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Rich Harvest Realization

9/08/2007
I'm going back to Bandon,
To Bandon,
To Bandon,
I'm going back to Bandon...

I don't think so.

Two days ago, I had managed to convince myself that I was going to be playing in the USGA Mid-Amateur at Bandon Dunes at the end of this month. Then LL Cool J helped knock some sense into me.

The stars seemed perfectly aligned for a storybook ending. Qualify at Rich Harvest Farms, an ultra-private course that I’ve been trying to play for years. The actual Mid-Am just happens to be at Bandon this year, one of my favorite places in the world. My golf game was peaking at just the right time. The Disney-esque plot of the impoverished youth growing up on the rough side of town, finding golf and fulfilling a lifelong dream and fighting for a chance to earn the right to play in the 2008 Masters (based very loosely on a true story).

The dream died a short yet very painful death on September 6th at approximately 11:45 am. One key factor that I left out of the equation): my golf game, or more specifically, the lack thereof. Are these airline tickets to Portland refundable?

But I’m getting way ahead of myself here. The sad ending is simply a culmination of a 9-month long journey that started with the following e-mail from my buddy Jefe way back in December:

From: jefenator
To: Jim Colton
12/06/2006 03:02 PM

Coltrain,
I see that the 2007 USGA mid-am qualifier has a qualifying site at Rich Harvest Golf Links. Guess who's fabricating their handicap to get in? It's me! The limit is 3.4, but I don't mind shooting 95 and getting a letter from the USGA if it means I can play that track. You should get in on it too. You wouldn't even need to fabricate.

Jefe


That’s what got the ball rolling. You probably know enough background about Rich Harvest Farms, but here’s the two-minute version (check out this and this for more information): Jerry Rich invents some kinds of computer systems used by the stock markets, Jerry Rich accumulates billions of dollars. Jerry Rich buys 1,900 acres of land out in Sugar Grove, IL. First he designs and builds six holes as his own personal playground. Originally each hole has multiple tee boxes and each hole can play as a par 3, 4, or 5, so you have 18 different holes. In 1998, Jerry decides to make a full 18 holes and open it up to a very limited membership. He invites guys like Michael Jordan and Sam Snead to be honorary members. Rich Harvest climbs to as high as #45 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses (it’s #51 currently). In 2009, it will host the Solheim Cup (the women’s version of the Ryder Cup).

The realization that Rich Harvest was hosting a qualifier was Christmas-come-early for Jefe. Probably more than anyone else on the planet, he has been jonesin’ for the chance to play this course. He used to live about 10 minutes or so from the course, and occasionally would drive down the road that bordered the course in the hopes of getting a mere glimpse of the golf nirvana that was behind those wrought-iron gates. I knew that Jefe would be perfectly willing to beg, borrow, steal, and even send his sweet mother Maypo up the river just for a chance to play this course. Doctoring his handicap? That’s child’s play.

Rich Harvest has that effect on people. The place is really half-golf course, half-mythical creature. Until recently, they didn’t even have a website. Very few pictures of the course existed on the web. Rumors about conditioning on par or better than Augusta? How could that be? A lot of the hype was intentional and self-generated. Rich Harvest proudly boasts its top 100 status on its letterhead. One member played in the Mid-Am qualifier and had a RHF logo bag with the inscription ‘America’s 100 Greatest’ on the front pocket. Gimme a break. Strangely, Rich Harvest is nowhere to be found on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 list. Jerry Rich must have a lot of pull with Ron Whitten and the Golf Digest panelists.

In May, I played in a charitable golf outing and noticed that one of the silent auction items was the opportunity to bring three guys out to Rich Harvest to play with a member. Sweet! I thought to myself that Jimbo and Jefe wouldn’t mind shelling out $100 each to play the course, so I had planned to bid $300 after the round. When I finally got to the auction table, there was this little printed summary of the item with information about the course. Let’s just say the member who donated the round was proud of his course. He called it the ‘Augusta of the Midwest’. He showed Rich Harvest on Golf Digest’s list of Golf’s Greatest Getaways. Each item had a line listing the approximate retail value, and this guy put ‘Priceless’ next to it. Apparently, ‘Priceless’ does have a price tag, and it was $1,200. The minimum bid was $1,200! For three golfers! I can honestly say that I was the most likely person in the room to bid on that item, and I was only willing to go up to $300 (maybe $360 at most). There’s no way I would pay $400 per person. Needless to say, nobody bid on it. Maybe the member was looking for a way to write-off a piece of his $50,000 annual dues. In any case, the $125 entry fee for the Mid-Am for two rounds (there was a free practice rounds) at the ‘Augusta of the Midwest’ seemed like the bargain of the century.

