The Casual Blog

Tag: Raleigh Country Club

Hitting the little white ball, the appalling debate, ocean concerns, and reading Hamilton

At Raulston Arboretum, September 18, 2015

At Raulston Arboretum, September 18, 2015

On Wednesday after work, I went over to Raleigh Country Club and practiced on the range for a bit. Lately I’ve been trying to get out to practice a couple of times a week, with a view to making prettier and longer parabolas. It looks so much easier than it is. The late afternoon was peaceful and mild.

Sally was waiting on the terrace looking out on hole number 10 when I finished, and we had dinner there. It was overcast, and looking west we couldn’t see the sun directly as it was setting. But suddenly the clouds lit up a bright orange-pink, and for a few minutes the colors were amazing.

After dinner, Sally had to go to her mom’s apartment to take care of Diane’s two greyhounds, and so I watched the Republican presidential debate alone. It was, of course, appalling, though also by moments fascinating. The eleven candidates were all, in their various ways, intelligent and well spoken, and also in varying degrees bizarre or utterly benighted. I watched a good chunk of the three-hour spectacle, and kept waiting for a serious treatment of the serious issue of climate change. From press accounts, it appears I missed a few brief comments on the subject, to the effect that either it’s a liberal conspiracy or there’s just nothing to be done about it, so there’s no point in thinking or talking about it. Appalling.

I read most of the World Wildlife Fund’s report this week on the state of the world’s oceans, and recommend it. The news, of course, is not good. About half the population of creatures that live in, on, and over the oceans have disappeared since 1970. Coral reefs, on which much ocean life depends, have likewise diminished, and may disappear by 2050. But the report presses the point that the situation is not hopeless. There are ways we can address the over fishing and climate change problems that largely account for the crisis.

Through diving dive on some of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs, I’ve developed a deep love for reef ecosystems, and will be seeing another one next week. Sally and I are leaving next Friday for a trip to see the reefs and animals of Mozambique. We’re hoping to see whale sharks, manta rays, humpback whales, and many other remarkable creatures. We’ll also be doing a land based photo safari in Kruger Park in South Africa. This trip has been a big dream, and has taken a lot of planning, but it should be amazing. Anyhow, I expect to be offline for a couple of weeks, but hope to have some good stories and pictures to post after that.

For this long trip, I’ll need some good books to read, and I’d expected I’d be working my way through Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, a biography of the Founding Father who was our first Secretary of the Treasury. But I’ve been so fascinated by the book that I may finish it before the trip. The Times review is here.

Hamilton, it turns out, was a brilliant, energetic, and passionate person, who accomplished an amazing amount in his short life. Among other things, he helped win the Revolutionary War as Washington’s most trusted aide-de-camp, played a primary role in fashioning the Constitution, wrote most of the Federalist to win passage of the Constitution, established a financial system for the new republic, and served as President Washington’s primary advisor. And he was handsome and well-liked by the ladies, and also the gentlemen. Of course, he had his flaws of character, and his enemies, including the sainted Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The politics of the time were at least as ungentle as now. This is a remarkable and remarkably relevant book, which I highly recommend.

Time again to practice golf

This weekend, after a spell of unseasonably cool weather, it finally started to feel like spring, and time once again for the game of golf. It’s a noble and beautiful game, played in lovely green gardens with flowering trees and streams. It requires strength and strategy, finesse and delicacy, repetition and creativity. There’s keen competition and also warm friendship. It is always challenging, and at times amazingly frustrating!

I’ve been re-reading my favorite golf instruction book, a book that changed my life, Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons (co-written with Herbert Warren Wind, the great New Yorker golf writer, whom I crossed paths with back in the day). It is remarkably careful and thorough, dissecting the intricate mechanics, helpful for beginners, but also with many details that will be understood only by more advanced students. It inspired me to check the details of my grip. Non-golfers, and many golfers, may not realize how intricate a matter it is to hold the club properly. Hogan (and Wind) realized. Anyhow, I decided to switch from the interlock grip to the overlap, with a view to hitting the ball farther. Will it help? We’ll see. For putting, it seemed promising. In practice I rolled in my first two hard breaking ten footers.

