The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

Tree trouble: Winter is coming, and Howard meets his match

There’s a maple near the bend of the dogleg on the first hole, and each year it provides one of the first clear signs that the golf season is winding down:

The tree may actually mark one of the famous portals to hell, because there’s another tree behind it, and if your tee shot clears the first tree the second one will sometimes knock it into a lateral hazard -- like a pair of volleyball players doing a bump-set-and-spike. The second tree was planted, many years ago, in loving memory of a dead guy, whom few current members knew but many current members curse, on account of his tree. The lesson is that you shouldn't let your survivors plant anything in your memory 200 yards from the regular men’s tee on the right side of any fairway.

On the eighth hole, Howard’s second shot (or possibly his third) ended up next to the base of a tree near the green. It was sitting down in a little depression, with roots on either side, but he made a manful effort to knock it back into play:

Two holes later, I hit my second shot too far, and it ended up about four inches from a stone boundary wall that runs along the edge of a grassy swale just over the green. My only possible shot was to bash the ball into the wall with my wedge, and hope it ricocheted back into play. I did, and the ball ended up gimme distance from the hole: par. I don’t have a video of that shot, because I couldn’t swing my wedge and operate my camera at the same time. I am one man!


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My Usual Game

How to create your own inexpensive on-course sound system

At my club’s member-guest two years ago, Fritz and Klinger showed my brother, John, and me that a golf-cart cup holder acts like an amplifier when you place an iPod or iPhone in it and crank the volume -- as Klinger is demonstrating in the photo below with “Send Her My Love,” by Journey. 

They played Journey in their cart during our match with them this year, too, and when the tournament was over John mentioned the cup-holder trick to his older daughter, who is starting college this fall, because he thought she would be impressed. She wasn’t. “She said it’s common knowledge that cups, cup holders, ceramic mugs, etc., have that effect,” John wrote me later. She also told him that, if you don’t have a cup, you can turn the interior of your head into an amplifier by sticking your ear buds into your nose . . .

. . . and opening your mouth.

It works, to some extent. And if someone in the next fairway yells at you to turn down the music all you have to do is close your mouth.

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My Usual Game

A visit to our enemy club, and Jimmy's brilliant idea

Our course was closed for the women’s 18-hole member-guest, so Addison, Rick, Other Gene, and I played a round at our enemy club, on the far side of town. We have a semi-reciprocal arrangement with them, and several of their holes have nice views of our state’s second largest natural lake, but I don’t love their course. 

For Addison, Rick, and me, the visit was partly a scouting mission for our upcoming annual two-day home-and-home match against ten of their guys, but we were happy to return to our own club the next day. Among many other reasons: we don’t necessarily have a rule against groups larger than foursomes.

We also have highly a developed spirit of camaraderie. For example, here's Addison helping Hacker (real name) search for his second shot in the weeds to the right of the first green (where Addison sometimes hits his first shot):

One day last summer, Peter A. brought Wayne, an acquaintance of his, as a guest. Wayne was on the golf team at a big university many years ago, but hadn’t played much since. He was so rusty that day that he actually missed his ball on his first attempt at a tee shot, but Barney said you could tell he was a player from the quality of his whiff. Afterward, at lunch -- hot dogs and hamburgers provided by one of the guys, and cooked on the grill in the executive parking lot, outside the men’s-room window -- Wayne asked if it was really true that our clubhouse doesn’t have a restaurant. When we said that it was, he said, “This is the club for me,” and joined. We don’t have a bar, either, unless you count the fridge in the men’s locker room and our two kegerators: 

Last Sunday, for unknown reasons, one of the kegerators began serving a sort of accidental microbrew, which, if we had decided to market it, we might have called Old Warm & Flat. The guys decided to deal with it by drinking to the bottom of that keg as quickly as possible, and loading another:

During lunch that day, Jimmy -- who is in his early twenties and, as a consequence, usually has trouble getting up early enough on Sunday to play golf with us in the morning -- had a truly brilliant idea. I realized as I was writing this that I can’t tell you, yet, exactly what his idea is, except to say that it involves these trees:


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My Usual Game

Member-guest news (part five): night putting, Bloody Marys, and attempted man hugs

