The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

Golfer discovers his wife is a fairy princess

A friend once told me he woke up every morning hoping his wife would turn to him and say, "Darling, I've watched you carefully all these years, and I am now convinced that you really do love me for myself, and I am happy to tell you that I have a $250 million trust fund that I've never mentioned before." Well, she never did (and they're now divorced). But not everyone is as unlucky in marriage as my friend. 

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Dan Miller, a reader -- that's him in the photo above, taken on the Ailsa Course, at Turnberry -- wrote recently to say that his wife's employer (which sells software to hotels) had transferred her abroad for at least three years, and that they had just completed their company-financed move to . . . Scotland. He writes:

A nine-week trial run last fall sealed the deal. As I asked my wife when we returned to Los Angeles, last Thanksgiving, "How can we be home and yet homesick?" Between yard sales, Craigslist, and eBay, we sold off or gave away much of what we owned States-side, and began bidding online at auctions in Scotland to furnish our new home, in the market town of Kelso.

Kelso is in southeastern Scotland, right on the border with England. It's less than 50 miles from North Berwick Golf Club, which is one of my all-time favorites. Here's Kelso:

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Miller continues:

Will we land on our feet in the home of golf? So far so good. Establish local bank account? Check. Buy used right-drive car? Check. Join local golf club (specifically Goswick, a James Braid links course just across the border with England)? Check. A few bumps in the road? Yep. But absolutely no regrets. Six weeks into our adventure, Scotland still feels like home.

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Miller himself had no trouble switching continents, because he's a writer. And, although writers are notoriously lazy, wife-mooching bums, he is at least pretending to pull his weight during this adventure, because he has written and self-published a novel called Machrihanish, which happens to be the name of another of my (and his) favorite golf courses. Here's a photo he took at Machrihanish, looking back toward the clubhouse:

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And here's the jacket of his book:

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Why don't you buy a few copies and take them on your next golf trip to Scotland? Maybe some of his good luck will rub off.



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My Usual Game

Rain is the avid golfer's best friend

Not because it makes grass grow, but because it makes non-avid golfers decide to spend the day cleaning out their basement. Two weeks ago, the Friday-afternoon meeting of the Sunday Morning Group had to begin an hour late because the 16 participants in the Ladies' Nine-Hole Member-Guest Tournament, held that morning, took three hours and fifteen minutes to play nine holes on an otherwise empty course. One group was still finishing when we got to the second hole:

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Then, because the course had been closed to non-participants all morning, we ran into traffic after we made the turn. Sunday was way better, because rain fell hard all night on Saturday and was still falling hard in the morning, and the forecast for the rest of the day was worse. Sixteen guys showed up anyway, and, because of the weather, we didn't have to share the course with anyone:

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One difficulty with rainy-day golf is that rainsuits are not designed for weather that isn't cold and windy as well as wet, even if they supposedly "breathe." Tim and my brother, John, who played with us, have short-sleeved rain jackets, which work pretty well:

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Rain pants are a problem, though, even if you don't wear regular pants under them. One solution is to leave your rain pants in the car and wear a swimsuit (as Tony did) or nylon "hiking shorts" (as I did). Both probably violate our club's dress code, but anyone who might have complained was at home, hiding indoors. I just ordered a pair of 100 percent synthetic Tony Hawk Plaid Performance Shorts, on sale at Kohl's for $22 -- which will be my warm-season rain pants from now on. Shorts are much more "breathable" than Gore-Tex, because the leg openings act as vents, or chimneys, and who cares if they get wet?
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Shoes are a problem, too, even if they're supposedly waterproof, because if you're wearing shorts water runs down your legs and into your socks. One solution: FootJoy golf sandals, like Barney's (photo below). I just ordered a pair, also on sale, from GolfLocker.com.

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Semi-miraculously, there was a break in the rain around the time we finished (as it happens, after three hours and fifteen minutes), meaning that we could eat lunch where we usually do, rather than on the porch.

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Then more rain, just in time for a nap. Another perfect day.

