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George Peper captured the essence of golf fabulously at the end of his 'Two Years in St. Andrews."

As I prepare to travel to Scotland this June, I’ve been reading a bundle about the home of golf — and golf generally. Although I’m not sure how it will lower my scores, I’ve taken a keen interest in the history of golf, both ancient and recent. In the latter category my most recent read is George Peper’s Two Years in St. Andrews: At Home on the 18th Hole, a book about two years the former editor of Golf Magazine and his wife spent living in their apartment off the 18th hole. I read it with hopes of picking up a few pointers about playing the Old Course and enjoying the town generally, and that I did. But at the very end of the book I read a quote — a paragraph, actually — that really struck me. Mr. Peper was asked to represent the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and speak at the annual dinner of the Fife Golf Association, an annual gathering of clubs in the area. Toward the end of his speech he described the game in a way that captured the game’s essence to the Scots and, well, to this blog-keeping non-Scot:

Someday I hope to bring my grandchildren here to Scotland — not to show them what golf is but to show them what it isn’t — that it isn’t $200 million resorts and $200,000 membership fees, that it isn’t six-hour rounds and three-day member guests, that it isn’t motorized buggies, Cuban cigars and cashmere headcovers. It’s a game you play simply and honorably, without delay or complaint — where you respect your companions, respect the rules, and respect the ground you walk on. Where on the 18th green you remove your cap and shake hands, maybe just a little humbler and a little wiser than when you began.

Except for the dig at three-day member-guests, which I quite enjoy, the now St. Andrews resident hit it spot on. And as I struggle with the question of why, exactly, I’m forking out a quarter’s worth of future colleage tuition to go on a two-week golf junket, his description of the game in Scotland reminded me of why I need to go there. At the risk of hyperbole, our trip isn’t so much a junket as a pilgrimage. And I’m very fortunate to have the means and family that allow me to take it.

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Last night I finished reading Jim Huber’s Four Days in July: Tom Watson, the 2009 Open Championship and a Tournament for the Ages (2011). It was probably the fifteenth or so book I’ve read so far preparing for my golf trip to Scotland this summer.

Last night I finished Jim Huber's book. This morning I learned he'd died.


Today I woke up to read that the longtime TNT sports essayist had died. He was 67.

Eerie stuff.

I hope this was just a strange coincidence. We’re scheduled to play Turnberry on June 15.

Jim should rest in peace. He’ll be greatly missed.

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I just finished reading Tom Doak’s “Anatomy of a Golf Course.” Polished it off in two days. And while I was decidedly underwhelmed by the book — read like a textbook with virtually no personal anecdotes — it did succeed in getting me to think of ways I’d improve my home course, West Seattle Golf Course, in my alternative life as a golf course architect.

Tom Doak's disappointing book on golf course architecture ...

I approach the task on the premise that a well-designed golf course should be challenging to golfers of all skill levels, which West Seattle is decidedly not for good players. Granted, I’m a 4.6 handicap and I still usually shoot in the high seventies, but that’s because I have a stonemason’s touch around the greens and make about fifty percent of my three footers. If I had even a modicum of short game I’d always be around par — tee to green, they don’t come much easier than the course I grew up on.

got my wheels spinning on tweaks I'd make to the course I grew up on.

Much of that, of course, is the result of the size of the property. It just isn’t very big and, as such, it can only be made so long. Nevertheless, it still could be a bit more challenging and demand a little more precision from its players. In order, here’s what I’d do:

1. Back up the tee on 11. This is about as easy as it gets because the tee box is basically already there — it’s just rarely if ever used. A hole so severely downhill oughta be 180 yards minimum, even from the white tees. Cost: Low.


2. Get rid of the left bunker on 17.
I have played West Seattle probably 100 times since they added a few bunkers to the course and I’ve never seen a single human being in the left bunker on 17. I cannot fathom what they were thinking there, but it’s a waste and just screams of a bunker for bunker’s sake. Cost: Low.

3. Rebuild and re-elevate the No. 7 green. No. 7 is a very short par 4 that defenders say was designed to be driveable. I’ve heard it’s been done but I’ve never seen it, nor have I come close myself, and I’m a reasonably long hitter. Truth is it can’t be done except in the driest of conditions, and that’s basically six weeks out of the year. The sad truth is that it’s basically a driving range drive and a wedge to a massive and very flat green — about as boring as holes get. (The green is so large that you’d think it should be receiving three irons rather than sand wedges. I’d rebuild the green, maybe push it over to the left some, elevate it, and shrink it by about fifty percent. At least then there’d be some precision required on one of the hole’s shots. The downside of this is that by shrinking the green you concentrate the foot traffic, which will increase the likelihood that the green will be in poor shape. But it would be no smaller than No. 2’s green and, truth be told, the overly large green is usually in pretty poor shape, anyway. Cost: high.

