The Spirit of the Game

John Updike is one of great American writer’s of his generation and has written extensively over his career for various publications on one of his favorite subjects-the game of golf.  His book “Golf Dreams”, a compilation of his writings on golf, is a staple on the bookshelves of most serious golfer readers.

His style of writing is soothing like a warm fire in the hearth on a chilly New England evening with an undercurrent of humility and humor that evokes a knowing nod and a smile as we just shake our head as to say, yes that is how it is with golf.

Sometimes he is stating the obvious, “The golf swing is like a suitcase into which we are trying to pack one too many items – if we remember to keep our heads still, we forget to shift our weight; if we remember to shift our weight, we lift our head, or stiffen the left knee, or uncock the wrists too soon.” And sometimes he is more subtle and descriptive, “The secrets of a locale declare themselves in the interstices of a golf game: the sun-baked spiciness of Caribbean underbrush, the resiny scent and slippery lie beneath a stand of Vermont pines, the numerous anthills of Pennsylvania, like so many cones of spilled coffee grounds.”  The insight he provides as he reflects on the mystery of this great game leaves the reader feeling richer for the experience, much like a walk with friends on the links.

John Updike wrote his wonderful essay “The Spirit of the Game” as part of the USGA’s Centennial Celebration in 1994.  The USGA included it as the introduction in their Centennial book saying, “The USGA Museum is proud to honor one of golf’s greatest writers, in his own words”.

(Click here to enjoy John Updike’s essay “The Spirit of the Game”)

John Updike

USGA Centennial Celebration Book, 1994

Urban Renewal

Some times it takes synergy of widely divergent sources to pull off a project of major scale and importance, but it also takes the stewardship of a visionary to collate those sources, convince them of shared purpose, and compose a finished proposal that has a chance to get to the finish line.

In the case of the restoration of a pair of age old public courses in the South Side of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan that visionary is Mark Rolfing.  Those sources are Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, Mike Keiser, and Al DeBonnett who have collectively brought to the brink of reality a restored municipal golf venue that is a win-win-win-win for all the parties involved.

If they have there way they will create, at a minimal cost to the public coffers,  a restored Jackson Park 18-hole Championship Course complete with public access to the beach, a community cultural center, affordable greens fees, and viable youth employment program.

The final march along the shore line of Lake Michigan should provide stunning views of the lake and the impressive Chicago skyline

The model for this project is totally unique in the way it is funded, the pricing structure for the golf, the caddie program, and  community amenity improvement possibilities that it will create and support.

It is hard to imagine totally funding this with private donations, greens fees on a championship layout of less then $50 for the neighborhood locals, a robust caddie program that could provide employment of 150 to 200 inner city kids, and improvement and support of non-golfing community recreational amenities.  This is the type of stuff often discussed but rarely accomplished in major urban renewal projects.   But that is what this confluence of sources has brought to the table to the benefit of this community and it’s residents.

Pour yourself a cup of refreshment and take a few minutes to read Dylan Dether’s fascinating account of the development of this unique project to renew Jackson Park Golf Course and dramatically enhance this neiborhood in the South Side of Chicago.

(Click to read Dylan Dether’s article on Jackson Park Renewal)

Dylan Dether (2018)

Justice Reckoned

Back in 2012 Max Adler, a writer from Golf Digest, got interested in the case of Valentino Dixon, a young man who was serving 39 years to life in Attica State Prison for a murder that he claimed he did not do.

That original article, and you can read it here through the link to our moegolf posting “Justice Served?”, outlined how Max had come to know of Valentino’s plight and his side story that golf, a game that Valentino had never played, was providing him solace and the will to continue to fight his conviction.  Max was convinced from studying the exhaustive paper record of Valentino’s trial and subsequent legal efforts that he was in fact wrongfully convicted and this was a miscarriage of justice.

Fast forward six years!!

Through the persistent efforts since 2012 of Max Adler, Valentino’s wife Louise, the Dixon family, and a host of lawyers and advocacy groups, the conviction of Valentino Dixon has finally been overturned and he was released from prison in September 2018.

Valentino and Max smiling inside and out in front of the courthouse after his release

Take a few minutes to read Max Adler’s recent Golf Digest article that details the difficult and turbulent road Valentino faced these last six years in overturning his conviction.  Make sure to watch the embedded video in the article that provides a moving epilogue to this tale.

