Which Hacker is the Real Hacker (Real Name)?

IMG_0398The person I play the most golf with is Bob Hacker, a.k.a. “Hacker (real name),” on the left in the photo above, which was taken last winter at Pelham Bay Golf Course, in the Bronx. (That’s me on the right.) He is also the person primarily responsible for managing the Sunday Morning Group and its finances, and is therefore widely believed to be the chairman of the Committee, the mysterious but all-powerful body that governs everything we do. He is unique—or so I thought until recently, when Tony, who is the person I play the second most golf with and is the co-inventor, with me, of the Hybrid Lifestyle, sent me a photograph of a starter at the Black Diamond Golf Ranch, in Lecanto, Florida, where he had gone to play golf with his Atlanta friends, who are richer, smarter, and better-looking than we are:


That’s just part of him, obviously. Doug Egly, who is Black Diamond’s general manager, sent me this photo of him in his entirety:

2007 Hacker, Bob

The existence of this second Bob Hacker suggests either that we are living in an episode of the Twilight Zone or that Black Diamond Ranch is a parallel universe of some kind, filled with eerie duplicates of people I know, but with better weather. Photographs of the Quarry Course—one of three on the property, all designed by Tom Fazio—do make it seem otherworldly:

photo 1 photo 3photo 2

As it happens, the real Hacker and I visited Tony in Atlanta shortly before he went to Florida with those other friends. We played golf at his Atlanta club, about which I’ll probably have something to say at some point, and in the evenings we played the card game setback with Tony’s wife, Teresa, who remained undefeated until we stacked the deck while she was in the kitchen making us something to eat. Anyway, the easiest way to distinguish Tony from his Twilight Zone doppelganger is by checking the trunk of his car, which contains so many golf clubs that he has to keep his golf clubs somewhere else:


Masters Countdown: Eighth Hole

Augusta National's eighth green, 1935.

When the eighth green was built, it looked very much the way it does today, with tall, steeply contoured mounds on either side. In 1956, though, Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, had the mounds removed. “That’s the only time I can really remember Mr. Jones getting mad at Cliff,” Phil Harison, a longtime member, told me in the late 1990s. “But he removed the mounds for a reason. They blocked the view of the spectators at the tournament, and once they were gone the spectators could see a lot better. But Mr. Jones got awfully upset about that. He really did, because without the mounds the hole was much less interesting, and the green didn’t look like any other green on the golf course.”

Augusta National's eighth green in 1956, after the mounds had been removed to improve sight lines for spectators.

Roberts never thought that removing the mounds improved the hole—and, indeed, the new green was dreadful. It was featureless and vaguely hourglass-shaped, and it could be approached without trepidation from almost any angle. But Roberts felt strongly that spectators ought to be able to see. Not long before he died, though, he decided that the sacrifice had been too great and that the mounds should be restored. The change was finally made in 1979, not quite two years after his death. Byron Nelson led the project, along with Joseph S. Finger, an architect who, among other accomplishments, had played golf at Rice University in the thirties on a team that was coached by Jimmy Demaret. In restoring the mounds, Nelson and Finger relied heavily on photographs taken during the thirties and forties. Harison—who had grown up in a house that used to stand just beyond the first green—consulted on the project as well. During the Second World War, when the course was closed, he had often ridden a motor bike over the mounds, and he told me that he retained a sort of physical memory of their shape.

Jones and Roberts used to ask Harison to fill out groups in Augusta National’s main member-member event, the Jamboree, beginning when he was thirteen; he and a partner won the event in 1941, when he was sixteen. He didn’t officially become a member until 1946, when he turned twenty-one, but at that time, he told me, Jones and Roberts kidded him by saying, “Oh, you’ve been a member for years.” Harison attended every Masters, beginning with the first, and was the tournament’s official starter for more than sixty years: it was he who introduced each player on the first tee—everyone from Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods. He died 2008, at the age of 82.

During 2001, the tournament tee on the eighth hole was moved back and to the players’ right—part of a course-wide effort, supervised primarily by Tom Fazio, to lengthen the course and increase the premium on accuracy and controlled shot shape off the tee. The fairway bunker was doubled in size and stretched toward the green. (The old bunker ended roughly at the peninsula of turf near the left center of the new bunker. See the photo below.)

The eighth hole has had a fairway bunker in approximately the same position since the course opened. Changes in its size and in the location of the tournament tee—all of which were made, in part, to keep the bunker in play—provide a good indication of how much tournament players’ driving distance has increased since the early 1930s: the far edge of the bunker today is roughly a hundred yards farther from the tee than it was during the first Masters.

Looking back toward the tee from the eighth green. The hole's single bunker is on the left.

February Golf


The weather in the Northeast this winter has been unusually warm, creating unexpected golf opportunities. My home club stayed open until New Year’s Day, a record, and a few courses in our area haven’t closed at all, or have reopened. The other day, my friend Hacker (real name) and I played a round at the Links at Union Vale, in Dutchess County, New York.

The Links was founded in the late 1990s by a group of Irish golfers from the New York metropolitan area. They were fed up with the summer crowds on the city’s public courses (of which there are a dozen) and decided to build a place of their own within weekend commuting distance. Roughly eighty of them bought shares, at ten thousand dollars apiece. They found two hundred acres of cattle-grazing farmland seventy-five miles north of Manhattan, and they hired Stephen Kay and Doug Smith to design a course for them. The investors knew of Kay because he had done some work on the bunkers at Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx—the first public golf course in the United States, founded in 1895—and because he had designed an Irish-style course, called the Links of North Dakota, that they liked very much.

For the Union Vale investors, Kay and Smith built a very passable imitation of an Irish links course, and they did it for just $2.5 million—a pittance nowadays. Bull’s Bridge Golf Club, a private course that Hacker and I passed on the way to and from Union Vale, was founded at about the same time. It cost more than $20 million; has been threatened with bankruptcy on a couple of occasions; had a $1.4-million lien placed on it by its architect, Tom Fazio; is still making do with a temporary clubhouse; and costs more than a hundred thousand dollars to join. The original investors in the Links, who represent various Irish golf associations in and around New York City, allow themselves preferential tee times and charge themselves reduced fees, but their club is open to everyone and their clubhouse is well stocked with Guinness. That’s Hacker in the photo above, stuck behind an old grain silo on the fifteenth hole.