The Reading Room: Selection #1 (June 2018)


#21

Looking forward to the podcast! I’m enjoying the book so far. I thought Peper’s description of his wife is a great description of my wife: “golf-averse women who suffer our obsession with sufficient understand and good humor.” Although I don’t think that Alyssa would rubber stamp the move to St. Andrews.


#22

George Peper podcast is live! You can listen through our website (https://nolayingup.com/2018/06/28/episode-14-george-peper/) or through iTunes by searching “TrapDraw podcast - No Laying Up”.


#23

Alright guys, we’re nearing the end of the month which means hopefully you’ve had a chance to read all or some of the book. Please, please, please add your own discussion questions, but in an effort to get things started here are a few I’ll throw out to the group:

*If you could ‘sojourn’ for two years anywhere in the world (for golf or otherwise), where are you going?

*Is there a specific moment in golf (or life if you’re so inclined) which you can point to as having a profound impact on your golfing life/outlook the way George’s slice at 18 of the Old Course had on his?

*George discusses his different attempts to shoot even par or better, his Holy Grail. On a few occassions he “throws up over himself” trying to get in. Is there a time you have lost it late under pressure?

*George talks about his apprehension with getting paired up with strangers at the course. One such stranger, though, Gordon Murray, became a good friend. Do you have any instances where you met somebody randomly playing golf and became good friends? Any other good tales from golfing with strangers?

*A theme of the book is the democratic nature of golf in St. Andrews. The Links Trust is tasked with making golf in town available and affordable to all. How can places outside St. Andrews (e.g. the United States) learn from this model? Is it important to you? Is it important for the good of the game?

*What’d you think of the golf clubs in St. Andrews? Do you belong to a club?

*Have you been to St. Andrews? Tell me about your experience with the Old Course, as well as other courses around town. What are your favorite things to do off the course?


#24

I finished the book the book this morning and your point about the democratic nature of golf in Scotland is what struck me as so stark. I mean the access he had to one of the greatest golf courses in the world is just astounding and at such a reasonable price. I’m aware that golf in Scotland/England/Ireland is much less exclusive but this wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime trip. This was essentially his local muni!

I have not had a chance to listen to the pod yet but I’ll be curious what his thoughts were on this. Because Sleepy Hollow, his former club in the States is a pretty prestigious club so he wasn’t exactly a trunk slammer before going over to St. Andrews (I don’t mean that negatively. Hard to be a public golfer in the great NYC area). I’m anxious to hear more about this from a clearly thoughtful guy who has seen both sides.


#25

That affordability/accessibility theme was one of the themes that stuck out to me as I read as well. I think we’ve all had the experience of going to a club that was a little bit “out of your league,” and not feeling like you should really be there. Peper certainly felt that, particularly at the beginning, but it it certainly was much more egalitarian at St. Andrews, as opposed to the U.S. where money is the biggest factor.

What can we do differently here in the U.S.? I was listening to the Fried Egg podcast when Tom Doak was on, and the question he was asked was “When will you design a course that will be more affordable?” His response was really interesting. He pointed out that as golf is a business, once a course has success, the owner would be foolish NOT to raise prices, especially with loans etc. required to pay off the expense of building a course.

To me, as long as private business is the driver of golf course ownership, the status quo will continue (which is totally understandable from the owners point of view). We have all seen how many municipal courses are going out of business. I think to improve access and affordability, organizations not focused on profit alone would need to be more involved, as the Links Trust is at St. Andrews. Which of course brings more challenges.

I think NLU’s video on Winter Park (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bk32x_tabDY) and Golf Digest’s article on Goat Hill Park (https://www.golfdigest.com/story/john-ashworths-goat-hill-park-the-little-course-with-the-big-ambitions) are examples of what is possible.


#26

So pleased to find this thread - I finished ‘Two Years in St Andrews’ by George Piper yesterday evening, on the flight back to London from Edinburgh, after spending a week in St Andrews for my younger daughter’s graduation.

I thought the book was beautifully written and captures the nature of the town perfectly. @quinnronan asks above ‘how authentic was the book to your experience of the course and the town of St. Andrews?’ - in my view, the book describes the town and the golf, especially the author’s favourite course, the Old, perfectly. I’d been visiting St Andrews for 4 years before finally getting to play the Old and it was wet and cold enough that I used my cup of tea at the halfway point (at least what I didn’t shake out of the cup) to try and get some warmth back into my hands. And it was still the closest I’ve ever been to understanding what people describe as a spiritual moment playing golf. Any time I mention that out loud I feel a little embarrassed, but that’s the truth of it!

