My Amazing Eagle at Cabot Cliffs This Morning

Look closely at the edge of the cliff on the right side of the photo below, which was taken by Gene’s caddie on the sixteenth tee at Cabot Cliffs this morning:
Here’s a closer look:

And closer still:
Bald eagles are practically as common as robins in Inverness, Nova Scotia—one of many reasons, though by no means the only reason, to take a golf trip to Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, as a detachment from the Sunday Morning Group did this past week. More about that later.

Roberto De Vicenzo, R. I. P.

The great Argentinian golfer Roberto De Vicenzo, who died this week, at the age of ninety-four, is probably best known for his second-place finish in the 1968 Masters, an outcome that has long been viewed as one of the most heartbreaking in tournament golf. It has also been one of the most grotesquely misunderstood. De Vicenzo that year signed a scorecard for his final round which added up to one stroke more than he had actually shot. (The original error had been made by Tommy Aaron, who kept de Vicenzo’s card and marked him for a four on the seventeenth hole rather than the three he had in fact made. De Vicenzo didn’t notice the mistake at the time or when checking his card before signing it immediately following his round.) The rules of golf dictated unequivocally that the higher score had to stand. That kept De Vicenzo out of a tie for first place with Bob Goalby, who became the winner. “What a stupid I am,” De Vicenzo said. The Masters film that year showed Goalby finding and correcting an error on his own scorecard—a scene that made De Vicenzo’s moment of inattention seem all the more poignant.

To be kept out of a Masters playoff by a clerical error concerning a score that no one disputed has always seemed so regrettable that, half a century later, sportswriters and others still brood about the ruling. A columnist in Golf World suggested in 1997 that Augusta National should have ignored the rules and thereby created a tie, or that Goalby should have refused his green jacket and insisted on a playoff, whether official or not. Others have disparaged the club for not writing a rule of its own. Charles Sifford even suggested that De Vicenzo’s second-place finish might have been the result of prejudice, against a non-American player, by Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman.

The notion that the club should have imposed a rule of its own has a certain emotional appeal but is hard to understand. Roberts and Bobby Jones cherished the club’s independence from golf’s major governing bodies, but both believed in the rule book—as they had demonstrated twenty years before, when they had helped to settle rule differences between the P.G.A. and the U.S.G.A. The Masters rules committee has always been headed by leading officials of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the U.S.G.A., the two organizations responsible for governing the game. The ruling on De Vicenzo’s score was made not by Roberts or Jones but by the tournament’s chief rules official, Isaac Grainger, who had been the president of the U.S.G.A in 1954 and 1955. Grainger—who was born in 1895 and until his death, in 1999, at the age of a hundred and four, was the oldest living member of Augusta National—told me in 1998 that the De Vicenzo ruling was “the most difficult but also the easiest decision I ever had to make.” He added, “I took the precaution—although I knew the answer—of talking to Bob Jones and Cliff Roberts about it, down in the Jones Cottage. I knew what the answer was, but I wanted to be able to tell Roberto that it wasn’t my answer alone. It was really a very sad thing, because it eliminated the possibility of his winning the Masters in a playoff. But he was quite a gentleman. I remember I had dinner with him, and when we left the dining room and separated, he said to me, ‘I sorry I cause you so much trouble.’ That shows you what a sportsman he was. It was a very sad thing for him. And I remember that, when he finished on the eighteenth hole, his wife was so nervous she took hold of my hand, and she held my hand until he had putted out.”

It is true that television cameras had shown De Vicenzo birdying the seventeenth hole. But De Vicenzo, like every other player in the tournament, was accountable for the accuracy of his own card because only he was in a position to be certain of his true score. He felt stupid about his oversight, but he agreed with the ruling—as did the Argentina Golf Association, which wrote to Roberts to say that it not only supported Grainger’s decision but had made the same ruling itself with other players in tournaments of its own.

