Bad Lies

Danny: Why don’t you improve your lie a little sir?
Judge Smails: Yes, yes, winter rules …
Caddyshack 1980.



John Huggan, the golf columnist for The Scotsman, published a column the other day about cheating in golf—the nature of cheating has been somewhat prominent this year: Dustin Johnson aside, there was Kenny Perry’s Case of the Mysteriously-Reappearing Ball and, on the LPGA, the enigma of What the Korean Women Said. But before delving into the Korean example, I will say that I am myself often asked about cheating in golf, and mostly I work for amateurs playing fun rounds so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see it. At the same time though, it’s also true that most golfers recognize a difference between golf with their buddies—“playing for fun”—and tournament play—“playing for keeps.” Which brings up F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby—and not because that novel is currently the subject of a project to (mis-)translate it into Korean and then back into (bad) English.

The connection between Fitzgerald’s novel and golf is through the character of Jordan Baker, friend of the heroine Daisy Buchanan and paramour of the narrator, Nick Carraway. Baker is a top amateur golfer—this in the days when golf was largely an amateur affair of the wealthy—and the passage is this:

At her first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers—a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal—then died away. A caddy retracted his statement …

This remains, so I’d think, the most significant appearance of a caddie in all of literature, so far as I know, but what’s particularly interesting is just how this incident should so closely mirror an event of this past year’s LPGA season, which involved a couple of golfers with South Korean connections.

The facts, as related by an LPGA golfer named Larry Smich—whose role I will discuss—are something like this: Shi Hyun Ahn and Ilmi Chung were playing the 18th hole (also their final hole) during the Canadian Women’s Open this year. Both women drove the fairway. Ilmi hit hers on the green; Ahn missed, then chipped close and tapped in for par. At this point Ahn noticed the ball was not hers—as did, according to Smich, another caddie in the group—and began to converse with Ilmi in Korean. The group finished the hole and went to the scorers tent and signed their cards. Smich then alleges that Ahn approached her caddie to say, “You did not see anything.” However, sometime later one or both of the two golfers approached the rules committee to tell them what happened, and later still both golfers were disqualified under the rule for signing a wrong scorecard.

Now, this is a juicy story on several levels, not least because of golf’s reputation as a “gentleman’s game”—i.e., whereas in baseball or other sports a player has no duty to correct a referee or umpire’s call, in golf the player has a positive duty to uphold the rules. That duty isn’t because, or not just because, of golf’s snobbishness relative to other games—it’s mostly due to the necessity when conducting a tournament over several hundred acres where a referee can’t possibly be everywhere at once. It’s up to the players themselves, in other words, to “protect the field,” since cheating on even the smallest scale would destroy the sport, because opportunities for cheating are so pervasive and the risk of getting caught is, for the most part, ridiculously low.

The more explosive angle to Smich’s story, however, is that it confirms his allegations that Korean players do not have the same ethos against cheating as other golfers. “All this time, I’ve been detailing cheating by the Koreans,” Smich says. A lot of other commentators have, or all but have, called Smich a racist for his allegations: Stephanie Wie, who writes a blog called Wei Under Par and also has written for national magazines and (and who, incidentally, played golf for Yale) says for instance she has “read his blog on occasion and have found some comments offensive and bigoted.” After searching his blog for those comments, I have to say I’ve come up empty—offensive, maybe, but not bigoted, I don’t think. Clearly Smich has an issue with Korean players. But I don’t think that issue is what Wei says it is.

The issue, as Smich sees it, has to do with how Korean players have treated their caddies. The Korean track record, Smich says elsewhere in his blog, is one of “abrupt firings and false promises.” But according to him this is unrelated; the Koreans, Smich maintains, have a habit of cheating. To this point, he does detail a couple of instances of Korean cheating, some examples of which are absolutely beyond the pale, deliberate cheating and not mistaken interpretations of the rules—like the “helpful” father who dropped a matching golf ball when his daughter couldn’t find hers, an act only discovered when the daughter’s original ball was found. But after reading his posts I wonder whether the issue of the Korean golfers (if they should be thought of as a collective at all) perhaps isn’t a cultural issue but rather a class issue. What might be disguising itself as racism might actually be a labor dispute.

