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Frank Rodway, MTM & TBR: RIP

When I moved to Portland, Maine, in 1992, abandoning Greater Boston for what I then considered the ends of the Earth, I lived at the expense of my new employer for those first 2-3 weeks in the city’s lovely West End. It reminded me of the Back Bay and my temporary residence, the modern art-strewn Pomegranate Inn, was so cool — and my apartment over the garage so spacious and funky — I’d have just as soon stayed there forever.

I met Frank Rodway because eventually I had to find my own place. At that time, Frank was owner and proprietor of Thomas Brackett Reed House, a 19th century brownstone once inhabited by and now named for the Maine Congressman and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the turn of the 20th century, when America was slowly transitioning from insular, adolescent republic to imperialist bestrider of worlds. Frank was then a small, trim, 60-something fellow with a fit, vaguely military bearing. Before he even walked me upstairs to the third-floor apartment then available for rent, I mentioned my two cats, Scott and Zelda. “Oh, well, we don’t take pets here,” he said. Frank showed me the place anyway, which gave me the chance to pursue an historical charm offensive. The space was great — 13-foot pressed-tin ceilings; windows stretching from the floor to somewhere above my head; $525/month, heated! What’s more, I had just finished The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman’s magisterial history of Thomas Brackett Reed’s very heyday. We mixed it up, Frank and I, trading Mark Hanna anecdotes, book citations and recommendations. Half an hour later as he and I were walking back downstairs, I said it was too bad about the cats. “Oh, don’t worry about them,” he said.

Frank Rodway passed away this past January at the ripe old age of 91, the result of a fall on icy pavement as opposed to simple old age. I was among five former residents of Thomas Brackett Reed House who showed up to his memorial service in South Portland. TBR House was a different sort of rental property: An historic landmark, for starters, watched over by a guy, Mr. Rodway, who knew that history but also how to engender esprit de corps. This quite elegant building had a guest apartment on the first floor that tenants could rent for $25 a night. I routinely stashed my parents and visiting Greater Bostonians there. Every Christmas, that guest room and the entire first floor played host to Frank’s holiday party, a shindig that routinely proved the event of the season, as current and former residents alike renewed old acquaintances and partook of Frank’s legendarily strong and plentiful punch. I should never have known Steve Weatherhead and his lovely wife Annetta; they departed TBR just before I arrived. But I met them at these Christmas parties, along with longtime golfing buddy Michael Moore. At Frank’s funeral service, Steve recalled these parties among other things, but not before answering the question that opened his remarks: “I mean, who goes to their former landlord’s funeral?” Well, if it’s Frank Rodway, you go. He was one of a kind, as this obit (clearly written by the man himself) attests.

Another former TBR denizen in attendance this past January was one Mary Fowler, my upstairs neighbor and probably the first real friend I made in Maine. She remains one, but I thought of her again, in the immediate aftermath Frank’s memorial, when Mary Tyler Moore passed away.

Mary Fowler and I had a running joke, each of us claiming to be the Mary to the other’s Rhoda. “Hal,” she would start in, with not inconsiderable finality, “Rhoda was the loud Jew and Mary was the tactful WASP. And my name is Mary. Clearly, I am Mary and you are Rhoda in this relationship.”

“But May-uh,” I’d say in my best Brooklyn accent, “while all that is true, you live upstairs in the apartment crowded by charming eaves, while I reside in the open and airy apartment downstairs. Cultural heritage has nothing to do with it. It’s all about upstairs and downstairs. All the action takes place here, in my apartment. There are no eaves here. These are 13-foot, pressed tin ceilings. It’s all about the eaves!”

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Bowie’s Impact, Departure Still Sinking In

Bowie’s Impact, Departure Still Sinking In

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As was the case with many artists of the 1970s, David Bowie was introduced to me via my older sister. Janet brought home Hunky Dory at some point late in the Nixon Administration and when she wasn’t playing it to death, I played it to death. In truth I hardly ever bothered with Side 2 because that’s how my primitive musical mind operated at the time. Side 1 had everything I thought I needed: the radio song, “Changes”; a screamer that Janet and I used to goof on together during car trips (“Oh, You Pretty Things”); and my favorite track, the always haunting and beautiful “Life on Mars”. Once I got to college and lived in close quarters with a more fully developed Bowie enthusiast/savant, Dennis Carboni, I would learn that Side 2 wasn’t just superb (“Song for Bob Dylan”, “Andy Warhol”) but indicative of Bowie’s new genre-busting album and persona to come.

[I wouldn’t dream of posting anything regarding Bowie without Dennis’ input. His annotative comments appear below, bolded and bracketed.]

It’s been more than a year since Dennis and I spoke of this and many other things the Tuesday following Bowie’s death, in January 2016. He confirmed what I remember us discussing all those years ago, in the wee hours, confined only by the sterile cinderblock walls of dorm life — namely, that Bowie wasn’t just consistently 2-3 years ahead of every other rock ‘n’ roll artist in terms of musical direction and fashion sense; he normally hinted at his next departure on the back end (Side 2) of his previous album.

[I like how you wrote, “Dennis and I spoke of this and many other things,” which recalls the lyric, We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when — from “The Man Who Sold The World.”]

On the generally ethereal Hunky Dory, that clue was the propulsive and utterly sublime “Queen Bitch”, which heralded the coming of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, one of the great, pure rock (and proto-punk) albums of the decade. To say that Ziggy himself was one of the great “roles” played by any rocker of the period is not necessary, for no one else even attempted this sort of serial shape-shifting back then. Bowie turned this trick 4-5 times throughout the decade (hippie folkster to Ziggy to glam rocker to blue-eyed soul man to Thin White Duke) and competed in this regard only with himself.

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Bowie’s career didn’t begin with Space Oddity in 1969. He’d been around since 1965, when this shot was taken. Pretty mainstream, for the time, and a reminder that these icons we associate with a particular decade didn’t arrive fully formed from the brow of Zeus.

