Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Towering Tee, Internet Domain
I’ve had only one opportunity to play golf close to its beginnings when I was on a corporate team that was installing and training for an MRP operations system at one of our subsidiaries. We were working in a small town just outside Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland. We had walked into the midst of a thirty year period now known as “The Troubles” where the Protestant majority wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom and the Catholic minority was pushing to become part of the Republic of Ireland. By the time we arrived on the scene, the British government had imposed direct rule on the area from London in an attempt to quell the unrest. Ultimately, 50,000 people were adversely impacted by the violence. The company car that had been reserved for our use had been blown up by police the week prior to our arrival, since it had been recovered as stolen. Stolen cars were generally wired booby-traps. There were recurring news accounts of men being “knee-capped” or shot in the knees in drive-by reprisals. We were instructed to always be seated in a restaurant with our backs to the wall and eyes to the front door after being checked for weapons in case someone busted into the room shooting.
Our small team was working long hours for two solid weeks to prepare for the systems installation. That left us with a Saturday for some R&R before we turned on the new system and began the rigorous process of debugging and trouble shooting. So we discussed the possibility of playing a round of golf on one of the local historic courses to stay out of harm’s way. It was early spring and the winds coming off the white capped Strangford Lough were raw and cold. Our hosts at work arranged for golf clubs and a tee time for three of us. I was very fortunate to find a wool stocking hat that evening which proved to be a life saver.
We arrived at Scrabo Golf Club early on Saturday morning. Green fees included 18 holes and a pint of beer. The famous landmark Scrabo Tower overlooking the course was built as a memorial to the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry. From this vantage point on a clear day you can see the coast of Southern Scotland, Northern England and the Isle of Man. Christy O’Connor has written that the formidable opening hole is “awe-inspiring and terrifying. You get to see the entire hole rising above you. There are glorious views and your drive rifles up a hill flanked by razor-sharp gorse. At the top sits Scrabo Tower and the green. Two mighty shots are required.”
We were quickly introduced to intersecting fairways which really gets your attention. There were blind shots all over the course due to the gorse covered contours of Scrabo Hill. I hit what seemed to be at least a 300 yard five iron to a par 3 green because I over shot it into the wind and my undersized ball sailed down into the depths of the lough. One of my playing companions stepped off the front of a tee box, slipped on the wet grass, and immediately disappeared from sight down the hill. Errant balls that found the dense gorse were lost for all time. The raw winds coming off the lough were bone chilling and numbing. My two partners saw their escape chance as we trudged close to the shelter of the clubhouse on the 15th green and they bailed on me. But I was determined to finish my one opportunity to play a round of golf in the cradle of its creation, so I soldiered on. When I finally stumbled into the clubhouse and a warm fireplace, my companions asked how I shot. With no sane golfers left on the course as witness, I softly muttered through my chattering teeth and a wry smile, “All birdies!”
Monday, August 31, 2015
Hang onto Your Hats,
Wrightsville Beach, NC
I always return to the ocean beaches to walk the shoreline at sunrise and listen to the calming influence of the synchronized waves lapping onto the sands. Every sunrise has its own personality and beauty fused with the fluorescent sky and blue waters. But the unseen presence that is always near the water in varying degrees is the ocean breeze, caressing the skin and soul and subliminally reminding us of the divine presence that always accepts an invitation to walk with us.
MILESTONE POST NO. 600
Sunrise Surge, Wrightsville Beach, NC
1God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
2So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Sunrise Stillness, Wrightsville Beach, NC
10“Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”
11The lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Touche' Ball, Greensboro National GC, Summerfield, NC
One of the old sayings in golf is that “hazards attract, fairways repel”. If you’ve watched much professional golf on television or live, you’ve probably observed that the fairways and greens are always roped off. These containment barriers are used mainly to hold back the fans and keep them out of play and harms’ way. I’ve only played one round of golf within the confines of the ropes when I participated in a Pro-Am tournament at Inverness in Florida. It was a weird experience in many ways including having physical boundaries within the prime real estate of staying well inbounds. And of course, life is also best played within the ropes.
All too often we weekend golfers find ourselves outside the ropes on many of our golf shots. Many low country courses have vast waste areas that have been left native to the area. Midwestern courses have tall grassy rough areas that are almost impossible to locate errant balls. Heavily wooded country that has had courses selectively logged to cut out the fairways for a golf course present their own challenges, but at least they do yield the occasional tree monkey shots that careen back into the fairway off a tree trunk. And then there are all the water hazards in the form of oceans, lakes and small holding ponds where many players have ritualistically drowned or baptized their golf ball on the edges or deep in the center. A good rule of thumb when hitting over water is that you can either hit one more club or two more balls.
