Masters Countdown: Archival Video of Augusta, Augusta National, and the Masters

Scott Nixon was an insurance salesman in Augusta, Georgia. Between the early nineteen-thirties and late forties or early fifties, he visited several dozen American places called Augusta and documented their existence in a sixteen-minute silent film, called “The Augustas.” Nixon was a member of the Amateur Cinema League. “The Augustas” is preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress and also in the University of South Carolina’s extraordinary Moving Image Research Collections. Benjamin Singleton, the production manager of the South Carolina collections, told me in an email, “Mr. Nixon traveled in his car all over the country, and sometimes went abroad with Mrs. Nixon. He liked to film trains, but, luckily, also visit the Masters and got a few good shots.”

Here’s a film Nixon shot at the Masters in the mid-fifties. Among many other things, you can pick out Jack Burke (red cardigan), Ben Hogan (that hat), and Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts (riding in one of the first golf carts, first in the distance and then close-up).

And here’s footage Nixon shot of the Masters Parade—a tournament-week Augusta staple between 1957 and 1964. You’ll recognize at least a couple of faces in that one, too.

You can easily lose yourself in the Moving Image Research Collections, as I did both yesterday and the day before. Singleton told me, “The collection started in 1980. Twentieth Century Fox wanted to make a large corporate gift (probably worth about $100 million). They decided to give their Fox Newsreel films and all outtakes to the University of South Carolina. This was sixteen years before the advent of the Fox News cable channel. There is actually no continuity between Fox News and the Fox Newsreel. The newsreel ended in 1963 when it was sunk by television news. The original Fox News camera negatives are on the old nitrocellulose film stock. This film nitrate stock, related chemically to gun cotton, is flammable and difficult to extinguish when ignited. Nitrocellulose film was the cause of some sad movie theater fires back in the day. We can’t keep the film in city limits. We keep the nitrocellulose films in two WWII ammunition magazines at U.S. Fort Jackson, which in only a couple of miles from campus.”

One more Scott Nixon film from the Masters. Lots of stuff to explore while we wait for Round One.

I’m Blaming Trump for This, Too

Ordinarily I’m not a language snob. Does it truly matter if people incorrectly refer to concrete as “cement,” or say “fortuitous” when what they mean is “serendipitous,” or use “enormity” as a synonym for “immensity,” or complain about their “arteriosclerosis” when what they actually have is atherosclerosis (unless it’s the other way around)? Life is too short for brooding about the vocabularies of strangers.

And yet.

Surely you, too, have noticed that at least half the people in America unashamedly use golf as a verb: Do you golf? My brother-in-law golfs. Did you ever see Tiger Woods golf? My wife and I golfed on our honeymoon. I’m thinking of teaching my cat to golf.

The problem has been exacerbated by having a president who, even by presidential standards, spends a remarkable amount of time playing golf. When reporters who aren’t sportswriters report on his weekend activities, they say that he “golfs.”

People who use that word in that way are almost always non-players or neophytes. It’s your great-aunt, not Jordan Spieth, who asks you if you “golfed” over the weekend. The pro at your club doesn’t “golf.” The other members of your foursome don’t “golf.” And Ben Hogan never “golfed” in his life.

This linguistic form is unique to our game, incidentally. Nobody tennises, or baseballs, or billiardses, or soccers. The people who use golf as a verb could cite the dictionary in their defense, but the dictionary is not enough. Using golf as a verb is like using sex as a verb (a usage permissible only for people who hold certain unglamorous jobs in the poultry industry). Using golf as a verb demeans golf.

I don’t mind golfer (although a few purists insist on player). I can even stand an occasional golfing. But the entire conjugation of to golf makes me want to grab a four-iron and golf somebody in the head with it.

While we’re on the subject of golf-related annoyances, let’s spend a moment on ball washers. Beginning players are always easy to spot: They keep their tees in wrist bandoliers, and they can’t pass a ball washer without using it. You hear them pumping as you tee up your first drive of the morning; you hear them pumping as you consider your final putt of the afternoon. These new golfers need to be told that ball washers serve a decorative function only, and are never to be used. Real golfers clean their balls by spitting on them and rubbing them on their thigh, making a permanent stain near the pocket, and identifying them as players, not as people who golf.