[I’ve been reading the blog, “Pushing Ahead of the Dame.” You may know it, but check it out if you don’t. It’s fascinating. Yes, “Queen Bitch” is perfect because it starts with the acoustic guitar C-G-F progression à la Hunky Dory, then switches right to an electric C-G-F à la Ziggy.]

My sister didn’t own the Ziggy album; indeed, while I knew several cuts well (from FM radio play) I wouldn’t fully absorb it until the early 1980s. She did, however, possess one more Bowie LP: David Live, Bowie’s first official concert release where, once again, he shows us a transition in the making: from the hard-edged glam of Diamond Dogs to the Philly soul sound of Young Americans. I am not ashamed to admit that I love this particular Bowie period, this dalliance in what he later, somewhat ambivalently referred to as “plastic soul”. It does shame me to admit, however, that until I was 12-13 years old, I thought this dude’s name was David Live.

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Brits Abroad on Holiday: A Partying Force Most Willful

Brits Abroad on Holiday: A Partying Force Most Willful

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Having weighed in, soberly and professionally, on the “air rage” phenomenon — at the somewhat newly minted Mandarin Media blog — I couldn’t leave the subject without relating the more salacious story of my first trip to the French Alps. It wasn’t exactly an instance of “air rage”, but it well illustrates the peculiar holidaymaking mindset, among some Brits, that can and has led to many an airborne incident. In short (I love quoting myself), “There is something to the idea, born of armchair psychology, that Brits cut loose on holiday in reaction to leaving what remains a very buttoned-up, class-restrictive culture.”

It was March 1985. My girlfriend and I were studying abroad, in London, and we’d booked a chartered ski package to La Plagne, in France, for mid-semester break. Our flight from Gatwick to Geneva, almost entirely peopled by English holidaymakers, quickly degenerated into a sort of raucous booze cruise at 30,000 feet. Everyone, it seemed, had broken open the bottles just procured at duty free.

Normally, such characters scatter to the four winds upon landing, but this was a charter. We had all purchased the same ski package. Accordingly, the same rowdy group piled onto a single coach and set out for La Plagne — in a blizzard.

By this time, my girlfriend and I had traveled a great deal together. This much was clear: If she wasn’t seated directly behind the bus driver, she was dangerously prone to car sickness. So, from the very front of the coach, we could hear the party raging behind us, as we crept our way along ever more windy, mountainous roads. This was a non-smoking bus; the Brits defiantly smoked like chimneys and brandished their duty-free liquor bottles like groomsmen at a stag party. Then came the songs.

The unfortunate leader of this charter was a mild-mannered American 22-year-old named Chad. His attempts to tamp things down were met with open ridicule. He was a tad chubby, our Chad. Ultimately, he was regaled with a spirited rendition of “Who ate all the pies?”

From our perch behind the driver, we witnessed the trip’s dramatic turning point: An oncoming Citroen spun out in the snowy conditions and crossed into our lane. The bus driver tried evasive action but these were shoulder-less roads — and it was snowing like a bastard. The car bounced off the driver’s side of the bus, right below us, and we skidded to a stop — literally perched, precariously, at the edge of a steep, snowy hillside.

We sat there for half an hour, crowded onto the left side of the bus (to avoid tipping the bus and our still soused party into oblivion) until a replacement vehicle arrived. When it did, we all exited out the driver-side window.

This replacement bus was not big enough to accommodate all of our luggage, so the entire party was deposited at a nearby train station, which served some small French mountain town whose name I cannot recall. The station had a bar, however, and our new British friends set about drinking again, as if nothing had happened. To be fair, so did we. Having cheated death, we tucked into a couple bottles of wine with two more American friends who were traveling with us.

Two hours later, we piled onto the second replacement bus, where our moveable booze-fest was now completely out of hand. Chad just hunkered down beside us; this party could not be stopped — or could it…

The up-and-down, side-to-side nature of our alpine journey would result in two initial incidents of vomiting. Each time the bus ascended and descended, the resulting spew sloshed back and forth along the bus floor. The stench had just the wrong sort of effect on others who teetered at the edge of nausea.

Upon arrival in La Plagne, I don’t believe I’ve ever been quite so thankful to disembark from anything. Rule Brittania!

Recalling, Replicating Scenes from the Parking Lot at Ponkapoag
My dad on the 8th green at Nehoiden, right across the street from the house where grew up. It's late November; the greens have been staked for fencing at the first snow. We sprinkled his ashes here, and there's a memorial bench for him just right of this frame, on the 9th tee. There is no headstone in any cemetery for him. This is his spot, for all eternity.

Recalling, Replicating Scenes from the Parking Lot at Ponkapoag

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My dad with his dad, the original Harold Gardner Phillips.

I try to write each August about my dad, Harold Gardner Phillips, Jr., as he passed away (all too soon) at the end of this month back in 2011. This exercise is equal parts homage and memory aid as I suppose one fears these recollections, now perfectly strong, will somehow fade with time. This year the jog happened naturally, as today I stand poised at the fulcrum of a generational see-saw: My son Silas goes off to college tomorrow, and so the memories rush back re. the day my dad saw me off, out of the nest and into the world.

As is the case with so many stories I’ve shared about my dad, golf plays an intersectional role. This one’s even more fitting because it centers on Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton, Mass., a municipal track we played dozens of times growing up. One used to be able to see it from Route 128, the frenetic inner ring road that circles Greater Boston, though methinks ever-maturing trees now obscure that view. Today there are only 27 holes at “Ponky”, but there used to be 36. The course one used to see from the highway was nothing special. The other 18, however, was a Donald Ross design from the 1930s that, despite the rigors of time, high traffic and miniscule maintenance budgeting remained damned sublime.

