Play in weather so miserable (lightning excluded) that yours is the only group left on the course. Old golf joke: An obsessed golfer heads to the club in pouring rain for his regular Saturday-morning game. The storm turns out to be too intense even for him, so he returns home, takes off his wet clothes, and slides back into bed next to his wife. “The weather’s horrible,” he whispers, and she says, “And can you believe it? My idiot husband is out there playing golf.”
Gairloch, Scotland, May, 2007.
He should have stayed at the club. Golf was invented in a country where bad weather is almost the only kind, so to take the game’s full measure you have to play it occasionally when all the sensible people are indoors watching Sports Center. There’s something sublime about putting through casual water or over pea-size hail, especially if you have the course to yourself.
This is an aerial view of Tony’s and my match today. We’re somewhere near the center of that big green-and-orange thing.
Tony and I happily played anotherA statewide tournament that I was supposed to play in tomorrow has been postponed because the rain that was falling when Tony and I played is expected to continue through the night. I was actually looking forward to slogging around all morning, then loading my soaking-wet golf bag into my travel case, racing a hundred miles to Newark Liberty International Airport without a shower, and taking a night flight to Kansas City to play golf on a Golf Digest assignment and visit my mother. In fact, my only chance to finish the tournament above the middle of the field was probably to go off in a downpour, since I actually like playing when the people I’m competing with don’t.
In 2006, I took back-to-back golf trips to Dubai and Ireland. During the Ireland portion of that two-climate packing adventure, I learned how to dry wet golf stuff with a hotel-room iron and hairdryer (after first blotting up the worst of the water by rolling up everything in bath towels and stomping):
Doing this produced tremendous clouds of steam. Getting the towel half dry took forever.
Before using the hairdryer, I tried drying my rain pants in my room’s heated trouser press. That didn’t work.
Rain gloves don’t need to be dry, but if you have the equipment why not?
The hotel was in Killarney, and the golf course where I got so wet was Tralee—which is seldom ranked among the very best courses in Ireland but is plenty nice enough and is almost certainly the best course that Arnold Palmer ever designed. (It opened in 1985.) As we approached the middle of the (terrific) second nine, the wind reached the velocity necessary to propel liquid water through the fabric of my previously reliable Sunderland of Scotland rainsuit, and I stopped trying to clean my glasses between shots. It wasn’t just the worst weather I’d ever played golf in; it was the worst weather I’d ever been outside in. Nevertheless, my three companions and I all enjoyed ourselves immensely, and we played far better than you might think—perhaps because over-swinging and over-thinking are impossible when remaining upright requires most of your concentration. (I don’t know what our caddies thought.)
Recently, I heard from a reader who has also been to Tralee: Dana McQueen, who lives in Purcellville, Virginia, and is exactly the same age I am (fifty-eight). Here he is at Tralee last summer:
Dana McQueen and some other guy, Tralee, Ireland, July, 2012.
And here’s McQueen’s golf bag:
The first thing I notice about McQueen’s golf clubs is that he keeps them much cleaner than I keep mine.
“Pretty standard stuff, overall,” he told me in an email. “Sometimes the 60-degree wedge comes out of the lineup, especially on courses with thick rough around the greens. I really haven’t gotten comfortable with the ATV bounce concept yet.” McQueen is a retired C.I.A. officer. He now works as a systems engineer for Stratos Solutions, and he also works for Britannia Golf, which puts together custom golf tours, mostly to Scotland and Ireland. He took up golf as a teenager.
“I started playing,” he wrote, “when I realized that my baseball career was going to come to a screeching halt, at about the same time that I got my driver’s license—trouble with the curve was reality, not a future movie title. I had a great mentor, and within three or four months I was shooting in the low eighties. As you might expect, dreams of grandeur invaded my thoughts. These lasted until I discovered that there were other golf courses on the planet, and that most of them were much more difficult than the little muny up in northern Ohio where I began my golf journey. Since that time, golf has been a series of peaks (nearly qualifying for the U.S. Amateur in the late nineteen-eighties) and valleys (being soundly trounced by an eighth grader in the club championship semifinals). Now I look forward to the weekly game with the Saturday morning group and the occasional trip to Scotland or Ireland. My favorite course (so far) is Royal Dornoch. Unfortunately, a sliver of beach on the North Sea is not exactly what my wife has in mind as a retirement spot.”
McQueen plays most of his golf at Stoneleigh Golf & Country Club, in Round Hill, Virginia. The course was designed by Lisa Maki, one of the very few women course architects in the history of the game. Anybody know if she’s still around?