekend and from hitting a couple of hundred range balls that morning while getting fitted for new clubs. We had to play through one pair of slowpokes but were otherwise unimpeded, and we finished our round, walking, in just under two hours. Among the topics we discussed was the stuff other people had worn during the member-guest. Some highlights:
Tony and his son, Timo, looked either like members of the Italian Tour de France team or like busboys at Sbarro:
The main issue, perhaps, was their socks:
Ferris and his sons—Matt, Dr. Mike, and Adam—always dress alike, even though they play in two different flights. This year, no plus-fours or hockey uniforms:
Tim and his son Nick, possibly for strategic reasons, usually dress almost alike but not quite:
Les’s regular partner, Duncan, is from England:
Nick P.’s company embroiders stuff on clothes, so he made shirts for himself and his partner:
Reese (Addison’s father, right) and Lance (Addison’s uncle) wore shorts from (I think) Loudmouth Golf, but they took some grief for wearing them two days in a row:
Mike A. (right) and his brother-in-law, another Dave, are football fans:
On Sunday, Rob was one of several players who wore the green FootJoy golf shirt we’d all been given when we registered:
In the photo below, Jaws is rubbing Rob’s head for good luck. (Jaws is called Jaws because when he was a baby he wouldn’t stop talking; Rob is called Catbird for reasons I don’t fully understand.) Before the member-guest began, I ran into Rob’s mother in front of the grocery store, and she told me that she hoped he would behave. He did!
The best-dressed pair, as always, was Fritz (right, in the photo below) and Klinger. They do their member-guest shopping at T. J. Maxx and Kohl’s, and if either or both of those companies would offer us a volume discount the Sunday Morning Group would probably make them official suppliers. Klinger is getting married, in Mexico, in October. He is perhaps slightly heavier than he was when he proposed, but I think it’s wise to establish a comfortable baseline—something I should have done before my own wedding, seventy pounds ago:
My brother, John, and I wore the same thing—khakis and seersucker shirts—to the stag dinner, on Friday night, but that was an accident. The explanation, according to John, is that we both “work from a limited palate,” and he said that it would be interesting to keep track of what we wear on days when we’re not together, to see how often we coincide. On Saturday, he dressed almost exactly as I had dressed on Friday (white shirt, reddish shorts), but that was an accident, too. We’ve talked about wearing the same things on purpose, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea. For at least the past six or seven years, no identically-dressed team has won the member-guest shootout—although he and I did win last year while wearing the same hat. And no one has ever qualified for the putting-contest final with feet that look like these (name withheld):
To celebrate the official arrival of summer, my friends and I played golf on Monday from can to can’t—from when you can see until you can’t. Seven of us teed off at 5:00 a.m., when it was just light enough to follow a ball most of the way to the dogleg in the first fairway, and about thirty minutes later we were joined by Peter A., who had just discovered that he didn’t know how to set his alarm clock. He played by himself until he had caught up. Here’s Hacker (real name) getting ready to hit the day’s opening drive:
We had to play around the sprinklers for a while:
Gary, our superintendent, stopped by to see how things were going, and we tried to talk him into joining us:
After the first eighteen holes, we drove to the coffee shop on the village green for breakfast. After the next twenty-seven, we made ourselves cheeseburgers and hot dogs on the grill in the parking lot next to the clubhouse. We also stopped occasionally to change socks, shoes, and shirts. I flipped my socks every time we passed the clubhouse, so that they would dry evenly:
The day was hot, humid, and mostly windless. Several guys came and went. Tim played the first eighteen, then went home and worked, then came back and played the last eleven. (He said that the unusual parts of a solstice marathon are the beginning and the end, and that he already knew what it’s like to play in the middle of the day.) Here’s Tim, during the final nine, carrying a golf bag with the logo of the Sunday Morning Group’s unofficial marathon golf-shoe provider:
We played on foot, and we played fast—my threesome averaged an hour and ten minutes per nine all day long—but I never felt that we were hurrying. The key is that we didn’t fool around: no practice swings, very little ball-marking, no obsessive putt-reading, no brooding about yardages on holes we play all the time, no standing around waiting for someone else to hit. When you play that way, you don’t have time to get in your own way, mentally. And, as is usually the case, everyone played extremely well. My second round was my best of the year so far (72). Addison was 8-under, gross, for the day. Here’s one of Addison’s tee shots on No. 9, a short par 4:
We finished at 8 p.m. Addison, David W., and I managed 101 holes, all walking. (That was roughly sixty-six thousand steps, two hundred and seventy flights of stairs, and thirty-five miles, according to my Fitbit.) Hacker achieved his goal of “walking and carrying my age,” which is about to be seventy. He switched to a cart after seventy-two holes, played nine more riding, and followed us to the end in the staff cart, with Mike A. driving:
The competition was a ringer tournament, in which a player counted only his best net score on each of the eighteen holes—a format that gave an appropriate advantage to those who played the most holes. David W. was first, at -17; I was second, at -16; and Addison was third, at -15. Here’s my scorecard for the day (the pink spots are Powerade):
While we were eating lunch, we got to watch one of the later stages of another golf marathon, featuring our club’s oldest member. His wife had brought him over, and had had a great deal of difficulty getting him from their car to the practice green. She had brought his putter and a Ziploc bag containing about a dozen old balls, which she placed on the green near his feet. Putting the dozen balls took him a long time. When he was finished, I helped her get him back to their car. Then they drove home.
Postscript: Patrick Kroos, a German golfer and blogger whose main current project is persuading non-Swedes to travel to Sweden to play golf, wrote me to tell me about a German tournament called the HundertLochPokal, or HuLoPo, which means “Hundred-Hole Cup.” He wrote: “One of my golf friends made a nice video of the 2013 edition. Even if you do not understand German, you can see the agony.” You can watch the video here.
It’s been so hot and humid around here that we’ve had to make some adjustments. I’ve started wearing rain gloves even when it isn’t raining, because regular gloves feel slick and slimy when they’re soaked with perspiration. We’ve also tried bracketing the worst parts of the day by playing at the five-thirties: a Two-Hour Eighteen™ at 5:30 a.m. followed by a Two-Hour Eighteen™ twelve hours later, at 5:30 p.m. The course is empty and relatively cool both times, and you have room for a full workday in between, assuming you don’t fall asleep at your desk. And after the second eighteen you get home in plenty of time to ask, “Hey, what’s for dinner?”
Sunday Morning Group met at the regular time—7:30—and the temperature was around 90 by the time we finished. Doug got so hot that he had to cover his head with a towel:
Corey (our pro) wore shorts, and for the first time in living memory we ate lunch on the porch, to get out of the sun.
There were only three skins, and Tim got two of them. He was also on the winning team, so next week it will be his turn to bring lunch. Doug had a wife situation at home, so he left as soon as he had eaten. He doesn’t live very far from the course, so in decent weather he usually commutes by motor scooter:
That’s a dual-purpose helmet he’s wearing: turn it the other way and it’s a golf cap.
Tony and I happily played anotherA statewide tournament that I was supposed to play in tomorrow has been postponed because the rain that was falling when Tony and I played is expected to continue through the night. I was actually looking forward to slogging around all morning, then loading my soaking-wet golf bag into my travel case, racing a hundred miles to Newark Liberty International Airport without a shower, and taking a night flight to Kansas City to play golf on a Golf Digest assignment and visit my mother. In fact, my only chance to finish the tournament above the middle of the field was probably to go off in a downpour, since I actually like playing when the people I’m competing with don’t.