(Click to read Max Adler’s Golf Digest Article “Valentino’s Redemption”)

At the end of the article there is a link to a GoFundMe drive that Valentino and his wife Louise have set up to help them fund their next challenge, a legal battle with U.S. immigration, that would finally allow them to be permanently reunited here in the United States.  Now wouldn’t that provide a real happy ending.

Max Adler

Golf Digest (2018)


Changes In The Rules For 2019

As you probably are aware the rules gurus of the USGA and R & A have put their heads together over the last couple of years and have been in serious discussions on how to simplify the rules of our game.

The result is that the total number of rules is being reduced significantly and many of the most confusing rules have been refashioned to make them simpler to understand and easier to apply.

You will find through this link a summary of the major changes in the rules that go into effect on January 1, 2019.  Many of these rule changes were designed to speed up play as well as make them much easier and fairer to enforce.

(Click to see the summary of the Major Changes In The Rules Of Golf For 2019)

You can also take a look at our Rules Education Forum-it is chock full of entertaining explanations of the rules that often confound people.  These too have been updated to reflect the rule changes for 2019.

(Click to see visit our Moegolf Rules Education Forum)

It Is All About The Money

Or maybe it’s not!

For 20 year-old Maverick McNealy, the number 2 ranked amateur in the world, winner of the Haskins Award given to the #1 collegiate male golfer in the country,  a U.S. Walker Cup standout, and a participant in a number of PGA Tour events , the world could be his oyster if he goes the standard route of pursuing fame and fortune on the PGA Tour.

Morning foursomes at the Walker Cup-Royal Lytham and St. Annes last fall

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Or maybe he will be the exception to the rule and simply make amateur golf part of a bigger life that could include pursuit of success in the business or non-profit world. Now that would break the american sport prodigy enterprise mold with a sledge hammer.

Toiling with the pros at the Greenbrier Classic in 2015

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You can read an interesting story from the Wall Street Journal’s Brian Costa and decide for yourself.

(Click to read “Why America’s Best Golf Prospect May Never Turn Pro”)

Brian Costa

Wall Street Journal

June, 2016


The Long Form

The Players Championship LogoThose of us who grew up reading “the long form” articles in periodicals like New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times Magazine always enjoyed the half hour and a cup of joe it took to digest a full compilation of research and opinion on a current topic of interest.  The trend today in the print media as well as the digital world is to give us stories in bite-sized doses that seem more like executive summaries than full conversations.

Other than a few specific websites and a bunch of individually supported blogs the art of covering an issue in sufficient depth to be informative seems to be fading in the rear view mirror.  It is not that it cannot be done and maybe done even more effectively with the varied digital tools that are now at hand, it seems that the will of publishers and their dues paying advertisers to support long form writing is just not there.

This incredible article about Rickie Fowler, called  “The Natural”, was written by D.J. Piehowski and presented on this week. It is a refreshing testimony to what can be done when the long form and the digital age intersect.  An enlightening biographical look at one of the rising stars in our game comes to life as if in a documentary film with plenty of time for the reader to stop, reflect, and peruse related insights into this story.

The storied island green strikes fear in the hearts of contenders on Sunday

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To those who watched it on TV, Rickie’s come from behind win at The Players Championship last year was one of the exhilarating performances on the PGA Tour in the last five years.  He came from eons back nine on Sunday, playing the final four holes birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie, to outpace all but Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner by the end of regulation.  He then survived a three-hole aggregate playoff and eventually won in Sudden Death when he birdied the feared 17th Hole at TPC Sawgrass for the third time in about two hours.

Through the imaginative compilation of great research, clever writing, and supporting still photos, graphics, and live video Piehowski relates a riveting tale of Rickie’s rise to stardom.  He says of Fowler, “the way in which he won, and the way he made it to the PGA Tour in the first place……As unorthodox as the story is, The Players also felt like another stop on the ride toward the inevitable.  Fowler’s rise to the forefront of golf has always felt more like destiny than possibility”.

This enjoyable read is enhanced by a seamless presentation of correlated information from Fowler’s childhood, developmental years, and his early pro career in all modes the media has to offer.  It seems to move magazine story telling from simple composition to elaborate production but does it in a digestible way that in no way seems overwhelming.

The only questions is what took it so long for this to happen and why aren’t we seeing this all over the journalistic spectrum.

Kudos to for committing the resources required to pull this off and D.J. Piehowski diligence in providing us with a new school long form version of Rickie’s story we could sink our teeth into.

