Chapter 1

 
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1     THE GHOST

 

It was a huge photo. They saw it every day in the basement, their primary playground in flyover country with harsh weather. Not many other places had tornadoes, ice storms, piercing humidity, and snow days. A Grand Slam of misery. The scene in this picture window was a lone tree on a cliff by the sea. Unicorns must have lived there. The first golfer gave it to their mother, and said this was one of his favorite places, and that his walls and attic were full. Even rust belt residents could tell it was far away. With twice as many children as bedrooms and the airlines still regulated, this was a trip too far. They drove to vacations, and their only move was down the block. So this mural photo seemed destined to amaze, but not inspire – just a zoo or circus scene, not a spot on their map of possibilities. They could not zoom out that far.

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The first golfer had gone several par fives beyond his own upbringing. Misfortune had shadowed his family like lake-effect clouds, but abnormal amounts of tenacity and good luck helped him become wealthy and well traveled. Unusually, he was a golfer long before having a healthy bank account, and first played as a young man while preaching the Good Word in Scotland, the home of golf. One evening, a local named Goodman invited him out to the city’s public links, probably feeling sorry for a young man facing a hostile audience.

The game proved just as hostile, producing scores well past the century mark and a very sore back. But who could resist infection in a land with an epidemic? After returning, golf soon became his main source of recreation, and he spent many years rising before the dawn to play a speed round of eighteen holes - three balls at six pins. Since other club members only saw his footprints in the dew, he was affectionately known as the “ghost,” and he became legendary for his devotion to the game in all kinds of weather. Winter was a time to play with balls he painted red, not for a respite, much to the greenskeeper’s chagrin.

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Sadly, his children did not embrace golf, and rarely played. Neither did his grandchildren, but eight of them lived nearby in the house with the tree photo. Such a diluted gene pool should offer little resistance, he reasoned, especially for a superb salesman who had sold small cars to a nation in love with length and tail fins. So at any sign of interest, he would fan these embers with gifts of hand-me-down clubs and golf balls retrieved from water hazards. He also did yard work with them in old golf shoes, and showed off his hole-in-one trophy to keep golf top of mind. It was not working, and rage would be an understatement if he saw them hit his water- logged golf balls back into lakes, ponds, and neighbors’ yards instead of on to fairways and greens. 

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After many years, he must have wanted to give up, but did not. Some said it was because he had gasoline in his veins, but why would mister fuel-efficient compact car waste energy on this? On a game no less? There were many others that provided a better work out, and required less time and money. They should be more appealing to a Depression-era, frugal, and time-conscious executive. Maybe it was the lingering tastes of his generation, like boxing or horse racing or baseball, which no longer had a monopoly on the sports scene. It was not even his first love since he had played several sports in high school, and was still a fan of them. Clearly it was not a class issue as he had grown up poor, and did not want his progeny thinking they were privileged or superior in some way.

So why golf? There must be something he wanted them to discover and appreciate, not something they could pick up from playing once or twice a year. But after years with rounds as frequent as visiting comets, golf remained a half a day of shanks, skulls, and chili dips over dog tracks and daisy fields. And the occasional good shot was more startling than savored since it was three standard deviations away from the mean. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Chapter 2

 
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2     HOPE

 

Years later, three brothers from the house of eight played a round together. They joined an uncle and his son. Tellingly, it did not dawn on them a fivesome would be a problem, and they did not know why their uncle asked one of them to skip the first hole. Once in the clear, the younger brother unwrapped a secret – he could play, and play well. Years ago, this would have kicked their competitive turbochargers into high gear. Now they were just surprised, like showing up an hour early to a meeting in the fall after the time changed. It took a minute to figure out what was going on. They had never really seen whistling balls well struck on to greens. Their laughs were delayed like a Godzilla movie at their younger brother’s wide array of biting, effective one-liners at their missed shots and putts.

Slowly, a new thought arose along with their scores – hope. Not the shallow hope from randomly hitting a green in regulation or sinking a putt with some break. But instead, a real, lasting hope that at least modest competence was achievable, especially since this was their own brother who largely shared their athletic aptitude. It was possible to escape golf purgatory.

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So the two older brothers were at a crossroads – would they follow their younger brother, or let this hope die? The middle brother had the most interest in golf, so he might, but his previous track record did little to shorten the odds  However, like a horse winning from the outside gate, he bucked the prognosticators and saddled up to playing better. Even then, he would still need plenty of booster rockets to actually pull off this moon shot.

The oldest brother chose the other path. He was content with his reverse pivot and off- plane swing  A fuller bank account and blister-free hands held more appeal  While his two other brothers are sad he did not join them, he is equally sad for their lack of sanity.  He could care less he lives in a golfing hell, with drives named after fruits, with a short game where he hits three times in a row, and where snowmen are common.

Lack of sanity or not, the middle brother started that day to work on his golf game. He first spent most of his time on the range and took a few basic lessons, though the advice could be contradictory. His progress was halting and bidirectional, discouraging him and making his blood boil, but he held on despite abandoning ship many times in the past. After a few months, he could reasonably hit his short irons, but his putter, long irons and woods seemed like they were built for someone else. Then there was the day when he could finally hit his driver somewhat straight, which almost made him cry, but then he started shanking his wedges. He did not agree he should use the same swing with all clubs.

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Perhaps most maddeningly, when he was able to hit all his clubs fairly well on the range, he would be a disaster on the course. Or when certain swing feelings or thoughts led to many good shots, and the same feelings or thoughts were gone or did not work the next time. He usually left such sessions convinced this was too hard and not worth it, but a good night’s sleep or a few days break would help. For some reason, he kept going. He was not Lindbergh; there were many places to land the plane and get out.

Chapter 3

 
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3     CHANGE

 

Most goals are easier to reach with company. Skipping the 5 a.m. workout is harder with a car load honking out front. So the middle brother started organizing an annual golf trip to play more often, but also provide strong motivation to play well in front of the family. Every year, they went to the same place, and played the same course along with some new ones. It was a good way to measure his progress. At first, even short par threes would concern him, then short par fours, and then mainly long par fours and fives with narrow landing areas. He was encouraged he could now work to lower his scores by better chipping and putting instead of just hoping he could finish a round with enough balls. He was glad to be out of the dentist’s chair.

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He also found his taste in courses changing, and now preferred natural, unkempt layouts over manicured and traditionally American-style ones. His favorite tournament switched from the Masters to the British Open. Golf just felt more real, and more fun, when there were blind shots, bad bounces, and dynamic weather – where the battle was more against nature instead of an architect. This was Quantum Physics, a step beyond Newtonian principles. Pro golfers only wanted to audit this class; luck is a foe with a paycheck involved.

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His reading also shifted, and he was less interested in a tournament’s result or the latest golf tip, and more in course architecture and the renaissance in golf course design that bloomed at the turn of the century. The stories and people behind Sand Hills and Bandon Dunes thrilled and inspired him, and led him to read about National and Oakmont and Pine Valley. And to learn where were Ballybunion, Royal County Down, and Turnberry; why people preferred Irish or Scottish golf; and the mark Old Tom Morris left on the game.

Is this what the first golfer wanted him to discover? That its underlying history and design philosophies would provide as much substance as the game itself? And therefore every round had much more meaning and interest than could be counted in strokes?

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Chapter 4

 
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4     SNOWBOARDERS

 

In short, he was hooked. The big downside was he now wanted to visit these places, which would be time consuming, expensive, and beyond reach since many courses were private. So it was a red-letter day when he read direct air service was now available from the Bay Area to Bandon Dunes. Previous travel required a long car ride from another airport in the state. He proposed going there for their annual golf trip, which met resistance given the higher financial and paid time-off cost with dubious returns. Even the younger brother, who had the most difficult trip from the East Coast, later admitted he was going just to humor the middle brother, and to pay him back for all his organizing efforts over the years. They would quickly become converts.

Flying in provided the first clues. From above, the landscape was incredibly wooded with a dune belt that ran for miles along the coast. Who knew there were dunes in Oregon, and that the wind could win a battle with the rain? Driving to and entering the resort gave additional good impressions of the remote and secluded setting coupled with a facility design that felt very at home with the surroundings. This was not a place trying to impress, but trying to stay out of the way.