In 2006, I took back-to-back golf trips to Dubai and Ireland. During the Ireland portion of that two-climate packing adventure, I learned how to dry wet golf stuff with a hotel-room iron and hairdryer (after first blotting up the worst of the water by rolling up everything in bath towels and stomping):
The hotel was in Killarney, and the golf course where I got so wet was Tralee—which is seldom ranked among the very best courses in Ireland but is plenty nice enough and is almost certainly the best course that Arnold Palmer ever designed. (It opened in 1985.) As we approached the middle of the (terrific) second nine, the wind reached the velocity necessary to propel liquid water through the fabric of my previously reliable Sunderland of Scotland rainsuit, and I stopped trying to clean my glasses between shots. It wasn’t just the worst weather I’d ever played golf in; it was the worst weather I’d ever been outside in. Nevertheless, my three companions and I all enjoyed ourselves immensely, and we played far better than you might think—perhaps because over-swinging and over-thinking are impossible when remaining upright requires most of your concentration. (I don’t know what our caddies thought.)
Recently, I heard from a reader who has also been to Tralee: Dana McQueen, who lives in Purcellville, Virginia, and is exactly the same age I am (fifty-eight). Here he is at Tralee last summer:
And here’s McQueen’s golf bag:
Here’s what he’s got in there:
Cleveland Classic XL driver, 10.5 deg, stiff graphite
Cleveland FL fairway, 17 deg, stiff graphite
Cleveland Mashie hybrid, 18 deg, stiff graphite
Cleveland 588TT irons, 4 thru PW, stiff steel
Titleist Vokey 50 deg wedge
Titleist Vokey 57 deg wedge
Taylor Made ATV 60 deg wedge
Ping Redwood ZB putter
“Pretty standard stuff, overall,” he told me in an email. “Sometimes the 60-degree wedge comes out of the lineup, especially on courses with thick rough around the greens. I really haven’t gotten comfortable with the ATV bounce concept yet.” McQueen is a retired C.I.A. officer. He now works as a systems engineer for Stratos Solutions, and he also works for Britannia Golf, which puts together custom golf tours, mostly to Scotland and Ireland. He took up golf as a teenager.
“I started playing,” he wrote, “when I realized that my baseball career was going to come to a screeching halt, at about the same time that I got my driver’s license—trouble with the curve was reality, not a future movie title. I had a great mentor, and within three or four months I was shooting in the low eighties. As you might expect, dreams of grandeur invaded my thoughts. These lasted until I discovered that there were other golf courses on the planet, and that most of them were much more difficult than the little muny up in northern Ohio where I began my golf journey. Since that time, golf has been a series of peaks (nearly qualifying for the U.S. Amateur in the late nineteen-eighties) and valleys (being soundly trounced by an eighth grader in the club championship semifinals). Now I look forward to the weekly game with the Saturday morning group and the occasional trip to Scotland or Ireland. My favorite course (so far) is Royal Dornoch. Unfortunately, a sliver of beach on the North Sea is not exactly what my wife has in mind as a retirement spot.”
McQueen plays most of his golf at Stoneleigh Golf & Country Club, in Round Hill, Virginia. The course was designed by Lisa Maki, one of the very few women course architects in the history of the game. Anybody know if she’s still around?
I have received a number of What’s In My Bag contributions. I’ll run them all eventually. In the meantime, send me yours. And here’s a bonus photo, showing how to dry wet golf shoes with the defroster of a rental car:
A bunch of us were supposed to play in a tournament today, but the rain started last night—over an inch so far—and everything was called off. Tony and I decided to play anyway, and because we couldn’t talk anyone into joining us we had the place to ourselves for a Two-Hour Eighteen™ (which actually took two hours and fifteen minutes). The golf shop was locked and empty, so we had to handle our own photography:
The rain came down sideways for a while, and we were both reminded of a trip we took to Bandon Dunes with our friend Ray in February, 2007. On that trip, we had rain every day for five days, but still managed to play ten awesome rounds. And although we got wet we didn’t get as wet as we might have. A starter told me that a few years before, on a day when the wind blew hard and the resort received almost seven inches of rain, all eighty-five golfers on the tee sheet played, as did two walk-ons, who were passing through the area and thought the day looked reasonable for golf. Like them, we had a great time, and ever since then we’ve been talking about going back.
