The U.S.G.A. and R&A Should Adopt This Playoff Format (Among Other Things)


Hacker (real name) came up fifteen dollars short on Sunday—something that hardly ever happens. He doesn’t count the money when he collects it before the Sunday Morning Group tees off, and he doesn’t keep track of who has paid and who hasn’t, yet the total is almost always exactly right. I know that I wasn’t the one who forgot to pay, because I’ve been on Martha’s Vineyard with my family. I’ve played golf just once, at Farm Neck Golf Club, the course I shared last summer with my close personal friend the President of the United States: 


There’s a new sign near the first green:


They used to ask people to play in four hours and fifteen minutes; four hours is better, although three and a half would be better still. I went as a single, and was grouped with a retired guy and two of his grandsons, who were in high school. They hadn’t played much golf before, but both of them were baseball players, and every so often they really clobbered the ball.


I had missed the previous Sunday at home, too, because I was playing in a two-day amateur tournament at Richter Park Golf Course, a terrific muny about forty minutes from where I live. Three S.M.G. guys—Rick, Tony, and I—played in the senior division, and we did pretty well:


After 25 holes, I was tied, for about five seconds, with the guy who eventually won, but then I had some problems, including a quadruple bogey (from the middle of the fairway) on the eleventh hole. Still, the tournament was fun. And the guys who didn’t play at Richter had fun, too, because on Sunday S.M.G. had its first playoff of the year, after three teams tied at 16 under par. I’m kind of sorry I wasn’t there, because our playoff formats are the best in golf. On Sunday, the guys came up with a new one, in which the tied players had to sit in a chair on the patio and throw a ball onto the practice green by bouncing it off a picnic-table bench, closest to the hole:


Hacker (who took the photo above, and the one at the top of this post) sent me a report:
Barney chose the bench to bounce the ball off of, and we made the guys sit on the far side of the round table, about nine feet from the bench. The stymie rule was in effect, as always, and we decided that any ball would count, even if it was off the green. We were worried at first that no one would be able to hit the bench, but that turned out not to be an issue, because Stan was the only one who missed it.
I’ll be back home soon—too late for that playoff, but just in time for the Men’s Member-Guest.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at Larry David’s Golf Warm-Up Routine

P1080271 On the day the Secret Service searched my golf bag—at Farm Neck Golf Club, on Martha’s Vineyard—I also watched Larry David warming up on the driving range. The photo above (you will recall) shows the first part of his routine. And here’s the second part: P1080267 Several readers have asked how these warm-up components are connected. With graceful swoops? With tiny hops? With deep knee bends? Showing is easier than describing, and, I’m happy to say, I shot some video. Here’s what it looks like fully assembled:

I also took some more pictures of the Secret Service, because my wife, our daughter, her husband, and I ran into the President’s entourage again, that night in Oak Bluffs, where we had also gone to dinner. I recognized some of the guys from the golf course. The ones on the balcony (across the street from the Sweet Life Cafe, where the adult Obamas were eating) were unzipping their “golf bag.” The guys with the untucked shirts are Secret Service agents.


This morning, Tim-o and his daughters came over from Wood’s Hole. Their ferry was escorted by two Coast Guard boats with machine guns mounted at the bow. Every time a non-Coast Guard boat came within a couple of hundred yards of the ferry, Tim-o said, one of the Coast Guard boats would zoom ahead to shoo it away.

coast guard

Golf on Martha’s Vineyard With the President of the United States

Making the turn, Farm Neck Golf Club, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, August 11, 2013.

Making the turn, Farm Neck Golf Club, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, August 11, 2013. The thing the guy in the blue shirt is holding isn’t an attache case.

I knew the President was about to arrive on Martha’s Vineyard because my cell-phone reception suddenly went from no bars to three. The Obamas are staying about two miles down the road from where my wife and I are staying, and because their house is close to the road all traffic is being diverted around it. That has made the road much quieter than it usually is—a second benefit. And this afternoon Alan, Leslie, Wendy, and I played golf nine holes ahead of him, at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs.

Leslie, twelfth hole, Farm Neck.

Leslie, twelfth hole, Farm Neck.

We finished just before the President made the turn, and we stood near the cart path leading to the tenth tee, hoping to see him. While we waited, a Secret Service guy searched my golf bag, had a look at the stuff in my pockets, and waved a metal-detecting wand over my back.

Two Secret Service guys.

Two Secret Service guys keeping a close eye on the divot mix.

There were also lots of guys wearing bulletproof stuff and driving around in golf carts. The things strapped to the back of their carts were not golf bags, presumably.


I could see lots of Secret Service guys, and one of them told me that there were lots more I hadn’t noticed: on boats, in kayaks, on paddle boards, in the woods. The ones I could see were wearing sunglasses, ear pieces, microphones, and little star pins near their shirt collars, like miniature badges. Their eyes were constantly moving.


They also had a bomb-sniffing dog, and they checked absolutely everything—including a wooden trash barrel that looked like the sort of place where Wile E. Coyote might try to hide from the Roadrunner.

Note the coyote-height eye hole in the trash barrel.

Note the coyote-height eye hole in the trash barrel.

The President was playing from the blue tees—just as I had done!


Just before he teed off, a couple of Secret Service guys in a huge black SUV pulled up right in front of me. Luckily, the windows lined up pretty well:


President Obama wasn’t the only famous person on the golf course. We also saw my close personal friend Larry David, on the practice range. His warm-up routine has two parts. Here’s the first:


And here’s the second:

P1080271And here’s a last look at Farm Neck (the fifteenth, a par-3):


And also at the President:



Martha’s Vineyard, Golf, Lyme Disease

Penny (left) and deer tick.

My wife and I are on Martha’s Vineyard, where the vacation activities include looking for, finding, and removing deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease.  None of this is easy, because the ticks are extraordinarily small. Here’s an enlarged detail from the photo above, in case you’re having trouble spotting the tick.

Penny and deer tick (detail).

I found the tick above between two of my toes and stuck it to a piece of paper with Scotch tape. It’s one of several dozen I’ve found so far, all of them on my feet and legs. I’ll let you know in a week or two whether I’ve contracted Lyme again.

Luckily, tick-hunting isn’t the only vacation activity around here. There’s also golf, on a course I like a lot, Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs. Here’s one of my favorite holes, the fourth, a par 3, on which you don’t want to be right, long, left, or short, but especially not right or long.

I forgot to mention the wind.

And here are the people I played with today, a roughly my-age guy, whose name was Richard, and his two sons-in-law. In the photo, Richard has just missed a short par putt after making a semi-miraculous chip shot from the edge of the cart path.

That’s Richard, on the right. I hit the green but three-putted.

I didn’t notice any ticks on the golf course, but there were lots of these other things, which are almost as annoying:

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.