Archive for the ‘Golf’ Category

Mixed Up Doubles

October 22, 2011

(With apologies to and warmest regards for P.G. Wodehouse.)

It was a cool September morning as Mr Burns sat in his favorite chair, from which he could see a sweeping portion of the golf course. He saw the “Steam Train”, a well-known regular foursome, working its way up the ninth hole. Mr Burns shook his head in disgust and turned his gaze elsewhere, noting that Ms Lowery and Mr MacDonald were walking down the sixth fairway. This made him smile, not only at the thought that he had played Cupid for the romantic twosome, but also at the fact that both were excellent golfers.

Ian MacDonald had practiced bachelorhood for some forty years, and was now for the first time contemplating marriage. Alana Lowery was divorced, and until recently had given up all hope of remarrying. Instead of bonding with a man she had instead chosen to lower her handicap to single digits. Mr Burns’ crinkly face beamed at the sight of the couple, holding hands as they pulled their carts together.

It hadn’t been so long ago that Mr Burns, known to all as The Old Fart (TOF), would not have welcomed women players at the club. He and others like him believed women brought undesirable influences onto a golf course, slowed down play, and altered the masculine flavor of the golfing experience.

A round of golf, they said, used to be a therapeutic affair, providing not only fresh air and exercise but also sorely needed distance from women. Men are strange animals, in that most of their young lives are spent in pursuit of women, while a lion’s share of their later years is occupied by attempts at avoidance. Perhaps anthropologists and psychologists will in some century yet to come provide plausible explanations. But now women are often seen on golf courses, and not only is the civility they bring welcomed, but many of the younger women players can beat the men. Interesting how things change.

Such lofty themes occupied The Old Fart’s mind as he sat in his chair, a sight as predictable and soothing as Abraham Lincoln in his Memorial. But the morning calm was shattered as Bob Stilton, an 18 handicapper with a horrible slice, appeared out of nowhere and shouted at TOF from point blank range.

“Come quick, Mr Burns, hurry! There’s a big fight in the clubhouse!”

“What? A fight? Who’s fighting?”

“Mr Roberts and Miss Jameson! Only you can stop it!”

There was some truth to that, since not only had TOF on occasion changed their diapers, but had also showed them how to hold a cut down five iron. Many of the younger members at Burnt Tree Country Club boasted similar intimacy with TOF, who had been an integral part of the club longer than anyone could remember.

Reluctantly he rose from his beloved Adirondack chair, put his lemonade on the side table, and followed Mr Stilton to the combat zone. As he approached the clubhouse he remembered fondly the way James Roberts, since the age of ten, could hit a niblick bump and run dead to the pin, and Emily Jameson, who by her twelfth birthday could hit a drive as far as most fifteen-year-old boys.

They had become engaged in August, and he looked forward to the happy day when the young golfers would be united in fairway matrimony. Universally liked and respected, their happy marriage and likely domination of future mixed doubles tournaments would have been TOF’s crowning matchmaker achievement. At this point a three-pack of Titleist ProVI’s (90 compression) whizzed by TOF’s crown at high speed and broke a mirror behind him. Emily’s throwing arm was strong rather than accurate, as James Roberts was some twelve feet to the left.

“Now see what you’ve done!” cried Mr Roberts, “I’ve told you a thousand times about controlling your temper!”

“A thousand times!?” Coinciding with the ‘t’ in “times” a lady’s golf shoe ($149 Footjoy, size 6 ½) left her hand at 250 feet per second, this time crashing into the signed photo of Bobby Jones teeing off at Burnt Tree.

“You exaggerated as much when you claimed that four-foot putts were automatic for you! I want to win the mixed doubles!”

Risking great injury – he bruised like a peach – TOF stepped in between the warring parties.

“See here you two! What’s all this then?”

“It’s all his fault!” blurted Miss Jameson. “He keeps telling me how he admires the way Alana Lowery’s derrière sways when she waggles.”

“But she,” indicating Miss Jameson, “can’t stop carrying on about Mr MacDonald’s hands, and the way they hold a club like a Stradivarius.”

Now deep lines showed in TOF’s chin and brow as these words fell upon his very hairy ears. Jealousy had sprouted just before nuptials were to take place. This was inopportune timing indeed.

Moments later peace once again reigned over the clubhouse, since Emily and James had stormed out of opposite exits, leaving an eerie calm.

“That was close,” said Alex, the club manager. “I thought for a moment they’d start heaving fireplace pokers at one another.”

This was little consolation for TOF, since his latest matchmaking triumph was crashing to earth instead of soaring to new heights. Soon things would get worse.

A few weeks later came the annual mixed doubles scramble, and when the teams were announced there was general astonishment. Members could not believe their eyes when they read the schedule and saw that the foursome teeing off at 8:24 am consisted of two teams, Ian MacDonald and Emily Jameson, and James Roberts teamed with Alana Lowery. After the “Explosion”, as the imbroglio in the clubhouse was now called, some amorous reversals had taken place, much like the recoupling machinations from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Emily Jameson, in an attempt to make James Roberts seethe with envy, had applied her considerable flirting and driving skills in winning Ian MacDonald’s attention. (Alana wasn’t nearly as long off the tee.) Likewise James Roberts, who was unequalled with the lob wedge, had stolen the affections of Alana Lowery, whose strength was her deft putting. In anticipation of a close and perhaps emotional round, dozens of members had canceled important business meetings in the city in order to attend. On this day the busy cogs of industry would risk coming to a halt.

At precisely 8:15 am on the day of the tournament, TOF stood erect at the 1st tee, a wizened rulebook in one pocket, and a flask in the other. As was his custom he would officiate, walking the round with the foursome featuring the two teams most likely to win. Several dark clouds in the distance echoed the feeling of dread; this was supposed to be a golf tournament, not World War III.

Another fight had taken place earlier that morning. The Steam Train had wanted to tee off early that morning, but the pro had refused, preferring to allow tournament players an agreeable pace. The constituents of the Train, wealthy retirees all, combined to form a doomsday machine so ponderous, so methodically slow and plodding that most local golfers opted to play chess or several rubbers of bridge while waiting for the group to get far enough ahead. The Steam Train never let anyone play through. The pro, Jimmy Belizzi, proved no match for the pure bullying power wielded by the Steam Train.

There was Wayne the Waggler, who stood over his ball for a full five minutes before actually hitting it, completing a never varying performance that included precisely 75 waggles. Peter the Piston raised his club vertically from the ball, and then brought it straight down in a vain hope that somehow the ball would fly forward. When he actually did hit the ball it only moved ten yards at the most, with the club itself deeply embedded in the ground. The course superintendent was currently resting, enjoying a heavily medicated vacation from repairing Peter’s efforts.

The third member of the Steam Train was Fenton the Firebox, a very short and very thick man with red hair and a volcanic temper. Possessing an extremely fast back swing and even more vicious downswing, he produced such violent force it was a pity he rarely hit the ball out of his own diminutive shadow. On such shots, well, on all shots really, he exploded in anger and showered the environs with expletives. Few knew he had been a Catholic priest in his working days. Bringing up the rear, literally, was Carl the Caboose. Carl carried a set of buttocks so huge his trousers were custom made, and it was said an entire annual crop of Georgia cotton was required for his wardrobe. His butt knocked over small cars. On the rare occasion that his drive exceeded 80 yards his cohorts would applaud and shout, “Way to slap cheeks, Carl!”

