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:

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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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Masters Week Weather: WTF!

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Oh, relax—I didn’t take that photo in Augusta. I took it here in Connecticut, where we just finished the mildest winter since the dinosaurs went extinct. (The nearest muny was closed for all of eight weeks; my home course re-opened earlier than it ever has before.) But then, early Sunday morning, the world looked like this:

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We called off Sunday Morning Group, and I hung around the house and “did chores.” Around lunchtime, though, Addison pointed out, by email, that most of the snow was gone from his yard, so he, Tim D., Mike A., and I met on the first tee at 3:00. It was cold, and the wind was blowing hard, but we had the course to ourselves:

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Here’s what the bulletin-board thing near the clubhouse looked like when we finished, a bit less than three hours later:

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And here’s what we looked like:

This isn't an art shot. The image is crooked because I had to prop the camera on the head of my driver.

This isn’t an art shot. The image is crooked because I had to prop the camera on the head of my driver.

We’ve had several opportunities recently to make our storm gear seem like a good investment. Here’s Barney on Saturday, when we played in rain:

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And, because only three guys showed up on both Friday and Saturday, we invented a new three-man game: three six-hole matches, in each of which one of us played against the better ball of the other two. The bet was two dollars per man per match, with automatic presses. It was fun, and the money came out virtually even, but we won’t be able to try it again for a while, because more snow fell overnight—and it’s still falling right now. I’m doing laundry!

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Field Test: True Linkswear Elements and Pants-in-a-Jar

We had a huge rainstorm the other day—a good thing, for two reasons. First, the storm gave me an opportunity to pursue what I now realize would be my No. 1 choice of occupation if for some reason I could no longer work as a writer: vacuuming up water. (Our basement was flooded, and I spent a fulfilling evening emptying it with my wet/dry Shop-Vac, my portable sump pump, and a hundred feet of garden hose.) Second, the storm washed away all the remaining snow in this part of the country, making several area golf courses fully playable again. On Sunday, my friends and I traveled to the Woodbridge Country Club, which we first visited in early December:

Ice-free pond at Woodbridge Country Club, Woodbridge, Connecticut.

Ice-free pond at Woodbridge Country Club, Woodbridge, Connecticut.

The course was wet and muddy in lots of places, and I was able to test my latest golf-related purchase: a pair of True Linkswear Elements golf shoes. I’ve been an enthusiastic unpaid shill for True Linkswear for several years, but we had a falling out a few months ago over an earlier model, called True Motion, which apparently are not supposed to be worn outdoors. (Mine fell apart.) The company assured me that it was on the case, and that Elements (which are new this year) would address all my issues. I wore mine around town for several days, then subjected them to Woodbridge.

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As far as I can tell, they fully live up to their billing. They’re insanely comfortable, like all my dozen other pairs of True golf shoes, and, even though I purposely stood in puddles, they never leaked. I’m going to order a second pair and take both to Ireland in early May. (You can find them online for a hundred bucks.) My only wish is that True would make a high-top version. Their shoes are so low-slung that your socks, which probably aren’t waterproof, are vulnerable in tall grass. Rickie Fowler has made the world safe for high-top golf shoes. Let’s go!

Doug and Keith.

Doug and Keith.

The group on Sunday included Keith, a new member. Doug, who’s a teacher, asked him if he and his wife have kids; he said they don’t yet, but that they have “pulled the goalie.” Keith looked like a veteran, because he had dressed to take advantage of our winter shorts rule (two extra handicap strokes for shorts after December 1). I wore shorts, too, and I supplemented them with a concoction that I’m thinking of marketing, as Pants-in-a-Jar. It’s a mixture of Warm Skin (“a soothing balm that moisturizes and insulates against weather extremes”) and capsaicin creme (an arthritis ointment that generates heat). Warm Skin is what many NFL players use to protect themselves when they play in Green Bay in December. I rubbed a ton on my bare legs before we teed off, and I never felt cold.

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I’m hoping that I won’t need to use Pants-in-a-Jar many more times this winter. Three of us ran into our club’s greens committee at a local breakfast place on Saturday, and although we couldn’t overhear what they were talking about we decided that maybe they were discussing an opening date. Fingers crossed.

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Reader’s Fashion Tip: Insulated Shorts for Winter Golf

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The golf courses within driving distance of my hometown have been closed for so much of this winter that I haven’t had many opportunities to take advantage of Sunday Morning Group’s shorts rule: one extra handicap stroke if you wear shorts after November 1, two extra strokes after December 1. If we do get to play again, I’m going to try some shorts I learned about from Tim Kresse, a reader in Oxford, Ohio. They’re called Alpha Shorts, and they’re filled with Polartec insulation. They’re made by a company called Qor, which is practically giving them away.

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The company’s website describes them like this:

“They’re super stretchy, don’t look insulated, and are styled like trousers: structured waist with front zip/button fly closure, slash hand pockets on the side, two back pockets (one with a zipper), and belt loops.”