The ‘letter’ Jefe was referring to in his e-mail is the USGA blacklist that you might find yourself on if you fall outside 10-shots of the rating for the qualifying course. This is generally meant to deter people from signing up for a US Open qualifier (handicap cut-off 0.2) and shooting 118. Jefe welcomed the opportunity, stating ‘I hope I get a letter, that way I can write a letter back and let those stuffed shirts at the USGA know what I think about their US Open set-ups.’ I’m sad to admit that yes, this is my best friend.

In January, I had actually posted about Jefe’s devious plan at the tail end of a 5,400-word blog. Jefe was none too happy about the mention, and forced me to change up my post (the first time I’ve been censored…the man keeping me down).

From : jefenator
To : Jim Colton
01/02/2007 01:52 PM
You've got to take down that stuff about the usga, if someone gets wind of this and gets the usga in the loop I'm toast, and you know I'll hold it against you forever if I lose my only shot to play this course. I'm begging you man, pleading, take it down, this is my one shot to play the course. After we pull off the ruse I don't care what you put up there. maybe we can leak the story to one of the golf magazines and get a write up on it after it's over how we worked the system and got a hack like me onto an ultra exclusive club. I'd love the chance to stick it to the usga in print after it's over, nothing like a good scandal.

Jefe

Jefe must really overestimate the readership (at last count, about 6 and climbing) and breadth of my little corner of the information superhighway. Somehow I seriously doubt that Walter Driver, David Fay and the rest of the crew in Far Hills, NJ are sitting on their thrones clamoring for the latest Jim Colton-isms, but hey we’re talking about a guy who kept clicking refresh on the blog while his wife was in labor (never a good idea). Of the 18,000 or so hits to my blog, approximately 16,500 are from Jefe.

It turns out Jefe didn't end up doctoring his scores, nor did he have to. After some solid golf in New Mexico, his index got down to 3.4, right on the number. And the USGA wasn't even doing the background checks on players. A quick check of the guys in the field showed a number of guys with indexes well above, and never below 3.4. One guy was a 7.3.

With September 6th circled on the calendar, we entered the 2007 season with high hopes of improving our games and getting some tourney experience in preparation of the big event. We put our applications in for the Mid-Am and Rich Harvest on April 26th, the day that applications were opened, ensuring us a spot in the 90-man field (although we did not get any confirmation until tee times were announced on Aug 21st.) I signed up for a few CDGA events very early in the year, but did not fare well. If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you know that 2007 has been a pretty disappointing golf season for me. I just haven’t been able to put it all together, and our golf binge to New Mexico was a personal disaster.

But a week or so away from the game (helped out by torrential downpours) help soothe my soul. The course was made available for practice rounds on Aug 21st to Aug 23rd after 2:00 pm. We weren’t sure what that meant. If you were free to come out anytime, any (or every) day. I had scheduled to take the 21st and 23rd off of work just in case. The CDGA was still mum on confirmation and tee times. So finally I just called out there to find out what the deal was, made a tee time for Jefe and I for the 21st right at 2:00 pm and we were all set.

So on August 21st at 1:00 or so, I pulled up to the security gates of Rich Harvest Farms, half expecting Jerry Rich to fly down in a futuristic jet pack and have me hauled away for trespassing. Instead, the security guards and pro shop staff were all very friendly and down to earth. The director of golf welcomed us and got us pointed in the right direction towards the range and practice center. He showed us which areas of the clubhouse (one room) were open to us and which were off limits (the rest of the complex).

