Woman Uncovers Corporate Golf’s Darkest Secret

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Nobody else could play on Saturday, so I decided to do chores and pay bills. But then I noticed that the temperature was almost 60, so I took the dog for a quick walk and went to Candlewood Valley as a single. The starter sent me out with Barbara, who had followed a similar logical path to the golf course. We were joined by Kevin and Steve:

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Steve was trying to master a new 65-degree wedge, which he had ordered from an infomercial. It’s the ideal club if you want your ball to end up either almost exactly where it started or in that pond over there, on the other side of the green. Kevin started playing golf just this year. Pretty quickly, Barbara and I learned that when he was hitting the best place to stand was either a little bit behind him or to the left. Nevertheless, he did hit a few good shots, including this tricky one, on the seventh hole:

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Barbara is the technology person at a private school for special-needs kids. She began her career, in the late nineteen-seventies, at IBM, and she took up golf when she realized that most of her male coworkers played. More recently, a friend from work invited her to fill in for his regular partner in his weekly golf league, which was all men. Some of the regulars grumbled, but the pro told her to ignore them, and after she had subbed a few times they invited her to join the group. Because of her experience in the business world, she understands one of golf’s darkest secrets: most of the men who play in corporate outings suck, and a women who can hit her driver even a hundred yards can end up being her foursome’s most valuable player, since she gets to play from the forward tees.

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Barbara recently switched from women’s shafts to senior men’s shafts, and when she did, she said, she picked up twenty-five yards with her driver. Her mother, who is 90, also plays golf. She took it up in her fifties, and when she was in her mid-eighties she won the women’s nine-hole championship at the club she belongs to, in Florida. “I would put her chipping and putting against anybody’s,” Barbara said. Barbara has four grandchildren, and she is trying to get them interested in playing, too—so far without much success.

I went back to Candlewood the next day, with the Sunday Morning Group.

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We played an old game of ours, called Fathers & Sons: the four oldest guys versus the four youngest. It was the second round of our winter-long competition, the Jagermeister Kup.

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The course was crowded and slow, and we were pretty sure we were going to going to have to finish in the dark, with glowing balls, since at this time of year the sun is basically gone by 4:15—and when we made the turn, at 2:45, we saw that there were three groups on the tenth hole, which is only about three hundred yards long. But then the starter suggested that we replay the front, which was now empty except for a single two holes ahead. Plus about a million geese:

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We ended up playing a four-hour round the hard way: two hours and forty-five minutes for the first nine, an hour and fifteen minutes for the second. Everybody played better, because there was less time to think between shots. And on the last hole we caught up to the single. Out of the way, pal!

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The Sons beat the Fathers by a stroke, after making a miraculous charge on the second nine. Damn. But we had fun, and in the parking lot, as we were leaving, I spotted a solution to my car-clutter problem:

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We’re going back on Friday, unless winter suddenly arrives.

International Drain-the-Beer-Keg Day

IMG_1444Every fall, around the time the golf shop closes for the season, the Sunday Morning Group prepares for winter by spending a day finishing all the beer that’s left in the kegerator, so that the kegerator can “self-clean” over the winter. This year, finishing the beer was made extra challenging by the fact that all the beer in the kegerator had actually been finished the day before. The solution (devised by Chic and Mike A.) was to buy a new keg, and finish that:

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First, though, there were Bloody Marys and Jagermeister on the first tee:

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And, of course, we played our regular Sunday round, during which Tim D. secured his position as the year’s leading money winner:

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Then Justin helped Fritz and Tim C. run a hundred-foot-long cable from the golf shop to the clubhouse, so that we could watch football if anyone could figure out how to make the TV work. (No one could):

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Then, because there was still some beer left in the keg, we played a five-hole cross-country tournament, ten dollars a man:

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The format was two-man scramble — but if you or your partner lost a ball you had to switch to alternate shot, and if you lost that ball, too, you had to switch to the beer cart:

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We played from the first tee to the sixth green, then the fifth tee to the seventh green, then the eighth tee to the third green, and so on. Surprisingly many members of my club think our course closes when the golf shop does, if not on Labor Day, so hardly anybody got in our way. Plus, Corey, our pro, was playing with us. Here we are waiting on the second tee while two non-participants finish the first hole, which is about to be “in play”:

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Sad to say, the new keg ran out before the afternoon was over. Our local liquor store had closed already, so Dr. Mike had to drive to the next town to buy more. But everything worked out in the end.

