The Metro Municipal -Highland Park GC

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One of the things about the USGA and GHIN is that you have to be part of a club to register your golf scores. I could join the several Northeast Ohio based golf associations, but it would be nice to just join a club. The problem is that a private club is a considerable commitment of time and money.Image So it was with some joy that I found Highland GC, which is a large 36 hole municipal course. The Red Course is two traditional nine holes that go out and back into the clubhouse, while the Blue Course is an 18 hole track that does not come back for a breather between nines. They are about ten minutes from my driveway, and there is hardly ever a line.

That kind of convenience comes with some compromises. There is no pro shop. There is no driving range. And finally, there is no club for affiliation and registering of scores. It is a municipal golf course and there is a golf egalitarianism that is lost in the rarefied districts of private club golf. In the parking lot, there is an eclectic mix of luxury sedans, beaters, and even a loaded pickup truck. At one time in America, all the different classes mixed in the public sphere, at school, work, and play. This has eroded and you can see it in the economic gerrymandering of neighborhoods and suburbs reflected in their anchor malls and grocery stores. The municipal golf course is the last preserve of the public commons. On the first tee this morning, I saw three groups lined up, Asians, African-Americans, and whites.

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Sadly, they were segregated and rather prickly, being all men of a certain age. If you are in the late fifties and are playing golf on a municipal course with swings that could be good for tree chopping, you worked hard all your life, never got handed anything, and have generally skeptical view of the world. On line, the reviews complain of lack of services, poor conditions, and discrimination (both forward and reverse). Yet even with the apparent race relations of a prison yard, and stiff necked, flinty eyed glare of blue collar pride, golf etiquette prevailed and all the groups let me play through with courtesy and even a little banter about the good weather. And that is the lesson for us all. In golf there is hope.

The African American twosome were the first to let me through. Both had the mien of philosopher kings, ancient wise men, spiritual healers. They clearly enjoyed each other’s company and were in no hurray, and shooed me onwards. The Caucasian twosome were clearly betting on everything that could be bet upon during a round of golf, and seemed to be making bets about me as I played through. They were congenial and courteous. The foursome of Koreans were the most fearsome. They didn’t smile at me when I asked to play through, and I held off speaking in Korean because I thought it might trigger some kind of outburst that could only come from 4 Korean dads, but I overheard them their captain say, let him through in Korean. They watched me tee off in silence and I bid them adieu.

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On the fairway!

The course had its problems -I suspect from lean budgets and a very hot and dry summer. There were dead patches on the greens and fairways, and uneven mowing on both. That said, from the tips, the course was a lot more fun than I could usually expect to get for 35 bucks.

Addendum: found out they mow on Monday. Once mowed, the fairways and greens are very nice. This place is growing on me. Plus, the starter asked me if I was a golf pro or golf writer, which really made my day.

Book Smart

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I’m a collector of books in vascular disease and golf. When I found out that Mr. Johnny Revolta was one of the great golf teachers of the 20th century and had authored a book, I started a search and found this first printing which had been a gift to someone who was a student of Mr. Revolta’s.

The reason why I jumped at this was the fact that I found synchronicity between my golf guru’s advice and the snippets of writing I found on the Internet. It was all from the premise that golf at its heart is a simple game.

This is in line with my other favorite golf books by Sam Snead and Fred Couples. An example of a book not to get because it will ruin your game is Ben Hogan’s book on his swing which looks more like an Army field manual for using some terribly ancient and complicated weapon.

This book is available as a instant reprint from Amazon, but costs three times as much. This one I got for 12 bucks feels like an overdue library book found under your recently deceased great uncle’s sofa. Which makes it even cooler.