The town has changed a little since my copy of the book was published in 2006. Student numbers continue to grow, there’s massive pressure on housing, the Castle course has been built and St Andrews Bay hotel has become the very successful Fairmont, with its two beautiful courses and views of the old town. I have ordered ‘St Andrews Sojourn’ to see whether there are any changes from ‘Two years in St Andrews’ and because I want to give my older copy to my daughter as a graduation present - the book takes you back to the town in an instant, the warmth of the people, the history, the university and the golf.

George recounts a speech in the book which he describes as mainly light and entertaining but ending with a heartfelt message, and that describes the book too. A very entertaining read, but also in my view one of the most touching books written about the town, golf and finding a place that feels like home.

Looking forward to listening to the podcast and future Reading Room recommendations!


#27

I heard that same podcast and you are spot on. It is hard to see how affordable, great golf makes sense from a business perspective.

Not that this thread is about The Fried Egg but it was very interesting when they discussed Common Ground in Colorado. Maybe more golf associations need to consider building their own facility in this #growthegame world.


#28

Great work @Randy.

You asked about the democratic nature of the game, and I see it as essential to golf. Any erosion of the egalitarian nature of golf, especially within the spheres of design and course access occurs to the detriment of the game at large IMO. I’d like to see many clubs within the USA and elsewhere (my own city and country included) explore the possibility of artisan clubs, as the Scots employ so well.

As for where I’d take a 24 month sojourn, I’d love to do it at North Berwick, Cruden Bay or Dornoch. Never been to any of them but suspect they would be ideal.


#29

The Home Course (south of Tacoma, WA) is another course owned by a Golf Association. Really solid and fairly affordable course with discounts for members of various Golf Associations.


#30

I had forgotten about that - it would be really interesting to see how that would work out if more golf associations got into course ownership.


#31

I like the comparison between the book and the speech. The short chapters made it easy to read, and the humor made you want to come back after you put it down. But the themes of golf the way it should be, relationships with family and friends, and finding a place to call home are powerful without being overdone in the book.


#32

First of all, great call on the first selection Randy. Really enjoyed this book. A couple of concept/ideas really stood out to me.

The idea of golf as more of a daily exercise or practice. I saw it somewhere on the Refuge recently, this idea of thinking of golf as more of something you just do daily or weekly like yoga or surfing, versus a competitive event was a new concept for me. The romantic idea of these small towns in Scotland where families go out for a few holes after dinner as just part of their daily lives sounds like such a cool lifestyle. The course I play at is a 5-minute drive from my house and I often do this one or two nights a week. I look forward to taking my kids as they get a little older.

The concept of a golf club without property is an intriguing idea. I guess it would be similar to our idea of a Legion or service club with a strong emphasis on the golf (and drinking). I wonder if there might be some hybrid form of ownership here that could work in North America that is in between a private club and a municipal club? Open to the public, owned by an association with the intent of giving people access to good golf?

The book also got me thinking about a concept of Tim Ferris’ (4-Hour Work Week) of a mini-retirement at some point in your career. As life-expectancy rises and careers are more and more flexible, the idea of a mid-career retirement could become more popular. I’m not sure if I would rather park myself somewhere for a period of time or be on the move. Either way this book got me thinking about it.

Overall I think my biggest takeaway is to not take my own golf so seriously. Golf is an amazing game for so many reasons and getting so self-absorbed in your own game and quest for mastery of it can really take away from so many of its positive aspects. I plan on challenging myself to being more open to meeting new people and learning to just enjoy the walk and having more gratitude for what the game brings to my life.

Looking forward to selection #2!


#33

I’m not quite finished with the book yet but something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, and boring my wife with, is about the democratic nature of the game in St. Andrews. I very much wish that we in America (the royal we, if you will) would learn some lessons from the Scots here. There’s so many times I’d love to just pop out for an hour with a handful of clubs and play four or five holes before dark but we just aren’t set up like that in America unless you belong to a private club. Here it’s a whole to-do of getting the clubs loaded, heading to the course and paying for a twilight time and hoping there’s enough time in the day to make the whole endeavor worth it. More and more it seems that golf is an all or nothing thing on a Saturday and Sunday morning all the while you’re rubbing elbows with the unwashed.

I’ve started to see a few places here in AZ have some specials for locals where it’s something like nine holes and a drink for $15 after 4:00 and I think that’s the right direction. We need less structure and less obsession on keeping track of our score and playing a full round. I love the challenge of competition and playing against myself but some of my best memories on a golf course involve nothing more than a six iron, a putter and a few golf balls in my pocket and walking around the course as the sun goes down just dropping a ball and hitting a few shots and rolling some putts.

I’ve been to Scotland but didn’t play golf while I was there. This book makes me long for another trip where I would settle in to a town for a week or two and become a local for a while, just playing the courses and spending time in the local pubs. The Scots are the nicest people I’ve ever met, that’s for sure.