You should keep the Steam Train in mind, since I think they are probably going to figure in sometime later in the story.

So where was I? Oh yes, Ian and Emily were conferring animatedly on one side of the tee, and had turned their backs on James and Alana, who were performing various exotic stretching exercises and exuding a calm serenity. TOF stepped forward to make an announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the annual Burnt Tree mixed doubles tournament is about to begin. I’d like to remind members that USGA rules are to be strictly observed, and your golf etiquette and silence during players’ shots are much appreciated.“

A coin was tossed and the MacDonald/Jameson team was to tee off first. Emily hit a 230-yard drive down the middle, and flashed a smirk at Alana, who would need a drive and a seven iron (the “spade mashie niblick”) to match it. Ian hit his past Emily’s, but in the rough. No matter, since Ian’s iron play was the envy of every golfer for miles around.

Alana stepped to the tee, and after a few moments pause for restlessness in the gallery, hit a very nice drive about 185 down the left side of the fairway, in perfect position for the approach. She smiled sweetly at James as he stood on the tee. James Roberts could hit booming tee shots, but never knew where they were going. He hit a high shot that went well past Alana but into a deep fairway bunker.

The crowd applauded politely, the tournament was underway, and TOF ducked behind a tree to take a long pull from his flask. The dark clouds took on a more menacing look and seemed to frown directly at Burnt Tree CC.

For those golfing neophytes unfamiliar with the scramble format, I’ll sketch out a few guiding principles. All members of the team – whether two, three or four – tee off. The best drive is selected and then all players of the team hit from that spot. Then the best shot is chosen and all hit from there until the ball is holed. Very simple really, except for the one requirement that each team player must supply a minimum number of drives, usually between three and six, depending on the size of the team.

This means that the golfer who hits it long and straight every time can’t use his (or her) drive on every hole. This places a premium on strategic timing, since the team has to decide when to take whose drive. A great deal of pressure can affect a golfer’s confidence if the team desperately needs a good drive, whether from a great or mediocre player.  The noblest game is humbling.

Ian’s six-iron approach stopped ten feet from the pin, causing a wild eruption of applause from the knowledgeable entourage. James’ five-iron finished on the fringe about forty feet from the flag. Both teams parred, after Ian’s birdie putt lipped out, and James chipped to three feet and Alana sank the par putt. There was electricity in the air. Some of it came from the crowd, while the rest came from those dark clouds I mentioned earlier.

The next few holes were virtual repeats of the first holes, with the longer drivers hitting — what else? — longer drives, the approach specialists hitting crisp, accurate irons, and the short game wizards hitting surgical chips and putts. After nine holes the match was all square.

On number ten Roberts hit his first drive to find the fairway, a mammoth 295-yard tee shot that soared past a pair of eagles engaged in the long distance scrutiny of lunch. The Roberts/Lowery supporters howled with approval, while the MacDonald/Jameson contingent stood in hushed awe.

“I knew I could do it!” crowed James, while Alana beamed her appreciation. There is nothing like the look a woman gives a man when he has done something she admires.

On the other hand, the look that greeted Ian, who had just hit a perfectly respectable 240-yard drive into the fairway, was downright emasculating. It was as if a beach bully had kicked sand in Ian’s face, and he could only whimper. Clearly, Emily had higher hopes.

“You’re not using your legs enough,” she snapped at Ian.

The Old Fart, quietly recording the scores, firmly believed he was watching the dam’s first cracks forming. While all four players were alike in that they were attractive and fit, with TV commercial-grade hair and teeth, in character they were quite different. As stated earlier, TOF had a unique perspective in that he had seen them grow up.

Since their childhood James and Emily had been athletic, big boned and strong. They excelled at all sports, especially the ones where speed and brute force were required. They were also gregarious and jocular. Ian and Alana, on the other hand, were both smaller and fine boned, and more inclined to read than the other couple. These, thought TOF, were the key reasons that the pairs had formed the way they had.

The reversal, as evidenced by the new doubles teams, spelled trouble. Oil and water, Frenchmen and Germans, peanut butter and carp; some combinations do not mix. The dark clouds drew closer.

Over the next few holes Team Roberts/Lowery took a modest lead, but congratulatory tones were replaced by caustic scorn and short tempers. Alana, clearly feeling the tension, missed a short putt, and James barked at her in rebuke. Emily, becoming impatient and frustrated with Ian’s lack of length off the tee, began calling him “Little Man”.

On #17 James’ drive, prodigious once again, flew into the wrong zip code, opening the door. Ian, steady and unfazed, hit a three wood 220 yards to a perfect spot in the fairway, then a gorgeous seven iron to six feet. Emily’s putt went four feet past, and only those on the green, including TOF, heard Ian mutter, “Alana would have sunk it.” His own putt did a classic “toilet bowl”, rolling 360 degrees around the cup before falling. The match was again all even.

As they reached the 18th tee the first flash of lightning and concomitant rumble of thunder was the two-part ka-chunk of a pump action shotgun: it meant trouble.

Trouble also took the form of the Steam Train, who had just left the 18th tee. TOF surveyed the scene with a cool eye but an uneasy stomach. One golfer was some thirty yards from the tee in the deep rough on the left. Another was fishing his ball out of the pond on the right, some forty yards from the tee. A third was in the woods and the fourth had miraculously hit the fairway, a sixty-yard top that he would brag about later in the bar.  (We golfers call the bar the 19th hole.)

The Train never let anyone play through, that much was sure. The tournament players might as well resign themselves to wait. Suddenly Burns envisioned a match lighting a fuse.

“I thought you were supposed to be a great putter…” James nearly shouted at Alana, almost in tears.

“How can I concentrate with you yelling at me?!” she retorted. “Ian never treated me that way!”

“This time,” Emily said, jabbing a finger into Ian’s smallish chest, “I want to see you hit a drive further than my mother!”

Very uncharacteristically, Ian slammed down his driver (a Blammo 5000 with strontium inserts) and drew himself up to his full height, which put him chin-to-chin with the jousting Jameson.

“So you’d rather be in the next county than the fairway?” he sputtered.

“Well, I’d like to be a little closer to the green like I’m used to when James is on my team.”

“If memory serves he is not on your team; I am.”

“And maybe that’s the problem. I like having James as my partner. He’s not afraid to swing hard like a man!”

“And I miss having Ian on my side,” piped up the quiet Alana. “He never criticizes me or makes fun of me.”

“Oh, Alana, darling, I miss you so!” said Ian, who stepped over and folded her in his arms.

Emily looked down at the ground, and then walked over to James. Slowly they placed their hands on each other’s shoulders, their more gladiatorial way of embracing.

At this point rain began to fall, which the Steam Train took no notice of. They continued to hack and plod, hack and plod. Emily and James, sensible types, walked off the course, heading for the bar. Ian and Alana, more attuned to the songs of romance, hugged and kissed, oblivious to the rain. TOF concluded rightly that the tournament ended in a draw, and finished off his flask with one good long drink.

Two weeks later a double wedding was held on the 18th tee, in the closest approximation of a happy ending this story can offer. Mr Burns gave away both the brides, and gave a very moving speech extolling the virtues of couples that play golf. I don’t remember all the details, but it did include some well-chosen words on the importance of the slow, short back swing, the steady head and the full follow through.

