Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gas Buddy

I just added a link on the right side, see over there? --->

It's a web site that you can use, and there's an app for your smartphone, that tells you the prices of gas wherever you are, or where you're going.  We use it all the time, and save anywhere from 5-20 cents per gallon.  Which adds up quickly, the way we travel.

The prices come from the users.  If you see one that is not listed, or has changed, you can put in the current price.  You get points for reporting prices, and some number of points buys you an entry into a drawing for free gas.  Which would be nice, but you've already won by using the app and not overpaying.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Judging a golf course

We recently visited the World Golf Hall of Fame, which is just as much an enjoyable and impressive outing to a golfer as is the baseball HOF to a baseball fan, or the Rock and Roll HOF to a fan of that musical era.  It's worthy of the bucket list.

One of the enshrinees is Alister MacKenzie, a surgeon turned soldier (camouflage expert) turned golf course architect, who designed an impressive number of highly-rated courses in the UK, and later in the US, including Augusta National and Spyglass Hill.  He wrote a book on golf course architecture, in which he listed 13 attributes of good course design:

1: Two loops of nine.
2: A large proportion of good two shot holes, two or three drive and pitch holes and at least four one shotters (par 3s)
3: Little walking between greens and tees with a slight walk forward from the green to the next tee to allow for additional length if needed in the future.
4: Undulating fairways and greens but no hill climbing.
5: Every hole possessing a different character.
6: A minimum of blindness for approach shots.
7: Beautiful surroundings with all artifical features appearing to be natural.
8: Sufficient heroic carries from the tee but with holes planned to provide alternative routes for the weaker player who is prepared to give up a shot or portion of one to avoid a hazard.  
9: An infinite variety in the strokes so that the use of every club is required.
10: An absence of the need to look for lost balls.
11: A course so interesting that both low and high handicappers are stimulated to improve their games by attempting shots they have hiterto been unable to play.
12: A course arranged so that the high handicapper or even beginner should enjoy their round regardless of their score.
13: A course equally good over the entire playing season with the texture of greens, approaches and fairways perfect.

Some of my thoughts on them:

1.  Two loops:  Not too important, except for 9-holers walking.  Some great courses, such as St Andrews, have an outward nine and inward nine, not loops.
2.  2-3 short par 4's.  (Everyone has 4 par 3's, sometimes more.)  A good feature emulated by Palmer and Nicklaus in their designs.
3.  Designed for walking I:  Short walk from green to tee.  Still good, but in the age of motorized carts, not so important.  
4.  Designed for walking II:  No big uphill climbs.  OK, but I like the big downhill shots.  Climbing uphill between holes is sort of required in order to have big downhill shots, and, again, with carts is OK.
5.  Every hole different.  A hallmark of excellent design, rarely achieved.
6.  No blind shots.
7.  Scenic.
8.  Difficult tee shots, but for good players only.
9.  Use every club.
10. No searching for lost balls.  I'm not sure what to make of this.  Tallwood did a good job of clearing out the underbrush in the woods, so that the ball could often be easily found.  Some courses define "environmentally sensitive areas" where it is not allowed to search for a ball.  That's somewhat artificial.  Others mark the woods as a hazard, so that the penalty is not so severe, or have a local "desert rule" treating anything off the grass as a hazard.  These are good ideas.  It would be a shame, though, to burn off all the heather in the UK and Ireland.
11.  Requires creative shots.
12.  Fun to play, even if you score badly.  Maybe even especially if you score badly.
13.  Good conditions all playing season, "perfect" fairways and greens.

Besides the course design, some other things influence the experience:

14.  Nice clubhouse, pro shop, and restaurant.
15.  Friendly staff.
16.  Pace of play, enforced by player assistants.
17.  On-course beverage service.
18.  Value for money.

I'll stop at 18.  It is golf, after all.  And so is my scoring system.  Each item is assigned a par value, and the course is rated relative to par:  double eagle (for world class), eagle, birdie, par, bogie, etc.

Hole (factor)     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Par                    3   4   3   3   5   4   5   4   5    4   5   5   4   3   4   4   3   4    72

Like golf, you can gain a few strokes by doing a few things very well, and you can lose a whole bunch by screwing one thing up very badly.  Even though pace of play is a par 4, you can make a 12 on it if it takes 6 hours, and your better-than-average score of 70 can become a cut-missing 78.


