The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

I don't get blisters anymore, but if I did. . . .

Golf shoes by True Linkswear, a company for which I am an unpaid shill, are so comfortable that I now wear one or another of my many pairs not just when I play golf but also almost any time I can't get away with being barefoot. My favorite model at the moment is the "lyt dry" (I don't pick the names). Here's what they looked like on my feet at the men's member-guest, back in August:

I'm also quite fond of a similar model, called "vegas." (Again, I wasn't asked.) Here's what those look like:

My very first True golf shoes were a little like clown feet, or flippers, but they were so ridiculously comfortable that I didn't mind. Recent models have been more shoe-like, in both appearance and construction; some of the latest ones even have heels. That's a good thing if you want to wear golf shoes when you go out to dinner with your wife, as I do, but it's mildly worrisome if the thing you loved most about your first pairs was that they felt like bedroom slippers. I'm just going to trust True's designers not to go overboard with the conventional-shoe stuff, and to keep working on whatever technology they use to make the waterproof models waterproof -- a technology that, in my opinion, they haven't perfected.

I haven't had a single blister since switching to Trues -- not even on the two days when my friends and I played more than a hundred holes between sunrise and sunset. If I ever do get a blister, or feel a blister coming on, however, I know exactly what I'll do: cover it immediately with a Band-Aid Advanced Healing blister pad:

The pads are actually manufactured by a Danish company, and are called Compeed everywhere but in the United States. (The company also makes pads for corns and cold sores.) Each one contains a "hydrocolloidal" gel, which both acts as a cushion and draws moisture from the affected area, helping it to heal. Ideally, you leave the pad on until it falls off -- and it stays stuck, even in the shower, and doesn't slide around the way an ordinary bandage does. I carry several in my golf bag, and issue them to whimpering friends.

My wife uses them with her new hockey skates, which she's still breaking in. She also uses another Band-Aid blister product, called a Friction Block Stick, as a blister preventative:

It's basically Crisco in a plastic applicator, as near as I can tell. (The main ingredient is hydrogenated vegetable oil.) But my wife says it works.

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My Usual Game

Two golf dreams, featuring St. Andrews and Stevie Wonder

I've often wished that I'd taken up golf twenty years earlier, not only so that I could have wastedkatieredgown.JPG my physical prime on golf courses instead of in classrooms, libraries, and bars, but also so that I could have attended the University of St. Andrews instead of the college I did. I'd have bought a student golf ticket, which would have enabled me to play virtually free rounds on the Old Course and all the other Links Trust courses until I flunked out -- and I still could have ended up in my current profession, since writing about golf requires no education at all. Instead, I'm forced to live vicariously through Slade, whose granddaughter Katie (in the sharp red gown in the photo at right) just matriculated at St. Andrews. As far as I'm concerned, she's living the dream. And I know that the rest of the Sunday Morning Group shares my conviction that no one ought to pass her college career without frequent visits from her grandfather and his friends, who will be happy to camp out on the floor in her truly awesome-looking dormitory, which is barely a thousand yards from the first tee:

Closer to home, my friend Ellis recently had a golf-related dream, which had nothing to do with the Old Course but is of special interest because Ellis doesn't play golf. Here's his account:

My wife or girlfriend is Naomi, who is a real person I dated in the 1970s. She's present when I'm approached to take part in some kind of TV event during which I'm to pretend to be Stevie Wonder. No singing, no makeup or disguise, just regular white old me, saying I'm Stevie Wonder. I say OK. We go to this big motel room, where there are a lot of TV tech people and others, plus broadcast equipment. I am given two golf clubs (a putter and an iron), and there is talk of a saxophone. Everyone behaves like this is an ordinary event, and nobody says, Hey, wait, you're not Stevie Wonder.

There aren't even any formal questions, or even a host. I kind of stand around, with the golf clubs, chatting with people. And that's it. I realize that the event is over, and the crew starts packing up. One tech guy complains to me about his device and I nod as if I know what he's talking about. I have a general sense that nobody really knows what they're doing. Finally, Naomi and I leave, traverse some distance to "go home," and end up at a wall covered with fabric. At the base of the wall is some sort of concealed hatch. She goes through it, I push down on it with whatever object I've been carrying, and prepare to go through it myself. And then I wake up.

And I hadn't known Stevie Wonder was a golfer. The things we learn from dreams.

