World’s Greatest Putting Contest

My golf club’s annual men’s member-guest is the world’s second greatest golf tournament, after the Masters, and our member-guest putting contest, which begins on Friday at noon and concludes on Saturday evening, is the world’s greatest putting contest. It takes place on the practice green:
IMG_3240Our superintendent, one of our former superintendents, and our pro create the course, which has four holes. For ten bucks, you and your partner go around twice. Scoring is best-ball, and the four pairs with the lowest eight-hole scores qualify for the final. If your ball rolls off the putting surface—as it’s likely to do, since the holes are cut close to the edges, and the green is triple-cut and rolled—you are assessed a penalty stroke. In the photo below, Tony, at the far left, is wearing an Ian Poulter wig visor, to replace the hair he’s lost to chemotherapy, and Hacker (real name) is getting ready to incur a one-stroke penalty:


Qualifying continues into the evening:


Once the sun has gone down completely, C.J. and Jaws supplement the club’s Tiki torches with a couple of super-powerful shop lights they own:


This year’s course was especially diabolical because the fourth hole included a double water hazard: two bowls of blue-dyed water embedded in the green so that the tops of the bowls were flush with the putting surface. To have any chance of making the putt, you had to slide your ball between the hazards, as Reese is attempting to do here:


The two balls you see on the right-hand side of the photo above are actually the tee markers for the water-hazard ball drop. Many players had to use the drop, including my brother and me. Late in the evening, one of the guests lifted one of the bowls out of the ground and drank a little of the water, to see what would happen. Somewhat surprisingly, nothing happened—at least, not immediately.


My brother’s and my best round was one under par. That got our names onto the scoreboard for a little while, but we ended up missing a playoff for the final by a stroke. So we ate pizza (supplied by Peter P.) and watched the main event from the gallery. Not everyone in the gallery gave the action his undivided attention:


The format for the final was four holes of best-ball followed by four holes of aggregate. Mike G. and Matt, who are brothers, finished the final in a tie with Addison and Kevin, who are old high-school teammates. Mike and Matt won on the first hole of sudden death. Here are Mike and Matt:


Night golf and poker followed, then a few hours of sleep, then—boo hoo—the final day of this year’s men’s member-guest.


Breakthroughs in Golf-shirt Design and Beer Transportation

ck P., the Sunday Morning Group’s Jordan Spieth of beer-chugging, works for Custom Ts ‘n More, a company that, among other things, embroiders cool stuff on golf shirts. Here’s Nick last weekend, at my club’s annual men’s member-guest tournament, wearing one of his custom golf shirts:


Recently, Nick’s company acquired a machine that prints on fabric, in full color, and Nick used it to make shirts for him and Carl, his regular guest. The image he chose was a photograph that someone took at last year’s member-guest. It shows Klinger and Fritz (during a low moment for Fritz) at the big poker game on Saturday night. Nick was worried that the ink would run on the fabric, which is synthetic, but he primed it somehow, or something, and everything came out great. All SMG shirts from now on will take advantage of this remarkable technology:


Nick and Carl were the defending champions, so during the big steak dinner on Friday night Corey, our pro, made them sit by themselves, at the Champions Table. I don’t know who the third place setting was supposed to be for:


And here are the steaks:


A second major innovation introduced at this year’s member-guest was the Arctic Zone insulated beer backpack. Fritz bought one at CVS for less than the cost of two sleeves of Pro V1s, and he was able to fit a full case into it. It freed his hands for other functions, such as swinging a golf club, caddying for Nick and Carl during the closing shoot-out, and holding additional beer:


Fritz and Klinger are long-time member-guest golf-shirt innovators. Their wardrobe last weekend included this shirt, from Loudmouth Golf—now unfortunately out of stock in every size except small:


Member-Guest News (Part Five): Night Putting, Bloody Marys, and Attempted Man Hugs