Kresse himself says:

“I’m an administrator at Miami University, the alma mater of Ben Roethlisberger and the place Robert Frost called ‘the most beautiful campus that ever there was.’ I have to agree that it is quite a pretty campus and a good school. The Qor catalog just showed up, but I have to say that the insulated shorts seemed the perfect thing for the winter golf game. I do wonder, though, would that be cheating or does the open air nature of the leg sufficiently offset any insulation value?”

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The rules, so far, allow insulated shorts. What they don’t allow is tall socks. Back to Kresse:

“The picture above is of me during a practice round at the Memorial Tournament last year. I bought my daughter (no, really) a tournament flag and got some autographs. Once I realized I had the autograph of the winner of the Memorial, the Masters, the US Open, the (British) Open, and PGA championship, I decided it could stay in my office for a while. She’ll get it one day. I play golf at Hueston Woods State Park Golf Course, just north of town, and Indian Ridge Golf Club, just south of town. Here’s a summer moon over Hueston Woods:”

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“During the winter, though, golf is mostly in hibernation, with the occasional trip to the driving range or a trip south. I last played at Great Dunes on Jekyll Island, Georgia, just before Thanksgiving. Here’s a picture of the fifth green and sixth tee, which overlook the Atlantic. It’s a nice nine-hole course, perfect for walking:”

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“To keep ourselves busy in the winter, we move to indoor sports, including broomball, and I have found that winter golf gloves are great for for broomball. They are just enough to keep hands warm on ice, improve the grip on the broomball stick, and work great as a goalie gloves (the position I usually play).”

I’d never heard of broomball before, but here’s what it looks like. That’s not Kresse in the net. At least, I don’t think it is. (I found the photo online.)

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Broomball players don’t wear skates, but they do get to buy broomball shoes, among other things. You can read all about the game here. Back to Kresse:

“I first played broomball at Ohio University (another very attractive campus) in the early 1990s. Games were almost always late at night, when the ice was free, and we played with a deflated volleyball, our own tennis shoes, and cut-down brooms (both ends) for ‘sticks’. Now games are still often played late at night, but there are specific broomballs, sticks, and shoes, which make it easier to get around the ice (I call them clown shoes). I’ve also bought hockey shin guards to protect from sticks and falls. And, thankfully, we play half-ice (half-rink) and not full-ice games.”

Golf in New Zealand: Post-golf Activities

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me of my happiest memories of New Zealand involve activities that weren’t golf—a first for me on any trip for which my luggage includes my clubs. I ate great food and met nice people, and I saw basking seals, a twenty-one-hundred-year-old tree, and stingrays nearly the size of Stingrays. I also saw sharks, from a helicopter. They were feeding near the breakers a hundred feet off Ninety Mile Beach, a strip of sand that runs up the northwestern edge of the North Island. As the pilot took us down for a closer look, I asked whether the presence of large marine carnivores so close to the water’s edge didn’t deter swimmers. “Oh, no,” he said. “Most of the swimmers don’t know they’re there.”

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Shark-spotting was just one small part of day-long menu of activities known locally as the Full Julian, after Julian Robertson, the creator and owner of Kauri Cliffs, the resort where I was staying. Four other guests and I traveled by helicopter to the Waipoua Forest, where our Maori guide sang a song of tribute to Tane Mahuta, an enormous kauri tree that predates Christianity:

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Then we flew to the northern tip of the island and hovered above a turbulent spot, just off the coast, where Pacific Ocean currents collide with those of the Tasman Sea:

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Then we set down for a beach picnic:

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And then we raced down dunes on rented ATVs. Here’s our adult supervision, standing at the top of a dune we were about to race down:

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And here’s what the same dune looked like from the bottom:

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Everyone made it down. I don’t remember how we got back up.

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Two nights later, I did something that surprised me by being even more fun: I went midnight possum hunting, under the supervision of a Kauri Cliffs employee who is a veteran of the British equivalent of the Green Berets. All New Zealand mammals, except for a couple of rare species of bats, were introduced to the islands by humans and are thus considered varmints until proven otherwise. Possums—which are bushier and less sinister-looking than American opossums—were imported in 1836 by some Australians who were hoping to establish a fur trade. Now there are 80 million of them, and they eat the eggs of the kiwi, New Zealand’s nearly extinct flightless national bird, and they have no natural predators, except people. I hadn’t fired a gun since summer camp in Colorado, forty years before, and was astonished to discover I have a talent for felling treed marsupials with single shots to the head. I had been a somewhat reluctant participant in our hunting expedition, but if, toward the end, our guide had suggested that we stay out till dawn I would have eagerly agreed. Possum-killin’ was also the favorite Kauri Cliffs activity of the golfers Dave Stockton and Dave Stockton, Jr., who, during a visit shortly before mine, went out every night.