1.  (Two loops of 9, Par 3)  Automatic par.  (Nicklaus says always start with an easy hole.)
2.  (2-3 short par 4's, Par 4.)  Birdie: 2-3 holes.  Par:  1 hole.  Bogey:  0 or 4  Double bogey:  more than 4.
3.  (Short walk from green to tee, par 3)  Birdie:  all tees close to greens  Bogey:  long walks through housing subdivisions
4.  (No big uphill climbs, par 3)  Birdie:  Hills, but not >1 tough uphill shot  Bogey:  Lots of up and down walking between shots.
5.  (Every hole different, par 5)  Eagle:  each one truly unique  Par:  many similarities  Double Bogey:  up and back par 4's, no character.
6.  (No blind shots, Par 4)  Par:  no blind shots to greens.  Bogey:  1-2 blind tee shots, with aiming sticks. Double Bogey:  >2, or no aiming sticks
7.  (Scenic, Par 5)  Eagle:  Beautiful, natural surroundings, stunning views  Birdie: course blends with nature.  Par: no houses, roads, power lines.  Bogey:  carved from asphalt surroundings
8.  (Difficult tee shots, Par 4)  Birdie:  Some long forced carries from back tees.  Par:  Any shot will work.  
9.  (Use every club, Par 5)  Eagle:  used 14 clubs.  Birdie:  12-13 clubs used.  Par:  10-11 Bogey:  <10
10.  (No searching for lost balls, Par 4)  Birdie:  really bad shots are unretrievable, everything else is easily findable.  Par:  bad shots can be readily found, or are known to be lost in a hazard.  Bogey:  average shots can be lost in knee-deep grass, desert, or leaves near the fairway.
11.   (Requires creative shots, Par 5)  Eagle:  several holes demand a fade or draw in order to reach the green in regulation.  Chipping areas around elevated greens.  Birdie:  1-2 holes demand such shots.  Par:  choices when chipping.  Bogey:  Can hit your normal shot every time.
12.  (Fun to play, Par 5)  Eagle:  shot 100 and loved it.  Birdie:  shot 90 and loved it.  Par:  Had a good time.  Bogey:  Broke 80, but it wasn't fun
13.  (Good conditions, Par 4)  Birdie:  "drains well", pristine greens.  Par:  no burned-out or drowned greens.  Bogey:  Some brown patches under harsher conditions.  Double Bogey:  brown patches are permanent and seem to be growing
14.  (Nice clubhouse, Par 3)  Birdie:  Country club conditions.  Par:  Has what you need.  Bogey:  No Coke, Pepsi.  Double Bogey:  Pro shop is in the trailer  
15.  (Friendly staff, Par 4)  Birdie:  Polite, prompt service, make conversation with genuine interest.  Par:  There when you need them.  Bogey:  What staff?
16.  (Pace of play, Par 4)  Birdie:  Played at my own pace, no waiting.  Par:  <4.25 hours.  Bogey: 4.25-4.75 hours.  No limit to extra strokes. 
17.  (On-course beverage service, Par 3)  Birdie:  4 contacts during the round  Par:  1-3 contacts.  Bogey:  What beverage cart?
18.  (Value for money, Par 4)  Birdie:  I'll be back tomorrow.  Par:  I'll be back.  Bogey:  What the heck, it's once in a lifetime.  Double bogey:  If it were free, it would be too much.  

I'll use these criteria in my course reviews, and see how it works out.  Of course, anyone can use their own criteria and values for birdie, par, etc., but it might be helpful to review readers to have a structure like this, and more golf-like than 5 stars.  Suggestions are welcome, it's still under development.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Players Championship

is this weekend at TPC Sawgrass.  We're heading that way on Wednesday, hoping to get to play the course, and its infamous 17th hole, with the island green.  If you don't play or watch golf, this may be the only hole you recognize.  Golf channel did a piece on the 17th hole this morning.  Brad Faxon said that Pete Dye, the designer of the course, is "the Stephen King" of golf course architecture.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Windswept Dunes

While visiting with Vicki's daughter Jennie and granddaughter Bonnie in Florida, we stayed at an RVGolf RV park, Live Oak Landing, in Freeport, FL, and played Windswept Dunes.  The course was designed and built by golf course builder "Dozer Doug" O'Rourke.  He's built 22 other courses, mostly in Michigan, but this is apparently his first and only design effort.  It was named one of the 10 best new courses in 2004 by Golf Magazine.

It's the longest course in the Florida panhandle, at 7752 yards from the tips.  I played at 6533, which is a little bit too far for my game, but I wasn't ready to step down to the next set of tees at 5851.  I still have some pride left.

It was a little foggy early in the morning,

but after it burned off the weather was perfect.