(Click here to read D.J. Piehowski’s “The Natural” from

D.J. Piehowski

May, 2016


Making A Splash

The Players Championship LogoThe Players Championship celebrates it’s 34th year at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass. Deane Beman’s concept was another Major to be played on a punitive course drawn out of the swampy muck of Ponte Vedra, Florida by the most notoriously devious designer of them all Pete Dye.

As you can read in this retrospective article by Gary Van Sickle from the SI Vault, Deane threw the PGA Tour into the deep end of the cash pool with his reinvention of the Players Championship in 1982. Though it took the impish act of an impetuous young pro, Jerry Pate, to galvanize the interest in this event and change the public perception of the PGA Tour forever.

Full Extension….Pate joins the commish and the evil architect in the pool

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Bruce Litzeke says in the article, “It was the end of the Tour slipping quietly into town, playing its event, and slipping quietly out. After Jerry’s dive the Tour make a bigger noise. When more TPC courses started showing up, golf got bigger and wilder and louder…..It all started there that week.”

Other than Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, Deane Beman is probably most responsible for the generous livelihood enjoyed by players and their wives today. As the new commissioner Deane had a horde of new fangled ideas on how to increase the visibility and the popularity of a stodgy PGA Tour. He dragged them kicking and screaming into a new era of bigger TV contracts, inflated purses, and broader player exemptions-all of which greatly enriched the bank accounts of guys in Sansabelt slacks and white shoes.

Deane’s concept included this 5th Major that would attract the best field of the year playing “Stadium” course that put the players feet to the fire, especially coming down three infamous finishing holes with everything on the line. This would be a career changer for many guys-big payday, prestige of winning a quasi-major, and one of the most generous tournament qualifying exemptions ever conceived. Win The Players and a journeyman could almost settle his playing schedule for the rest of your PGA Tour life.

Snoopy’s perspective of the final stage for this drama

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Over it’s history unexpected winners like Craig Perks, Fred Funk, and Stephen Ames have survived the pressure, as well as “best players never to win a major” like Sergio, Stenson, and Kooch. But it is the list of true major champions like Tiger, Phil, Adam, Greg, and Freddie that have won and moved the popularity needle for this event over the last three decades.

The Players has grown in it’s stature because of the difficulty of the test, four excruciating days over the most testing stadium course of them. The final chapter is always riveting as the players face a true risk-reward decision on the par five sixteenth followed by a raucous crowd and a devilish pitch into the island green at 17. Finally they must negotiate the hardest finishing tee shot on tour to find the fairway on the Dye-A-Bolical 18th if they want to plant a smacker on this piece of crystal

Rickie staring at a career change after last year’s Player’s performance

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Last year it was Rickie Fowler doing a cannonball on the field. He was five shots back with about an hour to go in this final round but was five under over the last four holes to set up a dramatic four hole playoff with Sergio and Kevin Kisner. His remarkable play continued through a three-hole aggregate playoff and he finally ended it all in sudden death with a lawn dart into the island 17th for his third two of the day on that hole-one last bit of birdie drama.

It should be interesting to watch who makes waves at Ponte Vedra this year.

Gary Van Sickle
SI Vault
March, 2004

Arnie At The Turn

ArnieAt40Leave it to the capable hands of the legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins to capture a cameo image of the most telegenic golf champion of our time as he turned the first fateful age corner of his career. This jewel of an article from the annals of the SI Vault, “Thanks For The Memories”, written in September of 1969, reminds us of the unique relationships between sports writers and the heroes of sport in the day. Dan’s intimate familiarity with a star and a major event has all but been lost in our era of media overload.

Jenkins cuts right to the chase in recognizing Arnie’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune for what it was-a timely nexus of his competitive drive, good nature, humility, and access to the first world wide web-color television.

“He was a nice guy, of all things. He was honestly and naturally gracious, un-temperamental, talkative, helpful and advising, unselfish of his time, marvelously good-humored; he had a special feeling for golf’s history and he was honored by its traditions.”

The anecdotal perspective of Palmer’s stunning win at the U.S. Open in 1960 sounds like it is being told from a bar stool at Toots Shor’s…which it probably was about twenty times over the previous ten years. Jenkins puts you in the moment like no other writer can and you feel like Arnie is talking to you inside the ropes on the fifth tee when he incredulously says, “Fancy seeing you here…..Who’s winning the Open?”.

