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)


It was a morning when all nature shouted “Fore!”…..The fairway, as yet unscarred by the irons of a hundred dubs, smiled greenly up at the azure sky; and the sun, peeping above the trees, looked like a giant golf ball perfectly lofted by the mashie of some unseen god and about to drop dead by the pin on the eighteenth.

P. G. Wodehouse

Moe Norman

For 98% of the golfing public the name Moe Norman does not ring a bell at all, but for those truly schooled in the history of the game his name strikes a mystical resonant chord not dissimilar to Shivas Irons from Michael Murphy’s “Golf In The Kingdom”.

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As you can read in this 1995 Golf Digest article written by David Owen, one of the most observant writers about things golf, there are many layers to the story of “Moe Norman-Golf’s Troubled Genius”.

Norman spent most of his career in what would have to be characterized as golf obscurity.  He was born in Canada and most of his considerable golf accomplishments, both amateur and professional, took place in the 1950’s outside of the lens of the American golfing public.

He never won on American soil,  his quirky personality and vagabond lifestyle just did not fit among the Sansabelt crowd of the U.S. Tour.  To many of the professionals of his day his unconventional swing, despite the purity of his ball striking, made him the object of derision rather then admiration.

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But to any of the professionals who were actually paying attention, Moe had an uncanny ability to hit a golf ball exactly the way he wanted to and where he wanted to, over and over again.  He was a pure striker of the ball, a coveted characteristic at the top levels of the game.  Guys who know it when they see it, Lee Trevino, Ken Venturi, and Paul Azinger, say he was maybe the purest ball striker the game has ever seen.

Certainly his stiff posture, constrained body rotation, and single plane swing path were an oddity, but many of the game’s purest strikers-Trevino, Azinger, and Furyk-had self taught unconventional swing mechanics that they could repeat and their winning aptitudes at all levels bear witness to the fact that the conventional way is not the only path to success in the game.

It is interesting to me that a more athletic version of Moe Norman’s approach has sprung onto the scene in the persona of Bryson DeChambeau.  No one would teach his unique swing method to a young player, but his success, one rung from the top level of today’s game, reiterates the point that there are many ways to successfully manage a ball around a golf course.

As Owen’s tale reveals there is a semi happy ending to Moe Norman’s journey as a couple of well placed people in the golf hierarchy embraced the importance of Moe’s legacy and saw to it that he at least had some semblance of comfort and golf joy in his declining years.

Pull up a comfortable chair, set a spell, and enjoy this odd tale of one of the game’s true savants……you will be glad that you did.

(Click to read David Owen’s Article “Moe Norman-Golf’s Troubled Genius”)

David Owen (1995)

Golf Digest

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

Unplayable Lies

Unplayable LiesThe fans of the finest golf writer of the last half century, Dan Jenkins, will be pleased to know they can add a new publication, “Unplayable Lies (The Only Golf Book You’ll Ever Need)” to the Dano section of their golf library. This is a compilation of 41 essays on our sport-about half of them new writings and the rest adaptions of articles previously published in Golf Digest.

Typically such “collections” are scrap books of dated writings with a nostalgic value to the regular readers. But Jenkins is anything but typical. He adds a ream of new fodder for diehards to consume covering topical subjects like “Is Your Country Club Old or New Money”, “Titanic and I”, “Junior Golf”, and “Talking Heads” with his typical combination of wit and insight. It will have you chortling in your man cave reading chair.

In the forward his daughter Sally Jenkins, a talented and accomplished writer and author herself, captures his gift succinctly. “I reread the old work and look at the new, and what I see is a constant stripping away of pretense, and of the profligate excesses of feeling that surrounds golf….to find the truth underneath”.

A few nuggets:

Old Money vs New Money

Old Money will always have money. Three members of New Money are in the process of asking the Federal Reserve for a free drop from an unplayable lie.

The Comeback

Ian Baker-Finch was a surprise winner of the 1991 British Open at Royal Birkdale, then disappeared. When he attempted a comeback at Troon in ’97 he appeared to be a bit wild off the tee. His round consisted of 92 strokes, 4 dead, 55 injured, and 67 missing.

The New World Tour (includes)

The Socialist Paradise Invitational in Buenos Aires. The field must be limited to fifty pros who have never won a tournament of any kind and hate the capitalist societies into which they were born. All fifty will be declared winners and given equal prize money and identical trophies.

The Immigration (a team event). A team would consist of a name pro, an illegal alien, a border guard, and a member of the U.S. Senate. First prize for the winning team would be Yuma, Arizona. Second prize, Nogales.

His description of the PGA Merchandise show is priceless. It includes Putter Man’s booth. The proprietor, who could have passed as a Texas Ranger, has retrofitted classic putters into fire arms. “When the flash mobs come over the fence and onto the fairway to get your goods, you can take out the first wave by yourself”. The Bullseye is “loaded with nine-millimeter Gold Sabre 147 grain jacket hollow points. You can get thirteen hundred feet a second at the muzzle”.

