Last week, a television crew from a Japanese news program interviewed me about Donald Trump, who was about to play golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The frame above depicts the moment, in 2012, when I momentarily mistook Trump for a bag-drop attendant and nearly slipped him five bucks. Here’s the whole segment:
A few years ago, a Google app on my phone offered to navigate me to “work.” I didn’t know what to make of that, because my office is in my house, so I clicked the tab and discovered that Google had deduced, based on how I spend my time during a typical week, that I must work at 10 Golf Course Road—the address of my golf club. Google must also think I get laid off every winter, because between early December and early April I hardly ever go to the club. I live up in the hills in western Connecticut, a hundred miles north of New York, and our course almost always shuts down within a week or two of Thanksgiving.
You can read the rest on the website of The New Yorker, right here.
Last week, the weather around here turned severely golf-antagonistic. In the photo above, which I took this morning, you can see my principal snow-depth gauge: the table on the patio in my backyard. Poking up just beyond the table is a dome of snow on my back-up snow-depth gauge, my Weber grill. And to the right you see my latest piece of meteorological equipment, my step ladder. During the summer, I used the step ladder to make sure that wrens hadn’t (again) evicted the nesting bluebirds from the bluebird house hanging from the eaves of my screened porch, and when winter came I forgot to put it away. In addition to aiding anyone who wants to break into the second floor of my house, it now provides supplemental snow-depth readings. What instruments we have agree: we won’t be playing golf again for at least a few weeks.
I’ve passed the resulting down time in a variety of ways, including by being interviewed by a reporter from a television station in Japan. President Trump and Prime Minister Abe were about to play golf together in Florida, and, because I myself have played golf with Trump in Florida, the reporter had a few questions about what Abe might expect from the encounter.
Most of those questions had to do with Trump’s skill as a golfer and, specifically, with how far he hits his driver. I didn’t let the reporter pin me down, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t give away any classified information. One thing I noticed is that, for a native Japanese speaker, the name “Mar-a-Lago” is more than slightly problematic. I asked the reporter what people in Japan generally think about the Trump presidency, and he said, “[long, long pause] . . .interesting.” I suggested that maybe Abe could do the world a favor by keeping Trump distracted and occupied for a while—say, four years.
I’ve also passed the time by studying the misfortunes of other golfers, among them one who is suing a local golf course over quicksand. I spent much of my childhood thinking about quicksand, probably because of Tarzan movies and television episodes, but I get the impression that many people nowadays don’t necessarily know how to get out of it, or even what it is. This guy says he stepped into some on a course that my friends and I often play, and that he sank to his chest and had to be pulled out by other golfers. As a result, he says, he suffers or has suffered: left knee pain; a left-knee MCL sprain; difficulty walking; difficulty standing; difficulty ascending and descending stairs; a change in gait; left-knee effusion; left-knee swelling; fear for his life; and general suffering, both physical and mental.
Hmmmm. I have all those things, too. They weren’t caused by quicksand, though, because unlike the guy who filed the lawsuit, apparently, I know that being pulled forcefully out of quicksand is the surest way to be injured by it. Just stay calm, and move slowly, and sort of swim to the edge (on your back if necessary), and slowly climb out. Contrary to popular belief, quicksand doesn’t draw you toward the center of the earth. You float in it, as you do in water—which is what it mostly is.
I’ve played many rounds on the golf course in question and never noticed any quicksand—although there are a number of clearly labeled wetland areas that golfers are required to stay out of. The complaint says the quicksand was in the rough, under some leaves, but doesn’t identify the hole. I learned about the lawsuit on one of my favorite websites, which belongs to Rob Harris, an avid golfer who also happens to be an avid lawyer. Regarding the quicksand case, he writes that, assuming the plaintiff’s allegations are supported by the facts, the most likely outcome will be a settlement, because “being swallowed by a golf course, while not an unprecedented event. . . will not play well in front of a jury.”
I spent one night at Mar-a-Lago back in 2012, after playing golf that afternoon with the man about to be sworn in as the President of the United States. At dinner that night, Trump served himself roughly a lobster and a half’s worth of shelled lobster claws and split lobster tails from the seafood buffet, then went back and for big plate of sweet-and-sour shrimp on rice. While we were having dessert, two giggly little girls from New Jersey, whose parents were part of a group from Trump’s golf club in Bedminster—“one of the richest places in the country”—came over to our table and asked Trump to dance. He said that he would dance with them in Bedminster. Then he asked them if they wanted to be supermodels when they grew up. (They said yes). Then he asked them to kiss him. (And they did.)
