The Local Knowlege

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.)

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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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My Usual Game

Best new shoes, plus good news for sober golfers

True Linkswear, the golf-shoe company for which I am an unpaid shill, recently sent me what must be my tenth or twelfth pair, called True Motion:

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They are now not only my favorite golf shoes but also just about the only shoes I ever wear -- although if I had to go to a funeral or a wedding I’d wear an older (and, sadly, recently discontinued) model, my black-and-dark-gray True Lyt Drys:

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This latest pair was accompanied by a moral quandary: a $50 gift card, which I was instructed, by the company's publicists, to spend on “some range buckets or a round of 9 on us.” Somehow, accepting a free pair of golf shoes from a golf-shoe company didn’t strike me as an ethical problem but accepting a (less valuable) gift card did. So I decided to square things up with my conscience by donating the value of the gift card to a golf-related charitable organization. The one I picked is SoberGolf:

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I learned about SoberGolf from Peter Fox, who was a founding executive producer at ESPN and the producer of Golf Digest's video Moe Norman & Natural Golf (see photo at the bottom of this post). He told me, "This May 21 will mark 28 years since my last drink, enabling me over time to shoot my age, become the senior club champion at Hillandale Golf Course (in Durham, North Carolina), and create SoberGolf, a manifestation of the realization that for some of us golf is a place where our sobriety is enhanced." Here he is with the trophy he received for winning that club championship:

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And here's more of Peter's story:

There’s little doubt in my mind that golf helped me get sober. There’s no doubt golf helps me stay sober. My hands used to tremble on the first tee and when I faced short putts. The quivers would stop with three or four fingers of fermented potatoes. I read and researched all I could find on the yips -- the dreaded affliction that shortened the careers of Hogan and Miller. I watched Watson overcome them and determined that I could, too. Then I saw the tremors spread to marking my scorecard and golf ball. 

The awakening came early one Saturday morning on the fifth tee at my club during a pretty healthy money match. I bent to tee my ball, fumbled it, chased it, lost my balance, and body-surfed over the grass embankment.

That incident ignited another search -- this time a soul search. It took a while, but I came to know and believe I am powerless over alcohol.  And by that time my off-course life was in a shambles. As I write this, nearing the end of my third decade of sobriety, I am grateful to golf for triggering an arduous yet rewarding trek toward sanity. And I am grateful to golf for introducing me to my wife, the only significant woman in my life to never have seen me drink.

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There’s much more on the website -- including a mailing list that circulates information about alcohol-free golf trips and other events. And if you want to contact Peter directly you can do that by emailing peter@sobergolf.org.

MyUsualGame

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My Usual Game

Don't miss the coolest feature on the Masters website

It’s called Track. Here’s how Zack Whittaker explained it on ZDNet:

The Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters every year, has dozens of lasers scattered throughout the course. Those lasers kick out a number of different pieces of data, including the location of the ball (determined on three-axes) and the resting position of the ball, which IBM runs through its cloud and visualizes. The end result is a play-by-play visualization that allows the viewer to interact and see the ball's course, the distance of each drive, and other interesting nuggets of data. And this happens in a matter of seconds. Simply put, you can take any device and crank open the Masters' website, and see how the ball traveled throughout the course. Using the HTML5 web standard, any smartphone or tablet user can access a simulated map of the course. iPad users have the benefit of using the internal gyroscope to visualize the play from any angle.

Click on any shot and Track displays both the yardage and the yardage remaining, and it gives the length of every putt. Keep it open in your lap while you watch the television broadcast. It's like having your own universal instant replay. No more wondering about what your favorite players are up to off-camera.

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 MyUsualGame

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My Usual Game

Masters Countdown: Why CBS refused, for 16 years, to show Augusta National's 12th hole

The Masters first appeared on TV in 1956, on CBS. (NBC, which covered the tournament on radio, had turned it down.) CBS initially wanted to show little more than the eighteenth hole, but the club said it would forego $5,000, half its fee, if more of the course could be included. CBS added a second transmission station, but the coverage was still minimal: two and a half hours over three days, showing just parts of the last four holes.

Augusta National argued for more. The club’s television committee, in its report on the second broadcast, in 1957, wrote, “A most picturesque part of our golf course lies about the twelfth hole and thirteenth green. An attempt should be made through employment of portable cameras to bring this area into live broadcast. If this is impractical, a few films of the area could be shown.”