Golf is a Confidence Game

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In this my last year of golf at Wakonda as a member and resident of Iowa, I had hoped to make a splash by taking a winning turn at the Wakonda Club’s annual Blazer Days tournament. Blazer Days is a member-guest best ball tournament played out over 5 nine hole matches. There are 6 teams in a flight, and this year, there were ten flights (the tournament was oversubscribed). USGA rules apply and it is organized in such a tight manner that not a single player among the gathered type A personalities (120 in all!) could complain about a single blade of grass being out of turn. The success of this tournament reflects the success of the Wakonda Club in weathering the trends of the past two decades without losing its soul as a private country club, and it has to do with three key factors. First, the golf course is kept up to world class conditions with a fierce determination. Second, aggressive marketing to the future of the club, young families, is done both loudly and quietly. Third, and finally, the club is endowed with a critical mass of Iowans who by and large are the most reasonable, generous, and sweet-minded people on this earth.

My Blazer Days started auspiciously with a practice round skins game that delivered to me a skin on the first hole with a par -the only one scored that day, and ended with a 2nd place finish in the Derby -the highlight of which was my draining a 5 footer for par in front of a crowd of about a hundred of my golfing peers. The day of the tournament started with a terrible accident. I had laid my driver on the ground carelessly and hit it with a shanked ball off a 7 iron, cracking the carbon shaft at the grip. This took out the driver which I had been nailing above 50% onto fairways within 15 minutes of starting play. I swapped out for a loaner, but largely it sealed my fate. You see, golf is a confidence game. When I stood over that 5 footer for par the previous day, I had no fear. I had been practicing 5 footers relentlessly the past two weeks and it felt like I was all alone on the green. I was only aware of the sweetness of the air I was breathing and easy sound of the putter hitting the ball on the sweet spot. The clatter of the ball falling was a prophecy come true. What is amazing is how it can all be undone with something as trivial as a broken driver. I was able to hit 5 practice balls with the loaner and got the last two drives not to slice by making small adjustments. Without good drives, it doesn’t matter that you just drained a twenty foot putt for bogey to push -you can’t make miracle shots all day against a field as good as this. With confidence gone, the tournament was largely done.

Even so, there was no question of walking off. Here was a golf obligation. Despite the heat, the dyspepsia of a 9am beer and foul balls launched off the course, I was signed on to the end -barring a calamity. I sometimes wish I could teach my sons this absolutism of golfing duty, but then again, I think that they may have too much common sense to put themselves into this situation. I then noticed something that took my mind off my personal misery -the greens were the slickest I have ever seen in my life but they were at the same time lush and green. The putted balls rolled as if on smooth marble, but the grass was soft and would stop balls on a dime if they had back spin. The rough, no deeper than 2-3 inches on the cut areas, was tenacious as velcro. The fairways were like greens on lesser courses. On certain holes where the fairways ended on greens without false fronts, it was possible to putt on from 5 to ten feet off. The pristine fairways made the course gaudy. The course may never be able to host a US Open because it is land locked and unable to be extended to 10,000 yards, but it was Olympic’s equal in my eye because it was all mine for a time.

The supremacy of the golf experience has been the first key to Wakonda’s success. Four years ago, Wakonda decided to cut down over a 150 trees, scrape off the fairways and greens, and start over because the grass was inconsistent, and in parts frankly ugly with patches of Poa and old legacy Bent grass, each having sunshine requirements and water needs not met by a course that had aged since its inception with majestic but sometimes senile oaks (never mind the climate change, cough, cough). In the setting of the worst economic crisis of a generation, when the average age of members was rising, and when most of the membership was generally satisfied with the course, the leadership shut down the golf course for a year in the pursuit of perfect, unblemished, uniformly green grass. It was a huge gamble but in retrospect, the right move. Now, several years out, the grass is not only consistently great, it is resilient. The greens staff works tireless to create a premier golf experience and the avid golfer is immediately attracted to the logic of joining a club close to work with fellow members obsessed about golf perfection and excellent golf fellowship. Wakonda is full to the brim of avid golf amateurs -people who love and respect the sport and its traditions, golfists all.

The two days of straight golf competition were gruelling but a fitting valediction to my time in Des Moines. It was beautiful and the people were great.