You can read a little more my Mar-a-Lago visit on the New Yorker’s website today. My New Yorker colleague Mark Singer, who has written a lot about Trump, including this book, emailed me recently: “Trump, standing on the lawn at Mar-a-Lago and hitting balls into the Intracoastal Waterway with a 3-iron, told me that Claude Harmon called him ‘the best weekend player’ he’d ever seen. Such an innocent time. . . . I suspect it won’t be during my lifetime when historians come up with a fully coherent explanation of how/why it came to this. I have no faith in my ability to predict what lies ahead; everything I thought I knew was mistaken.”
I’ve been slow about adding new posts to this blog, mainly because I’m no longer “in association with Golf Digest.” I’m not going to stop, but, after a little rest, I’m going to aim for something more like once a week. In the meantime, I’ve written an article for The New Yorker’s website about a day I spent with Donald Trump back in 2012.
Eleven friends and I just returned from a golf trip to Ireland. Something you have to be ready for when you travel outside the United States is hearing what people in other countries think about whatever the United States has been up to lately—and this year the main thing the United States has been up to is Donald Trump. He’s not easy to talk about with foreigners, because people who haven’t had much exposure to him tend to view him as a standard-issue American greed-driven mega-mogul—Michael Douglas in “Wall Street”—rather than seeing him the way most of his countrymen do, as the only conceivable member of whatever category he actually belongs in.
I met Trump four years ago, while working on an article about him and his golf courses for Golf Digest. Our first encounter was at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. (Trump’s courses, like his buildings, are easy to alphabetize.) When I pulled up at the club’s bag drop, a parking attendant, who was dressed in white trousers, a white shirt and a white cap, stepped briskly toward my rental car. I popped my trunk, palmed a five-dollar bill, opened the car door and then—with a possibly audible gasp—realized that the guy I’d taken for an attendant was actually Trump himself, who had come out to the curb to greet me. I (slipped the fiver back into my pocket and) enthusiastically shook his hand.
In the clubhouse, Trump introduced me to various distinguished members and guests, including the the former tennis star John Lloyd; the CEOs of AT&T, NASDAQ, Macy’s and several other corporations; and the head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, and his girlfriend, Linda Holliday. Trump seemed genuinely excited to see all these people—and even more excited to see that I was seeing all these people, right there in his own club. False modesty, much less actual modesty, is not among Trump’s vices. “We have the big people here, in terms of membership,” he said. “Everybody who’s anybody in Palm Beach is a member here. So, anyway. . . .” He invited Belichick and Holliday to come for dinner that night at the Mar-a-Lago Club, which he also owns, then told a waitress that he wanted the golf club to pick up their lunch check. He was being genuinely gracious and welcoming, but you could also see how extraordinarily eager he was to be liked, and to be seen being liked.
Raymond Floyd, who was leading an outing of business executives, walked toward our table.
“The great Ray Floyd,” Trump said.
“Hi, Donald. Don’t get up.”
“You look beautiful.”
“I keep fooling them. That’s what I say. I’m following your lead.”
“I love this guy,” Trump said. “This guy—the greatest chipper. He’s going to teach me how to chip someday. Have a good time, Ray.”
Floyd walked away, and Trump said to me: “He’s a member. We have the best members here. Everybody. He’s a wonderful guy, Ray, actually. And one great competitor. He was the oldest guy ever to win the Open. Remember, at Shinnecock? He was the oldest guy ever to win the Open. Great guy.”
Floyd walked by again. Trump asked him, “How old were you when you won the U.S. Open. Forty-six?”
“Forty-six? No, forty-four.”
“Is that the record?”
“No, Irwin surpassed me by a few months.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Ah, you’re something, Ray. How’s your wife doing?” (Floyd’s wife, Maria, was being treated for bladder cancer. She died six months later.)
“She’s doing great. She’s cancer-free.”
“Give her my regards,” Trump said. Then, to me: “His wife had a little problem, to put it mildly, but I’m hearing good things.”
“We go every three months,” Floyd said. “We go back in the first of next month.”
“That’s great. She’s a fantastic woman. She kept him under check, which is not easy, OK? I knew him before and after.”
“Changed the lifestyle.”
“She did a good job. Ivanka tells me Christina’s doing good.”
“I think she’s using Ivanka’s baby nurse.”
“Well, Ivanka has good taste, so follow Ivanka. Have a good time, Ray. Enjoy it.”