The Muny Life: Mayfair Country Club

Recently, I wrote about Mayfair Country Club, a muny in Sanford, Florida, and its interesting connection to Moe Norman. But wait! There’s more!

The driveway at Mayfair is flanked by enormous live oaks. They were planted in in 1847, when the property was part of a citrus plantation. The city of Sanford bought 152 acres in 1922 and created the Sanford Golf Club, which at first had just four holes.


Later, the city leased the course to a variety of outside operators, among them the New York Giants baseball team. The Giants ran it from 1953-’61 and renamed it the Mayfair Country Club, after Sanford’s Mayfair Inn, which the team also owned. (The Giants used the inn as a dormitory for minor-leaguers, in addition to running it as a resort.) From 1955-’58, the club was the home of the Mayfair Inn Open—unofficially known as the New York Giants Open.


In 2009, a guest at a raucous graduation party shot and killed a young man standing at the bar in the clubhouse. (According to the guys I had lunch with, the shooting was an accident, in the sense that the shooter was trying to kill a different young man, who resembled the victim from behind.) But the murder was an anomaly, and Mayfair has survived an economic downturn that many other Florida courses haven’t. The city of Sanford and Integrity Golf have made major improvements to the course and the clubhouse, including these slightly unnerving showers:


I played in Mayfair’s regular Sunday-morning game, which has two components: a Stableford and skins. (One of the guys in the game referred to the club as St. Mayfair, because it’s where they all go on Sunday.)


Jean-Pierre Ely, the club’s general manager, was in my group. He’s was born in Germany, and his grandmother knew Bernhard Langer’s parents. His family moved to the United States in 1998 after his mother won a green card in a lottery. He’s 28. His ambition is to play on the PGA Tour. That’s him on the right,with one of the club’s starters:


There’s something cool about playing a golf hole that Ben Hogan had a definite opinion about (the fourth, a sinuous par 4, which he once described as one of the toughest bunker-free par 4s he’d ever played), and, later, buying a sleeve of balls in a golf shop that Sam Snead used to drive over while taking a shortcut to what was then the 10th green.


Ely won the Stableford, while the best that I could manage was to prevent someone else from winning a skin on the third, a short par 4. Sorting out the prizes took time, because for a while the pot appeared to be $10 light. Billy Griffin, a regular, scanned the crowd near the bar and said, “I can look at somebody and tell if he hasn’t paid.” The problem turned out to be that one participant had accidentally signed up twice. “In that case,” someone said, “you need to put in another ten.” I said something at some point, and Griffin said, “Hey, new guy. Sit down.” So I sat down. Here’s the group’s official record-keeper:


John, one of the regulars, used to work for the tour player Mike Souchak. A friend of his told me, “John has 42 clubs in his bag. When he lifts the bag out of his truck, the truck rises.” John said, “I’m down to 16 or 18. But I’ve got a few beers in there, too.” Here’s a board that one of the regular groups at Mayfair uses to make up teams, or something:


Nice course! Nice club! I’d like to go back.

Ladies OrlandoP1110959IMG_0689Photo 1P1110939IMG0798IMG754


Last-Minute Gift Ideas From the Golf Digest Time Machine

GD Xmas Sears cart 12-058In the 1950s and early 1960s, the golf world underwent a Cambrian Explosion of golf-cart designs. (All these advertisements are from issues of Golf Digest.) Lots of different ideas were tried and rejected, and lots of companies went extinct—even ones that had the backing of celebrities:

GD Bob Hope cart 7-59

Bobcats must have been fun (and loud), and until you got yelled at you could hold intra-foursome races. For women, there was a version with training wheels:

GD Scooter 3 10-59

Ben Hogan was a fan of the new machines, since (apparently) he believed that walking spoiled golf for many players:

GD Cushman 6-58

Most early models had three wheels. A few had roofs:

GD covered cart 11-57

There were many gasoline-powered versions. You turned them off when you got to your ball, the keep the noise down:

GD Walker cart 4-59

This one—for a single golfer—had a “multi-baffled muffler”:

GD Springfield cart 7-61

Most one-player gasoline-powered carts were more expensive, as the one below was. But it weighed just a hundred pounds, and it folded so compactly that you could carry two of them in the trunk of your car:

GD Folding Cart 12-61

There were also powered carts for golfers who, Ben Hogan notwithstanding, insisted on walking. This one held two bags:

GD Electric hand cart 5-59

Unless you had one of the folding ones, you needed one of these to get your cart to and from the club:

GD Cart trailer 8-59

And if your cart was one of the electric ones you probably were wise to buy a spare one of these, as a backup:

GD Delco cart batteries 4-61Merry Christmas to all!

What’s In My Bag, Part Two: Why Two Drivers?


Ben Hogan, before teeing off at Riviera Country Club, was asked why he wasn’t carrying a 4-iron. “Because there are no 4-iron shots on this course,” he said.

Or maybe he didn’t say that. With sports anecdotes you can never be sure. Apocryphal or not, though, the point was a good one. No two golf courses are alike, so each one makes unique demands not only on golfers but also on golfers’ equipment. When Hogan benched his 4-iron at Riviera, assuming he really did, he made room in his bag for a club that he believed would be more useful on that particular course. Based on my own experience at Riviera, I would guess that the replacement was a sledge hammer, to be used for extracting wayward drives from the dense kikuyu rough.

I  often tinker, Hogan-style, with my club selection, in an effort to tailor my equipment to my surroundings and my shifting abilities. My home course is short and tight, and, therefore, it usually rewards finesse more than raw power. When I play at home, I carry a putter, three wedges (60°, 52°, 46°), two hybrid irons (9, 8), six old-man hybrids (34°, 30°, 25°, 23°, 18°, 17°), and two drivers (a 10.5-degree Ping K15 and a 16-degree Nike Sumo Sweet 16—both antiques). All shafts are stiff.

Nike Sumo Sweet 16.

Nike Sumo Sweet 16.

The 17-degree hybrid and the 18-degree hybrid are both made by Nike and are both called 2-hybrids—but they’re different models, and the 18-degree one actually goes farther, although I find it harder to hit. (As I mentioned in my previous post, I think of it as a fairway wood.) It and the 16-degree driver probably seem redundant, or almost redundant, but they’re not. My longer 2-hybrid is at least theoretically easy to hit off the ground, but its head is so small that, when my ball is sitting on a tee, it gives me the heebie-jeebies, especially in the heat of competition. My course has a several short, narrow par-4s on which it might be the perfect choice for tee shots if it didn’t have a head that appeared to have been designed to slide between the bottom of a teed ball and the ground. For those tee shots, I hit my 16-degree driver, which I call Baby Driver. It goes about the same distance as the hybrid—200 yards, plus or minus ten percent—but has a head the size of a battleship. (I also have a 13-degree Mama Driver, currently in Time Out.)

During the first, stroke-play round of the men's member-guest last year, Tony, Tony's son Tim, and I carried nine drivers between us. That's my bag on the left, Tony's on the right.

During the first, stroke-play round of the men’s member-guest last year, Tony, Tony’s son Tim, and I carried nine drivers between us. That’s my bag on the left, Tony’s on the right.

When I first bought Baby Driver, five or six years ago, I used it only on short par-4s and tight par-5s. But it’s so easy to hit that, since then, I’ve found more and more uses for it. Last year, Rick and I played in a senior tournament run by our state golf association. The course had five par-3s, all of which were fairly long. I hit Baby Driver on all five of them, and in two rounds it and I were cumulatively two over par on those ten holes. In Northern Ireland last year, I hit Baby Driver on a downhill 134-yard par-3 and was the only player in our group to put a ball on the green. And sometimes I hit it off the ground.