And that is what makes The Great Gatsby interesting, says a recent book by a Fitzgerald scholar and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Walter Benn Michaels, who has previously held chairs at Johns Hopkins and the University of California at Berkeley. “The rich are different from you and me,” Fitzgerald once said to Ernest Hemingway in a celebrated remark. “Yes,” Hemingway even more famously replied; “they have more money.” It was, as much as anything else, Hemingway later wrote, just what “wrecked” Fitzgerald: the thought that the rich were “a special glamorous race.” Fitzgerald’s mix-up between race and money is just what interests Michaels.

The story of The Great Gatsby is about a man who somehow—probably illegally or, if you like, by cheating—gets rich enough to pursue the object of his dreams, a woman named Daisy Buchanan. But the novel isn’t a success story: Gatsby, in the end, fails. As Michaels says, “Gatsby is not really about someone who makes a lot of money; it is instead about someone who tries and fails to change who he is.” No matter how much he makes, in other words, Jimmy Gatz can’t really become Jay Gatsby:

If, in the end, Daisy Buchanan is very different from Jimmy Gatz, it’s not because she’s rich and he isn’t (by the end, he is) but because Fitzgerald treats them as if they really do belong to different races, as if poor boys who made a lot of money were only “passing” as rich.

“Passing,” in short, in the same way that light-skinned black people “passed” as white—Gatsby thereby gives “us a vision of our society divided into races rather than into economic classes.” And what Michaels wants to argue is that this is an operation that’s pretty widespread, and also very convenient.

In the book where he mentions all this, The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, Michaels argues that the strategy of Gatsby is in fact the one we live under now: we disguise class differences as cultural ones. In a world where wages have basically remained the same since about 1973, and inequality is growing more and more rapidly, and social mobility is now greater in what used to be called “Old Europe” than it is in the land of opportunity—and if you doubt me, read those radical publications The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times—“the intellectual left,” Michaels says, “has responded to the increase in economic inequality by insisting on the importance of cultural identity.” If you want to get a hearing in America about any of this, in other words, you have to put in terms of a “culture of poverty” or the like. You can’t say, like Hemingway, that the rich have more money.

That’s what’s so interesting about the response to Smich—though what he’s talking about is clearly an economic problem, one way of dismissing his claims is to call him a “racist.” And one reason why it’s easy to do so is that his own thinking about the matter is so much inflected by race, or culture, or whatever term you wish to describe it. After all, the motives of the Korean players, if they are in fact cheating, must ultimately be economic—surely they aren’t cheating in order to avenge their grandparents’ honor or something. Just the same way, it may be—I don’t know this—that Smich is inclined to pay especial attention to Koreans because of their employment practices. Either way, however, the key to the matter is an economic one, not a cultural one—yet that difference is precisely the one that can’t be spoken about.

And maybe that furnishes a key to thinking about larger issues than golf: in America today, maybe that’s a way to understand the appeal of groups like the Tea Partiers and the like. Clearly these people are angry and scared—and at one time that anger and fright might have gotten channeled into the policies of an economic radicalism, like that of the New Deal. But today, Michaels wants to say, those channels are blocked by an intellectual class (and a Democratic Party) that would rather talk about “diversity” than pay-raises, about “culture” than about poverty, and about “difference” than equality. In practice, after all, “diversity hiring” and the like really does mean something like allowing rich African-Americans and other rich Americans to be more like other rich Americans, while essentially leaving the lot of—well, basically the other 90% of the nation—unchanged.

What Michaels wants to say, in short, is that you’d think that, like golfers, the American left would recognize some difference between playing with your friends and playing competitively—between playing for fun and playing for keeps. What constitutes “debate” in America today is just amateur golf—playing around with which rich guy (0r gal) gets what. “Winter rules,” you might say. Huey Long, the Senator from Louisiana, once proposed a law that would have made it illegal for anyone to make over one million dollars a year, or inherit more than five. Maybe we need some people who want to play with the ball down, bad lies or no. Walter Benn Michaels thinks so.


Reports That Davis Love Is Brain-Dead May Not Be Greatly Exaggerated

After waiting the century Mark Twain directed his publishers to wait, his autobiography has finally come out. That has little to do with golf, I suppose, until I tell you I had Twain in mind perusing the latest news about the PGA Tour. That news has concerned the tour’s push for a series of “designated tournaments” that would require some number of appearances from the top players, with the idea of supporting those tournaments—like, for instance, whatever they’re calling the Greater Milwaukee Open now—that have in effect become second-class citizens of the Tour because, for whatever reason (scheduling conflicts, etc.), the top players no longer, or never did, come to play. The LPGA already has a similar policy—but despite being publicly supported by a number of players, including ones on the tour’s policy board, it has been allowed to die a quiet death. The only player, so far as I know, to speak on the record about why is Davis Love III, noted major-winning golfer and, as profiles of him always seem to mention, “Southern gentleman.”