 

 

Texting Old Tom

August 16, 2011

Today I decided to wrestle with my phone. Perhaps you have experienced similar deep emotions and bruising ego setbacks with this maddening appliance, as I have. It’s a pain in the butt, it constantly finds new ways to vex me, and no doubt it spends its time in the darkness giggling and smirking as it does everything in its power to run up my bill.

Running up excessive bills is why smart phones were invented, with little concession, the right word surely, to providing the customer with value commensurate with the cost.

A lady I met at a party recently tried to reverse my opinion by demonstrating how she could enjoy reading rare books on her phone. She had downloaded them to her iPain courtesy of the nice people at the Gutenberg Project. (This is an organization which has been busy digitizing old books, making them available in electronic format.) This made an impression, since my lovely wife and I have spent far more than is reasonable on books, yet we cannot seem to quell our thirst. The lady at the party explained that a huge variety of books was available — for free — and in seconds could be relayed from the library in the sky down into one’s phone. Then, one could at one’s leisure read the book and generate those lovely chemical pleasure reactions in the brain. Me want some of that.

So after spending far too much time today grappling with unwieldy and cumbersome HR software to apply for  jobs — I think we should be paid for our Herculean efforts, doing HR’s job for them — it seemed a fair deal to reward myself with a wee treat and get me some books. So I hunted and cursed and fell into the Internet mud, but finally after battling my way out, the Kindle book-reading software was installed on my phone, and I was soon reading a complimentary novel, “Treasure Island.” It worked! But now I wanted more.

There were already books on my laptop, made possible by “Kindle for PC,” and if I knew where the books lived on my laptop and on my phone, theoretically I could copy them from one device to the other. Then I could have sweet revenge on my evil black phone, and read a book on my laptop when it suited me, or if desired on the Devil Droid.

To get started I went looking for a new Kindle book from Amazon, and did a search on “golf.” (If you are looking for a regular, non-Kindle book, there are over 22,000 golf titles available through Amazon.) This search turned up some 1200 titles, high on the list of which was one by the golf scholar Valerie Gray. Her impressive work was entitled, “Getting Naked for Tiger Woods: or, I Was A Wanton Golf Tramp.” Yours — the book, that is — for $2.99. (Here I would like to assure my wife that I did not purchase this historical work, and no, I will not be tricked into saying anything like if the movie will be better.) Seeing that my search parameters were ill-chosen, I narrowed the field by selecting “golf history.” This yielded more desirable fruit, rather than the low-hanging variety provided by Ms Gray.

If you have looked around my blog, you found a story (“Golf Literati Dinner”) relating one of the most amazing events of my life, a banquet in St Andrews, overlooking the Old Course, for golf historians and writers, golf collectors, and one of the most famous golfers in history. (I sat next to him.) One of the singular characters of that evening was David Malcolm, a former University of St Andrews biology professor and at the time a redoutable golf historian. I will never forget him, and I am sad to say that this larger-than-life fellow passed away recently. He and his colleague Peter Crabtree had labored for years on a majestic biography of one of golf’s most important figures, Old Tom Morris. This work was published in 2008 in extremely small quantities, a hefty and exquisite tome that I simply could not afford, my ancestors having squandered the family fortune on whisky.

The Kindle Store search under “golf history” gave up 76 titles, and much to my amazement there was David’s book, “Tom Morris of St Andrews: The Colossus of Golf 1821-1908.” A Kindle version was available (for under $9) and I could be reading it in just a few moments. Wow. Soon I was transported, reading the early chapters, learning about the origins of golf, the seminal “Rabbit Wars” and life in early 19th century Scotland, completely absorbed. Then I came across a passage that had me drifting back to my own childhood, when my dad, like countless other dads, took an old golf club, sawed off a chunk, and handed it to their young sons as their first golf clubs. It’s how we got started playing the ancient and wonderful game. The quote, from Old Tom, includes some impenetrable Scottish terms and phrases, so let me help you.

There are a few meanings for the Scottish phrase “chuckie stanne” but the important one here is for ‘throwing stones,’ or small stones that were the right size for tossing or chucking. The earliest golf “balls” were small rocks, followed in the next experimental phase by wooden balls, which were then replaced with such improvements as leather stuffed with feathers, and then balls made from solid rubber. “Bairn” is Scottish for baby. Webbed feet are recognizable by anyone raised in moist places like Seattle.

“I began to play when I was six or seven, maybe younger. A’ St Andrews bairns are born wi’ web feet an’ wi’ a gowf club in their hands. I wad be driving the chuckie stanne wi’ a bit stick about as sune’s I could walk.”

Reading that made me want to get out on the golf course as soon as possible, where my thoughts will be with Old Tom. And you can bet your golf spikes I will not have my phone with me.

Seattle Job Search

August 3, 2011

I have been in Seattle for nearly a month now, and am still looking for work. While I haven’t yet found a job, I did locate an apartment close to Ravenna Park, north of the University of Washington campus. It feels as if I am on an invisible line between the city and a residential area.

My days are filled with the dreary toil of trying to find a job. As you know, my 20+ year background is teaching business courses to MBA and undergrad students, but the funding situation at most institutions looks less than fertile, and more like a parking lot with a few weeds growing up out of the cracks. Because of this, I’m looking for opportunities in a corporate setting. I’ll even wear a suit again, if I have to.

One of the big reasons for returning to the Pacific Northwest, besides the pleasantly cool weather, is that, after living here for about 25 years, I have a ton of friends in the area, including former students. They are helping me to look for work, sending me ideas, suggestions, names of people and companies, and generally being nice as heck to me. I am indeed lucky for all the good friends I have.

My resume — the real one can be found on this site — is shooting all over town, and must be a tricky one to handle for the job search organizations. Nowadays humans don’t look at resumes; rather, computer eyeballs peruse your electronic document, and like a prospector panning for gold, the software sifts out the good stuff. After this is done, most of your resume is flushed down the drain, leaving only a few key words and phrases, which are then spooned into a small dish. The contents of this dish is then compared to the key words and phrases on a bigger dish labeled, “What We Want”. Presumably, if my dish matches — and who knows what “matches” means in this context — the large dish, then I would be notified of my rosy, future life.

The results so far have not suggested much of a floral scenario. You can tell that these job search firms have been trying. They have sent me excited, optimistic emails: “Boy do we have great news for you!” and “Wait until you see what we found for you!” But then I open the message and see that I have been selected for: a circus acrobat, an aircraft mechanic, a make-up counter consultant, and a senior environmental engineer specializing in llama farms. Apparently they have not even looked at my resume, or else they did look at it, found it to be hopeless, and then just started sending me random job announcements.

It doesn’t exactly fill a guy with hope.

Partly as a treat, and partly to do some personal networking, I have gone up to ‘Beautiful Bellingham‘ a few times. Bellingham is a small college town where I lived and taught, and where most of my old friends are. It’s about an hour and a half north of Seattle, and it lies on a bay, trying for all its might to look like a miniature San Francisco. My favorite part of town is Fairhaven, home to a plethora of pubs, book stores, coffee joints, and more weird characters than a small town has a right to. I love it there, and if given the kind of small fortune described in the first sentence of “Pride and Prejudice” would spend much of my time sipping espresso at a sidewalk cafe, reading.

