Dogs and Fleas

In 1904 American Walter J. Travis, who had won the U.S. Amateur three of the previous four years, traveled to England to play in the British Amateur Championship at Royal St. Georges Golf Club. Taking motivation from perceived indignities he says he experienced at the hands of his British hosts Travis remarked:

“A reasonable number of fleas is good for a dog, it keeps the dog from forgetting that he is a dog.”

In the end this dog had his day…..he went on to win match after match against the best British amateurs of the day and become the first “foreigner” ever to win the British Amateur Championship. 

Walter J. Travis

The Story of American Golf  (Herbert Warren Wind 1948)

Playing With Hickories

The personal isolation created by the pandemic has given us all lots of time to catch up on things we have meant to do for a long time. For me this included the idea of someday “playing with hickories”, something I wanted to do for years but just never found a way to get to it.

You see the problem had always been where does one get a reliable set of hand made clubs that are 100 years old. The point was not just to own a few hickory clubs as collector’s items but to play with them, not just once, but often enough to understand how guys like Jones, Hagen, Vardon, and Ouimet were able to play the game at such a high level with this antiquated hardware. There were plenty of hickory shafted clubs from different sources out there on the internet but how could I be sure if they were authentic, still in playable condition, or were worth anywhere near what people were asking for them.

Then in my covid catch-up reading I stumbled on an article in The Golfer’s Journal about a small artisan company called Louisville Golf that had been making custom persimmon head clubs for the last 50 years and had taken up reproducing hickory shafted clubs in the 1990’s in an attempt to survive in what was a shrinking persimmon niche market. Four older gentlemen made all the clubs by hand and the reproduction of lines of vintage hickory clubs became the staple that kept them in business.

A little more research revealed that there were only two companies in America that still made hickories to the original specifications and Louisville Golf offered the widest variety of woods, irons, niblicks, and putters that were authentic reproductions of the most famous products of the hickory era. Sure seemed like the avenue I had been waiting for to explore this world of hickory first hand.

A study of the Louisville Golf website followed by a conversation with the owner Jeremy Wright got me out of the gate. Since a full set of these would be no small investment, it made sense to get a couple of clubs to begin with to see if it was even feasible for me to handle the clubs proficiently enough to enjoy the challenge of playing with them on a regular basis. I started with their 1920’s vintage Precision Series Mashie (an equivalent to a modern 8 iron) and a 21-degree persimmon headed Jack White Special Cleek (an early version of a utility wood).

A couple of weeks worth of range and on course work with these two convinced me that there was nothing intrinsically difficult about hitting hickory clubs and with some patience and perseverance it was possible to play them on the regular course and appreciate the skills of the ancient greats of the game.

Within a month I had my own custom crafted set of hickory shafted clubs-made up of a 14-degree Wilsonian Brassie for driving and fairway play, the Jack White Cleek, the full array of Precision Series dimpled faced irons, and a replica Bobby Jones Calamity Jane blade putter.

Now the fun would begin, exploring the parameters of this new set of old clubs to find out just how playable they would be on my regular hunting grounds. Sessions on the range with my Rapsodo launch monitor would supply ball speed, club head speed, launch angle, and carry distances for comparing the performance of clubs of the same loft from my hickory set vs my modern equipment.

The dimple faced Precision Series Mashie and Pitching Mashie are identical lofts to a contemporary 8 and 9 iron respectively

For someone like me with a relatively modest swing and ball speed, 80 and 100 mph respectively with my PXG 6-iron, the launch monitor numbers were surprising in that the differences in the irons were statistically insignificant.  Launch angles were a tinch lower with the hickories but the club and ball speed and the carry distances were less than 3 percent apart throughout the iron range.

The hickory shafts make the clubs heavier in hand then their composite shafted relatives from my modern set, but choking up an inch and concentrating swing rhythm and timing seems to take care of it.  The dimpled face does not impart the kind of spin we get off grooved face irons today so some adjustment for roll out is necessary on carry shots into the greens.

The forgiveness of these irons is surprisingly adequate so I really did not pine for the cavity backed feature of modern irons.  But the club head seems more sole weighted and balls that climb up to the thinner part of the face, especially in the rough, can come off with insufficient enthusiasm and a dampened trajectory.