According to Love, reports CBS golf reporter Steve Elling, the problem “is that tournaments under discussion for inclusion as designees had expressed reservations about being cast as failures of a sort.” “‘It sounds great,’” Love told Elling, “‘unless you are one of those tournaments, then it becomes, ‘We have Phil Mickelson, but they made him play.’ I think that almost makes it worse.” This last sentence is, I think, difficult to understand: I can’t say for sure to what the words “almost,” “it,” and “worse” refer.

By “it,” I can only suppose Love means the “stigma” of being a tournament that Tiger et al do not play. But surely anyone can tell which tournaments Tiger does or does not play just by looking at any listing of who is playing. I don’t think it’s any secret that Tiger is probably not going to play the Greater Greensboro Open, whereas Davis Love’s remarks seem to say that this could somehow be kept secret, that somehow nobody would know Tiger wasn’t going to show up that week until they were actually on the grounds.

“Worse” seems to refer to a notion that actually doing something about the de facto split between A-list and B-list tournaments would be counterproductive—taking action, to Love’s mind, would increase, not decrease, the damage. He doesn’t, however, appear quite sure about that—hence the word “almost.” But that’s the way he wants to bet.

Still, why does Love believe that inaction is better than action? His motivation, so far as I can say, has entirely to do with some concept of honor or face or the like: by admitting that some tournaments are not of the same quality as others, those tournaments would lose face. It’s just here that Davis Love’s remarks suggested Twain to me, because of Twain’s penetrating dissection of the Southern mind in Life on the Mississippi.

That mind, Twain says, has everything to do with what’s become known as a “culture of honor” that included dueling and, in the extremis, ambush. Twain cited the following incident as typical of the South, which he found in a local newspaper of the day:

One day last month, Professor Sharpe, of the Somerville, Tenn., Female College, ‘a quiet and gentlemanly man,’ was told that his brother-in-law, a Captain Burton, had threatened to kill him. Burton, it seems, had already killed one man and driven his knife into another.  The Professor armed himself with a double-barreled shot gun, started out in search of his brother-in-law, found him playing billiards in a saloon, and blew his brains out.

Seemingly an isolated incident, but already by 1880 there was study of the South’s violent culture done by a reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial, and in 1933, “the year the federal government first published homicide data for the entire country, the ten states with the highest murder rates were all Southern or border states that had been involved in the Confederacy,” as Pulitzer Prize-winner Fox Butterfield observed in his All God’s Children in 1995. And two researchers at the University of Michigan, Malcolm Gladwell tells us in his recent Outliers, were able to reproduce the same effect in students from the South attending the University of Michigan in the 1990s.

Davis Love’s position about the tour’s proposed new policy, now in limbo, has nothing to do with blood feuds or murder, of course. But his thinking about it, or so I would judge, has everything to do with a notion of “honor,” and that, I would submit, has everything to do with Love’s upbringing in Georgia. In the 19th century, Fox Butterfield observes, Southern juries “were readily prepared to entertain arguments that a defendant had … been provoked on a point of honor,” and so acts that would be considered criminal in other parts of the United States could have little or no consequence in the South. What Love is saying cannot be understood unless it be that the policy proposal is an insult to the “honor” of certain tournaments—as if golf tournaments were themselves a species of Southern gentleman.

As I’ve said though, Love’s position only makes sense if there were some way in which we didn’t know that there’s a difference between, say, the John Deere Classic (which used to be the Quad Cities Classic) and the U.S. Open. Surely the difference is readily apparent: who does Love think he’s fooling? It might be arguable that seeking to “flatten” those differences by requiring big-name players to play some of the lesser tournaments each year is misguided, because such differences are inevitable; what seems ridiculous, to me at any rate, is to argue against such an attempt because there aren’t any differences.