Two of my visits to Bellingham this past month were to play in golf tournaments organized by people at the school where I taught, Western Washington University. The one held last week was a team event, and our team won! Good clean fun, and only moderate drinking was involved…

Masters Part 4

April 21, 2011

Unfortunately, the writing team at the Fountain was behind a very slow foursome, which prevented the timely posting of Part IV of this series on the Masters.

Let me begin by saying that I am glad that Tiger Woods did not win. It’s hard to explain why, and I do not consider it bad sportsmanship. It’s sort of like the grossly insensitive “jokes” Gilbert Gottfried told about the Japanese, right after their earthquake/tsunami/nuclear tragedy, that got him fired from Aflac — it was simply too soon. It is too soon for me — after the well-publicized, gutter level philandering — to feel anything approaching forgiveness or loyalty to Woods, or the partisan zeal of a fan.

I wanted anybody else to win the green jacket.

Over the first three days it was interesting to observe the way the golfing fans on the course reacted to Woods. Interesting in that he was treated more like a pariah than a pantheon. Tom Boswell, my favorite sports writer, noted in his article, “The silence around Tiger is deafening.” Yet on Sunday, when Woods started a charge remniscient of Arnie Palmer in the 1960’s, the crowds broke their vows of silence and found their voices. As part of a self-fulfilling prophecy, strong evidence of Tiger bias was on display at CBS. They wanted to forget his reprehensible behavior. They wanted to see him win, and long before the tournament was over I had the feeling that the boys in the CBS truck thought that a Tiger win was a fait accompli.

(The CBS truck is where the producer and key technical staff are housed, with their nimble hands on lots of very high tech TV and computer equipment. Inside this state-of-the-art mobile production studio is where they manage the cameras and audio, decide which camera’s output goes to broadcast, which material to replay, what to show in slow motion, etc. Way back in my younger days I worked in a TV studio, where I pushed buttons and made TV miracles happen.)

In the UK, golf tournament coverage is more balanced than it is here. All players get a share of attention, which makes sense because great shots are being hit by players scattered across the course. When I was in Scotland, I talked to lots of golfers, and they told me that they like to see great golf shots, no matter who hits them. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that real golf fans everywhere want to see the best golf, not just watch one player the whole time. Here in the US, it’s just TIGER TIGER TIGER. C’mon! This is a golf tournament, not ‘The Tiger Woods Show.’

At the Masters, I wanted to see lots of different guys hitting the creative and difficult shots Augusta National requires, not just him. But the boys in the truck devoted most of the broadcast to him, imagining that he was the only one viewers wanted to see. When McIlroy finally collapsed — more on this later — and fell to nine-under par, that put him in a group of four players, including Woods. What name was at the top of that group on the TV leaderboard? Tiger Woods. Why? Someone in the truck had to decide in what order the names would be listed, and they wanted Tiger’s name at the top. Bias. McIlroy had led the tournament for three and a half days, so isn’t that reason enough for McIlroy’s name to be at the head of the group? Hadn’t he earned it? If sorted alphabetically — no matter if you choose either ‘T’ or ‘W’ — once again Tiger should not have been first.

At the end of Sunday he was definitely not first. But neither was McIlroy.

On the back nine on Sunday, after the 21-year old Rory McIlroy had been leading the tournament for 63 holes — an amazing achievement — he crumbled, choked, fell apart, had a spot of bother, and melted into a puddle of goo. Last week’s cover of the New Yorker magazine, seen up at the top, did a nice job of foretelling Rory’s fate. On hole #10 his self-destruction began. He launched his tee shot far into the woods, hitting one of the hundreds of different kinds of trees. Ted Ray would have called it “a monarch of the forest.” As Boswell noted, no one had ever expected — in 75 years of the Masters — that a player would wind up in the front yard of one of the cabins, used to house visiting dignitaries. These prestigious cabins are situated about eight Tarzan rope swings away from the fairway. At the Masters, unlikely things have always happened.

For someone who respects the value of statistics, and their ability to analyze the improbable, this intrepid reporter understood that it was extremely unlikely that McIlroy would win. First of all, no one had ever won the Masters from start to finish, and second, Rory was only twenty-one. (Let’s not quibble with months and days.) I dug up the ages of all the first-time winners of the Masters, from Horton Smith, the first winner, who was 26 in 1934, to Mark O’Meara, who was 41 in 1998. The ages are approximately normally distributed, which cleared the way for some introductory level statistics calculations.

The population mean was 31.804 years, and the population standard deviation was 4.689 years. This gives us a calculated Z-score of -2.304 — you’ll have to trust me on this one, since I have a really honest face. That Z-score, when translated into English, means that there was approximately a 1% chance that someone aged 21 or younger would win the tournament.

McIlroy, god bless him, had little hope. But just you watch, we’ll be seeing much more of him soon.

Unhappy with your putter? Send us yours, and we’ll conduct a forensic analysis to see what was wrong with it. Then we will recycle it, unless, like some putters, it is possessed. In that case we’ll have to perform an exorcism, which will cost you. A lot.

Masters Part 3

April 10, 2011

Masters Part 3a

Now that the first two days are over, the real tournament can get underway. Half of the golfers competing in the Masters have been eliminated, because they did not survive the “cut.” Most tournaments do this — they start with a whole bunch of players, and based on the cumulative two-day scores, a cut line is determined. If your score is higher than this line, sorry, Charlie, you have to go home. The rest of the players then compete for prize money, prestige, sponsorship, rankings and T-shirts.

At the Masters, they started with about a hundred players, and now there is about fifty. After two days, at the top of the leaderboard is the young Irishman, Rory McIlroy, who looks like someone out of a Mark Twain story.  He’s tall and thin and has a great smile. Instead of waving a paint brush at picket fences he is waving his magic putter on the way to a score of ten under par.

Masters Part 3b

As my wife noted elsewhere, Saturday is known on the PGA Tour as “moving day.” That does not mean that U-Haul vans are used, but that players are more aggressive on the course, and are trying to jump up much higher on the leaderboard. The great Bobby Jones, founder of the Masters, won a lot of tournaments by battling, not with any two-legged opponents, but with what he called Old Man Par. It didn’t matter what an adversary did; what mattered was the scorecard.

On the first two days of a tournament, players are trying to make the cut, and so generally play somewhat conservatively, trying to avoid making big mistakes. Hitting fairways and the middle of greens won’t hurt you, and if your putter is in a friendly mood, then some birdie putts will drop. Going for the heroic shots can put you in deep bunkers, in the water, or in the azalea bushes, in which case you may never be seen again. (One day I’ll tell you about balls I hit into gorse at St Andrews, balls that were never seen again.)

So moving day is when players reappraise the risk/return ratio and dial it up. Instead of laying up on par 5 holes like they did on Thursday and Friday, on Saturday they eat their spinach and go for it. (Interesting that golf has remained free from the steroid scandals endured by baseball and football; this week was the perjury trial — the result of steroid use — of the Exhalted One, Barry Bonds.) More risky tee shots are taken, bolder approach shots to greens are attempted, in spite of the protection provided by trees, bunkers, streams, ponds and devious contours on fast greens.

