Winter Golf and a Previously Unknown Type of Cheeseburger

These cars belong to my friends and me. There were no other cars in the parking lot at Tunxis when we got there on Sunday morning.

These cars belong to my friends and me. There were no other cars in the parking lot when we arrived on Sunday morning.

We got what seemed like a foot of rain on Saturday. That was good in one way, because it washed away most of the snow, but it was bad in another, because (apparently) it persuaded the people who make the decisions at Tunxis Plantation Country Club not to open the following morning, even though Hacker (real name) had called the evening before and left a message that we would be there at 9:30, ready to go. I sensed trouble as I approached the clubhouse: of the ten or so greens I could see from the road, only one had a flag, and the parking lot was empty except for cars that belonged to people I knew. Hacker started calling around the state, but the places he tried either weren’t open or weren’t answering the phone. (Suggestion to golf courses that don’t shut down for the entire winter: update your website and outgoing voice-mail message every night with information about the following day.) Finally, he found an open course, and it was just thirty-five minutes farther away. So we caravaned:

P1110660And then we spent a very enjoyable day at Lyman Orchards, which, like Tunxis, has forty-five holes. One of Lyman’s eighteens was designed by Robert Trent Jones, and the other was designed by Gary Player. The fifth nine—called the Apple Nine—is new, and is (I would guess) for kids and beginners. There’s also a golf school and a driving range.

Lyman Orchards is also an orchard, and there's a big store in which you can buy apples and apple-themed stuff.

Lyman Orchards is an orchard. There are apple trees in the middle of the course, and there’s a big store, called the Apple Barrel, in which you can buy apple-based and apple-themed products. Maybe your wife would like to tag along some Sunday, and spend a few hours shopping for apple butter while you and your friends are playing golf.

We first played Lyman several years ago, and at that time they kept both eighteens open all winter. Now they shut down the Jones course—which is too bad, because the Player course is definitely second best. It’s also a pain to walk, because you always seem to be climbing to the top of a huge hill in order to hit your ball to the bottom of it, and then walking miles to the next tee. Still, golf.

The conditions weren't what you would call perfect, but the course was open. In fact, it was pretty busy.

The conditions were not what you would call perfect, but the course was open. In fact, it was almost somewhat busy.

On most of the holes, the flags wouldn’t go back in the cups straight, and on some of the holes they wouldn’t go back at all. The reason was that the little holes at the bottoms of the cups were all either partly or entirely full of sand. I tried to clean one out with a tee and a green-repair tool, but that was a fool’s errand. The greens themselves were squishy on top, and some of them had bare patches, but we kept being surprised at how un-slow they were.

Afterward, we decided to eat lunch at a place we hadn’t tried before, the Rover’s Lodge, on Beseck Lake. The house specialty (according to a big sign facing the road) is “steamed cheeseburgers”:

P1110675A new form of cheeseburger? How could we not? I learned later that the steamed cheeseburger is “a food so truly regional that it is found in only about a dozen restaurants within a 25-mile radius of Middletown, in central Connecticut,” and that it “was invented in the 1920s, when steamed food was thought to be healthier than fried.” (You can read more about steamed cheeseburgers here.)

Steamed cheeseburger.

This is a steamed cheeseburger, from a restaurant called Ted’s.

It turned out that the Rover’s Lodge serves food of any kind only “in season,” and that the season isn’t winter. There were about a dozen guys in the bar when we went in, and they were interested, up to a point, in the fact that we had just played golf. Later, I found two reviews of the Rover’s Lodge on TripAdvisor—one that said it was “very good,” and one that said it was “a dump.” It’s possible that we’ll never know who is right, because we continued up the road to New Guida’s Restaurant, where we’ve eaten before. Let me say this for Guida’s: their cheeseburgers, however they make them, are very good. Ditto their fries and milkshakes.

P1110677

Then we drove home to watch the playoff games.

Guida's. Cash only, please.

Guida’s. Cash only, please.

Reader’s Golf Report: Springtime Comes to Sweden, Sort Of

Stadium Course, Bro Hof Slott Golf Club, Stockholm, Sweden, February 7, 2013.

Stadium Course, Bro Hof Slott Golf Club, Stockholm, Sweden, February 7, 2013.

Patrick Kroos is a German golfer and blogger, who has been living in Sweden for the past five years. He’s also a publicist, whose main current project is persuading non-Swedes to travel to Sweden to play golf. That’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, mainly because Sweden, despite having what might seem to be a crippling meteorological disadvantage, is one of the golfiest places on earth. It has fewer than ten million inhabitants, but a million of them are regular players—a significantly higher percentage than in the United States.

One in a million.

One of the million.

