New Year’s Day Golf in New York City

Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn, New York, January 1, 2013. That's the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background. There are good municipal golf courses on the other end of it, too (in Staten Island).

Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn, New York, January 1, 2013. That’s the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background. There are good municipal golf courses on the other end of it, too (in Staten Island).

For the past six years, my friends and I have played golf on either New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve—usually in New York City, which seldom gets much snow. On January 1, 2008, we played at Dyker Beach Golf Course, in Brooklyn. In 2009, we had to drive a couple of hours south of the city, to Galloway, New Jersey, to find a course where we could play on grass. One year, we played in the Bronx, on one of the two courses in Pelham Bay Park. In 2012, for the first time, we were able to play on our home course, which didn’t close for the season until the following day.

Bay Course, Seaview Inn, Galloway, New Jersey, January 1, 2009.

Hacker (real name), Bay Course, Seaview Hotel & Golf Club, Galloway, New Jersey, January 1, 2009.

This year, our home course had closed on Christmas Eve Eve and Pelham Bay still had snow, so we returned to Dyker Beach. Other Gene drove us, in his wife’s car, which has millions of cool features that he doesn’t know how to use. The three guys who sat in the back seat didn’t bother to remove the dog seat cover, which was quilted and was actually sort of comfortable. We saw snow on the way down:

Interstate 84, near the Connecticut-New York border.

Rt. 7, in Connecticut, on our way to I-84.

We made great time because everyone else in the tri-state area either was still passed out or was trying to treat their hangover. And there was no snow at Dyker, except for this patch, on one of the greens:

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The guy in the golf shop let us play as a fivesome—or, at any rate, he didn’t guess that we were planning to play as a fivesome and therefore didn’t specifically tell us not to. We saw some leftover damage from Hurricane Sandy, but it didn’t affect play:

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Overall, the course was in terrific shape. Some of the grass was bright green and obviously still growing, and the greens were fast and unfrozen.

Dyker's ninth fairway rounds quite close  to Seventh Avenue in Bay Ridge--a good reason not to park on that block.

Dyker’s ninth fairway runs parallel, and quite close, to Seventh Avenue in Bay Ridge–a good reason not to park on that block. In fact, you probably shouldn’t walk on that sidewalk, or drive on that street.

Even though there were five of us, we kept pace with the single playing one hole ahead of us and stayed ahead of the single playing one hole behind us (in a cart). We finished in just under three hours.

Eighth Green. That's Poly Prep Country Day School in the background.

Seventh Green. That’s Poly Prep Country Day School in the background.

Gene P., the night before, had warned us in an email that the forecast was for temperatures in the low teens, and he suggested that we consider rescheduling. But he must have been looking at the forecast for Alaska, because the temperature in Brooklyn never got below about 40.

Sixteenth green. We might be interested in buying one of those houses across the street, and using it as a winter clubhouse.

Sixteenth green. We might be interested in buying one of those houses, across the street, and using it as our winter clubhouse.

We played Double Skins, with an added feature that I suddenly thought of on the third hole: Ball Marker Stymies—in which the old Stymie Rule is applied to ball markers rather than balls. That means that if somebody’s ball marker is in your line on a green you have to putt over it or around it. (And you can’t mark your ball with a hockey puck. Each marker—we decided—must be poker-chip-size or smaller.)

Stymied.

Stymied, on a breaking putt.

After golf, we had lunch at Pipin’s Pub, in Bay Ridge, the home of the famous Pipin Burger (bacon cheeseburger with American cheese). The fries at Pipin’s Pub need work, but we have nothing bad to say about the Pipin Burger. Our waiter took this photograph, despite making it clear that he believed he had better things to do:

Pipin's Pub, January 1, 2013.

Pipin’s Pub, January 1, 2013.

On New Year’s Day 2008, we had lunch at Pipin’s Pub, too—and at the same table. Here’s proof:

Pipin's Pub, January 1, 2008.

Pipin’s Pub, January 1, 2008.

Happy New Year, and so forth.

Fritz, Dyker Beach, January 1, 2008.

Fritz, Dyker Beach, January 1, 2008.

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 2

Tony, Hacker (real name), Harry, Stanley, Ray. Bay Course, Seaview Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey, October, 2007.