Jefe had help in his corner. He managed to Jedi-mind trick this guy into believing he would be doing him a hug e favor by letting him loop on Jeff's bag. I believe his name was Mike, but I’m not sure, because I just referred to him as Caddie Boy. Jefe reveled in calling him 'Cahh-day' like some guy telling his chauffer to go warm up the Rolls Royce. I even sent him to the pro shop to buy me 2 sleeves of golf balls (price: $16 each). Caddie Boy had no prior caddy experience; he simply wanted to see the course. It was unclear whether he would be part of Team Tang out in Oregon as well. He has a bum leg from a motorcycle accident, thus had to rely on an official Rich Harvest pull cart. Because of the rain, no carts were allowed on the course.

This is one indication of how the other half lives…we teed off at 2:00 pm. We were the second group off the tee for the day! One other member had been on the course that day. It was like we owned the place.

We got paired up with this guy named Stino, who I would end up being paired up with for the qualifier as well. Stino was a solid player, but he couldn’t take the heat, humidity, the walking and the mosquitoes and eventually ran out of gas.

After the debacle that was New Mexico, I somehow managed to have my best day of driving the ball all year (and maybe ever). I hit every drive solid off the tee, hit a few through the fairway and into the rough, but generally kept it in play. Aside from a silly double on the first hole trying to figure how to gouge the ball out of the gnarly greenside rough (how does Tiger do it?), I had a steady stream of pretty routine pars en route to a 79 without making anything on the greens. Suddenly, Rich Harvest didn’t seem so mean after all. Certainly a similar ballstriking round and a hot putter and 75 was not outside the realm of possibility. At least that is what I told myself.

Jefe would probably have disagreed with that assessment. He found out the hard way just how tough Rich Harvest can be, especially if you’re not hitting the ball straight. Hit it in the rough and you’re dead. Jefe was so amped up about finally get to play the course, and out of whack about losing the extra 10% he got from the elevation change in New Mexico, I think he was out of sorts for the entire round. He must’ve lost 7-8 golf balls en route to a 94. I blame Caddie Boy. At least he beat his brother’s prediction that he couldn’t break 100.

As far as the course goes, there was really no way it could live up to the hype. And it definitely did not. I think 51st best course in the country is a stretch. The best description I can think of the course is ‘wacky’, and I heard the same thing said about the course multiple times from multiple people. There are some nice holes and there are some downright wacky holes. The routing is what you might expect for a course that started with six holes and was made into 18…it's very disjointed. As Stino found out, the walks between the holes can be extremely long (and in some cases, you have to go around one hole to get to the next tee box). It’s not a walking course at all.

It’s supposedly modeled after Augusta, but the course has more of a Chicago feel to it – big and brawny with big deep bunkers, a la Dubsdread or Cantigny. Essentially, I think of it as a nice version of Cantigny, which I’d consider a good thing because I really enjoy Cantigny. But Cantigny isn’t a top 100 course in the U.S., and neither is Rich Harvest.

Cantigny may have a bunker shaped like Dick Tracy, but it doesn’t have anything nearly as wacky as the 3rd and 13th holes at Rich Harvest. With most of the great old country clubs like Oakmont removing trees to open up playing corridors, Rich seems to believe the tighter the fairway, the better. If this is any indication of the wackiness, the 3rd hole is named ‘Snead’s Crotch’. Now, I like Sam Snead as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t mean I want to be thinking about the guy's crotch. Turns out, as you can see from the pictures below, the name comes from Sammy hitting into the crotch of the tree and still making par. If anything, it does set itself up for some fairly obvious, definitely lame jokes:

Jim (after Jefe misses the green and makes bogey): Jefe took a whiff of Snead’s crotch…
Jefe: …and he doesn’t like it.

Is the Solheim Cup televised on CBS? I hope Feherty is working it…that one is right up his alley.

The 3rd hole has a circle with about a 10-yard radius that you have to hit it to in order to have any open shot at the green. I hit 6-iron off the tee and put it right at the corner of the 90-degree dogleg, but still had trees to contend with on the approach.


Take a whiff of Snead's Crotch. Soak it in. 256 yards with a slight draw



In case you were wondering how the hole got its name.