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Free Golf Balls! (For My Friends and Me)

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At a rich-guy club several years ago, I stopped by the golf shop to buy Pro V1s, and when the assistant behind the counter told me how much they were I said, “Oh, no, just a sleeve,” but—ha-ha!—the joke was on me. I bought them anyway, because I didn’t want some kid to think I couldn’t afford fifteen dollars apiece for golf balls. During my round, though, I played away from trouble, and I never went for anything in two. And when I got home I moved three slightly beaten-up Pro V1s from my shag bag to my golf bag, because by doing that, I figured, I was cutting my average cost in half.

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Recently, my friends and I have been using significantly less expensive balls, called Vice Pro. They were sent to us by Vice Golf, a German company, whose founders are shown in the photo above.

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The company has just started selling in the United States, and it’s eager to receive the tsunami-like marketing boost that follows any association with the Sunday Morning Group. Vice is the official ball of the German Golf Association, and Vice Pro won a gold rating in Golf Digest’s 2015 Hot List, and Titleist has endorsed the design, in a way, by suing the company (and several others) for copying the Pro V1’s patented dimple pattern.

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One of the many lawyers in SMG worked for Callaway during its (successful) lawsuit against Titleist over something similar, and the lawsuit took forever so I know from experience that we won’t have to send our balls back to Germany anytime soon. And that’s a good thing because everybody seems to like them—and not only because the ones we got have our (unpatented) logo on them. (Vice offers several personalization options.)

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Vice balls are sold only online. The ones we got were a great price (free); they’re more expensive if have to pay for them ($35 a dozen for the top-of-the-line Pro balls), but they’re still cheaper than the competition, and they’re even cheaper if you’re willing to order more than one dozen at a time. (If you buy five or more, the price drops to $25 a dozen.) The shipping cost ($7) is the same no matter how many you order—a further incentive to stock up. Tim has already re-ordered, and as soon as we’ve got some cash in our slush fund we’ll think about adding the Vice logo to our Jägermeister sweatshirts or our Famous Smoke Shop hats.

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Revolutionary New Playoff Format—Now With Bacon

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Two teams tied during the Sunday Morning Group’s inaugural outing of 2015, a couple of weeks ago. The playoff format (devised by the Committee) was “foot wedge from the patio to the practice green, closest to the hole.” A foot-wedge shot, to seem realistic, has to be furtive: you can’t look at the ball:

One of the difficulties with the foot wedge is that, if you’re good at it, people assume you’ve used it before, so the best approach is to appear only semi-competent. Meanwhile, lunch was provided by Peter A., who introduced a menu item that will be considered a staple from now on:smgbaconYou don’t have to cook it, but you can, by dropping it on the grill for a minute or so before moving it to your burger and covering it with cheese.

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Have a Cigar! Hey, Have Two!

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There are two approaches to turning yourself into a human billboard: the single-logo, less-is-more approach, typified by Tiger Woods (Nike) and Jordan Spieth (Under Armour), and the how-much-personal-surface-area-do-I-control approach, typified by Jim Furyk and NASCAR. My friends and I fall into the second category, and, even though by now we have virtually covered ourselves with umlauts (thanks to Jägermeister, the official all-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group), we haven’t finished selling out.

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Recently, we added another major sponsor: Famous Smoke Shop, which sells cigars online, by mail order, and in person (at the company’s headquarters and retail super store, in Easton, Pennsylvania). Famous Smoke is what is known in the business world as a “good fit” with a lot of the guys I play golf with.

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Famous Smoke was founded in New York City in 1939 by David and Rose Zaretsky, and it’s owned today by their son Arthur, who, whether he plays golf or not, is now an honorary member of the Sunday Morning Group. The company operates several cigar-oriented websites—not just Famous-Smoke but also CigarAuctioneer (which sells lighters and other accessories) and CigarMonster (which has the coolest golf hats):

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When we played at Richter Park two weekends ago, we handed out a bunch of goodies that Famous Smoke had sent us during the courtship phase of our relationship: cigars, hats, shirts, towels, and other stuff. We gave those things to ourselves and also to random strangers, including this guy:

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It was like Man Halloween.