The first round of match play in the world’s second best amateur golf tournament—the U.S. Amateur—was on the Golf Channel on Wednesday, but they switched to a boring pro-tour “round-up” before it was over. In the Amateur, some guy had just birdied the seventeenth hole to square his match with some other guy, and the two of them were the only players still on the course, and I was angry because I wanted to know which one of them would advance. I tried to look up the result later, online, but I couldn’t remember the name of either guy. If the Golf Channel ever decides to cover the world’s best amateur golf tournament—my club’s men’s member-guest—stuff like that won’t happen, I promise you. Incidentally, I would happily watch anyone’s member-guest on TV, in preference to, say, the Champions Tour. Here’s Chic, our chairman, smoking one of the cigars that were available for purchase this year for the first time, at a very modest markup:


Until the Golf Channel comes around to my way of thinking, you’re going to have to watch in person, or make do with photographs. My club has many spectator viewing areas, so that when you yourself are not playing golf you can watch other people. We have sort of a terrace, with picnic benches, above the eighteenth green:


And when the benches are full you can stand behind them or sit on the wall or bring chairs down from the clubhouse porch:


The kids who work in the golf shop watch, too:


During the putting contest each year, some guys move several chairs and a couch over to the far side of the practice green. If you had to pay for seats, those would be the most expensive ones. There’s a big drop-off right behind them, but no one has tipped over yet:


The putting contest, like much of the rest of the tournament, is beer-oriented:


For several years, the putting-contest record-keeping has been handled by Katie, who works in the golf shop and is Mike A.’s daughter. She has the most legible handwriting in the club. She’s leaving for college in a week or two:


Putting-contest qualifying goes on late into the night, with illumination provided by C.J. and Jaws:



During the putting final, on Saturday evening, we have pizzas from Nancy’s restaurant. Nancy also does the steak dinner, on Friday, and all the breakfasts and lunches:


We renovated our clubhouse slightly several years ago, and shortly before we did the women decided they would rather have what until then had been the men’s locker room, which was bigger. We said OK, because who cares? After they’d moved in, though, they decided it was too dark and that they wanted to move back. We said OK, because who cares? During the men’s member-guest, however, their toilet is temporarily available for use by men. It’s not in a stall; it’s in a little separate room, which is cleaner than any part of the men’s locker room. Or, at least, it was:


We also used their locker room for golf-bag-and-Bloody-Mary storage. (Les had brought the Bloody Marys from home.)


And we had an improvised beer cart, driven by Page, who is Keith’s sister:

P1140026Lots of people—including some guys’ wives and children — watched the final shootout, on Sunday:

P1140107Some of them also took part in the raffle:


My brother and I were in the shootout, because we had won our flight, but we were (deservedly) eliminated on the second hole. Addison and his guest, whose name is Mike, caddied for us until we flamed out. Addison and Mike were college teammates—they graduated last year—and they were also in our flight. That’s Addison in the shirt with “31” on the back. Katie’s carrying the trophy.


The winners were Ed and his son Nulty.


When Ed chipped in for a birdie on the third shoot-out hole, he and Nulty gave each other a sort of preliminary celebratory man hug:


Then, when Ed sank a long putt for a birdie on the final hole, for the win, they gave each other the real thing:


Here they are with their trophy, along with Nulty’s brother, Clai, who caddied for both of them and probably could have managed a couple of other golf bags, too. The guy on the far right is Corey, our pro.


Corey has a daughter, who was also in the gallery. Her name is Olivia. She’s almost two:


Nothing to do now but wait till next year.


Member-Guest News (Part Four): The Return of Peter P.

Peter P. and Other Gene, 2013 Member-Guest. Photo by Vi Owens.

Peter P. and Other Gene, shootout, 2013 Men’s Member-Guest. Photo by Vi Owens.

A little over a year ago, Peter P. was in a terrible car accident. He was in intensive care at a big university hospital for weeks and weeks, and for a while his doctors worried that he wouldn’t walk again. He obviously couldn’t come along on our regular fall golf outing to Atlantic City, less than two months after the accident, so Reese and I made a life-size stand-in, called Flat Pete, using the color plotter in Reese’s office and a sheet of foamboard. One interesting thing we learned on the trip is that, if you want to make a favorable impression on female bartenders, it doesn’t hurt to be a half-inch thick:


Peter has made a slow but steady recovery since then. We’ve told him many times that we would make any conceivable accommodation to get him into our weekend game again, but he has said that he won’t come back to the Sunday Morning Group until he can play 18 holes without a cart. Many of us have seen him working toward that goal, on the course and on the range, using a 4-iron or his putter as a cane.


