May 29, 2009

NC State's Matt Hill Wins NCAA Tourney

When you think of powerhouses in college golf, you probably never think of NC State University, and you probably shouldn't. Yet. The likes of Oklahoma State, Houston, Stanford and others are the real royalty for the moment, but the Wolfpack is making strides, the largest of which came yesterday when sophomore Matt Hill won the individual NCAA Title with three consecutive 69's at the 112th NCAA Championships at Inverness.

NC State, if you don't know, is the largest university in the state of North Carolina, and sits about twenty minutes from its more well-known (nationally anyway) sister institution, UNC-Chapel Hill. That, and it is equally close to Duke University, and together the three of them are the cornerstones of the 1.2 million resident Research Triangle in the heart of the state. State is a leading land-grant research instution, granting degrees ranging from the engineering disciplines to turf management, teaching, and many others.

The PGA's Karl Petterson and Tim Clark are Wolfpack alumni, and many here are hopeful that Hill will join them on the Tour, and have as much or more success than the two of them.

Also, NCSU alum Bri Vega won the Big Break 7 on Golf Channel some time back and is working her way up the women's pro golfing ranks.

The best news for NC State golf may not be Hill's win, however. In just a few weeks, it will finally debut its own golf course, the Lonnie Poole Course, set on the edge of its new Centennial Campus and a stone's throw from downtown Raleigh. The Arnold Palmer design promises to be very challenging for all levels of golfer, but will give NC State its own home course for the first time since the 1930's when a Donald Ross course adjacent to campus was lost to the Great Depression. When Palmer Design was announced as the course architect and builder, Arnold Palmer told head coach Richard Sykes “Richard, you are going to have the best golf course in the ACC.” Considering that there are many fine college courses in the golf-rich ACC (Wake Forest, Clemson, UNC, Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech) that's no small boast. And from the looks of the place as it grows in and prepares to open (it could be played now) Palmer may well have told it like it is. The Poole course will be very special indeed.

In short, this is a college program that is growing, and is now making waves at the national level. Expect more good things to come from NC State in the future.

May 28, 2009

John Daly Asked Me To Tell You This

"Tell them I don't even go to Hooters."

That's an exact quote.
And I believe him.

I had a Twitter conversation last night with John Daly (yes, that John Daly) where I relayed to him the comments that Golf Channel Senior Writer Rex Hoggard made about him last night on the Grey Goose 19th Hole Show.

Specifically, Hoggard said that "[Daly is] putting himself in the right position to succeed against all odds but we've heard it all before the proof is in pudding.

There are no Hooter's in Europe. He is in best case scenario for his career. Let him finish season over there, get into Race for Dubai and back into competitive mindset and away from some of the people who had enabled him in the past. It's a win win or everyone involved if he stays [in Europe.]"

Maybe so, but that's something for John Daly to decide. John is a grown man, and he and his management team know what's best for his career and for him personally. No one should be presumptuous enough to make those calls for him. At the same time, Hoggard has every right to his opinion, and last night when he was asked for it, he gave it. Fair enough.

I inferred, based on our exchange (which you can read in the Twitter feed at the right), however, that Daly didn't care for the Hooter's part of what Hoggard had to say. I can understand that. I don't know John Daly personally, but it's very obvious that he is making every effort to start fresh and break away from the trends of old. There aren't any Hooter's restaurants in Europe, true, but Daly undertook this fresh start before he ever headed overseas, and it's reasonable to assume (once again, not knowing him personally) that he'll continue his upward trend when he comes home to resume playing on the PGA Tour. Saddling Daly with his past is unfair, and indeed, Daly deserves a chance to make that pudding that the proof will be in.

Me, personally, I wish him the best. I've seen John Daly play in person, at his best and once at his worst. The best was at the 2004 Buick, the worst was at the 1999 US Open when he was disgusted with the domed Donald Ross greens at Pinehurst and slapped a moving ball away while in competition. The latter came when John said he was far less than pleased with the way the USGA put pins on the edges of the treachorous Number Two's greens, and having played that course myself, I can attest to why he might have felt that way. Imagine having to drop a ball on a green as slick as the hood of your car -- and needing it to stop on the hood ornament. Good luck with that.