Tiger Woods, who has won here in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005, usually moves up the leaderboard on Saturdays like an express elevator. On this Saturday, however, he shot a 2-over 74, moving down to 6 under for the tournament. Rory McIlroy, the just-barely-of-legal-drinking-age leader on Thursday and Friday, shot a 2-under 70, and moved to twelve under par for the tournament.

The final round on Sunday looks to be an exciting, gut-wrenching contest, between young guns who lack experience but not talent, and older, more seasoned veterans who have won at Augusta before. I know precisely where on the couch I’ll be sitting.

The Masters

April 7, 2011

This is the week of the Masters, one of the greatest golf tournaments of the season, and I, for one, am excited. It was founded by Bobby Jones, the American golfing legend on the right, and was first held in 1934. My younger readers may wish to stop and reflect that this was before cell phones and the Internet; in that era golfers didn’t keep score using an app on their smartphones, rather they used a paper scorecard and an odd tubular device called a pencil.

There are many competitive events for amateur and professional golfers played during the year, and the Masters is considered one of the most important ones, which are referred to as the “major” tournaments. These days we think of the four majors as the US and British Opens, the PGA and the Masters, of which the Masters is the youngest. (The oldest is the British Open, which was first played in 1860.) There is more prestige for a golfer to have won a major tournament than one of the lesser events. Part of this is because of the historical significance, since as we’ve seen some of these golf tournaments go back 150 years, and the major tournaments are typically played on the best and most difficult golf courses. Part is because of the degree of the internal pressure involved, from those damn little voices inside a golfer’s head. And part is because of the presence of the best players in the game breathing down your neck, the external pressure of great competition.

Then there is the issue of money, millions of dollars. While some tour events offer more prize money than some of the majors, the prestige from having won a major translates into more sponsorship money and more bragging rights in the locker room. (Ladies, no blushing, please!)

As of this writing Jack Nicklaus, born in 1940, is the king, the all-time leader in major tournament wins. Nicklaus won 18 majors spanning 25 years: 6 Masters, 4 US Opens, 3 British Opens, and 5 PGA’s. Many golf historians think his record of 18 majors is unbreakable. The greatest golfers in history, such as Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, have each won “only” 11 or less, so in comparison, having won 18 majors is staggering. Many top golfers play for years before winning one, and obviously many more have never won a major tournament, or even any tournament at all. We call these golfers “teenagers.”

No one has ever won all four of the professional major golf tournaments in one calendar year. This holy grail has been named the “Grand Slam.”

The professional golfer with perhaps the greatest chance of catching Nicklaus is Tiger Woods, who so far has won 14 majors: 4 Masters, 3 US Opens, 3 British Opens and 4 PGA’s. He won his last major, the US Open, in 2008. Woods seemed on a collision course with destiny, if we apply our friend mathematics in a simplistic way. If it took Woods roughly 12 years to win 14 majors, then it should take about 3.5 more years — meaning in around 2011 or 2012 — to win the 4 additional majors he needs to catch Nicklaus. We might conclude this if we  make all sorts of naïve assumptions.

Instead, Tiger Woods found himself on a different collision course in 2009, when his Cadillac Escalade — one of the dumber vehicles ever invented — ran into a tree and other impediments while evading his wife, on whom he had been cheating.  He has now gone some 20 tournaments without winning, his career stalled like the monster SUV he crashed. He had won an astonishing 71 tournaments — including majors — over a 14-year span. So averaging about 5 wins a year, one would expect that in the last year and a half, he should have won 7 or 8 events, of which at least one would have been a major. However, he has played in about 20 tournaments since his imbroglio (Italian for major screw-up), and he has not only not won a single tournament, but in only one of the events he entered did he finish any higher than 20th. He’s way behind schedule.

But enough about Woods, let’s talk about Bobby Jones. We mentioned earlier that nowadays the Grand Slam consists of the four most important professional golf tournaments of a given year. Back in 1930, Jones stunned the world by winning the earlier version of the Grand Slam. Back then, as now, some events were tougher challenges and more prestigious than others, and those four special tournaments were: the US Amateur and the British Amateur, and the US Open and British Open. An “open” tournament is one which anyone can enter, both amateurs and professionals; one must simply qualify. As you may well imagine, these are the most prodigiously difficult tournaments to win because all the best players show up. Notice that back then, that august group of four tournaments included two amateur events, which means that professional golfers would not have been able to play. This casts an interesting light on Jones’s career, since he retained amateur status through all those years, and yet he beat, in “open” tournaments, the best professionals of the day!

He would have won a great deal of money had he been designated a professional, but he chose to remain an amateur. As an amateur, the rules were very strict in that he was not allowed to collect prize money. On the one hand the professionals he beat suffered from a loss of face — losing to an amateur would do that — but on the other hand they welcomed the first place money, even when they came in second.

Another interesting sidebar is that in 1930, both amateur events were what is called match play, in which the gladiatorial contest is man against man, and the winner is determined by who wins the most holes. The other kind of event, which we see most often today, is called stroke play, in which each golfer plays (usually) four rounds of golf, and the lowest score wins. Some consider match play to be a real pressure cooker, and a more rigorous test than stroke play.

Bobby Jones won his first major tournament, the US Open, in 1923, and ended his competitive golf career in 1930 with a total of 13 majors: 4 US Opens, 5 US Amateurs, 3 British Opens and one British Amateur. It is very impressive that over that span of years, he entered 21 major tournaments and won 13 of them, for an incredible 62% winning percentage. No one else has come close.

As you can see, any discussion of the history of major tournaments and grand slams is like comparing apples and oranges, since in some cases amateur events and match play are involved, and in other cases professional events and stroke play.

Jones retired from competitive golf after his amazing year of 1930, but continued to play somewhat more relaxed rounds with his father and old friends. He never lost his considerable passion for the game, and sought other outlets, other ways to contribute to the game that had given him so much. That opportunity arose in his grand slam year of 1930, when he discovered a decrepit, overgrown horticultural experiment gone awry, dating back to the Civil War, in Augusta, Georgia.

Fruitlands Nurseries had been a successful provider of exotic fruit trees and flowers for many years, but had suffered a downturn and neglect. Like many great people who see things others can’t, Bobby Jones saw the 365 acre property, and imagined a great golf course. With a little financial help and a similar helping of golf course design savvy from one of the greatest golf course architects, Jones’s dream turned into reality, and the old nursery became Augusta National Golf Club. This course, Augusta National, is where the Masters has been hosted since 1934.

One of the reasons for the tournament’s uniqueness is that it is always held at the same course. It is considered one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. (You should watch the tournament on the biggest high-definition TV screen you can find.) Other major golf tournaments like the US Open and the British Open are held on different golf courses each year. (It might be more correct to say that the British Open — or simply the “Open Championship” in the UK — is held on a course selected from a finite rota or set of links style golf courses every year. Links style courses are those that lie along the sea shore, so that the weather plays a key role.) It is this continuity and rich history of the Masters that renders it so special, a hallowed ground for golfers.

My wife and I have a tenuous but precious link to Bobby Jones. In 1958 he went to St Andrews, Scotland, where he had both won and lost life-changing tournaments at the Old Course, the most famous golf course in golf history. By that time he had been suffering from syringomyelia, a serious disease that dissipated his spine, and turned a vigorous athlete into a hobbling and delicate old man way before his time. He was to be the non-playing golf captain of an American team of amateur golfers competing in an international event.

