The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

How to hit a lob shot from the back of a pickup truck

Recently, the Sunday Morning Group held a shootout in which the prizes were some stuff sent to us by Famous Smoke Shop, our tobacco sponsor and smoking connection, which sells cigars online, by mail order, and in person (at the company’s headquarters and retail super store, in Easton, Pennsylvania). The format was lob wedge over the patio to the practice green, closest to the pin, from the bed of Fritz's pickup truck.

The prizes were a cutter, a butane lighter, a humidor, and a handful of cigars. The cutter, the lighter, and the humidor had the awesome logo of one of Famous Smoke Shop's subsidiary websites, CigarMonster, which sells cigar-related gear. The cigars were Infernos.

Fritz backed his truck up to the fence and dropped the tailgate. The truck's bed has a plastic liner -- good for spin. Climbing into the truck while holding a wedge, a ball, and a beer took some doing. Here's Hacker (real name) using the bumper as a step:

And here's Nick P., taking a shot:

Nick's ball didn't stay on the green, so he didn't win anything, but he did earn points for bringing lunch, including an SMG semi-first: barbecued chicken.

Mike A. and Peter A. came in first and second in the cigar shootout, and took the cutter and the lighter, respectively. Chic came in third and took the Cigar Monster humidor:

Chic is our golf chairman. One Sunday, he came close to shooting his pants: waist size on the front, inseam on the back.

After the shootout, we held a quick meeting to decide whether to play a second eighteen or go home and do chores (i.e., take a nap).



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My Usual Game

Golf in Morocco: A better way to haggle

I visited Morocco on a golf junket in 2000, and although my companions and I spent a lot of our time playing golf, we did other stuff, too.

We did a fair amount of nosing around in the Jamaa el Fnaa, Marrakech's huge central square and outdoor marketplace, just outside the front door of our hotel. (You can see both the square and the hotel in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much.")

In the square, for a few pennies, you could have your photograph taken with a large snake draped over your shoulders, and then, for a few dollars, have the snake (now slowly wrapping itself around your neck) removed. 

Most guidebooks say that the prices in Moroccan markets are highly negotiable, and that tourists should haggle aggressively. I dutifully bargained a little at one vendor’s stall—and bought my son a key chain attached to a chunk of plastic in which a scorpion had been embedded—but I hated feeling that I was going to the mat over a trivial sum with a man who clearly needed every dirham he could lay his hands on. 

Then, suddenly, I had a conceptual breakthrough: instead of bargaining down, why not bargain up? I tried my idea first in a taxi, which I was sharing with two other sportswriters. When the driver told us that the fare was 80 dirhams (about eight dollars), I said, “No! A hundred!” He did a perfect cartoon double-take, then looked at me with deep suspicion. I said, in halting schoolboy French, “You are an excellent driver. Eighty is not enough. A hundred and ten!” He then not only laughed but also drove us all the way across a busy intersection, which he had previously seemed inclined to abandon us in the middle of.
A little later, in a maze-like souk, I reverse-haggled over the price of a leather purse, for my daughter—“The work is so beautiful!” I said. “Your price is too low!”—and ended up with both a free second purse and an invitation to spend Ramadan with the family of the shopkeeper (I think).

To be continued.

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My Usual Game

Report (including lunch) from the Olympic Club

Our golf course has just nine holes, and from the tips it's only a few inches longer than 5,500 yards, and if you want lunch you have to make it yourself. Nevertheless, the Sunday Morning Group managed to send two golfers -- Addison and Todd -- to the first United States Amateur Four-Ball Championship, which was held at the Olympic Club, in San Francisco, earlier this month:

They qualified by shooting 65 at our state's qualifier, at Mill River Country Club, back in September. As a matter of fact, we really sent three golfers to Olympic, because the other team that qualified in our state (by shooting 66) was Ben D. -- an honorary SMG member by virtue of his having come on one of our annual golf trips to Atlantic City -- and his brother, Daniel. Addison, Todd, Ben, and Daniel played their practice rounds together. In the photo below, which was taken on Olympic's Lake Course, Ben is the one who didn't listen when the photographer told them not to look at the camera; the others, from left to right, are Todd, Addison, and Daniel.

Addison and Todd didn't make it to match play, and Ben and Daniel lost their first match, but they all had a great time. Addison's mother, Vi, took lots of pictures. Here's Todd and his daughter Amanda, who caddied for him:

Addison's caddie was his Uncle Lance, who plays in our member-guest with Addison's father, Reese, and is therefore an honorary SMG member, too:

Here's Addison's report:

We were treated like pros by the USGA and the Olympic Club. They shuttled us back and forth between the hotel and the course, and we were able to use every imaginable amenity in the clubhouse: pool, steam room, hot tub, you name it. Everything was complementary except alcohol. We had our own lockers, and our shoes were always polished. The practice facilities were open from 7 to 7 each day, and the range balls were Pro V1xes. I should have just packed my sleeping bag and stayed in the locker room.

