The Local Knowlege

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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My Usual Game

Up the road from the Open: the Hitler Trophy and the Hitler Tree

Hesketh Golf Club is an hour’s drive up the Lancashire coast from Royal Liverpool, where the Open is being played. It’s near the northern end of the resort town of Southport, and it has an enviable street address:

In 1936, the president of the German Golf Union was a brother-in-law of Joachim von Ribbentrop, who later became the foreign minister of the Third Reich. (Ribbentrop was executed for war crimes in Nuremberg in 1946.) In August, ten days after the close of the Summer Olympics, in Berlin, the golf union held an international tournament at Baden-Baden, in the Black Forest. According to English golf lore, Hitler believed that a German victory would soften the multiple humiliations that Jesse Owens had delivered during the Games. Seven countries participated, each represented by a pair of golfers. The format was 72 holes of stroke play over two days; each team’s score was the aggregate score of both its players. The English competitors were Tommy Thirsk, from Ganton Golf Club, and Arnold Bentley, from Hesketh:

After 36 holes, the Germans led by three strokes. According to a recent history by Derek Holden, Hesketh’s president, “Ribbentrop rashly notified Hitler that there would be a German victory. Elated, the Fuhrer set out for Baden-Baden to present the trophy to two members of his ‘master race.’” But Thirsk and Bentley dominated the final two rounds, and in the end they beat the Germans by twelve strokes and the French by four. Holden continues: “Ribbentrop then raced off by car to intercept Hitler and break the bad tidings. Hitler was furious, ordering his chauffeur to turn the car round.”

The tournament trophy -- a silver-gilt salver inlaid with faceted amber disks that from a distance look like egg yolks -- eventually ended up in private hands, but was put up for auction in 2012. Hesketh acquired it for roughly £20,000, raised from members, after outbidding a German golf organization. Last year, Holden told me that he had been worried, initially, that Hesketh would have to compete in the auction with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which had sent a representative, and with collectors of Nazi memorabilia. But Hesketh prevailed, and the trophy is now displayed in the main grillroom.

Bentley’s winnings at Baden-Baden included a small potted fir tree. He gave it to the club, which planted it on a small rise in front of the clubhouse. During the Second World War, members named it the Hitler Tree and used it as a urinal. You can still see it, if you visit Hesketh. (It’s now quite large, and is seldom -- but not never -- used as it was during the war.) The course isn’t one of the Liverpool area’s greatest, but its fourteenth and fifteenth holes are two of my favorites anywhere. Here’s the fourteenth, looking back from just beyond the green (with the clubhouse in the middle of the picture and the golf shop on the right, under the flagpole):


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My Usual Game

Pink flags, black raspberries, and a surprise party for Hacker (real name)

On Friday afternoon, all the flags, flagsticks, and cup liners were pink, because that morning the women had held their nine-hole member-guest tournament (with a field of ten). Nine of us teed off at 2:15, when it was safely over. This spring, Gary, our superintendent, switched us to red, white, and blue flags, to show front, middle, and back hole locations, and some of the guys were confused, at first, by the pink flags, which from a distance looked red. The cup liners were a pulsing, electric pink, and they were so bright that they drew my putts into the hole, I felt. But some of the other guys experienced a repellent effect.

Growing near the lower tee on our fourth hole is a big wild-black-raspberry bush:

A longtime member of our club, whose name was Ed, used to pee there regularly, to discourage poaching, but he’s been dead for several years now, so it’s safe to eat them. They’re rich in antioxidants, and so forth.

Our round was timed to keep Hacker occupied while his wife and daughters, against his wishes, made preparations for a surprise seventieth birthday party for him in the clubhouse. We made the turn exactly when we were supposed to, and we merged two of our threesomes into a sixsome when it seemed that we might finish before the guests had arrived.

The only close call came on the fifteenth tee, when Joe and I realized that we could hear Hacker’s wife giving directions to her helpers on the clubhouse porch. (She used to be a gym teacher, as did Hacker, and she knows how to make herself heard.) But Joe and I drowned her out by making a succession of stupid remarks, and the danger passed.

Hacker figured things out as we were coming down the eighteenth fairway. A large group of non-golfers was standing on the terrace above the green, and he realized that the people who for some reason were watching us play golf included his daughters, his wife's siblings, and all four of his grandchildren.

The party food, which had been planned by his wife and daughters, included french fries, miniature cheeseburgers, and make-your-own ice-cream sundaes -- all Sunday Morning Group staples.

There were also sausages, shrimp on skewers, pigs in blankets, big platters of antipasto, and lots of other things. (On one table there was a platter of vegetable-type items, but I believe they were decorations.) Hacker had thought that we were going to order pizza from Nancy's restaurant and play night golf, so the party surprised him even more than it might have. But the night golf happened anyway, as soon as it got dark, so everything worked out.

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My Usual Game

Sunday on TV: two great U.K. links courses, two great golf trips

The Scottish Open -- that is to say, the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open -- is being played at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, in northeastern Scotland. My friends and I played two rounds there there in 2008. Here some of the guys are on the first tee:

St. Andrews is just 80 miles to the south, but you could skip it and still put together a terrific golf trip, playing only courses within bicycling distance of Aberdeen. Maybe start at Carnoustie, on the northern side of the Firth of Tay. Then Forfar, a heathland course, definitely worth the twelve-mile trip inland:

Then Royal Aberdeen, which you can study on TV on Sunday (the Golf Channel in the morning; NBC in the afternoon):

Then Murcar, which is so close to Royal Aberdeen that players on one course sometimes accidentally play onto the other. Here you are looking toward Murcar from Royal Aberdeen:

And here you are looking toward Royal Aberdeen from Murcar:

Then Trump International, which I haven’t played yet but which I walked when it was nearing completion. Then maybe Newburgh-on-Ythan, where I played with two other guys named Dave. The course isn't the greatest, but if you like to walk you can drive a couple of miles up the road and hike into a nature preserve whose many fascinating features include some enormous sand dunes, which are visible from the course:

You can also explore the remains of the village of Forvie, which was swallowed by blowing sand in the 1400s. All that’s left are some piles of stones and part of the village church, which was built on high ground:

Then Cruden Bay, which is one of my favorite courses anywhere:

Then maybe Peterhead (where I played with the pro), Inverallochy (where I accidentally set off the clubhouse alarm), and Fraserburgh, whose first and last holes could use some work but is otherwise terrific.

There you go: a great golf trip, and you've put barely 100 miles on your rental car. And if there are non-playing spouses along you can stop for occasional sightseeing without driving more than a mile or two out of your way:

Meanwhile, in England, the Women’s British Open -- that is to say, the Ricoh Women’s British Open -- is being held at Royal Birkdale, in northwestern England. (You can study the course on ESPN2.) My friends and I visited Birkdale in 2010 and I returned in 2013. Here's Ray in 2010:

Birkdale lies near the center of what may be my favorite golf trip, the route for which runs along the Lancashire coast from Royal Liverpool, where the British Open will be played next week, about an hour to the south of Birkdale, to Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where the Open was played in 2012, about an hour to the north. I have an article about that trip coming up in a future issue of Golf Digest. In the meantime, I can tell you that in 2010 nine of us played fifteen rounds in eight days on eleven of the courses between Liverpool and Lytham, and at dinner on our last night in England the nine of us named eight of them as the one we’d most like to play again.

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