My Friends and I Went to Yale (for One Day)

Byronically 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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My Close Personal Friend Mike Keiser and his New Golf Course, in Nova Scotia

Back in May, I went to dinner in Chicago with my close personal friend Mike Keiser, the founder and owner of Bandon Dunes. The restaurant was Moto, which serves a four-hour tasting menu (see above) accompanied by fifteen different wines. Our “Spring Lamb” course was actually a tasting menu in itself: a thing of lamb paté, a thing of lamb sausage, a thing of smoked lamb shoulder, a thing of “baconized” lamb, a thing of leg of lamb, and a couple of other lamb-based things, all served on a chef’s cleaver. “Explosion” was a stick of dynamite made from white chocolate and filled with a syrupy liquid that I wouldn’t have minded drinking a quart of, plus a cherry-stem fuse—and the waiter made it explode by dropping it on its plate. He said that my explosion was the best one he’d done so far, and that he was still working on his technique because the dessert was so new. “After Dinner Menu” was the actual menu printed on a slab of marshmallow, which was brought to the table in a saucepan of liquid nitrogen, then placed on top of three kinds of fruit and three kinds of mint and broken to pieces with spoon. Most surprisingly good thing: beet meringue.

Moto’s famous Cuban pork sandwich, which looks like a cigar and is served in an ashtray. It wasn’t on the menu the night Keiser and were there, I’m sorry to say.

The next day, Keiser and I played a round at Chicago Golf Club, which was built in 1895 and is the oldest eighteen-hole golf course in the United States. (The club was founded in 1892, on a different site.) The course was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald and later tinkered with by Seth Raynor, among others. There’s a convent next door, and one of the guys we played with told a funny story about a golfer who took a whiz in the bushes next to it, but I didn’t write the story down and now I don’t remember any of it. Take my word for it, though: that story was funny. C.G.C.’s motto is “Far and Sure,” which is also the motto of Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where Macdonald had lots of friends. In fact, when Macdonald’s new Chicago friends realized how much they loved golf he had his old Liverpool friends send him six sets of clubs.

Keiser’s newest course is Cabot Links Golf Course, in Nova Scotia. Ron Whitten, who is Golf Digest’s architecture editor, has written an article about both it and Donald Trump‘s newest course, which is in Scotland. Whitten’s article will be in the February issue, and while you wait to read it you can watch this video:

The video was made in October by Don Snyder, whose company is called World Golf Movies. Snyder worked as a caddie at the Old Course, among other places, and one day he had the idea of creating video tours of the world’s best courses. Several of his videos are available as apps in the iTunes store, and more are coming. Perry Golf, the tour company, is a partner of his. “Starting next season,” Snyder told me in an email recently, “we will also shoot little fifteen-minute movies of Perry Golf’s clients out playing on their journey, and then sitting down in a pub and talking about what their trip has meant to them.”

Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, Illinois.

Critical Golf Accessory: Pocket Handkerchief

There are several New Yorker writers and at least one award-winning novelist in this group. Lido Golf Club, Lido Beach, New York, September 21, 2012.

On Friday, at Lido Golf Club, three members of my foursome had an odd thing in common: we were carrying little packs of Kleenex, in response to a tenacious cold that’s been burning its way through the Northeast. Kleenex isn’t an ideal golf accessory, because it goes airborne in a breeze and doesn’t hold up to rain or even dew. On Saturday, back at home, I remembered to carry a handkerchief. As a result, I never did what I have often done when my nose was running on a golf course: find the least disgusting square inch of my golf towel and blow my nose into it.

Handkerchiefs have fallen out of use in the general population, but they’re good for golfers, especially in high winds, or during cold or allergy season. I paid fourteen dollars for a thirteen-pack of Van Heusen cotton handkerchiefs—just right for a week-long golf trip to Scotland or Ireland. If I had any sense, I’d keep at least one clean handkerchief in my golf bag all the time.

Incidentally, Kleenex facial tissues were introduced in 1924 as a “sanitary cold cream remover,” but sales remained modest until six years later, when Kimberly-Clark re-positioned them as disposable handkerchiefs. Times change.  In 2003, one of my nieces, who was eleven, saw her grandfather using a handkerchief and asked, with astonishment, “Is that a cloth Kleenex?” I had handkerchiefs when I was a kid—some with monograms—but I would bet that neither of my children, who are in their twenties, has ever used one.

Daniel Wexler, in his terrific book The Missing Links, devotes a chapter to the original Lido, which was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor. Bernard Darwin called it “the finest course in the world,” and Claude Harmon called it “the greatest golf course ever.” Part of the current course—which was designed by Robert Trent Jones in 1965—occupies part of the original property, but suburban tract houses cover much of the old layout, and Jones’s course is nothing special. Anyone interested in golf history should own a copy of The Missing Links—and not only because Wexler was a college roommate of my brother’s.

The modern Lido, with smoke stacks and a landfill on the far shore. JFK International Airport is about nine miles to the left.