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My Usual Game

Reader's Trip Report: The U.S. Open by periscope

I met Steve Davis, a reader in California, at Tiger Woods' World Challenge in 2012. He was easy to spot because he was carrying a homemade periscope, which he was using to see over the heads of people standing in front of him. Note the beer holder:

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Periscopes used to be common at golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open. These two are from 1988:

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Many spectators at the 1993 Ryder Cup, which I attended (at the Belfry, in England), watched the tournament through periscopes that looked like the boxes that bottles of Johnny Walker scotch come in. (Johnny Walker sponsored the tournament.) The Belfry is a terrible course for spectators, because there are few good vantage points. The periscopes made things better for the people who had them and worse for the people who didn’t. (I saw one guy carrying a paint can, which he stood on until he got too drunk to keep his balance.) Davis's periscope is a big improvement over those old ones, because the mirrors are separated by dowels rather than solid panels: if you're standing behind him, you can see through it. He has taken versions of his invention to many tournaments, including this year's U.S. Open:

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Davis works for a copier company, and has "wallpapered" his periscope with color copies of golf mementos. His report from Chambers Bay:

I probably don't have to tell you how great the U.S. Open was this year. The average person walking the course couldn't see a lot, though. The fairways were so brown that it was hard to pick up the ball off the tee box. If you were lucky enough to be standing close to a green, you were set -- but don't move and think you're going to find another spot like that one. My periscope saved my ass, because I could go pretty much anywhere and still see. Here I am on the ninth hole, a par 3:

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Davis continues:

I let a lot of other people use it on Saturday and Sunday, and they were amazed at how well they could see from where they were standing -- including one girl who was happy because she could watch Jason Day putting on No. 10. The periscope I took to Chambers Bay was an improvement over the one you saw at Sherwood Country Club. I changed the mirror angle, to give it a better field of vision, and I removed the belt strap, because I found that it was just as easy to carry without it, by putting my arm through the poles. I kept the beverage holder, though.

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My Usual Game

The best beer-oriented belt for golf

I don't like the belts that tour players wear nowadays -- the ones with gigantic rectangular buckles:

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I don't like them even though they remind me a little of my beloved Mattel Shootin' Shell Buckle Gun, featuring "exciting secret 'no hands' firing," which I wore until I broke it when I was a kid. It had a built-in derringer mounted on a hinge, and the derringer swung out and fired a real projectile when you pushed your stomach against the back of the buckle -- something that was harder for me then than it would be now. 

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A belt like that could be problematic for golf, because it might go off when you leaned over to line up a putt. But my favorite grown-up belts are perfect, because their buckle is also a beer opener:

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They're made by Bison Designs, and they aren't expensive. (Prices range from 18 to 27 dollars, plus shipping, depending on what sort of pattern you choose.) We gave them as tee gifts at our men's member-guest last year, and most of the guys actually still wear them, unlike some of the other crap we've handed out over the years. I just bought two more, bringing my collection to three:

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The two on the ends in the photo look the same, but they're not. (The one on the right is for formal occasions.) The buckles really work, too. My brother visited over the weekend, and between golf days we took my wife out to dinner at a Thai restaurant that doesn't have a liquor license yet. We remembered to bring beer but forgot an opener, so I took off my belt and handed it across the table. Problem solved.


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My Usual Game

Beef Box: What's with the USGA's cheesy tee signs?

It's a dumb thing to get worked up about, but I hate golf course signs that are either (a) made of plastic that tries to look like wood or stone, or (b) made of wood or stone that tries to look like plastic. Here's an example of the second type (or maybe it's the first):

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And here's an example of the first type (or maybe it's the second):

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Actually, I don't know what it's trying to look like. Cream cheese? Yuck. 