Floyd went out to join his corporate clients, and Trump, beaming, said, “So, I do it for fun. It’s become a very successful business, because of the level of quality. When other clubs are empty, everybody wants to join here. And by ‘here’ I mean all of my clubs. Every one of them works, and works really well.” We talked quite a bit about his course in Aberdeen, Scotland, which was just about to open. “Look, I get a kick,” he said. “I know Bandon Dunes. The biggest dune there is like one tenth the size of our smallest dune. It’s a toy. And they get such great reviews. Every one of my courses is, like, amazing.”
Either you find Trump’s manner repellent or—because his need is so palpable that his fawning seems guileless—you can decide to give him a break and be impressed by whatever it is that he wants you to be impressed by. “Palm Beach is the richest place anywhere on the planet, in terms of, you know, wealth,” he said at one point. “And yet it takes me four minutes to get to my course from Mar-a-Lago. That’s called location. The course was designed by Jim Fazio [Tom’s brother], and it’s considered the best one in Florida, but even if it were terrible it would be a big success, because of where it is.” And so forth.
The easiest thing to do is to nod, even if you aren’t quite sure what you’re nodding about. At one point, Trump pointed to some nice-looking trees on the golf course and said, “Those trees cost $25,000 apiece—but of course I got them for less”—a sort of double-reverse brag, since he wanted me to be impressed by both how expensive the trees were and how little they had cost. Similarly, when we were talking about the golf courses he owns, he said, “I don’t believe in building them now, because I can buy them for 10 cents on the dollar—so why should I build them? Although the prices are going way up. There was an article recently. Because of me, people are starting to say, Wow, what a good investment.” Golf courses are cheap—but because of Trump they’re also expensive. It’s a fine line.
After lunch, in the locker room, Trump introduced me to a man he called “the richest guy in Germany.” To be a member of one of his clubs, you have to have a high tolerance for that sort of thing: other people’s wealth is one of his main topics, when his main topic isn’t his own wealth. And, apparently, there are quite a few people who do have a high tolerance for it. (The face of “the richest guy in Germany” lit up when Trump called him that; a woman he introduced to me, on the driving range, as “a very rich lady” didn’t seem bothered at all.)
We ran into the crooner Vic Damone, who was getting ready to play golf. Trump knew that Damone’s wife had had a stroke not long before, and, by way of conversation, he said that he would gladly “be a character witness” for Damone in any legal action her children might take to prevent him from receiving any of her estate—his version of brotherly compassion. I told Damone that I was sorry about his wife’s illness. He seemed shaken, but said that she was a little better. He said that he had been staying up with her at night and sleeping in the afternoon, and that recently he had begun playing a little golf late in the day, as a break. Trump told me later that Damone and his wife had met at Mar-a-Lago, where she was staying and he was singing—and added (for the second time) that she was worth $900 million.
That night, Trump put me up at Mar-a-Lago, in a room called the Adam Suite, whose next resident, the woman at the front desk told me, was going to be Bill Clinton. An hour or so after I checked in, the phone rang—and it was Trump, calling to make sure I was still having a good time. (The night before, he’d called my home, in Connecticut, to make sure I was really coming down. I was already in Florida, so he chatted with my wife, and invited her to come, too.)
We met for dinner at 8. It was seafood-buffet night at Mar-a-Lago, and Trump ate roughly a lobster and a half’s worth of shelled lobster claws and split lobster tails, then went back and for big plate of sweet-and-sour shrimp on rice. As we were standing near the buffet line, one of the Nederlanders, of the Nederlander Organization, greeted Trump warmly, and said something like, “Donald, you’ve done a great job, and you’ve done it all by yourself, independent of your father’s accomplishments”—something so on-the-mark, in terms of Trump’s clear yearning for affirmation and reassurance, that I thought Trump might be embarrassed. But he beamed. And back at the table, speaking of Nederlander, he told me, “Off the record, he says my golf course is the best one in Florida.” (By “off the record” Trump means roughly the opposite of what other people mean by it. At lunch, he had told me about some trees he had gotten in trouble for cutting down, on a golf course he owns near Washington, D.C. “You probably heard about that,” he said. “It’s the only place on the Potomac River without trees. Off the record, I took down the trees and made the front page of the Washington Post four days in a row.”)
While we were having dessert, two giggly little girls from New Jersey, whose parents were part of a group from Trump’s golf club in Bedminster—“one of the richest places in the country”—came over to our table and asked Trump to dance. He said that he would dance with them in Bedminster. Then he asked them if they wanted to be supermodels when they grew up. (They said yes). Then he asked them to kiss him. (And they did.)
Late last year, Eric Levin, the deputy editor of New Jersey Monthly, wrote an article, for Colorado Avid Golfer, about playing in and around Palm Beach without going broke. He found several reasonably-priced courses that he liked a lot, among them two that are owned and operated by Palm Beach County.