My dad and I played Ponky together on a several occasions, but this was mainly a place where he, my mom and various other parental figures dropped my friends and me for an entire day of golfing adventure. It also served as venue to a pair of tournaments: The CYO (that’s “Catholic Youth Organization” for those who may not have grown up in Boston, where the Church held such wide-ranging cultural sway) and the New England Junior Championship.

That day I left for college, a cloudy late August morning in 1982, I was scheduled to play a quarterfinal match at the New England Juniors, as I had qualified earlier that week for what stood to be a potentially anti-climactic match-play portion. I had packed our Dodge Omni that morning with all my stuff. Win or lose, I would decamp for Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., some 100 miles southwest, directly from the golf course.

As it happened, I won the match, bettering a kid from Rhode Island named Fred, 3 & 1. I signed my card, informed a quite delighted Fred that I would be withdrawing, told the officials, and walked off to the parking lot.

There to my surprise I found my dad, who had just rolled up.

My competitive golfing career would never prove particularly extensive. Indeed, this tournament and the New England Juniors the year before were the only two events I had ever played, to that point. Golf was a fall sport at my high school, as was soccer, which took clear precedence. In other words, while my dad had played hundreds of rounds of golf with me over the years, and we maintained a spirited, running match for decades, he had never seen me play a proper tournament match against anyone else.

One time, in college, he showed up at Pleasant Valley Country Club near Worcester to see me play a collegiate match featuring Wesleyan, Springfield College (I think) and Assumption. I know the latter to be true, for certain, because I ended up facing a guy from Assumption that day named Frank Vana, who would go on to win multiple Massachusetts Amateur crowns. My dad worked near PVCC and he showed up on the 9th or 10th hole, at which point my game imploded. He scurried off after we finished 13, not wanting to cause/witness any more carnage.

For many years, I was never sure what exactly he meant to “do” that day — in the parking lot at Ponky. We had said our goodbyes that morning, and it wasn’t as though I was going off to war. But today, I can see he probably wanted one last moment with his boy, who would soon leave and return in some way, shape or form, a man.

I’ve been trying to remember what exactly my dad and I talked about during that moment in the parking lot. I surely went over the match with him, and the curious aspect of my winning but withdrawing. I don’t remember that we got into anything particularly deep. I remember being touched that he had shown up, but there were no tears. I’m pretty sure we shook hands.

See here a relevant excerpt from the eulogy I delivered for him in 2011:

My dad was not a particularly emotive man, not for most of the 40 odd years I had a clear picture of him. I remember one time I came home from college and was determined, in the sure and committed way of college students, to simply start hugging him and telling him that I loved him. I had seen other dads do this and had been impressed — that a father and son could be so open and physical in their affection for one another. I wanted that for my dad and me, to be honest. So I started out with hugs and, well… the man never really got comfortable with it. It just wasn’t his way. I remember telling him during this same period that I loved him, and noting that, to some extent, one is obliged to let people know that this is so, to verbalize it, to say it plain. He said that wasn’t his way, that he instead showed people he loved them. I remember thinking, at the time, that this was something of a cop-out.

But the man knew himself. As I grew older, I better recognized the ways he expressed intimacy and let you know how he felt. There are no rules or universalities for these things, I’ve learned, as I myself have grown as old and, in some ways, as wise as he. The more I observed this, over time, I can report that my dad did practice this sort of behavior consistently, with all sorts of people.

I think one of the keys to understanding and appreciating my dad is this: If he enjoyed something, his greatest joy was to share that enjoyment with you. If there was a piece of music that he found thrilling — and the man enjoyed a notably wide musical taste — he wanted you to listen to it and, ideally, derive the same thrill, too. If there was something he had seen on PBS or C-span, he wanted you to see it, too. If there was food item he had acquired or my mom had made, he wanted you to consume it. Right then. His enthusiasm for this sharing was really quite intimate, almost childlike in its enthusiasm. You might walk into my parents’ home, having not seen him for weeks, and his most deeply held desire was to have you sit down and watch an interview with the historian Gordon Wood, right then, so soon as you put your bag down.

And there was another aspect to this: He wanted you to listen or watch or taste or, to the extent possible, read this stuff WITH you. He wanted to sit right next to you while we watched the Gordon Wood interview, together — so he could pause the recording and discuss it. He wanted you to put the earphones on while he would stand right there beside you, grinning giddily, as you listened to some choral piece by Arvo Part. He would call just to see how far you were in a book he had recommended, to get updates on your progress…

I loved my dad but I, like many sons, have fashioned a great deal of my life in response to his. When Silas heads off tomorrow morning, there will be hugs. There will be tears. That said, I expect that whatever I’m feeling at that moment, is the same thing my dad felt that day, some 32 years ago, in the parking lot at Ponkapoag.

Silas is flying to Montana tomorrow morning, with his mom. I suppose that if I could meet them in Chicago for one last goodbye, I’d do it.

10 Questions for Guan Tianlang

10 Questions for Guan Tianlang

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How many 14-year-olds do you know who warm up for a star turn with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy by defending the most coveted amateur title in Asia, in hopes of re-punching his ticket to The Masters? That is the quite extraordinary story of Guan Tianlang, who, as we speak, is teeing it up at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) in China’s Shandong province, at Nanshan International GC. The AAC runs Thursday to Sunday — winning it means a Masters invite (Augusta National GC is a tournament organizer) but also a final qualifying slot for the 2014 British Open. So soon as his AAC has concluded, Mr. Guan (surnames first for the Chinese, of course), flies south to Hainan island, where he will participate in a morning Skills Challenge with Messrs. Woods and McIlroy, at Mission Hills Resort Haikou (that afternoon, the two pros will contest The Match at Mission Hills to be held over the resort’s Blackstone Course). Guan, of course, made Masters history earlier this year — competing as a 14 year old and making the cut on golf’s biggest stage. I recently had the chance to sit down with Guan to discuss the state of his game, his travels, his history with Tiger and Rory, and his relationship to Mission Hills, where he’s been a fixture at junior tournaments since 2008 (he’s a native of nearby Guangzhou). Oh, and for the record, all this talk about being a precocious 14 year old goes away this week. Guan turns 15 on Friday, Oct. 25.