When he is "on", like he was at that Buick, he is one of the best golfers I have ever seen, and I have watched Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Trevino and yes, Tiger and Phil play from outside the ropes. Woods himself has remarked that Daly is one of the best talents he has ever seen for himself on the golf course, and you have to take that praise as being what it's worth, coming from one of the top golfers ever and one not given to handing out fawning praise unless he believes it. So yeah, from a personal standpoint, I would love to see Big John make a roaring comeback and to maximize his awesome potential.

Difference is, I am not going to prejudge him or saddle him with his past in his comeback attempt. He deserves that from me as a fan and as a fellow human being.

Signs Your Club Might Be In Financial Trouble

The last thing a club member wants to hear is that their club is going bankrupt, but unfortunately it is happening with increasing frequency as the United States meanders through the current economic recession. Currently, more courses are closing than opening in the US, and a slump has been negatively affecting golf clubs across the country for roughly nine years.

Not too long ago, golf was the hot new “it” sport for many people inspired by Tiger Woods' great success in the PGA. People were crowding courses, making tee times difficult to obtain for many courses as these new players wanted to "play like Tiger."

Unfortunately for many of those new players, they discovered how difficult, expensive, and time-consuming the game is, and how getting really good at it requires a large investment of time and a lot of money in good equipment, lessons, and of course, in greens fees or club memberships. From 2001 to 2005, the number of rounds played in the U.S. declined nearly 4 percent, from 518.1 million to 499.6 million. On top of that, in 2008, the reality of the recession worsened the golfing market, as expensive leisure activities are usually the first thing to go when personal budgets are trimmed, in some cases drastically when jobs are lost.

As a result, golf has suffered across the board, with equipment sales, PGA teaching pros and most other aspects of the game seeing reduced sales. Public and semi-private golf courses and even equity membership private golf clubs are definitely experiencing lean times as well. For that latter group, many clubs are seeing membership rosters decline as their members trim their belts in order to stay afloat financially. Naturally, when it comes to keeping the house or the club membership, the membership goes.

Your club is a small business, and as such has three dimensions like any other business:
  • operational
  • financial
  • marketing
and problems with one, two or all three can set off warning bells.

But is your club in trouble? Here are a few things you may want to keep an eye on:

  • New membership initiations are free or drastically reduced
    If your club suddenly wants to bring in a bunch of new members at rates far below what most members paid, that's probably a sign that the bottom line on their monthly income is not rosy.

  • Maintenance is drastically reduced, especially on the course.
    Let's face it, you probably joined because you liked the course. If your club is progressively getting more and more shabby, that probably means that they've reduced their maintenance budget and that members need to pay attention and ask what's going on.

  • If you belong to a private club, you get a proposal to go semi-private
    A real no-brainer, this, your club is not making enough money off of its current membership and wants to boost its income by having daily fee players supplement the bottom line. That might not be a bad thing, because things can go back to fully private once times improve, but it does mean increased competition for tee times and more wear and tear on the course as a whole.

  • Minor expansion or renovations are can canceled suddenly
    If your club was planning on fixing up the bunkers or replace the old roof on the clubhouse but suddenly changes its mind, that can mean that things are tight and that the members should pay probably attention, for two reasons: one, the club could indeed be in trouble, but secondly, it could mean some assessments are coming later when things can no longer be procrastinated.

  • If your club is semi-private, they quit marketing themselves to outside players
    In today's US, advertising=life and a business that can't advertise probably has cash-flow problems. Don't confuse a change in marketing strategy with disappearing from the media, however. Sometimes a marketing strategy is ineffective and a business will quit wasting money on it and use their marketing budget elsewhere. That's only common sense. But if they go stealth, go hmmmm.

  • If you live in a golf neighborhood, the developer(s) pull out before the development is almost completed.
    Most golf communities don't start breaking even on their course investment until the last 20% of the lots are filled with homes. From the club's standpoint, more homes in the neighborhood means more members, and of course more members means more income.

    If the developers pull up roots and head elsewhere before they're done selling all of the lots they've invested in, it can only mean one thing: they can't make enough money to stay or are in financial trouble somewhere else and can't continue with the project, i.e., your neighborhood.

    Be careful to distinguish between the developer(s) slowing down spec builds and pulling out, however. Even though the real estate market is ticking upward a little bit these days, things are not so hot that builders can afford to carry a lot of unsold inventory, so naturally they will be careful in adding to it. That doesn't mean they've folded up their tents and headed to greener pastures, it means that they are simply not being foolish.