The golf further fermented these favorable feelings into high praise and lasting memories. It was not false advertising the three courses there are unlike any others in the country. They are also quite different from each other, one being very Irish, the other Scottish, and the third like a Pinehurst with more elevation change or an Augusta in well-worn jeans. A whole world of golf into three adjacent courses. Vegas should be jealous. Fairways are wide and generous, every bunker is a work of art, there are dunes the size of office buildings, the routing is compelling and builds to several peak moments, ocean views abound, and the gorse is spectacular, though prickly, when in bright yellow bloom. With no homes and other golfers in sight, they felt wonderfully alone as they walked and carried their clubs for twelve miles a day, and then collapsed to wake up and do it again.

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Still, the resort was not exactly in their backyard, and did not appeal to many since it was walking only, the lodging and food were simple and modest, and the weather and wind could be iffy. But for others, these conditions made going there a badge of honor, a statement about them and their game. The snowboarders of golf went to Bandon, not the skiers. Unexpectedly, this type of statement would end up appealing to the person every golfer wanted to impress – a member of the Cypress Point Club.

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Unknown to them at the time, one of the Bandon golfers worked with a member of Cypress with the typical, incredible member resume: all-American college football player, Rhodes scholar, pro football star, long-time announcer and successful businessman. Monkeys are said to be only one percent genetically different than humans; this man seemed several monkeys apart from them. Certainly the three hundred or so Cypress members are the rarest of breeds – extremely small in number but never in danger of extinction, even though they do not ever expand their population.

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Of course, this member was the Bandon golfer’s boss. When he learned of his employee’s trip, his Oxford-educated mind concluded this was his type of golfer. The Beaver Creek of golf clubs welcomed snowboarders? Perhaps as important, this member also felt such a trip indicated sufficient proficiency, so he asked if his underling would like to play Cypress one day. Learning of his boss’ membership and invitation in the same moment made it almost impossible for a nonchalant reply, which is the expected decorum of the seated gentry.

However, passing this initial test did not guarantee success, for his boss would likely forget the invitation, or ask so many others he would run out of guest playing privileges. So doubt and fear quickly dampened the group’s spirits when he shared the news, and they recalled many past experiences where dreams had been dashed by reality or bad luck. They feared they would feel like they do when hitting the flagstick – they would be more upset with the ball not going in instead of celebrating such a close shot.

Chapter 5

 
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5     SUNDAY BEST

 

At least they had the right man of the group for the job – he had a prestigious business school degree and a diplomatic disposition to pull off the high wire act of balancing consistent follow up in a low-key and courteous way. Even then, there were many days of hand wringing over when was the right time to remind his boss of the invitation, and then to further press him to make the call to the club. Of course, he could not actually ever ask if the call had been made, but had to rush home every day to check the mailbox like a child waiting the dreaded six weeks after sending in his proofs of purchase.

During this waiting period, the middle brother began to burn with a low, consistent fever brought on by the sweltering jungle of pessimism. He best tried to soothe this malady by researching the reclusive course and its history, but there was little available – a book here, a few photos there, and nothing on auction sites, not even a scorecard. Online maps in satellite mode could at least show him a bird’s eye view, and he was able to piece together some of the routing. Also, he discovered a ridge of sand dunes that ran between Cypress Point and Spyglass Hill next door. He set out to scale those dunes after a chance business meeting in the area, though he had to come up with an excuse to miss dinner.

He soon learned these dunes were covered with trails, which made the going easier, and he first stumbled upon what he thought was Cypress, but then recognized as Spyglass Hill from photos. He then went west from there, and Cypress opened before him as he stood above what he thought was the eighth fairway and green, looking west to the clubhouse and ocean beyond. The view on a clear winter’s day with mid-summer greenness was spectacular, but it was hard to separate what he saw with how he felt to be so close to fame, like suddenly being rushed back stage. And even though he was on public land, he still felt like he was trespassing, and would hide behind trees as golfers came near. He half expected to be jumped by secret service agents hiding along side him, who must be there when at least some of the high profile and high net worth members play.

He was grateful to still live in a country where security equipment and personnel did not overrun every open venue, though such days seemed to be limited. Ironically, because of the low security, he was then tempted to steal on to the course, but did not want to doom his future playing privileges, and the call to his wife from the police station would have been unpleasant. Not exactly a strong moral compass. After a few more minutes, he picked up a golf ball he found as a souvenir, and took comfort that even Cypress members can really spray shots too. But he was also a little down this may be the closest he ever came to setting foot on the course.

He seemed to be right. Weeks passed, prayers went unanswered, burnt offerings were rejected, and the dream was on life support. The golf gods, like all deity, have a broader perspective and greater wisdom in deciding which requests to grant, but perhaps they too just get too busy. And what additional gifts or promises would make a difference to someone who has it all?

However, like finding a twenty while walking through the mall or getting an A when a C was expected on a test, life does serve up pleasant surprises every once in a while. The all-American member did in fact come through, and they would be going to Cypress Point that September! While it is an ideal month to play almost anywhere else, it is also considered the best time to play Cypress, a nice side benefit. But like a bobsled race or a soccer game decided on penalty kicks, September at Cypress would be hard pressed to feel like the winner when the difference between the runners- up is so tiny.

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One of the four Bandon golfers chose not to make the trip, so a dad giddily joined them instead. The others were aghast one of them could not fit the trip into his schedule, but questioning his priorities then made them question their own, and guilt came calling. It would not be a quick or cheap trip, so the personal and career cost would be real. It was not surprising the defecting one’s career star had risen higher than theirs. But once again, they consoled themselves with Jack being a dull boy, and lightning does not strike twice. Selfish motives are easily soothed over with even threadbare rationalizations.

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In late September, they arrived on the Monterey Peninsula to play Cypress the next day. Staying in the Stevenson resort of Carmel is nice but expensive, so they stayed in the Steinbeck town of Monterey. The weather, like most days of the year there, was perfect – temperate and sunny. Finding it hard to sleep, this time due to excitement and not work-related stress, they woke up early the next morning and dressed in basically their Sunday Best. Cypress did not allow shorts, rarely needed there anyway, but the rest of their dress code was very standard for a private club. So they did not need to be so gussied up, but it just felt appropriate, like going to prom or a job interview. What was not appropriate was the weather – they woke up to a thick marine layer, the usual result after a few days of warm, sunny weather when the central valley’s high pressure pulled in ocean clouds. They were not too concerned as it usually burned off early in the day. They should have been.

Chapter 6

 
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6      CANDLELIGHT

 

The fog got thicker on their drive from the hotel to Cypress, already a confusing trip since the 17 Mile Drive did not seem to have one straight stretch of road, and the road signs were hard to see and decipher in clear weather. Their mood lightened when they avoided the stiff fee to enter the Drive by saying they were playing Cypress, and then showed the invite for corroboration. Likely just their imagination, they thought they detected an admiring look from the guard, which would have quickly left as he saw their minivan. These were not former Secretaries of State or blockbuster movie stars, nor their friends.

The homes sprinkled along the way from the Drive’s gate to Cypress rank up there with the Hamptons, Nantucket, or Aspen. If these were second homes, primary would be the wrong word for the owners’ main residences. Those were graduate level estates, deserving a masters or doctorate in double-digit bathrooms or an acre of indoor living space. The Cypress Point Club would be in wonderful contrast to these billboards of wealth.

The club’s entrance sign set the tone – a small, green piece of wood with plain white lettering of a homemade font. Placed among thick trees on a bend in the road, it was easy to miss, which was the point. There was not an entry gate or guard, and the clubhouse was just a short driveway away. They parked in one of the perhaps ten parking spots in the whole lot. This was not a place ever expecting large crowds.

Barely out of their minivan, they were surprised to be so warmly greeted by caddies, who quickly directed them to the locker room so they did not change shoes in the parking lot, a muni course sin not to be committed here. Looking around, the main clubhouse was small; the locker room and pro shop were tiny. A small membership did not need large structures, but these felt too small – the clubhouse only had four bedrooms, and each half-sized locker was shared. While the members surely did not want to risk an unsightly addition to these historic buildings, let alone replace them, they probably just preferred a club of human scale, and also did not want to draw attention to their wealth and status. Most people who really spend their days in the spotlight want to spend their off-hours in candlelight.

