The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

6 surprising golf-related uses for your camera, phone, rangefinder, and bifocals

During a recent Golf Digest assignment in Florida (at Streamsong Resort -- see “Buddy This!”, in the January issue), my foursome was seated so far from the TV above the bar in the grillroom that no one at our table could follow what was happening in the World Series:

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To deal with that problem, I periodically took a zoomed picture of the screen and enlarged the image until we could read the score in the lower left-hand corner:

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The same trick works at golf tournaments, if you’re standing too far from a leaderboard to see what it says. And you can use it when you yourself are playing golf and can’t quite tell where the flag is on that green way up there.

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You can also use it around the house -- when (for example) you need to read the serial number on a light fixture on the ceiling but don’t feel like going all the way downstairs to get the stepladder:

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I discovered this trick on my brother’s father-in-law’s boat, in Maine, on a day several years ago when we wanted to land at a dock on a small island but couldn’t get close enough to the shore to read the phone number we were supposed to call to ask permission:

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Somewhat similarly, if you wear bifocals you can turn them upside down when you need to take a close look at something above your head. (I mentioned this trick to an electrician friend, who told me that he owns a pair of trifocals in which the top and bottom sections are both for looking at things close-up.) And then there's this, when you're too old to get out of bed anymore, even for golf:

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A laser rangefinder can function as a low-power telescope (mine is 6X). Quite possibly, that's strong enough to identify the idiot driving his cart along the edge of a greenside bunker two holes away, so that you can call the golf shop and report him. A rangefinder is good for on-course bird-watching, too. A few winters ago, at Lyman Orchards, we noticed a pileated woodpecker demolishing a dead tree directly above the tee on which we were standing. We passed around my rangefinder, and watched.

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Tour players are great big babyish crybabies (about cameras)

The pros get upset if a camera on another fairway clicks during their backswing. What babies! During a recent Golf Digest assignment in Florida (at Streamsong Resort -- see “Buddy This!”, in the January issue), three other editors and I played six rounds in four days while a photographer and his assistant clicked away, sometimes within inches of our faces. And it wasn’t a problem! In fact, I think it helped. 

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Most of the guys I play with at home swing better when the rest of us are talking, or even when they themselves are talking. Being distracted keeps you from focusing on the proven impossibility of the thing you're trying to do. Anyway, here are some photos from our Streamsong trip. If Luke Kerr-Dineen, Ashley Mayo, Alex Myers and I can handle the clicks, why can’t Colin Montgomerie?

Ashley teeing off:

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Luke putting:

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Caddies, too:

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No detail was overlooked:

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Not even this:

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We even took a few pictures of our own (this is Alex):

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And nobody threw a fit!

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My Usual Game

The other golf course at Royal County Down

A little over a year ago, I traveled to Northern Ireland on assignment for Golf Digest. My account of that trip, called The Adventure of a Lifetime, was mostly about Royal County Down, in Newcastle -- the golf course that, if I really and truly had to pick just one, would probably get my vote as the world’s greatest. 

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As terrific as R.C.D. is, though, it’s not the only golf course in County Down, or even in Newcastle. There’s a second course on the same property, called Annesley Links, and, although visiting Americans seldom play it, it has plenty of charms. It’s only 4,500 yards from the men's medal tees, but if you can play it without losing more balls than you did on the championship course you’ll have something to brag about.

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I played the Annesley with Shaun Killough and Andy Murphy, whom I met on the first tee. Killough is a retired bank manager, and Murphy is a retired electrician. Murphy was a good friend of Killough’s predecessor at the bank, and, when Killough got the job, Murphy, in effect, came with it. They've been golf buddies ever since. That's Murphy on the left in the photo below, and Killough on the right.

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Killough is a member and a past president of Mourne Golf Club, whose clubhouse stands between the Slieve Donard Hotel (whose spire you see in the distance in the first photo in this post) and the first tee of the championship course.