The accusation that Roberts was out to get De Vicenzo is even more absurd. The two men were close friends, and, in fact, during Masters week, De Vicenzo and his wife often stayed in the home of Wilda Gwin, who was one of Roberts’s secretaries at the club. De Vicenzo’s birthday fell on Masters Sunday in 1968, and the tournament staff, with Roberts’s assistance, had planned a surprise party for him. Kathryn Murphy, Roberts’s tournament secretary, told me that she had sadly thrown away the birthday cake when it became clear that holding the party was now out of the question.

Roberts always held a dinner for the tournament winner at the end of each Masters, and that night he broke convention by inviting De Vicenzo to attend as well. He worried that the outcome had harmed both men—by depriving De Vicenzo of a shot at the financial bonanza that followed a Masters win and by overshadowing the spectacular charge that Goalby had made in his own final round. Like all Masters winners, Goalby received a silver cigarette case on which had been engraved the signatures of all the players in the field. Roberts quietly had an identical box made for De Vicenzo as a private acknowledgment of his ordeal. Roberts also asked J. Richard Ryan, the attorney who handled the club’s television and movie contracts, to offer his services to both men as an agent—an occupation that had just begun to have an impact among the better players on tour. He especially hoped that Ryan could help De Vicenzo make up for opportunities he had foregone.

All these gestures—none of which were public—were entirely characteristic of Roberts. The somber face he wore on television as he explained the scorecard ruling belied the personal devastation he felt for both men. The tragedy, in his view, was that two exceptional performances had been overshadowed by a single careless mistake. He never doubted the correctness of the ruling, and he never regretted that it had been made. But he quietly worked behind the scenes to make things right for both men.

Perfect Weather for Golf

There was rain in the forecast for Memorial Day. That was good news, because the nine-hole morning mixer was canceled and we didn’t have to wait until after lunch to tee off. Nobody was in the golf shop, but that was O.K., too, because if we’d really needed to get in we could have used the hidden key.
There were five of us, and the conditions were ideal: 50 degrees and nobody else on the course. Rain is the best golf weather there is, as long as you dress for it. Or maybe you prefer to spend your holidays cleaning up your basement.

We played 10-ball. Two fighter jets and a big military transport flew over, really low, on their way to a (probably canceled) parade somewhere else. The greens had been mowed. The rough was brutal. I played even worse than I did on Sunday. Rick won all the money (two dollars from each of us.)

The round took a little over three hours. My car got a free wash. Then home for lunch and a nap.

The End of Sand

I have an article in this week’s New Yorker about sand—and there’s some actual golf in it. Here’s an excerpt, about a round I played in Dubai:

One day, I played golf with an Australian who worked for a major real-estate developer. The course, like Dubai itself, had been built on empty desert, and I commented that creating fairways and greens in such a forbidding environment must be difficult. “No,” the Australian said. “Deserts are easy, because you can shape the sand into anything you like.” The difficult parts, paradoxically, are the areas that are supposed to be sand: deserts make lousy sand traps. The wind-blown grains are so rounded that golf balls sink into them, so the sand in the bunkers on Dubai’s many golf courses is imported. Jumeirah Golf Estates—on the outskirts of the city, next to the desert—has two courses, Fire and Earth, both designed by Greg Norman. The sand in the bunkers on the Earth course is white (the most prized color for golf sand) and was bought from a producer in North Carolina. The sand on the Fire course is reddish brown—more like the desert across the road. Norman’s company bought it from Hutcheson, which mined it at its quarry in Ontario, sifted it to make it firmer than volleyball sand, kiln-dried it, dyed it, and loaded it onto a ship.

Bonus golf-related sand trivia (not in the article):The white sand in the bunkers at last year’s U.S. Open, at Oakmont, and Ryder Cup, at Hazeltine, came from a single quarry, in Ohio. It’s a trademarked brand called Tour Grade Signature Blend, from Fairmount Santrol, a Michigan company that also produces sand for molds used in metal-casting.