I'll address headcovers at surprising length later, but I can tell you now that I have just two of them: one for my putter, because if I don't use it the putter's saber teeth lock onto the shafts of my other clubs; and one for Baby Driver which I got from the lost-and-found box in the golf shop. Appropriately, I guess, it's for a women's driver, and it has a vaguely obstetric-seeming pouch on top. I use it to keep my two drivers from clanking annoyingly as I walk.

I’ll address head covers at surprising length later, but I can tell you now that I have just two of them: one for my putter, because if I don’t use it the putter’s saber teeth lock onto the shafts of my other clubs and are hard to pry loose; and one for Baby Driver (see photo). The Baby Driver one I got  from the lost-and-found box in the golf shop. Appropriately, I guess, it’s from a women’s driver, and it has a vaguely obstetric-seeming pouch on top. I use it only because without it my two drivers would clank annoyingly as I walked.

Jhīnjhak If at least two readers will send me descriptions (with one or more photos) of their own equipment, I will create a permanent What’s In My Bag department, and publish them there, along with any future contributions. Send all that stuff to

To be continued. (Read Part One.)

What's In My Bag?

What’s In My Bag.

Great Golf Course: Riviera

2008 Joann Dost All Rights Reserved

In 1947 and 1948, Ben Hogan competed in two Los Angeles Opens and a U.S. Open at Riviera (where the Northern Trust Open is currently being played). He finished first, first, and first. He would have won again, at the 1950 L.A. Open, his first tournament following his car accident, if Sam Snead hadn’t closed with consecutive birdies to tie him in regulation, then prevailed eight days later in an anticlimactic rain-delayed playoff. No wonder they still speak of Hogan’s game in the present tense at Riviera. His portrait hangs in the clubhouse over a fireplace that is always lighted, like an eternal flame.

Hogan, Riviera, 1950.

Hogan, Riviera, 1950 L.A. Open.

Riviera opened in 1926, in a flood-carved canyon in what was then sparsely populated farmland west of Los Angeles. It cost almost a quarter of a million dollars to build, and for a time it was the second-most expensive golf course on earth (after Yale). W.C. Fields, Douglas Fairbanks, Olivia De Havilland, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, and Howard Hughes all played there regularly. Will Rogers, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy competed every weekend on the polo grounds, which are the source of the kikuyu grass on the golf course. Elizabeth Taylor and Greta Garbo, whose house overlooked the thirteenth fairway, were often seen trotting along a bridle path that encircled the course. Television didn’t exist, and martinis and cigarettes weren’t bad for you yet, and golf at Riviera was a party.

Katharine Hepburn, golfer.

Katharine Hepburn, golfer.

The Los Angeles Open was a very big deal in those years—more of a major, in many ways, than some of the majors.  Humphrey Bogart, who in his prime was close to scratch, used to sit under a tree near the twelfth green and sip bourbon while Hogan, Mangrum, Snead, and Nelson played by.

Bogey, scratch.

Bogey, scratch.

I played quite a few rounds at Riviera in 1995, on assignment for Golf Digest. The P.G.A. Championship was going to be held at Riviera that year, and I was working on a preview article. I arrived in L.A. one afternoon, checked into my hotel, and, because it was too early to eat dinner, decided to make sure I could find the course. A guard waved me through the gate, A tournament official let me through the fence and told me I should meet the club’s greens chairman, who had just finished playing and was having a beer with friends. We chatted for a few minutes, and then he asked, “Where are your clubs?” I ran back to my car. We teed off maybe five minutes later, and got in twelve or thirteen holes before it was too dark to see. When we’d finished, my new best friend asked me where I was staying, and when I gave him the name of my hotel he said, “You ought to be staying here.” So I moved into a lovely bedroom in the clubhouse, overlooking the eighteenth green. I woke up the next morning to the sound of members rolling putts on the practice green, and after a quick shower I ran downstairs and joined them.

My home away from home for four days.

My home away from home for four days.