What might also be said about this whole matter is something about molehills and mountains, tempests and teapots, because after all it’s just a minor disagreement about how to make millionaires even richer. But there is, or so I suspect, something deeper at work here: something about appearances and reality. Davis Love is saying that we must maintain the pretense that all tournaments are equal when we all—including Davis Love—know that isn’t so. What Davis Love’s argument amounts to is that pretending that all tournaments are equal relieves us of the responsibility of actually doing anything that might make them actually more equal. It’s a kind of thought, I fancy that the more wizened of my readers might recognize, that’s been applied at other times and places. Is anyone, besides Davis Love, volunteering to move there?


Between Ports

“And what did he die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?”

“I think he died for me,” she answered.

—James Joyce. “The Dead” Dubliners 1914

We now are between the ports, as sailors say, of Thanksgiving and Christmas, that time of year that provides the setting for James Joyce’s “The Dead” and also Tiger Woods’ annual tournament at Sherwood near Los Angeles—the snow may be general all over Ireland, but never south of the San Gabriels. There is something perhaps unseemly about a golf tournament at this time of year, but it perhaps bears remembering that the Scots, the English and the Irish, who invented this little game, are also peoples peculiarly fascinated by the holiday. It’s in the little things, says Vincent from Pulp Fiction, that a culture is known; perhaps exploring why Christmas and golf should be two minor preoccupations of the cultures of the British Isles may also prove illuminating.

In any case, literature in English (not the same as English literature) is enwrapped by Christmas to a degree I think not seen in other languages—there is no French A Christmas Carol, or so I would wager. Joyce for instance chose the holiday as the setting for “The Dead,” one of the English language’s greatest short stories; there is no equivalent in other literatures of a great author like Dickens or Joyce taking Christmas as the setting for one of his best efforts. Even minor works of literature in English are influenced by the holiday; C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, first (and best) of The Chronicles of Narnia, concerns a land enchanted by the aforementioned witch, whose powers make it “always winter, but never Christmas.” That last I think furnishes a clue to the cultural fixation on Christmas by the English-speaking peoples.

That fascination, I’d say, is the memory of a political conflict, the English Revolution, or as some call it, the Civil War. The religious battles of the 16th and 17th centuries led to the rise of the Puritan movement, which sought to “get back to the text” of the Bible—which, as they saw it, contained no mention of Christmas, meaning that the pageantry that had grown up around the holiday was all of a piece with the incense and mysticism that characterized (in their view) the hated Catholic church. Oliver Cromwell, who would become the Lord Protector of England during the 1650s, enacted legislation in the 1640s to ban Christmas celebrations throughout the British Isles—Narnia, in other words, is a fantastic creation, but with its roots in a historical trauma.

The writers had particular reason to remember the event, because among the Puritans’ other legislation (including, significantly, acts banning gambling and other “sport”) was an act banning the performance of plays—an act, in other words, aimed directly at literature. The Irish, producers of most of the best of literature in English, had especial reason to remember the Puritans—the Long Parliament, in 1644, had passed a bill stating that “no quarter shall be given to any Irishman” in the battles of the Civil War, and Cromwell’s march through the country later in the decade led to the death of roughly a third of the island’s inhabitants. Christmas, Ireland, and the imagination are surreptitiously linked in the English language, by an underground river of history only occasionally discovered by traces at the surface.

Yet its traces can still be found; for instance, in the way that the Scots are still seen today. The stereotypical Scotsman is dour and miserly in the imagination of English speakers—which has very little to do with how the Scots actually are, in my experience anyway, and very much more to do with historical memory. What is the stereotypical Scot, if not Scrooge? It is not for nothing, so I think, that Disney calls one of their characters “Scrooge McDuck”—the “Mc” is there for a reason. And indeed, there is good reason for that Scottish connection.

It was in Scotland, after all, that the conflict that would eventually be called the English Civil War, or Revolution—some call all of the wars of this period part of the “Wars of the Three Kingdoms”—began, when the Scottish church resisted the religious policies of Charles I. The English side of the conflict was provoked when Charles needed money to pay for his armies to suppress Scotland—Parliament demanded some return on its investment in the form of an explicit statement of Parliamentary authority, which Charles refused. The Scots—or at least, some Scots, not including for instance the clans of the Highlands—were the most fanatical about such things as opposition to Christmas; the stereotype of the Scot, in short, is the trace of a historical memory of real events.