Peter did sign up for this year’s member-guest—maybe partly because hardly anyone walks during almost any part of it, on account of the beer-transport issue. At virtually the last minute, though, his guest backed out, for reasons too complicated to go into. Luckily, our pro and the golf committee were able to recruit Bob W., who was our superintendent for 40 years and still lives in a house behind the golf shop. Seeing Bob on the golf course was almost as mind-boggling as seeing Peter. Bob was the best golfer in the club for a very long time, but it’s been years since he played more than a few holes in one day, and it’s probably true that Peter is one of a very small number of people in the world who could have pulled him out of retirement. Here’s Bob with one of his crooked little cigars and the type of button-down shirt he always wears when he plays—or does anything else, for that matter:


Bob has always had a complicated relationship with the game. I wrote about him in Golf Digest in 2003, in an essay called “The Greenkeeper’s Tale.” One of the complications is his back, and another is his feelings about doctors. Once, he suffered an attack of kidney stones, a recurrent ailment of his. Diane, his wife, was out of town, and Bob stubbornly writhed on the floor of his living room all alone for several hours. When he could no longer tolerate the agony, he crawled to the telephone and called Ferris, who is a former chairman of our golf club. Ferris is the only member of the medical profession who has ever won Bob’s trust. When Bob’s back is really killing him, he will sometimes drive over to Ferris’s office and ask him to take a look. Ferris is a veterinarian. Among the records in the files at his animal hospital is a chart on which the name of the patient is listed as “Bob” and the name of the patient’s owner is listed as “Diane.” (On the night of the kidney-stone attack, Ferris took Bob to the emergency room of a hospital for people.) In the photo below, Bob and I are watching the putting contest from the patio above the practice green:


It would be hard to say which was more remarkable: the fact that Peter managed 45 holes in two days, or that Bob did. In a way, they were ideal partners, since each gave the other an incentive to stick it out. They didn’t win their flight, but they did beat Ed and Nulty, who ended up winning the whole thing; that made them the real champions, according to some methods of calculating these things. And Bob played in the unofficial one-club cross-country tournament that followed the final shootout, and even joined the diehards who went to a bar in town after all the Polish vodka was gone — two developments not witnessed previously. Reese joined everyone, too, after remembering, at 8:00, that his wife, Vi, had made a dinner reservation for 6:30.


Peter’s walking isn’t perfect yet, but his hook doesn’t hook as much as it used to (a good thing), and he’s getting better at getting around without a cane:

Member-Guest News (Part Two): Men at the Outer Limits of Fashion

Fritz and Klinger, men's member-guest, August, 2014.

Fritz and Klinger, men’s member-guest, August, 2014.

The day after the member-guest, Addison and I realized that we were still golf-deprived, so we went out at five in the afternoon for a Two-Hour Eighteen™. I played pretty well but felt like a chopper because Addison made five birdies on the front nine alone, even though he was tired from the weekend and from hitting a couple of hundred range balls that morning while getting fitted for new clubs. We had to play through one pair of slowpokes but were otherwise unimpeded, and we finished our round, walking, in just under two hours. Among the topics we discussed was the stuff other people had worn during the member-guest. Some highlights:

Tony and his son, Timo, looked either like members of the Italian Tour de France team or like busboys at Sbarro:


The main issue, perhaps, was their socks:


Ferris and his sons—Matt, Dr. Mike, and Adam—always dress alike, even though they play in two different flights. This year, no plus-fours or hockey uniforms:


Tim and his son Nick, possibly for strategic reasons, usually dress almost alike but not quite:


Les’s regular partner, Duncan, is from England:


Nick P.’s company embroiders stuff on clothes, so he made shirts for himself and his partner:


Reese (Addison’s father, right) and Lance (Addison’s uncle) wore shorts from (I think) Loudmouth Golf, but they took some grief for wearing them two days in a row:



Mike A. (right) and his brother-in-law, another Dave, are football fans:


On Sunday, Rob was one of several players who wore the green FootJoy golf shirt we’d all been given when we registered:


In the photo below, Jaws is rubbing Rob’s head for good luck. (Jaws is called Jaws because when he was a baby he wouldn’t stop talking; Rob is called Catbird for reasons I don’t fully understand.) Before the member-guest began, I ran into Rob’s mother in front of the grocery store, and she told me that she hoped he would behave. He did!