Be sure not to confuse normal fiscal prudence with imminent failure, however. Even private clubs are a business, and its natural to tighten up the belt a notch or two when things get lean. And it never hurts to ask someone, either the General Manager or the finances committee if you have one. If they're not straight with you, of course that's another bad sign, but most folks will tell it like it is when asked direct but polite questions.

May 27, 2009

One Young Lady To Watch For: Mariah Stackhouse

You may have seen a recent piece on Georgia Women's Amateur Champion Mariah Stackhouse on the Golf Channel , but if you missed that, you probably won't have long to wait until this young lady explodes into the main consciousness of the golfing world.

She's got game, real game, and unlike some recent phenoms who've not lived up to their multi-million dollar hype, she's also learned how to win big tournaments. In 2007, she won the Georgia Girl's Championship. Last year, she stepped up to the state's Women's Amateur title. This year, who knows? I wouldn't bet against her anywhere she tees it up, short of the pro circuit...and that's just for now. Give her 3-4 more years experience and she may just be hoisting an LPGA trophy too.

The best part of it all? Mariah is an African-American, in other words, an American woman of color, something that has been sorely lacking at the top of the LPGA and across golf from the top pro ranks right down to the neighborhood semi-privates that are the root of the sport.

Ms. Stackhouse has honed her game on the munis down in Atlanta, and with the help of Ralph Boston, a former Olympian, she's also getting to know private course operators and getting to play on the better courses down in her area. Those courses, of course, closer resemble the courses she'll play as she evolves into higher levels of competition, so Boston's help is vital to her success.

Her father labels her a "daddy's girl" and comments on how well grounded Mariah is, and how she is a good student. Seems like she's got some game in school too, and is growing into being a well-adjusted, well-educated and ultimately very successful person.

And she might -- just might -- be the real "next Tiger Woods" that the women's game so desperately needs.

May 26, 2009

A Caribbean Course On Life Support...

Seems like the last fifteen-odd days have flown by in a flash for me -- first down to my hometown to watch the Space Shuttle Atlantis liftoff, then back home for two quick days of work, a couple of rounds of golf and then down to Sint Maarten for our annual trip to the West Indies.

Even though there is a lot of golf in the Caribbean, Sint Maarten is not one of those places. There is but a single shaggy and unkempt course on the island, Mullet Bay, a remnant of a housing complex that was destroyed in the mid-1990's by Hurricane Luis, a Category Five that swept over the 37 square-mile spit of land and then turned around and came roaring over once again for good measure. Since then, the condos at Mullet Bay have been mired in legal jockeying that has lasted well over a decade: the owners want their vacation homes rebuilt, and the company that owns the property wants to replace what's left with new development sold to new owners. Antillean lawyers and courts have been trying to resolve this, but the empty and shattered buildings have sat empty now since 1995, with no permanent resolution in sight.

In the middle of it all sits the golf course, if you could call it that. It's not well cared for, and to say that your local $10 par three track is in better shape would be an insult -- to the par three. The fairways are semi-mown weeds and sand, the greens crusty and as bumpy as the beach a few hundred yards away. In other words, it's in awful condition.

Still, Mullet Bay has its charms even if they are extremely difficult to find in its ruins. Awful as it is, the course is kind of a throwback to the original game of golf the way it was played back in 19th century Scotland. The Old Course in St. Andrews was once a field for sheep, after all, and there was no army of greenskeepers back then to tend the place for globetrotters and no great championships until the 1860s to make it a hallowed ground. Mullet Bay has goats, but really, is there much difference? Golf is, after all, a game of getting your ball into the hole in fewer strokes than your competition and you are all playing the same conditions. That doesn't mean Mullet Bay will ever be Saint Andrews, but still, there's a stick with a flag at the end of every hole and getting there sooner is all that matters.

There is hope that the once-proud course will be restored to its former glory, as it once was pristine, well-tended and a great golfing experience -- as evidenced by many old reviews easily found with a quick Google search.

It costs $53 to play Mullet Bay, if you are interested, and of course, are on the island. Of course, for ten times that much and the price of a ferry road to adjacent Anguilla, you can play at Temenos, a new Greg Norman design that is getting a lot good reviews.

