The thieves were in the palace!

The thieves were in the palace on Sunday.

At least that’s what it always feels like when, thanks to the magic of Groupon or Living Social, Nuther-Duffer and friends manage to cross the great divide between players of city-owned public courses and the upper crusty players (if not necessarily the better golfy players) of the area’s private country clubs.

This week’s trip to the other side took us to Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club in Portsmouth, where the club and the surrounding working-class neighborhood are divided by a long driveway and the letters EMGCC writ large in evergreen topiary. We didn’t notice a members-only sign, but the policy became pretty clear when we got to the parking lot and the first car we passed was a Maserati.

(Which was parked next to a Lexus, which was parked next to — this is true — a Kia. Which suggested one of two things — either we weren’t the only fence-jumpers that day, or members and employees share a parking lot. Your guess?)

First, let’s address the obvious question: There’s a private country club in Portsmouth?

Yes, there is, and the explanation is that it’s been there a long time.

The EMGCC was organized in 1948 and the par-70 golf course opened in 1951.  It’s been the home of the Eastern Amateur Golf Tournament since 1957 (former winners include Curtis Strange and Ben Crenshaw). Among the founding members was Clarence “Ace” Parker, a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, as well as a professional caliber baseball player and golfer. In fact, the club’s address is on Ace Parker Drive and word is he lived for years in one of the really quite modest homes along the 15th fairway. 

So the place is steeped in local history and what it lacks in shiny new facilities it makes up for in comfortable charm.

The EMGCC pro shop is an unassuming little affair in a building separate from the main country club facility. The staff was friendly and helpful and not at all dismissive of we couponers, for which we were grateful.

The course — even well into December and on a day that started with a three-hour frost delay — was in terrific shape. It certainly looked like someone had been out mowing and trimming that morning, even while the frost was still on the ground.

Nuther-Duffer isn’t quite sure what to make of the layout. Elizabeth Manor isn’t a strikingly beautiful golf course, but it is consistently pleasant. It has an open feel to it, but is fitted into a fairly small plot of land — it’s not unusual for the walk from one green to the next tee to be no more than a few steps. (So you do need to be comfortable with the sound of golf balls landing nearby while you’re playing, trusting that the folks behind you are, well, better than you.)

It’s a great course for walkers — hardly a hill to be found. In fact, other than the boomerang-shaped 15th, there aren’t many holes that you would think of as doglegs. Still, and we’re not quite sure how this happens, it’s a delightfully maddening golf course. It looks like it should be as easy to play as Ocean View, Nuther-Duffer’s home muni and comfort zone. Yet somehow Sunday’s 93 at Elizabeth Manor seemed every bit as satisfying as last week’s 86 at OV. (A rare chip-in birdie may have contributed to that feeling.)

Nuther-Duffer and Co. are hoping that the good folks at Elizabeth Manor continue their Groupon offer — $195 for a foursome (that you can trim down by 20 percent or more on those special-offer Groupon days). The coupon is good for 120 days from the time of purchase, and you can buy one a month. 

That’s a hard-to-beat offer. And if no one’s looking, you can get one of your buddies to snap a picture of you with the Maserati.

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