Between rounds, he and his wife had a meal at the Leopard Lounge, a legendary Palm Beach restaurant. They got into a conversation with “a slim, silver-haired man with a manicured mustache and a German accent,” who said that in the 1980s he had paid $25,000, at an auction, for a hat that Elvis Presley wore in the Army. “Presley’s Army hat, he reckoned, is worth many times what he paid for it,” Levin wrote. Too valuable to wear while playing golf? I can’t say.
In addition to the courses he wrote about, Levin visited one that he didn’t end up playing, even though he shares my conviction that there is no such thing as a bad golf course.
“I’ll call it Glory Glades. The clubhouse, behind an imposing facade complete with portico and curving driveway, turned out to be an enormous catering facility. The pro shop was a dreary, dimly-lit shoe box. But I did find one thing to love — or, rather, one person. I’ll call him Kenny. I ran into him outside the cart shed. He was a well-built, middle-aged guy in reflector shades, and he was wearing a Glory Glades logo shirt. He described his job as ‘bagger-slash-starter.’ He said, “I love everything about golf, from playing it, to talking about it, to helping people, to just being outdoors.'”
Kenny had only one golf-related beef, Levin told me: French Canadians, who, in his experience, are lousy tippers. Is this a known trait of our separatism-inclined golf brothers to the North? I myself have noticed that German golfers seem somewhat ruder than the international average, whether they’re wearing Elvis Presley’s Army hat or not, and that Korean golfers are slower—but that’s about as far as my ignorant stereotyping of non-Americans goes.
Back to Levin:
“Kenny told me he makes $7 an hour, plus tips, and lives about a mile from the course, with his wife and their two young children. He and his family moved from Broward County, where he worked 80 hours a week managing a grocery store, because the schools in Palm Beach County are better. His need for tips was obvious. He said that, on a good day in the high season (roughly Thanksgiving to Easter), he can make $200, but that very little of that comes from French Canadians. ‘Now here’s the crazy part,’ Kenny told me. ‘When they need something, they can speak English. But when it’s time for a tip or that kind of thing, suddenly they’re speaking French.'”
I assume that President Trump (who owns a golf course nearby) will put an end to all that, maybe with a Game of Thrones-style wall of ice along the Canadian border. Meanwhile, here are two more of Levin’s photographs of Glory Glades (which looks plenty good enough to me):
I missed the first episode of Donald Trump’s awesome new reality-TV show, on Thursday night, because I was playing bridge with my old-lady friends. I thought I was recording it but when I played it back the next morning I discovered that what I’d actually recorded was a cheap knock-off show starring Rick Perry and Carly Fiorina. Oh, well. I’ve got a pretty good idea what it was like, because Trump and I talked on the phone in June. He was just No. 2 in the polls then, and when I asked him if there was any presidential-type announcement he wanted to make he said, “Yeah, I’ll give it to you.”
Then we went back to talking about golf. I had called him because three friends and I had just played Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, in the Bronx—a brand-new golf course, which is owned by New York City but managed by Trump on a 20-year-lease. I was pissed because golf carts are allowed but pushcarts aren’t. That’s the only bad thing I have to say about the course, though. (You can read more about all that in my column in the September issue of Golf Digest.)
I assume that one of the first acts of the Donald Trump/Rosie O’Donnell administration will be to nationalize the U.S.G.A. and the P.G.A. of America, and schedule all future American major championships on courses that Trump owns or operates. Maybe the U.S. Open will be held at Trump’s club in West Palm Beach, which is just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Palm Beach, which Trump described to me once as “the richest place anywhere on the planet, in terms of, you know, wealth.” Whether or not that happens, Ferry Point is worth a field trip. And if you have a late flight out of LaGuardia, perhaps while fleeing the country following Trump’s election, you can stop on your way to the airport.
I played with Tony, Hacker (real name), and Gary, our terrific superintendent, and the four of us walked and carried, after dumping a lot of extra stuff in our cars. The photo above is of the guys who were playing just ahead of us. Four guys playing with two caddies are even slower than four guys riding in two golf carts, so I had plenty of time to take pictures. The course is a worthy tribute to Scottish and Irish links golf, and although it’s expensive it’s not overpriced for what it is. Here’s Tony in the native Bronx fescue:
And here are Gary and Hacker:
The views alone are worth the green fees. Here’s the Brooklyn-Manhattan skyline:
And the cemetery where Charles Lindbergh dropped off ransom money for his kidnapped kid, to no avail:
And the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, which looks like it connects Queens to the eighteenth fairway:
We played Spyglass and Pebble last Sunday, at Maggie McFly’s. Here’s Mike B., holding the stick for me on the second green at Pebble:
The weather had been so bad that playing anywhere but on the simulators wasn’t a possibility. Then the weather got worse. The snowstorm that the Weather Channel had such a cow about earlier this week turned out to be a dud in our part of New England, but we still got six or seven inches Then on Friday morning we got a few more. As a consequence, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at a bird feeder my wife gave me for one of the windows in my office —which our dog has also been interested in. Anyway, I think I’ve figured out where my close personal friend Donald Trump got his hairstyle: nuthatches.
