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Thursday, 03 October 2019 12:38

As Leaves Change, Great Golf Gets Even Better

        There is no better time to play golf in New England than the six weeks from mid-September to the end of October (assuming no early winter which, in New England, you can never assume). The nights are cool and give golf course superintendents the confidence to cut greens a little closer than in the heat of the summer. The leaves on the indigenous hardwood trees turn into a kaleidoscope of colors, providing backdrops that make watching a well struck ball in flight more rewarding than usual. I can’t explain it, but as temperatures drop into the 50s and 60s, perfect for those of us who cannot tolerate the heat of summer as much as we once did, the golf courses in New England become less crowded; I’ve played two rounds on typically crowded municipal courses recently in well under four hours after starting in mid-morning.
        Needless to say, I am trying to play as much golf in these six weeks as possible, and as many different courses as I can. The last three I have played were two outstanding municipal layouts in Connecticut, and one very private club in between. The first muni is my favorite course in the state, Keney Park, about which I have written in this space a few times. Keney Park, which first opened in 1929 with a nine-hole layout by Devereaux Emmet, is home to some of the most iconic features of classic golf architecture, including rectangular church pew bunkers and a Biarritz green (a gully runs through it). It begins with a very short but tricky par 4 and ends with a par 3 on which you cannot see the pin. In between is a course that demands attention given some of the largest and most demanding greens in public golf.
Keney8churchpewsKeney Park's "church pew" bunkers are all connected, and not exactly a religious experience if you land in them.
        Last Monday, courtesy of the Junior & Senior Golfing Society of Connecticut, I was invited to play at Bulls Bridge in the mountains of northwest Connecticut, a 15-year-old course about which not much is written because of its private status and out of the way location. It is a stunning and challenging Tom Fazio design, loaded with mountain vistas and, as you might expect, significant changes in elevation. I can’t remember the last time I played a golf course with so many false fronts. The greens were still showing signs of aeration that affected a few putts; I hope the Society returns in the next couple of years for another go at Bulls Bridge, because smooth greens will only add to a terrific golfing experience.
BullsBridge1You are introduced to the many elevated tee boxes at Bulls Bridge on hole #1, a par 5 dogleg right.
        I wrapped up my trilogy of golf at Wintonbury Hills in Bloomfield, a town-run golf course that Pete Dye designed for the princely sum of $1. Wintonbury is not a typical Dye course in that fairway moguls and pot bunkers are kept to a minimum, and there isn’t a railroad tie in sight. But it certainly is no pushover as some holes play dramatically uphill and fairways tilt all the way to the greens on the par 5s, making long hitters think twice about the fate of their long second shots to severely sloped surrounds beside the greens (with significant trouble below). My 70-something playing companion and I were matched up with a 40-year old with a single-digit handicap who had driven an hour to play at Wintonbury; that should tell you something about the quality of the golf course and its challenge.
Wintonbury par5 fairway tiltBig hitters may try to reach par 5s at Wintonbury Hills in two shots, but their second had better be aimed high right as everything bounces hard left on the 500 yard hole.
        The only negative aspect of golf in New England this time of the year is that we know it will all come to an end in a matter of weeks, when we will put away the sticks until late March or early April. When play recommences, the fairways will be muddy in spots and turf will be thin. Summer arrives pretty quickly in southern New England, and those who don’t live in here might be surprised at how hot it can get by late June and right through to September. 
        But then autumn arrives, and golf in Connecticut becomes as good as it gets.

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Friday, 13 September 2019 11:16

