Beef Box: Don’t Call Fairway Woods “Metals”

My first driver—which was partly responsible for my decision, at the age of thirteen, to give up golf for more than twenty years—was a two-generation hand-me-down with a head that could have filled in as the foot of a Queen Anne chair. Nowadays, though, even seven-year-olds demand titanium. A few years ago, I played in a senior event with a guy from another club who carried an ancient Spalding persimmon 3-wood, but he was the only Luddite in the field and he never hit a good shot with it. Golfers who still use clubs with wooden heads are invariably older than seventy, and they are stubborn, cheap, ignorant, or a combination of all three. You seldom see actual wood anymore even in the golf bags of estranged wives, who occupy the lowest rung on the club recycling ladder.

The question, though, is whether this change in technology necessitates a change in terminology. Various prominent television commentators,  Johnny Miller among them, have decided that it does. They refer to woods as “metals,” saying, for example, that a certain player has elected to go for the green with a “fairway metal” of some kind—perhaps a “3-metal.” Jim Nantz, on CBS, sometimes refers to a fairway wood generically as “a metal-headed club.”

There are three things wrong with this trend. The first is that it creates more confusion than it eliminates, since almost all modern golf clubs, including irons and putters, are “metal-headed.” The second is that “wood” is no more anachronistic than “iron.” (Irons haven’t been made of iron since Britain was ruled by Romans. Should we start calling those clubs “alloys”?) The third is that avoiding “wood” is excessively fastidious, like objecting to the use of the (useful) word “hopefully.” The television commentators are proposing a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Besides, retaining an archaic expression creates the possibility for creative revisionism later on.

“Why are woods called ‘woods’?” your great-great-granddaughter may ask you someday.

“Well, Little One,” you can explain, “there was an awfully good player back around the turn of the century. He hit the ball farther than anybody else, and he won every prize there was to win. In fact, I taught him everything he knew. Woods were named after him.”

An Easy-to-wrap Gift for All True Golfers

The great English humorist P. G. Wodehouse—the creator of Jeeves, Wooster, and Psmith, among numerous other unforgettable characters—wrote two dozen stories about golf, most of them featuring the Oldest Member, who no longer plays but haunts the clubhouse at Marvis Bay Golf and Country Club and, once he has begun reminiscing and philosophizing, can’t be stopped. Wodehouse published 19 of the stories in two golf-only volumes, The Clicking of Cuthbert and The Heart of a Goof.

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The Overlook Press, which for 45 years has specialized in books that other publishers have paid insufficient attention to, has re-published both volumes in an attractive boxed set. Wodehouse should be considered mandatory reading for all serious golfers, and the boxed set makes an especially appealing gift because it is perfectly rectangular and therefore easy to wrap.

A sample, from “The Heel of Achilles”:

Golf is in its essence a simple game. You laugh in a sharp, bitter, barking manner when I say this, but nevertheless it is true. Where the average man goes wrong is in making the game difficult for himself. Observe the non-player, the man who walks round with you for the sake of the fresh air. He will hole out with a single care-free flick of his umbrella the twenty-foot putt over which you would ponder and hesitate for a full minute before sending it right off the line. . . . A man who could retain through his golfing career the almost scornful confidence of the non-player would be unbeatable. Fortunately such an attitude of mind is beyond the scope of human nature.

Overlook offers other Wodehouse sets, too. It has also republished, in paperback, the entire oeuvre of Charles Portis, whose (golf-free) 1979 masterpiece, The Dog of the South, is the funniest American novel since Huckleberry Finn. Better buy two of everything, in case no one thinks of giving them to you.

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This is the Wrong Way to Take Divots on the Driving Range

home course has a terrific practice area, which our greens crew has built and steadily improved over many years. Here are Corey (our pro, left) and Gary (our superintendent) last March, in the rain. They’re measuring yardages from various positions on the freshly re-graded and sodded teeing area, which is almost as big as our entire golf course:

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I never practice, but other people do, and recently Gary reported that repairing the damage they do to the range was becoming more time-consuming than taking care of our fairways and greens. The main problem is lazy divot-taking. People see all those acres of brand-new sod and can’t resist chopping it to smithereens:

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The problem is that they don’t know the proper way to take divots on a driving range: in neat lines separated by bands of intact turf, as in this diagram from the USGA:

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Here’s the USGA’s explanation:

A scattered divot pattern removes the most amount of turf because a full divot is removed with every swing. Scattering divots results in the most turf loss and uses up the largest area of a tee stall. This forces the golf facility to rotate tee stalls most frequently and often results in an inefficient use of the tee.