The first round of match play in the world's second best amateur golf tournament -- the U.S. Amateur -- was on the Golf Channel on Wednesday, but they switched to a boring pro-tour "round-up" before it was over. In the Amateur, some guy had just birdied the seventeenth hole to square his match with some other guy, and the two of them were the only players still on the course, and I was angry because I wanted to know which one of them would advance. I tried to look up the result later, online, but I couldn't remember the name of either guy. If the Golf Channel ever decides to cover the world's best amateur golf tournament -- my club's men's member-guest -- stuff like that won't happen, I promise you. Incidentally, I would happily watch anyone's member-guest on TV, in preference to, say, the Champions Tour. Here's Chic, our chairman, smoking one of the cigars that were available for purchase this year for the first time, at a very modest markup:

Until the Golf Channel comes around to my way of thinking, you're going to have to watch in person, or make do with photographs. My club has many spectator viewing areas, so that when you yourself are not playing golf you can watch other people. We have sort of a terrace, with picnic benches, above the eighteenth green:

And when the benches are full you can stand behind them or sit on the wall or bring chairs down from the clubhouse porch:

The kids who work in the golf shop watch, too:

During the putting contest each year, some guys move several chairs and a couch over to the far side of the practice green. If you had to pay for seats, those would be the most expensive ones. There's a big drop-off right behind them, but no one has tipped over yet:

The putting contest, like much of the rest of the tournament, is beer-oriented:

For several years, the putting-contest record-keeping has been handled by Katie, who works in the golf shop and is Mike A.'s daughter. She has the most legible handwriting in the club. She's leaving for college in a week or two:

Putting-contest qualifying goes on late into the night, with illumination provided by C.J. and Jaws:

During the putting final, on Saturday evening, we have pizzas from Nancy's restaurant. Nancy also does the steak dinner, on Friday, and all the breakfasts and lunches::

We renovated our clubhouse slightly several years ago, and shortly before we did the women decided they would rather have what until then had been the men's locker room, which was bigger. We said OK, because who cares? After they'd moved in, though, they decided it was too dark and that they wanted to move back. We said OK, because who cares? During the men's member-guest, however, their toilet is temporarily available for use by men. It's not in a stall; it's in a little separate room, which is cleaner than any part of the men's locker room. Or, at least, it was:

We also used their locker room for golf-bag-and-Bloody-Mary storage. (Les had brought the Bloody Marys from home.)

And we had an improvised beer cart, driven by Page, who is Keith's sister:

Lots of people -- including some guys' wives and children -- watched the final shootout, on Sunday:

Some of them also took part in the raffle:

My brother and I were in the shootout, because we had won our flight, but we were (deservedly) eliminated on the second hole. Addison and his guest, whose name is Mike, caddied for us until we flamed out. Addison and Mike were college teammates -- they graduated last year -- and they were also in our flight. That's Addison in the shirt with "31" on the back. Katie's carrying the trophy.

The winners were Ed and his son Nulty. When Ed chipped in for a birdie on the third shoot-out hole, he and Nulty gave each other a sort of preliminary celebratory man hug:

Then, when Ed sank a long putt for a birdie on the final hole, for the win, they gave each other the real thing:

Here they are with their trophy, along with Nulty's brother, Clai, who caddied for both of them and probably could have managed a couple of other golf bags, too. The guy on the far right is Corey, our pro. 

Corey has a daughter, who was also in the gallery. Her name is Olivia. She's almost two:

Nothing to do now but wait till next year.

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My Usual Game

Member-guest news (part four): the return of Peter P.

A little over a year ago, Peter P. was in a terrible car accident. He was in intensive care at a big university hospital for weeks and weeks, and for a while his doctors worried that he wouldn't walk again. He obviously couldn’t come along on our regular fall golf outing to Atlantic City, less than two months after the accident, so Reese and I made a life-size stand-in, called Flat Pete, using the color plotter in Reese’s office and a sheet of foamboard. One interesting thing we learned on the trip is that, if you want to make a good impression on female bartenders, it doesn’t hurt to be a half-inch thick:

peterpbartenderAC.jpgPeter has made a slow but steady recovery since then. We’ve told him many times that we would make any conceivable accommodation to get him into our weekend game again, but he has said that he won’t come back to the Sunday Morning Group until he can play 18 holes without a cart. Many of us have seen him working toward that goal, on the course and on the range, using a 4-iron or his putter as a cane.