2. Go on a golf-only trip with people who love golf as much as you do.  The ideal itinerary consists of the British Open rota plus a dozen or so courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland, but the destination is actually secondary. The high point of my golf year is usually the Sunday Morning Group’s annual weekend excursion to Atlantic City—a trip that our wives let us take because we have been able to prove mathematically that sending us and our golf clubs away for a couple of days each fall is cheaper and more restful than keeping us at home. Absecon Bay ain’t the Firth of Forth, but golf is golf, and playing a full schedule with like-minded companions is bliss. Lying on a beach or lounging on the deck of a cruise ship won’t prevent you from brooding about your job, your debts, your disappointments, or the condition of the world. Playing thirty-six a day with favorite playing partners, in contrast, leaves room for nothing but your slice and deciding where to eat dinner.

To be continued.

Other Gene, Ray, David O., Tony, Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland, May, 2008.

Hurricane Sandy Golf Update

The huge old oak tree near the fourth green, which was nearly destroyed in the Halloween storm a year ago, dropped one more branch yesterday, during Hurricane Sandy, creating a shortcut to the fifth tee.

Playing golf during the hurricane turned out to be impractical, but five of us did play an inspection round Tuesday afternoon, after the storm had passed. There was surprisingly little damage to the course, other than the busted fence in the photo above and a white pine that had fallen across the fifth tee, visible in the photo below. We decided to play the pine trunk “as it lies,” and, because it was lying between the white tee markers, that meant getting the ball up fairly quickly.

Adam teeing off on the fifth hole.

Thirteen years ago, on the first night of the Sunday Morning Group’s first annual October golf trip to Atlantic City, we ate dinner at a terrific Italian place downtown. We looked for it again a couple of times during the next few years, but no one could remember its name or exactly where it had been, and we eventually gave up, although we didn’t stop talking about it. (“Remember that great Italian place we ate dinner at in 2000?” etc.) Last night, during the storm, while I was watching the Weather Channel and searching the Web for frightening pictures of hurricane damage, I noticed a photo on the MSNBC site of a flooded street in Atlantic City, and scared my wife by shouting “That’s it!”

And that truly is it: Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern, on Fairmount Avenue. Someone please tell me that the hurricane didn’t sweep it away.

Remembering Uncle Frank

Every October for the past thirteen years, my Sunday-morning golf buddies and I have driven two hundred miles south, to Atlantic City, for a three-day late-season golf extravaganza (about which I’ll have more to say in a few days). For the past eight years, our trip has been dedicated to the memory of a friend we called Uncle Frank, who died, at the age of seventy, a month before our trip in 2004. This year, we honored him by using (and losing) twenty dozen golf balls with his name printed on them. They should be turning up in the woods of southern New Jersey for years.

Uncle Frank inspired one of the nine local rules printed on the back of our Sunday Morning Group scorecard: “No competitor shall dress in a black-and-white sun suit purchased by his wife.” When we held our first golf-club sleepover, a decade ago, he arrived in a blond wig and a blue feather boa (see photo, below). He smoked cigars as though they were cigarettes, and then he switched back to cigarettes, which he would have smoked two at a time if he hadn’t needed a free hand for storytelling. He discovered that he was sick after waking up one morning unable to speak above a whisper—the ultimate ironic disability for a man who lived to talk. The doctors found lung cancer and said that it had spread to his vocal cords. He died before the golf season ended.

People fell for Uncle Frank. If you needed to play a fully booked golf course, he was the guy you sent into the golf shop to negotiate. He’d come out ten minutes later with four tee times and an invitation to spend Christmas with the family of the pro. A couple of weeks after his funeral, his wife threw a party in his memory, and so many people wanted to come that she had to find a bigger room

Telling stories about Uncle Frank is hard to do because the teller is always aware that Uncle Frank would have told them better—like the one about the Japanese steakhouse in Myrtle Beach where he cracked up the joint by doing an impression of the chefs’ stylized food-preparation routines using a couple of sex aids he had borrowed from a bachelorette party one table over. Nothing about that performance was inoffensive; somehow, though, it didn’t offend. The only possible explanation is that Uncle Frank’s own disarming vulnerability showed through everything he did, even when he was flipping shrimp into his pocket with a dildo. As loud as he usually was, he was narrowly attuned to the feelings of others. When my father died, he was the first of my friends to call.

If Uncle Frank felt sorry for himself as he was dying, he didn’t show it. The nurses in the hospital all had crushes on him; doctors making rounds dropped by to share a joke. After his cancer had spread to his brain, he was given a marathon radiation treatment, during which his head had to be immobilized in a halo brace, a birdcage-like contraption that was anchored to his shoulders and his skull. When the session ended, eighteen hours after it began, he asked the nurses to take him to the children’s oncology ward before removing the brace. A couple of days before, at home, he had made a basketball backboard out of Styrofoam, and now he asked the nurses to attach it to the back of his head. He let the children in the ward shoot free throws with a Nerf ball, three shots for a dollars. “Hey,” he told me later, “I made twenty-three bucks.”