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CBS disagreed that there was any need to show more of the course, even on film, and it stuck to that position. Seven years later, Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman and co-founder -- after reading in Golf World that CBS was planning to cover six holes at a lesser tournament, the 1964 Carling World Open, at Oakland Hills -- wrote to Jack Dolph, who was then the network’s director of sports, to ask why the Masters could not be given the same treatment. Dolph replied: “It’s true that we are covering six holes of the Carling’s rather than four as we do at the Masters. This was a commitment made in acquiring the rights to the Tournament; one on which Carling’s insisted. We have grave doubts that this extra hole coverage will add to the overall impact of the tournament, and we are, in fact, giving the extra two holes the very minimum of coverage.”

Roberts did not give up, and in 1966 CBS finally agreed to extend its coverage beyond the fifteenth hole, by adding a camera near the fourteenth green. Coverage of the thirteenth green began two years later, in 1968, after Roberts suggested moving a camera from the far less interesting fourteenth tee. The twelfth hole wasn’t shown live until five years after that, in 1973 -- sixteen years after the club’s original suggestion.

The twelfth hole might not have received its own camera even in 1973 if Roberts had not effectively tricked CBS into putting one there. The year before, ABC Sports had asked the club for permission to film the twelfth hole during the 1972 Masters, for a prime-time sports special that it planned to broadcast on the Monday following the tournament. "As you know," an ABC executive wrote to Roberts, “this hole has never been shown on the live presentations of the Masters, and our segment, which would probably be only five or ten minutes in length, would not only show how some of the top finishers play this hole but would also capture the many moods and some of the unique happenings that transpire at this locale."

Roberts -- who knew that ABC for years had yearned to win the Masters contract away from CBS -- agreed. CBS noticed. The following year, for the first time, it placed a camera of its own on the twelfth hole.


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My Usual Game

Golf in Morocco: The King and Billy Casper

The Hassan II Trophy, held last month in Morocco, was named for the man who ruled that country from 1961 until his death, in 1999 -- as I wrote in my previous post. Shortly after Hassan died, a journalist described his legacy as "economic backwardness, rising demographic pressures, widespread corruption, vast and open disparities of income, urban overpopulation, rural decay, illiteracy, inadequate public services, underutilization of resources and environmental destruction."

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But he loved golf! To help him learn the game and keep him company while he played, he imported a number of American pros, among them Claude Harmon (who was his teacher), Butch Harmon (who served as the head pro at Dar es Salaam Golf Club, in Rabat), and Billy Casper (who came to like the King and the country so much that he described himself to me as "half-Moroccan.") That's Casper on the left in the photo below, and King Hassan in the middle:

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During my first trip to Morocco, in 2000, I got to visit the royal stables, in Bouznika, with two other journalists -- something tourists ordinarily aren't allowed to do. Bouznika is linked to Rabat by one of the best highways in Morocco, a four-lane expressway that could almost pass for an American Interstate, but our driver was unable to find it, so we traveled instead on back roads, stopping every few miles to ask unlikely people for directions. 

The landscape along our route appeared to have been constructed from rubble with a thin layer of litter spread unevenly on top. We saw children tending small flocks of ill-looking sheep on the shoulders of the road; greasy shops that appeared to specialize in the sale of bald tires; old men defecating in the middle of otherwise infertile-looking farm plots; and abandoned buildings that were distinguishable from their occupied neighbors mainly by their lack of satellite-television antennas. 

At one point, our driver asked for directions from a grimy man and two small grimy boys, who were cooking sardine-size fish in the ashes of a smoky fire within a few feet of the roadway. The boys would languidly throw a couple of fish into the fire, then languidly pull them out and pop them, whole, into their mouths. They didn’t seem to know where we were going, either -- but eventually we found the stables and were able to admire king’s extensive collection of Arabian horses, which live in stalls furnished almost like hotel rooms and are closely attended by workers whose main job is to clean up after them as they amble over carpet-like turf. We also got a distant look at one of the King's private golf courses. It was part of the same complex, and at that moment (as at virtually all moments) it was being played by no one. That's me in the photo below; the golf course is in the background:

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Casper was the architect. He said the King had asked him to design a course for the site, and that he made drawings and sent them to the palace but ever heard anything back. "Then someone told me the course had been built -- and from my drawings," Casper said. It turned out that the King's construction crew had simply superimposed Casper's layout on the existing fields, and had done none of the indicated contouring. As a result, the fairways all run as the fields used to run, and the greens are all flat (and huge). Casper told me he had never played it -- something he could have done only at the invitation of the King. Another journalist explained: "Morocco is a real kingdom, not a constitutional monarchy, and the King thinks like a king." In other words, inviting the architect to give his own course a try is something that wouldn't occur to him. We did get to sit on the roof of the King's personal clubhouse, though -- and that's where I am in the photo above.

To be continued.