The photographs above and below are of an Army Corps of Engineers beach-nourishment project on the Jersey Shore—which I also wrote about. The metal boxes in the photo below are for unexploded munitions, which the Army dumped off the coast after the Second World War and the dredges sometimes slurp up.

Useful Golf Terminolory

From “The Rules of Golf [Revised],” edited by Francis Ouimet, 1948.

The word stymie—which means “prevent or hinder the progress of”—was originally just a golf term, having to do with a ball that blocked another ball’s path to the hole. The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1857; it concerns wooden putters, which, apparently, could impart enough sidespin to a nineteenth-century golf ball to cause it “to pass the stimy.” The rule book changed in 1953, the first year a player could require another player to mark and lift an obstructing ball. My Sunday-morning golf buddies and I have kept stymies alive, sort of, by employing them in playoffs.

We also have added several terms of our own to golf’s lexicon. An Underwood, for example, is a shot that appears to be heading into the trees or out of bounds but hits a branch, root, stone, golf cart, squirrel, or low-flying aircraft and ends up in the middle of the fairway. It was named for a many-time club champion, who has a long, bothersome history of lucky bounces (in addition to a long, bothersome history of being the club’s best putter, chipper, driver, and so forth). The rest of us will often shout “Underwood!” just before a shot of ours reaches whatever trouble it’s heading for; sometimes, that works. Fifteen or twenty years ago, a member named Pickett resigned after deciding he had used up his lifetime’s allotment of Underwoods and therefore had no reason to continue playing. He thus became the first member of our club to be Picketted—in his case, self-Picketted.

Underwood, Royal Birkdale, May, 2010.

A Gillen is the opposite of a skin—it’s a negative skin. It’s what you get, in our version of the game, if you make the unmatched worst score on any hole. Gillens were invented by Tim, who had been irritated by Gillen’s habit of playing miserably for nine or ten holes and then scooping up all the carryovers with an improbable net birdie. The most astonishing Gillen ever recorded was earned by Gillen himself, on a day when five of us were playing together. On our seventh hole, a short-par-three, Gillen hit a good tee shot and made an easy par, while all four of the rest of us—after a remarkable succession of long bombs and chip-ins—made birdies. Gillen thus became the first person ever to receive a Gillen for a three.

Tim, inventor of the Gillen, Old Course at St. Andrews, May, 2008.

On that same hole on a different Sunday, I played in a group that included Schoon. He had a one-foot par putt, which, for some reason, no one had given him. He made a bad stroke and advanced the ball just four inches. The remaining distance—0.2032 meters—is now treated locally as a unit of golf measurement, called a Schoon. (A two-foot putt is three Schoons long.) Schoons are especially useful in setting the official gimme distance. Before we tee off, for example, Hacker (real name) might announce, “Mulligan on the first tee, play everything down, and Schoons are good for everyone but Schoon.”

Easy Way to Gain Unbelievable Power

Wrestling match held in 1938 in Sikeston, Missouri, a legendary power vortex.

My right hand felt heavy when I woke up one morning, and my fingertips tingled. The tingling persisted through breakfast. I shook my hand, did a few pushups, and squeezed a rubber ball. The tingling persisted through lunch. I consulted a medical website and discovered that I was suffering—as I had suspected—from poor circulation, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, a herniated disk, a tumor, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and multiple sclerosis.

I paced nervously through my house, and thought about how much I love my children, my wife, and our furniture. I fretted about whether to call my doctor. It was Sunday afternoon, and he was probably playing golf. Should I page him on the course or drive directly to the emergency room and schedule my own M.R.I.?

Thinking about golf and my doctor made me think of something else. With a flash of insight possibly comparable to Pasteur’s realization that moldy bread can cure pneumonia, I was suddenly able to diagnose my malady as pseudo-carpal-tunnel syndrome brought on by sleeping in an awkward position while wearing one of those copper wristbands that Seve Ballesteros used to endorse. I removed the wristband—which was crimped against the underside of my arm like a staple in a stack of papers—and within an hour all my symptoms had disappeared.