Three days after the radiation treatment, my friend Jim took Uncle Frank to the golf club for what would turn out to be his final round. I saw them in their cart in the parking lot afterward. Uncle Frank’s face was puffy from the steroids he’d been taking, and he had a bottle of oxygen on the seat beside him, but he was happy. “If this was baseball,” he said, “I’d be batting .750.” Four days later, he was gone.

Uncle Frank, Sunday Morning Group sleepover, 2002.

 

Why Rain is a Golfer’s Best Friend

Golf weather. Second fairway and third green, September, 2011. The pond in the foreground is a stream you can usually step across.

There have been showers in the forecast every day this week, and as a consequence my home course has been empty. Hardly any rain has actually fallen, except at night, but an image of raindrops in an icon on a weather website is apparently all it takes to keep most members cowering at home. On a cloudless 100-degree day in August, my friends and I often have to wait on every shot, but if the evening news mentions even a ten percent chance of occasional sprinkles we’ll usually have the place to ourselves. Earlier this week, Tony, Addison, and I played 27 holes in three and a half hours, on foot, and during that whole time we encountered just one other group: a dad and his ten-year-old son, who waved us through. The temperature was perfect—it hovered near the point where you sort of begin to think about maybe putting on a sweater—but we never got truly wet, and although I wore my rain hat for a little while I never had to wipe off my glasses. And no need for sunscreen.

Tony, light rain, empty course, eighteenth fairway, June, 2012.

Later this summer, my wife and I will spend some time on Martha’s Vineyard. There’s a golf course there that I like a lot, called Farm Neck, but it’s so popular that tee times can be hard to come by, especially on short notice. What I usually do is wait for the sky to cloud over and then show up unannounced, confident that the forecast will have created openings in the tee sheet. And if it actually rains, who cares? If you have the right equipment, there are only two kinds of weather you can’t play golf in: lightning and dark. And dark isn’t necessarily an insurmountable problem, as you can tell from the photo below:

Closing hole, Sunday Morning Group, annual end-of-season golf trip to Atlantic City, October, 2007.

How to Take a Golf Trip With Friends

 

How to stock a golf-trip refrigerator. (Ferris's house, Pinehurst, 2006)

My regular golf buddies and I have taken many trips together, and, by trial and error, we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Here are some tips:

Do give one person the overall responsibility for managing the itinerary, keeping track of reservation deadlines, reminding laggards to make their deposits, and deciding which minor tasks can safely be delegated. Having a single, reliable leader makes it less likely that critical details (such as tee times) will be forgotten, and creates a clear blame path if things go wrong.

Don’t automatically assume that nobody will be up for more than eighteen holes a day or (equally important) that everybody will. During a buddies trip that eight friends and I took to Scotland in 2008, we designated one round as the official eighteen for each day, so that oldsters could flake out in the afternoon without losing their place in the standings. On the final day of an earlier, ten-day trip to Ireland, when even the golf obsessives had begun to fade, we revived everyone’s spirits by playing a scramble in the afternoon.

Do establish a centralized rule-making authority with the power to silence whiners, naysayers, and independent thinkers. Among my friends, this authority is called the Committee, and it typically consists of Hacker (real name) plus one or two people who, over the years, have satisfied Hacker that they are likely to agree with him. The Committee has many responsibilities, including picking the games, choosing the stakes, deciding whether or not Gene will be allowed to play from the senior tees, and settling minor but potentially divisive issues as they arise, such as do we get a first-tee do-over or not, and what about handicap strokes on par-threes? The Committee’s decision is always final—a relief to most people, who go on golf trips to escape their current responsibilities, not to acquire new ones.

The Committee.

Don’t allow trip-threatening behavior to go unpunished. On the second morning of our annual Atlantic City trip a few years ago, one foursome drove to the wrong golf course (with Hacker, of all people, at the wheel), even though all five cars had left our hotel at the same time and everybody had been given printed driving directions. The resulting confusion came close to ruining the whole trip, or so we said. When the round was over, we restored order by conducting a trial in the clubhouse—taking advantage of the fact that two of the participants that year were lawyers—and sentenced the offenders to pay for everybody’s lunch.

