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:


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:


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.

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 Herrington wrote, “I don’t know who originally made this up, but unfortunately it has made its way into just about everything on this property.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.

Fruitlands Catalogue

Scenes From Junior Golf Camp


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.



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:


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.





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:


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.


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.

Reader’s Trip Report: Merion (as a Spectator) and a New Game

Moe Dweck (left).

Moe Dweck (left).

Moe Dweck, a reader in Maryland, who (like me) writes a golf blog and (also like me) probably has a real job of some kind, wrote recently to describe his experience at the U.S. Open, which he attended with friends:

A bunch of guys traveled up to Merion on the Friday of the Open for some spectating and a cheese-steak. (By the way, the cheese-steak at Mama’s Pizzeria in Bala Cynwyd is off the charts. Went classic: white cheese, green peppers, and grilled onions. It is the Philly bread that makes these unbelievable.) The course looked the same to me as it did twenty years ago, but with much narrower landing areas. I think the U.S.G.A. overdid that aspect of the set-up more than slightly. But, overall, the presentation of the course was just awesome to witness in person.

(Parenthetically, let me add that I agree with Dweck about the severity of the set-up, and that I don’t share the U.S.G.A.’s crippling anxiety about birdies. Bubba Watson’s recovery from the pine trees on the first playoff hole in the 2012 Masters would be at or near the top of almost any golfer’s list of the coolest meaningful shots in majors in recent years, but nothing like it would be possible in an Open, because if Watson had missed an Open fairway by the same margin he would have been up to his knees in fescue.) Back to Dweck:

The truth is that the course stood up to the challenge, like it did in 1971 and 1981, because of the greens. One of the writers in Golf World pointed out that it is not the undulations of the greens at Merion that make it tough but the tilts. Could not agree more. On the short eighth, it was nearly impossible to get a ball to stay close, even with a sand-iron in the hands of a pro. Nothing more needs to be said about tilt than the lean on No. 5. I hope the U.S.G.A. continues to present the men’s and women’s Opens on classic old courses like these. Taking the driver out of the hands of a pro is not a federal crime, so I am not sure what all the whining is about. 

Back in April, Dweck wrote to describe a game that he and his regular golf buddies had played on their home course during Masters weekend—a game they called Virtual Pro-Schmo. What they did was take the best Masters rounds from the previous day and treat the guys who shot them as virtual partners in their own game. They transposed each Master’s competitor’s hole scores, in relation to par, onto a scorecard from their own course, then put all the cards into a hat and picked. If a schmo’s virtual pro partner had birdied Augusta’s first hole the day before, for example, then the only way the schmo could improve their best ball on the first hole would be to make an eagle; if the virtual pro had made a bogey, then the schmo had work to do. My friends and I meant to try Dweck’s game during the U.S. Open, but we forgot. We’re going to try to remember during the British.

Actually, we might use another format Dweck told me about, which he and his friends used during the Open. “We called it Beat the Pro,” Dweck said. “Thirty-two guys participated. Each one picked a pro-opponent scorecard from a hat. (We used eight guys’ scores, in relation to par, from the Thursday round at Merion.)  We gave our guys 110 percent of their handicap, and they played a quasi-skins format, in which they got three points for every hole on which they beat their pro and one point for every hole they pushed. Winners were the guys who had the most points against the field. I got to knock around Luke Donald. The guys who drew Sergio had to deal with an eagle on No. 2 (which is a par-3 on our course, so they needed a hole-in-one to push) and a quad on No. 15 (a par-5 for us, so a net nine or better scored points there.) Lots of fun.”

My friends and I are going to try this, too, sometime, if we remember. Here’s a picture of Dweck and some of his friends:

Alan Levine, Josh Tremblay, some guy, Rusty Minkoff, and Moe Dweck at some point in the past, during a buddies trip to Laurel Valley Golf Club, Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Alan Levine, Josh Tremblay, some guy, Rusty Minkoff, and Moe Dweck, during a buddies trip to Laurel Valley Golf Club, Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Back-Roads Scotland: Cullen Golf Club


In 2007, I traveled to Scotland on an unusual Golf Digest assignment. I landed in Glasgow without tee times or an itinerary, and I rented a car and set out in a more or less random direction, with the goal of playing only courses I’d never heard of before. You can read my article about that trip here or here.

The bent flag shows how hard the wind was blowing. Cullen Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2007.

One of my favorite stops was a quirky course called Cullen, in Aberdeenshire, on the southern coast of the Moray Firth. The original nine holes were laid out by Old Tom Morris, and the course has blind shots, crossing fairways, otherworldly topography, and a cool tee shot that you hit from the top of a cliff.

Looking down from the top of the cliff, Cullen Golf Club.

Looking down from the top of the cliff, Cullen Golf Club.

Partway through my round, I joined (as the fifth player) a group of older golfers from a club called Hopeman, about thirty miles to the west.

Hopeman Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2007.

Hopeman Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2007.

They were on a golf outing, and this was their second round of the day, and they were playing a scramble, in competition with three other groups from their club.

The boys from Hopeman. That’s Cullen’s eighteenth green in the distance.