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My Usual Game

Golf in Morocco: Silver tongs for the King's cigarette

This past week, the European Tour was in Morocco, for the Hassan II Trophy. I attended that tournament in 2000, and I liked Morocco so much that, a few months later, I went back, with my wife and our two children. The Trophy didn’t become an official tour event until 2010, and when I was there it was played on a different course, but the broadcast of this year’s event brought back a lot of happy memories. Here I am having tea at the royal stables, in Bouznika:

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The tournament is named for (and was founded by) King Hassan II, who ruled Morocco from 1961 until his death, in 1999 -- the year before I visited. Hassan was a passionate golfer. He employed a squadron of caddies (one of whom was responsible for gripping the royal cigarette with a pair of silver tongs while the King swung his club), and shot mediocre scores that easily could have been worse (because kings are not obligated to play from bad lies or extricate themselves from bunkers). Hassan viewed golf not merely as a palliative to the tedium of absolute power but also as a potential bridge between his country and the United States -- then, as now, the world’s most enticing source of exportable prosperity.

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Hassan took up golf during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, whose widely chronicled enthusiasm had imbued the game with sort of hokey Free World allure -- as did the contemporaneous rise of Arnold Palmer, who was golf’s first television star, and, a little later, the emergence of Jack Nicklaus, who turned pro the year of Hassan’s coronation. 

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The King was not a natural player, however, and by the mid-1960s he was looking for an American instructor to help him bring his scores out of the triple digits. He settled on Claude Harmon, who had won the Masters in 1948 and was the head pro at Winged Foot. Harmon made numerous visits to Morocco in the late '60s and early '70s, in return for which the King gave him, among other things, jeweled daggers, rugs, swords, a cigar box stuffed with cash and a Lincoln Continental Mark III. Harmon eventually moved his family to Rabat. In the early '70s, his eldest son, Butch -- later the teacher of Tiger Woods -- served as the head pro at Royal Dar es Salaam Golf Club, where the Trophy was held in 2000.

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During the tournament’s formative years, Hassan II had concerns unrelated to golf. In 1971, his 42nd birthday party was crashed by more than a thousand rebellious soldiers; they killed nearly a hundred guests before the King, who had hidden in a bathroom during the worst of the shooting, effected a change of heart in one of the revolt’s commanders by looking him in the eye and reciting the first verse of the Koran. (The rebel knelt and kissed his sovereign’s hand.) The following year, the King’s plane was attacked in the air by four F-5 fighters from his own Air Force. One of the plane's engines was destroyed, but it managed to land in Rabat -- where the rebels continued to strafe it until the King grabbed his plane’s radio and shouted, “Stop firing! The tyrant is dead!” Both incidents were followed by the inevitable bureaucratic shufflings and summary executions. Then the King went back to working on his game.

To be continued.

MyUsualGame

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My Usual Game

Masters Countdown: Augusta National's worst golfer ever?

Here’s what Augusta National’s first green looked like during the first Masters, when the hole was still the tenth. That bunker was really more of a waste area. It was later removed, and a different bunker was added closer to the green:

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During the club’s early years, a small creek ran across the first fairway, at the bottom of the hill, less than a hundred yards from the tee. The carry over the ditch was so short that few players noticed, but a member named Clarence J. Schoo drove into it so often that it came to be known as Schooie’s Gulch. Schoo was the founder and president of a boxboard manufacturing company in Springfield, Massachusetts. The company doesn’t exist anymore, but Schoo's name is preserved in the Schoo Science Center at Springfield College, of which he and his wife were benefactors.

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At Augusta National one day, Schoo topped yet another drive into Schooie's Gulch, and told Clifford Roberts, the club's co-founder and chairman, “I wish you’d fill in that damn ditch.” Roberts did, during the summer of 1951 -- and sent the bill to Schoo. Or so the story goes. In truth, the ditch had always been a maintenance problem. Roberts also wanted to replace the club’s old Masters press tent, which really was a tent, with a Quonset hut. The new building was going to go to the right of the first fairway, near where the big scoreboard is today, and the ditch was in the way. The photo below shows the inside of the Quonset hut in the early 1950s. The sportswriters' laptops look strange, but their beer cans and cigarettes are recognizable:

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Schoo did pay for part of the alteration, but he did so gladly, and he almost certainly wasn’t surprised when he opened his bill. He and Roberts were close friends, He was also one of the most popular members, and he later served as one of the club's vice presidents. Here’s a note that another popular member, former President Eisenhower, sent him after Schoo had missed Eisenhower’s birthday party:

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Schoo was such a poor golfer that when he one day made a natural birdie Roberts decided that he should be paid the same cash pot that ordinarily went to a golfer who made a hole-in-one, on the theory that Schooie was never going to come closer. Another time, while Schoo was playing the seventh hole in a foursome that also included Roberts and Eisenhower,he hit a drive that traveled just a few yards, into a clump of pampas grass to the left of the tee. He said, “Well, in all the years I’ve been playing here, that’s the first time I’ve done that.” That summer, the grounds crew cut back the pampas grass and found many balls with his name imprinted on them. On another occasion, Schoo said with exasperation that he must be the worst golfer in the club. His caddie, who had been around long enough to hear stories but not long enough to recognize faces, said, “No, sir. The worst golfer in this club is Mr. Schoo.”

