Electoral Golf

January 07, 2009

My regular golf buddies and I don't need much encouragement to leave work early. This past Election Day, six of us decided that filling in circles on machine-readable ballots was all the hard labor we could manage on an unseasonably balmy November afternoon. No one could blame us for spending the rest of the day on the golf course. Tim -- who is the inventor of several of our core concepts, including negative skins, "shooting your pants" and the formula by which we predict the winning team score in our Sunday-morning games (13 minus the lowest handicap in the field, times negative-one) -- said that he would come up with an appropriate competition by the time we teed off.

What he came up with was the Presidential Special. He assigned each hole an Electoral College value equal to the sum of its number and its handicap. Our fifth hole, for example, is our 10th handicap hole, so it was worth 15 electoral votes (5+10=15). We called it North Carolina. The most valuable hole was No. 16, California, which is our No. 17 handicap hole (16+17=33); the least valuable was No. 4, Delaware, which was worth five. The entire course added up to 342 electoral votes, 172 needed to win.

Before we began, we divided into two three-man teams by throwing balls, then assigned the candidates by flipping a tee. (No one else was on the course, so we played as a sixsome.) My team drew McCain, who promptly lost the first hole, Pennsylvania, worth 13 electoral votes. McCain won the second but picked up only seven -- Arizona. Then Obama went on a run, crushing drives and sinking putts from everywhere, and McCain didn't take another hole until the 10th (Texas). The election was still technically up for grabs, because the back nine was worth 60 percent of the total, but Obama didn't let up, and he clinched the match on No. 12 (Ohio), a par 3 worth 27. It was over before the polls even opened in Hawaii. We switched to skins for the remaining six holes, because Tim couldn't figure out how to play for Cabinet appointments.

Three days later, my McCain teammate Peter -- whom we called Sarah Palin on Election Day because he was lost on the right on a critical succession of high-value holes -- shot 76, net 63, leading some to wonder what might have been. Anyway, we'll try it again in four years.