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Mourne was established in the 1940s for residents of Newcastle, whom Royal County Down members generally consider to be less clubbable than residents of Belfast. It has 350 members, who can play the Annesley course whenever they like and the championship course on any day but Saturday -- and all for a little over 800 pounds a year. “It’s the best golf deal in the world,” Killough told me. 

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Killough, Murphy, and I spent most of our round debating our wager. Murphy got so far ahead that on the tenth tee Killough ruled that the first nine holes had been practice only, and that the real match would begin now. But then he and I both lost our tee shots on the tenth, so that hole became a practice hole, too. Murphy got far ahead again. Then I made a birdie on a hole where Killough and Murphy both made net birdies, and I said, “That squares the match, I believe.” Killough agreed, so he and I kept our losses to a minimum.

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Mourne, like Royal County Down, is men only. They had advertised a Ladies’ Night not long before, but only nine people signed up so they canceled it. 

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Killough told me that during his presidency he established a mixed foursomes tournament, which was called the Sorry Trophy because foursomes partners are always apologizing to each other. I saw the trophy, in a case in the clubhouse, where we stopped for a beer after our round. The tournament lasted just a couple of years, he said, but someone, somewhere, should revive the name.

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There’s also a Royal County Down Ladies Golf Club, which has a small clubhouse of its own, near the first tee of the Annesley course.

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Women are welcome on the championship course, but even from the forward tees some of the carries and elevations can be daunting for shorter hitters, and members of the ladies’ club, Killough said, play the Annesley course almost exclusively. He also told me, with incredulity, that the women’s clubhouse is alcohol-free.

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Forty or fifty years ago, there was talk at Mourne of acquiring land north of Newcastle, in Dundrum, and building a golf course that would belong exclusively to Mourne Golf Club. In the end, though, only three members subscribed. After all, who in his right mind would give up the best golf deal in the world?

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5 holiday gift ideas for avid golfers

Your loved ones have a hard time buying presents for you, so you try to help: “How about some of my favorite golf balls?” You write down the name of the kind you like -- the exact name, including the “X” after the “V1” -- and your loved ones take the piece of paper with them when they go shopping. And there, in the ball department of the huge golf store at the mall, they see the kind you want.

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But, holy cow, those balls cost almost $50 a dozen! That’s, like, four bucks a ball! Luckily, though, on a shelf nearby are some identical balls (equally spherical, equally white) that cost only a quarter as much -- and they come 18 to the box, instead of just 12! So your loved ones buy you two boxes of those! Three dozen balls for half the price of one dozen! That's probably enough to last you for the rest of your life!

Oh, well. There’s nothing you can do about it, except to hit those balls into the woods with your brand-new approach wedge (which you ordered and wrapped yourself).

Alternatively, you could suggest to your loved ones that they shop for you in the past, in the pages of Golf Digest from a little over half a century ago. If they do, they'll be sure to find lots of (attractively priced) items that any modern golfer would be delighted to find under the tree, including:

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Reader's trip report: Bethpage Black and Yale

Alex Nosevich, a reader, is a member of a club-with-a-club at Shining Rock Golf Club, in Northbridge, Massachusetts. “Our group calls itself the Winter Tour,” he told me recently, “because we play through the winter. However, as soon as our home course closes for the year we call ourselves the Arctic Tour. Probably more complicated than it needs to be.” Here’s what Shining Rock’s fifth hole -- a long par 3, called Quarry -- looks like when it isn’t covered with snow:

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It's called Quarry because that granite outcropping near the green really is the remains of a quarry. According to the club's website, "The abundance of granite in these hillsides made ready access to materials needed to construct the nearby Blackstone Canal or for foundations for the massive mills which blossomed along the river in the 1800′s."

Back in October, at around the time the Sunday Morning Group was celebrating the Crystal Anniversary of our annual autumn golf trip to Atlantic City, the Winter Tour took a similar trip to Bethpage Black, Bethpage Green, and Yale. Excerpts from Nosevich’s report:

Twelve guys, two days, 72 holes. Beer, whiskey, bourbon, cigars. We arrived at the Bethpage parking lot in a fleet of cars around 10:30 Monday night, and secured the first spots in the lot -- critical in getting the opening three tee times on the Black. Bethpage Lesson No. 1: Domino's delivers to the Bethpage parking lot.

