Should You Pay $20 to Watch “The Match,” or Line Up to Punch a Stranger in the TV Department at Walmart?

I can’t answer that, but I can tell you that in 1995 I played eighteen holes at Shadow Creek, the Las Vegas golf course where Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods will slug it out on Black Friday. My host was Kenny Wynn, Steve’s younger brother. Two years earlier, Kenny had lost his gaming license, temporarily, after admitting that he had a drug problem. (Nine years after my round, local police confiscated his computers in some kind of child-pornography investigation.)

When I called Kenny to ask for driving directions, he told me to take the freeway to a certain exit north of town. “As you look toward the mountains, you’ll see a forest rising out of the desert,” he said, and we both laughed. But he was right. Las Vegas has sprawled past the golf course since then, but at the time Shadow Creek was an Oz-like quadrant of green surrounded by miles and miles and miles of sand. At the front gate, I spoke my name into a telephone and smiled at a closed-circuit television camera. Then, as I drove to the clubhouse, I shared the road with a ring-necked pheasant, a chukar, and a long-eared rabbit—a small sampling of the non-native species with which Steve Wynn had ornamented the grounds. When Shadow Creek opened, there were also wallabies and African cranes, but they turned out to be too large to coexist with mishit golf balls. I left my shoes in the (alleged) locker of Davis Love III. No photographs allowed.

The course was designed by Tom Fazio and completed in 1990. The cost has been estimated at $40 million, $50 million, $60 million—who knows? Shadow Creek can probably be considered our best look into Fazio’s artistic soul, since he was given not only a blank check but also a blank canvas: he built the course, basically, by digging a gigantic hole in the desert and filling it with money. Every hill, every pond, every bump, every dip, every bounce, every break is there because he put it there. The stones in the artificial creek that circulates through the property (and tumbles over an artificial waterfall on the seventeenth hole before returning to its artificial headwaters) were glued in place by Fazio himself, maybe. The pine trees that surround you on every hole only look as though they run all the way to the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The rye grass on the fairways would die if the maintenance crew ever stopped flooding it with the ground-up life savings of slot-machine players. There’s a par 3 that you enter and leave through a tunnel. It’s a virtual golf course—except that it’s real.

The two other members of our foursome were a professional from a nearby country club and his wife, who arrived in a white Porsche Carrera and were wearing more gold and diamonds than I’m used to seeing on a golf course. “Ah, the life of a Las Vegas club pro,” the pro said, smiling. Kenny Wynn—an impatient, slashing 18- or 20-handicapper—quit after a few holes, and once he was gone we had a relaxed, pleasant round. No other group entered our field of vision, although later, in the clubhouse, I did see the well-known golf nut and occasional actor Joe Pesci. Our golf carts had built-in coolers, which were filled (and, at the turn, refilled) with ice and soft drinks. We were accompanied by an affable caddie/chauffeur, who paced yardages, filled divots, repaired ball marks, read putts, and urged us to drink something at any moment when we weren’t swinging a golf club. I chugged roughly a gallon of Gatorade per nine—it gets hot at the bottom of a hole—but didn’t pee until a day or two later. On with The Match!

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May Was Hole-in-One Month, Apparently

I was contacted recently by a lawyer who was looking for someone to serve as an expert witness in a lawsuit involving a hole-in-one prize. After last month, I almost qualify.

Eleven friends and I played Ballybunion, in Ireland, in early May. On the third hole, Addison made a hole-in-one from the back tee: 230 yards, downhill but into a stiff wind. My group was just leaving the fourth tee, and we watched his ball roll into the hole. There’s a plaque on the third tee commemorating a hole-in-one that Payne Stewart made from the same spot in 1998, the year before he died, during a buddies trip with Mark O’Meara and Tiger Woods. Here’s Addison:

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We returned home a week later, and in an effort to outsmart jet lag I pretty much went straight from the airport to my home course (after stopping by my house, briefly, to reintroduce myself to my wife). There were five of us, and on the seventh hole, which is slightly more than half as long as the third hole at Ballybunion, I made a hole-in-one:

P1180521-001Two weeks after that, Chris, during his first round ever with the Sunday Morning Group, made a hole-in-one on our twelfth hole, which is 185 yards long. Nobody in his group could see that far, so they weren’t sure his ball had really gone in until they got to the green. In the photo below, which was taken by Mike B., he’s retrieving his ball from the cup:
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And in the photo below, which was taken by me, Mike B. is taking the photo above:

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You can’t document these things too thoroughly (I learned from the lawyer who contacted me). Here’s my scorecard:

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One thing to note: Chris is beaming in his photograph because if you make a hole-in-one during our regular Sunday morning game you receive $500 from the Slush Fund. And Addison is smiling in his photograph because if you make a hole-in-one during an SMG-sanctioned event (meaning one that everyone on the email list was invited to participate in) you receive $250 from the Slush Fund. And I’m sort of frowning in my photograph because that post-Ireland round of mine was a last-minute thing that nobody bothered to invite everyone else to—so my Slush Fund prize was $0.

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Golf Among the Zebras: Reader’s Report from Kenya

Jeff Mwangi is a reader in Nairobi, and, starting today, he is the official East Africa correspondent of this blog. He took up golf two years ago, at the age of 40. That’s him in the photo below, at the Great Rift Valley Lodge and Golf Resort, in Naivasha:
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He wrote to me recently to ask about golf simulators, for which he believes there is a large potential  market in East Africa: “I am looking for commercial ones to install in a shopping mall, and also in some of the golf clubs, for range training,” he said. I told him I would try to help put him in touch with some manufacturers. Do you hear that, manufacturers? I’ve got a couple of other ideas, too. In the meantime, I asked him to tell me a little about golf in Kenya, and about himself. From his report:

Golf in Kenya used to be reserved for old men (rich geezers), but times have changed. Tiger Woods has been an inspiration to many young Kenyans — who, incidentally, think that golf is an easy game. I thought so, too. I bought a second-hand kit, because kits are quite expensive here. I struggled on the the range, but a little training by the range-handlers gave me the confidence to try nine holes. I took countless strokes in my first game, but I managed to finish. I kept going, and for a while I played three times a week. But that was not sustainable, because it took up business time. Still, I did upgrade my kit, from a pro shop in South Africa.

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Now I play golf for leisure, and I am working on reducing my handicap. (Don’t ask me what it is.) I have won several prizes, including one called PIGA MINGI (which is Kiswahili for “hitting too many strokes”). I wish I had started at an early age — and that is what I want for my children, who have started playing, too. The two photos below were taken at Milnerton Golf Course, in Cape Town, South Africa, which has the best views on the planet. The sound of the Atlantic must have made me miss the ball, but I guess I am still learning the swing.

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Golf in Kenya can be challenging, and animals have the right of way. But the trends that will shape the future of golf are the same trends that are shaping the future of the planet: urbanization, the spread of digital technology, and resource and sustainability pressures. The middle class in Kenya are now looking at golf as leisure, and I am looking for a reliable supplier of golf simulators who wants to help encourage a golf explosion in Eastern Africa. Golfers here want a place where they will not be required to abide by an archaic, denim-phobic dress code, to speak in whispers in the clubhouse, or to be snubbed by the committee. They want to play fun golf on simulators that work! 

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Mwangi took the photo above at Lost City Golf Course, designed by Gary Player, at the Palace of the Lost City, in South Africa. “I drove there for miles,” he told me, “but I was turned away because it was invitation-only. So the only thing I could do was take a photo of the beautiful course from the clubhouse and cool down with a few pints.” Mwangi is still working on his game, and, if he keeps at it, maybe he’ll qualify for Kenya’s team in the East Africa Challenge Golf Tournament, which was held at Rift Valley in 2013 and at Entebbe Golf Club, in Uganda, in 2014. Kenya’s team won both times — its eleventh and twelfth victories since the tournament began, in 1999.

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