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My Usual Game

A miraculous shank, a new playoff format, and a burger breakthrough

Getting a head count of the Sunday Morning Group is tough, because nobody stands still. Recently, it occurred to me that counting bags might be less confusing than counting heads. On Sunday, we tried it:

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And it worked! Twenty bags, twenty numbered poker chips in Chic's hat, five teams of four, two best balls per hole:

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The other guys in my foursome were Ben, Hacker (real name), and Tim. On the thirteenth hole, a par 5, Tim shanked his third shot, from 120 yards away. His ball squirted over the wall and into the woods, out of bounds:

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We assumed that it was lost forever, but after what seemed like an impossibly long time it ricocheted not just back into play but onto the green, and ended up maybe five feet from the hole:

shankresult.JPGTim missed the putt, a side-hill slider, and he figured the miss had cost him a skin, but it turned out that net eagle wouldn't have been enough, because Mike A., after hitting a lousy second shot, holed his third from 180 yards away, for a net albatross. And those weren't the only birds we had to deal with:

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My teammates and I played so poorly on the first nine that we gave up all hope, and, probably because we had stopped caring, we began to play really well. (Despair is the poor man's confidence.)  We ended up in a tie for first place, at -18. The playoff was lob wedges off a ketchup-bottle lid, from the little patio near the grill to the putting green, closest to the hole. As always, the stymie rule was in effect. Here's Ben, holding his finish:

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And here's Tim, hitting what turned out to be the winning shot (worth $25 to each of us). His ball ended up just inside the ball of Corey, our terrific pro:


Lunch was provided by Reese, who didn't play because he's coming down with what we diagnosed over beers as Lyme disease. He served burger dogs, which he learned about at the Olympic Club a month and a half ago, when Addison (who is Reese's son) and Todd played in the 2015 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Burger dogs are an Olympic specialty. They are burgers that are shaped like dogs:

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Making the patties takes work, Reese said, but fitting them onto the grill is easy:

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You have to cut slices of cheese to fit:

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You need just one kind of bun, plus mustard, ketchup, pickles, and onions:

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We may insist on them from now on.

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My Usual Game

These are the best post-golf beer glasses, and I'm not kidding

Hydro Flask, a company for which I am an unpaid shill, makes my favorite golf beverage bottle, which I own in three versions: one for water (21 ounces), one for coffee (18 ounces), and one for lots of water (32 ounces). There have been golf rounds during which I have carried all three, using various pockets and beverage holders on my golf bag and pushcart. This year, Hydro Flask introduced insulated beverage glasses, called True Pint:

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They hold 16 ounces, and they have a finish that won't come off in the dishwasher, and they have a clever ridge inside, down near the bottom, which lets you stack them without getting them stuck together. They work for beer, of course, but they also work for hot stuff, and they are now my go-to container for the gallon or so of coffee I drink in my office during the day while I supposedly work. I took my collection to the course on a recent Sunday, and let the guys test-drive them after our round. 

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They liked them so much that I worried I'd never see them again if I didn't keep a close count.

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Chic, our chairman, said maybe we ought to get them for everyone, and keep them on a shelf in the men's locker room. That way, Mike A. could stop going to Costco after work to buy cases of red plastic beer cups. We could have our names printed on them, and maybe some other stuff, too.

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Meanwhile, Les -- whose wife has spent the past year regretting that she gave him an electric pushcart for his birthday, because he can't control it -- finally ran it into the creek. (The photo below is kind of fuzzy because it was taken from two fairways away.)

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Will Les's cart ever run again? Everyone hopes not, but we won't know until it has dried out.

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My Usual Game

Was this the model for the bunkers at Royal County Down?

The bunkers at Royal County Down, in Northern Ireland, are famous for their ball-devouring overhangs, which are savagely rimmed with marram grass and may serve as portals to a different dimension. I once wrote that their densely tangled upper margins resembled the eyebrows of old men. I thought I was kidding, but maybe not.

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The upper image is of one of those bunkers; the lower is of the eyebrows of William Hugh Griffiths, a.k.a. the Lord Griffiths, a past captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, who died on Sunday at the age of 91.

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Jerry Tarde, the editor-in-chief of Golf Digest, describes Griffiths as "my favorite R & A captain." David Fay, a former executive director of the U.S.G.A., agrees, and writes, "I will never forget his speech at the U.K. Golf Writers dinner, where he summarized his judicial philosophy: 'Always rule against the shits.'" (Griffiths was also a judge.)