The trip gave everyone multiple opportunities to sample an Olympic specialty: the burger dog. It's a hamburger that's shaped like a hot dog and served on a hot-dog bun, and it was invented in 1950 by a man named Bill Parrish. It's served in a little bag, so you can eat it with one hand and not drip mustard on your shirt.

Olympic burger dog.JPG
Todd says he's going to try to reproduce burger dogs the next time it's his turn to bring lunch for the Sunday Morning Group. Maybe add bacon?

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My Usual Game

The best sunscreen for golfers is now available as a spray

New Zealanders didn't invent skin cancer, but they've come close to perfecting it: their country is stuck under one of the skimpier parts of the ozone layer. The only time the tops of my ears have ever peeled was during a golf trip to Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, in 2007:

P1020528-001.JPGSo it isn't surprising that New Zealanders have also created the best sunscreen for golfers: GolfersSkin, which is used by a large and growing number of tour pros and caddies. It's sweat-proof, and it isn't greasy, and it doesn't stain golf shirts, and it comes in several forms -- among them, now, a spray, which is especially easy to apply to bare arms and legs. My wife says the non-spray versions smell like "fine coconut cologne"; the spray is coconut-free, and if you use it in combination with insect repellent you can turn your legs into a La Brea-Tar-Pits-style mausoleum for flying and crawling bugs.

IMG8666.JPGI once considered running for President on a platform that had just three planks. I forget what the first two were, but the third involved requiring people to put on their sunscreen at home, before getting dressed. It drives me crazy to see parents waiting until they get to the beach, then smearing the stuff semi-haphazardly on squirming kids who are trying to run to the waves. Applying sunscreen at home is way easier, because you don't have to work around straps or hats or shirts, and nobody is covered with sand yet, and when you're finished you can wash your hands in a sink. Besides, sunscreen works better if you give it time to soak in. And all the same goes for golfers: apply your GolfersSkin on at home, before you put on your favorite golf shirt, rather than ruining your collar and your grips and your glove by trying to do it on the first tee.
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My Usual Game

Free golf balls! (for my friends and me)

At a rich-guy club several years ago, I stopped by the golf shop to buy Pro V1s, and when the assistant behind the counter told me how much they were I said, “Oh, no, just a sleeve,” but -- ha-ha! -- the joke was on me. I bought them anyway, because I didn’t want some kid to think I couldn’t afford $15 apiece for golf balls. During my round, though, I played away from trouble, and I never went for anything in two. And when I got home I moved three slightly beaten-up Pro V1s from my shag bag to my golf bag, because by doing that, I figured, I was cutting my average cost in half.


Recently, my friends and I have been using significantly less expensive balls, called Vice Pro. They were sent to us by Vice Golf, a German company, whose founders are shown in the photo above.


The company has just started selling in the United States, and it's eager to receive the tsunami-like marketing boost that follows any association with the Sunday Morning Group. Vice is the official ball of the German Golf Association, and Vice Pro won a gold rating in Golf Digest’s 2015 Hot List, and Titleist has endorsed the design, in a way, by suing the company (and several others) for copying the Pro V1’s patented dimple pattern.


One of the many lawyers in SMG worked for Callaway during its (successful) lawsuit against Titleist over something similar, and the lawsuit took forever so I know from experience that we won’t have to send our balls back to Germany anytime soon. And that’s a good thing because everybody seems to like them -- and not only because the ones we got have our (unpatented) logo on them. (Vice offers several personalization options.)


Vice balls are sold only online. The ones we got were a great price (free); they’re more expensive if have to pay for them ($35 a dozen for the top-of-the-line Pro balls), but they’re still cheaper than the competition, and they’re even cheaper if you’re willing to order more than one dozen at a time. (If you buy five or more, the price drops to $25 a dozen.) The shipping cost ($7) is the same no matter how many you order -- a further incentive to stock up. Tim has already re-ordered, and as soon as we've got some cash in our slush fund we'll think about adding the Vice logo to our Jagermeister sweatshirts our our Famous Smoke Shop hats.

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My Usual Game

How many times could Jordan Spieth buy and sell you?

The British golf-stuff website -- which is similar to TGW, Golfsmith, or Edwin Watts -- includes a gadget that lets you compare your earnings with those of the world’s best golfers. You have to convert your salary to British pounds, but once you’ve done that you have access to all sorts of interesting information, including how much you and the world’s best golfers are earning while you fool around at


If you're using your phone and can’t see the embedded link in the paragraph above, go here:


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My Usual Game

Revolutionary new playoff format -- now with bacon

Two teams tied during the Sunday Morning Group’s inaugural outing of 2015, a couple of weeks ago. The playoff format (devised by the Committee) was “foot wedge from the patio to the practice green, closest to the hole.” A foot-wedge shot, to seem realistic, has to be furtive: you can’t look at the ball:

One of the difficulties with the foot wedge is that, if you’re good at it, people assume you’ve used it before, so the best approach is to appear only semi-competent. Meanwhile, lunch was provided by Peter A., who introduced a menu item that will be considered a staple from now on:


You don’t have to cook it, but you can, by dropping it on the grill for a minute or so before moving it to your burger and covering it with cheese.




