Avante Garde Golfer

A Journal of new ideas in the world of golf - published quarterly for the avant garde golfer

Spring Quarter 2020


The Bunker Murders, by Sal Lindstrom

Random House; 340 pages. $24.95

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Just when you thought golf was a safe sport (compared, say, to stock car racing or bungee jumping), along comes Sal Lindstrom and his fifth novel, "The Bunker Murders." It is likely the average non-golfer, hearing only the title, would conjure up a tale about murder in war time bunkers. But a glance at the cover art reveals Lindstrom's milieu: a large golf bunker with a bomb fuse poking up from the sand. Very clever, and as a golfer you are instantly hooked (of course the explosive devices used in the novel are far more sophisticated than the old fuse variety).

A psychopath of sorts is out to harm, if not destroy, golf in the Phoenix area, and perhaps the entire country. Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice to say he/she is able to plant some very sophisticated land mines in bunkers of selected resort courses. The first one kills a golf club maintenance man one fine October day, just at the beginning of Arizona golf's high season. The murder is hushed up as the local police investigate, but they really have nothing to go on. Disgruntled employee? Angry Gulf War vet? All the usual suspects, but this early in the plot you know none is likely responsible.

A few days later an out of town banker is blown apart as he sets up for a routine sand shot. This bit of fireworks occurs mid morning, and before his horrified playing partners. The golf course (Scottsdale's toniest, of course) is closed indefinitely, and the story makes page one. The FBI is called in, and here we meet the novel's protagonist, Carl Nathanson, golfer and all around super agent. Like most fictional crime heroes, he is resourceful and smart enough to know when to go for it and when to lay up.

This is terrorism at its finest, and Lindstrom is a master. His previous books dealt with hijackings, tunnel explosions, and floods - all perpetrations of some pretty nefarious and well- connected criminals. The Bunker Murders takes a different route, as here the bad person seems to be working alone, not to wreck society but only that segment which enjoys playing -- or watching -- golf. Why? For one thing, we learn soon enough that if the murders aren't solved, all PGA tournaments in Arizona may be canceled.

A third murder snuffs out a young woman playing in the Sun City area of greater Phoenix, about 30 miles from the first two killings. She steps into a bunker and triggers a buried mine. It is now mid November and panic grips the area. All Phoenix areas courses close for two days as the governor, FBI and resort operators meet at the capital. Rather than cancel out a huge vacation business, they agree to ban all bunker play for an indefinite period. Like some sacred wetlands, bunkers are suddenly deemed out of bounds. The ball may not be retrieved from any bunker in the state! Local rules are drafted granting golfers a free drop if the ball lands anywhere in a bunker. Some golfers return to play, but business is still off 50% from the year before. Talk about golf nuts -- a heck of a lot of golfers are still willing to take their chances. My intuition tells me that Lindstrom has this pegged just about right.

Meanwhile, the FBI, under Nathanson's direction, interviews hundreds of golf course employees (how did the murderer escape notice to plant the devices?), plus dozens of others connected in any way with the art of land mines. Lindstrom lets us sit in on a few interviews, reminding us of all the sleazies 'out there.' We are also taken through a lesson in land mine technology, and how easy it is to obtain and hide mines in soft bunker sand.

We also see how hopeless are attempts at golf course security (compared, say, to securing a building or airport terminal). After all, the perpetrator could even be a paying customer. Do you search all golf bags? Talk about 'delay of the game.'

In December there are two more explosions, one in a Mesa resort course and the other in a Phoenix municipal layout. Worse still, neither mine was in a bunker (out of bounds, remember?), but in desert rough adjacent to fairways. The Mesa golfer dies and the other fellow ends up in critical condition. That does it. All Arizona PGA tournaments are canceled indefinitely, courses close down and tourism hits a swoon. The FBI is besieged by editorials and TV pundits - do something! Nathanson is on top of things, and 'something' occurs soon enough.

