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Chips + Putts

Going to Pieces

A $995 jigsaw puzzle?It might be a steal if it comes from Stave, the Vermont-based maker of the world's nastiest 3-D puzzles. Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, take their Stave puzzles along on maddening weekends and vacations. Thousands of Stave nuts—Barbara Bush is another—prize the handcrafted mahogany designs of Steve Richardson, the company's self-described "chief tormentor." Richardson, 62, is so devious that his puzzles, which cost from $95 to $4,000, can be assembled several ways. "But only one is really right," he says. The hole above, for instance, features a flat green. But if you find the right formula, the green morphs into a cup deep enough to hold the golf ball that comes with the puzzle. "One guy finished in a day and said, "What's so tough?' I said, "Sorry, it's wrong.' So he went back to work on it. That was a year ago." Weekend duffer Richardson, a sixteen handicap ("I worked years to get down from twenty") has more cruelty in store: a Pebble Beach puzzle, due out this summer. Call 802-295-5200 or visit stave.com if you dare.

Numbers Game: Stimp-Metrics

Invented by Edward Stimpson, the 1935 Massachusetts Amateur champ, the Stimpmeter is a yard-long aluminum ramp. Put a ball in a notch at one end, slowly lift that end until the ball starts rolling, and measure how far it rolls. Do the same from the other direction, repeat three times and the average result, in feet, is a green's Stimp number.

Greenskeepers get Stimpmeters from the USGA, which won't sell them to others for fear of triggering a Stimpede. So we got one—an emerald green beauty that cost £52—from an English firm called BMS (greenkeeper.co.uk) and started Stimping everything in sight. Here are Stimp numbers for various surfaces, including a few unscientific readings we took on the run—call them Stimpressions.

70.1 Linoleum floor
43.3 Fifth Avenue, New York City
19 Lightning-fast office carpet at T&L Golf
13 Green at Augusta National, Masters week
12-13 U.S. Open green
10-11 Typical PGA Tour Green
9.5 Typical LPGA green
8 Typical public course green
5 Shag carpet
0.3 Sand

The Club-Shipping News

Delta Airlines makes fliers pack their golf clubs in hard-shell cases or sign a form releasing the airline from liability. Other airlines also refuse to pay for damage or loss of clubs that fly without hard-shell cases, and come December the federal government will mandate that all checked bags be screened for explosives—a plan that threatens to make airport check-in lines longer than John Daly's backswing. In response, companies such as ShipGolf (shipgolf.com; 866-443-6600) and Sports Express (sportsexpress.com; 800-357-4174) are playing pickup sticks. Either firm will fetch your clubs and deliver them anywhere in the U.S. (Sports Express also goes to the United Kingdom), then send them home when you're finished playing. Prices vary with delivery speed: Sports Express, for instance, will ship your bag from New York to London and back—four days each way—for about $250. A New York-Los Angeles round-trip costs about $100.

ShipGolf offers rentals, too. Customers can visit its pro-shop-style stores in the Jacksonville, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, airports or go online to mix and match a custom bag full of name-brand drivers, wedges and putters. The clubs will be sent to any U.S. destination. Rentals run up to about $50 a day or $160 a week plus shipping—costs that will only seem smaller as airport lines grow longer.

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