4. Give No. 2 some teeth. The second hole is a way too short par 4 where anything but a dead right tee shot is an easy par. I’d make a little tougher. First, I’d eliminate the current tee box and replace it with one 20-30 yards back and slightly to the right. There’s room there, and, if you wanted to hit driver to shorten your approach shot, it would force a left to right drive with a hazard on the right — tough stuff. Next, I’d add a large bunker about 240-70 yards off the tee. The guy who wanted to hit driver would then have very little room to bail out left. Guys who didn’t want to mess with the bunker or want to hit a hard cut drive would then have to lay up, the result being an approach shot of 160-70 yards or so with a hazard on the right. Good, tough stuff. Cost: medium.

5. Give No. 5 some teeth. No. 5 is almost as easy as No. 2. I’d back the tee up as far as humanly possible and add a large fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway to catch any pulled drives, sort of like they did on No. 12 (pictured above) a few years back. Right now the room over there is ample and a hooked drive requires nothing more than a hooded short iron recovery shot to recover. Make a guy hit his approach from sand with a mid- to long iron and the hole gets considerably tougher.

6. Deep bunker at front and left of 6. At 180 yards from the blue and 215 from the blacks, No. 6 has sufficient length. And with that length and a hazard to the right, there is no shortage of misses to the left of the green. Why not toughen that area? I’d shave about 25% of the green off on the left in favor of a fairly large and deep bunker that would start in the front of the green and wrap around on the left side. Any misses left would then be in the bunker, where players would hit second shots knowing that any skulls would end up long and possibly in the hazard — read: big numbers. The important part is to make the bunker deep rather than just a flat space with sand, as with so many of the other bunkers on the course. Cost: medium.

7. Add fairway bunkers to No. 9. No. 9 is long enough when played from the back tees. The problem with the hole, like so many others on WSGC, is that it requires so little precision. Any drive but a massive hook is fine, any second shot is generally fine unless you’re in the grove of trees about 100-20 yards from the green. I’d add a large fairway bunker on the right side to catch any pushed drives: given the OB left, pushes aren’t uncommon. I’d add a second fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway to catch lay up shots that stray too far left. That would make the second shot somewhat difficult — miss it right and you’re in the grove of trees, from where hitting the green is a chore even from 100 yards. Miss it left and your approach shot comes from a bunker — never easy. Cost: medium.

8. Make 12 a very long par 4. When I first started playing at WSGC in the early 1980’s, No. 12 was a 424-yard par 5. Off a mat. The tee was directly in front of the creek. It has since been moved back some eighty yards, which makes it an okay but very reachable par 5. I’d put a tee where the old mat used to be, so a 425-yard or so par 4. This would be controversial, no doubt. First, it would make the nines 37-34 — not ideal. Second, a very long but not long enough drive might finish with a severe downhill lie. Shorter drives would be flat but 200 yards or so, longer drives would roll on the way to the flat of the gully, where most third shots are played from today. If the powers that be decided that too many shots were stopping in that very downhill area, this idea would have to be abandoned. Cost: low.

9. Add fairway bunker to right side of 15. Like so many other holes, No. 15 is pretty much a grip it and rip it and, so long as you don’t pull it, it’s an easy short iron approach, even from the rough. I’d add a large catch-all bunker on the right side of the fairway to catch any drives left out there by guys afraid of the left-side trees. A 140-yard approach from sand is a lot tougher than an approach from the light rough, especially with winter rules. Cost: low.

10. Cut trees down on No. 18’s lower tee to make grass-growing a viable proposition. No. 18 is a very weak finishing hole from the upper tees. Driver wedge and, unless you hit it at a 45-degree right angle off the tee, it’s about as easy as a finishing hole gets. There’s not a lot to do about it — the real estate just isn’t there to make a very long or challenging finishing hole. One good idea would be to make the lower tee the default one — it at least requires a memorable and somewhat challenging tee shot. Problem is that the trees down there virtually block out the sun, making grass growing quite a challenge. Remove those trees and you have yourself a much better tee.

The great part of all this is that the city has — or, at least, had — funds available to improve West Seattle Golf. Until recently it was considering adding a driving range to the course that would have cost a few mill. (More.) My ideas could be accomplished for a fraction of that. And with these tweaks the city would be justified in raising the green fees some 10-15 percent — not ideal for most guys, but that’s really no more than about $5/round.

While I wait, I’ll look for more architecture books.

