The Joys of Golf, No Matter the Weather or the President

A few years ago, a Google app on my phone offered to navigate me to “work.” I didn’t know what to make of that, because my office is in my house, so I clicked the tab and discovered that Google had deduced, based on how I spend my time during a typical week, that I must work at 10 Golf Course Road—the address of my golf club. Google must also think I get laid off every winter, because between early December and early April I hardly ever go to the club. I live up in the hills in western Connecticut, a hundred miles north of New York, and our course almost always shuts down within a week or two of Thanksgiving.

You can read the rest on the website  of The New Yorker, right here.

Are Today’s Young People Sufficiently Knowledgeable About Quicksand?

Last week, the weather around here turned severely golf-antagonistic. In the photo above, which I took this morning, you can see my principal snow-depth gauge: the table on the patio in my backyard. Poking up just beyond the table is a dome of snow on my back-up snow-depth gauge, my Weber grill. And to the right you see my latest piece of meteorological equipment, my step ladder. During the summer, I used the step ladder to make sure that wrens hadn’t (again) evicted the nesting bluebirds from the bluebird house hanging from the eaves of my screened porch, and when winter came I forgot to put it away. In addition to aiding anyone who wants to break into the second floor of my house, it now provides supplemental snow-depth readings. What instruments we have agree: we won’t be playing golf again for at least a few weeks.

I’ve passed the resulting down time in a variety of ways, including by being interviewed by a reporter from a television station in Japan. President Trump and Prime Minister Abe were about to play golf together in Florida, and, because I myself have played golf with Trump in Florida, the reporter had a few questions about what Abe might expect from the encounter.

Most of those questions had to do with Trump’s skill as a golfer and, specifically, with how far he hits his driver. I didn’t let the reporter pin me down, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t give away any classified information. One thing I noticed is that, for a native Japanese speaker, the name “Mar-a-Lago” is more than slightly problematic. I asked the reporter what people in Japan generally think about the Trump presidency, and he said, “[long, long pause] . . .interesting.” I suggested that maybe Abe could do the world a favor by keeping Trump distracted and occupied for a while—say, four years.

I’ve also passed the time by studying the misfortunes of other golfers, among them one who is suing a local golf course over quicksand. I spent much of my childhood thinking about quicksand, probably because of Tarzan movies and television episodes, but I get the impression that many people nowadays don’t necessarily know how to get out of it, or even what it is. This guy says he stepped into some on a course that my friends and I often play, and that he sank to his chest and had to be pulled out by other golfers. As a result, he says, he suffers or has suffered: left knee pain; a left-knee MCL sprain; difficulty walking; difficulty standing; difficulty ascending and descending stairs; a change in gait; left-knee effusion; left-knee swelling; fear for his life; and general suffering, both physical and mental.

Hmmmm. I have all those things, too. They weren’t caused by quicksand, though, because unlike the guy who filed the lawsuit, apparently, I know that being pulled forcefully out of quicksand is the surest way to be injured by it. Just stay calm, and move slowly, and sort of swim to the edge (on your back if necessary), and slowly climb out. Contrary to popular belief, quicksand doesn’t draw you toward the center of the earth. You float in it, as you do in water—which is what it mostly is.

I’ve played many rounds on the golf course in question and never noticed any quicksand—although there are a number of clearly labeled wetland areas that golfers are required to stay out of. The complaint says the quicksand was in the rough, under some leaves, but doesn’t identify the hole. I learned about the lawsuit on one of my favorite websites, which belongs to Rob Harris, an avid golfer who also happens to be an avid lawyer. Regarding the quicksand case, he writes that, assuming the plaintiff’s allegations are supported by the facts, the most likely outcome will be a settlement, because “being swallowed by a golf course, while not an unprecedented event. . . will not play well in front of a jury.”

Critical Weather Tool for Winter Golfers

Each winter, my friends and I patronize several public golf courses within a hundred-mile radius of where we live. The courses are ones that stay open through the winter as long as they aren’t covered with snow, but sometimes it’s hard to know for sure whether they’re open or not, because we have to leave home before anyone is likely to be in the golf shop to answer the phone. That means we sometimes arrive at a course only to discover that we won’t be playing there that day after all:

Tunxis Plantation Golf Course, December 21, 2014

Actually, on the day shown in the photo above, we found a course that really was open, after making a bunch of calls from the parking lot. Recently, I discovered a trick that would have saved us a lot of driving that day. The Wundermap feature of the website Weather Underground includes links to webcams associated with many of the public and private weather stations in its vast network. If there’s a functioning webcam near a course you’re hoping to play, you see check the actual conditions, in real time, before you leave home, like this:

Oops—no golf today.

Winter Golf on a Course That Doesn’t Close

In my part of the country at this time of the year, avid golfers become migratory. Some fly hundreds of miles south and don’t return until spring, but most of us circle the ground closer to home, like Canada geese searching for open water. We study the sky and the Web and the Weather Channel, and when we hear rumors of snow-free fairways we hit the phones. Quite often, the Sunday Morning Group lands at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a muny about an hour from where we live. “The Wheel,” as regulars call it, stays open all year. Area golfers whose home courses are closed often winter there.