The best-dressed pair, as always, was Fritz (right, in the photo below) and Klinger. They do their member-guest shopping at T. J. Maxx and Kohl’s, and if either or both of those companies would offer us a volume discount the Sunday Morning Group would probably make them official suppliers. Klinger is getting married, in Mexico, in October. He is perhaps slightly heavier than he was when he proposed, but I think it’s wise to establish a comfortable baseline—something I should have done before my own wedding, seventy pounds ago:


My brother, John, and I wore the same thing—khakis and seersucker shirts—to the stag dinner, on Friday night, but that was an accident. The explanation, according to John, is that we both “work from a limited palate,” and he said that it would be interesting to keep track of what we wear on days when we’re not together, to see how often we coincide. On Saturday, he dressed almost exactly as I had dressed on Friday (white shirt, reddish shorts), but that was an accident, too. We’ve talked about wearing the same things on purpose, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea. For at least the past six or seven years, no identically-dressed team has won the member-guest shootout—although he and I did win last year while wearing the same hat. And no one has ever qualified for the putting-contest final with feet that look like these (name withheld):


Member-Guest News (Part One): How to Open a Beer Bottle With a Beer Can


My club held its annual men’s member-guest tournament this past weekend. My brother, John, and I repeated as the winners of our flight but not as the winners of the whole thing, because in the shoot-out we both bogeyed the second hole, which even the guys with strokes seemed to have no trouble parring, if not birdieing. But we had a great time, as we always do, and Brian taught us something no one had ever seen before.  Here he is, demonstrating, in the spectator viewing area above the eighteenth green:

I’ll have more member-guest news soon, once I’ve caught up on my sleep.


Surprise Guest at the Men’s Member-Guest


When my brother, John, and I were on the fourth tee during our first match in his club’s member-guest tournament this past week, the head pro, whose name is Stuart, drove up in a cart and asked whether anyone in our group had lost a wedge. He said that three of them had been turned in—he had them right there, in his cart—and I laughed to think that so many players had lost clubs already, because play had been under way for only about half an hour. A couple of holes later, I had a short pitch to a green on a par 4, and discovered that one of the lost wedges had been my 52-degree. I retrieved it from Stuart’s cart a little later. Here’s Stuart—hey, what’s so funny?


John and I won low gross in the best-ball competition on the first day, and I had a closest-to-the-pin on a par 3 the second day, but that was pretty much it for us—although John determined later that if we had beaten the pair who won our flight, rather than losing to them 3 down, we would have won the flight instead of coming in last. 

low gross

Nevertheless, the weather was perfect, and we had a very good time, and we each got a new golf shirt and two dozen Pro V1s. We also got to eat quite a lot of what is now my favorite member-guest snack: little plastic cups filled with trail mix.

trail mix


John and I were in the lowest-handicap flight, and on the last day we got to play matches against what I thought of as the tournament’s two featured pairings: his club’s superintendent, whose partner was the superintendent from another club in our state; and a member whose partner was a player of a type I’d never encountered, or even heard of, in a men’s member-guest—a woman.


Her name is Susan, and her tournament handicap was 9. She’s a trader for a Norwegian oil company. She took up golf eight years ago, when she was thirty-one. She’s 4 feet, 11 inches tall. She played from the same tees we did, but still out-drove (I would guess) 90 percent of the field. She is a deadly putter. She won a couple of skins and a couple of closest-to-the-pins, and in a side contest she won a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue (which she shared with everyone). She and her partner, whose name is Tim, came in second in our flight, and she was the horse. John and I halved our match with them—quite an accomplishment. Best of all, she never smoked a cigar.

Susan, Johnny Walker Blue, Tim.

Susan, Johnny Walker Blue, Tim.

The decision to let Susan play was Stuart’s, and his thinking (he told me) was that the tournament is an invitational event for the men of the club, and that, if one of them wants to invite a woman, so be it. I don’t know what I think about that generally, or what the general feeling among the other men was, but everyone liked Susan and I overheard several men trying to persuade her to join.

practice green