The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Florida where Pete and Alice Dye created the diabolical signature par 3, 137 yard 17th hole is probably one of the most infamous island greens surrounded by water. The 17th is considered by many to be the most intimidating hole in the game. Mark Calcavecchia once stated that “It’s like having a 3 o’clock appointment for a root canal”. It’s been said that golfers who have been watching play on this green for years and finally have the chance to play it will hit balls until they either hit the green or run out of golf balls. The PGA estimates that over 100,000 balls find the water around the island green every year. And the 18th is a 462 yard par 4 formidable finishing hole with water all along the left side of the fairway that gathers in its share of golf balls. Ironically, the professional players did not like the course when it first opened due to the severity of play. Jack Nicklaus was quoted as saying, “I’ve never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car” and J. C. Snead called the course “90 percent horse manure and 10 percent luck”. Dye tweaked the course soon after and it’s now considered one of the greatest tests of golf.
But never fear, if there is an opportunity for golf equipment manufactures to sell any kind of gear, they’ll come up with something. And so the product of choice for any golfer who has hit into a hazard or brush, but most especially water, is the now infamous ball retriever! Many golf balls find their way under the ropes and into the water on the roll. So many of them can be spotted just out of reach. That’s where a telescoping retriever pays for itself in just a few rounds, depending on the skill of the owner. Of course, this generates more than just a few wise cracks on the course such as “My retriever wasn’t long enough to get my putter out of the tree” or “I always get my retriever regripped right along with my clubs”. And we must be vigilant of our role as a hunter not a gatherer, lest our dreams are no longer of conquest but only of salvage!
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Migrating Wildebeests, Internet Domain
I was out wandering the green, rain soaked fairways of Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, NC, today in hot and humid August weather while observing the PGA Wyndham Championship. This year’s tournament took a turn for the better as one of the sport’s shining lights, albeit a dimming one, Tiger Woods, announced late that he would participate for the first time. The bad news is that this hasn’t been a good year for Tiger and he’s in danger of missing out on the lucrative playoffs for the season. But the good news is that his presence immediately prompted the sponsors to crank out thousands more tickets for the event and secure more parking space for the golf fans.
I had watched Tiger in his more competitive days in Charlotte at the Quail Hollow tournament. And it was first in Charlotte that the phenomenon of the superstar was first graphically illustrated to me. We had maneuvered about three holes ahead of Tiger’s group and were patiently waiting in a grandstand for them to approach the green. The fans began to slowly migrate around the ropes on either side of the fairway as the empty grandstand seats began to fill. By the time his group had made their way up to the green thousands of fans lined the fairway and the stands were packed beyond capacity. The same phenomenon was no doubt also occurring on national television. That’s when I first associated what I was visually witnessing with the great wildebeest migration in the endless African Serengeti and Masai-Mara ecosystems!
The annual odyssey of two million wildebeest grazers including 300,000 calves follows a regular circular pattern over an endless journey of 1,200 miles in search of green pastures. It's one of the greatest wonders of the natural world. One of the key events in this journey involves the perilous crossing of the Mara River between July and October. The wildebeest must navigate many hazards including ravenous predators such as lions and leopards that follow the vast herds and take out the weak stragglers. Then when the migrants begin crossing the Masai-Mara River in narrow groups, massive five-meter long crocodiles lying in wait attack them from the unseen depths of the water. Thousands of wildebeests never finish the circle of life each year. In October the herds turn the corner and head back to the Serengeti as the rainy season starts in Tanzania.
The game of golf also follows a rather circuitous path as individuals who religiously practice the sport engage in the game of playing fetch with yourself. We depart the first tee and circle around to the ninth green next to the clubhouse. Then we repeat another cycle off the back nine and again return to the clubhouse. The path is fraught with obstacles like sand bunkers, water hazards and even predators if you’re the betting type. But unlike the lions pursuing the massive herds on the Serengeti, the massive herds pursue the Tigers in golf. The fans anxiously move in lock step as they approach their prey. Occasionally, they even obtain a trophy autograph in their frenzied obsession. The majority are appreciative and well-mannered with the exception of a few stragglers who have obviously stumbled onto the occasional clump of locoweed. Apparently it triggers random outbursts of gibberish like “You the man!” and “Get in the hole!” which can become very annoying. I also observed a few red-shirted men wired for communication walking inside the ropes with the Tiger, presumably for security. Now, there’s a switch!
As we witnessed once again today, when their prey is finished grazing on the green and makes the turn to the back nine in search of greener fairways, the madding crowd likewise evaporates within minutes. And you have to wonder, if the Tiger walks into a perilous water hazard, will the worshiping herd blindly follow?