A Better Way to Measure the Power of Hurricanes

The photograph above is of the clubhouse at Indian Hills Country Club, in Kansas City, in about 1950. The course was designed by A. W. Tillinghast in 1927, and the photograph was taken by my father’s father, who was a member. I came across a big box of his slides recently, and for several days I’ve been obsessed with scanning them. Here’s my grandfather himself, at about the same time, during a trip to California with my grandmother:

As the father of a friend once said of Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca (the greatest golf movie ever made), “Those pants are a little tight under the arms.” Here’s a picture my grandfather took of my grandmother (feeding something to a chipmunk) during a car trip to Colorado in 1945:My grandparents traveled to Florida almost every winter, until my grandfather couldn’t drive anymore (my grandmother never learned). The picture below, which my grandfather took in the early fifties, goes a long way toward explaining why people who live in Florida have trouble with seawater even when the wind isn’t blowing a hundred and fifty miles an hour:

That brings me to Mike Riley, who is an occasional correspondent and a member of the Big Dogs, a regular men’s group at the World’s Second-Best Golf Club, in northwestern Florida. The Big Dogs are usually more weather-averse than the Sunday Morning Group is—fifty degrees and sunny is too wintry for most of them—but, to their credit, they’ve developed some useful weather-related clothing technology:

Even more to their credit, they didn’t evacuate their golf club this past weekend. On Sunday morning, Riley wrote to me, “It’s official. Big Dogs are going to play under hurricane warning. Not unprecedented, but first time since Opal.” (Opal was a Category Four hurricane that hammered the Gulf Coast in 1995.) Riley’s post-round report:

Our foursome finished in 2:29 no time for pictures. Gonna be hard to figure bets, clubhouse lost power while we were on the front nine. Gusts to 60. Pictures really wouldn’t have done much justice. Two pins snapped in the wind and oak tree fell as we were playing number 8. 18 players in the game today with 18 carts. We played during Hermine in 2016 but were on the west side of that storm which is the side to be on. It was only a cat 1 but it did a number on Tallahassee. 

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is kind of hard to understand, at least for me, and it isn’t a good fit with golf; Sandy, in 2012, was also just Category One, yet it wiped out several courses in my part of the world. Maybe we should measure hurricanes the way golfers have always measured wind, in terms of extra clubs required for normal shots. At Portstewart once, I hit Baby Driver on a hundred-and-thirty-yard downhill par 3 and was the only member of my foursome to reach the green, and on a couple of occasions in Scotland and Ireland I’ve played in what I would guess were seven- or eight-club winds. What’s the most a reasonably adventurous golfer could comfortably handle—a ten-club wind, gusting to twelve? Unless someone has a better idea, I’m going to call that the maximum.

World’s Second-Best Golf Club, Part Three: Who’s Who in the Big Dogs

Big Dogs Barney and Riley Tebowing after both birdieing the signature seventh hole on their home course.

Big Dogs Barney and Riley tebowing after both birdieing the signature hole on their home course (No. 7). This is the hole where Jim fell into the lake while trying to chip from the bulkhead.

I’ve written a couple of times about the Big Dogs, a regular men’s group at the second-best golf club in the world, in northern Florida. (You can read the previous installments here and here.) The Big Dogs have an attractively complicated regular game, which they call the Dogfight and which they keep track of with both an Excel spreadsheet and a private website. They use their own version of Stableford scoring, and based on it they assign each player what they call a Power Ranking. The player they call the Commandant uses the Power Rankings when making up teams each week. Here’s what one of their spreadsheets looks like:

Fullscreen capture 1232014 91912 AMMike Riley, who introduced me to the Big Dogs, also provided background information on some of the members, along with photos. Here’s Riley:


And here are highlights from his report:

Jim's putterThe putter above belongs to Jim, the player who had to be rescued from the lake. Riley writes: “Jim is an excellent putter. He also has a grill and an ice chest mounted to his cart. He says that when you decide to break a club you should always do it where your other clubs can see it, because that way they’ll be less likely to misbehave. GIT stands for ‘get it there.’ When things are going poorly, Jim says, ‘I don’t know if I’ve had all I can take, but I’ve had all I want.’ He’s a lawyer.” For a couple of weeks after Jim fell into the lake, the Big Dogs hung a life preserver on the bulkhead, in case it happened again:

life preserver

Riley continues: “One of our better players is Brown. During our big invitational one year, he missed short birdie putts on No. 3 and No. 4. After hitting his drive on No. 56, he tied his putter to the back of his cart and let it drag down the cart path for the duration of the hole. We learned that putters do spark when dragged down a concrete cart path. We did not penalize him for changing the characteristics of a club during a round.”

Cart with west virginia bags

The cart in the photo above belongs to the player known as Cookie Monster. The streamer attached to the roof of the golf cart (upper left) is an illegal anemometer. The player known as III (Three) has a much fancier illegal anemometer, attached to his cellphone (see photo below). And that’s Cookie on the right, getting ready to tee off:

III's wind appRiley adds, “III had personalized golf towels made for ‘everybody who has a nickname.’ [See Cookie’s towel, on his West Virginia golf bag, two photos up.] III also has a tee shirt that he wears into the clubhouse only when he shoots 72 or better.” Here he is, in his tee shirt, with Christian, who was the captain of his team that day:

Christian and III

There used to be a subset of the Big Dogs known as the Bottom Feeders. “They were named after fish that feed off the bottom of the Gulf,” Riley writes. “They were the three, four, or five players who fed themselves off the bottom of the Dogfight. This was back when everybody played the blue tees and breaking 80 was a chore. If you broke 80, you were ‘proof,’ which meant that you pushed all your nassaus against anyone else who broke 80, whether you actually beat them or not. If you were a Bottom Feeder, you had to have a sticker on your cart identifying you as such. The Bottom Feeder game no longer exists.”

bottom feeder

At one point, the Big Dogs were embroiled in a fake lawsuit involving Jim and the Bottom Feeders, but it’s too complicated to go into. The case was resolved, more or less, out of court.