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Randomly hanging on the walls in mismatched frames, the dated and poor quality photos in the locker room foyer matched the rustic, summer cabin feel of the place. The locker room and bathroom felt like a summer camp. Each locker nameplate with two names was hand written in uneven, slanted block letters. And there was the distinct but pleasant smell of age and ocean air. This was a place that gave little thought about how it looked, a welcome refuge from the designers and decorators and endless decisions in the members’ everyday lives. And, of course, the main objective of any visit was to spend as little time indoors as possible – no one wanted to look at heaven through windows and doors.

It was refreshing, even inspiring, to contemplate what they could have built there, what others in their social circle would have built, and what was actually there. Modesty and understatement are rarely found today apart from strict zoning codes or environmental restrictions. And who wants to think they were really just too pigheaded and tightfisted to agree on what to do and how to pay for it? While experience would suggest this view, the physical evidence was persuasive for the former.

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There were several nice prints on the locker room walls, mostly of the sixteenth hole in various styles. The largest work was a map of the course done in an antique style, like a treasure map. They would learn there should be X’s on every hole. Leaving their street shoes on the floor in the locker room, they then went out to hit a few putts on the little putting green right out the door. In perfect condition but bite size, this was the filet mignon of practice greens.

There was also a mini driving range where about four golfers could hit shots along the first fairway, but this was for members only. Their first tee shot would be more challenging than most without any real warm up. Moreover, there would be a crowd as all unaccompanied guests had to tee off before 8:30 a.m., and the only place to wait was near the first tee box. While this crowd would not laugh at a bad shot, their silence would be more painful – it would not be from empathy, but instead show concern about poor golfers ahead of them. The foursome would give half their kingdom for a tee shot that found the short grass.

The fog was still heavy when they stepped up to the plate. While they could not see a hundred yards ahead of them, the low visibility was also somewhat calming since no one would see where their tee shots went. So after they did hit poor shots - anxiety always wreaks havoc with timing and tempo - they quickly scampered out of view, across 17 Mile Drive and down the hill. Despite a protective hedge, many cars must have been hit over the years when they unfortunately would cross the first fairway during the most pressure-packed tee shot these golfers might ever hit. Hopefully, the caddies would not black list anyone who connects for the delay they caused, adding insult to injury for those already mortally wounded in self-esteem.

While hardly a life-long dream to play Cypress, the good luck of an invitation coupled with the hours of practice required to play this course created a moment of unique heft. Only in the moment do these feelings come; logistics and worry occupy too much mind share before. These were not then followed by a subsequent crash like the relief sleep that comes after successfully catching a plane, but instead came a double dose of adrenaline far stronger than any energy drink. And there was just something to feeling a bit special, somehow being selected out from the great mass of humanity to have this very uncommon experience. These were wonderful, strong feelings rarely found outside meaningful events like births and baptisms. However, most men ranked these alongside those others. Another knock against their gender’s tarnished and shallow character.

The next moment would not be any better as they then wanted to blurt out as they walked along hallowed ground, like they had just body surfed to the shore. Checking themselves was difficult, and a few swallowed bursts did still escape. Yet while they largely maintained control and decorum, they would be tested again later during the backswings of potentially winning putts or tee shots of the leaders. It probably made sense to skip their typical four-ball match that day.

Chapter 7

 
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7     RUSSIAN DOLLS

 

The first hole or two of a well-designed course should be a bit easier as the players are just getting going. Slightly downhill with a wide fairway are desired features that lengthen tee shots and boost confidence without being overly penal on poor shots. Extreme elevation changes or narrow fairways should come later in the round. The opening hole at Cypress fit the bill, and added in a clump of Cypress trees on the right that knocks down shots, but did not eat them since there was no undergrowth. There were several balls in the right rough from the range, another down home detail in a place full of them. Were they playing the second highest ranked course in the world, or their local nine holer?

Shots do not travel well in the thick air of seaside courses; they travelled like gutta percha balls in the seaside fog of Cypress that morning. Though their tee shots were better than they thought and fairly easy to find, their second shots felt two clubs longer given the weather, and stung their hands from mishits due to no range time. Finally reaching the green, not in regulation, they then feared putting on Mackenzie-designed greens. Thankfully, there was not an impending club tournament, so they were not cut to their shortest, quickest speed, and the fog further slowed them down by adding friction to their surfaces. But they were still hard, and the first hole yielded only three and four putts due to its severe back-to-front slope. Even with caddies, lack of local knowledge would hurt them all day, but missed putts were never so enjoyable.

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Walking the few steps from the first green to the second tee box solved a months-long mystery. From satellite photos, the middle brother had placed this tee box farther away from the first green since there did not seem to be enough room right beside it. There was, and also for the fourteenth tee box, along with a wonderful reverse view of the thirteenth green, arguably the most unique and memorable on the course. A Russian doll of greens and tees. And the ingenious routing provided a way to play the best five hole round in the world – the first hole, and then fourteen through eighteen. The caddies called this the Whisky Run.

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Chapter 8

 
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8     YELLOWSTONE

 

The second hole led off into the core of the course with a semi-blind, diagonal tee shot over rough-hewn dunes and a deep valley. Missing left would be tragic; going through the fairway right was easy since it was hard to pick the correct line, especially in heavy fog. This was a tough three-shotter with many bunkers awaiting both the second and approach shots. The green was mercifully tamer, balancing the work needed to get there.

The third hole was the first of three in a row with military bunkers. On his own, the course designer Alister Mackenzie became a camouflage expert while serving in the Boer War and World War I, which replaced his physician assignment. He then replaced this with becoming one of golf’s first architects after the war, and arguably the best ever. Perhaps nothing more need be said about the breadth of his curiosity, intelligence, and talents. So many career changes in the days before technology shifts and buy-out mania eliminated long-term careers?

The par three third hole was exhibit A for his first use of military bunkers - to make a hole appear more difficult than it really was. Almost surrounded by sand, with a veil of fog to make the hazards more menacing, this hole did create fear despite its moderate length. Moreover, the dune behind the green made it hard to focus. Such a large dune so far from the shore seemed unnatural, but it was clearly not manmade. It was also covered with several twisted and dying trees, a junkyard of trunks and branches. This was a Yellowstone of sand and wood, suddenly sprouting up from very different surrounding terrain. So using it as an excuse for a missed green felt very credible, at least to their sympathetic inner jury.

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The fourth and fifth holes showcased the second use of military bunkers – these hazards would be visible when playing the hole, and then vanish from view when looking back to the tee. This made them smile, but also wonder – why bother? Perhaps it was a signature style that could be resold to other clients, or an interesting challenge to solve, or the force fitting of a skill into an unneeded circumstance. But maybe it was just to produce these smiles from those interested enough in their surroundings to look back, and not just go head down to the next tee. Looking back from the fourth green also provided one of the best panoramic views, and they could see all the way back to the ocean. The fog had lifted enough so they could now see this far, in a LA smog-type way.

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The abundance of bunkers on both holes, disappearing or not, made playing them hard, and five also had a good deal of elevation change, being about the most uphill on the course. They would need to be tour pros to correctly gauge and hit that approach shot the first time out. These two holes took them the deepest into the woods, so they now entered their third different setting within five holes – from seaside to dunes to woods. And the fifth seemed to match the small screen images they had seen of Augusta’s tenth hole very closely, with long shadows creating a spider web of shadows back and forth across spider-like bunkers.

While the fifth became an instant, inland favorite for its beauty - some say the tenth was Bobby Jones’ favorite at Augusta - the sixth zoomed to the top of their fun-to-play list. It was a fairly short, downhill par five, so they felt most Bubba-like there off the tee. It made a sharp left about where their drives would land and beyond a fairway bunker not really in play, so they could swing away freely to send their balls off the natural backstop and have them roll down the hill. The second shot was also from above the hole with plenty of bail out areas right, so tension and tight muscles were nicely absent once again. The small and undulating green was the hole’s defense, so making par was still a task.