Yet if the Scots were, as a nation, opposed to Christmas, gambling, and sport, then how should golf come to become Scotland’s national game? Evidence of golf, however, can be found throughout the margins of the wars. Mary Queen of Scots—whose golfing son would become James IV of Scotland and James I of England, and whose grandson Charles I would be deposed by Parliament—was criticized by some Scots for frivolity (and a sign of her Catholicism) long before the conflict began, and golf’s shadow can be found all the way through to the life of the surgeon John Rattray, first winner of the Silver Club prize given by the Town of Edinburgh in 1744—and participant in the last attempt by Mary’s line to grasp the throne, the Rising of 1745, when the last of the free Highland clans went down at Culloden Moor. (Rattray would be spared the death penalty by the pleading of his golf buddy and political enemy Duncan Forbes, Scottish judge, supporter of the English crown—and owner of Culloden Moor.) Golf, it seems, united the Scots—it’s what made Forbes plead for Rattray’s life despite their opposition during the Rising, it’s what made both Mary and her son Scot despite the fact that one was Catholic and one Protestant.

Golf, in other words, is not mentioned in A Christmas Carol nor in Joyce, but it is there all the same, because the enemies of golf were also the enemies of Christmas (and literature), because the meaning of golf is the same as the meaning of Christmas—it is the sign of our escape from the everyday business of life, a means of uniting us when the battles of the world seem intent on dividing us. And so perhaps it is not so strange to be holding a golf tournament at this odd time of year, when for those of us in cold climates golf seems at best a distant mirage. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the coming of Christmas is followed rapidly by the coming of spring—that is, the time of year when we break out our clubs once again. The snow, to paraphrase Joyce, may fall faintly through the universe, but as those clubs in the corner and the coming of Christmas remind us, spring will follow for all the living and the dead.

The Jazz of Iwo Jima

“Do you like a 9 or a wedge,” my golfer asked me. We stood about 140 yards to the center of the green at the ninth hole of Chicago Highlands, facing downwind to a flag roughly towards the front. He was a good player; the yardage and the wind indicated that either of those clubs were possible. I pretended to think a moment—I’d already been rehearsing what to say—then replied, “I think it’s a 7.” My golfer looked back at me without saying anything for a moment, then said, “But we’re downwind.” “I know,” I said, “that’s why.” There was another silence.

It may be a bit late to jump on the bandwagon, but Golf Digest’s architecture editor, Ron Whitten, named Chicago Highland’s 9th the “Hole of the Year” for 2010. The title may not be the most euphonic, but the ninth is a golf hole—a “giant chocolate drop of a hole” according to Whitten—that has, to one degree or another, been an enigma to the golfers I’ve worked for this year. It’s a hole I’ve mentioned here, though only in passing, despite the fact that it has been the center of nearly every discussion provoked by the question (“what do you think of the course?”) that I try to ask every one of my golfers.

At most courses I’ve worked at, the better the golfer the more nearly the opinions tend to converge—an interesting phenomenon, that—but at the Highlands, and especially as concerns the 9th, opinions have both converged and yet spread during each conversation, particularly among the better players. Although many of the same points are raised, the golfers I’ve talked to have become less, rather than more, uncertain about their own minds when discussing the golf course. That’s unusual.

To those who don’t know it, the hole is this: the highest point on the golf course, surrounded on all sides by fairway—it’s not for nothing that, as Whitten says, the hole has been compared to Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, setting for the famous photograph of U.S. Marines raising the flag there. The only feature to the hole besides the hill is a small pot bunker about twenty yards directly in front of the green. The bunker is the single obstacle; there is no water, nor even any rough really. Naturally, it’s difficult to avoid looking at that bunker, the only bunker, from the tee.

Also naturally, the bunker—reminiscent, so far as I can tell, of the “D.A.” at Pine Valley’s 10th—is deep, so deep that merely escaping it requires effort. The green, only 20 yards away, is just as naturally unreachable for most—though I did see what may have been the first birdie by someone who’s tee shot found the bunker. Yet curiously, the bunker is for most purposes a smokescreen to the hole’s real challenges, which are more hidden and cerebral. And, in fact, have little to do with the tee shot, and the bunker’s devilish prominence for that tee shot, at all—a fact that makes the hole’s outward similarity to Mt. Suribachi a more-than-casual comparison.