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My Usual Game

Are these the best socks for golf?

First, a weather update. Here's what the my patio looked like on March 2:

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And here's what it looked like two weeks later:

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Note that the enormous tabletop "snow loaf" in the first photo has virtually disappeared, revealing the handle of a barbecue utensil I forgot to bring indoors before the weather went to hell. You can also make out almost all of my charcoal grill, which, somewhat surprisingly, I remembered to cover up the last time I used it. Meanwhile, Pelham Bay Golf Course, in the Bronx, has announced that it will reopen on Thursday, and, if it really does, the Sunday Morning Group's winter competition, the Jagermeister Kup, will resume there this weekend. (I'll be traveling, alas.)

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During the lousy weather, I've been testing (during dog walks) some socks I learned about from guys who hang out with PGA Tour players. They're made by a company called Kentwool, which is the official game-day sock provider of Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar, among others. Charles Barkley -- whose feet are so big (size 16) that he may need to wear two on each foot -- says, "Even though my golf game is terrible, my feet always feel great in my Kentwool socks." Here's what the quarter-height golf socks look like:

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And here's what the tall golf socks look like:

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Both kinds are 75 percent wool, and they're padded and hinged in all the right places, and they really do feel great, with shoes or without. A word of caution: the short socks are 20 bucks a pair, and the tall ones are 25, so you probably shouldn't place an order without first talking to your financial adviser. Another word of caution: a person who works in the clothing industry told me recently that two of the next big trends in golf socks are going to be "big" and "colorful." On one of my first reporting assignments, more than 30 years ago, I traveled to England with a large group of American Beatles fanatics, among them Charles F. Rosenay!!!, who had had three exclamation points legally added to his last name. Here's a picture of Rosenay!!! at a rest stop near the birthplace of William Shakespeare:

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He was ahead of the curve on both the Converse All Stars and the man purse, so don't automatically assume that he was wrong about the socks.

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My Usual Game

You need this flashlight for your golf bag (or your police car)

My Golf Digest colleague Guy Yocom recently told me about a super-powerful flashlight he'd bought after learning about it about from a policeman he knows in Ohio:

When the cop used one on the job, virtually everyone in his department fell in love with it. Out of curiosity, I bought the outfit, too. He was right -- the light is so bright that it illuminates my entire backyard. And when you shine it on a white ceiling inside you can easily read a book, vacuum, or make the bed. What you cannot do is stare at the bulb for longer than one second. It definitely would blind anyone not named Clark Kent.
fenixpd35.jpgThe flashlight is called the Fenix PD35. It has four beam settings and a maximum output of 960 lumens -- which is bright. Yocom continued:

Of course, I thought about whether it could be used for golf. The answer is yes, especially if all four guys in a group carried one. The Fenix  is small and fits in a little hip holster. With two of these things popping at full brightness, you could easily illuminate a guy’s entire shot, from start to finish, and read a green as well at night as in daytime. 

I bought one immediately. In tests of my own, I have also proven -- and this could be important -- that the beam is powerful enough to melt snow.  The outfit Yocom recommends consists of the light, a pair of rechargeable batteries, and a charger. I also bought a detachable red filter, because red light doesn't kill your eyes'  adaptation to dark. Or so I've read.

Yocom, incidentally, is Golf Digest's master interviewer. He's done some great ones over the years. Why don't you cut the power in your house, shine your Fenix on the ceiling, and re-read a few of them -- maybe starting with this one, with Payne Stewart in 1999.


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My Usual Game

Pi Day: How long is "one more roll"?

When a ball stops on the rim of the cup, golfers and TV announcers often say that it needed "one more roll" or "one more rotation." But they're wrong, and Pi Day -- which celebrates the discovery of the mathematical ratio between a circle's diameter and its circumference, and is celebrated for obvious reasons today, on 3/14 -- is the ideal time to explain why. A golf ball, to be legal, has to be at least 1.68 inches in diameter. That means that its circumference -- the length of "one more roll" -- is at least 3.14 times 1.68, or 5.28 inches. And that length is eerily similar to one that was in the news earlier this month. Coincidence? ... Read
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