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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Paper Tiger" - Purchase Your Copy Today

The third part of the Scotland epic will be posted very soon.

In the meantime, several friends of Networked Golfer have commented on my review of Tom Coyne's Paper Tiger with promises of rushing out to buy it. I'll make it easy for you. Just click on the link below and purchase it here. Enjoy!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Scotland - Part Deux

Belleisle and Turnberry Kintyre
As I mentioned in the previous post, Duncan Martin assisted us with our itinerary, and it was he that recommended we play Belleisle, a municipal course in Ayr, about a thirty minute drive from Turnberry.

It was a great call on Duncan's part. Belleisle claims that it is the #3 municipal course in Scotland, behind The Old Course and Carnoustie. I'm not one to dispute their claim. Belleisle is unique from the other courses we played because even though there are views of the water from a couple of holes, it is a parkland course set away from the sea. It's not overly long (par 69) or difficult, but it can come up and bite you if you're not careful. And, it's a heck of a lot of fun.

Tub Rock played very well on the front nine, shooting a one over 36. He was dropping bombs from everywhere, and if not for a short putt he missed on #7, he could have shot 35. Jimmy played better than me, but neither of us really got it going. Amazingly, this was the only round we played in which it rained -- and only for about two holes. Belleisle has a true muni feel to it. The people we met on the course were there for the love of the game, and there was no pretention anywhere to be found.

I'm really glad Duncan steered us in the direction of Belleisle. I don't think many Americans know about it or ever play it, so it felt like we were putting one over on everyone.

In the afternoon, we played Turnberry's Kintyre course. I had read mixed reviews about Kintyre, but I found it to be a very good golf course and a stern test. Though not as dramatic as the Ailsa, there are a few holes that play along or toward the water, and it was extremely windy. By the back nine, we were feeling the effects of going out the previous night (remember, Jimmy had a hole-in-one the day before), minor jet lag, and walking thirty-six holes. Of the thirty plus times I've played 36 in a day, I think this was the first time I had ever walked all of them.

We all had our share of good holes and good shots, but scorewise, it was a round to be forgotten. Only Tubby and I stayed in double-digits, and it wasn't by much. The gorse and heather ate up far too many of our drives, and I in particular found myself hitting three (or five) off the tee too often. What started out as a good round (+1 after 4 holes), quickly turned into a nightmare after I blasted two OB on #5 and made a nine. Oh well. It didn't take away from the fact that it was a terrific golf course, and we were in Scotland when we could have been in the office.

Pictures: 1) Jimmy and Tubby discussing how far they hit their drives on #8 at Belleisle, 2) The eighth green at Kintyre, and 3) A typical bunker at Kintyre (from #10).

Friday, July 27, 2007

Recap of Scotland Trip - Part One

There's so much to report about our recent trip to Scotland, that I'm going to have to serialize the trip in three or four parts. So, stay tuned to the blog over the next week.

Turnberry - Ailsa Championship Course
If you haven't availed yourself of the opportunity to play golf in Scotland, search for coins in the couch cushions and book a flight. I've played a lot of golf in my life (if you could call what I do "playing golf"), and I've never played a string of five courses quite like the ones we walked (i.e. no carts) last week.

I want to first establish who went on the trip. It was my wife Sara, her college roommate, bridesmaid, and world traveller from Boston, MA via Coudersport, PA, Maureen "Mojo" Larsen, my brother Jimmy, and my brother Tubby. With our luggage and three golf bags, the Renault Scenic was stuffed to the gills, but everyone was comfortable. I was the chauffeur, as I am the only one with experience driving a stick on the left side of the road.

I created the agenda with some help from Duncan Martin, a somewhat famous golf executive, historian, and enthusiast from Glasgow who did business with my parents when they ran a golf catalog called Tribute Golf in the 1990s. After flying from Philly to Glasgow, we made our way south to Turnberry, where we stayed at the Westin Turnberry Resort for two nights (thank you, Starwood points!).

On the afternoon of our arrival, we teed it up at Turnberry's Ailsa Championship Course. This is where Watson and Nicklaus had their "Duel in the Sun" in '77. The course is again playing host to the Open Championship in 2009.