Do collect all wagers before anyone tees off. Losers always outnumber winners, and on a large golf trip that means that if the prize money isn’t in hand when the scores are tabulated the victors will have to collect from a sullen mob. We handle this on our golf trips by collecting a single buy-in on the first morning of the whole trip—currently, a hundred bucks a man—and paying all prizes for the trip out of that fund.

Don’t let the stakes get out of hand. The purpose of playing for money is to make three-foot putts seem important, not to let anyone get rich. We try to spread the prize money around by having lots of complicated side bets, all paid off from the same hundred bucks. The big winner, furthermore, is expected to buy lunch on the last day.

Do establish community-building trip traditions, such as our rule that recovering alcoholics drink free.

Don’t feel you have to do everything as a group. We often split up for dinner, primarily to eliminate tedious late-afternoon arguments about who is willing to pay how much to eat what. Doing this also occasionally generates interesting demographic data, as it did on the night when (as someone realized later) all the Democrats went to a sushi bar while all the Republicans went to Outback. (Figuring out that this had happened took some deductive work, because in our group, as in all successful golf groups, we almost never mention politics, even with people we agree with.)

Do be careful about the guest list. We usually open up our trips to friends from outside our club, and even to friends of friends. This has beneficially expanded our acquaintance with overweight middle-aged men from outside our immediate geographical area, but it has occasionally led to problems. One year, one guy invited an old high-school friend of his, whom he hadn’t seen in years. The old friend, who began drinking as soon as he got into Hacker’s car, bought a dozen condoms at a convenience store during the first refueling stop, then stashed the box under his seat and forgot all about it. A week after we got back, Hacker’s wife discovered the condoms and—here’s the problem—didn’t believe, even for a minute, that they belonged to any of us.

Don’t let a buddies trip end without establishing a Committee to pick the next destination.

How to load a rental car. (Cruden Bay, Scotland, 2008)

Up Early

This morning, eight of us played at Tunxis Plantation. We arrived at 7:30 and stood around talking and drinking coffee for an hour and a half (first photo), as we waited for the frost to melt (second photo) and for the golf shop to open. When the all-clear sounded, we teed off first and, with no one ahead of us, played as fast as we do at home.

I had trouble sleeping last night, as I often do before I play golf. Even now, twenty years after I took up the game, waiting for golf still feels like waiting for Santa Claus. During the season, I set my alarm for 6:00 on Sunday mornings—unnecessarily, because I’m usually awake and squinting at the dial by 5:00 or 5:30, if not by 4:00: isn’t it time to put on my golf clothes yet? I click off the clock a few minutes before it would have buzzed, and tiptoe downstairs without waking my wife.

Six or seven years ago, during my Sunday Morning Group’s annual end-of-season trip to Atlantic City, Hacker (real name) got up, took a shower, woke up his roommate and told him to take a shower, went down to the lobby of the hotel where we were staying, sat in the dark in the empty coffee shop for a while, and then looked at his watch more closely and realized it was 3:30, not 6:30. Hacker has trained himself to wake up without an alarm clock, but he loves golf so much that his internal timekeeping mechanism sometimes jumps a few hours ahead. In Pinehurst once, he got up, took a shower, woke up his roommate and told him to take a shower, went downstairs in the house where they were staying, and found a couple of guys in the living room drinking beer and watching TV. “Kind of early for that, isn’t it, guys?” Actually, no: it was just a little past midnight, an hour after Hacker and his roommate had gone to bed. A street lamp near his window had fooled him into thinking the sun was coming up.

Order ahead from the Tunxis grill---service not available in February.

Global Warming Invitational

January 1, 2009. Hacker (real name) and David Owen, Bay Course, Absecon, New Jersey.

For six or seven years, my friends and I have managed to play golf on either New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve. We’ve played at Dyker Beach Golf Course, in Brooklyn; Pelham Bay Golf Course, in the Bronx; and on the three AboutGolf simulators at Maggie McFly’s, in Brookfield, Connecticut. On New Year’s Day 2009, Hacker (real name), Other Gene, and I had to drive to Atlantic City, New Jersey, four hours to the south, to find grass. We stayed at the Seaview Resort & Spa, in Absecon, and had the Bay Course (which was designed by Donald Ross in 1914) to ourselves for two days. (Photo above.)

This year, for the first time in recorded history, we were able to play at home. My Sunday Morning Group gives one extra stroke to anyone who plays in shorts after November 1, and two extra strokes after December 1. Three of us got extra strokes on New Year’s Day.  (Photo below.)

David Owen, fourth from the right; Hacker (real name), seventh from the right, holding beer.