What makes The Bunker Murders so intriguing is Lindstrom's attention to golf detail. He has played the courses profiled, and knows their bunkers, their fairways and greens. And he does not have to invent some implausible methodology for the crimes -- as he demonstrates, they are chillingly plausible. I can't tell you more, except this: the story will fascinate golfers and even, I suspect, find an audience among non-players who have spent more than a few minutes watching the game on television. One other promise. If you do play golf, you will think twice before stepping into the next bunker.

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Professional Confessionals, by Dilbert Myers

Giant Publications; paperback, 243 pages. $12.95

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This is an unusual book, a compilation of 12 "confessionals" from among golf's top teaching professionals. The author, himself a golf pro, wrote to all the professionals on various 'top 100' lists (157 in all). He asked them, bluntly, if they would commit their 'real thoughts and feelings about the teaching of golf' to an interview. (Myers used the lists from Golf Mazazine, Golf Digest, and PGA Monthly; because many professionals were on two or three lists, the total number came to 157). Not surprisingly, most of the pros did not respond, or turned him down as "too busy." I suspect this had something to do with Myers' previous book (he is also a professional writer), 'Ten Things Your Golf Teacher Won't Tell You.' Written partly tongue in cheek, 'Ten Things' sought to debunk many of the shibboleths of golf instruction, and was written solely from Myers' perspective. (Example: "No. 8: The new clubs I just sold you won't improve your game.")

Myers seems to be a renegade of sorts, out for bear, and one would have to be pretty thick skinned to 'confess' anything to him. Well, at least 12 pros did, and this book is their 'confessional.' Whether their on-record comments will ruin or enhance careers remains to be seen, but for anyone who has ever taken a golf lesson, the collection promises to be an eye opener.

For example, Gary Diderot, from the Mt. Pleasant golf course in Durango, Colorado (no 56 on the Golf Digest list), admits that most of his golf students are "hopeless. They can't improve, won't improve; they have no talent, no commitment; I take their money and go through the motions, but they would be better off going skiing."

Hank Wierton, of Pacific Grove Academy in Oregon, admits to "disliking having to teach all the time, but it's a way to make a living (he is no. 85 on Golf Magazine's list). I'm 46, couldn't make it on the tour, and have a family to feed. Everyone thinks it's so glamorous, but it's really not. The middle aged folks who come for lessons are all looking for a magic secret, some single piece of advice to lower their handicap. Wish it was that simple. But if you didn't learn the game as a kid, or don't have unlimited time to practice, I doubt I can really help you. But I do my best, my students evidently like my style, and every year I get voted in (for last three years). I'll probably drop off the list next year."

The highest ranked teacher willing to commit was Reilly McSmith, an Irish immigrant who is head pro at Louisville's Downs course; he ranks between 30 and 40 on all three lists. McSmith is appalled by the way the game is played over here (as opposed to Great Britain). He states: "Very, very few, take it [golf] seriously. I see players ignoring the rules, moving their ball on the fairway, picking up putts - it's disgusting. Quite frankly, I don't think the USGA handicap means a thing. And I try to teach simple etiquette, but no one really wants to spend time on that, or learn the rules. Just 'teach me the swing,' 'help me to putt better'". McSmith is quick to point out that he loves the U.S., that the opportunities are "fantastic over here", but pretty much thinks Americans are barbarians as golfers.

The one surprising theme that almost all the 12 pros come to, either directly or tangentially, is the fact that they can't really help their students in the long run. The Golf Channel, the instruction articles in magazines, the new internet golf simulation site, and their own teaching, barely make a dent in how their charges perform. They all agree, it seems, that if you don't have 100% commitment to practice and improvement, that all the lessons in the world are pretty much a waste of your time and money. Of course the irony is not lost on the reader -- these guys make their living teaching golf! So the book is strange, indeed. People want to learn to play the game, not learn that they are wasting their time.

I suppose (or hope, anyway) that Myers' book will spark a rebuttle from the other 100+ top teachers, or the thousands of dedicated professionals who like to teach, who think they help, and who can document success. Myers' book is, after all, self serving. He got the 'confessionals' he wanted to hear, and the book he wanted to write. Now let's hear it from the other side.