Calls to 911 Interrupt Pennsylvania Golf Round

        My round of golf at Berkleigh Country Club in Kutztown, PA, started with three pars, about as good a kickoff to a round as I can muster these days. I was playing by myself, and as I prepared for a 15-foot birdie putt on the par 3 third hole, my iPhone rang. The display indicated a call from “Reading (PA) 911.” I answered and the woman on the line asked me if I was okay. I responded that I was, thinking she sounded sincere enough that I should not add, “…and I am playing great!” She had received an “emergency” call from my phone. I apologized profusely even though I had no idea how the call had been made; all I was doing with the phone was taking photos.
        After hanging up, I missed the birdie putt and drove the cart to hole #4, a short but uphill par 5. I pulled my tee shot into the rough to the left of the fairway and drove down one of the many extremely bumpy cart paths at Berkleigh; the starter had warned me about them. Halfway up the hill, I received another call from Reading 911, and the same conversation ensued. “I have no idea how it happened,” I said, “but I am going to turn off my phone.”
        All I can think is that the extreme vibrations of the golf cart on the cart paths had triggered the calls. I’ve looked online, using the search terms “iPhone vibrations + 911 calls” but haven’t been able to confirm the shaking as the source. In any case, those calls shook me up a bit, and I proceeded to double bogey the par 5 with a succession of chunked and skulled shots. (I can’t blame the entire mediocre round on the calls because I birdied the par 3 6th hole.)
Berkleigh green w twobunkersAs on many a classic course, bunkers at Berkleigh are strategically placed at greenside and, more sparingly, beside fairways. False fronts and sloped fairways are more natural "hazards" that penalize sloppy shots.
        It occurs to me as I write this that those calls to 911 happened on the morning of 9/11. They were just part of a weird and wonderful morning at Berkleigh, which is rated by some online sources as a top 20 public golf course in the rather large state of Pennsylvania. It deserves the honor, as it combines many classic touches that remind one that elevation changes and dramatic fairway contours are fair substitutes for the large bunkering of more modern layouts. It is also in excellent condition, with greens, pockmarked like many public putting surfaces whose golfers can’t be bothered to bend over and fix a ball mark, otherwise smooth and just short of private-club fast.
        At $37 including cart – the senior rate -- Berkleigh is a major bargain. Arriving at 9 a.m., mine would be the only car in the lot for the next hour; I didn’t see another soul on the golf course until I reached the back nine. I had noted as I drove through the tree-lined entrance that a beautiful old stone house was deep into restoration; the friendly starter told me it was their clubhouse but had succumbed to mold issues and ¾ of it had been taken down. They expect it to reopen next spring. The temporary pro shop, in a trailer, was in a space no bigger than an average-sized kitchen, but it was well stocked with drinks and snacks.
        The golf course played a bit longer than the 6,248 yards listed for the white tees. Although only one par 4 exceeded 400 yards, others played slightly to significantly uphill, leaving me with a relatively high number of fairway wood or hybrid approach shots and justifying a slope rating of 133 against a course rating of 70.1. (Overall par was 72, with the standard array of two par 3s and two par 5s per nine.)
Berkleigh15fromteeThe par 3 15th hole at Berkleigh is the only hole on the course with significant in-play water, although a stream that runs throughout the property puts a few tee shots in jeopardy.
        Length notwithstanding, I found the course fair and fun, with a few dogleg par 4s to add diversity to the round, and uniformly interesting par 3s, one over a pond. Water is an element on a few holes where a stream crosses quite close to fairway landing areas. (I rolled into one of them after what I thought was a good drive.) Berkleigh is a course that should probably be played a few times before you will feel comfortable choosing your clubs. 
        The golf course, which opened in 1926, is credited to Robert White, a Scotsman who was the first President of the Professional Golfer’s Association in 1916 and a founder of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Traveling golfers may know him best for his design of Pine Lakes International, the oldest layout in Myrtle Beach, which was redesigned about 10 years ago. White has his name on some other notable courses, almost all of them in the New England and Middle Atlantic states. Berkleigh is part of the Byler Golf Trail, a collection of five courses located in the same general area of Pennsylvania. One of the trail’s courses, Iron Valley Golf Club in Lebanon, a P.B. Dye design, also makes the top 20 list of public facilities in the state.
        If you should find yourself in eastern Pennsylvania, not far from Interstate 78, I encourage you to stop at Berkleigh for a four-hour (or less) round at a bargain price. Just make sure to turn off your phone as you head out to play.