Scratching nassaus

The Dogfight is made up partly of two-man nassaus in which everyone plays everyone else. “Players are allowed to scratch matches that they feel aren’t even,” Riley writes. “Some are more liberal than others in their definition of even. You scratch a match by drawing a line through it on the bet sheet.” The players in the photo above are scratching matches before teeing off. From left to right, they are KB, Drew, Mackey, Clay, and Lanny.

Cookie scratching matches on the bet sheet.

Cookie scratching matches on the bet sheet.

Like all golf groups, the Big Dogs have their own lingo. Some examples, with Riley’s explanations:

“I’m playing Friday.” Rob often says this on Tuesday, then never shows on Friday. When anyone says they’re going to do something and you don’t think they have any intention of actually doing it, you say, “O.K., Rob.”

A “cod lock” is any bet where the outcome is almost certain. “Scratch all my Mackey bets” is something that certain players always say because Mackey scratches all bets that aren’t cod locks.”

“Nobody cares if you suck fast.” This is something I told Barney when I joined the Dogfight. It means that if Barney plays fast no one will mind that he sucks at golf. [Similarly, when I took up golf, my friend Jim told me that my terrible shots wouldn’t matter as long as I kept up with everyone else, because “Nobody ever gave a shit about how anybody else played golf.”]

“My long was good but my wide sucked.” Used for a putt with good speed but a bad line. Can also be reversed.

“I got it.” Means “I’m about to hit.” Usually used to indicate that I am about to hit even though it’s not my turn to play. Jerry does this more than anyone else, especially when things are going bad for his team.

“Make a Hoochie knot.” Building a lie by slamming your club into the ground behind your ball, making it easier to deck a driver on a par 5. Brown is the master of this tactic.

James S. Payne, a professor of special education at Ole Miss, where Riley played on the golf team all four years, explains the origin of the Hoochie Knot in this video:

I’d be very interested in learning about local lingo at other golf clubs, either by email or in the comment section, below. I’m also interested, of course, in regular golf groups that routinely have almost as much fun as the Big Dogs and my own Sunday Morning Group.

Lightning strike at the world's second-best golf club. All the Big Dogs escaped.

Lightning strike at the world’s second-best golf club. All the Big Dogs escaped.

World’s Second-Best Golf Club, Part Two: The Engine Whisperer

JD bigdog

When I was using Google to search for additional information about the Big Dogs, I came across an obituary of a member known as J. D., who died a little over two years ago, at the age of sixty-nine. The obituary described him as “a man of his word who was content with what he had and always treated everyone the way he wanted to be treated.” It also said that he had “invested in the youth of Bay County, coaching basketball, baseball, and soccer, including the Mosley Girls’ soccer teams.” Mike Riley, who introduced me to the Big Dogs, told me more:

J.D. turned “golly” into about a five-syllable word. Think Gomer Pyle. He owned his own car repair shop, and I knew him as the engine whisperer. One day, I was having trouble with the air-conditioner in my Honda, which had a quarter of a million miles on it. He popped the hood and listened. Then he got a three-foot-long screwdriver and stuck one end of it on the engine and the other end to his ear. After about ten seconds, he said, “Bad compressor bearing.” He was right.

Riley writes: "This is J.D. the day he won exactly a hundred dollars in the Dog Fight. This was a road game because that is not our clubhouse. The guys in the background are paying the winners."

Riley writes: “This is J.D. the day he won exactly a hundred dollars in the Dog Fight. This was a road game because that is not our clubhouse. The guys in the background are paying the winners.”

J. D. was a below-average putter, Riley said, unless he’d had a couple of beers, at which point “he magically became more aggressive than Tom Watson in his prime.” The Big Dogs used to play a supplemental nine-hole game, called the Extra-Nine Scramble, after their regular Saturday Dog Fight. “In one of them,” Riley said, “J. D. putted first and sank it on all nine holes.”

shank map

Lubed or not, J. D. had trouble with the shanks. “But not ordinary shanks,” Riley said. “True hosel rockets. But, strangely, he seemed to hit them only on two holes: No. 7, which is our signature par 3, and No. 12, a rather nondescript par 4.” The photo above is an aerial view of No. 7. “The yellow line is the flight path of J.D.’s worst shank,” Riley continued. “It went over a corner of Little Jim’s Shack, then almost hit a house before splashing down into North Bay. The star is where a J. D. shank came within inches of taking out a bicyclist. After that, we allowed him to tee off on No. 7 only after a two-direction traffic check had been completed.”

J. D. Christmas Eve

The photo above—which Riley describes, accurately, as “Zapruder quality”—shows J. D. as he dressed for the Big Dogs’ regular Christmas Eve golf game. Do you have a regular Christmas Eve golf game? Don’t you think you should?

To be continued.