What a golf course! People call it "The Pebble Beach of Scotland", and it surpassed my expectations. It was fitting that there was a 30 mph wind throughout our round, but we managed to do okay. I shot a 91 with three sevens and an eight, so it was half-respectable considering the state of my driving and putting. Unfortunately, this was my best round of the week.

By far the highlight of the round was Jimmy's hole-in-one on #11, which measured about 148 yards in a devilish right to left wind. He hit (I think) an eight iron as straight as Sean Connery, and it never moved off line. The pin was set near the front middle, and after it disappeared, he and Tubs went nuts. It had rolled over a little hill like a putt, and it was difficult to see the hole, so I was worried that it was only close, and not in. Hence, my delayed elation.

Jimmy and Tub Rock ran up to the green, and lo and behold, it was in the hole! Many pictures were taken, and the 1 really did wonders for his score. Tubby and I hit next, and though we hit decent shots, there was no way we could top what we had seen. The only other time I had seen a hole-in-one in person was by a fat kid about twenty years ago at Westlake Golf Course. I doubt that that chubs even plays anymore -- he was that bad. So, this was the first time I witnessed a real ace.
The entire course was perfect. I can't think of one weak hole. The long stretch of holes along the water and to the lighthouse is hard to beat. Even with all of my wayward shots and lost balls in the heather and gorse, I felt good about finishing birdie-par. Maybe Tom Watson was giving me a little push.

More to come in the next post . . .

Friday, July 13, 2007

Interactive Poll: Who's Going Down in Flames?

Networked Golfer is wondering who all of you golf brainiacs think is going to fare the worst at Carnasty next week. Let's see what you know!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Scotland's Around the Corner

On Sunday, we head across the pond to Scotland to play golf and watch the Open Championship up close. This will probably be the apex of my golf year, even surpassing the Masters practice round in April.

I've been intrigued by the Open for many years. The first one I really remember watching was at St. Andrews in 1984 when Seve won. But it hasn't been until the last five or six years that the Open has become my favorite major.

The Open stands out from the other three majors because of the types of courses upon which it's played, the weather (usually), the respectfulness and enthusiasm of the fans, the history, the international flavor, and the uncertainty of who will prevail.

No matter how hard we try in America to simulate the links courses in Scotland, we always come up short because of our dearth of true linksland. So, when the Open is on TV, we are treated to a game of golf that Americans rarely play or even see. Carnoustie isn't an authentic links course, but there's no other course in the USA that resembles it. Van de Velde's antics a few years back add to the allure of Carnoustie, and as the 2007 Open venue, it made my decision to book a flight that much easier.

Of course, the weather can make the Open treacherous. If the wind blows and the rain decends, anything can happen. The weather factor contributes immensely to the uncertainty of the winners. Sure, you have guys like Peter Thomson and Tom Watson who seemed to thrive under tough conditions and knew how to keep the ball down and get it in the hole in fewer shots than the rest, but given that the weather can be very different from hour to hour, how the tee times shake out can actually fiddle with the outcome. This phenomenon rarely happens in the American majors.

The fans in the U.K. are better than in America. They know the game and respect it, and I don't think going to a golf tournament is as much of a "to do" as it is here. Thus, shouts of "Get in the hole!" and "You da man!" are kept to a minimum. The Brits know when they've seen a good shot or a nicely lagged putt, whereas many people at American tournaments aren't sure exactly what they are watching. I guess after next Friday, I'll be able to confirm or dismiss this notion.

This history of golf and the towns that surround the courses in Scotland are incomparable. I don't need to explain it; it just is. In the US, many think that a course built before 1990 is old. As a point of reference, the New Course at St. Andrews was built over 110 years ago.

Without trampling on the Masters or the US Open, I would propose that the "rest of the world" covets the Claret Jug more than anything else. There is always a huge international contingent at the Open Championship, and this year will not be an exception. I have a feeling that a Euro will win it at Carnoustie, and his home country will be more gaga over the victory than Americans would be if one of our boys took home the Jug.