Berkleigh Country Club
14623 Kutztown Road (Rt. 222)
Kutztown, PA
(610) 683-8268
https://www.berkleighgolf.com/

        The first thing to get out of the way for a couple searching for a golf community home is topography. Do you want to live at the coast, in the mountains or somewhere in between (e.g. lake or river)? As I have written many times before, couples who haven’t agreed on geography are in for a painful lesson, and aren’t likely to find a home for some years, if ever.
        The second challenge in any golf home search has to do with proximity – that is, how close to a city or town does the couple want to live. Those who want access to the services of a major city – entertainment, hospitals, restaurants – have a few full-service cities from which to choose. But a good number of couples are tired of traffic and pollution and crowded stores – or any stores, for that matter – and will opt for a rural location.
        The fact is, there are many choices, and the final choice is likely to be a matter of style. In the September issue of Home On The Course, our free newsletter, we identify the best golf communities in the Southeast for those couples with their own special lifestyles. If you are one of the five distinctive styles we have chosen, we have a golf community or two for you. Subscribe today and we will send you the newsletter when it is mailed on Friday.
Cypress Landing approach over waterThis golf community in North Carolina may not be on your radar, but enough people know about it that real estate prices are increasing year over year. To find out more and its identity, subscribe now to Home On The Course (use button at top right).
        Also in this issue, there is a golf community in North Carolina that could very well appeal to a number of the lifestyles we define. With an adjacent river, huge medical center just 20 minutes away and real estate prices that seem on the cusp of dramatic appreciation, now is a great time to check out this fine community. To find out more, subscribe now.

        Yesterday, I played the private Rockrimmon Country Club course that straddles the border between Connecticut and New York. I don’t know any member there, nor did I talk my way onto the course by promising to publish a review of the Robert Trent Jones layout. (It would have been a strongly positive review.) I played the course with my fellow members of the Junior & Senior Golfing Society of Connecticut, whose members represent many of the more than 75 private clubs in the state. 
        Over the course of the summer, the Society’s members are invited to play five private golf courses, each round typically preceded by lunch and followed by a dinner at which awards are presented for the best gross and net scores of the day. Yesterday was the one round of the year in which you play your own ball; in the other competitions, you are paired with either your cart mate or your foursome to compete against the rest of the field.
rockrimmon approach par 4Most of Rockrimmon's holes are tree-lined and the turf was in fantastic condition. Robert Trent Jones designed the course with his characteristic bunkering and elevation changes.
        Rockrimmon was in almost perfect condition, the smooth greens receptive to well struck shots, a rarity in Connecticut during this fairly dry summer. Playing the course was a privilege and well worth the $230 each member paid (lunch and dinner, one drink and the chance at raffle prizes included). If you are a Connecticut private club member, you are eligible to join the Society; indeed, it is eager for new members.
        Other states offer similar opportunities for regular amateur golfers to play some of each state’s finer courses. Golf rating panels are one entry point. I know, for example, that both Carolinas have panels that welcome new members if they play enough of each state’s courses to make meaningful contributions to the annual rankings. Do a Google search using the terms “[Name of state] golf rating panel” to see if your state maintains such a group.
        One other way to gain access to the private courses in your area is to donate money to a charity hosting a fund-raising golf event. Many charities, in order to make their events appealing enough to attract $300 or more per donor, will host their events at a high-profile private course. In Connecticut, for example, the Village for Families & Children, a social welfare agency where I have been a board member for more than 12 years, held this year’s outing at TPC River Highlands, site of the annual Traveler’s Championship on the PGA Tour. In previous years, the annual event, which benefits the organization’s fatherhood program, was held at the Willie Park Jr designed Shuttle Meadow.
        One other note about these fund-raising events: Many of them use silent auctions as a tool to raise additional funds, and some donors contribute rounds for foursomes at private golf courses. Some years ago, I was able to successfully bid for a round for four at the terrific Yale Golf Club in New Haven, CT. I recall that the price was less than $100 per player, certainly a bargain to play a high-quality golf course I might not otherwise play.
Rockrimmon big greenThe quirkiest hole at the classic Rockrimmon was a short par 4 with a hard left turn in the fairway about 210 yards from the tee box. It forced a fairway wood first shot, leaving a long (175+ yard) approach shot to a severely elevated and well bunkered green. To mitigate the difficulty of the approach shot, the green was the largest on the course. I was happy to two-putt from 70 feet.