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The sixth also rolled up to the ridge of dunes that started behind the third hole, so they were back in Yellowstone. More hot pots, with fog playing the role of steam. Behind the sixth green was another shared tee box, this time the seventh and tenth on top of the dune ridge. These were the shoulders of the course, fitting nicely with the belt of it behind the first tee, and with an even better view. Almost the whole clubhouse side of the course was in view. Three greens surrounded it – the sixth, the ninth and eleventh. Ikea would be proud of the use of space. The seventh green was above and to the right of the tee, midway up the other, larger dune belt that ran along the whole north side of the course, the same one the middle brother had visited months before. An elevated shot with a false front in the middle of hazards and dunes, this was a tough hole to follow an easier one. Thoughtful cadence was another of the course’s strengths.

Chapter 9

 
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9     YOSEMITE

 

This cadence was about to jump into double-time. The short walk from the seventh green to the eighth tee, on a course where short is the only accurate adjective except for one glorious exception, gave a hint of what lay ahead. This teeing ground was at the right corner of the interior dune ridge, and the drive was another blind shot out over the north dunes bordering the course. However,unlike the first two blind ones earlier, they now had to completely fly by instruments and could only rely on their caddies – there were no visual clues or targets. Tension came knocking.

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But so did wonder. Home movies taken when they were children required large floodlights, which made them squint and shield their eyes when coming on screen. Light seemed to become a tangible force that would bend their heads down and tilt their spines. Rounding the corner of the dune on the eighth, a dogleg right, and entering the Sahara of Cypress was a floodlight experience. Seeing this hole from above, as the middle brother had months earlier, provided some preparation for this, along with some hints from the tee. But walking on the fairway was something else, like the difference between visiting an aquarium and going scuba diving, or attending a US Open and watching outside the ropes, and going to a US Amateur and walking alongside the players.

Inside the ropes was a nice place to be. They first noticed the north dunes were massive, a hundred feet tall or more. They barely saw them earlier looking across from the second fairway due to the fog, so their size did not register. It did now. Next, they could see the ocean again, and feel an ocean breeze. Getting closer to the eighth green, a pretty good climb from the fairway, and the thirteenth green set into a semi-circle of dunes then came into view. They felt like they were scouting out pioneers that had circled their wagons for the night.

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The eighth green was sprocket-shaped, with one leg being in front, and two additional legs to each side. It also had multiple tiers with a high back-to-front slope. Their caddies told them to putt at a ninety-degree angle to the hole from the upper left section to the front. They still left the ball below the hole. The caddies further demonstrated a completely different route that would have worked too. Not many holes, let alone greens, provide multiple options to play them. The best ones do.

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One reason Yosemite is so popular is there are many sites and splendors within a small valley. High goose bump return on travel time investment. Cypress Point is in that league. And the ninth tee is its Glacier Point, with the ninth hole its Half Dome. While the view back toward the ocean is broad and sweeping, the view inland is dominated by one feature – the half dune behind the ninth green. The double fairway of the eighth and ninth holes lay x-shaped across acres of sand, and the ninth green is framed by a deep, yawning bunker-slash-dune in front, and the mountain-like crest of another in back. The green is a thin sliver that angles back and up from right to left. Ascending ten flights of stairs would not have left them more breathless. This was hard drugs for golfers – thrilling, addictive, and frankly hallucinogenic. They barely understood what their caddies told them to hit, and where to hit it. It did not matter. This was quite a high.

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Until they had to record their scores. It was impossible for them to drive the green, or to hit it from the front hazard, and not much easier from the only landing area in front of it. Lob shots from sand or tight lies were not their specialty. A back pin placement further increased the degree of difficulty, especially when the right putting line, near or far, defied geometry. While a double or above is never particularly pleasant, looking back from the ninth green offered more than adequate solace. And prompted a sincere thought - how could the final ocean holes top this?

Chapter 10

 
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10     ALL IN THE FAMILY

 

Unlike the vast majority of courses, the ninth hole did not end back at the clubhouse, but there was not a need for a quick bite here to refresh them. A stiff drink or cold shower to calm their sensory overload made more sense. The tenth hole nicely provided just this type of tonic. A moderate length par five starting from atop the course’s shoulder gently slowed their pulses as they headed back into the woods for the last time. With the dune ridge below them and then at their backs, and no elevation change on the approach shot, they were able to stay in this lower gear.

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Not surprisingly, there was a modest halfway house next to the eleventh tee providing simple fare consistent with how things were done there. Though a bit shorter than the par five sixth, the eleventh was its twin with an almost identical approach shot a little downhill to the base of the same dune ridge. However, these were fraternal twins because there was not an elevated tee shot and dogleg left, and the eleventh had large bunkers in the middle of the fairway. So it was a twin that was a head shorter than its sibling, but not lacking a lick in looks, and with a leg up in smarts.

The walk to the twelfth tee was around the left of the ridge, which quite literally and visually closed the door on the woods collection of holes for the round. Since they were not as famous or flashy as the ocean and dune holes, these five holes were easy to overlook and underappreciate. But it was just pleasant to play them in muted sun and muted sounds, with towering trees to draw your eyes and thoughts up. With the rest of the course being helicopter skiing or Mavericks surfing, this was rowing or swimming – a quieter way to get an excellent workout with less injury risk and more time to reflect.

If the sixth and eleventh are twins, the eighth and twelfth are cousins. Also a dogleg right over the edge of a dune to an elevated green out of sight, the twelfth was longer than the eighth with a visible landing area off the tee, and was not completely surrounded by sand. And while the eighth was the observation deck of the course, this was the boiler room – the lowest point on the course in the valley between the second hole on one side, and the eight and ninth holes on the other. It played long into the prevailing wind, hitting the small and slightly elevated green was not easy, and the cost was high for missing it with dunes on the right, and a drop-off left.

Approaching the green, they then felt the full looming presence of the north valley wall on the right. A falling rocks sign would have made sense. This deliberate diminuendo of the round, which would continue for the next three holes, also further heightened the coming, explosive crescendo. Perhaps a good part of a roller coaster’s thrill comes from the slow, clanky ride up in cars with straitjacket restraints after long waits in line. The screaming may be as much from finally ending the wait as from plummeting down. Screams were coming.

Being right next to the third hole, the twelfth let Cypress add another drink to its bar of loops – to go with the five-hole Whisky Run, this was the ten-hole Brandy Run, which included holes one through three, and then twelve through eighteen. Both are definitely high-proof experiences, and consumption should probably be limited to have any chance of maintaining sobriety.

On a course with several one-of-a-kind holes so far, there did not seem to be room to add a new one at all, let alone one near the top of their list. So the late charge by the thirteenth near the last turn in the race was unexpected. The view from the slightly elevated tee was impressive, and felt similar to the eight and ninth with a fairway tossed in among a dunescape. With stronger winds coming off the nearby ocean, the fairway was thankfully wider, and their pushed and pulled tee shots all found it. The scouts now made their way to the green of circled wagons, and they looked forward to setting foot in camp.

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NBA players look fairly normal size from the rafters; they are astonishing up close. The thirteenth green was distinct from the tee; its design and size were on a different, compelling scale as they made their way up to it. The bunkers carved into the dune that circle the back of the green were its signature characteristic. Like a good photograph, the hole’s simple, clean lines added as much to its impact and appeal as the beauty of its design. Only an artist could make so much out of so little. The Bandon architects are most proud of their inland holes since they feel almost anyone can build a nice ocean hole.

Climbing above the thirteenth and once again reaching the course’s belt, they looked back into the belly of the course, but no longer through a keyhole like earlier as the fog had thinned. The holes were now familiar after they had crisscrossed the area like a boy delivering papers. Almost all golf holes look different from behind, and architects must enjoy seeing them this way, and then feeling like they had built two holes every time instead on one. Thirteenth from behind was so different that had to check their scorecards for what hole they were on. From the front, only the hole complex itself was visible with a narrow accent of ocean behind it. From behind, a continent-full of landscapes filled the horizon with the oval-shaped green they thought was circular from the front.