Finally, it would be unfair to present a picture of Mullet Bay Golf Course without showing you the beach it sits aside, because illustrating the juxtaposition should drive the paradox of it all home in your mind's eye:

May 13, 2009

Tempest Fugit

Tempest Fugit is on the face of many old clocks, Latin meaning "time is fleeting." That's an absolute truth, and for those of us for whom the years are starting to pile atop of one another, we get reminded of it once in a while when muscles are sore from activities that never gave us any problems before, for example, playing 36 holes a day, or working 18 hours and recovering with a few hours sleep and getting right back at it. When we were younger, it never gave us a second thought, but later we're reminded that what was once easy now has a higher cost. Such is life, and if you haven't learned that yet, you eventually will. And so it goes.

It's said that golf is like life, but at times, life is not like golf, it's more important than all that.

Sometimes the reminders are more harsh -- for example, watching my Dad, a robust man who loved hitting the links with his buddies all through his adult life telling me recently that he didn't think he could play 18 holes any more because he gets too tired and his back aches after just a handful of swings.

What I wouldn't give to play Eagle Ridge with Dad.

I know we're all headed there if we live long enough, even though golf is the game of a lifetime, sometimes life lasts longer than our ability to swing a club. In addition to my Dad, my father in law is in the same situation...he too would love to play, but his body just isn't willing. Like my Dad he watches golf on TV, but also like my Dad, he's had to leave his game in his bag in the garage. The years add up up, sap our strength, and before we realize it, we're left wishing we could play and our bodies just say no.

This past weekend, Dad and I went to watch the launch of the space shuttle in my home town of Cocoa Beach, and along the way, we stopped at the World Golf Hall of Fame. We certainly enjoyed the tour, seeing all of the exhibits and trophies. I think two things that I enjoyed the most, however were the golf simulator that the museum offers. I got "home" on the three-par that they had in three, but best of all, my Dad stepped in and gave it his best. He bogied the hole, but the score didn't matter one little bit.

What was important was that I got to "play" golf with my Dad again, a fervent wish that I have held close for many a year. The moment was fleeting, after all, tempest fugit, but for a few seconds, we were back on the links again, father and son. The score didn't matter, the game did, even if it was just a computer screen in an air conditioned room indoors. We were both taking dead aim at the flag in the distance and we were both trying to get our ball home in as few strokes as possible.

Later, we played the 18-hole putting course, and even though I play 5-6 times a week and he hasn't played in years, Dad held his own. The old guy may have hung up his clubs, but he's still a deadeye putter...and I didn't give him any quarter, I respect him too much for that. Each putt I took was true and I tried to hole every stroke. So did he. Funny thing was, even though i was giving it my best, I couldn't shake him in our match, and we went back and forth one-up, one down throughout the 18. I loved it, because we ended all square, both two over par of 36. Like the simulator the scores on the card didn't matter, the mere fact that the two of us were once again on the links together did. Old Rabbit and Middle Aged Rabbit, chasing the white ball down into the hole.

They say that the simple things in life are the best, and if I didn't believe it before, I do now: scores, clubs, rules, they're important but the most important thing of all is who we play with and how much we enjoy being with one another, no matter the course we play.

Once again, golf has taught me a life lesson.

I owe many a debt to my father, some huge, others smaller, and one of those things is the fact that he was the first one to put a crooked stick in my hand and tell me to take dead aim and send that egg laying in the grass down towards the flag. Being a modest man, he might say it was nothing, but it was a lot more than that -- Dad gave me a passion, a way to enjoy myself, to test myself, to succeed, fail, desire and most of all, keep on trying no matter what yesterday's score was. Those lessons went further than any golf course anywhere, and those things in part helped me become the man I am today: in a happy marriage, comfortable in my own skin and in the life I have worked to earn. It was a gift beyond price and I shall owe him eternally for that and for all the other things.

Give me two strokes on my card if you like, but I will give you this advice: take good care to play with your favorite golfing buddies whenever you can, because that ever ticking clock is absolutely right: tempest fugit, time is fleeting.

May 9, 2009

The Longest Bunker Shot Ever?

This weekend at the Player's Championship may have been stuck in bunkers here and there, but try hitting out of one a quarter of a million miles away from the nearest fairway. Getting out in two or three shots would be pretty impressive, don't you think?

That's what astronaut (and first American in space) Alan Shepard did: on February 6, 1971, Alan B. Shepard Jr. grabbed a 6-iron and launched one of the most famous golf shots in history. Actually it was two shots--the first misfired and traveled only 100 feet. The second connected solidly and flew above the lunar surface for over 30 seconds. Shepard then took a third shot that was even more solid -- and he laughingly remarked that it went "miles and miles."