Sweden’s golf season is even shorter than Connecticut’s, however. Kroos took the photo at the top of this post in early February, at Bro Hof Slott Golf Club, in Stockholm. (The club has two courses, both of which were designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.) The weather has improved quite a bit since he took the picture, but it still has a ways to go. Here’s what it will look like once the weather decides to be cooperative:

This is what the Stadium Course looks like when it thaws.

This is what the Stadium Course at Bro Hof Slott looks like in season.

In a recent email, Kroos wrote:

Winter is loosening its grip on Stockholm slowly and very late this year. Only yesterday did the ice finally break open on Lake Mälaren, the third biggest lake in the country. For Swedish golfers, the wait has been painful and long. Usually, the driving ranges open up in early April, and the eighteen-hole courses follow suit. Not this year, though. By now, only a handful of courses are open, and temperatures are still pretty low. 

That hasn’t stopped the youngsters, however. Kroos took the photo below this past Monday at Hässelby Golfklubb, a nine-hole course with a year-round driving range just outside Stockholm.

2013-04-22 18.45.54

Kroos continued:

My son Paul and some other kids come together every Monday to play golf. And I really mean they play. They are only four and five years old, so at any given moment the tree next to range could become more interesting. But we believe that tree climbing is good for their balance and strength, and that it will make them better players in the future. 

Note the junior push cart. Recent studies have suggested that all young golfers should use push carts at least until they've stopped growing. Golf clubs are heavy, and the load is one-sided.

Note the junior push cart. Recent studies have suggested that all young golfers should use push carts, at least until they’ve stopped growing. Golf bags are heavy, and the load on young shoulders is one-sided, even with two straps.

Kroos and his wife are expecting another future golfer in their family in the next couple of weeks. He continued:

All the parents here are golfers as well, and you can see how much they enjoy seeing their kids having fun. I am sure they all envision a not to distant future when they can go play with their own children on a Sunday morning. 

2013-04-22 18.45.37There’s another compelling reason to visit Sweden with your golf clubs: on the Summer Solstice, Swedes are able to play even more holes than my friends and I did last year. I’ll get there eventually.

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.

Sunday Golf in Brooklyn

Marine Park Golf Course; Brooklyn, NY; March 4, 2012; 46 degrees.

There are a dozen public courses in New York City, and they stay open all winter, as long as the ground is snow-free—as it usually is, thanks to the urban heat island effect and the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. On Sunday, as Rory McIlroy was moving to the top of the world ranking, six members of my regular Sunday Morning Group and I drove to Brooklyn for a round at Marine Park. (Several of our favorite city courses have enticingly warm-sounding names: Marine Park, Pelham Bay, Dyker Beach.)

Marine Park is situated a few miles from J.F.K. International and a few hundred yards from Floyd Bennett Field, which was the city’s first official airport. (When Howard Hughes set a record by flying around the world in ninety-one hours, in 1938, his trip began and ended at Floyd Bennett. The old runway area is now a somewhat dystopian-looking public park and a New York Police Department helicopter base.) The golf course covers a little over two hundred acres inside the elbow formed by Flatbush Avenue and the Belt Parkway. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones and was completed in 1963—just in time for the World’s Fair, which was held virtually next door, in Queens, the following year. The holes have a genuinely linksy feel: few trees, subtly undulating topography, exasperating wind off Jamaica Bay (another warm-sounding name). There’s more broken glass in the bunkers than you’d find at Troon or Carnoustie, and the views from some of the fairways include more barges and giant dump trucks. But the greens on Sunday were fast and terrific, even though nobody had mowed them in months.

Hacker (real name), Marine Park.

In 2007, New York City accused the company that was operating Marine Park of having ties to organized crime, and revoked its lease. The new lessee is investing millions in the course, and has renovated the club house and added a driving range. We saw huge piles of topsoil alongside a number of  the fairways—raw material for improvements to come. The guy manning the cash register in the golf shop, who was also the starter, told us that the days when old car parts and toilet seats would sometimes pop up through the turf are gone.

When we’d finished our round (after playing the last few holes as a sevensome, since there were slowpokes ahead of us and no one behind), we caravaned to Pipin’s Pub, in Bay Ridge. We’ eaten lunch there before—on New Year’s Day 2008, after playing a cold, wet round at Dyker Beach—and ever since then we’d been meaning to go back, partly because almost the entire first page of the menu is devoted to various kinds of cheeseburger. The day’s winners threw all their winnings into the lunch pot, as we almost always do during the off-season, and we ended up leaving a huge tip because with seven people the arithmetic was just impossible.

Pipin's Pub. Photo taken by nice waitress with Irish accent.