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Chapter 11

 
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11     TROLLS AND PIRATES

 

The first tee is where they wanted to hide; the fourteenth was where they wanted to be seen. This was the Union Square or Newbury Street of the course. It was the closest to 17 Mile Drive, elevated and treeless, so every passing car could see them, and look on with what they thought must surely be awe and envy. There would be no minivan to betray them here. However, a slice would, and bouncing one on the road would shatter the illusion they were members or frequent guests. A slight push would also leave them behind a thick group of Cypress trees, so they had very good reasons to aim left. Unlike the first hole, which they could now look up towards the clubhouse, this one became narrow in the landing area, being pinched from behind by a row of Cypress trees. At this point in the round, they were supposed to be up to the challenge. They were not, and were left with blocked paths up the dogleg right to the elevated green.

What did not block their paths were other golfers. There would be quite a log jam on more accessible courses in this small, common area shared by several tees and greens, especially where carts were permitted. Instead, there were more deer around than other golfers - the real Golden Ratio in life.

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Their tee shots were at the mouth of a chute of Cypress trees leading up the dogleg to the hole. Entering the chute, this was the first time they were so close to Cypress trees on the course - they were not right next to them on the first hole, and the woods were full of Monterey Pines. Twisted and gnarled and growing more out than up, these are the trolls of trees, and steal any ball hit near them. They were drawn to them, but also somehow repelled at the same time. And like a five year old, they were hard to photograph as it was difficult to know where to focus, and none of the images really turned out because of all the commotion among the branches.

After a few shots, since they were not successful in going over or around the troll trees with one stroke, they drew near the hole. With the Cypress trees pinching in to just the width of the green and then circling behind it, this was the most walled-in and constrained place on the course. The green also fell off the back; they had come to a dead-end. On an open course where they could almost always see a few holes at a time, and usually a sweeping landscape, it was surprising and a bit jarring to reach this cul-de-sac. Even the view back up the dogleg fairway was cut-off by the Cypress at the end of the chute. While the previous two holes wonderfully slowed down the round’s pace, the fourteenth constricted it, and even capped it, creating pressure and heightening the anticipation for the upcoming ocean holes. It was not clear how to get to the fifteenth tee, so even this natural release valve was likewise not available. Pure genius. They would not have fresh images of dunes or pines in their heads, but instead have an urge to escape Cypress trees clutching at them, and to emotionally reboot to recapture past thrills.

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Their radiator caps were loosened by crossing over 17 Mile Drive. Walking beyond the veil of trees behind fourteen, the ocean filled them with views and smells of surf, wind, and sea life. The path to the fifteenth tee took them around a small hill and right along the ocean. While they had seen the water at times through out the round, it was just a background in the distance – beautiful but remote and almost two-dimensional. If this was a rodeo, they could now feel the dirt being kicked up, and hear the pounding of hooves. They began walking faster, almost bumping into each other as they had to walk single file on the narrow path.

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Surprise parties are aptly named. Entering a room without knowing the plan is a natural defibrillator. But different from hiding under a bed and grabbing a leg, this surprise is crowdsourced, adding an element of mystery – everyone else knew? And for how long? Rounding the corner and reaching the fifteenth tee was their cheers-and-streamers moment. And there was an almost tangible feeling of the Cypress members lining the tee and green, like teammates around home plate after a game- winning homer, ready to slap backs and congratulate them for being there and receiving their own witness. Cheers also went up for the lifting of the fog – unlike a Super Bowl halftime show,fog was subtracted and not added here. It was odd to see it go so fast after hanging around like a car salesman all day. The curtain was up for the final act.

Penned in by a fence made of driftwood, the only fitting material, the fifteenth tee needed to protect golfers from plunging into the sea. As they soon learned, this was not Mackenzie’s original tee, which was a bit inland to the left, but had been added later to produce even more drama. Hanging on the edge of the shore, it felt prone to collapse during a good squall, and must require constant maintenance and fortification. But for this higher cost, it handsomely provided a much better and fuller view of fifteen, the ocean, and the sixteenth in the distance. The original tee did not provide the same gangplank feeling, and reduced the scope of vision by about thirty degrees. They looked for the skull and crossbones flying in this pirate ship of a tee box.

Chapter 12

 
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12     VAN GOGH

 

Delays must be common on the fifteenth as everyone but the most jaded will reach for their cameras instead of their clubs. This was a private wing in Cypress’ art museum, and they needed to admire and contemplate the large-scale masterpiece in front of them. They looked around for the button to push or headphones with an audio tour to rent. As a short par three, they could take in the full hole up close and personal. While its singular beauty was memorable, perhaps unlike any other hole they had seen, its difference from the rest of the course deepened their response. This was a Van Gogh on a course of Monets and Constables.

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The swirling, bent Cypress trees surrounding the green were the sky in Starry Night. It sat on a rocky point with several protrusions like limbs; this was a fossilized turtle or something with a saurus or don in its name. It shared a similar sprocket shape with the eight green, with an even narrower front tongue, where the pin was placed that day. Add in gusting, swirling ocean breezes, and club selection was tough. Just finding the dance floor would be a very good result.

The walk around the inlet in front of the green was a grade school field trip full of tide pools, seaweed and other exotic plants, and lapping waves against sharp rocks in varying degrees and colors of wetness. They expected their caddies to remind them not to touch and stay together. There were also several sunning and bleating sea lions. Sea lions, they learned, have earflaps and longer front and hind flippers for walking, and seals do not. This hole having sea life is like a swimsuit model also being intelligent and funny. The sand in the greenside bunkers felt like real, beach sand – it had a more natural color and consistency than typically used. And the traps had fairly recently, and thankfully, been restored to their original, intricate design, replacing the bland, awful ovals from the free clip art collection of golf course design. With a severely sloping green, the obvious defense for a short hole, par was an excellent score even for those shots leaving ball marks.

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Interestingly, and unlike most of the other holes, this was clearly a painting and not a tapestry – it was spectacular from the tee, but bland from its backside. With little reason to linger, but pulses still racing, they were twitching like birds to move onto the sixteenth. If they could only find out how to get there. Like the fourteenth, the way to the next hole was not clear. Their caddies led them to a small opening to the left of the green, which only led into a Cypress grove as far as they could see. Further hiding the path was an overhanding branch, which they would need to duck under just a few steps from the entrance. It would not be surprising the sixteenth would be guarded by a secret passage way; a good thing the caddies knew the password.

It was not a short hike, more than four football fields long, through a dense grove of Cypress trees. But the trees here were not trolls like back on the fourteenth, but instead were the flying buttresses and stained glass windows of some place very peaceful, even spiritual, in tone. This place did not create pressure, but provided a chance for reflection instead of being rushed right on to another tee. This was like visiting the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial, standalone destinations, instead of the Louvre with one priceless work of art after another. Adding to the seclusion was how the length of the walk naturally created more space between each of the golfers traveling at different speeds. Banter dies out over distance. Once again, Alister was creating ebbs and flows in emotions like a skilled playwright or novelist.

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A clearing about midway through the journey gave a glimpse of the bay and peninsula that was the sixteenth. Where was the lighthouse? Emerging from the cathedral grove, the view made them much more winded than the hike did. This may be the only hole on earth where the water-to-land ratio matched the overall planet. And it took minimalism to its apogee, which would make Doak and Crenshaw smile, as it was hard to believe this hole had not always existed. Cut the grass a bit and add some finishing touches to the hazards, and it was ready for play. Any lost profit margin building holes in dunes and forests was clearly made up here. Perhaps even a sprinkler system was not needed.

Chapter 13

 
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13     TABLEWARE

 

The length of the tee shot to this incredible par three made the hike they just finished seem like a sprint. They could understand why Alister had worries about it, and guessed he still was not fully convinced even after Marion Hollins, the female owner and developer, hit three balls in a row to the future green site. Hopefully, she was not hitting from the forward tees. From the current middle tees, a three wood did not feel nearly enough club for what their eyes said was the true distance. Could an all-water carry really so distort their depth perception? With no previous frame of reference, it was hard to believe their caddies who were claiming this was a mirage.