Peter did sign up for this year's member-guest -- maybe partly because hardly anyone walks during almost any part of it, on account of the beer-transport issue. At virtually the last minute, though, his guest backed out, for reasons too complicated to go into. Luckily, our pro and the golf committee were able to recruit Bob W., who was our superintendent for 40 years and still lives in a house behind the golf shop. Seeing Bob on the golf course was almost as mind-boggling as seeing Peter. Bob was the best golfer in the club for a very long time, but it's been years since he played more than a few holes in one day, and it's probably true that Peter is one of a very small number of people in the world who could have pulled him out of retirement. Here's Bob with one of his crooked little cigars and the type of button-down shirt he always wears when he plays -- or does anything else, for that matter:

bobwcigar.jpgBob has always had a complicated relationship with the game. I wrote about him in Golf Digest in 2003, in an essay called “The Greenkeeper’s Tale.” One of the complications is his back, and another is his feelings about doctors. Once, he suffered an attack of kidney stones, a recurrent ailment of his. Diane, his wife, was out of town, and Bob stubbornly writhed on the floor of his living room all alone for several hours. When he could no longer tolerate the agony, he crawled to the telephone and called Ferris, who is a former chairman of our golf club. Ferris is the only member of the medical profession who has ever won Bob’s trust. When Bob’s back is really killing him, he will sometimes drive over to Ferris’s office and ask him to take a look. Ferris is a veterinarian. Among the records in the files at his animal hospital is a chart on which the name of the patient is listed as “Bob” and the name of the patient’s owner is listed as “Diane.” (On the night of the kidney-stone attack, Ferris took Bob to the emergency room of a hospital for people.) In the photo below, Bob and I are watching the putting contest from the patio above the practice green:

bobwdlommg.jpgIt would be hard to say which was more remarkable: the fact that Peter managed 45 holes in two days, or that Bob did. In a way, they were ideal partners, since each gave the other an incentive to stick it out. They didn’t win their flight, but they did beat Ed and Nulty, who ended up winning the whole thing; that made them the real champions, according to some methods of calculating these things. And Bob played in the unofficial one-club cross-country tournament that followed the final shootout, and even joined the diehards who went to a bar in town after all the Polish vodka was gone -- two developments not witnessed previously. Reese joined everyone, too, after remembering, at 8:00, that his wife, Vi, had made a dinner reservation for 6:30. Here’s Peter in a golf cart with Other Gene during the shoot-out, in a photo taken by Vi.

peterothergenemmg.jpgBoth of them look better than they did in Atlantic City last year:

peterpothergenecartAC.jpgPeter's walking isn't perfect yet, but his hook doesn't hook as much as it used to (a good thing), and he's getting better at getting around without a cane:


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My Usual Game

Member-guest news (part three): 6 proven ways to change the weather

There was heavy rain in the forecast all weekend during my club's member-guest, but hardly any rain actually fell. My brother and I used our umbrellas to protect our golf bags before we teed off on Saturday morning, but that was pretty much it for the bad weather. Most of the rain that did fall fell on Friday night, making things much easier for Gary (our terrific superintendent) and his crew.

For the most part, the rain went either north or south of us. I take partial credit, because I've developed a number of effective techniques for warding off golf-threatening storms. Probably my greatest success was on a summer weekend almost twenty years ago. I had a big golf game planned for the following day. The forecast was lousy, so all afternoon I kept my TV tuned to the Weather Channel. Every time the radar map came on, I dropped what I was doing and stared. It is sometimes possible to create a localized high-pressure system by exerting fierce mental and optical energy on particular parts of the screen. On rare occasions, I have succeeded in diverting full-blown tropical depressions. 

The following morning, I read only the sports section of the newspaper and never turned on the TV or consulted Weather Underground. Checking the forecast on the day of a golf game greatly increases the likelihood of rain, because rain clouds, like wild animals, can smell fear. As I left the house for the course, at eleven, my wife asked if I would be home for dinner. “I’ll probably be back before lunch,” I said. “It’s supposed to rain hard all afternoon -- why don’t we plan on taking the kids to a movie?”

That was a desperate move on my part. The sky looked so dark at that moment that I had felt compelled to invoke the Law of Maximum Irritation. The law states that the likelihood of completing a given round of golf increases in direct proportion to the amount of trouble the golfer will get into when it is over. By virtually promising my wife that I would be available for a wholesome family outing in the afternoon, I came close to guaranteeing that the storm would hold off at least until Titanic was sold out. 