Sunday, 18 August 2019 14:38

Pace of Play Debate: Here We Go Again

        I played two rounds of golf recently that put the Bryson Dechambeau pace of play debate in perspective for me. One round I played in 4 ½ hours, the other in just under 4 hours. Ironically, the slower round was better for my golf game.
        “How can that be?” I hear all the rabbits out there exclaiming. The answer is simple: It is about pace of play, not speed. (I was tempted to write “It’s the pace of play, stupid,” but I won’t). In my fast round, I played the first six holes with no one in front of me at an average speed per hole of less than 10 minutes. Extrapolate that over all 18 holes, and I would have been in the 19th hole in less than 3 hours. But on the 7th hole, I caught the twosome in front of me; they did not invite me to join them, and I started waiting a minute or two to make my approach shot to the next few greens.
        Then, toward the end of the first nine, the twosome caught up to the foursome in front of them. Another single caught up to me as I waited at the 9th tee, and I invited him to join me to play the 9th and the back nine.
        Overall, I wound up playing the 18 holes in 4 hours, certainly respectable speed for a mid-morning starting time in perfect weather. But I played at three separate paces – the fast pace of a single, the medium pace of a twosome, and then the slow pace of the foursome two groups ahead – and the erratic pace was not helpful for the pace of my swing which tends to be even more hurried when folks are waiting to hit behind me (which, of course they were because we were waiting for the twosome that was waiting for the foursome in front of them).
        Yes, I know, that twosome could have invited us to join them and leavened out the pace of play. But the fact remains that the entire 18 holes would have been played at two or three different paces. Much better was the round I played a few days later on a crowded municipal golf course where everyone in front of us played at a steady 4 ½ hour pace. I never felt rushed to keep up with the group in front or put-upon by the group behind. And I played better shots than I did during my round a few days earlier. 
        Coincidence? Maybe, but if 4 hours is acceptable to all the rabbits out there who celebrate their speed of play as much as they do their scores, then consider that a 4 ½ hour round is less than 2 minutes per hole longer. And in those 2 minutes, you can contemplate your shot, change your mind about going for a sucker pin position, and otherwise stop and smell the flowers.  It will be good for your game and your overall mental health.

Saturday, 10 August 2019 11:04

Pain and Gain

        I have been diagnosed with something called “trigger finger” in the middle digit of my right hand. I had never heard of it before, but when I started mentioning it to friends and fellow golfers, I discovered it is a fairly common malady. In fact, golfing friends in Scotland and here in the States have told me they had out-patient surgery to correct it.
        I will probably join them this winter, since a cortisone injection has had no effect and my orthopod warned that if the pain persisted, surgery was the only remedy. The pain has persisted for a couple of months and, according to what I have read, diabetics with trigger finger almost always require surgery. I meet that criteria as well (Type 2).
        Stenosing tenosynovitis is sometimes called “trigger thumb.” So-called "pulleys" in your fingers hold the tendons close to the bone and help the fingers slide when you bend them. Trigger finger occurs when the pulley becomes thick and prefents the tendon from gliding easily.
        The only thing that partially relieves the pain and permits me to grip a golf club is ibuprofen, such as Advil. Both my cardio and gastro docs have given me permission to take Advil before a round of golf, but advise against using it at other times. The finger still hurts during the swing, but it is tolerable.
        But here is the irony regarding the pain; it has actually helped my golf swing. I cannot grip the club with my right hand as firmly as I had before the problem, and I have discovered I was probably gripping it too tightly when my finger felt okay. Now, the only times I hit the ball to the right are when I stop the club before I get to a full follow through. I also sense that my takeaway is not quite as fast as my traditional lightning swing since I am conscious of putting too much stress on that middle finger. 
        I would rather be pain free, which I will be for next year’s golf season. But as pain goes, this event has added some gain to my golf game.