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My Usual Game

Has anyone else had this problem with their rangefinder?

Last June, I bought a Bushnell Tour Z6 laser rangefinder. It’s not as good at picking up distant targets as my ancient Bushnell PinSeeker 1500 was, but it’s small enough to fit in a pocket, and the battery lasts a long time, and I like it. (I had made myself believe that the PinSeeker was broken, but as soon as the Z6 arrived I discovered that it still worked fine. So I sold it to Kevin for $48 and a ball-marker.)


My only beef about the Z6 is that the eyepiece, which keeps sunlight off the lens while you’re using it and is the thing you turn to adjust the focus, looks solid but is actually a cheap, floppy rubber tube that’s held in place by nothing but some kind of not-very-strong glue. Here’s the eyepiece:


Mine came almost all the way off one of the first times I used it, but I pushed it back on and tried to be careful with it. At some point during a round today, though, it disappeared. Here’s what my Z6 looks like now. You can see a tiny, booger-like remnant of the old glue, over on the lower right:


Has this happened to anyone else?  I didn’t handle it roughly, a lesson I learned with my first rangefinder. I just used it while playing golf. And -- Hey, Bushnell! -- what am I supposed to do now? Is my rangefinder still waterproof? Can the eyepiece be replaced? Should I try to trick Kevin into selling me back my PinSeeker?


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My Usual Game

Have a cigar! Hey, have two!

There are two approaches to turning yourself into a human billboard: the single-logo, less-is-more approach, typified by Tiger Woods (Nike) and Jordan Spieth (Under Armour), and the how-much-personal-surface-area-can-I-embroider approach, typified by Jim Furyk and NASCAR. My friends and I fall into the second category, and, even though by now we have virtually covered ourselves with umlauts (thanks to Jagermeister, the official all-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group), we haven’t finished selling out.


Recently, we added another major sponsor: Famous Smoke Shop, which sells cigars online, by mail order, and in person (at the company’s headquarters and retail super store, in Easton, Pennsylvania). Famous Smoke is what is known in the business world as a "good fit" with a lot of the guys I play golf with.


Famous Smoke was founded in New York City in 1939 by David and Rose Zaretsky, and it’s owned today by their son Arthur, who, whether he plays golf or not, is now an honorary member of the Sunday Morning Group. The company operates several cigar-oriented websites -- not just Famous-Smoke but also CigarAuctioneer (which sells lighters and other accessories) and CigarMonster (which has the coolest golf hats):


When we played at Richter Park two weekends ago, we handed out a bunch of goodies that Famous Smoke had sent us during the courtship phase of our relationship: cigars, hats, shirts, towels, and other stuff. We gave those things to ourselves and also to random strangers, including this guy:


It was like Man Halloween.


Cigars have sort of been in the news recently, because the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will presumably lead eventually to the normalization of relations between American cigar smokers and Cuban cigars. I asked our new friends at Famous Smoke about that, and learned that Arthur Zaretsky believes that an end to the cigar embargo would be good good for Cubans and for his company (and therefore, by extension, for the Sunday Morning Group), but that, for a variety of mostly legal reasons, he doesn’t believe it will happen soon. Even so, he’s optimistic, long-term; he told a local reporter, “I’ve been waiting 45 years to sell Cuban cigars.”


Recently, someone told me that when the pros sell out they do it for money, not just for hats and shirts with awesome logos on them. Whoa! Maybe we'll work on that next.



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My Usual Game

Cart-only rules should be against the rules

My home course isn't open yet, but spring is finally truly here, and last weekend 16 of us played at Richter Park, one of the best munis in the United States: great course, stirring scenery, terrific pro, committed regulars, you name it. There's just one problem: Richter doesn't allow walking on weekend mornings, even if you pay the cart fee. The thinking, presumably, is that carts are good for pace of play. But, as anyone who walks regularly knows, four golfers on foot will almost always play faster than four golfers in two carts, because four golfers in two carts will almost always spend most of their time either doing nothing (because they're waiting for someone else to do something) or aimlessly driving around. (The U.S.G.A., which is studying pace of play, should test this. And why not? They spend money on stuff that's way dumber.)

We actually ended up walking almost as far as we would have if we'd walked, because on Sunday Richter was cart-paths-only. The starter had told us that weekend rounds usually take about five hours, and I expected the cart-path requirement to make things worse. But even the slowpokes ahead of us beat five hours, and by a wide margin. I've thought about that since then, and I believe the reason, paradoxically, is that having to keep carts on cart paths forces riders to think more like walkers. They plan ahead, to some extent, and that speeds them up. Still, I'll be happy to be back on my home course, where even three and a half hours is considered dawdling -- like these guys, who were sunning themselves in the lateral hazard to the left of the fairway on Richter's sixteenth, a claustrophobia-inducing par 5:

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