 

Q: You are quite famous, internationally, following your performance at the Masters in April 2013. Tell us what you’ve been doing since that time.

Guan Tianlang: The Masters did make me better known than before. I played several PGA Tour events after The Masters, including the Zurich Classic, HP Byron Nelson Championship, The Memorial, and FedEx St. Jude Classic — before taking the whole summer off for fitness training and catching up with school work. I played one Japan Tour event, the Vana H Cup KBC Augusta, after coming back from the States. Now I am going to school as a normal student and getting ready for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in late October.

Q: The slow-play penalty you incurred during the second round at The Masters gained a lot of attention, as well. How do you view that episode now? Do you play faster, or do you think the penalty was perhaps unfairly applied?

GTL: As I said back then, I respect the decision and I accept it completely.  It was a tough day. The weather was bad and it took more time to make the right decision, and you know, it’s The Masters! I have a good routine and I haven’t changed much because of the penalty. But yes, I do pay more attention to my pace and I think I have been doing well on that part. Overall, it was a very valuable experience.

Q: Describe your history with Mission Hills. You have worked on your game there? Competed in tournaments here?

GTL: I have participated in more than 10 junior golf tournaments hosted by Mission Hills, since I was seven. And I won several championships there. The courses are beautiful and challenging. Actually the second time I met Tiger Woods was at Mission Hills Shenzhen. A great memory.

Q: There are many courses at Mission Hills — 12 in Shenzhen and 10 on Hainan Island. Which is your favorite course?

GTL: My favorite one must be the Mission Hills Norman Course. But I haven’t been to the Haikou Mission Hills. I hear it is amazing and can’t wait to play there!

Q: You will appear at a junior clinic and skills challenge prior to Tiger Woods’ and Rory McIlroy’s Match at Mission Hills on Oct. 28. You already have a history with both players.

GTL: Yes, I’ve met both of them before. I met Tiger at the HSBC Championship when I was 12, and we played a par-3 hole together. Met him the second time at Mission Hills Shenzhen and received a trophy from him. And, of course, I got to play with him for 9 holes at Augusta National on the Tuesday of the Masters; it was a dream come true, as everyone knows he is my idol. I haven’t played with Rory before but we had a nice chat at the Masters. He was very supportive and said he wasn’t as good as me when he was 14. He is humble and a very sweet guy. A great player as well!

Q: Have you attended similar junior clinics as a spectator? If so, what did you take away from the experience?

GTL: I have attended some junior golf clinics, when I was younger. The one hosted by Mission Hills with Tiger Wood was one. I can’t say how much in terms of golfing skills I have learned from the instructor, but I shall say the whole experience did inspire and motivate me to practice harder and become a better golfer.

Q: Was Tiger Woods always role model for you? Are you old enough to have the same thoughts about Rory McIlroy?

GTL: Tiger Wood has always been my idol. I believe he is the role model as a golfer for many, many people out there. Look at him: He won 5 PGA Tour events in one year and he is now the world No.1. He is the greatest player of his time and perhaps will become the greatest of all time soon. Rory is such a mature and great player. I can see how much more I need work on myself — to grow into a player like him. Both of them are the players I look up to. I’m very excited to get the chance to challenge them.

Q: What advice did Tiger give you during that Masters practice round — anything that helped you during the tournament, or with your golf going forward?

GL: Yes, it was a great experience and probably the most nervous 9 holes in my life. He is my idol, after all. We did chat a bit during the practice round and also off the course. Lots of advice. But the one piece, as other great golfers also offered to me, is enjoying your game and embracing your experience at The Masters. It was my first Masters journey, and I hope there will be many more coming.

Q: You turn 15 on Oct. 25, just before The Match at Mission Hills. You remain a young man, but do you feel as if golf is more popular today, in China, than it was five years ago? If so, how can you tell?

GTL: I believe so, absolutely.  First of all, you can see more and more media are paying attention to the sport. Second, more and more juniors start to pick up the game, which makes the future of golf in China very promising.  The golf community in China is expanding with its addition to the 2016 Olympic. Golf will become more and more popular here for sure. It is a great sport, why not?

Q: When will American golf fans see you again? Does your tournament schedule bring you to North America in 2014?

GTL: I hope everyone who supports me will watch me and root for me when I play other events outside the U.S., such as Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. Augusta National is an organizer [winning this event last year earned Guan his Masters place in 2013] and it is the best amateur event in the region. I am going back to defend my title and I hope they will be watching. I haven’t planned any tournaments in North American next year. Hopefully I will win my ticket back to 2014 Masters.

 

Angles and Edges: What Puts Teeth in the Dog

Angles and Edges: What Puts Teeth in the Dog

 

Casa de Campo Resort here in the Dominican Republic made its mark because the first of its four separate courses, Teeth of the Dog, was designed by the inimitable Pete Dye. Of course, Dye designed all 63 holes here, but it was the Teeth of the Dog layout, opened in 1971, that got the place noticed and today enjoys a place on most everyone’s world top 100 list.

However, while Dye made his own mark with some of golf’s most striking, flamboyant feature work — the volcano green complexes, the hard-edged fairways that fall off steeply 10-15-20 feet into strip bunkers (PGA West), the ubiquitous railroad ties, the island-greens (typified by the 17th at TPC Sawgrass) — Teeth of the Dog features almost none of these things.

One of the most striking things about my round here this morning was this: the features at Teeth of the Dog were surprisingly graceful, almost sedate. There are a few plateau greens that fall of steeply on every side (the par-3 13th, for example), but the mounding, green edges and fairway edges here are largely quite tame. Most of the fairway bunkering is fairly shallow.