The real mirage was believing they had any chance of hitting and holding the green. At this distance, they needed a scope. Due to his own concerns, Alister had provided a safer routing left on to a fairway, though it was blind shot over a hedge of bushes that are now part of the current Cypress logo. But scoring was not the point of the round, so they all took a few shots at it, scope-free. Mishit balls here were not in trouble, they disappeared. It was an all-or-nothing shot, placing all the chips on one number. But the pay-off was large and enticing, so there would never be a shortage of takers. The bigger the jackpot, the more people play the lottery.

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Leaving the tee, they walked left around the small inlet to the peninsula leading out to the green. The bail out fairway on this strip of land was actually very open and funneled balls toward the hole, so it really was the best route to take. The original, single Cypress tree in the middle of it had sadly died a while ago, but was still held up by supports. Unlike the Ghost Tree further down 17 Mile Drive, this was not an interesting or artistic tree in its withered state, so why not take it down? It was the best fairway target off the tee, but the bushes in front were not bad. Maybe they were just waiting for the new tree planted next to it to grow taller, and it seemed unlikely it still stood because of an active betting pool about when it would fall. But maybe this was just like an old sweater or pair of shoes that have too many memories in them to throw out. They are old, worn out, and out of style, but wearing them always brings back long-forgotten feelings. Wooden and fabric time machines.

As they approached the green, head-swiveling views tested their neck muscles. Thankfully, no additional trees had been planted there, so this was a large, open strip to take in their surroundings. San Diego would come calling for this aircraft carrier when it was decommissioned. Right next to the putting surface, they learned there were two pocket-sized beaches on either side of the ballerina’s waist of the peninsula – a sandy tutu. Unnaturally small, these felt man-made until closer inspection. They did not know erosion could be a scalpel and not just an ax. Walking down the stairs on the left to the only accessible beach, they found many balls. Theirs were the ones not worn smooth like billiard balls, or as strong smelling as a cheap car freshener. Getting up and down from there, twenty feet below the green, would be almost as difficult as the tee shot. They were not successful doing this either.

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There are several pairs on this course. Impeccable tableware is required for a white cloth setting like this. The sixteenth and fourteenth greens are another set of salad and dinner forks, both circled by bunkers carved into a dune or hill behind it. These hazards were remarkably similar in shape and size, and seeing them again here was not disappointing like a summer rerun, but instead was like rereading a favorite book. Unlike the fourteenth green, this one was the largest, flattest and most circular in shape on the course. It needed to be after the most thrilling, horrific tee shot there is, and led to a quadruple mulligan par.

Looking back toward the tee, the hole did not seem as fearsome, impressive or long. Like an Escher print, there seemed to be some sort of optical illusion involved. Clearly a mainland backdrop does not create the same effect as open water, and the peninsula was now also in view, almost eliminating the pier feel of the hole. But maybe the core reason is what most open water swimmers experience – the swim out always feels longer and harder than the swim back in.

Chapter 14

 
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14     AUSTIN - HEALEY

 

The seventeenth tee was above the bunkers behind the sixteenth green, almost the same walk up from the thirteenth to the fourteenth tee. Old, metal spikes would have helped with traction here. Steps that would have tarnished the crisp, visual lines of the hole and lessened the needed climbing effort would never pass the members’ muster.

It is always surprising how much a view improves and expands with each added bit of elevation. Every foot seems to open up exponentially more horizon. The seventeenth tee was only about ten feet above the sixteenth hole, but they felt like they had just climbed into a crow’s nest amount of new vista. And this was scenery in the round, with tear-inducing views in every direction. First of all, this was the best place, maybe on any golf course anywhere, to see the ocean, which filled about two thirds of their view. Here was the real House of Blues with sky and water providing a deep, vivid palette in that part of the visible light spectrum. Fuji gained market share over Kodak by artificially enhancing colors in their prints. No film could ever gain share over nature herself. White seemed to be the only other color used, and the omnipresent blue was highlighted with clouds, whitecaps and seagulls.

Looking back toward shore, the clubhouse sat prominently on a hill, really the first time they had seen it again since they teed off. The routing did not end there after the front nine, and no other hole came close to it until now. There must be incredible views from the full- length balcony outside the four upstairs bedrooms. And these rooms come with an amazing perk – staying there allowed the occupants to play all day, with or without a member, and not just once before 8:30a.m. Vampires used their beds more than these guests who were either standing outside enjoying the balcony views, or sitting up from excitement to play Cypress all day.

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Beneath the clubhouse was the seventeenth. It had a forced carry over a corner of ocean, with a fairway angled right away from them toward a green also set right on the shore. Unlike Pebble Beach, which sits in a protected cove, Cypress Point is nose-out into the sea. However, since fifteen and sixteen are shorter, par three holes, there is only a limited amount of visible shoreline there. A full-bodied coastline is on seventeen, and the crumbling, spiky shore shows the effect of taking many past storms on the chin. Only the toughest, sharpest rocks have survived. This living, Darwinian laboratory stretched south down the coast, but also east – they were on the western most tip of the Monterey Peninsula, and also of the whole continent for any points south.

Of this Holy Trinity of successive Cypress holes, Alister was most proud of seventeen for its strategic options to go along with another platinum-level setting. Besides the angled tee shot, a small grove of Cypress trees in the middle of the fairway filled out the puzzle to solve. Taking the shorter, more direct route right of the trees would provide a significantly shorter second shot on this long par four, but the risk was high of being wet or stymied. It was a fairly easy shot to play left of the trees, but they would then have the challenge of stopping a long iron or fairway wood on a green no longer with a backstop, but only a moat on two sides. The green felt even more castle-like with the stone retaining wall. Not an easy fortress to overthrow.

The younger brother bravely and successfully put one to the right of trees. Knighthood seemed certain. The middle brother was stymied behind the Cypress trees. Mercifully, he would not also have to be hitting out of bunkers that originally surrounded them.

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Most people buy a car primarily based on how it looks from the front. Car designers’ first priority is there, and much thought and expense is spent on headlights, front grills, hood lines, and nose shape. A car’s tail is considered next, and the interior typically follows both exterior angles. American car companies had long neglected interiors to their detriment. The best cars, but usually the most expensive, excel in all three places. Some Cypress holes have one preferred viewing angle; most have two. Only the seventeenth has three. It has inspiring views from the tee toward the hole, along the fairway in all directions, and looking back from behind the green. On a course of classic cars, the seventeenth wins best in show for the breadth and quality of its scenery. An Austin-Healey would be proud.

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During their walk down the fairway, the views back to the sixteenth green and seventeenth tee were as varied as they were uplifting. The ocean view one way and Cypress tree view the other were just as noteworthy. And reaching the green and then going behind it provided yet another compelling photo op. Though the Cypress trees and seventeenth tee switched places from this vantage point, it was very pleasing and not the least disorienting like driving in Great Britain. This was a Costco-type bundle of scenic moments in one jumbo size hole. They felt well paid back for their annual membership fee. 

Chapter 15

 
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15     FANTASTIC FOUR

 

Alister Mackenzie was very worried Cypress Point had a fatal flaw – it did not have the consistent terrain required of the best courses of his day. Being the unconventional thinker, however, he decided to make this variety its hallmark, and let the chips fall where they may. He cashed in. It was a bold but risky decision for a relatively unknown designer with his first major project in America. It later landed him Bobby Jones’ commission to build Augusta National over stiff, and more experienced, competition. Moreover, in hindsight, this decision seemed simple and very natural - a good reminder to always be willing to consider cutting across the grain of groupthink.

The immediate praise for the course also concerned Alister. He felt his best work took time to discover and appreciate. The eighteenth is one hole that some initially criticized, and others still do. “The best seventeen hole course in the world,” it is called by some. Now they would get to weigh in.

It was a short par four with a dogleg right up the steepest hill on the course. Just a fairway wood or less was needed off the tee, and it was tough to hit the narrow landing area among fairly dense tree growth. The key challenge was the approach shot up lookout hill – the elevation called for a short iron, but the length a mid iron. They needed to have hit it closer to the hill’s base to avoid this conflict.