Coincidentally, last night, just as the rain began, I heard from Tim Miles, a reader, who is at Bandon Dunes right now with a group of friends. He began his trip report with a quotation from my first golf book—an effective way to get my attention:
I suddenly had a vision of a sort of ideal community of golfers: a golfing monastery, or golfastery. Men who worship golf living humbly with other men who worship golf. Simple food. Lots of putting practice. A big driving range with well-spaced target greens. Excellent video-taping facilities. Careful study of the rules. Pilgrimages to the great courses of the world. Beer making in the evenings. Who wouldn’t want to live like that?
I’ve changed my mind about some of that—no more range balls for me!—but I agree with Miles that Bandon Dunes comes close to my monastic vision. Here’s Miles’s report, with photos taken by him and his friends:
Bandon Dunes gets everything right for golfers. There’s not an ounce of pretense in the place (save for the occasional jackass, pink-plaid-panted golfer). The food and lodging are not fancy but perfect in every way. The staff is shockingly good. Every employee of every course in America should be required to witness the level of kindness, engagement, and service delivered throughout the resort. My caddie, Paul, said employees are trained to consider Bandon Dunes Golf Resort to be Disney for Golfers. It shows, except unlike Disney it’s not loud, flashy, or overstimulating. Bandon lets the courses and their settings overwhelm you.
It’s not the easiest place to get to, and it’s not the cheapest (though big discounts on a second 18 each day are perhaps the best bargain in all of golf), but it’s worth it. Oh, is it worth it.
One final note for your visit: when you’re there, do not dismiss Bandon Preserve, a thirteen-hole par-3 course whose net profits go to charity. In its first short season, in 2012 (it opened last May), our starter told us, Preserve donated more than $510,000 to local non-profits. Its goal for this year is more than $750,000. With great ocean views and an opportunity to play 100-yard 7-irons and 160-yards wedges, you’ll never laugh or experience more sheer joy per hole than you will at Preserve. Be sure to try the final hole—a 109-yard downhiller— with your putter.
I’ll get back to anatomizing my golf bag in a couple of days—I still haven’t told you what’s in the pockets—but I want to share an email I received from Kent Manning, a reader in North Carolina. He describes himself as “an ugly eighteen-handicap, trending upward due to the onset of chipping yips (or ‘chomits,’ as a buddy calls them—chipping vomits).” His personal credo, he says, is “If I can see the fringe, it’s putt-able.” His email:
A few things have led me to this letter:
1) having gone to Scotland in the last year—where they REALLY encourage a three-and-a-half-hour round, and you get the stink eye if you’re slowing things down;
2) having read your Two-Hour Eighteen™ missives;
3) having read about the Golf Digest Time for Nine campaign;
4) the constant drumbeats about slow play;
Why is it everyone THINKS they play fast when they really don’t? I’ve gotten so seized up on playing fast that the least dawdling by my playing partners drives me batty. When you play in some of your fivesomes at your blistering paces—how have you gotten everyone to buy into the idea of such fast play?
It’s funny—our club is always struggling to get members. I went so far as suggesting to our Manager that the club institute a 3:45 time limit on rounds and then aggressively market that fact. In a world in which you are trying to differentiate yourself in the marketplace—if I found a course that I KNEW I would get my round done in less than four hours it would be a win/win for everyone.
Do we just take every swing too seriously? When we played Crail Balcomie, in Scotland, it was awesome to watch all the local folks (including senior men and women) pulling their trolleys. They would just hustle up to their ball, yank out a club, hit, watch for about three seconds, stuff their club back into the bag, and get gone. That would be great to see here. Thanks for letting me vent.
