Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Kirk Theory

Although the Kirk Theory is named after no single golfer the theory was proposed by a renegade friend of mine. This rogue is a good golfer. He could be even better but in my entire life I have never seen any other golfer miss so many putts by such a small margin. I’ve tried to tally up misses according to side of the hole, time of the day and phases of the moon but no clear pattern has emerged. The flat stick of choice has a new grip, it is in good working order and balls are spherical in nature so a clear identification of the problem is not easy.

One theory put forward by the man himself is that in conjunction with being cursed, when each new hole is cut expanding earth rides the cup and as each player collects their ball, their feet press down near the cup therefore creating a mounding affect a phenomenon also known as Cardinelli Creep.

Over the course of a day this effect is amplified to the point where a mound is created. Although this mound is slight in nature it is substantial enough that for the cursed golfer it has the power to cause putts to drift past the hole.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Charm

One of the reasons I play golf and one of the reasons I play as many courses as possible is that no two courses are the same. Each course has its own feel and unique identity. The charm of courses most often lies in the way each course reflects the specific history, character and physical environment of the local area.

Recently I played at Tarras Golf Club, a Central Otago course that must be about as unique as they come. A course that many people pass, but few ever get to play. The Tarras Golf Club is located 15 minutes from Cromwell, 20 minutes from Wanaka and is possibly the country’s most inland course.

A serious test for any golfer, the nine-hole course at Tarras has charm to burn.

Intrinsic Information.

18 holes – Par 72 - 5445 meters.
$15 green fees to be paid into an honesty box behind the first tee.
The opening and closing of 34 gates.
Advanced green protection.
Organic fertilizer.
36 merino sheep ( seasonally adjusted ).
6 water race crossings.
Sweeping views to the St Bathans, Pisa and Dunstan Ranges.
4 crossings of State Highway 8.
Tee markers made from recycled clubs.
Upward of 30 vineyards within a half hour drive.

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Tape

Some Pro’s and most golfers I play with are familiar with my disdain for technology in the game. The endless river of new drivers, hybrids and putters increases my contempt with every new suffix that is released. If you believe the seductive renders and magical arrows, each new ball travels further, flies straighter and spins more than the orb that came before it.

There is no doubt that technology has changed the game. Courses are longer, low irons are facing extinction and golf is a little more forgiving for the beginner.

Players like Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson who have been on the PGA Tour since 1990 are hitting drives between 10-15% further than they where at the beginning of their careers.  

My Luddite splinter group isn’t planning the violent destruction of Pro Shops around the world so for people taking up the game I usually reach for my golfing clichés. Drive for show and putt for dough, practice makes perfect and 50% of shots are within 50m of the pin.

With all this in mind I was curious what impact technology was having on my distance game so I subjected a broad collection of balls to different drivers and recorded the results. All distances are averages over 5 drives.

Hickory ‘Spoon’ Driver – 1910
120m Featherie (St Andrew’s replica) – 1618+
135m Bramble (gutta percha replica) 1850+
150m Bramble Vardon Flyer (gutta percha replica) 1900
180m Mesh Pattern Lattice Ball (rubber core) - 1910
188m Hot Dot - 1980
170m Srixon Range Ball - 2010
195m Titleist Pro-V 1 - 2013

PGF Status Persimmon 1 Wood – 1975
200m Mesh Pattern Lattice Ball (rubber core) - 1910
180m Hot Dot - 1980
192m Srixon Range Ball - 2010
218m Titleist Pro-V 1 - 2013

Callaway Biggest Bertha - 1995
218m Mesh Pattern Lattice Ball (rubber core) -1910
199m Hot Dot - 1980
202m Srixon Range Ball - 2010
240m Titleist Pro-V 1 – 2013 

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Bomb

The Bomb - the hole in one. I’ve never had one. I’ve hit the pin, stopped on the lip and rolled round the rim. In my golfing life I have only ever been witness to this remarkable event a single time, costing me a hole in the first round of the club champs.

I keep a board at home where I mark down a single line for every par 3 I have ever played. At last count I have played just over 2700 par 3s in my life.