The name of the John Wayne film that memorialized the Battle of Iwo Jima—The Sands of Iwo Jima—actually disguises the reality of the battle: the word “Sands” induces thoughts of beaches, so that one imagines the difficulty of the battle was merely landing on the island at all. The word “sands” conjures the nightmares of Omaha Beach on D-Day during the invasion of Normandy—but the strategy of the Japanese at Iwo Jima had nothing to do with stopping the invasion at the waterline. Instead, the Japanese depended on what military tacticians call “defense in-depth”; constructing a series of hidden tunnels and bombproof shelters, the Japanese proposed to draw the Americans into a meat-grinder that would delay the march towards Tokyo. The “sands” of Iwo Jima, that is, were a mirage: the danger lay not at the high-tide mark on the beach but hidden beyond it. What looked, to the Americans, like a relatively simple conquest once a few speed-bumps were driven over, would become ever-more consuming …

In the same way, the “beach” on the ninth is also a mirage: the real problem posed by the design has to do with the green, which is tiny and extremely bumpy, with little dips and hollows scattered about. The question the golfer has to ask is, do you come at the green low, or high? In other words, do you try to land a high, spinning shot directly on top of the pin—with the risk that a spinning shot might come all the way back down the slope? Or do you try to hop the ball in front of the green, hoping that it comes to rest somewhere close to the pin—with the risk that the ball may not stop, may just keep rolling right off the green down the slope on the other side?

I’ve guessed wrong as often as I’ve been right about what shot to play—every shot is different, I suppose, depending as it does not only on the conditions (particularly the wind) but also on the golfer—but the real point of interest to me is that there is a difference at all. That is, most times for approach shots the difference is a comparatively trivial question of which iron to play (9-iron or 8-iron?), while the approach to the ninth actually demands that the golfer think of what shot to play, only then leading to the question of which club. That is a kind of thinking that, I’d say, most golfers in America have never really faced in their entire careers.

Almost all approach shots on American golf courses, in other words, ask for precisely the same thing: usually a high-flying ball that lands and stops somewhere near the pin. Asking for something else, then, often will send American golfers into a kind of catatonia or paralysis; the low-running shot is just simply not in their bags. A number of times, while looping the ninth, I’ve mentioned the possibility of trying to run a shot into the green and been met with blank stares, or even outright dismissal, because the golfer cannot comprehend what it is that I’m saying.

Even good golfers can be capable of this, which is perhaps why a number of very solid players I’ve worked for have been disparaging of the ninth. Some of them have called the hole an example of “goofy golf,” a term that has come into vogue as a means of rejecting different forms of architecture. But some, after denigrating the hole, have also come—after some discussion, at times—to find some merit in the hole. Perhaps, after thinking about it, they come to realize that the initial way they played the hole was not the only way to play it; that, if they had played it some other way, they might have had some success. And that, for some golfers, is unusual: good golfers, after all, have found some means of being successful most of the time; for a hole to cause them to re-evaluate not their execution but their strategy is something rare.

“As one who has steadfastly insisted he’d seen it all in golf design, I humbly beg for a mulligan,” says Whitten. He is, I would say, paying tribute to that aspect of the ninth, something that’s exceedingly rare in golf. “There is no hip-hop, rap, or even jazz in golf architecture; it’s all Stephen Foster and John Phillips Sousa,” as Whitten has complained elsewhere. In other words, most golf architecture is merely the slavish imitation of the past: the “Redan” hole, the “Cape” hole, the “Biarritz” green; all holes first designed nearly a century or more ago. That isn’t to say that such holes are bad, of course—there’s a reason they’ve been copied, which incidentally is mostly because those styles of holes offer a choice in how to play them—but Whitten’s point is that there is very little in the way of new thinking in golf architecture.

The ninth, I think, offers a way around that. Driven by equipment changes, the setups on Tour and elsewhere have worked towards narrower fairways to offset the tremendous jump in driving distances: the ninth has one of the widest fairways I’ve ever seen. Driving distances have increased so much that classic courses are constantly pushing back their tee boxes: the ninth plays under 300 yards most days. The USGA and the R & A have worked to limit the amount of spin pros can get from their wedges: a spinning wedge shot to the ninth leads almost inevitably to a ball that drops off the front edge of the green. Maybe, I’d suggest, the ninth isn’t “goofy golf” at all; maybe it is, instead, “golfy golf.” Or, maybe, just golf.

My golfer, in the end, hit a low eight-iron that landed in the front of the green—and rolled to the back, a long way from the hole. He ended up three-putting for bogey; not a particular surprise on a green so dominated by rolls and mounds. But on the other hand, as he said later, at least he didn’t double—a speed-bump, not a quagmire.