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Is it just me, or does it seem that the rap on real estate agents is going in the direction of lawyers? Gotta have ’em when we need ’em, I guess, but they sure make a lot of dough for doing not a lot of work. (Real estate agents run ads and hang key boxes. Lawyers — well I’m not sure what.) Heck, I know a guy who made three offers on a house on the lake only to have them all rejected. The eventual buyer ended up paying less than my friend offered. It turns out the buyer’s agent was also the seller’s agent. Can you say double commission, anyone?

Arguments in Freakonomics would make for the basis of a Redfin marketing campaign.

Well, I just finished reading Freakonomics, and it turns out the case against real estate agents is also an economic one. Authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner argue that the current commission-based system :

(W)hat is the real-estate agent’s incentive when she is selling her own home? Simple: to make the best deal possible. Presumably this is also your incentive when you are selling your home. And so your incentive and the real estate agent’s incentive would seem to be nicely aligned. Her commission, after all, is based on the sales price.

But as incentives go, commissions are tricky. First of all, a 6 percent real-estate commission is typically split between the seller’s agent and the buyer’s. Each agent then kicks back half of her take to the agency. Which means that only 1.5% of the purchase price goes directly into your agent’s pocket.

So on the sale of your $300,000 house, her personal take of the $18,000 commission is $4,500. Still not bad, you say. But what if the house was actually worth more than $300,000? What if, with a little more effort and patience, she could have sold it for $310,000? After the commission, that puts an additional $9,400 in your pocket. But the agent’s share — her personal 1.5 percent of the extra $10,000 — is a mere $150. If you earn $9400 while she earns only $150, maybe your incentives aren’t aligned after all. (Especially when she’s the one paying for the ads and doing all the work.) Is the agent willing to put out all that extra time, money and energy for just $150?

Freakonomics at pp.8-9. Levitt and Dubner posit that the way to answer this final question is to measure the difference between sales data for houses that belong to real estate agents themselves and the houses they sold on behalf of clients. And sure enough, it turns out that, using data from the sale of 100,000 Chicago-area homes, real estate agents leave their own homes on the market an average of ten days longer and sell them for an extra 3-plus percent — $10,000 on a $300,000 house. According to the authors:

When she sells her own house, an agent holds out for the best offer; when she sells yours, she pushes you to take the first decent offer that comes along. Like a stockbroker churning commissions, she wants to make deals and make them fast. Why not? Her share of a better offer — $150 — is too puny an incentive to encourage her to do otherwise.

Redfin, anyone?

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Yesterday, Ronnie received a copy of “Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk.” It’s a book about a gal in Chicago who, in 2008, followed all of Oprah’s advise that year. From the show, the magazine, the God knows what else there is out there in Oprah-land.

The grantor was not Santa Claus but me.

I read this book cover to cover.

Today I spent the day horizontal.

I read it from cover to cover. That’s the first time I’ve ever read an entire book in a single day. Save, of course, the ten or so ten-pagers I read to Reese every day.

I won’t go into a full review here — no doubt there are lots of them on Amazon.com — but I will say I’ve spent worse Saturday afternoons.

To my two readers, one of whom is the book’s owner — I say give it a read.

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survival auschwitz

I just finished reading Primo Levi‘s Survival in Auschwitz. It was a bit of a stream of consciousness book — not an easy read for a guy who likes his prose tight as a drum. I gave it two stars on Goodreads.com. Frankly I did not enjoy the read at all (forgive my use of the term “enjoy” given the subject matter, but I’m at a loss for the appropriate term.) It did have one reasonably good line, however:

A respectable appearance is the best guarantee of being respected.

In his case being respected was a heck of a lot more important than today, but the line still resonates.

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Speaking of Jenkins Family household props — another one is in the news these days. The Wall Street Journal’s Steven Moore just penned a piece arguing that Ayn Rand’s classic Atlas Shrugged has gone from fiction (nay, parody) to fact in 52 years. The gist, in Mr. Moore’s words:

Politicians invariably respond to crises — that in most cases they themselves created — by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

Sounds a lot like Washington (state and DC) 2009.

Atlas Shrugged sits horizontally in our family library.

atlas-shrugged

What’s interesting about the above pic are the other books in therein. “The Year of Magical Thinking” is an apt description of the White House 2009 — or so we are told. Ernest Hemingway, an American icon, committed suicide. Some today argue that America is in the process of killing itself, or at least killing America as we know it. The appearance of Holocaust-survivor Elie Weisel’s Memoirs would be compelling if I were inclined to mention “Obama” and the H-man in the same sentence. Although I think the similarities are startling, I won’t do it here. When others have done it it hasn’t worked out so well (1I2I3I4), and I have no desire to join their ranks.

Props to Michelle Chan’s husband James Betzer — he of the 23 handicap and that many squared Facebook groups — for pointing this one out on Facebook. There may come a time soon when word of mouse is all we conservatives will have left.

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