Hilton Head, o beautiful muddy island.

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Hilton Head is in the news this time of year because of the golf tournament on the Harbour Town course with the iconic light house on the 18th green. It made the news yesterday because an alligator interfered with play -the golfer unfortunately didn’t take the free drop being ignorant of Hilton Head and alligator rules.

The gators on Hilton Head are hogs -fat, mean, and not shy. All the courses have gator rules as well as poisonous snake rules, and the smart golfer takes the free drop. Hilton Head is not the place where you let your toddlers roam free or they might end up free lunch. It’s only a few steps from being a malarial swamp, but it’s blessed with a strange lack of flying vermin. Few mosquitos is very nice, but the island has hedge fund managers infesting the palmettos like velociraptors clad in Tommy Hilfiger. New Yorkers it has in spades like bed bugs on a transient’s hairy knee. It’s Aspen on the tidewater, the Hamptons unburdened by its Long Island umbilical to Manhattan, a New Yorker’s semitropical Hong Kong on the South Carolina/Georgia sea coast. Hilton Head, like Boca Raton, Austin, and Charlotte, is in the South but not of it.

Hilton Head’s isolation proffers it automatic business class status compared to the economy class experience of jitney creeping to the Hamptons on a Friday evening, but really it takes about the same amount of time to get to either place from midtown. Once you arrive, you will notice that Hilton Head is culturally indistinguishable from 78th and Lexington. Sunday mornings, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Harbor Town and Southhampton as you hunt and gather for coffee, bagels, and the New York Times.

The sea air is a hint saltier off Montauk and Southampton. The terroir of Hilton Head is a twee riper with more ferment of low tide than is available in Long Island. The aborigines on both islands have been pushed out -on Hilton Head, the once Gullah speaking inhabitants and their white confreres commute from the mainland, unable to afford their island and its taxes. In the Hamptons, the aborigines are long gone, and the more recent inhabitants, the establishment WASP -an endangered species, survives by intermarrying with the new money like the English did with the Normans, only the invading hordes today sport last names like Cohen, Freeman, Chen, and O’Hanlon (the ethnic stereotypes, not the law firm).

When you see Harbour Town on the TV, you think about some kind of tradition, a deep south Cape Cod, but it’s all a pleasant sham. Look hard as you want for the humble shacks out of Conrack -they’re buried beneath the rusticated mini mall around Publix. You might even think the Harbour Town course is super exclusive like Augusta, but au contraire, you just need enough bank. The irony of the Masters getting annually harangued for their peculiar institutions is in the fact that Shinnecock out on Long Island, while no less exclusive and hidebound, gets off the hook because the USGA moves the target around like a 3 card Monte dealer. While it is unlikely that I will get to play on either Augusta or Shinnecock in this life, I can swing Harbour Town once every few years. That is great.

And I’ll finish with this. The Ayn Rand/Gordon Gekko creed of “Greed is good” does work in America because we lack the education and sophistication to dedicate ourselves to political ideals more sophisticated than “less taxes, less government, more God,” but once you get there, once you have arrived, after all the striving and self improving which can take generations from broken English immigrant green grocers to graduate school educated doctors and lawyers, to pretensions to establishment, you are equally bound by the other great American rule voiced by Marx (Groucho, not Karl), “I would never join a club that would have me as its member.” We’re happy to be on Hilton Head, but we know there is something better. Specifically, it’s a helicopter ride to Fisher’s Island.

The Players Championship is not a 5th Major

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Got whacked after a last meal in a real steak house

They were talking fifth major back in the early 80’s when talk about it seemed like pure marketing with the lifespan of Jerry Pate’s colored balls (I did like the optic yellow ones).

The problem is that even with some longevity, the whole tournament doesn’t have the sentimentality and frank full on schmaltz. The Ken Burns effect black and white photo drifts of Francis Ouimet, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and on and on doesn’t play well in the modernist course that is TPC Sawgrass which brings to mind monstrosities like 2 Columbus Circle pre-facelift.

They managed to soften the whole cheesy 70’s look by getting rid of the chariots of gods pyramid clubhouse for Mediterraneo Lite, a la Disney. My heart doesn’t weep thinking about Hal Sutton taking TPC while battling blond hair, or Calvin Peete marching down the fairway lined with National Guardsmen protecting him from protest against the diamond in his grill. I have no emotional connection to Pate jumping into the pesticide and alligator infested waters with Beaman and Dye. I do recall Fred Couples winning with the effortless swing -I was there, but try to hallow that!

It’s like the difference between a world class steak served at one of the classic NY steak houses versus one of the corporate cutouts that advertise in the airline magazines. It’s different knowing that you’re eating beef at the same place that Big Pauly got whacked. Steak tastes better, the wine bloodier.

Nope. Just a very fancy tournament held in a drained swamp. Don’t forget your Off.

This was a comment posted on my new favorite blog NiceBallz. Go check it out!

http://blog.niceballz.com/2009/05/07/the-fifth-major-f-that.aspx