If the weather is normal (i.e. cold, windy, and rainy) and Tiger is not on his game, the Open will be wide open. It produces unlikely champions like Paul Lawrie, Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton, John Daly, and even Justin Leonard. This year could be one of those years, especially because of Carnoustie's difficulty.

My picks for this year are as follows:
--Paul Casey
--Joe Durant (sleeper)
--Sergio Garcia
--Ernie Els
--Stuart Appleby
--Geoff Ogilvy
--Sean O'Hair
--Steve Stricker
--Justin Rose

What's the best thing about having these picks? In the UK, I can put my money where my mouth is and place a bet on almost any street corner. It's going to be brilliant!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book Review -- Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer's Quest to Play with the Pros

I fashion myself a golf junkie. I like to play, I like to watch, I like to read about it, I like to talk about it, and I like to write about it. However, it appears as though I'm no match for golf writer, Tom Coyne, who is the author of Paper Tiger.

I root for Coyne to do well as an author, not just because I like his books (he also wrote the coming-of-age novel, A Gentleman's Game), but because he was a year behind me at Notre Dame. I met him a couple of times, and he seemed like a funny guy. Actually, one time he and I were the platonic dates of two girls who were friends, and Tom spent much of the evening telling bizarre but entertaining stories about how the house he grew up in was haunted.

I don't remember too much of that night other than his stories. He was adamant that every once in a while his dining room table would lift off the ground and spin around. Household objects flew about the room and the lights flickered. The family just watched this happen and became accustomed to it. I couldn't figure out if he was serious or pulling our legs, but he was convincing enough that I sort of believed him.

We were both English majors, yet I'm not sure if we were ever in a class together. I have a fuzzy recollection of him being in my Dante class, but I could be imagining it. Either way, we crossed paths over ten years ago, and several years later I came across A Gentleman's Game without making the connection until I saw his picture. For good or bad, tall, red-headed guys who grew up near me (the Philadelphia area) and tell ghost stories with as much fervor as he did are tough to forget. Since A Gentelman's game, I've followed his career closely, but at a distance.

With Paper Tiger, he sucked me in so that I can't wait until his next book, A Course Called Ireland, which he's been promoting through a series of journal entry-type articles for Golf Magazine online. Paper Tiger is truly experiential writing. It's sort of a reality show for mid and low handicappers who think they might be able to play on Tour if they just removed every excuse for being mediocre and did everything in their power to get better.

What did Coyne do to get better? He dropped everything, moved to Florida, hired a big-time teacher, a mental guru, and a trainer, and he lived and breathed golf. He shaved his handicap from more than 14 to around a +1 . . . in just over a year. I won't ruin the rest of the story for you, but let's just say it's worth reading. You will become totally psyched up to improve your game. It's that inspirational for a frustrated golfer.

Coyne has a terrific writing style. Since he's telling his story of trying to play with the big boys via Q-School, it's quite conversational and very self-deprecating. He mixes in an intriguing sub-plot about his girlfriend that really ties the story together and keeps it from being simply a journal or a how-to on what one should do to play off scratch. I found myself laughing out loud several times, and I felt like I could relate to many of thing things he put himself through.

What I like most about Paper Tiger is that Coyne didn't just talk about how good he could be if his situation were ideal -- he actually created an ideal situation for himself and went for it. No what ifs, no excuses. It's a nice analogy for how we should all live, golf or no golf.

Early in the book, he recounts how he tried out for the golf team at Notre Dame and blew it on the back nine. In my freshman year, my friend Jim Borger and I were going to try out for the team as well. Neither of us had much of a chance to make the team, but we thought it would be a good experience. The night before the tryout, we decided to have a party. Needless to say, we overslept our tee times by about two hours. End of story. I never regretted missing the tryout because I thought I would make the team, but rather I regretted it because I didn't even give it a shot. Coyne had the skill to make the team, but he didn't do what was necessary when the chance was there. However, he gave it his all. I think you'll agree that he gave this book his all, and unlike his tryout for the Fighting Irish, he succeeded by writing a funny, heartfelt, and compelling book.