Shape of the Niblick and the SM Niblick behind looks pretty to the contemporary eye

The Mashie Niblick (PW), Niblick (GW), and SM Niblick (56 degree SW) do a good job for the approach distances of 110 yards and in.   Trajectory is very similar to my modern versions of the same clubs and, except for a little less spin off the face, hitting the click-stop array of half, three-quarter, and full shots has been very manageable.

The close-in pitching and chipping game around the green is very familiar.  I have found that the sole weighting on the irons gives a little more aggressive roll out in these shots so I have actually lofted up one notch using the Mashie-Niblick (PW) for shots I usually play with a 9 iron and the Niblick (GW) for shots I most often play with my modern wedge.  The 56 degree SM Niblick has plenty of lift for the lofty pitches and the bounce is appropriate for playing the array of sand shots we generally run in to.

The heads on the Brassie and Cleek will remind you of the persimmons you played with as a kid

The Brassie and the Cleek had significantly lower launch monitor numbers then the high tech hybrids and driver in my current set.  The more significant factor had nothing to do with the hickory shafts but rather the persimmon heads.  As you might remember from playing persimmon heads from the 60’s though the 80’s, the sweet spot on these woods is the size of a dime, so the mishits are real foul balls and could be seriously off line and 30% shorter than a solid one.  The practical playing yardage of the course at 6200 yards gets seriously longer as a result.

Calamity Jane, complete with the Bobby Jones’s three extra whipping shaft wraps, has great strike balance with the offset hosel

Maybe the most pleasant surprise was the putting experience with the Calamity Jane blade putter.  Having played a heel shafted putter most of my golfing life the overall feel is not unfamiliar to me.  The tall unscored paddle face does take some getting used to but they engineered the balance of the club with the offset head so you get a good aggressive roll on it time-after-time.  On the slick downhill putt the toe putting trick works very well to dampen the speed.

Having played a half a dozen rounds with my hickories I have a some of takeaways on how to play these clubs effectively.

1. The differential in the carry yardage of the driving clubs coupled with the variance of distance and direction on the mishits puts real pressure on recovery shots.  Acceptance and humility are very important in these situations.  On the four pars when this happens it seems prudent to give up the hope of reaching the green and play a lay up to an intelligent  short iron distance from which an up-and-down save is possible.

2. Recovering from the rough, given the tendency of the ball to ride up to the thin part of the face on the irons, favors playing finesse shots with the Cleek or choking up on the irons to intentionally hit them a little thin on the meaty part of the club.

3. In planning shots from the fairway, the lower launch angles off the face and the lack of spin control favors a more links-like, ground game approach into the green openings allowing for roll out.  Three quarter and half shots are an art with these clubs and it seems to me the shaft and the club head weighting makes them very conducive to success on these type of plays.

4. The 13 inch long leather grips take some getting used to.  First of all they are a little firmer then the softer rubberized grips on most clubs today.  In the heat, if you do not wear a glove, they can get a little slippery from your hand sweat.  Most peculiar, since the grips are 3 to 4 inches longer then what you are used to, when you grip down on the chip shots around the green or on less then full shots in the fairway you have to recalibrate how far down the grip to set your hands to get the club length right. It took me a couple of sessions at the short game area to work this out.

5. Scoring to your normal handicap is going to be a challenge because some of the precision the new technology gives to your equipment is not there, so you have to adjust your expectations accordingly.  I suggest you track a separate handicap for your hickory rounds so as not to distort your regular index.  Playing the course a tee up may make sense to increase your enjoyment by taking some of the pressure off the wood club differentials and allowing yourself the opportunity to play approach shots with irons you are used to.

6. Most important, embrace the challenge and allow your strategic approach to playing to be more old school.  Most of us grew up playing in a time when the hard turf and less manicured conditions left a strong bit of existential outcome in the game.  The style of play with the hickories matches up to that way of playing nicely if you can accept the mind set and play accordingly.

A minimalist canvas walking bag with a Truckin’ theme seemed right

I have had to put up with the snickers of macho friends who wonder why in the world a sane person would give up current technology to play with a bag full of antiques.  But it is like joining a vintage car club and going off on a sunny summer day for a country ride in a classic fin back convertible with your favorite squeeze.  Some things just have to be experienced to be appreciated.

 

 

U.S. Women’s Amateur 2020

This week a national championship comes to our place as the USGA unfurls their flags for the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club. As the annual stop the last 38 years for the men’s U.S. Open Section Qualifier, we have built a strong relationship with the USGA as a deserving venue for this prestigious event.

