The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

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.


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:


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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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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My Usual Game

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.


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.”


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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My Usual Game

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:


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:


Someone remembered to bring Irish antifreeze:


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


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:


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:


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


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:


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


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?


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:



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.


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.)


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


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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My Usual Game

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:

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:

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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My Usual Game

International shorts rule now in effect

The Sunday Morning Group gives an extra handicap stroke to anyone who wears shorts after November 1 (and two strokes after December 1). It was so cold and windy on Sunday that Gary, our terrific superintendent, lit a fire in the clubhouse for us after he and his crew had finished mowing the greens:

Only two guys wore shorts: Fritz and Mike A. -- and Mike didn't get anything for it because we played off zero that day and he already gets 14 shots, the S.M.G. maximum. But he believes in not letting the weather boss you around.

The wind was blowing so hard that it kept tipping over the rocking chairs on the S.M.G. patio:

Still, eleven guys showed up, including Corey, our terrific pro:

Nobody had remembered the Jagermeister, but Corey found a bottle of something in the clubhouse, left over from the member-guest. There were fruit flies lying on the bottom, but not that many, and they weren't moving.

The wind blew so hard while I was hitting a shot on the sixth hole that my pushcart took off like an iceboat, ran full speed down the steepest part of the fairway, and crashed nose-first into the creek. The front wheel buried up to its hub in the opposite bank, but the cart didn't tip over, and nothing fell out:

Afterwards, we did skins in the clubhouse, which was still warm from Gary's fire. 

Then five of us went out to lunch.

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My Usual Game

Check out our revolutionary new rainproof and sweat-proof golf scorecards

Hacker (real name) was questionable for our Friday-morning game, because he’d broken the middle finger on his left hand while using his wood-splitter:

Also, it was raining. But he played anyway, and so did Barney, Tim, and I. We had the course to ourselves:

Hacker discovered that his finger didn't hurt nearly as much if he used a baseball grip. Here's a perfectly square divot he took on the fourth hole (that's his tee in the middle of it):

The rain wasn’t a problem, because we were using one of our new waterproof scorecards. (You can watch a video demonstration at the bottom of this post.) Our waterproof cards look exactly like our regular scorecards, but they don’t get soggy or fall apart, and you can write on them when they’re soaking wet, using a regular pencil -- and then you can erase what you’ve written, using the same pencil. In fact, the wetter they are the better they work. Here's the card we used on Friday, strapped to my pushcart:

Our field test went great, and I double-checked the result by driving home with the card stuck to my windshield:

Our waterproof scorecards were printed for us by PrintWorks, the official stationers of the Sunday Morning Group. We didn’t actually invent them; we stole the idea from Todd Petrey, a caddie at Bandon Dunes. Petrey graduated from the University of Florida 1992 with a degree in sports therapy, and tried to play golf professionally for a while. He began caddying when he was short of cash, and one of the places he worked was East Lake, in Atlanta, where the weather is so disgustingly hot and humid that scorecards sometimes dissolve in perspiration. To deal with that problem, and also with rain, he invented Drycards. (“Like a normal scorecard, only better because you can use it as a coaster.”) Petrey also invented Signsocks, temporary road-sign covers used in highway construction projects. 

Ray, Tony, and I first saw Drycards while playing 10 rounds in the rain at Bandon in 2007. Last year, I tried to get in touch with Petrey, to order a batch for S.M.G., but as near as I can tell he’s no longer in business. (He doesn’t seem to be selling Signsocks anymore, either.) So I took an old Bandon Drycard down to my basement and reverse-engineered it -- which is to say, I ordered a supply of synthetic paper (the secret ingredient) from Amazon, and Hacker and I took it to PrintWorks. Here's how it works:

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My Usual Game

Two important new golf-course classifications

During the Sunday Morning Group’s recent golf-only trip to Atlantic City, we played one course that made me extra sympathetic to women golfers, because there were so many houses right next to the fairways. It wasn’t as bad as this course in Las Vegas:

Still, on most of the holes there was virtually no covering vegetation. I suppose that, when houses are that close to golf holes, you can always ring a doorbell and ask to use the powder room -- or maybe just let yourself in, in case the people who live there are busy. Anyway, the other two places we played were a lot more accommodating, and it occurred to me that courses that look out for beer drinkers and middle-aged men deserve official recognition. So at our next editorial meeting I’m going to suggest that we begin awarding these:

I’m also going to suggest that we do something about golf courses that don't offer pushcarts or pullcarts for rent -- sadly true of all three courses we played. I hadn’t been able to bring my pushcart because Reese’s car barely had room for me. I've never played a golf course in Scotland, Ireland, or England that didn’t have “trolleys” available. Isn't the whole thing about the United States that we have more of everything than anyone else? Get with the program, golf courses, or I might have to give you one of these:

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My Usual Game

Reader's Trip Report: Bandon Dunes in a hurricane

Mike Goldman, a reader, recently spent several days at Bandon Dunes with seven friends. Here’s the local forecast from part of their trip:

They played that day and every other, naturally, even though the Speed Golf World Championship, which was supposed to take place on Old MacDonald during their trip, was canceled because of the weather. Here’s what the wind did to the speed-golf scoreboards:

From Goldman’s report:

While the entire trip was a home run (mainly because my team won), the lasting memory will be our trudge through the hurricane on Saturday, on Bandon Dunes. What started as a light mist and a stiff breeze quickly regressed into a wind and rainstorm so dramatic that one member of our group said, on the second tee, “We've already passed the point of bringing all the animals inside and duct-taping the windows.” 

I'm not an agronomist, but my understanding is that gorse is a hearty plant and that it's unusual to see it rolling down fairways like tumbleweeds. At one point, on the sixth green, we suspended play and hunkered down in a catcher’s stance, and leaned into the wind to keep from blowing off the cliff. We were a little nervous, but, mainly, we were laughing hysterically at what we were going to have to do to complete the match. Here’s one of our caddies climbing uphill into the wind:

On the seventh green, as we were trying unsuccessfully to mark our balls, one of the caddies said, “Whatever you do, do not get within 10 feet of that cliff.” No. 9 at Bandon is a straightforward par 5. On a normal day, it's two good shots and a little pitch, and then you’re putting for birdie. Playing dead into he storm, I hit driver (hard), 3-wood, 3-wood (again), and then a torched 8-iron to the front fringe, 50 feet from the hole. I'm more pleased with that result than hitting it in two on a normal day.

At the end of nine holes, much to the relief of our caddies, we suspended play for a burger and a beer, and strategized about how best to complete the matches. We settled on the Preserve, Bandon's new 13-hole par-3 course. The longest hole is only about 160 yards, but many holes turned out to be unreachable. On others, you'd hit a simple pitch shot and watch the wind whisk your ball over the green and into the gorse. At the end of the day, we were tattered, wind-damaged, and in possession of a golf experience we'll all remember for a lifetime.  

Here's the winning team. (Marty Hackel: note the wardrobe.) From left to right, they are Mike Kemmet, Trevor Dyer, Mike Goldman, and Steve Harry. Dyer (a.k.a. The Captain) organized the trip, and kept everyone up to date with a website he created for that purpose -- an excellent idea.

Here's Dyer during the hurricane. It looks like he's swinging, but he's actually just being bent into a pretzel by the wind:

And here's a picture of Goldman during a round once the storm had passed:

And here's a golf quiz: when you read Goldman's account of their Saturday rounds, did you wish you'd been there, too? I did. (That means I passed the quiz.) I visited Bandon back in February 2007 with Tony and Ray. We played ten rounds in five days, all in the rain. During lunch between eighteens each day, we parked our rainsuits in some industrial-strength dryers in the clubhouse. Here are Ray and Tony with our caddies:

During that trip, a starter told me that, several winters before, on a day when the wind blew hard and Bandon received almost seven inches of rain, all 85 golfers on the tee sheet played -- and so did two walk-ons, who were passing through and thought the day looked reasonable for golf. They were right!