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Paul, our President of Domestic Events [far left in the photo above], told us ghost stories all night about how difficult the Black would play. Bethpage Lesson No. 2: If you’re over six feet tall, do not volunteer to sleep across the back bench of a minivan. And remember to bring a pillow.

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Bethpage Black is long, but I found it to be very playable. Three guys broke 80, and I was very happy with my 82. Of course, we played from the whites, the rough wasn’t that deep, and conditions were ideal. I played in shorts and short sleeves. Awesome. [That's Nosevich in the yellow shirt in the back row in the photo above.]

After a quick lunch, we played the Green. We finished in darkness, headed for a local place to eat, then drove to a hotel in Connecticut. I have never, ever been happier to see a full-length mattress. The next day, we played 36 holes at Yale. I think the consensus favorite hole was the ninth, the famous par 3 whose green is bisected by a tributary of the Grand Canyon. Here's Darren on that green. He's the one who got us on the course:

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The hole we liked the least was the eighteenth, a par 5 that forced many of us to lay up off the tee with a 3-wood, then hit a blind second shot seemingly straight up in the air. But that’s a minor complaint. We got to play two of the best courses in the country, and my team won the first day’s matches.

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This week, the Arctic Tour is headed to Rhode Island. Report to follow if they survive.

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Two easy ways to speed up golf

My golf course closed for the season on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The day before that, 13 guys showed up for the final 2014 home-course meeting of the Sunday Morning Group. I wasn’t there, because I was on my way home from a non-golf reporting assignment in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California -- poor life management on my part. The following Sunday, though, Hacker (real name), Mike B., Gary, Ray, three of Ray’s friends from other clubs, and I played at Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a 36-hole facility owned by the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut:

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The Wheel (as it’s known to friends) is the main winter golf hangout for a lot of guys in our region, because it’s so close to the coast that it doesn’t get much snow. It’s where S.M.G. played last year on New Year’s Day:

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The Wheel is also the home of an extremely successful chapter of The First Tee, which served more than 600 kids last summer:

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One of the volunteer coaches is Richard Hunt, an honorary S.M.G. member. That’s him at the far left in the photo below, which was taken at Twisted Dune during S.M.G.’s fifteenth annual golf trip to Atlantic City, in October:

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Each summer for the past ten years, Richard has spent his Saturday afternoons at the Wheel introducing youngsters to golf. This year, his First Tee chapter named a trophy after him: the Coach Rick Award, which goes to the scoring champions in the Ace/Birdie division. (He’s also pretty good at teaching grownups; he’s a marketing consultant in Manhattan, and he oversees the Venture Creation Program at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, where he is a mentor-in-residence.)

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A couple of weeks ago, Richard attended the U.S.G.A.’s Pace of Play Symposium, at which two dozen speakers spent two days talking about how to make golf go faster. "I thought the event was quite valuable," Richard (who took the photo below) told me. "This is exactly the kind of thing they need to do 'for the good of the game.'"

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Richard's report:

Turns out, there are way more problems than your buddy plumb-bobbing his third putt. A major culprit is tee-time spacing, which is way too short at most public courses, and even in professional events. The L.P.G.A. did a test this year, and was able to reduce playing times an average of 14 minutes per round just by moving tee times slightly farther apart, from 10 minutes to 11, and asking players to keep up with the group in front of them. Easy stuff. In addition, course setup, design, and facility management policies are all either part of the problem or part of the solution.

When I was in Arizona, I had dinner with my old friend Shelby Futch, the world's greatest golf teacher, whose company owns several courses in the Scottsdale area. At one of them, Shelby reduced playing times by offering $40 in grill-room credit to each day’s first group if they finished in less than four hours, and by asking the groups behind them to keep up. Easy stuff.