Most of them were carrying flasks, from which they were sipping a mixture of something and Drambuie—I couldn’t quite make out the recipe—and their golf bags were so full of empty beer bottles that they clanked when the wind, which was fierce, knocked them over. They urged me to have a swig from one of their flasks. I declined, because I’d quit drinking about a year before, but they were so relentless that I eventually decided it would be better to risk falling off the wagon than to come to blows. (The other ingredient turned out to be scotch.)

The boys from Hopeman and some of their beverages.


As soon as I’d drunk a capful, though, they began to worry about their supply. “Are you driving?” one asked. His brow was furrowed with concern. When I said I was, he and the others concluded that offering me another swig or a beer would be unwise. Toward the end of the round, one of them asked, in a slurry brogue, “Wha hoe wah noo?” and only I could understand him: “What hole are we on now?” (It was the seventeenth.) A year later, I went back with friends.


The specialty in the clubhouse—at left in the photo above, behind the big rock—is Cullen Skink, a fish soup that has its own Wikipedia entry.


Here’s where my friends and I stayed in Cullen when we went back the following year. It’s my favorite kind of hotel, because you are never in danger of thinking you are in a Holiday Inn.

I’ve had dreams about both the golf course and the hotel. Someday, I will go back.


Did Bobby Jones Use an Illegal Putting Stroke?

Bobby Jones Putting

Last week, the U. S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews adopted Rule 14-1b, which prohibits so-called “anchored” putting strokes. (The rule will go into effect in 2016.) Nate Burns, a reader in New York City, writes:

In their recent rules decision, the U.S.G.A. and R. & A. claim that “the essence of the traditional method of golf stroke involves the player swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands being held away from the body,” but I question whether that is actually the case. If you look at video of golfers in the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties, you see that many of them anchored a hand or forearm against their leg to create a hinge (a technique that will become illegal under the new rule). It makes me wonder how the stroke has evolved over time and whether there really is an “essence” of the traditional stroke. (It seems to me like the U.S.G.A. might be making stuff up.)  Is it possible that anchored putting is actually more “traditional” than non-anchored putting? 

To see what Burns means, compare the photo above with the photo below—which is from the U.S.G.A.’s website and depicts a putting technique that will be banned under the new rule. (To see a U.S.G.A. album of prohibited putting strokes, go here.)

USGA photo

As Burns observes, putting techniques like Bobby Jones’s, in which one or both hands were held against a leg during at least part of the stroke, were common in the old days. Here’s Jones demonstrating how to do it:

Burns has found additional evidence in old film clips on the U.S.G.A.’s own website. In an email to me, he called particular attention to the ones showing “Bobby Jones winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur, Tommy Armour winning the 1927 Open, and Lawson Little at the 1940 Open.”

What do you think?

Burns, incidentally, is a student at Columbia Business School. He has a handicap index of 3.4, and plays mainly at Knickerbocker Country Club, in Tenafly, New Jersey. “I played all my golf out at Bethpage State Park until I got a junior membership at K.C.C., about a year ago,” he told me. “I grew up in Northern Virginia playing junior golf with Steve Marino (he was awesome), and I was in the same class at Wake Forest as Bill Haas (although I wasn’t on the golf team and didn’t really know him). I don’t currently use an anchored stroke, but I have tried pretty much every type of putter and grip, in casual rounds and in club and Metropolitan Golf Association competitions. Unfortunately, none has worked particularly well.”

Never, Ever Take One of These on a Golf Trip to the British Isles

You won't need one of these if you travel to the British Isles to play golf. Royal Lytham & St. Annes, England, May 13, 2013.

You won’t need one of these if you travel to the British Isles to play golf. Royal Lytham & St. Annes, England, May 13, 2013.

I’m in northwestern England playing golf this week. I didn’t bring an umbrella, and I’m glad I didn’t, even though there’s rain in the forecast for every day from now until the end of time. The trash can on the second tee on almost any links course in England, Scotland, and Ireland often looks like the trash can in the photo above, because American golfers typically come to the British Isles prepared for the rain but not for the wind. One hole is usually enough to destroy almost any umbrella. And carrying a “wind-proof” model isn’t the solution, because if your umbrella can’t be turned inside out it will carry you to sea, assuming you’re strong enough to hang on. Here’s why:

Wind-sculpted trees, thirteenth hole, Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Wind-sculpted trees, thirteenth hole, Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

The wind was blowing hard yesterday, but the trees in the photo above look that way on calm days, too. Even scrubby little bushes get squashed in the direction of the prevailing wind. (I first wrote about the terrific golf courses of northwestern England almost twenty years ago. The opening sentence of my article was “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.” A Golf Digest copy editor, who apparently had never heard of Bob Dylan, changed “weatherman” to “weather report”—and that’s the way it ran.)


Not carrying an umbrella will lighten your luggage by a couple of pounds, and it will spare you a lot of annoying housekeeping while you play. And you won’t miss it at all, if you have a rain suit, a rain hat, and a pair of rain gloves. The rain gloves are especially important, because if you have a pair of those you won’t need to even think about trying to keep your grips dry. In fact, if you have rain gloves you almost don’t need to carry a towel. And after my first trip to Scotland, in the early nineties, I stopped carrying an umbrella at home, too. Way too much trouble!