The Crotch is a walk in the park compared to the beastly, 430-yard 13th, named 'The Devil's Elbow'. Know of any courses in the top 100 where you have to hit your tee shot off of astroturf? Well, Rich Harvest has one. You hit off a mat because the tee box is so tight in the woods that you can't grow grass there. If that's not an indication to prune back or cut down some trees, I don't know what is. Even the shapes of the tee boxes suggest that the 13th is a 20-foot par two miniature golf hole. At this point, if the mosquito bites haven't swollen your eyes shut, you have to squint about 280 yards out to see what appears to be a fairway amongst all of the trees. Hit it dead perfect down a 5-yard wide strip in the middle of the fairway, otherwise you're going to be blocked out on your next shot. In the practice round, I hit a good drive past the far tree on the left, but still had to try to carve a gap wedge around a tree to get to the green. I can't think of a more demanding tee shot on any course that I've played, and definitely the most demanding hole I've ever played that involved hitting off of astroturf.


The Devil's Elbow. Good luck finding that fairway.



If you do find the fairway, it better be right here otherwise you still have trees to contend with.



See that tiny clearing in the trees in the distant, that's the tee box.


4 hours and 18 holes later, Rich Harvest was officially in the books and permanently cemented to the course list. After years and years of pining to play it, it finally happened. After crossing off one of his 'Top 5 Things I Need to Do Before I Die', what was Jefe setting his sights on next? Sand Hills? Augusta National? Mount Everest?

In the next couple days, our rankings were updated and distributed. For yours truly, Rich Harvest comes in at 19th out of 280. For Jefe, it comes in at 28th out of 325. Both of us have Rich Harvest right ahead of the Irish Course at Whistling Straits and Rolling Oaks at World Woods if you’re looking for a comparison. I had to ask Jefe if it was worth all the years of hype and anticipation simply to play the 28th course. Perhaps he would’ve been better off having never played the course, simply letting it remain mythical in his mind. (After the qualifier, Jefe noted, 'It was an odyssey for me to get out there, quite a process after years of waiting. I feel a bit like David Duval did after winning the British, like 'is that it?'')

We were wise to get our practice round in early. Weds and Thursday were rainouts and the course didn’t offer any make-up dates. And because the tee times and information didn’t come out until the Tuesday night of the first practice round date, some people simply missed out on the only chance to play. I’m guessing no more than a quarter of the field got a practice round in, and it’s definitely the type of course you need to play more than once.

The two-plus weeks between practice round and tourney time seemed like an eternity. But the good news is my golf game continued to hum along. Two days after the practice round, I claimed my third consecutive Wego Birthday Invitational, this time by a full 10 strokes. I played 36 on Labor Day just three days before the tourney and dropped a cool, calm and collected 72 at Prairie Landing with a 3-putt par on the last. And on the evening before the big event, I played nine holes at Cantigny and played solid golf from beginning to end, even leading one of the two older ladies I was playing with (they may have been a couple) to ask whether I was a professional golfer.

I should’ve stopped on a high note, slept in and went into Rich Harvest with positive vibes. But I wanted to get at least nine holes in before my 10:02 tee time. I had originally hoped to do another nine at Cantigny, since the course is so similar to Rich Harvest, but the guy in the pro shop wasn’t going to let me burn around before the first scheduled group. My home course Prairie Landing is usually a sound option but they had a big corporate outing that day. I could’ve tried Cog Hill, but I doubt they would’ve let me out before the start of the BMW Championship (who is that guy?) So in an act of desperation, I agreed to meet Jefe out at St. Andrews, Jefe’s pseudo-home course and the polar opposite to the ultra exclusive Rich Harvest Links. I’m not a big fan of the place, but the good news was we could tee off at the crack of dawn and have no trouble getting a full 18 in before the round. We teed off at 6:20 or so and whipped around in a cart in less than 2 hours.

I didn’t play well at St. Andrews, but I kept telling myself I was getting the bad shots out of the way early. I usually start off poorly for the first 4-5 holes before finding my rhythm, so why not do it here instead of in the qualifier. But if I couldn’t break 80 at St. Andrews, what chance did I have of doing it at the tournament just a couple hours later?

I arrived at the course about an hour before my scheduled tee time. You had to park in a makeshift parking lot that’s far removed from the clubhouse. They have a separate practice center over there, and are building the HQ and lodging for the teams at the Solheim Cup (I guess the Motel 6 of Sugar Grove wasn’t good enough). It turns out because of the difficulty of the first hole with trouble all along the right side, tee times were already backed up by over 30 minutes. The wind was blustering at 20-25 miles per hour, it was forecasted to rain off and on with possible thunderstorms. Oh for a 7:30 tee time! Poor Jefe was even closer to the end, with a 10:58 tee time in the 4th to last grouping. From two hours for 18 holes at St. Andrews to a sure 5 ½ hour death march. It’s amazing how slow these tournaments are.