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Fairly big and sloping back to front, the green helped hold the approach shot. Putting was a different matter, however, and this was a challenging way to finish. This body blow was quickly softened by the vantage point. From there, and from a few steps away at the back porch of the clubhouse, they could happily overlook the fantastic four of the course. They filled up their cameras’ memory cards from here. And they did not agree with a negative view of eighteen. While not the course’s champion or even on the podium, it well deserved its spot on the team.

Chapter 16

 
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16     SUTTER'S MILL

 

Somehow, they now felt like they were also on the team. Smiles from their caddies and smiles from the pro shop staff matched their own. They all seemed to share in the glow that comes from playing Cypress Point for the first time. They had reached the eye of all inner circles, and they were not quite sure how. Or why. A plaque next to the seventeenth tee tried to address part of what they were feeling. Under the title of Boney’s Pulpit, it encouraged everyone reaching that spot to take time and reflect on their surroundings, and be grateful for the privilege of being one of the few who would ever be there. A very sound sermon. Rounds per day there could be counted by hand; a simple spreadsheet could easily keep record of all the rounds ever played. This was not Oracle’s target customer.

But anyone would feel gratitude there. This was the Sutter’s Mill of gratitude. Yet most guests, and maybe many members, would have the more sobering companion thought – only a tiny sub-percent of people who wanted to be there ever would. The Occupy Wall Street crowd would need a microscope to locate this minority among the one percent. There was some comfort that many would prefer water boarding to spending so many hours and dollars chasing around a lifeless, little, disobedient ball into a hole. But many others would give up their birthright to do the same, and would never have the chance.

Perhaps the word pulpit provided a clue. Clearly it meant to convey a place where a sermon would be preached, and an excellent one was – thoughtful, simple and wonderfully short. This should be a required course for the clergy and politicians. But it also suggested an order that required ordination for entrance. They were not coming to fill the pews, but were newly commissioned with the same calling. But what were the qualifications? And what would they preach?

Were successful applicants all born into sufficient wealth and privilege to be able to network with members to secure an invitation? If so, predestination was the prerequisite, and jumping lines in heaven was the only way to success. This was an even more sobering thought, and a survey of members’ backgrounds would probably support this.    But were there exceptions to rally the heart?

Maybe their own lives would be good case studies to poke holes in this working hypothesis. While there was wealth two generations back in their line, they had grown up very middle class. However, they knew even this gave them a huge head start on a high percent of the population, so their stories were still supporting a Calvinist view. Sighs were replacing smiles. Even with a minivan full of logo apparel.

Chapter 17

 
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17     MAILMEN

 

Like the seventeenth and a Rubik’s cube, this was a hard puzzle to solve. It soon faded into the background after returning home and being immersed in busy, everyday life. As trip photographer, the middle brother spent any spare moment back at the ranch sifting through and enjoying pictures of the day. Like Ansel Adams in Yosemite, good subject material boosts any photo’s quality. He considered applying to the New York Times after seeing what he brought back from Cypress. He made two back-ups of every image.

There was also the unexpected ennui about golf. Postpartum depression had set in after the miraculous event, and it was hard to go out and play his local muni again. Was golf now ruined since nothing could compare to Cypress? Was this his Neil Armstrong moment? Neil had only one flag to remind him of the moment; he at least had several flags he could wear or carry around in his pocket. Tees, a ball marker, and divot tool were very transportable, but the shells, balls, and piece of Cypress wood from seventeen were not. They would not even be good mantle pieces until he figured out how to deodorize them.

This break from playing did let him think about how far he had come in his journey. It was just a few years ago he could barely play, and now he had played Cypress. Little leaguers do not get promoted so fast to the majors. What had made him finally try and pick up the game? He clearly remembers when he had made this decision – it was during a round with his uncle and two brothers. The real reason he remembers it is his dad had just suddenly died, so it was a time of mourning. Their uncle was kind enough to invite them to play golf to provide some relief before the funeral, and they played the home course of the first golfer. With thoughts of the afterlife on a beloved course, the conditions were pretty fertile for some heavenly direction. Did any come? Could spirits fill them with thoughts and resolve? Was the “ghost” living up to his nickname? Was his dad also on the course that day? Maybe not yet interred spirits have permission to make unseen visits?

This seemed to be the only credible explanation for a multi-year quest to play better golf, and to drag others along. He had stopped more goals than a Vezina trophy winner. But this was still pretty circumstantial evidence at best.    A better question may be was this message really worthy enough to be carried by heavenly mailmen? Or maybe it was just delivered by the first golfer given his love for the game? Their father probably would not waste his Marley-type interlude on a golf message since he had said many times he would rather watch grass grow. Maybe the answers lay in what he had learned from golf, so he began cataloging these lessons to see if they provided a breadcrumb trail back to the truth.

Golf is a deliberate, time consuming game, and had provided many welcome breaks from middle age pressures, problems, and disappointments. He had almost always rushed to the links after a bad meeting, a bad quarter, harmful political machinations, or a lay-off. Or after learning of a sad child, a family break-up, or a bankrupt friend. It helped him regroup and find the strength to come back and keep trying. This seemed to be a tally in his dad’s favor, but the first golfer had faced many of the same despite economic success. Still, this felt one up to his dad.

This is a game played outside, where he could be reminded of the wonder of nature, and his small place in it. Such a setting was also best for reflection and communion, especially after he became good enough not to live in constant fear on the course. Modern life seemed to be merely moving from one enclosed box to another, staring and tapping at screens, with numerous devices clamoring for attention. Golf was a wonderful escape hatch from hamster habitats. His dad was a constant, avid reader, and would spend hours in a quiet setting filling himself with the written word, and the thoughts they produced. The first golfer was an energetic, active man who loved to be outside, and had a very prominent green thumb. This was a push. So two for dad, one for the first golfer.

He had become very interested in golf history by learning to play better. Unlike most other sports, there were many stories and people to cherish and admire. This added so much depth and richness to the game that he wondered how he played without it. Golf was now in high definition, and there were no tears in leaving the analog world behind. And this increased his desire to add texture from history to the rest of his life. His dad’s favorite book genre was history, though murder mysteries were a close second, and the first golfer pored over similar volumes in his large library all his life. Another push. Three for dad, two for the first golfer.

Chapter 18

 
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18     SUMMER

 

Golf is a humbling, hard game. Good days are followed by bad ones. Good bounces are followed by bad bounces. Some days the putts drop; other days they all lip out. Their dad was naturally humble, and a modest career and modest home did not tempt this, though his well-read intellect did. The first golfer had been very successful in business and politics, and embraced golf to help keep pride at a minimum. One for the first golfer here. Three all for dad and the first golfer.

Golf is a social game, and he now had many fond memories of trips with brothers and cousins. These had let him really get to know them as adults, hard to do at infrequent family trips or reunions with little time and too many other people around. While both dad and the first golfer highly valued family ties and relationships, making friends was a first golfer strength and source of happiness. Another for the first golfer. Three for dad, four for the first golfer.

Long before he had played Cypress Point, he learned this game helped cultivate gratitude. Especially as he got older, he realized more and more what a privilege it always was to play, and he was grateful he had enough health, wealth and time to do so. And unlike driving in Boston where he sometimes wondered if he would ever see a polite gesture or maneuver, he found gratitude expressedoftenbymostothergolfers. Gratitude, and its companion courtesy, were zebras in Africa on a golf course – while rare elsewhere, they were abundant there. Both his dad and the first golfer had deep reservoirs of gratitude. Both had risen above modest, even poor backgrounds, which led to at least a wading pool amount of gratitude. A deep-end amount would come from experience and perspective, and searching for the silver lining in life. The first golfer ran in circles of very successful people, and gratitude could be strained in that ambitious, competitive crowd. Dad had not, but then envy could be its enemy. Dad gets the slight nod here since he did preach and practice it a bit more. Four all for dad and the first golfer.

A last lesson had wider application. While not the first time he had learned this, it was meaningful to relearn it now. It was the power and value of hope. He had started this journey by considering, embracing, and then believing the thought he could get better. Surely hope was a key to his dad and grandfather rising above their original conditions. It helped them aim for a better place and to work hard at the current mundane tasks, believing this would open later doors of opportunity. The first golfer ended up leading a major car company after starting out as a stenographer. Dad became a lawyer after four children and several career misstarts.