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Equipment reviews

The One Club (the only golf club you'll ever need)

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USGA rules limit the number of golf clubs to 14, and most golfers carry that number. A putter is in every bag, which leaves 13 clubs. A typical combination for a low handicap golfer:

Putter ----> 1 club

Driver, 3 wood, 5 wood, 7 wood ----> 4 clubs

9-4 irons ----> 6 clubs

Pitching, Sand, Lob wedge ----> 3 clubs

Total: 14 clubs

The full golf bag is heavy. And unwieldy, making a cart or caddy necessary to get around the course. What if you had just two clubs that could do the work of 14?

Research shows that such a flexible iron club has been on the market for years. However, the advertised models were not very good. In 1998 the Single Club was introduced which sold a few thousand units and then quietly disappeared. That early model used a manual screw type mechanism in an iron design that could alter the club head angle, from approximately 4 degrees (putter) to 50 degrees (sand wedge). The length of the shaft did not change, nor the weight of the club. When the screw mechanism jammed, which apparently was not infrequent, the hapless golfer was left with a 5 iron when a wedge was needed, or vice versa. Needless to say, it did not win many converts.

Engineers have been quietly working on the idea for a long time, and the big breakthrough came in 2012, with the introduction of nano-tech ball bearings. These bearings are, in a word, programmable. You can get any angle of clubhead desired by pressing a small button on the bottom of the shaft; a digital signal sent to the bearings redirects them to alter the club head angle, and shift weight as needed to or from the head and into the shaft. While this is not the same as 14 individual clubs, the result is something one can easily get used to. Best of all, you can program the angles you want, from 2 degrees to 60 degrees.

For woods, a second club is needed, which uses the same technology, but with a much larger head and a longer shaft. So just two clubs can replace 14; since the carrying bag is much lighter, the net weight saved is approximately 6/7, or 88%. Each club costs $495. They have not been approved for professionals (and won't be, since there is some slight precision forfeited compared to individual clubs), but for the typical golfer who wants a light load on the course, the nanotechnology clubs are nothing short of miraculous.

One-club: Irons (2 to 60 degrees) - $495

One club: Woods (6 to 30 degrees) - $495

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Equipment Reviews

Never lose a golf ball - the light wave golf ball finder

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Ask any golfer what technologic advance he or she would like most and you'll hear one unified cry: something to find my lost ball! Well, that technology has finally arrived: the lightwave golf ball finder. The concept of technology to find lost golf ball is not new, as for years there have been specially-designed non-regulation balls (SDNRB) findable with specially-designed sonar equipment. These SDNRB's have embedded chips that emit a high frequency sound, picked up by the sonar. One problem: multiple hits tend to erode the chip's frequency emission. For optimum play you need 18 balls (or more) a round. Another problem: the sonar equipment is very expensive and requires a technician to operate. A round with your caddy and sonar tech? Hardly.

The new lightwave golf ball finder uses off the shelf regulation balls, which are marked with a paint formulation that reflects an extremely narrow wavelength of light, one not found isolated in nature. The wavelength is emitted instantly when sunlight hits the ball, and emission continues a good 15 minutes even in the dark, then dies away. The result is a laser-like spectral signal that can be detected continuously while sunlight hits the ball, and for another 15 minutes if the ball is hidden from sunlight (e.g., buried under leaves or grass). (The light cannot be detected if the ball is under water, but then you usually know when that happens.)

The new marking system (called Spectrum Find Marker) comes pen size, and is good for marking several dozen balls. Alone, it would not be of any use if equipment to detect the light spectrum was heavy or unaffordable. A real breakthrough is miniaturization of the wave length spectro finder, a device that has been in military use for several years. Until last year such devices sold for hundreds of dollars, and were too unwieldy for the golf course. With the latest microchip technology, so called WLSF's now sell for under $50, and are the size of a small cell phone. Attached to the golfer's belt or bag, they can be clicked on instantly to find any SFM-marked ball within about 30 yards. Of course you'll find lots of balls not your own (if they are also marked with Spectrum Find), but if you are in the right area, your ball should be among them. This gadget promises to revolutionize the game for anyone prone to lose the golf ball. And isn't that all of us, at one time or another?