The lone highlight of my day was when a guy on the range introduced himself and said he recognized me from my blog! He and his buddy planned a golf trip to Chicago from Houston around the qualifier, and read my Definitive Guide to Chicago's Best Public Golf Courses. They used my suggestions to play Cantigny and Pine Meadow and avoid the Glen Club. That’s the exact reason I wrote that article…to help out my golfing brethren who are coming to Chicago to golf for the first time. From reading the blog, he knew to be on the lookout for a ‘lefty golfer with an orange Illini hat’. How crazy is that? Current readership: 7 and climbing.

I decided a week earlier that I was going to hit 2-iron off the first tee, since the fairway narrows starting at about 260 and it’s not an overly long hole. My patented stinger was more like a patented duck hook but it stayed in play. I had 210 to the pin and hit a sweet 4-iron that was drawing towards the green, only to end up on the collar of the fringe and rough, pin high and only 25 feet from the flag. Two inches closer to the pin and I’m staring at a birdie opp or at worst a routine par (although with the speeds of these greens, there was no such thing as an easy two putt. These were the smoothest and fastest greens I’ve ever seen. The other guy in our group flew all the way in from Australia to play the course and promptly four-jacked the first hole.) Instead, I had a tricky chip shot that I’m no good at and ran it 20 feet past the hole, missed it coming back and settled for bogey.

The par 5 2nd second hole did not start very promising, as I yanked it right into the tall grass. But I was able to find it and chunk it out into the fairway, but I missed the green left, continuing a strange recent trend of straight pushing the ball with my irons, which started happening on the 2nd to last hole at Cantigny and continued at St. Andrews. Very odd. I left my chip on the fringe but holed out with a long putt that felt like it would be 15 feet short but just kept rolling and rolling until it found the bottom of the hole. Par save. Just what I needed.

The key to having any chance in the qualifier was to keep the ball in play, make pars and avoid the big numbers. The margin of error is so razor thin out there, one lost ball or stupid double bogey and you might as well stick a fork in yourself. If I had a fork in my golf bag, that exactly what I would’ve done on the par 3 3rd, a relative benign 210-yard hole. I pushed my tee shot straight left again (where did this come from?) and into the tall grass. The ball was sitting up, but I only advanced it about 15 feet closer to the hole. The next shot I advanced about 6 inches…straight into the earth. From there I had to take a mighty swipe just to get it closer to the green, chipped to within 6 feet but missed the putt to make 7. The dream is dead.

To top it off, the next hole was the aforementioned Devil’s Elbow (we teed off on the silvers first). I determined that there’s no worse sight in golf than seeing a 65-year old marshall signal that your ball didn’t clear the hazard. Time to re-tee. I reload, hit a similar shot that ends up in play. Since it wasn’t in the 5-yard wide strip, I had to manufacture something around the trees, came up short and failed to get and down, making another 7.

But that’s not the worst thing that happened on the hole. Three days earlier, I bought a dozen balls to stock up for the tourney but accidentally bought Titleist Pro V1x’s instead of Titleist Pro V1’s. I started with the Rich Harvest Pro V1’s that Caddie Boy bought for me during the practice round. For my provisional, I pulled out one of the new Pro V1x’s. Doh! I violated the one-ball rule that states you can only play one brand of ball. What a stupid I am. Even if I had noticed the problem, I only had one original Pro V1 left in the bag. No way I could’ve finished up with just one ball the way I was hitting it.

I figured I would continue playing just to get the round in, but I was in a funk after having screwed up so badly. After the 8th hole, I told Stino what had happened and headed in after the 10th hole, making the long walk of shame in from just about the furthest point from the parking lot on the entire property.

It turns out I was only the third most idiotic person in the field. One guy got DQ’d for practicing on the 18th green. Apparently, he thought it was a practice hole or something. He never even got the chance to tee off. I seriously hope he got a practice round in for his $125 (although I doubt it, otherwise he would’ve known what hole it was). Turns out, Caddie Boy was the one who noticed it and called him out on it. That’s one way to improve your man’s chances. Another guy signed his card with his front-nine score of 42 in the box meant for the 9th hole. Since he signed for a 42 on the hole, that’s what he had to take. Needless to say, he was high man in the field with a 122.