That's probably a major exaggeration - but the projectile may well have flown hundreds of yards before touching down. There isn't any atmosphere on the moon, of course, so there's no air to support aerodynamic flight, but moon's gravity is roughly 15% of Earth's, meaning that an object with equal mass will travel further before gravity pulls it back down. All considered, about 300-400 yards is a good guess, and within Shepard's own estimate.
You can watch a video of the short on Youtube by clicking here.

The World Golf Hall of Fame has an awesome display of a replica of the club Shepard used -- a forged six-iron head fastened to part of another experiment apparatus.

That's not the only shot taken by an American astronaut in space: prior to a 1996 mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour a putter and golf ball was smuggled on board tfor astronaut and weekend golfer Brian Duffy. He was presented the putter on the flight deck as the shuttle was orbiting Earth, and Duffy played around with it in his spare time. One can only wonder what the break was in the three dimensions of microgravity (the ball would float, not stay on the deck) but we can be sure that Duffy had a good time. At the end of any round, where it is on your home track or on the surface of the moon, that's all that's important.

May 7, 2009

Fresh Air, Green Grass and a Deep Breath Full of .... Carcinogens?

Public tobacco smoking is under the gun these days across the US, and golf courses have become another battleground for anti-smoking laws:

USA Today: Golf Course Smoking Bans Anger Golfers:

"For the cigar-smoking golfer, 18 holes and a stogie rank with peanut butter and jelly or gin and tonic among life's ideal combinations.

"That's why recent efforts across the country to ban smoking on public golf courses are being greeted by those players like a triple bogey. In the balance between individual rights and public health, weekend duffers feel authorities have become unreasonable.

"The city of Spokane just tried to ban smoking on its four public golf courses, only to be stymied by an outcry from players and smoking rights advocates.

"Golf and cigars go together like a hand in a glove," said Dale Taylor of Tacoma, president of the Cigar Association of Washington, a smokers' rights groups. "That may be the only time some people smoke."

I need not recite the dangers of smoking -- a much higher risk of heart disease, emphysema, COPD, oral, laryngeal and lung cancer, for starters -- and at the the same time I feel much empathy for personal rights and people making having the ability to make their own decisions, no matter how dangerous their choices may be. So long as it brings no harm to others, well, that's their choice and is between them and their maker. That freedom ends, however, where putting others in danger begins, and while some tobacco advocates may wish to debate the point, the science on second-hand smoke is decidedly clear: it's not a good thing, and forcing others to breathe in smoke is a hazard, not a personal choice.

The golf course, however, may be a different matter. Obviously, being outdoors, any smoke is not confined and dissipates quickly. That and one can move away from a "danger zone" with relative ease. So as the British used to say, smoking bans on courses is a 'sticky wicket.'

There are other dangers, however. Over the winter on my home course, the dormant Tifway Bermuda turns to hay for all intents and purposes, and the climate here can be relatively dry in the cooler months. On the approach to the green on our ninth hole, someone tossed a still-lit cigarette or a cigar down carelessly and set the dry grass a-light, and by the time the fire was extinguished, perhaps 3/4th of an acre was blackened and unplayable for a time. Fortunately, small fires like that doesn't kill Bermuda (in fact, it makes it healthier) and the course sprang back as soon as warm weather arrived, but at the same time, there were several homes on the edges of the course that potentially could have been set ablaze had the winds picked up or the fire somehow crept to their doorstep. It doesn't take much thinking to realize the dangers of smoking in that case.

At any rate, I expect that this debate will gather energy and will spread across America over the next couple of years. If a tobacco-producing state like North Carolina can enact public smoking bans, they can happen anywhere -- even your favorite public course.

May 5, 2009

Pound The Picker Takes a New Twist at University of Colorado

It just never gets old, long after I grew up and became an adult...the old game of "Pound the Picker."

Bet you don't know that was the name of the game, but I bet you've probably played it out on the practice range. It's a maxim of golf practice to have a target, and nothing is more fun than firing at the ball-picker if it's out on the range scooping up balls. Hitting it is always hilarious, especially when you get a roof-banger -- a ball that drops on the roof of the picker and makes a loud noise letting everyone -- especially the poor driver -- know you hit your target.

The new home course for the University of Colorado's golf team has a ball picker painted red and white, with a Nebraska helmet on the roof and an "N" emblazoned on the front. The idea came from Colorado football Head Coach Dan Hawkins.