Wave Length Spectro Finder $49

Spectrum Find Marker $10

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Golf in the Kingdom - Another must see for golfers

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The Basic Facts

Golf in the Kingdom, a new movie based on 1972 novel of the same name, by Michael Murphy.

Directed and Produced by Brian Gay

Script by Zacharias Manus

Stars: George Clooney as Shivas Irons

Richard McGovern as Michael Murphy

Ian McSwain as Seamus McDuff

Linda Cartwright as Laura Lee

Rankings: 4/4 (for golfers), 3/4 for everyone else

When Michael Murphy's 1972 cult novel, Golf in the Kingdom, was first sold to the movie studios in 1990, everyone expected the film to be quickly produced. After all, Sean Connery had been picked to play Shivas Irons, the mystical zen golfer and the novel's protagonist. With a widely read book as story basis, over 25 million golfers in the US at the time, and Connery in the lead, Hollywood wisdom had a strong bet on the movie.

But early scripts were inchoate, a result of Hollwood's infamous committee-itis. Some wanted to emphasize the novel's Zen aspects, others wanted a more basic golf story, and others wanted a Travelogue of Scotland (where the novel takes place). You can't have everything and a coherent script. Also, no one could agree on how to introduce a love interest. Thirty re-writes over 15 years (by one estimate) scared away all backers. (For Pressman's The Legend of Bagger Vance, the story was changed to create a love interest in the movie, and the Vance character considerably altered for actor Wil Smith.)

So the Kingdom project languished -- until 2 years ago, when producer and director Brian Gay picked up the option. "I had just finished shooting Asimov's Caves of Steel, and was looking for some other non-traditional project for my next film," he says. "As it turns out, I was playing golf with [film agent] Sonny Murchison, and he told me about the long neglected Kingdom option. I was fascinated, contacted the publisher, and picked up the option for a reasonable amount. Then I gave it to [screen writer] Zacharias Manus and I told Zack: "it's yours, no committees, no mish-mash."

Manus was a junior writer on the Vance film, and has since written two box office successes, the 2013 remake of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, and Trelawny, a murder mystery set in Jamaica. "For Kingdom," says Manus, "there were two absolute essentials: don't insult dedicated golfers, and make the story interesting to everyone else."

Manus does create a love interest, deemed essential by Hollywood standards (except for some hard core war flics). She is a Scottish beauty Laura Lee (Linda Cartwright) whom American Michael Murphy (yes, the author) has traveled to Scotland to woo (in the novel he was on his way to India, to study philosophy). But first Murphy, an avid golfer, must get in a round on the fabled Burningbush Golf Course. His lass doesn't play (a not insignificant point). On the course he meets Irons, and the movie is off and running. During their magical round of golf he briefly glimpses Seamus McDuff, a gnomish man who Irons claims as his own teacher. After golf comes drinks and conversation. The day spent with Irons is really the center piece of the film (as it was in the book). Irons demonstrates the Zen nature of the sport, and Murphy has an epiphany (or two); his life is transformed, or so he feels.

There follows Murphy's quest for understanding of what he has learned, and inner conflicts that impede his romantic relationship. Unlike in the book there is a second encounter with Irons, in which Murphy attempts to iron out (pun intended) all the conflicts swirling in his mind. Without giving too much away, suffice to say this is not a typical Hollywood ending.

The real winner in Kingdom is Scotland: its people, scenery, golf. Manus and Gay have done their best with a difficult project, and the actors do their parts as well as can be expected. I have no doubt virtually every golfer on the planet will want to see Kingdom; for everyone else: 3/4.

Movie Review & Script of Ouimet: An American Hero

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