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My Usual Game

The Sunday Morning Group conquers all

Yale University has an undistinguished student body and a miserable football team, but it does have a tremendous golf course , which the U.S.G.A. -- mysteriously but somehow characteristically -- lists under "T," for "The Course at Yale." I've played two rounds there this year: one with Richard (a college classmate, who for two years lived within two doors of my own dormitory room but whom I didn't meet until our thirty-fifth reunion), and one with Shep (an honorary member of the Sunday Morning Group) and his dad, Dick. Before I teed off with Shep and Dick, I visited the men's locker room and discovered that the shelf above the sinks -- mysteriously but somehow characteristically -- held just a single toiletry item, a hair preparation I'd never heard of:

My two rounds at Yale, I'm pretty sure, "softened up" the course for Ray and Addison, who played there not long afterward, in our state golf association's annual four-ball tournament, and won it by two shots, at seven under par. (They had no bogeys, and were one shot from tying the all-time tournament record.) They didn't win a car, contrary to the clear suggestion in the photo below, but they did get their names engraved on a big trophy:

ray addison.jpg
A few days later, our club beat our Enemy Club in our annual two-day home-and-home grudge match, which has been held every year since 1948. Each club's team has ten players -- in our case, all from S.M.G. Todd and I were partners the first day, and Ray and I were partners the second day, and when it was over the two teams posed together for a photo:

The very next day, Todd and Addison played in our state's qualifier for the U.S.G.A.'s new national four-ball championship -- and were the medalists, at five under par. (One stroke behind them were Ben D., an honorary member of the Sunday Morning Group, and his brother, Daniel -- and just a week before that Ben had won another state event, the Tournament of Champions.) Because of their victory, Todd and Addison will be going to the Olympic Club, in San Francisco, in the spring, raising the possibility of a cross-country S.M.G. road trip.

One explanation for S.M.G.'s remarkable success in these things is that our locker room -- despite being small, and equipped with just a single toilet, urinal, and shower -- offers a rich selection of useful toiletries, plus a clock:

Another is that hardly anybody went to Yale.


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My Usual Game

Head-to-head match play against mosquitoes and ticks

Last month, at the men’s member-guest, Michael U. showed me a gadget he had attached to his bag: 


He told me that it contained a battery-powered fan, which enveloped him and his golf cart with a cloud of mosquito repellent. I was extremely interested, because I don't like being bitten by mosquitoes, and I've been trying extra hard to protect myself against ticks, ever since coming down with Lyme disease for the fifth or sixth time, back in June. The device is called a Clip-On. The manufacturer -- Off! -- sent me some to try, along with a couple of other goodies.

I had high hopes for the Clip-On, but it's actually not well-suited to golf. "If you move," the instructions say, "allow a few minutes for the unit to rebuild its personal protection." Any golfer who isn't moving more often than every few minutes shouldn't be playing golf. I attached one to the back of my hat, thinking it might keep bugs from circling my head, even while I was walking, but the fan, at that range, was annoyingly loud. And that's probably just as well, because, according to some virtually invisible fine print on an easy-to-miss part of the packaging, you're not supposed to inhale the stuff, a chemical called metofluthrin:

package.JPGGood luck getting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from the Sunday Morning Group. And then there's the cost. A single unit, which is supposed to last "up to" twelve hours, sells for ten bucks on Amazon. Each package includes an envelope labeled "refills" -- but it contains just one, and it's really a "fill," not a refill, since it's the only one in the box. Off! does sell actual refills, at roughly $4.25 apiece, but metofluthrin is pricey stuff, since that works out to more than $2,600 an ounce.


I also tried Off! Explore, a miniature aerosol can of insect repellent in a "crush-resistant" aluminum case. The case has a built-in carabiner, which you can attach to your golf bag:


It's very handy. Here's Addison loading up his hat -- and that's Hacker (real name) in the background:


And Explore works great, like all of Off!'s DEET-based insect repellents. But it costs a fortune. A single unit, with case, sells on Amazon for twenty bucks and contains just 1.2 ounces of bug juice. You can buy refills, but they're expensive, too. So I shopped around and invested instead in some DEET-based repellent sold by Coleman. It doesn't have a carabiner, but each can has a locking top, so you can keep it in your golf bag without worrying that it's going to leak. It's stronger than Off!, and Amazon sells six-ounce cans, in two-packs, for just a bit more than a dollar an ounce:



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My Usual Game

Golf at sea: Man overboard?

For a New Yorker assignment unrelated to golf, I recently went to sea. I didn't see anyone actually hitting golf balls -- using the ocean as a driving range is no longer permitted on cruise ships -- but I did serve as the gallery for two young people playing miniature golf:

They weren't in perfect agreement about the rules, and when the girl left to do something else the boy switched to Whac-A-Mole:

Nearby, I watched an activity that was actually more golf-like, because it involved a middle-aged man attempting something he was physically incapable of doing:


At first, I worried that the guy had been propelled over the side of the ship, but I saw him later, having a stiff drink.

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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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