I asked Richard whether the kids he teaches play quickly -- and, sad to say, he said they don’t:

Trust me -- we don’t teach them to play slow. Yet on late summer Saturday afternoons, during our team matches, my young charges struggle to beat darkness every week. I myself blame CBS, NBC, and the Golf Channel. Maybe Fox will only show golfers in action next year, instead of repose.

Easy stuff.

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Uh-oh: what's that white stuff on my golf course?

There wasn’t much snow to begin with, and most of what there was melted quickly, but Gary, our terrific superintendent, closed the course temporarily, because it was so cold that the remaining snow and frost were unlikely to go away before dark. That didn’t affect me directly, because I was traveling without my clubs for a little over a week, on a reporting assignment only tangentially related to golf. It didn’t affect Hacker (real name), either, because he had decided that, paradoxically, playing golf for three consecutive days with a broken finger had made the finger worse, not better. Still -- and I think I speak for everyone -- I am opposed to any form of weather that causes golf to be suspended. And then, on Monday, Gary closed our course for the season.

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Before the bad weather hit, I had an opportunity to test two new pieces of equipment. Both are from eBags, one of a select group of companies for which I am an unpaid shill. The first item is the eBags Crew Cooler II:

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It was designed as carry-on luggage for pilots and flight attendants, but it's perfectly suited to golf. It has an insulated cold compartment with a removable -- and replaceable -- waterproof liner, for beer and ice; it has a zippered top insulated compartment for stuff that doesn't have to be kept super cold, like sandwiches and Snickers bars; and it has lots of other useful features, including two mesh pouches, on the sides, for beverage bottles, plus a slot on the back that lets you slide the whole thing onto a roller bag, so that you can make it do double duty as a carry-on bag when you travel to play golf:

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I attached mine to my pushcart by tightening the shoulder strap around my golf bag:

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By doing that, I solved an age-old alcohol-transport problem, which Matt Manco, a reader in Louisiana, once addressed from the other direction, using his Sun Mountain Micro-Cart:

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Just above my Crew Cooler I attached another recent acquisition: an eBags Padded Pouch -- the blue thing in the photo below. It contains my laser rangefinder, and I like it much better than the case that came with the rangefinder, because it's softer (though padded!) and it doesn't stick out as much I used a little carabiner to attach it to the towel ring on my bag, along with (as you can see) a lot of other stuff:

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Padded Pouches come in sets of three, and they're incredibly useful for carrying or packing smallish delicate or annoying items, like phones, cameras, chargers, cables, batteries, power cords, whatever:

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I've got six, and I traveled with four of them last week, including one that I filled with the CDs of the audio version of Book Three of A Game of Thrones, which I listened to as I spent a week driving through Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California.

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This is the best sunscreen for golfers, and I'm not kidding

As I drove home from my dermatologist’s office, I felt more than slightly annoyed. Slicing two bumps from the side of my nose had taken the doctor roughly eleven seconds, from Novocain to Band-Aid, yet had cost me more than a thousand dollars. With five minutes of instruction, I figured, I could have performed the operation myself, using tools I already own. But I calmed down a few weeks later, when I went back for a follow-up appointment. One of the bumps was just a harmless old-guy surface enigma, the doctor said. The other, though, was something I really did need a licensed physician to deal with: a basal cell carcinoma -- skin cancer.

Golfers face an elevated risk of developing all sorts of skin trouble -- especially golfers who, like me, grew up in the sunburn era, when kids were pretty much expected to broil away the top few layers of their epidermis every summer. Most of the sun-related products that people used in those days were intended not to prevent damage caused by solar radiation but to exacerbate it. My pals and I used to bet Cokes on who could peel off the largest intact sheet of stomach skin.

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My bump removal took place a decade ago. A few days later, I showed up at the golf course with a pair of small bandages on my nose. The bandages attracted comment, and I was partly comforted and partly appalled to learn how many other members of my small club had suffered various skin cancers, most of them more troubling than mine. Friends showed me galaxies of scars on their arms, foreheads, faces, ears, and bald spots. Two current members and two former members have even been treated for melanoma, the hydrogen bomb of dermatological problems. One of the current members lost most of one calf in an operation to remove her tumor; one of the former members received 140 stitches in his stomach. Both are still alive, though -- unlike a guy I knew in high school, who was too late in discovering the asymmetrical, irregularly bordered, unevenly colored, large-diameter mole lurking in the folds of his belly button.