I had 4 double bogies in the first 5 holes, which I attribute to the excessive length - I hit a lot of 3-wood layup second shots on the par 4s - the recently aerated and oversanded greens (I mean too much sand, not just putting sand over them), not playing enough, and incorporating a few tweaks to my swing, from the tips I get on the internet, which gave me a few more swing thoughts to keep in mind.

There was a bit of casual water on some of the holes, due to the recent heavy rains.

The 7th hole was being pumped out, and played from temporary tees in the fairway, but otherwise there was only minimal interference.  I verified with the pro that if you hit your ball into casual water and can't retrieve it or even find it, it's still a free drop, not a lost ball.  That only happened once.

This is not a walkable course, even though it is flat.  The brochure says it "meanders through 750 acres" - about 160 acres is plenty to hold a normal golf course, if that's all that's on it.  It's in the midst of a housing development, but the houses are not visible from the golf course.  You only see them on the 1/2-mile drives from green to tee, as you cross the roads.  I played in 3 hours, only saw the guy in front of us on 1 and 18, but I estimate it would take more than 4 hours just to walk this course, without stopping to hit any shots.

The fairways are wide, with large sandy waste areas, and plenty of bunkers.

The greens are large, with considerable slope and multiple levels.

I imagine the course could be quite difficult when the wind is sweeping the dunes, and the greens are fast.  Neither was the case today.  Except for a couple of 3-putts on the back nine, I coulda shot 39.  And except for missing a 12-footer and a 10-footer for birdie, it coulda been 37.

We saw some wildlife

but no alligators.  They say it's too cold for them, still.

And a bird that could be on The Voice

More pictures.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A new kind of 19th hole - and a solution to slow play

I got this email because I signed up for news about Gaylord, Michigan, a sort of golf mecca in that part of the country:

Black Bear’s 19th hole... for settling bets or warming up.
When most people think about the 19 hole, they think about what their favorite cocktail might be when celebrating a win or a great round, but at Black Bear Golf Club near Gaylord, the 19 hole means one more swing and a few more “shots”, no pun intended.
Whether it’s for warming up, or settling a bet, the 19 hole is becoming a popular addition for golf courses. At Black Bear, check in, warm up with some range balls, and on the way to the first tee you can have the option to warm up before you play, or save it until the end. The 159-yard par 3 warm up hole is a very fun and playable hole featuring an undulating green complex protected by two bunkers on each side. An opening in front of the green allows for run up shots making it fun for all levels of play.
Black Bear’s 19 hole for settling bets or warming up is not alone in golf. Other top rated courses around the country like The Dunes in Myrtle Beach, Streamsong Resort in Florida, and nearby at Forest Dunes Golf Club in Northern Michigan, also include their own game-ending one shot wonders.
Black Bear Golf Club, located just north of Gaylord, offers some of the most diversified terrain in the state by combining Scottish links style holes with traditional tree lined Northern Michigan hardwood holes. Black Bear features wide playable fairways, large green complexes, along with strategic bunkering making it a fun challenge for all levels of golfers. Visit

The 19th hole, an extra par 3, is the infrastructure part of my slow play solution.  The expensive part.  The rest is relatively easy.

The gist of it is that whenever a slow group comes to a par 3 and the group ahead of them has already finished the hole and is teeing off (or has teed off) on the next hole, they skip that par 3 and go directly to the next tee.  Then, after they play the 18th hole, they play the 19th in place of the one they skipped.

The rule should be written on the scorecard, so that it can be enforced by someone in the group, or someone in the group behind the slow group, but a ranger or GPS and messaging technology can also be used.  Until it becomes commonplace, it should also be mentioned in the Pro Shop when greens fees are collected.  It should not be a surprise to anyone.  There would need to be some provision for timing as well, in case a slow group has nobody in front of them.  Obviously, if the slow group in front of you has suddenly disappeared at a par 3, they have skipped it and you should not.  The 19th hole needs lots of teeing grounds, so that it can be a good substitute for any of the other par 3's on the course.  And groups playing the 19th as a make-up hole should have priority over those playing a warm-up or extra hole.

Maybe the only thing more frustrating than constantly waiting for the group in front of you is constantly rushing to try to make up for slow play in your own foursome.  Playing through can work for a twosome or threesome behind a foursome that is out of position, but otherwise is cumbersome and often ineffective, simply shifting the wait from one group to another while not speeding up play overall.  Skipping par 3's, and playing them later,  allows 5-hour golfers to play at their own pace without holding up the 4-hour golfers.