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Cigars have sort of been in the news recently, because the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will presumably lead eventually to the normalization of relations between American cigar smokers and Cuban cigars. I asked our new friends at Famous Smoke about that, and learned that Arthur Zaretsky believes that an end to the cigar embargo would be good good for Cubans and for his company (and therefore, by extension, for the Sunday Morning Group), but that, for a variety of mostly legal reasons, he doesn’t believe it will happen soon. Even so, he’s optimistic, long-term; he told a local reporter, “I’ve been waiting 45 years to sell Cuban cigars.”

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Recently, someone told me that when the pros sell out they do it for money, not just for hats and shirts with awesome logos on them. Whoa! Maybe we’ll work on that next.

Are These the Best Socks for Golf?

First, a weather update. Here’s what the my patio looked like on March 2:IMG_7588

And here’s what it looked like two weeks later:
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Note that the enormous tabletop “snow loaf” in the first photo has virtually disappeared, revealing the handle of a barbecue utensil I forgot to bring indoors before the weather went to hell. You can also make out almost all of my charcoal grill, which, somewhat surprisingly, I remembered to cover up the last time I used it. Meanwhile, Pelham Bay Golf Course, in the Bronx, has announced that it will reopen on Thursday, and, if it really does, the Sunday Morning Group’s winter competition, the Jagermeister Kup, will resume there this weekend. (I’ll be traveling, alas.)
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During the lousy weather, I’ve been testing (during dog walks) some socks I learned about from guys who hang out with PGA Tour players. They’re made by a company called Kentwool, which is the official game-day sock provider of Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar, among others. Charles Barkley—whose feet are so big (size 16) that he may need to wear two on each foot—says, “Even though my golf game is terrible, my feet always feel great in my Kentwool socks.” Here’s what the quarter-height golf socks look like:
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And here’s what the tall golf socks look like:
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Both kinds are seventy-five percent wool, and they’re padded and hinged in all the right places, and they really do feel great, with shoes or without. A word of caution: the short socks are twenty bucks a pair, and the tall ones are twenty-five, so you probably shouldn’t place an order without first talking to your financial adviser. Another word of caution: a person who works in the clothing industry told me recently that two of the next big trends in golf socks are going to be “big” and “colorful.” On one of my first reporting assignments, more than thirty years ago, I traveled to England with a large group of American Beatles fanatics, among them Charles F. Rosenay!!!, who had had three exclamation points legally added to his last name. Here’s a picture of Rosenay!!! at a rest stop near the birthplace of William Shakespeare:

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He was ahead of the curve on both the Converse All Stars and the man purse, so don’t automatically assume that he was wrong about the socks.

These Are Still the Best Winter Golf Gloves — Plus Other Apparel News

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My friends and I haven’t been able to play golf in about a month now, so I’ve been wearing my winter golf gloves mainly to walk the dog. The ones I like best are still Winter Xtreme, by HJ Glove. They’re thick but flexible, and they have nice grippy silicone webbing on the palms and fingers. And Amazon has them in stock—something that hasn’t always been true. Meanwhile, our improved-and-personalized Jägermeister sweatshirts are back from the embroiderer:

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We went to 1st and 10, our favorite sports bar, to hand them out, and also because it was 50-cent-wings night. Totally coincidentally, the owner of the bar was handing out Jägermeister jerseys with the name of the bar on them to guys on a bowling team that he sponsors:

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When he saw that we were, in effect, Jägermeister brothers, he gave us jerseys, too. So when I went to Stop & Shop on the way home, to buy milk, baked beans, corn meal, and eggs, I was wearing two Jägermeister shirts, one on top of the other. And then a couple of days later the embroiderer finished our winter hats:

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Now all we need is grass.

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Did Donald Trump Copy His Hairstyle From Nature?

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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:

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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.

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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:

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“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:

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Is This Idea So Crazy That It Just Might Work?

Not long ago, I received a promotional email from a golf course my friends and I have often played during the winter, called Lyman Orchards. That got my hopes up—but the email wasn’t an announcement that the course had re-opened; it was an invitation to celebrate “National Pie Day” with “a Free 6-inch Pie.” And the pie wasn’t really even free, since you had to buy twenty-five dollars’ worth of other crap in order to get it. And then the weather turned almost vengeful: driving rain and sub-freezing temperatures. And then we got snow.