Over the next few days, I played with two lawyers, who met in court while representing opposite ends of a personal-injury lawsuit; a guy whose company publishes hotel room-service menus; a guy who had recently retired from the garment business; the actor who played Frank Fontana on “Murphy Brown”; the father of Robby Krieger, who played guitar for the Doors; and Larry David, the co-creator of “Seinfeld” (and later the star of his own show).

My close personal friend Larry David.

My close personal friend Larry David.

I also met Walter Keller, who was Amy Alcott’s teacher. He said that he first met Alcott on the practice tee at Riviera when she was a young girl. “I fell in love with the kid right there,” he told me. “She hit a beautiful shot, and I said, ‘Hit another.’ She did. ‘Hit another.’ She did. I turned to her mother and said, ‘You are a blessed woman.'” Keller arranged for Alcott to become a member of the club. She had a difficult relationship with her father, he said, but club members looked out for her. “She had twenty fathers here,” he said. “Dean Martin would see her on the driving range, swing by in his cart, and say, ‘Hey, Amy, let’s play nine holes.”

Amy Alcott, Walter Keller, and Tony Sills (who was also a student of Keller's) and a significant collection of junior-golf trophies.

Amy Alcott, Walter Keller, and Tony Sills (who was also a student of Keller’s) and a significant collection of junior-golf trophies.

Alcott won the first of her twenty-nine LPGA Tour events in 1975, when she was nineteen. Keller died in 2003, at the age of ninety-five.




My Close Personal Friend Moe Norman

Moe Norman Scorecard

Many golfers nowadays look blank when you mention Moe Norman, who died in 2004, but to those who were lucky enough to see him play he was a legend. Lee Trevino ranked him with Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson as one of the greatest ball-strikers of all time. Paul Azinger first saw him hit balls on a driving range in Florida in 1980, when Azinger was in college. “He started ripping these drivers right off the ground at the 250-yard marker,” Azinger told Tim O’Connor, a Canadian sportswriter, “and he never hit one more than 10 yards to either side of it, and he hit at least 50.” In 2005, Tiger Woods told Jaime Diaz, now the editor of Golf World, that Norman and Hogan were the only two golfers in history who had “owned” their swing, and that one day he hoped to own his, too.

Moe Norman Golf World 9-2-66

Despite such accolades, Norman spent much of his forty-year competitive career in obscurity and poverty. He played almost exclusively in Canada, where he was born, and made only a brief attempt, in 1959, to play on the American tour. He sometimes carried his own bag in tournaments, because he couldn’t afford a caddie, and he sometimes slept in bunkers on the courses where he competed. He often hitchhiked to and from tournaments, and he had to juggle his competitive schedule with a succession of dreary factory jobs, including one stitching rubber boots. He spent the winter before the 1956 Masters, to which he had been invited as the reigning Canadian Amateur champion, setting pins in a bowling alley for a few cents a line. For years, he supported himself partly by selling the prizes he won in amateur tournaments, and as his confidence increased he sometimes sold the prizes before the tournaments began. (According to friends, on at least five occasions he intentionally finished second because he hadn’t been able to find a taker for the first-place prize and had been forced to sell the second.) In the late nineteen-eighties, he was so broke that only the last-minute intervention of friends prevented a bank from repossessing his car.

Moe Norman, 1950s.

Moe Norman, 1950s.

I watched Norman hit golf balls on a practice tee at Foxwood Country Club, in Kitchener, Ontario, his hometown, in the fall of 1995, when he was sixty-six. He warmed up with a pitching wedge, although “warming up” doesn’t really describe any part of his routine: the first shot was perfect, the second was identical to the first, the third was identical to the second. Then he switched to his four-iron. His swing—to all appearances, an effortless half-swing—was the same as it had been with the wedge. “How far you hitting those?” a spectator asked. “One-eighty,” Norman said. The shots were within a couple degrees of dead straight, despite a stiff cross wind, unless he announced ahead of time that he was going to hit a draw or a fade. The divots were identical, and surreally shallow.)