Practice, they say, makes perfect. An overstatement, of course, but practice is the way to cultivate a complex skill, like playing an instrument or a sport. I credit my early music training with instilling in me a belief in practice as a road to accomplishment. (Some of my thoughts on piano practice are here.) Fortunately, I actually like to practice golf. When things are working well, and the ball is flying high and long, it’s immediately satisfying. And when things aren’t, it’s an interesting puzzle: what’s not working properly? You can change a little of this and try again, and if that doesn’t work, try something else. It requires perseverance. It also requires patience. It takes time.


On Friday (a holiday), I took a couple of hours to practice each of the basic skills — short irons, medium clubs, fairway woods, drives, finesse pitches, chips, and putts. (I didn’t have a chance to do sand shots.) In the full swing shots, I was focusing on getting more of my body into the shot by leading with the hips. Some were flying too much to the right, but I tagged a few quite properly. My sight problem made it difficult to see where the balls landed, but didn’t hinder my hitting.

On Saturday I played my first eighteen holes of the new year with friends at Raleigh Country Club. A lot of the grass was still brown, and the greens were bumpy from core aeration, but it was still good to be back. My playing was uneven, and the score was disappointing, but there were some good shots, and hope for the future.

Hitting balls at the country club and watching chimney swifts

On Friday one of my Red Hat colleagues took some pictures of me for our website. In recent years I’ve got over some of the awkward self-consciousness of being peered into by a camera, though it is still slightly embarrassing. Anyhow, here is one of the pictures.

After work, I went over to Raleigh Country Club to practice at the driving range. I became a member at RCC a few weeks back. This is primarily a wonderful thing for which I am deeply grateful, but at the same time I have some cognitive dissonance. I do not come from a country club background. As a kid, I had friends who belonged and ones who didn’t, and didn’t see any systematic differences. But at some point I formed a view of country clubs as islands of unearned privilege, and of country clubbers as shallow, selfish snobs — people whose main political driver was paying less in taxes. Over time, I’ve known plenty of people who put the lie to that stereotype, but I still had trouble picturing myself wanting to join (to paraphrase Groucho Marx) any club that would have me as a member.

What changed? The most important thing was a deepening appreciation of golf. And the golf course at RCC is special. It’s the last course of Donald Ross, the legendary Scottish designer. The land rises and falls in a pleasing rhythm, with lakes and streams and bunkers, and mature trees, bushes, and flowers. It is beautiful, and also quite challenging. And it is less than 10 minutes from my apartment.

The staff has been really welcoming and friendly, as have most of the members. I really enjoy hitting balls on the driving range. When I hit a bad one, I just tee up another. I am playing with the concept that a more beautiful swing makes a more beautiful ball flight, and some of mine are flying well. But every now and again, I have an anxious moment when I feel out-of-place, and wonder if someone is about to quietly ask me to leave.

After hitting my quota at the range, I drove downtown and met Sally at the corner of Salisbury and Hargett Streets. She’d seen a story in the News and Observer about chimney swifts roosting in the Oddfellows Building there. We climbed the stairs of a parking garage across the street and looked upward.

Shortly before 7:00 pm, we saw the first few swifts appear from the northwest, and then there were more. Ultimately there were hundreds and hundreds, swarms of chimney swifts. They fluttered and veered, catching insects and making a high-pitched chatter. It was amazing. There was a kestrel that perched on the logo sign at the top of the Wachovia Building and occasionally swooped down, but the flock would counterattack. We’d hoped to see the swifts go down the Oddfellows Building chimney, but did not have a good angle to view the chimney. Finally it got dark, and we walked a couple of blocks to Dos Taquitos for dinner.