Woodmont has polished all the silver in preparing for this year’s event

132 of the finest amateurs will converge to play two stroke play qualifying rounds followed by five days of single elimination match play to determine the national champion.  As you can read bios in the USGA Media Release, the field of young hopefuls and past USGA champions include players from all over the globe with plenty of street cred on their career resumes.

A strong history of hosting USGA regional qualifiers as well as local golf competitions

For many in the field this is their chance to take the next step toward fulfilling a life long dream of a career on the LPGA Tour, while for others adding their names to this list will be a shining moment in the sun that they can simply cherish forever.

Under the architectural guidance of Joel Weiman, Woodmont has given this Alfred Tull/Arthur Hills layout a major facelift with new bunkers and green surrounds and some strategic adjustments throughout.  At close to 6,600 yards for the competition, players won’t be fooled by the finely manicured appearance of this undulating terrain, the course’s strategic challenge and the summer heat will present a stern endurance test for those in pursuit of the championship.

They will play the 5th from the tips, 510 yards to an uphill green complex with plenty of static to contend with along the way

Native grasses frame the path to the 183 yard Par 3 6th but it is the yawning bunkers that protect this two-tier Redan style green that players will have to worry about

One deep flash-faced bunker is complemented by a 270-degree short grass chipping surround on the 421 yard Par 4 9th hole-it will take real creativity to make an up-and-down save here

The postcard view from behind the 17th belies the danger fraught on the approach shot if their match comes down to the last two holes

The pageantry of a national championship has been captured throughout the grounds.  It has taken the determined vision of our Director of Golf, David Dorn,  the expertise of our Supervisor of Greens and Grounds, Ryan Severidt, and their staffs, as well as the leadership of Ron Bubes and Joann DiMeglio leading our Tournament Committee to bring this all together.

For those who want to follow the action, Golf Channel will provide extensive coverage of the match play portion of the championship from Wednesday through Sunday August 5th to the 9th.

The official uniform will be worn by over 220 member volunteers helping to pull this off

At the end of the day on Sunday a new national champion will hoist this elegant piece of USGA hardware as the Women’s Amateur Champion of 2020.

Morgan Pressel, a Woodmont member,  won the Women’s Am in 2005 at the tender age of 17

Evolution Of The Golf Ball

If you need something to fill and hour and a half of your Covid downtime, I invite you to listen to a series of three internet broadcasts, part of the Fried Egg Stories Series, narrated by Garrett Morrison who escorts you through 170 years of the development of the golf ball and it’s effect on the game.

Besides connecting a bunch of dots about the role of this essential piece of equipment in the development of the modern game, you are going to realize that the discourse of reigning in the effect of technological innovations to save the game is not new and really has not changed that much over the last two centuries.

If you are a conservative by nature, that is to say someone who wants to conserve the game and it’s challenge by putting constraints on the introduction of new technologies in the development of the equipment, you have to face the fact that this battle is being lost today just as it was lost in the first two decades of the 1900’s.

Below is a synopsis of each episode and the link to the Fried Egg Podcasts themselves. I encourage you to enjoy this fascinating stroll through golf history.

Part I: The Gutty

For nearly three centuries the game of golf in Scotland was played with the Feathery Ball.  This was an expensive ball created by the hands of artisans stuffing goose feathers into hand sewn leather covers.  The ball worked well but it was not very durable, especially in wet weather, and was prohibitively expensive making the play of the long game of golf the purview of the wealthy and the professionals who made the clubs and balls for them.

Around 1850 someone discovered that using Gutta Percha, the rubber gum sap from a tree in Malaysia, a solid core rubber ball could be economically produced that was durable, repairable, and went way further then the Feathery of the day.  The introduction and acceptance of this new ball opened the long game up to thousands of Scots who previously could not afford to play. 

The durability of the ball also allowed the proliferation of the use of iron clubs that would not impart harm to the Gutta Percha Ball as they did to their leather skinned predecessors.  The crafty players of the day quickly learned that the irons added a new level of control over the flight and spin of the ball which allowed them to play more boldly over hazards and stop the ball more abruptly on the green.  As you can imagine this presented a huge advantage and took performance to an entirely new level.