NiceBallz Wife Takes Up Golf...Some Free Advice

I always enjoy playing golf with my wife, even if her official handicap is somewhere around 30.

She hits a lot of good shots, mind you, but she's probably played less than 30 official rounds in her life. Like it is for all beginners, Mrs. B's game is a feast or famine thing and she hasn't developed a "touch" that your average 3-4 round per week golfer develops. That would be me, by the way. We live in a golf neighborhood and this time of year, if the weather's nice and I am not working you can probably find me somewhere on holes 1-18 in my neighborhood.

Anyhow, Niceballz asks:
We've purchased the clubs (a basic starter set for now) some shoes and I'm getting a lesson booked with my fav teaching pro.

But I'm worried. I am not the guy to coach her up for a variety of reasons, so this is a NiceBallz S.O.S. to the female golfing community: <"How can I avoid effing this up?"

Good question.

My advice to anyone whose wife is starting up with golf is to get her some clubs that are geared towards beginners, and women's clubs at that. Don't give her that old set you replaced a couple of seasons ago, men's clubs are usually longer, the shafts are geared to faster swing speeds and they just aren't suited to someone starting off. Break out the checkbook or the Visa card and spring for some clubs she can call her own. That immediately gives her some "ownership" of her golf game.

Next, get her a teacher. Good habits taught from the beginning mean a better game in the long run. And an objective teacher won't get frustrated, and she won't either. She and her teacher won't have that "marriage dynamic" enter into their golf learning relationship. Besides, you're probably not a teacher anyway.

After that, encourage her to play with other women. It's a lot more fun for her to play with players that are a closer match to her physical skills as opposed to you and the fellows out of your Sunday foursome. It's no fun for anyone to be the fifth wheel -- the person whose game is nowhere close to the rest of the group who always seems to be furthest from hole (at least at first.) Think of it this way: suppose you were hooked up with three Nationwide Tour players who played from the tips, while you played from your normal white markers. Their drives were beyond yours on the fly and their approach shots always inside yours. They might be quiet and respectful of you and your game, but their silence might crawl inside your head after several holes. It's probably close to that for someone's wife to play with their husbands and his buddies if she's a beginner.

Hopefully, your town has a chapter of the EWGA, the Executive Women's Golf Association. Their mission statement is to the point and a great one: "The EWGA's (Executive Women's Golf Association) mission is connecting women to learn, play and enjoy golf for business and for fun." I've known and played with several ladies in that group and I can vouch that they are all supportive of each other, and that a beginner is more than welcome. Plus it's a great place for your wife to start making her own golf buddies, which is something that will help her stay interested in playing the game for the long haul.

Try to remember that a lot of women see golf courses as a big good ole boys club where they may not be welcome. This is true even where the course goes out of its way to encourage women golfers. That's the unfortunate history of a lot of clubs and the American version of the game generally and to this day a lot of grumpy old men grouse when they get behind a foursome of women. I've seen it at my club and the funniest part was when the starter lit them up like a Christmas tree, telling those guys in no uncertain terms that the group in front of them was just as welcome as they were. Funny thing is, study after study has shown than women generally play as fast or faster than men and that they tend to follow the rules more closely besides. So shut the hell grumpy old dude and tend to your own ball.

Lastly, and this is some valuable free advice: never, ever, ever try to be your wife's teacher on the course. Do NOT offer a stream of free advice. In fact, don't offer any advice at all unless you are asked to do so. I've seen too many couples give each other icy stares when the husband decides he's his wife's personal Hank Haney.

Me, I just tell the Mrs. to whack it down the fairway from the tee when it's her turn on the tee. I always try to be encouraging. If she hits a bad shot and we're alone and the course not crowded, I might tell her to hit another one...if she wants to. If she hits a great shot, I'll give her a big smile, compliment her and offer up a clenched fist for a bone crack. She knows she hit it like a hot knife through butter, and letting your wife know that you know it too is the best encouragement of all.

Keep in mind that golf is supposed to be fun, and if a beginner doesn't see it that way, you'll probably have her clubs for sale at a Garage Sale a few years from now. If you help make it fun, then you've found the best golf buddy of them all. And she'll probably be a lot more understanding when you roll back into the house with a new driver that you hit really well at the pro shop.

May 4, 2009

Has SI's Alan Shipnuck Seen The Future Of Golf?