I loaded the clubs in the trunk and headed back out to the course to check up on Jefe. It was 3:00 pm and his group was still only on the 10th hole. Despite what was promised, pull carts weren’t made available for Jefe and Caddie Boy. Mike did an admirable job lugging Jefe’s bag (which for some reason is about 10 lbs heavier than mine) but had to split anyways because of school. After conferring with a rules official, Jefe was able to switch caddies and I grabbed the bag. Jefe may have wanted to fire his caddy anyways after a front nine 49. Turns out he met the same fate on the third hole as well, having to hit three off the tee and made 7. What are the chances that we both make quad on the same hole? On second thought, don’t answer that.

Now that I was on the bag, I was determined to get my man around in good order. Jefe played much better on the back nine, and I take full credit for the reversal. He birdied the par 3 right after the Crotch, the first birdie either one of us had seen anybody make on the course in nearly two full days. On the very tough 17th, Jefe hit his drive right and into the tall grass. After a 10-minute discussion whether to lay-up left short of the water (my choice) or try to fly it over the pond to another lay-up area across the pond, Jefe hit it right between the two options and right into the pond. My bad. If there was another caddy waiting nearby, I’m sure he would’ve fired me on the spot. An unfortunate double bogey there and a three-putt bogey on the last to shoot a 42 on the back. Hey, a 7-stroke improvement from the front nine!


The dynamic duo ambiguously wearing matching shirts. It wasn't intentional, trust me. Check out the downpour.


Maybe I have a future in this caddy business, because it’s clear that I’ll never cut it as a decent tournament golfer. One of the guys in Jeff’s group tied for medalist with a 75 and will be heading out to Bandon. Way to go John Gollwitzer! I asked him if he needed a man on his bag out in Oregon after seeing the minor miracle I pulled with Jefe. This guy put on a clinic on how to score well in tournaments. He got up and down from everywhere. He kept it in play. The only thing we had in common was that we had the same putter. Mine must be defective.

The bottom line is John is going to be running into 240 other golfers just like him. I’ve come to the sad realization that I’m not in the same league. Either I need to quit pretending that I am or try to do something about it. I need a swing and a game that holds up under tourney play, otherwise I’m just another very good recreational golfer. Welcome to 2-handicap purgatory. Welcome to my world.

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2 comments:

  1. Newman said...:

    Caddie Boy here. Jefe had a rough front 9. No doubt. I'm willing to take responsibility for the quad on hole #3. Jefe asked if 5-wood was a good club--my knee-jerk reaction was "sounds good". In retrospect, it's probably not the kind of ball flight you want on a 210-yard 3-par with waist-high fescue left and deep, and a large pond on the right. Oh, did I mention the 20 mph crosswind? Sounds like a recipe for a low stinger, not a high draw. Whoops.

    Also, I was concerned about a fellow-competitor taking over as caddie for Jefe--it just seemed weird that the USGA wouldn't have a beef with a fellow player taking over the bag after playing the course. In the end, the rules of golf are on your side:

    6-4/8 Player in Competition Caddies for Another Player in Same Event


    Q. Two players playing in the same competition at different times on the same day caddie for each other. Is this permissible?

    A. Yes.

  1. Timmy said...:

    Hey there. It is undeniable that Rich Harvest is a very demanding course. To call it whacky, though, it a bit much. I don't even think there is an unritten rule that golf courses have to be easy, by any standard. RHF is definitely unique, and that is what makes it RHF. Personally, i love the holes just the way they are. I'm a caddie and i laugh inside at the guys who have a fit over a tree in the fairway and laugh with the guys who end up 30 yards further from the hole after hitting the tree. It's a game. You play the course for what it is. If you're playing for money, well your partner is playing on the same course anyway. Complaints are silly. The course is great. It requires patience. In some spots you are rewarded for a risky shot, in others you should probably just play it safe.

    P.S. We don't usually walk to course. Some members like it for exercise, though. So still no justifiable complaints there. :]

 
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