Turns out the advantages of Gutta Percha were much bigger outside of golf-it revolutionized product production in the industrial world in the late 19th century.  It was used to insulate undersea cables in the new world of telegraph communications and helped introduce the first mode of instantaneous communication across the world.

(Click to listen to Part I: The Gutty)

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Part II: The Wound Ball

By the turn of the century another inquisitive mind,  Coburn Haskell, came up with the idea of replacing the solid rubber core Gutty with a liquid center ball wrapped tightly in rubber bands and covered in gutta percha. 

The Haskell Ball was introduced around 1899 in the United States where it caught on like wild fire among American golf crazies.  By 1905 the Scots recognized that the superior length which the Haskell traveled and additional spin created by the rubber band core made it the next go to step in the evolution of the golf ball

This is the contraption they used to wind the rubber bands around the new Haskell Ball (as seen at Archie Baird’s “Exhibition-The Heritage of Golf” in Gullane, Scotland)

But not everyone in the Scottish golf world was enthused about this development and recognized that the introduction of these technological efficiencies were going to make the challenging game easier and possibly require renovation of the existing links which would be overwhelmed by the capability of this new ball.

What ensued was a massive debate between traditionalists (conservatives) who wanted to ban the new ball to protect the sanctity of the game and its playing fields and the new thinkers who wanted to allow libertarian principles to prevail to make the game more equitable to all players by letting all innovations manufacturers came up with be implemented without regulation.

With classic courses succumbing to the ghastly distances the new improved balls were traveling, the R & A and an amalgamation of American golf organizations including the fledgling USGA agreed in the early 1920’s to come up with a size and weight regulation for a legal ball they thought would provide some tether on the manufacturers. The ball had to be at least 1.68 inches in diameter and could not weigh more than 1.62 ounces.

Nice try, but it did not work.  The manufacturers found ways to continue to improve the performance of the ball within these parameters and massive amount of redesign of classic courses ensued.

The die was cast, as long as the ball was made within these two parameters, it could be made in any way or with any material and be considered conforming to the rules of the game.

(Click to listen to Part II: The Wound Ball)

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Part III: The Better Ball

Fast forward about a half a century and what we saw was a frenzy of development in golf equipment from the 1970’s through the 1990’s.  Titanium replaced Persimmon making drivers and fairway woods longer, composite shafts replaced steel adding club head speed for players of all ability, and cavity backed irons made of combinations of space age materials added trajectory which allowed manufacturers to de-loft the irons considerably to add length and forgiveness as well.

But with all of that, it is the enhanced engineering of the ball itself, with the use of varieties of plastic based materials, that continue to have the most significant impact on how the game is played.

Spaulding introduced the solid core two-piece Top Flite ball in the 1970’s which had more power in it’s core and less spin creating another new “distance” ball.  This became a ball for the masses which coupled with the other equipment changes made the old courses shorter and shorter for those with distance aspirations.  The lack of spin control around the green kept the professional acceptance of this technology at bay….at least for a while.

In the mid 1990’s Spaulding stepped it up a notch with the introduction of the Strata, a  three-piece ball-solid core with a thin mantle layer to add spin for control on the shorter clubs, and a urethane cover that was more durable than balata used by Titleist.  Once the pros got their hands on this combination of ball engineering it changed everything , as it had with the introduction of the Haskell a century earlier.

The change was so profound that in 2000 Titleist, manufacturer of the number one ball among touring professionals, had to protect it’s turf by abandoning its top selling Titleist Professional wound ball and introduce the three-piece Pro V1 which parroted the technologies of it’s main rival.

In 2020 we have four-piece balls with dual cores.  The technology train keeps chugging along.

Good news is all these space age material ball improvements are conforming to the size and weight parameters of the ruling bodies, bad news is we are running out of real estate to lengthen courses to accommodate them.

(Click to listen to Part III: The Better Ball)

Fried Egg Stories Series (2020)

Fried Egg Golf Podcasts

A Pairing To Remember

A story related in Ron Read’s “Starting The U.S. Open” about a young boy who was first alternate in his Local qualifying for the U.S. Open who never dreamed he would ever get into the Sectional much less whom he would be paired to play with for a morning walk.

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Larry rang the first alternate, a sixteen-year-old, who most certainly would accept his invitation.  It was the dad who took Larry’s call, since the boy was still in school.

“Do you accept the position in Sectional Qualifying?” Larry asked the father.  He already knew the answer.