In this week's PGA Tour Confidential, Sports Illustrated senior writer Alan Shipnuck said this:
"Golf's appeal to many fans, including me, is that it is not loud and crass like most pro sports. It's OK to counter-program [television sports.] Otherwise, are we going to wind up with cheerleaders behind the 18th green in slinky outfits (by Ashworth, of course)?"
It's possible, I suppose, as a new TV contract is on the horizon, and is coming at a time when America is in a recession, companies are dropping out of agreements to sponsor tournaments and the game of golf itself is suffering as people have less disposable income to spend of playing golf or watching the PGA live and in person at its events. The PGA is working to generate more excitement, and if other sports can feature slinky ladies to get guys to gawk cheer, it wouldn't surprise me if the PGA figured out a way to sex up its TV coverage.

After all, my local NHL franchise was the first team in that tradition bound sport to have cheerleaders at its games, and the young ladies proved to be so popular that pretty much the rest of the league copied them the next year. And live, in the arena, lots and lots of male eyes are drawn their way. That makes Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Storm Squad's (pictured, above) current sponsor quite happy, I suppose, since they get tens of thousands of "impressions" a night for their trouble.

We already live in a world where "Get in the hole!" is shouted out by at least one fan on every shot -- and taking the idea of a subdued, staid gallery with it. Real Women Golf already covered that with aplomb, when Heather said
"While I savored every moment of the Masters last weekend, my golfing euphoria was often rudely interrupted when some idiot would scream, "Get in the hole!" after one of my favorite players hit his tee shot. I find this especially irritating on a par-5 at the Masters for two reasons. First, not even Mr. Woods can reach a par-5 at Augusta in one. Second, the Masters crowd is supposed to be the most civilized and well behaved in all of golf, yet some golf lovers continue to scream this beaten-down phrase.

"I discussed the subject on Twitter on Sunday with some golf fans. I suggested that anyone who yells, "Get in the hole!" on a tee shot of a par-5 should immediately be escorted off the premises."
Amen. And since the PGA Tour lets these guys (and they are always guys, have you noticed?) have their fun, I suppose that the next thing we might see are cheerleaders. The easiest way to make a product sexy these days is to sex it up, and it wouldn't shock me in the least if it happened.

Old Fuddy Duddy Alert: Where I Pooh-Pooh The Very Idea Of It

I'm sure that Mr. Shipnuck would say that he was kidding, if asked if he was serious. Then again, I can almost see some brash young marketing director pitching the idea somewhere as if it is a good one. It isn't, but bad marketing ideas are implemented by desperate organizations every day. Attractive golfers, no problem. If they want to emphasize their physiques, a la Villegas or Gulbis, no problem so long as it is done tastefully. But a squad of young lovelies to hype up a crowd on the golf course? Bad idea -- even at the FBR Championship.

Thing is, at some point you start to lose the core values of your product and it becomes something else again, and that new something is rarely if ever better than the original. Golf is a sport that is different than hockey, hoops or football, meaning that cheerleaders aren't necessary, that cheering is done positively and that shouting out at the top of your lungs is ostensibly discouraged. Doing these things in other sports is great and I don't mind seeing a pretty cheerleader any more than most any red-blooded fellow. But that doesn't mean it belongs in the world of golf. For each thing a season and for each thing a time and a place. May those two never meet.

Twice In A Row, Woods Threatens But His Driver Leads Him Astray

Folks betting that Tiger Woods is going to roll the field in next month's US Open had better hope that he re-discovers his putting touch and leaves his driver at home before he gets to Bethpage Black for the American championship.

"I've been very pleased with some of my progress [after returning from knee surgery.] I'm also not so pleased with some of it," Woods said after yesterday's final round. "It's been spotty, streaky. I just need to get a little more consistent."

Indeed. The World's #1 finished 41st in driving accuracy, T45 for greens in regulation and when he did find the putting surface to give himself a birdie chance, all too often Tiger was on the wrong spot of the green and reduced his chances of climbing to the top of the leaderboard when it mattered the most.

This can't bode well for him heading not only to the US Open, but also next week when he plays at quirky TPC Sawgrass against perhaps the best field of the year, majors included. In Ponte Vedra, if Tiger hopes to win, he'll need to find the fairway more than most of his competition and he'll need to dial in his iron accuracy and distance in order to put the ball where it needs to be on Pete Dye's undulation Stadium Course greens. Otherwise, Woods will once again fall short on Sunday and he in all likelihood, questions about his post-surgery game will begin in earnest.