#34

Just finished it. Great book to read while sipping on a whisky, especially when the drinking chapters kick in and he talks about winter golf. George really hits the nail on the head with this sentence at the end of chapter 36:

“Indeed, to walk a brisk 18 holes in winter with three good friends, the wind lashing at your cheeks, the turf crunching beneath your feet, is to know a noble sort of joy.”

Bam! This really struck me because it’s exactly how I feel after a bone chilling round in the wind, rain, and muck. You doubt you should ever even put yourself through it, then afterwards you look back on it with internal joy. Good shots seem even better considering the elements. The bad shots have an excuse, and the birdies and par saves are talked about because they seem more impressive.

I loved how in depth he goes into the other golf courses in St. Andrews. I’ve never been there, but if I ever do go I’d like to play at least one other course in that whole complex.

I found it interesting about how poorly he played on one of his trips back to the US on courses with more trees. I’m thinking to myself “The Open is played here every 5 years but there’s probably hundreds, maybe thousands of courses that are more difficult than the Old Course”. I’m sort of relating this to the Fried Egg stuff which promotes width and angles as the way golf should be played, because it’s more interesting and offers more strategy. I don’t neccesarily agree with this all the time - Bethpage is great too, but The Old Course definitely has this and more, with the addition of the wind causing players to think. It seemed like George played the best golf of his life during his time at St. Andrews (middle tees), but I think that’s the point. Golf is supposed to be fun and it’s more fun when you play well. It’s also the mark of a great golf course when a 7 handicap can play the best golf of their life and almost break par a few times, and that same course can host a major championship and still have HOF players shoot 75.

Great suggestion, Randy. Really enjoyed it and Men in Green is on its way.


#35

I also really enjoyed this inaugural selection.

A theme that really stood out to me was the “lack of hurry” that seemed to be present among the golfers in St. Andrews. I assume that many others on the Refuge are young(ish) professionals and are busy with careers, family, and life. Granted, the author is semi-retired, but the pace of life seemed such a stark contrast to my daily life. The concept of a day comprising playing a round (on the Old Course!), grabbing lunch, then a few more drinks, then moseying home on a random Wednesday is more than my feeble mind could grasp.

Other things that interested me: the fact that no one warms up on the range; nosy neighbors are everywhere; the sheer number of golf clubs that the author belongs to; how utterly inexpensive it is to play golf if you’re a St. Andrews resident.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read. I admit, I was looking up real estate in St. Andrews while reading the book.


#36

I was randomly paired with a “member” of Chamber’s Bay that had already played 1.75 rounds the Saturday I was out there before we teed off. I was just out there on vacation, so we didn’t become good friends or anything, but it was an awesome round with golf and college football conversation that didn’t stop for the entire 18 holes. I’m very happy I ended up playing with Paul instead of just going solo, and not just for the local knowledge about which lines to take on tee shots.

If it’s purely for golf, it’d probably be somewhere in the British Isles, but since at this point in my life I have quite a few other interests I’d like to devote time to, I’d like somewhere a bit closer to major city with non-golf activities. If I was somehow granted memberships at one or more of the Melbourne Sandbelt clubs, that would probably be the pick. Pretty much anywhere other than St. Andrews would require somehow getting a membership to the top courses in the area that are generally private or fairly expensive to play as a visitor.

I’ve never belonged to a private club, but I have had season passes at munis or “memberships” at semi-private courses before. If I were to join a golf club, the ones he described were how I’d want mine to be, pure golf with a bit of food and drink (sometimes more than a bit of drinking) after the round. I’m planning on kicking the tires on a few private clubs in the area in the next year or so, but I’m worried as they’re more country clubs than golf clubs, I may be disappointed. I also find it interesting that multiple golf clubs use the various courses of St. Andrews as their home course. I’d be surprised if any arrangement exists like that in the USA.

Loved the book, and excited to see what people think of Men in Green. I happened to read it a couple months ago, and found it pretty interesting. It was different than what I expected, but liked it a lot.


#37

I sure can relate to playing poorly on courses with more trees. I’m definitely a player in need of #widthandangles but mostly because unlike Tron, I’m not a generational driver of the golf ball. My punch out game is world class though.


#38

A little late to the game, but what an incredible read and great pick, Randy. Picked it up last night and couldn’t put it down until I finished it today.

As for my own personal sojourn, it would have to be to Galway, Ireland. I spent a summer studying abroad there while in school. Being most of our first European experiences, my friends and I spent most of the summer traveling to other parts of Ireland and to continental Europe on our 3 day weekends. But the pace and simplicity of which George describes St. Andrews is exactly how I feel about Galway. And throughout that summer, so intent on traveling, I managed 0 rounds of golf, something I’m still ashamed of. I have to go back. Anyone making a trip to Ireland feel free to reach out and I can state why it should be the focal point of your trip.