Before he left for Scotland he had received a letter from the town’s clerk, who asked if Jones wouldn’t mind accepting an award while he was there. Jones inferred that this award was to be like so many other keys to the cities he had graciously received from towns big and small over his illustrious career. It turned out that the honorary title, Freedom of the City and Royal Burgh of St Andrews, was far more rare and special, and had been bestowed upon only one other American — to Benjamin Franklin, in 1759. Keep in mind that St Andrews is roughly one thousand years old…

The award ceremonies, featuring an emotional speech by Jones — which forces me to use at least six kleenex every time I read it — were held at Younger Hall.  The large and grand building, part of the University of St Andrews campus on North St, is where I met my wife.

It was the fall of 2006, the morning of the orientation for foreign post-graduate students. I was in a quiet, private mood, and so instead of joining the boisterous crowd in front of the entrance, I was across the street. What happened next was one of the weirdest things to ever happen to me.

In the crowd I noticed a girl with really nice blonde hair. Friends who have known me for a while would have said, right off the bat, that this was strange, because I love red hair. (One day I’ll tell you more.) She was in the crowd with her back to me; all I saw was her hair.

Then, a little voice said, “Go talk to her.”  I swear, it’s the truth.

I thought, “OK, I’m in Scotland now, nothing stopping me from recreating myself, and there’s nothing wrong with talking to her.” As I started to walk across the street, the massive doors to Younger Hall opened, and the crowd began to pour in. I thought, “Huh, I’ve lost her.” A few moments later and I was in the large room, looking at a multitude of metal folding chairs, many with butts on them. After a quick scan — and I can remember it like it was this afternoon — I saw her maybe 25 feet away from me. There was one empty chair next to her. So I sat down. I took a couple breaths and introduced myself. A moment later the principal of the University (the UK version of the president) came out onto the stage, and welcomed us.

Then he said, “Look around. One out of three of you will meet your future spouse here.” At that point I took another quick look at her, and thought, “Nah, she’s too young, and she’s out of my league.” Later, she told me that she glanced at me and thought, “Not him. He’s too old!”

The next fall, I proposed to her at Edinburgh Castle, in Scotland’s capital city, and we married a year later in Hingham, Massachusetts. She promised to love and obey, and to caddie for me when I play at Augusta National.

Amy Winehouse Plays the Old Course

May 9, 2008

Dateline Thursday, May 8, 2008

Amy Winehouse was released from police custody in London after yet another drug arrest. It was the second time in a week she had been arrested on drug charges, and then, inexplicably to this observer, released again nearly immediately after being incarcerated. Upon her release, on the advice of her drug councilor, she headed north to Scotland, where she played a therapeutic round of golf at the Old Course in St Andrews.

On the tee of the first hole, after Winehouse and her caddie Pete Doherty learned that the hole’s name was the “Burn” hole, they sat down and proceeded to light up a pipe filled with hashish. This would hardly have raised an eyebrow in London, but as this was St Andrews it provoked a response similar to that of Henry Bateman’s painting, “The Man Who Missed the Ball on the First Tee at St Andrews”. (See my “page” on the right.) I mean, people were shocked. The Secretary of the R&A escorted the couple into the clubhouse, where they were detained for three minutes.

The Secretary apologized for the delay, awarded Winehouse a par for the first hole, and hastened her to begin her round on number two.

At number 2, the “Dyke” hole, Pete whipped out a needle and added an impromptu tattoo of two women kissing to Amy’s upper thigh. A marshal penalized her a stroke for delaying play, but then rescinded it.

Number 3, the “Cartgate” hole, features a dangerous bunker down the left side called the Principal‘s Nose. Winehouse, hearing this, dropped everything and ran for the bunker. She jumped in, and immediately began snorting cocaine from an ingenious dispenser that looked like a golf ball.

Number 4 is the “Ginger Beer” hole, named for the refreshments sold from a cart owned by “Auld Daw” (David) Anderson back in the 1890’s. (Anderson had been a greenskeeper, ball-maker and caddie at St Andrews.) Amy pulled out a cellphone, and moments later a helicopter landed. A burly attendant emerged, carrying two cases of beer, which were rapidly consumed by the dangerous duo. A marshal penalized them two strokes: one for delaying play and one for not sharing the beer with the marshal.

On number 5, the “Hole O’Cross”, she hooked her drive into the Elysian Fields along the left of the fairway, where she encountered a group of autograph-seekers walking along the beach that runs next to the course. She head-butted the first three, causing the rest to flee screaming. The marshal did not assess a penalty in this case, because head-butting is encouraged in Scotland, and to sign autographs would have slowed down play.

As you probably know, the 6th is called “Heathery”. There is a cluster of bunkers down the left named the Coffins. Winehouse and Doherty were greatly amused to lie down, after shooting up some heroin, and pretend they were dead and in pine boxes. Smart money suggests this will happen sooner rather than later.

When Winehouse and Doherty discovered that the 7th is called “High” hole, Doherty produced a Thai stick the size of a golf club, and soon thereafter the two golfers were puffing away on it.

Lost and disoriented, they skipped the 8th hole, “Short”, and stumbled on to number nine, “End”. Doherty saw the historical note on the golfer’s guide telling how the Kruger bunkers, far to the left, date from the Boer War. Winehouse, whose ears were ringing at this time, thought that Doherty called her a whore, and so slashed his head with her sand wedge. Pete, feeling no pain by this time, saw the trail of blood roll down and stain his shirt, which he admired for its realistically blood-red color. The marshal was going to penalize them further, but then considered what’s the point?

Number 10 is a good hole, named for Bobby Jones by St Andrews admirers after he passed away in 1971. Winehouse noted the quote from Jones printed on the scorecard, about competitive golf being played mainly on a 5 ½ inch course, which is the space between your ears. She found this to be so hilarious that she and Doherty each popped 5 ½ Ecstasy tablets, and rolled around in the gorse.

The 11th hole, “High” confused the pair, because they thought they had already played the High hole. (Here I should mention for Old Course neophytes that the Old Course is unusual in that there are seven “double” greens. These extra-large greens serve double duty in that one part of the green is used for an outward bound hole, and then another part of that green is used for an inward bound hole. For example, the outward 5th hole, “Hole O’Cross (out)” shares the same green with number 13 coming in, cleverly named “Hole O’Cross (in)”. Likewise with holes 6 and 12, and 7 and 11, sharing greens and to some degree names.)

Let’s get back to our detailed and dispassionate narrative. Winehouse and Doherty were confused by the arcane course layout and nomenclature, so on the “High (in)” hole, they noticed that they hadn’t smoked any crack cocaine yet, whereupon Pete produced the hardware and applied the pyrotechnics. The marshal was spotted later sobbing uncontrollably in a large thistle bush.

By the time they recovered their bearings they were on number 13, “Hole O’Cross” in that homecoming direction we talked about. Winehouse hit into a nasty little bunker down the left called the Cat’s Trap. Doherty pulled out a cat he had recently trapped, which had been tied up with duct tape. With dramatic flair he picked up Winehouse’s ball from the bunker, replaced it with the snarling cat, and exhorted her to hit the cat instead of the ball. Doherty is reported to have said, “They don’t go very far, but I love the sound they make when you hit them real good.”