Last month, one of the guys on the Sunday Morning Group’s annual buddies trip to Atlantic City told me about a sunscreen that, he said, was created specifically for golfers. It's from New Zealand, and it's used by large and growing number of tour pros and caddies. It's called GolfersSkin, and it’s terrific: it’s sweat-proof, and it isn't greasy, and it doesn't stain golf shirts, and (according to my wife) it "smells like fine coconut cologne.”

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It comes in three forms: lotion, "hands-free stick," and lip balm. I bought 'em all, and I keep the stick and the lip balm in my golf bag, for touch-ups. And here's the one-liter dispenser, for the clubhouse or, if you play enough golf, the trunk of your car:

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Beer, Bushmills, burgers, brats, bonus days

Our regular golf season is winding down. Someone in a position of authority piled up all our patio furniture on the clubhouse porch:

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As of late last week, though, we still had beer in the kegerator, plus part of one free-standing keg, so Chic (our club chairman) and Corey (our pro) decided that the Sunday Morning Group ought to hold a free-guest day, and that everybody ought to hang around until all the beer was gone. The morning was cold and overcast, but 17 guys showed up:

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Someone remembered to bring Irish antifreeze:

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And, despite the weather, seven of us wore shorts, because after November 1 if you wear shorts you get an extra handicap stroke: 

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My team didn’t win, but I got a skin for a net eagle on No. 2, and I almost made a hole-in-one on No. 12, a 185-yard par 3. On 12, I hit my secret weapon, Baby Driver, which has 16 degrees of loft and goes anywhere from about 180 yards to maybe 210. (The shortest hole I’ve ever used it on was a 134-yarder in Northern Ireland a few years ago. The wind was blowing like crazy, and I was the only one who made the green.) Here’s how close I came on Sunday -- and, yes, I missed the putt:

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Howard brought lunch. He worried that he hadn’t bought enough food for 17 guys, so after he finished playing he drove down to the grocery store and got more ground beef:

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That was great, but he also got these. C’mon, Howard. No health food.

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We don’t really clean our grill after we use it, because by the time lunch is over nobody is in the mood for housework. We do clean it before we use it again, however, by turning on the gas all the way and letting it run for a while. Here’s what we found when we lifted the lid on Sunday:

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The grill cleaned itself in no time, and the flames from the burning grease looked like something from a Burger King commercial:

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Our spatulas weren’t in the drawer in the big table in the kitchen, where they always are, so we figured they must have been stolen. (Our clubhouse is never locked, even after the course has closed for the winter, and stuff is always disappearing -- including, once, a hundred cloth napkins with pictures of golf clubs and balls on them.) Then someone asked whether anyone had looked in the dishwasher -- and that’s where they were. What kind of joker pulls a stunt like that?

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We've had a TV in our clubhouse for several years, but no one had ever used it because the only place we have cable is in the golf shop. But Corey bought 100 feet of coax at Staples or someplace, and ran it all the way over so that we could watch the Jets beat the Steelers while we worked on the beer:

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We lit a big fire in the fireplace, and the clubhouse stayed sort of warm as long as people kept the doors closed. Even so, it was probably colder inside than out, and everyone stayed bundled up.

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A couple of years ago, my club decided to stop giving trophies to tournament winners, because the trophies were expensive and many of the winners didn’t bother to take them home. But as soon as we’d stopped giving them out people began to complain about not having them anymore, so this year they were back, but less fancy. Here’s Addison drinking beer out of the mug he got for winning the club championship. (Fritz, the tournament chairman, said it looked bigger in the catalog.)

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Meanwhile, some of the guys were outside having a putting contest.

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The weather is supposed to turn lousy pretty soon, but not quite yet. In fact, we probably ought buy at least one more keg.

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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:

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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:

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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:


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