        Clients looking for a golf-oriented home for their retirement years come in two general categories: One comprises those who know it when they see it. The other includes those who, when they see it, always think there is something better over the horizon. The former group looks ahead to a fruitful and entertaining retirement; the latter group eventually will look back on missed opportunities. 
        There is no perfect golf retirement home. Such a thing would mean that you meet only friends for life inside the gates of your new community, that the golf course is always in perfect condition and you shoot your career rounds every time you play. The weather is always, say, 72 degrees and sunny, and the homeowner fees and golf dues are a bargain compared with the universe of golf community clubs. You get the drift.
CallawassiehomeandgreenA couple I worked with visited the Callawassie Island community earlier this year with one of the real estate professionals I recommended, and then returned to Connecticut to put their home on the market there. They sold it in a couple of days and bought a home in Callawassie, via a phone call with the agent, two days later.
        You should never settle for a home that doesn’t meet your requirements, but your requirements should be realistic. If you want to live near a beach but you insist that there be a zero chance of a hurricane hitting your area, forget about the coast. Search in the mountains or by a lake. If you choose to join a semi-private golf club but your requirement is that turf conditions be pristine, then build into your budget private country club membership because the public golfers who play your semi-private club will not fix their ball marks and replace (or sand) their divots. Sorry, I belong to a semi-private club and have played many others; those who have no vested interest in your club tend to treat it as such.
        Couples in Category 2, the Never Satisfieds, will help avoid an unfruitful search by defining clearly their requirements before they begin looking for a golf community home. Write them on a piece of paper or send an email to yourself, cc to your spouse –- obviously after you both agree on them. (Send them to me at editor@homeonthecourse.com, and I will be pleased to weigh in on whether they are realistic, and to make some suggestions about which golf communities meet your requirements.) I suggest keeping your list to three or four must haves and, of course, making them realistic (see above).
        To delay a decision to purchase a golf home that otherwise satisfies all your main requirements is to potentially harm yourself financially and, perhaps, psychologically. If you are mentally prepared to reward yourself after a career of hard work and child raising, the longer you wait the more disappointing your retirement will seem. And ever since the effects of the recession of 2008 ended, basically around 2012, real estate prices in the highest-quality golf communities have risen as much as 8% to 10% annually. For a couple with, say, a $400,000 budget for a home, waiting a year to buy a golf community home that, in virtually all regards, suits their lifestyle and golfing style could cost them as much as $40,000 when they finally decide to buy that home, or one like it, in the same community. In other words, they may only be able to afford a $360,000 home if they defer their decision.
        When a couple falls in love with a specific golf community, the hard work is essentially done. All that remains is to find the right home. That doesn’t always happen on the first visit, but if you engage with a professional real estate agent who listens well, visit a few sample homes and share your honest feedback, he or she will keep an eye out for homes that come on the market and appear to meet your requirements. I have developed an excellent network of golf community real estate professionals I can recommend. 
        But first, contact me and we can start the process of finding a golf community that meets your requirements. And, in case you are wondering, there is no charge for my services.

Saturday, 20 July 2019 15:21

A New England Golf Community Alternative

        The latest edition of Home On The Course, our free newsletter, will be sent to all subscribers on Tuesday. The newsletter is free of charge and includes reviews of golf communities, advice on how to search for a golf community, and observations about real estate that should appeal to anyone looking for a vacation or permanent property near great golf. 
        Although we typically feature golf communities in the Southeast U.S., in this month’s special combined July/August issue we review the Cape Cod, Massachusetts golf community known as New Seabury. If not for the winters, you could mistake New Seabury for a community on Hilton Head, such is its location beside the sea, its 36 holes of stellar golf and its collection of both multi-family and single-family dwellings that fit seamlessly into the gently rolling landscape. As a vacation home owner in South Carolina, a condo, and a primary single-family home owner in Connecticut, I have, in theory, the ability to play golf year-round, although life sometimes intrudes on golf plans and much of our winters are spent up north. Still, a community like New Seabury can provide half of the formula for year-round golf. Learn how in the July/August issue of Home On The Course.
NewSeaburyaerialNew Seabury Ocean Course.        Photo by Kent Earle
        My favorite golf course in Connecticut played host to the Junior Girls National PGA Championship a few weeks ago, and I caught the last nine holes on the last day. I came away impressed by how well these teenagers play but, more importantly, I learned a few things about my own game from the way they approached theirs. Is it a coincidence that, a week later, I shot my best round of the year? Maybe, maybe not. You decide by reading about the five lessons I learned from a group of teenagers.
        Subscribe now by clicking here.