A marshal swooped down before her back swing attained that full athletic coiling, and plucked the cat away in time, recognizing that the cat was indeed his own. He penalized Winehouse nine strokes, the same number of lives that cats purportedly have.

The 14th hole is called “Long”. Menacing the left side of the fairway are four bunkers known as the Beardies. Winehouse took the opportunity to impugn Doherty’s pathetic excuse for a beard, directing much scorn on the few scraggly hairs that are seen more often on old ladies whose eyesight has failed. This caused a bit of an imbroglio, made worse by the fact that Doherty had just created and consumed a new cocktail made from two cups each of vodka and Scotch whisky, and was feeling maudlin.

Number 15 is a beautiful hole, the “Cartgate (in)”. Learning that the pair of mounds in the fairway used as an aiming point were called Miss Grainger’s Bosoms – I’m not making this up – Winehouse again whipped out her cellphone, and soon a huge black SUV appeared. Out popped an artsy-looking, androgynous specimen, who on the barked orders of Winehouse, began to apply green body paint to Amy’s now-bared breasts. When finished, and when Winehouse lay down on the ground, the resemblance between the actual golf course and Winehouse’s upper torso was astounding. When notified by radio, the Secretary called the R&A lawyers to see if this was some sort of copyright infraction, but was instead told it was merely bad taste.

On the 16th, the “Corner of the Dyke” hole, another bit of theatre unfolded. Guarding the green directly in front is the Wig bunker. Coincidentally, Amy had hit her ball in there, and by this point she was so frazzled due to the lack of intoxicating stimulants, that her own wig began to shift and droop most distressingly. The black bouffant monstrosity atop her head took on a life of its own, one perhaps more meaningful than its former owner. Strange that with the wig down completely covering her eyes, Winehouse hit the best shot of the day, a phenomenal sand wedge that flew towards the flag, landed gently, and then rolled into the cup. She didn’t see it however, because she and Doherty were still in the bunker, drinking from a large box of wine.

The 17th hole, the infamous “Road Hole” runs along a low stone wall fronting the Old Course Hotel. There were so many fans wanting an autograph, or to hear a few words of enlightenment or a song from Amy, that the Black Watch was called in to restore order. To assist with morale Winehouse threw empty beer bottles at the crowd, which quieted them down quickly.

The last hole, named for Old Tom Morris, is where the famous, ancient bridge over the Swilcan Burn is located. (I have a photo of my dad standing on that bridge, and I treasure it.) Winehouse and Doherty, having downed a half bottle of Valium, decided it would be easier to crawl under the bridge than walk over it, and emerged dripping wet if none the worse for wear. Winehouse’s considerable eye make-up was at this point running down and covering both sides of her face in black, the whole impression that of three piano keys. There’s a deep swale in front of the green, the much dreaded “Valley of Sin”, and here this reporter will refrain from detailing what took place between these shining examples of celebrity.

I will tell you that the next morning, Amy Winehouse’s unconscious body was found hanging from the obelisk that stands very near to the 18th green, the Martyr’s Monument. If that particular juxtaposition has any meaning for you, please let me know.

Parenting, and a Little Golf

May 5, 2008

You are the parents of young kids or teenagers. You want to know if you are good parents or not. One question: do you regularly allow your kids to go out unsupervised very late at night? Then you are bad parents.

It’s that simple.

I don’t care if you live in the UK or the US or in Russia. Through your indifference or diffidence or just incompetence, you are not doing your kids any favors, and you are making the world a worse place. Congratulations.

Recently I read about a shopping mall in Maryland, the Boulevard at the Capital Centre – and yes, I agree, the name gushes pretentiousness – which has decided to start a new program next month, which will ban anyone 16 and younger after 9 pm, if they are without adult supervision. (Here’s the article.)

The move follows recent disturbing trends in teenage violence across the US and the UK, and mimics policies in place in other American malls, such as the country’s largest, the Mall of America in Minneapolis. As can be expected, teenagers, reacting to any diminution, real or perceived, in their freedom to do anything, anywhere, anytime, are against the policy.

Sierra Gillian, 17, and showing the wisdom and maturity of someone ten years younger, called the initiative “dumb.” She then goes on to unleash a powerful tautology: “If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.” Wow.

Why can’t kids understand that such restrictions, limits or controls are for their own good? Oh, yeah, it’s because they’re kids; they don’t understand because they are not yet adults.

In the May 4th Sunday Times Magazine was an article about the spoiled children of Moscow’s new batch of billionaires. Every licentious dish is on the menu, every hedonistic appetite is satiated. And they’re still teenagers. One young man is celebrating his 17th birthday. It’s 3 am on a Friday, and the scene is the Rai, a nightclub popular with Moscow’s young and very wealthy. Drinks, drugs, and chauffeured Hummers take the place of family time and salubrious role models.

One rare voice of reason is heard from a wealthy Moscow mother: “I have no doubt that many rich kids will either be in rehab or addicted to a shrink by the time they reach their mid-twenties. I do all I can to make sure mine won’t; ultimately the parents are to blame.”

Boris Arkhipov, a professor of child psychology, says of kids who are spoiled by parents who lavish money and presents on them instead of time and parental influence, “Discipline for many is a problem. They don’t accept authority.”

Closer to home, nearly every weekend night, very late at night, and by this I mean from about 2 am to much later, I hear out my Edinburgh flat window very young voices. Not very young as in young adults in their twenties or thirties; no, I mean kids younger than 15 or 16, and often sounding closer to twelve. What are they doing out that late? Why on earth do their parents allow that? And why do these kids sound as if they are drunk?

I’ve spent enough time bartending to know the sound of someone who has had a trigger amount to drink. You know what I mean by trigger, don’t you? It’s that point when speech begins to slur, and people become repetitive and either jolly and giggly, or they go in the other direction and become argumentative and surly. These latter types can quickly turn violent.

There is nothing at all wrong with my sounding like a curmudgeon and complaining about how things aren’t now like they were back when I was a kid. When I was young, we were told “no”. We were punished if we did something wrong, which is how it ought to be. We were controlled and did what we were told. We were given chores and taught the importance of work, and we were taught how to behave. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ were assiduously drilled into us, and we were respectful to adults. That’s a key point there, that we were respectful. We grew to understand that there was a certain amount of deference owed to adults: they knew things, they had been places, they had gone through various kinds of war, and they could do things we couldn’t.

I regularly read in the UK papers how groups of violent teenagers and young kids, often drunk, roam the streets and attack and sometimes murder hapless adults. How could things have possibly gotten so bad? It’s the fault of the parents.

As I think back to when I was a kid growing into a teenager, my younger brother and I were raised in a strict household. It was strict but there was also a very generous amount of love and time spent with the whole family. Older and wiser now, it strikes me that parenting, good parenting, is very difficult. It involves a great deal of work, patience and time. It also requires the parent to place a greater priority on being a parent than being a friend, and also requires the mom and dad to learn how to say “no”.

Kids will offer up their best acting learned from watching movies, and use the oldest and least compelling arguments, such as “But all my friends do…” Weak parents, the kinds that don’t care how their kids turn out, won’t marshal the strength to tell them ‘no’. The kids turn to Plan B, C and D, and scream, cry and plead; sure a parent can be lenient and say ‘yes’ now and then as a reward for good behavior, but most of the time, when your kids want to do things that they shouldn’t, like go out with their friends late at night, they need to be told “no”. It’s like any other exercise: it gets easier the more you do it.