Moe Norman, 1990s.

Moe Norman, 1990s.

He switched to his driver. If you had looked only at his arms and hands, you wouldn’t have known he wasn’t still swinging his wedge. He would watch each ball in the air a moment, then bend over and place another on the tee—and I mean place it. The tee never moved. “I hit balls, not tees,” he said. On a driving range once, he hit 131 drives in a row from the same tee without having to straighten it. In tournaments, he sometimes entertained galleries by hitting a drive from the mouth of the Coke bottle from which he had just been drinking.

Moe Coke Bottle.bmp

In December, 1995, I got to play a round with Norman and his friends Gus Maue and Todd Graves (who calls himself Little Moe and teaches Norman’s highly unorthodox swing) at Royal Oak Resort and Golf Club, in Titusville, Florida. Royal Oak may no longer be a going concern—its website has been shut down for lack of payment—but in 1995 it was a favorite winter hangout of the Canadian P.G.A. The first hole was a 400-yard par 4, dogleg to the right. Maue, Graves, and I hit tee shots up the middle, and then Norman hit his over a row of trees to the right, toward a lake that ran the length of the hole. I thought, Hmmm—this is one of the greatest ball-strikers of all time? But it turned out that Norman always played the hole that way. There was a strip of grass, maybe ten yards wide, between the trees and the water, and from there he had an easy 9-iron to the green, while those of us in the fairway needed four-irons or five-irons.

Norman won his first tournament in 1949. “I didn’t know anything then,” he told me that day. “I didn’t even have a full set of clubs. Only had a driver, three-wood, three-iron, five-iron, seven-iron, nine-iron, and a putter. Didn’t even have a wedge. But one day everything fell into place and I shot a sixty-seven—four under.”

I said I was amazed he had played with so few clubs.

“Oh, I couldn’t afford them. Heck, when I was a kid you were lucky to have one club. And if you had a club your friends were always saying, Hey, can I use yours? Can I use yours? If someone had a driver we would hand it around—three of four guys playing together. If somebody had a nice putter, we all took turns putting with it. Goodness, back in Moe Norman youngthose days, there wasn’t a golf shoe in the foursome. And if the grass was wet your right foot would do a whirlwind, like a twist. But back then golf wasn’t a sport. It was just an exercise game. In fact, I was called a sissy by my father and my brothers, right at dinner. They would make big ears at me and call me a sissy. ‘Come on, play a man’s game,’ my father used to say. ‘Play baseball, or hockey—do like your brothers.’ I said, ‘No, Dad, I’m too light.’ I was a little skinny kid then, not over a hundred and thirty pounds, and I couldn’t play any other sport and be good at it, so I kept playing golf. But I had to hide my clubs under the front porch. My father was fat and I was real skinny, so I could dig a hole that he couldn’t get his head through but I could get my body through, and if I would push my clubs in far enough he couldn’t reach them.”

I wrote about Moe Norman in Golf Digest in 1995, and you can read that story here. The date in the opening anecdote is wrong, since Porky Oliver died in 1961. But other than that. . . .


The Greatest Golf Movie Ever Made

No, it's not Caddyshack.

I recently watched, for the twentieth or thirtieth time, the greatest golf movie ever made. Not Caddyshack, although I’m a fan. And not Tin Cup, in which Kevin Costner swings like a chicken and tucks his sweater into his pants. And not Follow the Sun, in which Glenn Ford makes you believe that Ernest Borgnine (for example) would have made a better Ben Hogan. And definitely not Bagger Vance, which I’ve seen only scattered fragments of, without sound, while accidentally looking up from the book I was reading on an airplane, but still couldn’t wait for it to be over.

No, the all-time No. 1 golf movie was made in 1942 by Michael Curtiz. It’s set in Morocco, and it stars Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains. Ingrid Bergman is in it, too. It’s called Casablanca. Have you seen it?