While trodding along these meandering paths, they could have accurately complained life was not fair. Would it be better if it were? Maybe no one would then actually value fairness, or others might lose motivation to achieve. Certainly, hope alone does not take anyone to the corner suite or to Cypress Point, so it cannot really overcome unfairness. But hope can absolutely, without reservation, help anyone rise above their current status and reach a higher plain, which may just be the satisfaction from merely striving alone. The virtue of persistence is an incredible byproduct of the vice of inequity. 

Perhaps this qualified them to join the robed society of Boney’s Pulpit at Cypress Point. They could be ambassadors of hope, and be living witnesses that real, meaningful change was possible regardless of someone’s current position. And maybe this was the only message conveyed by transparent caddies during the round with their uncle, one that both his dad and grandfather would want to pass along. Five all now. Two hands of reasons why both men must have been there that day.

Days later, he felt there was one more. Their dad’s death was just the beginning of a turbulent period for the two brothers, typical of what life seems to serve up to everyone at some point. A wrenching job loss, commuting out of state for a year, a move after hoping they were settled, a divorce, and worries over teenage children filled the years they were trying to play more and better golf. Knowing what was coming, the powers in the firmament may have sent these two messengers to start them on a path that would lead to the winning-lottery-ticket-moment of playing Cypress. And years before this, someone or something prompted Goodman to invite a young, struggling preacher in a foreign land to play golf. It was a sign they were watched over and loved, and to help them keep going during some dark days. Hard times bring experience and fortitude, and are therefore not usually solved by divine intervention. But comfort and reassurance will daily fill the email boxes of our souls if we do not unsubscribe or put up filters.

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A daily message of their youth, in the days before email, was the gift photo from the first golfer, which filled a whole wall in their basement. After playing Cypress, the two brothers made the short drive from the club to finally visit the scene they had looked at for years. As they stood by the Lone Cypress on a cliff by the sea on the Monterey Peninsula, they did feel very blessed to be there. For one, they had moved beyond where they had grown up in many ways, just as the first golfer had hoped, and for this they were thankful. They did not understand why this had happened, but they wanted to express gratitude until the day they did. They also knew what they considered blessings were often trials and vice versa, so they felt thankful for challenges too. But most importantly, whatever blessings and trials had come, they felt they were known, that there was a tailored plan for them and their happiness. And they were grateful for the bestowal of hope such knowledge brings.

Perhaps faith, hope, and charity are an equation with commutative properties, and not just a list. Like all math and science principles, it is an equation that needs to be learned and practiced to be understood and applied. But also like such principles, it is a description of real life, of something inside all of us waiting to be cultivated and brought out. They could help be the sowers of this message – one bright and full of light that generates power and energy. And a message that could help those in the winter days of their lives, where there is little sunlight and it is hard to get out of bed, to come over to summer days of hope, where sleep is a burden and long daylight hours are still too short.

Chapter 19

 
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19     PELICANS AND WHALES

 

Lightning struck twice. And a third time. They were starting to feel like Roy Sullivan. So they quickly hopped in their Delorean to play Cypress a second and third time, and to stay in the clubhouse both times. Seven more rounds of golf over four days, with two nights stay. As they knew it would, their flux capacitor did finally burn out:  the member they knew changed jobs, and a new club president cut back on guest playing privileges, and eliminated unaccompanied guests staying in the clubhouse. They did not expect to ever go back, but were hopefully fed well enough to survive the coming long, cold hibernation. Eight rounds at Cypress in thirteen months is the Farrell’s Zoo of golf, so they had a chance. And they definitely needed time to digest it all.

Like the outside of the clubhouse, the interior and bedrooms were comfortable and simple, and would have been more at home in the ‘30s than today. This was a New England bed and breakfast, not a Bellagio or a Venetian, with radiators, crown molding, framed pages from long extinct magazines, and wallpaper with golfing scenes. There was a larger, second floor balcony in front, and a narrow one off the bedrooms in back. A couple dining areas and a couple sitting areas downstairs with a small porch, and that was it. The main dining room was the most updated, and had the best ocean view through large, plate glass windows. It felt like mom was in the kitchen, which served dishes like grilled cheese and a turkey sandwich on white bread. And they had more siblings than there were diners.

They were the only guests both nights they stayed. With all the staff leaving for the night, they expected to be asked to turn out all the lights and water the plants. Cypress at night turns into a summer rental. With no homes nearby, the nights were wonderfully dark and star-filled, and the world’s best sound machine lulled them to sleep through open windows. Screens and air conditioning were not needed there.

All-day guest playing privileges somehow exceeded expectations. They could tee off in the morning after rush hour ended at 8:30 a.m., have a leisurely lunch, and tee off again whenever they wanted in the afternoon. The pro shop’s schedule book only had morning pages. Playing the course at these times made earlier feel like Shinjuku Station, especially the afternoon rounds. The local animals must know this as they were everywhere after midday, and were quite put out any time they had to move for golfers. Who left the gate open and let these people in?

Besides the daily stampede, the other wonderful discovery is experiencing Cypress in a kaleidoscope of weather and light, with panoramic views instead of periscope ones like their first visit. Studio 54 would be proud of how fast fog could come and go. Sometimes there was morning fog, like the first time they played, that uniformly burned off. Other times, there was afternoon fog that rolled in, covering parts or all of the course. One time, the fog just enveloped the ocean holes, so they reviewed what they had done to upset Mother Nature. Maybe they still had Hail Mary deficits from when they took home the gift and left the box at a birthday party, or shot a BB gun into the neighbor’s bedroom, or convinced their sister to do a flip off the high dive by lying they had already done one. Not seeing those ocean holes in their full glory felt like when they left a game or turned it off before the greatest comeback in history. But who wants to listen to Bill Gates complain about the challenge of giving away his money or Brad Pitt and his marital problems?

The two peak times of day for light are morning and evening. The sun seems to wash out colors during the rest of the day, but its lower intensity and sharper angle near sunrise and sunset enhances them. Nature’s other daily Tide. The course set-up maximized the available light during the day. If this was also a part of his course design, Alister should be synonymous with Albert for the first names of otherworldly intellects. For the opening holes, most of them in the woods, overhead light created fascinating shadow patterns, and allowed enough sun to hit the fairway to be most playable. The later and finishing holes, with few trees, would be most dramatic in the setting sun. The routing ensured all the holes would be played most often in their best lighting. Thomas Alister Edison. The only caveat is fifteen and sixteen could be tough very late in the day under clear skies with a blinding setting sun. However, the Pacific rarely has such days there, and instead usually has cloud cover on the horizon.

Playing several more times also let them see a couple hidden items their caddies told them about during their first round. Walking over to the fifteenth green, they saw sea lions when their caddies pointed them out, and told them what they were. Their caddies also said there were pelicans in Boney’s Pulpit, and whales along the seventeenth fairway, which they did not see. When watching the sunrise over Boney’s Pulpit from the clubhouse balcony, they saw the sun first light up the large rock behind the sixteenth green, and they found the pelicans. Dozens of them; maybe hundreds. It was the Monte Carlo of pelicans. Also, during one of their last rounds, in the late afternoon in overcast and windy weather, they finally saw a whale. This was harder to believe than the pelicans since it seemed too close to shore for whales.

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See the sea lions. Find the pelicans. Wait for the whales. Requiring little effort, look around in life to see the sea lions – those who have helped and cared and given. None should be guilty of missing their sea lions, and not thanking them. It takes more effort to search out the pelicans. Usually, like standing on the balcony at the Cypress Point clubhouse, higher elevation is needed to see them. But deeper gratitude follows when finding them, and more tears come when shared. At times, it is necessary to wait quite a while for the whales to appear in our lives. Persevering through months or years of affliction brings heartfelt thanksgiving when help arrives. And sometimes when it does not, since in either case, priceless wisdom and unique perspective always do come.

It can hard to believe whales will come the first time. Or that they will come again. That is why messengers will come, from the here and now or the unseen world, to help those struggling to believe. Charging forth from their own Boney’s Pulpit, these are witnesses that become catalysts, passing forward what others had first done for them.