A concentrated divot pattern removes all turf in a given area. While this approach does not necessarily result in a full-sized divot removed with every swing, by creating a large void in the turf canopy there is little opportunity for timely turf recovery.

The linear divot pattern involves placing each shot directly behind the previous divot. In so doing, a linear pattern is created and only a small amount of turf is removed with each swing. This can usually be done for 15 to 20 shots before moving sideways to create a new line of divots. So long as a minimum of 4 inches of live turf is preserved between strips of divots, the turf will recover quickly. Because this divot pattern removes the least amount of turf and promotes quick recovery, it is the preferred method.

Thoughtful golfers know how to do it the right way. Here’s Todd, who probably practices more than any other member of our club but does way less damage than guys who just slash their way through a quick half-bucket before heading to the first tee, because he takes his divots in neat lines, the way the USGA recommends:

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Golf at Sea: Man Overboard?

For a New Yorker assignment unrelated to golf, I recently went to sea. I didn’t see anyone actually hitting golf balls—using the ocean as a driving range is no longer permitted on cruise ships—but I did serve as the gallery for two young people playing miniature golf:

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They weren’t in perfect agreement about the rules, and when the girl left to do something else the boy switched to Whac-A-Mole:

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Nearby, I watched an activity that was actually more golf-like, because it involved a middle-aged man attempting something he was physically incapable of doing:

At first, I worried that the guy had been propelled over the side of the ship, but I saw him later, having a stiff drink.

World’s Best Golf-Based Bathroom Reading

A recent study proved something that most of us either knew already or could have figured out: people who have smartphones spend more time on the toilet than people who don’t. Not long ago, I discovered another bathroom-stay-prolonger: the latest edition of “Decisions on the Rules of Golf,” a heavily annotated version of golf’s rule book, published every other year, in which the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews attempt to “clarify matters that may not be entirely clear” from the rules themselves, based on issues they’ve adjudicated for golfers and rules officials.

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For example: “Is a worm, when half on top of the surface of the ground and half below, a loose impediment which may be removed? Or is it fixed and solidly embedded and therefore not a loose impediment.” Answer: It’s a loose impediment, and you may remove it. (Decision 23/8) 

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Reading “Decisions” makes you appreciate the challenge that rules officials face. It also painlessly increases your knowledge of the rules while providing an agreeable exercise in schadenfreude: “After a player putts, the flagstick attendant removes the flagstick and a knob attached to the top of the flagstick falls off. The knob strikes the player’s moving ball and deflects it. What is the ruling?” 

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You can easily picture the situation: the clumsy moron tending the flag; the brilliant 50-foot putt that would have dropped if the detached knob hadn’t struck it; the ensuing screams. And the answer is that the knob, once it broke off, became an outside agency rather than a part of the flagstick, so the player incurred no penalty under Rule 17-3a. Instead, “the stroke is canceled and the ball must be replaced.” (Decision 17/9)

Here’s one more: “A player misses a shot completely and, in swinging his club back, he accidentally knocks his ball backwards. . . . If the ball comes to rest out of bounds, how does the player proceed?”

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The answer is in Decision 18-2a/22, but you’ll have to look it up yourself. You can do that by ordering a spiral-bound paper copy for your own bathroom, or by consulting the online (and easily searchable) version of the “Rules and Decisions,” on the U.S.G.A.’s website.

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Masters Countdown: More About the History of the Augusta National Clubhouse

Fruitland, the house built by Dennis Redmond in 1857, as it appeared when Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts first saw it, a little over seventy years later.

Fruitland, built by Dennis Redmond in 1857, as it appeared when Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts first saw it, a little over seventy years later.

Philip Mills Herrington, a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of Virginia, wrote to me to point out a couple of factual errors in a recent post of mine about Augusta National’s early plan to tear down the building that serves today as its clubhouse. I’ve now corrected those errors, leaving no trace of my mistakes. I had said that the house was built in 1854, but the actual completion date was 1857. And I’d described Redmond as an “indigo planter” rather than as the nurseryman and fruit-tree cultivator that he actually was. (If books were as easy to correct as web pages, I’d fix my Masters book, too.) Herrington wrote, “I don’t know who originally made this up, but unfortunately it has made its way into just about everything on this property. Indigo was a colonial-era crop that did not survive the Revolution as a profitable commercial enterprise in South Carolina and Georgia. Redmond experimented with many different plants, but there is no record of him having an interest in indigo.”