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I’ve been passing this golf-free period by working—or “working”—and, when I think of it, throwing birdseed onto the hill outside my back door. And one day I noticed something interesting: the birds, with all their frenzied wing-flapping and hopping-around as they pushed and shoved each other to get at the seed, had cleared almost all the snow from the area where I’d been feeding them:

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That made me wonder: could bird power be harnessed to keep golf courses open during the winter? Spread birdseed with crop-dusting planes, which can’t have anything better to do until spring, and let birds take it from there? Fairways and greens only, to keep costs down? I don’t know; I’m not an ornithologist. But let’s try it.

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When my wife was in third grade, her Brownie leader didn’t believe her when she said there was a bird with “tit” in its name, but my wife was right, and the photo above is proof. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, on a day when there was no functioning golf course within a hundred miles of where we live, the Sunday Morning Group went out to dinner, at a sports bar called 1st and 10.

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Hacker (real name) ordered something that isn’t on the menu anymore but that the chef will make for you if you know to ask for it:

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It’s two hot dogs split the long way and wrapped in a tortilla with chili, bacon, cheese, and some other stuff, then dipped in batter and deep-fried—and it comes with fries. I asked our waitress why it wasn’t still on the menu, and she said they took it off because no one but Hacker had ever ordered it.

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Quite a few guys showed up that night. One who didn’t was Stanley. The day before, he had reported, by email: “Had a golfer’s knee installed on Monday. Now rehabbing. Legs the same length.” Hacker visited him a couple of days later:

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Golfers who have knee replacements often figure they ought to get more handicap strokes. But shouldn’t they actually lose strokes, to make up for how much better they feel? When I suggested that to the group, Stanley disagreed. “I have no doubt that the U.S.G.A. will soon ban this device,” he wrote from the rehab center. “However, my knee was installed prior to the change and is therefore grandfathered.” We’ll see.

The other thing we’ve been doing this winter is working on our relationship with our first (and, so far, only) official sponsor: Jagermeister. Our sweatshirts are at the embroidery shop right now, because we’re having our names and some other stuff added to them. Even so, we’ve had a measurable impact on sales. A bridge partner of mine in Mississippi, who doesn’t play golf but does read my blog, wrote to say that he is seriously thinking about buying a bottle. And Other Gene’s wife, Diana, recently ordered some in a restaurant.

Just the beginning, my friend. Just the beginning.

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Beating the Snow, Plus Exclusive Footage of a Rare 86-stroke Penalty

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The forecast for Sunday was terrible, but the one for Saturday was pretty good—“snow and ice, then rain; fog”—so we shifted our Sunday game to Saturday. There were several guys standing around outside the golf shop at Candlewood Valley when we arrived: never a good sign:

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The problem was that the temperature was only a few degrees below freezing, and the superintendent was worried that the greens might not be frozen solid enough for him to ignore the frost. He went out to inspect the course, and we went out for breakfast, at a diner down the road. Then we came back and hung out in the golf shop, to await the superintendent’s verdict:P1150279-001

We also chatted up some of the other guys who were waiting. This guy, whose name is Greg, showed me a gadget called a PutterDart, which he sells and may have invented. It has lots of uses. There’s no PutterDart webpage, and Greg doesn’t seem to be on Facebook, but if you’re interested in learning more you can get in touch with him at PutterDart@aol.com.

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We got the all-clear, finally, at 10:00. Ed Slattery, the head pro, said we could play as a fivesome. He also let us start on the tenth hole, so we had plenty of empty golf course ahead of us.

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Addison was wearing shorts, so, in accordance with our winter rules, he got to be a 2 instead of a 0. But his socks were so tall that they functioned almost like pants, and to keep them from sliding down to his ankles he was holding them up with the rubber bands from two bunches of asparagus—which provided exactly the right amount of tension, he said. At some point, I guess, the Committee will have to rule on maximum sock height, as well as on artificial support.

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The Housatonic River, which runs through the course, was flowing, but the puddles and ponds were all frozen:

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On our ninth hole, Other Gene incurred a rare 86-stroke penalty, for repeatedly grounding his club after hitting his tee shot into a hazard:

We kept a weather eye on the weather with Raindar, my favorite Android precipitation monitor:

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And, luckily, despite our one-hour frost delay, the snow didn’t reach us until we were making our way up the fairway on our seventeenth hole:P1150387

Even on our eighteenth, putting was still possible:

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A final swig of Jagermeister, the official cold-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group, in the parking lot:

P1150439Then lunch at the Cookhouse —where, once again, we ran into the PutterDart guy. He was hard to recognize without that hat:

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