Late-season Golf Breakthrough: Leaf Stymies

The golf world abandoned stymies in 1963, but the Sunday Morning Group keeps them alive, sort of, by using them in playoffs, which we conduct on our practice green. On New Year’s Day in 2013, we invented a new version, ball-marker stymies, in which the old stymie rule applies on every green, but to ball markers instead of balls:


On Wednesday, we invented yet another new version: leaf stymies. Gary, our terrific superintendent (shown stymied by my ball marker in the photo above, which was taken at Dyker Beach, in Brooklyn), keeps our course remarkably free of leaves, but when the wind blows hard he and his crew can’t possibly keep up, especially on greens with overhanging oak trees. Removing leaves from everyone’s line takes forever, and then the wind just blows them back, so we decided: screw it. From now on, the leaves stay where they are:


Remarkably, having even a lot of leaves in the way does very little to a putt. Here’s Rick trying for birdie on the fourth green:


New Year’s Day Golf in New York City

Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn, New York, January 1, 2013. That's the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background. There are good municipal golf courses on the other end of it, too (in Staten Island).

Dyker Beach Golf Course, Brooklyn, New York, January 1, 2013. That’s the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background. There are good municipal golf courses on the other end of it, too (in Staten Island).

For the past six years, my friends and I have played golf on either New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve—usually in New York City, which seldom gets much snow. On January 1, 2008, we played at Dyker Beach Golf Course, in Brooklyn. In 2009, we had to drive a couple of hours south of the city, to Galloway, New Jersey, to find a course where we could play on grass. One year, we played in the Bronx, on one of the two courses in Pelham Bay Park. In 2012, for the first time, we were able to play on our home course, which didn’t close for the season until the following day.

Bay Course, Seaview Inn, Galloway, New Jersey, January 1, 2009.

Hacker (real name), Bay Course, Seaview Hotel & Golf Club, Galloway, New Jersey, January 1, 2009.

This year, our home course had closed on Christmas Eve Eve and Pelham Bay still had snow, so we returned to Dyker Beach. Other Gene drove us, in his wife’s car, which has millions of cool features that he doesn’t know how to use. The three guys who sat in the back seat didn’t bother to remove the dog seat cover, which was quilted and was actually sort of comfortable. We saw snow on the way down:

Interstate 84, near the Connecticut-New York border.

Rt. 7, in Connecticut, on our way to I-84.

We made great time because everyone else in the tri-state area either was still passed out or was trying to treat their hangover. And there was no snow at Dyker, except for this patch, on one of the greens:


The guy in the golf shop let us play as a fivesome—or, at any rate, he didn’t guess that we were planning to play as a fivesome and therefore didn’t specifically tell us not to. We saw some leftover damage from Hurricane Sandy, but it didn’t affect play:


Overall, the course was in terrific shape. Some of the grass was bright green and obviously still growing, and the greens were fast and unfrozen.

Dyker's ninth fairway rounds quite close  to Seventh Avenue in Bay Ridge--a good reason not to park on that block.

Dyker’s ninth fairway runs parallel, and quite close, to Seventh Avenue in Bay Ridge–a good reason not to park on that block. In fact, you probably shouldn’t walk on that sidewalk, or drive on that street.

Even though there were five of us, we kept pace with the single playing one hole ahead of us and stayed ahead of the single playing one hole behind us (in a cart). We finished in just under three hours.

Eighth Green. That's Poly Prep Country Day School in the background.

Seventh Green. That’s Poly Prep Country Day School in the background.

Gene P., the night before, had warned us in an email that the forecast was for temperatures in the low teens, and he suggested that we consider rescheduling. But he must have been looking at the forecast for Alaska, because the temperature in Brooklyn never got below about 40.

Sixteenth green. We might be interested in buying one of those houses across the street, and using it as a winter clubhouse.

Sixteenth green. We might be interested in buying one of those houses, across the street, and using it as our winter clubhouse.

We played Double Skins, with an added feature that I suddenly thought of on the third hole: Ball Marker Stymies—in which the old Stymie Rule is applied to ball markers rather than balls. That means that if somebody’s ball marker is in your line on a green you have to putt over it or around it. (And you can’t mark your ball with a hockey puck. Each marker—we decided—must be poker-chip-size or smaller.)


Stymied, on a breaking putt.

After golf, we had lunch at Pipin’s Pub, in Bay Ridge, the home of the famous Pipin Burger (bacon cheeseburger with American cheese). The fries at Pipin’s Pub need work, but we have nothing bad to say about the Pipin Burger. Our waiter took this photograph, despite making it clear that he believed he had better things to do:

Pipin's Pub, January 1, 2013.

Pipin’s Pub, January 1, 2013.

On New Year’s Day 2008, we had lunch at Pipin’s Pub, too—and at the same table. Here’s proof:

Pipin's Pub, January 1, 2008.

Pipin’s Pub, January 1, 2008.

Happy New Year, and so forth.

Fritz, Dyker Beach, January 1, 2008.

Fritz, Dyker Beach, January 1, 2008.

How to Conduct a Golf Playoff

That’s Stanley preparing to hit a lob shot over the patio from the bed of Nick’s pickup truck during a playoff in 2007.

The Sunday Morning Group’s games sometimes end in ties. Matching cards would be boring, and playing extra holes would force everyone to walk too far from the beer coolers, so we almost always hold playoffs on or around the practice green.

We don’t have just one format. On various occasions over the years, we have required playoff contestants to: putt balls from the top of a beer can while standing on one leg on the seat of a chair on the patio; throw balls onto the roof of the clubhouse so that they roll down the porch roof, down the porch steps, across the patio, and down a short, steep grassy slope and onto the practice green; chip through the split-rail fence that separates the patio from the parking lot; pitch from the pinnacle of a four-foot-tall pile of dirt in the middle of the first tee, which was being rebuilt; throw balls wrong-handed (overhand only) onto the practice green from the edge of the first fairway; and hit lob shots from the plastic liner in the bed of Nick’s pickup truck, which he had backed up to the fence.

Hacker (real name) improving his lie in the bed of Nick’s pickup truck.

In all our playoffs, we use the stymie rule, which the rest of the golf world abandoned in 1953: your ball stays where it stops, even if it’s blocking someone else’s putt, pitch, or throw. When we have large groups, we sometimes save time by making everyone putt, pitch, or throw at the same time, toward a single hole. Once, in pouring rain, we held a playoff inside the clubhouse, with a long putt that had to run from the (linoleum) floor of the kitchen all the way across the (carpeted) floor of the living room. The target was a beer bottle.

Last weekend, the playoff was a throw to the practice green from the window above the urinal in the men’s bathroom. (The men’s bathroom was designed by Reese, who is an architect and a 12-handicap. The window is ideally situated: directly overlooking the grill on which we cook our cheeseburgers.) The throw from the urinal is tough, because the ball has to miss the recycling barrels and clear a fairly tall fence. Barney went first and almost holed out; nobody else came close. (In almost any playoff format, the person who goes first has a huge advantage, for unknown reasons.)

Rick holding the bathroom window for Chic during last Sunday’s playoff.

Doug holding the window for Les, who is (arguably cheating by) standing in the urinal.

Sometimes, a playoff seems like so much fun that we open it to the whole group—including caddies, if there happen to be any. Other members, getting ready to tee off on the first hole, invariably scowl when they see us standing in a long row with our backs to the practice green, holding a beer in one hand and weighing a ball in the other, getting ready to throw the ball over a shoulder at one of the holes and quietly dreading the moment when, finally, it will be time to go home.