Here’s why: Dye’s designs are all about angles, and there are enough here — in tandem with ocean-derived wow factors — to moot the need for flamboyant design features.

Ordinary designers deploy putting surfaces as a sort of period at the end of a fairway; they are almost continuations of the fairway footprint. Dye doesn’t do that. The front of his greens may well connect to fairways, but the green remainders angle away from the player — meaning approaches inevitably require shots over a bunker or deep swale or water in order to find said greens. If the drive is exactly perfect, Dye rewards you with a royal road into his putting surfaces. For all the wayward among us, any deviation from the perfect line means your approach is that much tougher.

The angles Dye created at Teeth of the Dog meet his high standards, and it’s not just the green angles. Every tee box presents the player with a fairway that angles away left or right — attack that angle well (often over a hazard of some kind) and you shorten the hole; fail to do so and the holes is lengthened.

What makes Teeth of the Dog “world-class” is that Dye takes these angles down to the sea, where seven of the 18 holes use the Caribbean to complement his angles, thereby ratcheting up the risk-reward dynamic. The par-4 16th is a lovely example. It plays just 334 yards from the blue tees, but it hugs a cliff top where the ocean borders the entire right side. Dye’s fairway swings inland, away from the water, before tacking back to a green that sits right at the cliff edge. The closer you hug the coastline, the easier your approach — the Caribbean is still your right, but you can always bail out left. Should you bail out left off the tee, however, your approach plays almost directly at the ocean — the slightest push and the waves eat your ball.

Still, there are plenty of fun features at Teeth of the Dog, and it’s the hard edge that makes Dye’s features so striking. His putting surfaces don’t slope off gradually into greenside bunkers — they fall off steeply. It’s all or nothing. You’re either on that green or in the bunker, or in a swale. It’s sort of like a water hazard: There is no in-between — you’re either in it or not.

Teeth of the Dog features relatively little of these hard edges, to accompany the masterful angle work, perhaps because on 7 holes, Dye had the menacing Caribbean with which to work (made all the more knee-knocking by surf crashing over huge, gnarly, volcanic boulders). I suppose you don’t need hard edges all over the course with the ocean so close. It forms the ultimate hard edge.

The 15th green at Teeth of the Dog. This is the approach angle if you bail out away from the water. Note the hard edge at right — you’re either on the green, or in the Caribbean,

 

 

Pondering the Genius of Pete Dye, Uber Quipster

Pondering the Genius of Pete Dye, Uber Quipster

A couple quick stories about Pete Dye while I’m sitting here in my barn office, avoiding the packing process while simultaneously champing at the bit to leave this frozen wasteland for the tropical glories of Casa de Campo, where Dye is responsible for all 63 holes:

Circa 1994, I was serving as editor in chief of a national business journal called Golf Course News (today it’s known as Golf Course Industry magazine). For a few years there, GCN sponsored a national trade show called the Public Golf Expo, and as program chair of the associated conference, I was the de facto host of this event. Part of my job was lining up keynote speakers and this particular year, in Orlando, I landed Pete Dye.

Mr. Dye is known for many things: integrating links features and scale into modernist course design, railroad ties, strip bunkers, angles, and courses that, initially at least, totally confounded tour players. What many people don’t realize is this: The man is hilarious. There are quite a few very funny course architects, but Pete’s in a class by himself. He comes off as a sort of rumpled, midwestern bumpkin who meanders around a subject before dropping some zinger that takes everyone by surprise.

I don’t recall what Pete Dye was supposed to talk about that day in Orlando. We had discussed something, surely. But after a few comments to kick things off — each one punctuated by a laugh line funnier than the last — he just threw it open to questions and answers. He kept this up for 40 minutes, fielding each one with off-the-cuff aplomb and hilarity. But two stand out:

• Some fellow rose and asked Pete about the environmental movement in golf, and whether this was stifling development and design creativity, and how he dealt with ever-tightening environmental regulations. You could tell Pete didn’t know quite where to go with this one, and it would not have been like him to launch into some mealy-mouthed defense of golf’s environmental credentials. But he soon launched into a story that went something like this… and I’m paraphrasing here:

Well, we like to have the environmental regulators come out to our golf course sites early in the game, before we’ve even broken ground. They usually like to walk, these environmental types, and I like to walk. So we get out there on the property and I walk ‘em. And I walk ‘em. Then I walk ‘em some more. And when they’re really getting tired, I walk ‘em some more. 

Then I lie to them. 

• Sometime later that same Q&A session, another fellow rose and asked Pete why he didn’t use railroad ties any more. He had, of course, made their use famous at several courses in the 1970s, including the TPC at Sawgrass, but had foresworn their use by the time 1994 rolled around. I was sure Pete would come back with something like, “I got tired of yo-yo’s like you always asking me about the damned railroad ties,” or maybe a quick quip/yarn about how even Tom Morris got tired of putting sleepers in his bunkers. But he just stared at the guy, and then he smiled before he leaning into the microphone:

Not expensive enough. 


Three Things You Should Know About Carl Yastrzemski

Three Things You Should Know About Carl Yastrzemski

Whenever someone flirts with a Triple Crown season, baseball’s lightweight commentariat feels the obligation to make a series of paper-thin, Carl Yastrzemski-related references. It takes an actual Triple Crown, the likes of which Miguel Cabrera donned last week, to summon punditry of true heft.

And so both Roger Angell, the finest writer of baseball prose to have ever lived, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky both weighed in on the inimitable Yaz this past week, as a sort of homage to the 45 years he spent as “the last man to win the Triple Crown”.