I mentioned in a recent post that Jägermeister’s official sponsorship of the Sunday Morning Group had had a measurable impact on sales because Other Gene’s wife had ordered some in a restaurant and a non-golf-playing bridge partner of mine in Mississippi was thinking about buying a bottle. I’d now like to update those results: my non-golf-playing bridge partner in Mississippi not only did buy a bottle; he also served it to three people he has been teaching to play bridge:
“Each of the guys said he hadn’t drunk any since college,” my friend reported. “The one with the baseball cap said his first and only experience with it had been at a Cornell fraternity party he went to his freshman year. He drank so much that night that he ended up throwing up from a balcony at the front of the fraternity house, and a crowd gathered below to cheer him on. The other guy said his story was similar, but he didn’t tell it.” They’re grown-ups now, though, and I think I can safely put all four of them in the plus column, along with Other Gene’s wife.
Let’s check that bird feeder again:
Hacker (real name), Rick, and I played in Pelham Bay Park, in the Bronx, on Friday. There are two golf courses, both owned by the City of New York—Pelham Bay and Split Rock—and they share a clubhouse, which you can see in the background in the photo above. It was built in 1936, and it has a cobblestoned driveway and front courtyard, and it has neoclassical columns made of white Tuckahoe marble. Here’s what the building looked like when it was under construction (beyond the sign):
And here’s what it looked like when it was finished:
The first time my friends and I played Pelham and Split Rock, in 2004, the clubhouse was a mess. Glass was missing from many windows, and the front door had a hole that was big enough for rats to walk through on their hind legs. The Parks Department had bolted cheap outdoor floodlights to a pair of hemispherical hammered-bronze light fixtures in the Club Room, and it had installed an institutional drinking fountain in front of one of two basalt-and-marble fireplaces. The building was no longer heated, if it ever had been, and on one frosty winter morning we saw piles of construction debris burning in both fireplaces—Irish guys in front of one, Korean guys in front of the other. Here’s what the Club Room looked like in the 1930s:
A year or two after we first played there, American Golf, which operates both courses on a twenty-year lease from the city, spent millions to restore the clubhouse. The architect was Page Ayres Cowley, and she and her colleagues did an extraordinary job. Here’s what the Club Room looked like on Friday:
When the Pelham clubhouse was built, the artist Allen Saalburg created a Surrealist mural for the wall above each mantle. (Saalburg was a friend of Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman, Robert Benchley, and other early New Yorker contributors.) His murals—one of which is visible in the 1930s Club Room photograph—were still there when my friends and I first played the courses, but today the spaces they occupied are filled by a pair of hokey recent paintings, which depict what are supposed to be period scenes. The murals, Cowley told me, haven’t been destroyed, unlike similar ones that Saalburg painted, at around the same time, for the restaurant Tavern on the Green. But they need significant restoration work before they can go back up. Here is one of Saalburg’s sketches for the murals:
There’s not a lot of golf iconography in there, at least as far as I can see, but I hope somebody rich steps up and pays for their restoration. (Hey, Donald Trump!) And here’s how Saalburg visualized the fireplace wall you can see in the photos above:
The round windows, and their wavy muntins, are still there—and they have glass in them now. Cowley told me she thinks some of the original bunkers on the course may have been designed to echo the shape of the windows, or vice versa. Here’s one of them, from the 1930s:
Maybe so. Anyway, Hacker, Rick, and I arrived at 10:30, and teed off almost immediately. (My greens fee was $39, walking; theirs, because they’re seniors, was $20.) There were pretty many other golfers, although we weren’t held up too seriously. We played skins and Ball Marker Stymies, and we finished in less than four hours. These guys were teeing off on the first hole as we putted out on the ninth:
The big rusty thing you see in the woods beyond them is part of a commuter rail line, which separates the two courses. And the grass you see through the trees is the eighteenth hole at Split Rock, which was closed—probably because it has more trees and takes longer to dry out than Pelham Bay does. I got home at 4:30 and took the dog for a nice long walk.