I know many golfers, some excellent golfers who have played their whole life and never dropped a bomb. And I know many other golfers who have hit the perfect shot on more than one occasion.

I’ve read varying accounts on the odds of dropping a bomb. Companies that provide ‘hole in one’ insurance have a vested interest in the statistical information of these odds.

Most studies show that the average golfer has a 12,000 to 1 chance of scoring an ace. This drops to 5,000 to 1 for a low handicapper and about 2,500 to 1 for a tour professional.

Although unromantic it does make for interesting reading and I now know that I have only 2300 statistical par 3s to play.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Sticks

I have no idea what started my interest in hickory golf clubs. It may have been Allan McKay’s display of antique clubs in the Millbrook Pro Shop. It may have been the purist in me trying to resist modern technology. But what started as a growing interest soon became an unhealthy obsession.  Turning my back on a lifetime best handicap of 3, I decided to see if I could match my current scores hickory clubs.

There is an entire subculture of golfers who play with hickory clubs. The Society for Hickory Golfers has regional playing groups in Canada, the U.S.A, Europe and Australia. Although I haven’t come across any tournaments in New Zealand last year an Australian won the U.S Hickory Open.

Tournaments and goose feather balls I was getting ahead of myself. First of all where to find some clubs. Initial investigations were spectacularly fruitless. And after equally disappointing results collecting clubs from local garage sales and classifieds I momentarily reverted back to modern technology and the Internet.

My next obstacle was the price. What do you pay for a 100 year old club that might come apart on impact. Someone on Trademe was trying to sell an old set covered in rust for $5,000. The good news for me was that most other people out there don’t seem to know what these clubs are worth either. However after being constantly outbid by collectors and antique dealers I panicked.

I picked up a ‘mashie’ for $75 and a ‘spoon’ driver for $100. Both clubs ready for use. However I couldn’t keep this up so I waited for the bargains and held my breath. To my bank accounts relief they were out there. 4 clubs for $15 dollars and 6 for $60 including an old leather bag. Unfortunately one auction of 20 clubs in Christchurch I had to leave as the price crossed over the $200 mark.

As the weeks rolled by, hickory clubs, in varying states of disrepair began unearthing themselves. Clubs turned up at my front door from Clinton to Clifden. Now would be the right time to open up Google Maps. From Oamaru, Omarama, Invercargill and Whangarei the “sticks” rolled in. I even got lucky with a donation of clubs from Arrowtown Golf Club member Allan Perry who was leaving the club to retire back in Fielding

After long and labour intensive efforts in the garage cleaning rust off the heads and rewinding loose pitch string I decided that unless I could use the clubs as they turned up they would have to be made game worthy by Allan Mckay out at Millbrook.

After a few weeks I got the call. With polished club heads, some new grips and finishing oil they looked so good I couldn’t believe they were the same clubs I had handed over.

Pulling out hickory sticks in front of golfers is not great for your ego. Although most golfers enjoyed having a look at the clubs and having a practice swing I got the feeling that no one thought I actually intended on reverting back to antiques.

Mild mockery about my decision to start playing with hickory clubs was not going to be aided by dressing myself with plus fours and a tie. Donning a rather conventional but appropriate outfit my day of reckoning was here. With clubs assembled and Voltaren ingested Royal Arrowtown awaited.

The Course: Arrowtown Golf Club
Distance: 5409
Par: 70
Challenge: 80 or less

Not a long course by any standards Royal Arrowtown has some teeth. Random rocks, postage stamp greens, contours to seduce your ball away and 14 holes with out of bounds. On top of the course demons I was using clubs 1-3 inches shorter than my PGF Status blades. Although my regular clubs are older than I am most of my new hickory sticks predate World War 1.

The weight of the clubs felt the same, the grips were certainly thinner and the club heads noticeably smaller. Despite all this as I stood on the first tee looking down toward the first green all I could think about was that my 120 year old weapon of choice might shatter in my face. As I started my backswing I closed my eyes and hoped for the best.

I didn’t quite hit the sweet spot but a loopy draw drifted down toward the green. Landing short it rolled down the hill and rested just short of the green. This left a running chip and a short putt for par. First hole complete. No damage done.