I don’t hold myself in that sort of literary company, and having moved to Greater Boston in 1972, I was five years late to the Impossible Dream party, the much sentimentalized pennant-winning season that just happened to coincide with Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown (of which not much was made at the time, mind you; they weren’t so rare back then — Frank Robinson turned the trick in 1966, and prior to that, MLB produced one roughly every 10 years). However, perhaps because I completely missed Boston’s Summer of Love, and because I was there in Fenway’s bleachers and glued to Channel 38 over the last half of Yastrzemski’s career, I can add a bit of boots-on-the-ground perspective re. this titanic, complicated figure.

Here are three things baseball fans should know about Yaz:

• His Triple Crown year of 1967 was not his best in the Majors. Yaz won three battle titles but lost a fourth to Alex Johnson, on percentage points, in 1970, when many (myself included) argue he posted the finest statistical performance of his career. Just a single season separated 1970 from 1968, when Major League Baseball raised the mound and ushered in an era of pitching dominance (Yaz would repeat as AL batting champ in 1968, hitting a measly .301). By 1970, batting figures remained depressed across the board. Yet Yaz hit a career-best .329 that year, with 40 dingers, 102 RBI and a career-best 128 walks, which enabled a sick on-base percentage of .452. He threw in 23 stolen bases, just for the fuck of it… 1967 v. 1970: This was the debate we had as kids, referring to the back of baseball cards, and it’s a debate made even more interesting today by the plethora of “new” stats (check out the full monty here), which tend to favor 1967 — but fail to take into account the mound. In context, 1970 was the more impressive achievement.

• As good a hitter as Yastrzemski was — and most all-around statistical analyses rank him about #20 on the various all-time lists — he was a defensive player of comparable greatness. Of the 20 people ahead of him on the all-time Elo batters rating, for example, only a handful of guys can claim this sort of elite duality: Willie Mays, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins and Mike Schmidt. Plenty of others were fine fielders (Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson, Lou Gehrig, Eddie Matthews, Alex Rodriguez), but Yaz was the best leftfielder in the American League for a decade or more. By the time I arrived in Boston, he was 32 and still an excellent glove man, but his best days were behind him — so I took his legendary ’60s-era fielding acumen more or less on faith. Indeed, he played a lot of first base in the early ‘70s — by ‘74 he was moved there permanently, in addition to DH, in order to accommodate a young Jim Rice and another up-and-comer, first baseman Cecil Cooper. Then, in September 1975, with the Sox closing in on their first post-season appearance since ‘67, Rice broke his wrist. Yastrzemski went back to left and there, for the first time in my experience, was the fielder everyone had raved about. Thirty-five years old but invigorated by the pennant-chase, he threw his body around like a rag doll, giving nothing away to the young defensive wizards playing beside him, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans. I maintain a distinctly thrilling memory of Yaz against the reigning World Champion A’s in the 1975 ALCS — diving to his left to cut off a line drive in the gap, popping up, whirling and gunning down someone at second base. And, of course, no one played the Green Monster better. Yaz would go back to left field for 152 games in 1977, as a 37-year-old, and win another Gold Glove, his 7th.

• For all these achievements, however, and the extraordinarily high esteem in which Carl Yastrzemski is still held throughout New England, the man remains a tragic figure. Yes, he was one of the all-time greats and while Yaz was never cuddly (he was rather taciturn and aloof actually) he allowed us to forget the guy he replaced, Ted Williams, whom the fans did not revere and who never led the Sox to any meaningful team success. But for all Yastrzemski’s grit and splendid achievements, twice during the 1970s, with the Sox on the brink of that historical team success, it was Yaz who stood at the plate when the curtain came down. He made the final out in Game 7 of the ’75 World Series against the Reds, flying out to left center with Boston trailing by a run. Three years later, in the famous ’78 playoff game against the Yankees, Yaz ended the game by popping out to third baseman Craig Nettles, stranding both the tying and go-ahead runs. This not to say that Yaz wasn’t at his very best when the Sox needed him most, because he generally was: He hit .400 in the 7-game Series loss to St. Louis in ’67; he hit .455 against the A’s in ’75, and .310 against the Reds. Even in the playoff game, perhaps the must soul-crushing moment of my entire childhood, he was immense — homering off Ron Guidry in the second inning and driving in another run in the 8th…

The indignity of twice making the final out after having done so much is not failure. It is tragedy, and texture.

The HGP II Scorecard Series: A Final Accounting
My dad on the 8th green at Nehoiden, right across the street from the house where grew up. It's late November; the greens have been staked for fencing at the first snow. We sprinkled his ashes here, and there's a memorial bench for him just right of this frame, on the 9th tee. There is no headstone in any cemetery for him. This is his spot, for all eternity.

The HGP II Scorecard Series: A Final Accounting

I’ve been picking through a few scorecards left behind, in a shoebox, by my father, Harold Gardner Phillips, Jr., who passed away a year ago this week. They didn’t surface until a month or two after his death. It’s taken till now for me to really engage with them. Haven’t avoided it exactly. It’s been an eventful year, the proof being just how quickly it’s flown by. But I’m glad I waited. A little distance allowed me to revel again in my memories of him. I won’t bore you with a comprehensive accounting of all their lovely time-capsule qualities. See below a third and  final installment in The HGP Scorecard Series, as it’s time write and remember more about him than his golf game. See previous posting on this subject here and here.… A word on the photo above: That’s my dad on the 8th green at Nehoiden GC, in Wellesley, Mass., his home club the last 30 years of his golfing life. Across the street is the home we made those 30 years. It’s late November in this image; the greens have been staked for fencing come the first snow. We sprinkled his ashes here. His memorial bench sits just right of  frame, on the 9th tee. There is no headstone in any cemetery for the man, at his request. This was his chosen spot and will be for all eternity.