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My Usual Game

Golf and condoms in Atlantic City

This year was the crystal anniversary of the Sunday Morning Group’s annual end-of-season golf-only trip to Atlantic City. The first A.C. trip was organized by Barney in 2000, when, for some reason, everyone looked younger than they do today:

AC SMG 2000.jpg
Four of the guys in that picture went on this year’s trip, too: Hacker (real name), Rick, Tim, and me. (Hacker and I are the only ones who have been on all fifteen.) Two of the guys in the picture are dead: John and Uncle Frank. John’s son, Mike, was on this year's trip, and when he laughs he sounds almost exactly like his father. Our main A.C. competition, the Attardi Cup, was named in memory of Uncle Frank:

We always open up our trips to friends from outside our club, and even to friends of friends. This has beneficially expanded our acquaintance with overweight middle-aged men from beyond our immediate geographical area, and has led to some interesting match-ups. This year, six of the twenty guys on the trip were from other clubs -- including Richard. He and I lived on the same floor of the same dormitory for two years in college, but didn’t meet until last year, at our thirty-fifth reunion. Now he’s an honorary member of S.M.G.:

Our guest policy has occasionally led to problems. One year, one of the guys invited an old high-school friend of his, whom he hadn’t seen in a long time. The old friend, who began drinking as soon as he got into Hacker’s car, bought a dozen condoms at a convenience store during a refueling stop. “I don’t know why I buy these things,” he said. “I never use them.” Then he stashed the box under his seat and forgot all about it. A week after we got back, Hacker’s wife discovered the condoms and -- here’s the problem -- didn’t believe, even for a minute, that they belonged to any of us. I guess she knew that, even in A.C., our bad behavior is limited to things like ordering beer with breakfast:

And playing as a ninesome:

Speaking of condoms: the first time I bought them I asked for seven, a number that, after virtually endless reflection, had struck me as the sort of nonchalant-sounding quantity that a seasoned purchaser might request. (I was sixteen.) The pharmacist replied that they were sold in either packages of three or boxes of a dozen. I said that, in that case, I would take nine. He said that, in that case, I might as well take a dozen, since the cost was about the same. I said oh, all right, sure, why not, hell, let’s make it a dozen -- but I came very close, at that moment, to going back to just being a kid.

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My Usual Game

The frost is on the Jagermeister

Google Now is an app that automatically displays certain useful information when you launch Google on your phone or other mobile device. Exactly what it displays depends on a number of factors: your current location, data you’ve provided to other Google services, and subjects that you’ve asked the app to follow for you, such as professional golf. It knows where my house is, because I’ve entered my home address on Google Maps, and it knows I’m interested in the results of certain post-season baseball games, because I’ve looked them up, and when I’m traveling it suggests nearby activities. It still has a few bugs, though. For example, it thinks I “work” at my golf club -- presumably because when I leave my house each day that’s the place I’m the most likely to go. Come on, Google! You sound like my wife!

Last Sunday, we had our first frost delay of the year. Reese, whose turn it was to bring lunch, also brought two bags of apple-cider donuts and a bottle of Jagermeister, the traditional cold-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group. The bottle made a handy weather gauge, because it was as frosty as the greens. 

While we waited for the bottle to clear, we putted on the floor of the golf shop, which, unlike the clubhouse, is sort of heated. Addison jammed a red plastic beer cup between two golf bags full of demos, and we aimed for that.

Our golf shop closes for the year at the end of the month, and if you have golf-shop credit you have to spend it before then. Now is a good time to do that, because everything is on sale. 

Stanley wears size-thirteen-and-a-half shoes. The biggest ones Corey had in stock were thirteens, but Stanley almost bought them, because he figured he could stretch them. Then he came to his senses. Meanwhile, Gary, our terrific superintendent, was mowing the practice green, which had finally melted -- almost time to tee off:

Something we always have trouble with on Sunday mornings is getting an accurate head count. Some guys hang out on the practice green, where they're hard to see from the first tee, and some guys disappear into the bathroom in the clubhouse, and some guys hold putting contests in the golf shop, and nobody stands still. On Sunday, though, I had a eureka moment: instead of counting people, count bags:

It took me almost twenty years to think of that.

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