There are far too many parents who are happy to let the TV be the babysitter. There are far too many parents who would rather let their 12 and 13-year old boys run around Edinburgh late at night, evidently after drinking cheap cider, than be brave enough to tell them “no”.

Originally I was going to finish with an impassioned section exhorting parents to get their kids — boys and girls — to play golf. I was going to tell how my dad taught me and encouraged me, and how he helped me to learn some of the important lessons golf teaches. Lessons like the primacy of being honest, playing by the rules, and being respectful of others. But I won’t. I won’t go to all that trouble because I’m going to go play golf right now, after I send my mom and dad an email and tell them I love them.

Golf and Restaurants, Part I

May 2, 2008

I have been thinking recently of the important relationship between golf and restaurants. Those of you who do not play golf — you civilians — may not see the connection, but it is a long and significant one. On a wonderful day at the course with your friends, who would not think of getting a hot dog and a beer at the turn? (For you civilians, that’s the break between the front and back nines.) This is an ancient tradition that dates back to about 1132, when Farkus the Flatulent was beating Bagdir the Bellicose in a no-handicap match, and Bagdir pounded the daylights out of Farkus’s favorite yak with his 6-iron, and then ate it before teeing off on the next hole. As everybody knows, the first hot dogs were made of ground yak.

It is a popularly held myth that John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) invented the sandwich, but golf historians agree that it was actually invented by a hungry Scottish golfer, when he tucked a small sheep between two pieces of bread. This is also how the expression “to pull the wool over his eyes” came about: his opponent chose the moment when his vision was blocked by his large sandwich to cheat.

There is considerable debate over the nature of the evolution of golf balls. Many feel the earliest balls were simply small, round stones, which were hit with crooked sticks by shepherds. In later years wooden balls were used, then featheries (leather pouches stuffed with feathers), then gutta percha (a kind of rubber), and then the Haskell ball, the first to be constructed of multiple layers consisting of a small rubber core surrounded by wound elastic thread covered by a tough outer layer. Recent documents suggest that one of the early balls, and Peter Lewis of the British Golf Museum disputes this, was in reality a very small haggis. Heavily smudged records show that customers of Cornelius Corstorphine, “the worst butcher in Fife,” often used small units of haggis for their games, since Corstorphine’s haggis was considered unfit for consumption.

When the first golfing clubs were established, such as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 1744, or the Crail Golfing Society in 1786, they did not have what we would recognize today as a clubhouse. Instead, after their rounds of golf were over, the gentlemen would repair to a nearby inn or roadhouse, and enjoy a banquet. The Edinburgh “Gentlemen golfers” usually convened at a local tavern called Luckie Clephan’s, while the men from Crail dined at the Golf Inn, to this day a cozy spot with a nice fireplace.

On tomorrow’s post I will describe in more detail what one of these après golf dinners was like, and some of the unusual customs. You’ll be astounded at the quantity and variety of courses, and quantity and quantity and quantity of strong and satisfying beverages. Let’s just say that little pain was felt.

See you tomorrow.

Plum’s Golf Omnibus

April 30, 2008

P.G. WodehouseReading and writing are two of my favorite things. I have been reading voraciously for many years, but am very new to blogging. (So, apparently, is this spell-checker, which inexplicably does not recognize “blogs” or “blogging”.) One of the things I like about being here is that it feels as if I am part of a community of readers: readers are attracted to blogs. And one of the rewards of reading blogs is the opportunity to encounter something new. Today I’d like to talk about one of my favorite writers, P.G. Wodehouse. If you have not read any of his work yet, you should give him a try. (Or read one of my stories; see below.) His first name is Pelham, a name that is perhaps a bit unfortunate, and not what I would name my son. If you say it quickly you come up with his nickname, Plum. His last name is not pronounced like you would think, because it’s pronounced, “would – house”.

Anyway, Wodehouse was a gifted comic writer who wrote nearly a hundred books, many of which are novels and the rest collections of short stories, plus many plays and musicals. Now, don’t screw up your face in disgust at the thought of musicals; it’s his novels and short stories I want to tell you about. In my hand today is his prized collection of golf short stories, The Golf Omnibus. You should run out and buy this 467-page collection boasting 31 short stories, and I’ll tell you why. Plum was crazy about golf, as am I, and loved to play when he could, but on rainy, dismal days like it is today in Edinburgh, he would happily read or write about golf.

An important note is required here to further explain what is meant by ‘golf short story’. These little jewels, averaging about fifteen pages, are primarily about people, but set against a backdrop of the greatest game. People fall in love, form lasting friendships, leave the office early to play golf, and steal your girl; there are lovable and deplorable people in these stories, just like people you know. There is something in each story that will appeal to anyone who likes to read; I bet, and I taught statistics for over ten years, that you will enjoy these stories even if you don’t play golf.

All the stories contain characters who love the game, and some play thirty-six holes a day, but not everyone is a golfer. And the most important themes are those you would find in other short story collections; it’s just that much of the action takes place on golf courses, in clubhouse bars, locker rooms and pro shops. A central character is The Oldest Member, a lovable old geezer who has been around forever. He’s the guy who was a member of the country club back when the protagonists’ grandfathers were members. A charming fact is that since The Oldest Member — and we never hear his real name — has been around for so long, he has most likely changed the diapers of the younger characters, which allows him such great intimacy with them, that they confide in him. I think that at certain ages we have trouble talking to our parents about sensitive subjects; in my turbulent teens I was able to open up to my best friend’s parents next door, because I felt I could talk to them about things that were somehow too uncomfortable to discuss with my mom & dad.

A typical plot line consists in a couple of young golfers who are romantically involved. Something happens to upset the relationship; a new seductress arrives on the scene, or something occurs to disrupt their happiness. One of the lovers will come looking for advice from the wise Oldest Member, who is most likely in his rocking chair on the porch of the club, where he can look out on the course and watch people play. Young people, being in a hurry, want a short answer, but as The Oldest Member comes from the teach-them-how-to-fish school, his method is to tell them a story like it was a parable.

The one seeking advice too late realizes the wise one is about to launch into one of his fables, and tries to duck out. But by then The Oldest Member has grabbed the unenlightened one by the wrist and is guiding him or her to the chair next to him. What then follows is a story within a story, and soon the reader can do nothing but smile and watch it all unfold. Much of the charm of the stories is in the warmth and humor of the narrative, and the dialog, which both crackles with realism, and soothes like an old sweater. And another part of the fun is guessing how the story will end, because The Oldest Member always does a good job of providing insight into the human condition, and it’s this knowledge that gently shoves the couple back to a happy conclusion. It’s great stuff, and the stories and novels are perfect for rainy day reads, again and again.

The photo above is of Wodehouse at age 23, and he has a relatively small smile. On the back cover of The Golf Omnibus is a photo of him at around age 90. He has the biggest smile you could imagine, perhaps a sign that writing golf stories leads to a long and happy life. I hope so.

If I may indulge in a bit of shameless self-promotion, since this is my blog, please read my golf short story on this site, A Niblick in Time; it’s my homage to Wodehouse. I hope you like it. Thanks for stopping by, and keep your head down.