The Niagara Falls Country Club, Lewiston Heights, N.Y., circa 1950: My dad was probably 13 or 14 and playing with his dad when this round was recorded. Pop was a jewelry salesman and traveled all over the Northeast visiting clients and playing golf with them. I’d heard tell that he’d take my dad on some of these trips, and here’s the evidence (there’s another card from Hershey CC that details the same sort of round). My dad and I were so different temperamentally. If I played badly, it could get real ugly, especially when I was this age. Whereas Poppy and his son were both incredibly even tempered. I’m sure my dad never embarrassed Pop with any histrionics on this day, despite shooting 92. And who knows: Maybe this was 1948 and a 12-year-old Harold Gardner Phillips Jr. was well pleased with 92, which appeared to best the group. This round is also notable for the fact that there were three Harolds in the group. Filling out the troika was Harold Osw. [sic], probably short for Oswald or something. Some poor boring bastard named Bob was the fourth (!). The card is quite ornate and well designed in an old-fashioned way. There’s a special column for “Side matches”, a table detailing “85% Handicap allowances”, four perforated/detachable tags for the submission of tournament scoring, another long table (opposite the tags) showing what your handicap should be based on “Your Ten Best Scores Total”; and an admonition to “Please have caddies rake traps and replace divots.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen that written on a scorecard, in quite that way, ever in my life. They don’t make cards like they used to.

Fort Monmouth GC, Fort Monmouth, N.J., May 12, 1954: I’ve heard the brief tale and read the brief press clippings re. this game. This was the 73 he shot in some high school match against another dude named Bob, who shot 78 and got smoked. It remained his best round ever in competition, if I’m not mistaken. FMGC is now known as Sun Eagle’s Golf Course at Fort Monmouth. It’s reputed to be a Tillinghast design, built in 1940, or maybe A.W. merely stopped to walk the place and a tap out his pipe here one day — the next thing you know it’s “a Tillinghast”. Couldn’t tell you if it had the markings; never played it, and my dad never had much of anything to say about the course. It was 6,417 from the tips in 1954, so it wasn’t any Mickey Mouse layout for 1954. Military officers formed a big part of the membership here and the high school team played there, which is indicative of 1) good communitarian spirit; and 2) Fort Monmouth probably not being the most prestigious club in the area. But 73 in competition is 73 in competition (he bogeyed the first and played the rest at par). His personal best for the next 25 years. No trouble understanding why he kept this card.

Saddle Hill Country Club, Hopkinton, Mass., circa 1981: It’s obvious why some of these cards were kept in the shoebox, while other keepers are more cryptic. I don’t really keep cards, but if I shot 73 in a high school match, I might have considered it! My best in competition was 75. Somewhere I may have stashed the card recording the day I finally beat my dad, a spring Saturday at Nehoiden that just happened to be same day I first broke 80. So I can’t blame him for keeping the Saddle Hill scorecard, which is from just this time period, when I had finally caught the guy. I could  beat him now, which I think that gave him a great deal of joy (I don’t think there’s another word for that broad emotion I attribute to him in this context: pride, empathy, large amounts of credit probably apply, too). By the same token, it now meant something — something more — to beat me, which he did, 78-81. This was a big day in another way: We both played quite well, and it may have been the first time that really did happen. You can play years with a guy, and you know his game, you see him play well, he sees the same from you. But it’s actually quite rare for two longtime playing partners, amateurs, to both post really good rounds on the same day. So a round like this is something both parties remember… Saddle Hill was and remains an interesting place. We played many times at Juniper Hill CC just down the road in Northborough, but Saddle Hill always struck us as a fun and finer golf course. There’s a middle portion, holes 8-12 or something like that, where a bunch of par-4s all run back and forth, down into a valley and back up to a green; these were weaker juice, as they also suffered from their sameness. But the rest of the routing was solid and engaging. It was taken private a few years back, renamed Hopkinton Country Club, and redesigned by Canada-based Welshman Ian Andrew. I thought I had read that he’d reversed a bunch of holes — where a redesign literally turns greens into tees and vice versa — but more recently I read or got the impression he had just switched the nines. I’ve gotta get back there and play it because I’m  curious now, especially the idea of reversing some holes I know so intimately, or did. Won’t be nearly as fun going back there without my dad though.

Hollywood GC, Deal, N.J., circa 1951: This was a find. I don’t think my dad remembered, later in life, that he had played here. We talked about it and I didn’t get that impression. Indeed, I had talked about taking him to play there along with sorta-nearby Saucon Valley, where he played his collegiate golf. But we sadly never got around to it. I can say pretty safely there weren’t many of these trips never taken. We did the Scotland and Ireland things, together with my brother Matthew, and we hit a good many plums here in the States. But that Mid-Atlantic romp would have been a great stroll down memory lane for him, and both venues are reputed to be top notch (see a nice accounting of Hollywood, with pix, here)… My dad played Hollywood  this day with his mother, father and some dude identified here as “The Sheep.” I’d like to know who that was, but I doubt that information is available anymore. Pop had been a member here a decade or so earlier, but they were definitely not members at this time. They belonged to Old Orchard CC in Long Branch. Hollywood is and was, to my understanding, the truly fashionable Jewish club on the Shore, with a Walter Travis design, updated by Dick Wilson (much later Rees Jones redid it again). I can’t be sure but I think this card was kept not for what my dad had done there but for what his mom, my Gram, had done. She shot 41 on the front and 45 on the back to shoot 86, tied with my dad. (Pop self-immolated, posting 97). I think shooting 86 and halving my dad, at medal, was probably a superb day for her — and she just happened to have made 9 on the par-5 10th and 7 on the par-4 11th before closing extremely well. I just reckoned the card at match play and she beat her 15-year-old son 2 & 1, straight up, with no handicaps taken into account. I only ever played with Gram as a much older woman, naturally, so I can’t say whether this was a typical round for her, but that’s pretty good golf for a 50-year-old tennis player. She was a handsome woman who, if pictures are any indication, was doing a creditable Joan Crawford thing during this time. I’d like to have seen it. I’d like to have played Hollywood, and maybe I will some day.