Twelve of us made the trip on Sunday. We had meant to go the Sunday before, but just enough snow fell to shut down all the golf courses within a hundred miles of our town. The Wheel has two eighteens, the Black and the Red. We played the Black, which most of us prefer, although when we started there was so much fog that it was hard to be sure which course we were playing. The fog lifted, then returned, then lifted again, then returned again—and I discovered that my laser rangefinder doesn’t work when a golf hole looks like this:

The fog burned away for good while we were playing the second nine. At the base of the 150-yard marker pole in the middle of one fairway, I found an owl pellet, containing the indigestible parts of whatever the owl had eaten recently (in this case, mostly mice). The owl must have been perched on the marker pole when he coughed it up:

In the grillroom after our round, we ran into some old friends: The Boys, a transplanted winter men’s group from other local courses, including H. Smith Richardson, also a muny, a couple of miles away. The Boys use two custom scorecards when they move to the Wheel: one for when the ground is frozen and one for when it’s not. (They change the stroke indexes of a few holes when the fairways are like concrete, to compensate for extra roll.) Here’s the back of their frozen card:

Their organizer is Mark Haba, who runs a machinery company in Bristol. He collects the money and makes up the day’s teams, using a system that involves printed charts, a zippered binder, and six numbered poker chips. “We count two balls,” he told me, “one gross and one net.” They also play what they call “Chicago” skins—which, as near as I could tell, are just skins. They had thirty-two players on Sunday; their complete roster, including alternates, lists a couple of dozen more:

The main difference between The Boys and the Sunday Morning Group is gastronomic: they eat pizza; we eat bacon cheeseburgers:

Also, unlike us, they don’t give extra handicap strokes for wearing shorts (as Fritz, Barney, and I did on Sunday).

Other than that, we’re basically interchangeable—as cold-weather golfers tend to be.

Winter Golf on an Empty Course, Plus the Best Winter Golf Gloves

Joe was out doing errands last Sunday. He drove past a public course in the town next to the one we live in, saw that there were only a few cars in the parking lot, and guessed correctly that they must belong to people he knew.

The cars belonged to Tim, Doug, Mike A., and me (plus the kid behind the desk in the golf shop). We’d already finished eighteen, but Joe borrowed a hat from me and clubs from everyone, and joined us for a few bonus holes. The course was the only one still open in our immediate area, yet nobody at all had played it the day before, and nobody but us had shown up that morning. The kid charged us half-price.

The temperature was below freezing, but there was hardly any wind, and after we’d played a couple of holes we were so hot we took stuff off. The great thing about winter golf is that your drives run forever, and if the greens are frozen you can practice the kinds of run-up shots that come in handy in Scotland and Ireland.

Mike A. had some Tommy Armour Silver Scot golf balls, which he had dug up somewhere. One cracked when he hit it—because it was frozen, we assumed:

But then a second one cracked, too:

The cracks may explain why not even Tommy Armour III plays Tommy Armour balls. (The only reviewer on Amazon complained about cracking, too, and gave them one star—maybe overly generous.) We had the course completely to ourselves until a single guy showed up and somehow got ahead of us. We waited for him on every hole!

Tim and I both wore my favorite winter gloves, Winter Xtreme, by HJ Glove. They’re thick but flexible, and they have nice grippy silicone webbing on the palms and fingers.

If the day had been ten degrees colder, I’d have worn a pair of rain gloves underneath them. But for 29 degrees they were plenty.

Undeniable Signs That the Local Golf Season is Drawing to a Close

International Leaf Rule now in effect:

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Acorns everywhere:

Ominously large collection of half-empty condiment containers on the Sunday Morning Group’s shelf in the clubhouse refrigerator:

Furniture from the SMG’s official Patio and Burial Ground moved to the clubhouse porch:

Different hats:

Daylight savings time:

Hungry wildlife emerging from the woods:

No more bunker rakes:

Frost delays:

My Latest Favorite Golf Accessory

In May, eleven buddies and I spent a week playing golf in Ireland, and one of the guys on the trip, Mike B., brought a travel accessory I’d never heard of: a pair of cigar-shaped electric boot dryers, which he takes on ski trips. When I’m traveling, I usually dry wet golf shoes by balancing them upside down on the shade of a bedside lamp in my hotel room (a method made both less hazardous and less effective by the death of the incandescent bulb) or by wedging them between the dashboard and windshield in my rental car and blasting them with the defroster. At home, I’ve always leaned wet golf shoes against a wall in front of a small portable fan.

We had such great weather in Ireland that Mike never had to use his boot dryers, but they got me to thinking. Recently, I bought a larger, at home-version: a shoe-and-boot dryer made by a company called Peet. It stands just under two feet tall and consists of two cylindrical plastic chimneys mounted on a sturdy plastic base. You place wet shoes upside down on the chimneys, and by morning they’re dry and toasty, inside and out. The device is silent, and it’s so gentle that it won’t harm fancy leather, but it thoroughly dries even shoes you’ve worn while playing all day in the rain.