These are some of the Berckmanses, who bought the property from Redmond in 1858 and turned it into Fruitland Nurseries.

These are some of the Berckmanses, who bought the property from Redmond in 1858.

Herrington published an entire scholarly article about Redmond and the property in the November 2012 issue of The Journal of Southern History. It’s called “Agricultural and Architectural Reform in the Antebellum South: Fruitland at Augusta, Georgia.” It’s somewhat longer than a blog post, but reading it will give you something productive to do while you wait for winter to end. Here are some samples, to whet your interest:

At a time when the South was engaged in a process of regional self-definition that reinforced slavery’s cultural and economic centrality, Fruitland suggested an alternative southern agricultural landscape: a big house without slaves, without cotton, and perhaps without a plantation.

By 1856 [Redmond] had begun to make plans for the construction of a new dwelling for himself, his wife, and their daughters at Fruitland—his model southern country house.

A double-pitch pyramidal roof topped the structure, capped with an eleven-foot-square cupola that looked out over at least two adjacent buildings—a kitchen and an intriguing “negro quarter” that was fifty-two feet by fourteen feet. The cupola, which functioned primarily as a giant flue to release hot air, overlooked acres of apple, peach, pear, and other fruit trees.

The interior layout of the Fruitland house emphasized efficiency, health, personal improvement, and the active role of the landowner in agricultural operations. The ground floor, referred to by Redmond as the basement, contained “the dining room, pantry, store-room, office, bathing-room, fruit room, and ice-house—in short, all the working rooms, or apartments for every day practical use.”

The most surprising feature of the Fruitland house was certainly its concrete construction—a deliberate choice by Redmond to use the most modern and innovative construction methods possible. Redmond wrote that the “walls are of concrete, or artificial rock—a material which possesses many and striking advantages over the perishable and combustible wood generally used for outside walls, and, if properly put up, is superior to brick in many respects.”

In 1858 Redmond sold the property to the Berckmans family, Belgian horticulturalists who had recently moved from New Jersey to Augusta and set up an adjacent nursery at “Pearmont.” The Berckmans family combined Fruitland and Pearmont, expanding the Fruitland Nursery and operating it into the twentieth century, ultimately fulfilling Redmond’s ambition of providing fruits and flowers for the South.

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Scenes From Junior Golf Camp

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Addison won the club championship last week and is now on his way back to school, along with everyone else his age and younger. Before the summer officially came to an end, though, Corey, our pro, held a golf camp for future club champions. In the photo above, Aaron is lining up a sliding fifteen-footer—a putt he has to make if his team is to advance to a playoff. Here’s what happened, in case you missed it on Golf Central:

When I was a lad, I took a few group lessons from Tom Watson’s teacher, Stan Thirsk. They didn’t do any good. He told us to keep our left arm straight as we swung, and because my clubs weighed more than I did I couldn’t come close. He didn’t give us Fla-Vor-Ice Freeze Pops, either. If he had, maybe I wouldn’t have given up golf for twenty-three years, beginning at the age of thirteen. The kids at Corey’s camp, by contrast, had almost as much fun with golf as I do now. Below are photos of several of them, and of a few nervous-looking parents. (My friends and I arrived for the Friday edition of our regular Sunday-morning game just as they were knocking off for the day.)

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That's Corey, on the right. The father hasn't learned how to carry a golf bag yet.

That’s Corey, on the right, giving a lesson in shoe cleaning. The dad, on the left, hasn’t learned how to carry a golf bag yet.

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This guy hadn't had enough.  He squeeze in a couple of extra holes while his mother looked for him in the clubhouse.

This guy hadn’t had enough. He squeezed in a couple of extra holes while his mother waited for him outside the men’s locker room.

Possible World Record for Ground Under Repair, and the Attack of the Red-winged Blackbird

Bob G., ground under repair, Glen Arbor Golf Club, Bedford Hills, New York, June, 2013.

Bob G., ground under repair, Glen Arbor Golf Club, Bedford Hills, New York, June, 2013.

Bob G., an honorary member of the Sunday Morning Group, treated my brother and me to a day of golf not long ago, and during our round we encountered what may be the world’s largest G.U.R. Part of one fairway had begun behaving in a puzzling manner, so the course maintenance crew decided to see what was down there. Here’s some of what they found:

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Later in the round, a red-winged blackbird let me know I’d gotten too close to its nest. It flew in circles around my head and yelled at me until I got to the green.