There was a Saucon Valley CC card in the shoebox. It’s clearly from the mid-50s, as my dad played collegiate golf there, as a freshman, and enjoyed other rounds at SVCC during his time at Lehigh (’53-58). My dad revered this place. I can date the card pretty well because it lists a third loop (the “New Nine”), built in 1953. This would become known as the Grace Course, designed by William Gordon. Herbert Strong had done the Old Course; Gordon did a lot of renovations there, too. In any case, this card must have been gathered during my dad’s college days, before the Grace was made whole, with the fourth nine, in 1958… As indicated above, we didn’t leave too many stones unturned. When I was young, he got me on all sorts of great courses. In my late 20s, when I started in the golf business, I returned the favor. But I greatly regret never taking him back to Saucon Valley. Arranging a game for us there would not have been too much trouble, but I never made it happen. Fittingly, the SVCC card he kept is empty. No scores. It’s a pure keepsake of the place, of the time. I’ll keep it myself, as a reminder to play it. Maybe with my son, Silas.

Of Kilties and Stymies: A Long Golfing Life Re-examined

Of Kilties and Stymies: A Long Golfing Life Re-examined

 

My dad passed away almost exactly one year ago this week, so I’m marking the anniversary with a sampling of the scorecards he saved over the years. They were handed down posthumously, in a shoebox, along with other golfing trinkets and memorabilia. The cards form a useful trail of crumbs, which, if followed and elaborated upon, inform us re. the man and his seven decades in the game. The first post can be found here.

• Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, N.C., circa 1974: I’m dating this round by the vintage of Sansabelt slacks modeled on the front of this scorecard. This most decorated of the Pinehurst courses has just undergone a thorough retrofitting from Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, who endeavored (as most course renovators do) to restore the “original vision” of Donald Ross (read: lots of exposed sand and scrub). This picture shows the 1970s incarnation and it couldn’t have been further from that purported vision: bright green, overseeded fairways flanked everywhere by wall-to-wall dormant Bermuda. Glad the Old Man got to play and brag about playing No. 2, even at its likely design nadir. News Flash: He shot 83, as he did by default nearly everywhere he played for the first time. A maddeningly steady player, he was… If the course had featured more sand when he played there, my dad would have made frequent use of The Meat Hook, the club he deployed for years as his sand wedge. There was nothing written on this unique club, no markings at all. It was notably heavy, antiquated and rust-colored (this was real oxidation mind you, as it was rendered long before coppery wedges became fashionable). There was something faintly menacing and mysterious about it — a Stealth Wedge, if you will. My dad exploded with a full swing nearly every sand shot around the greens, and he was pretty good at it. He never picked the ball with a smaller, steeper swing imparting serious spin, which is a limiting strategy, of course. He was apparently beguiled by the act of blasting balls from bunkers via the power of The Meat Hook, which he never played  from anywhere but a bunker, which, again, was limiting. He opened his pitching wedge when he wanted to flop something. It was old school, but there’s just no comparing what one can do with a proper sand wedge, with a heel, as I told him many times as a precocious teen and for decades afterward. My dad was nevertheless highly competent around the greens. His misses were never that bad, and he could routinely get up and down from green side with a bumped 5- or 6-iron. In a sense, his short game was what you’d expect from a 12-14 handicap, whereas he was a 7-8 tee to green. His putting followed this form: a decent lag putter but didn’t make a lot of putts, it seemed to me. He wore a glove and never removed it to putt, as many folks do. I think that removal routine seemed to him an affectation — like the kilties he routinely removed from his golf shoes, long before they went out of style completely. My dad was no fashion plate, far from it. But here we must give him credit for being ahead of the curve.

Old Orchard CC, Long Branch, N.J., circa 1950: I wish he’d have dated this one, because he shot 75 (bogeying the par-5s that opened and closed the round; the only sixes on the card) and this was his home course. Was it the first time he broke 80? Or did he keep it because this was his career best here? Was it merely the first time he ever went really low? He couldn’t have been more than 15, as this card would appear older — in its wear and more Spartan post-war design — compared to those he saved from roughly the same period. When did the stymie go out? A key question as this card features a stymie measure across the top! It’s my understanding the USGA abolished this arcane rule in 1950, so my dad could have been well younger than 14 when this score was posted. He played with someone identified as E, and the kid shot a big number. There’s little else to work with in terms of historical detail/clues, but he must have kept it for some reason as he played hundreds of rounds at OOCC. Old Orchard wasn’t a fancy place. My dad claimed to have routinely caddied there for local mobsters and found at least one gun in the bag. But my grandparents socialized and played bridge  there, too, so I don’t think there was anything inherently untoward about the place. (Wise guys need a place to play golf, too.) He never held the course up as anything special and it wasn’t. But he was sentimental about it, and this was the only Old Orchard card in the shoebox… There was, however, another card in the box and it’s a curious one. It says “Long Branch Country Club, Eatontown, New Jersey”, which is a village just west of Long Branch, or so Google Maps informs me. But there’s a logo top left that clearly says “Old Orchard Country Club”. I’ve compared the cards and while the yardages do not always match up exactly, it would appear to be the same golf course. My dad and I played Old Orchard together in the late 1980s — maybe the club toyed with a new name at some point? Indeed, The Architects of Golf, the definitive reference guide to all courses built prior to about 1995, lists Long Branch CC, but not Old Orchard (today the club is again known as Old Orchard). This odd Long Branch CC card would appear to be from the 1980s; someone shot 78 but this is the sole score line and the player is not identified (though the writing for all the world looks like mine). I’m thinking this was indeed the round I played with my dad at Old Orchard and an explanation re. the scoring  is likely mundane — probably an in-the-car recounting of the round, by me, because the original card had been left behind.