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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.

Our Jackie Robinson

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Jeremy Lin is not basketball’s Tebow. He’s a barrier breaking Jackie Robinson for Asian- and Harvard-Americans. For years, all they thought we could do was be attorneys or urologists, but this shows there is more than one way to pass the rock. Now scouts will have to notice that non-black, non-Croatian dude dribbling the ball so well with the four color pen in his short pocket. Asian Harvard-Americans from Orange County to Westchester County are rejoicing. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last.

Living Fossils

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This rock on a Pacific coast beach was weathered over thousands of years, and revealed within its sandstone this harder rock which is likely the fossilized remnant of an ancient coral or related creature. It reminded me that we have these fossils within our own DNA.

It was recently revealed that up to 2-3 percent of the genome of non-Africans have Neanderthal genes and a third human species, the Denisovans were found to be lurking. But this is just the recent past, being merely 20-50,000 year distant.

I was reviewing the lymphatic system in our bodies –it is the often overlooked third blood vessel system after arteries and veins, and its roots are older than either being present in our distant relations, the tunicates. Where arteries and veins are connected in a closed loop, the lymphatics are open to the extracellular space, and once in the past, to the ocean. This link to primitive chordates goes back nearly half a billion years.

They are now saying that there may be millions if not billions of earth like planets around middle aged stars, even in just this galaxy alone. Over cosmic time, and given those numbers of planets, it is a statistical certainty that life is common and not rare.

This feeling that life is a rare circumstance in an otherwise sterile universe has its roots in the narcissism of an idiot. The assumption that our clever ideas, petty jealousies, and unending appetites are unique is from the cosmic hayseed’s provincialism that gives certainty to the notion that a hundred years is a long time and that the universe disappears when you shut your eyes.

Starting from a single cell, our complexity is layered on like a gobstopper. Our DNA is not just a blueprint, but also a blog of life over three billion years. We are living fossils.

Addendum:

The fossil pictured above is Tiktaalik, a lobed finned fish from the Devonian. What it has that is unique is that it has a humerus, radius, and ulna along with shoulder, elbow and wrist that is the rubrik for all land vertebrates. The pattern of one bone with two distal bones are what we experience every time we eat chicken wings, and we owe  it to this class of fish which may be a direct ancestor or closely related to it.

Tilted Sideways, a Colander of Death

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The tragedy in Italy comes so soon after our cruise vacation that I felt compelled to comment. We were passengers aboard the Ruby Princess over Christmas. It is in many respects a sister ship to the unfortunate Costa Concordia, built by the same ship builder with similar tonnage and sibling like launch dates (2006 and 2008). The thing that struck me about our voyage was this: it was very clear that the ship was well run. The ship’s commander was Commodore Giuseppe Romano, whom we briefly met. The whole ship ran with obvious discipline with the first order of business on leaving Ft. Lauderdale being an evacuation drill where we understood the series of events in the event of a disaster before the first shrimp cocktail was served. During the cruise, there were several crew based drills, and I could appreciate the importance of top down leadership.

This is further contrasted by the events last week in Italy, which will be studied extensively, not just in a court of law, but in business schools as a case study of poor leadership. Bad decisions and bad discipline compounded by the elements made this the perfect example of why we have rules and expectations about professionals and their behavior. It also is a sobering reminder of how far we’ve strayed from chivalric ideals of women and children first. In a classroom, the idea of chivalry can be seen as revanchist, antiquarian, vestigial, and oppressive, but in the scrum of a mob climbing towards a lifeboat, the reports of grown men cutting in line, stripping life jackets from pregnant women, and abandoning the disabled all headed by this captain illustrates something.

It’s the death of honor.

Egg in a Basket -from V is for Vendetta movie

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Inspired by the egg dish in V is for Vendetta, it was called eggy in a basket. The circular toast that comes out of the center is fun for eating yourself or for toddlers. Want to know from my UK friends if this actually exists as a breakfast dish.