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My Usual Game

Is this the world's greatest golf course?

On Memorial Day weekend, I played Friday afternoon (lost five dollars), Saturday morning (came in third in a two-man scramble, playing with Tim), Saturday afternoon (advanced to the final in the member-member, also playing with Tim), Sunday morning (won six dollars), Monday morning (won low gross in the nine-hole Memorial Day mixed shamble, playing with Madeline -- my golf wife -- and an actually married couple), and Monday afternoon (lost five dollars). Then I played again on Friday (lost five dollars) and Saturday morning (won the member-member, one-up, playing with Tim.) That was a pretty good eight-day run, so I wasn’t totally bummed when we had thunder, lightning, and heavy rain just before 7:00 the following morning. 

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I sent an email to the Sunday Morning Group saying I’d bring a couple of decks of playing cards, and Hacker (real name) suggested that we eat our cheeseburgers and hot dogs (supplied by Barney) for breakfast, instead of lunch. But the lightning had stopped by 7:30, so we played golf instead of setback. One very good thing about rain is that it scares away slackers: twenty regulars showed up, and we had the course to ourselves.

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Getting soaked was better than inhaling pine pollen -- something we’ve done a lot of this spring:

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Because I was up early on both Saturday and Sunday, before I left for the club I watched some of the Irish Open -- by which, of course, I mean the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation. The D.D.F.I.O.H.R.F. was held this year on a course that many golfers would pick as the best in the world: Royal County Down, in Newcastle, Northern Ireland.

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Among its many memorable features are its bunkers, which are maintained by vengeful demons:

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During a round at Royal County Down in 2013, my playing partner and I waded into a jungle of whins and briers near the eleventh tee to look for a century-old relic that a caddie had told me about two years before: the remains of a small stone building, which the maintenance crew had uncovered during an aggressive gorse-removal project. We found it, at some risk to our clothing, although it was so overgrown that we couldn’t see much more than one corner. 

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Later that day, Harry McCaw -- a past captain of both Royal County Down and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews -- told me that he thought the structure might once have served as the literal “club house”: the place where early players stored their clubs.

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I had driven to Newcastle from Dublin, a hundred miles to the south, and during part of the trip I followed Mourne Coastal Route, a scenic highway. Irish roads are narrow under any circumstances; they become narrower if your eyes are repeatedly drawn to the hills and out to sea -- a danger that day, because the sky was so clear that I could see the Isle of Man, halfway to the English mainland. 

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My parents once visited Ireland with another couple, and on an especially harrowing stretch of road my mother, who was sitting in the back seat with the other wife, yelled at my father to stop steering so close to the edge. He innocently raised both hands, to remind her that, in Ireland and the U.K., the driver sits on the right, not the left. During my own trip, I knocked the cowling off the passenger-side mirror of my rental car. I told the clerk at Avis when I returned the car, but she said it happened all the time, and not to worry about it.

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Will the Open Championship ever be held at Royal County Down? Fingers crossed.

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My Usual Game

Shouldn't you change the way you mark your ball?

Some people, when they’re having trouble with their golf game, take a lesson or even sign up for golf school, but others make a slight change in the way they mark their golf ball while also switching to a different color of Sharpie. At any rate, that’s what I did recently. And -- who knows? -- maybe my new ball-identification strategy will add 30 or 40 yards to my tee shots. In the photo below, the ball on the left is marked with my old, discredited pattern and color, and the ball on the right is marked with my new:

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I made the change because Rick had suddenly begun marking his ball almost exactly the way I was accustomed to marking mine. Or maybe he'd always marked his ball that way and I'd only just noticed. Either way, I was ready for a change, and I was happy to have an excuse to order an entire box of red Sharpies:

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When most golfers mark their ball, they don't mark it enough, in my opinion. Whatever technique you use, you should make sure you can identify your ball without touching it, no matter how it's lying on the ground. I use eight widely spaced dots, and even when my ball is in the rough I can almost always see at least a couple of them. Too many players check their ball by picking it up, then putting it back down in an obviously better lie. Who do they think they are? Tom Brady?

MyUsualGame

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