        I have previously spilled my dreams onto these pages about a partial retirement in Scotland. No self-respecting golfer could dream otherwise. I am mindful that dreams, for many reasons, often exceed our grasp. A few years ago, I plunked down a couple hundred dollars and became an overseas member of the Crail Golfing Society, thereby almost forcing myself to make the trip across the Atlantic on an annual basis to play the eight rounds of golf on Crail’s 36 holes beside the North Sea to which I am entitled on an annual basis. For now, that is about as close as I can get to living in Scotland, at least part time.
        In an article the other day, the website Top Retirements.com pitched Scotland as a potential retirement location but added the appropriate caveats about moving to a foreign (non-American) land. I recommend the article to those fellow golfers who might be contemplating a Scottish relocation. The major obstacle to an American living in Scotland is that, except for a few of us –- those with Scottish ancestry or a couple million dollars to invest in a Scottish business –- residency is capped at six months per year.
Crail pot bunker and seaThe elements of seaside golf in Scotland in one photo at the Crail Golfing Society; pot bunker, sloping green, gorse and the ocean.
        No problem for those who might otherwise live seasonally in two homes, as friends of mine do in the States; six months and a day in Florida, to qualify for its non-existent state income tax, and the rest of the year in Connecticut, a high-tax state. Those with the means, inclination and love of golf could just substitute Scotland in summer for Connecticut or any other cold-winter state. I daresay that real estate in a small Scottish town near great golf will be more reasonably priced than comparable housing in most northern US states, and renting an apartment for five to six months annually is also a viable and cost-effective approach.
        Tax rules for foreign residents in Scotland and the rest of the UK became a bit complicated with a new tax law enacted a few years ago; it is best to consult an expert or at least do your research online before getting serious about a part-year retirement in Scotland. But the effort will be worth it for those who can imagine a relaxing and healthy lifestyle – most Scottish layouts require walking -- and cool summers on some of the greatest golf courses in the world.
        You can read the Top Retirements article here.
North Berwick bridgeNorth Berwick Golf Club is one of the coolest layouts on the planet, but also cool was that I rode the train from Edinburgh to North Berwick with my clubs in tow.

        This is the time of year that any of us who write about golf and golf communities receive press releases from golf communities touting their placement on Where to Retire magazine’s list of the “50 Best Master-Planned Communities in the U.S.” That sounds pretty good when you consider that there are thousands of master-planned communities in the United States.

Simply Not The Best
        The fact is that the universe for Where to Retire’s choices is probably a couple hundred communities at most, and a fairer title for the award would be “50 Best Master-Planned Communities that Advertise in Our Magazine.” For example, the only two ads on the Where to Retire website page that lists the Top 50 are from two of the winners.
        If you want to know which communities made the Top 50, you can access the list by clicking here.
        I am not going to disparage those communities in this space because I have visited some of them and they are of high quality, including Brunswick Forest, Carolina Colours and Compass Pointe; I have even helped clients purchase homes in a few. And according to some communities I spoke with – see below – they were assured advertising in the magazine did not necessarily mean they were going to make the list.

Customer Disservice
        Many retirees rely on Where to Retire for guidance, thinking the magazine makes a purely editorial judgment about the best communities in the land. If you choose to consider and visit only the communities on the Where to Retire list, you will be missing dozens of others that will meet your requirements and that, possibly, exceed the qualities of the relatively few on the magazine’s list.
        It is understandable that some communities choose to advertise in Where to Retire in order to get their names in front of the magazine’s 200,000 readers, many of whom are looking for a place to live. Such exposure is the purpose of good marketing. But Where to Retire, which bills itself as “The Authority on Retirement Relocation,” does its readers a disservice when it fails to make clear that its Top 50 are culled substantially from its advertisers.

No Quid Pro Quo Here
        To avoid any quid pro quo – “advertise and we will name you to our Top 50” – Where to Retire’s sales reps are coy about the connection between ad spend and the list.
        “My sales rep heavily encouraged my advertising,” one community’s marketing executive told me, “but made it clear that advertising would make no bearing on the decision to include [our community] in the list. [However] I [later] answered a very long questionnaire and did a telephone interview. I also had to give the names of three residents for an interview.” This marketing executive told me her community found out it was in the Top 50 the day the magazine published the list a couple of weeks ago.
        A general manager from another community that I know well and admire was not sure why his community made the list.
        “We do advertise in WTR but on a pretty limited basis, less than we did in the past,” he told me. “I suspect, but do not know, that the pool of the best is picked from among those communities that advertise, and perhaps those that have in the past advertised, and perhaps those they are hoping would advertise.”
        When you see a press release from a community touting its status as a Top 50 Where to Retire community, understand that they paid for the honor whether they knew it at the time or not. Caveat emptor, dear reader.

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