“Yes…yes….YES!” Dad excitedly responded, but he had a few questions for Larry.

“Are you sure you are who you say you are?”, Dad was suspicious.  Then he added, “Are you sure of what you are telling me?”

Larry answered those questions, twice each, before the father finally believed him.  Now Larry could fill him in on the details.

“Do you know his pairing?” Dad asked.  “Who’s he playing with?”

“Yes,” the USGA good Samaritan said. “Arnold Palmer.”

There was now a really long pause.

“Are you really serious?”

“Yes.”

“My son’s only sixteen years old!”

Larry’s surprise was beginning to sink in.

“What’s he going to do?  He’ll be scared to death.”

Larry finally convinced Dad that everything would be fine and that it would be a special experience.

Do you think?

By this time in his career, Arnie was no longer exempt into the Open, but true to his nature, he was going to try, just like nine thousand others.

The day after Sectional Qualifying, Larry took a call from the boy’s father.

“Mr. Adamson, I had to call,” he said.  “I can’t tell you what an experience our son…well, in fact, the whole family had yesterday.…How kind….how nice Mr. Palmer was to our son.  As our son came to the first tee,  Mr. Palmer went to him, introduced himself, and told him, ‘Young man, just play your game, enjoy this day and time.  You’ll be fine.’”

Dad broke down.

“What a nice man,” he managed to finally say.  “What a day he made for our son…What a memory…What a memory he gave to all of us.”

“Sometimes, the best thing we can give or receive in life, “ Larry told me, “is a good memory”.

Arnold Palmer did that for all.

Ron Read

Starting The U.S. Open

Handicaps

The maintenance of equitable individual handicaps is a tedious labor intensive effort that has been a challenge for golf administrators for over a century.  The latest fine tuning with the adoption of the World Handicap System in 2020 by the golf governing bodies has done little to simplify it or make the calculations intelligible.

In the spirit of simplicity I share a snippet I found in Alistar Mackenzie’s “The Spirit of St. Andrews” that fiddles with the handicap calculation issue.

No doubt it is simple, intelligible, and passes most of the tests of logic.  It really would be most appropriate for creating a home course handicap and is not readily transferable for play at other places.

In our current realm of multiple tees on our home course, it would take a little adjustment to incur fairness for players in competitions using this “home course handicap” playing from different tees.  Also, as suggested by Max Behr, something along similar lines would have to be developed for players whose skill level is beyond 18.

Never to be adopted but it is food for thought.

Alistar MacKenzie

The Spirit of St. Andrews

Taking Gimmes

I want my putts not to matter becomes the bottom line, and if this isn’t the formula for golf gutlessness and the crunchtime yips, then Jack Nicklaus never won a major.

The strokes you save with a sheaf of gimmes are there to haunt you when reality moves back in.

John Updike

The Gimme Game

Golf Dreams-Writings On Golf

Autumn In New England

Autumn brings to the courses an especial beauty.  The maples flare a pinkish red, the hickories turn a buttery yellow, the oaks withdraw into a rusty brown.  The trees gradually show bare branches and a fresh new breadth of light washes over the fairways.

Views deepen; forgotten perspectives reappear. The lower angle of sunlight brings the swellings and swales into fuller relief.  The course has been ripening toward this season of golden harvest.

John Updike

The Yankee Golfer

Golf Dreams-Writings on Golf

The Moment

While marshaling a Par 3 at a U.S. Open:

I remember how strangely trivial a golf ball looked in this interim, resting between strokes, like the weary face of an actor relaxing offstage.  One moment, the spotlight focus of the multitudes, and the next, a lowly orb half-hidden in the anonymous grass.

John Updike

Memoirs of a Marshal

Golf Dreams-Writings On Golf

Swing Management

Now, I take it that there is no other game in which these three fundamental factors-the physiological, the psychological, and the social or moral-are so extraordinarily combined or so constantly called into play.

In no other game that I know is, first, the whole anatomical frame brought into such strenuous yet delicate action at every stroke; or, second, does the mind play so important a part in governing the actions of the muscles; or, third, do the character and temperament of your opponent so powerfully affect you as they do in golf.

To play well, these three factors in the game must be most accurately adjusted, and their accurate adjustment is as difficult as it is fascinating.

Arnold Haultain

The Mystery of Golf (1908)