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One afternoon, following a round of golf, I toured the entire property with the man in charge of the agricultural side of Robertson’s New Zealand operation. (That’s him in the photo above.) We visited the sheep-shearing shed, climbed over a 9000-volt electric fence, scaled an old volcano whose summit is the highest point on the farm, visited a couple of stunning beaches, saw some cattle that were about to be slaughtered, and ran into the Kauri Cliffs farm manager, who was responsible for twenty-five hundred beef cattle and five thousand sheep. The manager was wearing a golf hat and driving a big ATV, and there were three scruffy farm dogs standing just behind his seat. He said, “Kauri Cliffs is not a golf course with a farm on it. It’s a 6,000-acre-farm with a golf course at one end.” Then he roared off, and the dogs, like surfers, had to shift their weight in complicated ways to keep from falling off.

It’s summer in New Zealand right now. Do you understand what I’m saying?

To be continued.

Non-golf Activities for Snowed-in Golfers

In the olden days, settlers in blizzard-prone parts of the country spent the winter doing things like making candles and splitting cedar logs into shingles. My golf buddies and I—on days when we can’t figure out how to play somewhere, somehow—find similar ways to stay busy. Hacker (real name) referees high-school wrestling matches. Tim D. repairs his equipment—for example, by sewing up rips in his golf bag:
P1170535I recently used my favorite photo-project website, Mixbook.com, to create a photo album of my personal golf memories from last year:

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And I created a long-term supply of my favorite golf-appropriate nutritional supplement, using a kit my wife gave me:

Bacon Kit Box

The kit contained everything I needed:

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The only thing not included was a nice big pork belly, which my wife also gave me:

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The instructions were easy to follow:

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And now I have enough to last at least a couple of weeks.

How to Dress for Sub-freezing Golf

In shorts, obviously. (The Sunday Morning Group gives two extra strokes if you wear them after December 1.) One great thing about shorts is that they complement any outfit:

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Last year, because of Addison, we had to add a rule about sock height. He arrived one Sunday in unusually tall socks, which he pulled up almost to his knees and fastened with rubber bands that he’d found in his mother’s refrigerator, on two bunches of broccoli:

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Those socks are virtually pants! The new rule is “crew height or shorter”—demonstrated here by Fritz:

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On Sunday, Fritz and I got to wondering whether there might not be a non-sock, non-pant, non-cheating solution to the exposed-skin problem (the wind was straight from the North Pole). After the round, I did some research and found this post, on the Fox Sports website. It was written two years ago by Brendon Ayanbadejo, who played linebacker for several NFL teams:

“What allowed me to wear so little in cold games was a cocktail Brian Urlacher and Muhsin Muhammad revealed to me. There is a cream called Warm Skin that we would mix with Vaseline and Tiger Balm. We would mix all these topicals together and rub them into our arms, legs, back … pretty much over our entire body. Make sure you put your jock on before you do this or you will get extremely uncomfortably hot in some of the wrong places.”

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So I ordered some Warm Skin and began working on my own leg recipe, using stuff I found in various closets and medicine cabinets in my house. The best combination, so far, is Warm Skin, Musher’s Secret (which my wife bought to protect our dog’s feet from road salt), and capsaicin creme (which is hot, like Tiger Balm, and is usually sold as a topical analgesic for arthritis). I stirred in some Aquaphor, too—what the hell.

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Reader’s Trip Report: Masters Junior Pass Program

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On New Year’s Day, twelve members of the Sunday Morning Group played the Black Course at the Wheel, the best course that’s still open within an hour’s drive of our home club, which shut down the Monday after Thanksgiving. Three of us wore shorts (thereby gaining two extra handicap strokes), and Mike B. wore a tuxedo, which he apparently hadn’t had time to change out of. He kept it on for all eighteen holes, too.

There are many reasons to celebrate January 1. The main one is that it’s the first day of the year during which the next Masters will be held—now just three months away.

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In 2013, Will Stegall, a reader in San Francisco, took his daughter, Annie, to her first Masters. (She turned nine on practice-round Monday. You can read her trip report here.) Last year, Stegall took Annie’s younger brother, William, who was eight at the time. Both kids were beneficiaries of Augusta National’s Junior Pass Program, which enables the children of existing badge-holders to attend for free. (Restrictions apply.) William had a great time, and not only because he got Tiger’s autograph.

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Here’s William’s report, as transcribed by his father :

“My experience at the Masters was beyond amazing in all ways. It looked beautiful: the flowers, the course, and the trees. Being able to get autographs because only kids can get them is amazing. I got to see the Big Three (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player) play in the long drive contest that was extra special. I got a Masters visor. You usually don’t see men more excited about shopping than women. I just got a green visor that said Masters on the front. I went to the spot where Bubba Watson hit his amazing curve shot. Everyone had to put a chair down somewhere on the course to watch but of course we could walk around, the people were so nice they would never take a chair of ours or anyone else’s. The pimento cheese sandwiches were DELICIOUS, they were perfect. My family has been going for years but it was my first time so I was very excited when I finally could go. But I never knew how many people went!”

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Thanks, William! As it happens, the Sunday Morning Group has a Junior Pass Program, too, and Will, Annie, and William are all invited to join us for our first round of 2017, next New Year’s Day.

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