Jenkin’s parody of the network vanilla Talking Heads describing the golf action will bring tears, of laughter, to your eyes. It is Jim Nance and his politically correct Pollyannaisms leaping off the page at you.

Let us not forget that Dan Jenkins has covered more majors than the average fan’s age in dog years so this collection is lush with wonderful anecdotes and enlightening personal statistical compilations of the accomplishments of guys from Bobby Jones to Ben Hogan to Tommy Bolt To Jack and Tiger and about 50 others in between.

To the delight of his readers, Dan Jenkins, at the tender age of 85, was still pumping out the finest combination of golf satire and fact, often in the same sentence. This one is a must read for cynical golf addicts everywhere.

Unplayable Lies

Dan Jenkins (2015)



Golf Deprivation Release

With all the restrictions from the Coronavirus Edicts you may be suffering from FGD (forced golf deprivation).  Maybe your club is closed or you don’t trust the operatives at the local Muny to properly sanitize the pull carts or cart steering wheels after every use.  Or maybe contemplating playing with strangers is just a scary proposition at this point in time.  It is a sad moment for golf addicts.

So I decided to do something about it by getting back in touch with my young teenage golfing id with a DIY Approach & No-Putt Course at a local public park.  Below is the descriptive of “The Old Course at Avenel Park”….a Golden Age track with all the architectural integrity my imagination could muster.

Played with two clubs-a wedge and a 53-degree sand iron-and two balls, so mulligans are built in.  There are no holes just proximity to objects you aim at….and no putting…double leather is a one-putt, everything else is a two-putt.

#1 Par 3  45 yards (Go)

Since there is no practice ground for warm up it makes sense the opening hole is a simple short pitch into the left half of the double green it shares with the 8th.  If you get it to within 10 yards starting with a par is a cinch.

#2 Par 4.2 140 yards (Garo Yepremian)

Gets it’s name from the trees that frame the drive as well as the soccer goal you can just make out in the distance that is your goal on this one.

The squeeze on the drive is mostly psychological but you want to get enough carry to leave a short pitch from the pitch to the left post of the goal.  A bogey is a good possibility…thus the .2 increment from the analytic staff on the par.

#3 Par 3 65 yards (The Road Hole)

Like so many great links courses you need to remember this track is on public land so you have to share it’s access with parents with strollers, dogs on leads, power walkers, and lots of wildlife.  This is a short pitch at the base of the red flowering tree but care must be taken since the road lurks just beyond the tight green complex.

#4 Par 3.97 137 yards (Wide)

The driving area on this one is as wide as the wild blue yonder (shown) so just let out the shaft on the PW to lay up to the end of the fairway just right of the pines.  As you can see the approach is to a sand based complex that sits considerably below you with the pitching rubber as its target.

Hardest part is figuring the roll out once the ball lands on this very generous no-putt surface.  You might want to think about a two-bounce tight spinner.

#5 Par 3.8 120 yards (Power Alley)

The teeing ground is just off the Home dugout adjacent to the 4th green (brown actually) with the target just beyond the asphalt warning track in left center.  The second probably calls for a high flopper but getting within Double Leather for a birdie is a good possibility.

#6 Par 4.44 125 yards (Equestrian Jump)

Huge risk-reward decision here in that the target is just on the other side of that hedge row of pines but if you fail to clear who knows how much pine sap will be on your ball and what tree root on which it will end up.  Alternative is to lay-up left of the pines leaving a back-door, steep elevation pitch into the pine straw complex.

#7 Par 4 101 yards (Alcove)

The view from this confined back tee gives the hole it’s moniker but it is the tight green complex just left of the pine stand on the right that creates the challenge.  The second is a short pitch but, like on #3, the road and a trash strewn penalty area lurk just behind which can catch an approach with overzealous intent.

#8 Par 3.13 85 yards (Waste Management)

This is a very narrow approach that requires a high pitch with a parachute to fit into the right half of a double green wedged between the treed native area on the right and the bumper of the maintenance vehicle.

This part of the course is a bit of a bottleneck so you may have to wait for the group in front of you to clear the can and head for the next tee.

#9 Par 3.29 79 yards (Clown’s Mouth)

You can see by the daffodils and the spooky hardwood adorning the back tee box on the home hole that we spared no expense to create memorable ambiance for this classic track.

This one gets it’s name out of respect for a Mini-Golf Facility we used to play in those halcyon college days in College Park where the final shot required pitching the ball into gaping mouth of a circus entertainer.  Your target is the narrow opening between the tree and the No Parking sign adjacent to the OB parking lot on the right.  Take note that the hard scape runs diagonal to your target so anything wayward right could result in a big bounce into Sherwood Forest beyond which could end your day with a bad taste in your mouth.

All-in-all this stroll requires a little bit of golf acumen and a dose of self-delusion.  It reminds me that so often it is not the quality of the golf course that matters, it is the quality of the golf experience….and in this case that is totally in the mind of the beholder.

Potomac, Maryland (2020)