As I drove to the course, the morning’s sprinkles became real rain, but I never turned the wipers above intermittent speed. Running the wipers at full force encourages a storm and may promote lightning. I also opened my window a few inches and put on both my sunglasses and my golf glove.

Alas, those bold measures didn’t work. In fact, the rain became more intense as I pulled into the parking lot. So, in a final heroic attempt to appease the golf gods, I threw a maiden into the volcano: I sacrificed the back nine. “Just give me nine holes!” I cried, while smiting the dashboard with my (gloved) left fist. “Rain all you want! Just hold the thunder until two-thirty!”

And that, finally, was enough. The clouds began to break up just before we teed off, and the rain stopped altogether before we made the turn. Of course, I was in big trouble when I finally got home, after several beers, at seven o’clock. But I didn’t care. To tell you the truth, I almost always get in trouble when I play golf.


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My Usual Game

Member-guest news (part two): men at the outer limits of fashion

The day after the member-guest, Addison and I realized that we were still golf-deprived, so we went out at five in the afternoon for a Two-Hour Eighteen (TM). I played pretty well but felt like a chopper because Addison made five birdies on the front nine alone, even though he was tired from the weekend and from hitting a couple of hundred range balls that morning while getting fitted for new clubs. We had to play through one pair of slowpokes but were otherwise unimpeded, and we finished our round, walking, in just under two hours. Among the topics we discussed was the stuff other people had worn during the member-guest. Some highlights:

Tony and his son, Timo, looked either like members of the Italian Tour de France team or like busboys at Sbarro:

timotony.jpgThe main issue, possibly, was their socks:

Ferris and his sons -- Matt, Dr. Mike, and Adam -- always dress alike, even though they play in two different flights. This year, no plus-fours or hockey uniforms:

Tim and his son Nick, possibly for strategic reasons, usually dress almost alike but not quite:

Les's regular partner, Duncan, is from England:

Nick P.'s company embroiders stuff on clothes, so he made shirts for himself and his partner:

Reese (Addison's father, right) and Lance (Addison's uncle) wore shorts from (I think) Loudmouth Golf, but they took some grief for wearing them two days in a row:

Mike A. (right) and his brother-in-law, another Dave, are football fans:

On Sunday, Rob was one of several players who wore the green FootJoy golf shirt we'd all been given when we registered:

In the photo below, Jaws is rubbing Rob's head for good luck. (Jaws is called Jaws because when he was a baby he wouldn't stop talking; Rob is called Catbird for reasons I don't fully understand.) Before the member-guest began, I ran into Rob's mother in front of the grocery store, and she told me that she hoped he would behave. He did!

The best-dressed pair, as always, was Fritz (right, in the photo below) and Klinger. They do their member-guest shopping at T. J. Maxx and Kohl's, and if either or both of those companies would offer us a volume discount the Sunday Morning Group would probably make them official suppliers. Klinger is getting married, in Mexico, in October. He is perhaps slightly heavier than he was when he proposed, but I think it's wise to establish a comfortable baseline -- something I should have done before my own wedding, 70 pounds ago:

My brother, John, and I wore the same thing -- khakis and seersucker shirts -- to the stag dinner, on Friday night, but that was an accident. The explanation, according to John, is that we both "work from a limited palate," and he said that it would be interesting to keep track of what we wear on days when we're not together, to see how often we coincide. On Saturday, he dressed almost exactly as I had dressed on Friday (white shirt, reddish shorts), but that was an accident, too. We've talked about wearing the same things on purpose, but I'm not sure that's a good idea. For at least the past six or seven years, no identically-dressed team has won the member-guest shootout -- although he and I did win last year while wearing the same hat. And no one has ever qualified for the putting-contest final with feet that look like these (name withheld):

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My Usual Game

Member-guest news (part one): how to open a beer bottle with a beer can

By David Owen

My club held its annual men's member-guest tournament this past weekend. My brother, John, and I repeated as the winners of our flight but not as the winners of the whole thing, because in the shootout we both bogeyed the second hole, which even the guys with strokes seemed to have no trouble parring. But we had a great time, as we always do, and Brian taught us something no one had ever seen before. Here he is, demonstrating, in the spectator viewing area above the eighteenth green:

I'll have more member-guest news soon, once I've caught up on my sleep.