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We had two terrific caddies that day. They wore white coveralls with their name on the back. It would solve a big problem for me if, from now on, everyone would wear their name on their back. Maybe wear it on their front, too:

Think how much easier remembering names would be if everyone would just do this.

Think how much easier remembering names would be if everyone dressed like this.

It started raining just as we were putting out on the eighteenth green, and almost immediately the lightning siren blew. That means we didn’t waste a single minute of the day.

Joel, on the eighteenth green. (See? I remembered his name.) You can sort of see the thunderstorm in the distance.

Joel, on the eighteenth green. (See? I remembered his name.) You can see some thunderstorm sky in the distance.

Rain Gloves Are Also Sweat Gloves

Sweat-soaked rain gloves, July 7, 2013.

Sweat-soaked rain gloves, July 7, 2013.

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?”

Tony, Ian, Other Gene, Tim-o, Rex, eighteenth green, dawn patrol

Tony, Ian, Other Gene, Tim-o, Rex, eighteenth green, dawn patrol, July 3, 2013.

Kevin, Addison, evening session.

Kevin, Addison, evening session.

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:

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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.

Settling up at lunch: Corey (our pro), Hacker (real name), Tom, Tim.

Settling up at lunch: Corey, Hacker (real name), Tom, Tim.

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:

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That’s a dual-purpose helmet he’s wearing: turn it the other way and it’s a golf cap.

New Playoff Format: From Bag Room to Practice Green

Brendan (third from the right, in the bag-room doorway) is about to pitch to the practice green in the Sunday Morning Group's most recent playoff. Sunday, June 30, 2013.

Brendan (third from the right, in the bag-room doorway) is about to pitch to the practice green in the Sunday Morning Group’s most recent playoff. Sunday, June 30, 2013.

On Sunday, two teams finished at 14-under, so we held a playoff—a form of competition in which, I think it’s safe to say, my club leads the world. The format was a pitch shot from the bag-room floor to the farthest pin on the practice green, a distance of a little more than sixty yards. The shot had to carry the ball washer, the first tee, the first-tee fence, and a small tree, and in order to count it had to stay on the putting surface. As always, closest to the pin wins.

Young Nick, Mike U. (officiating), Gary (our superintendent), and Reese. Gary has teed his ball on a Coca-Cola bottle cap.

Young Nick, Mike U. (officiating), Gary (our superintendent), and Reese. Gary has teed his ball on a Coca-Cola bottle cap.

Several non-competitors, including me, watched from behind the first-tee fence, which we had to add to the first tee because somebody’s guest in the Men’s Member-Guest once hit a tee shot that ricocheted off the pay phone that used to be on the clubhouse porch. A couple of shots in the playoff hit the fence, but not very hard.

Addison, Peter A.., Rick, Hacker (real name).

Addison, Peter A.., Rick, Hacker (real name). The target is off to the right.

The first shot to stay on the green was Mike A.’s. The second was Reese’s. When Reese’s ball was in the air, I was sure it was going to finish closer to the pin than Mike’s, but it was spinning so much that it skidded to a halt and maybe even backed up a little. The reason is that Reese hit his shot directly off the crappy bag-room carpet, rather than teeing it up on a bottle cap, as almost everyone else did. Live and learn.

Reese, about to hit. Quiet, please.

Reese, about to hit. Quiet, please. Notice the tight lie.

Here’s how Mike A.’s and Reese’s balls ended up (if your eyes are good enough to see the tiny white dots on the far side of the green). I’m not sure who hit the yellow ball in the fringe. It may be the one that hit the tree.

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The best thing about Sunday, for those of us who didn’t finish in the money, was lunch, which was provided by Slade. Slade is old-school, lunch-wise, and Sunday was the first time in many years that we had burger patties shaped by human hands—in this case, Slade’s wife’s.

Lunch, Slade, Hacker.

Lunch, Slade, Hacker.

Also, we had twenty-nine guys, if you include Rick and Addison, who were playing a match in the Governors’ Cup, which is our handicap championship. Addison won, and I will now play him in the final as soon as he has returned from a summer trip with his family. Also, several of the guys washed down their burgers and dogs with a new Sunday lunch beverage, which we have (tentatively) called an S.M.G. The main (but not the only) ingredient is beer. I’ll have more to say about it later.

Mike U., Coca-Cola cap, Gary.

Mike U., Coca-Cola bottle cap, Gary.