Tiger fans need not fret too much, however, he's not that far off and at any given second, he may make the connection he needs to straighten himself out off of the tee, among other things. That may happen today or it may happen next Saturday afternoon. But if one thing has been proven over the years with Tiger Woods, it will happen and it will probably happen soon.

May 2, 2009

Coming Soon to a PGA Tournament Near You (Maybe): Spirit Sponsored Tourneys

The rumor mill has it that the PGA is considering allowing liquor concerns to sponsor tournaments:
"Executives at PGA Tour headquarters are taking their most serious look yet at loosening rules that prevent spirit companies from buying tournament title sponsorships or traditional endorsements with players, said multiple sources familiar with the talks. Industry sources estimated the category could be worth up to $50 million a year in new sponsorship dollars."
If approved, the Jack Daniels Open, for example, might be on the PGA schedule or perhaps a Johnny Walker Classic here in the States. The European Tour already allows spirit company sponsorship, and you may recall that 17 year-old Danny Lee is this year's Johnny Walker Classic champion (pictured.)

No doubt that if the PGA makes a decision to allow sponsorship from those companies, it will draw the ire of neo-prohibitionists and drunk driving organizations like MADD, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They will surely claim something akin to 'this will cause children to drink' etc. and leverage the change into a platform for their particular viewpoint.

NASCAR made this sponsorship rule change some time ago. Kids watch car racing too, and NASCAR's new sponsorship rules haven't caused a noticeable spike in teen drinking or teen drinking and driving. It is ironic, however, to see a car festooned with Jack Daniel's logo -- is there a more direct connection between drinking and driving than a car with the familiar Jack Black logo and label?

My opinion is that this class of company makes a legal product, and that responsible use of them is an embedded part of our culture. There are many folks like me that take the better part of a year to consume a particular bottle of liquor and when it's empty they too feel no rush to replenish their supply. I also never drink and drive, because I feel that I never want my pleasures to put others in danger. I bet that's the demographic that the spirit companies are after, and in my view that's fine.

May 1, 2009

Is Maria Verchenova Claiming Sophie Sandolo's Spot As Sexiest Euro Golfer?

"I always try to dress more sexy than the others," Maria Verchenova told Golf Punk magazine some time ago.

"I always like to bring something extra special to the golf course, so if I’m wearing sexier, more stylish stuff like a shorter skirt or a nice tennis-style dress and people notice then great," she added. And when asked if she would rather be a great golfer or a sexy woman, her reply was "I'll settle for both, thank you."

She's definitely talented in both regards -- Verchenova is a professional model and a talented golfer on the Ladies' European Tour. A quick Google search for her can reveal as many pin-up photos as her in action on the golf course, and naturally plenty of cheeky commentators call her a "golf babe," a "golf diva" and other similar terms.

Sounds like Sophie Sandolo, doesn't it? But where is Sadolo these days? She seems to have disappeared after splashing into the American golfing scene last year, which is surprising, considering that both her game and awareness of her in the world's largest golfing market was a stock rising quickly.

According to her website, Sophie experienced several injuries and had to stop playing late last season and part of this one, and news of her is hard to find -- except when it comes to comparisons of Verchenova and herself in various European newspapers.

That's too bad -- I was quite impressed with Sophie (pictured in her calendar, right) as a golfer and as a person when she was on Golf Channel's Big Break Kaanipali. She handled the game within the game well, refusing to let the other competitors get inside her head and derail her chances. Her Gallic atttitude was in full effect, and quite honestly, there is no one quite like a French-Italian woman when it comes to playing head games. Sophie didn't initiate the games, but she won them 10-and-8 when it came to her competitors on that show.

Ultimately, Sophie came in second in the competition, but she acquitted herself quite well and proved that she definitely was not a cheesecake model turned golf poseur. It also wasn't because she was psyched out, it was because her game the final day was not the better one. In defeat she handled herself with grace, and at the time, I thought it a near certainty that she would get sponsor's exemptions into American tournaments and that there she would make a regular place for herself on the course.

As for Verchenova, she may be the more talented of the two, she's placed well in a few LET events and may well break through with her first win sooner rather than later. As for which is prettier, well, that's for your own tastes, but I'll say that neither hurt the eyes.

As for those of us in America, here's hoping that we see both teeing it up in LPGA events soon. After all, if the ladies can enjoy watching Sergio and Camilo, we fellows can enjoying watching these two stroll down the fairways too.