Palmer did so much for the pro tour in his first 10 years and for the state of the game over the next 46. Whether it was designing courses with Ed Seay, bringing the Bay Hill Golf Resort to full flourish, stewarding the Senior Tour, or creating the Golf Channel, Arnie has left his indelible fingerprints on the positive growth of the game for six decades.

Jenkins says, “He has become, they say, something more than life-size, something immeasurable in champions….. If this is true, it is not because of what he has won but rather because of the pure, unmixed joy he brought to trying.”

You will enjoy this flashback moment captured by Dan Jenkins for SI celebrating Arnie’s 40th birthday year.

(Click to read Dan Jenkin’s article about Arnie “Thanks For The Memories”)

SI Vault
Dan Jenkins (1969)


Great Bunkering…Deal With It!

“Almost all golfers’ critiques revolve around the look and playing characteristics of the bunkers and often fail to notice the quality of all the other elements that make up a golf course. A great set of greens are far more important than great bunkers but everyone is drawn to evaluating a course by the bunkers since they are far easier to judge and far more obvious to the eye.”

In his treatise “A Complete Look At Bunkering” Ian Andrew points out that there is no subject that leads to a contentious discussion at the bar of the 19th Hole than the perceived fairness or unfairness of the bunkering of the course just played.

The Road Hole Bunker….the most infamous of them all…

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His view is that most of this contention is misguided because the modern player and influential board member have embraced the notion that even the hazards need to be fair for all players. This ignores that the basic purpose of the bunker as a “recoverable hazard” is to penalize the bad decision making or execution of the player trying to pursue the most advantageous strategic playing line of the hole.

The fact that almost every famous course designer, from MacKenzie to Coore and Crenshaw, is quoted therein with a similar view of the purpose and value of well placed sand bunkers as a strategic hazard pretty much says it all.

As Max Behr once said, “The golfer wants the most direct line he can find to the hole, while the architect uses bunkers and other hazards to create risk and reward options that suggest the ideal line for the player, or the line of charm.” Forcing players to consider strategic choices and making the proper execution of these options a necessity to avoiding deleterious effects on their scoring outcome is the main purpose of these hazards. Without that the game would be a boring four-hour stroll in the park.

Ian Andrew thoroughly delves into the aspects of bunkering in the modern game including depth, fairness, psychology, strategy, and aesthetics. He even covers why the trend of golf committees and tour decision makers demanding better maintenance of these hazards is actually undermining their purpose and making the game less interesting.

Ian concludes that, “It’s the one architectural element that creates contrast as it acts the counterpoint to all the other harmonious elements of a golf course. It’s the feature that clearly distinguishes one course visually from others. When exceptionally well used bunkers can take the most pedestrian piece of ground and leave the player with a complex puzzle to solve. “

Do yourself a favor, get a Vente Arnold Palmer, pull up a chair,  and take the time to read this fascinating study on the subject of proper bunkering. It may defuse some of your own criticism or that of your buddies the next time they elicit the misguided comment that the “bunkering is unfair”.

(Click to read Ian Andrew’s article ‘A Complete Look At Bunkering’)

A Complete Look At Bunkering
Ian Andrew (2015)


Old School Thinking

This quote from Ian Andrew, an accomplished Canadian golf course architect, reflects the Golden Age of Golf design philosophy that he brings to his current new designs and restorations.  It is why players of all capabilities find courses from the hands of Raynor,  Ross, Tillinghast, Macdonald, and other sages from this age infinitely fascinating and playable.

“I believe in playing freedoms. I think you should have a choice between challenging yourself and playing for fun.

For the elite player, along the ideal lines of play, there must be strategic slopes and hazards that complicate the direct line. The more challenging the recovery shot, the more strategically important the hazard. This in turn must be counterbalanced by offering up a reward for successfully challenging the hazard. This will compel the elite player to actively flirt with disaster in order to score. That type of course is very exciting to play.

In contrast the average player requires the additional room to safely play away from danger. They can avoid the worst of the pitfalls and enjoy tacking their way across the property. They will be able to make a few pars for fun, but not enough to reward them for their passive approach.

And this is where the greatness in this approach lies. As players begin to show more skill and competence, this style of architecture will encourage them to take on more risk to shoot lower scores. And this is where the dance begins …

They will flirt ever closer to the key hazards to gain better positions. But as soon as they find the hazard and begin to lose strokes they will play far away from trouble the next time out. But they can’t score from the outside line and so the dance will begin all over again, ever closer to the key hazards … that’s the golf I believe in.”

Ian Andrew