Pace of play ought to be a burning issue for every golfer, because the slower golf gets the more golfers will quit, and the more golfers quit the more expensive and annoying the game will become. And if it’s the speedy players who give up and go away we’ll be left with nothing but slowpokes. I personally don’t think nine-hole rounds are the answer, since a two-and-a-half-hour nine is every bit as aggravating as a five-hour eighteen. Time’s a-wastin’!
Bonus photo, from Reese’s yard:
We had a good group and decent weather this past Saturday, but the forecast for Sunday was horrible—rain, snow, “ice pellets”—so Hacker (real name) decided the prudent thing would be to cancel the regular meeting of the Sunday Morning Group (because of “upcoming weather”) and concentrate on planning our second annual S.M.G. Christmas party and Global Warming Invitational.
When I woke up on Sunday morning, however, there was no precipitation of any kind, either in my yard or on my Wundermap (the most important piece of golf equipment after the 34-degree hybrid). Just to be sure, I checked Raindar, on my smartphone. Yup: nothing. I then sent an emergency email, to which I received just one response, from Mike A. (Hacker had recklessly committed to taking his grandchildren to Cabela’s.) Mike and I met at the course at 10:00.
There was a tiny bit of icy precipitation of some kind, which accumulated in trace amounts on the wheels of my pushcart:
But the weather was actually decent, and there was no one else on the course, and we finished in a little over two hours. We played our regular Sunday game (net best ball, stroke play, plus skins), but with one-man teams (of which we had two). I was a stroke ahead after nine holes, but Mike annihilated me on the back and finished with a total of 8 over par—the best score ever recorded by a one-man team. We split the skins (with five each) and tied the Money Hole (No. 2, because there were two of us), so he ended up winning five dollars. Here’s our scorecard, which I kept in Sharpie on a torn-apart Titleist box:
The moral of this story is: make no irrevocable golf decision based on a forecast alone.,
Graham Stevens, a reader, sent the following report. He doesn’t name the course, but I’ve encountered the same policy and it drives me bats.
I called a semi-private course I’d never played near the mountain town I was visiting on vacation, and made my usual request: “I would love to be first out. I play fast and I’m a solid golfer (6 handicap). I will play with anyone from any tees as long as they play fast, too. My typical rounds take less than two hours when I play by myself, and I hate playing in more than three hours.”
They said, “No problem. We’ll see you at 7:30 and take good care of you.”
I showed up a little after 7:00 and the guy at the pro shop was great. He gave me tips on which holes were quirky, and told me how to get to the practice areas and the first tee.
At my allotted time, I striped one down the middle. As I walked toward my drive, though, three carts came racing over the tee boxes and down the hill. Their drivers—the entire early-morning staff of the clubhouse—were shouting, “Wait!” “Sir!” “Excuse me!”
The starter, breathing hard, explained that I couldn’t walk. I told him that I had perfectly good legs and that I could walk. He said he couldn’t let me go off first unless I took a cart. I told him I would play faster on foot. He said that wasn’t possible on a mountain course. I said, “I bet you $5,000 I can play faster walking than riding on this course.”
He pleaded with me: “Please, sir, I can lose my job if someone sees you walking.”
I have heard a lot of crazy excuses, but this was a first.
In the end, I didn’t want to argue. I love this time of day for the solitude, long shadows, and fresh moist air, not for endless irrational discussions. More important, I wanted to play quickly and get back home before my wife and daughter noticed I was missing. I took the cart and played 18 holes in an hour and fifty-one minutes. The starter (still employed!) approached me after I putted out on 18 and he said, “Wow, that was fast!”
I told him, “I would have been in my car ten minutes ago if you had let me walk.”
He smiled and said, “I appreciate you being accommodating this morning and I hope you will come back and see us.”
I said, “You have a great golf course here on a beautiful piece of land, but there is not a chance I will be back unless you change your policy on walking.”