Lost it under pressure too many times. One that stands out is a 9 hole match in high school golf. Through 6 holes I was playing well at +1. In a blackout like moment, I arrived on the 9th tee 2-under after an eagle-birdie stretch through a par 5 and par 3. Going for my first under par 9, let alone 18, I stab a wipey fade into trees barely 200 yards away, punched a burner into the greenside bunker and then airmailed a bunker shot over the green en route to a double bogey and the most unsatisfying even nine holes

I’ll leave with what I thought was one of the biggest themes I took away- escaping materialism and the mechanisms to do so. I think the simplicity of St. Andrews was embraced greatly by George and his wife in stark contrast to the life they had in New York. I think George’s frugality in the book is somewhat superficial- he was a successful author, writer, and editor, a member at one of the most prestigious clubs in the US and simultaneously paying for his son to attend Princeton. I don’t think Libby’s interior decorating set them back all too much. Ultimately his ability to revert to this simple life was afforded by 1) luck 2) the financial security he had to so with little consequence. George does a great job of making the nuances of such a cultural shift and his personality relateable (e.g. first R&A clubhouse experience/fear of public speaking) but as I learned more about him and his overall life arc, the less relateable the story felt.


#39

Great pick, Randy. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am more than a little jealous at George Peper’s time in St. Andrews - not to mention hoping that I’ll get that lucky with my real estate acquisitions at some point in the future.

*If you could ‘sojourn’ for two years anywhere in the world (for golf or otherwise), where are you going?

  • Far from an original answer, but Mr. Peper makes a strong argument for St. Andrews. I’m (perhaps oddly) a big fan of the weather over there and they seem to have a great balance of world-class but accessible golf. I spent a day in St. Andrews while studying abroad in England and have been itching to go back since. Peper captured the feel of the town, at least in my short experience, very well. The charm of a small town + the vitality of a university town is tough to beat. I am curious how the influx of tourism has affected St. Andrews. I was there approximately 7 years ago and it was already fairly touristy and I’m sure its only increased. I would hate to see St. Andrews become a caricature of its former self.

*George talks about his apprehension with getting paired up with strangers at the course. One such stranger, though, Gordon Murray, became a good friend. Do you have any instances where you met somebody randomly playing golf and became good friends? Any other good tales from golfing with strangers?

  • I haven’t had any lasting friends from random pairings, but some of my best friends these days are my grad school classmates who also had an interest in golfing, many of whom were strangers before we golfed together. Similarly my best friend and his wife were high school classmates of mine. We weren’t incredibly close back then but after reconnecting during grad school we discovered that golf is a shared passion and have all become very close on and off the course.

*What’d you think of the golf clubs in St. Andrews? Do you belong to a club?

  • I like how the golf clubs in St. Andrews are structured and that the clubs are not directly tied to the course. This goes with another of Randy’s prompts, but I think this is an interesting model that could help provide access to the game in the US if some form of this model was adopted. Not sure how it would actually work, but I like the idea of some sort of public/private partnership between various clubs which could provide resources/additional funding for an otherwise public course in exchange for specific tee times/partial access/etc. Is an interesting way to potentially subsidize the cost of maintaining a course and providing access to more people while providing the benefits of a club for those interested.

Below are a few passages from the book that caught my interest:

  • I really want to play the French game chole after reading the description on page 53.

  • “There’s a patience and gentleness to the Scots - a sort of resigned forbearance with life’s lunacy - and that, too, is evident at the local Tesco, where people never block the aisles with their carts, always say “sorry” as they squeeze past, and happily wait their turn in the checkout queue. Voices are never raised, clerks are never argued with, and everyone dutifully bags his or her own groceries. It’s the way our American markets should be - except for the meat and tomatoes.”

  • Quoting Bobby Jones regarding Augusta and Jones’ desire to mimic the strategy of the Old Course: “There is not a hole out there that can’t be birdied, if you simply think, and not a hole that won’t be bogeyed if you stop thinking.”

  • I got a kick out of the ladies putting club (and would love to check out the putting course!) as my girlfriend is not a golfer but loves putting. She would definitely be a member.

  • Discussing the fairway speeds during the 2005 Open: “I was back at my marshal’s post on Sunday morning when R&A chief executive Peter Dawson strolled by with a surprising statistic. ‘The fairways today,’ he said, ‘are running faster than the greens.’ They’d just put a Stimpmeter on the 9th fairway where the ball had rolled 11.5 feet–the green was rolling 10.5” Talk about firm and fast!

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


#40

Finally finished the book over the weekend and plan to finish the podcast over lunch today. George’s good fortune with real estate was very striking to me. I wonder how his investment held up through the 2008-2009 financial crisis?

It’s hard for me to come up with a more ideal place to “sojourn” than St. Andrews. George lays out an impressive model for retirement in the book.