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My Usual Game

The USGA and R&A should adopt this playoff format (among other things)

Hacker (real name) came up $15 short on Sunday -- something that hardly ever happens. He doesn’t count the money when he collects it before the Sunday Morning Group tees off, and he doesn’t keep track of who has paid and who hasn't, yet the total is almost always exactly right. I know that I wasn’t the one who forgot to pay, because I’ve been on Martha’s Vineyard with my family. I’ve played golf just once, at Farm Neck Golf Club, the course I shared last summer with my close personal friend, the President of the United States. There’s a new sign near the first green:

They used to ask people to play in four hours and fifteen minutes; four hours is better, although three and a half would be better still. I went as a single, and was grouped with a retired guy and two of his grandsons, who were in high school. They hadn’t played much golf before, but both of them were baseball players, and every so often they really clobbered the ball.

I had missed the previous Sunday at home, too, because I was playing in a two-day amateur tournament at Richter Park Golf Course, a terrific muny about 40 minutes from where I live. Three S.M.G. guys -- Rick, Tony, and I -- played in the senior division, and we did pretty well:

After 25 holes, I was tied, for about five seconds, with the guy who eventually won, but then I had some problems, including a quadruple bogey (from the middle of the fairway) on the eleventh hole. Still, the tournament was fun. And the guys who didn’t play at Richter had fun, too, because on Sunday S.M.G. had its first playoff of the year, after three teams tied at 16 under par. I’m kind of sorry I wasn’t there, because our playoff formats are the best in golf. On Sunday, the guys came up with a new one, in which the tied players had to sit in a chair on the patio and throw a ball onto the practice green by bouncing it off a picnic-table bench, closest to the hole. 

Hacker (who took the photo above) sent me a report:

Barney chose the bench to bounce the ball off of, and we made the guys sit on the far side of the round table, about nine feet from the bench. The stymie rule was in effect, as always, and we decided that any ball would count, even if it was off the green. We were worried at first that no one would be able to hit the bench, but that turned out not to be an issue, because Stan was the only one who missed it.

I'll be back home soon -- too late for that playoff, but just in time for the Men's Member-Guest.

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My Usual Game

Up the road from the Open: ordeal by asparagus, death by bacon and the Formby Hippo

Less than an hour up the Lancashire coast from Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where the 2014 British Open was held, is the village of Formby, which is the home of two terrific courses, Formby Golf Club and Formby Ladies Golf Club. (It's also the home of a forgettable Florida-style golf course called Formby Hall.) Formby Golf Club abuts the Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve, one whose attractions is a small plot on which farmers grow asparagus, a once significant local crop.

A man I met during a trip to the region last year told me that banquets for area golf-club captains held at Formby Golf Club had once been "ordeals by asparagus," because diners had to be careful not to drip butter onto their red-silk tailcoats. I visited the Ainsdale dunes one afternoon between rounds, and, among other things, studied an informative historical display.

I also bought a cup of coffee at a mobile stand, which was operated by a middle-aged couple.

The man, whose name was Phil, noticed my golf cap and invited me to play golf with him and his son, Sean, at Southport & Ainsdale, a few miles farther up the road, where he was a member. We played a day or two later. The course is one of my many favorites in the area.

Phil is a retired Merseyside policeman. At lunch after our round, I asked him what his toughest case as a cop had been, and he told me about a 43-year-old woman who had died under mysterious circumstances. “I attended her autopsy,” he said, “because she was from a tough neighborhood and there was a presumption of foul play.” The pathologist was baffled, but then, as he was finishing up, he noticed something odd in her throat and gripped it with a clamp -- like that scene in “Twin Peaks” in which Special Agent Dale Cooper finds a typed letter “R” under Laura Palmer’s fingernail. Phil said, “It was a piece of bacon rind, six or seven inches long. She had choked to death on a bacon sandwich” -- an unsettling thought, since that’s what I was having for lunch, and since bacon is pretty much the No. 1 nutrient of the Sunday Morning Group.

Incidentally, Formby has foxes in addition to asparagus.

And Southport & Ainsdale has rabbits.

And Formby also has the Formby Hippo -- about which I may have more to say later.

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