Casablanca isn’t only about golf. There’s a long boring part at the beginning in which the Nazis make a lot of trouble, and various people sing various songs in Bogart’s nightclub, and Bogart apparently has some sort of love affair with Bergman—although you never actually see them doing anything except talking to each other with their faces a quarter-inch apart. This boring stretch lasts for about an hour and a half. I usually let my wife watch it by herself, while I make popcorn or take the dogs for a walk.

The golf part comes near the end. Bogart and Bergman and a wimpy-looking foreign guy, who appears to be wearing lipstick, turn up at a foggy airport one night, and for a moment you think that Bergman is going to dump the lipstick guy and marry Bogart. That’s the suspense. Bergman is good-looking, despite the hat, but you can tell that as soon as the wedding is over she’s going to start demanding lifestyle changes, and the first thing to go will be the nightclub. Then she’ll say, “Oh, Rick, do we really need to live in Africa?” Then they’ll have four kids in a hurry, and that will be that.

But Bogart sees the trap a mile away. He makes Bergman think he’s going along with her scheme, but at the last second he tricks her into getting on the plane. “You’re taking the fall,” Bogart says to the lipstick guy. (I’m paraphrasing now.) Then the plane heads down the runway—whew!—and Bogart and Rains escape into the fog, so that they can spend the rest of the Second World War drinking gin and playing golf. I tell you, that movie makes me cry every time.

18 Good Things About Golf: No. 7

Strokes: member-guest, 2011.

7. Golf, like all sports, is perfectly meritocratic: If you shoot the best score, you win. At the same time, though, golf is highly socialistic. In fact, it’s the world’s only welfare state that works. The U.S.G.A.’s handicapping system takes strokes from each according his ability and gives them to each according to his need—communism with a human face. Unlike raw capitalism, golf has figured out how to foster individual achievement without smothering the hopes of those who can’t keep up. Like most golfers, I am proud to give strokes yet unashamed to receive them.

Because of handicaps, competitive matches can be played by players of greatly different levels of skill. If Rory McIlroy, for some reason, could find no one else to play with, he could play with me and, after spotting me one or two dozen strokes, still hope to have an interesting contest. Golf is the only sport I know of in which direct competition between pros and amateurs, or between men and women, or between adults and children, or between young women and old men, or between old women and touring professionals, is routinely feasible. The use of different tees makes it possible to adapt the course to the abilities of the players, and the handicapping system allows further adjustments. As a result, you can play golf on an equal footing not only with your wife but also with your kids or grandkids. Thus, golf simultaneously enhances sexual parity (important to liberals) and traditional family values (ditto to conservatives).

You’d think that a system designed to facilitate gambling among strangers would be fatally vulnerable to inconsistencies and abuses. In fact, though, the handicapping system, like the post office, works better than we have any right to expect. I often play nassaus with people I don’t know—people whose ideas about reportable scores may differ wildly from my own—and yet, far more often than the laws of probability would predict, our matches come down to the final press or the final hole or the final putt. How does that happen?

The explanation, I believe, is that human nature makes the handicap system almost magically self-correcting. A golfer with a pop has a mindset different from that of a golfer playing naked. Players with too many strokes inevitably find ways to waste them, and players with too few are often inspired to shoot better than they know how. (Ben Hogan—or was it Sam Snead?—once played a match with an amateur who complained that he wasn’t receiving enough strokes, and Snead—or was it Gene Sarazen?—replied, “Then you’re just going to have to play harder.”) Every club has its sandbaggers, chiselers, pretenders, and poseurs, but, over the course of a season or two, the bets tend to even out. One way or another, most of us manage to live up or down to our innermost expectations.

Is Tiger Too Old?

Hogan before he was Hogan: Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan at the 1942 Masters, the last before the war. Note the grip on Hogan's driver. Also, of course, the cigarette.

People who think Tiger Woods is too old to dominate golf again should consider the career of Ben Hogan. At the time of the Masters in 1948, the year he turned 36—the age Woods is now—eight of his nine majors and a third of his tour victories still lay ahead of him, as did the automobile accident that nearly ended his life.