Despite the side effects, I loved that wristband. It was made by a company called Sabona of London, whose headquarters are in Sikeston, Missouri, a legendary American power vortex. (Also in Sikeston: Lambert’s Cafe, “The Only Home of Throwed Rolls,” where waiters throw fresh-from-the-oven dinner rolls at customers all the way across the restaurant.) Pretty many of the golfers I saw on TV wore copper wristbands; wearing one myself seemed like an easy way to become exactly like them.

When my wife first saw my wristband—which she called a bracelet—she laughed out loud, and I took it off for a while. But then I put it back on. I lost it eventually, but several years ago, at the P.G.A. Golf Merchandise Show, in Orlando, I persuaded various merchants to give me new wristbands, and ever since then I’ve worn them in rotation, with occasional replacements. Most are made of “surgical-grade silicone,” rather than plumbing-grade copper, (One, which a woman in Bogota, Colombia, gave me after I’d admired hers, looks liked barbed wire.) Several have proven power-boosting components, among them magnets, titanium pieces, ion-emitting discs, and holographic images like the ones on credit cards (also a well-known source of power). The effect on my golf game has been, quite literally, unbelievable, as you will see in the video below, which we made at the show.

A First for the Sunday Morning Group

A nearby muny reopened on the last day of February, making this past winter the shortest one ever, but then almost immediately we got a couple of feet of snow and everything shut down again. Now, finally, my home course is open for good. I missed the official first day, last Friday, because I was traveling, but I was there on Sunday for the first 2017 meeting of the Sunday Morning Group. The best thing about being home again was that we could play in less than three and a half hours, instead of the five and a half hours our last off-season round took.

Our course was in great shape, and a number of improvements had either been implemented or were under way. Our seventh hole, at 120-140 yards, has always been a surprisingly challenging par 3—in a four-man scramble once, my team’s best tee shot was short of the front bunker, which is well short of the green—but the back of the tee box is being pushed ten or fifteen yards, onto what used to be a cart path:

More important, S.M.G.’s dining-and-beer-drinking terrace is being enlarged, and will soon cover part of the executive parking lot. When the stonework is finished, we’ll have a second sitting area, a built-in grill, and a butt-high stone wall that guys who’ve had too much to drink can fall off the back of:

Opening Day lunch was provided by Keith and his father, Jim. Because Keith is a new member, he didn’t know that we have a rule against salad:

But a few guys tried it anyway, maybe figuring that if they did they wouldn’t have to eat anything green for the rest of the week. And the salad turned out to be good! Keith and Jim also brought hors and chocolate-chip cookies. So Hacker (real name) told them they have to bring Opening Day lunch from now on.

Shouldn’t We Just Get Rid of Golf?

I traveled to Colorado, Arizona, California, and Utah without my golf clubs recently, promoting my new book, Where the Water Goes. Among other things, I gave a talk in the Mark Taper Auditorium at the Los Angeles Central Library.

There was a Q & A period at the end, and one member of the audience asked, in effect, whether a good way to cope with drought in the West might not be to get rid of golf. I gave my usual defense (“Blah, blah, blah, blah”). Later that evening, though, I thought of a different answer: Why not cut down all the palm trees in Los Angeles? None of them grow there naturally, and they consume a lot of water. Most people assume that palm trees (and citrus trees) are indigenous to L.A., but they’re not, and they’d die without irrigation. Here’s a photo of a palm-tree planting project in the city in the nineteen-twenties:

Better get rid of the gardens, too:

Nothing you see in the photo above is a native species. The climate of Los Angeles is semi-arid, and without irrigation the city would look like the set of “Rawhide.” There are places in the United States where watering fairways is clearly irrational, but if we’re sane about costs and trade-offs most regions can manage a variety of irrigated outdoor recreational facilities, including parks, athletic fields, and golf courses. More about that in my book.