Onto the Par 5 2nd hole and now the real test. A wooden wood in every respect. Although I have only been reluctantly using a metal driver for 2 years, the ‘spoon’ I now held in my hands seemed to be like an obscure distant relative to even my old persimmon woods . With a hickory shaft and thin frictionless leather grip almost no thicker than the shaft, 80 now seemed a long way off.

Expecting the club to fly out of my hand, I swung slowly, without expectations. To my delight a deep resonant tap preceded a lazy draw that bounded off down the gully and came to rest adjacent to the rocky knoll. About 20m shorter that what I was used to but on the fairway, front and centre. Technology be damned . Although I thinned my next shot I was on the green for 3. Parking my birdie putt beside the hole I tapped in for par.

Playing par golf on a sunny day at Arrowtown is like strolling through gardens in heaven but unfortunately as all golfers know that feeling never lasts. Grubbing my tee shot on the 3rd I was abruptly brought back down to earth. Watching my third shot miss the green and bounce off down below I began to feel like one of the damned from Dante’s Inferno. Destined to forever wander the golfing underworld with my sticks.

Hanging on for bogey was relieving and after avoiding the Valley of Sin on the 4th I took out what could only be described as heavy fish slice on the end of a stick. Landing 2 feet from the hole I was not going to let my birdie turn into a par. However having used only two putters in my entire life my new putting cleek didn’t feel entirely comfortable within my grasp.

Golfers have a language of their own and lining up that short downhill breaking putt all I could hear was Todd Quirk, “100% of short putts never go in”. Through the break in the hole and back to even. Par on the topographical 5th was followed by a certain inevitability on the short but demonic par3 6th. Dressed with a ratty black cloak, sickle in hand I could feel it stalking me this round. A double bogey.
As I walked over to the dramatic 7th hole I knew that 2 over at this point was ok and I had a couple of short holes ahead of me. Things were looking good. Par and bogey on the next two holes left me in a good frame of mind as I started my walk up to the 9th hole tee box.

Although most holes at Arrowtown offer spectacular views the vantage point from the 9th tee box is surely the best. So great is the view that when one day my heart gives out scaling its heights my ashes will be thrown toward the sun from the top.Gazing down over the entire course one is distracted from the upcoming tee shot. At times it feels like your standing on a mountain top trying to drop a tiny ball on an impossibly narrow patch of grass below.However my new favourite club was ready to deliver. The “spoon” once again hit the spot. Although my second came up a little short and I ended up with bogey a pleasing front nine of 39 left me optimistic of a sub 80 round that would be celebrated with a ridiculously expensive bottle of red wine.
Like any course Arrowtown has its stretch of tough holes. But for Arrowtown golfers the simple of act of crossing the road to the river side back nine can have destructive and irreversible consequences for one’s round.

Although it felt like I was hitting good shots, reaching greens in regulation started to become infrequent and frustratingly tough. Unsure of each clubs potential I started coming up short. 4 bogies in a row and my sub 80 round was heading for the hills.

After tapping in for par at the par3 14th I composed myself for the final 4 holes.
Bogey, bogey, bogey for the nest three holes and my dream was over, the wine was heading back to the cellar and I just saved myself $200.

The 18th at Arrowtown is a great finishing hole. With an elevated tee box one can see the rolling undulations, rocks formations and water hazard. Usually there are 2 options off the tee, simple risk and reward. Option 1 lay up short and leave yourself 140-160m to the green. Option 2 take on the rocky hill and lake leaving yourself a pitch into the green.

Without the distance off the tee I had to put the “spoon” in the bag and take out a “mashie”. Using the “mashie” again for my second I came up short of the green. As my 80th shot pitched on the green, rolled past then away and even further away from the hole I had no choice but to settle for yet another bogey.
I knew full well what my score was. 82. As I counted my score one last time I headed back across the road toward the clubhouse. Like many rounds I didn’t know if I was happy or upset with my score. There was definitely hope of a score below 80 but with 100 year old untested clubs maybe 80 was a little hopeful for my first round.

With all my clubs intact and reason to be hopeful the polishing of my old sticks will continue, the mockery will continue and I will be back chasing  the perfect round.