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When I bought my Peet dryer, I expected to use it only on golf shoes I’d worn in crummy weather, but since then I’ve realized that it’s great for shoes and boots of all kinds, and that even on nice days ordinary perspiration can make the inside of your shoes damp to the touch. Dry shoes last longer, and they don’t get stinky. My wife now uses my Peet dryer on her hockey skates, too. In fact, before long we may have to trade up to the two-pair model.

How to Keep Your Golf Bag Dry in the Rain

My part of the country is now more than a year into one of its longest droughts ever. Gary, our terrific superintendent, has done a remarkable job of keeping our course in great condition, but you can tell that we need rain. Here’s what the creek that feeds our irrigation pond looks like:

Here’s what the same creek looked like exactly three years ago, when we had the opposite problem:

The ideal, of course, would be something in between. Anyway, on a recent Sunday we finally got a semi-decent amount of rain, and I was able to test my new Rain Tek bag-and-pushcart cover:

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It’s easy to put on —you don’t need to remove your bag from your pushcart to do it — and it has zippered openings that let you reach through to the pockets in your bag. The top is stiffened with foam and has a handle, so it’s easy to open and close:

When you play in the rain, it’s impossible to keep almost any of your stuff from becoming at least slightly wet, but using a bag cover shortens the post-round drying time considerably.

The Ideal Wide-brimmed Hat for Golf

Earlier this year, two older members of the Sunday Morning Group underwent Mohs surgery for squamous cell carcinoma—the second most common type of skin cancer. Their stitches and bandages made me think I needed a golf hat that provided better sun protection than a standard baseball-type cap. When I took up golf, in the early 1990s, I bought a semi-wide-brimmed bucket hat made by a company called Duckster (which apparently no longer exists). Here’s the only known photograph of me wearing it, on the Old Course at St. Andrews, in Scotland, in 1992:

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Shortly after that trip, I wore my Duckster hat during a round on my home course. Our superintendent, who was hand-watering a patch of brown grass near the fifth green, saw me, and said, “Where’d you buy that hat—Old Sturbridge Village?”, and I never wore it again. Quite a few years later, I bought a broad-brimmed hat made by Ahead (for the PGA’s golf-clothing line, which has since dropped it from its catalog). It worked fine, as sun protection, but I have a pumpkin-size head, and by the second or third hole I felt as though my brains were being squeezed, even though the size is supposedly “L/XL”:

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Last week, I solved my problem once and for all by buying a Sombriolet Sun Hat, from Outdoor Research. It’s light and well-ventilated, and it’s available in true XL, which is big enough to accommodate even my head:

blue sombriolet

Outdoor Research is based in Seattle. It mainly sells stuff for hikers, backpackers, and kayakers, who apparently are much fussier about hat performance than golfers are. The company also makes my favorite rain hat, the Seattle Sombrero. Barney is modeling his own Seattle Sombrero in the photo below:

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There are a few other sun-hat possibilities. Two years ago, my caddie at Streamsong, in Florida, wore a great-looking sun hat, although I neglected to ask him who had made it or find out whether Streamsong stocked it in the golf shop:

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Orvis sells something sort of similar. Or you could buy a hat like the one we just gave Tony, who is about halfway through the process of losing all his real hair to chemotherapy:

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My Friends and I Went to Yale (for One Day)

bulldogNot long ago, two honorary members of the Sunday Morning Group invited the rest of us to play a round on Yale University’s golf course, whose official name is the Course at Yale. (The U.S.G.A. lists Yale on its GHIN handicap website under “T,” for “the”—an approach to alphabetization that may not be entirely unrelated to the rules mess at this year’s U.S. Open.) Seventeen of us accepted the invitation, and the sign below greeted us when we arrived (I stole it on our way out, so that we could hang it in our locker room at home):

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Yale was a collegiate golf powerhouse in the late 1800s and early 1900s — as I learned from Golf at Yale: The Players, the Teams, the Course, by John A. Godley and William W. Kelly. In 1923, the widow of a wealthy alumnus bought a 720-acre estate near the campus and gave it to the university, and Yale hired Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor to design a golf course that would put Princeton’s to shame. The property was rocky and densely wooded, and the construction ended up costing more than $400,000, making Yale’s the world’s most expensive golf course, by far, up until that time. (Augusta National, completed five years later, cost a quarter as much.) The fairways and greens were poorly maintained the first time I played it, in the early 1990s, but everything is gorgeous now. Yale is one of my favorite courses anywhere, not least because it has more interesting blind shots than modern courses ever do. Here’s my brother, John, fiddling with the hole-location indicator on the third, whose green is invisible from the fairway:

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We had good weather for most of our round, but shortly after we made the turn it started to rain.

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Then it started to rain more:

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There was no lightning, though, and when the locals had all run for cover we had the place to ourselves. Here’s what the fifteenth green looked like when we got to it:

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And here’s Barney lining up a putt on the sixteenth:

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After our round, we were treated to lunch by Mark, our host, who used to be a member of our club but switched to Yale after his wife got a job nearby:

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I drove home with the seat heater on high, to dry out my pants. I had to run the defroster, too, because of the steam. Fun day.

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